Monday, December 31, 2007

A Good Cause

After Kyle died, I sort of opted out of any familial logistical decisions. At the hospital, as they prepared my brother for organ donation, my parents asked me simple questions about burial, funeral, and memorial arrangements, and the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted a grave to visit. But everything else - death certificates and headstones and slideshows and biographies - I stayed out of. It just all felt so exhausting.

So maybe that's why it didn't occur to me until now to post something about the scholarship fund my parents established in Kyle's name. It's called the San Francisco State University Kyle Campbell Whitham McLeod Scholarship in Latin American History, and it was set up to provide some relief to “students experiencing financial hardship and enable them to continue on their path towards graduation.” Kyle talked a lot about the growing cost of state education in California, about how friends of his were being priced out of what is supposed to be affordable public education, so I know he would be proud that an annual scholarship in his name will help other students in his major get through school.

Thanks to the generosity of friends and family (and my parents' unions), we've already received the minimum amount needed to establish an endowment. The more contributions we get, though, the larger the annual scholarship amount, and the more help a needy kid gets each year.

SO, if you haven't already, please consider donating.

Make checks payable to the SF State Foundation, and make sure to designate that it is a donation to the Kyle McLeod Scholarship Fund. Mail donations to:

San Francisco State University
Office of Development – ADM 153
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco, California

Past and future donors, thank you!

GTD from 818***7818:
Ur mom hates you

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Taiwanese Are Nothing Like Us

Christmas is over. Thank God. Let's move on.

In this era of global warming, global villages, and global economies, it's easy to get caught up in all the We Are One hype. But I'm here to remind you that we are not one. We are separate and distinct, we are nothing like our neighbors. Unspeakable customs, incomprehensible people, and absolutely disgusting dishware can be found all over this wide, wide world.

Take Taiwan, for instance. In Kaohsiung, Taiwan, there's an eatery called the Marton Theme Restaurant. Marton is a derivative of the Chinese word matong. Can you guess what that means? That's right, toilet. Matong means "toilet."

I have no explanation, but Eric Wang does. He's the 26-year-old founder of Marton Theme Restaurant.

"Most customers think the more disgusting and exaggerated, the funnier the dining experience is.”

And while I would be quick to point out that he is wrong, that disgusting is not funny and funny does not make for fine dining, that eating mock shit out of a mock toilet is only slightly less horrible than eating real shit out of a real toilet, it seems the residents of Taiwan would disagree with me.

Due to its popularity, Mr. Wang was able to open a second Marton restaurant just seven months after the first.

I don't know about you, but for me, suddenly the gulf between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Sunnis and Shia, the Democrats and Republicans seems not just understandable, but inevitable.

What a world.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Blue Santa

They found this in Ohio a few years ago. Leave it up to the Germans to come up with a mascot for the sadder side of Christmas.

Froehliche Weihnachten everybody!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Blue Christmas

I just got home from Christmas with my dad. We went ice skating in Central Park, trailed Leann's well-bundled grandkids through an amazing throng of foreigners to see the Big Tree, and had coco and pizza and presents under a decorated palm in the hotel suite.

It was a really lovely evening.

Now I'm home in pj's, The Godfather's on, and my Google searches show a number of permutations of "dead" and "Christmas." So I thought I'd post this. Not because I'm miserable, but because in the back of my mind even on my best days there's a soft blue whisper, a reminder that the hardest time to be sad is when you are expected to be happy.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


1. I just got a new cell phone. My old one was this overpriced piece of crap and when you called me it sounded like I was in the middle of a tornado. So I went to Verizon and, in exchange for promising to pay them an exorbitant monthly fee well into my thirties, they gave me a new phone for free.

Get excited.

The woman at Verizon was really nice, but she couldn't change transfer my contacts from my old phone to my new phone - I guess she was missing a cord? - so when I got home I went through my old phone manually. I just transfered the necessities. Mom, Dad, friends, etc. It was kind of fun, my new phone has a QWERTY keyboard that I just love, but then I got to the K's.

Kyle's number.

What should I do with Kyle's number? Transferring it seemed weird, but not transferring it, just throwing my phone away without recording it, that felt like a loss. An unnecessary loss. And we've had enough of those.

So here:






2. This will be my first Christmas without a stocking, my first Christmas in New York, the first Christmas I won't have to give my brother a present. The last, I have to say, is a relief.

Kyle was impossible to shop for. He was a semi-socialist who sneered at baubles and only wanted really expensive electronic equipment or music that I could never be cool enough to have heard of.

I bought him novels he wasn't interested in. I bought him art supplies and alcohol.

Now, I won't have to guess at what he'll like. Now, he won't have to assure me that it was fine, really. That he appreciated it.

3. I heard an organ donor story on This American Life last week. A girl who's heart came from a murdered boy finally met his family. I cried louder than I thought I would. I so, so, so very much want to meet the recipients of Kyle's organs.

Someone is walking around with my brother's eyes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm Feeling Ambivalent About New York - Part II

I avoid Midtown.

Not completely - no one can avoid Midtown completely - but I do my best. Sure, I've been to a few plays there, I had a couple friends who lived unsettlingly close to Times Square and once, for reasons not quite clear to me, I ended up doing yoga under the Cup O'Noodles billboard, but mostly I've managed to stay away from that particular part of the city.

But last week my boss asked me to take a huge stack of papers up to 53rd and Park for signatures and what could I say? "Midtown's a little busy for me" is not a valid excuse at work.

So off I went. Here's what I was wearing: work boots, unfashionable jeans, a hoodie with cuffs so worn they look like lace, fingerless gloves left over from my smoking days, and a puffy, maroon Rocawear jacket that might be styling in Harlem, but is definitely not up to the rest of Manhattan's hipster code.

I got off the subway, climbed the stairs, and found myself headed east on a crosstown street that resembled nothing if not an Armani runway. Tailored suits, splashy ties, colored purses matched - but not too matched - with leather pumps. Pinstripes, lipstick, jewelry sets. Edgy buns, salads in plastic, shapeshifting cell phones. Diamonds and pearls and gold. And me dodging briefcases in my torn MFA chic, crooked glasses and all.

This alone wouldn't have phased me. I've spent years being underdressed around rich people. Besides, writers are allowed a certain nerdy carelessness, like we've just got too much going on to check a mirror on the way out the door. What got to me, what made me feel suddenly and strongly ambivalent about New York, even after all my gushing and my Metrocard miracle, was that those perfectly dressed people were just like me - twenty-somethings on $25-an-hour errands, everyone stern and eager, walking really, really fast, in desperate need of rent money.

And in that moment, I hated this place.

Young people here have to work so hard. Our rent is more than our parents' mortgage. We spend more on food than most families of four. Why else would we go to such ridiculous lengths? Matching pearls? Dry cleaning bills? Humanitarian dreams reduced to zeros? In our twenties? Even those of us wandering the creative path are only plunging further into graduate debt, grasping laughably at the slim Lotto shot of paying it back in less than forty years. We were all so desperate that Midtown afternoon, pounding down 53rd, jostling at lights for a position out front, determined to show our bosses, each other, how worth it we were.

As I neared Park Ave, a girl came towards me in a a fitted gray suit, hair and heels high, cell phone squeezed between her shoulder and cheek. She was carrying four Starbucks coffees, three shopping bags, a five-inch three-ring binder, and her purse. Which matched her shoes. "Of course," she was saying into her phone. "Whole grain, dijon, chicken breast." She looked like she was about to cry.

I almost stopped her.

"Hey," I wanted to say. "It's okay. I don't know how I'm going to make it to Friday, either. And even though my feet hurt less than yours, and your bank account is less terrifying than mine, at the end of the day we're all just getting coffee for some rich guy.

"We can live here, we can swing rent, we might even manage health insurance, but God forbid we mistake this city for a place that wants us. New York doesn't want us. If it wanted us, you wouldn't be dressed like your mother, I wouldn't be dressed like a bum, and living here amidst the millionaires wouldn't feel so much like begging."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas '05

Aunt Della just sent out new pictures she found of Kyle et all. We are, clockwise from me, across-the-pond Juliesan, the infamous Katie B, Kyle big as ever, and James and Joe, the only brothers I have left.

