Seasonal Anxiety

Big snow on Thursday night and Friday morning meant I was working at home yesterday. I took care of a lot of my magazine stuff (getting advertisers’ profile-pages approved for the year-end issue) in my home office while about 8 inches of snow piled up outside. At one point, I noticed that my neighbor across the street was clearing his driveway out pretty quickly with his snowblower. The snow was thick, but powdery, so the snowblower had an easy time of it.

A few minutes later, I noticed that he was clearing my driveway with it. I smiled, then ducked under my window, hoping to avoid a scene. My car was in the garage (no windows), so it was possible that he thought I was at the office. Either way, I just didn’t want to step outside and thank him.

This isn’t to say I wasn’t thankful. It’s just that I find it pretty uncomfortable to thank someone for doing unpaid labor in the cold, then walk back inside my warm house to drink hot toddies and think lofty thoughts. I would’ve felt obliged to get a shovel out and clean my walkway or something, just to show him that I, too, was man enough to work out in the cold. Even though I really wanted to be inside, where it’s warm.

He went on to do the driveway of another neighbor after finishing mine.

I also got my wood-burning stove working yesterday. It was the first time I tried it in about two years, since the “why is there a tremendous volume of smoke pouring out of the stove?” episode. Worked like a charm. Even better news was that I remembered the enormous cache of wood in my shed. The wood was left there by the previous occupant, so it dates from early 2003 or thereabouts. Since it’s so old, the wood catches fire really easily.

I still had my neurotic “let’s look inside and make sure it’s going” compulsion for the first hour or so. It’s the first fireplace/stove I’ve ever had, so — as with every other thing in the world — I’m afraid that there’s something I’m supposed to be doing that I just don’t know about, but is glaringly obvious to everyone else. (That fear has actually played a huge part in my life, but it hasn’t stopped me from achieving my long-time dream of having a successful career as a literary author. The fact that I can’t write has stopped me from achieving that dream.)

Anyway, there was no need to check up on the stove. My library’s nice and toasty, and if I really crank that bitch up, I might be able to cut down on the heating bills this winter.

I’m glad that my only dramas are self-inflicted.

Some

Some pictures

I live out in the woods, as mentioned in previous posts. It’s only about 25 miles from New York City, so I can get my urban vibe on as necessary. This morning, I opened the curtains in my bedroom and saw the following scene in the backyard:

And that’s part of why I love living out here. Not paying rent is also nice.

Last week, my family came out to visit from St. Louis: brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces (four-and-a-half and one, respectively). On Wednesday, while the Nets were in the process of bollixing things up with Kenyon Martin, and while the unspeakable kept on keeping on in Darfur, I went with my family to the Toys R Us in Times Square, so Liat could spend some time in heaven.

She and my brother Boaz rode on “The Big R”:

They also met a dinosaur:

They didn’t give him a funny name. Liat was too overwhelmed by the two-story Barbie store, where she found her true calling: fairy princess.

We went on from TRU to the Plaza Hotel, where Liat got to live out her Eloise fantasies. Unfortunately, my pictures from there aren’t any good. Appreciate the good things. God is Love.

Notes from New Hampshire

Hey, VM readers! Here’s another non-Gil treat for you! My buddy Elayne is up at her farm-house in New Hampshire this summer, finishing up her book, and sent me a lengthy missive yesterday. She’s a pretty funny story-teller, so I asked if it’d be okay to run this piece. I’m hoping that this involves into a weekly ramble/dispatch from NH. She starts out with an anecdote about a chance meeting with Philip Roth, which arose because of Ron Rosenbaum’s great new column about Roth’s new novel, The Plot Against America. I’d like to Ron’s piece, but it’s a temporary link at the New York Observer site, so it’ll be inactive in a few days. Without further ado:

Elayne and Chip “meet” Philip Roth

Last fall, Chip [Samuel R. Delany] and I are going to meet for Lunch at Luisa’s (sp?)–an Iberian place that Chip likes, but Dennis won’t go to because one of the waiters “looks at him funny.” Being anal, I get there early. It is kind of a late lunch though, maybe two or three o’clock in the afternoon, so none of the tables are set any longer. The place is small, and seating is tight; you almost feel you are eating lunch with the folks seated at the next table. I take a table near three older guys. The waiter looks at me–with a distinctly non-funny gaze–and brings water, utensils, napkins, etc. I notice that one of the men–seated practically on top of me–looks just like Philip Roth. I say to myself “I wonder if that guy is Philip Roth?” (I simultaneously say something to myself like “I sooooo fucking rock if I am ‘lunching’ with Philip Roth!”)

