Category Archives: Asides

Downtime

Some of the folks on the team compensate for being away from home and family by eating. Food gets fetishized. Not so much the food at the KBR dining facilities, although there are the quirks there, the exotic things some eat when away from home: chunks of blue cheese by the salad bar, sliced boiled beef tongue for lunchmeat, Nutella. But the true fetishizing happens in spending money on food. There’s a real Thai restaurant on base, staffed and run by Thai nationals who got the contract and rotate over here for six months or a year like the AAFES and KBR workers, and a Turkish restaurant operating under the same circumstances (the Thai place is better), and a pizza and sandwich shop, and a tiny, smoky two-picnic-table kebab shack that’s mouth-wateringly excellent on the other side of the runway. Guys will spend fourteen Euros for dinner or four Euros for lunch, sometimes two or three times a week. “It’s my only luxury,” one of them says. “It’s the only thing that gives me pleasure here, besides Skyping with my wife.”

Or folks compensate by going to the gym. It’s open 24 hours, and there’s usually a wait for the treadmills. Everybody reads, of course. There are swap bookshelves everywhere, weirdly diverse (or not so weirdly; as diverse, perhaps, as the military itself): there are the usual titles you’d expect, Tom Clancy and Dan Brown, and Mack Bolan The Executioner, whose novels I had never encountered until I saw one of the series on a bookshelf at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California in 1993, and who I never saw after I got out of the Army until I came here, but there’s also a copy of The Book of Mormon on the same shelf as an old library-bound hardcover of The Hite Report, and a while back I spotted Charles Stross’s The Atrocity Archives a couple shelves down from Grace Paley.

And the pirated DVD shop at the bazaar does booming business. Every DVD is $2, lots of them of movies that are still in the theaters (I’ve watched Black Swan and The Adjustment Bureau while I’ve been here), although many are DVDs of the movies being shown in movie theaters, so you sort of get the whole experience. Since we’re prohibited from taking them home to the U.S., some folks buy one or two or three a week and just leave them on the swap shelf, which makes for a sizable library. From what I’ve seen, I’m anticipating that The Hangover and The Losers will get picked up a lot more often than Inland Empire and Enter the Void, but you never know.

My habits are pretty much what you’d expect.

reading desk

I’ll cop to being selfish: I’m not going to leave any of my scholarly books on the swap shelf. (I am planning on leaving my Afghan books behind, though, and Chronic City is very far from the Jonathan Lethem I know and like.) There are two seasons of The Wire on those hard drives on the left, as well as about 260 GB of my music collection, mostly ripped from CDs just before I left. And while it sounds OK on the Bowers & Wilkins 600s at home, the Sony earbuds I brought with me weren’t cutting it, so I ordered the pair of Etymotics there on the keyboard. They go much deeper into your ear than other earphones, so they’re a initially little uncomfortable. We’ll see how well I get used to them tonight as I give them a test drive and take a look at Zombie Economics.

Warren Zevon, “The Hula Hula Boys”
Metric, “Satellite Mind”
Albert King & Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Match Box Blues”
Outkast, “The Way You Move”
The Clash, “Straight to Hell”
David Bowie, “Modern Love”
Morphine, “Honey White”
Dengue Fever, “Sui Bong”
Emmylou Harris, “Walls of Time”
Greg Kihn, “Breakup Song”
Joan Jett, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
Depeche Mode, “Stripped”
Lupe Fiasco, “The Coolest”
M.I.A., “Jimmy”
Beck, “Farewell Ride”
Melvins, “At a Crawl”
My Brightest Diamond, “Feeling Good”
Rachid Taha, “Kelma”
The Grass Roots, “Midnight Confessions”
Firewater, “Borneo”
Sisters of Mercy, “This Corrosion”
Steve Earle, “Copperhead Road”
Natacha Atlas, “I Put a Spell on You”
Talking Heads, “Girlfriend Is Better”
Neko Case, “Furnace Room Lullaby”
Jurassic 5, “What’s Golden”
Led Zeppelin, “Over the Hills and Far Away”

