My Shortest Post Ever

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Having fun in Charleston

Charleston is a great city for visitors. My mom, dad, Trey, and Megan are in town right now, and we're doing some of the classic Charleston things we always do with vistors.

  • We went to the beach, of course (Sullivan's Island this time rather than Folly, which was a nice change).
  • Had Cosmic Dogs at Jack's Cosmic Dogs--one of the world's great hot dog restaurants (and, by the way, if you Google it, this blog shows up as the fourth site--I should get free hot dogs for all this publicity).
  • Ate gelato (at Gelateria Modica, not Paolo's, which is imposter gelato as far as I'm concerned).
We haven't eaten at Hominy Grill yet, but we'll do that tomorrow--no visitor is allowed to leave Charleston without a trip down the road to Hominy Grill. We also haven't gone biking yet, but that might also happen tomorrow.

Trey got the high score on the Galaga machine at Jack's, but he couldn't figure out how to get his initials in the machine, so it says ".AA"--if you go to Jack's, please be aware that this oddly-named high scorer is my brother, the video game genius.


Where has Alison been?

I know you've all been concerned that, after getting daily reports from me, you haven't heard from me at all in over a week. That's because two Fridays ago I flew from New York to Richmond to spend the weekend with Adam and Eliza in the country and almost immediately took to my deathbed with the flu. I'm a really healthy person--I pride myself on how healthy I am--I probably haven't been sick in ten years. So I was surprised by how incredibly unpleasant the flu is. I was hoping that Biffle would blog about it so that I could play the modest recovering invalid, saying, "No, no, it wasn't that bad"--but let me assure you, it was that bad.

I'm better now, though, and can tell you about our time in the country with Adam and Eliza. Eliza is recovering from some injuries, so she and I were actually perfectly matched as country-home vacationers: we mostly reclined in the living room and tried to keep the kids from making us get up.

Eliza and Adam's kids are ridiculously cute. Here are some pictures to document that fact:

This is probably my favorite picture of the weekend. Macie wanted some of Walter's candy bar, but she didn't want to get her fingers dirty. You'll notice me, fixin' to die, in the background.

Simon learned to ride a bike over the weekend. Like his parents, he's quite extraverted: after having not seen me or Walter for at least a year and a half, he greeted us with, "And then, do you want to see the plane I made?"

Natty Bumppo. (That's Eliza's caption.) You can almost see the Photoshopped abs from here.

I gave Eliza's hair the Ouidad treatment. Check us out: even in our weakened states, we are as good looking as ever.


The Orange Report

No. I'm not gonna write about University of Tennessee football...their nickname is "the big orange," you know? (But that would be funny, wouldn't it? Like if i were a closet football fan? If i just hauled off and wrote something like "i just can't believe Thompson pulled that groin muscle and red-shirted!" It would be like the time a peace-mongering hippie friend of mine looked up into the sky and said--concerning a plane overhead--something like "hmmm...that looks like an x-409." Turned out that while he hated war he just loooved fighter planes and had learned to identify them all by their silhouette.)


One time, when Alison and i were in Provence France, i had like a mini-spiritual experience. Don't worry. i have them a lot, so it's okay. See, what i did was see a lizard on a plant leaf. We were out walking along a trail in an out-of-the-way location--even by Provence standards--and there were lots of things like lizards on leaves. I saw this particular lizard and liked the way it looked, so i stopped for closer inspection. When i did that, i noticed that the leaf was covered in bugs. Lots of different bugs. And then i saw that the leaf itself had maybe some kind of lichen growing on it, and so forth. It was like the song "There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea." Everything had something else growing or living on it.

And so it is with Charleston. This place is full of tropical fecundity. Everywhere is a bug, everywhere, a plant. Things grow easily. I'll inadvertantly drop, say, a cutting from a house plant out in the yard and notice a few days later that it's planted itself and is flourishing.

Things die easily too. I've let some of those houseplants be. Just left them there in the yard to see what would happen. Many are doing fine, while others have fallen prey to insects. Our tomatoes, for instance, have produced amazingly well considering they're so close to a pecan tree and are also quite shaded. But they are wilting due to some unknown cause. Our yard is also home to a lot of caterpillars that i'll bet would taste a lot like basil if you were to eat one.

Anyway, the thing i want to get around to here is this: One of the ways Charleston is fun to me is because of some of its plant life, and specifically plant life i've not encountered heretofore. Right outside our kitchen window, for instance, is an orange tree. Or, i guess it's an orange tree. Currently the little oranges on it look like lemons or limes, but since i've never seen an orange tree or a lime/lemon (same thing?) tree in action, i have no idea what it is.

