Fly, Eagles, Fly

Went down to Philly on Sunday to see a football game with my buddies Adam and John. Adam wanted to reward me for coming out to pick him up during the zombie plague/blackout that we had back in August (see that entry on the CHUDs). We had a tailgate party with some of the greatest soul food around, courtesy of Adam’s friend James, who’s a cook somewhere in the city. He and a friend feted us with grilled sea bass, jerk chicken, strip steak, shrimp, and the obligatory ribs. It was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

A good time was had, even though we got rained upon. Adam, ever prepared, wore a bathing suit under his shorts, so he could strip with impunity. And he did.

The Eagles were terrible, which made me feel good, as a Giants fan. However, the Giants got beaten last night, so I wasn’t THAT enthused. And I’m much more of a baskeball fan than a football fan anyway.

I’d write more, and more wittily, but I’m tired. I’m heading to bed soon. If you like me, you’ll go buy a copy of the new book I put out. It’d make me happy, or at least less stressed.

They’re Here!

The books showed up! They look gorgeous! Fate has conspired to give me the means of catharsis-izing the mental trauma of 9.11.01! And on the anniversary, no less!

Order one now! Enable my catharsis! Bill Marx on Boston’s NPR thinks you should, and he put his case much more eloquently than the Village Voice’s editor did!

First Review

Forever Bummer
Paul West’s Novel Blends 9-11, Philosophy, and Nigella
by Ed Park
Village Voice
September 10 – 16, 2003

The Immensity of the Here and Now: A Novel of 9.11
By Paul West
Voyant, 231 pp., $23

What would a proper novelistic response be to the attacks of 9-11? If everyone knows the central story, what stories can be told? A writer I know said that 9-11 shut down her capacity for fiction. Months later, she drafted a dozen pages in pursuit of what seemed to be both a narratively compelling and brokenhearted take on the tragedy, before realizing she was rewriting Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.

Most novelists are still tuning out the 9-11 frequency, with some exceptions: The father of the protagonist in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition went missing on 9-11; the murderer in Lawrence Block’s Small Town loses his daughter in the attacks, and his wife commits suicide in grief. In Paul West’s 23rd book of fiction, The Immensity of the Here and Now, the aftereffects of that day gradually come into view, then withdraw into a jungle of memory and hallucination–the tragedy perpetually accessible and elusive, too easy and too impossible to imagine. West’s complex narrative voice relates the story of friends Shrop and Quent, amnesiac patient and paraplegic shrink, former Cambridge philosopher and ex-military man–a Beckettian dyad that splits the ravages of mind and body. With nods to cultural figures from Plato to Nigella Lawson (perhaps her first fictional immortalization), and sentences that interrogate their own structure, Immensity’s generous helping of culture and language also exposes their inadequacy.

If the pair’s minutely rendered mental lives don’t always fascinate, at least West realizes failure as a theme. Shrop circles about his “lost philosophy,” throws (or imagines) a party for long-lost pals with names like “Lomar Antecedent,” and comes to recognize Oulipian Raymond Queneau’s formulation as his new and necessary creed: “How does one live in an absurd world? Absurdly.”

Hail to the Chief

It’s been a busy week: a Labor Day drive down to Princeton to meet up with one of my best friends for lunch, a trip to Boston for a healthcare investor conference on Tuesday (where I stayed with another good friend in Worcester), a couple of late evenings in NYC (Thursday for a fiction reading by Adam Haslett, and Friday for a reading of The Designated Mourner by my buddy, John Castro), and now a party to celebrate a friend’s elopement.

There were a bunch of high points, including the moment of manic, mantic fire leaping from my pen as the idea for a novel struck me during lunch at PF Chang’s near Boston Common. More on that as it evolves.

But the peak, at least physically, had to be when I got back to the Four Seasons hotel after lunch. Standing at the counter to check in was one of the tallest men I’d ever seen. His back was to me, but it was relatively clear to this detective that he was a basketball player (nearly 7 feet tall, black, and checking into the Four Seasons). So I pretended to have to rearrange things in my briefcase until he left the counter and I could see who he was.

And that’s when I saw the face of the man alternately goofed on as “that big wooden Indian” and “that Easter Island statue-looking mo’fo'” by me and my friends for years. Yes, I was face-to-face (well, face-to-sternum, to be accurate) with Robert Parish, former center of the Boston Celtics. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, so it made sense for him to come to Boston a few days early (the Hall is in Springfield, about 70 miles away).

Which makes me think of how much I hated the Celtics in the 1980s, when they were always battling the Lakers in the NBA finals, and how much I grew to respect them, once they all got old and started retiring. I’m saving my long piece on that for another novel about mythology and death. You’ll see.