So the guys talk and I sit down and eavesdrop. Not in a super-nosey, starfucker way, more in an I-am-all-alone-and-sitting-really-close-to-you way. Then (gah!) the Roth guy mildly misquotes Lolita (a line from Quilty) and I smile. In a good-natured tone, he asks me why I am smiling. So I tell him Lolita is my favorite novel and then gently correct his quote. At this point, the ‘Rothman’ asks me if I would like to join their table, but I demure (in part because I am not quite sure he really means it, and in part because I would probably ask stupid, lowbrow questions like, “Was it YOU who decided to cast Richard Benjamin in the movie version of Goodbye Columbus?”).

Enter Chip, who sits down. Now we are even more crowded-in than before. I can hear every word the Rothman and his buddies are saying (they are discussing how scrawny Nicole Kidman is). Since I knew she was starring in the then up-coming film of The Human Stain, I was even more confident in my identification of Roth and treating it pretty much like a fideism.

But to be sure, and to alert Chip to the potential increase in lunch-cool-factor, I wrote on a paper napkin. What I wrote was “Hey! Isn’t that guy Philip Roth?” It took a minute for Chip to do the let-me-perform-a-subtle-head-swivel thing. It took another minute for him to work his “gaydar” on the conversation about Nicole, which had now shifted to the topic Tom Cruise’s body. So Chip wasn’t entirely without reason when he took the napkin back and wrote, “I doubt it, because all of those men are GAY.” Then I wrote (and yes, now we looked like either lovers or retards), “Well, that might be. But one of those gay guys is Philip Roth!”

I flip the napkin over, (so the Portuguese waiter can’t read it, dammit!) and we proceed to have lunch. Chip excuses himself to use the bathroom. I am alone . . . again. Roth and his friends have ordered some really messy appetizers, like baked queso with chorizo or something. Roth leans over to me and politely asks if they can have one of our clean napkins, because, as I mentioned, none of the other tables are set. But the only clean napkin we have is the one where Chip tried to “out” Philip Roth AND both his friends as, in my friend Susan’s phrasing, “the Gay.” So, because I am a freakin’ social genius, I say nothing and just shake my head “no”. Roth gives me a “You clearly HAVE an extra, clean napkin. Why won’t you give it to us, you eavesdropping, nosey, Nabokov-obsessed, girl-freak?” sort of look. I then try to use the napkin in a way that looks nonchalant, but I only manage some super-spazoid, napkin-as-hot-potato maneuver.

Chip comes back and writes on the crumpled napkin, that he and Roth’s papers are both stored at Boston University. He doesn’t introduce himself though, for obvious reasons.

General Store

Before you read this, please do a Google Image search of Harrisville, NH and then an image search of Chesham, NH. Ok. So the first couple images you see on the screen? That is where I am.

I go to the Harrisville General Store today to get milk and some other stuff. I notice that outside, sitting on the bench, are two big and ugly biker dudes. There is a Harley Davidson “conference” thing up in northern NH this week, so I figure they are stragglers from that. They are all leathered up, and tattooed with things like “Kill All Towelheads,” “Americans: Dumb And Lovin’ It,” “If You Can Read This, You are a Communist Whore,” and various snake patterns. Anyway, as I am coming out of the store and gazing out peacefully at the beautiful, gently undulating lake that forms the town’s visual backdrop, one of them approaches me, opens his mouth, and asks:

“Where’s the closest Hooters?”

Pause. I had NO IDEA what the biker-guy said. None. I kind of thought he said, “Where are the most shooters?” Or something, and had a “guns or tequila?” moment. But then:

“Excuse me?”