GTD from 530***5858:
Im gonna go up the hill but if I get called back ill come oven

Because I Call Myself a Fiction Writer

I haven't blogged all week. I'm sorry. And it's not because I don't love you anymore, or don't need you anymore, or because Kyle has risen from the dead.

It's because I'm writing again. I've finally returned to fiction in earnest, and I've found that it uses the same part of my brain that blogging does. Which means that it's hard to do both on a daily basis. For months, I've been putting all my energies into blogging, but now I finally have a fiction project I'm excited about working on.

So. I'm sorry to say that I'll be blogging less in the future. More of a weekly/bi-weekly thing. But the upside is I'll be inching ever closer to that magical day when I can beg you all to buy my book.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I'm Feeling Ambivalent About New York - Part I

I had a bad morning. I was late and in a shitty mood and the weather was being coy - too wet for my hair but too dry for an umbrella. I walked as fast as I could to the subway, not even pausing to pull out my iPod. That's how bad my sulk was. Music would make me feel better and I didn't want to give it the chance.

You should've seen my face. I scowled at the garbage man, I scowled at the school kids. I scowled at the tree farmer who sells Evergreens in front of the Wallgreens. The trees in the cold smelled like Christmas, but I breathed through my mouth. The cigarette stand man threw a treat to a passing Labrador, who caught it in the air, and I looked away. I'd be damned if some charming neighborhood traditions were going to make me feel better.

I stopped at the top of the subway stairs to get out my Metrocard. This is harder than it sounds. As a little girl, I watched my mother stand at a register or gas pump or ATM and fish through her massive purse for her massive wallet, which held a massive brick of receipts and business cards and credit cards, only one of which she needed at that particular time. I would think, as I watched her, that there had to be a better way.

Well, there's not.

When I finally found my wallet and finally rifled through it, I discovered two cards. One had $20 on it but was bent and unusable (they say I have to mail it in), but the second one looked okay.

I started down the steps. I could hear a train, it was going my way. If you hold your card right and hurry, it's just possible to get down the stairs, swipe through, get down the second flight of stairs, and make it onto a car before the doors close. I readied my card, I ran, I swiped, but in taunting green letters:


Sometimes a feeling comes over me when I'm frustrated like this, and I hate absolutely everything I see. Hate.

I fumbled for my bent card. This entrance wasn't a normal entrance, it was a sort of half entrance, with just a turnstile and no way to buy a new card. The nearest booth was two blocks away. I heard the train brake, the ding of the doors. I swiped.


I swiped. People started coming up the stairs, filing past me through the exit turnstile. I swiped and swiped and swiped. I was so late. I don't mind telling you almost started crying.

And then from behind me, "Hey."

I turned. It was some Spanish guy in a puffy coat. He had just come off the train, he'd seen me swiping, and when I saw he was talking to me I gave him the meanest, most slit-eyed look I knew. Even Kyle never saw a look this mean. There's something about New York, people think that just because you're on the street, you want to be talked to.

But this guy didn't say anything else, just pulled out his card, swiped me through, and walked away. He barely looked at me. Just swiped and turned. He was halfway up the stairs when I thanked him.

Here in New York, I feel like the city performs miracles. I mean that literally. The guts and steam and press of the city makes miracles happen and every once in a while you get one, right when you're about to give. This guy in the puffy coat gets off his train, comes up the stairs, and sees me cussing at a turnstile. It's 7:46 a.m. and because the train doors are closing and it's shitty out and my card is bent and it's apparent that for whatever reason this is the day I'm gonna go, because he has felt that exact buckle in his knees, because everyone here is a few ounces from breaking even if we hide it most of the time, he and New York took pity. They swiped me through. They let me through the turnstiles and I didn't have to pay a thing.

And all was right with the city, until a complicated real estate catastrophe forced me out of Chelsea's gardens and construction sites and into power pumped, pinstriped mid-50s Park Avenue. That's right, dear reader...MIDTOWN!!!

(to be continued...)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

It's Christmas Time, In Case You've Forgotten

Here I am, trying to procrastinate from writing fiction by writing a blog, when suddenly there is a roar - a sustained, growling roar - coming from the street below. It's followed by unintelligible singing. Then bells and cheering, and general loud drunken revelry. It goes on for a while. It's still going on. And I only notice because it's a bit early for this kind of drunken extremism, even for a Saturday, so I get up and look out and see this:

Okay, so it's not so impressive all blurry and from a distance, but that there is a bar full of Santas. So many Santas that they're spilling out onto the street. So many Santas shouting in unison that they sound like they're partying on my fire escape, five flights up, even with my windows closed.

17 days till Christmas and counting...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Normally Depressing Laundrymat Undergoes Surprisingly Inoffensive Holiday Makeover

My local laundrymat is run by a squadron of short, broad Spanish women and one white-haired man. The women do the washing and folding in back, so you don't really see them. Instead, you see the man. He wanders silently around the front of the store, always in a pair of those high waisted farmer jeans, the kind with cuffs wide enough to cover work boots. He carries a spray bottle and wash rag. It's a little unclear what exactly his job is. He dusts the tops of the machines, mops the floors, and endlessly sprays the leaves of the robust spider plants hanging from the ceiling.

Today, after a good three weeks of procrastination, J and I finally bit the bullet and hauled our fifty pounds of laundry to the mat, only to discover that it had been completely transformed. It seems the silent man has another, more creative responsibility.


I mean, just look at this:

And this:

Here, he's hand-stringing Christmas bulbs onto fishing wire to tack in necklaces from the fluorescent lights:

I mean, have you ever seen a more focused, more detailed, more thorough seventy-year-old male Christmas decorator?

I'm not complaining though. I'm generally not a fan of cheesy Christmas decorations, but when done with such enthusiasm, such flourish, such stern-mouthed passion, they completely win me over.

So thank you, silent laundry man, for keeping depression at bay with your unsmiling Christmas cheer and extensive Santa collection.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Aunt Della

On the night of Kyle's accident, it took them awhile to track my parents down. He was alone at the hospital as they wheeled him in and hooked him up and tried for some sign of brain activity. They searched his cell phone for family members, but for some reason he'd entered my parents into his phone by name, not by label, and it took them awhile to get my dad on the line. It took him awhile to get my mom on the line. By the time both my parents had been told about these, their new lives, it was 11:30 at night and the airports were closed. They were going to have to drive. They were going to have to leave my brother alone for the six hours it would take to get to Palo Alto.

So my mom called Aunt Della.

Aunt Della is not really my aunt. She's my mother's best friend, the mother of my best friend, and she's known me my entire life. Before the divorces, our mothers and fathers and Katie B and me and our band of brothers would have late afternoon Los Angeles barbeques. After the divorces, we did Christmases and Thanksgivings. We visited each other at hospitals. We knew the sound of each other's cars, the smell of each other's linens. My point is that family is about blood, but it is also about choice, about circumstance, about the strange spikes of fate a more religious person might chalk up to God.

I've taken Aunt Della for granted most of my life. She was just a mom, after all. Another disciplinarian, another set of eyes, another maker of rules and bedtimes and nutritious meals. For years I thought of her like I did a neighbor, or a babysitter, or any other familiar adult. I didn't realize she was family - not really, not concretely - until my brother died.

Aunt Della was home when my mom called. She was on her way to bed, she had work in the morning, but she picked up the phone. I don't know how my mom told her. It must've been hard to understand through the sobbing. When I try to imagine this, my mother choking in a dark car, Aunt Della sitting up in bed, trying to get her friend to slow down, to speak clearly, my mind jumps instead to when I was ten years old and crying on the phone to Katie B, trying to get out that my parents were separating while she asked over and over, her voice rising in fear, "Mir, what is it? What is it, Mir?"

But that doesn't matter. What matters is that Aunt Della hung up the phone, dressed and drove to Palo Alto, where she sat holding my brother's hand and listening to his tubes breathe while my parents sputtered up California, nothing but black farms and headlights and my number tried over and over, because I didn't know yet.

The coincidence of this is staggering. At least to me. For our whole lives, Katie B and I lived in LA. Even after we left for school, our parents stayed in or near the city. But then, last year, Aunt Della remarried and moved to Berkeley. It seemed sad at the time. Katie and her brothers would now be going upstate in December, and Kyle and I would be going to LA. No more shared holidays. No more Christmas breaks spent riding around our hometown, talking about people we used to know.

