boat train

Thursday, January 06, 2005


Went home to see the grups for the holidays. Spokane isn't really my home, I wasn't born or raised there, I only lived there for three years of high school, and even my parents come from somewhere else. Still, I own it (or it owns me) more than the other places I have lived longer and more volitionally. In the same way I found myself, while overseas, defending American policies that amongst Americans it is my greatest pleasure to excoriate, I find myself getting defensive on behalf of Spokane when other people insult it.

I love the big city, I love the anonymous hurly burly that gives me space to be weird and gay, I love the mess and chaos and diversity, but I want to assert... something, about all those other little red state cities that all of us who breathe free in the city fled from. I can snort derisively over my cabernet with the best of them about flyover country, still, I want to tell about the hard gray mornings waiting for the school bus, about slushy spring trail runs where the air smells like June but feels like February, about cruising on a Saturday night down Riverside because there was absolutely, literally, nothing else to do, about the quiet and stars on the river running 2 blocks from my house. Spokane deserves a bard, poems sung for its lakes and fields, its people, its history -- identical though they be to 10,000 other cities and fields and histories. I don't think it will be me.

My brother once told me, probably in response to some comment from me about the joys of travel and general elsewhereness, that art or thought can only come from a rootedness, from a connection to a specific time and place. I think he was right, but all I can tell is a moving boxes story, a deracinated city girl story, an airports for the holidays story.

Friday, December 17, 2004

flip flops

We ran out of cream yesterday so I walked down to the Tropical for coffee this morning. It was in the 70's, I was wearing my shades and flip flops, and feeling very christmasy. After the heavy duty cafe con leche, I had to cushion my stomach with something that looked like this:

Lately I can't get enough of meat baked in pastries, I even bought pot pies at the market the other day for the first time since college. They were great college food, they cost less than a dollar, required no kitchen skills, and were a wonderful simulacrum of actual food.

Now, not so good.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


The first statue I wanted to have sex with was a bronze statue by Uli Nimptsch at the Tate in London. Actually that's putting it too unambiguously. My desires were disorganized and muddled: I wanted it with more than my eyes and the thing turned me on. I was embarrassed by this chaotic longing, chiefly because I was sure it was written all over my face, and since the statue is of a woman I figured my fellow museum patrons would know by looking that I was gay. The unexamined question is, why would desire for a piece of bronze in the shape of a woman signify gay?

(This reminds me of a conversation on Dan Savage's old radio program. A guy called in to talk to what he figured would be an understanding audience about his love of his horse. Dan wasn't all that sympathic to the interspecies love that dares not speak its name, and was a bit confused as to why this guy was calling from somewhere in the midwest to a gay call-in show in Seattle. I guess the guy figured, sodomy, bestiality, same thing. Nevertheless, Dan was game for a conversation and started asking questions.

Dan: "So is it a female horse?"
(shocked silence)
Caller: "Of course it is! I'm not gay.")

Anyway, I started thinking about this on my way between the downtown YMCA and the library where there's another statue that always turns my head. I'm almost shocked by the nudity of this piece of bronze because to me it just screams sex. I can barely look at it -- my desires make me feel exposed again, more looked at than looking.

It makes me think about the scandals of the moment on TV or in the movies that leave me scratching my head, like Janet Jackson's boob or Nicolette Sheridan's towel. To a casual observer, the interracial thing pops out in both instances, but clearly, what makes the images scandalous is not the images themselves, but the fully engaged viewer's internal juices rising chaotically in response. Both interactions were so staged, commercial and bloodless that my Id barely took notice, but to some people, the family values crowd, these images were hot, hot, hot. It's funny they declare it so openly, sermonizing on the Sunday morning talk shows, but I guess they don't have the wit to imagine that not everyone shares their deepest, taboo-laden desires. Still, they try to make us complicit in maintaining their boundries of acceptable sexual expression. That way they can have their moral outrage and be aroused by it too.

Monday, December 13, 2004

industry town

I was browsing Entertainment Weekly the other day in that way that I do, reading until I find the thing that irritates me enough to swear off it and all other pop culture adorations of pop culture for good. This time the thing was this:
Ignore the rumors. L.A. does have four seasons: earthquake season, fire season, riot season, and the most ravaging — pilot season.
Peter Mehlman "Notes From the Sitcom's Deathbed"

I hate it when people say L.A. when they mean "me and the few thousand of us who make our living in TV and movies". Sure, everyone thinks their world is the world, but when you have the loudest voice on the planet, with moving color pictures to go along with your story, people tend to believe your version of reality. The narrative that capital H Hollywood tells about Los Angeles overwhelms and disappears other possible stories and pictures. Here's a painting by Carole Benzaken, whose apartment we sublet in Paris while she was making art in L.A.:

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Back in my www neophyte days I spent a lot of time at, of all places, the website, home of the top 100 fiction and non-fiction English language books of the 20th century lists and the discussion forum which argued over them. You can still find the Modern Library's Board list next to the Reader's list of novels, (the nonfiction lists are here) but the forum disappeared one day without warning whilst the internet boom was undergoing a correction. A quick look at the lists will reveal the nature of the debates in those early days; aggrieved acolytes of Ayn Rand versus people who had read a book beyond their 18th birthday. In the months of back and forth I learned more than I ever wanted to about the minutia of Objectivist literary theory, so I was a bit chagrined that it took a little tidbit in Newsweek to point out the sticky fingerprints of Ms. Rand all over The Incredibles. It's been widely remarked on now (a summary of critical response to it and Polar Express at the Christian Science Monitor here.), and dang it if I don't feel like the movie is ruined for me now.

Friday, December 10, 2004

I always judge a book by its cover

And so does everyone else. Just look at the way the style of cover reproduction plus blurb has spread not only to other book sellers, but to a library near you. The Los Angeles Public Library's online catalog has been slowly adding cover images and now they are posting review blurbs as well. That damn invisible hand again seems to have worked faster and better than the public sector at replicating the lost Alexandrian card catalogs thrown out with the bathwater when shiny new Computer Databases came along.

Here's a beautiful book I bought for its beautiful cover:

Thursday, December 09, 2004

bus ride

Bus drivers in LA are a surly lot, addicted to power, jealous of its exercise in their mobile little domains, maintaining order and enforcing obedience with capricious stops and captious wrangles over payment. In the dysfunctional logic of boss kick man, man kick wife, wife kick kid, kid kick dog, the car-less Angeleno is dog (or possibly something even lower down the scale of being). In fairness, the drivers only apply the last and mostly the least of the humiliations visited upon the unbeautomobiled. And we for our part show no solidarity in the face of oppression; the elderly and halt stand and stagger in the aisles, packages sit comfortably as children sway between poles and knees, and when the inevitable crowded stop is ignored, there is no outcry, no complaint, for we know that without all those new riders, we chosen have a better chance of finding a seat for our own selfish bottoms.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

test drive

"But what conclusions may we draw from the fact that it is just as ridiculously unpleasant to look at old fashions (so long as they have not yet become costumes), as it is ridiculously unpleasant to look at old pictures, or the outmoded facades of old-style houses, and to read yesterday's books? Clearly, there is no other conclusion except that we become unpleasant to ourselves the moment we gain some distance from what we were."

-- Robert Musil