This week’s best New Yorker cartoon.
News for April 2010
Closed Due To Geneva Convention
I’ve been playing Big Boi’s latest a lot lately, and on that note, I’ve found that listening to hip hop adds, for lack of a better word (I’m listening to Broken Social Scene right now), some welcome flow to my writing. I know there are arguments for not being distracted, or, at most, only playing ambient music. Hip hop certainly isn’t that, but it’s also a genre where wordplay and word placement and mixing up rhymes and alliteration and pacing matter most. Perhaps osmosis kicks in.
So, what do you listen to while you write?
On Board #67
March 27, 2010, 5:55 p.m.
4 Train – Bowling Green to Nevins Street
“You don’t want to move over? I paid my money just like you.”
Heads shift to the center of the car, where this middle-aged woman’s voice is rising. What’s happening? Is there going to be a scene?
“I paid my money just like you.” She repeats, louder. Her dyed hair – black, cropped and curly – contrasts sharply with her fuzzy lime green coat. Her thin eyebrows say she is not pleased.
“No I don’t want to move over,” her too-near neighbor retorts, quieter than the former. She’s reading today’s Metro, and her elbows extend slightly beyond the space allotted by the seats’ contours. Her middle-aged hair – dull, brown – is also short and curly. Her bushy eyebrows slant inward.
She continues reading. The only movement she makes is to shake her head in disgust while muttering, “Some people are always causing a scene.”
Aural Story of the Week – The Silhouettes
For these trying economic times, we go back to 1957 with The Silhouettes:
Every morning about this time
she get me out of my bed
a-crying get a job.
After breakfast, everyday,
she throws the want ads right my way
And never fails to say,
Get a job
One of doo-wop’s finest, here:
On the ground
This is the kind of picture you can get with a remote controlled camera buggy in Tanzania:
Elephants and buffalo and the buggy, here.
This Week's Best Profile – John McPhee
No, it’s not a profile of McPhee. Or even by him. We’re cheating today, but it’s a worthwhile skirting of protocol. This comes from an excerpt of a Paris Review interview with McPhee. Here’s how to get started:
First thing I do is transcribe my notes. This is not an altogether mindless process. You’re copying your notes, and you get ideas. You get ideas for structure. You get ideas for wording, phraseologies. As I’m typing, if something crosses my mind I flip it in there. When I’m done, certain ideas have accrued and have been added to it, like iron filings drawn to a magnet.
And so now you’ve got piles of stuff on the table, unlike a fiction writer. A fiction writer doesn’t have this at all. A fiction writer is feeling her way, feeling her way—it’s much more of a trial-and-error, exploratory thing. With nonfiction, you’ve got your material, and what you’re trying to do is tell it as a story in a way that doesn’t violate fact, but at the same time is structured and presented in a way that makes it interesting to read.
I always say to my classes that it’s analogous to cooking a dinner. You go to the store and you buy a lot of things. You bring them home and you put them on the kitchen counter, and that’s what you’re going to make your dinner out of. If you’ve got a red pepper over here—it’s not a tomato. You’ve got to deal with what you’ve got. You don’t have an ideal collection of material every time out.
We’re late today, but worse things could have happened:
Shit, guys. I don’t even know what to say. I just want to apologize again. I am so sorry for whatever consequences this has for any of you.
If I could give back those last five beers, I would do it in a heartbeat. I don’t know why I let that girl look at it. That was a total disregard of our phones before hos mantra.
That’s the beginning of a monologue from the guy who lost the new iPhone. Full apology here.
F.A.Q.'s about the Hadron Collider
Roz Chast, FTW.
Saul Bellow to Joanna Newsom
I thought to do some good by giving an interview to PeopleI, which was exceedingly foolish of me. I asked Aaron [Asher] to tell you that the Good Intentions Paving Company had fucked up again.
From The New Yorker, that was Saul Bellow writing to Philip Roth, 26 years ago. The series of letters, all written by Bellow, are only for subscribers, but would be worth your while. I found myself struck by how open the letters were. Do people send e-mails like this? I suppose they might. To Cynthia Ozick:
I have become such a solitary, and not in the Aristotelian sense: not a beast, not a god. Rather, a loner troubled by longings, incapable of finding a suitable language and despairing at the impossibility of composing messages in a playable key – as if I no longer understood the codes used by the estimable people who wanted to hear from me and would have so much to reply if only the impediments were taken away.
There was also this, to Roth again:
I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do about the journalists; we can only hope that they will die off as the deerflies to towards the end of August.
On Board #66
August 29, 10:32 a.m.
Eastern Travel bus – 3 Pike St. (New York, NY) to 1021 Arch St. (Philadelphia, PA)
This is an exposition on luck and chance and self determination and being a dumbass, as experienced before boarding and while riding the 10:30 Eastern Travel bus from New York to Philadelphia one Saturday morning.
