April 22, 2008

Earth Day 2008

As a child, I imagined myself incorporeal, a changeling. I weighed very little and ate very little and endowed all objects under my protection with souls. Guided by my mega-Virgo propensity for compulsive cataloguing and my family's secular humanist social conscience, I soon discovered the meaning of life -- not simply to tread lightly upon the earth, but to atone for the waste, excesses, and damage wrought by the entire human race.

I often lay in bed, imagining the huge pile of refuse -- much larger than my actual body -- I had created just by living. I imagined the skin cells and the snot and the vomit and the paper plates and the candy wrappers. I imagined pulling this pile of evergrowing crap after me like a sled dog until I expired from exhaustion.

In my twenties, I tried to tell my then-therapist of the clamour of things -- the broken things and the mending, the unloved things and the lost things, the unsorted things and the things I could not bear to throw out. She was all for talking about deeper issues, but soon an army of clutter consultants and responsible living enthusiasts and feng shui practitioners were to create an entire industry from what I came to see not as personal pathology, but as the pervasive malady of late-stage capitalism.

A friend told me, as we watched a stunning lunar eclipse from my rooftop, that even the most remote, deepest, pristine nether realms of the ocean were now covered with plastic bits and soda cans. I read in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon that the entire forest adjacent to Mexico City had been suffocated into deadwood by blowing plastic bags. I despaired.

When my closest college girlfriend invited me to her domestic partnership ceremony, my first response, before congratulations, was to ask whether I might bring my collection of hundreds of unused plastic takeout utensils across the country for use at her reception.

I was hyper-vigilant when shopping, anticipating the very moment when I might interrupt the checker's autopilot with a clear, "No bag, please." I devised rules for living that were only revealed as somewhat strange when I had visitors -- no buying of plastic wrap or napkins or Kleenex; these all could be scavenged from overpackaging; reuse of all bags and containers and Styrofoam peanuts; dilution of all detergents and cleansers so they lasted years and years and years.

My income was half as much as New Yorkers continually reassured one another was the bare subsistence level. My apartment was tinier still. I'd always shopped at thrift stores and delayed any sort of gratification involving consumption. My weekly routine involved bringing piles of things to thrift stores, haunting the library sale alcove, memorizing the rotating specials at my local grocery. Daily I sorted through email from Freecycle and socially responsible living newsletters and admonitions from Flylady.net that turning my home into a personal landfill did not save the earth.

As a cater waiter, I would carry huge sacks of one-time-use champagne flutes home with me in a cab to recycle them in my home bin. Appalled by the casual waste I saw my temporary office job, I made a crusade of using one paper coffee cup until it fell apart; of never, ever leaving any trash in my office can; of carrying around a single plastic plate in protest of the hundreds discarded every day in the lunchroom.

But, increasingly, I felt impotent. How could I cancel out the five cups my officemate discarded every day? Although I rooted through our trash after he left for the day, picking out recyclables; although I would sooner use a paper towel from the floor of the bathroom than pull out a new one, I was not even making the tiniest dent in the tide of refuse. Even my own sled of sinful discard was heavier.

I know people who are more rigorous still. A friend married a man who lives entirely on scavenge, from food to furniture. A certain sort of dumpster diving activates my gag reflex, but I’ve certainly fallen from my preteen CafĂ© Society aspirations. Just last week I rescued a perfectly good pillowcase, still in the package, from my building’s garbage cans, in full view of my lurking landlord.

Increasingly, my clothes come from piles left by the curb on moving day each month, rather than from thrift stores. Sometimes I feel a ping, a slight burst of shame, especially on weekend nights in my neighborhood, as I root through piles of trash adjacent to the expensively dressed crowd milling in front of Le Table.

The payoff? A muted orange rag, upon inspection, was yards and yards of untouched organza, bundled inside a black trash bag, just perfect for covering my new-from-the-street loveseat.

I take a perverse pride in all this, a pride not at all to do with masochism or unworthiness or of rags-to-riches rescue fantasies. I imagine that it’s similar to the pride emanating from those rarified souls of the breathatarian lifestyle who have transcended food, and subsist on air alone.

