Happy Birthday, Stephen King

Today is Stephen King’s 70th birthday.

I’ve been reading Stephen King books since junior high school.  I can’t 100% recall which my first one was – it either Cujo or Firestarter – but once I started, I couldn’t stop.  I read everything in paperback up until I caught up to him in hardcover (which was probably The Tommyknockers), and then I read pretty much everything until I was in college (I think I stopped after Insomnia – which I remember not liking all that much, though I also had my DNA re-written around this time by DFW’s Infinite Jest, and so I probably wouldn’t have bothered with SK all that much anyway).

But even then, I’d dabble here and there – there were quite a few that I skipped, but I was a devoted Dark Tower fan and so I devoured those in quick succession, and while I’ve tapered off somewhat in recent years, I started dipping back into his newer work during the relatively solid 1-2-3 punch of Duma KeyUnder the Dome and 11/22/63.  I originally started writing this post last week when I was finishing my 9th or 10th re-reading of It, and I’m currently in the middle of Finders Keepers, the second book of the Bill Hodges trilogy.  (Regarding these Bill Hodges books – even if they’re not among his best work, they’re still engaging and fast-paced, and frankly I’m just impressed that SK decided to completely switch from horror to detective novels.  The guy has nothing left to prove at this point, and yet he clearly wanted to try something new, and for the most part he succeeds.  I can’t help but wonder if watching J.K. Rowling switch things up from Harry Potter to her Robert Gilbraith crime novels inspired SK to follow suit, just for the hell of it.)

So, yes, I’m a fan.  But a question I’ve been asking myself lately is:  why?  I don’t like particularly like scary movies or video games, so why on earth was I drawn to him in the first place?  Why did my mother let me buy those books?  Let’s leave aside the child murdering and grotesque imagery – if she knew what kind of language was in those books, she’d have a heart attack.  Even now I’m a little put off by how much Quentin Tarantino uses the n-word in his movies, and Stephen King uses that word more in one book than QT’s used in his entire body of work.   (I gently teased my mom about this the other day, and she was as surprised as anybody; she’s never read him.  I suppose she was just glad that I was a diligent pre-teen reader.  My wife points out that my parents were in the process of getting divorced at around the same time that I started really getting into SK, and so my mom can be excused for not doing her due diligence.)

I don’t know how to answer the question, to be honest.  Except that I do love a good story, and if nothing else, King knows how to tell stories almost as well as anyone ever has.  Yes, he has certain tics that, regardless of genre, he can’t seem to shake (50’s-era rock and roll lyrics, deliberately misspelled and racist signage, a tendency to punctuate his characters’ thoughts with Robin Williams-esque riffs).  And while I’m the sort of nerd who enjoys seeing how all of his books tie in to each other (a very specific nerdy impulse that David Mitchell is also working with, to my tremendous delight), he also literally throws himself into the end of the Dark Tower series, and even early in the first Bill Hodges book he throws in a reference to “that Pennywise clown from the TV movie”, which, I mean, come on.

This post was originally going to be a sort of meditation on my re-reading of It, which despite its ridiculous ending is still probably my favorite SK novel.  I wrote out some bullet points that I meant to expand upon, but I can’t right now (for various reasons), so let me just get them out of the way:

  • The last time I read it, according to my LiveJournal, was in 2002.
  • It is, without question, the most “metal” title of a horror book you could possibly have, and SK is the only author who could successfully pull it off.
  • I’ve read It many times, but this was the first time where I was consciously aware that I was older than the adults.
  • There are very few 1000+ page books I can read this quickly.
  • There is a vividness to SK’s writing that is unparalleled; one of the reasons why I tend to shy away from filmed versions of his work is that they’re largely unnecessary.  if I were to film these books, I’d be the set designer, the costumer, the casting director, the DP.  (There’s a shootout early in The Gunslinger and I know exactly how it’s supposed to be filmed.)
  • As I noted above, SK has a tendency to write like Robin Williams talks.  And if It had been filmed concurrently with the book, I can’t help but think Robin Williams would’ve been Richie “Man Of A Thousand Voices” Tozier.
  • Speaking of Richie: holy shit, Richie Tozier is Exhibit A of unconscious white racism.  Henry Bowers, the bad guy, uses the n-word quite a lot, but Richie’s voices are a litany of racist caricature, and even if that was the point, it’s still hair-raising; there’s his jaw-dropping Pickaninny voice, and his offensive Chinese Waiter voice, and yet somehow the kids mostly rag on him for his Irish Cop voice, if only because his Irish accent is terrible.  Now, when I read this book way back in the early 90s as a young teenager, I didn’t know this, and I’m not sure anybody else did either.  I know everyone is bothered by that super-creepy and weird sex thing that happens at the end, but let’s be honest here:  just about every word out of Richie’s mouth is fucking horrifying.
  • That said, I’m not sure anyone’s ever captured the aimlessness of empty summer afternoons better than he does in this book.
  • Also:  regarding the scariest parts of It – not Pennywise, frankly.  I remember being freaked out at the fortune cookie scene during the reunion, but now it’s almost silly.  Henry Bowers, on the other hand, is still terrifying.  As is Beverly’s father, and then her husband, certainly.  I still think that the final interlude about Patrick Hocksetter is among the creepiest chapters SK’s ever written.

Here’s a question:  at the time of It‘s publication, who was his audience?  I mean, the dude’s sold a bazillion copies over his career, and pretty much everything he wrote hit #1, so I’m sure he had a sizable percentage of most demographics; but if I had to ask SK one question right at this very moment, I’d be most curious to know who he thought he was writing to.  Does he have an image of the stereotypical SK fan?

I would guess that he doesn’t actually have anyone in mind when he sits down to write; first and foremost he’s writing the story, and whatever happens to it after he’s done writing is the reader’s problem.  And yet for someone who was self-aware enough to know how popular he was to bother writing under a pseudonym just to see what would happen, I am compelled to presume that his introductions addressed to his Gentle Reader or Constant Reader might’ve had a face.

I don’t know how to end this little piece; it’s a weird day here at the office and I’m a bit more scatterbrained than usual.  But I did want to offer up two fun links that I came across today:

  1. Kaitlyn Tiffany’s excellent, excellent diary of reading It for the first time this summer in preparation for the movie
  2. LitHub’s list of 12 literary writers discussing SK’s influence

 

What’s your favorite SK novel?

 

the devil in the details

Inspired by my previous post, I’ve decided to re-read It, for the however-many-nth time.  It’s comfort food, albeit a very strange sort of comfort food.  But these are weird times, after all.  To paraphrase a joke on Twitter from last week – I may not believe in the end times, but these last few weeks certainly feel like a dress rehearsal for the real thing.

It’s been several years since my last venture into Derry, and in the intervening years my reading habits have changed rather dramatically – being a Kindle convert will do that to you – and so even though I’ve read this book a zillion times, I was startled to discover a few details I’d not noticed previously.

I literally just finished re-reading the very first chapter – the sad saga of Georgie and the newspaper boat – and somehow never noticed that, in his desperate search for the paraffin in the dark basement (and the VERY RELATABLE terror of being a small child in a dark basement), he stumbles across a box of Turtle wax and is transfixed by the image of the turtle on the box.  He feels that he’s seen that turtle before, but in a different context, and he almost loses his train of thought in trying to remember.  Now, if you’ve read the book, the turtle is rather significant, but it doesn’t show up for another thousand pages.  I’ve read this book a gazillion times and yet, somehow, I never connected the dots until just now.

For those of you who’ve seen the movie – is George’s brief venture into the basement filmed?  I mean, the main thrust of that chapter is what happens at the end, not at the beginning, but I’m genuinely curious to see if they bothered to film that.  It’s a very small detail, but it’s the sort of detail that makes the book experience so rich and vibrant.