I'm waiting excitedly for it to tell me the news.

Every morning i've been taking a look at it outside that window to see how it's doing and realized the other day that i needed to take a picture of it. I did that. And now i've decided that i'm gonna publish that picture here on the blog for all to see, so that you, too, can keep up with how the orange/lemon/lime tree is doing. I'll try to take another picture in a week or so--and so forth--so we can all monitor this tiny piece of nature's progress together.

here is today's orange report:


smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette

I haven't blogged pooh here for the last little while. I hadn't really known why until the other day--i've quit smoking again. Doing it has sucked all the creative juice outta me. S'matter of fact, it's gotten so bad that i've partially given up thinking all together.

Here's an example: Alison and i spent (a wonderful) couple of days with some friends this past weekend. Since Alison was in New York already, and our destination was on the coast of Virginia, we just met there rather than backtrack. Anyway, me and the deeze drove up on Friday--6.5 hours. ("the deeze," aka Baxter, by the way). So the deeze is a great travel companion in some ways, but she doesn't really talk all that much and she can't play the what-i'd-take-if-i-were-going-on-a-long-trip-game because dogs don't have a memory to speak of. This doesn't really bother me all that much because i can be fairly quiet on long rides anyway. I take it as an opportunity to sit and think. no radio, no nothin'.

So there i am, driving down the road, and i think...hmmmm, maybe i could write a musical, a rock opera...no! a Hip-Hopera! about a middle class, white family of four, in a minivan, that go on a cross-country crime spree. Sort of a Natural Born Killers meets Falling Down meets The Sound of Music kind of thing. They do things like steal a shiny new Suburban, rob EarthFares, drive too fast with the baby not even in its car seat. At one point they rig the election results of a neighborhood group meeting (where they don't even live!) that's deliberating the use of non-historic colors on their new "welcome" signs. They even start killing people. They buy the family pack of handguns at a WalMart clearance sale and go do a drive-by at an inner city middle school (choosing the victims democratically--although daddy claimed three votes and fucked the whole thing up).

They sing the whole time.

And they never get caught.

Oh, sure! The cops pull 'em over the whole time, APB's constantly: white family of four shiny new minivan suspected of cross country crime spree approach with extreme caution...but first of all, how do you distinguish one of those families from another, and secondly--come on! a white family of four? on a crime spree? ridiculous!...

i thought, man, i should start makin' up some of those songs right now!

and then...i reached for a smoke...that calm, thoughtful way that i start to think about things...and then remembered that i'm not smoking them right now and thought...Naw, Screw it! I don't wanna be creative! So i turned on an oldies station, playing the best of the sixties, seventies, and eighties and sang along to Freeride.


Feminist gets a haircut

I thought I might do some sort of vaguely political posting here--something along the lines of, "Just because I challenge beauty culture doesn't mean that I enjoy frizzy hair," or perhaps, "While I acknowledge that my dislike for frizzy hair is culturally constructed, I still want to partake in some of the pleasures of bodily performativity." But because it's late--again--I'll just say that, like most women, I have a love/hate relationship with my hair, so I decided to spend big money and go to the fancy curly hair salon in New York and get my frizzy hair transformed into curly hair.


I don't think the AFTER photo is particularly flattering (I'd been walking in the heat to get to the Bust offices--more on that in a moment), but here it is:
(and one at the salon:)

I feel like a look like a lion, but Meg assures me that I don't.

Immediately after my salon visit, we had our lunch interview with the editors of Bust. The lunch was great--they admitted to us that they'd deliberately not responded to our many, many emails, letters, and phone calls because they feel inundated with requests for interviews. If we hadn't shown up unannounced at their office on Monday, we wouldn't have gotten an interview. The moral: being relentless and annoying pays off. Considering that they were trying to avoid us, they were actually really talkative and friendly once we finally got them to a restaurant. And then tonight I had dinner with my friend Jenn Pozner. So it was a good day.

Here's a just-before-bed AFTER photo:


Christy Burks loves passion fruit

Today in New York, Meghann and I spent hours and hours at Barnard Library poring through the zine collection. Meghann spent most of the day at the copier, running off reams of pages of zines. She was almost comatose by the end, but we now have a wealth of research materials.

