New York, New York…

“We got rats on the west side, bed bugs uptown.” “Go ahead, bite the big apple, don’t mind the maggots,” and yet Jagger sums it up: “Pile it up, pile it up/pile it high on the platter.”

Shattered, Mick Jagger

“I love New York. You can pop out of the Underworld in Central Park, hail a taxi, head down Fifth Avenue with a giant hellhound loping behind you, and nobody even looks at you funny.”

Rick Riordan

“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”

Tom Wolfe

“What’s the use of a great city having temptations if fellows don’t yield to them?”

P.G. Wodehouse, Carry on, Jeeves

What’s that? You’ve never had a dirty dog? What sort of plebe are you? I suppose we all remember our first. I certainly do. And it was terrific. Sorry, sort of turned down a blind alleyway off memory lane. But New York was one of those fantastic places I had heard of; a place that existed in books. How could such a place exist. Surely it must be down the same ethereal street as Shangri-La, El Dorado, or gasp Camelot. These places have loomed large in my mind since childhood. Peter Maas’ Frank Serpico described living in Brooklyn in such glorious detail, I could taste the fresh mozzarella. It was a place of magic as well. I mean why else would a sea of humanity cram itself out in the freezing cold just to count down to an arbitrary division of time?

These fantasy cities are similar, as memories, they are often disjointed, discreet, pieces of wildly vivid, and familiar, sights, sounds, and importance. Lady Liberty facing the sea, welcoming all. What a wondrous thing to exist. “Can I sell you a bridge?” Ahh, the Brooklyn Bridge. Say no more. (Yet I will.) The first time you went to the top of the Empire State Building has to be a place fixed in multitudes of memories. Or, and this is one of my favorites, watching the face of a Times Square virgin as they come up out of the subway and see the extravagant splendor of a veritable day at night. I’m afraid this post would be much to long-winded if I were to name all these landmarks, but suffice it say, just as with all the mythical places. And indeed the landmarks are fixed places in space and time. Or so it seems. A somber visit to the World Trade Center memorial helps to bring reality home. Unlike true fantasy cities, this city is real. And what makes it real is the tendrils of reality interwoven between them. The seedy sides, the soft sides, the thriving humanity that truly makes this city.

By the glistening bicep of Thor! Yes, Thor’s bicep is indeed glorious, yet it’s nothing without the sinews and ligaments holding it in place, and allowing it to do its superheroing. And as such, how could anyone write about New York without mentioning the sinew that holds it together? The connecting ligaments which give it the strength to do its superheroing? The MTA. The Subway. Is it a blessing, or is it just something to put up with? “The ‘R’, or ‘Rarely’,” every New Yorker has a phrase to sum up his or her love/hate relationship with the subway. “What is this, a local?” Kenneth’s quip had meaning on that elevator, and this aspect of the city follows you everywhere. I have to admit, my visits to the city are infrequent enough that I tend to forget all the little lessons and shortcuts of subway travel. But then that sort of makes the refreshing of the layout even more fun. The subway may be packed, may be smelly (on occasion), and the hawkers can be quaint until they get a little too pushy. But I love it enough to wish this curse on my city. My god if there were a subway, or light-rail, in Nashville, I would definitely make a trip up there frequently. Who knows… it might even be magical.

I’d guess I should just say… it’s my kind of town.

Writing… winnowing out the packing peanuts

 
 
“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing
 
“So many large words, as though syllables will hide the truth” Sharon Mock, She Walks in Shadows
 
“Vigorous writing is concise.” Walter Strunk Jr.
 
As a software person, I try to keep aware of the technologies available to me. Whether I choose to use them or not. Part of my awareness program is reading articles and white papers. One issue I find, more often than not, is superfluous and, often, hyperbolic text jammed around the meat of what I need to consume. For instance, I am reading more and more about something called NoSQL databases. I am aware of what they are, and generally enough of how they work. But I’m trying to make clear to myself when and where one would choose this form of database. Almost every article I read has so much fluff surrounding the core thesis, it makes it difficult to find the “bullet points” I need. Things such as, “in response to the voluminous rise of chaotic data”, or “the original design of relational databases do not meet the exponentially growing needs of scaling and agility of modern applications.” I have purposefully altered the text so no one source will stand out. It is often exasperating to try to find the information inside all this hyperbolic jargon. And yet, I am guilty of the same thing.
 