But then my brother fell, the airports closed, and suddenly my mom realized we knew someone who could go to Kyle, who could sit with him and tell him that he wasn't alone. Who my mom could call over and over as they inched upstate. And not just anyone. Family.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Teenagers are Funny

The week of Kyle's accident is pretty fuzzy. I remember the call, but not what day it was. I remember the flight, but not the airports. I remember the high school science lab smell of my brother, how it got stronger when I leaned in to kiss him, but I don't remember the doctors or nurses or psychiatrists that shuttled in and out. I remember some of the drive down to LA for the funeral - Big Sur's big cliffs and the violet ocean, the small arc of Cayucos and how it hasn't changed at all since Kyle and I walked out to the end of the endless pier. I remember some of LA - staying in a Santa Monica hotel instead of my mother's house, driving a rental instead of her car, everything both familiar and absolutely strange. I remember the funeral. I remember the coffin. It looked so much more beautiful than I thought it would look. I remember wanting to stay and watch them fill the dirt in on top of my brother, but knowing that I was expected to leave, that these things are usually done without the swollen, judgemental eyes of family around.

I also remember a song. I left New York with a strange collection of things - five sweaters for an LA summer but only three pairs of underwear, a bathing suit but no socks, a whole stack of novels I of course didn't read. I also forgot my iPod, so the only music we had for the car was J's Shuffle, and on it a random sampling of songs from his ridiculously large and obscure music collection, most of which seemed to lack a melody or identifiable lyrics. One song, though, stood out. It was by Bright Eyes (a shocker, I know), I'd never heard it before, but once I did I played it over and over.

You know how songs can become linked to events? How you hear a verse for the first time when you're falling in love, or moving to a new city, or driving around your hometown with a dead brother on your back, and it fuses to the memory of your experience. It makes you cry. Well, that's what this song did for me. It's called Cleanse Song, and I think that for the rest of my life it will be the soundtrack of my brother's week-long journey from train platform to hospital to grave.

I was looking for the Cleanse Song video on YouTube to show you, but apparently there isn't one. Instead, I found this - a teenager being painfully and publicly emotive. Just like me.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Power. To the. Peeeeeple!

Have you heard of YouTuber rx2008? He makes videos out of political footage and surprisingly appropriate songs, and the Bush mashup he did last year is one of the most-viewed political videos on YouTube:

Apparently rx2008 is a fan of Mike Gravel, because he approached Gravel's staffers at a Las Vegas dinner in November and said he wanted to make a video with him. At first they demured - despite his exclusion from the debates, Gravel is running for president and can't be making YouTube spots with just anyone. But then rx2008 said he was the guy behind "Sunday Bloody Sunday," a staffer favorite, and Gravel agreed to be filmed. Here is the "weird, wonderful" result:

Isn't it catchy? Now I just have to figure out how to get it on my ipod.

In other weird, wonderful news, My Brother Is Dead is now a sermon!

J's dad is a Methodist minister in a small Texas town, and he emailed to ask if he could quote a bit of my blog in his Sunday sermon. And, even though the last "sermon" I attended was a Unitarian meditation on peace my mother brought us to in middle school, I have to say it's a pretty cool feeling to know that, last Sunday morning, 103 people is a north Texas church were thinking about Kyle and me. The world is endlessly surprising.

Go here to read the sermon, and here to visit David's blog.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


I woke up this morning surprised to find I wasn't hung over and that it was SNOWING!!

I love the snow. I guess everyone does, but I still marvel with wide-eyed west coast wonder at the versatility of rain. This is our first snow of the season, after a disappointingly snowless winter last year, and to wake up on December 2nd to your world gone white is a really cozy feeling.

Especially if you don't have to go anywhere.

Unfortunately, poor Katie B had to wake up this morning and go to work in this stuff. And after what became quite a late night. The party was great, tons of people showed and Mom, your eggnog was a HIT. As was the decorate-your-own Christmas-cookies station and the baked brie trick I stole from Aunt Di over Thanksgiving.

Now I'm going to get back under the covers, listen to This American Life, and watch the snow. I love Sundays.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's Christmas Time in the City

Despite all my holiday grouchiness, I have to say there's something nice about a Christmas party. Carols can actually be kind of pretty when they're not being piped into a 100,000 sq ft box store, and the only gift you're expected to bring is a bottle of wine.

So when my friend Katie B decided to throw a holiday party this year, I agreed to help. It's tonight, the theme is Peruvian Casual Chic (she and her boyfriend Dominique just got back from Machu Picchu, I haven't seen the pictures yet, but apparently they're spectacular (and they brought me back the softest skein of alpaca wool, the dears)), and we're making my mom's famous hard eggnog and Aunt Della's famous spiced nuts and we're baking sugar cookies to decorate. Isn't that exciting?

The thing though, about entertaining in New York in your mid twenties is that you have nothing. After eight moves, all the First Apartment kitchenware your parents bought you when you left for college is long gone, and New York's ravenous landlords have steadily bled you of any money you've earned since. No matter how many friends you call, no one has any cookie cutters to lend you.

So as I type this, Katie is whipping through Bed Bath & Beyond for last minute necessities and I'm headed off to the flower district to buy the requisite poinsettas and holly and mistletoe. We have ten hours and a lot to do. And I have to paint these nails.

Friday, November 30, 2007

There's Still So Much I Haven't Figured Out

Can we take a break from social commentary and heavy life stuff for a minute? I this problem, I've had it for years, and despite my best efforts I just can't figure out what to do about it. Maybe you can help.

What do you do with clothes that aren't dirty, but aren't clean either?

I rewear clothes. You might think I'm gross, but it's because I'm not a shopper. My closet is meager by any girl's standards, and my limited wardrobe and the five flights and two blocks between me and my laundry mat means I'll work a pair of jeans nice and good before I throw them in the hamper. I still shower regularly and everything, but I just can't bring myself to believe that that my favorite pants or the occasional t-shirt is unwearable after one round. Am I disgusting? Should I be embarrassed? I can't tell.

But that's not my problem. My problem is that, in any room I've ever inhabited since the age of 13, I accumulate these clothes in cleanliness purgatory, and they pile up on the biggest available surface. This time around, it's the cute little loveseat we have in our bedroom. I think I've sat in it twice, and the rest of the time it's served as a large, open-air hamper for clothes that I don't want to fold back up and put in my bureau but that aren't ready for the wash pile.

So maybe you have some advice. What do you do with your still-good clothes? Do you put them back in the drawers to mix indiscriminately with the Downy-fresh unworns? Some sort of rack or hooks on the wall? Or does anything you touch go straight to the hamper? Is it odd that after thirteen years I'm still finding this difficult?

GTD from 805***7317:
hihi it poois im a monkey ooahah hehe lol
rokmysox jobro

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What the Hell is Going On?

Have you seen Sears' new marketing campaign? It's called the "Don't just give a gift, grant a wish" campaign, and I'm only aware of it because it's been gravely offending me with its TV spots this holiday season.

The first time it came to my attention, I didn't see the whole commercial. What I did see was a mother throwing open the door to a ten-year-old girl's walk-in closet to reveal about thirty outfits complete with shoes, excessories, etc. The girl squealed and hugged her mom, and over this timeless image of familial joy a spokeswoman advised, "This holiday season, don't just give a gift. Grant a wish!"

I'd obviously misheard. Or missed an essential part of the commercial. This kid was dying from cancer, right? She was a crackhead baby who spent her life in a burlap sack and had finally been adopted into a family who acknowleged the necessity of clothing, right? At the very least, the mother must've warned the girl just before I tuned in, "Now Susie, remember that we'll be sharing what's in here with your thirteen other sisters." Right??

Wrong. A few days later, I saw the commercial in full and all I'd missed was the mom explaining, "Susie has always loved fashion. She wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up. But the last couple of years, she's gone a school that requires a uniform!" Cut to shot of privately-educated Susie walking home from school in plaid and knee socks, the poor thing. "Well, this year, Susie's moving to a new school that doesn't require uniforms, and I decided to make her Christmas really special." Cut to closet door, cut to wretched excess, cut to spoiled, spoiled child hugging indulgent, credit card-weilding mom. Dad isn't around. He's out whipping the backs of Chinese slaves to pay for his TEN-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER'S BRAND NEW WARDROBE.

Is this not insane to anyone else?

