Wednesday, June 22, 2022

A second morning. In a row. This is some sort of New York May surf record for me. I took out the ten footer again. More or less the same wave hospitality out there for the big lunk, especially as I was goofing around doing prat falls on the rights. Long Beach is not for rights. Next time I'll try to get more serious and bob with the rest waiting for the lefts that actually work. And yes it's that Thome Browne board. And I was lucky enough to run into The Glider this morning. One of the reasons I love the surf scene in NY is the still small-town feel. Things can get twitchy, but it can't stay that way for long, you rub elbows again and again. Reason enough to stay and sort it out. Anyhow, check out this blog and spy the thoughtful photography: Salt Stained Eyes Two funny moments in 24 hours. Yesterday putting the board on the jalopy, this fellow swings over to the wrong lane, parks the wrong way, hops out and starts grilling me about the surf. Apparently from the south. Nice guy though, and the proud owner of his own surf scene. I hope to see him in the water soon. As soon as he overcomes his fear of wetsuits, that is. Check it and enter to win a board. This morning, putting the board on the mobile, two ne'er do wells walking home from a late night. Very hooligan, very low slung pants. One pipes up with the classic "You going surfing?" query. Um, yeah. But you don't be flip with a tuff, so I answer politely. Both of them get these big, wide smiles and get all youngster giddy. Hilarious. Even gave me the thumbs up. Walked away shaking their heads. I love New York.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

This Week In Not Surfing

“Here’s the thing with that guy
He’s insanely into history of surf skate
And he happens to be really good
So that comes off as Asshole
But he’s just protective of our culture even to other surfers and skaters”

When I was in junior high- the worst time for a nerd like me- the jocks were the skaters. The bullies wore surf t-shirts and had cool haircuts; they weren’t football players or preppies. They were perfecting kick flips in the parking lot and ganging up on the rest of us during lunch. Mine was a Bizarro universe, apparently. Everywhere else they were the outcasts who would become the winners of the future. In my town they were beating me up for being a four-eyes. 

The flight attendant announces a severe peanut allergy on board in the forward compartment. Unfortunately, to allay any possible complication, there will be no peanuts served as an in-flight snacks. By way of compensation for this severe inconvenience, passengers are invited to request as many of the other snacks on offer as they wish. Luckily we packed tamales.

My wife’s grandmother, a truly diminutive Mexican American with a proud, beaked nose, piercing, shiny eyes and white, white hair, always has something to observe of her granddaughters upon greeting. Usually it is a comment on dimension. Things like "oh my, you feel sturdy.”

My brother-in-law works at the Wave Ranch. We don’t talk about it that often- there isn’t much to say really- but a month ago something happened that became the center of our conversation during the holiday. Turning up as usual to provide his onsite services, he finds Gerry Lopez there among the small crowd of fake-barrel hunters. And, as it happens, by midday all the other participants either beg off or tweak a back, leaving my brother-in-law three afternoon hours trading waves with one of history’s most iconic and enigmatic surfers. The excitement we share as he recounts the experience catches some glancing sarcasm from my wife’s sister, his wife, a mistake met with the full force of our hagiophilia. “He walked on water!” “Turned water to wine!” “Raised that one dude from the dead!” All true, metaphorically or otherwise.

The return from California takes us over the beaches of Long Island. The water is very calm but I can make out some raking white-wash. There are a dozen tankers anchored offshore, waiting for something, someone. Where the ocean passes over the underwater ridge, I see on one side an olive and on the other, a certain kind of grape.

I’ve never easily connected with the concern for certain sorts of cultural protectionism. If it’s yours, it’s yours. And humans created all the languages in the world to borrow, steal and communicate. But loners are picked off. And if you’re not a picked-off loner, you’re fooling yourself.

May the byways of your brain always be paved with a curious agnosticism.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

Pattern recognition and the testing of hypothesis - this happens after it does that- (like predicting the weather) and voila: self awareness, popping out of consciousness and misconstrued as identity.

And this surfing you’re doing is just the same, subject to an added tyranny of physical achievement. Like watching surf videos on Instagram and whispering into your scalp, “I know what that feels like.” Or someone interrupting your leg lifts at the gym to show you a screen full of forecasts of greens and blues; the very person he’s showing it to no more than a jangle of biological apps with a microphone, camera and speaker attached. But the recognition is appreciated and you might as well be vain while you can.