When I write for pleasure, mostly fiction, I find quite often my eyes straying to the word count. “Cool, almost a thousand words so far in my short story!” Yet after allowing my fevered brain to cool off a bit and re-read the story, I typically find no single thread of my original plot line, and so many tangental strays it’s hard to count them. My dilemma then is, do I just command-a and delete, or spend the time trying to sort the whole mess out. The former is usually the best choice. Hemingway said, “write drunk, and edit sober.” Sadly my sober writing self makes my editor self need a drink.
 
Writers write. Or so my lizard brain tends to think. Therefore if I want to be a writer, then by god I need to write. Words. Lots of them. That there is writing wouldn’t ya’ say? Hmmm. Maybe not. Think of when you get that couch-sized box delivered, and after tearing into it you find a single pen you’ve ordered… buried somewhere in millions of packing peanuts. And you think, *jeez, what a total waste.* That’s the fluff. That’s the purple prose. That’s the useless crap that gets in the way of what you really need. And if I can just sit back for a minute and sip a mint julep (well Ernest, I guess I won’t be editing now) and just remember what it is I love, and have so loved, about reading, I’ll most likely notice it is the “S” word. The story. Oh yeah, I’ve heard of those. Tolkien drew me into a wonderful fantasy world filled with darkness, but then pulled back a curtain to show the spark of joy and hope that can be gleaned from even the darkest of nights. Bradbury, Clark, Heinlein, and so many others blew my mind out of the stratosphere, and showed me the marvels of the universe. And the universe’s perils. Donaldson tripped my brain on other worlds where everything I thought I knew was turned on its head. And a protagonist who often acted as the converse. “Why?!” I’d shout in my head as Halfhand did some other horrible thing. The more words the better? No, not really. Yep, it’s the stories, not the words. Well, sort of. Words are the communication medium writers use to give us the story. But the greatest writers, the ones we want to read anyway, are the ones who tune these worded stories to a razor’s edge (another great story) to slip us into his or her vision. It’s like a radio signal to our brain, and no static at all. So all you writers (including tech writers), take note. Leave out the fluff, tune us in, and we’ll tap our foot to your tune with no static. At all.
 
Peace, love, and light.
 
Marv

Café Culture – The Reminiscence

 

Geneva 2013 Pub

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Paris is always a good idea.” – Audrey Hepburn

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” Thomas Jefferson

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

It’s been five years since I’ve set foot on the European continent. And I miss it more and more every second of every day. My first trip to Europe, France in 2011, was momentous, mesmerizing, and eye-opening. When I came home to the states, a friend stopped me on the street and marveled at how I’d changed. And I had. The old country of Europe had left its mark on me.

French Farmers Market

I recall marveling at the daily (or at least frequent during my visit) fresh farmers’ markets on the streets of Paris, where folks would by today’s meal. I think it’s funny how in the past decade farmer’s markets have become the “thing” here in the states. But has been a regular thing in Europe. I recall eating something in the airport when I first returned to the states, and I felt ill afterwards. Probably psychosomatic, but I felt it nonetheless. France is known for its culinary prowess, but I feel that extends beyond the “haute cuisine” restaurants, and filters into everyday people’s lives. One of the reasons for my visit to France was to visit my son, who was studying at the Université d’Orléans as part of his French degree. Whilst there he stayed with a host family, and I was privileged enough to be able to stay with them. Meeting his host family was one of the greatest events in my life. I have since remained friends with them, and look forward to visiting them again someday. But during my initial visit, one thing which struck me was the common trend of fresh foods and the “event” of the meal. Several times, we had dinner events which included the quintessential multiple courses, with drink appropriate for each course, including German beer for the sausage and kraut course. This has stayed with me ever since. And though I don’t practice this, it remains such a prominent memory.

