Oh Yoko

This morning, Biffle and I finally watched The U.S. vs. John Lennon, a movie that's been sitting on top of our DVD player for weeks. Except for the last five minutes, in which the filmmakers seemed not to know what to do with Lennon's death, it was excellent--it was fascinating to see John Lennon trying to figure out how to do something meaningful with his enormous fame.

But the thing that really struck me about the film was how important Yoko Ono was to John Lennon's life. I was well enculturated by high school boyfriends and boy friends to see her as the bitch who broke up the Beatles. What the film shows is that he was a scruffy rebel with a bad attitude before he met her, but after, he became an activist artist, someone with a vision and a mission, someone so important culturally that his murder is often referred to as an assassination.

I got to experience some of Ono's art a few years ago when Biffle and I saw a retrospective of her work at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and I loved it. It's old news in feminist circles that Yoko was vilified for racist and sexist reasons, that she was a brilliant conceptual artist in her own right before she ever met John, but I don't know that we've pushed this insight far enough--or loudly enough. The thing is, Yoko Ono--arguably the most hated woman in 20th century America--was probably the brains behind John Lennon's activism.

And I think it's well past time for a feminist biography of Yoko Ono to be written. Is anybody working on this? Hello? Anybody? I don't think I'm the right person to take this on, but I'll do it if nobody else is.


More chocolate malts

"Hey, aren't you the bloggers?" the bartender at Kaminsky's asked us last night.

Last weekend, on the recommendation of my office assistant, we went to Kaminsky's to try their chocolate malts. The malts were excellent--extremely malty. They tasted just like a malted milk ball. But maybe not quite thick enough. I like a really thick chocolate malt. I like to have to work quite a bit to get it through the straw. If you can drink it too quickly, then the fun is over.

While we were there we got into a conversation with the bartender and told her about our quest to find the best chocolate malt in the Lowcountry. Although Kaminsky's is apparently known for its shakes and malts, the bartender told us to try Brusters, where you can get a chocolate malt with a banana blended in. "It's so good!" she said. "I had one just the other day."

Last night we were in the neighborhood again, so we stopped back at Kaminsky's for another malt. These were even better than the time before--thick enough that Biffle ate his with a spoon. As a side note, I don't approve of eating a malt with a spoon. I much prefer filling the straw, then using the straw to hoist up a big blob of malt and whipped cream from the glass, and sucking it all up. Even though, as Biffle noted, I essentially just use the straw as a spoon, I find that it disrupts the malt experience to use silverware. It's like eating Asian food with a fork--it tastes better if you use chopsticks. The straw is the only appropriate malt implement.

But the bartender recognized us, the bloggers who are searching for the best malt. She wanted to know if we'd tried Bruster's yet, but I told her we'd been slacking and hadn't tried any malts at all since we'd seen her. "I went last night," she said, "But they were out of bananas. It was disappointing." When she gave us our check, she left a little post-it note that said, "Bruster's--Google it!" with a smiley face.

I feel that we have an identity now, and a responsibility. We will keep searching for the ultimate chocolate malt. Perhaps tonight we'll try Brusters.



Work still smelled a little like blood today.

Since May, or whenever i got my current job, I've worked on and off with a sickly, benign phantom named Jimmy. I say "on and off" because Jimmy was gone a couple of times for extended sicknesses. It was a blessing when he was gone. He was very hard to work with and had run off everyone else that had worked in that shop.

He was sick when i first started. He was out because of some kind of stomach surgery. That surgery--or his own aftercare of himself--had gone awry and left him with an small, leaking wound in his abdomen. I wasn't there for this part, but evidently identifiable pieces of things he ate would emerge from it. He took care of this with paper towels held on by duct tape. He didn't want to go back to the doctor, and it took a really long time for anyone to get him to go back.

