Monday, September 14, 2009

Taylor Swift Boated

(10:43(2:22:27 PM) dr zachary: vmas are pretty much about politics, awards quotas
(2:22:46 PM) dr zachary: kanye’s moment was a single stark mote of
(2:22:58 PM) dr zachary: the only real instance of artistic
integrity in the thing

The only real commentary on last night's VMA debacle that matters, at all

Friday, September 11, 2009

Absentee Survivor's Guilt

It's September 11 in New York, and it's cold, rainy and disgusting outside. A man shoved me arbitrarily as he was walking down Canal street this morning, and my expensive (to my pocket) Metropolitan Museum of Art umbrella was fucked like a deboned chicken hunk in the random hurricane gust that greeted me as I crossed the street to my office.

All of these, I realize, are minor issues that can ruin someone's day but that, today, are supposed to be set aside.

On the train this morning, at work today, it's like a funeral. As though everyone is mourning the death of a mutual friend I never knew.

When September 11 2001 happened, I was in college in Atlanta, GA. I was fighting with my grandparents via phone - they were disapproving of my decision to pursue a minor in gender theory and feminist studies - and getting ready to go to a monologue class with one of the professors who had the greatest impact on me during my time at Oglethorpe, Troy Dwyer. One of my roomates, Rob, had been born and raised on Long Island. Other than my brief and unremembered time in an incubator in Albany and my yankee family that I obviously never developed ties to, he was my primary connection to New York.

I remember the fight with my grandmother, her screeching in the way she did down the line, being cut off suddenly when she told me to turn on the news and hung up.

I did. And the rest of the day, for Rob, myself and our other two dorm-mates, disappeared into history.

Watching Peter Jennings narrate the entire thing, I felt...

I felt disconnected.

And today, that disconnect is nibbling at me. Because where was I when 9/11 went down? I was at a private liberal arts school in Atlanta, having never set conscious foot in New York, trying very very hard to believe anything going on was real.

I mentioned this on Facebook earlier and a friend, author Robert Goolrick, posted the following:

"Sorry to say, Russ. You will never EVER understand what it was like -- for starters, it was the most beautiful day in history. The skies were immaculately blue forever and ever. And then.....

The day never comes that I don't think of and play Patty Griffin singing "Forgiveness," a song I first heard that night, when the smoke and the fumes from the electrical fires were stifling, and the dar was filled with the howl of fire trucks and useless ambulances on the West Side Highway. And I first met Monica Lewinsky, who lived in my building... Read More. I wish there were some way to get you to grasp it, but imagine not being able to breathe and listening to Patty -- We are swimming with the snakes at the bottom of the well. And she promised we would make it through the night, and we did. But nothing was ever the same, or will be."

And I recognize that. I also recognize that I'm ignoring discussing the politics of 9/11/01, and that's completely intentional-this isn't about the political, it's solely about the personal. A personal that never actually hit me at home.

And so I pass through today like a ghost, keeping my head down, quiet and silent for those who lost and for those who remember. Me? I'm at work, and that's what I'm doing. I've smiled today, I've laughed today, and I've cursed, too-and for everything I do, for every time I lift my eyes, I feel guilty that I'm not immobile, that I'm able to go on about my day. But also incredibly grateful. Grateful to be here, and yes, grateful to be able to smile, and laugh, and swear. Guilty that I'm not wracked with or wrecked by emotion today, guilty that I'm putting one foot in front of the other, that the uncle or cousin that everyone on the subway seemed to be mourning this morning wasn't mine, had never and will never be mine.

And so?

So I keep going. Never forget, sure, but remember that this is the gift we have: to keep going.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sorta Homecoming

I have to note that I am writing this on the flight from Atlanta back to New York. As such, this is an unexpectedly retrospective perspective on the past few days, mainly because, um, I’ve had a welcome respite from the internet out of necessity.

Arriving in Athens, GA to find a lack of internet’s not necessarily what I expected from this trip south, but honestly it’s not something that’s found me bothered, either.


