Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Concept: Guerrilla Lit reading a week from tomorrow (your last chance to hear me read in New York).

I will be reading at this month's installment of the Guerrilla Lit series. Barring sudden and inexplicable fame, this is the last time I'll be reading in New York, inasmuch as I'm moving to Chicago two days later. The reading is:

7:30 PM Wednesday, 11/28
170 Ave. A (@ 11th St.)
Bar on A

The reading will also feature Erik Rhey, Dani Grammerstorf, and Bernie Kravitz. I know these kids, so seriously, it's going to be a *killer* evening. Bar on A has a *sweet* happy hour to boot, which I will employ to warm up for the event.

I will be reading from either:
A) The Silurians - A short story starring an alcholic middle-aged New York economist mother trapped 400 million years back in time with a motley crew including a politically idealistic college prof and her woe-is-me ex-husband.
B) Beowulf - A hyper!weird novel I'm drafting that, for all its bizarreness, has already managed to inspire a feature film with Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie, not to mention a 1000-year Olde English poem.

If people show a strong preference for A or B, I'll follow their wise suggestions.

Otherwise, I'll maybe make up my own mind, or maybe leave it to the whims of the crowd.

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Gravitane 29, 30


New York City or Chicago? Why?

Concept: Chicago vs. New York in 21 Subjectively Determined Categories.

Easier to find, easier to keep.

Easier to find, won't rob you blind. Although you aren't as likely to be able to make a cassarole while sitting on your bed.

One late Sunday night, not long after I'd started living in New York, I got annoyed for waiting fifteen minutes for a subway. Then I remembered that in Chicago, I'd be blessed to have a train arrive after so long at such a time. Likewise, my apartment is a twenty minute walk to the subway, and a further twenty minutes to Union Square; my New York friends consiter this forty-minute public transit commute a great inconvenience. Now it does have to be acknowledged that New York stations are much dirtier than those in Chicago, but who cares? You're not spending as much time in them.
Exception: Chicago has two airports and two trains serving them. New York has two airports and zero trains serving them. What gives?

Of course, I've read plenty about the train wreck that the CTA has become. And, of course, it is the job of public transit to be "efficient," not "elegant." But let us consider the potential here, for what could be if both systems were fully updated and maxed out on efficiency. On the one hand you have New York's bewildering spaghetti plate of letters, numbers, colors, dashed, solid, and dotted lines, and geographic morphing... it's taken almost two years to figure all this out, and I still make mistakes from time to time. Chicago's transit map, on the other hand is a work of art. Bright colors radiate from the core of the city like bicycle spokes, intersecting between the center and the periphery with the neat, solid black lines of bus service. Together, on a to-scale map that (shows streets and major features to boot), it presents a service that is immaculate, accessible, and seemingly comprehensive. If only the reality were so!

New York neighborhoods are more conspicuously different from each other; they look different... the Brownstone isn't endemic to New York like the Brick Tenement is endemic to Chicago. But in Chicago the roots are deeper and more penetrating, more lasting, so that the difference between Bridgeport, Canaryville, and McKinley Park might as well be the difference between day and night.

Frankly, I don't even know why this is a debate. I once heard a compelling argument that New York style pizza is celebrated around counters by commuters on their way to work, and hence a source of camaraderie. A nice thought, but doesn't reliance on such an argument instead of the taste of the thing betray the point in the first place? New York style can be a soupy sweet snappy crunchy treat, but it is literally and figuratively crushed by the dense, rich, complex, and visually mighty Chicago-style.

Now this is a difficult call. Since I've been reading Medieval history lately, I'll ask a comparable question: who do we like more, Charlemagne or Emperor Justinian of the Byzantines? Charlemagne was a able diplomat and something of the maverick true believer. His efforts managed to create a short-lived cultural Renaissance among subjects locked into mutual acrimony, but they also led to the creation of that most illogical and aberrant of all political institutions: the Holy Roman Empire. His greatest contribution in the long-term was probably the lower-case alphabet, and Bloomburg's will probably be Midtown traffic tolls. Whereas Emperor Justinian (and his successors, and theirs) integrated religious orthodoxy with state theology, autocracy, and political purges. He reinforced one of Byzantium's chief weaknesses: that provinces existed only to pay homage to the glittering capital. In doing so he was able to preserve a civilization that, by all logical rationales, ought to have died out eight-hundred years sooner than it did. J. Daley destroyed much of what was great about Chicago in the name of keeping it peopled and thriving, and his son is doing the same. If you read between the lines, I think you know both who I favor, and the massive reservations I have about that choice.