This year, Sears has given up on advertising present possibilities to instead suggest that America buy multiples of what would've been one generous gift in past years. Are we really there? As a nation, I mean? Has innovation just given up? Have we forgone the possibility of spending our declining dollars on, I dunno, eco-friendly, oil-free, socially-aware products and instead said fuck it, let's just buy ten of what we already have? Who's idea was this?

Oh, that's right. Sears.

It's spreading, too. I saw another Sears commercial that showed a giggling family reveal to a shocked dad that this year, the hell with saving for college! Insead we got entire garage filled with tools! And I think it's American Express? Maybe Visa that has a holiday commercial showing dad surprising mom with not one, but two cars. The implication being, "Any hardworking jackass can buy his wife one car. But are you man enough to take on the debt of two brand new, overly-loaded, luxury vehicles?"

And people are treating this like it's completely normal. I Googled "Don't just give a gift, grant a wish" and the articles that came up were all on how nice it is that Sears is including brown people in its commercials and going green this year by offering their catalogue online. I feel like I'm going crazy.

Don't let them do this to us, America. We've well explored the path of excess and look where it got us. The last thing we should want is to widen it into a five-lane interstate of excess. So this year, you should consider not buying things at all, and if you must, I'm sure one will suffice. And whatever you do, DON'T BUY IT FROM SEARS.

I mean...Jesus.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Great Lies

"The great lie in America is that happiness is available to anyone whose means and desires coincide."

GTD from
Put your lassie on fire of pleasement!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Heart New York City Shoe Repair Shops

I've already told you about the joys of Uriel's, but I immediately felt bad about it because I really should have told you about St. Mark's Shoe Repair first. It's in my neighborhood, it's where I go to get all my shoes repaired, and it's absolute heaven.

First of all, it's impossibly small. Even smaller then Uriel's. You can see it here, but I'm not kidding when I tell you the photo makes it look bigger. After doing some internet research, I've come to realize that St. Marks Shoe Repair is actually famous for making custom shoes - I guess Kate Moss has a pair? - but my relationship with them is strictly repair related. It first started because I had this really perfectly fantastic pair of brown leather Kenneth Cole boots that I wore every day walking miles around the city for like two years, and needless to say I was constantly wearing the soles out.

I found St. Marks Shoe Repair when I snapped the heel of my boot off one day, leaving this horrific stagger of nails sticking out of the sole. I didn't have another pair of shoes on me, of course, because I was on foot and miles away from my apartment (although I usually don't miss owning a car, there's something to be said for always having a trunk with you at times like this, and in it shoes and shirts and purses and books and a herd of loose lip glosses rolling around).

Luckily, that fateful day I was on St. Marks Place - a familiar street. I got my tongue pierced on St. Marks in 1999 when I first moved to New York (and spent a year lisping and enraging my father), and remembered that just across the from the piercing shop was a tiny little store that sold used Converse (gross), and housed a bent man working leather in the back. I hobbled over, and Boris, the nice Belarusian man who always wears a Tam and works the front, told me they could fix my boots while I waited.

As with Uriel at Uriel's, Boris is the soul of St. Marks Shoe Repair. He has a thick Eastern European accent, chain smokes in his shop with post-Giuliani abandon, and treats even my most desperate, embarrassing, neglected, swiss cheese-soled jobs with wonderful nonchalance. This? he seems to say with his shrug, squinting through the smoke at the fist-sized hole in the heel of my boot. I have repaired holes three times this size with an awl and the tendon of a rabbit in the dark of a Minsk February night with only the light of a quarter moon to see by. Of course I can repair your tame Manhattan walking boot.

"Twenty dollars for the whole thing, come back tomorrow," is all I actually get, but it's enough. I pay, he hands me a ticket. The work is always flawless.

And as if dramatic former-Soviet fantasies aren't reason enough to go, I have now been to St. Marks Shoe Repair enough times that Boris recognizes me and waves me up to the front of the line. It's a truly proud moment, to squeeze past the ass-crack leather and NYU ponytails of the browsers to Boris, who doesn't smile, doesn't chat, just takes my shoes and gives me my ticket with an easiness made sweet by repetition, by the simple act of sharing something with someone over and over.

Photos by Jefferson Siegel

Monday, November 26, 2007

Insulation is Important

We made it home safe and sound. Kenny Loggins, though, proved to be a real pain in the ass. We discovered that the heater no longer worked a half hour into the trip but, because we were sort of bundled up and still in temperate lower New York, thought it wouldn't be a problem. Besides, what with the engine running and our combined body heat, the van had to warm up eventually, right?

Actually, no.

I don't know if you've ever ridden around in a moving van whose insulation was ripped out in order to make more room in the back for queen mattresses and oversized vanities, but I don't recommend it. At least not in Massachusetts in November. About halfway there my toes started aching with cold, and by the time we arrived at my aunt and uncle's house, I couldn't feel them at all. I thought coming back to New York would be better, since we were traveling while the sun was out and heading south, but the temperature had dropped to the 30s and we kept having to stop to warm up at gas stations and depressing, rural McDonalds.

And to make matters worse, Kenny's radio stopped working about an hour into the ride back. I know. Shitty. Car radios, I've found, actually encourage conversation, because they fill the silence and take pressure off the passengers. All we had was a whistle of air coming through the dash somewhere and the rattle of a toolbox in the back, lulling us into a meditation on the passing road and the nature of cold.

Anyway, we're back home, and despite this post and the last, I'm glad we went. This Thanksgiving would've been hard wherever I was, and it was really nice to have family and a fire and did I mention the hot tub?? There was a hot tub. And nothing alleviates I'm-about-to-explode bloat like hot water under a cool moon.

Now I have to go write a ten page paper. A paper! I haven't written a paper since 2003. Back then, though, it was whole treatises on Mongolian genetic proliferation and social networking among sexual deviants. This time around, I only have to discuss Sherman Alexie's What You Pawn I Will Redeem, and I still find myself at a loss. How do you fill ten pages without making things up? Do yourself a favor and go read it, it's really good. And if you can figure out what in the world the ending's about, shoot me an email.

Enough procrastination.


Friday, November 23, 2007

I'm Going to Hate the Holidays

In our long-distance world, where families are strung out across the country or the globe, the holidays are the one time of year everyone comes together to be reminded who they're related to. So it makes sense that it can be a tough time for the grieving. The pamphlets warned me about this. I was expecting it. So why was yesterday so hard?

By all other accounts, it was a really lovely Thanksgiving. My Aunt Di cooked an absolutely beautiful meal and Uncle Buff carved the turkey, and there was the requisite stuffing and gravy and pie, and wine and cocktails and dogs and a fire, and my cousins Devon and Sienna flew in from Los Angeles, and Sienna's girlfriend Tharyn was here from Boston, and my other cousin Rhea and her girlfriend Sam came over from Easthampton, and of course J and I, and the whole thing was festive and cozy and the house smelled amazing.

But then we sat down, and it was announced that we would all say out loud what we were thankful for this year, and suddenly what had felt warm and right and completely without discomfort turned on me. I was one of the last to go, and as we worked our way around the table I wracked my brain for something to say. There had to be something, after all. Life, love, health, if not happiness. Everyone has something to be thankful. That's the point of the whole exercise.

Not me, though. I thought and thought and all I could come up with was the furious realization that I wasn't thankful at all. Not for a goddamn thing. Everything I have, everything I should be grateful for, paled in comparison to the nasty, bloated thoughts taking up my mind. I'm not thankful. I'm miserable. And no one should expect me to be anything but. My brother is dead and around me every day are brothers and siblings, their shared histories suddenly excessive, their shared intimacies suddenly garish. And the last thing I wanted to do was suck it up, be mature, and admit that I really do have it good, after all.

"I'm thankful for family," I said lamely. I felt like crying.

So I did. Not at dinner - I wasn't going for spectacle - but afterwards, down in the basement room where I'm staying, face down on the bed with a ball of my aunt's supersoft toiletpaper clenched in my hand. Rhea came to say goodbye and I gave her a snotty, swollen hug. Later, after I felt better, I washed my face and went back upstairs to eat a turkey and stuffing sandwich.

I can't wait for January. Apparently, I'm becoming one of those people who hates the holidays.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Well, We're Off

And we're late.

