Monthly Archives: May 2010

An empty city

“Basket Case,” Kiran said. “That song is my life right now.”

“Am I the the shrink or the whore?” I opened iTunes and typed in Green Day. No results. My harddrive crashed recently, amputating my music library.

“I dunno,” he answered. “Before you asked that, I would have said the shrink.”

I asked, “And now?” I left the room to rifle through my CD collection, grabbed two Green Day CDs: INTERNATIONAL SUPERHITS! and American Idiot.

“I dunno.”

Rip “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known. I don’t know where it goes.
I walk this empty street on the boulevard of broken dreams. The whole city sleeps and I’m the only one, I walk alone.

My song for while I was working the overnight shift for Allied Barton. Not that I listened to it while working there–I don’t even think I had it at the time–but I can’t listen to it now without thinking about that time.

In those hours boston was my city, those dark, starless hours of night, all the lights of Mass General were on and all the roads unused. I owned the city for a few lonely but potent moments. A civilization’s infrastructure at my disposal for no particular purpose: I did not have the wheels the concrete was placed down for; I had no use for the buildings around me.

Near 11pm, I would leave my rowhouse on Cambridge Street, and then I felt like Prufrock, awkward in my stiff short-sleeve Oxford and uncomfortable blackish uniform pants. One night some girls stopped to flirt with me, drunk enough to think a collared man in a hurry would make fair sport. Another night, an SUV drove by and a man leaned out the window and yelled URKLE at me. My hope is that he was drunk, too.

Left onto Blossom, and the Holiday Inn attendants always looked at me funny. I was the wrong color and income bracket to work an overnight security shift, and they all knew it. It took me a few years to realize it, but at its core Boston is a racist town, and I was taking a good job away from a black man who was likely in more need of regular money than me.

Do I need to defend these statements? All but two of my coworkers were black, one an overweight white man and one a Latina. My manager was black, as were his bosses. The only healthy whites I saw worked in corporate, where the color ratio was again established in a way I had seen before, white majority. Everyone at Hawthorne had worked the job for years, the young ones only four but the oldest among them for fifteen and twenty. I only stayed for four months, and I could see it in the Holiday Inn workers’ eyes that even they knew I wasn’t cut out for the work.

Hours alone in my little office. Close both windows and turn on the space heater; it’s the only way to get by in those Boston nights. The winter chill settled into Boston around one each night, though none of the daydwellers would ever know because the more comfortable fall weather came back with the morning sun. Do some homework. Get restless. Wonder why you don’t write, and then don’t. Wonder why you don’t, ad infinitum.

On my break at three o’clock, the city held a different story. Ashley liked me to come home on these breaks even though she had to wake up in the morning, so I would walk home. I lingered in the streets, daring cars to round the bend and give me a thrill of fear, but none ever did. Brick rose up as high as my limited perspective could see, and fluorescent lights flooded into the streets, and no one ever disturbed the windows.

I liked to walk through the hospital’s campus instead of around the corner with the gas station–the homeless didn’t go into those streets because of the private security patrol–but either way I had to pass the oxygen tanks, which for some reason reeked of death and fungus every night. Fog fell off them like a cheap movie stunt, which always put me in the mood for an adventure with a building caddycorner:

At one point a rowhouse, MGH had snatched it up and turned it into some research facility, the windows boarded up so no one could look in and yet things definitely went on in there. Someone had also posted a Biohazard sign near the door, RFID’d and coded rather than just locked. Now the building stood isolated on the corner of two small streets, surrounded on one side by a parking lot and the other by a parking structure. What exactly went on in that dilapidated building that they hadn’t just torn it down like the others for more parking space? Were there people in there now, as I passed by? Was the zombie apocalypse going to begin across the street from my home? Could this be the exact scenario by which writers come to write scary movies and zombie apocalypses? And then, because every night I would forget, a blast of warm and humid air smacked me in the face, and it smelled almost like exhaust against the cold and crisp night air. Every night with that fucking vent. And then I’d be at Cambridge Street and then home.

Only once did I disturb a man sleeping in my building’s entryspace. I opened the open door and reach my key out towards the lock on the closed door, and there underneath me was an apologetic man: I’m so sorry, he said as he scrambled to get something together on the floor, perhaps the never-attended-to and always-accumulating stack of Beacon Hill Times. Flustered, I told him, “It’s no problem,” but I had to wait for him to leave before I could move into the building. It made me sad when I came back down that night and he wasn’t there; I would not have begrudged him a night’s sleep.

