Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sale: Stoop/Sidewalk

Yes, they happen in the Fall and Spring, but I think of stoop sales as a Summer thing and passed this Super-Store version of a stoop sale spread out along Jersey Ave, a hope against hope attempt to squeeze another weekend of retail on the heels of a fleeing Summer. Look at all that stuff. That's a lot of stuff. It’s not just a stoop but an entire sidewalk sale. I didn't make a purchase. I have to move my new clutter just to make room for my old clutter. Actually, I misplaced my old clutter but I know it is under there somewhere. The stoop sale may not be exclusive to Jersey City, but we sure perfect it. I also have seemed to notice that the younger generation (s), them X & Y ers ya hear so much about, are really into the stoop sale. Is a flea market mentality something they grew up, did they love the garage sale? I mean, they seem predisposed to retro, look at their fetish of vinyl records (I’m not going back to vinyl), especially used ones. I’ve never held a garage sale and it’s not just cause I don’t have a garage. I just never felt compelled. Yet, I live in a town with a rich Stoop Sale culture—garage sales without garage they be. I stood across the street to get this very blurry shot. I just like the way it flows so wide, this toop to sidewalk sale. Reminds me of one of my first blogs.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Litter Row

Isn’t this lovely, this nice row of litter. Never let it be said that our fair city doesn’t have a diversity of debris. This disgusting trough is in front of the famed Mosquito factory, last posted about here. They’re doing a pretty good job of draining the water. The wind blows the litter and this ditch twixt the rigid edge of a freshly scaped sidewalk and the curb base of the fence is a litter catcher. Besides the wind, litter buggery is pretty rampant in J.C. Unsightly, a health hazard, most likely. How much longer will this particular project remain abandoned? I’m counting three summers so far, but my memory ain’t what it used to be. Oh, and that program where litter pick up was part of prisoner rehabilitation? Cancelled by Christie. Why complain about this mini-canal of litter. Let’s put up a sign and make it part of the Studio Tour!

Leaf Prints

Most are still green, but sagging and droopy. Others are starting to get the gold and red going, but a few have fallen, giving up the Summer’s Ghost. Death, do not tarry, where is thy sting? The few who have fallen though I noticed are leaving prints—maybe it was due to the rain a couple of days ago. I wonder if tomorrow’s predicted storm will wash it away. Anyway, this one sidewalk was littered with leaves and tattoos of leaves—leaf prints.

Visit is my new website. Don’t worry dear readers and ladies & gentlemen of the jury, I will not locate out of Dislocations. This website is a collection of my more literary endeavors of the past two decades or so. Here you will find short stories, perhaps some poetry (I haven’t posted those as yet), as well as excerpt from a novel and a memoir. Some of this portfolio resulted from MFA in Creative Writing at the New School University. Feel free to roll your eyes.

Actually, with some new additions, this is a recreation of a Geocities site I started in about 2003. A woman I knew, a former student of mine, set it up for me. It was very basic, very simple, which I wanted it to be. Just a reference point for some of this writing, sort of promoted in a low key and tasteful way, my literary ambitions. In fact, I started this blog for among things, a way to promote the Geocities. Synergy, one might say.

A few months into Dislocations, Geocities ceased to be. A year or so goes by. Hey, I do have a day job. I finally got around to this other site, which includes my own domain. I don’t have a lot of money. I went with Go Daddy and Word Press. If any programmer or web developer who wants to make a little money can help me, please email me. See, it is harder to make a simple website of writing than an elaborate one these days. I need to tweak this site, the stuff I want to add is very minor for a developer but beyond my capablities. Besides, I have writing to do. For now I put online and let’s see where we will go with it.

I realize looking over these pieces, the tone is very different than here. The themes are usually adult, the humor much more cynical. You’ve been warned. Don't let kids too young to read read this website.

It’s a work progress, and feedback is welcomed. But email me the feedback. I don’t need comments on the site. Or find me on facebook I’ll totally confirm!