Off to the elopement party. Wish the groom good fortune.

The Raw and the Stupid

Last night, the bartender at the Hi Life Bar & Grill actually convinced me to partake of “half-price sushi,” after plying me with a G&T that owed FAR more to the G than the T.

I told her, “I’ve made it a practice never to eat any raw food when it’s offered for half price.” But she DID have that Art School Girl of Doom look that I’ve always had a weakness for, so I relented and had two pieces of tuna sashimi.

And I’m still alive!

Who’s Smarter?

Read this pretty neat essay on Slate last week, about the problems music reviewers have with pop music. The centerpiece is the reaction some critics had to Justin Timberlake’s solo album. I’ve never heard any of his songs, so I have no idea how valid the writer’s descriptions of the tunes are.

(I don’t cite that fact to establish that I’m hipper than people who listen to Justin Timberlake. I just don’t listen to music radio much during my morning commute, preferring to listen to Howard Stern, my iPod, or ESPN radio, where guys just ramble about sports, but don’t do it as pompously as the hosts on WFAN.)

A couple of years ago, my assistant asked me to download a song from Gerri Halliwell’s solo album for her. I did so that evening and, at work the next day, I e-mailed it over with the message, “Your musical taste now officially sucks.”

She took this badly, and sent an angry e-mail about my own bad pop music listening habits, from 15-20 years earlier. I wrote back, “At no point am I saying my musical tastes DON’t suck. I recognize that you’re only going to dig Squeeze (as a fer instance) if you were a certain age at a certain time in musical history. I happened to be around 12-13 when I first heard Pulling Mussels (from the shell), and it struck me as one of the greatest pop song of all time.” In fact, to this day, the opening words of the song continues to elicit an instant smile from me, like seeing an old friend.

So what I’m saying is, of course our musical tastes suck. Pop music is meant to be disposable, and it’s only the best of it manages to transcend its expiration date and linger in your head or heart for years.

Now, all of that said: this new Madonna commercial for The Gap flat-out sucks (which is sorta what I meant to get at a few paragraphs earlier). Changing the words to your song to sell corduroys, and playing up the yoga-contortionist thing isn’t smart. It makes you sound like the Beach Boys when they changed the words to Good Vibrations for that Sunkist commercial.

There’s no longer an issue of “artists selling out” by doing Gap ads. It’s an acceptable way for an artist to extend his or her brand identity. It’s cool. Seeing Luscious Jackson do a Gap ad a few years ago was actually pretty neat, I have to admit. But this ad borders on unintentional self-parody.

The missteps seem to be coming a little faster and more furiously for Madonna, given that she’s now credited with two of the worst flicks of all time: Swept Away and Shanghai Surprise.

But she’ll always have one thing going for her: she’s smarter than Salman Rushdie. Yeah, Rushdie may have been a cause celebre fifteen years ago by writing The Satanic Verses, a controversial novel that no one actually read. And maybe he seemed pretty cool by going on stage with Bono, and writing that Orpheus song which he later expanded into a truly terrible novel: The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

(I mean, it’s one thing to posit an alternate reality in which JFK lives, and Bollywood culture reaches a level of parity in the west. But I don’t care HOW alternate a reality you’re building: concept album rock-n-roll concerts with sets that were borrowed from Spinal Tap will NEVER catch on. It’s a major failing of novelists who want to write about rock music: they try to bring their own literary aspirations to the rock world, which expands upon the grandiosity of the music, and that leads them to the terrible idea of the concept album/theme concert.)

So, Rushdie becomes a potential Nobel winner, while Madonna’s just a pop tart who lasted long beyond her expected career span? Well, I contend that Maddie might actually have a little more going on between the ears than Salman.

Madonna’s found ways to offend Christianity (particularly her own Catholic church), Judaism (“Uh, yeah, I study Kabbalah, too.”), and Hinduism (“Those sacred mendhi tattoos are cool!”), while extending her music career and becoming an international icon of . . . something or other. I’m not clear on what she’s actually supposed to represent, which is probably the point. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with representing the mutability of our age, and I’m perfectly fine with making Plastic Man my patron saint (Jews are allowed to have those, right?). Which is to say, identity ain’t what it used to be.

Anyway, despite all of these perceived offenses to various world religions, I contend Madonna remained at least one synapse smarter than Rushdie, because she never decided, “I’ve got it! I’ll make a fashion statement out of Islam!”

Now, that’d certainly be a tall order, but I bet she could sit down with Jean-Paul Gaultier, come up with some kind of burqa-inspired look, and carry it off pretty well. But she never seems to have decided to mess around with the one major religion known for its propensity for suicide bombers and assassins. After all, it’s one thing to goof on Christians, Jews or Hindus; it’s another to make fun of Islam.