The past 24 hours have found me strangely removed from what’s become, in recent years, my chosen forms of communication-email, Facebook, Twitter (I’d say Myspace but really who the fuck goes on Myspace anymore?), with even my phone refusing to hold a charge, and as such able to focus on that which is what I came back to Georgia for:

Face-to-face communication.
I mean, I have TRIED to hack the wi-fi signals available here from Zach’s apartment in Athens. I have. I have tried accessing this one account, “Rena”, with the following passwords:


(what, it’s fucking ATHENS GA. I assure you at least 65% of households with password-protected wifi have this as their password. Try it for yourself.)

But to no avail. And, at some point, when my phone won’t charge on K’s blackberry charger and there’s no internet? It’s time to live without any of it. And that? That, combined with seeing so many people I’ve missed, has made for one hell of an escape.

That said, I’m sure once I do finally figure out what the fuck is wrong with my phone, my voicemail is going to be overflowing with messages from those threatening to
a) kill me/my children/my family
b) never again send me their book/manuscript/cd/collection of hangable photographic prints of vegetables masquerading as theater patrons
c) wreck a piece of chicken for real

because I’ve been completely unable to access it since early yesterday.

The past day has been filled with a warm, weird sort of nostalgia, walking around Decatur-the city I spent so much time in fighting what felt like an uphill battle for a sense of place and purpose-and finding in it a new sense of charm and peace I had never seen before, but also being struck, really really definitively, by the fact that, sooner or later, I’d have moved north anyway, regardless of timing/job market/relationship status.

That’s a weird realization for me to make, as it was accompanied by the suddenly acknowledgment that, in a way, I’ve been blaming New York a lot, assigning it a place in my heart as a sole alternative to Decatur only realized as a result of the worst possible situation occurring, like a parent losing a child to Social Services as a result of a drug habit.

Ok, that’s actually the worst possible analogy ever, but…wait, no, I have a worse one.

When my friend, who I’ll refer to henceforth as “K” (for the fact that it’s close enough to her real name to not be a cheap veil but also far away enough so that her legal team won’t every be able to file a cease-and-desist on this blog should anything…go astray. You know what I mean. We’ve been through this before, dear readers.) and I got to La Guardia (in a cab, naturally), after having, independent of one another, incredibly difficult and pressure-filled days (inner…city….pressure), we immediately, after navigating our way through a surprisingly uneventful security check given the mad amount of electronics we were carrying, we made our way immediately to the La Guardia B Terminal bar.

For those of you who’ve never flown from La Guardia, simple fact 1: the “b” gate stands for broke-ass traveling. It’s mainly the Air Tran gate, known formerly as “Valu-Jet”, and it’s basically the cheapest way to get in the air and somewhere else and back, as long as “back” doesn’t include going through Hartsfield because that fucking hellhole is like a curse on humanity. As such, the “B” terminal bar, “New York Sports Bar”, everything that its name implies I assure you, struck me as way less desirable than what I began to imagine lay in other concourses for those travelers lucky enough to gain access to them: “Jimmy Ray’s Free Vodka Emporium”, “The Lush Lounge Bar and Vegetarian Grille”, “An Airport Bar That Doesn’t Suck and Hey Also Has Awesome and Inexpensive Drinks”. Regardless, K and I grabbed beers-a Sam Adams Light for her (wtf, those exist?) and a Corona Light for me (wtf, I drink that?). Seated at the bar directly to our right-ok, my right her left whatever-was a perfect example of the saddest form of bro-dude: that too-oft spotted Post Collegiate Broseph, decked out in the attire of his Alma Mater (based on his behavior I’m guessing it was Guna Roofie U)who was attempting to impress the girls at the bar by discussing his time playing college sports and his current job “in sales”, and by throwing out incredible pick-up lines like “do you girls like athletes?” I mean, come ON, girls, that’s a mating call on par with the Beastie Boys’ Ad Rock calling out his is ultra-nasal voice “HEEEEY LAAAADIIIIIIES”-what self-respecting woman ISN’T going to drop panty at that?

The clincher, though, the ultimate win, was when Mr Athlete BroDude (Jr.) was attempting to explain to the bar(while doing the absolutely opposite of holding court, mind you) his perspective on dating. “Women in NY only like jerks,” he said disdainfully, “so I’ve had to become a jerk.”