Monday, September 27, 2010

Hamilton Park BBQ

I thought the Hamilton Park BBQ would be in the actual park, but nay, it was across the street in the Hamilton Park Interment Camp. I wasn’t able to try any of the Hamilton Park BBQ food—I could only go there when it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner—but I was told it was quite good. Also they had a ticket system, you stand in line to buy tickets, then buy food from vendors with the tickets. I hate this transfer of tender system and besides, the lines were way long. Apparently southern cooking (or soul cooking, depending on who is doing the cooking) has taken hold up here in the North. And why not, country food is comfort food. The weather remained summer like even though I spied a hay stack and a pumpkin. We were only a day or two into Autumn, this event seemed intent to straddle both seasons. A mini-country fair themed block party in the Hamilton Park neighborhood, with a roster of country oriented bands that gig here abouts. A nice pleasant way to spend the end of a Saturday, say high to your friends & neighbors. Another parting set by The Old Glorys featured electric guitar and bass, adding a twang to their Appalachian orientation, which included a pleasantly whimsical interpretation of Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World that seemed to lean heavily on the James Taylor version. And there was a pony ride, which was just odd. Walking a pony along Mcwilliams way there, I mean, really, rebuild St. Francis Hospital already. Okay, that’s a little too strongly snarky. The kids had fun, and there was a pleasant surreal touch to it. My cynicism was brief. Why not a pony road? This way too big for our city Great Dane (get thee to a dog run!) seemed ready to attack the pony, and win. A dog & pony ultimate fighting street fighting show. It was not to be, no ponies or large dogs were hurt during this BBQ. I liked the way they led the pony into its trailer. Come into town and give rides. A whinny-whinny situation.

Crown Mural

I hate to repeat myself but could not resist. I did the same live or mural-ex image funning here with a member of the squash family. The Jersey City Art School is preparing a mural of food for the annual 4th street event. I like the way it uses both real food (such as those artichokes) and packaged food, such as the iconic fried chicken of J.C. called crown. It’s delicious and will probably never eat it again for dietary reasons, not that I have any prejudice against trans-fats, I just prefer my arteries unclogged. You need to see the chicken to know what this is. All you need is the red-striped box and the logo, a detail this artist is working on. This mural project combines the individual and the collective. A mural about food, that theme unifies the work. But each food item is by a different artist. When it is completed and exhibited, which aspect will be most evident.

The Shining by Stanley Kubrick

The Shining was the second installment in the J.C. Film Forum’s seven week of horror march towards All Hallows Eve, falling on a Sunday just like the weekly meeting of the local cineaste society. I love Horror flicks, love Nicholson, love Kubrick. I just never thought all that much about this movie and quite frankly, after Eyes Wide Shut I’ve sort of reassessed my feelings on Kubrick, and not for the better.

But then, I forgot, this movie also has the great Scatman Crothers.

The film has aged well, there was lot of stuff that I forgot about, like the naked woman in the bathtub who morphs into a decaying old woman, or the scene of suggested fellatio of a guy in a tuxedo by a guy in an animal costume. I got the feeling that Kubrick wanted to put his distinctive stamp on the horror genre (just as he had done with the science fiction film with 2001 and the period drama with Barry Lyndon, and would do with the war film with Full Metal Jacket, which I’m inclined to vote his best film these days). In addition, he makes all these clever and very subtle to horror films up until that time, with the gory flows of blood reminiscent of “giallo” Italian Horror, the spooky big hotel reminiscent of Hammer films or the shots of the lit underneath face of Jack that look so much like AIP exploitation films. Early on there is a tracking shot of the lobby as the caretaker, his wife and child begin their first tour of the Overlook, and the camera reveals several rooms, a similar shot of multiple sets that James Whale utilizes in Frankenstein then in Bride of Frankenstein (both films have great DVD commentaries, that made me cognizant of this camera move).

And Jack, that Jack. Whatever the rating of this horror film, however good you think it is or not, this is not just a stellar performance of Jack, it was the swan song of the young Jack. Think about it. His career began with Roger Corman in the 50s, but didn’t really make a mark until Easy Rider (68). The Shinning was 1980. That basic ten year period we saw him really fine tune his craft—Five Easy Pieces, the Last Detail, Chinatown, Cuckoo’s Nest—and redefine film acting. In The Shinning, he just goes for it entirely, reaching deep within his psyche to find a true madness. He succeeds in exploiting his own self for our grisly entertainment. After this film, he played a sap (Postman), a forlorn playwright (Reds), the hedonistic astronaut in Terms of Endearment. He’s always good, and he had some great roles that revealed other aspects of his talent. But he was never this intense again, which seems a culmination of all the tics and nuances he developed during the first phase of his career. Maybe he was spent and he had to find other nuances to move it forward. Or maybe the cost was so high for the artist to go there that he could not risk going there again. Oh, Jack still plays Sinister since Shining, like the Joker or in Wolf or spouting You Can’t Handle the Truth or in The Departed, but he has never been this threatening. He never sustained this level of psychological intensity again. Few have.