In Paris I stand next to the ruggedly handsome steadycam operator leaning against the wall. I know a few ruggedly handsome steadycam operators. They seem to come consistently in that varietal, steadycam operators being often the coolest cats on set, lounging until takeoff; disinterested until the action starts. And frankly he already looks spent, his eyes glazed over the same way they arrived. I’ve worked with him once before, shooting soccer players. This is an altogether different sort of shoot, but a slack exhaustion wafts around his square jaw just the same. Those few years ago he mentioned a surf trip so I dug for an in. And indeed his vacant eyes unglue, jogging into life, blinking, just waking up, misunderstanding my angle, my language, then recognition flickering. And for a moment I have him. He mentions Costa Rica, then Nicaragua. I tell him I technically own land down there and he sits up straighter, actually looking at me. “Technically,” I say, “I actually haven’t been there in years.” And the assistant director calls us back to set, receding the depths. After the champagne shot we shake hands simply and he looks at me, nodding, already somewhere else.

And years ago visiting a friend in New Jersey not long after his mother died, before having his own children, on the train platform, before our return to the city, he told me one thing he’d learned from his mother’s passing: Organize your photos. It’s too much to ask your survivors to parse through boxes of negatives.

And one aphorism might be: “It is not the body we desire, but its proximity.”

And one, two or three might be:

He peers at them through his long-concocted crooked smile making sure everyone gets a hello and a hand, dutifully, equally sure the ends of his eyes crinkle so it feels like a private invitation into this, his little fiefdom, impishly housed in a recklessly untucked dress shirt, resolutely unfastened and allowing the louche to have its way in the form of an inward bend from chest to belly wrapped in a working-class undershirt stuffed into his wool suit trousers. Really, he was glad enough that everyone had shown for another Sunday lunch- his second wife having produced a truly marvelous one, complete with a scribbled name cars at each seat and wonderfully prepared Jerusalem artichokes- and even more happy to disappear mysteriously for a few minutes now and again. Allowing his guests to have their say (even prodding their confidence with one of his trademark sidelong winks) his only job. And god only knows what he’d dream about later in the night.

It is, one has to admit, the easiest thing to do and sometimes the only way to get away, so there’s no morality hanging around when she lights up and drags a little shallow drag through the filter. Besides, they’re American Spirit Blacks, and she did spend all morning doing as told, wanting to smile and nod to make everyone feel better, but acknowledging the expectation to stay in character, aloof as defined by people paid less but with more power. Anyhow, they all seemed to have switched to the electric type at least a year ago and she still isn’t quite ready for that.

The light is low, even at midday, so what warmth of the sun skips beats on her skin during the train ride back. She'd somehow scored a window seat returning from the farm owned by the posh boyfriend who’d got her the sort of pregnant that wouldn’t last the same way it hadn’t been expected. And she decides to tell the man in the seat next to her the story she hadn’t even yet told her mother. First though, she needs to ask him his age, abruptly, and it feels a little funny. But she wants to know. And he doesn't seem to mind either confession, his or hers. Almost maybe in a disappointing way. She doesn't want more, but certainly not less. She just doesn't want to be dismissed. And she doesn't feel that way, not for the moment, well not at least until later when she’d pointed out that his tube station was at the other end of the platform and he’d forgotten to use her name when saying goodbye.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

When in a pinch, walk into a bookstore and read a single line at the beginning of a chapter. Or the first line of the book itself. Let it take you wherever you need to go.

Geoff Dyer

It had been a bad morning. He’d woken far too early, the demons of summer swirling around his sleeping head at last pricking him awake, each with a little ball-ping hammer working feverishly in one gaunt little hand, tiny rusted nails held unsteadily in the other. How many times had they banged their thumbs? Over and over in a contagious clumsiness. But finally (finally!) one connected, then the rest caught the knack. All at once a sclerotic choreography. Like Wagner’s Bugs Bunny anvils. And he was awake. Not groggy. Frustrated. It was like that through breakfast, which one child refused eat. It was like that as he packed the kid’s clothes. The food for the weekend. The station wagon. Throughout he barked and growled with sudden bursts of aggression which almost frightened his sons. Once in the car, for a moment, he relaxed. Then the traffic set in. They knew how to weather this passing storm. Even at this young age, they’d seen it enough already to discern the pattern, coming out the other end like post traumatic zombies. The older boy lay down and fell asleep. The other set about building a wooden train set. He looked sidelong at his dog, rolled a cigarette, made tuna fish sandwiches and poured himself a glass of rum and ginger ale. The house was muggy, the sheets sticky with dormant sea air. The deer had eaten the buds off six of his sunflowers but the wind was keeping the mosquitoes away. For now. He remarked to the dog how busy the ants had been, their mounds of sandy dirt popping up in patterns around the yard. Ants are ok, he thought. Ants are our friends, he thought. A Beach Boys song came on the radio. Some Beach Boys songs are nice, he thought. Others are depressing, he thought. He counted three widow-makers protruding from the trees. Make that five. Somewhere there was a cricket. In the afternoon as if it were dusk. He thought he ought to go to the beach. But this boredom was too decent after that god-awful morning. Those goddamn demons. And there was that terrible book everyone was quoting about the importance of sleep.