Somehow, imperceptibly, I crossed from responsible and proactive to obsessive-compulsive and strange. There was that moment, on my hands and knees in the tub, scrubbing another woman's menstrual blood out of a pair of otherwise pristine panties I’d discovered among a bundle I rescued from a ripped-open garbage bag amid the slush on the corner of Bleecker and Bowery; there was that moment where I looked down and thought, as if my hands were not my own: how has it come to this?

And yet. It's the least I could do.

June 24, 2006


Only in New York


Sometimes I remember why I came here. Today: the crowds spilling out of that annoying restaurant on 7th and A that isn't 7A; What is their cuisine? What is their concept? All types of people, riveted to a screen. I ducked in a dark bar a bit beyond to see what the game was: Mexico versus Argentine. By Houston they were celebrating: boys came out of nowhere, wearing Argentinian soccer jerseys, cheering.

Last Saturday, Laurie Anderson in the park for three dollars. Can't beat that with a stick. "Only an expert can see the problem. And only an expert can deal with the problem. Sometimes an expert is part of the problem. But only an expert can deal with the problem."

Thursday, in a beautifully proportioned room in the main branch of the Public Library, Malcolm Gladwell going at it with Ariana Huffington. In celebration of 10 years of Slate, a panel on the Internet and the future of journalism. It was partial, necessarily. While bloggers were cast as feasting on the carrion of the Times, parasites, the increasing symbiosis (the Times validates, a bit late, online trends and personalities; Times journalists become ersatz television journalists in the "multimedia" recaps of their pieces)...was not discussed. Nor do-it-yourself music, film broadacting, podacsting, mashing up...

Favorite moments: Michael Kinsley, after asking the panel about the future of tangible reading material, magazines, newspapers, shoots a knowing smirk-wink toward his wife in the front row as Malcolm G takes the bait and expounds on his failure-of-the-death-of-paper theory. Ariana Huffington, the only woman, holding her own, emphatic but refusing to be shrill, more personal and emotional against the default mode of deatxhed irony, knowing references, and dry asides -- the male dominance/discourse of the 21st century cultural elite.

Only in My Apartment

I'm supposed to be heading to a loft party. But I'm having trouble leaving my iTunes, which has been channeling some sort of ur-DJ. I rented and watched Iris. Sad. Gorgeous acting. Clicked the iTunes, and on came the Magnetic Fields, the one that goes "there'll be time enough for talking when we're old.. so tongiht I think I'd rather just go dancing...' Then Terrence McKenna, an audience recording of a lecture series, In Search of the Original Tree of Knowledge. 20 minutes that reminds you of what thinking is for. Am I the only one who gets Marshall McLuhan, Malcolm McLaren, and Terrence McKenna all mixed up?

Then came David Holmes'original version of 69 Police. Great. Then Kathy Acker, a track from "Redoing Childhood." I was once trapped by a thunderstorm in Kathy Acker's rental apartment with her in Boulder, Colorodo. Then "Happy Times" by Idaho. Now, strangely, Duran Duran's acapella version of White Lines. OK, what would be beyond perfect if now came on.... Liquid Liquid's Cavern... No, Findlay Quaye's Sunday Shining cover.

Most of this excellent music is an audio legacy of my boyfriend, who is to DJ at this loft party. And whom I love despite everything.

February 04, 2006

The Louis Quatorze Song

Tin Pan Alley-ish, think "Yes, we have no bananas"

Intro: (sung-said over a piano vamp using one note except for last few syllables)

He was a large black securities analyst in a tailor-made suit
She was a sweet young blonde from Solomon Smith Barney
They met on the Louis Rukeyser show.

She looked at him with her big blue eyes and said
There's just one thing I'd like to know...

Chorus: (Stride piano. Uptempo!)
What is it for? The Louis Quatorze?
The Louis Quatorze! The Louis Quatorze! (shouted from assembled company)
What is it for? The Louis Quatorze?
What's it for? What's it for? What's it for? (shouted from assembled company)

(Add verses that you almost immediately forget about any two people who strike your fancy. Sing chorus as much as you like.)