Monday, June 26, 2006

the forest in the city

Yesterday I met two people who knew my hometown. To be fair, more people than I would expect have heard of my hometown, and—I say it without comic intention—I’ve met a lot of people whose cars have broken down in attempt to drive through to somewhere else. But more often people say, Where?, and have a little laugh at Effingham, Illinois. Say it out loud in all its obscene fervor.

On the agenda was a long wandering trek around Manhattan and back across the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn. Some day I will walk the whole earth.

On my way out, a clown said hello to me. On my way in three young women wearing large rain hats and old-lady dresses, speed-walking across the bridge to Manhattan, passed me blindly and briskly. I have no idea what time period they fell in from.

But first—a trip to Najeeb’s. (
This is all I can find online for now.) Najeeb’s is in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, on Graham Ave between Skillman and Consylea. (Note: I may have the cross streets wrong, but it’s around there.) Anybody in the area must visit this restaurant.

Several times I walked passed this place and wondered about it. Finally, one day when I was bored with my other options, I stopped in. Nobody was there but Najeeb, another man, and several stringed instruments hanging on the wall. I ordered a falafel sandwich with hummus. In the words of Agent Cooper, it was a damn fine sandwich.

Yesterday I stopped in and when Najeeb saw me he gave me a big wave of the hand, oddly similar to the way I wave at people and have on occasion received ridicule for. I waved back and walked up to the counter. Najeeb looked at my neck where an ivory-colored elephant was hanging from a brown strap. Looking me in the eyes he inquired what he already seemed to know, "Do you have a collection of elephants at home?"

I felt like I’d dropped into that magical place, a mix of Wonderland, Oz, and all enchanted forests combined that I’d always wanted to find—where things are known and normal boundaries do not exist.

"I do," I told him. "How many?" he asked. I really had no idea. "Not many—10, 12." He told me, "I have a friend in San Francisco who has a collection of over 500 elephants in her apartment."

He asked if the elephant on my neck was a stone. I didn’t know, so I let him touch it. He said he thought it was bone and pulled a small box off a shelf behind the counter. He said he used bone to make some of his instruments and placed a few pieces on the glass. After comparing weight and feel, we decided my elephant was made of bone.

He went to make my sandwich and I sat down. When he brought it out I told him this was my new favorite place to eat. "This is the best place to eat," he said with a bold smile, "because I care." Perhaps it is. Because he certainly does.

After I finished and went up to the counter to pay, Najeeb asked me where I was from. Turns out he’d played music at a festival that took place, oddly, in a museum in the middle of a forest somewhere between Effingham, St. Louis and Carbondale (where I went to college; the three towns form a nearly equilateral triangle).

As we were talking, a guy came in and mentioned he had just come back from visiting family in Indiana. My ears perked up and I told him I was from Illinois. Turns out his best friend had married someone from Effingham. There you have it.

The bedrooms highlighted on bad reality TV aren't where the magic happens. Magic happens at Najeeb’s. Intersecting geography and elephants made of bones.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

swirly-eyed in the oven over the soccer field

Last night I sleep-walked into the kitchen, turned on the oven and climbed in ‘til morning. It was hot and humid in the upstairs, fan blowing warm air that the lungs refused. Summer’s on and my bedroom’s containing more than its fair portion of it, contributing to today’s stupor. That and computer-eye syndrome.

Soccer has always fascinated me--the non-stop running motion of it, the footwork--but I’ve never followed it. However, the World Cup game between the US and Italy got me riled up and a little obsessed. The past two days at work I’ve been multi-taskingly keeping watch on all the games by liveblog (after GameCast glitched out on me and MatchCast wouldn’t load). Fiendish, I tell you. I may destroy my vision this way.

Meanwhile: corner, apnea, goal, rapid eye, yellow card, k-complex, elbow, patients, statistics.

I called my mom during a thick-traffic drive home last night and told her about my newfound soccer-fervor. Then I exposed my profound fascination with traffic flow. What began as a sort of confession escalated into a somewhat lengthy and impassioned monologue.

