Saturday, December 12, 2009


If this is the twilight of the idols, two of them will be very hard to see in the dark but for their smiles. One's stunning grin is becoming a grimace, the rigor mortis of a zombi (the one we invented, not "28 Days"). The other is too locked in the contrite flinch splashed across tabloids in smeary ink to show his teeth, once so prominent nibbling on blonde canapés.

Tiger Woods deserves the anger of black folks. I'm not sure whether there is any, but a friend reminded us on his Facebook status of Nas's edict, "Pro ball players with white wives/Peep they night lives." He assented with this observation before the baker's dozen of bang biscuits came hot off the presses: 13 women? $60,000 kinky sex? Taste for blondes? There's nothing wrong with sex and lots of it, with different people. Even adultery is rather ho-hum, saddest really because of the children. Here the tragedy is the grand scale of it, the height of his pedestal, and the dull tropes he played out in the course.

Pedestrian and flat is the paper Tiger now so perforated, who used to stare from ads at something just behind, over, or to either side of the viewer. I didn't begrudge him success, because he's phenomenally talented. There's no reason for the fair-minded to revel in schadenfreude; this is the fall of a man who seems more idiot savant than genius.

But why should Obama deserve the anger of "his people," the brown he let down? Blacks and Hispanics think he's doing a great job, says a recent Gallup poll. That's odd, especially considering the figures on black unemployment. Thirty-nine percent of whites still favor him, so does thinking he's crap make me a white guy? That's unfair by half.

He has disappointed nearly the span of his voting base in less than a year. A list of letdowns bores me with its staggering breadth, a complete index of which is beyond the scope of this writing. I didn't want to have any hope for Afghanistan because I'd come to expect disappointment, but I took Obama's stalling as due consideration. A progressive radio host said last night that he's "done with Obama", who has even begun to garner praise from conservatives for his hawky-talky.

The Obama administration has been jobbing off the "green sector jobs" he promised our rust-belt wastelands to China, all while letting the loan applications of domestic manufacturers bog down. Health insurance is still too early to call, but the noises about expanding the rolls of private insurers without a public option's cost controls are not encouraging. Our borrowed bailout money to fill the hole left by housing speculation is yet being blown on commodities trading, with inadequate regulation allowing this market to drive up our food prices. What's next, air and water futures? It's starting to seem that the only thing getting "change"d here is a diaper.

It was silly to be in a major city, a chocolate city, when he won the election. All the giddiness and t-shirts, flags and banners, bumper stickers, calendars and blather when all he'd done was talk and posture. I believed it too, but I didn't buy it. So now I don't have a single Obama calendar to tack to my dartboard, but in a few weeks I'll get one out of the trash.

My father came here from a country where presidents who have promised populist revolution have become totalitarian demagogues. Obama's not doing it in the "banana republic" way, naming himself President for Life and setting up his own paramilitary to spirit people off, torture and kill. We do things here on the d/l, in a suffocating shuffle of paper à la Harry Buttle's fate in "Brazil." But my father might say that Obama is a shame to us, to the race he'll be taken to represent. (I don't know, I don't have the heart to ask.) Growing up, my father told me that my every failure would reflect poorly on my race. Remembering that while mulling over Tiger and Obama, I could see how irrationally livid I was.

By those admittedly old-fashioned lights, Tiger's probably set us back a few decades. Squinty crackers probably don't watch golf, but I bet they're happy to see that this black man, master of a Scottish game customarily played in exclusive venues by largely white folks, has acted out a snore-jerking stereotype with 21st century decadence. We can only hope this will all blow over and not keep rising like a priapic O.J.

I had hoped the Nobel Peace Prize was a clever preemptive strike by Europe that would remind Obama he was elected as an antiwar president: the committee knew he would have to make some decision about the wars before accepting the prize.

How ironic it all looks now, framed under a Norwegian sky as a Russian missile sputters overhead. Obama, too bad the father you didn't have wasn't like mine.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Ital is vital, but "take time to open!"

