Dang good writing

For nearly two years, the New York Times has provided remarkable coverage of the Trade Center attacks. More than a year ago, the Times requested the Port Authority transcripts from the attack; when they weren't provided, the Times sued. They publish a summary of the documentation today, and retell previously unheard elements of the story with powerful anguish. For the New York Times, the Trade Center attack is an ever-fresh tragedy, gravely and honorably recounted. Because always, always, it's about human nature. The nature of some to stay put, the nature of others to break down doors to free strangers, and of readers and writers to look, even while flinching, at fear.



Standing on an abandoned overpass where weeds invade every concrete crack, reclaiming the rebar and the rubble. Somerville has only one abandoned overpass, but one is enough. Boston is a mess of lights in the night in front of me. It's almost midnight on a Wednesday, and stars pinprick the pale urban cloud. Mars is a furnace, brilliant red, cold disc, still moving toward me. I like to think about how it's closer than it's been for 60,000 years. I like to think about Mars. I don't know what 60,000 years is. I don't know what Mars means. I'm looking straight at it. When I hold my binoculars to my face, it moves in a circular dance that my hands can't control. But when I stand, dead fixed to this pile of rubble, tied with bonds that I can't understand, Mars sits patiently, beaming, waiting, nearing.


Because of the forces around me now, I can feel the changing of things. Last night I had a conversation about the Trade Center attacks, and my friend and I remembered how things were changing during the spring and summer of 2001. I remember thinking Bush was arrogant, his language uncaring, his actions reckless. Reckless beyond words. He had no sense of the responsibility he carried, no connection to it at all. I worked for a broker once who drove a Jaguar with license plates that read "Rekless." To me, he always looked scared, like a child who had just broken a lamp.

My friend remembered how things were shifting, how there was a sense that something was going to happen, how there were such angry riots against the World Trade Organization, and how they ended--how everything ended--after September 11. To think now of this oppressive, terrified administration, of their odd agendas, their desperate clinging to power; to think of this makes me believe that the two-party system won't survive like it is. There must be more than, as my friend said, brand loyalty. The structure as it is seems interestingly doomed; I sense larger change. I understand more deeply now, and my new understanding makes me wonder about the integrity of the 2004 elections. I mean that in the most literal sense. Is there anyone who will be protecting the process? It's not just about what happened in Florida, although as time passes, my mistrust of that event deepens. But it is also about the evident fear in this administration about keeping power and losing power, all wrapped into one.

When the Pope spoke out against gay marriage, I realized finally that it was truly going to happen. Gay marriage will be sanctioned in some form. Was it Scalia who said that the "gays were winning the culture war?" He knew it, and we all do, and thank god. The Pope never would have said it if he wasn't scared. Scared, I think, to death.



It's beautiful outside today, a return to summer after the season's first crisp day on Sunday. It felt wonderful to feel fall blowing in, all edged with Northern Wind and the brightness of leaves, but the hot hazy sky is still good too.

I had a good weekend, which included falling asleep in a hammock on Cape Cod and, later, experiencing acute souffle envy (the details of which I may have to expound upon in another entry). I am truly entering the domestic realm.

I work in a small office with six other people, and happily, we have an air conditioner. In general, I still get excited about going to work, a feeling which for me is rare and beautiful. For the most part, I like being an official editor, but it does make me feel rather unfriendly and fussy and particular. I mean, part of me misses feeling like it doesn't matter if it's "US" or "U.S." And do I really have to make SO MANY corrections to the boss's emails?

But the editor does help make a cause legitimate. And that feels good.


Change = Good

I am so happy this week. Really. I have been incredibly happy every single day. It's very odd. It's because of this job, I think. I've never felt this way before. Everyone should get a good job. That's my advice. Everyone go get a job they can be proud of.

Thinking of my little brother, who tonight spends his first night away at college. I called him this morning, and his voice sounded glum, the excitement of the last week replaced by missing the parents, the girlfriend, all the scattered bits of unconditional love. But we still love him. And I'm so glad he's in college.

