Great reading I missed but shouldn't have

Gary Allen, Tamara Watson and Phillip Levine read at the MUDDY CUP/INQUIRING MINDS coffeehouse and bookstore in Saugerties, part of a great series put together by Teresa Giordano. And unfortunately and stupidly I had to miss it. I had written, in this sam post, a kind of luminous excuse: the sky was so many colors, the dogs had to be fed, the pages of the book would not stop turning on their own, and so I lost my place, and so I lost track of time while I was looking for the place, and then it was late, and the drive is long and the roads were winding, and windy, and I didn't go. The excuse itself was inspired by Phillip, who seems to be able to make verse, sweet, human verse, out of nearly everything. There was actually a concrete reason why I couldn't go. All the same, it was a — loss. One thing: the bookstore has a myspace page, where it describes itself as a swinger and an 18 year old male.


Merry Surviving

(about a woman who survived for 3 days under the snow, and was found by a search & rescue dog.)

It's Christmas, I'm looking at a paper bag printed with reindeers wearing scarves, watching the dogs chase each other outside. The power went out for a few hours around 3 a.m., which led to a dream of being old and marooned. But I'm not. Is there an equivalent to 3 days under the snow? A domestic equivalent? And why is life constantly permeated — or perforated — with a sense of connection, whereby the story I picked last month as Chronogram's fiction winner was about a man obsessed with a Ford Aerostar, the car that took me to graduate and into the first vestige of a new life, and why was it the best story, and how did it come to be that it was written by Mimi Lipson, who just happens to be with Luc Sante, who just happens to also be on Verse Chorus, etc.?

I blacked out the names of all the authors when I read the stories. But I wouldn't have known anyway. A blind spot which led right back into the small tidy circle of life. I'd been meaning to mention this.

And my father just told me this, his advice to a friend who was having trouble (his words) with her son: One of the first things I learned as a parent is how to make my children feel guilty.


Xavier and Cato, early December, before the snow.

Slam after the snow.

ran turned away.
what? he said. did I do something wrong?
he's staring at me, she said. she was referring to Old Big Guy, who was laying on his pile of clothes, his giant shovel-head resting on the edge of the bed, yellow eyes shining as they went at it.
what, never had sex with a 140 pound wolf staring at you?


Because most of the time in the cabin there were at least 2 if not 3 of the wolves, usually because Big Old Guy was there, and he had taken a fancy to one of the females, or a rank young male was injured trying to climb up the ladder, or they'd found yet another, wounded or hurt, or just too weak to be outside.

The other night in the city of Kingston the only other people on the same block were drunk coming out of the pub. A man insisted I should come out of the cold and at least get a hot cider. He was making a big deal about the cider. I said, "What's the big deal about the cider?" Asked this of a perfect stranger. He was unphased. "It's so good," he said. "You never know — you might like it." He seemed to be trying to wink at me.

I was dressed in double hats, double jackets, insulated boots, holding the dog toy. The dog toy would be given to the dog when she found me in the dark, in this mostly empty city. Because I was out there, waiting for a trailing dog to find me during an urban trail. "Well who are you waiting for, then" he wanted to know. I didn't want to tell him I was waiting for a dog. And I'd forgotten, really, what it meant to be considered a possibility. So I thanked him.

On the way back to the truck after everything, I saw the deer in the window. Further proof of the shorthand darling heart of faith in the odd world. For you.


Things We Talk About When We Talk About Love

1. whether or not to buy the yellow house
2. whether or not to get cable
3. whether the mud will melt off the dogs in the kitchen
4. where to put all the sweaters
5. how that is the best title for a book ever.
6. when the actual divorce will be fina ...

There, I said it.


Another design column I wrote for the fancy company in Palm Beach and then stole from the halls of the fancy company in Palm Beach when they laid us all off

Bird's Nest

The Beijing National Stadium as morning coffee

I dreamt about Angelina and Brad again last night. Brad, he likes to build. He believes architecture has redemptive, noble qualities. To be honest, my dream was probably inspired by the fact that I'm looking into building a Katrina Cottage, and, rightly or wrongly, his name will forever be associated with the push to rebuild New Orleans and create architecture that has meaning and value as well, including the Katrina Cottages, a great example of pastel-sided, front-porch vernacular that's done so well, Lowe's has developed it into a national product.