Abdellah Taïa

He almost died three times. Once when he was very young and had pneumonia on Christmas Day. Once when he was climbing and fell a few dozen feet off a cliff in early Spring. Once when he was drunk and hit by a car after he'd blazed through a stop sign on a bicycle. In each case his body, his supple, odd, scoliotic body, saved him. It accepted his fate before he did, the mind absently guided in its blithe patience while his body made itself rubber. Maybe he almost died more times. Certainly. But he wouldn't dwell on those. That would be useless. Except he thinks when he squints he can just make out some near death moments while surfing. But that's probably wishful thinking.

Jenny Boully

The sacred places in his life number in the few. That one church off the Via Dolorosa where he accidentally sang too long. The dock at the end of Debbie Brooks’ father’s property where he'd traded mental places with a dog. The stairs outside the dorm on the hillside in Santa Barbara where he emerged to a coyote’s intent stare on his 20th birthday. Miramar, San Onofre, Smith Point.

Jamey Johnson

When did he start accepting country music? At what point did the twangy sound of a slide guitar and a warbly voice, unexpectedly rolled across on the radio dial, become an automatic moment of curiosity? It took some time. His youthful disgust being turned by the eventual arrival of Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. He remembered hating the Jayhawks when they opened for the Black Crowes. He remembered loving them on some mix tape with Uncle Tupelo, Sun Volt and Wilco songs a few years later. Lyle Lovett married then divorced Julia Roberts. That Johnny Cash movie. One of those songs off Loggins & Messina’s Greatest Hits. The Allman Brothers. Old & In The Way. Junior Brown’s Lovely Hula Hands. The picking simplicity, tinkling tales of woe, a salve to the bombasticism of popular forms. We’re Not the Jest Set. There are a thousand roads leading to a fact that isn’t a fact at all. His mind turned, reflexively, to another topic.

Donald Hall

When he was nine or ten his family spent the summer in Europe. They were chased by Italian hooligans in Rome and by a large white guard dog on a closed beach in Fregenae. His father’s purposefully mispronunciation of the word “backgammon” at Versailles became family lore. He went crabbing along the Norwegian fjords at four in the morning in a wooden dink. He also found a tic on his nutsack in a Norwegian bathroom. He never told anyone about the tic.

Alexander Chee

His wife’s mother buried their chihuahua under the rose bush in Southern California.

Ryszard Kapuściński

It was just possible the wind would change and the tide might help. There was certainly swell in the water. Just enough he hoped. The van was already packed- his friend kept it stocked at all times- and they loaded the children in. He could feel the tell-tale signs of the impending paddle course through his veins, anticipation carried like oxygen. He would later, accurately, describe the waves as “goopy.” They would suffice in reminding him that his brain had so often derailed his body when things weren't on the line. He would wonder on the car ride back, between answering inane questions about the relative sizes of suspension bridges, just how thoroughly his intellect had subverted his passion over the years. The body willing, the mind a stronger will.

Brian Blanchfield

It was an exceptionally snowy winter in Brooklyn. They would stay up into the wee hours playing canasta every night. A lifetime ago and life hadn’t ended yet. One particular blizzard and they tumbled out into the drifts, wearing just enough to avoid pneumonia. They played a ukulele through the empty, padded streets- the neighborhood hadn’t filled up with hopefuls yet- scaring the odd passerby with boozy Hawaiian chords.

Kazuo Ishiguro

The waves spilled over the sandbar, a repetitive harbinger of a good day. He rode and rode and rode. Jumped and launched and fell. Laughed and smiled. He wondered that ever he let himself get away from this. He wondered, even as he dried off, how he would let himself get away from it again. Tomorrow. So he attempted to archive each and every ride from the day to reflect upon later in the wee hours of his sleepless night. Counting waves like sheep, relishing each painful knee band, arthritic hand glide and tight back arch in the attempt to lull his jittery body back to calm.