I did expect New York to walk with this one, but I didn't expect it to be such a rout. The Met (which it took me six days to take in) has four times the square footage of the Art Institute and ten times the collection. Though what really hurts my feelings is the diversity and expansiveness and eclectiveness of the Met... after all, the Art Institute's pride and joy are their Impressionist works, which comes as close to boring me as any school of art really can. Also, just as Chicago has three museums to go toe-to-toe with the Museum of Natural History, MoMa has a right to take on the Art Institute, and doesn't do poorly in the contest. Both cities have, of course, numerous smaller collections of quality, but those in New York (the Frick, the Guggenheim, the Whitney) appear to be somewhat better endowed. I have to confess: I think I will miss this about New York more than any other single thing.

The Cubs have the most obnoxious fanbase on the planet, but Yankees fans are almost as obnoxious, with the added penalty of being frequently psychotic.

If Cubs fans are frequently obnoxious, and Yankees fans are frequently obnoxious and psychotic, then White Sox fans are a generally decent non-obnoxious bunch, who nevertheless tend to go a little bit psycho. Whereas I've never even met a Mets fan I didn't like.

To be fair, this, more than anything (for me, at least) comes down to a few key battles. Blues vs. Jazz, for instance (I go with Blues, and therefore Chicago). Or House vs. Hip Hop (which just rips me apart). I would have to go with the idea that New York does, in the end, represent a more diverse array of music on the whole, but the kinds of music that I love the most were perfected (and remain so) in Chicago. So there is no way to resolve this. It is a tie.

Decisively, though not overwhelmingly. The comparison has to begin with the American Museum of Natural History vs. its equivalent, the Field Museum. Not only is the AMNH larger, but its execution is fresher, bolder, and its exhibits are more astonishing. The Cladographic exhibition of fossils is brilliant, and the Rose Space Center is visually striking and intricate. But unfortunately, that's the bulk of what New York brings to this question. The Museum of Science and Industry steps in on Chicago's behalf. As does Adler. And together, these three institutions, any of each could easily absorb one or several days exploring, do trump the AMNH. As for Shedd vs. the New York aquarium, there's simply no comparison. It's ironic that an aquarium so far from the ocean could display sea life with such panache. But then, it is situated on the world's most colorful deposits of Silurian marine life.

Unless one wants to lean heavily on Pilsen murals (which might be against the rules), this particular comparison is probably the worse spanking Chicago gets. In New York, there's graffiti everywhere, and a lot of it is awesome.

I've seen some great theater in New York. But what I've never seen in New York a brilliant blackbox multimedia political parody of Scooby Doo in which $5 buys admission plus all the PBR you can drink.

Too different to compare. Early and changing building ordinances in New York imposed many different requirements on buildings for setbacks and spacing. This, combined with Manhattan's density, its irregular streets downtown, topographical variation, and the lack of alleys has created a rugged, craggy skyline that looks like mountains eroded over hundred of millions of years. Chicago, by comparison, is stark, austere, monolithic. There appears to be more of a plan to its layout, with the neat grid and fixation with clean rectangles. At the same time, Chicago has managed to avoid a lot of the explicit commercial construction that plagues New York, and despite the recent construction of (what a friend calls) "architrocities" on the periphery of the Loop, the Loop itself seems more quintessentially American: sharp and angular. Mountains rising from the prairie.

