Archive for the 'Casual Friday' Category
I am ignoring this place, and in this I am clearly not alone. I have other things commanding my attention. If y’all want to talk about real estate, you know what to do.
Meanwhile, with the kind of surgical concision we have learned to expect, South Park takes on the Lance Armstrong modified-limited-hangout brilliantly:
Watch the whole episode. It rocks, I promise.2 comments
Happy Independence Day. This is me, fiction from The Unfallen:
Bel Canto is about halfway between Central Square and Harvard Square. When they emerged into the cool of the night, they turned left, toward Harvard Square. They walked along in a contented silence, and she felt very close to him for no reason she could name. His hands were stuffed into the pockets of his coat and his left elbow was sticking out there, like an invitation. Without asking permission she stuck her hand inside the crook of his elbow and kept it there. He looked down at her hand and smiled, so she knew it was all right. She knew they would look like an old married couple to the students pushing past them, one of those Yuppie couples who inhabit the high-rises on Mass Avenue. There’s a first, she thought, to be tickled at being mistaken for married.
Central Square is the shopping district for a number of blue collar neighborhoods. As you walk out of it toward Harvard Square, you see a little bit of everything — the Cambridge Post Office and city government buildings, free-standing houses, high-rise apartment towers, frat houses for both Harvard and M.I.T., cheesy little office buildings, restaurants, bars, fringe businesses — everything. But as you draw near to Harvard Square, Harvard asserts itself, and the eclecticism of the no-man’s-land between town and gown gives way to extremely absurd art galleries and extremely unappetizing restaurants and extremely fanatical radical bookstores and extremely incomprehensible retail stores devoted to every extremely incomprehensible pursuit or pastime known to the mind of man — or at least the Harvard man.
But even that can’t last. The real estate in Harvard Square proper is extremely valuable. If you cannot pay the rent, the landlord will direct you to a more suitable location closer to Central Square. In Harvard Square itself, absurdity is found only out of doors.
And it was out in full force tonight. At the Harvard Square station of the subway the plaza was rife with milling weirdness. Little teenage skateboarders with their strange haircuts and black street poets and homeless Vietnam veterans with stress disorder and a taste for the vine and middle-aged men in three-quarter-length raincoats thumping bibles and hectoring anyone who would cooperate by ignoring them. And everywhere, everywhere, everywhere little brown-haired Madonnas from Southie and Revere. Brown leather bomber jackets and big hoop earrings and way too much make-up and way too many Marlboro cigarettes. Sitting on walls and benches or standing around in twos and threes. Big-boned girls with big round breasts and big round behinds hanging around in Harvard Square looking for a shot at something better.
And big round brown eyes, Gwen knew, big like a horse’s eyes or a fawn’s or a dog’s. Big like an orangutan’s eyes and just as lost, just as searching, just as hopeful, just as hopeless. She felt her own eyes welling up and she squeezed Devin’s arm. She said, “I’ve told you one of my secrets. Now it’s your turn.”
He smiled and he placed his right hand atop hers for a moment and it was nothing and it was everything. He said, “I know how to roll cigars. Is that a good enough secret?”
“Not likely,” she scoffed.
“I really do. I learned when I was Hunter’s age, five years old. My grandfather taught me how.”
“Your grandfather taught you how to roll cigars? When you were five?”
“It’s the truth. He was unfallen I think, just wild and innocent. He grew up on the streets of Athens, and there was nothing he didn’t know before he had beard enough to shave. I was growing up on the streets of Boston and he thought I had the right to the same education he’d had. That was my youth, mostly, spending every afternoon with my grandpa. You asked for a secret and I’m giving you a history…”
“Well do go on.” She pulled herself a little tighter to him and he didn’t complain.
He smiled, a tight little wall of a smile that keeps things from spilling out. “Nicholas Demosthenes Constantopoulos, my mother’s father…”
“Yet another Demosthenes.”
“I don’t know how far back it goes. A long way. It’s Hunter’s middle name, too. It’s just one of those things that make a family. The family is who we say it is, and maybe the more we have to say, the more a family we are.” He smiled again, from joy this time. “My family has a lot to say.”
She laughed quietly. And she had the idea that he had pulled her still more tightly to him. They were walking the long way through the Square, looping around Brattle Street, walking very slowly. She put her left hand on his forearm, so now she was holding his arm with both hands. Her cheek was almost at his shoulder. She didn’t feel quite confident enough to put it there but she didn’t want to pull away either.
