Monday, September 28, 2009

Turn of the Century Poems About Bracelets, Career Arcs, Rooftops, and Retribution

On my poetry site are seven poems I discovered tonight in an old abandoned Word document called “Songs.” Some are songs; all are poems. All were written between 1999 and 2001.

The House is about the scariest house I’ve ever been in. It was an old abandoned house in Doylestown, PA, right behind the Burger King. This is one of several poems/stories/songs on the subject of this house. It’s the simplest. It’s my favorite.

I Feel Like Dancing
is about living in Minneapolis and remembering my favorite memory of Los Angeles – four people, never to see each other again as a group, watching the sunset from a rooftop in the Fairfax District. The world never looked more beautiful than that.

Double Gold
is about being young and strange (like me) and being obsessed with charts, numbers, AND music. Thus, my intense interest in Casey Kasem’s Top 40 and Billboard Magazine. Here, I delineate the various awards given for surpassing record sales milestones.

Two Bracelets
? I have no idea what it’s about. I think it’s about someone I know. But then I think it’s about someone else. So it’s really about me and my inaccurate – but always detailed – memories.

In the Low Light
is about the singer of that song Wildfire (Michael Martin Murphey) coming to my small town in the early 80s and playing a show at the local theater. I imagine that his career is on the downward slope and that his fruit platters are less seasonal and his groupies less existent.

is about a more interesting Canada, filled with people who wants something more from their nation.

Finally, Limbs is awesome. I need to analyze it more. I need to figure out what was up with my mind and my soul back then....if they are indeed two different things, like arms and legs.

Again, the poems are here:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A New Poem and the Missing "Peach" Paragraph

There's a new poem here. Before you read it, you should know:
  • It's not about you
  • Or you or you or you
  • It's not about me, though a few things in there bear a small but distinct similarity to stuff I've seen/done/heard about
  • It's not based in reality, but neither is reality entirely based on the memory of earlier reality
  • Still, much of it is based on images I haven't been able to shake over the year
  • It was originally going to be called Stars in September which is a better poem title but one that I will save for a different piece.
Yesterday I wrote a blog entry that went through many revisions and font changes, more than I have ever subjected this blog to. One of the early versions, written on Monday afternoon, contained a final paragraph that was a departure from everything that preceded it. This departure could have been for many reasons. But the most obvious one is that what I had written did not resemble reality. None of what I wrote in that final paragraph actually happened. Tenses and points of view kept changing for no reason. I said that it was Memorial Day.

So I deleted that paragraph and published something that was essentially true. But I saved the weird paragraph and read and re-read it. And it has puzzled me. You see, I don't remember writing it. But I clearly was the person who wrote it. Though the events were untrue, the following elements did indeed match reality: the paragraph's narrator has two cats (I have two cats); a reference is made to an "absent father" (my father died 14 years ago; during my childhood, he traveled for work frequently), and some action took place in an office that is part of a larger suite of offices (just like mine).

In the future, I hope to analyze my hallucinatory dream paragraph. I will parse each of its 77 words and come to a greater understanding of self. I'm not quite ready for that today.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Peach Was Still In My Pocket

Yesterday morning I found myself in the parking garage at work, struggling to get out of my car. I had too many individual items that needed to be carried to the office but I had no bag of any kind - no backpack, no briefcase - in which to carry these items:
  • wallet
  • iPhone
  • headset for iPhone
  • keys
  • blue Moleskine (lined) notebook
  • black pen
  • bottle of water
  • a peach.

So, there was a peach. This has been a good year for peaches and it sister fruit, the nectarine. Trader Joe's has been selling boxes of nine peaches (in a waste-saving 3x3 box, with bottom indentations and air holes in its plastic lid) and for some reason, they're the best peaches I can remember eating. I took three of these peaches with me to work, along with a few other snacks. Everything went into a paper shopping bag. By the time I got to work, I had eaten two of the peaches as part of my in-car breakfast.

Back to my attempt to organize my personal items. I was standing outside my car, door open, personal items strewn on the hood of the car. I was frustrated that it just wasn't fitting together. I decided I needed to restart the process. I took a breath and sat back down in the driver's seat. I looked at my things. Most could be squeezed into my pockets or held in my hands. But not all of it could, comfortably, for the 0.6 mile walk to my office. I tried different combos until I realized that the peach - bulbous and not foldable - was the best candidate for reassignment

The peach sat alone in the left front pocket of my dress pants. My hands and other front pocket were full of the aforementioned. I walked to my office with a sense of purpose. I strode across Figueroa and ambled past the plazas. I chose not to elude the fountain. I reached the brick building. I walked up the stairs. I pulled out my key chain ahead of time. I chose the correct key. I opened the door. I put the things on my desk.