But since it's also the opening day of the Olympics, I flashed on the National Stadium in Beijing, another example of architecture so interesting (even to a layperson), you can recognize it as an attempt to build meaning and value into the structure. It exemplifies another kind of vernacular here: humans thinking about space and governments and tensions in a society, a vernacular of the individual and the national and how they work together.

Okay, turn away if you want to. Meaning? Value? Oy vey. It's 8 a.m. on a Friday and you'd rather think about Michael Phelps, or Dara Torres, with her 24-pack abdomen and whip-slim, age-defying hips on the cover of TIME. Or not about the Olympics at all. Or you're thinking, China, they are so BAD. They are so mean to their people. Look at all the people who were displaced by this huge nasty commie effort! Look at the what they did to poor Tibet!

But the I.O.C. voted to have the Olympics in Beijing. The I.O.C. decided they'd had enough of the postwar Jim McKay-voiced red-, white- and-blue de facto dominance on the world stage of international athletics. China knows how to put on a show, after all. What culture gives better banquets? So instead of leary-eyed U.S. of Hey Patriotism that grated on the rest of the world, we'll have a giant banquet of hundreds of marchers in color-blocked formation, and great swaths of red and gold, and those adorable little gymnasts, and sure, the back stories.

So bear with me. The stadium's nickname is the Bird's Nest. It was designed by a team of Swiss architects, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, assisted by the British engineering firm Arup.

It is actually remarkable. Architecture always means something, which is why, so often, it's maligned. An over-intellectualizing of something really simple: Put up a roof and walls. But we are human and we have brains and sometimes, we're going to use them and get it right. I keep grabbing you, dear reader, by your collar and saying, listen. Listen to Brad, at least. And here, Herzon and de Meuron did something noble and great. They created this elliptical, asymmetrical, porous thing that seats 91,000 people, and even in photographs, even in video, even in Google maps I can't stop looking at it.

There it sits, up on a manmade ridge in the northern part of the city that looks at once open and closed, stressed and flowing, rigid and soft. It's like a giant doughnut in a maze of steel trusses, held down like the giant in the fairy tale. The tensions between its beams and all that steel latticework, the way the roll of the roof is kept in check by the network of trusses over it, has an emotional effect: on the one hand, a sense of being held tight (and there, if you must, consider China's immensely repressive stance and force with its own people), and on the other, a sense of swelling, of growing right up against the very forces that would contain it. (Hello, 21st century, have you met China? 'Cause it owns you.)

There's so much more to say, but in the confines of a blog, I'll be spatially appropriate. One more thing, however, about its asymmetry: In the way it's higher on one side than the other, it seems to be tipping its hat.

To what, we'll have to see.

One dog was there because his owner went to jail. One dog was there because his owner was too worried she couldn't take good care of him. One dog was there because his owner kept him in jail. This is fiction.

One wolf lived on the porch because she couldn't see the steps anymore to climb down. She lived inside a plastic igloo an heiress had donated. One wolf liked to sleep between the refrigerator and the wall, which they thought was because the vibrations of the old compressor were like the sound of other wolves sleeping. One wolf, the biggest wolf of all, lived on the mound of clothes next to the bed, which prevented them from ever doing all the laundry. But there was always too much laundry to ever be all done. This is fiction too.

Sometimes I think the connection we have between us all is fiction. We make it up. Sometimes we're so good at the story we forget it's a story. Then something happens, breaks the skin apart, and we see what's underneath. Not fiction, then.


What is the difference between a hero and a nut? I'm thinking of Robert Downey, Jr. in Iron Man: he's brilliant and stupid at the same time, and knows it, and everyone else in the movie is sensible enough to leave him alone and just let him be that. But what is the line between not a nut and a nut? It might be the same as the line between the person who rushes into the road to save the cat and the person who holds back.

I watched a cat get run over from my kitchen window; by the time I got out there, it was twitching, blood doing bloody things, life ebbing out. All on a lovely autumn afternoon. And noone around her has claimed the cat as their own, perhaps because you don't own a dead cat; noone owns a dead cat, and yet here we all are, owning our dead mothers, our fathers, in the sense that we remain connected, attached, for all it's worth; we pin their memory onto our lapels; we wear their hats in the parade.