“My grandfather came to this country right after the first World War. He was fifteen and he stowed away on a freighter. Russia had gone Communist, of course, and Greece and Italy and all the Slavic countries were dallying with it, and he was convinced that if he didn’t get out then, he might be stuck there forever. Killed even, because he never could keep his mouth shut.
“Anyway, just after the war was the beginning of the end of immigration in America. ‘Give me your tired, your poor’ was secretly revised to read ‘Give me your blonde, your protestant.’ Nobody meant anything by it, I guess, we just fear the stranger. The toe-headed Episcopalians who ran this country thought it was being overrun by Irish Catholics and Russian Jews and swarthy Mediterraneans and greasy Slavs with thick ankles and thick accents. My grandfather spoke just enough English that he was able to convince the immigration people that he had a job waiting for him as a translator for a Greek language newspaper. That’s how he got in.
“But what an American he was! He did the dirtiest, filthiest jobs to accumulate capital, and he made little patriotic souvenirs, little flags and ribbons, by hand at night. He had a Singer sewing machine that he bought at auction. It’s powered by a foot treadle. I still have it; I intend to show it to Hunter someday when he decides he’s overworked. Nobody worked harder than my grandpa. He’d make his little souvenirs and take them around to the parks or the beaches on Sunday. It was a way to make extra money, but it was always just Sunday out in the world for him, too. All the other immigrants loved this country as much as he did, so he always sold out.
“That was his break, that was his big idea. He took all the money he’d saved and opened a little sweat-shop on Kneeland Street. He made little souvenir flags and big flags for houses and flagpoles and enormous flags for statehouse lawns. He’d do any American flag, federal, state or municipal, and any historical American flag, but he never once made a flag from any other country, not even Greece. During the second World War he turned down a lot of money from the Canadians because he wouldn’t make their unit flags.
“Before the war he married my grandmother and my mother was born and the Great Depression came and nearly wiped him out, but he didn’t lay anyone off and he never missed a payroll. And every Sunday, rain or snow or shine, he’d go to a park or a beach or an historical site and push a little cart loaded with patriotic souvenirs.”
Her cheek was on his arm by now and he either liked it or didn’t care or hadn’t noticed, she didn’t know which. “And where in all this did you fit?”
He smiled warmly. “I grew up with him. My dad — we’ve barely even talked about him — my dad was a nuc in Rickover’s Navy. He was away all the time, so we lived in my grandfather’s townhouse in Bayview — I still live in that house. I went to Saint Timothy’s, right around the corner from the house, and I’d go to my grandpa’s factory up the block after school. I’d do my homework there or listen to my grandpa argue with the neighborhood merchants or we’d play chess together — completely unpredictable and he could kick my ass.
“Here’s the secret. My grandfather knew this old black Dominican who had a cigar shop on Harrison Avenue. You could buy tobacco in the leaf there, Havana-seed tobacco from Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. But you could buy smuggled Havana leaf, too, if you proved you could be trusted. So my grandfather, a life-long anti-Communist, a dyed-in-the-woolen-underwear American patriot, defied the Cuban embargo so he could continue to roll his own Havana cigars. He never let me smoke one, because my mom would have killed him. But he taught me how to roll them, and I can still do it.”
He was smiling everywhere, just beaming. She said, “You loved him very much, didn’t you?” She regretted it at once.
Sadness dropped down on him like a curtain. “I miss him every day. Every day. Any time I need to see him, I can, though. I can see him laughing. Just wild and innocent and sweetly crude and gently rude and completely free in the shadows of the late-afternoon sun. Laughing from his throat like rocks in a barrel, laughing around a fat hand-made Cuban cigar…
“He used to take me with him, every Sunday, once I got to be about Hunter’s age. All week long he was a businessman. Not a big businessman, but quick and shrewd and clear-sighted and very decisive. On Sunday he was just a sweet old Greek with a push cart. Always had time to chat with old friends and new ones. More often than not it was my job to move the merchandise, because he was having too much fun just being out in the world. We didn’t need the money, it was just something he did. Something we did.
“We worked the Bicentennial together, and I’m glad we did because he… He died that winter. I was sixteen and too proud and then some, and it seemed like all spring and summer of 1976 he was rapping me on the back of the head and telling me not to be a horse’s ass. We’d go to Breed’s Hill or the Common or the Old North Church and all these ugly people in ugly summer clothes would show up and honor America by throwing tonic cans and gum wrappers at it. It offended me, particularly because my grandpa was the real glory of America and these corn-fed idiots just treated him like dirt.