How does the Shinning rate as a horror film (
click here for an explanation of this system).

I have attempted to be honest in this rating, which takes an effort. I have seen this film a coupla three times. I have to pretend I don’t know what is happening and then try to measure if the suspense succeeded, etc. The grades are on a curve.

1) Scary: ****
2) Creepy: *****
3) Suspense: ***
4) Jolts: **
5) Believable: **

Not a lot of jolts, things you don’t see coming. It was pretty scary, really creepy but the suspense wanes. The last act is pretty much an over long chase scene—they take a long time to get the kid and Jack into the hedge maze. Also, while it sustained the horror show world of ghosts that live in the Hotel and invade Jack’s psyche, King’s story is about this telepathic ability called the shinning, yet when Scatman comes to the hotel to save the day he has no idea that Jack is right next to him? Earlier in the film, Scatman is going on about things give off a shine, how some places leave traces. Where was the shining when Jack was right next to him (or his peripheral vision). It’s a major flaw. Inconsistent with the supernatural power of the shining undermines the believability of the story.

Total Rating (add up * divide by 5): ***

An above average horror film, yet still a classic. I fear heavy snowfalls.

Final Note: Shutter Island, as Scorsese noted, was influenced by the Shinning. The eerie claustrophobia of a big space, where you can’t trust your own mind, Shutter Island invokes.
Shutter Island was an under-rated flick.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stacked Toilet Planters

If you try the grass seed diet, please remember to flush. The plumber’s friend just hung himself. This was no plumbing accident. Actually, it seems the dang things got moved because of this sidewalk removal/replacement project. Stacked Toilet Planters.

I'll Remember You

Chapbook Back Cover

I always liked this picture, taken not quite 20 years ago, when I first moved to Jersey City. I went for angst, still aping the punk rock imagery. The Black & White photograph was quite striking, this was totally posed for, I wish I could find the original film since I went through a few expressions. The stuble beard, the silver cross on the black t-shirt. I tried to create an image, a persona that was in keeping with the issues of identity most of the prose poems in the collection explored. For a few years I read poetry on the spoken word circuit. I read at St. Marks, Carpos and even CBGBs. It was great fun, although as a guy with an inferiority complex coming from New Jersey, it depressed me how ill-read contemporary New York poets were. I have been part of MFA writing programs and journalism, and the same holds true for those practitoners. Nobody cares about being ill-read. Most are proud of it, which still shocks, however slightly. I’ve gotten over it. I always hated that term, spoken word. God forbid people admit to appreciating literature. I spent most of the 80s and early 90s working on prose poems. I was quite obsessed with the form. Paris Spleen, A Season in Hell, and the World Doesn’t End are some of the collections that inspired me. And the Beats and related writers of course… a shout out to Philip Lamantia. The result was a chapbook around 1991, I is Another (I was quite Rimbaud obsessed until I outlived him. He died at age 37, hard to believe how it easy it seemed to outlive him was once I was in my 30s). This is a scan of the back cover. I’m putting together a website that will feature a portfolio of my writings, and I’m going to include this image somehow. Right now the site is a work in progress. Consider this flashback a preview.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Destroy the concrete, leave the track and cobblestone. That’s the way it was with the remnants of the industrial revolution during the post-industrial age: some of it gets preserved, and some of it gets discarded. Ten years from now, the next generation will study those shards and create retro cement.

PATH Parking

Good thing they had the railroad tracks as part of this sign so those driving in Jersey City will not confuse the mystical path with the PATH rail to NYC (or to Harrison or Newark!). Okay, sometimes they may be the same. I don’t like the misleading rail and may contact the Better Business Bureau. Clearly the impression is the PATH follows a circular route we all know there’s nothing orbital about it, just back and forth, forth and back.

