Ring of Fire

The Ring

I deal with this every year around now: September/October is my absolute favorite time of year, and it’s also inevitably the season when I am busier than a _________ during ____________ (fill in your own, what, do I have to come up with all the fun around here? All right, fine: bagpiper, Fleet Week, an it do ya).

So just when the weather starts to hint that it’s time for a thick corded cream sweater, ideally with a long-haired wistful waif inside of it, and just as the trees drop the last pretense of shading green, and just as the night starts to whisper that there’s warmth out there among the dim gleaming lamps and candles, just as the world snaps OUT of that dazed August thing at last and gets back on track, all of a sudden I have no time for anything except fretting about whether everything will get done or whether this year, finally, at last among all the other years, the whole facade will crumble and they’ll come and Take Me Away. To, I don’t know, Alcatraz or Australia or Rura Penthe or wherever it is that they put us well-meaning miscreants when we don’t get all our shit done on time. To the Island.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s where we are right now. It would sure explain a lot. Anyway, I’d rather be prowling.

Our man Ethan Lipton married the lovely Heather Phelps yesterday in a sweet ceremony in Red Hook. To give you an idea of how things go around here lately, yesterday was also the day of the 31st Annual Atlantic Antic, one of New York’s last great street fairs, which happens right around the corner from me. Two good things, yes?

But put them together and it all falls to pieces on the ground, and the end result is I have no time to Antic and the bus I need to get to the wedding is re-routed to, well, it’s not like anyone would actually know or anything, here in the Information Age, is it? By the time I walk three-quarters of a mile to where the bus rejoins the bus route, there’s only another quarter mile to go, and by Crikey, I’m late again. Well, sort of on-time late.

This is my September, every year. I’m not even going to get into how we have hotel reservations for this weekend for the Dewey Beach Music Conference and I just found out last night that Greyhound has discontinued the one bus per day that went anywhere near Dewey Beach and Rehoboth. Have I mentioned lately that I don’t drive? ** voluptuous sigh **

Posted in General Musings |

Dream Sequence

Double Take

Home from work today on general grounds of being tired and icky. I was hoping to get Lots Of Work Done™, but as it turned out I was tired and icky, so I didn’t.

I hate when that happens.

Late Afternoon Dream: a blurry run of images knits together a series of vivid, recurrent dream locations I’ve seen over the years. So we have the parallel country roads dwindling out of the city and the fielded space between them; we have the villa with its adjacent ruined apartments and the strange duplex space that I share, one entrance through the glass-roofed sitting room and the other through the back stairs that lead down to the cellar; we have the lawn overlooking the terraced park down to the riverside; we have the river drive, vaulted and buttressed high above the water, with its wide lanes and stone retaining walls.

Below, in the river itself, a tethered boat strains at its ropes. Above, back at the house, we are waiting for the fireworks. A friend of mine will do the fireworks, but he has other appointments first, so we hang. A girl from college calls me the love of her life, but only to others; when I talk to her myself, she tells me about her new boyfriend. “New” as in like 5 minutes ago. She’s very blithe about this. We sit together on the couch and one thing is starting to lead to another when the fireworks start. My friend is early with the show, and we go out to watch.

I am down the hill on the boat, and now there are other boats in the water. It’s the Hudson, more or less, and it’s night and the currents are fierce, and Aaron is monkeying around with the ropes, and sure enough our boat shudders free of the dock. We don’t really know how to work it, we’re moving fast, and most people have already jumped into the river where they vanish. When we brush against a cliff wall to starboard — it isn’t New Jersey the way it would be in real life — I jump and scramble free, working my way up to a treed stretch high above the water.

I dial 911 on my cell, but the operator won’t help me unless I give her an American Express gold card number. I try to explain that I’m clinging to rocks over the river and she says she’ll wait. Getting my wallet out of my pocket isn’t that hard, but getting the credit card out is tricky, and the wallet falls, and that’s that. “I can’t give you the number,” I say, “my wallet fell into the river now.” She hangs up, and the phone slips out from between my shoulder and my ear and clatters on the rocks below before vanishing into the water.

