Curses, Foiled Again!

Solstice Seahorse

It’s a summer Monday, after a brimming hot busy head-spinning weekend. I’m at the office, considering subterfuge. My lord, I have a cunning plan.

Linus: Um, hi, I was just coming to see you.
The Office Manager: Yes? What’s up?
Linus: Barack Obama just called. He, uh, he wants to show me something.
The Office Manager: Really! And where is Barack Obama right now?
Linus: Coney Island.
The Office Manager: Imagine that. And what does Barack Obama want to show you out there in Coney Island on a Monday afternoon?
Linus: He didn’t say. Maybe a nice shell?
The Office Manager: Well I think you should head right out there. Wouldn’t want to keep him waiting. Maybe he’ll give you a job. Since you’ll need one.
Linus: Right. Well, back to work.

Posted in General Musings |

Prolegomena to Any Future Evolving Model of Compensated Labor in a Service-Oriented Society

Cherry Blossoms Tinted

I do my best today to convince our Office Manager that actually coming to work is the least important part of our jobs.

Think of it this way. The social and economic aspects of the world run on agreed, consensual standards. A two-dollar fare gets you on the subway in my fair city because someone sets that as the price point, and though we may all hate him, we don’t actually kill him. If we do kill him, the next one along sets it at a buck fifty, crosses his fingers, and hopes for the best. The rule isn’t external, it’s self-imposed.

As it is, we didn’t exactly say yes, but they’re all still breathing. Which sometimes amounts to the same thing.

So I’m thinking that if we all just stay home, things should work out fine for everybody. The thing is, ALL of us have to do it. If Smitty from Accounting comes in while the rest of us are out and makes snarky remarks for the rest of the month, then the whole thing is off. Everyone has to do it all at once. And then later we can all say, yeah, I was there, wassamatta dinya see me? Whole day, just like every day. Except really, we are all at the movies.

The Office Manager looks at me blankly. “I don’t get it,” she says. “Where would the money come from?”

I shrug. “What do you mean?” I say. “Where does it come from now? It’s all just arbitrary.”

“No,” she says. “No. You work, and then you get paid. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid.”

“Right,” I say. “But why? What’s the difference? They could pay us just the same, except we wouldn’t be here. And if no one else is at their jobs either, how would anyone know? The money isn’t coming from anywhere in particular anyway, it’s just going back and forth. Except instead of sitting here we’d all be at the movies, which is ideal because it’s dark in there, and you can get by without seeing the other people you might be working with if you weren’t at the movies.”

There’s a pause, and as she looks at me her brow furrows. “Aha,” she says. “Don’t you have something to do? I could always find you something to do.”

And there goes another revolution, crushed by the ruling elites before it has time to get off the ground. Note to self: Maybe wait until next week to discuss vacation time.

Posted in General Musings |

Fire in the Whole

Independence Day 2008

Fourth of July. For the past umpty-ump years (three) I’ve been a regular at Curly’s Fourth of July Rooftop Party™ for the fireworks, the better to gaze above the madding crowds and take pictures with the camera in one hand and a bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale in the other.

Alas, Curly moved last week, and the new place doesn’t have a roof — an oversight in the planning, to be sure, and it’s just a good thing she doesn’t live on the top floor. It’s out into the streets with the rest of the Citizenry if I want to see the fireworks this time around. Or I could stay home and gruntle about it, which in summertime NYC is always an option.

I love fireworks more than I hate crowds, as it happens. So I rough out a Game Plan. I’ll get there, I think, at 7:30 for a 9:20 F.O.T. (Fireworks Onset Time). I’ll bring, lessee. Water, of course. Camera, tripod, hat, umbrella. That foldy chair I bought from the Target in a fit on inspired industriousness and never took out of its carrying bag can make its debut at last. The current book is almost done, I can finish it off while I wait. Anything else? Field radio, GPS, decoder ring? Nah, it’s just a few blocks away.

The sky thunders over, the sky grays apart, the wind threatens and cajoles. At half past five I set out for the corner Barnes & Noble café, which is where I love lately to watch thunderstorms rage past. There’s no real threat of rain, though, despite ominous reports from NPR, and on a whim I swing up toward the Promenade to see how the crowd mechanics are developing.