Time & Space & Mural

The mural on Marin & Bay, according to artist Thomas John Carlson, is finished. I blogged about it here and here. I probably have one maybe two more things coalescing in my mind to comment on but I will settle on some initial thoughts on the completed piece for now.

I can think of murals that invoke the environs in which they are situated—the one on Christopher Columbus twixt Barrow & Grove comes to mind. But this one seemingly purports to replicate its surroundings, although as I pointed here, the artist is playing with perception and reality. Be that as it may, the reproduction aspect is a fun trick of the mine. Glance at the above image. Think of how you see this, the initial glimpse at least as you walk or drive by. For a moment you don’t realize it’s art. Is it live or Memorex (or muralex?)

Both time and space seem to be at play here. One of the perception aspects that Carlson toys with is the fact that while the Light Rail does rumble through the Power House District, the route in the mural is not the route of the train and the tracks that are in the cobblestone are actually part of the freight line stubs that serviced the warehouses and factories, in other words the original purpose of the buildings now being yuppified. Oops, I mean re-purposed. It’s all good. Anyway, one of his finishing touches was the addition of these horse drawn carriages. Or are they buggies? Hansom cabs?

Was this something in the past, an overlap of time lines, or is it something in the future, will there a tourist market in Jersey City for horse drawn site-seeing. At first glance the artistic choice seems inexplicable, but it does prompt the viewer to contemplate when, when is this depiction, what year. Even though it may be a reproduction type work of depiction, it is also invocative. It invokes the surroundings, an industrial district being reborn into a residential and retail neighborhood. The duality of the horse drawn vehicles (notice, no automobiles) alongside the light rail invokes the past and present of this neighborhood, doing so with a fun irony, the present is a train that runs on rail from our industrial past while the past are horse drawn carriages, probably a little too fancy for the immigrant working class inhabitants of this real past. I like the couple and the way the driver leans forward holding the reins.

Last I saw there was only one Light Rail. He added another, accompanied by another horse & buggy, a different couple too. He also added a contemporary electric tower grid, which is probably not the right term. It is the Powerhouse District after all.

Space is invoked by the distance river and a blurred facsimile of the NYC skyline. Yee ole isle of Manhatt. Here is a boat, some kind of industrial boat looks like as opposed to a yacht. I guess. I liked the red lights, a small detail that brings out the entire image. There is a smaller vessel nearby. But look at the lights, they are on. The red lamps are lit. What time of day does this picture take place. You can see it so it really can’t be nighttime and while there are street lamps in the foreground, they don’t seem to be on. I am guessing dusk, but then I realize, because of circumstance, I have only seen this mural right before dusk. I mean it’s the only time that I am most often @ Marin & Bay. Maybe I am projecting that time on the picture because that is the time I am looking at it, does the time change in the picture depending on what time you are looking at the picture? Then again, I only thought about time of day when I noticed the red lights on the ship mast and hull.

Perception is another playful element at work here. See how this building curves, just like the actual edifice. It’s sort of two widths combined into one building. In the illustrative style applied here, the design of the building is replicated, depths of color create the curve. Fantastic effect!

The perception of the viewer of the mural is not the same as the perspective of the painting—whose visual point of view does the actual mural present? I’m not sure yet. The lower foreground of the picture features the rooftops of buildings, the distance the Hudson and NYC skyline, but they are distance, far away, blurry. This picture’s got an angle, I know it does.

This is the right hand side of the painting, notice how the details fade. The outlying buildings have no windows. We see what the artist wants us to see. You have to ignore that encouragement to notice the peripheral, but the peripheral is blurry. We have our field of view, and the mural's field of view. The best one hopes for is a momentary overlap.

A similiar fading occurs on the left hand side. A detailed building exterior, then window glass wihtout window frames. As you continue to scan left after the side of the building all you are left with is the reality of Marin!

If Matisse had a website when he was alive he’d include it too! The Artist signature almost appears as a tag on the water tank. It’s graffiti. I like that he put the year. It doesn’t clarify what year is depicted in the mural, but seeing a year as another component in the piece further complicates the issue of time the artist already is playing with.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Anti-Christ by Lars von Trier

Seven weeks of Horror is how the Jersey City Film Forum curator, Yvonne Varima described what will be on view up to Halloween for this weekly film series. The first was Anti-Christ by Lars von Trier. Since Hollywood is always good for one or two horror films worth seeing in October, and because it is one of my favorite genres, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to introduce my special Horror Film Rating System, and to produce mini-reviews and impressions, to be applied only to horror films.

