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sunday post: performance piece

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He is sitting behind a guy on the bus to Finsbury Park last week. Said guy is holding his iPhone such that it is easy to read what he is texting, the texts that he receiving. Her message is first and then his:

– still in bed x

– in cab x

The scenarios that would inform such a lie – he is not where he is supposed to be, he is trying to impress her and thinks (or know?) that bus travel isn’t the fastest mode of transit into her deepest deep – proliferate in his mind until they don’t.

Next he tells her that he is being sent to Bradford to cover some murders that happened, x.

***

He is sitting on a train, riding back from a conference in a small city (pop. 44,000). He is sitting with a young but still quite successful novelist and and another academic, a theorist. He talks to the novelist about reviewery, the vicissitudes of teaching writing, the advances that the latter received, the meeting that he himself is having with a literary agent this week. He, they, ignore the theorist, though later he will feel bad about this.

A couple is sitting in the seats across the aisle. She is reading a magazine, he a novel. Not long into the trip, he drops the book noisily on the table between them, pulls out his phone, and begins to play a game instead.

He wonders whether a) he was bored with the novel b) bothered by the volume of their conversation c) bothered by the content of their conversation.

***

Earlier, at the conference dinner, he receives advice about dealing with agents from a novelist who would know. She outlined the differences between working with a big agent at a small house and a small agent at a big house. Later she hinted at the possibility of him reviewing her next novel – joked about whether she would or wouldn’t have him sent a copy, and then made a joke about the Canadian fishing village where his mother grew up, which she knew of, had even visited, or so she let on.

***

At this dinner, he fails to finish his quattro formaggi pizza, or even half of it. He had forgotten that this chain of Italian restaurants was the one where he doesn’t like one of the cheeses on the quattro formaggi.

It is embarrassing, for a man of his size, not to finish – especially in England, where everyone finishes. He is relieved when the wait staff has taken the husk of it away while he is out for a cigarette.

***

Earlier than that, before the dinner, he worried throughout the conference about his extremely persistent cough. He worried for two reasons – that he was really bothering others in the audience was one reason.

***

When he meets a Canadian, say at a conference, he feels a need to prove his Canadianess to them, though he has only ever visited the place. Likewise, when he meets a writer of fiction, he needs to do the same – subtly somehow prove that, despite the fact he’s published nothing nor has he tried to publish anything, at least prospectively he is one too.

The fact that he has a Canadian citizenship card does render the former task easier than the later, but both are in their way confidence games, aimed to sell himself as much as his interlocutor on aspects of his identity that are only themselves fictional, even if legally or prospectively true.

***

A review in The Forward of Joshua Cohen’s forthcoming novel Witz ends on the following note:

At more than 800 pages of involved and unusual reading, “Witz” is a book for those who are prepared to spend the time and effort of a full 40-hour workweek reading a novel. It is a week of work that will be quite unlike any other you’ve ever experienced.

It has taken him at least a full 40-hour workweek to read it, but a work-week entirely conducted after-hours and on buses and trains.

***

At some point this weekend, he decides that he will work exclusively on his novel and not at all on his scholarly work, this summer. Though this, of course, is a lie.

***

On Sunday morning, he reads Terry Eagleton’s review of Christopher Hitchens Hitch-22 in The New Statesman. Later, as he buys the book at his local book shop, the woman at the counter jokes about the picture on the cover, that it is a flattering one given what Hitchens looks like now. She uses at one point the word “sexy,” but he misses the rest of the sentence and doesn’t ask her to repeat it.

Later he uses the index to look for references to the graduate seminar that his wife took with Hitchens during the Fall of 2001 and finds just what he is looking for, which confirms one story that he told someone at the conference the day before. Other stories remain unconfirmed.

***

The night before, upon returning from the conference, he orders both of the young novelist’s novels and discovers, to his surprise, that the young novelist is actually four months older than he is. This is a relief, and explains why this novelist groaned as loud as he did when saw the line on the backcover of Witz: “JOSHUA COHEN was born in 1980 in New Jersey.”

He, like the young novelist, was born in 1976.

***

Later, when he discovers that a podcast of his conference lecture has been posted on the web, he watches it, calls his wife down to watch it. It’s been a long time since she has seen him lecture, years.

She leaves him to it after a few minutes, clearly put off by his fascination with the video, the rapt attention that he pays, there at the kitchen table, to himself.

***

He takes decongestants for the cough to no avail – the cough persists. In addition, he has a strange, sore spot on his head, the back of his head. Sore to the touch, but the source of the pain is underneath the skin, between the scalp and the skull. He beat hypochondria, and beat it conclusively, years and years ago. But beating hypochondria brings its own dangers and with them its own even deeper fears.

