Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Summer Playlist: This Tornado Loves You - Neko Case

I have always gotten Neko Case and Rilo Kiley confused, easily accomplished by not listening to either of them.

"This is the one we like," said Patsy to Edina and Edina to Patsy.

Happily, this is the one coming to Breese Field in Madison, on a bill with Ray LaMontagne, whom I don't mind either. There is a characterless bar across from the field where you can hear just as well and don't have to stand in line for beer or water or, you know, get jostled while quietly considering tornadoes.

Neko Case has a legitimate voice you want to hear (my bête noire being the legions of baby-ladies doing "pretty music," a bête I fickley embrace according to particular sheens of coat or shapes of spine) and writes unforced poetic song-specific lyrics -- not poetry laid to music, which is all I could ever hope to manage.

I miss, I miss
I miss, I miss
I miss, I miss
I miss, I miss

How you sigh yourself to sleep

If you're going to write about love, which you are, which one is, apparently it's required, then hell yeah be a force of nature. Unforced force... nice.

Points For:

+ Nice red hair and no affected faces
+ Fully four unnecessary backup singers
+ Guitarists who would not smile for ready money, would strum straight through any storm

Points Against:

- Kinda short (so hit repeat)

Saturday, October 14, 2017


About a decade ago I moved to a country. My friend was my boss, my boss my friend.

I could get sued for this because of the nondisclosure agreement, but fuck it, me and Rose McGowan.

Unlike Harvey, she, my harasser, was very pretty.

When I arrived, they were still putting the finishing touches on my house around the corner.  Or so I was told. In retrospect.... So I stayed with her. The way her house was set up, my bedroom was a respectable number of yards away from hers, but there was a back path between them that the staff couldn't see.

It gives me shivers to remember it.

We would have breakfast, then sit on the veranda underneath a spinning fan working Sudoku, swimming every 45 minutes, playing. ("Shep! You have a good body!") We would drink beer on ice beginning at eleven, and watch Bollywood movies in her bedroom, the shutters drawn against the perpetually 82-degree sun.

She taught me how to dance the men's parts.

By night, she would start touching me. People might have come by, or we'd have been out to a Western dinner with them, but the song remained the same. I didn't want to touch her, or to be touched, for many reasons. But I played a fool rather than walk the path back to my bedroom... until 7am.

I was attracted to her, which showed, in all of the ways it always does. But I was also a world away from any power I'd ever had, and behaved like a very dumb version of myself. At this point, I had decades of defending myself against comparable situations. Just not with bosses, nor women.

There was insistence that I spend the night in her bed. I was weak enough to do it a couple of times, strong and canny enough not to do anything but put my arm around her until she fell asleep.

None of this would have happened if I'd been Robert in New York. None of this would have happened if I hadn't abandoned that guy in search of experience that I erroneously determined would be good for me psychologically and professionally.

Elegant as I thought I was about it all... Catastrophe.

It took months to play out, but I did not have the job anymore once I made it clear that my arm was all that was available, my willingness to dance like Saif.

Every story that comes out about established power vs. striving power will make me think of Kemang. Understand that you don't think of yourself as weak, just sophisticatedly navigating an untenable situation. You. Are. Not.

Manners, disbelief, and self-respect conspire to allow it.

It is only afterwards that you see it for the insanity it was. It's only afterwards that you are sad.

Forget about your house of cards
And I'll deal you mine

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

You Say You're Changing: Madison

I am in the only spot in Madison where my computer steadfastly refuses to connect with the WiFi. This place is ur-Wisconsin. I don’t dislike it.

Everybody’s changing and I don’t feel the same.

Outside, the weather dismal. Light rain, dark and grey and cold. No amount of smiling co-eds can overcome the gloom, can warm me.

It was 90 and humid when I arrived three weeks ago. So, a seasonal shift.

I’ve worked a week landscaping an intractable plot of land around a cursed wooden ranch house in Middleton, which is apparently a place of its own, Madison also being a place of its own that is not Milwaukee or Green Bay.

I am, today, a waiter in a pub that has not a healthy thing on the menu. But cheese curds and a thousand kinds of aioli.

It is pretty here. The lakes and the architecture, and despite the insane amount of University wear, the kids. They are as gorgeous as in Ohio and Michigan, and mostly well behaved.

I have no idea, beyond landscaping and waiting tables, what the adults are up to. I hear they are fucking up politics?

The pretty and kitschy Capitol looms over us all. Not my first time at this kind of merry-go-round, rodeo, other accepted metaphor.

The music is great, I’m always Shazam-ing, and the beer is decent.