Halloween Music

I’m enjoying listening to the Dead Kennedy’s “Halloween” tonight, especially the following bits:

So it’s Halloween
And you feel like dancin’
And you feel like shinin’
And you feel like letting loose

Whatcha gonna be
Babe, you better know
And you better plan
Better plan all day

Better plan all week
Better plan all month
Better plan all year

[…]

Why not every day
Are you so afraid
What will people say

After Halloween

Because your role is planned for you
There’s nothing you can do
But stop and think it through
But what will the boss say to you

And what will your girlfriend say to you
And the people out on the street they might glare at you
And whaddaya know you’re pretty self-conscious too

I’m celebrating my 40th birthday this year on Halloween (I was born on November 1), and I’m excited about it, but it’s also kind of a big milestone that’s got me looking back.

I first heard the Dead Kennedys when I was 9th grade — can that be right? Yes, that’s got to be right — and man, they were scary, and they were cool as hell. There was a mix tape that made the rounds and got duplicated and reduplicated, with Black Flag, Government Issue, Black Market Baby, and the Dead Kennedys, and it was garbled and hissy and recorded from a vinyl LP so there was a brief scratch and skip in “Trust Your Mechanic” that I still miss every time I hear the version I have now, and the climactic fantasy moments from “Riot” and “Forest Fire” were the first times I realized that music could do that energizing, subversive stuff, and the ominous bass melodies for “Holiday in Cambodia” and “I Am the Owl” were like nothing I’d ever hear until Primus, and I’ll still contend that the opening guitar riff for “Government Flu” is one of the best and most underrated in all of rock ‘n roll, up there with Suicidal Tendencies’ “The Miracle.” So yeah: back then, at a virginal 13, this was wicked-scary, dangerous, very cool stuff, as tinny and hissy as it was on that Maxell Gold cassette.

And I still like it, thinking back on my skinny nerdy self 27 years later, not as skinny but still plenty nerdy, gone from spiky hair to mullet to bleached mullet to fat mohawk to long hair to spiky again and then to the crew cut and finally to the shaved head: not really punk now, no.

Why not every day
Are you so afraid
What will people say

After Halloween

But I guess I was punk once.

Meth Lab; Fusion

This weekend’s brief respite from the steadily quickening pace of helping to facilitate the department’s Arriving Faculty Workshop and preparing to administer the fall semester’s first-year composition course was a trip into the city to take in a gallery exhibition and a meal, and for L. to meet her friend.

The exhibition was Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s “Black Acid Co-op,” and it was remarkable. The NY Times slide show gives a taste, and the accompanying review’s characterizations of the installation as “an immense, labor-intensive, maniacally contrived walk-through environment” and a “warren of some dozen rooms, interiors, and passageways [that] includes a burned-out home amphetamine lab [and] a red-carpeted gallery of pseudo-artworks” are apt. The word I would have chosen, I told L., was “methodical”: there was a remarkable and consistent phenomenological attention to the most minute details of the experience of the space.

One walks into a dark wicker-lined room strewn with paper trash. A book of polaroids lies in a corner of the concrete floor. There are thermal-printer astrological charts with attached polaroids pinned to the walls. And there is an uneven hole in the wall, the first of many, leading to a brightly, badly fluorescent-lit space, exposed wires hanging from the light fixtures, a scabrous analogue of run-down strip-mall commercialism.

wigs and foil

The wigs are clotted with paint and cement. The hole beckons.

wigs and hole

There are multiple paths. Inward, toward the heart, they all lead through iterations of meth labs.

Black Acid Co-op @ Deitch Projects

In deeper, one climbs into an open refrigerator and out the back.

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Silvan Idyll, Part 2

Lauralea and I went for a short, hilly run this morning — net change in elevation of 350 feet, repeated several times over 2.5 miles — and then went to Lost River State Park for a hike up Big Ridge (elevation 3200-3300 feet) on White Oak Trail. On the way, we passed groves of trees that looked almost exactly the way I imagine the edges of (nerd alert) Lothl√≥rien looking.

Montani Semper Liberi

I’m typing this on the deck of a log cabin deep in the woods of the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, somewhere near the town of Mathias and Lost River State Park, 15 miles from the nearest store or filling station, further from any cell phone coverage, and even further from any work obligations for the next two weeks or so. My companion and I set out from New York yesterday morning, cats and bags and groceries in the back, traveling south and west first by interstate and then by state and local route and finally by dirt road, until we got here, somewhere around

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Returning to Catullus

I returned from CCCC in San Francisco on the redeye Sunday morning, tired not only from the flight but from that sustained intellectual engagement, my mind happily worn out and smooshed and pushed by all the presentations I went to. It was an odd conference for me: I saw some good panels, about which I’ll post my notes soon, and some bad ones, about which I won’t, except to say that Spencer and I both stayed at one just to see how amazing it would get. What was odd, though, was the number of young-but-getting-established scholars whose reputation and work I know and admire who seemed to be reiterating somewhat old and accepted claims, and the number of new scholars who seemed unaware of the recent body of scholarship on emerging topics: in both cases, I found myself frequently feeling a strong sense of academic d

Elliptical

For me, there are some seriously rotten things happening now, and some genuinely hopeful things as well — both in far more extreme degree than in a long time — and I can’t really talk about either of them except in the tiniest of metonymies.

Full moon, shining bright and pale across the ice. Tink and Zeugma, prospective mousers, spending the night away from home, and this cold house wind-rattled and empty except for me.

I feel, in Strand’s words,

Moonhandled
And weird. The shivers
Wash over
Me, shaking my bones, my loose ends
Loosen,
And I lie sleeping with one eye open,
Hoping

but that’s where I have to cut the quotation. I know what I hope, and it’s not for nothing.

Black Watch

So it’s four o’clock in the morning and I just got back from the absolute best piece of theater I’ve ever seen in my life. Tonight was the penultimate night of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn, and my date and I were amazed. Brilliant, far more physical than any other play I’ve seen, and an amazing combination of soldier humor, startling violence, and pathos. Parts of it were shocking, and parts of it made my eyes tear up a bit, and by the end, hearing that bagpipe-and-drum tattoo made something tighten in my chest. Reader, if you haven’t seen it, hope for an encore tour. See it, see it, see it.

Part of the reason it caught my attention was the intersection of matters military with my family’s Scottish heritage, which is a distant link, certainly (and one roundly mocked in the play), but there was also the memory of being very, very young and having the vinyl “Black Watch War Pipe and Plaid” as one of my parents’ albums that I loved the most, with — again — that bagpipe-and-drum tattoo. It stirs the blood.

And after the play ended, as snowy and cold as the Brooklyn weather was, I was lucky to have such an extraordinarily pretty woman on my arm. It was a good date.

Best Costume

I love Highland Falls on Halloween. I love the little kids with their parents who come early, while it’s still light out, including the absolute tiniest witch I’ve ever seen, with her even littler brother the spider.

(Halloween etiquette question, perhaps related to an implicit writing-teacher-etiquette question for those who work in computer labs: when you distribute candy and talk to the shorter kids, do you stoop, squat, or neither?)

And I love the big families and groups who come later, after the parade, sometimes with not-quite-finished or uncertain costumes, and how watchful and careful they are of their family members and friends, and how friendly. How connected.

And I love the last few after-eight waves of various diehards (including the no-costume dad who always asks for candy too, but I was a little worried that he was drunk this year: not cool) and teenage goths.

But this year’s absolute best, and most mystifying: at about 6:50, a skinny eight- or nine-year old boy, all in black, with a black felt western-style hat (think Stetson), black domino, and a big scythe.

Huh?

You win, kid. I didn’t even have the presence of mind to ask.