“Oh well, mine does that too,” says the girl behind me. There’s a street behind her, we’re in a stony urban squared-off stairway landing, the kind of thing you find when stone steps run down the knuckles of a park. She is pale and dressed in black, with dark hair and bright blue eyes. We go inside, and I think she takes me to this place but at the same time I think we’re inside her. The ceiling is dark, the floor worn wood. We are at a shiny gray marble table. The vibe is smoky European. I pick up a leaflet on the table, and she says “Oh, that.”

The leaflet has a small picture of her, and explains that she’s an great kisser. So I turn and kiss her. “Why did you do that?” she asks. I show her what it says. “Well,” she says. “Was I?”

Posted in General Musings |

The Way We Were

Photographs and Memories

Ha! And here you thought I was going to post once and then vanish again for another month! Ha! O ye of little faith. (I thought so too, that’ll teach both of us then.)

Last year I didn’t post anything here on September 11th either; a few days later I blogged something called - 33 - and then let it slip from mind. I just read it again today. Without actually saying much about how I felt it draws pretty precisely how I feel, then and now. Most sadness tempers into strength, once it’s been bent over itself and hammered down for a year or two, and looking backward starts to feel more like a nod to a place I once was than a tether to a stone in the heart.

Don’t worry about those clanging noises you hear, just a little extra smelting for good measure.

This year I listened to the annual reading of the names of the dead, which for the first time didn’t feel healthy — maybe we’re over that particular inward catharsis at last. It put me to my annual 9/11 weep undisirregardless. I passed the rest of the day Not Doing My Taxes, which is a hobby of mine.

By night I strapped on the snowshoes, tied down the pith helmet, took a home reading with the sextant, and set out to try my camera hand at the Tribute in Light memorial. The shoot was pretty successful. It’s probably some of my most consistent work, and I’m pleased to find that I can now think of my photos as a body of work, rather than a bunch of snaps that happen to be lined up in a row. There are 23 images in the final photo set, which I recommend. Today one of the pictures was the featured shot in the Utata.Org photoblog, which I’ve occasionally written stuff in, and last week big ol’ love-to-hate-’em Gothamist, flagship of the -ist blog fleet, ran another, so I guess I’m famous and all.

Best random sentence I ran across today and had nothing to do with: The girl who ratted me out is still a vacuous tramp in my book. You tell ‘em, honey.

Posted in General Musings |

Cue “Arrr”


It has been brought to my attention that we have not been blogging. Shiver me timbers, ye landlubber! We’ll take a gallant gander in Davey Jones’ barnacled locker and see who’s been blogging and who hasn’t been blogging, aye and yarely (waves cutlass). Why, when I first flew the Jolly Roger and pillaged me first –

Eh? What? Ah, I see. We haven’t been blogging. I thought the Intern was taking care of that. Oops.

Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day, an’ ya be a trig cove. So get out there and talk like pirates. It is all a part, after all, of his Great Noodly Will, but that’s a post for another day.

Posted in General Musings |

Late in August

Summer Sunset, Berlin

We’ve been back from Berlin for a few weeks, and a hard case of Summerhead did the Shock and Awe thing as soon as we set foot back in the homeland. It’s high time to stretch back into the blog routine; in the meantime, the first folio of my Berlin pictures is up online at Flickr. They make some good looking, if I say so myself.

Whew. After that exhausting entry, it’s time for bed. Or perhaps for bed. Ah, perchance to dream.

Posted in General Musings |

Americans Abroad

Independence Day

We’re off to Berlin for a bit. It’s sehr unlikely das, diese Week, wir blogging machen will. The extended forecast is for rain without apology, which is how this vacation thing works for me. Some day I’ll tell you about the last time I visited Las Vegas. It rained.