I'd been at work for about two weeks, i guess, when he came back that time. I had started making plans for how to make myself at home in the shop, moving things around, making notes on a dry erase board, e.g. bandsaw, sunlight, stereo, etc with bullet points. Jimmy helped annotate my list when he came back with adjacent comments like: already got one, go stand outside, bring your own from home, etc. He told me to not touch any of his stuff. Then he told me to stop singing. When i told him i liked to sing he told me to go to hell. I tried to be nice because i knew i was invading his space--he actually lived in the shop. He had a little cot back in a corner he'd partitioned off with a shower curtain. On my first days there i peeked behind that curtain out of curiosity and saw how he'd made little shelves on the walls for things like a tiny battery-powered radio, a drinking glass. His clothes were folded perfectly and lay on a table he'd made out of the top of a console piano. I knew that these were the habits of someone who'd probably been to prison, or had become institutionalized in someway.

I wasn't going to find out about this conjecture, however. The only two things that Jimmy ever told me about himself were that he used to be an electrician and that he'd seen Bachman Turner Overdrive at a concert hall in Jersey. He enjoyed the show.

Other people knew more about him. My boss, for instance, had been taking care of him for years. Had let him live in his own home for two years (until, as i heard it from a third party, Jimmy began to leer at the teenage daughter and made it time to go). Jimmy was supplied with a new apartment he shared with another guy from work (also supplied by the boss). It was too difficult to live with him, though, so his roomy kicked him out and Jimmy moved into the shop with his good pay and health insurance and drank water from the hose outside and peed out back and shit...well, jimmy shit in a cardboard box inside the shop. I found it just the other day while i was cleaning up. Evidently he'd had people in his life: he was married one time and one of the bookkeepers at work told me that a grandfather had died and left him $50,000 a few years ago. Jimmy took the money, left the boss's home, quit work and disappeared. He returned a year later, broke, looking for work.

I disliked Jimmy very quickly, but mostly i just stayed away from him and everything was pretty cool. The run-ins were limited and mostly mild. For example, one day i was spraying some real toxic crap and took some solvent rated cartridges off a mask that I'd never seen Jimmy use. The next day i came back in to put on a second coat and found that the cartridges were now back on the old dusty mask, on the same dusty shelf as they'd been the day before. I didn't say anything, but gave him the evil-eye when i told him i had to go to the store for a new mask. Later he kind of wandered in and, staring at the floor, told me that he worried about people touching his stuff because he had hepatitis. He didn't want me to get sick.

For some reason i never lit into Jimmy. I don't know why. I'm glad i didn't now.

Several weeks ago we noticed his work pace, which had never been faster than entirely ineffective, had slowed to a crawl. This was because he was hardly able to walk. His legs, for reasons unknown, had swollen to at least twice their normal size. This was a startling thing because his legs were normally the size of pencils with thin blue skin and bleedy scabs on them. As it was, they had turned into fluid-filled bags. You could practically see the liquid under his moon-colored flesh. I figure Jimmy weighed about a hundred pounds and he was my height.

One morning while this was going on he went to the McDonalds across the street for breakfast--like he did every morning--and only made it back half across busy Montague before he figured out he was able to go no further. He stood there in the middle of the road, supported by his swollen legs and a stool that he was using for a walker, until someone in the store saw him and drove a car the few yards out into the road, lowered him into the passenger seat and drove him back to his shop.

Later in the week, when the fluid had begun to leave his legs, he started to feel a terrible pain in his hips. I caught his paper thin body one day as he fell trying to navigate the single 6 inch step into the shop, and said "that's it, man. I've been quiet long enough. You need to go to the damn doctor. I'm sick of looking at you." He said he didn't want to. He said they'd just cut him open and make him hurt and send him bills he couldn't pay.

What are you gonna do?

