Saturday, March 31, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

I have been alone in London for two weeks and now it's Easter.

I have not been alone, I have been surrounded by people. A co-worker. A client. Some close friends. Some new friends. But largely, despite all these, because of all these, alone. I fall asleep alone and I wake up alone. I ride my bicycle around town alone. There is no hubbub, only quiet. I drift between speaking short sentences with an adopted accent, venturing to be more anonymous, and speaking long paragraphs in my normal accent, unable to hide myself.

Father forgive us for what we must do / You forgive us we'll forgive you / We'll forgive each other till we both turn blue / Then we'll whistle and go fishing in heaven.

I've been listening to John Prine nonstop.

Between movies, one in Southwark and one in Bloomsbury, I order the spaghetti bolognese. It is perhaps the safe choice. Maybe the boring choice. The American choice. They’ve sat me right next to the door where no one wants to sit but the cold air blasting in every other moment is offset in a feat of sensual mis-allocation by the delicately plonked tones from a white baby grand piano. Modern standards like “Hello” and “Memories” and “Just The Two Of Us” with impressionistic flourishes. I order the house red and settle into deciphering the conversation between two Spanish students at the next table. Apparently someone is getting married back home.

In Shepherd's Bush I celebrate the anniversary dinner of two men I do not know well and who do not celebrate their anniversary. We sit in whispish swaths of silence.

In Bath, a grand Disneyland of ancient yellow stone, an Asian girl stands directly in front of the only full length mirror in the closet-sized Italian sneaker shop, holding the purple hightop at chin level and not budging for a full minute. An exasperated queue forms, snaking past and around the center ottoman. Not once does she attempt to see how the shoe might look on her foot, inspecting seriously, searchingly, the sneaker orbiting her face.

In Clerkenwell, I watch the famous African clothing designer saunter past my table carrying the book by the famous African American cultural critic whose talk a couple hours before at the contemporary art museum I’d failed to get tickets for. The famous designer sits down at the table next to me and I ask him how the talk had gone. In this age of social media no one is surprised if you know what they’ve been up to.

A salad with mussels. A salad with ox liver. A glass of house claret. Liver is a funny food. Buttery then chalky. I order a French red which is probably more complex than the claret but I can’t tell.
Seven days in London and I match the food I order with the extravagant zeal I take in ordering it. The mussel salad has tender shoots of bamboo. The liver is buttery then turns to chalk in my mouth. I order a french red that is probably more complex than the claret but I can’t tell. Someone stops by the fashion designer’s table to say hello and proclaims “I hate contemporary art.” This reminds me that the only important art right now is community art. Neighborhood art. I order a Punt e Mes and bread pudding in caramel sauce. I can see how Gerard Depardieu got so fat.

When I think about it, I mean really think about it, I’m not sure there is any pickup line superior to “wanna dance?”

I walk through the little alley and across the street to the Italian restaurant. “Would you like to start with something? A gin and tonic or a negroni?” “Yes, a negroni will do fine.” I order radicchio salad and orchiette with turnip tops. I cannot figure out which bit is the turnip top, then I realize they are the delicious bits.

I wear my newly needed reading glasses. They are becoming a little fetish, albeit a suddenly necessary fetish, which helps in not feeling ridiculous.

The salad is delicious. Radicchio? Radicchio is delicious. Nuts! Are they almonds? Yes! Maybe. Red grapefruit. Tart! Tangy! And something else. The orchiette is very satisfying. Green, or in green sauce. It has both pan steamed and fried shavings of garlic. Both! And I think that’s asparagus and there is something spicy in there. I’m sitting at the little bar opposite the open kitchen. Well, the salad and prep bit of the kitchen. The sous chef is Italian and he becomes my friend. I ask him what wines I should order. I ask him what dessert I should get. He makes sure I get the last slice of lemon tart. At one point The Kinks “Autumn Almanac” plays on the speakers.

“That was deeply comforting,” might be the best compliment I could give that chef.

In a cafe on Leather Lane,  I wonder why one cannot italicize in an instant message. I think this may be at the core of what’s wrong in our modern, modern world. Emojis, no italics.

I ask what the kid broth is. The Spaniard behind the bar says goat soup. I also order a mayonnaise, watercress and egg sandwich and have a glass of plein gres. I am very full but do not not want to finish the sandwich. I am unsure of my motivation in not wanting to not finish the sandwich. Do I not want to be seen not finishing the sandwich? Who would care if I don’t finish the sandwich? I don’t want to ask for a bag for the rest of the sandwich. I eat the sandwich.

I don't want to leave the Saturday market. I've been sitting drinking a cappuccino for an hour watching people and they all seem so happy. Even in the rain. And I don't even like cappuccinos. But I've been alone, and sitting in a bustling Saturday market where everyone is smiling and talking and shopping in the rain makes me feel deeply surrounded. 

