Saturday, March 21, 2009

First Caturday in Spring

So yesterday was the Vernal Equinox, first day of spring. I was out in the back yard early in the morning, staring up at the top of our big tree -- a little black and white cat has been hanging out in our yard lately, and the night before Dorrie had chased it all the way up and it hadn't come down by bedtime. It was gone by that morning, but as I looked up I couldn't help wondering -- wasn't it just a bit early for pollen to be coming down?

Heh. Not pollen, snow. Happy first day of spring indeed. Francis thought it was very exciting.
(Yes, I do clean my windowsills. The little shits just mess them right up again with their dirty paws.)

After that he was all worn out and had to take a nap with Alvy.
Is that cute enough for you people?

Today Chester the beagle came over for a visit. Alvy didn't particularly approve but Mr. Bonkers definitely did.
P.S. Whenever I see "Caturday" I think of Mick Jagger singing it to the tune of "Melody." I don't know why.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Subliminally Seduced

So I guess you all like me better when I post cute cat pictures than smelly old used books? Well, I don't care. I'll post some more fuzzy critter photos soon, but first some more rambling thoughts on the book habit.

You know, anytime you buy something above and beyond the level of necessity, you’re indulging in at least the smallest bit of magical thinking. Whether we’ve all been hopelessly acculturated by Western mass media or it’s just the human condition, we’re all suckers for that little synaptic burst of seeing ourselves as we want to be when we make a consumer choice. Noticeably hip in those shoes, a domestic goddess on that couch, suave and speedy and listen, completely different from all those other midlife crisis guys in that low-slung red convertible.

It’s OK. It’s just how we’re wired. Even if the fantasy you’re buying is just a flash too quick for your brain to register – remember that book Subliminal Seduction? I spent hours with the illuminated magnifying glass I was supposed to use for stamp collecting – yes I WAS that much of a geeky kid – squinting at my parents’ Newsweeks, looking for the teeny tiny penises in the ice cubes of the drink ads. I don’t think I ever found one, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

So I got a flash the other day while looking at a table of used books out in the sunshine: The secret vision I’m buying into when I buy these books isn’t of being part of some floating intelligentsia, or how much I’m going to learn. It’s all about having the time to read them.

I work a regular day job, commute an hour each way. I blog for the good folks over at Readerville. I cook dinner most nights; I walk the dog; I keep a large-ish house full of pets reasonably decent; and when the weather turns nice I try to do things in the garden. I have a partner at home, I have a kid in college, I have a mom the next town over whom I visit at least every other weekend, I have a lot of friends I keep up with. I do my best to keep up some momentum of a creative life.

But time? I have so, SO little time. I always thought when my son left home I’d have so much more time than I did before, but things just swept in to fill the vortex – things I love, things I treasure. And I find I can’t do it on five or six hours’ sleep anymore. Ironically, not only is time speeding up, but I need to spend that much more of it unconscious.

I don’t think I manage my time particularly poorly. It’s just like money – I’m good with it, and reasonable about it, but there’s just never enough.

And all of a sudden I was able to catch that small spark as it snaked past my lizard-brain: The little flash of a dream I’m dreaming when I dreamily browse through books is of myself reading them. That’s all. By spending my $2 and $3 on dinged-up, yellowing oddities, I’m giving myself a wishful gift. I will have the time to read all these books I buy. I will have a comfortable, quiet place and downtime and no emergencies. It will be like summer vacations, stretched out on my stomach working my way through a pile of library books, or hunched over Newsweek looking for altered pixels in a whiskey ad with no agenda other than having to go down to dinner in a while. It’s a hopeful promise I’m making myself.

I will read them, I will. Maybe not all of them. I guess it depends on how long I live, or at least how long I can see the pages in front of me. But as far as strange little bargains with my fantasy self go, I guess that one isn’t so terrible.

Cheaper than a red convertible, anyway.