No Meatloaf Today

By Jana Martin/MOLI
written 8/29/07 for my daily design column which is now defunct on moli.com, which is now ... different.

An accident prevents the Boiceville Design Committee from meeting
Every Thursday there's a meatloaf sandwich special at the diner. Yesterday being Thursday, there was supposed to be meatloaf, and therefore the newly formed unofficial Boiceville Design Committee (which formed last week) was going to get together and discuss important issues in design. Today the subject was going to be sustainable design.

First a little background on the committee members:

Hal: Head builder. Most of his work is on second homes for people from the city. He's now learning more about sustainable design because that's what people want. In his most recent job he was supposed to install a windmill but the buildings department couldn't figure out the permits. The clients want him to install it anyway.

Sal: Works for his Dad. Sal has an engineering degree. He tried to point out that windmills cost way more than they'll produce for a weekend house. The clients scoffed and called him insensitive to the Earth.

Kassie: The waitress and (turns out) the meatloaf maker. She lives with a teacup chihuahua and her husband, a stonemason, who's the size of a house.

Then I got a phone call.

Kassie: Hey this is Kassie from the diner.

MOLI: Cooking meatloaf yet?

Kassie: No meatloaf today. We had a catastrophe.

MOLI: Oh no.

Kassie This big guy came in last night and sat down and broke a chair.

MOLI: And so no meatloaf?

Kassie: So he moved to the chair on the other side of the table and broke that one too.

MOLI: He was that big?

Kassie: You wouldn't have thought it looking at him, but he had a few tons of extra. Something about the way he sat down. But on the second fall he also broke the bone at the top of his ass. The whats-it.

MOLI: The coccyx?

Kassie: That.

MOLI: So no meatloaf.

Kassie: I had to drive the guy to the ER. My husband was pissed.

MOLI: Because he couldn't drive?

Kassie: My husband? No. He can drive like a bear can shit. He can drive with his eyes closed and his hands in his pants, and you can tell him I said that.

MOLI: Wait. You're mad at him?

Kassie: He's acting like a big baby.

MOLI: You mean the chair victim.

Kassie: No. My husband. I'd be in bad shape too if I broke my ass. Maybe I should. Get some time off. I can sit on a donut pillow and get waited on hand and foot. Imagine.

MOLI: So the chair victim's doing okay.

Kassie: He's not the one that has to fix the chairs. An order's up. Call me back.

I called back. What Kassie says, I do.

Kassie: (answers by rote) Sorry, no meatloaf today.
MOLI: Kassie, no, it's me.

Kassie: People are very upset about this lack of meatloaf thing. Hal and Sal are going for pizza today instead. So no meeting. No one seems to care about that poor guy who broke his ass. I hope he's not a shoe salesman, where they have to sit on those sloping stools.

MOLI: Can I just ask you something?

Kassie: I've heard that before.

MOLI: Your husband was pissed because he has to fix the chairs, but not because you had to take the guy to the ER, and not because you couldn't make the meatloaf?

Kassie: You just got that? Boy are people dense. Or maybe I need to lower my medication. Or raise it.

MOLI: Sorry. It was a just a little unclear.

Kassie: It goes like this: My husband is really good at fixing things, but he hates to do it. He especially hates fixing chairs. He himself has never broken a chair in his life despite being as big as a brontosaurus. So he lacks sympathy.

MOLI: You can't just throw out the broken chairs?

Kassie: Well thanks to who knows what or who, or maybe the whole global-warming thing, we are now on a green kick over here. What is that word? Sustainable? We are switching to unbleached kitchen cloths, which turn dishwater gray the minute you use them. Very appetizing for a customer to watch. And there was a suggestion that I wipe down the counters with vinegar. I said why don't I just knock over a bottle of salad dressing instead.

MOLI: Isn't it pure white vinegar you use?

Kassie: I know all about that. My grandma used it on everything. Smelled like hell. Some changes are for the better. This sustainable diner thing is going to last about a minute. It is not sustainable, in other words.