Crowds, crowds. They just don’t fit where you put them. There’s a little river of people brawling down to the Promenade, and it’s clear that I can go get a spot now or stand in the back later. So much for the chair; at least I’ve got the camera gear with me. I dash back to Starbucks to hydrate and caffeinate, and settle in for the duration. It’s 6:15, or F.O.T. minus 185 long long minutes.

Mike from Bay Ridge turns out to be a classic New York waiting buddy — true blue, dyed in the wool, Old Skool. He knows how it’s done. I ease into place between his spot and the couple next to him (foldy chairs! dammit!), nonchalant, as if I’m not really staying. We ignore each other for 15 minutes or so, politely and casually casing each other for weapons and dangerous-looking combat scars. Eventually I slide forward, he makes room, and we nod. Fifteen minutes later he shuffles his paper, checks his phone, glances up at the indecisive clouds, and wonders aloud if it’s going to rain, which is the first optional gambit to start talking. I take him up on it, and by the time the fireworks start we’ve shared gum and established that we’re both straight, neither rich, and both a little “whatever” about The Waterfalls.

Best of all? At the end of the night, after we’ve talked and sat and looked around and been rained on — and after someone has been poking someone else with his umbrella all during the show, sorry about that — we turn to each other, both knowing what’s coming, with ready grins.

Me: So anyway, I’m Linus.
Mike: I’m Mike. Good to meet you.
Me: See you next year.
Mike: So long.

That’s how we do it in New York.

See a few more shots of the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks in my Flickr set.

Posted in General Musings |

Pretty as a Pirate

Pretty Purple Pirate

It’s National Talk Like a Pirate Day, one of my favorite silly annual events (that and National Underwear Day can duke it out for my giggly appreciations).

We (by which I mean Pierre: this is that rare use of the Royal Pierre that you may have read about in grammar books) have whipped up a handy surly scurvy-dog text translater for those o’ ye who don’t speak Pirate. There are a few of these on the web, but ours is unique in that we only finished the first few hours of the Pirates’ Cant correspondence course. Which was enough. It’s a remarkably expressive tongue, and it boils down to just a few basic principles, and I think you’ll agree that we’ve pretty much nailed the rudiments of discourse.

Generate some Pirate Talk here on Pepper of the Earth with our jin-u-wine home-made first-generation Pirate Talk Convert-o-Lator. You’ll have the hang of it in no time. (Click on that link to start things off. Arrr.)

Posted in General Musings |

Two Looks



Sometimes I think I’d give anything to go back to Before.

Prints of the first photo above are available for purchase from the ImageKind online photo service. Buy a print, and support your local Peppers (me)!

Posted in General Musings |

Country, Blue Grass and Bereft

Punk R.I.P.

It’s a dried-up neglected street shrine edged with glass from broken votive candles by the time I get to the empty storefront that used to be CBGB’s, to say a lately goodbye to Hilly Kristal.

If there’s a rock and roll heaven, Hilly’s sitting there talking about how it used to be better in the ’70s.

Posted in Music Theory |

Brooklyn’s Brilliant: an Appreciation

Last Summer at Astroland

It has been scientifically proven that the Cyclone is the most awesome roller coaster in America. The last time they tried to measure the awesomeness of the Cyclone, the awesometer broke on the way down the first drop (85 feet straight down into the steaming heart of Brooklyn! — sorry, all that barker stuff gets stuck in my head after a while).

We’re inside the ride, waiting to board the next train. On the far wall there’s a big warning sign, five or six bullet points long, which basically says “this ride goes up and down fast.” I’m standing next to a sinuous girl with dirty blonde hair and a boyfriend.

Sinuous Girl: Look, it says the Cyclone is a “high impact ride.” Kind of like sleeping with me, right?
Startled Boyfriend:

It’s last Friday, and Laura is in town (graciously excusing my Very Bad Habit of never answering emails) with her sister. Either I’ve never met the sister or I last saw her at Storyville in Kenmore Square up in Boston, which would make it roughly 1982. We pile into the car in Brooklyn Heights, zip onto the BQE, miss the turnoff to the Belt Parkway, and promptly get lost somewhere in Bay Ridge, and soon enough we’re in Coney Island for a last-gasp visit — the bulk of Coney Island as we know it closes after Labor Day, to be replaced by high-rise condos and a beachfront resort. Or something. They’re still trying to figure out what will suck most. Because what’s the point of developing if you can’t wreck people’s lives along the way?