Yesterday's find: Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-92. Oh, I love Griel Marcus -- he's so old school. He reminds me of when I used to read the new music reviews in the Village Voice religiously, back when the Voice cost money. He always erred on the side of inappropriately highbrow, so what's not to love? The Voice blurb on the back of this book, in fact, says: "Like Adorno, and before him Wittgenstein and Nietzsche, Marcus's forte is the aphorism." Considering he's writing about people who spat on you from the stage being incorporated into the AOR mainstream, I think that definitely qualifies as covering all your bases. The best part? Is that whoever had this book before me underlined and highlighted. Somebody took their history of pop music verrry seriously. How geeky!

Just looking at this book makes me feel younger. It has the promise of a good solid wayback machine, filled with band names that will have the power to transport me back to heady college concert-going days and bad hair and uncomfortable boots. I can't wait.


Friday, March 13, 2009


So -- I'm never going to go to grad school. There were many years after my original college graduation when I felt you couldn't pay me enough to go back to school. And now that I'm old and contemplative and hungry for knowledge, I've also got a full-time job (knock wood), a mortgage, and a kid with one more year of college left himself. That's just a few loans too many, and not enough time to do a quarter of the things I want in the first place, and that all adds up to a great big No Way.

It makes me a bit sad, but not because I think an MFA would be such hot stuff -- I have no idea what I'd even do with another degree at this point. I just think it would be a lot of fun to take classes, read shit, talk about it. Get some new ideas tossed my way, have to stretch my mind a bit, and do it among people who are interested in the same thing.

Yeah, I know. What am I THINKING? The grass is always, always greener. If I've learned anything in all this time, that's definitely a big one.

So what's a girl to do? At best I guess I can try to set myself on some kind of autodidactic course of acquired knowledge, in hopes that persistence and serendipity and an open mind will point me in the right direction, and at worst I'll end up a weird chick with a lot of useless esoteric knowledge and a radar for finding similarly geeky types at parties, where we'll huddle in the corner like Trekkies. But it seems like something I need to do -- there's a lot out there that I'm never going to discover if I'm not paying attention.

For instance: James Purdy has died. And James Purdy wasn't even on my radar -- I'd never even heard of him. But the Times obit says his "dark, often savagely comic fiction evoked a psychic American landscape of deluded innocence, sexual obsession, violence and isolation" -- so damn, that's a semester's reading right there, if only out of respect for the man.

And the thing is, I know there are hundreds and hundreds of James Purdys out there, so many writers and books and art and topics that haven't yet hove into my view. I don't even feel bad about it -- why should I? But I'd feel bad if I ignored the weird syllabus that the universe throws at me on an almost daily basis.
Today's street find: Views of a Nearsighted Cannoneer, by Seymour Krim, Excelsior Press, (c) 1961. What the hell is this? And who is Seymour Krim? According to the back, he was
born May 11, 1922, in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge in New York City. He was the last of four children born to Abraham and Ida Goldberg Krim. His father died when he was 8 and his mother killed herself when he was barely 10. Krim was left psychologically homeless, living first with his immigrant grandparents in Newark, N.J. and then with his older sister and her husband in Manhattan. An erratic student, he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in 1939 and entered the University of North Carolina in the fall of that year, inspired by the figure of Thomas Wolfe. Krim lasted barely a year at the southern university, then returned to New York and began a series of forays into the uptown editorial world. These included editing a western pulp magazine, working as a reporter for the New Yorker, writing war news for the Office of War Information, hacking out the commentary for a newsreel, writing publicity for Paramount Pictures, and living off the advance for a novel which he never completed.
In 1960 he put together the anthology The Beats, which I own! In several pieces -- I think it was my mom's -- but still. And he wrote for everyone, including New Directions, the New Republic, Commentary, Partisan Review, the Village Voice, Commonweal, the Times Book Review, you name it. The end of the blurb says:
Seymour Krim was given a Longview Award for Literature in 1960. His comparatively limited output has been extensively reprinted in anthologies and collections. Krim is presently at work on another book and is editing a "swinging section" for Swank magazine.
And dig that crazy list on the front!