“We worked The Esplanade on Independence Day that year, very big history-making day. Six-hundred-thousand drunken morons and The Boston Pops. And tall ships. And fireworks. We couldn’t push the cart, it was too crowded, so we just stayed where we were, selling stuff hand over fist. But I was in the blackest mood I’ve ever been in.
“My grandfather was the American dream, every page of that story. My father was a Captain in the U.S. Navy. I was a teenage physics god who was really going places. And these fat stupid beery people were treating my grandfather like an organ grinder and me like his monkey.
“There’s only so much you can say when a boy’s almost a man, right? My grandpa pursed his lips and let me stew. We shut everything down when The Pops started the 1812 and he pulled me tight to him. I was maybe four inches taller than him by then, but it didn’t matter, because he’ll always be bigger than me. It was loud, loud, loud and I knew he was trying to say something to me but I couldn’t hear him, I could just see the tears rolling down his cheeks.
“He grabbed me by the hair and pulled my ear down to his mouth. He said, ‘It’s not the people, it’s the idea. The idea makes the people great, as great as they want to be.’ And right then the cannons went off and the fireworks went off and the sky over the Charles was enflamed. And we stood there together crying, him for his America, and me for him…”3 comments
Ray Bradbury: “In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-defiations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.”
Lately I’ve been pondering where the spice in our culture has gone? Perhaps, as a woman of a certain age, I’m unable to see it, but I don’t think so. My deviant detector is fairly well-tuned and I’m drawn to the outsiders of the world because, well, I am one, but it’s very milquetoast out there these days. We wouldn’t want to offend anyone or their delicate sensibilities.
Somehow I missed reading Ray Bradbury. Well, no, not somehow. That was pretty much a planned avoidance of the sci-fi genre in general because it tends to spawn cult-like followers. True story. And I’m not much into cults however clever they are. But today David Boaz at the CATO Institute posted the Coda to the 1979 Del Rey edition of Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury. And while I’ve been pondering our collective love of the plain vanilla, I’ve concluded that it seems to have begun around the year this Coda was written. Either it was the death of disco or the election of Ronald Reagan but something went terribly wrong around that time. I never read Bradbury, but this is quite lovely and also funny and has enough biting social commentary to make me appreciate the man’s sensibilities and shared appreciation of digressions. There are indeed many ways to burn a book.
About two years ago, a letter arrived from a solemn young Vassar lady telling me how much she enjoyed reading my experiment in space mythology, The Martian Chronicles.
But, she added, wouldn’t it be a good idea, this late in time, to rewrite the book inserting more women’s characters and roles?
A few years before that I got a certain amount of mail concerning the same Martian book complaining that the blacks in the book were Uncle Toms and why didn’t I “do them over”?
Along about then came a note from a Southern white suggesting that I was prejudiced in favor of the blacks and the entire story should be dropped.
Two weeks ago my mountain of mail delivered forth a pipsqueak mouse of a letter from a well-known publishing house that wanted to reprint my story “The Fog Horn” in a high school reader.
In my story, I had described a lighthouse as having, late at night, an illumination coming from it that was a “God-Light.” Looking up at it from the view-point of any sea-creature one would have felt that one was in “the Presence.”
The editors had deleted “God-Light” and “in the Presence.”
Some five years back, the editors of yet another anthology for school readers put together a volume with some 400 (count ‘em) short stories in it. How do you cram 400 short stories by Twain, Irving, Poe, Maupassant and Bierce into one book?
Simplicity itself. Skin, debone, demarrow, scarify, melt, render down and destroy. Every adjective that counted, every verb that moved, every metaphor that weighed more than a mosquito—out! Every simile that would have made a sub-moron’s mouth twitch—gone! Any aside that explained the two-bit philosophy of a first-rate writer—lost!
Every story, slenderized, starved, bluepenciled, leeched and bled white, resembled every other story. Twain read like Poe read like Shakespeare read like Dostoevsky read like—in the finale—Edgar Guest. Every word of more than three syllables had been razored. Every image that demanded so much as one instant’s attention—shot dead.
Do you begin to get the damned and incredible picture?
How did I react to all of the above?
By “firing” the whole lot.
By sending rejection slips to each and every one. By ticketing the assembly of idiots to the far reaches of hell.
The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib/ Republican, Mattachine/ Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.
Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.
