Monday, November 29, 2010


My thought on personal immortality is easily explained. I do not know. I do not see how any one could know. Our whole basis of knowledge is so relative and contingent that when we get to argue concerning ultimate reality and the real essence of life and the past and the future, we seem to be talking without real data and getting nowhere. I have every respect for people who believe in the future life, but I cannot accept their belief or their wish as knowledge. Equally, I am not impressed by those who deny the possibility of future life. I have no knowledge of the possibilities of this universe and I know of no one who has.

W. E. B. Du Bois, 1929

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Foosball as Muse

We celebrated Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle's house in Holly Hills this afternoon. After the meal, I ended up downstairs engaging in a friendly competition on the foosball table they've had down there as long as I can remember. I've played foosball on that table since I was seven or eight years old, probably. In fact, one year I was even inspired to write a poem about foosball. I thought I'd share it here.

The Foosball Men's Sonnet

Brothers skewered arm to arm,
Our chubby cherub faces’ charm’s
infectious, as we flip and strike,
coordinated, lockstep. Like
Rockettes deprived of their free will,
we kick a solid, plastic ball
toward gaping goal and hear it fall
and roll beneath. We rest until
it pops out through a sideline hole.
We spin for yet another goal—
jerked this way, that—or try to block
a shot. Our game’s not ruled by clock:
we play to ten, or till you tire.
To nothing more do we aspire.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Red Dragon is a Hard Novel

From an interesting little Newsweek piece about the DFW archive:

His class materials take up a couple of boxes in the Ransom archive, providing readers with the opportunity to see which essays and stories Wallace assigned, and then read the professor’s own marked copies of the works. You can see the lines of Lorrie Moore’s short story “People Like That Are the Only People Here” that Wallace thought were either funny or “bad”—as well as how Wallace saw that Stephen King made the potentially stock character of Carrie into a fuller portrait. (When Wallace assigned genre fiction to his students, he warned them against slacking off. “Red Dragon is a hard novel, at least the way we’ll be reading it,” he wrote in one handout.)

Of course, some of us already knew the closeness with which Wallace read (and even, some might say, plagiarized) Thomas Harris's novel.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To Take a Place in the World

I like this little bit from Richard Brody:

The first challenge that young people must face—whether they state it this way or not—is to exist, to take a place in the world: to do fulfilling things, to make a living, to look for love, to go beyond the assumptions of home and family and discover their own identities and abilities.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Plaza After Rain

Washing our cars outside on this gray day, I thought of this painting, Paul Cornoyer's The Plaza After Rain, and this piece I wrote about it eleven years ago, when I was in graduate school:

It feels like a day in late November, or early December, Christmas in the back of the mind but nowhere to be seen in this wetness, this cold. The patina of water on the dull street mirrors back at the mother and two children the black trees and gray buildings and gray, unassuming sky. Water tiptoes into the grated drain in the crotch of the curb. Water sprawls out, exhausted, on the beaten muddy strip that divides the street in two. The children step behind their mother, warm in coats that extend to mid-thigh, hats that casually cover their ears. Their mother carries umbrellas for each of them. They may remember this day fifteen years from now but forget the errand that brought them outside into the mostly empty streets. They may remember a feeling of emptiness—the sunless sky, the street made more lonesome by the one mail carrier trudging behind them, the double-decked bus and the horse and carriage waiting at the curbs down the block, waiting and empty, waiting. They may remember the emptiness, the cold and wet, and yet they may also remember a feeling of shelter, not just in their generous coats and hats but in the embrace of the buildings that line the avenue that leads them away from the plaza. They may remember looking back to the plaza and seeing the faint pink light that only one building seems to have grasped, and grasped only fleetingly. They may remember seeing, out of their darkening avenue, the equestrian statue, no doubt brilliant and gleaming in the sun but muted now except for a golden flourish on the horse’s rump. The day holds no promise of spring, only of a few more weeks of falling away, a few more weeks till the few yellow leaves—fluttering now on the uppermost branches that finger up into the sky like reverse roots—fall and join the general dormant brown.