***

He is reading Witz in the living room while he wife looks up options on sabbaticalhomes.com for the summer, for their daughter’s summer break. Six weeks, from mid-July to the end of August. There are people eager to rent a place like his in London, people with kids, people willing to take care of cats, but no one with a place for rent in New York. He wonders if they should go to a European city instead, and she agrees that since they are here, they really should at least think about that. But Italy would be too hot, and so would Spain, and Paris they’ve done, and Germany is boring, and they’ve just been to Amsterdam. And he hasn’t been to the new Yankee Stadium, though he promised he’d never in his life go there, a year or so ago.

Someone has a place available in Maplewood, New Jersey, located just at the base of South Mountain. A strange siren song sings itself in his heart, but no, for chrissake, come on. He suggests staying with his grandmother, in Nova Scotia, in the fishing village. Think about the babysitting.

On the train back from the conference, the novelist mentions that he and his girlfriend spent six months in Buenos Aires while he finished his second novel. When he and his wife were in Buenos Aires, just after the devaluation, they joked about buying an apartment with their credit card, putting down a downpayment anyway, but there was grad school to return to, work to return to.

Later he thinks that he is not sure there was a better time than when they were in Buenos Aires, and wonders if they shouldn’t in fact go back for those six weeks.

***

He sends his father, who has never seen him teach, a link to the podcast of him lecturing. He anticipates receiving a message back telling him that he read too quickly, way too quickly, as his father once took a public speaking course with William F. Buckley’s brother which seemed to have only two takeaway points: 1) Speak very slowly. 2) Print your speach with no more than 40-50 words per page.

But he is wrong, that’s not what he gets in return. Rather, an hour later he receives an email from his father featuring a podcast starring an engineer from BP, explaining the efforts the corporation is taking to seal the leak in the Gulf. No reference, none at all, to his lecture in his father’s email.

This surprises him for only about seven seconds, which is perhaps the time that it takes for things that are obvious and inevitable to unseat things that are wished for but impossible.

This is also the reason why this post – its form, its content, both together – exists.

***

Earlier, Sunday afternoon, he discusses all of the above, except of course for the things that would happen later, with his wife as they walk with the children into town to get some lunch. His older daughter assumes that her parents are fighting – pouts, fits, cries, and then demands that only her mother take her to lunch and that he father “go to work, because he has a lot of things to do at work.”

Things spin a bit, his mind fills with anxiety, anger, guilt all at once. He is silent and away for the first ten minutes of lunch and then returns, tries to speak.

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May 31, 2010 at 3:16 am

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Jesus is New Jersey ever looking all Bruegelly today. Homesickishness. This photo from the NYT today is from South Orange, not far from where I grew up. It’s just at the foot of South Mountain reservation, reference previously on this blog here and here

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February 27, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Posted in new jersey

11231

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I like this collection of brooklyn photos (via woodslot) a whole lot. Lived a few doors down (and fifteen years later) from this one above. They seem to be mostly from the mid-to-late 1970s, and I’m actually a little suprised that things look as OK as they do in them, as the word (from the likes of Jonathan Lathem, but also neighbors etc) always was that things were pretty dicey past Atlantic Avenue before the waves of gentrification swept down over lower South Brooklyn.

A few doors down and across the street (and, again, fifteen years before I arrived) these guys look like they’re having a good time, no? I’m guessing it has something to do with the snazzy, what is that, a clockradio with futurspeakers? Do you think they’re listening to 1010 WINS? Do-do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do-do. That’s the Kane Street synagogue visible through the window, no? I’m surprised it extends that far down the street if so.

I’ve been (again, again) getting nostalgic for Brooklyn, for greater New York. Bunch of reasons for this. It’s baseball season – I can even take my iPhone into the back garden here and listen to the Yankee games, but it’s not the same and they’re on at the wrong time, way too late. The middle-aged men wear Arsenal jerseys instead of Yankee hats on Saturday afternoons. More than that though. One of my good friends who lives in the neighborhood, a few blocks away from what’s pictured above, is having a second kid as  I type.

Hard to explain what Brooklyn is, what it is to me. I will admit absolutely right off the bat that I am one of those New Jersey kids who drove a UHaul in and parked in on Monroe Place in Brooklyn Heights, unloaded my stuff, ordered a pizza, and fell asleep that night thinking motherfucker, I actually live here finally. To make matters worse, I am one of those who, a few years later, pushed a stroller into Cobble Hill park, having purchased lunch at the ridiculously slow pseudo-French place next door, and proceeded to eat the lunch with kid squirming in the stroller. I will further admit that, well before the UHaul, the stroller, I was one of those New Jersey kids who’d drive to South Mountain Reservation on Friday nights to smoke pot and fuck around with girls in the woods but mostly to stare at the stunning  glitter of what was down the hill, past the Oranges and Newark, in the distance.