We're taking Kenny Loggins up to Amherst to have Thanksgiving with my Aunt Di and Uncle Buff (but you can't call him that, only people who knew him before 1970 and their offspring can call him Uncle Buff. He now goes by Blair). I am so very excited! Don't you just love Thanksgiving? As a nation, have we ever come up with a better meal?? Stuffing and gravy and pie???

Last year, J and I went up to Sylvia's in Harlem for Thanksgiving, and it was delicious and wonderful and everything, but then we woke up Friday with the sudden and horrible understanding as to why Thanksgiving should not be done at a restaurant - no leftovers!

So we're hanging around my aunt and uncle's house until at Saturday to take as much advantage of leftovers as we can, and on Friday we'll be getting together with Kyle's boss, who also happens to be in Amherst for Thanksgiving, and who spent a lot of time with my brother over the last year.

My posting may be intermittent this week, but I'm bringing my camera and will post pictures when I can.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Play For Me, I'll Cry For You

So the Bright Eyes show was absolutely amazing. And I'm not just saying that. I had been repeatedly warned that their shows tend to be not that great. Unprofessional, short, and drunken were the adjectives of choice. So I was prepared for them to suck, even at Radio City Music Hall, and I was willing to come back and report to you that my beloved Bright Eyes were a disappointment live.

But before I tell you how wrong I was, can we talk for a second about Radio City? Have you ever been there? It's massive and grand with a ridiculous amount of orange fabric everywhere. I mean, just look at this:

But what blew my mind were the acoustics. They were spectacular. I thought the thing about live music was that the quality is never as good as a studio recording, that you went because the immediacy and energy made up for it. But I was wrong. Apparently, all you need is a really great sound mixer and one of the most famous venues in America to make absolutely gorgeous live music.

And of course it helps if the band is genius. Bright Eyes really had their shit together last night. The lyrics were brilliant, the trumpet player kept making me shiver, and they covered my favorite Tom Petty song in the whole wide world. No one seemed drunk, either.

I have something to confess, though. I cried. I cried at the last Modest Mouse show, too. I haven't been crying too much these days, but there's something about the intensity of a live performance that just gets me. They're hunched and screaming up there, they're thrashing their instruments, and the way my collarbones vibrate it's like they're telling me they know. It doesn't matter if the song's about war or love or New York, when it gets to the part where the guitars are wild and the singer is pushing the last bit of air from his lungs, my eyes start to burn and I have to look up and remind myself that I'm happy.

I wonder if this will continue, if I'll always cry at live music, if it will always make me think of my brother. I don't mind if it does. It's cathartic. When I left the Bright Eyes show the air was brisk and I was spent and calm. If I felt a little sad, it was the sweet kind.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Birthday Dream

I had a birthday Saturday, which was a lot of fun, though I ended up with food poisoning on Sunday. Severe vomiting was hardly an auspicious beginning to my 26th year...but hey, there's no way 26 can be worse than 25, right?

That night, some of my girlfriends and I went to a bar, and let me tell you (if you already don't know), tipsy women will get into some bizarre conversations when there's no testosterone around. Did you know they have hair-dyeing kits specifically for the pubic region? Me neither.

And the celebration continues. Tonight, J and I are going to a Bright Eyes show at Radio City Music Hall. I haven't seen Bright Eyes live, nor have I been to Radio City, and my excitement grows by the hour.

But really, the reason I'm writing this post is to tell you about the dream I had Friday night. It was a Kyle dream, only my second since he died, and, unlike 99.9% of the dreams I have, I woke up with it absolutely clear and coherent in my mind.

Kyle and I were in my apartment, but my apartment was in some sort of New York City projects skyscraper, and out the window I could see one of those benched courtyards that drug dealers use as commercial spaces. Kyle and I were just hanging out...well, hanging out isn't the right phrase. We were more coexisiting, sharing the same space out of necessity more than choice. Just like families do.

And Kyle was being a brat. Bugging me for this and that, going through my shit, being an overall pain in the ass, just like he was in life. This struck me as funny, even in the dream. I had a sort of half awareness that he was already dead, and in the dream I couldn't help but laugh at the contrast between how reverentially we've all been treating him in death and the reality of his life, in which he was frequently a loud, obnoxious, punk-ass kid. It was reassuring, though. I'd been feeling all this guilt at having spent so much of my time squabbling with him, and the dream was a reminder that hey, just because Kyle's dead doesn't change the fact that he could be a real jerk sometimes. He was a little brother, for chrissakes, and while I certainly could have had more big-sisterly patience, he could've spent a little less time snooping through my stuff.

Anyway, at the end of the dream, Kyle leaned out the window to shout to all the people down in the courtyard, "My sister's doing a reading in ten minutes! And she has huge tits!" The crowd roared, and I looked out to see not the few dozen people that had been milling around out there, but hundreds and hundreds of cheering people in puffy coats, all with their faces turned up to me, all begging for the show to begin.

So I picked up a play (I don't know which one or who wrote it, regrettably), stripped to my waist, stood in the window, and began to monologue. I only got a few words out, though, because then the cops came and began busting heads, and I watched, bare-breasted, as a riot broke out below me.

Weird, huh?

GTD from 760***4827:
Wana get up nails dond wit me 2nite? N den chil at my casa?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Little Things

We stole our air conditioner.

A year or so ago, the people in the apartment next to ours moved out in the middle of the night and left their door ajar. We went in after a few days to make sure no one was dead, and found that they'd left some stuff, including a naked half-mannequin and a functional if knobless air conditioner.

We installed the AC in our window and it served us well most of the summer, but towards the end of August it became clear that this would be its last season. Last night, we finally took it out (and set it next to the trash can, where it will no doubt sit for weeks until we lug it downstairs).

My point, though, is that I woke up this morning to find my bedroom flooded with light. It was really amazing. Yes, our AC was ancient and large, but who knew its removal would let in 150% more sun.

It's hard to overstate how much you can feel the change. I don't know if you get this where you're from, but the streets are so narrow and the buildings so tall in New York that a little thing like putting in an AC can severely darken a room. And the worst part is, you get used to it. Sunlight is such a luxury that when faced with the possibility of a little less, you just kind of shrug and talk about buying another lamp. What with your income, you can barely afford the sunlight you have.

The same thing happens when scaffolding goes up. In New York, scaffolding goes up and stays up. For ever. I don't know why, but for some reason it doesn't seem to cost anyone anything to just leave scaffolding wherever they want for an eternity. So it's a sad morning when you step outside and the scaffolding truck is illegally parked in front of your stoop, promising to block the light for five months longer than it takes to finish the city-mandated repairs your landlord finally acknowledged.

But then, one fine day, what feels like years after you've forgotten that you live above ground, you step outside to find the scaffolding gone and it's like God lifted the roof off of the sky. The sun kisses your skin, you float down your stairs, and for weeks you pause with your key at the door and turn to smile at all that beautiful wide air above you.

It's a really wonderful feeling. It's a lot like hauling the largest AC anyone's ever seen out of one of your two windows and remembering that there's all that light to let back in.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Harder They Fall

I stopped blogging about mosquitoes because, what with Kyle and Iraq and my monthly student loan statements, the tragedy of scratching through the night sort of pales in comparison.

But that's not to say the attacks have stopped. Here we are, November 15th, and somehow a super race of cold weather mosquitoes is breeding in my apartment. We've taken out the screens and taped up every crack in the windows and still, night after night I wake up scratching. My nightstand is cluttered with sprays and lotions and anti-itch creams. The shapes of the bottles have become so familiar I can reach over and apply an ointment without even waking up all the way. Occasionally I get lucky and am able to kill one, but there's always another the next night, buzzing my ear as I drift off to sleep, taunting me to get up, turn on the light, and go to battle.

There's one mosquito in particular that's the bane of my existence. This guy is huge, much larger than the bitty ones I'm able to kill, and evolutionarily superior. He knows how to hide. I only ever get a glimpse of him before bed, and no matter how quickly I rushed to turn on the light and track the son of a bitch down, he always eludes me. I've come to see him as the Mosquito Big Boss, watching from the shadows as I swat at his foot soldiers, waiting until I'm completely unconscious before coming out to torture me. And how long a mosquito is supposed to live exactly? Because I swear this dude has been feasting on me for weeks. Weeks.

Anyway, this morning at around 6:30, J got up and sat at the end of the bed. I had no idea what he was doing - I suspected it was cat-related - and I wasn't going to waste my last half hour of sleep figuring it out. When my alarm went off, I stumbled to the bathroom with my don't-fucking-talk-to-me look on my face.