It ends up being a glorious day of Brooklyn Celebration. August serves up a hot humid plate, deliciously spiced with sea breeze off the harbor. We avoid running over the parking lot attendant with some fancy wheelwork and head to the Boardwalk, meandering down to the Steeplechase Pier with its earnest fishermen, marveling that the long-abandoned Childs Restaurant building is at last being restored. Up the way is a portable yellow beach stadium for pro amateur teen beach volleyball or somesuch, which apparently exists largely as an excuse to put up signs for Snapple and Crocs.

For lunch it’s Totonno’s, one of the city’s legendary pizza joints (established 1924, and you have to love a place which claims that only God makes better pizza). This is my first time here, and the pie is mighty good. I’ll have to come back to see if it’s legendary — that’s a big word in pizza circles — but it’s very good indeed, thin-crusted and fully-loaded without getting drippy and gooey. I love that one of the crafters at this traditional foodie shrine wears a lip ring. The rebel daughter or niece, presumably. Halfway through the meal we realize that we’re sitting at the George Bush table, the wall above us adorned with pictures of Senior and Junior. We manage not to fling anchovies, but it’s a close thing.

The Coney Island Museum costs 99¢ at the door and has bathrooms, which makes it a mandatory stop after beer with lunch. “Uh, I’ve got this one.” “No no, my treat.” We probably have much more fun in there than we’re supposed to; it’s a small collection, but we’re the perfect age for it. There’s a Whirl-a-Gig (or something) car in there which I’m sure I rode in as a child, because it’s one of the few favored cars that has a gun mounted in the front and in the back, and I was always looking for that one.

Can it be that I never rode the Wonder Wheel before? I don’t remember ever going, so maybe this is the first. We ride a swinging car, like everyone else, which means as soon as we get toward the top our car rolls forward down a track toward the center, where it swings back and forth in what is, to be honest, a kind of irritating way. Where’s the brake on this thing? From up here we can see how much of Astroland is a dense frolicking buffer against the kind of empty lots that just can’t stay vacant forever in New York.

Then the Cyclone, bless it, my second or third time this summer and it gets me every ride. There’s just enough hang time at the top for the brain to flash a Wait! Wait! Bad idea! alert before the thing crashes pell-mell (pell-mell = 60 m.p.h.) down toward certain death and then twists up and away, and does it again and again and again. The judder of the cars along the steel-braced wooden track and the roaring clatter of the bucking wood go a long way toward making this the King of the Coasters. It’s just under two minutes of twists and turns and yanks and jolts, and in the din you can’t ever quite get your bearings. Once upon a time I’d ride the Cyclone over and over. These days, not so much. We wobble to the exit. Ride again for only four dollars! the attendants cry out. You two, you two, just five dollars for both! Okay, three for six! You can choose your seat when you go again, so if you want the front car this is how to get there. With a flash of tempted regret, we choose the exit.

I need to cajole a bit to get everyone into Sideshows by the Seashore, the last traditional independent sideshow in the States. A couple of people I know are working today. You’ll probably have to take my word for this, but it’s a great inner thrill to be recognized at the Sideshow. Some people know fancy maîtres-d’ and A-list actors, and some people know really good sword-swallowers. Makes a guy preen a bit. I make sure everyone has tipping money handy so we don’t look like tourists. Laura hides her eyes when Diamond Donny V. sticks a nail up his nose, and curls into a ball when he shoves a live drill armed with a masonry bit in there. You might as well watch, he advises. You paid for it. Heather Holiday coaxes her up on stage for the next act — settling the score, no doubt — and Laura gets to pull a huge serpentine sword out of Heather’s mouth in the finale. Everyone is thrilled and envious and a little glad it wasn’t them up there.

A day like this can only properly end at The Waterfront, one of the best fine-cuisine home-style restaurant bars I’ve ever found (conveniently located about 30 seconds from my door). We wait for a table over a couple of glasses of Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale and a Spaten Pilsner, and chow down on flank steak, a Kobe Beef burger, and the Waterfront’s amazing home-smoked ribs. Bread pudding closes the day, and half a block later the sisters are bound for exurbia and I’m already halfway down in visions of the shower and nap ahead.