There is an element of tabula rasa that I appreciate.

Bars have gaming machines and electronic dart boards. The former not something I’d ever do; I have been to Vegas five times and never played so much as a slot machine. (There are empirically more enjoyable ways to lose money.) The latter profoundly unsatisfying, for the boards aren’t cork. You don’t even know how much darts were part of my life in Jakarta, swatting away potential Indonesian wives to beat Baba at cricket.

It's a couple-mile hike to Trader Joe’s, but I take it. It’s a drab drive to Middleton in Roger’s truck, all strip malls and lousy roadmates. But I take it.

Am rendered absolutely filthy. Recover surprisingly well from muscle ache.

Madison IS a place, which is all I ask. There are lakes on either side, M one lake and M the other. There are old theaters that get all the good bands and comedians.

Not everybody says, “I’ve never been to New York,” as they do in San Francisco (still) and Portland.

Friday night I am going to man the door at a “club” with “dueling pianos.” Your guess as good as mine.

This is the kind of shit I did at 24, and I am doing it again at 54, and I’m game. It’s exhilarating in a low-key kind of way.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Riding the Rails

I want to be William Holden in Picnic, jumping on trains and going to places like Iowa. Disrupting other people's lives. (Not that I'm aiming for Iowa. I was in Davenport once when I was young.)

Truth is, it has been that romantic for three or four months. Hostels, motels, people's homes. In San Francisco, in Portland, in Seattle. I know my way around -- not that there is much to know -- a Motel 6. I know how bad the coffee will be, and the fact that there will be a fighting couple in the parking lot. Someone crying.

A very small sampling of friends I have made, for a day or two or possibly longer: "Retired" gentleman who spends his day in the nicest hostel in SF; lovely older Danish woman with whom I went to the farmer's market and walked up Telegraph Hill, then down the other side for beers at Mario's; various charming French women, all with advanced degrees; young Dutch boy and young English boy in a dorm room at the edge of the Tenderloin, both sweet and uncomplicated and fun to hang out with; kind divorced father with a plain-Jane small clean home in St. John's, Portland; smart couple in another Portland neighborhood (can't remember which), she having gone to Kenyon of all places; Aussie biker guy who couldn't fix his motorcycle so sold it at a loss, terrific at beer time; assorted oddballs in Seattle plus another Aussie guy who'd gone to Burning Man and was... unexpected.

Crushes, fascination with other people's stories. Dinners. It's a world of that. At 54, you can go years without meeting anyone, learning anything new about people.

I love it.

If there were still a culture of hopping trains and picking up yard-work here and there, I'd be set for life.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Canard (with asterisks)

One time I went to Paris* and met a guy named Patrick.**

Patrick insisted that we go to this one restaurant for this one dish. Magret de Canard.***
Like if you ordered a steak, but it was duck instead.

I could still find that place in The Marais. The magret was tremendously good, and it was an enchanted evening. Just drunk enough, candlelight, this kid from Toulouse.

The next morning, in my hotel room, Patrick took a bath. There was no shower. I took a photo of him in the tub (chaste, of course).  Belmondo.****

He had to go home, I went back to Amsterdam and then New York, but we wrote each other. In French. He spoke zero English. And while I speak decent French, I am not a good reader or writer of it. On Jane Street, I'd get these letters on international mail paper,***** and pull out my dictionary and respond. A lot about his entretien. A lot about missing me (after a 24-hour fling). I missed him too.****** J'ai besoin de toi.

So Patrick came to New York on vacation.  No.  He came to see me. I can't even imagine how he got the money together. I suck. , but I greeted him at the airport and then with a bottle of Champagne and a ride to Staten Island on the ferry, because I'm just that kind of guy.******* Then dinner at the late, lamented Savoy in SoHo, or NoLiTa, you pick.

It was a terrific night, although we were really too drunk to eat.

Patrick stayed with me for a week, and I had to take a business trip to Chicago, so bought him a ticket to tag along. This is unimaginable now, but I told my client he'd be coming with me, at no cost to them, and they were fine. We served Remy Martin sidecars together, and there is an amazing picture of that.

We did not fall in love. Well, I didn't. He was a kid. I seriously do not know who I was then.

In New York, prior to this, Patrick came to my office in jean shorts, and although that was normal empirically, I was very embarrassed.  Keep in mind, this was a handsome handsome masculine guy, but too young, wide-eyed, and never been to the city.  I have some finesse, so wasn't rude or anything: just aware that the people who worked for me were like what?!  Maybe we don't have to respect you so much anymore?  Maybe we have leverage?