I’m not yet ready to talk about Destiny 2.  I’m only level 8, with a light level somewhere in the mid-70s or 80s.  I’ve been playing solo, and as such I’m allowing myself to grind here and there so that I can be a bit over-leveled for each actual mission.  And yet I’ve only completed 3 or 4.  I’ve seen a very tiny fraction of what the game apparently has to offer.  I think I’m enjoying it – certainly a lot more than the first one – and I look forward to getting some co-op in, as I think that’s where the game will truly shine.

I do have to share my friend Greg’s annoyance that you can’t truly pause, which is the sort of thing you have to worry about when you’re a parent.  I’d say the vast majority of players I’ve run into are all level 20, and so clearly they have way more time on their hands than I do.  That’s fine and good; I was never going to hop into the Crucible anyway.


I feel like I should say something about PewDiePie’s latest racial outburst, though there’s nothing I would say that hasn’t been said a lot better by people with much bigger audiences.   He’s apologized, though that’s not even really the point.  The reason why I don’t hop into Destiny’s Crucible or GTA V’s multiplayer or really any multiplayer is because, for the most part, playing with strangers online is an excruciatingly awful experience.  You hear that sort of language all the goddamned time.

It’s just that PDP, who has an audience of over 50 million people, helps normalize this sort of language and validates it for other people.  They might not consider themselves racist, but if you choose to use the n-word (or really any type of slur), you’re saying that you’re OK with racist language.  And it’s shitty, and awful, and negligent.  My 4-year-old is eventually going to get into videogames, and I’m sure he’ll be watching YouTubers, and while I will endeavor to guide him towards the right way of doing things and teach him not just about bad words but also about the power these words have, I’m not going to be able to hover over his shoulder forever.  And at some point he’s gonna hear some jackass use these words, and he’s either going to be offended, or he’s going to think it’s cool.  I only hope he makes the right choice.

free association

Sometimes I write here for you, whomever you might be.  I want to relate my experience playing a game or listening to music or reading a book, and maybe you’re experienced those things too, and so we can compare and contrast our separate experiences and sort of virtually pretend we did them together.

Sometimes I write here because I’m bored and have nothing else to do and so typing away at my desk makes me look busy.  This happens more often than not.

And sometimes – like now – I write here for me.  I have too many thoughts in my head and I need to get them out, and this is one of the only places I have, and whether or not you read this is immaterial.  Which is not to say that you reading this is irrelevant – I’m correcting typos and trying to make sure this is readable – but, well, look.  I’ve got stuff I’ve gotta figure out.


I’m stressed, man.  Depressed.  Mood swings all over the goddamned place.  My mom is back in the hospital less than 24 hours after getting released from the hospital, where she’d been for 3 weeks recovering from a broken pelvis – this would also be her 4th hospital stay this year, after a broken femur and a frightening bout of sepsis.  My dad and his family are in a somewhat hurricane-proof area of Jacksonville, Florida, preparing to receive whatever Irma has to dish out by the time it gets there.  I appear to have developed plantar fasciitis, which is a delightful perk of getting older and which makes walking around rather painful.  I’m stressed about money, which is a whole other thing that I’m not gonna get into right now.

Basically, what’s happening to the US right now – 2 major hurricanes, the west coast being on fire, and a steaming gold-plated turd in the White House hell-bent on making the worst possible decisions for no other reason than hating Obama – is a rather good approximation of what’s happening in my brain.


There’s some really good music out, at least.  Today sees the release of The National’s long-awaited new album, and Deerhoof have also released yet another brilliant collection.  The new LCD Soundsystem is hit-or-miss for me but it does contain the best lyrical couplet of the year (“You’ve got numbers on your phone of the dead that you can’t delete / and you got life-affirming moments in your past that you can’t repeat”).  I haven’t even had time to process the new Iron & Wine or King Gizzard or The War on Drugs or Grizzly Bear or Everything Everything or Rainer Maria, because I’ve been too busy listening to my Discovery playlist.