I’m a weird cat, in more ways than one, but for each of my visits to France, I’ve focused more on the beers than the wines. Yeah, I know… a missed opportunity. Well, I look at it as a reason to return. But the beers. My beer of choice these days is Stella, and this could possibly stem from my France visits. Beer and coffee, two of my favorite drinks to enjoy as I enjoyed all the France had to offer. You may have thought I’d gotten off topic, and you’re actually right… I did digress a bit with French foods, but here we are. Sipping a nice drink outside a typical French brasserie as I watched life go by was wonderful. And knowing I had the options of delicious French foods waiting was the reason for my digression. And I will not apologize! As I’m typing this missive, I’ve had a gentle epiphany. I’m really a simple fella. I do like haute cuisine, but the basics are more than enough for me. Give me a beer and something like the common French café and brasserie treat of  “steak frites” and I’m happy.

Steak frites Paris

What is it I like about the café culture? Mostly what is missing here in the states. Though there are instances of sidewalk cafés here, they are the exception more than the rule. One exception is a cigar bar here in Murfreesboro, unbelievably they are allowed to have beer and cigars right there on the sidewalk! And I can sit there and watch the small world of Murfreesboro go by. Quite enjoyable. These exceptions here though, are the rule in France/Europe (the parts of Europe I’ve visited). And one of the main reasons I go there.

1664 in Paris

À votre santé!

Paix et aime mes amis !!

The Sun Also Rises

“You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch.”
“Yes.”
It’s sort of what we have instead of God.”
“Some people have God,” I said. “Quite a lot.”
“He never worked very well with me.”
“Should we have another martini?” – Lady Ashley and Jake Barnes.

A novel by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s “roman à clef” of his post-war years in Paris. Where he mixed with his fellow members of the Lost Generation. I feel Hemingway was juxtaposing the romanticized lifestyle of himself and his fellow expatriates. A wafting energy against the immutable landscape of Europe. A Europe which seemed to be the very picture of the unchanging earth. The fiesta in Spain with its annual celebrants, risking, and sometimes realizing, death for sport in the running of the bulls. Immersed in everlasting tradition, this little group of lost souls, lost to the scene around them and lost to each other, with Jake Barnes being one who can see a bit of both.

The original working title for the story was Fiesta, but after consideration, Hemingway changed the title to The Sun Also Rises, based on a quotation from Ecclesiastes: “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.”

For my part, there was a feeling of melancholy while reading this book. Many of the characters seemed to act out, but I felt they were doing so because they were indeed trying to find a path. Lost, but for a myriad of reasons. And when they came together there was almost this continual scraping of the veneer of social graces… revealing the true nature beneath.

I greatly enjoyed reading this book. Hemingway has a way of showing us real people; without all the trappings of normalcy, but rather who these people really are.

Wallander

“Police work wouldn’t be possible without coffee,” Wallander said.
“No work would be possible without coffee.”
They pondered the importance of coffee in silence.”
– Henning Mankell, One Step Behind

“People always leave traces. No person is without a shadow.”
– Henning Mankell, The Troubled Man

“‎Not having time for a person, not being able to sit in silence together with somebody, that’s the same as rejecting them, as being scornful about them.”
– Henning Mankell, The White Lioness

“The stories I create are never as awful as reality.”
– Henning Mankell

I have been watching the Wallander series for several years now. I recall, whilst on a British crime drama bent, finding this series, and becoming so enraptured with Kenneth Branagh’s performance as a middle-aged (+) Swedish detective, with whom I could do easily relate. After the first couple of shows, I looked up the  writer, and started reading, voraciously I might add, all of his work. Well, the Wallander work. I was not disappointed by either the novels, nor the BBC’s depictions of the the novels.

One funny thing about the BBC production I noticed is that instead of trying to adapt the production to Sweden, or the setting of the stories to Britain, the production simply compromised: Set in Sweden, but totally in a British language and accent. Yet the signs, newspapers, and documents are in Swedish. I kind of like that.

When I first started the series, it was after I had watched Marvel’s Thor movies, and Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki in the Thor movies, is in the first few series of this show. As a fan of Loki/Hiddleston, that did help to draw me in. Another thing is that since this is a BBC production, there are several British actors whom I see in this. Such as Nicholas Hoult, and more. Much fun to see them in this series.