MOLI: Can't you just do more recycling?

Kassie: I know who I'd like to recycle. The conversation went like this. Boss: 'Darn. Can you get your husband over to fix those?' Me: 'He can try. Or we could just replace them.' Boss: 'We can't just keep wasting our resources. Do we throw out a guy when his ass breaks?'

MOLI: You may want to look into that medication change after all.

Kassie: Today's special is toast.

Next week, when the meatloaf resumes, the committee will be discussing the design of chairs.

Minutes of the Unofficial Boiceville Design Committee

By Jana Martin/MOLI
written 08/17/2007

The local diner considers the "product of the day"
Thursday there's a meatloaf sandwich special at the diner. So I brought in some pictures of Dwell's products of the day and asked father and son builders Hal and Sal what they thought. Kassie the waitress went on break and threw in her 2 cents. Herewith, the minutes.

But first a little background on the committee members:

Hal: Head builder. Most of his work is on second homes for people from the city. He's now learning more about sustainable design because that's what people want. In his most recent job he was supposed to install a windmill but the buildings department couldn't figure out the permits. The clients want him to install it anyway.

Sal: Works for his dad. Sal has an engineering degree. He tried to point out that windmills cost way more than they'll produce for a weekend house. The clients scoffed and called him insensitive to the Earth.

Kassie: The waitress on break. She lives with a teacup chihuahua and her husband, a stonemason, who's the size of a house.

MOLI: Thanks for sitting down with me. So I'm going to show you these three products, and all I want is for you to tell me what you think.

Hal: Don't worry about that.

MOLI: These were highlighted by Dwell magazine as examples of great products. They break new ground or improve on an existing idea, or are products that use sustainable processes and materials. Dwell focuses on design and architecture and construction. Any thoughts on that?
Kassie: In terms of construction nothing's more sustainable than stone. That's what my husband says. Or so he hopes it sustains us anyway.
Hal: It's not that we don't understand global warming. It's that we have to make a living.

Sal: Anyway.

First object: Trendy Pet dog bowl.

Hal (turning the photo to get a better look): You said it was a dog bowl?

Kassie: She means dog bowl feeder.

Sal: Looks like the seat of a porta potty.

Hal: My wife would never let that in the kitchen.
Kassie: It's so cold looking.

Hal: My wife is the type to get this. She babies our dog like it's a —

Sal: Baby.
Hal: But she likes warm colors. She'd want something in a natural tone.

Sal: Remember what happened when we tried to buy her a black refrigerator.

Hal: It was on special.

Sal: Some special.

Kassie: And they say this is good design because?

MOLI: You can measure your dog and then order the custom size feeder. It's ergonomic. And it supposedly looks better than other feeders.

Kassie: I doubt they have one for my dog. Her legs are three inches long. She eats on the table. She barks between bites if you go near her.

Hal: What magazine did you say this was in?

MOLI: Dwell.

Hal: As in, In these woods ever shall I dwell?

MOLI: Who said that?

Sal: No one. He just made it up. He gets like that when he has to build for city people.

Hal: That's who would buy this thing. And then make me redo the counters and floors to match.

Kassie: So you think this is for city dogs.

Sal: For city people. You think the dogs care what they eat out of?

Second object: Axiomaudio Waterproof Outdoor Speakers.

Sal: These are cool. They're good-looking but not obnoxious. Great paint job. Are the wires waterproof too?

Hal: Who wants to hear music coming out of speakers outside? If my neighbors got these I'd call the cops.

Kassie: I could see a use for them, but only if you have a lot of land. Certainly not in a city. Someone's liable to shoot at them.

Sal: I can see them at a pool party. They look coated with something.

MOLI: They're painted with car paint and have a UV inhibitor coating and angled ports. They're specifically engineered to deal with the elements.

Hal: Elements? As in wind and rain? Meaning weather? This is mountain out molehill talk. Which is what I think about all of this.

Sal: I like them. They're for younger guys.

Kassie: Obviously for the younger guy who has everything.

Sal: It might be good for a pool party. But everyone would be paranoid they'd ruin your new speakers. You'd have to go around saying, "Hey it's okay, they're waterproof."
Hal: You mean element proof.