I’m not sure if I’m going to see the new It movie.  I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the Tim Curry TV series, as well.  Here’s the deal – It is, for me, the definitive Stephen King novel.  It’s the book I’ve probably read and re-read the most.  Other people prefer The Stand, or The Dark Tower, or whatever; It has always been the book for me.  It’s the reason why I’m attracted to big books.  One of the reasons why the book is so successful in instilling dread is specifically because of its heft; it literally weighs you down as you read it.  (Well, maybe not the Kindle version, but you get my meaning.)

I don’t need a movie version.  I don’t want a movie version.  The scene between Henry Bowers (the bully) and Patrick Hockstetter (the psychopath and arguably the single most creepy character in SK’s entire output) will always be more horrifying in my mind than it would be on screen – and considering what happens in that scene, I can’t possibly imagine it ever being filmed.

I suppose I’m glad to hear that the new movie is getting good reviews, but that doesn’t necessarily make me want to see it.  I’d rather just re-read it again.


Speaking of books, it’s been a while since I ran down what I’ve read.  I read Leigh Bardugo’s two Six of Crows books, which were great fun; I just finished the final installment in N.J. Jemisin’s Stone Sky series, which was astonishing.  I’ve started reading Bryant & May and the Burning Man, and I’m enjoying it even if I’m not 100% sure where it’s going.

I did complete my (admittedly low) Goodreads reading challenge, so I’m feeling a bit more relaxed in terms of what to take on next.  I think I need a break from trilogies and such; I could use just a one-off every now and then.


I wasn’t going to play Destiny 2, and yet, well, I bought it.  Of course I did.  I’m barely into it – indeed, I got stuck in a too-hard section and gave up last night – but it’s Destiny, all right.  Still arguably the best-feeling shooter I’ve played in a while, though I’m not necessarily the best authority on that front.

Do you ever have games stuck in the back of your mind?  I do.  For the longest time I had Max Payne 3 lodged in there, for reasons I can’t possibly begin to fathom; right now it’s a cross between Bioshock Infinite and 2016’s DOOM.  I don’t know what makes me think of them; they’re just there, like bits of a song that get looped in my brain.


OK, that’s enough yakkin’.  I gotta close up shop.  Have a good weekend.  Thanks for reading.  I think I feel better?  I think I feel better.

A shortcut to R&R

In these strange and turbulent times, it is helpful to have an escape route or two.  Sometimes you just need to unplug and disconnect.  Zone out, as it were.

To that end, I would highly recommend partaking of a good-ish amount of your relaxation-inducing substance of choice, put on some good music, and play a bit of Everybody’s Golf, which is essentially candy for your brain.  It is a digital wave of happiness, a gentle endorphin rush flowing over your body.  It’s never too frustrating; the traditional 3-button swing mechanic is easy enough to pick up, and even if you inevitably shank one into the rough, you’ve still got a better-than-good chance of chipping it onto the green.  There’s even a gentle RPG system in place, wherein good performance improves your skills with each club.  A solid thwack off the tee will increase your power with the driver; a close approach will increase your control with an iron.  And so even if you do slice one into the sand, a well-placed shot will improve your wedge skills.  The whole thing is very pleasing and easy to pick up and blissfully stress-free.

I only have two real complaints:  first, I’ve been playing for 2 hours or so and still only have access to the first course.  I don’t actually know how many courses are in the game, but if they unlock this slowly, I might never see them all.  Second, I wish that this game was cross-buy compatible with the Vita; I would love to have this on the go.  (There is a Hot Shots Golf game for the Vita, to be sure, but it’s old, and the new stuff in this game makes the old game more or less obsolete.)