As he became even more immobile and grouchy, resolute about not seeking medical care and absolutely worthless as an employee, the boss finally had to start suggesting that Jimmy get his ass in gear. He asked me if i thought he should fire him. I think the boss loved Jimmy and didn't want to make him go, but the man was proving himself such a block to any real work being done--indeed, was actually make the work flow go backwards at points--that someone needed to make this sickly thing move along. After all, Jimmy had been given essentially 10 years of welfare from this man and maybe it was finally time to call him a lost cause. The boss gave him an ultimatum: finish up that Steinway on time or get out.

He didn't do it. He waited until days before due date and finally asked me for help. I did the work--i posted pictures of that piano on here, actually--and we said we'd done it together. We hadn't really, of course. I'd done all the work and Jimmy had diligently cleaned the spray guns i brought him. His behavior changed at this point and he went from an extraordinary asshole to an obsequious puppy. He followed me around--slowly, balanced on his stool--and asked what i needed help with. I suggested little jobs and he proceeded to never do them. I mean, he was truly no-count, but he was hurting. What are you gonna do?

Just a few days ago, Jimmy finally acquiesced to seeing the doctor for the pain in his legs. It turned out he'd broken his hip in three places. They replaced it with an artificial one just giving him a spinal. He was awake through the whole thing. He later told me, in a voice almost devoid of hope, "it didn't hurt, but it was really weird listening to them sawing through my bones."

For the next few days it was totally downhill. Infection set in. He ran off the physical therapist that came to the shop to see him. His speech was incredibly slurred. I knew he was taking enormous amounts of the painkillers they'd given him. He wrecked the boss's car out running a suspicious errand--and he didn't have permission to use it. When asked where he got the keys he said he's seen where the hide-a-key was.

And it got worse. Last Wednesday, i guess it was, Jimmy spent most of the day in bed, completely zonked on the oxycontin. I looked in his drawer and found that he'd filled a prescription for 30 of them on the 17th of the month. It was the 19th and he'd taken them all. Later that day he made it to his chair where he sat slumped over with his mouth open and a big line of drool reaching to the floor. I told the boss about the dope.

That evening--after 12 years of caring for him--the boss looked into Jimmy's drugged and bewildered eyes and told him he had to go. That was what finally did it.

Jimmy shot himself in the head later that night. He was found the next morning, lying in his bed by a couple of my co-workers. By the time i made it to work most of what had been Jimmy had been taken away. Only a few pieces of him remained on his shower-curtain wall, a pretty sizable pool of blood on the floor. What are you gonna do?

I mean, really? What was i supposed to do? I'm glad i didn't torment Jimmy. He was a screwed up person. I didn't visit with him, but i didn't think he wanted me to. I see now how i was wrong about that. Even if it was just someone to be mean to, he needed company. The boss had helped him in every way he could. People had tolerated him and tried to help him out. I reckon somewhere inside him there was still a pretty good person. And now he's dead and i'm not sure anyone outside of where i work knows about it. I don't think there's any family or friends to notify. No one to claim his body or to lament his passing except a few people only tied to him through employment. Damn, that sure is lonesome.


Subaru: Car of my soul

I am not much of a car person. For a long time I didn't have strong car preferences, so I drove whatever was easily available--from my dad's El Camino when I was a teenager to a ratty little Datsun in college. But then in grad school, ten years ago, I happened to find a car that changed my perspective. It was the first car I ever bought myself, a 1986 monkey-shit brown Subaru station wagon. Damn, did I ever love that car.

There were lots of things wrong with the car: It had air conditioning initially, but that died fairly early on. Some Friday afternoons in the summer when Baxter and I would be driving from Nashville to Cookeville to visit my family, we would stop off at Percy Priest Lake and get completely soaked so that we could make the 70-mile drive with some evaporative cooling. It wasn't zippy--in fact, it was the opposite of zippy. I saw a bumper sticker on an old Subaru one time that said, "Zero to 60 in 11 minutes," and that was about right. If you needed to pass someone, you really had to plan for it. It had a persistent clacking that sounded like playing cards in bicycle spokes--loose valves, apparently. For several weeks when I couldn't afford to get the starter fixed, I had to park on a hill and push start it.