Millennium Park is a marvel... let's just admit it. It looks like one of those awesome computer-generated cities-of-the-future we saw in the early 90s. And all of Chicago's flagship parks have something to offer. It's just that New York offers a lot more of this. How many worlds have been driven into and through Central Park? And how has Prospect Park been impacted so thoroughly by rolling meadows right there between Park Slope and Crown Heights? Hell, even Corona Park, with its lakes and lagoons and the Unisphere seems like this dreamy thing that half-Queens and half-Martian as envisioned by Ray Bradbury.

I'm sure the cities are neck-and-neck for fancy schmancy gooey deluxe coffee treat stuff. But I've never cared about that. Small coffee black no sugar is my poison. You can get it on any busy street corner in Manhattan for about a dollar. You don't even get it that cheap in Flint!

Now this is perhaps the most obvious of all. In fact, the New York waterfront has a nice level of diversity, being some 1 part pretty park space, 3 parts industrial sprawl, 3 parts highway/roadway, 4 parts other. What is truly objectionable about the New York lakefront is the lack of access in most cases. Not only does Chicago have twentyish miles of beautiful parklike setting, with dripping grass and black oaks, beaches, rocks, waves and sky, but most importantly, it's all public! For the last two years I've lived about two blocks from the East River, but I have to walk over a mile if I actually want to touch the water.

No contest.

No contest.

21. CITY.
What can I say? I'm a Midwestern kid. More on this tomorrow...

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Gravitane 28, 30.

- On Friday I defeated and destroyed the Met. That's right, after six visits I've traversed the two million square feet of this thing and took in a good chunk of the two million objects on display. The only sections I missed during these thirty-six hours of doom were the closed exhibits in 19th century painting, the Lehman wing, and the American Wing. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Africans, the Native Americans, the European Americans, the Modern Artists, the Koreans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Muslims, the Sumerians and descendents, they Mediterraneans... the entire Met: Pwned. By me.
On Saturday my wife and I went to hear Marco read at Kenny's Castaways, and then after a quick dinner with Marco and Scott, we headed up to the Upper West Side to see Beowulf. It wasn't, in the end, more or less faithful to the poem than I'd expected, and the attention to psychological depth was a small piece of disappointment. Still, the effects were eye-popping I was impressed by the films "fidelity in spirit."
The next day I went to church and we went to Marco and Scott's for a burrito meal that Hannah prepared (and Marco's roasted chestnuts). We also played a game of History in the World. I (per typical) came in last, but my Scythians survived until the industrial revolutions, and my renegade Romans were able to eke out a meager existence in the hills of Macedonia for 1500 years before entering into World War I on the side of the Allies. I think.

What should I do on the night that I get back into Chicago?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gravitane 24, 30.

- Whatever. I walked around Battery Park City and Battery Park. I went home and was responsible (boring) all evening.

If you were born in 9th century Europe, where would you hope to be born? This gorgeous map will help.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gravitane 23, 30.

- Last night was quite productive. After a short nap I worked on financial stuff and put the permanent plates on the car.

Which other planet of the solar system would you most like to visit? (Note: This blog does not consider Pluto a planet.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Diary: I Need My Coffee.

As job and apartment hunting has become more and more pressing, I've cut exercising and most of my blogging to free up time. Now I'm about to consider reversion to pre-graduation-from-grad-school caffeine levels (eg. as much as I want). The way I figure, caffeine isn't like crack or nicotine. I really can go back to my current reduced level as soon as things settle down a little. Right?


Gravitane 22, 30.

- Nothing (interesting) to report.

What kind of candy do you like?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Gravitane 21, 30.