You think I’m kidding.

Pepper of the Earth is a content-heavy blog. If you like it here, this is an ideal time to explore our archive writing, while we’re off doing the footwork for future content and hilarity (wheeee!). Our subjects range from Elvis Costello to our Home Office artist Ethan Lipton‘s performance career to New York City’s better burlesque to Mom’s state-bird quilt project. And that’s just April. Archives run month by month in the left menu column, pick a month and dive right in.

See you on the flip side. And remember: topless pillow-fights aren’t just a good idea, they’re a right fine good idea.

Posted in General Musings |

Pretty as a Picture

Miss Saturn: Less

Pleased as Punch Dep’t: Just found out that I’ve been nominated by the Flicky People’s Awards on Flickr for my work with the camera. Best of all, my nomination is in the Excellence in Erotic Photography category for my, er, un/coverage of the New York burlesque scene.

I’m not going to win — I’m kind of hoping to get a single vote, at least, and there are really superb erotic shooters in my category so I shouldn’t win, they should — but I’m thrilled about it. I’m not kidding, either. Thrilled. THRILLED. Because it’s something truly new in my world. If you came up to me at any point in the entire rest of my life and said that someday people would be admiring my erotic photography, I’d have tagged you as an utter loony. “Erotic photography? You got the wrong guy.”

Parenthetically, so much for potential time travel experiences.

Time Traveler: No, dude, seriously, I’m absolutely not joking. Erotic photography. You’re aces. I’m a major fan of your New York Burlesque series. The way you visualize Miss Saturn is completely definitive.
Linus: Keep your hands where I can see them.

If you’re a Flickreen, you can vote for me here (or vote for someone better, I won’t mind). You may have to join the group first, I guess. I go by the handle Corporal Tunnel over there.

If you’re not on Flickr and have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s fine too. You can still look at the pictures, free and with no need of a password, registration, or vote. Click forward to my photo stream and you’ll find my NYC Burlesque set on the left and plenty of other stuff left and center.

Erotic photographer. Totally digging this. Now presumably I should go and shoot some actual nudes. Any volunteers? Not you, Harvey, sit down.

Posted in General Musings |

There for a Fortune

No Self Control

You know those people who are free and easygoing, devil-may-care and happy-go-lucky? It’s my theory that being that breezy takes a lot of work. Whenever I try it, the main result is that the dishes don’t get washed and I forget to pick up the laundry; the rest of the world is still as wall-biting as ever.

This week our Pepper crew is heading off for Berlin on Wednesday. I’m pretty laid-back about European travel. I don’t go that much, but when I’ve gone I’ve stayed, so overall I have about five years of Continent in my books of days. Last year around this time we went to Amsterdam for a week. And, in an unsettling plot development, that’s about the last time I saw my passport.

If you know me, you already see this one coming.

Oh what a lovely boat trip we had on Friday; and how goofy and sexy and delightful Miss Saturn for her Hulapalooza that night. Oh how gloriously downtimed my Saturday, when to put it frankly I didn’t do shit all the livelong day. Oh how little I thought of my passport until Sunday afternoon when, back from the movies with the lovely Jess, it was clearly time to put together the basic travel kit and assess any where’d-that-go needs over the next few days.

Passport? AWOL. My old passport, O yes, that’s right over there. The new passport, not so much. Sunday night lingers long, until nearly 3:00 a.m., and involves taking everything on that side of the apartment <- and moving it over there ->, paging through to see if a little blue book is hiding there. I even check the bathroom cabinet. I even check the kitchen cabinets, like maybe one day I figured the passport would be happiest tucked in with my haphazard collection of beer glasses.

When it’s too late to stay up any more I make one of those quiet deals you make at times like these, the ones that start “Well hello, you know, I’m not much at asking for favors and all. I’m just a farmer” and end up a few years later with screaming rants about psychoanalysis on daytime television. And so to bed.