“Shut the door, they’re coming through the window, shut the window, they’re coming through the door,” are the words to an old song. They fit my life-style with newly arriving butcher/censors every month. Only six weeks ago, I discovered that, over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some 75 separate sections from the novel. Students, reading the novel which, after all, deals with censorship and book-burning in the future, wrote to tell me of this exquisite irony. Judy-Lynn Del Rey, one of the new Ballantine editors, is having the entire book reset and republished this summer with all the damns and hells back in place.
A final test for old Job II here: I sent a play, Leviathan 99, off to a university theater a month ago. My play is based on the “Moby Dick” mythology, dedicated to Melville, and concerns a rocket crew and a blind space captain who venture forth to encounter a Great White Comet and destroy the destroyer. My drama premieres as an opera in Paris this autumn.
But, for now, the university wrote back that they hardly dared do my play—it had no women in it! And the ERA ladies on campus would descend with ball-bats if the drama department even tried!
Grinding my bicuspids into powder, I suggested that would mean, from now on, no more productions of Boys in the Band (no women), or The Women (no men). Or, counting heads, male and female, a good lot of Shakespeare that would never be seen again, especially if you count lines and find that all the good stuff went to the males!
I wrote back maybe they should do my play one week, and The Women the next. They probably thought I was joking, and I’m not sure that I wasn’t.
For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent type-writers. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture. If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my “Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” so it shapes “Zoot,” may the belt unravel and the pants fall.
For, let’s face it, digression is the soul of wit. Take philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Ham-let’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones. Laurence Sterne said it once: Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold eternal winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer—he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.
In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-defiations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.
All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. It’s my game. I pitch, I hit, I catch. I run the bases. At sunset I’ve won or lost. At sunrise, I’m out again, giving it the old try.
And no one can help me. Not even you.
Yesterday, I made a video discussing some of the ideas in Man Alive!. At one point, I mention Leonard Cohen’s line, “They’re gonna hear from me,” so I thought I would salute the song it comes from, Anthem.3 comments
Rick Danko, the third great voice in The Band, the too one easily overlooked. All three of these men are gone now, and the world is a poorer place.
“My biggest mistake was loving you too much — and letting you know.”
“Why do the best things always disappear?”
“Yeah, yeah, you know I sure wish I could yodel like Yoko!”
I was a teenage photo geek, and I used to spin up side two of “Before the Flood” and play it all night in the darkroom. The three voices of The Band — Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel — have been ringing through my head for most of my life.
“They should never have taken the very best.”
Further notice: The man behind the drums has left life’s stage.3 comments
We had mail server issues today, and I had to update some stuff on Cathleen’s Macintosh.
She uses Stickies, and this was the note at the top of her screen:
There ain’t nothin’ like sweet romance…
Jimmy Klein and young Gavin M. George got my Sunday started right. I love Sunday despite the fact that I don’t believe anything I don’t have to, and most especially do I love to start my Sunday with the Sun God of my own idolatry: The blinding brilliance of a fully-conscious human smile. The world abounds in wonders of the mind, and all we can remark on are the travesties of mindlessness.
Me, too, make no doubt, and yet I am thankful this Sunday to President Barack Obama, the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, the Black Panther Party, the mainstream media and the entire TwitBook Mafia. I have never in my lifetime seen a racist lynch mob in action, and I am grateful to all the participants for showing me what menacing racial prejudice — judging by race in advance of determining the facts — looks like. If you are worrying about the fate of poor George Zimmerman — whose race, apparently, is white-enough-godammit! — console yourself: He can always avail himself of gay marriage. In the game of identity politics, gay men — born-that-way-godammit! — trump every other card. And that’s a consummation we all might as well be thankful for.
So I guess I should be thankful for Bill Maher, who argues that snarky-on-wry is about all any of us can bring to the show, most days. And I think he and I both should be grateful that no one expects us to be funny like South Park is funny. A demand for actual excellence could put just about anyone into another line of work.
And totally snarklessly, I am 1,500 words into what I hope will turn out to be the most practically useful philosophical essay I will ever write. When I’m done, will anyone read it, all the way through, all the way to the end? I will, again and again over the years, if I get it right. I don’t know that I have improved any life but my own. But I know that what my life is now is a direct consequence of the things I have written in the past. You and I get to listen to Gavin M. George play, and to smile in full consciousness of the meaning of his own fully-conscious smile. But he gets to live that music as he is playing it, and I get to live the philosophy I write by writing the philosophy I live. This is what integrity means to me: Each discrete thing is different in its way, but everything is all one thing, each entity or action or attribute or effect itself an expression of the same one thing. I like it that the world aligns that way. It would, anyway, of course, and, accordingly, it could never be possible for any of us to live what Gavin is living without doing what he is doing, but it is a thing of ineffable wonder — to me, at least — that the Good is the True is the Beautiful. Whatever you get from my writing, if anything, I’m getting everything I hoped for and more. You cannot fathom the depths of my gratitude for the gift of mind. I make it my business to live up to it in every way I can.