I came back a few minutes later, teeth brushed and ready to engage in human interaction, and J was still sitting on the edge of the bed. "Babe," he said. "Come here. I have something to show you that's going to make your morning."

Unless he had a suitcase full of cash or a copy of the published novel I'd unknowingly written and sold in a Fight Club trance, there was no way he was going to make my morning. I stayed up too late last night. The sky was gray and the forecast predicted rain. But oh, how I'd underestimated him.

He patted the blanket, I sat down, and then he slowly turned to point at a half-dollar-sized bloodstain on our white walls.

"Is that..."

"It is."

"Is it...him?"

"Babe, I got him."

He was got alright, with what looked like a pint of our blood bursting from his evil little belly. Rain or not, work or not, J was right. What a fantastically terrific morning. May November 15th, 2007, be forever remembered as the day J felled the beast. For in a time of great turmoil and uncertainty, it is the little victories that help us fight on another day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I'm Getting Older, Kyle Isn't

I have a birthday coming up and I'm feeling kind of weird about it (not in the usual kind of way - while I have friends in their twenties who have already started fretting about how old we're getting, I have enough to worry about right now without forcing a premature midlife crisis).

Instead, what's bothering me is the obvious reality that I will continue to have birthdays. Once a year, every year. For the rest of my life. And this is suddenly strange because this morning I realized that, while I will continue to get older, Kyle will not. He will always be 22. The three and a half years that separated us our entire lives will now grow larger and larger, so that next year I'll be four and a half years older, and then five and a half years older, six and a half after that, and on and on until someday (if I'm lucky) I'll be an old woman and my brother will be still young and smooth and straight, the only pictures of him glowing with a careless expectation that life will go on forever.

It's a weird feeling, to be free of the three-and-a-half-year chain that linked Kyle and I. It was just long enough that I got a good headstart on everything, but short enough that I always felt him a step behind me. Grade school, middle school, adolescence, high school, college. I did it all first, spent enough time there to get used to the idea so that when Kyle arrived I could affect a jaded boredom with the nuances of the lunch line, the DMV, the apartment hunt.

Not any more, though. All the firsts of adulthood - marriage and a house and a job that doesn't require me to run errands - I'll try and fail and eventually figure out on my own. But when I turn around to tell Kyle just what's what in that patronizing tone only a big sister can adopt, all I'll find is a many-year silence stretching back to this birthday, to the last time I was three and a half years older, to the time when my brother didn't know anything about life that I couldn't teach him.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Call It, Friend-O

Go here to get your very own death portrait. It's part of a Canadian No Country for Old Men ad campaign. You can't access it through the American site, which is weird, as is the feeling of willingly participating in a corporate marketing experiment. But still, it's fun.

GTD from 617***6041:
I landed. thanks for tunes and good time. luv u.

Poll Part II

A big thanks to all of you who weighed in on the Do You Realize? debate. Here are the results:

There were 4 resounding No's, ages 41, 46, 49, and 59. Since I have decided that Kyle would also be a no (if only because I am a yes), we'll add a 22 and call it 5.

There were 8 Yes's, ages 20, 22, late 20s, 33, 48, 49, 50s, and 58. And then there's me of course, at the tail end of 25, making it a total of 9.

While my sample is hardly representative, I think it's safe to say that there's a definite age bias working here. With the exception of Kyle, the No's all cleared 40. And with the exception of my roommate (41, m, and only likes psychadelic or dub music made between February and August of 1967), the No's were all women, and related to me. Draw from that what you will.

So how about this guy? He's the new Dylan, as far as I'm concerned. And Kyle didn't like him, either.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I've Been Watching a Lot of Stuff

I'm back.

Man, that was a bad one. I went to a joint birthday party Saturday night with a"Cruising-1979" theme. I'm still not quite sure what that means, except that there were big sunglasses, a few afros, and something called Dramamine Punch.

I know, I know. Never drink the punch. But I did, and paid for it all of Sunday.

The only upside was I spent my time in bed watching a dozen Heroes episodes. Have you seen it? If you've ever worn glasses or read comic books or had desperate fantasies about magical creatures and superhuman abilities, you will absolutely love this show. Love. It's nerd porn.

Anyway, did you see the Dog apology?

While normally I hate the celebrity public talk show apology for its PR-handbook, blatantly insincere, dull-eyed recitation, I have to admit Dog's kinda got to me. Sincerity has always been his strong suit, and his seventh grade education and years spent in jail go a long way towards explaining why he would use the dreaded N-word.

But still, Dog really needs to watch himself. As Jay-Z said on Charlie Rose recently, "If you suffer through the experience of being black, you earn the right to use that word." Which means I can only use it on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and every other Sunday, and Dog can't use it at all.

Last, but nowhere near least, I saw No Country for Old Men. I'm not really sure what to say about it, because my superlatives won't do it justice. I'll just say that it's my new favorite movie ever. Cormac McCarthy and the Cohen Brothers. I know, I get chills, too. Go see it while it's still on the big screen. Those hills? That brush? That's the landscape of my dreams.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I Have So Much to Tell You But...

I saw No Country for Old Men and Dog gave a tearful apology on Larry King, but I can't even begin to post right now because I am so.




Friday, November 9, 2007

I Have Another Question For You

So, as you may have read, I included a Flaming Lips song in my Wyoming is Beautiful post, because when I looked at Cindy's photograph with its big sky and little flowers and reaching, hopeful grain, I could only think of the bells and grandeur and wild happiness of Do You Realize? And I posted it sure that, even if no one else got the connection, they could love the photo and the song, because each were so obviously beautiful and easy on the senses.

But then my mom left this comment:

"i am not getting this. cindy's beautiful photo i get. but what's with that dreadful video. that wretched song. fake rabbits. bad elephant? help me out here. has it to do with the GTD?
oh. maybe hallucinogens."

And I have to say, this shocked the hell out of me. Here I thought the Flaming Lips were doing a modern day Beatles thing, what with their catchy, expansive melodies, Ringo Starr drum rolls, and love-conquers-all lyrics. I thought if any song on my iPod would play well to a Baby Boomer ear, Do You Realize? would be it.

So will you do me a favor? Listen to the song again and tell me what you think. Do you love it? Hate it? Understand it? Have I discovered one of those often discussed but rarely realized Generation Gaps, or is this just a case of my mom and I not seeing eye to eye? Please include your age (or at least your decade) in your response.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Year of the Bird

I left my apartment this morning to go to work and found a bird in my hallway. It was a pigeon and it didn't seemed to mind me too much, it just waddled away when it saw me. In fact, I think I minded it more than it minded me. This is now my fifth bird infiltration since September. Here I had gone almost twenty-six years with only one blurry childhood bird-in-the-house memory, and then within the space of two months I've had five birds of varying species come indoors. What in God's name is going on?

I had a vague memory of some symbolism or superstition attached to a bird in the house, so when I got to work, I did a Google search. Yahoo Answers had this for me. Apparently, a bird in the house means someone in your family is going to die unexpectedly within a year.

Scary, I know. I don't have that many immediate family members left to lose. And I'm the one seeing all these birds. What if it's me who's destined for a premature death? If I only have a year, how the hell am I going to get a novel written? What will my parents do with both kids gone?

Luckily, reason soon prevailed. My brother died unexpectedly, and not one bird came in to warn me beforehand. All these birds I'm seeing now must be late arrivals, sent from the far off land where these things are decided and only just making it to me with tardy warnings of my brother's death. Or maybe their presence now is an apology. "We meant to tell you," they're saying, "you want to be prepared for this sort of thing. But no one told us you have those cats and we had to go back and find a business address for you...anyway, we're here now. And we just want to say how sorry we are. Twenty-two years old. Jesus Christ."

GTD from 710***2611:
when does your hockey start?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wyoming Is Beautiful

Look at this.
My dad's photographer friend (she's my friend, too, but he found her first) Cindy Bennett took it. It reminds me of the Flaming Lips. Check Cindy out.