I knew nothing about this film beyond what I read, and what I read made me more interested than not, just not interested enough to make an effort to pluck down thirteen bucks in a NYC art house. Seeing a film that you are not inherently inclined to see is dependent on circumstance. What else is out that week, what else you are doing. Within a few weeks, you can’t find the film anyway so if the fates are unaligned, a film slips through the cracks. I was aware of this work, and had no preconceptions, no bias for or against.

I loved the originality of the film more than the film itself. It stars Wilhelm Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, a couple in grief over the death of their toddler son, whose death you see in the opening scene. Gradually the grief is overcome by an evil presence—or is it just dementia—well, that is an open question. Nonetheless, some gruesome acts ensue.

The relationship between the avant-garde and the pulp is a fascinating one, especially the idea there is more overlap here than one cares to admit. Readers of William S. Borroughs can attest to this notion. Antichrist is both a disturbing Eruo-art film and a gut-bucked, exploitation fright freak-out. Art House meets grind-house! The director went over the top and kept going, getting more and more outrageous. If you go over the top, that’s what you have to do, keep going. This film follows that dictum.

The film marked its parameters in the first five minutes: graphic, at moments explicit—sex, a toddler falls out a window and dies at the moment of the couple’s orgasm. Then it phases into a turgid, moody, snail-paced depiction of a couple in grief. The husband, a therapist is helping his wife, who is going for a PHD in the history of witchcraft, deal with her grief. Weird stuff is happening on the edges as the psychological drama seemingly unfolds. But she’s not just crazy, Satan is real and here, in her! Animals talk. Freak-out time, my wife is not just crazy, she could be possessed. The wife proceeds to impale a grindstone to Dafoe's leg. She maims her own genitals with scissors. Freak out! Somebody slipped brown acid into your Kool-Aid. The violence is as explicit as Hostel, which is the height of the stakes today. Off camera is old hat!

Very disturbing, somewhat upsetting, total reprobate film making. European existential angst, but at heart a carnie wanting to display the freaks! A singular cinematic experience. I dug it, I hope I never see it again, I’ll go see another of his films (actually I realize I did rent Breaking the Waves back in the day and remember liking it) given the chance

As a horror film?

1) Scary: * *

2) Creepy: * * *

3) Suspense: * * * * *

4) Jolts: * * * * *

5) Believable: * *

Antichrist: 3.4 *’s (Slightly) Above Average

Click Here for an explanation of this rating system!

Horror Film Rating System

Since we are entering Horror Film season, I decided to suggest a Horror Film Criteria in order to rate a horror film. Horror films work on several levels—I’m not talking about metaphors or psychology—I’m talking about what makes a film a good horror film. No matter how artsy or exploitive the film, unless it delivers the horror, the film fails, as a horror film at least. But horror is not just scary, several other emotions are involved that culminate in the horror, the horror. I broke it down into five aspects of horror, rate each aspect, then take an average and the result is the horror film rating.

Each item receives one to five stars, with five being the highest rating. How good a horror film is depends on how close it gets to 25 stars. The nearer, the better.

The other idea is that some horror films succeed because they rate high on some of these aspects, but lower in others. For example, I might argue that Dracula films rate low on 1 (scary), yet high on 2 (creepy). How Dracula rate on the other items depends on the specific Dracula. See, a horror film can be a good horror film even though the frights are lower than the creeps. Likewise, a film like Twilight will rank low on all five criteria, hence is not a good horror film, but it still a good movie, pretty good at least. So this is a Limited Perspective Rating System to be used only for Horror Films.

The Criteria:

1) Scary: Is this film scary? Does it inspire fright?

2) Creepy: Does this film sustain an unnerving atmosphere, creating a world where you’re prone to fear what happens next?

3) Suspense: Is it unpredictable? are you in the moment watching the action unfold?

4) Jolts: Does stuff happen that genuinely startles, shocks, causes a flinch?

5) Believable: Is the story credible within the context of the world the film creates?