Kalli would always hear me climbing up the four flights of stairs, and she would hop out of bed with a thunderous clomp as her long nails hit the wood floor. Then she would skitter in front of the door until I opened it like a young child capable of waiting with excitement at any time of day. Clip clip clip her nails would click, waking Ashley just enough so that when I came in she could say, “Hi, honey,” before turning over and falling back asleep. I would kiss her before going into the kitchen to reheat my dinner, and out of sympathy I would sit with my laptop in the living room and do something silent. Always during the day she would say she liked it better when I sat in the bedroom to eat.

When did I start playing World of Warcraft again? That job, that Allied Barton job, played a direct hand in it, as did Ashley wanting me to be awake on the weekends to spend time with her. At least twice per week I had to change my sleep schedule, and for a while TV was enough to stay up for thirty-six hours, but always after watching enough TV I’ll start playing video games: one is a much more engaging format than the other. And though Ashley knew the role WoW had played in the dissolution of my relationship with Sarah, her fight against it was minimal. Sometimes then, after scarfing dinner, I would watch quietly a TV show; later I would log into WoW and do part of the leveling to 80. On occasion I would jot notes that had filled my head while walking home.

**

Whew, that’s about as much as I can get down this morning. I hope it’s worth something to someone other than me, even if it’s not finished.

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

Theme Thursday: Fast food

**Special Note**

I have changed the comment settings on NQOKD in order to reduce the number of “anonymous” posts and the need for administrator moderation. If you would prefer to post anonymously, send your post to me via email, facebook, or twitter.

**

In homage to my link of the first In-N-Out in Dallas getting 12 comments where my post about Mark Twain’s finally released autobiography got 1, I’ve decided to let you write about what you OBVIOUSLY want to talk about: Fast food. You loyalties, your disgusting stories, your thoughts. Write them in the comments below.

Guidelines

The only right I assume from you posting a comment is that I am able to host your work on this blog for non-commercial purposes with attribution. You keep all other rights.

I do have plans to attempt to monetize this site once the boulder rolls a little further down hill, but at this point there are NO ASSUMPTIONS OF COMMERCIAL RIGHTS. I will contact authors on an individual basis for any and all commercial purposes.

Make the entries as short or as long as you want, and any genre is fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry. Publish in comments stories, no matter how polished or raw, according to the game of the week. If I like your story, I’ll contact you and ask for permission to remix your work, which I’ll post with the next week’s contest.

You have one week to submit your story, and please, please do. I don’t want this site to be my literary masturbation. Join me, and perhaps get some free editing and mentoring along the way!

The Original:

N/A

The remix:

My sister wrote me a letter where she talked about her relationship. We talk less than once a year, but she wants to correspond, preferably by writing. She’s a firebrand, a fighter; by my theory of personal overcompensation, her focus on peace and the idea of namaste highlights her ability and willingness to fight. Writing keeps things at a distance, helps keep the remove in place. She probably doesn’t like that she’s as prone to fighting as she is; I imagine hysteria itches at the back of her throat at the beginning of any conversation with an intimate, a little prod threatening to bruise if she doesn’t let loose the torrent. And she does, with skill; but still, I think it’s something she dislikes about herself.

She wrote about smoking and how she wants to quit. It’s always a struggle, and it helps to have friends on your side. The kind who want you to quit but will let you do so at your own pace, because really a person can’t do anything other than at their own pace. Even if you want to quit, if someone pulls you along faster than you can go, it builds resentment and entrenches the habit.

But I have a habit that I like but is prone to criticism from those around me, particularly my family and significant others if not my friends in general: I play video games. On occasion, I play them far too much. As a preteen, I would hide myself away in the computer room to play Doom 2 all night. I resented family meals, where (in my memory) my sister hogged all the attention and I only spoke to be told I spoke too loudly. After eating too much, I would go back upstairs and play games until I had to go to bed, sometimes until my father had to come upstairs. I liked videogames, perhaps better than my own life, and my preference has stayed true through some other rough patches.

During my relationship with Sarah, for example, after getting laid off and losing most of the connection that we had shared as friends, I sunk into World of Warcraft, well known as a life-stealing time-suck. But I didn’t have many friends in Boston, and the few I had I lost as I sunk deeper into depression, fueled by being unemployed and unhappy in love. The more depressed I got, the more World of Warcraft I played, which Sarah began to resent as much as I resented her play Solitaire all the time, which worsened the relationship, which depressed me, which had me play more World of Warcraft. Yes, like a snail with its shell, but that’s me. We can’t all be superheroes who handle all of our problems cavalierly and correctly, eeking a smile from all those around us, and I had no idea how to solve the problems of our relationship, and neither did Sarah, and to this day I don’t know whether we tried to salvage it or not. I can list our attempts on my fingers, but their utter lack of effect on the whole debacle tempts me to discount them.