GTD from
(If your in your office, keep the speakers low, lol) I know you will like this. Heck you might even pass it on. LOL

What to Say at Your Brother's Funeral

I get a lot of hits from people searching for something to say at their brother's funeral. Coincidentally enough, I was faced with this exact same problem recently, though I have to admit it never occurred to me to turn to Google. Instead, I fretted and procrastinated and talked incessantly about how I had no clue what the hell I was going to say. How do you sum up someone else's life when you spent a good portion of it fighting with them? What words could possibly help your mother and your father and all your brother's friends on the worst day of their lives? How do you say goodbye to someone you never thought would leave?

The pressure was too much. I decided I wasn't going to say anything at all, then changed my mind, then changed it back. In the end, I wrote something down the morning of, partly because I knew I'd feel bad if I didn't, and partly because my mother's been telling everyone for years what a great writer I am, and what practical use is a writer in the family if you can't use her at times like this?

So yes, I've been through it, but if you've just lost a brother and came here looking for help or advice, I don't have much. You can read what I said here, and feel free to use it, but cream puffs may not resonate quite the same way with your family. Instead, say something that's going to make you feel better. Your brother is dead and your family loves you, so it doesn't matter what comes out of your mouth. Just make sure it means something to you, because later that night, when you're crying in your mother's house, it'll only matter that you got up there and said out loud what you maybe haven't said enough in life - that you love your brother, and that you'll miss him now that he's gone.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Can You Make It Up to the Dead?

My dad read my Movies Make It Better post and emailed me to let me know this truly amazing fact:

Bumpy Johnson, the much-revered Harlem gangster who mentored Frank Lucas, was my great aunt Gloria's boyfriend! I know!! I'm not sure if this was before or after her six-year stint on the arm of Sugar Ray Robinson, but one thing I am sure of is that great aunt Gloria must've been one hot cookie. Sugar Ray and Bumpy J?

You'd never guess any of this, because looking at great aunt Gloria now all you'd see is her eighty-something, church-going, sweet grandma self. You'd never guess she burned up Lenox Ave, owned her own nightclub, and draped her windows in black because she hated "for the sun to catch me up." Kyle and I met her for the first time only two Thanksgivings ago and watched in awe as she flew up and down her daughter's steep staircase like it was nothing. In our last conversation, Kyle told me about how he was going to visit her down in Atlanta later that summer, and then maybe head up to New York to stay with me a few days. Maybe go to the corner where her nightclub used to be. Take a few pictures, even though none of it would look the same anymore.

I should do that for him. The last time Kyle was in New York by himself, I never got around to taking him to CBGBs like he wanted. He didn't even see that much of Manhattan. He stayed with me in my Bronx apartment. It was summer and sweltering, and I still refused to let him share my bed in the air-conditioned bedroom. He sweated the night out on the couch, his legs hanging off, an oscillating fan set up inches from his face.

I feel really bad about that.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Movies Make It Better

I haven't blogged in days, maybe you've noticed. I feel really bad about it. And I haven't checked my stats either, because when I see you visit me and nothing new is up I feel like such a tease. I don't mean to be, it's just that I haven't had anything to say. Do you ever feel that way? Like your brain is a white room with nothing - not even you - in it?

When I speak, I feel this way all the time - like I've got nothing. I'll be talking to you and suddenly I go blank, zero, empty of everything except a low emotional chord, plucked and buzzing where my thoughts used to be. I panic then. I'm in the middle of a conversation. I have to come up with something. But I can't. Because my brain has flipped into this lower, animal mode and I'm back in a room so white it doesn't have walls or a ceiling or even a floor, just a smothering emptiness in one dimension and a guitarstrum background, one-note emoting, the long buzz of how I feel.

Am I sounding crazy? I feel like I'm sounding crazy. You'd tell me if I sounded crazy, right?

But let's move on, because we've got some ground to cover.

Dog the Bounty Hunter is a racist. I'm sure you've heard, it's been big in the news. I'm disappointed, downright embarrassed really, because I gave him such a rousing endorsement not too long ago. I never would've guessed that hiding behind all those Dreamcatchers and Aloha's and Indian warrior beading was a niggersayer. Though maybe I should have. Just like how the loudest homophobe in the locker room tends to slap the most ass, Dog's gaudy cloak of Brown Spirituality should've tipped me off.

In better brown news, American Gangster is just so awesome I can't stand it. Denzel Washington in a suit with a gun, Harlem gritty in seventies glamor, Russell Crowe rumpled and righteous - I can't think of a better way to spend two hours and forty minutes.

If you haven't seen it or the previews, American Gangster is a biopic about Frank Lucas, the badass Harlem gangster who cornered New York's heroin market during the Vietnam War by importing the stuff direct from the war zone in American soldiers' coffins. He was able to get away with everything because he was black - no one believed a nigger (as Dog would say) had the competency or balls to take on the Italians and the cops.

have been mixed, but I couldn't be a bigger fan. Biopics so easily become such a worshipful mash of details you can just feel the writer sweating as he tries to jam into a two hundred-page script the dozens of interesting themes and subplots he clipped from the six-hundred page biography that gave him the idea. American Gangster avoids this pitfall beautifully, sacrificing Lucas' fascinating young adulthood and later cop collaboration in order to give the heart of the story the room it needs.

Besides, it's a gangster flick. And, like Martin Scorsese and Sergio Leone well know, there's nothing better than a genre that explores power, loyalty, violence, and the coolest parts of wardrobe.

GTD from
Sorry guy time is actually 6:30am leaving to go if thats too early then you can meet up at chevychase at 8am with Renu

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You Are Not Where You Went to College

So I've noticed something, and perhaps you've noticed it too.

Some people hang onto the email addresses they were given by their undergraduate institutions. Five, ten, fifteen years out of college and you're still getting notes from Which is fine - who am I to dictate anyone's cyberaddress? - except in one very particular circumstance:

It is absolutely unacceptable to use your alma mater email address if you went to an Ivy League school.

I only bring this up because it's on my mind. I've recently been getting very long, self-promoting, and patronizing emails from a distant acquaintance. These emails are really insufferable, they read like the most padded of resumes, but what really puts me over the top is that this guy uses his old Ivy League email address.

Perhaps you think I'm being overly critical? I'm not. Here's why.

The only thing an Ivy League diploma says about you is that you're lucky. You're lucky to come from a privileged family, you're lucky to have gone to a good high school. You're lucky you had all those SAT tutors, you're lucky you weren't born with any learning disabilities. Expensive extra curriculars, college admissions advisers, a schedule freed by the lack of a job. Lucky lucky lucky. The fact that you got accepted at all? Lucky. And by lucky? I mean rich.

(Of course this isn't entirely true. There's the scholarship kids and the requisite brown folk plucked from the middle classes, but these are the exceptions, not the rule.)

Which is not to say you shouldn't be proud of your education. You had a good one. And when you're applying to jobs, fellowships, or grants, of course you should toot your own ivory horn. I'm not making an argument here for leaving resources unutilized. What I'm saying is that if your self worth is so wrapped up in the fancy monogrammed envelope Dartmouth sent you ten years ago that you mustmustmust continue on a daily basis to communicate with the world using a big ol' Ivy League stamp on every one of your electronic missives, you are pathetic. Get over yourself. Do something else worth bragging about, because the fact that mommy and daddy earned (or inherited) enough to bankroll you into a good school and put you up there for four years does not mean that you have achieved something in this life. It means you're lucky. So be thankful. And get a goddamned Gmail account like the rest of us.

P.S. For those readers who don't actually know me, this rant must sound like I have a pretty big chip on my shoulder. Well, I do, but not because of any dashed collegiate hopes. For four years, I was But then I graduated and when offered the chance to keep my email indefinitely, I declined. Because I could think of nothing more embarrassing than bragging about how lucky I am in every email I send for the rest of my life. I moved the fuck on, and You should, too.

Monday, October 29, 2007

If You're Under 30, You May Not Want to Read This...If You're Over 30, You Likely Don't Have To

I've got a new theory. Working title: The Cross to Bear Hypothesis. All of you out there who are older and wiser can let me know if I'm getting warm.

Basically, the theory hinges on the fact that life sucks. I know that sounds juvenile, but I mean it in more of a Buddhist "the only certainty is suffering" kind of way than in an adolescent "whatever" kind of way. Nor do I mean that because life sucks, there's no pleasure or happiness. There's pleasure and happiness in spades, it's just interspersed with (or even overlapped by) periods of colossal, unmanageable, truly heart-shattering pain.