Some commutes are so ridiculous you'd die laughing if you weren't on the verge of dying proper. It would all be so casual if the work that feeds you didn't depend on punctuality. Good thing my new night job doesn't have "Arbeit Macht Frei" hanging over the timeclock, or you might see me round the proverbial soup kitchen again.

I had to go to a Jamaican restaurant for honest food after a starving day doing my own work. Only the real "(down)home cooking" would do, the type of feast that my ancestors ate so they wouldn't have to dally around the table -- probably a section of floor -- and get beaten for "laziness." Damn tasty, filling, cheap and often vegetarian by the exigencies of economy and history. (Notwithstanding the salvage exemplified by the likes of oxtail and pigs' feet.) Ital is vital.

I had to negotiate something I could reheat later with a typically curt Jamaican counterperson. The wait was customarily long, so I had to dash once the food was packed. While eating a bammy (cassava fritter), carrying a folding scooter and food in a bag (I've never seen a Caribbean dinner that travels well, though the snacks are portable), I tried to get my subway pass out at the station.

In all this fumbling I dropped the bag of dinner with a roots drink (above) in it on the subway station tiles. Roots drinks are notoriously carbonated and have to be bottled in thick glass because they are literally explosive from internal pressure, fermented to 5% alcohol in the bottle (big deal, it's 5 fl. oz.). This brand has to be depressurized for 15 minutes (crack cap, wait, close, repeat) before opening, or promptly upended in a vessel three times its volume. The bottle popped violently and shot foam all over everything – out of the plastic bag, all over my dinner's paper bag, floor, everything except me, praises.

Some IDIOT was yelling that I dropped something. No fucking duh! Everyone stared because it had sounded like a floodlight full of sarin. No time for malarkey, I could hear the train I needed to catch beyond the turnstiles. (It only occurred to me later that I could have had a de Menezes moment there, shot seven times in the head because we live in a >9/11 world.)

I carried the dripping dinner bag, scooter and half-eaten fritter to the platform where I just missed the train. Finished the bammy in time for the next train, then hurried to take the dinner in paper bag wrapped in dripping plastic out, sticking my hand into a lagoon of glass shards marinating in roots drink. Started bleeding. Caught train but barely with everyone staring, and had to throw out the sticky plastic bag that had taken the worst frag assault. Tried to clean off my left hand, flicking glass and blood specks everywhere.

So now I won't be able to steer the scooter very well, have no bag to carry dinner in and the bottom of the inner paper bag is sopping and studded with glass. I have to put it on the scooter to carry it, it's so hazardous and gross. I consider throwing it all out, but we’ve been through so much already.

Get to city, run out because I have 5 mins to make a 10 minute trip on a scooter in the dark with a bleeding hand. And the bag is still a problem, let alone bloody-hand driving. Dunkin' Donuts is hosting a symposium of two customers not discussing anything transactional with the counterperson. I ask a Sikh selling papers in a kiosk if he has a shopping bag, he says a small one, fumbles for a while and comes up with one big enough for a Snapple and a pack of cigarettes. I'd already thought that worst come to worst, I'd go to Pret a Manger because they're usually nicer than any other chain gangers.

They kindly and quickly obliged me with a bag, perhaps guessing the disaster since I was carrying a cactus of sodden brown paper and glass slivers on my scooter like a palanquin, plus I looked like my mom was on fire. I bagged my Jamaican tragedy, belted the bag to my side where it would swing around and threaten my balance while scootering at high speed, and jammed to the office. To save time, I rode against traffic in low light and nearly got hit by bikes twice.

Got to work and clocked in four minutes late.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

KAHVE DEFTERI: A journal of Turkish coffee grounds readings, an intermittent Fahrenheit Googolplex project

I've been having my grounds read by a couple of Turkish close friends for a while now, and have had occasional readings in Turkey by folks said to be divinatorially endowed. It occurred to me during my last reading, which was very unusual, to make a series of these on Fahrenheit Googolplex.