And yet I like this part of myself, the part that can disconnect from what’s going on and have a good time for a little while. It’s not my most noble aspect, but it is a moment utterly human. Constant engagement without break leads to psychosis, and I thank video games and other releases for giving me moments of rest, even moreso on occasion than sleep (I have apnea, have never and never will sleep well).

People who love you will always try to knock those parts of you that they consider weak away because they want you always strong all the time. But people aren’t like that; we have flaws and virtues, and sometimes we have parts of ourselves that are large enough to encompass both. Video games are escapism and an exercise of the mind; procrastination and catharsis. But we are full of moments and forces like that, moments and forces of blessings and curses.

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Filed under Criticism, Features, Humanistic, Personal essay, Theme Thursdays, Writing

Virgin Pulp

How many of us are inclined to give publishers a little leeway when it comes to what products they choose for their production? Publishing is a low-margin industry across the board, so if the businessmen have to cut a few corners here and there in order to bring us the books we want at a reasonable price, shouldn’t we cut them a little slack? Should we still cut them that slack if we learn, as MOBYLIVES (an excellent source of publishing news) reported on this report (covered in the San Francisco Chronicle) that some of the paper comes from virgin Indonesian pulp?

But what we’re talking about in specific is children’s books from publishers across the board, and the children’s market across all industries is unhappily tainted with reports of corner-cutting. Perhaps we wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a children’s book printed in China used that same ink mentioned in The Name of the Rose or a cheaper variant with the same implications. I suppose, all things considered, we’re lucky the books aren’t printed with lead ink!

Now I haven’t done the research on this, but I can’t really believe that the use of Indonesian pulp is an unsolvable problem. Any given forest is a renewable resource, and I don’t have many reservations about using wood, especially in the creation of paper. But I work under the assumption that if an action can be a sustainable practice then it should be. Is Indonesian paper cheaper because of the cost of labor? Then pay them to make a sustainable tree farm.

I’m not even advocating bringing the work back into the States, although perhaps I should. Keep it cheap to keep your margins, but people will pay for books that don’t promote deforestation. Make a cross-industry marketing initiative with a little foil sticker and a cute banana-eating monkey with proud wording that says, “No virgin pulp!” (It’ll be about as true of your copy as your pages, but that’s off topic.) On the other hand, if you just get your jollies from cutting down rainforests in order to print a book about conservation for children, well, there’s really nothing anyone can do for you.

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Filed under Criticism, Features, Publishing

Community support?

So I lost my community when I disbanded this blog last year, but if you’ll forgive me for abandoning you, I’ll get this show going again. It’s a new Monday, and that means a new call for microstories! (Featured fans are on hold for the moment.)

Microstory Monday

Write a full story in less than three sentences. Fact, fiction, whatever. No prompt, just write. If I like it, I’ll ask for your permission to rewrite the story to be posted next week. HOLY COW BEST PRIZE EVAR ZOMG!?!?

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Filed under Features, Microstory Mondays

The Problem of Profit: Circulatory metaphor stated

As a small disclaimer, I’ve received one response to this idea already and would like to dismiss it out of hand: I am at base a capitalist. I believe in the free market with some important exceptions, and my base struggle here is to balance that belief with an underlying assumption in the equality of men, which is a democratic–not a communist–viewpoint. I sympathize with Marx in that our current capitalism seems to be bleeding itself dry, but I do not believe the rhetoric that a perfect society will one day inevitably replace what we have: no generation supercedes the last in those matters truly human, and inequal power distributions and massive ignorance are among those truly human matters. What I do mean to say here is that our system is broken, has been for a long time, and I offer this metaphor to propose at least one solution.

**

Capillaries are so small as not to be seen by the unaided eye. Therefore, the best European science use to believe, as ridiculous as it seems today, that blood did not circulate through our bodies but was constantly generated and discarded. It wasn’t until William Harvey came along and in his book On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals offered several obvious but previously unseen arguments about how difficult it would be for a body to maintain a non-circulatory blood supply including food intake and waste based on the amount of blood pumped by the heart per pump. Harvey may not have know what capillaries were, but he proved that blood must circulate, which lead to their discovery. This book singlehandedly initiated the controversy about looking at the human body as a machine instead of as a mystery, from which comes all of modern biology (most true to this tradition neuro-psychology). Regardless of the metaphysical implications of such a view, the outcome of modern medicine itself encourages the pragmatism of such a system.