I finished Uncharted: The Lost Legacy yesterday.  Is it good?  Yes, it’s good.  It’s all the best parts of previous Uncharted games tossed into one short campaign.  I mean that quite literally, by the way – remember the train sequence in U2?  It’s revisited here.  The car chases in U3?  Also here.  The gentle banter between two stubborn and strong-willed protagonists, present in every Naughty Dog game since U1?  Here all over the place.  There’s not much that’s new, to be honest; this definitely does feel like DLC rather than a stand-alone game.  That said, it’s nice to play these games with non-Nathan Drake characters, and Chloe and Nadine are a fun team together.


I’ve also finished Pokemon Magikarp Jump, which has been one of the mainstays on my phone for the last few months.  Whenever I get around to my long-ish thing about idle clickers, I’ll write quite a bit about this one; suffice it to say, it’s better than I expected it to be, even if it’s still somewhat aimless.  But that’s the thing with the idle genre; they’re all aimless.  The thing you end up chasing is maximum efficiency, rather than any sort of definitive finish line.

Anyway, look – it’s gonna be quiet here for a little while, and so I just wanted to say hey, I’m alive, and doing my best to hang in there.  Have a lovely holiday weekend, everybody.

A Light In the Darkness

Happy Eclipse Day, everyone.  Just remember, this afternoon’s darkness is only temporary; the political and social climate of the country will remain darkened for (at least) the remainder of 45’s term.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I occasionally have trouble getting motivated to continue writing here.  Sometimes it’s just because I don’t have time; sometimes it’s because I don’t feel like I have anything important to say; most of the time it’s because I’m well aware that there are far more important things to be paying attention to than whatever I might write, especially since what I write here is about rather trivial stuff.  That being said, sometimes I find that I need to concentrate on the trivial stuff, if only because it’s a necessary reprieve from the crushing Sisyphean despair that comes from constantly refreshing Twitter to see if the world is still falling apart.  And, also, my mom is back in the hospital for the third time this year and while she’s in much better spirits this time around, it’s still emotionally draining and stressful to be worried about her, especially since there’s not much I can do beyond visiting.

So, then, allow me to indulge in some nonsense.

1. My glasses finally arrived!  A week and a half after they were supposed to arrive, but still!  New specs!  That’s the old look on the left, and the new look on the right.  (Yes, I’m wearing the same shirt.)  Similar-ish style, to be sure, but the new prescription is finally up-to-date and features lenses that are both progressive and transition[al].  I’m still getting used to them, but they’re already making a big difference.

img_5495

2.  Yes, I pre-ordered the super-special Project Scorpio edition of Xbox One X.  Don’t judge me.  I think I’ve mentioned this before, but bear with me just in case I haven’t – ever since I went on my quest to break the 100K Achievement barrier late last year, I’ve more or less made the Xbox One my main console of choice, despite knowing that the PS4 is more powerful.  Yes, I’ve played the same games on both consoles; yes, I can see the difference.  Nevertheless, I like the Xbox One’s UI a lot more, and the Elite Controller is by far the best controller I’ve ever used, and since I knew I’d be getting this new Xbox anyway, I figured I’d be able to put up with some performance issues since they’d get patched down the road.  And I have, for the most part.  I don’t have a 4K TV, nor do I feel like I need one, but at least now I’ll be able to justify getting one in a year or two.

3.  I’ve rented and have played a few hours of Agents of Mayhem, the new Saints Row-adjacent 3rd person shooter from Volition, and I think I love the hell out of it?  It’s this weird hybrid that lies somewhere between a single-player Overwatch (in its multiple hero system), Crackdown (in its visual style, as well as its super-powerful characters who defy the laws of physics), and Saints Row (obviously).  But there’s also something…. I can’t find the right word for it, but I want to say that it feels sincere.  That’s a weird thing to feel for an over-the-top open world game where everything blows up all the time, but it’s also true – I get the sense from playing it that the developers were really excited to work on something new, even if Saints Row’s DNA is heavily embedded in it; instead of having to try and out-do the off-the-wall insanity of Saints Row 3 and 4, they just went in a completely different direction.  I don’t know if I’m going to finish it – my backlog is INSANE at the moment and there’s some new stuff arriving shortly that I’m eager to try out, but for the time being it’s a very pleasant diversion.