This morning bright and early I set to work on the new piles over there -> and begin moving them back there <- for reference. Sure enough, right in the stack in front of the table, there’s my passport, glossy and none the worse for sitting in cozy comfort for the past year. In the meantime, I discover via Google that there are companies that say they can replace your lost or stolen passport in 24 to 48 hours. Total cost, including government fees, is about $400. Do I have a spare $400 sitting around to get an emergency passport replacement? No, I do not. So I call and schedule a tentative delivery slot, because a guy’s gotta do. Happily I don’t need to start rustling documents, not today.

Now that’s a caffeinated way to start Monday. Swift kick to the butt, followed by a happy ending. Some people live for that sort of thing.

Incidentally, under the terms of my late-night bargain I do believe I’m bound more or less in perpetuity to the first deity who can show that he, she, or it is the one who produced my travel papers and put them right where I thought they were but where they weren’t when I looked for them. Disqualified if said deity lifted them in the first place. For obvious reasons I’m hoping it doesn’t turn out to be Allah. Push comes to shove, I’ve already got some favorites. Fingers crossed.

Also incidentally, and I don’t have time to get into it now, the Rob Zombie movie, The Devil’s Rejects? Stunning. It’s sick and wrong on many levels, and deeply disturbing, and twisted beyond further twisting. It’s also pretty visionary, and if nothing else it completely transforms the song “Freebird” in ways that beggar description. Go see it. You’ll probably regret it, you’ll never forget it. I was rapt.

Posted in General Musings |

The Lunchbox that Roared

Strange Bedfellows

(Continued from Monday and the Red-Tape Bomb Scare)

After NYPD tells us to cut and run, we climb out of the subway into clumpy overcast. The sun is doing its best to burn through, but it’s still a long cold lonely winter for the most part. Except that it’s hot. It’s nearly as hot on top as it was down below, and up here it threatens rain. I’m trying to imagine the Board meeting where they thought up weather like this.

R&D Weather Angel: OK, we have a new one we think you’ll be very happy with.
Jealous Angry God: That “rain of frogs” deal was pretty cool.
Department Heads: (nodding) Yeah, Tz’fardaya was a good one.
Jealous Angry God: I’m going to use it in a movie, I think.
R&D Weather Angel: Well, this new one, it has Yahweh written all over it.
Putti: Except not quite so dramatic.
R&D Weather Angel: Right, not so dramatic.
Jealous Angry God: How does it go?
R&D Weather Angel: We’re thinking it’s a hot scenario. So you see, it’s hot.
Putti: Really hot.
R&D Weather Angel: Really really hot. And sticky and sweaty.
Jealous Angry God: OK, sounds good so far.
R&D Weather Angel: And then it’s even hotter, and wetter. And then — here’s the good part — it almost rains, which would be totally wet, but it doesn’t, it just stays hot –
Putti: And then it gets even hotter!
Department Heads: Niiiiiiice.
Jealous Angry God: I’m liking it. I’m feeling it.
R&D Weather Angel: Now let me show you our plans for the subway.

Up top there’s a lot of standing around. All of the nearby buildings are evacuating, except for the gym, which is my gym as irony would have it. I haven’t been lately. I could have packed a change of clothes and done some cardio. The firemen don’t look happy in the Jealous Angry weather, togged as they are in layers of water-resistant canvas and rubber. The cops are a little more sanguine and mostly shrug a lot. And then there’s a little boom, not much of a thing at all really, but it freezes us all. We can just about see the 2001 dust cloud over again, smell the burning concrete, remember the grim tear-streaked cheeks.

There’s no call for any of it, of course. What we have is some sort of little bag on Montague Street near Court, and after the Bomb Squad x-rays it they decide to teach it a lesson, which they do with a high-tech pressurized watergun device, a sort of Super Soaker, I gather, for possible bombs. That’s what makes our boom, and shoots a little debris around.