So much depends upon the date of this day, for if it’s January and not December or November then the small signposts of color in this drab scene—the mother’s blue scarf in her brown collar, the mailman’s red shirt under his dull green coat, the wan pink lingering on the building that borders the plaza, the doomed yellow of the leaves, the stalwart evergreen bushes—point nowhere. Spring is unimaginable. But with the memory of Thanksgiving and the anticipation of Christmas (anticipation that is really just the memory of all the Christmases that came before) sheltering the pedestrians like the honeycombed, cubbyholed buildings on either side of the street—only with these internal and external monuments is this day bearable.


I’m looking at this painting on October 28. This painting is the future, as fall falls further and winter, the bland giant, lumbers impassively in the distance. But the painting is also the past. Indeed, the painting enacts the creation of the past, of memory. The children, the mother, the mail carrier, the bus, all the busy humans and vehicles in the painting are moving ever forward, down dark avenues that lead away from the softly glowing, indistinct plaza. The feeling of the day is palpable, as thick as the wet air, but no one in the painting can hold it now, for it slips away into the past and they must keep walking and driving, eyes on the concrete and the mud and the black trees ahead. The loveliness of the plaza, the subtle blues of the sky, perhaps not so featureless after all, the airiness of the buildings beyond the plaza—these can be seen, by the children, the mother, the mailman, only in the warped mirror of the glazed street. The present cannot be savored like a painting. Only the past can. Only in memory will the children be able to love the plaza after rain, to look back behind them as I look back behind them at the elusive beauty of an ugly day. And their memory, like the painting itself, will be impressionistic, indistinct, blurred by rain or nostalgic tears.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Authentic Frontier Gibberish

I disagree with most of what this essay says about Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, but I found this passage pretty funny nonetheless:

It’s not difficult to see why Blood Meridian is such a hit with high falutin’ critics like Bloom. Consider enigmatic passages like this: “For this will to deceive that is in things luminous may manifest itself likewise in retrospect and so by slight of some fixed part of a journey already accomplished may also post men to fraudulent destinies.”

Looks as if somebody’s been readin’
The Portable Nietzsche by the camp fire. As the character says in Blazing Saddles, “This is authentic frontier gibberish.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance

Frightened by joblessness, “the American people” rewarded the party that not only opposed the stimulus but also blocked the extension of unemployment benefits. Alarmed by a ballooning national debt, they rewarded the party that not only transformed budget surpluses into budget deficits but also proposes to inflate the debt by hundreds of billions with a permanent tax cut for the least needy two per cent. Frustrated by what they see as inaction, they rewarded the party that not only fought every effort to mitigate the crisis but also forced the watering down of whatever it couldn’t block.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Adventures at QT (6)

In case you hadn't heard, I'm off the sauce: no more 32-oz. fountain Dr Peppers from QT. I went cold turkey over the summer when I started getting stomach aches and finally traced them to the large quantities of carbonated syrup I was imbibing daily.

Nevertheless, I sometimes still need the psychological treat of stopping at the QT fountain. The other day I went in and Tiffany, one of our buddies who works there, said, "What, are you coming to get a cup of water?" (My wife had told her I'd given up soda.)

No, I said. A lemonade. She made a face as if to say, "Oh, come on, now, you're better than that."

"It's kind of like my Nicorette patch," I said on my way back to the counter.

She looked at me sadly. "No, I don't think it's even remotely like that."

Anyway, yesterday we were coming back from Mira's soccer game down at St. Mary Magdalen's fields off S. Kingshighway, and I decided to stop in for a post-game lemonade. As we pulled in, my wife and I had a little negotiation with the girls about whether they would get their traditional piece of ten-cent candy, given that Halloween was that night.

Eventually we gave in and said they could each have a Laffy Taffy. Lisa went in to get the drinks and candy, and I sat in the van with the girls.

On the sidewalk in front of us, a grizzled man wearing a ragged camouflage jacket, sweatpants, and battered tennis shoes staggered by holding a cup of coffee and a long john. Judging by his unkempt beard and weather-darkened skin, he appeared to be homeless. He walked slowly, taking irregular shuffling steps, and as he passed directly in front of us he awkwardly lifted his hand to take a bite of the long john.

From the back of the van, Mira called out, "No fair—that guy gets a donut!"