New York drives me crazy a lot. And then some days I remember why I live here and have so much trouble moving away. It’s no end of hassle, but where else in the world?

Prints of the photo above are available for purchase from the ImageKind online photo service. Buy a print, and support your local Peppers (me)!

Posted in General Musings |

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Smoke Cloud, Summer Day

Sudden smoke over Manhattan on a gorgeous blue-sky day takes a New Yorker down some dark ways.

On Saturday I’m walking after late brunch (wild greens with grilled chicken strips, tarragon dressing), spending the afternoon with quiet space and a large book. The dark smudge over the skyline is completely unexpected, completely unwelcome. The chalky burnt dead smell of 2001 is in the air, faint but that’s not something you ever forget, ever.

Let’s be clear: this is nothing like 9/11, nothing at all. On that morning the smoke bank — I’m not exaggerating — covered this entire scene and more, from shoreline to highest point, from Chambers Street to the tip of the island, and blocked even the outlines of the river buildings from view. On that morning, time stopped and ran out like broken film spilling out of a stuttering projector. Still, I can’t help but flash for a moment from this crisp sunny beautiful day back to that one.

Brain: Hey, look at that. You know what that’s like?
Linus: It is not.
Brain: Well excuse me, pardon me for thinking.

I text a few friends, leave a couple of messages. What’s burning? The Brooklyn Bridge looks open to uneventful traffic moving both ways. The ferries are still running. No military presence in the harbor, no combat air patrol overhead. We know how to look for such things, these days. If the city troops aren’t on the road, then there’s nothing I can do. I look, snap a few pictures, and move on down the Promenade to the bridges, and the lazy park on the river.

Fast Forward, Change Gears: Usually Wednesdays are working days on my short schedule, but today I’m home on break after a Tuesday catalepsy incident with a failing network switch (which, my lucky friends, I will not tell you about — I am learning that one of the great cherished secrets of being the Computer Guy is that the less you tell people about your day, the happier they are about it). It’s cold and rainy, and if ever a set of days said “Summer’s Over,” it’s these ones rah-cheer. Now, either I can get started on all sorts of stuff that really needs doing at home, or I can go to the movies — so that’s an easy choice, and I want to see Stardust before it slips away. So off I go.

It’s a beautiful picture — not quite as magical as The Princess Bride, but running the same roads. There’s some this and some that and the story is as easy to wear as a familiar pair of warm gloves. Soon enough (no spoilers here) Charlie Cox as Tristan is chained up to Claire Danes as Yvaine, which never seems to happen to me as anyone.

While they await certain death and destruction, he explains why he’s rushing to finish his quest by the end of the week. You see, there’s this girl. Of course. But not just any girl. She’s Sienna Miller. And he needs to get The Thing and bring it to her before her birthday, which is Tuesday or something. Claire Danes nods sagely, to indicate that this makes no sense to her at all.

So, you’re trying to buy her love, she offers. Are you sure that’s wise? No no, he explains. It’s not that he’s buying her love, he’s proving how much he loves her by making this trip, mounting this voyage, plunging into the heart of this matter. It’s to show how much he loves her and how worthy he is, that’s why he’s here.

I see, says Claire Danes, who does. And … what is she doing to show you how worthy she is of your love?

Hmm, I think to myself. Hmm.

Posted in General Musings |

Future in the Past

Bridge of Promises

The world seen through the window, and that’s most of what I’ve been seeing of it lately, darkens down to olive: they’ve been forecasting storms and torrents for weeks now, and all we ever get is the tailing sigh of humidity. Except when the deluge is drowning the subway, and isn’t that fun? Today we’re headed for rain, rain at last, severe but normal rain. Thunder is grinding in the distance, the rain flicks its first warning spatters onto the Friday hustle home. Outside the light is mossy, the air smells like freshly-cut grass.

Misheard Lyrics: I was never a big fan of Tears for Fears, but I liked them well enough back in college’s radio days. Apart from the big bland hit Mad World — I favored Pale Shelter — there was some good offside material on their first album, which is the only one I know well. My sweet and wistful side curled up with Memories Fade one long night after a few ruminating plays, and never left.