It’s a pity Salman wasn’t smart enough to figure this out. I’m sure he had the best intentions when he was trying to undercut the tenets of Islam by exploring the heretical concept that some of the Koran was false (hence, verses written by Satan). Maybe he just thought it was a playful conceit, one that no one would take too seriously. After all, it was in a novel by an ostensibly highbrow writer, and who reads those?

So, this morning’s big thoughts: Madonna’s new ads smack of desperation, but she’s still smarter than Salman Rushdie.

Restoration Tragedy

Diagnosis on my desktop computer: D drive is fine, but the C drive is kaput. D drive has the Voyant files and most of the other data. The C drive held the OS, the applications, the drivers, and, unfortunately, my e-mail. So it looks like I need to get a data recovery firm to haul all the Outlook/Express e-mail files out of the dead C drive. Grr.

But at least I don’t have to re-rip about 300 CDs for my music library (which would involve fighting off the giant spiders while hauling the CDs up from storage).

It’s a Mental State

You cannot believe the neurotic depths I fall into when I try to write fiction. This evening, I thought I could get started on this idea I have for a short novel (or a lengthy chapter in the magnum opus I can’t bring myself to write). I paced around the house for a bit, and kept not sitting down at the table to write. A good friend called, and we talked about these hesitations of mine. An artist himself, he feels great sympathy for me, and has faith that I’ll get rolling sometime.

It causes such dread in me, this fear of committing to one set of words instead of another. Maybe it’s the perils of working with a bunch of talented authors, and not wanting to write beneath them. Which is dumb, I know, but might still be my operating principle.

The funny thing was, after an hour of this melodrama, avoiding the screen, showering to clear my head, dressing in nice clothes to break the routine slack-attire of an evening at home, typing in a line here or there, I sat back on my fainting couch and found myself reconsidering one of the most pretentious things I ever wrote, back in college. In that instant, I marveled over how little I’ve changed in that time, and how I could’ve failed to grow in any meaningful way.

And then I thought I could make a pretty funny/pathetic blog entry out of that. And a bunch of the words and phrases just fell into position. So I got up, closed the five lines of Word (“Was he a missile with no target, or one with no warhead? Aimless or powerless?” to give you an idea of how over-wrought I was getting), and started writing this.

It’s much easier for me to write these little journals, even though the voices in which I write may be as fictitious as the characters I keep failing to work on. I do need to get back to more essayistic entries, but this’ll have to suffice for the nonce.

The promised second part of Escape from New York isn’t really much. Adam and I got home, and the power was still dead. Being a swinging bachelor (well, when I’m wearing boxers, at least), I have a bunch of candles around. So we lit those, sat in the living room, and shot the breeze for a while. Around 8:30pm, my father called, with the news that he’d gotten power back, about 10 miles from my house.

Adam drank my beer, ostensibly to save them from skunking. I’m not a big home-drinker, and I’m not a beer guy at all anymore, since I discovered the virtues of gin & tonic, so the three beers that were in the fridge were likely from 6-8 weeks ago, when my buddy Jon-Eric and I spent a rainy Saturday afternoon at my house, watching Blade Runner and getting wrecked.

Around 9:30pm, my old girlfriend (and one of two non-family members who calls on my birthday) in Massachusetts called to check on me. Her region had no power problems. I filled her in on the zombie plague, and the rats that were fleeing the city, and she laughed. In the middle of the conversation, my electricity came back, and I shouted, “I got power now, bitch! Fuck you!” She laughed again. I told her that I love her and got off the phone. Having friends is a good thing.

Adam was happy that we could now turn on the TV and see what was going on in NYC. As it turned out, not much of anything was going on. He feared riots or looting, but nothing ensued. I made up the guest bed (a queen-sized that used to be my regular bed, when I was living in the apartment; it’s nice and comfy) for him, and he crashed around 11pm. Around 2am, he opened my door, mistaking it for the bathroom. Fortunately, he didn’t try to urinate on me. That was pretty much the peak of the night of the blackout.

The main casualty appears to be my desktop computer (this is being written on my wi-fi laptop). It won’t boot, and it doesn’t sound like the hard drives are running. I’ll take it to my dad’s tomorrow to figure out what’s wrong. It’s my amateur assumption that the surge fucked up the power supply, or a circuit on the motherboard, keeping power from getting to the drives and allowing it to boot. Dad said something about the Bios getting zapped. We’ll see. There’s nothing super-irreplaceable on the desktop machine. I did rip all of my CDs onto the desktop, but that would just take time to replace, if the drives are scorched.

Suffice to say, I will likely go Office Space on my surge protector next week. I promise to post pictures.