And yet it was such a great car. I hadn't been searching for a station wagon when I found it, but about 20 minutes after I bought it, I decided that there was no reason for me ever to own a car that was not a station wagon. It was brown inside and out, a kind of defiant ugliness that fit with my own struggling sense of style. It fit me--when I drove Robin Morgan around in it, she said, "This is a feminist car." I suspect that what she meant was that the car was full of trash because I was clearly too busy trying to change the world to keep it clean--but still, it was a nice compliment. And somehow that car had the best smell--a kind of old dusty book smell that was enhanced by dog fur. That Subaru was my quintessential car, the car I judge all other cars against, the car of my soul.

And now look what's happened: I've bought another Subaru station wagon! This one is quite a bit nicer, but I'm not going to hold that against it. They don't make brown Subarus anymore, which is a shame, but it's got the same flat-folding back seats and loads of room for the dogs to roam around while we cruise around town. And although it doesn't have the same smell as my other Subaru, it does have an entirely pleasant dusty smell all its own, and the dogs are going to fur it up, and it'll be just right.



Just in case anyone might not be noticing stuff in Iraq right now:

The private security firm, Blackwater, was banned from operations in Baghdad today. This edict was handed down by the new Iraqi government. You can bet your butt that soon, like probably later today, our government here will stomp all over the power of the purportedly much-longed-for, self-governing Iraq, and will put Blackwater right back in business.

Listen: Here is one of the ways i understand the world:

I go to work everyday with people (including me sometimes) that will accept an hour's pay in return for not a full hour's work. This is dishonest.

I know folks who won't give the cashier girl's accidental over-payment at the grocery store back. I know folks that cheat on their income tax. I know people who think that when it comes to selling a house or a car that it was okay not to tell the buyer about the flooding in the basement or the bad transmission because, well, hey, they forgot to ask. This is dishonest.

I know people that cheat insurance companies. I know insurance companies cheat people. I know doctors that overcharge. I know company owners that bribe city officials. I am certain that lobbyists are responsible for all kinds of decisions that voters would never make simply because the lobbyists paid. These things, too, are dishonest.

I know insider trading happens to the tunes of millions. I know that Enron bilked an entire state out of billions of dollars. I know that there is a fortune to be made in war.

I mention all this stuff, this continuum, because it tells me something: it tells me that if i know people--including me--who are willing to do something like lie and cheat over a few lousy dollars on their paycheck, how could i possibly expect anything different when it comes to people dealing with millions and billions of dollars?

I do not for one second trust anything our current administration does in Iraq. I'm pretty sure a whole lot of that stuff is dishonest.


Chocolate malt

Biffle and I are in search of Charleston's best chocolate malt. So far we've tried three and found them merely adequate.

Ye Olde Fashioned: When we first moved to Charleston we had an ice cream cone at this place because I thought it looked adorable. It turns out that the inside wasn't nearly as charming as the outside had led me to believe, and the ice cream was overpriced and gummy, so I developed a resentment against the place. For a while, anytime we drove by I felt compelled to make a disparaging comment, or at least a disparaging sound.

For some reason, the other night when we started our chocolate malt quest, I felt moved to give Ye Olde Fashioned another try. Perhaps I'd just gotten them on a bad night before. As we drove there, Biffle commented, "If you don't like it again this time, we won't even be able to drive into West Ashley ever again." I take it a little personally sometimes when restaurants aren't up to my standards.

Well, I'm happy to report that we will be able to return to West Ashley--but only because I've grown as a human being, not because the chocolate malt at Ye Olde Fashioned was good. It wasn't. It took forever for us to get our malts because our server didn't seem entirely clear on how to work the milkshake machine, and then the malts were fairly crunchy, and mine had about a tablespoon of unblended malt powder stuck to the side of the glass.