But to the point, Wallander is a character I can relate to. He is at a point in his life where he has achieved some modicum of success. But he is keenly aware of his faults. His failures. He’s aging, and feeling it, yet he still has the intuition which has guided him in his life. He’s no spring chicken, but he’s certainly not out of the game. An interesting thing with the show is Wallander’s ring tone on his “flip phone”.  In the internet age, it’s a definite throwback. A man struggling to embrace the future, but hanging on the past. In one episode his daughter creates an online dating profile for him, but it seems the best he can do is check the email that comes in. Wallander is a force of nature, yet an anachronism. But, in true dramatic fashion, Wallander finds the way. Wallander solves the  crime. Often haltingly, and definitely not in an elegant fashion, but he does solve the crime. And that… I like.

Series one through three are amazing. I’ve just started series four, and the one episode I’ve seen was good, but I believe there is something missing. I’ll report back my later findings.

Peace and love.

Marv

The Mind’s Eye

The Mind’s Eye

Kathy turned the eye of the stove on, its blood red coil searing the events of the evening into her mind, dulling her disturbed emotions. Hands shaking, she poured the peeled tomatoes into a saucepan, and added the dried noodles. These are Teddy’s favorites, Kathy thought glancing into the living room as she walked to the rubbish bin, Kathy could just see the edge of Ted’s slippers resting on the floor in front of the couch. God, he would watch that idiot box all day and night if he could, Kathy thought.

Outside, a storm that earlier had moved in with a shrug was now growing restless. Flickers of lightning cast shadows through the kitchen window. A brilliant flash startled Kathy.

“Teddy darling, you really should turn that TV off. The lightning is going to burn it out.”

 Oh Teddy, I’m always taking care of you, and Lord knows you need it. Kathy’s mind wandered down familiar paths. You and your fanciful dreams Teddy, you have no idea how many times I’ve saved you from hurt. Kathy remembered so many times when Ted would bound up the stairs with some new – foolish in her mind – idea. The camper for instance, seriously Teddy, don’t you think things through?

“Kathy! What if we bought a camper! We could take some of our friends and tour the campgrounds in the state. I’ve got some brochures here; let’s take a look at them!” Ted said. The excitement lighting his typically dull eyes.

“Well Teddy that is quite an idea. How much do campers cost?”

“Well, we have a few options. I could rig up a hitch on our station wagon and get a little camper to pull behind it. I asked a fellow at the auto parts store, and he said our wagon could handle a nice little airstream.”

“Do you really feel comfortable putting all these people in danger with your ‘rigging’ of a hitch?” Kathy warned icily. “And this sounds awfully expensive, remember we have to prepare for our retirement, you know how these politicians are, they are already spending our social security money.”

“Oh I know that Kathy,” Ted countered. “And I know we have to take care of ourselves, no one else will! But I feel like I need to live a little now, not just put it all off until I retire. I sometimes wonder if I’ll make it that long.”

“Oh don’t be silly Teddy, I take good care of you, and if you will listen to me, you will stay healthy as a horse.”

“I’ve seen some sick old nags.” Ted said as he grumbled back to the stairs. “And don’t call me Teddy.”

“What was that Teddy?” Kathy said without even a glance in Ted’s direction.

“Nothing dear.”

Kathy’s attention was drawn back to the present. Like little pulsing hearts, the veined-tomatoes began to writhe in the heat. With this movement, Kathy gave the concoction another stir, placed the lid on the pot and began the simmer. At the same time as the lid clinked onto the pan, a single dark red drop formed on the fabric of the couch behind Ted’s head. The drop coalesced and dropped to the floor deepening the stain on the carpet.

Kathy busied herself around the kitchen. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, was Kathy’s motto. Kathy had a never-ending supply of mottos to apply to those around her… and occasionally even to herself. Just take the time Teddy got it into his head that he should get a job with the National Park Service. Oh there had been quite a row with that one! Teddy had really gotten himself worked up until he finally the merits of staying with the company he had been with for fifteen years already. 

“You’re building equity in yourself.” Kathy had asserted.

“Actually I’m building equity in a company and group of executives who don’t care about anything other than their bottom line!” Ted said bordering on insolence. “They certainly don’t care about my bottom line.”

That was so like my Teddy, really just a boy at heart, and he does so need a mum, my little Teddy boy.

Ted continued, “My equity is in myself, and my abilities, and in my heart. Kathy honey, nothing makes my heart beat stronger than to be out in the boundless beauty of nature!”

“Oh Teddy darling, I know you think that’s what you want, and I’m sure you’ve convinced yourself of that. You are very convincing you know, and I love it when you stand up for what you think you believe in. But, you know how valuable you are to your company. You know how much they need you. You do have an obligation to them and honestly to me to be a faithful employee, and a faithful provider. “

Ted winced when Kathy uttered the word ‘but’, then turned and walked away calling over his shoulder, “Don’t call me Teddy.” Kathy just smiled; this was how she knew that he was seeing reason.

The storm outside blew tiny raindrops against the window causing a subtle ‘swish’ like a broom brushing against the pane. Kathy glanced into the living room, her eyes slowly moving to the television, its warm glow framing the scene. Ted sitting on the couch, his head lolled to the side, the shadowy trail of blood from the hole in his temple gleamed in the ethereal light. A car commercial ended, and the local news came on with a recap of an earlier silly story about another company filing bankruptcy. Oh big news, Kathy thought. She had told Ted that this would pass. Kathy had even considered calling down there to the news station and giving them a piece of her mind. “This is just fear-mongering,” Kathy would tell them flatly! Kathy’s reverie was interrupted by the dancing ‘tink’ of the lid on the pan. The smell of the torrent of tomatoes writhing among the pasta made Kathy feel grounded. A quick stir with a wooden spoon, and then Kathy’s favorite part: Popping the fleshy veined hearts, halving them so the pasta could soak up all that good juice. Oh Teddy will just love this.

Lonnie Stokes

“You ripped my scab you shithead.”

Lonnie held his arm up to my face, “I ought to make you eat it Harmon.”

“You did it L-Lonnie.” I said. “You di- did it trying to take my lunch box.” My voice hitching as I barely held back the tears.

“Only a queer would have a Scooby-Do lunch box Harmon. And you’re a damned queer if I ever saw one.”

It was an understatement that Lonnie Stokes was the bane of my existence on my bus rides home. I watched as Lonnie picked at the scab — one of three perfect little circles on his left arm. His hair stuck out every which way; especially the hair around his ears, swooping up to the skies, making his John Deere hat look like a bird about to take flight. His t-shirt had a rip under the right sleeve, and I could see a purplish bruise with yellow edges.

“What are you lookin’ at Harmon? You got some kind of problem?”

“I ain’t looking at nothin’ Lonnie.” I said as I looked away quickly. I remember what he did to Randy Stanley, and it made that bruise look pleasant.

“Nothin’?” Lonnie twisted in his seat facing me directly, his farm-hardened body indenting the torn t-shirt. “You callin’ me nothin’?  I’m gonna give you what you’ve been asking for you queer son of a bitch. “

They say that in times of great stress time slows down. Now that I’m a neuroscientist I know that isn’t actually true, but I remember clearly seeing the minute details of that incoming fist; little white scars from hay bailers on a weathered canvas. The calluses on the knuckles were the last I remember though.

Lonnie got kicked off the bus for a week after that little incident. He didn’t come to school during that week. I heard his folks didn’t have a car, just their farm truck, and even there in East Tennessee it wasn’t street legal. The next time I saw Lonnie we were getting on the bus for the ride home, and I was a scared boy. He stared at me with a hatred I could feel. Palpable. I didn’t look long at him, but I did notice that his bruise now had a little brother, the purple hugging his eye and reaching across for his ear. For the rest of the year I made sure to get in the front of the line and take a seat at the front of the bus.

Those bus rides were a microcosm of the human experience, distilled down to its most visceral elements. I remember some good times talking and sharing football cards with the one or two friends who rode my route. But mostly I remember Lonnie. He dropped out his junior year, and I never heard from him again. Though he still foments fear in me, I think of him often, and I recognize now those little cigarette-sized circular scars as crop circles of perpetuated violence, and think about how sometimes our society does indeed eat its young.