Finishing a dinner party with readings in a group can be lengthy, but it's always fun. Sometimes it's just a social gambit. Occasionally it's quite enlightening.

Here are the project specifications.

WATER: Northeastern U.S. seaboard, supplied from one of three sand and gravel aquifers, then filtered through a Doulton ICP silver-impregnated ceramic filter (which, at the time of this writing, admittedly needs a scrub).

CUPS: Güral Porselen, of Turkish manufacture. These are getting harder to find. Thanks to MK for their supply.

COFFEE: Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi (Mister Mehmet's Ground Coffee), the standard for the process.

BREWING METHOD: A cezve (coffee pot) on gas stove. Cezve is stainless steel, of Egyptian manufacture (Al Ahram brand). Capacity 4 cups.

I made four cups for this reading. My friend and I don't muck about with caffeine, she's impervious to it anyway from having drunk tea all day every day while growing up in Istanbul. She read mine, but somehow I got most of the grounds – so no reading for her.

Readings range in scope from epics to haiku. It all depends on what you see in the cup. This time was sparse, but stark. Sometimes there's no mistaking the images channeled into the grounds.

After brewing and drinking, I took the cup with grounds, placed the saucer upside down over the cup, and circled it clockwise while making a wish. Then I turned it upside down away from me and placed it on the table.

I put a ring on top of it, in the small of the cup's underside, to serve as a heatsink. When the cup was cool, we looked inside.

A large clean heart (right), with someone hanging over it. My heart/soul is still and peaceful, free from troubles or haze. Possibly someone is beside the heart holding a large baby in the air. The heart emerges from the depths of the cup and grows bigger. There are two roads, both pretty open, forking to the left of the heart.

On the bottom of the cup is someone on a horse, about to ride up a steep hill. The hill plateaus after a short steep distance, and the path is clear. She supposes the person is me, and that the vista is about to open for me.

The lump of grounds means kismet, which is fate/destiny loosely translated. Apparently all my troubles have fallen out of my heart, becoming a huge lump of kismet on the saucer. This is a sign that good fortune is afoot.

[Some readers turn the puddle of grounds on the saucer and spill a drop off the edge to see whether the wish will come true. That's determined by the progress of the drop, its path, and how quickly it reaches the base of the saucer.] It seems my wish will come true, quickly and without hindrance. As with birthday candles and shooting stars, no telling.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Leave Him Alone

People don't miss him; they miss the way he made them feel. Let's at least be honest about our grief. The impulse to mourn his death is selfish, the loss of a part of childhood or innocence that seemed animate as long as he was alive. (Closer examination would, of course, have proven that impossible.) He became the unwilling griot of our cultural Grand Guignol.

Don't get me wrong, I love him as much as the jukebox hijackers, the Twitterers, the folks on the street recounting their personal experiences for which his music was the soundtrack. Maybe I don't love him as hysterically as the flagellants making their pilgrimage to the Staples Center, but I hold to that old chestnut, "If you love something, set it free."

Last Friday's Bob Herbert Op-Ed in The New York Times laid the blame for this idolatrous displacement squarely at the feet of a fantasy culture the symptoms of which include Reaganomics and the Iraq War. Herbert concluded, "We don’t want to look under the rock that was Jackson’s real life. As with so many other things, we don’t want to know." Jackson was a hero of an era that has decisively ended. With the death of Captain Eo (Gk., "dawn"), night has fallen, and only the nostalgia of salad days will keep him from his rest.

Regarding the mechanics of his exit, an piece by Mary MacElveen opined that "knowing how fans would react to his passing, Jackson should have set aside funds to pay for such an elaborate memorial service given the city [of Los Angeles'] deficit." Jackson engaged in widespread philanthropy through foundations and charities, but I doubt he would have financially encouraged the rending of garments and possible mass suttee that would occur at such an enormous pity party: everyone trying to out-sing each other in their praises of him and claim him the most decisively.