And: I am deeply grateful to see Mad Men return tonight. I’ve got the overs on a new pregnancy — not Joan, someone we haven’t known about yet. And I’ve got the unders on Bert Cooper coming back to work. I think Robert Morse has been fantastic, the cap on his career. But I’m betting against him.
And now I think it’s time to be thankful for Sunday Dinner. I part with this thought: Say Grace. There’s never enough to go around.3 comments
Two years. How quickly time goes by. Today is my two year anniversary into the wonderful world of real estate. Initially, I was baffled by what I considered to be the industry’s loose professional standards, success without merit (seemingly so), and what appeared to be utter, blind luck on the part of some ‘top producers’. How have I changed my mind since then.
There aren’t many industries in which if you don’t produce results, you don’t eat. Period. No gimmies, time outs, or breaks. We have all seen too many get a free lunch, a pass through a life of effortless mediocrity – particularly painful to see in the military/government sector, sucking on the taxpayers’ tit. There are too many free passes in today’s America. Yet real estate as an industry is completely cold, uber competitive and unforgiving, a paycheck being the only worthwhile reflection of hard work – and very often, even when you ‘work hard’, the results are minimal if any. Although the low entry requirements (“hey, do you have a pulse and can you blink your way through an entry exam”) will continue to allow a questionable level of buffoons into the industry, the harsh realities of the real estate usually weeds them out: Either you sell or you look for another job. Sure, there are plenty of agents who are complacent being average and are doomed to a career of sub-ordinacy. Sure, some agents have luck, whether it is by family/friend connections, etc. but that does not typically equate to a successful real estate career. Sure, some agents boast of having been in the industry for 30 years, yet this is an industry in which time in service in it of itself does not translate into prosperity – or even expertise.
But to be successful in real estate, well, that takes an individual whose work ethic is only matched by his/her determination and perseverance. The best in real estate, such as Jeff Brown, are among the best in ANY industry. Success in the real estate industry reflects hard work, intelligence, and expertise earned through years of having boots on the ground, prospecting and doing the things that competitors are not willing/able to do: work harder and smarter. And I love that! Two years down, and now I’m very much looking forward to the next 20+.7 comments
Lunchtime links: Will the robo-signing settlement fail? Will Western Civ collapse to ruins? Who cares? Sheldon Cooper lives!
From good friend of the dawgs, Jim Klein, comes this grim reminder of the times we live in: SurvivalRealty.com.
Todd Zywicki finds the robo-signing settlement unsettling.
But despair you nothing: There is a real-life Sheldon Cooper going to high school in Nevada.
Limited lunchtime? Give it all to the third article. It’s the best read, and the most inspiring. The world runs by itself, but your spirit does not. Feed it wisely.1 comment
When I wrote The Unfallen, I studied a listserv list of lady romance writers. They were astoundingly mercenary, by my literary standards, but they were fun to read — and they were profoundly interested in making money.
One of their traditions was the “Yahoo!” — an announcement to the group of a personal triumph.
In that light: Yahoo! I put two contracts into escrow this weekend — and it is frolicking difficult to put a house under contract in Phoenix right now.
All I’m doing is skinning cats. Takes longer than it ever has before, and it pays less. But I’m nailing them up to the wall — and Yahooing when I have time.
Gloat in your own behalf. This is your year. I challenge you to prove me right.2 comments
Paging Sarah: “If there is a lesson in this story, it is to make sure your cell phone is off when attending a concert.”
If we start with the presumption that a smartphone/tablet/laptop/desktop operating system, ideally, exists in a sort of client/server symbiosis with servers in the cloud — and hence with all servers in the cloud, by concatenation (that is, by XMLation) — then your phone should be aware of appropriate phone protocol wherever and whenever it might find itself. You should not ever have to tell it not to ring in a concert hall.
I’ll get to Constance when I can, but I don’t think anyone here is all that interested. How do I know? Because the paragraph just above this one describes a revolutionary computing paradigm, one that exists nowhere right now. More fool I. It’s raining soup and not one of us has a spoon.
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…went under contract tonight. Day Six of the new year. Give me one a week and I’ll retire on the beach…5 comments