I don't mean damn-it-I've-got-to-go-to-the-dentist pain or I'm-fighting-with-my-significant-other pain or even where-the-hell-will-I-find-rent-money-this-month pain. I mean the sort of pain that is so bad you're 100% sure there's no way you can make it. The kind of pain where you keep your cell close at hand, because you many need 911 any minute now. The kind of pain that makes you sure no one else in the entire world is hurting as much as you are, because if they were, you'd be able to hear their screams.

So my theory is that, despite our seeming uniqueness and depth of emotion and confidence that no one else could possibly have it this bad, we all are suffering. All of us. Bill Gates. Paris Hilton. George God-Help-Us Bush. Our human capacity for suffering far outweighs any stockpile of money or guns or critical accolades. Them, me, you, we are all walking around with the most unbearable load on our backs, sure that we're going to break any minute now. And if you don't believe me, if you don't have some burden that makes it hard to breathe, don't worry. You will. You'll get a horrible disease or your house will burn down or your brother will fall over and die. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Suffocating loneliness. It's just a matter of time.

I know, I know. I'm a depressed bitch. But I bring this up only to help. Because the thing I'm coming to realize, the thing that's really amazing, is not that we all have our crosses to bear. It's that we're able to bear them. The world is so much more horrible than we ever could have guessed at age 5, 15, 25, but what makes us as humans so miraculous, so capable, so strong, is that we can handle the horror. We can deal with the very thing we're terrified of. That which doesn't kill us, we can live with. I'm not sure how, except that it has to do with evolution, religion, and anti-depressants.

And hope. Our capacity for suffering may be outweighed only by our capacity to imagine what it's like not to suffer.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dead Brothers Aren't Funny

Now that Kyle is dead, I have to tell people about it. I try not to do it too often - it's a pretty big burden to drop on a casual acquaintance - but occasionally I find myself with a choice to make: I can either tell someone I don't know too well that my brother died this past summer, or I can lie.

Last week, I met with my craft teacher to discuss the lack of progress my fiction's been making these days. She asked about my "novel" - eighty directionless pages set in Cayucos, a beach town my family used to visit in the summers - and I told her that I couldn't really work on it anymore, at least not now, and that I was flailing around, looking for other subject matter.

"Short stories?"

"Well, yes, but I really still want to write a novel, see. I'm craving a longer project--"

"But you already have a novel. Why aren't you working on it?"

I looked away. Should I tell her the truth - that this novel of mine is set in a real place with a real beach and my brother and I in sweatshirts and shorts would take real dollar bills to a real candy store with huge glass jars and buy plastic bags of candy to eat while we watched old men fish off the pier? That the fact that my novel lacked a plot and a purpose was the least of its problems, because the real reason I couldn't write about Cayucos was my brother, who was dead?

I started to bullshit. "Well, it was a pretty ambitious project, a bit more than I could chew, really..." But I trailed off. I was here for help, she might as well have all the facts.

Then, before I could start over, before I could affect the tone and stance of the bereaved and softly explain that there had been an accident, I did the most inappropriate thing.

I laughed.

I laughed kind of wearily, like I was about to launch into a three-part story about how my laptop caught a nasty virus and now the tech people were having trouble retrieving my Word files.

And while laughing, I learned something: laughter is the wrong preface to a death announcement. It throws people off, sets them up for a humorous anecdote, not news of a kid dying. Laughing, you sound like you don't take the death seriously, like you're more concerned about making someone uncomfortable than the death of your loved one. It makes you sound crazy.

So I laughed, pulled myself together, and told my teacher that my brother had died. I could see her trying to figure out what I was saying, the expressions clashing on her face as she guessed how to respond.

We got everything clear, eventually. She asked what happened, how old he was, and expressed her condolences. And then she said what I was afraid she'd say: that I could never expect to find, or fix, a novel if I wasn't writing fiction every day.

I thanked her and left. I would take her advice. I would write fiction everyday. But first I would go home and write a blog about inappropriate laughter, because I'm not crazy. Or cold-hearted. I laughed because there is something inherently funny about that moment before you tell someone that your 22-year-old brother died in a train accident. Here you are, holding this really horrible information and someone asks you for it, and you know that they don't really want it, that it's awful and sad and will just make their day worse for knowing, but they're asking you and you don't want to be rude or a liar so you're going to give it to them. But before you do you laugh, because man, they have no idea what they're getting themselves into.

I don't regret telling my teacher about my brother, even if I did seem crazy. Maybe she'll look on me a little more kindly when my attention drifts in class. But, in the future, I have to remember not to laugh first. You can't laugh and then dump news like that on someone. That's why we have things like social cues and body language - information of that magnitude needs to be prefaced. Otherwise, it's too much of a shock to the system.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Long Overdue

I don't know much about computers, especially for someone my age. Luckily, Blogger makes it easy, and I've had little trouble posting text, pics, even video.

But then I got greedy.

I wanted to put sharing and bookmarking links on my posts to increase traffic, and after too many hours looking up html code and trying to convert it to something that the Blogger template could read, I gave, picked up my phone, and called Katie B.

Katie B lives across the street from me. She's my friend since the beginning, the closest thing I now have to a sibling, and, conveniently enough, has a hottie European boyfriend who is also a computer programming wonder. So I brought my crippled code across the street, dumped it in Dominique's lap, and then played Wii with Katie while he wrangled my joke html into something actually coherent.

The result? That little share/bookmark scroll down thingy at the bottom of every post. Cool, huh? It's been up for a few weeks but, like a true narcissist, I'm only now remembering to publicly acknowledge my html hero.

So thank you, Dominique!

Gone Wild

I have to start closing the windows.

I arrived at work today to find not one, but two birds flapping around the office. This is now the third bird emergency I've had to deal with (I didn't blog on the second one, as it was a brief encounter - a sparrow came and perched on the window ledge, I eyed him a warning, he disregarded it, swooped in, did a victory lap, and swooped back out again).

What is up with these things? I know, I know, my own fault for leaving the windows open, and we're on the 20th floor, which im guessing is right in their flight path, but still. These are wild animals. Why do they keep trying to come inside? What could possibly be attractive about a white-walled room filled with office equipment?

This time, I got them out pretty quickly by cornering them against a closed window and sliding it open. And let me tell you, they burst out of there like I was a serial killer with my back turned.

So, lesson (repeatedly) learned. I'll close the windows before I leave today.

Or, maybe I should fill the office with plants, hang bird feeders from the flourescent lights, and get a couple of bird baths going. I could build some nesting boxes. Set up some heat lamps. I could turn this square of air above the city into a wildlife refuge and, when my boss comes back from Germany in a couple of weeks, he'll come in to find me under my desk, hair and eyes wild, a strange discoloration to my skin and the unmistakable odor of rotting fruit, bird shit, and unwashed Miranda filling the humid jungle of our office...

GTD from 616***8776:

Hatvd a nice day

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My Own Private Hanoi

I've been blogging for almost three months now and - this is going to sound silly - one of the joys of posting daily is watching the total number of posts tick ever upwards. Uploading my tenth post was pretty exciting, as was my fiftieth, but I was really looking forward to reaching 100. 100 of anything is a lot, but 100 things written by me - all in one place, in one font, on (arguably) one theme - thrills me. So when I got to post #90, I started counting down. Nine posts left. Five posts left. post left...

And then disaster struck.

As any of you who've battled depression know, it's inescapable. It sneaks up on you with Viet Cong stealth and, by the time you realize that floppy clump of foliage is actually the camouflaged headgear of Charlie himself, it's too late, your hands are up, and you're being marched through malarial swamps to a northern prison camp, where you will stare at your jungle walls and stew in your misery, kept alive by maggot-strewn rice balls and the dim hope that your shrink will plan a prisoner extraction and somehow sneak you back to the World.

My most recent visit to the POW camp of my mind was a brief one but - like the Tet Offensive - it fell on a day that should've been full of joy and celebration: Sunday, October 21st, 2007. The day of the 100th post.

I know! Tragedy!

Instead of posting some fun little fireworks clip art and thanking those that have helped me along the way, I used my 100th post to say, "I got nothing."

And I really didn't have anything. I could think of absolutely nothing to write about. That's what depression is - having planned for weeks a 100th post celebration, only to find on the big day your face swollen, your mind blank, and your blog announcing your creative impotence to everyone you know.