4.  Regarding that backlog – yeah, it’s rough.  To wit:

  • Sonic Mania (looks and feels so much like the original Genesis games that it’s almost scary)
  • Tacoma (I’ve only played the first 30 minutes, but I’m always down for a Gone Home-in-space thing)
  • Observer (bought this because of some very intriguing word-of-mouth recommendations; I’ve only played the first 30 minutes or so but I’m still very much intrigued)
  • Undertale (Vita)
  • Hellblade
  • Pyre
  • Superhot VR (need to get back to this now that there’s been a few patches; when I first tried it my hands were glitching out all over the place and the game was near-unplayable)
  • a replay of the new and improved No Man’s Sky (I don’t know how much time I’m going to sink into this but I’ve already visited a few planets in a brand-new playthrough and it might as well be a completely new game – if you bought this and gave up on it when it first came out, I’d suggest giving it a look now)
  • Vostok Inc. (I am, as noted, a weird sucker for idle clickers – this is an idle clicker hidden within a twin-stick shooter, which is a pretty interesting hybrid)
  • a replay of Headlander (strictly for Xbox ‘cheevos)
  • Halo Wars 2 (why did I even bother getting this in the first place, I’m allergic to RTS games)
  • FF15 and FF12 

Plus:  this week sees the release of the Uncharted thing, and then there’s also the Horizon Zero Dawn DLC shortly thereafter.

5.  At some point I’m going to write a thing about my fascination with / addiction to the idle clicker genre.  But I did want to at least mention that I have “finished” Crazy Taxi Gazillionaire, in that I’ve gotten every driver up to their maximum level and now there’s nothing else left to do.

 

Subterranean Fallout Shelter Blues

1. Remember last week, when I was excited about getting new glasses and we weren’t living in a constant state of anxiety wondering if our President was gonna livetweet about Crooked Hillary in an attempt to distract us from the coming nuclear apocalypse with North Korea?  Well, my new specs still haven’t shown up, and at this point I’m actually kinda hoping everything goes to shit so that I don’t have to pay off my credit card debt.

Seriously, though, now might be a good time to reach out and say hello to people you haven’t talked to in a while.  Even if we aren’t about to die in a blaze of hellfire, you should touch base with people you might’ve lost contact with.  I’ve been trying to get back into lyric writing, and it occurs to me that an idea I’ve been toying with for years – songs as letters I never got around to sending – might be the key to finishing this goddamned thing sooner rather than later.

2. I’m not as up on current TV as everyone else, but I am happy to report that the wife and I were able to finish the new Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later thing.  And we loved the shit out of it.  It is weird and random and breaks the 4th wall all over the place and Chris Meloni is fucking AMAZING.

3. I’d love to be writing about Tacoma right now, but I appear to be one of the people affected by a nasty bug in which I can’t get past the “Press A to Start” screen.  So instead I’ll offer some very brief first impressions of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which I can load properly.  I am intrigued by it, certainly; I’m a fan of Ninja Theory’s previous work and would give them the benefit of the doubt anyway, and at first glance the game’s presentation is outstanding – both visually and aurally.  The idea of exploring psychosis and mental illness through gameplay is novel, to be sure, and while I’m still only in the game’s opening hour I’ve already seen some subtle yet mind-bending things.  Tonight I hope to get to it while wearing headphones.

4. Hey, whaddya know, Spotify is now available on Xbox One, and it’s about goddamned time.  Now I can feel a little less sad about continuing to play Clicker Heroes, because I no longer have to play it in silence.

5. Kotaku says there is no longer a best time to play a video game, and I agree with most of the points in that link even if my primary concern (Fear of Missing Out / Fear of Being Out of the Loop on Twitter) is still valid.  In any event, ever since I finished Watch Dogs 2 I’ve been in an open-world state of mind, and I’ve been revisiting some older open-world games just to stay with that vibe.  GTA V continues to be the best open world I’ve ever seen, even as the story continues to be repellent and repugnant; Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate continues to be my 2nd or 3rd favorite game in the franchise (while also being a useful refresher for the upcoming Origins) and I’m also finally getting around to giving Mafia III more of a real look.  That game is pretty good, even if all the controls feel backwards.

6. I’ve also had a strange pull towards revisiting Headlander, of all things; I wrote about it briefly last year and while I haven’t gotten far enough to encounter those boss fights, I am still loving the hell out of that game.

7.  I finished Patti Smith’s “M Train”, although I should admit that I kinda skimmed through the back half, as it mostly seemed to be the same as the first half.  I’m happy to read about a real person’s idle hours, watching detective shows and drinking coffee and taking naps, but there wasn’t much more to it than that, and even though her prose remained gorgeous it just lingered on and and on and on, like a very slowly deflating balloon.  Not sure I would recommend it to anyone that isn’t a die-hard Patti Smith fan, though if you’ve got a library card you could do worse than read the first third of it or so.

On Anonymous Blogging

As a former LJ addict, this hit me square in the face.

Tiny Rubies

typewriter

It’s the mid-noughties. I’m at university, London is blowing my mind, and I’m tapping away on my LiveJournal like my life depends on it. I’m documenting all of my experiences, preserving them through writing, and reading the blog posts of strangers around the world doing the same. I’m reading (and writing) about breakups, sex, mixtapes, road trips, family drama, and beautiful vignettes about places visited, or wild nights out, or a feeling.

I treated my LiveJournal as a kind of late night confessional, a place to process and unpick and get things off my chest. There was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Snapchat back then. Facebook was just taking off, the wifi connection in our halls of residence was patchy at best, and everyone still spent hours creating MySpace layouts. People didn’t think about ‘managing’ their online presence. Anonymity still had value on the internet, in fact it was the…

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cigarettes and coffeeshops

Without noticing, I slip into a light yet lingering malaise. Not a depression, more like a fascination for melancholia, which I turn in my hand as if it were a small planet, streaked in shadow, impossibly blue.

– Patti Smith, “M Train”

I’m excited this week, for what I’ll admit is kind of a dumb reason:  I’m getting new glasses on Saturday.  I’ve been wearing my current pair since 2009-ish (thank you, Facebook profile picture album), and I’ve been needing a slight change in prescription for at least the last few years, and these new ones are pretty snazzy (they’re progressive lenses and transition lenses, both of which are necessary) – but I’m excited mostly because I’ve been wearing glasses since junior high school, and they’re as much a part of my self-identity as my hair or my physical frame, and so getting new specs means that, in a sense, I’m getting a new version of me.  This is the me that’s going to be photographed in my brother’s wedding in October; and not to be too dramatic about it, but it’s probably true that this is the me that will feature more prominently in my son’s memories of his father.

As noted yesterday, I am now reading Patti Smith’s “M Train” in which, among other things, each chapter takes place in and around various coffeeshops.  I am reminded of my own coffeeshop years, back in my undergrad and post-undergrad years, back when I lived in the East Village and played in bands and, most crucially, hung out with other people in places that were not my own apartment.  The coffeeshop hours were a special part of my day; they were almost always very late at night, and I always had my journal, a good pen, and a new pack of smokes, and it was generally understood (whether in my group or just by myself) that those hours were for serious reflection and conversation.  It sounds awfully pretentious when I describe it that way, and it probably was, but it’s also true; those coffeeshops were where some of the most important and life-changing conversations I ever had took place.

A lot of these places simply don’t exist anymore; Starbucks has more or less taken over the coffeehouse market, and I can’t imagine that any of my old Greenwich Village haunts could ever pay their rent now given that the average check back then was for maybe 2 cups of coffee consumed over 4 hours.  And that’s really the thing – I go to Starbucks every day (and I must say, the Starbucks in my office building is a super-deluxe fancy-pants Starbucks) but I never hang out there.  I order my iced coffee when I’m still on the ferry, crossing the Hudson River; the entire time I spend in the shop itself is between 30-60 seconds, depending on if there’s a line by the milk and sugar.

I must admit that I miss those days, when I actually had 4 hours to do nothing except drink coffee and write down weird poems in my notebook and just think.  Not to sound too much like an old man, but these were the days before smartphones and wi-fi; if I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, I actually could be alone with my thoughts, and I didn’t have to worry about what I was missing on social media or how to properly photograph my cappuccino for Instagram and such.   I could just enjoy being in the moment; and if, in the moment, I felt disquiet, I would open my notebook and try figuring it out, and if I was lucky I had a new set of lyrics for a song I didn’t even know I was writing.  But even if I simply ended up doodling weird shit, I never felt like my time was being wasted.

There are some very nice little coffee shops in my very nice little suburban town, and on Saturday mornings I’ll leave a little early for my therapy session and hit one of them up, and I’ll sit down for a few minutes and reflect on what I might be about to say.  Or else I’ll just stare out the window and allow myself a few minutes to be quiet and not have to think at all.  There’s two places in particular that serve a very nice gluten-free banana bread, actually, and that’s a perfectly fine way to spend a few morning minutes in and of itself.

Of course, there’s going to be a Starbucks opening up there within the next few months and I’m a little bummed, to be honest; I’d hate for these local places to get pushed out.  And yet there’s only so much I can do; I don’t really have the time or the inclination to hang out in these places the way I used to, either.

In any event, I miss those days.  “M Train” is really good and it’s reminding me of the writing project that I was working on back in November of 2015, when I thought I was going to fool around for NaNoWriMo and ended up working on a new album and also having a sort-of mini-nervous breakdown.  That project was also about my own coffeeshop days, and the people I was with, and what we used to talk about in the very late hours.

 

Good Things

Instead of being all sad and mopey and navel-gazing – AND BELIEVE ME YOU DON’T WANT ME TO GET INTO ANY OF THAT RIGHT NOW – I want to shine a light on some good things I’ve recently come across.  Ironically, a lot of the good things I want to share are kinda sad.  But, be that as it may, here goes:

1.  If you haven’t already seen it, Patti Smith’s tribute to Sam Shepard in the New Yorker is one of the best things you’ll read all year.  I’m going to be honest here and admit that I don’t know Patti’s music as well as I feel like I should.  But between this essay and her humbling, heartfelt performance of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at the Nobel ceremony last December, I am now compelled to start reading her memoir, M Train, post-haste.

2.  Speaking of books, I just finished reading Killers of the Flower Moon, and while I wasn’t necessarily bowled over by the somewhat dry quality of the prose, the story of the Osage Murders and how they directly formed the foundation of the FBI as we currently know it is staggering.  I can’t believe I never knew about this.  This is a necessary, heartbreaking story and it’s unfathomable that nobody knows about it.  Indeed, if karma is in fact a real thing, then it’s entirely possible that the Trump Presidency is our karmic retribution for our utter annihilation of the Native American way of life.

I…. I think I’m getting woke.

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3.  Today’s song of the day du jour is “itsallwaves” by Enemies.

 

And while I’m at it, here’s a little playlist of some songs that I’ve been enjoying of late – most of them are from Spotify’s Discovery playlists, and others just kinda showed up.  At some point I’m going to write a huge thing about Louis Cole, who’s been blowing my mind ever since “Bank Account” went somewhat viral earlier this year – I’ve been digging into his catalog and I’m continually amazed at how incredibly versatile and restlessly creative he is.  And yes, that is a Coldplay song in there; believe me, nobody is more surprised that I’m recommending a Coldplay song than me.

 

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