Third object: Earth Stool by Vivaterra.
Hal: Now what the heck is this?
MOLI: This is a stool made from the root balls of discarded Chinese fir trees.

Hal: Root balls? That's a fancy way to say stump. They're importing stumps form China now.

Kassie: It looks like it weighs a ton. It doesn't look comfortable.

Hal: So someone got the typical idea to take a bunch of stumps and make furniture. And Dwell magazine thinks this is new?

Sal: Didn't that guy Ingraham make stump furniture?

Hal: His were from oak and ash. Hardwood. And he varnished them to keep them from drying up and getting cracks. Is this varnished?

MOLI: I think varnish isn't eco-sensitive. Maybe they oil it.

Hal: Do they spray them first? Lot of wood-boring insects in China. That's how we got those wasps killing the pines now.

Kassie: And how much does this polished Chinese stump run?

MOLI: About 170.

Kassie: That's genius. I want a job like that.

MOLI: But do you think it looks good?

Kassie: if you're going for that crazy hermit look. Maybe someone who didn't grow up with chainsaws would find it cute in a rural kind of way.

Hal: I look at it, I see termites crawling out of it in all directions and heading for the house I just finished.
Sal: You know, I've been looking at it for a while and I finally figured out what it reminds me of.
Kassie: What?
Sal: Actually it's already called that.
Kassie: Just tell me. Really. What?
Hal: You know what.

Sal: At least it's biodegradable.
Kassie: Guess that's a plus.


Sex and debt: Entwistle, forlorn in debt and trolling for sex on the internet. Did he really shoot his wife and daughter as they slept, in Woburn, Mass? How many people from another place, lost in the mess of trying to make it in 21st-century America? thinking of it.

thinking of long lost fathers, looking for them, of what the father is like in the book, because there is always a father, a dark or light force, there to answer the daughter's phone call.

she learns to drive everywhere in any weather in any car at any time whether there is even a moon in the sky.

she learns to tell the way the wind blows from the hole in her ear.

she had that altercation with the ex -- really, it was an accident -- but it wasn't.


The distortion of mood upon the same as it ever was
no matter the small mercies of mornings or afternoons
and despite or because of constant memory


Back from the Trenches

My friends at the writing group Who Wants Cake are winning over the world with their good writing group mantras. If you need to be in a writing group, it should be named after dessert. It should include them. They are all goodhearted, smart, hard working. It's terrible to be in a writing group that pegs you for some upstart arro-girl, or is full of fierce wannabes. you want something in the middle. you want people who let their stories be freaks but are themselves decent as they come. decent as dogs.

most dogs.

But if we ever needed a reason to feel proud to not be American as this -- a Fox news reporters gets her yah yahs off by shooting a machine gun off the roof of a bus. It's all just pretend, right.


Ne'er Do Evers Doing Well

Chris Buckridge has a great band. He was starting it when I lived in Carroll Gardens, a hipster obsessive with a sweet streak from Ohio. Brooklyn, of course, that area of Brooklyn, back then, was full of that. It was in full play at the Fall Cafe, where Chris held court while making coffee and peanut butter on tosts. The Fall was where so many of us wrote and didn't write and talked and didn't talk, and there was a strangely greasy feel to everything, but a marvelous scruffy sense of happiness. People could sit there for hours. I sometimes did.


Minnewaska Fire

We could smell it coming over the mountains in High Falls, that dreadful dry and crispy smell, a few thousand acres of wildlands burning in the heat, 30 fire companies trying to contain it. Nothing like this in 50 years. Not since the Minnewaska hotel itself burned, which I remember. It had already closed. My mother bought plates at the closing sale. I have them now, with a little green sketch of one of the rustic little bench houses they'd built all along the lake, up on the Shawungunk rock. There was always a smell there, of pine needles in the heat, of very clear mountain air. I went there often. I don't remember it ever raining. Then it was gone, as they say.

Of course there was a lot more to it than that. Arson was suspected. There was a bitter story with a bitter, charring ending. The land endured, the giant clapboard hotel didn't, the stories, of course, did.

Iconographies of a Personal Disaster

front porch

red roof


blue bathrobe

white bare feet

rickety old table

rain-flooded stream