Thursday, July 31, 2008

Advice for the anti-bourgeois

You will have to marry a poor man. Or, failing that -- a rich one.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vermin, Part 1

Each summer, we’ve been afflicted by a new form of vermin. There were tiny roaches, and then there were ants, and then there were mice. A bird made its way into the room beside mine, spattering the wooden floor with its droppings. The white shit mixed in with the white powder of crumbled sheetrock. A squirrel skittered around our kitchen for a weekend before being swept into a garbage can. He hunched in the corner of the counter, every muscle tensed, every hair standing on end. When the broom made its foray into the crevice, he uncoiled in a show of impotent fury, flurrying his clawed fingers. In accordance with his intention, he looked momentarily bigger than he was, and more dangerous. He was putting all of himself into this charade, and he really did scare me. I could scarcely look at him. With a blind flick of the handle, he was whisked downward to darkness.

They come and go, and then they return. This summer, it’s fleas. They are curiously indolent. They gather on your ankles, and you can catch them with your thumb; they make the most perfunctory efforts to elude it, and usually fail. They are incredibly hardy. Even after pressing down on them with the full weight of your thumb, often they recover, and jump away to some other part of your body, only to be caught again. Sometimes, you get them just right, and you squeeze; they are helpless beneath your peremptory digit. With a slightly indecent relish, you leave behind a smear of blood. Eventually you get the ones that you notice, though a dozen escape detection for every one that you catch.

I’ve lost my squeamishness about vermin. Perhaps I never really had any. Some things that have never really frightened me: night, black people, Catholic priests, death. I’m not saying that they should have scared me, or that they shouldn’t have scared me: just that they scare others, but not me. My ankles are stippled with red perforations where the fleas have gnawed and sucked, but I remain where I have been: supine in my bedroom, though I know it crawls with these tiny bloodsuckers. To my credit, I haven’t done much to exacerbate the damage by scratching. I did my scratching in youth, and all through my teenage years. By now my skin is practically impervious to adversity: all of its sensitivity has been torn out of it. I used to tear off the skin that covered the underside of my thighs, and sometimes the tops of my thighs too: the slot on the underside of my knee, the notch where the kneecap protrudes into the shin, the shins themselves. I liked to leave white streaks and to look at them, and then the white streaks would become flecked with red on my flayed skin.

This is what I remember of the house on Manchester Lane, where I was born, and where I lived for four years: vanilla wafer cookies, Sesame Street, inflamed skin, torn skin, that grisly feeling beneath my nails, compound of dust, flaked skin, oil, and traces of blood, the cold rapture that came when you surrendered to an illicit urge, all the way to satiation. There were other things too – a child’s pain, a child’s sadness, a child’s discomfort – so much larger and more intransigent for being new. The first picture of me shows a baby on a flourishing lawn frosted with sun. I was dressed in a white diaper and a cream-colored bib. I was pear shaped and wore a world historical scowl – V.I. Lenin could scarcely have mustered the same attitude of disdain. It’s perhaps my earliest memory: the chafing of the grass against my skin, the heat that welled up around the plastic openings where my legs protruded from my diaper. I’m too sensitive for this world, I thought: I knew it even then, in the midst of those hot fits. Once I had drawn blood, the itch would recede. The open wound would cool in the air. Those were my first intimations of heaven.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Reader Response

I received two responses to my muxtape. Here is the first:

Subject: re: your your muxtape

""what do all the people know" is one of my favorite songs in the world"

Here is the second:


9:36 PM XXXXXXX: mazzy star? really?

People disclose themselves in the things they do, the small gestures no less than the large ones. In many cases, it's the small gestures that tell us the most. When confronted with a list of twelve songs selected in accordance with some principle, presumably that of admiration, love, or simple attachment, one person will write to tell you they loved one of the songs, that they shared your enthusiasm. Perhaps they hated the rest, or felt indifferently toward them: what matters is that they loved one of them, and they wanted you to know.

Another person will scan that same list and fasten on the one song that they can try to make you feel foolish for liking. Perhaps they liked the other songs, or felt indifferently toward them: what matters is letting you know that they can scarcely believe you included one of them.

It's a small thing, a subtle thing, but it's a very deliberate gesture intended to assert many things all at once: I know better than you; I'm in a position to judge your choices; I know what you were trying to do; you haven't done it. Not just that I have judged -- because of course we all judge -- but that I want you to know that I have judged you. And it exposes a certain way of looking at the world: that of a person anxious that he will choose or declare the wrong thing, a person that assumes that everyone else is engaged in the same project, and beset by the same anxiety.

The purpose of a mix-tape, as I understand it, is precisely to select out those songs that come from unexpected -- unhip -- sources and put them in a new context -- specifically, the context of one's own affective life. That Mazzy Star song is not a song for the ages, but it has a surface gorgeousness that left an indelible impression: one afternoon it transformed Brower Cafeteria in New Brunswick into a site of sublime beauty. I was young, I was nearly suicidal, and I was in love. It was ephemeral, and it was glorious, and it's never sounded quite the same again. But I listen to it sometimes to relive that moment. I'm not on the defensive about liking it, nor am I proudly flaunting it in the spirit of ironic glee that people bring to their purported love of Andrew WK or other things in that spirit, nor do I accept the attempt by another to put me on the defensive about liking it.

It's a good song, and anyone who listens impartially will agree.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

(no subject)

You were never my cause, but you are now lost.