Joan Didion

He has always professed a deep acceptance with death as a conceptual destiny. In truth he had little idea whether this was true.

“Good morning sunrise, guess I’ll call it a day.”

Sunday, July 22, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

The wages of sin is death. And I've been swimming. That line repeated throughout my youth in the most inconspicuous ways. Romans 6:23. The grammar never quite sat snug in my ear, which is probably why it's sat so long. And I've been swimming. I haven't touched the wet side of a surfboard in a couple months, an effect conjuring both horror and hope. If I can torture myself this long every time, I reckon I can do just about anything. Like Hannah Gadsby, during culture's most recent beatification, "white men are the canary in the coal mine, if they aren't doing well, what chance do the rest of us have?"

Interestingly, on the occasion (if we can just eek to it) of some great reckoning of white male perpetration, the observed academic takeaway will be incredibly interesting; the desired effect of a paradigm shifting wide-spread cultural accreditation and acceptance of shame being truly the solitary instance of that particular emotion being so fulsomely adopted by the sexual predator rather than his victim.

Amidst the petulance, both real and imagined, no doubt there will be humans with answers of all sorts.

And there is the old double cliché that New Yorkers are rude married to its equal, the retort that New Yorkers are honest. The conventional wisdom being that New Yorkers will punch you in the conversational face while Angelinos will stab you in the relational back and Midwesterners will offer you another slice of pie, or sausage or whatever makes you feel most awkwardly welcome. It is true that the threat of confrontation is a palpable constant the moment you step into the Five Boroughs. It is often a defensively aggressive habit that has traditionally approached and departed with refreshing alacrity. And being perceived as the the soul of the New York character, a kind of brand commodity sold via countless movie characters to the world. Subsequently misconstrued as actionable anger, the endemic crankiness is traditionally a far more bite-less bark. But the lore is being shilled back to us now, with an extra bit of unnecessary cause & effect borne of a Wild West misconstrual that demands instant comeuppance. This foreign attribution a perfidy to the meaningful ineffectuality of the original.

And I'll admit that when someone prefaces their authoritative statement with "'s what I like to call," or " I like to say," my hackles go instantly to their most erect. If you insist on me being more than I am, I'll insist on being given an instruction manual written in my own language.

And here on Long Island:

A chain of nine teenagers stand in line along the shorepound, arms linked as in a game of Red Rover. Their screams of glee at the inevitable wallop like the joy of a tickled toddler. 

The wetsuits hang about the two boys like wet sheets on a clothesline. Their boards, one a yellowing potato chip, the other an aging buoy single fin. They ride them prone, tipsy. But they feel like surfers. Like real surfers.

When the sea is happy, its most happy, it turns a color of silvery green and plays with itself. I'm fortunate to have seen humans in the approximate state.

"The beach is just something you cross to get to the surf." I used to repeat this until it subsumed a whole portion of available synapses like a Transcendental Meditation mantra. It is no longer a relevant totem.

I love the beach.

Monday, May 28, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

It is the afternoon of Memorial Day, Monday the 28th of May, 2018. I am in my backyard, sitting across from my eleven year old son who is furiously writing a letter to his grandmother, rushing through it, trying to get it done as fast as he can with the requisite attention to penmanship that might keep him from a second draft. I’m not sure what he thinks he’ll do when he’s done. He’s used up his video game quota for the weekend. I'm thinking of all the grandfathers in my family who fought on behalf of whatever they thought was this country, the very first being sent to the brig for snoozing at his post by Colonel George Washington. The mirror that is the past may be dusty, but isn't so warped I suppose.

My friends send me a direct message over Instagram. They’ve just emerged from a knee high paddle out in Long Beach. I have been riding my bicycle all afternoon looking for this eleven year old in front of me who had promised he’d be back “in a couple hours” and disappeared for well over a few, apparently having made his way to watching some drunken middle aged jocks play softball at the park via a video game arcade while eating a turkey sandwich. True story, I guess. At some point I am sent to find him, making three full circuits of Northwest Brooklyn on my bicycle, stopping to speak to five different friends bumped into along the way. An all points bulletin then arranged and useless as he makes it home, unobserved and unscathed even before I do.

I do not surf.