Jack's: I tried to get a chocolate malt today at Jack's, an excellent hamburger joint, but they don't do malts, and they were out of chocolate. I settled for a vanilla milkshake. It was fine, but it didn't, as Biffle's dad says, make my tongue slap my brains out. Also, I'm not really sure how a place runs out of chocolate.

Sonic: We thought tonight we'd opt for a chain. Sonic is my favorite fast food restaurant, and our server tonight was everything we could have hoped for: he glided up to us on four-wheeled roller skates, gave us a braces-laced smile, and then spun around gracefully as he left. I loved him. But the chocolate malts were just okay. They tasted a bit like they'd been made from a chocolate malt mix or something, like maybe there wasn't real ice cream in there.

Sadly, I think my favorite chocolate malt might come from the restaurant the Piepmeier siblings refer to as the Shaken Snake. Although it is a chain, they do a fine chocolate malt--indeed, I hadn't realized how good it was until now. The closest Snake is in Myrtle Beach, and I don't think I want a delicious chocolate malt badly enough to drive there.

Anybody got a lead on a great chocolate malt in Charleston?


Out of touch with masculinity

Sometimes I find that I'm out of touch with contemporary masculinity. I was going to write "mainstream masculinity," but I'm not sure I want to be that cynical (and I can hear many of the male readers of this blog protesting--and accurately, I hope--"That's not me! That's not me!"). Here's a story about one of my recent glimpses into masculinity.

The other day Biffle and I were at a stoplight behind a big pickup truck with a bumper sticker that read

My eco-friendly feminist brain started churning, as perhaps your own is right now. "Okay, I get that locomotion is never free. So you have to put gas in your truck. And if you were riding a horse, it would take grass, so that's a better form of fuel, but still not free. But what about ass? Is that referring to a donkey? But that would also be fueled on grass, so that seems redundant. And why does this guy even have this on his truck?"

So I turned, as I do in many things having to do with the mysteries of masculinity, to Biffle, who functions as my translator. Biffle is fluent in masculinity.

"What does that bumper sticker mean?"

"It means that if you want to ride with that guy, you either have to buy him gas, give him some pot, or have sex with him. Gas, grass, or ass."

I honestly would not have guessed that. I know that feminists get a lot of grief for not having senses of humor, but that bumper sticker isn't funny. The only thing going on is that it has three words that rhyme. And I think we can all agree that the guy who put the bumper sticker on his truck wasn't knowingly chuckling at the homoerotic implications of his demand for ass.


Random Ruminations on Our Trip to NYC

* I was very pleasantly surprised at our layover in Atlanta to notice--from the very second we got off the plane--the wonderful diversity found in humans here on god's green planet. It was beautiful. People were round or thin or had big heads. They were brown or blue/black or pale as ghosts. They had little button noses and big old hairy noses. You could tell that a lot of them had not been born in the same country.

On the other hand, I recently played a private party here in Charleston and counted 25 of, oh...30 men, with their sunglasses on a string. Yes, the sun is bright here in Charleston, but wouldn't that suggest the women would have the same accoutrement? No. The women were wearing high heels. These folks were amongst friends, eating free tacos, at 9pm, in a shelter at a state park, wearing high heels. Or sunglasses on a string.

* Alison and i visited with a couple at a place named Coffee Shop. The guy i visited with works for a Branding Agency. Now, occasionally--much like i occasionally sit up in a sweat and fearfully say "holy shit, batman! I'm goin' to hell!"-- occasionally i will regret that i am not wildly wealthy. One of the biggest things that fuels this regret is that i think it would be pretty easy for me to be richer. I mean, other than hard desk work (which i can't stand), the only reason i don't make a fortune in advertising or investing is because of some goofy-ass morals.

Anyway, in a moment of weakness, i told my lunch partner that i wanted a job at his agency. I told him i was born to that job, man. I'm not sure why, but he answered me with a seeming non-sequitur. He said something like, "Sometimes it just makes me feel sick in my stomach the way these corporations talk about people as if they just didn't exist. Like cattle or a bunch of numbers."