A few months ago I discovered that I had nearly every line of that song dead wrong. The heart of my inner Memories Fade is close enough to the one Roland Orzabal wrote, just with different words. The biggest (and best) of the blurs is in the chorus.

Song says: Memories fade, but the scars still linger.
Linus hears: Memories fade, but the sky still lingers.

Which has always been my sense of broken, dying love: we with our ragged hills of beans, under a mute regretful sky.

Today, or yesterday, or around here somewhere, is when my girlfriend was supposed to come to New York for a couple of weeks to visit. She’s not here, she isn’t coming, and she isn’t my girlfriend any more, and the last weeks have been gray and snubbed and sad. I wouldn’t mention it, really, since gray and snubbed and sad is part of the regular routine here at Chez Pepper — OK not always, but I didn’t say always, did I? — but I was so happy these last few months: multi-colored, we might say, happy and confident, full of bubbly stuff.

We live 668 Googlemap miles apart, my ex-GF and I, including a detour around the butt end of a Great Lake, and we had only a handful of days together. Then again, we had two years of joshing and jostling and looking at each other across the Internet before those days, fleshed out with endless time on the phone, a volume or two of emails, and daily cascades of text messages. My current phone is just a few months old, and nearly every minute of the 62 hours of talk on there went her way. I would go to bed with the cell in my hand, drifting to sleep on a raft of randy texty talk. And wake up on the shoals of day to an insistent buzz: Morning, sunshine.

By the time we finally held each other and stripped the clothes away in the smackdown hot of crazy stormy lunar June, we already knew one another in every way but taste and smell and touch. We carried all those months of trust and confidence and desire together into life and into bed and landed, tangled and sweated and whirled, on a ground that felt solid. Do you want to give this a try? I asked her, and she buried her face in me, let her hair swarm my head and body. Yes, she answered, Yes. This is what I want. Yes. I was delirious. It was a miracle we’d found each other at all, and a gift that we had the future ahead of us.

But I’m not to come out to see her in July, because she’s busy. I don’t think that’s a great idea, given that a glorious weekend is the start but not the spine of a relationship, but in exchange we’ll trade up for a longer stay, two weeks, in August. When the bulk of her busy is done.

In June, we tremble with love. You, this, us, she says: the most beautiful thing that’s ever happened to me. In July she is reticent, distracted. By early August she has lost the power of speech, and why am I so unreasonable? Don’t I know how hard it is to deal with all of the stuff she no longer tells me about? She thinks she might have time for me maybe by December, but there’s no guarantee. What’s all the fuss? Didn’t we see each other just a couple of months ago? That’s all I ever think about, is sex. Well she has needs too.

It’s a beautiful day — a Saturday — as we nail the last 90 minutes into those 62 hours. I’m watching a tugboat push a barge up the Hudson, I’m watching the joggers pushing up and down the shoreline paths. I’m thinking of all the things I love in this City that we will not do together, all the places we won’t go. After goodbye I walk until it is full night. The photo above is on the homeward leg of that walk, on the near side of the Brooklyn Bridge. My body feels like wind. It moves, and if it didn’t move it might not exist. It moves, but it contains nothing.

Outside tonight’s storm slouches in, grumbling each gust of the way. Out the window it is glowering black; it is blank green; it is poisoned orange. The sky still lingers.

Prints of the photo above are available for purchase from the ImageKind online photo service. Buy a print, and support your local Peppers (me)!

Posted in General Musings |

The Bruce of Bruce

Fun City

Look, is it just me, or is there a part of Thunder Road where you look up and think, wait, is this Thunder Road or is this Born to Run? And if it’s Born to Run, why was I so certain it was Thunder Road? And how did Born to Run get in here, anyway, when I was totally Jonesing for Thunder Road? And then it turns out to be Thunder Road in the end, and everything is all right after all. Or is it just me?

That whole New Jersey thing is way too confusing. But how pleased am I that Badly Drawn Boy does a cover of Thunder Road? At least, I think it’s Thunder Road. But don’t get me started.

Prints of the photo above are available for purchase from the ImageKind online photo service. Buy a print, and support your local Peppers (me)!

Posted in Music Theory |