Each line item aspect receives 1-5 stars, which stand for this rating:
***** Great**** Good*** Above Average** Average* Below Average

I preferred using Great instead of Classic because Classic is quite subjective and prefer classic to be an overall estimation of a film, not a specific genre rating.

Add up the stars, then divide by five. The result is the Horror Film Rating for a specific film. Foolproof!

I could have used cross-bones instead of stars, but that would be cutesy. I don't mind cute, hate cutesy!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ready For Re-Scaping

The dig goes on. So the far the excavation revealed an abandoned political sign, a gigantic beer stein and what looked like a fish with braids. Doesn’t the dirt look both muddy and fluffy—a perfect bed for concrete. Un-scaped streetscape ready for re-scaping.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Newark Avenue Butterfly

I am not an expert in lepidopterology but I bet this is a Monarch. Sunday Morning I saw it flutter down Newark Avenue before alighting on these flowers outside the Tender Shoot. An attempt to get one more flight and lay some caterpillar eggs before the winter comes on. Butterflies are not strangers to Jersey City, but on Newark Avenue, a half block up from Grove? Might be a first. I have a theory why the butterflies have come back this year. Last year, as part of the streetscaping, city fathers installed planters. A little prefabricated foliage to accentuate the fresh concrete of the sidewalks. Butterflies can now hop from tree to bouquets. Just a theory. See you next year, Monarch.

Pumpkin Murality Duality

Bye, bye Summer… one of these mornings frost will be on this pumpkin, or would be, since it is not going back to the patch. It just might remain frost free until pie time. But the beauty of this moment will forever be captured. Art doesn’t just imitate life, sometimes it replicates life, or least muralizes it. The most famous member of the squash family in a pre-Jack-o-Lantern state is actually part of “food” mural project sponsored by the Jersey City Art School, the final results of which will displayed at the 4th Street Art & Music Festival next month. The subject is food, and various foods are painted by various artists on these banner-width sheets of canvas. The flaps at the ends of the banners have been folded over and sewn shut to create a slot for poles so these moveable murals can be exhibited outdoors. Could not resist this two-shot of the real and the art, the duality of a naked gourd.

10 Minimalist Novels about Love

With “What You Talk about When You Talk about Love,” Raymond Carver gave birth to Minimalist writing. He hated the term and rejected it and as the recently introduced unedited by Gordon Lish versions of this short story collection indicate, one questions how organic minimalism really is.

That said, I prefer the originals, sorry Ray (and Tess). I don’t have a problem with Minimalism. I like the term, it fits. In fact, I want to be all oxymoronic and maximize the minimalist genre. Thus this list of short-novels that I consider minimalist.

Minimalism is a sub-genre of realism. Tight, compact and sparse prose characterizes this form of fiction, which is international in scope and spans centuries. The economy of language relies on the intelligence of the reader to fill in what is left out; the writers must give you enough, but only enough, to do so. In detective, suspense and crime fiction, the style is called hard boiled.

In order to support my assertion about maximizing minimalism, I’ve listed 10 minimalist novels about love. These are not only about romantic love and love may not be the precise subject of the plot; but each work does uniquely enlighten the reader about an aspect of love. Love fuels each of these stories.

Fewer than 300 pages is the main arbitrary criteria for this list, in addition to what I consider to be a minimalist style of writing. I rejected anything over 300 pages, any short story collections or anything self-titled as a novella. I avoided genre fiction that could be considered under this rubric. These are all literary authors, as the saying goes. I don’t make up the nomenclature but I’ve learned to live with it.

Consider this a list a “Top 10” if that fills your need to argue. I have not ranked them. The order they are in was not intentional and has no bearing on measuring individual strengths or weaknesses. It was just enough to make the list, for me.

These books may be a little too long for one sitting, but certainly less than half a dozen (or one-to-two weeks worth of PATH commutes, depending on your stop) sitting will do the job. Rereading them should only take one sitting. They are all worth re-reading... again and again.

Angels by Denis Johnson

The award winning Tree of Smoke is the bloated prequel to this tight piece of down and out fiction by our greatest living writer (take that Roth!). Bus stations, laundry mats, greasy spoon diners and psychiatric wards at the county hospital comprise the setting for the love story of Jamie Mays and Bill Houston, who meet on a Greyhound Bus and try to find a little happiness together as they struggle with drug addiction. Jamie and Bill wind up at the end of the line, with nothing left to lose except each other. Johnson’s characters have never been so seamlessly believable—or the grittiness so convincing—as in Angels, which is saying a lot when you’re talking about the master of the gritty and infamous.