A few hundred years later and in the same spirit, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations served a similar role by replacing general mysticism about what wealth is and from whence it comes. Like blood cells, every dollar has an orgination point and follows a measurable path to a knowable destination. Adam Smith may not have known what I refer to as the problem of profit, but he did know that some abuse would occur once a system of the circulation of wealth was known, and so he listed some duties to which the people should hold their sovereign. Sovereigns’ general failure to maintain these guidelines because of power’s loyalty to laissez faire has in general lead to the Marxist theory of capitalism–that capitalism holds within itself the seeds of its destruction–and the peoples’ desire to maintain Smith’s duties of the sovereign has in some places inspired socialist movements.

Despite the dollar’s basic adherence to the law of conservation and the hundreds of years since the establishment of a system of economy, Americans continue to treat wealth as if it were a part of impregnable Fortune, and this is more true the lower the monetary class of the individual in question. But I liken the American economy and Smith’s wealth-circulation application therein to describing a patients’ bleeding to death in terms of Harvey’s system of blood-circulation. Harvey describes a closed and efficient system, and modern science makes up for this error by explaining why some blood is lost and where new blood comes from such that it remains essentially a closed system. But the circulatory system becomes open when wounded, sometimes losing blood at a rate faster than it can replace the loss. These situations can prove fatal, and this is exactly the situation of the American economy.

Profit is one means by which the closed system of the American economy is compromised. Importation and out-sourcing are other wounds, but these are mostly managable by law and extremely small compared to the problem of profit. The American economy exists within a system of world economies, and importation and out-sourcing are means by which these economies interact with each other. Profit, however, is the means by which wealth is removed from circulation within a system. Therefore, importation and out-sourcing can be seen as blood donations, basically useful and on occasion beneficial to both parties, whereas profit is a bruise, a self-inflicted wound in which all material is lost and from which no benefit can be derived.

**

Follow-up posts will include why profit-money can be considered as having left the system and a rebuttal to the argument of incentive.

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Filed under Criticism, Humanistic

Theme Thursday: Curses and Blessings

This site is undergoing a renovation in my mind. In that vein, I’m beginning to post anew even if it’s totally minimal to see what followers still show up to take part. So here’s a Theme Thursday with no other buffer. Please participate! 🙂

This week’s theme: Curses and Blessings

Attempt to isolate that one moment that was both a curse and a blessing, and write a snippet about it in the comments below!

Guidelines

The only right I assume from you posting a comment is that I am able to host your work on this blog for non-commercial purposes with attribution. You keep all other rights.

I do have plans to attempt to monetize this site once the boulder rolls a little further down hill, but at this point there are NO ASSUMPTIONS OF COMMERCIAL RIGHTS. I will contact authors on an individual basis for any and all commercial purposes.

Make the entries as short or as long as you want, and any genre is fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry. Publish in comments stories, no matter how polished or raw, according to the game of the week. If I like your story, I’ll contact you and ask for permission to remix your work, which I’ll post with the next week’s contest.

You have one week to submit your story, and please, please do. I don’t want this site to be my literary masturbation. Join me, and perhaps get some free editing and mentoring along the way!

Leave a comment

Filed under Features, Theme Thursdays

Bridging the Gap: The American question of authority

I sent this @NYBooks article to my father the other day, and he responded that the article was elitist crock. My father supported Ron Paul, the grassroots libertarian  movement among the Republican party that, as I understand it, attempted to take the Republicans back to the party’s idealistic roots from the 40s and 50s: small government and less taxes as opposed to the near-totalitarian powers that George Bush imbued his office with post-9/11.

I thought, when I read the article, that a disenfranchised public would hail the article as an answer, as in “Yes, that’s where our power went, and that’s where those idiots came from.” But apparently that was only my reaction. All things considered, NYBooks must look to old fashioned Republicans like part of the liberal elitist power structure, those nanny-government supporters who want to tell us what to do with our money and are okay with the government ruling us as long as it’s their government–which is the exact same stance as Rush Limbaugh, according to my father. And as long as we have two parties fighting to control what we do with our money when we’d rather do what we damn well please with it, how are we supposed to make a choice?

Our political situation

That’s been the status quo of politics since I began becoming politically aware: the choice is between the better of two evils. We assume, supposedly since Nixon, that politicians are hacks who will disappoint us but someone has to go into office, so it might as well be the evil closest to us instead of a more distant evil. We approach politics like this on a mass level, but it leads to a destructive cycle: whether we know it or not, selecting the better of two evils means that we are already powerless; sensing however obliquely this powerlessness, we become passionate in politics in an attempt to reclaim the lost promise, selecting the voice we feel most closely identifies with us, generally a candidate for the presidency despite that office’s isolated power; that voice fails because the political arena is such that the majority vote is always fleeting while a term lasts for several years; and then the individual who became passionate about politics once again resumes his powerless grumbling. Frustration is the name of the game.