You can read Philip Roth, starting right from Goodbye, Columbus to figure out what that hill, that overlook, means if you like.

What is one supposed to do? Lie about it? That’s where I came from, and that’s why I came. Absolutely, Brooklyn is a sort of paradise for people like me. Authenticity, blagh. I’m not sure I care all that much. It’s more stuff that can’t be taken away, even by the arrival of people like me in the Borough of Kings. Seasmell that drifts through the neighborhood at moments, and the glimpse of open ocean from the Verazanno. The typeface and color circles on the subway. The fucking food, god almighty. I have lost weight for lack of proper lunch options, and really there is only one proper lunch option…

But also the people. I miss the people, the warmth of the place, which you only understand when you’ve moved some place much, much colder. And there are no Catholics or Jews here, and when you say that even to right-thinking people in North London, they respond “Oh, there’s Jews galore in Swiss Cottage – you should try there. It’s swimming in Jews.” Which is, of course, not the right answer. Not at all.

But it’s also one’s native flora – what grows when you neglect the garden is the stuff that you’ve seen grow since you were small. And the papers are unreadable here – there’s a lot of them, yes, but I’d take the Times, despite it all, in a second. And there are too many pubs, and the pubs are too delightful and tolerant, but for all that they still close immensely too early.

At any rate, my first child was born in Long Island College Hospital while the second was born in Camden, the borough of Camden. The latter is already a citizen of the United Kingdom, and can freely live anywhere in the European Union for as long as she likes. The other, um, can still be president of the United States….. There’s probably a novel in that, a bad one, which I’ll leave them to write if they like. But my wife and I have birth certificates that list birthplaces we’d rather forget, so I guess that’s progress.

It’s nice here, and I don’t mean to complain. I’ve been very lucky, jesus. But expatriation is a hard road to hoe. And when there’s a place you feel like you belong in, at last, and you’re sensitive about place, well, there you are.

(After much consideration, too much, have decided just to post whatever the fuck I like on my blog. Have had complaints – in comments, in person, in person at second hand – about the “narcissistic posts.” Have decided I simply don’t care. I really don’t mean to sound hostile, really don’t. Blog, such as it is, is not a vehicle for “good work.” Blog is because I like to write things like the above. Or bitch about writing and work. Or sometimes play around with ideas. This blog is not to be taken seriously, except in so far as it is by me…. You can read it if you like, or not if you don’t. I am not checking hit counts or links from here on out. And that’s a promise…)

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May 7, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

On Leaving New York I

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I grew up in New Jersey. New York City is harder to get to than you might think from Jersey, especially when you’re a teenager. Chicago’s got no rivers to cross, and Boston’s rather quaint. In Los Angeles, there’s no there there, so I imagine that the deal’s rather different…

You can’t – or at least don’t – drive into the City. Parking is outrageous, and anyway, you’re intimidated by the traffic patterns, the difficulties of navigation when you’re used to a relatively sleeply small town and the interstates that run to other sleepy, small towns.

You can always take the train, and we did sometimes. It seems crazy to me now, but we used to cut school, calling in sick, and take the train to Hoboken (didn’t go all the way to Penn Station back in the day), and then take the PATH train to 9th street in the village. Still brings back memories when I pass the entrance of the 9th street station, and the deli across the street where we used to buy our beer, which we’d drink out of brown paper bags in Washington Square Park (these were the days B.G. – Before Giuliani – when you could do such things…)

We’d hang around the Village for awhile and then head up to Central Park, in particular Strawberry Fields, just across the street from the Dakota where (our hero) Lennon was shot and killed. (The other day I found myself waiting for the light to change at the corner of 72nd and CPW standing right next to Yoko and Sean…) When we got there we’d smoke cigarettes or pot if we had any, or drink what was left of our stash from the deli downtown.

Sometimes we’d go to the Met, but I don’t really remember that all that well…

But most of the time we stayed in Jersey. Even so, almost every weekend we’d head out to the overlook in South Mountain reservation in West Orange, where you can see the city in the distance. Sometimes we brought girls with us, sometimes we drank, but we always talked a lot of shit about how soon we were going to live there, in the City, and how we’d never leave once we got there…

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March 4, 2005 at 2:07 am

Posted in Personal