This particular morning, in attempting to catch the 8:15 Eastern Travel bus from New York to Philly (N.B. not the 10:30 from NY to Philly), I woke up with just enough time to make it – not a second more. I took a shower, but did not shave; packed a slice of banana bread, but did not eat a bowl of cereal; ran back up two flights of stairs after forgetting my umbrella, but did not realize I had forgotten the black belt I needed for the wedding I would be attending in eight hours.
Needless to say, I missed the F train. And not by a few seconds, so I could hear the dreadful “BING” that signals both that your Hot Pocket is ready to be removed from the microwave (a good thing) and that the subway is leaving despite your best efforts to leap down the set of stairs (a far worse thing). No, I had badly missed this train, its rear lights nowhere in sight, probably a good two minutes down the tunnel.
I did eventually catch a train, because another one always comes (in New York, at least; one becomes more depressed after 1 a.m. elsewhere). It was not the first train that came by – a G – or the second – another G – but it was the third.
The train arrived at East Broadway, one and a half blocks from 3 Pike St, outpost of the secretive Eastern Travel Bus Company Inc. We were only a minute or two behind schedule. An elevator took me to an exit I do not want, and I realize just too darn late that my mental compass has failed me and sent me east (and slightly north) rather than west (and slightly south), where I needed to go.
It is enough.
I sprint, holding my suit in one hand and a camera bag in the other and my thoughts, as best I can recall, jump to the following questions: Why is running so exhausting? Why is there a half opened computer monitor in my path that I must jump over? Did I remember my camera? Why do these two women insist on unfurling their umbrellas wide (did I mention it was raining) and hogging the sidewalk like couples riding an escalator? Why is it raining? Why is this bag so heavy? Why is there construction forcing a detour in the sidewalk? How did Chinatown get built? Why is it here, in this spot? Why don’t I workout more? Seriously, this shirt is a medium and it’s wet and it’s loose? And why the hell is this bag so heavy? It’s still raining?
As I turn the corner onto Pike Street (which doesn’t actually have any signs calling it Pike Street) there’s a small crowd, half a dozen strong, all huddled under the bus stop. The petite Chinese woman sitting on a black egg crate in a pink jacket asks me where I’m going (actually, “Where you going?,” which sounds very ethnically ignorant but is actually exactly what you would say to a friend, except her pronunciation and diction are more formal, and yours is lazy and ignorant).
She gestures to the corner. Rather, around the corner. “It’s gone, left one minute ago.”
“But it’s not even 8:15.” I look at the time: it is exactly 8:15. “Yes it is”; she shows me her watch, reading 8:16. “The next one is at 10,” she tells me with a sympathetic smile.
“Jesus Christ,” I say aloud, with immediate regret and only thankful that I was looking at the damply pewter sidewalk and not into the eyes just above the sympathetic smile of a woman who really couldn’t have helped me solve a problem I caused myself by stopping to back that piece of banana bread.
I now have to pass the time. I pass several Chinese restaurants walking down Canal St. to a Starbucks. I leave the umbrella – the one I ran back to get – tied to my camera bag, the rain dripping at a pace that makes holding the umbrella more painful than getting wet.
I buy a coffee and sit for an hour, surrounded by Europeans enjoying vacation.
I return to the stop and sit through people boarding a bus to DC. Two black women have occupied the egg crates and the short Chinese woman is standing. It seems she doesn’t recognize me from earlier which I find odd but really makes a whole lot of sense. Finally the bus arrives and the driver urges us to move with military precision down the aisle. I find a seat next to the black women after finding my bag just squeezes into the overhead compartment, thank goodness.
The drive through New Jersey is better in fog, which we have here today. A rusting metal drawbridge looks vintage rather than greenery-destroying, and the cranes at the port vaguely like an approaching army rather than encroaching blight. There is, of course, beauty in apocalypse, and Newark Airport’s rotting trailers and glowing red lights, blinking, look rather like a rebel outpost just as its central tower reminds one of the Tower of Sauron. These are good things.
The young girl sitting behind me is on her way to a friend’s going away party, a friend heading to Beijing and Paris for 18 months. The half of her face I can make out between two headrests is attractive. She is awakened by a phone and begins speaking to a friend she hasn’t talked to in forever.
“I helped Dave move all weekend.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready to get married. I want to get married at some point, I just don’t know when.”
“And yeah I would marry him.”
“I just feel like I’m running in place at my job. I want to get to the next level.”
“I’m just not sure where I am at this stage in my life.”
“I can’t believe we’re 27.”
“Amy wanted to be pregnant at 28. She just got a new job. I haven’t talked to her in a while.”
“She’s a TV reporter.”
“OK yeah, I’m turning 27 in two months.”
“It’ll be OK. I think.”
I got to my wedding in time, early, in fact. I filmed the happy couple. I enjoyed the open bar, and the dance floor. I had an uneventful bus ride back the next day, returning to work in plenty of time.