The underground stage at Berlin is packed with the post-middleaged. This is just a few days ago. I am here to see a friend of a friend play the last night of a residency. It can be slightly amazing, then galling, to think of whom one can say is a friend of a friend in New York City. It is a tiny town filled with incredible people, especially the ones of a slightly more generous vintage, who’ve been around and been around a bit longer than you. I am lucky enough to be of a generation twice removed, but not three. Three is a bit too far gone, see. Twice still offers opportunity. Thus the gall. I simply don’t deserve it. The friend, sure I’ll call him friend, he gave me a big friendly hug before the show, plays a whole set dedicated to Lou Reed. Halfway through, the band leads a singalong of “All The Young Dudes.” I belt out the chorus with all my elders, only knowing the first few words, but making the requisite noises necessary to a filling the space with the appropriate gusto. I just don't quite recall it's boogaloo dudes.

I sit across the table from one of my business partners. Also a few days ago. The day after the singalong. We are discussing somethingerother. For no apparent reason, none that I can discern now, a few days later, I launch into a full blown memory of a good time in my life. No wait it’s not true. Now that I think about it, there is a great reason. The kids in the office want a hanging papasan chair in a corner near the kitchen and we, the older executive set, think that not for the first time they’re on to something. This initiates a sudden dragging the mental lake and I am transported back, back to the time when I was around the child the age of my sons, my family living on Hood Canal, in salt-water fronted idyll. I would meander down the shore at low tide looking for a stolen moment in some distant neighbor’s hanging papasan chair. Everyone seems to have one but us, and their sliding doors are always unlocked. I can just sneak in and swing, drifting slowly around, looking at the placid water. This would all be unremarkable save the realization that a cornerstone memory of unadulterated childhood happiness has heretofore survived unremarked. It is an odd thing to stumble upon them thus.

I do surf earlier in the week. A couple days before the singalong. Little fun waves that leave my left knee feeling like jello.

There are a few things in my life I feel I could have been alternatively good at, besides the me that's good at the things at which I've become good. For a while in high school I wrestled, like my father before me. I was good at it instantly and I remain so. I also have this nagging suspicion I could have been a wonderful modern dancer. I also believe that had I spent just a few more years living alongside the right handed point breaks of Central Coast California, I could have been a really fine surfer.

Things to not think about. That's all.

Monday, May 14, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

I land in Los Angeles and head straight inland to Korea Town. For the next four days I will not see the ocean. I will not even call my local surfy friends as I usually do, looking for a little paddle out friendship. One of my co-workers will offer me one of her boyfriend’s boards for a morning quickie in Venice Beach but I will not have the time. I will instead settle for dawn shuffles up the street to the Korean baths to spend the otherwise surfable hours sweating and naked amongst geriatric Korean men, feeling conspicuously hairy.

Poolside, at the hotel, I will see children playing with their parents. In particular one elderly toddler laying atop his mother, playing at her face gently with his little pudgy hands, squeezing her cheek and thumbing her bottom lip. This will remind me of those pesky lion cubs pawing at their regal father before he swats them away in National Geographic films. I will miss my children at this point. 

I will think about the ways to place an apple box. Among them Los Angeles, dead flat, Chicago, on the side, and New York, on end. People from Chicago might try to convince me otherwise.

Amid the stucco and the peeling paint and the derelict signage and the barbed wires around the mechanic shops and the stubborn flora and the dirty feet of homeless men and the gas stations and the curious placement of phenomenal restaurants there will be gems of streetside art, architecture and history, peaking out, snuggled happily between the repetition of stop lights, hidden with self-conscious regard among the parking spots.

I will finish my job and on the fifth day I will head south to visit my in-laws, including my 97 year old grandmother-in-law with whom I will stay up late one night, drinking gin and trading stories.

I will meet a friend at the big mall in La Jolla where he is buying a blue suit reminiscent of Cary Grant’s in “North By Northwest.” I will recall Cary Grant's penchant for wearing light blue socks. My brother was fond of pointing out that he ascended and descended staircases as if they were an escalator, a conversational anchor I would dishonesty adopt as my own observation. The blue sock thing is all mine though.

We will surf Sunset Cliffs where the wind pressing against the north coast is cut by orientation and kelp beds and where the big shelf of reef will be a tactile pleasure while ambling out.

Bird Shit Rock. I’ll notice my friend has gotten very adept at surfing, having put in the time in real pursuit of the craft since the last time we surfed together. He is a biologist and a sailor and a free diver, having at some point collected bugs off the local floor and having been nabbed for it in a classic mix-up. He will tell me stories about recently dismembering rabbits on a bow-hunting trip. Not tall, and handsomely barrel chested, he is conspicuously attentive in giving driving directions from the passenger seat, a tic that would be an eye-rolling offense if proffered by any less a traffic tactician.