A little louder, he asks again:

“Do you know where the closest Hooters might be?”

Now, a bunch of synapses have to fire and pretty quickly. I do a quick calculation based on the fashion, the tattoos, the Harleys, the fact that they are asking a woman to direct them to a tit-bar, and several fairly hackneyed stereotypes, and I ask myself, “What are the odds these guys are not total assclowns?” I look at the Edenic surroundings, do the math, and decide “zilch.”

I say, “Sorry guys. You are in a Hooters-free zone.”

WhatthehellwhereistheclosestHooters?

They think for a minute and the one is able to formulate:

“This zone. How far does it extend (he probably really said ‘how far does it go,’ but it is my story, darn it!)?”

(Sit back. Here comes the genius part . . .)

I reply, “Boston.”

See, Boston is an hour and a half away. I am pretty sure Manchester, NH has a Hooters, and Manchester is only 40 minutes away, but there is just no way in God’s heaven I am sending them somewhere so dangerously, disastrously close. Plus, tee hee hee, along the main “road” to Boston, they have been having all of these manhole covers blow off and fly into the air. I have no propensity for killing bikers. I’m not a killer at all, generally (OK, there was that baby bird. Once.) But because of the exploding manholes, the traffic is WAY SLOW on that road right now. Then the second biker inquires,

“Boston, Mass?”

No Einstein: Boston, Maryland.

“Yeah. Sorry . . . but I do hear the food at that one is excellent, and that it is kind of a ‘lesbian’ Hooters. There are lots of female customers there.”

This titillates/confuses them a little. They half-grumble, drool a bit, get on their bikes and ride off. In the direction of Boston.

They are probably still waiting. . . .

Gross Thing

Yesterday, Katie (the barn cat) came to the living room window to say “hello” to me and to show me the near-dead chipmunk she had in her mouth. I was at the end of the Elayne-confronts-animals-in-pain movie, after the wounded bluejay incident, and was in no mood for more dead shit. I just hoped she killed it sooner than later, didn’t bat the poor thing around too much, and that someday chipmunks would evolve into T-Rex-sized predators who would follow cats around, catch them, and slowly nibble them to death.

I just kinda went “Eeeew” and turned back to my History of the Spartans.

This morning, I let Benifer (“Benifer” is my moniker for the puppy that lives here, because he is the unlikely lovechild of “Benji” and “Lucifer”) out to play in the fenced-in back yard. About half an hour later, I go out to get him. Something brown hangs from his mouth.

Double “Eeeew.”

Now I have to figure out how to get Benifer to release the (now dead) chipmunk. Then I have to figure out how to remove it from the yard. Katie, of course, is nowhere to be found. I run inside, get some dog food, and look for a shovel or something to scoop the chipmunk up and fling it into the woods. Meanwhile, I am fluttering my arms around like a gay man meeting Liza Minelli and muttering “gross, gross, gross” to my freaked-out self.

My complicated (but ingenious) plan is to distract Benifer with the dog food, scoop the chipmunk up with the shovel, and quickly dispense with it. Trouble is, I can’t find a fucking shovel. Anywhere. I run to the BARN (which is where everyone KEEPS SHOVELS!) and there is a car, but no shovels. The dog is still “eating” the chipmunk. I panic and run into the kitchen and get the tool that any intelligent person would use to remove a six-inch-long, dead chipmunk: a spatula.

I know, Gil. But this is not the time for your pity.

I grab a handful of dry dog food, run outside and throw it on the ground. As I had predicted in the complicated-but-ingenious plan, Benifer momentarily drops his “prey” in order to investigate the food. I then spend ten minutes trying to balance the dead chipmunk on the spatula and run up the bank and throw the chipmunk over. But the chipmunk isn’t yet experiencing full rigor mortis, so he is all floppy and his weight keeps shifting and he keeps falling off the spatula and I keep screaming. And see, one of the benefits of the shovel would have been avoiding the close-up view I keep getting of the poor, dead thing. The image of a dead chipmunk on a kitchen spatula is a dismal image indeed. I remember thinking, “If someone were watching me from a distance, they would think I was some pent-up housewife gone mad.”