I think another reason I'm so happy is that I bicycled 120 miles just in the last five days. My first full week of work, and I did two 5:45 am 30-mile rides and one evening 38-mile ride, plus I biked to work and back daily. In fact, I just biked home now, and the air was wet and hazy. The houses just a block away looked faded, like in an old photograph. Coming home, my work clothes drenched in sweat, carrying fresh corn and peaches from a farmer's market, and when I get there with kisses and bike pedals in his grease-blackened hands Blue tells me there's a severe thunderstorm warning. Even now, outside my study window, I can see the sky getting blacker, darkening in increments of gray scale, a humid, rolling, August thunderstorm. And now, in the distance, the rumbling. My curtains blow open, the trees are bending over, and the sky is changing from gray to yellow. Welcome, weekend.


It was a good day...

Wake at 5:45, and the bike wheels spin fast as we pull out of the driveway. The sun is rising to the east and the sky is filled with pink light. We duck and chase each other, drafting. The heat begins to rise from the road. I watch him and pull in front; we move over hills like water on rocks. Sweet smell of August trees and fields of loosestrife; home around 8am, just as the traffic begins to awaken.

My new job could be amazing. I am as cautious as I am risk-taking, so I'm still holding out, feeling unsure. But today my boss said, "Things change around here every day," and he was right. My last boss said that same exact thing of our dead corporate workplace, and a week later I was still laughing when I thought of it. But this time it could be true. It sure feels true. It feels like the merging of all the good parts of the jobs I've had in the past, and right now anything not good seems
at least


If Only He Could Run Again....

...and get us out of this terrible mess. By the way, analysts said yesterday that the top five countries in the world most likely to be attacked by terrorists within the next year are: Pakistan, Israel, the United States, Colombia, and the Phillipines. Just thought you all might like to know. Anyhoo. Carry on.

From today's Writers Almanac:

It's the birthday of former president Bill Clinton, born in Hope, Arkansas (1946). In 1988 he was chosen to introduce Michael Dukakis at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. It was supposed to be Clinton's big break, but it turned into a big belly flop on national TV. Clinton bombed. He stood on the podium and stared into a
teleprompter and realized from the start that the speech was doomed: awkward sections were inserted by Dukakis aides, the house lights were still on, there was no signal to the delegates to be quiet and listen. Minutes into the speech, he noticed that some convention whips were working against him, encouraging people to keep making noise. Clinton ignored signs from convention managers to cut it short, and he droned on until he said the words "and in conclusion" and the place erupted in mock cheers. The networks had cut away, and the audience was chanting, "Get off, get off." A few nights later Clinton went on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson even though his advisors told him not to, and Johnny joked that Clinton should be approved by the surgeon general as an over-the-counter sleep aid. But Clinton turned the joke around by making fun of himself. He said the speech "had not been my finest hour, not even my finest hour and a half." He played the saxophone with the band, and within the year he started building for his 1992 campaign.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

My #30 tooth was burned down to a nub for the resin crown. I made peach pie, as documented below. I requested a low-priced laptop on craigslist.com.
A 30-mile bikeride in the morning neatly missed the two rainstorms that book-ended my trip, but the water from the road left me drenched, my bike covered in sand.
I drove out to a McDonald's in Acton, and in the parking lot handed a stranger a $500 check for my latest Vaio. He drove a black pick-up truck and smiled a lot. He was nice, although not entirely happy that I didn't bring cash. So far, the computer works.
Several times, I have commented in my blog that something seems to hijack my browsers. When I want to go to one URL, I get taken to another. Also, my DVD drive and floppy drive have not worked for several months. This morning, my last free weekday of not working, I try to start a blog entry, cannot get to my given URL, and I then reach a distinct limit of patience. On the phone with a consultant who offers free phone diagnostics, I learn that I have a virus which has disabled everything important. He tells me to download Norton, which I do (kicking myself for not having done it earlier). Norton tells me that I actually have two viruses: w32.spybot.worm (lovely) and backdoor.sdbot. It can delete or quarantine exactly none of them.
I find the infected file, msconfig35.exe, and want to just manually delete it. But I don't know if I can, so I run the question in Google. When I am taken to the wonderful, marvelous, and fantastic Tech Support Guy, I post a new thread. Within an hour, I have all kinds of free software trawling my computer for spyware (a search which, by the way, turned up 163 programs, now all thankfully deleted)---spyware that downloaded itself through the Internet, watched my activities and reported back. By the next morning, I am much more intimate with my computer, and happily, Norton says my viruses are gone. But Derek from England, who helped me through the whole mess, scans my HijackThis! log and writes, "Sorry mate, you've still got problems."
I leave at 8am for Parsippany, NJ, where the wedding will take place. When Jesse calls my cell phone while I'm an hour out on the Pike and asks that I come to Brooklyn instead, I do. We hug each other hard, standing at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic; in 48 hours she'll be wed. That night, finally out in Parsippany, we are dressing for our bachelorette party, getting ready to head into the city for some dinner and dancing on the Lower East Side. It is just me and five girls from the Art Institute of Chicago; I may be the only one without a tattoo. We look hot. As the last trace of eyeliner is applied, the phone rings; Manhattan has just lost all power. For five months we've planned this party. In the end, we have an excellent time at an Italian restaurant up the street, and later we swim at 2am. We fall asleep after the last cocktail has been drunk and just before 16 Candles ends on TBS.
Peaches is on the second day of his solo multi-state bikeride. At Mile #230, I pick him up in my car, thankful he'll let me. He's only 30 minutes from me by car, but several hours by bike, and I want to get him back, into the pool and into the weekend. Later, my dad says, "Why didn't you let him bike all the way?"
Rehearsal dinner is an Indian buffet. Toasts are made; the groom's father is a preacher who tells the couple that they aren't getting any younger, and he's ready for grandchildren. Jesse says, "Haven't we done enough this week?" and everyone laughs.
The wedding at 3. August thunderstorms are threatening. "It has rained every Saturday at 3:00 for the last month," the bride tells me. She wears a long white veil and stands in front of a beautiful tree. She clasps Colin's hands. After the rings have been exchanged, I read a song by Bruce Springsteen. I introduce him as a New Jersey poet and everyone laughs.