- I have to be brief this week. So here it is: On Thursday and Friday I went to the Met, and finished the Asian Wing (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean galleries), spent a few minutes looking at Boroque Tapestries, took in the bit of the American Wing that wasn't closed off (the unexpected surprise was Washington Crossing the Delaware which isn't one of those tiny famous paintings... it filled the whole room) and the first floor of Modern Art. My favorite bits were the Chinese Landscape painters, Fudo Myo-o, Kannon, Kamo Matonobo, a piece attributed to Kano Takanobu, Ito Jakuchu, the Heart of the Andes by Church, Kenneth Noland, Gino Severini, Klee, Chagall, Stuart Davis, and of course, everything they had by Georgia O'Keeffe. Do many of these names ring bells to you (because most of them do not for me)?
After the museum on Friday I picked up my wife from work and we spent the rest of the night in a mad dash (an often very slow, bumper-to-bumper mad dash) from New York to Portland, Maine. Our friend Matt had invited us up for the weekend, but he lives on Peaks island, which is only accessible via ferry, and the last ferry leaves at 11:30. We made it, but with only maybe two minutes to spare. The rest of the weekend was spent exploring Portland and southeast Maine, eating good Irish and New Englandish food, and taking the ferry back and forth from restaurants and bars. Maine actually looks a lot like the prettier parts of the UP. Less mining. More lobster.
We got back last night, not too late, but late enough, and had a somewhat relaxing evening. This week, back to the usual.

- What nation do you most wish you understood better? -

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Concept: NaNoWriMo

My profile.

My 2007 novel? Beowulf. There will be plenty of cheating and shenanigans this time through.

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Gravitane 16, 30.

- Yesterday sucked. Yesterday sucked. I did meet Amy for a drink though. That was cool.

If the weather matched your mood, what would it be doing?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Event: Once again, the Democrats disappoint.

New York Times: Nomination of Mukasey Sent to Full Senate.

"The vote was 11 to 8, with two Democrats, Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California, joining all nine Republicans on the panel in backing the nominee. Eight Democrats voted against Mr. Mukasey." Well, eight of them didn't let us down. The rest have written off the independence of the Justice Department, as well as implied that, yeah, it is somehow ambiguous whether or not simulated drowning and strangulation constitutes torture (?!).

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Event: Vote Walling for Flint Mayor Today.

More from Blue Skies Falling here.

Complete coverage from the Flint Journal here.

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Gravitane 15, 30.

- Yesterday was a much needed break... I got home from work, bummed around the apartment until my wife got back, then went to pick up Kinara's. Sam stopped by for a few minutes to pick up his things (he stayed with his cousin last night, and today he's heading home). My wife and I watched Deadwood and read until we were too tired to go on. Which happened well before midnight.

Which reporter do you most envy?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Diary: November, 1991.

Something I forgot to recount in the description of October was how late in the month (I have no idea why, but I emphatically believe it was the 20th, our director, Tony Coggins arranged a field trip to U of M Flint (which he attended) to tour their theater facility. Stagehands walked us through, explaining the flies, the spots, the rehearsal spaces and black boxes. It was a bright, sunny Saturday, crisp and cold; perfect October.

Maybe I remember that now because my main memory of November was how the play came more and more to take over my life. I had a fair number of lines to memorize, and while I don't remember our exact schedule I know that we came to spend several hours a day rehearsing after school. I was also involved in the band, and so I was pretty busy. The collective effort involved built toward a feeling of intense belonging and ownership with this group of people. It was something that, for a long time, seemed to specifically apply to theater, and is the main reason I became addicted to it for so long. But that moment hadn't arrived yet; it was still in the works.

The previous month's vampire obsession had also led me to rent Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. I beat the game, one of my very favorites, for the first time on Thanksgiving. My cousins came over, as did my grandparents and aunts, and later in the day we went for a walk back to the river. It was an amazingly mild day... windy, but we barely needed to wear jackets at all. In the field behind our barn there was one point where a dried out grey lumber post had been driven into the ground before the horse shelter. As we walked back I looked at it, and everything seemed about that time seemed to swirl around the point of that post: vampires, the gothic, theater, and impending cold. All swept up in gray grass, leaveless tree branches, gray skies, and wind.

Where were you in November, 1991?

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Gravitane 14, 30.