I moved into my new office a couple of weeks ago and I'm still not fully settled. Strewn around my office are boxes full of office supplies and pre-21st century educational journals, framed art waiting to be displayed, and, most inappropriate for an office, two big blue IKEA reusable shopping bags filled with random mail and papers from the last four years of my life.

(break for questions)

Reader 1: Well, how did you get all that stuff into the car in the first place? Couldn't you have used the same carrying method?
BpB: Good question. I have to remember the fine eye for detail that is typical of my reader(s). I brought all that stuff to the car in a grocery bag. During the drive, the bag became unusable. No further detail will be provided because the story is actually not that interesting.

Reader 2: Don't you have any other more important matters to write about?
BpB: This is a blog, not a personal diary. Would I put dubious lists, fake reader messages, words of wooing in hidden code, links to videos of songs from 1985, and long considerations on Bachelor Loaf into a diary? Of course I would not.

Reader 3: The peach fit in your pocket?
BpB: Yes, it did. With room to spare. These pants have deep/wide pockets. I'd say the peach was medium-sized.

Reader 2 (again): Don't you have a giant IKEA bag full of mail at your apartment?
BpB: Yes. This is a different, third bag.

Reader 4: In the paragraph above the "break for questions," did you put the word IKEA - and only the word IKEA - in the font of Verdana, in a strained reference to their recent corporate font change?

BpB: Yes.
Upon entering my office, I decided that the unorganized bags, boxes, and stuff should be in a less visible part of the office. I picked up one of the boxes and stacked it on top of another box on top of a small cabinet. The bottom box was empty and could not withstand the weight of the top box (the contents of which included a 10-pound weight for spontaneous office arm curls) and at least four multivariate statistics textbooks.

Because of the weight differential, the top box became unstable. I instinctively grabbed it before it could fall. Because I am a smart individual with an advanced degree, I then solved the problem very simply - by putting the empty box on top of the full one. I would soon learn of another problem that required a solution.

It was about 10 minutes later that I began to suspect my thigh was getting wet. I looked at my charcoal grey 34-length/32-width pants and saw several liquidy blotches and a couple of strange small pulpy bulges. I was confused. What happened? Had my leg been infiltrated by sea monkeys? A pack of pants-gnats? A dreaded scorpion titmouse?

I was a little hesitant of putting my hand in my pocket or otherwise investigating further. But hesitation was soon replaced by fearless inquisitiveness, much like that of a fifteenth century explorer. I carefully placed my left hand in the pocket. It felt sticky in there. And then it hit me... back when I instinctively grabbed that box... when I lunged forward and a bit to the left and bumped the upper half of my left leg against the cabinet, the peach was still in my pocket.

I don't even have to fake-anticipate my next reader question. I can just ask it in my own temporal reality: Shouldn't I have noticed that the peach exploded? Well, yeah, probably. But there was just a slight collision. I had other things on my mind. The peach was perfectly ripe so it had a tender softness to it.

This is where a photograph would have appeared. I wanted to place a picture of a smashed peach in this spot. It didn't have to be a smashed-peach-in-pants-pocket photo. Pants didn't have to be involved at all. It just had to be a picture of a peach being smashed, or a shot of the mushy peach pulp post-smash. But there are no pictures of smashed peaches on the Internet, at least none that are searchable using expected search terms. So you know what I did? I said "Hey I got six more succulent peaches at home. Why don't I smash one of them and take a picture?" I felt this piece really needed that image.

Then... real life took over. I got home. I had to feed the cats. I had to watch that one sitcom that I don't tell people I watch. I had to fall asleep ridiculously early. I never took that picture. And I won't be near a photographable peach smashing for another hour or two; no one should have to wait any longer to hear my story.

The date of this piece reads September 21. But it did not post until today, the 22nd. All of it, with the exception of this green aside, was written on the 21st. I probably should have waited another day or two, so my urge to tell this story would pass.
Yes, the story was truly that inconsequential. You kept reading in the hope that there would be some revelation, some grand self-realization. Nope. But, let's say this completely true story did fascinate you. Let's say it was turned into a feature film and the words "The End" appeared on the screen after the protagonist's peach-pocket reveal. Wouldn't you have a few lingering questions, questions that you do not even have to ask. Because, superimposed on the mythical movie screen in that mythical indie theater that had the guts to show The Peach Was Still in My Pocket (PG-13, for suggestiveness) are the following informative title cards:
Ali and his peach mush walked to the sink in the office break room to do his best to clean up the mess.

(soft fade)

He then remembered that his new office break room did not have a sink so he walked upstairs to the restroom, where he did his best to clean up the mess.

(softer fade)

Ali did not eat the peach.

Monday, September 14, 2009

And When I Was Through Watching, I 'd Become Someone Else: For Jim Carroll

This morning, via a friend's short Facebook post, I learned that Jim Carroll had died. He died on Friday, at his desk. Interestingly, it was on Friday that I thought of Carroll for the first time in months. That one thought led to other good thoughts. Today, I feel shaken about the news of his death.