Because for most of Jackson's life, except when performing, he only wanted to be left alone. Almost as much as I'd like to be left alone by Geico commercials, which have have co-opted the Michael Jackson Rockwell song "Somebody's Watching Me" in a remix to flog their unsurance [sic].

The eternal reverberation of those broadcast waves across the aether is probably what killed Michael Jackson.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fulvio's gas bike

While mucking about the industrial area last week, I met a genial fellow named Fulvio where he worked at a huge recycling operation. He had recently suffered a heart attack, and answered the doctor's demand for more fitness by outfitting a cheap bicycle with a two-stroke engine from Gasbike. If he overexerts himself while riding his bike, he can just fire up the engine and motor the rest of the way home.

Fulvio says the police are indifferent to his vehicle's engine, which probably doesn't fall under any particular regulation yet (in New York City, you don't need a license for a moped). If they look menacing, he throttles off the engine and starts pedaling.

The kit is about $130. It can be adapted to any bike except folding ones. The bike can go 120 miles or so on one tank of gas. Hardware included is pretty cheap, so Fulvio was replacing the zinc-plated bolts with stainless steel ones he'd ordered. Disc brakes are also a must on this vehicle that tops out at 40 mph.

How funny that a cheap Chinese-made kit can be slapped on whatever wheeled rubbish you have lying around (he picked up a bike on Craigslist worth less than the kit), and it'll go just as fast as the preposterous Puma from the benighted minds of GM and Segway. It'll be no less safe either, given that the Puma seems made out of an Olive Garden clamshell takeout. A gasbike won't be able to carry any less, really. And the gasbike kit probably costs less than 1/30 of the Puma.

The only conceivable use for the Puma is as a prop in the "Arrested Development" movie. Perfect for Gob's big-screen edition -- and not big enough for George senior to hide in.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It Must Have Been Love, But It's Over Now

Until this twilight of the idols, banks were deified, for all practical purposes: their "mysterious ways" wondered at, offerings made for their inscrutable pleasure, their benedictions needed to proceed with any investment larger than a pot pie or a plasma screen. The church may have blessed your marriage, but the bank blesses your starter home.

Also like their numinous antecedents, such institutions are immortal. Jupiter no more disappeared under Emperor Constantine than Was Mutual vanished into JPMorgan Chase. (Never mind that Jupiter was the Roman edition of Zeus.) Jupiter, like assets and acolytes, was merely converted.

I took the crapshot above with a cell phone in October 2008. (Please forgive my violation of prohibitions on portraying the divine. I don't think this one can fight back much anyway.) In times thought more primitive, its condition shown here could have been taken as an omen.

Oddly the artifacts of this bockety religion continue to have their power, even during the comas of their principals. One uses credit cards from nominally defunct institutions to buy groceries that are no less real. Bills continue to arrive and be paid, or not as the case may be. Most interestingly, you continue to live in your house/condo/apartment, operate your business, drive your careven though another Master's hand makes all that possible.

Take the Aya Sofia in Istanbul as an example of how a holy power's emblem changes, but its substance remains omnipresent. [Below: You can see the Byzantine relics in the dome above, the Muslim relics just below it and the museum's own prosaic artefact of scaffolding in the foreground right.] Originally built as a Byzantine church, this stunning edifice was convertedthat word againto a mosque with the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Subsequent to that it became a museum, removed from religious vicissitudes by the arch-secularizer Atatürk.

Yet his name, assumed as all of Turkey's surnames are, translates as "Father Turk." If "_________ [your god here]" is the father, then even this most awe-inspiring of buildings does not leave the Father's hand when it becomes a museum in a secular republic sired by the father to end all Fathers.

Lots of abstract things collapseempires, economies, ideals. But if they exert a power over our minds and lives comparable to that of the divine, what happens when we use their paraphernalia without knowing to whom we offer obsequies?

Maybe if you use a credit card to tithe to a church, both bank and church would explode. It would be like crossing the streams in "Ghostbusters."

It was mutual. Now it's homoiousian.