The modern American scene reflects this cycle exactly on all counts even as the political arena suffers several specific changes. The Republican party is no longer (if it ever was) a conservative party. As I see it, the Republican party is focused on centralizing military power it then exercises for economic purposes. The Republicans do not want to tell you what to do with your money, they want to centralize all the world’s wealth into their pockets. This is done through low corporate regulations and high military power, but the military power requires government growth, which we saw under George W. Bush, and the agenda will not have ended with his presidency. Republicans are growing government.

However, as we repeated under the tutelage of our highschool government teacher, Republican is supposed to mean “small government” (supposedly attached with “big economy”). This contradiction can only be addressed by witnessing the Republican party’s drift into demagoguery vis a vis the Tea Party movement.  Lack of government control is the birthplace of Republican wealth, giving them the assumed advantage in their attempt to claim the voice of the outraged independents. But as the Democrats move left and the Republicans (seemingly) move right, both in attempts to reengage shrinking support bases, we the people don’t trust either the Democrats or the Republicans to build government control that will be worth anything to us in the end. Hence the Tea Partiers, a libertarian movement, therefore supposedly more closely connected with the Republican party, but really just an amalgamation of angry but powerless independent voices.

The recalibration of both major parties has blown a large hole in the echo chamber of our political scene, and while Lilla focuses on Fox News and the Republicans role (he is talking specifically about the Tea Party, loosely and mistakenly affiliated with the Republican party), Americans have lost faith in our political institutions for any number of historic and prgmatic reasons. But I see distrust in politicians and political institutions as two different things. We distrust politicians because we assume they are hypocrites (sort of defines the job) but political institutions because they are bloated and inefficient. Government bureaucracies are all-around stuck in the sixties when they last received a major vote of confidence, according to Lilla. And while the world and private institutions have changed to meet (partly) the capabilities of rising technology, bureaucratic offices themselves have made little or no movement towards convenience or efficiency.

Addressing elitism

The above is, with a little modification, what I take from the article. How can my reading be justified against my father’s?

Perhaps as the common criticism of me states that I am arrogant, I portray myself as part of the elite or at least consider myself a part of the elite. But I don’t take that criticism of my personality seriously, no matter how often it is flung my way, and so let me put move past it.

Perhaps it’s that being young and not living through Nixon or Reagan I never lost faith in authority per se even though I grew up with a complete distrust of politicians. But then what is the definitive split I see between authority and politicians that allows me to trust the one and not the other? I would say it’s my perception of the echo chamber.

First off, as Lilly alludes to, I do not see myself represented in any politician, but all things considered, it would be difficult for a politician to represent me in the face of America’s power structure. I am anti-corporate, I support open use rights’ managements, I believe in transparency on all levels even despite the undirected rage towards the status quo that I see around me. How would you represent that in a Washington so obviously ruled by special interest and corporate agendas?

Second, I sense a difference in having my voice echoed back to me versus finding one of my ideas in another voice. The echo chamber works as sound waves do: when one compression wave is met by another compression wave of equal frequency and force, the compressions negate each other. This type of silence makes me very wary. On the other hand, when I see an idea or observation I’ve had offered by someone else idly or in an argument–even if that argument is not necessarily connected to the way I would have used the observation–I feel that this instance reacts as energy does: transverse waves complement each other just as two flames grow in size when touched together.

I believe that this is the core separation between how I read Lilly’s article and how my father reads the same material. My father is looking for a politician that will offer his ideas back to him wholesale, increasingly difficult as the parties slide away from the independent zone towards a mutual growth of government power. The only politician that still espouses the ideas of my father’s youth is Ron Paul, who he supported emphatically, but Ron Paul failed as a presidential candidate and I do not realistically believe that there is any going back to the age of basic Republicanism he argues for.

The libertarianism of Ron Paul and the Tea Party movement are not directly connected. As Lilly says, the neoconservatives are trying to control the Tea Party by following it, but if this tactic works it will end in more government power, not less. Even while the rhetoric of the Tea Party is less government, the result will be the further increase in military and presidential powers as we witnessed under George W. Bush post-9/11. However, in politics the first party that can use the keyword without impute wins the debate, and as Lilly says it’s only a matter of time before the people who want less government realize that the Republicans onboard with the Tea Party want more government.

I’m not sure it’s all likely the fall out the way Lilly projects, but I do appreciate his analysis. My father does not appreciate his analysis. I will either have to find a way to bridge this gap or relegate myself to the liberal elite and watch my future book sales suffer. What a challenge.

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Filed under Criticism, Features, Humanistic, Journalism