Small bags of crunchy chips on the train. The bag crackles antagonizingly. The chips can be heard between the teeth seats away even when the mouth is closed. Between the teeth. Then there must be a swig of soda accompanied by the fizzing air release as the top is unscrewed. And a little cough. Smacking of lips. This is a problem. The health people think chips are bad because they’re fried and have no nutritional value. Empty calories that make one hungrier; little bags of salty starvation. But they haven’t cracked it. It is the sound pollution.

There is tarragon in the mayonnaise sandwich. I think that’s why I insist on finishing it.

I order sprat. Then I ask what sprat it. “Like sardines.” Oh good. When they arrive I can’t tell whether they’re baked or lightly fried. There are five of them and they are crunchy then squishy. They come with a dollop of fresh horseradish chutney compote sorta gloop and a little pile of marinated red cabbage. I also order a cabbage salad that has crispy pig skin in it operating like small icebergs of bacon bits in a tossing sea of reedy texture. I drink edelzwicker then a white burgundy. I order the rhubarb pavlova but can’t remember what a pavlova actually is. I just remember they made it on the an episode of the “Great British Bakeoff.” The pavlova arrives as a hard ball of puffy meringue topped with delicately moist sections of tender rhubarb. The pavlova offers perfect resistance. sticking a fork in has the satisfying effect not unlike stepping into crystalline iced slush on a cold morning while walking the dog. Really.

The sprats are smoked.

The first time I can remember having white burgundy was on a presidential jet flying over Gabon sitting across from a general. The stewardess was statuesque.

I keep forgetting my reading glasses when I go out, which has just as suddenly become a new issue in my life.

I listen to podcasts about science. About intelligence and culture. Nature vs. Nurture. There is enough science behind the idea that humans are pretty set in their ways from birth. That there is a maximum amount of anything that one might do. Phil is good at math but bad at poetry. Shawna is terrible with music but has a knack for empathy. Carlos is great with word puzzles, but not that great. Basically, you’re only going to be as intelligent or capable as you’re going to be. Finite ability based on biology. Maybe, sure. In the marketplace of socio-political conversation, this kind of thinking gets packaged pretty quickly with social-engineering, eugenics and racism and for obvious reason.

The question is, does someone have a socio-biological cap on how sophisticated someone can be?

The wonder of science. The grace we are gifted by the cumulative nature of science.  Religion, belief, stops; a finite proposition. Science goes on and on and on embarrassing us in the most pleasing ways.

Pig's head pie and chicory. The smoked sprats and sorrel. More white bergundy. The joy of watching someone make that hand gesture defining the space between thumb and forefinger indicating small.

She is beautiful from the side. He is ugly straight on. But then she swivels her head. Ugly straight on! He swivels his. Handsome from the side!

It's a perfect day for a Championship tie between Millwall and Nottingham Forest in South London; dark, dank, but bright. The stadium is surrounded by barbed wire fences, graffiti on stone walls, automotive junkyards and council houses. They play Wonderwall over the PA system, which doesn't make sense till it does. They play London Calling and everyone screams the words "down by the river." Hey Jude comes on. "Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, Mihllwahllll." I'm sitting in the home fans section, way up in a corner of the tiny stadium and the home fans have a fascination with throwing fuck-off and jack-off hand signals at the away fans. They're more interested in that than watching the game. "Fuck off you cunts" is the the unofficial slogan. They sing, "no one likes us, we don't care" over and over. I imagine this to be true. They really believe it's true. And I like them because their team is winning and I feel safe. I wonder if I'd feel less safe if Millwall were losing. I would.

I'm not sure I'd like them less though.

In Somerset the fishmonger has a readymade fish pie combo but Alyssa doesn't like salmon so he subtracts, leaving white fishes; hake, haddock, cod.

At the little book store on the central table the titles are: Midlife: A Philosophical Guide, Move Fast and Break Things, Selfie: How the West Became Self-Obsessed, Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Testosterone Rex, Art-Sex-Music, On Truth, Utopia for Capitalists.  I buy The Red Tenda of Bologna, Dear Ijeawele and White Girls.

In Shoreditch I  meet a filmmaker in a cafe. The conversation turns to opinion. Did we fail, our generation? Have we not done enough? After 9/11 did we not react enough? To what end should we have reacted? A belief that there are mistakes. Big, overarching mistakes that ought to have been understood in the moment. The belief in deep shame and reparations. The trust that it could have been other. And she wants to tell stories. I think being a good storyteller can be almost heroic. But inside I think I don’t want to tell stories, I want to document poems. This seems really, super unheroic. She asks me what I think. I don’t know, I say, what I think. Opinion seems to be the combustible fuel of an out of control fire and I can’t quite triangulate where I am on that map, the little blue dot that is me constantly moving around, orienting one way then another, blown by a wind to which I cannot properly tack. She says Roland Barthes said something like that. But I can't remember what she said he said.