* Alison and i went for a really long visit at the hmmm...i've forgotten now...the Union Square Farmer's Market, i guess it was. It was fantastic. A person could get nearly every grocery item they would need for a week at this market. And each piece of organic fruit, every heirloom vegetable, all the hunks of non-rBGH cheese were labeled as to their origin. Almost all of them were just right outside the city.

Hey, i mean i love the market at Marion Square , but you'd have a hard time staying alive on bad craft, hot pickles and crepes. Whatever happened to the "Agrarian south"?

* Apropos to my Atlanta comment above, Manhattan sure is a lot whiter than it used to be.

* Re: Times Square. I have been to Times Square several times in my life already and know that it has not always been in it's present state, but sheesh man, why do so many people care about having their picture taken in front of 40,000 advertisements? That's all that's left of the place: Advertisements.

* I love love love the subway. Love it. I love the heat, the stinkiness, and the third rail. I love the crush of people, and the gross feeling i get when i hold onto the chrome rails that millions of people with snot on their hands have been holding onto also. I love purposefully not looking at other riders. I love the fact that the subway is underground, that it goes fast and that it's still a great bargain at $2.00 a ride now. If there were a ride at the fair called "The Subway," i wouldn't ride it, i'd buy it.

* As i proofread this list i notice it's pretty vacuous. These aren't really living up to be what i'd call "ruminations." I must just not have it in me right now. (i realize it's 10 pm and i haven't had dinner.)

* Here's a real arrogant horn-tooting story for you, and then i'll quit: I love to go to vintage guitar stores in cities besides Nashville. (In Nashville you just get the evil eye the whole time, but other places, not so much.) Here's what i do: In cities besides Nashville i'll walk into a vintage guitar store and start looking at stuff like the old 50's models martin d-28s. In other words, guitars that cost anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 dollars. When you do this kind of thing you usually start gettin' that watchful eye from the staff. They're just waiting in fear, all puffed up and stuff, for the moment when something goes wrong. They aren't going to tell you not to touch one, but they sure wish they could. The moment i cherish is when i finally get one of these really nice instruments out and start playing. Out of the corner of my eye i can kind of see that sales guy start to deflate. What this means is that I've passed a test, and it makes me proud. It means that i can actually play.


Eating our way through New York

In some ways this trip has seemed like one of those dreams where you keep eating and eating, and more and more incredible food keeps appearing. Does anybody else have those dreams?

Our first night here we ate at a Korean restaurant with Christy and her family, her Japanese family from the years she lived in Japan, and Joel. Biffle took this picture of the group mostly, I think, to document the fact that Christy's rural Tennessee Church of Christ parents, unlike his own, are willing to eat at a Korean restaurant. Although Horace seemed wary at every bite, he kept eating. Biffle's dad, on the other hand, has been known to exclaim fiercely, "I hate rice!"

This meal was followed by gelato uptown at Grom's, where they ship all the ingredients from Italy every day. Environmentally this is not so great, but the gelato was out of this world.

Yesterday we ate lunch at Katz's Deli in the Lower East Side, one of the oldest and most famous New York delis, and advertised home of the best pastrami sandwich anywhere. I have to say, it was the most delicious pastrami I've ever eaten--and unlike any of the meats I've had before that have masqueraded as pastrami. Big, thick-ish slices of hot meat, ringed in a thin layer of char from where it has been roasted. "It was almost like a pickled barbecue," Biffle said.

Last night we ate at the Bread Bar, an Indian fusion restaurant that was so intensely delicious that I wanted to savor every bite. Funky green ceviche with roasted peanuts, a chat salad with ingredients I can't even remember, steak with a cinnamony garam masala sauce, even curried onion rings. And for desert, the best Dove bar you ever had.

Today promises to be more of the same.