Right, like that’s been a difficult change, braphistopheles .

(Sorry, temporary break-pilot just announced that “thanks to a nice lil’ tail wind” we’re going to be landing in NY about 30-40 minutes early. This basically means I have to pick up the pace writing this because, let’s face it, if I don’t finish this on the plane and post it tonight it’s never going to get written. See also: my memoir. See also: my novel. See also: everything else ever.)

Continuing on with his anti-NY women rant and his attempt at explaining his shitty fucking attitude, Airport Bar Bro (III) said, and I quote here: “let me give you an analogy, ladies: fish don’t like steak.”



So, my sort-of homecoming. My Labor Day weekend excursion with K. My past few days.:

Relaxing. Exhilarating. Drunk. Happy.

Saturday was spent entirely at the Decatur Book Fest. After thinking momentarily about possibly hopping in to join the lecture by Charlaine “True Blood” Harris, the sight of the line, to get in, a couple of blocks long, shut that idea down.

As such, after seeing Zach read from Anointed to a decently-sized crowd (as he told me later he almost said: “It’s really nice to read to a group of people who haven’t already heard this.”), I took K on a walking tour of the Decatur Square-which, truth be told, has slowly gone downhill in the time since I’ve seen it. Things had been shaky with businesses coming and going since before Wordsmiths opened, but in the time since the bookstore closed it seems a few central focal points, including Saba and the Wordsmiths building itself, have emptied and remained so.

(The new Atlas Sound album, Logos, is playing in my Ipod right now. I think I’m falling in love with the sun-kissed bubbly goodness, but I worry about this album as winter approaches New York. I wonder if I’ll have the time and the mood to love it as I begin switching stuff like it out for Julian Plenti and other darker, more ominous sounds.)

The prevailing mood of the Square and of the entire book fest was one of merriment, and so, despite the tightness in my chest that arose from seeing the building that once house Wordsmiths still empty, I let myself get swept up in it. And in the alcohol. Jesus Christ. We. Fucking. Drank. A. LOT.


Twain’s Pub, a Decatur mainstay/the sight of my going away party was a major part of Saturday and Sunday, as both night friends came and went and beers (I KNOW WTF I DRANK BEER Y’ALL)came and went and I have never felt more grateful for the family I’ve assembled of my own choosing.

Sunday, after finally visiting Athens vegetarian standard The Grit for the first time ever, my friends, K and I went to the GA town of my birth-Marietta-to accomplish a few things.

One: to see the Big Chicken.

Two: to visit the trailer park I grew up in.

I keep getting my Big Chicken history twisted. For the longest time, apparently, I’ve been operating under the misapprehension that the Big Chicken itself (actually a giant landmark atop an operating Kentucky Fried Chicken “quickserve” food establishment…to, uh, put it nicely) was erected as a grotesque monument to a lynching.

Um…I was wrong. Sorry, y’all.

The trip from the Big Chicken to the trailer park I grew up in-on, as one of my friends so conveniently put it, on the “aptly-named” Powder Springs Road-was one of constant pressure on my throat. Having not been back there, having not gone to what I guess normal human beings are supposed to consider “home”, in many, many years, seeing the area remain basically unchanged, a fucked-up dreamless time capsule of unrest and apathetic lethargy-snapped me to attention and snapped my nerve endings, too.

There are pictures and they are here and that is all I have to say other than they are courtesy of K:

(The Big Chicken)

(what is now in the space of the trailer I grew up in)


So, on the flight back-an incredible, relaxed, amazing weekend, seeing the loved ones I’ve come to consider my real family again, eating far too much wonderful food and drinking far too much and exposing K to southern culture the proper way-you know, like the fact that you can’t ask a Waffle House waitress to seat you and your "party of 4"-made for an absolutely perfect trip.

But also…also…something I came to realize very, very early Saturday:

I think...I think…I know…I know now. I now know. That I would have eventually left the south anyway. There’s something about the pace, the pull the constant fucking challenge of New York that’s been racing throughout my heart and my brain since K and I left Friday evening. And I love my friends (who, as I’ve said, are my family), and I love the work I did, we did, in the city of Decatur. I love what’s still going on. But I also know that the amount I’ve fallen in love with New York can’t be competed with.