Happy All The Time by Laurie Colwin

Colwin died at age 48 in the early 90s and is revered by devout foodies. She was a serious food writer and magazine editor in the pre-food network era. I care about her other career, the short stories and novels, which are mainly about romantic relationships in the city, usually New York, as the late 60s evolved into the Reagan era. The writing is economical and pointed. The wit is extreme, consistent and infectious. She is one of the funniest writers of her generation. I think I named this novel because it was the first one I read. After reading it, I spent the next few months devouring the rest of her literary oeuvre. The sunniest book I ever read that I actually enjoyed... a lot. The story concerns two couples who celebrate their love by being alive and eating great meals. There is no schmaltz or easy sentimentality. The optimistic tone of her realism obscures the complexity of the novel. It’s the same complexity of actual life, which this novel genuinely depicts and rejoices in.

La Dame Aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas Fils

My dental hygienist is an opera freak. This short novel is the basis of Camille, the opera. We had this discussion about the opera, which she saw the night before, during a cleaning. She did most of the talking as she scraped the tarter off my teeth. Intrigued, and not being an opera fan, I went out and got the novel. I could not put it down. You probably already know the ending. Spoiler alert: no happily ever after. This novel is not dated, was a satisfying read and thoroughly entertaining. The translation in the Oxford edition is superb, rendering the French into fresh, vivid English. The story of the love affair is told to a third party, a disinterested narrator who, like the reader, gradually becomes absorbed into the lives of the two star-crossed lovers playing out this sad, beautiful saga. A young aristocrat falls in love with an older woman, a concubine. French society opposes the purity of their love; the young man’s father puts an end to it. Out of his life, she dies of consumption. He mourns until he dies. Love is a passionate force that threatens the social class system and the social class system always wins. But for those who are in love, redemption and uplift resides in their love. That’s the point of this novel: no matter the anguish that follows, those brief moments are worth the price of your life.

After Leaving Mr. McKenzie by Jean Rhys

Jean Rhys captures ex-pat, post World War I Paris with a clarity and honesty that her American and British peers lack. She’s the queen of compact writing. I could pick any of her novels for this list. This selection is admittedly somewhat arbitrary. I wanted to include her and wanted to avoid the over-rated “Wide Sargasso Sea.” Julie is in her late 30s, hitting the expiration date to be a kept woman, a position she took up after the dissolution of her first marriage. Her officer husband was affected by the war, and after the divorce, she went from one affair to another. The novel begins with her getting dumped by the rich brit in the title. Her situation is now desperate, the affairs not as profitable or forthcoming. What is below rock bottom? When does the moment when Dog becomes Wolf occur? This novel—which takes place during the span of a fortnight as she gets dumped, returns to London to watch her mother die, then returns back to Paris, poor and alone—is the story of a woman at that fateful moment. The cracks may be gussied up with a 1920s European motif, but the sound of falling through them remains all too familiar.

Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawataba

Reading this novel recently inspired this list. A man in his 50s looks up a woman he had an affair with 20 years earlier, when she was just a teenager. He’s a novelist and she is a geisha and an artist of some renown, which in Japan at the time seems to be an acceptable career choice. She never married and is having a lesbian relationship with her 20 year old protégé, who is mentally unstable. The protégé seeks revenge for the affair which ended badly and for the fact her mentor still loves the man. So, she seduces both the man and his son. Kawataba sneaks one of the most gnarly and erotic melodramas you’ll ever encounter into his well-observed, oblique prose.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I read Gatsby very summer. All Americans should. I always marvel at the flawless structure of the story telling and those wonderful, spell-binding sentences, each one more perfect than the next. It’s between this and Breakfast at Tiffany’s as the two most perfect pieces of writing in English. Fitzgerald wins because of the vast substance of this ever-green piece of American mythology. Sometimes I ponder how much of a noir it really is—Jay Gatz is a total gangster—other times I wonder if the real story it tells is the one about Nick Caraway, the narrator, and his tragic realization that the rigid Midwestern class system is the only constant in the Jazz Age. But it’s mainly about love and after the most recent read a line lingered, Gatsby dismissing Tom’s love for Daisy by declaring it “only personal.” Gatsby winds up shot in his rented pool and Tom, who set Gatsby up, gets to keep Daisy. Thus it always is when mortals, no matter how upwardly mobile their aspirations, pursue a love beyond the personal.

