Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sunset over Jersey City

december sky 2

My favorite power station at sunset (click the image to see it larger). I've photographed this scene before, but I've got a new camera, so I thought I'd give it another try. The stacks are part of Public Service Gas & Electric's Hudson Generating Station on Duffield Street.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Word of the Day: gobemouche

gobemouche (n)

Literally, this word refers to someone who swallows flies, that is, someone whose mouth is always open -- a silly, gullible person or a boor. It's also the name for a type of bird.

"You dunno nuffin. You nuffin but one big fool ob a Gobemouche. I spec you nebber heerd dat we win de battle ob Bunker Hill--eh?"
--Albert Taylor Bledsoe, "The Gobemouchian Ideal of Government"

A bug flew into my mouth once when I was a kid. I managed to spit it out, but the odd feeling stayed with me for a long time.

I know an old lady who swallowed a fly...


The Night He Joined the "Cirkus"

Afterward, he had to remind himself and everyone he told about it that he wasn't making any of it up, that it wasn't a dream.

On a random Saturday, Ivan, one of those non-descript computer programmer-types you often see walking around, journeyed into Manhattan to attend a photographer friend's exhibit at a Midtown gallery. Afterward, he had a solitary dinner at a cafeteria-style restaurant, then decided to stroll down 42nd Street. Amid the Disneyfied tourist traps and neon encrusted marquees, he noticed a shabby little doorway with a sandwich sign out front: the Museum of Variety. The museum, the sign said, included a theater, whose mission was to preserve the vaudeville and burlesque atmosphere of the "old" 42nd Street -- "where peep shows and prostitutes were as common as today's plasma screens and Mickey Mouse tchotchkes."

He wandered inside to look at the museum exhibits, which were all of the "Ripley's Believe It or Not variety": a stuffed, four-legged duck under a bell jar; the upholstered chair that a side-show fat lady used to sit on; a picture of a two-headed baby. He noticed that the current show in the museum's theater was a performance by the "Vagabond Family Cirkus." He'd never heard of it, but, having time to waste, he decided to buy the ten-dollar ticket and attend.

While Ivan waited in line for the theater's doors to open, a gorilla appeared and began to accost him. The costumed creature bent down and kissed Ivan's shoe and then gave him a short back rub. "Okaaayy," Ivan said. Then, just before he entered the theater, he was frisked and closely examined with a large magnifying glass by two men wearing clown-face make up.

Ivan was beginning to realize that this would be no ordinary circus. The inside of the small theater presented a distinctly seamy milieu -- black walls, worn bits of scenery and tattered red velvet curtains that rose almost two stories from the floor-level "stage" to form the "big top." Steep banks of seats, some of which were covered with faux leopard skin, accommodated an audience of about 100. It looked like a theater in a David Lynch movie –- like the Red Room in Twin Peaks or the Club Silencio in Mulholland Drive.

The only available seats were in the front row, which Ivan suspected could be trouble. He had a strong premonition that this was going to be an audience-participation spectacle.

Much of the show consisted of tawdry clowning and more or less conventional juggling and acrobatic stunts, all of which featured a high degree of sexual innuendo. The performers also worked in a number of political comments about the gentrification of 42nd Street. It was entertaining and funny, but Ivan had the nervous feeling that his moment was coming.

His time came with the arrival of Svetlana, an attractive blonde in a lizard-skin unitard who looked like someone out of an early James Bond movie. The M.C. introduced her as being from a part of the former Soviet Union that is now an independent country: "Tear-you-a-new-crack-istan." Her talent was spinning a dozen sequined hula-hoops around her undulating body as a live band played new-age bump-and-grind music.

After a minute or so of spinning, she announced, in a heavy Russian accent, that she needed help from a member of the audience.

Svetlana pulled Ivan onto the stage and instructed him to spank her if any of the hula-hoops dropped to the floor. Eventually one did, of course, and she bent over. Feeling like an idiot, he spanked her, just once, as the audience roared. (You had to be there, Ivan later told his mother.) Svetlana did another dance, in which none of the hoops fell, and it was now Ivan's turn to be spanked. He bent over, facing the audience. "No, no, no," Svetlana said, shaking her finger. "You must turn around this way." So he pointed his posterior at the audience and she gave it a whack. Ha, ha, ha.

Next, Svetlana asked him to twirl one of her hoops around his arm while she had a brief conference with her assistant, Sylvia. She and Sylvia then slipped behind the curtain and began a loud, screaming argument. Ivan continued to spin the hoop, alone on stage, for about a minute as the audience giggled. "You are so talented," Svetlana told him when she re-emerged.

She then handed him a dozen hoops and instructed him to throw them to her as she danced. If she managed to complete the dance without any of them dropping to the floor, she said, he would be allowed to kiss her (in her words) "on the ass." If any of them fell, she would kiss his butt. What did he think of that, she wanted to know. "That sounds fair," Ivan said.

He did as he was told, tossing each hoop as she gyrated to some pulsating Euro-disco. The hoops stayed up, and when the music stopped, she bent over. There was a drum roll, and Ivan looked over at the audience. They were all laughing hysterically -- possibly because of the look on his face. There was nothing else to do but plant a kiss on Svetlana's rear -- to the accompaniment of a loud cymbal crash. She straightened up, grabbed his hand and they took a bow as the audience cheered.

Such was Ivan's moment in the spotlight. He knew that, in his mind at least, he would never hear the end of it.