Miraculously, we will surf an in-between boil all to ourselves, my softtop lacking both wax and leash and my winter atrophy having reached a personal zenith of epidemic proportion, my legs a gentle mush of fleeting ingrown hairs and stubbornly swollen joints. But I will manage a few rides and even a full two footed, pin-legged body leaning turn on my last wave, a miracle itself.

Wrapping our wetsuits in towels, I will tell my friend about being included in a coffee table book about New York surfers. He will erupt in a snorting laugh, “How’d you pull that off?”
“I dunno, I guess they needed someone in there who doesn’t surf.”
“Yeah, that makes sense. That’s your brand. It works. Mine are my pecs.”
“Stay on brand.”
“Gotta stay on brand.”

At dinner the chiropractor will confide in me that Kelly’s wave pool can crank a few feet more and look like a different wave. A proper, critical wave. But they’re still working out the kinks so it’s not on offer yet. It would all seem pretty boring to me, except the idea that one could surf in the middle of flat desert, miles from the ocean, a startling mental displacement almost too rich to pass up; a cognitive dissonant holiday scoring barrels nestled between meth labs and Indian casinos.

I will jump on a big trampoline on the ridge above Cardiff, facing the dusty hills in the east that haven’t been colonized by identically ugly houses. I will scare the bejesus out of my nephew by playacting an overly aggressive silverback. By the time I drive away he will be sad to see me go.

I will get bumped to first class on the flight back to New York and instantly regret ordering the quiche instead of the oatmeal as soon as I receive it. The sausage will have cheese unappealingly baked into the middle.

My particular synesthesia, the one of mentally contorting any common instance of sudden, off-beat repetitive clanging sounds (a car back-firing, metal utensils landing on a hard floor, the banging of a distant hammer) into an internal, opening drum gambit of D'yer Mak'er, will occur on three separate occasions over the seven days of travel.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


This Week In Not Surfing

In my line of work people talk fervently about "storytelling." I myself have used the word dozens of times in professional presentations over the past few years.

And stories have become "meditations on violence" and explorations of human depravity. "Whirlwinds of anti-climax" and shotgun shells full of buckshot goose pimples.

And to think, I used to constantly make a joke about all sorts of things being "This Year's Full Monty."

And there was a time I assumed the inexorable march of evolution would be inherently positive, even maybe kind.

But now I figure one possible reaction to the realization that you’re about to die (really die) is to feel a momentary wave of relief that the suffering will end. This then will turn (almost as instantly) into the inconsolable realization of a life misspent not attempting to ease the suffering of others.
And the fact is, right now it would be nice to be anonymous in my own neighborhood, surrounded by the comforts of home and the added comfort of silence.

But our stories feel bloated and isolated - one offs damned to remain told only the once - and I don't know where I got the idea that evolution wears boots.

But there are waves somewhere in the world and thank heavens someone is riding them.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Happening : Between the Waters Mar 9–Jul 22

"This exhibition brings together artists from across the United States—Carolina Caycedo, Demian DinéYazhi´ with Ginger Dunnill, Torkwase Dyson, Cy Gavin, Lena Henke, and Erin Jane Nelson—whose work responds to the precarious state of the environment through a personal lens. Experimenting with form and narrative in painting, video, and sculpture, these artists address how ideology—as much as technology, industry, and architecture—impacts all living things."

Sunday, April 8, 2018

This Week In Not Surfing

Recipe number one: a doomed quest to wear social inabilities as a badge of honor plus that wonderful child-like feeling when reading a fine piece of writing plus the tendency to sit on the right side in church, and in movie theaters, slightly left.

This abiding shame at having missed a day that didn't have to be missed.

A different recipe: Cat Power's rendition of Still In Love, California Girls by the Beach Boys, A Fantastic Woman by Sebastian Lelio, The Death of Stalin by Armando Iannucci, Final Portrait by Stanley Tucci, The Honourable Schoolboy by John LeCarré, a broken end table, a Cuban sandwich, a bad foot massage.

Come back to today's guilt at having woken early to surf only to instead brush the dog, blend up a banana cacao smoothie, sweep the floor and see an early-bird movie. Add in the comforting smell of a claustrophobic bookstore.

A third recipe: the Russian banya and a plate of pickled vegetables, herring and onions. A bottle of beer and Cliff Richard's I'm Looking Out The Window. A dash of Ahmad Jamal's Poinciana.

Come back to the unsettling, pursuant truth that surfing is not something you can just choose to do when you feel like it.

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