It took seeing Decatur again, in and for all that is, for that to register fully.

And so now I return, and in about half an hour K and I will touch the tarmac of La Guardia. I have work to do: I owe Collin Kelley and Karen Head book reviews and interview questions. I have a lot of emails to catch up on. I have unpacking to do, and tshirts-purchased from the Book Fest and from my beloved Little Shop of Stories, honestly the best kids book store anywhere-to wash/wear.

"I have unpacking to do." I wish that sounded poetic enough for a last line here. It doesn’t, though, does it? I had hoped that, on this flight, I'd end up with some sort of emotionally wrecking revelations from the past four days-instead, I find a happy, sleepy, tired sort of peace. Or maybe that's the onset of the worst fucking hangover I've ever had.

So hey-thanks, Decatur, for the evenings and the stumbling and the picking back up and the laughs and for being everything you are. And I will, in fact, see you again.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Homeward Bound 2: 2 Fast 2 Furious

You Can Never Go Home Again has been on my shelf forever, but I've never read it. As such, when I, like most people, quote the title, it comes with only the barest working knowledge of the story contained inside.

In a matter of hours, I'll be returning to Atlanta after making my home elsewhere for the second time in my life. The first was after I made an ill-fated relocation to Las Vegas, which saw me returning life asunder and tail between my legs.

This time, though, things are a little different-as in, this time I won't end up in a tortured relationship that finds me writing bad high school-ish poetry on the floor of an apartment that isn't mine at 4am while watching the Grey's Anatomy season finale on repeat. When my friend/former boss/in some weird ways authorclient of mine Zach Steele ended up in the Decatur Book Festival, it was pretty much a guarantee I'd be heading south for Labor Day.

Add into that the opportunity to, as a birthday present, show The South to a dear friend who has probably never been further south than, say, Philadelphia (sorry, but Florida doesn't count as "The South", not in quotes and with capital letters and sweet tea and 'y'all' and hats and gloves and fried chicken/porch swings/girls named Mary wearing dresses that blow in the breeze when screen doors slam...and shit like that. What? That's not your "The South"?), and, basically, you have a labor day weekend extravaganza. Seeing the Big Chicken. Eating a biscuit. Walking really, really slowly. What better way to celebrate the holiday that we Americans know is in honor of the time, in 1849, Christopher Columbus sailed across the pacific to bring pear trees to the Native Americans.

Shut up. I went to a public high school in Marietta.

That's the other thing, too-in Georgia, I always felt like I was very much NOT southern, but after moving to NY I'm fully aware of the eccentricities that part of the country bred into me-you know, like how I like my tea sweet and my women quiet.


About the tea.

(not kidding about the tea)

I wish I could quote Flannery O'Connor here, but I'm fighting a serious sleeping pill hangover, so forgive my lack of hyper-literary southern gothic whatthefuckever, the point is this:

I haven't stepped foot in Georgia since March 27 of this year. Things have changed for everyone. Let's see how this goes. This is, basically, "Russ Goes Home Again Take 2" or something, and it's a little emotional to me. In 2009 I saw Wordsmiths and a major relationship in my life come and go and left a bunch of friends and a handful of really good bands behind (though I'm doing my damndest to relocate the bands...what, friends come and go but Tealights are forever!), and honestly I'm not even sure the depths to which the daily fight that is being on the grind in NYC has changed me. Some, maybepossibly? Not sure. I'm not the one to judge that.

So in a few hours, we depart for the awesome wonderland of a shitshow that is flying into Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and I leave you and end this opening missive with my book list for the trip:

The Time Traveler's Wife (there's a reason behind this, and no I won't tell you if you don't already know)

The Secret History (nope, haven't read it)

Tao Lin's Shoplifting From American Apparel

a loved-up, dog-eared copy of Karen Head's Sassing

and, what I'm reading now: a gift from Unbridled Books that my lawyers have advised me not to discuss. It's so good though, y'all.

And, with that...hey, Georgia, how you doin'?