She suggested I seek a job studying traffic flow—because who could be as passionate as that about cars moving on the road. Brilliant woman. Why didn't I think of it before? Since before I could drive I've thought about the most efficient way to get cars moving when a light turns from red to green.

Some of the jams elude me. Why, for example, would there be a multi-block back-up of cars waiting to get into the Holland Tunnel, when once you get into the tunnel—where as many as three lanes have merged into one (on the right-hand side of the tunnel)—cars begin to move freely? (Not every time, but I’ve witnessed it.)

Why do the cars crawl over Staten Island from the Goethals Bridge only to exit 11 or 12? Sure, I see some cars exit off in the meantime but not enough to explain why suddenly I can increase my speed from 20 to 55 or 60 mph. Where did the cars go? And if suddenly they could disappear, why weren’t we going faster all along? Ghost cars? Planted by whom?

Like my mom said, I need a helicopter.

Meanwhile, I’ve found
this web site to get me started toward my new career in the study of traffic flow theory. I’ll need to brush up on some mathematics. And buy new eyeballs. There is much to read today.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

mad swan disease

"Jesus God!" as the old-lady laundry attendant used to holler when people soiled their sheets. Could you blame her?

A busy two weeks, editing all day, restless legs after restless legs and now alcoholic insomniacs. Refer the man to the elephant polo team if he presents with an abundance of nocturnal arousals; refer him to a keen producer if he presents with an abundance of nocturnal emissions.

For skies of weeks a song laces through my head: "Swans (Life After Death)," the first track on the IslandsReturn to the Sea. Goes like this: the song plays, I enjoy it, all nearly 8 minutes of it, then patches of the song recur in my noggin for the next five-plus days. I listen again. This album has me happy-eared.

A couple days ago, ’mid stalled traffic, I was caught ’mid song and dance to "Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby." Milk and bones, a bouncy melody, the "total void tells me stories"—one can hardly help but skip through the skeletal daisies with it.

One of my favorite things about being alive is witnessing people in their car, singing and dancing, totally unaware anyone is watching. What bliss those people must be in the midst of. I suck it up, o-mouthed and wide-eyed.

I hope that two days ago I caused at least one car-voyeur to bounce and bliss.

More later once all alcoholics are cured of insomnia and cows come to their home built up with skyscrapers. Or once day breaks.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

when the ale tasted worse than the lager i threw it further

The gods shone down in my little office—and then they flipped a little tongue and strode off. The past two and a half days I grappled with a rough-terrain manuscript, trying to tie together grammatical veer-offs and chunked cliffsides. I thought I had an easy one to follow, but alas there are chicken-pocked references to piece out. About as fun as filling out tax forms, it put my brain here to a quick Hawaii.

Remember “worsen”? That weakling verb that pinches my nerves. There’s another. Last night while I was watching a show on the history of brewing on the History Channel, a—

Did you know there are beer anthropologists? How badass that is. And I don’t mean that as in Dude I’m a beer anthropologist. I can totally booze up every day and get paid for it. I mean what an interesting job. Better than sitting in an office all day, breathing stale air and destroying my eyeballs while tapping on plastic and destroying my wrist functionality (even if I do have the world’s best boss)—

beer anthropologist used the word “furthering.” “Furthering” is weak and wanting for meaning in a way similar to "worsening." It is first an adjective or an adverb, the comparative of “far.” Indeed it is listed in the American Heritage 3rd edition pocket dictionary, as the third meaning: to advance the progress of. Like “worsen,” “further” is lazy. Instead of thinking of a more specifically active verb to elucidate the idea and action of moving something further forward, you can just stretch out the shirt that “further” wears.

Poor thing—its shirt has holes in the shoulders and pit stains. It's over-worn, spread thin, torn.

Prescription: Slide a beer across the bar to “further” and spend a second extra locating a more contextually meaningful verb. You can find it, this verb, along with the others uncalled on for their duties, slack-assing over mojitos in a posh city loft.