Jim Carroll was best known for his 1978 book The Basketball Diaries, an amazing memoir of '60s New York, heroin addiction, and, most of all, basketball. Despite its prominence in the book's title, many critics and readers ignored the 'basketball' and focused on the drugs and the streets and the stirring descriptions of Manhattan. Sure, stories of hanging with Warhol, growing up as the son of an Irish bartender, lapsed Catholicism, and hustling to support a heroin habit were fascinating enough. But basketball served as the book's reason for being (he began writing it to chronicle his formal youth basketball "career") and the author's reason for surviving a truly difficult - if fascinating - life of addiction, abandonment, and absurdity. I have the belief that basketball has certain redemptive and life-affirming qualities.

(For a thorough analysis of the book and its locations, history, and legacy, go here. I'd rather not discuss the movie based on the book, which starred a young Leonardo DiCaprio and seems to result in extremely divisive opinions; anyway, I haven't seen it.)

In the years immediately after Diaries came out in '78, I was aware of Carroll. My childhood subscription to Rolling Stone and my scouring of suburban Philadelphia mall bookstore's sports and music sections ensured this. I specifically remember the book being displayed in the sports section of the Montgomery Mall's Waldenbooks and the music section of the same mall's B. Dalton. Yes, it should have been in memoir. And no this is not a convenient memory, one where the book locations could easily be reversed. It happened.

(Interestingly, as I noticed recently, the book appears in the poetry section of the Union Square Borders in San Francisco, despite it not being a poetry book. Carroll, however, is a poet.)

Anyway, despite being an innocent suburban adolescent, I knew what heroin was and I knew that "hustling" meant prostitution and that both of these things were bad. So, I would not be buying and taking home The Basketball Diaries with the five or ten dollars my mother would invariably hand me when we (along with my sister) would arrive at the mall. My mother and sister would shop together while I would be allowed to browse on my own. I was always given instructions: meet at the fountain by Bamberger's in one hour.... or meet on the benches by Chick-Fil-A in 90 minutes. (Eerily similar to my mother's 2009 order of "meet at Corner Bakery in Pasadena by 11:30; don't be late because I vant to order breakfast and they stop serving it at noon.")

No, my mall allowance would more likely be spent on two slices of pizza and an LP record (something like Warren Zevon's Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School, to commemorate another of this century's September deaths). The Basketball Diaries would be read inside the store, 10 to 20 pages at a time, just like the other "secret" books I consumed entirely in bookstores during my adolescence.... books that taught me all I needed to know about pop culture, history, and sex.

I hung on every word of that book. It instilled in me a feverish love of basketball, a sensible fear of drugs (and New York), and, most importantly, a desire to write. Although it was a memoir and not a book of poetry, it had enough poetic imagery to make me start thinking like the basketball-loving east coast poet I would become (for a short time, before the family took me to the Midwest in '84). Also, Carroll had other poetry books. I was first delivered to the poetry sections of bookstores by virtue of reading the Diaries, finding some of Carroll's other amazing work. For example, from the poem that's the source of this entry's title, The Narrows (for Carol Kane):
you were thinking about a red curtain
that we might hide behind. I was
thinking about the freedom of your shadow,
last night, when this livid sky unfolded
its vault of a thousand swords and the air
we were breathing seemed our own.
Wow. First of all, I thought I was the only one who wrote poems for Carol Kane. Second of all - "...and the air we were breathing seemed our own" is about as perfect a line as one could write, if one could write about not exactly feeling a part of this world while at the same time acknowledging that there must be something real about me (us).

So thanks Jim Carroll. You lived a great life and you'll be missed.

One more thing. Jim was also a singer, a key member of the late '70s punk scene. And if I'm unfamiliar with everything but his song People Who Died, then it still shouldn't keep me from giving you People Who Died:

Thursday, September 03, 2009

5 Songs, 6 Videos

Last night I fell asleep with the lights on, in the clothes I had worn to work. Is that a police tape "do not cross" guitar strap? Cool. Anyway, I got nine good hours of sleep and here's a good morning song to wake us up:

Cait O'Riordan (the first singer that Elvis Costello married) gives a moving performance in a film that I just realized I've seen before. And yes that's Joe Strummer in the cowboy hat:

Maybe my days of riding around Minneapolis in my pajamas are over. But this song makes me smile nonetheless.

"I had a conversation with you last night. It was a little one-sided but that's alright."

I think I've linked to this before. But I don't care. I'll keep doing it until Belle & Sebastian and The Hold Steady tour together, singing songs about Timberwolves, the 5 Freeway, timberwolves, pizza, poetry, and the great pyramids.

You're right. Funny Little Frog might benefit from a slowed-down, less jaunty performance and a woman playing the role of singer: