Friday, September 28, 2007

Bob Dylan & Jack White in Nashville: Meet Me in the Morning

Since weekend is here, I will trot out my obsessions, kick back and listen to Jack White of the White Stripes joining Bob Dylan on stage in Nashville to perform "Meet Me In the Morning" (Blood on the Tracks: 'look at the sun/sinking like a ship'); "One More Cup of Coffee for the Road" (Desire: The Pentateuch meets Sergio Leone: 'daddy he's an outlaw and a wanderer by trade') and "Outlaw Blues" (Bringing It All Back Home: 'I got a woman in Jackson/I ain't gone say her name') also recorded live hopefully soon to come..

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Wandering Stranger of Schermerhorn Street

He is a wandering stranger and here he is (once again) on Schermerhorn Street. If you want to get a sense of the NYC economy, visit Schermerhorn Street in downtown Brooklyn. The food stamp offices, the welfare offices, the unemployment offices, they all have their lines, their ennui, and their quiet desperation that spills onto the streets everyday. Until recently, a homeless shelter was there also, built under the parking garage on Bond Street. I have been passing through that neighborhood on foot for several years on my way to work in the Heights. Since last spring, I noticed a number of homeless folks camped outside along the side of the garage on Schermerhorn Street, sleeping on broken office furniture, with sleeping bags, rolling suitcases, some who looked as though they had lived on the streets for awhile, others who seemed new to that existence. I read recently that the homeless shelter, I think this one, had been closed. Suddenly, the homeless folks were once again gone.

This week however, the wandering stranger was back. I have seen him camped out, surrounded by a mass of ripped black trashbags with his possessions, sitting on the sidewalk, gazing off into space, or into mysterious universes that most of us will never see. Unlike even the most scruffy of the usual homeless crew on Schermerhorn Street, the wandering stranger inhabits another place altogether. He is incredibly unkempt and filthy. His hair black, matted, skin filthy through ripped clothes. I have seen him over and over again for the past several years. He must travel around the borough, or the city, perhaps the planet. Eventually making his way back to Schermerhorn Street, never bathing or changing his torn clothes. Carrying the same gear, only more tattered than the last time, looking like he is sitting in a pile of trash but actually surrounded by what seem to be his earthly possessions.

He is like a mountain man, surviving, he finds a spot. Once he returns, he will seem rooted to the same spot until he disappears and, hopefully for him, returns again. This time I wondered, is he was waiting for the homeless shelter to reopen ? Each time, in the early morning or evenings, he sits, barely moving, his back to the canyon of new coops and luxury rentals that have popped up on the other side of the street since his last visit, a season or two ago. He doesn't beg and avoids the glances of passersby, as we avoid him. As I passed yesterday, a man was berating the wandering stranger, how he is a disgrace, what is wrong with him, etc. He took no notice. Perhaps he is mentally ill, or perhaps he inhabits a place beyond the material, beyond the need for home or clean, comfortable clothes. Does he feel free, like Jeremiah Johnson, like a mountain man? Existentially free? Pitying us poor fools with our office-cubicle prisons or welfare humiliations? It is certainly beyond my ability to tell. But meanwhile he will remain rooted to his spot, with his trash and his visions, until it is time for him to move on again.

--Brooklyn Beat

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"A Cup of Tea and a Think"

Connecticut Muffins, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Ozzies, Vox Pop, the Tea Lounge. They all pass as places where you can get a cup of something caffeine, and a little nibble or nosh while you read the paper or plug in your notebook. And of course a place to see and be seen. But none seem to compare to the sheer earthy goodness portrayed in this web site by Brit Russell Davies, that positively glorifies the tea and sandwich-chip shop that seem to say "This is England" ...

Maybe it is because I have been begun exercising again with a vengence and turning away from bread and desserts, but the charming and unpretentious ambience of these little restaurants and tea shops with their greasy foods, hearty teas, and humble comestibles seem to say "Here, you can relax and be yourself".... The above shop is on Marylebone Lane.

--Brooklyn Beat

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Coda: 9/11 -

Just a note: Interesting, how 9/11, by not becoming a public day of observance for the general public, has become a more private memorial -rememberance for the families of those who died. Which is of course reasonable since they have suffered the greatest losses. However, for the rest of us, I hope that we can see the Towers of Light this evening, weather permitting, since it is a certain kind of shared experience as 9/11 was a shared experience/ reaction. Strange how, for millions of us who were touched by the events of 9/11, most of us do not really observe it formally. We go to work, to school. Am I wrong or does even the Mayor seem to be pressing the idea of "Getting Beyond It"... But it seems to have so much personal meaning for most of us; even if it was only experienced through the media. Headlines around the world still reference it. And with due respect to all who observe all other holidays and memorial days, 9/11, although not an official holiday, seems to have more deeply felt personal meaning than say, Labor day, Columbus day, Veteran's Day, even Independence Day... perhaps the fact that it is not a public, official holiday gives it greater urgency or cogency....perhaps there is something about 9/11 that embodies all of these other holidays -- freedom, service, sacrifice, and the values and costs of liberty.

Even the Towers of Light suggest the Enlightenment..

en·light·en·ment Pronunciation: in-'lI-t&n-m&nt, en-Function: noun1 : the act or means of enlightening : the state of being enlightened : a philosophic movement of the 18th century marked by a rejection of traditional social, religious, and political ideas and an emphasis on rationalism

--Brooklyn Beat

NEVER FORGET: Metaphors for Living: 9/11

8 years later. We never forget but the memory, and the pain, becomes slightly faded. Perhaps that is the blessing of the human condition. A colleague said the express bus that she takes through lower Manhattan was delayed today due to the 9/11 memorial. Our daughter, who attends high school in the Wall Street area was told to expect crowds on her way to school today. On 9/11, our older daughter, now a college senior, was in middle school on the West Side of Manhattan in sight of the World Trade Center. Time moves on. The NY Times published a story today about how NYC, which at first seemed irreparably damaged by the events of 9/11, in terms of NYFD casualties, changes in security, tourist fears, etc., has moved on and achieved a new normalcy of sorts. Is it better to remember or forget? I first posted this remembrance in 2007:

We had dropped our son, 11 years, and our daughters, who had just entered the first grade, at PS 321. Our older daughter had already left for her middle school in Chelsea, The Clinton School for Artists and Writers. My wife was driving as we headed down past the Gowanus; I was getting out near my office on Court Street; she was driving a little further to her school where she teaches. Somewhere, through the window, I heard two men on the street talking and one said something about a fire at the World Trade Center. As we drove a little further, that was when we first saw it, that iconographic image of a huge plume of smoke trailing out of the largest buildings in the world.We assumed, like everyone, that it was a fire, then heard on the radio that a jet plane had crashed into the Towers. We looked at each other dumbfounded. I remember in 1993, when the attempt had been made to bomb the WTC, I walked up to the Promenade in late afternoon, expecting to see some damage, smoke or shattered ruins attesting to a bombing attempt but in the cold winter day there had been nothing. Many of us assumed that it was a building that was too mighty, perhaps almost biblical in its proportions, simply too strong to be easily toppled.But here, with the first news, whatever had happened, here was a seriously damaged building. I thought about the plane that had slammed into the Empire State Building decades before, but the building had been virtually unfazed. How would they even begin to deal with what appeared to be an huge fire and the resulting damage? We drove a little further and couldn't see the WTC because of some trees but we heard another unmistakable boom. The radio told us that the second plane had hit the other tower. My wife said it first - it had to be intentional. Two planes could not accidentally smash into the World Trade Center within minutes of each other.My wife wisely said "maybe we should get the kids and go home" but I was operating within a sphere of unreality, as though this day, which would ultimately punch a gaping whole in the continuum of our lives, and which would forever demark a before and after in everyone's personal histories, was still just another day with a really insane blip in the news cycle. Plus, since it was the opening the school year, my wife's school was counting on her being there, and I had a lot going on at the office, it seemed as though the kids would be safe and OK at school. I was concerned about my older daughter, but her school was in Chelsea, a few miles north of the Trade Center. I got off on Clinton and Remsen and walked to my office. By the time I got there, it was already manifestly clear that this was the furthest thing imaginable from an ordinary day. I spoke to my wife who had arrived at her school. Shortly afterward, we spoke again, as the office building I work in was being evacuated and my wife was leaving school. I seem to remember a day where we were evacuating the building; there was some some pandemonium on the stairs, but a woman who had serious health problems and had difficulty walking, was hobbling downward slowly. Some people pushed and squeezed by. A couple of colleagues and I made our way down with her, making sure she arrived safely. How many times had this simple act of courtesy, nothing really to think about even, basic decency, been enacted in the smokey stairs of the WTC that day and in how many cases did a simple act of human kindness and decency prove fatal? Life is filled with mystery and wonder. Out on the street, people were already wearing masks, women on Court Street were in sneakers or out of their shoes, hurring through the streets, while the plume of smoke began to fill the air, traveling the short distance over the river. When my wife and I connected again in downtown Brooklyn, we learned that subways weren't operating. So we walked toward the Brooklyn Bridge where I planned to walk over to Manhattan to fetch my older daughter. Cell phones weren't working; I wasn't able to reach either school. Somehow I was able to exchange a text with my daughter to tell her I would get her as soon as I could. But when I got to the bridge, the NYPD were already telling people you could not cross to Manhattan. The masses of people trying to escape lower Manhattan were streaming over the bridge. We decided my daughter would be safe at school so we would pick up our younger kids and get them and my wife home, at which time I would figure out a way to cross back into Manhattan.We drove back to the Slope. I was still trying to reach my daughter's school by phone, but when I could find an available payphone, the school phone was busy. At other payphones on Seventh Avenue, long lines had already begun to form. I reached my mom, who is a master on "the horn" and asked her to keep trying to call the Clinton School from her home phone to find out where my daughter was waiting and let them know I would get there as soon as I could. I left my mom, who is a demon dialer in her own right, trying to reach the school and we went to 321.A lot of parents had already begun to appear at the office to fetch their kids. A couple of parents, desperate to be helpful, were making a list of kids and were about to release them to the parents who were there for them. I had a funny feeling about parents taking over what was the school's responsibility and sure enough, Liz Phillips appeared and said "What's going on?" She thanked the parents but announced firmly that no children would be released unless she or the 321 office staff confirmed who was there to fetch whom, which was very reassuring. Don't know why I remembered that anecdote.We got my son and younger daughters and brought them home to the relative calm of Flatbush. Nevertheless, the air was filled with the constant din of fire truck sirens and ambulance sirens. It was a sound I will never forget. The sound of calamity that I hope to never hear again in my lifetime. And as those of us with an affinity for remembering will recall, the alarum lasted for at least 24 hours or more, non stop. By the time we arrived home, my mother called to inform us that she had reached the school and my daughter had been picked up by a friends' mom and was at her home in Chelsea. I wasn't happy that I still did not know exactly where my daughter was but I trusted that she would be safe until we received further word.We turned on the news and began to watch the horrific iconography of the day unfold, the building, the smoke, the people leaping out of the buildings, the deaths, the huge dust cloud, the tragedy of the firemen and other rescuers lost. Finally, with tears of relief, we located my daughter when she called. Many of our neighbors gathered outside to talk and console. Around 3:00 PM I learned that the Q train was operating, so I decided to commence the operation to retrieve my daughter. Never in my long life as a New Yorker did taking the subway seem like such an odyssey, a journey into an unknown realm. I left my wife and kids with our neighbors and their kids on a blanket on the grass in front of our home; they were getting the kids McDonald's as a stab at normalcy.On the Q, when we exited the tunnel at Dekalb Avenue and started climbing the bridge, everyone in the subway car stood up as we could see the inferno, the absolute roaring fire maelstrom of the burning World Trade Center in the distance. I remember thinking "Should I take a camera?" and I didn't, feeling that my primary mission was retrieving my daughter. But personally, the image of the dense black smoke and intense burn of the Trade Center is forever etched in my mind's eye. It would not be too farfetched to say that there was something positively volcanic about the sight of the burning building in the distance, as though a fault had erupted and some intense steam and fire and brimstone from the bowels of the earth had been channelled to the surface.I debarked at Union Square and began to make my way north and west. My daughter was at a classmate's apartment on 28th and 7th avenue. When I arrived there were about a dozen girls hanging out, who this mom had wonderfully rescued from the boredom of waiting to be picked up at school. While there, I spoke to my wife and then my mother back in Brooklyn by phone. I knew the address was familiar. My mom has a cousin who lives in the same building. We managed to find her and check on her before my daughter and I embarked on the trek home.We went to one train station but it was closed. We walked further east but Union Square again had no trains running. The transit workers suggested we try West 4th Street. As we walked along the streets, the sky was filled with the huge plume of smoke. My ears rang with the desperate clamour of the rescue vehicles that would resound, non stop for what seemed like several days. There was virtually no traffic in the street except the occasional emergency vehicle.As we crossed Sixth Avenue, our faces were pelted with a fine mist of grit and dust blowing from the southern tip of Manhattan. I still don't want to think what was in that fine powder that we brushed from our faces and clothes. Miraculously, the F was running and we took it into Brooklyn to my old stop at 15th Street and Prospect Park West. A large crowd waited for the bus at Bartel Pritchard Square (or as we called it in days of the ancien regime, "The Circle"). A man saw me with my young daughter. I told him my daughter's story of the day and he kindly said his wife was picking him up, did we want a ride. We were so grateful that he drove us all the way home where we were greeted with an amazing amount of joy. After 9/11, at least for awhile the only pleasures were the simple pleasures. Coda: later that day, the first of the WTC debris incredibly blew across and made its way onto our lawn. My wife and I knew that nothing would be the same again, but why should it. Disaster, war, rumors of war, all the memory fragments of the day would fit together, eventually becoming just another metaphor for living.
Speak, memory.
--Brooklyn Beat 9/11/07
Posted by Brooklyn Beat

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Fear and Loathing on Court Street

A little before 1 PM I ran out of my office on Court Street to grab coffee and food. Court Street from Joralemon to Montague was closed off. A police officer said that a suspicious package was found on the subway. I went into Court Order, a nice take out food place with great soups and salads, when the NYPD came and stretched a yellow "Police Line - Do Not Cross" tape from one of the doors of the shop to opposite side of Court Street. I left the shop without getting anything as the police officers began moving people further and further west on Court Street. I have heard of a lot of "bomb scares" before, but this was the first time that I remember actually feeling concern based on the scale of the NYPD operation, and the precautions being taken. As I walked down Court Street, I saw a woman walking hand-in-hand with her little girl and I realized the awful potential posed by modern times, how we in the US have, in so many instances, been shielded from it, but how awful, violent and frightening life in reality is for so many people around the world, in the Middle Eastern world in particular, the continual carnage in Iraq specifically. I thought about the velocity of sharpnel, nails and glass, and the fragility of human flesh, particularly that of a child.

When we were kids, back in the 60s, we worried about Wars to End All Wars. We learned about duck and cover. But the enormity of that type of conflict seemed so all consuming that it appeared you couldn't really worry about it. While that threat of "mutually assured destruction" was also a form of mutual terror, still, "Toe-to-toe nucular combat with the Russkies" (to quote Slim Pickens) had only one logical outcome. Today, the dangers seem closer, more intimate.

I saw a clip of the forthcoming HBO special on "Alive Day" with wounded young military veterans, and thought about the continuing civilian carnage reports from Iraq, and the latest promise of a "special gift" to be given on the sixth anniversary of 9/11, while possibly more psych warfare, also suggests how real the fears and how intimate the dangers this lower-tech threat can bring.

We just received word that the suspicious package was nothing to worry about. No buildings were evacuated. The trains are again running. There is nothing to worry about...
--Brooklyn Beat

Current Reading

  • Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War- Tony Horwitz
  • A Sultan in Palermo - Tariq Ali
  • Hitch-22: A Memoir - Christopher Hitchens
  • Negropedia- Patrice Evans
  • Dead Funny: Humor in Nazi Germany - Rudolph Herzog
  • Exile on Main Street - Robert Greenfield
  • Among the Truthers - A Journey Among America's Growing Conspiracist Underworld - Jonathan Kay
  • Paradise Lost - John Milton
  • What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Thinking the Unthinkable - John Brockman
  • Notes from the Edge Times - Daniel Pinchbeck
  • Fringe-ology: How I Can't Explain Away the Unexplainable- Steve Volk
  • Un Juif pour l'exemple (translated as A Jew Must Die )- Jacques Cheesex
  • The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
  • Pale King - David Foster Wallce
  • David Bowie: Starman bio - Paul Trynka
  • Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat - Andrez Bergen
  • The Future of Nostalgia -Svetlana Boym
  • Living in the End Times - Slavoj ZIzek
  • FIrst as Tragedy Next as Farce - Slavoj Zizek
  • How to Survive a Robot Uprising - Daniel Wilson
  • Where is My Jet Pack? -Daniel Wilson
  • Day of the Oprichniks - Vladimir Sorokin
  • Ice Trilogy - Vladimir Sorokin
  • First Civilizations
  • Oscar Wilde -Andre Maurois
  • The Beats - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • SDS - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • The Unfinished Animal - Theodore Roszak
  • Friends of Eddy Coyle
  • Brooklands -Emily Barton
  • Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahme-Smith - Entertaining and historical
  • Dictionary of the Khazars - Pavic
  • Sloth-Gilbert Hernandez
  • War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
  • Charles Addams: An Evilution
  • Life in Ancient Greece
  • Time - Eva Hoffmann
  • Violence - S. Zizek
  • Luba - a graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Life in Ancient Egypt
  • Great Apes - Will Self - riveting and disturbing
  • Lost Honor of Katherina Blum - Heinrich Boll - could not put it down
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed (author deserving of new wide readership)
  • Living in Ancient Mesopotomia
  • Landscape in Concrete - Jakov Lind - surreal
  • 'There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby'-Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - creepy stories - translation feels literarily "thin"
  • Mythologies - William Butler Yeats (re-read again & again)
  • How German Is It ? - Walter Abish
  • The Book of Genesis - illustrated by R. Crumb - visionary
  • "Flags" - an illustrated encyclopedia - wish I could remember all of these. Flag culture
  • Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Ubik - Philip K. Dick
  • Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  • Hitler's Empire - Mark Mazower
  • Nazi Culture - various authors
  • Master Plan: Himmler 's Scholars and the Holocaust - Heather Pringle
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem - Hannah Arendt
  • Living in Ancient Rome
  • Traveling with Herodotus -R. Kapuszynsky
  • Oblivion - David Foster Wallace - Some of his greatest work
  • Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace - still wrestling with this great book
  • Netherland - Joseph O'Neill - staggeringly great read
  • Renegade - The Obama Campaign - Richard Wolffe
  • Mount Analogue - Rene Daumal
  • John Brown
  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson - love Stephenson but tough slogging first few chapters
  • 7 Deadly Sins
  • ALEX COX - Alex Cox
  • FIASCO by Thomas Ricks
  • I, Fellini - Charlotte Chandler & Federico Fellini
  • Best of 20th century alternative history fiction
  • Judah P. Benjamin - Eli Evans - Confederacy's Secretary of State & source of the W.C. Field's exclamation
  • Moscow 2042 - Vladimir Voinovich - Pre-1989 curiosity & entertaining sci fi read; love his portrayal of Solzhenitsyn-like character
  • Gomorrah - Roberto Saviano - Mafia without the It-Am sugar coating. Brutal & disturbing
  • The Sack of Rome - Celebrity+Media+Money=Silvio Berlusconi - Alexander Stille
  • Reporting - David Remnick - terrific journalism
  • Fassbinder
  • Indignation - Philip Roth
  • Rome
  • Let's Go Italy! 2008
  • Italian Phrases for Dummies
  • How to Pack
  • Violence - Slavoj Zizek
  • Dali: Painting & Film
  • The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Jimmy Breslin
  • The Good Rat - Jimmy Breslin
  • Spook Country - William Gibson
  • A Blue Hand - The Beats in India - Deborah Baker
  • The Metaphysical Club - Louis Menard
  • Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard
  • Physics of the Impossible - Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Managing the Unexpected - Weick & Sutcliffe
  • Wait Til The Midnight Hour - Writings on Black Power
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed
  • Burning Down the Masters' House - Jayson Blair
  • Howl - Allen Ginsberg
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Palace Thief - Ethan Canin
  • John Adams - David McCullough
  • The Wooden Sea - Jonathan Carroll
  • American Gangster - Mark Jacobson
  • Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Gawker Guide to Becoming King of All Media
  • Jews and Power - Ruth Wisse
  • Youth Without Youth - Mircea Eliade
  • A Team of Rivals - Doris Goodwin
  • Ghost Hunters -William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death - Deborah Blum
  • Dream -Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy - Stephen Duncombe
  • Love & Theft - Eric Lott
  • Exit Ghost - Philip Roth
  • Studio A - The Bob Dylan Reader

Current Listening

  • Alexi Murdoch Wait
  • Wilco Summer Teeth
  • Wilco The Album
  • Carmina Burana - Ray Manzarek (& Michael Riesmann)
  • Polyrock - Polyrock
  • 96 Tears - Garland Jeffries
  • Ghost of a Chance Garland Jeffries
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Mustang Sally Buddy Guy
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Black and White Years
  • Together Through Life - B. Dylan
  • 100 Days 100 Nites - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
  • DYLAN: 3 disc Greatest...
  • Glassworks - Philip Glass
  • Wild Palms - Soundtrack -Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Dinah Washington - Best of..
  • Commander Cody& His Lost Planet Airmen Live at Armadillo