Should I Fall Behind (off of Lucky Town)

We said we'd walk together baby come what may
That come the twilight should we lose our way
If as we're walkin a hand should slip free
I'll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me

We swore we'd travel darlin' side by side
We'd help each other stay in stride
But each lover's steps fall so differently
But I'll wait for you
And if I should fall behind
Wait for me

Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true
But you and I know what this world can do
So let's make our steps clear that the other may see
And I'll wait for you
If I should fall behind
Wait for me

Now there's a beautiful river in the valley ahead
There 'neath the oak's bough soon we will be wed
Should we lose each other in the shadow of the evening trees
I'll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me
Darlin' I'll wait for you
Should I fall behind
Wait for me

My dad first suggested this as a selection, and the groom loved it. That night, we dance for hours. The DJ is my little brother's former babysitter, someone who I have known much of my life. The other people on the dance floor are either my parents, my friends from high school, or the tattooed artists I have come to adore. We do a clap train. We interpretive dance to Like A Prayer. I do the Pointing Dance and the Robot Dance. My boyfriend dips and twirls me all night. It is fabulous. I can actually almost ignore the fact that my right foot is swollen from the yellowjacket sting I received on the sole of my foot inside the lobby of the hotel that very morning. Later we swim and drink champagne, as if in a rap video.
The next morning, the seven-year cicadas almost block out the highway noise as we eat brunch with rest of the wedding. My parents leave, and soon after, we do too, driving home. Our house feels empty with no cat, but we watch 8 Mile and look at the 153 pictures I have taken of the weekend.
I start my new job. I am in a small office with three other people, two of whom are my bosses. I edit profiles of government employees all day. After a while, I begin to feel better about going back to work. By the time Peaches and I take a 38-mile bikeride, I feel good. And now, I suppose, it's time to go back again.


Miscellany, Will Purchase in Cash, etc.

Piles of fresh peach slices on my first handmade pie crust, almonds and oats and sugar and butter on top, thinly dispersed. Some cream to pour over each slice, cold and warm. The smell of peaches and cinnamon on a humid August night. I knew they were ready when they began to hold the imprint of the wire mesh basket underneath. I pulled off the peel of each one, and sliced it down to the pit, taking all the melting fruit. A walk alone under the full moon while the pie baked. We ate together in the living room, on the wood floor, by the fan, the cat walking calmly around us in circles. Later, more, with white wine.

I needed that pie. I had some long-dreaded dental work done this morning, and now I have a resin crown on my #30 molar, "the workhorse tooth." "This will feel like a shoe that doesn't fit," warned my dentist, "but it will get better." I can't keep the tip of my tongue away from it. I watched the mold cast and fit this morning, but it feels authentically toothy, if not actually comfortable. It feels like a tooth that is too tight. In the waiting room, my boyfriend stuck it out for an hour and a half, just to drive me all the way home from the Western burbs. He is reading a book about F-16s.