In Islington there is a shop dedicated to magazines and it is a little overwhelming, all these gorgeous magazines. Words and pictures and beautiful colors. How can people keep coming up with ways to use words? How many strings of words do we need to keep printing? I chicken out and pluck a Surfer's Journal from the back-issue bin.

The biggest difference between being alone and not being alone is the passage of time. It is not determined in which state the passage of time is more and less arbitrary.

At the open air market I buy broccoli, strawberries, a cluster of fresh spices, some green kale-looking stuff, bananas, little tomatoes on the vine, brown and white mushrooms and a big round loaf of sourdough-ish bread that looks like a large bagel.

I wonder if my own life has jumped the shark.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

The day before the day before I surf the nice waves I wished I'd surfed better, I bump into the young, talented surfer on a Brooklyn street corner. We stop to talk because I like talking and he likes talking. We talk because we both want to feel comfortable. There is a whole population of people who feel more comfortable when no one is talking. The larger geographical clusterings of this demographic aren't found in New York. In New York people build safe space through talking, grumbling, quipping. Little conversational bridges to brand new communities built in elevators and at grocery stands, but not in lines. Lines are spaces of competition. Even within the unbending hierarchy of the line, there is suspicion. That person in front of you is winning, the person behind, losing. Everyone your nemesis. But in an elevator, or at the grocery stand at the Farmer's Market, we are together.

Or on a street corner. I bump into the young surfer outside the surfshop where he works and I'm surprised he hasn't called in sick as the waves are good, and isn't that what young surfers do when the waves are good? Call in to work sick? And the owner of the surfshop, older, wiser, shakes his head and remembers when he used to call in sick and doesn't hold it against his younger surfing employee. At least this is the little movie-flip book portrayal projected in my brain as I vocalize the far simpler query as to why he's not out there this moment. And it prompts a long winded, community bridge building monologue that culminates with its own subtle accusation. Because in the set of New York Conversational Bridge Builders we are chatting within the smaller bubble of New York Surfer Conversational Bridge Builders, and in this niche subset there are always accusations. His, the equally coded, "but you didn't grow up surfing did you?"

And he's right. It was around 1986 when the twinkle of surfing showed up as a distant constellation. It was that year that I swapped skis for a snowboard for the first time and a little later that I started sneaking peeks at surf magazines. And while it would have been even earlier that I tried skurfing, being pulled on a surfboard behind a motorboat, it wasn't until 1993 that my career in failing at actual surfing would start in earnest.

In this way I think I've been surreptitiously building a bridge myself over a number of years. A bridge to a community of non-surfers, would-be surfers, wanna-be surfers, and the most interesting of all, apostate surfers. Basically, a bridge that would allow me to shirk my duties. A sacrilege.

It is while waiting for an order of Welsh rarebit and bone marrow salad and nursing a small glass of red wine that I remember that almost quaint exclamation of disgust and anger, "who do you think you are?" bellowed in the old movies and paired with "say, what's the big idea" or sometimes bookended by "hey, waitaminute" and "anyway," and followed by a tacit exclamation point-question mark combo. This is an hour before I order my third glass of wine to pair with a brandy and honey parfait which comes as an unexpected white brick. Up to that moment I'd wondered how they'd layer honey and brandy in a fountain soda glass, having apparently spent too much time at Dairy Queen.

It is here that I witness an iteration of one of life's wonderful scenes: someone navigating away from a bar in a crowded room carrying far more drinks than advisable to friends in a distant corner. In this case the man, smaller than average and with smaller hands to match, just, I mean just, having a handle on four very full pint glasses. He jostles beautifully and I finish my night with a Punt e Mes, craving a cigarette.

And it is here that I type the phrase, "I'll bet you a million dollars" into my phone and Google Translate, translating it into sixteen different languages: Te apuesto un millón de dólares. Ես ձեզ գրկում մի միլիոն դոլար. Fogadok egy millió dollárt. ฉันจะเดิมพันคุณล้านเหรียญ. Geallfaidh mé milliún milliún dol duit. Je te parie un million de dollars. Ставлю вам миллион долларов. Bibigyan kita ng isang milyong dolyar. 我会赌你一百万美元. Ndiza kukubethelela iidola ezigidi. Ich wette, du bist eine Million Dollar. אני מוכן להתערב איתך על מיליון דולר Waxaan kuu sheegi doonaa hal milyan oo doolar.  سأراهنك بمليون دولار Ka tuku ahau ki a koe i te miriona tara. நான் உங்களுக்கு ஒரு மில்லியன் டாலர்களைப் பெறுவேன் and Mi vetos al vi milionon da dolaroj. This does not take into account currency exchange rates.