Depending on which paper you read, the root of the problem is either a canvas bag containing a sewing kit and dish detergent — that’s the Daily News version — or it’s a lunchbox, which the police say had more than one sandwich in it — the latter from Newsday. If you read the Times this basically didn’t happen at all.

In apparent retaliation for the lunchbox, police nearly slaughter five brown tourists riding a bus, and mobilize to make sure that photographers only take pictures of puppies, kitties, and fish. Otherwise, the terrorists will win. Seriously: point your camera at anything with pipes or masonry and you’re risking a police incident. They’ll shoot someone soon enough.

It’s demoralizing to be in an anti-terrorist dragnet. Just after 9/11 we had an anthrax scare down here, in a building across the way. There was never any anthrax, of course, just panicked people who couldn’t let go and couldn’t hold on. Why would there be anthrax in a mailroom across the street? It doesn’t make sense. But when they set up chemical showers and guys in Hazmat suits start wading around right across from your office, it’s hard to keep your head straight. I was rattled. I was rattled for days.

This time it turns funny pretty fast, when I’m the one who has to tell the cop on the lower R station platforms that the action is over. He is suspicious. “Are you sure?” he insists. “They took the tape down? The red tape?” (Note to self — it looks like the yellow tape is for traffic control and the red tape is the serious business.) Yes, I tell him. They took it all down, they said I could come in here, the fire trucks are gone and the machinery was pulling out when I left.

He shakes his head. It’s hot three levels down on the empty R platform, and a few intrepid suits are trickling down now. He takes his radio off his belt, clicks it, shrugs. “You’d think they’d tell a guy,” he says.

Posted in General Musings |

Monday and the Red-Tape Bomb Scare

Stay Away from the Warships

Life in New York post-9/11 is an asymptotic approach to What It Was Like Before. In this way, terrorism is like sad love broken — weeks can pass and you won’t think of her, and then something swims up to remind you, and you say to yourself, “Damn. I thought I was past this.”

For weeks and months I forget all about our Prime Target status until I run up against heavy weapons or deployed rapid response teams or subway bag searches (for the record, this is one of the worst ideas ever: not only inconvenient and certainly illegal, but also annoying, pointless and unlikely to either deter or preserve), and when I do I’m jostled back off center again.

Monday in point: I’m on my way to work today, coming in early so I can polish a bit before springing my this-afternoon-off idea on them without warning. Down the Borough Hall station a train blats its horn as it trundles in, which is New York code for I’m-not-stopping-you’re-SOL. The next train through, this one bound the other direction into Brooklyn, does the same, and the one after that too.

Borough Hall is a major station; it’s under the Brooklyn court buildings, and it knots several major train lines (2 3 4 5 R M and occasionally N) into a long rambly set of tracks and platforms. It’s under what used to be the Brooklyn wing of government, back when Brooklyn was its own municipality (and the 4th largest city in America), and next to the main Brooklyn branch of the Post Office. When yet another train crawls through honking away without stopping, I am — how to put it — fucking livid. And I have not had coffee yet.

Eventually they make an announcement that there is a “situation” at Borough Hall. There sure is: the trains aren’t stopping. “I’ll situation you,” we think. I stomp up the 2 3 platform to try the R, fuming so hot I leave scorched brimstone footprint-shaped puddles in my wake. At the top of the connecting stairs a cop is shooing people out to the street. He looks a little like Ben Affleck, but that’s not his fault.

“Well can I get a transfer?” one reasonable gent asks, nonplussed. The cop pauses for a second, and for the first time in a long time we hear the real voice of authority, not the voice of niggly don’t-stand-there and stop-doing-that. “Look sir,” he says, firm. “I am trying to help you out here. You can not go back into this station. There are no transfers. There are no trains. This is an emergency. We are evacuating the area. Now please GET OUT OF THE SUBWAY and go up to the street.”

There’s really no arguing with that. (Continued in The Lunchbox that Roared)

Posted in General Musings |