- What a weekend... eventful enough to contain a full week.
On Friday I got up then went back to bed to sleep in, but just a little. I actually spent three hours at the DMV exchanging my expired Michigan license for a valid New York license. Of course, in a month I'll have to do the same thing with my New York license in Illinois. The DMV is one of the most frustrating places on the planet. I do not recommend it. I'll leave it at that. I left at half past four; just enough time to hurry home, get in the car, and drive around the Atlantic center for twenty minutes picking up Sam. We went back to my place and Sam took a nap while I worked on my AC unit. But soon enough, Lindsay called from Penn Station and we drove out to pick her up. Then, back to Brooklyn. We picked up my wife and let her off at home, then, driving on, meandered through Vinegar Hill, DUMBO, and the old Fulton district before finally stepping onto the Belt Parkway. We ate at El Greco in Brighton Beach and drove back through Brooklyn taking Ocean Parkway. We took the bridge into Manhattan for the second time of the evening, drove around looking for a parking spot, and decided that Williamsburg was good enough. So: We took Delancey to the bridge and stopped in at the Lucky Cat for drinks... unfortunately all the Earshot kids were gone by then. We, ourselves, got home around three, and that was Friday.
On Saturday we took our time building speed, but after dropping off the car in Boerum it was a flurry of motion to Penn Station, the Empire State Building, Times Square (where I bought a CD from a rapper who, it turns out, was from Flint... he came up to me when he saw my Tigers cap), and Grand Cental. By the early afternoon we stopped for lunch at a bar in the Village, and then I went to pick up my wife while Sam and Lindsay hopped from one bar to another. Circa ten we arrived at Sarah G.'s birthday party in Greenwich Village... a strange bar that was snootier than its menu or clientele seemed to warrant. Still, I got into a rousing political duel with Lindsay, and we went on to talk about presidential politics and personal dramas. Early on, Lindsay was plying me with Manhattans, but since I was the designated driver I had two and then drank pop for several hours as the effects wore off. Afterwards, we drove the perimeter of Manhattan, and stopped for McDonalds on the way home. Even after rolling back an hour, it was well after two AM.
By Sunday our insane schedule was starting to catch up with us: we got up early enough but spent the morning drinking coffee, eating breakfast burritos, and watching YTMNDs. Still, we managed to leave at about ten to drive up to Manhattan to meet Sam's friend Ben and go to the American Museum of Natural History. We didn't try to take it all in, but just spent several hours looking at the marine hall, the human evolution section, and the dinosaur skeletons. A bit of a contrast for Sam who took a trip recently to Kentucky's Creation Museum. We stopped at a Chinese/Peruvian restaurant on the way out, dropped off Ben and Lindsay, and then Sam and I went for a drive. We followed Flatbush to its end on the Rockaway, and explored the extremes of Breezy Point and the Far Rockaways. We then spent an hour taking Jamaica, Bushwick, and Myrtle home from there. It was an amazing tour, but at eleven PM, a comparatively short night. We split some Olde English, watched YouTube, and I was asleep by one.
This week? It may be as easy, but not as frenetic. Sam will leave tomorrow, but I will only get to see him again briefly, because he's staying the night at his cousin's place. Of course, in a month my wife and I will be back in the Midwest.

Whatever city you're in now... if someone had one day to touristify there, what ought they to do?

Concept: If I'm Posting Seldom...

...it's because I'm busy applying for jobs.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Event: Quick Political Note.

Write your senators (especially if they happen to be on the Judiciary Community) and tell them that they'd better either hear Mukasey declare that waterboarding is torture, or vote the cut off a confirmation hearing.

There are a few political issues in our lives that ought to be emphatic and unambiguous. Torture is one, and a simulated drowning is torture. Period. Mukasey needn't access a security brief to know that.

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Event: Last Plug Post for Walling v. Williamson.

So here it is... I found out why the Uncommon Sense has been unavailable lately.

More importantly, here is a page with all Flint Journal coverage of the race. It includes footage of several ads and profiles of the candidates, as well as many months of coverage.

In sum, Walling is a qualified candidate; any inexperience he may have is trumped by the diversity and range of experiences he has had. But most importantly, it is his style leadership that sets him above Don Williamson. Dayne has worked in many capacities in which the viability of government is tied to creative and collective initiative. In fact, one of the best summations of this tactic, one essential to Flint, is the Flint Journal endorsement, published this morning:

Walling would lead Flint to a bright future:

As Flint's mayor, Don Williamson operates as a one-man band. Dayne Walling would conduct an orchestra.