Next month, I'll go back on a Saturday morning and she'll pull off the resin and put a fitted porcelain tooth where my real tooth used to be, my original tooth. My cherised dentist, Karen, showed me her work in the mirror. It was the first time I'd seen a molar of mine that wasn't almost completely silver. It was white, like teeth were meant to be. "It's like a virgin tooth!" she exclaimed. "And it's not even real!" I said. A strange phenomenon, to have two women leaning over your head, with needles and metal sticks and mirrors and loud drills and talking about babies and TV shows and hating the soft-core music playing over the intercom. For twenty minutes, I sat under a steady spray of my own tooth enamel.

I'm glad it's over. My parents were in town last week, so I visited Fenway to see the Sox win in the rain against Anaheim, Plum Island Wildlife Refuge where we lay on the beach in the fog, our favorite pet store where we watched an insanely bouncy pug puppy, three good restaurants and my dearest little farm, with its brand-new baby goat and a toddling chick, all in two days. It was good. They left, and I set out for a 45-mile bike ride, but somehow, at Mile 35, after a fast 15.8 mph run, I lost it. I just ran out of blood sugar. It's never happened to me before. Cyclists call it "bonking"---I just call it horrible. I only had $2.50 in my jersey, and I couldn't seem to ride my bike. My mind was cloudy. I struggled just to think through what I could do next next. Children ran around me and grandparents looked at me, faces long with concern.

I ate some Jordan almonds and free bread and free ice cream (the things you can find on a Saturday afternoon in Lexington, MA!) and made some angst-ridden phone calls ("when you get this, come pick me up!") and finally made it home on my bike. This happened because I hadn't eaten enough, but I was too distracted to think of that when I started my ride. My parents were visiting. And my new job is about to start, but not before I go to the wedding of my best life-long friend this Thursday. And read aloud, before all her relatives and various members of my own family, from the Great Book of Springsteen ("If I Should Fall Behind"). Never mind the oral surgery or the TV repairman or last-minute bachelorette party plans or the repercussions of her marriage in my own life. Those are standard things one should not complain about in one's blog. Speaking of things to think about, though:

I am LOOKING TO BUY a cheap, fairly reliable, PC laptop with wireless capability. All I need to do is write and edit text, and surf the Web. I'm looking to buy by Wednesday, for $250-$500. I could maybe go higher. Buyer located north of Boston.

If you have this, or want to trade recipes for peach pie, or have any ideas about how to read the prose of the Boss in a way that is dignified, email me at:
cgpF94 (at) hampshire.edu

(Not linked to protect me from SPAM ROBOTS. Spam robots!)


Get Comfortable With the Dissonance

I wish I could say that my span of unemployment is arching gracefully to a close. But it's more like a sparkler that's burning a little too close to your fingers. And then you throw it on the ground, glad it's gone, but you long to have it again, too, and you find yourself a little unnerved by the dissonance. Anyway, I've got a job; a writing job, working for a young, brilliant political organization. I'm thrilled. The commute is perfect, the people seem amazing, and I'll get the kind of writing and management experience I have been waiting for. This is my big chance, and I'm so glad. Nonetheless, on this sunny, hot day in August, I sat in the laundromat at 1:30 pm on a Wednesday, making a list of the writing projects I have started and have a deep need to to finish. And I thought, "This will be the last time I sit in a laundromat at 1:30 pm on a Wednesday, at least for a while." And I was glad, but a cool breeze came in from the open door and blew some lint across the floor and a bearded man looked at me and the dryers hummed.


No Retreat, Baby, No Surrender

The woman behind the counter handed us small rectangular pieces of purple paper marked “Special Train.” Behind us, the line piled up, anxious voices echoing through South Station, hoping to make the 6:00 departure. My boyfriend handed the magic purple tickets to a cheery conductor, and we took our seats. I felt like we were climbing aboard the Polar Express. The conductors would serve hot chocolate and candy canes, Santa would drive, and Bruce Springsteen would be piped in over the loudspeaker.