After about ten minutes I finally manage to fling the beast over the fence.

Along with the spatula (in case you were wondering).

One Last Thing

As I mentioned, sometimes the television is on here, but in the other room. During the day, I occasionally get to hear a snippet of some lame soap opera. Sometimes I even hear lame things George Bush is saying, or lame commercials. But the soap opera on today, when I went in to grab a dictionary, was far from lame.

The scene (I have NO idea of the context) is this attractive middle-age black woman, talking to an older woman, also black, who is seated in a wheelchair. The older woman seems to be in some kind of nursing home. The younger woman says to the older woman:

“How could your own daughter do this to you?” (I presume she means putting the old lady in a home).

The older woman replies (as the camera closes in on her face):

“Because she is an atheist, thieving, crack-addict whore.”

I swear to you.

ET

Glory

This weekend, my friend Stacy asked me what techniques I use to get myself out of my depressive spirals. I told her that I think about all the wonders and blessings of my life. Here’s the view from my backyard this evening:

Weekend Update

It was a relatively quiet Memorial Day weekend, except for the part where the cop hinted that I might be a serial killer (or did he think I was a hitman?). My girlfriend and I were thinking of going to see David Byrne play on Saturday night, but I’d been reading some of his online tour-journal, and I was afraid that we’d get subjected to political ranting during his performance. We saw Zero 7 play a week or so before at Irving Plaza, and that was an awfully nice experience, so we elected to forego the David Byrne show.

During the 1990s, I think I only went to three shows (or “concerts,” if you insist): Joe Jackson (1990, Philadelphia), Bob Mould (1995, Georgetown), and Lori Carson (1998, NYC).

In the new century, I’ve been to a bunch more: Erykah Badu (a Valentine’s Day surprise for my old girlfriend, in 2002), Lori Carson (twice more in NYC), Springsteen (Shea Stadium, last October), Bob Mould again (South Street Seaport in NYC, July 2002), my old lovergirl Ari (she plays clubs in NYC), and the inimitable Tom Jones (Vegas, last January).

I was curious as to how a chill-out band like Zero 7 would fare in a live performance. For two years now, I’ve grooved on their sound, which chills me out without just being aural wallpaper (a tough terrain to negotiate). The gig at Irving Plaza was a good time, even though there was no seating and my girlfriend paid $9 for a drink (I stuck with water, which was $2 per smallish bottle). I was impressed that the band had all four of the vocalists who’ve sung lead on the two albums. In total, there were ten band-members, which seems like a lot of people to support on a North American tour. I mean, it’s not like they were playing Madison Square Garden or something. One fire hazard sign on the wall at Irving Plaza said the max was 340 people.

The show lasted about 100 minutes, showed off all four singers, and didn’t make the mistake of trying to use any of the female singers to back up the one male lead, Mozez; their voices would’ve conflicted WAY too much. Instead, the women sometimes backed each other up, or sang solo. The mix never got too loud, which I assume is key for an act like Zero 7. Drums and bass provided a solid beat, but never a thump-inside-your-chest pounding, which has always driven me nuts (or out of the venue, as it did during the Erykah Badu gig).

The highpoint of the show, besides Mozez’ bring-down-the-house rendition of Morning Song, was some fan who was dancing WAY too energetically to the music. For the most part, Zero 7 has a pretty sway-worthy sound, not funky-chicken-esque. But this Peter Brady-looking guy really got into it, I guess. As I said to my girl, “He’s got twice the beat, and half the rhythm.”

But that was almost two weeks ago. I felt bad about not writing it up immediately, and I’m sure there are plenty of impressions I had from the gig that would’ve made for neat reading. Instead, you get this mediated distance from the show.

There’s plenty that I don’t get around to writing about on these pages, unfortunately. I haven’t even gone into discussing the evening I met Ron Rosenbaum. I haven’t posted pix of the library I finished putting together in my house. And I never got around to writing about my new car, a Honda Element that I bought in January, after the maiming/near-death of my Saturn. Instead, you get tons about genocide in Sudan. Oh, well. (At least there’s some (relatively) good news on that front, with a barebones peace treaty in the 21-year civil war, but that doesn’t cover the Darfur region, unfortunately.)