Two Against One by Frederick Bartheleme

Thoroughly modern comic novel by the greatest prose stylist alive. After a trial separation, Edward’s ex-wife and girl friend meet during his 40th birthday weekend. The wife also invites her lover whose wife recently died in a car accident. The unconventional becomes normal, the messiness beside the point. Allegiances shift and connections are made and unmade. Love is not friendship, let’s be clear. Everyone mixes it up in this mid-summers night nightmare, amid the cul de sacs and the strip malls, somewhere in the New South, which in reality is anywhere USA. They drive on highways, they shop in chain stores, they eat in franchise restaurants. This is how the book ends: after completing a somewhat tawdry sex act with his girlfriend, she reassures Edward that his wife still loves him. You have to read this novel to understand how this scene restores sanity and order in this hilarious yet heart breaking romp.

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen

How close is erotic love to spiritual love? The subtext of this novel asserts that not only are they close, they may be identical. The other nuns in a turn of the century, upstate N.Y. convent are suspicious of the dreamy and voluptuous young Mariette when she joins their order. The passion of her devotion to her new vocation has unnervingly sexual undertones. She is regarded with suspicion. Then, the novice gets the stigmata, which has to be investigated, upsetting the peace of the convent. Every one involved wonders about the difference between faith and God’s love. Forget your preconceptions about the subject matter; this is one of the best examples of minimalist writing ever. Prepare to be fascinated.

Child of God by Cormac Mcarthy

As No Country for Old Man proved, Cormac is best when he stays short. With the excellent Cohen Brothers movie, his appearance on Oprah, Blood Meriden glorification by Harold Bloom and All the Pretty Horses getting him on the best seller’s list, this early compact novel often gets overlooked. The reader roots for Lester, who except for his necrophilia and willingness to murder is a stand up guy. This disturbing story is writing of the highest order. Lester is an unrelenting romantic... well, the unrelenting part at least. When he buys his beloved new girlfriend, a corpse, a new dress, Cormac combines the grotesque, the terrifying and the absurd in such way that you realize “A Rose for Emily,” only scratched the surface of morbid love. Unforgettable.

Becalmed by Joris Karl Huysman

An atypical book by the master minimalist; not one of the five-volume Dutral series that seeks to revive medieval Catholicism, nor the “Against Nature” Dessentes that still inspires—and articulates—a decadent rejection of society. In Becalmed, a couple moves from the city to the country for peace of mind and the quiet life. They think nature will improve their well being. They are wrong. The French peasantry—and the thickening foliage of the countryside—are scarier than anything in Paris. The couple—the only time Huysman writes about a couple—have only their love and marriage to protect them. A fun read, his spare prose will always sound contemporary. You’ll think twice about breaking your Paris lease.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Clean Wine

I remember it as the Video-Rent All, remembered here. I guess it’s a sign of the times, the only new business opening up in the great recession is a liquor store. It’s almost a two block walk to the next place to get booze, so it is certainly needed, especially if they sell lottery tickets and beer nuts too. Looks like it will be a nice store. I like the sign. Red Feast! Better than Zinfandel Zoo! Been a long time since those shingles were cleaned. I liked the way they shined right after the spraying. The stretch from Grove to Barrow is now a little less desolate on the south-side of old Railroad Ave.

Monday, September 13, 2010

58 Gallery: Parakeet on Shoulder

The 58 Gallery on Coles is fun. It’s an interesting space, there is often impressive art presented and compelling ideas presented, but it’s always fun. I recently blogged about an art opening where the Old Glorys had a hot set. During the evening I took this picture, a parakeet on the shoulder of this lovely young woman with crimson pupils. My inept skills aside, I just liked the picture. I just liked how the Parakeet on Shoulder remains oblivious. I wanted to use the picture, but had no other place to put it or nothing more than the obvious to say about it.

Two previous 58 blogs
here and here.