Today was a very good food day. We ate bagels for lunch, after a misbegotten subway ride that dropped us off at least a mile from where we wanted to be, and no taxis in sight--so we were good and hungry by the time we ate the bagels. And then tonight we had an incredible dinner at Tabla, a restaurant where Christy Burks works as a pastry chef. It was upscale Indian, and it was phenomenal food. Biffle, I'm so sorry you weren't here--you would have loved it. For desert we had lots of delicious things, including a complimentary plate of sorbets sent to us because the kitchen staff knew it was Christy. She asked us what our favorite flavor was, and then answered for us: "Passion fruit. It's the best fruit. That's your favorite."


More on NYC

Today was not such a great food day--it was an opportunistic food day. We had flavorless wraps purchased at the Staten Island Ferry station and sub-par, toilet-smelling Thai food at a restaurant right across the street from the theater where we went to see the hilarious play Altar Boyz. It was a really full day, though. In addition to seeing Altar Boyz (about a Catholic boy band whose members are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Juan. And Abraham.), we researched at the Barnard zine collection and had a great interview with Sarah Dyer, who helped create the genre of girl zines back in the day.

Bust update: we have a confirmed lunch meeting on Thursday!

Now I'm going to bed. Meghann, who is in her early 20's and therefore full of energy, has gone out into the city to have fun. Getting into bed with a book sounds like fun to me.


What's up in NYC

Meghann and I are in New York City for a week doing research for my zine book. Although I was feeling a bit weary as I contemplated this trip (I've done so much traveling already this summer, and I'd like to spend a little time at home with Biffle), now that I've been here for a day, I'm energized.

Things I love about New York:

  • The smell of street vendors' grills, where they heat pretzels and kabobs
  • Music and dancing in the subway stations
  • Street theater (tonight, two women in glittery tights and leotards started doing performance yoga in Union Square Park, and they weren't even that good!)
  • The crush of humanity, so many people that it doesn't matter what you look like (or smell like). It's not quite anonymity--it's not that I feel invisible--more like it's just incredibly hard to be weird. Unshaved legs are old news in NYC.
  • The food! So far I've eaten Tibetan curry, Ukranian blintzes, Indian candy, Japanese katsu, and a very fancy three-course dessert at the white restaurant featured in the pics below (called Chicken-licious. Not really, but almost.) On docket for later this week: pastrami on rye at Katz's Deli and street hot dogs. (Note: all of this amazing food is ours courtesy of the excellent restaurant scouting of Christy Burks, a high school friend who lives in New York.)

Christy, Joel, and I at Chika-licious.

Meghann and I were guest lectures in one of Christy's ESL classes this morning.

The continuing saga of BUST magazine. The short version is that I've been emailing, phoning, and writing them since February trying to set up an interview with them for this week, and have gotten no response. Meg did make phone contact briefly last week, only to be told that we should email, which we did again, with no response. So today we decided to just show up at the BUST offices. Here I am, in the downstairs lobby, the ragged appearance of which led Meg to wonder if they hadn't responded to us because they're living in a war zone. One of the office interns recognized my name because she had read Catching a Wave, which was really gratifying. The editor of the magazine, however, did not appear to recognize my name or have any idea why we were there. But it does look like we might get an interview on Wednesday. If not, we are prepared to go camp out in the office.


Idea of the Day

For a while there in school i thought about starting an art project that was more or less an "idea-of-the-day-blog." All it would have really been was just a daily report of whatever brilliant scheme i'd hatched for that 24 hour period. I decided not to do it when i finally stopped to consider the old saying (attributed, with varying amounts, to varying individuals):

genius is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration.

Like, anybody can just reel off ideas. It's implementing them that's so difficult. And i suck at that implementing part. I don't mind actually perspiring--i love working out in the sun, sweat pouring into my eyes, carrying heavy things, etc. Really. Seriously. Sometimes it can get tough, but mostly that kind of work makes me feel great. It's the really really hard work--libraries, taking notes, checking facts, making phone calls, diplomacy, negotiation--that gets me down. Can't stand it, man.

That's what ended up actually killing the HoboHut Project. Several folks approached me--like Real people, like the guy that did PR for Berkshire Hathaway and the Boston Celtics and stuff. "How far do you wanna take this thing?" he asked me in an email.

Everyone was dead set on the mass production of the thing, talking to city governments, etc., and i wasn't sure yet. PR-man was very excited until the day i wrote him back and said something along the lines of "I'm not sure i'm interested in going anywhere with this thing. I just want to make sure that no one person can own the plans. I want it so that anyone can build one and put it anywhere and stuff. I don't think they should be mass-produced or sold. Etc. Etc." That was the last time i heard from PR-man.