If re-elected Tuesday for four more years, Williamson would continue as he has, leading a fragile island contentiously, accepting help grudgingly. Walling, on the other hand, would build a mountain of opportunity with an army of allies.

If this were the 1950s or 1960s, the more-than-adequate record Williamson has compiled on basic services would merit re-election. Even now, in challenging and changing times, Williamson would receive our endorsement if he were running against someone less promising.

Fortunately, Flint voters aren't faced with this choice. In Walling, they have a candidate with the intelligence, vision, and, most valuable, the personal skills to become a true leader if given a chance.

Flint must provide him this opportunity, for the city's, and indeed the entire region's, prospects in the globally competitive 21st century very likely depend on this outcome.

We don't make this assessment casually. While government performance is always important to a community's success, it never has been more crucial to the Flint area's well-being than now because of our insecure situation.

And Flint's mayor is key. He must be the maestro, the creative team-builder who makes everyone perform better.

The right person in such a role can inspire stunning achievement, as exemplified by former Lansing Mayor David Hollister, who turned a city on a downward track into an object of admiration. Flint needs a mayor of this caliber.

Yet Williamson deserves credit. He's paved hundreds of lane miles of streets, made the city cleaner, replaced scores of city vehicles, and, most importantly, kept the books in the black after a state-ordered city takeover ended eight months into his term.

However, most of the deficit prompting the receivership was eliminated before Williamson took power. Recall, too, how he shamefully clashed with a state-appointed manager responsible for much of the recovery because the mayor wasn't yet in charge.

It's that my-way-or-the-highway attitude, which Williamson has exhibited throughout his term, that makes nearly every progressive step a precarious journey.

Credible organizations and individuals with the best of intentions worry constantly that the mayor might erect a roadblock. In fact, much of the redevelopment downtown and accomplishments in various economic and neighborhood initiatives occurred because talented people maneuvered around the city administration, or had its late participation.

Residents might accept Williamson's wars with the City Council, but there's no excuse for holding up projects because of orneriness or professional mediocrity, which describes a good many of the people the mayor has brought to City Hall, often for political reasons.

Such personnel practices may not get noticed because of Williamson's visibly good job with the city's housekeeping, compared to the past. But he doesn't have the skilled staff for Flint to reel in the partnerships and resources essential for prosperity.

Williamson, 73, isn't good at building coalitions because he doesn't have much faith in people. "Greed, animosity and jealousy" are key human motivations he volunteered to The Journal's Editorial Board.

Walling's outlook is refreshingly different. He believes that the "better angels" in people can be inspired to follow a quality leader with a well-conceived program.

Walling's campaign reflects this philosophy: His idealism and character have attracted a diverse body of supporters impressed by his practical plans for Flint's physical, economic and social renewal -- spearheaded by a high-quality city government.

Equally important, they have to admire his down-to-earth way of dealing with people from all walks of life. Walling, 33, would attract powerful players to Flint's cause, not shove them away. The Rhodes Scholarship he won alone would open doors.

Walling's service with Washington, D.C.'s mayor, his agency experience in Minneapolis and a stint at the nationally acclaimed Genesee County Land Bank provide examples of good governance to follow.

Most of all, though, he would lead Flint in a way with which it is not familiar, but would grow fond of. He would pave a road to a future many doubt possible. Voters on Tuesday should put their faith in Dayne Walling by making him their next mayor.

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Concept: I Mean It This Time.

Read this!

This article will make you feel better... or at least it did me.


Gravitane 10, 30.

- Yesterday after work I met up with Scott in Union Square and we grabbed dinner in Union Square before walking over to 6th Ave. We called Marco, who was supposed to meet us for the parade, but he was tragically undisposed. The parade officially started at seven, but it was almost eight by the time floats started arriving. We stayed for close to two hours before heading home in a giant mass of (literally) 2 million people. All of them seemed to be trying to follow 14th street to Union Square. When I got home, my wife and I read a chapter from The House with a Clock in its Walls. The Village Halloween Parade is the largest
You can see some pictures from earlier parades here.


What do you think would make the perfect Halloween parade float?