(This story is 99 percent autobiographical.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A New Look

I finally updated my template. It's a real chore re-adding all the elements, but I think it looks cleaner and more contemporary. (Is it actually possible I've been doing this since 2002?) I kind of miss all the little icons, though. Maybe they'll come back in some form or from time to time. (If I've neglected to re-add a link to your site, let me know.)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Quote of the Day: the sign of Christmas

Fifth Avenue Star

Quote of the Day

"The sign of Christmas is a star, a light in darkness. See it not outside of yourself, but shining in the Heaven within."
--A Course in Miracles

(That's a picture I took of the Fifth Avenue star a couple of years ago.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How to Stay Positive

Put away your violin?

Many people get depressed at this time of year. How to Stay Positive When You Know Your Life Sucks may be able to help.

Personally, I won't be sorry to see 2008 go.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Words to describe Bush

Quote of the Day

"In a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, respondents were asked to volunteer their assessments of how Bush would be remembered after he leaves office. The most frequent response, from 56 people, was 'incompetent,' followed by 'idiot, 'arrogant,' 'ignorant,' 'stupid,' and so on. Nine people volunteered a three-letter synonym for donkey."
--The Washington Post, December 19, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Word of the Day: arsiversie

arsiversie (adj)

Meaning: upside down?

"...he was a botcher, cheese-eater, and trimmer of mans flesh imbalmed, which in the arsiversie swagfall tumble was not found true."
--François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel

I think this word means "upside down." It's hard to find a definition for it.... I've always enjoyed looking at the topsy-turvy sky and world you can see on the surface of a calm lake. One dropped pebble and the universe is destroyed in a burst of concentric circles.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Brain Dump

Cry baby cry me a river of time to go to hell is other people who live in glass houses for sale price is right or left to die cast toy gun the engine of development cost of living history channel islands in the storm clouds are forming. A pillow fight the good fight crime wave of the future generations to come back to back support your local pub crawl. My cupboard is bare naked truth is stranger things have happened to be passing through the fire department of justice for all the way home.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Joined Wordie


I joined Wordie, a sort of social networking site for logophiles, and put some of my "Word of the Day" postings there. You word mavens should check out that site, which describes itself as "like Flickr, but without the photos".

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Way I Feel

Riding in a commuter van tonight with dark, dark tinted windows: felt lost.... Listening to jazz (?) noodling on the radio right now: feel confused.... My wife wrote a poem about baking Christmas cookies and finding maggots in the dough (not autobiographical, thank God): felt nonplussed.... Took an orange out of the refrigerator at lunch time. It felt too cold to eat. Considered microwaving it for a few seconds. Decided not to eat it instead: felt ambivalent....

Tuesday, December 02, 2008



Ivan didn't mind doing the dishes. In fact, he enjoyed it. There was something soothing and almost meditative about immersing his hands in the warm water, squeezing the sponge and wandering through the white clouds of soap suds, searching for sunken forks. Even the greasy pans and plates didn't bother him. He liked transforming their dirty faces into smooth, clean circles of porcelain and steel. It all seemed to take a lifetime, but he didn't mind.

That was partly because Ivan could look out the window over the sink while he worked. The window looked out into an alley between his building and the apartment next door, barely 10 feet away. And directly across from him was another window, though which he could often see something odd going on.

It was the bedroom of a gray-haired man who appeared to be about 70 -- almost twice Ivan's age -- and who was a habitual pacer. He walked back and forth across the room constantly, at least while Ivan did his dishes at about 7 o'clock every night. The man never seemed to notice that he was being observed as he strode back and forth, with his hands behind his back. He seemed to be talking to himself. Ivan was no lip reader, but the man seemed to be mouthing the word "future" over and over.

This went on for weeks. The man was obviously an obsessive compulsive, Ivan thought. Gradually, he began to notice other things in the room across the alley besides the pacer. There were Native American masks on the walls and dusty stacks of National Geographic magazines on tables and chairs. And something caught Ivan's eye on the table next to the crazy man's window: a gold watch.

It looked exactly like the Seiko watch Ivan had lost months ago -- the antique timepiece that his dead father had given him and that he suspected had fallen off outside his building the day he had moved in. Ivan had been carrying a stack of boxes when the band broke. He had gone back to look for the watch a minute later, but it was gone. Someone must have picked it up and taken it, he assumed. Now he knew who.

One hot summer Saturday, Ivan noticed that Mr. Crazy had left his window open and didn't appear to be at home. The gold watch was still on the table, glittering and calling to him, but out of reach.

Ivan had an idea.

He took a mop out of the closet and wrapped some duct tape around the end of the handle, making sure to leave some of the sticky side exposed. He reached out of his own window and poked the handle through the window of the apartment across the alley. He managed to get the watch to stick to the tape, and began to pull the mop handle back.

Just before he was able to grab the watch, though, it fell, disappearing into the shadows four stories below. There was a sickening, splintering sound, and the rumble of pigeons fluttering.

That evening, Ivan washed his dishes and watched his neighbor pacing back and forth, as always. God damn him, Ivan thought.

The old man suddenly stopped, as if he had heard the words out loud. For the first time, he turned and faced Ivan, looking him in the eye. He raised his hand and pointed his index finger at his dish-washing voyeur, as if his hand was a gun. His lips moved, and Ivan didn't have any doubt about the simple word they formed: "Pow!"