Later, when I get back to my apartment, I look up the Italian "scommetto un milione di lire," substituting lira for dollar, assuming the currency no longer exists and feeling the thrill of defiance. However, upon further research I find that lire, while officially no longer in circulation, may still be redeemable to euros as the ultimate date of exchange is considered unlawful by Italian Constitutional Court, the deadline, having been shifted from February 29th of 2012 (an extraordinary date as it was a leap year) to December 6th in 2011, somehow untoward.

When building a bridge to any community, there are tolls.

The toll of getting older is often the need for reading glasses and the universal desire to hear the words, "wow, you make those $10 drug store reading glasses look sexier than any $10 pair of drug store reading glasses I've ever seen!"

Today's Thought

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Friday, March 9, 2018


"Super stoked to invite y'all to join us at Pilgrim Surf + Supply in Williamsburg on Thursday March 29th to celebrate the launch of Ice Cream Headaches. The event will be heaps of fun, supported by The Brooklyn Brewery and ZIOBAFFA wines!"

Monday, March 5, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

My wrist hurts.

It was the kind of day that does riding a softtop no favors. This has not been my experience, in general. There are few days like that in my world. Even the bigger hurricane swells are often from angles that fill in the break with raking energy rather than surgically placing walled up lines. But this swell, the product of a Nor'easter, put waves right where it wanted them. This I found out too late.

I accidentally paddled right into the first one I saw, finding myself in the customary spot straight off the jetty where one tends to paddle a little too far outside to sort bearings and let everyone know one's initially compliant intentions, letting a set roll under, giving due respect to the ones who've been in the water a while. But a set showed up slightly outside almost instantly and already being out there, I paddled.

The accompanying stiff North wind treated most boards like sails, their only salvation a delicate dance between a surfer's weight distribution and the purchase of the board's rail. A nine foot, mush-sided sofftop doesn't have that extra bit of functionality, and on a day when the waves suddenly lurch into perfect place one's intuitive focus on corporal distribution leans naturally to the task of building enough cannonballish speed to accommodate the sudden line change after the drop. This leaves one exposed, to say the least, thinking about the wrong thing. I fell as soon as the forceful gust guided me unknowingly up the face.

I wasn't paying attention.

I waited around a set or two, watching other surfers on more appropriate boards drop appropriately late, rubbing my chin. Timing my meander out past the lineup at the right moment, sliding in early on a bomb, standing sooner than preferable, hunkering down on just the right side of the huffing thrusters and single fins, jackknifing my left arm into the face to yank myself back on course and leaving my hand there to slow it all down.

It must have looked good. It got a few hoots. When the wall sped up for the very best and last bit before closing out, the viscous plastic bottom of the softtop, unhindered by any delineating boarder, spun out, spinning me up and over and providing my audience, I suspect, with what must have looked like something less than dignified.

Lesson two learned, I thought. This Nor'easter isn't the normal rabble. The next golden opportunity, and my confidence, bid goodbye not too long after.

Surfing isn't really like anything else. And I don't mean the hippy dippy, energy-riding, pure cool-factorness of it all. People love golfing together; if you show up on a Sunday to play soccer at the park, there is a general gratitude for the extra body; tennis requires another player; a game of pickup basketball is more fun with more teams waiting, ratcheting up the pressure to stay on the court. Skiing and snowboarding need be nothing other than a blissfully solo experience among crowds. But unless you're at a desert point with a small group of friends, no one ever really wants you in the water with them. In the urban confines of the pastime, it is simply a competitive game of respect; one's wave riding bona fides being the only ticket to fun.

This is an hourly, daily, monthly neurosis; a lifetime of struggle.

And I was there, at the perfect place at the perfect moment. I didn't realize it as I scratched over the first cleanup. I sensed it briefly, calamitously, as the second feathered in front of me, and past me, right at the moment I didn't swing my board around. I spun my head dramatically, hoping to make it look like I assumed someone was in a better position inside me. There was not.

And I had blown it.

For the remaining hour or so I'd paddle half-heartedly around, trawling for a phantom peak, catching a couple of walls. A so-so left, a speedy right, another left cut short by someone paddling out. I let the rip push me past the next jetty and nodded to a couple familiar faces.

An unfamiliar one asked me why I was riding a sofftop and I mumbled something about the excitement of a toboggan ride. He laughed, inadvertently gifting me a fairy-like ephemeral shimmering of the self-respect I'd lost.

And I caught one in, a bit too far inside to really be a countable wave.