Not only was that the last $4 I had in my pocket this afternoon, but I had to cob together a dollar of it in change. No matter. This is part of my education, and I refuse to let any of it get away.

More later.


Thursday, March 12, 2009


I am not really a clothes person, or a shoe person, or a cosmetics person -- my idea of fancy is MAC lipstick -- or a home furnishings person. I don't collect china figurines, don't wear much in the way of jewelry, drive a decrepit (but paid-for) car, and the fanciest electronics I own are an iPod (a gift), an iMac (a gift), and a decent digital camera (not, technically speaking, mine). I do have a lot of nice kitchenware, but it's all functional and I'd just as soon not replace or add to any of it if I don't have to.

But I understand the passion, the unquenchable raging desire, to acquire such things. I totally know what that moment feels like when you suddenly realize how terribly much you NEED something that you didn't even know existed five minutes ago. I get it. Fortunately, since I don't have all that much liquidity to work with, I don't feel that special way about consumer electronics or pricey footwear -- just books (oh OK, and cats). And more specifically, although I love browsing in a nice bookstore and my Amazon wish list is bloated like a tick, used books.

I love the thrill of the hunt. I love finding gems among the dross. And I love a bargain -- I am, as my mother's cousin Phyllis would say, a shoppah. But whereas our family has traditionally spawned shoppahs of the Loehmann's variety, I'm all about the used bookstore, the library sale, the castoff publishers' galleys, the sandwich shop with the $1 paperback shelf, the I-don't-keep-books-so-you-can-have-this friend, and my favorite of all, the street vendor. Luckily, or unluckily -- no, no, it's luckily -- there are a number of these within a five-block radius of my workplace on any given day with halfway decent weather. I rack up the bargains on my lunch hour, piling them on my desk to admire for a week or two and gradually decanting them homeward to read.

Mostly I keep my little triumphs to myself -- I'm pretty sure they would make for a dead boring conversation, and I never really thought of them as something I could or should write about.

However. Recently I've been blogging for Readerville, which is fun and has seriously stepped up my trolling of book news and RSS feeds. Anything that's interesting enough goes over there, but every once in a while I find something to keep for myself. For instance: Some random surfing the other day brought me to The Wisdom of the Discount Rack, a very amiable meditation by Phyllis Orrick about the 25-cent rack at the Berkeley Public Library. It's a bit nostalgic, a bit aleatory, generally pleasant. Which is what's good about blogging in the first place -- for every person you bore silly, there's another you'll unexpectedly engage.

So hey, I got bragging rights if I want them. The week before last was a very good shoppah week. For a grand total of $6.00 over three different days, I walked away with:
Because I live in the Bronx, I like noir -- that's enough.
Aside from being blurbed by Hayden Carruth, there is this on the back:
Jim Harrison writes about the austerities of growing up in Michigan during the Depression and World War II, his literary coming-of-age among fellow writers he deeply admired -- including Tom McGuane, Philip Caputo, W.H. Auden, and Allen Ginsberg -- and the cognitive dissonance of "making it" in Hollywood. He gives free rein to his "seven obsessions" -- alcohol, food, stripping, hunting and fishing (and the dogs who have accompanied him in both), religion, the road, and our place in the natural world.
Religion and stripping and dogs? I'm there.
Dude, it's Wendell Berry. How can he not be worth $2?

The first man who whistled
thought he had a wren in his mouth.
He went around all day
with his lips puckered,
afraid to swallow.
I guess it might be a little more interesting to blog about these books after I've actually read them. But I haven't yet, so for now the getting of them is the thing.

(Right now I'm reading this behemoth:
Which is about the size of the New York phone book, although oddly lighter, and didn't cost me a thing.)