So I bought a Honda Element at the end of January. Much to my chagrin, this makes me an SUV driver, albeit a wannabe-hipster one. But the car treats me well. It matches my utilitarian mindset pretty well: it’s got space, a strange external appearance, and no real luxuries inside (except for a booming stereo that has an external audio input, so I can plug my iPod in directly).

I nicknamed it “The Element of Surprise” shortly after I bought it, but my buddy Paul Di Filippo showed why he’s a writer and I’m just some schlub from NJ when I took him for a spin in it a few weeks ago. He said, “Why don’t you call it ‘The Element of Style’?” He’s so smart.

One of the good things about it is that you can remove the back seats for more space (or strap them up to the sides of the car). I took them out on Saturday, when I was heading over to my father’s place. I was going to help him with some computer stuff, some gardening and some furniture delivery, as well as take out a pair of chaises longue for the backyard.

Unfortunately, on the way to Dad’s place, I got busted for speeding. I was going 55 in a 35 (a REALLY tempting stretch of an office park). Given that it was a holiday weekend at the end of a month, there was no talking my way out of it. So I gathered my license, registration and insurance for the police officer, as he walked up to my car. It was the first moving violation I’ve had since 1990.

The crew-cutted young (mid-20s, I’m guessing) cop asked me for the three items. I handed them over, and he noticed that the insurance was for a different address than that of the driver’s license. I explained that mistake made by the DMV when I renewed my license in January. He asked me where I was going, and I explained. Then he looked at the back of my car through the window, and said, “These cars don’t have back seats?”

“They do,” I said, “but I took them out, so I could put these lawn chairs of my dad’s in back.”

He said, “You could put some bodies back there.”

This is exactly what he said: I swear to God. Completely straight face, no trace of a joke, no hint of a smile.

Not from HIM, anyway. I, on the other hand, burst out laughing in his face. “Well, sure! I guess you COULD!”, snorting and laughing away. I KNOW you’re not supposed to laugh at a cop, but I was so not expecting that comment from him. So I laughed at him. He walked back to his car, and I sat for 10 minutes. At one point, I thought, “Holy crap! I’m going to Gitmo! They’re going to ship me out as a terrorist because I took the seats out of my Element!”

He came back with a ticket for 20 miles over the speed limit, which hurts. He didn’t re-imply that I’m a serial killer or hitman, using my Gen X-mobile to haul bodies across northern NJ. Which is fortunate, because I’m pretty sure I’d have started laughing again, which wouldn’t have gone over well. Arrest averted, I took care of Dad’s various needs, then headed home, still marveling over the bizarro behavior of the cop.

Amy & I spent Sunday night and Monday morning watching both parts of The Godfather (because There Was No Godfather Part III), and otherwise relaxing by reading some old Calvin & Hobbes collections I picked up in the remainder section of an evil chain bookstore. It was great, rediscovering that strip. I’ve been racking my brains about it since Saturday afternoon, and I can’t think of another comic strip that comes near it, since Peanuts’ heyday. Amy & I goofed about various “competitors” to it (like Cathy, ha-ha), but it really is the best comic strip in the last 25 years.

I’m gonna stop now, because I’ve rambled enough.

The Geography of Nowhere

Ian Frazier writes about Route 3 in the new issue of the New Yorker:

On long walks through suburbs whose names I sometimes can’t keep straight — Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, Brookside, Nutley, Passaic, Garfield, Lodi, Hasbrouck Heights, Hackensack, Teaneck, Leonia — I’ve encountered the New Jersey miscellany up close. Giant oil tanks cluster below expensive houses surrounded by hedges not far from abandoned factories with high brick smokestacks; a Spanish-speaking store that sells live chickens is near a Polish night club off a teeming eight-lane highway; a Greek church on a festival day roasts goats in fifty-five-gallon drums in its parking lot down the road from tall white Presbyterian churches that were built when everything around was countryside. Neighborhoods go from fancy to industrial to shabby without apparent reason, and you can’t predict what the next corner will be.

Funny thing is, I had the same sensation of unpredictability when I was wandering Paris in October 2002.