Anyway, Patrick called me at the office from my apartment, because land lines. And he wanted to make me magret for dinner. I have no idea where he even found it. But he needed pans. I owned maybe two. We had an incredibly long conversation in French about pans, found no understanding, and I went Bed, Bath and Beyond (my nemesis) and bought everything.

He made me a lovely dinner.  As good as Paris. He was a truly beautiful guy (yes, inside as well as out).  If we'd had less a distance in age, and if my French had been better, who knows?

Some years earlier, my friend Anne from Georgetown came to stay. It's all baffling, but Anne and I sat in my SoHo studio -- terrible place -- and watched a made-for-TV movie starring Melissa Gilbert.******* And out of nowhere, in the heat of an argument, Melissa said "canard." Anne and I immediately burst out laughing.  Anne had a great girly-haughty laugh.

I still can't think of "canard" without laughing.

I miss Anne, and I miss Patrick.

Canard is an accepted truth that is in fact untrue.********

Ring any bells?

*It was accidentally for Europride: truly, I didn't know. It was really fun.
**I am only allowed to meet people named Patrick or Mark.
***I am not Googling any of this. There may be factual errors. Untruths.
****I have pictures of him, on FILM.
*****Do you remember how exciting this was?
******We were at least ten years apart in age, maybe more, but there is precedent for that in my family.
*******I've lost control of the asterisks.
*********I was very handsome at the time. The point of being good looking is to attract people, but it all goes haywire.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Henry's Taiwan Kitchen

Happens to be next door to the Seattle hostel where I am staying and couldn't cook up the pasta and tomatoes I meticulously selected at Pike Place Market today, on account of other hostel residents making elaborate meals. Henry's has the usual accolades in the window, always suspect, but the price point was irresistible and the menu reassuringly not too wide.

What I got was noodles with slivers of fried egg and chives and bean sprouts and perfectly small nuggets of pork the way I like it. I had to go back and ask if it was pork... just small crispy chewy bits of protein. But the key to the dish was the conversation I had with the man I ordered from.

I said, "I want it spicy."

He said, "Light, medium, strong, or maximum."

An old hand at this, at being cheated out of heat, I said, "Maximum."

And it delivered. Look, I don't want heat for the sake of heat. I want flavor and contrast and textural finesse too. But I want heat! It always sounds like bragging, like Bourdain worldliness, to say you want authentic Asian spiciness. But I do! It's just in me. It's in no one else in my family, but they enjoy witnessing what happens to me; what happened, alone, tonight: It starts out without incident, and then some sweat forms on my forehead, and then I'm wiping moisture out of my eyes, and then taking a napkin across the back of my neck, and then my hair is soaked through.

One time, in Jakarta, I ate through a delicious Indian lunch and the people at the table were like why are you sweating? I said I don't know I think it's the green beans. They seem spicy.


There were no green beans on the table. Just incredibly potent peppers as a condiment, which no one else had touched.

Next post I'll give you a food picture, because there aren't enough of those going 'round.

Saturday, July 8, 2017


This is an essay without a thesis or a conclusion. Which is to say a bad idea. It is also depressing, so please skip it if you are not in the mood. I am rarely in the mood.

I simply walked some blocks I hadn’t walked before, and can’t shake them.

For a month plus, you curate your San Francisco experience, relish the weather and views, walk so much and wonder at the mildly attractive completely uninteresting younger people who travel  in packs.

To an East Coast person, it’s always such an arresting combination of paradise and provincialism. The 65-year-old woman behind the register at Duane Reade on First Avenue has easily a more sophisticated grasp of life than 90% of San Franciscans. And a more genuine smile. (Cuz I got all the good jokes at Duane Reade.)

I’ve taken lovely photos here, often misleading photos.  Can you feel guilt about photography? Yes, and also writing the way you do.

Today I had a beer I didn’t want to watch Federer on grass. I looked up best tacos in SF – you’d be surprised how poor the quality of Mexican food is here – and set a course that led me through the Tenderloin.

There were no people who were not deranged by mental illness, drugs, alcohol… no people at 12:30 on a peerlessly sunny day walking a reasonably straight line. So many in alleys, filthy camps blocking sidewalks.

This is one of the most notoriously bad neighborhoods in the world, a referendum on America and certainly a referendum on the dumbassedness of the city by the Bay.

You grieve being there, and you flee. I went quickly to Market and got on a streetcar and ate tacos instead at an old haunt in the Castro. Remembering that more than twenty years ago it was the same, knowing that San Francisco has never solved its problems, just gotten richer to the point that it maybe never will.