I believe now that i made a mistake. The HoboHut still resides in the wood studio hallways of the Star Store in Massachusetts. It gathers dust there and doesn't house anyone because i was unwilling to negotiate. I intend to fix that.

Anyway...so this idea-of-the-day-blog was a way to "inspire," but do none of that awful "perspire" business (again, meaning office work, not actual labor). The point was, anyone who wanted to do the "perspire" part was welcome to have the idea and go with it. (as long as they did it altruistically, not capitalistically.)

Well, so Alison and i were driving around in downtown Charleston yesterday. Yes, i know, we live in "downtown Charleston," but i mean, like, south of Crosstown. The fancy part. The Touristy part. The part where they bury the telephone lines. The traffic in this area is so so bad. It takes forever to drive somewhere, and longer to park. While enduring this i was reminded of one of my ideas-of-the-day. Here it is for anyone to use:

I figure that at any given moment on a congested city street at least 50% of the traffic is simply people driving around looking for a place to park. This traffic means air pollution, noise, dissatisfaction in visiting a particular area. It means that cities have to respond with invasive and expensive road work. Sometimes enlarging these roads kills the small--and charming--businesses that depend on walk-ins for their existence.

Okay. So Charleston already owns city parking lots. They are all over the place. I think that Charleston should implement free valet parking for everyone. Every block would be stuffed with people in special uniforms that clearly showed they were city employees. These city employees, paid a living wage and given tips, would take your car--right from the front of the business that you plan to enter--and would then park you car in a city lot. You, the shopper/visitor, would be given a beeper that identifies your automobile to the valet. About ten minutes before you are ready to leave, you press the beeper button alerting the valet which car is yours and at what location they picked it up. It's your responsibility to show back up, within that ten minutes, at the place you dropped off the car. (perhaps a fancier beeper version would allow two-way communication and the ability to identify a different car-drop-off point, in case you walked a mile down King street and didn't want to walk back.)

There are lots of things good about this, namely: less traffic, less pollution, employment, good public relations, less road work, benefits for the local businesses, the ability to maintain that charming village appeal that's so popular with new urbanists right now.

Thousand of things wrong: insurance and liability, fraud perpetrated by non-sanctioned individuals merely stealing your car, the employee costs far, far outweighing the benefits. Also, abuse by the driver, i.e. what if they just left their car there overnight rather than pay the hotel parking for instance? How do you keep that from happening? City revenue lost from parking tickets and meters. ETc.

Answers for some of the above problems: INSURANCE: car lots--city or otherwise--"claim no responsibility for loss or damage." Why can't this be the same way? REVENUE: Meter fees and parking ticket fees are greatly increased--and hey, you don't Have to use the service, you know? EMPLOYEE FRAUD: The beepers, the uniforms, very official id badges, something, identifies these people beyond a shadow of a doubt. DRIVER FRAUD: You got 8 hours free parking, and never overnight. IF you don't get your car within 8 hours, you pay a five million dollar fine.

I leave all the rest of the problems to people that love to nit-pick.

Hey, i'm just the idea guy.


The kind of thing I think about when I'm in research mode

I'm always interested in challenges to the realm of the symbolic—challenges to the status quo, the common sensical, the systems by which we evaluate. The “beautiful” and “good” are always red flags for me—what makes this thing good, what do we gain by considering it that way, and who benefits?


Sending them to meet their maker

Biffle and I have had a wonderful, lazy weekend together--we spent last night in Bethera, SC, at Guy and Tina's Pickin' Parlor, a twenty-year-old bluegrass tradition that I'm sure Biffle will blog about in detail later. We've taken several naps, watched DVDs, and tonight we're going for sushi. After we woke up from our nap this afternoon, I said, "Wouldn't this be ideal if this were our real life?"

The only fly in the ointment is a literal fly--or, more accurately, thirty or forty of them. Apparently they are an inescapable part of summer in Charleston--they find their way into the house and buzz at the windows, sending Biffle into a kind of weird warrior mode, stalking fiercely around the house with the flyswatter. "I am sending them to meet their maker!" he announced this afternoon.

Baxter, who takes after me in terms of being a bit high strung, has developed a flyswatter phobia. I can tell when Biffle has started going after the flies because Baxter's eyes get big, her ears go back, and she comes and presses her body against me or under me. Well, what the hell. It's just another charming development in her personality.