Springsteen, indeed. We were headed out to Foxborough to witness for ourselves the phenomenon of the Boss’s sold-out tour, which has now stretched on for more than a year. Drunk teenagers were outnumbered by sober baby boomers clad in concert tour t-shirts and talking excitedly. As we chugged south from Boston, headed for New England’s Gillette football stadium, scraps of conversation flowed throughout our car. “Oh, I live at Filene’s,” said one woman’s voice assuredly. Another woman said to her male companion, “My mom was freaking out about a duvet cover. What I’m trying to tell her is, buy a down comforter.” There was a pause. Then she said, “Let’s go through your keys. What’s this one?” The man sighed. “My car key.” I gazed through the train windows as we moved through mixed-income housing projects and car lots, old train yards and long lines awaiting Saturday dinner at a McDonald’s drive-up window. The sun was faintly visible behind the clouds as a clean disc, perfectly round.

As the clouds got lower, trails of water formed on the windows. I clutched our raingear as we poured out of our train and walked towards the massive stadium. We would be two of more than 50,000 attendees that night. At the front gate, I bid my boyfriend goodbye and joined the “Females with Bags” line while he headed off to “Males Express.” The women around me seemed puzzled. “I haven’t been to a concert in a long time,” said a plump, bookish woman in her forties. “Is this normal procedure now?” “They do it at all the rock shows,” said a tiny, frail woman in her sixties. “Women have to be frisked by women.” The first woman’s eyes widened. She nodded vaguely.

More and more women seemed to be leaving the front of the line to empty out their handbags and throw them obediently into the trash. We all began to panic. “This bag cost $20,” said the older woman in front of me. At the gate, the female guards confirmed that no bag bigger than an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper would be allowed inside the stadium. Because, of course, of the war on terrorism. We let out a collective, depressed sigh. “What are you going to do, Jean?” said the woman behind me to the woman in front of me, who was clutching her leather purse to her chest. The guard suggested she “secure her purse in her vehicle.” “But I don’t HAVE a vehicle here,” wailed Jean. None of us had realized that the glorious Special Train might drain us of our purses. Women jammed them behind soda machines and trash cans, hoping to collect them later.

I made it past the stiff-armed guard, my orange canvas purse just barely under the size requirements, though they immediately threw away my water bottle, for fear I should hydrate myself during the event. My boyfriend and I made our way up the cattle ramps to our nose-bleed seats, and peered at the stage through binoculars. The vast canyon below slowly filled with people. The diversity in age of the fans was testament to the power of the Boss to catch, hold and keep an audience. We were flanked by attendees in their thirties, forties and fifties.

Just before the show started, the eight empty seats to my right were filled by drunken college fraternity boys and two girls, one of whom appeared to experience every stage of an unidentified drug right before my eyes. She was unable to stay seated, dancing wild-eyed to the beat of a drummer that was definitely not Max Weinberg. She implored her boyfriend to dance with her, but he politely refused. When he turned to me to comment on the amazing talents of Springsteen, she grabbed his face with both hands and turned it back towards her. “Do you love me?” she demanded. My own boyfriend squeezed my hand. “I’m so lucky,” he said. After the first few songs, she crashed, and spent the rest of the night with her head in her hands, rocking back and forth in her seat.

The frat got up, filed past us for beer, filed back, filed past us again for more beer and bathroom breaks, and filed back again. A man on the end of the row threatened them not to file past again. “He’s just kidding,” said his wife, as he open and closed his fist, clearly not kidding.

Springsteen himself was every bit the phenomenon that the critics have hailed. He was euphoric, fantastic, raving and brilliant. When he sang about the deaths at the World Trade Center, the tremendous crowd sang along with him. His poetic lyrics were searing but hopeful, bracing us like iron girders and emboldening us with his firm call for an honest administration. He has been singing about fighting despair for twenty years, so the crowd knew they could trust him. Clouds traveled by just over our heads, but no rain fell. Stadium lights lit up the fog in layers of translucent purple and pink. After nearly two hours, the Boss left the stage. We brought him back for an encore, he left again, and we brought him back again for another encore.

By the time he played Rosalita, people were dancing in the aisles. He is 53, had performed for more than two and a half hours, and was absolutely on fire, gaining momentum with every song he played. The huge screens on either side of him flashed shots of his face, gleaming, glistening with sweat, and panting. If anything, it looked like his band was getting tired while he gathered steam. Hell, I was getting tired. After a mind-blowing rendition of Dancing in the Dark, he grabbed the hand of his wife, singer and guitarist Patti Scialfa, and took a bow. She was busy gulping down water and just held his hand while he waved, smiled, bowed, and made the audience scream some more. I began to understand why he kept prolonging the tour. It must be hard to go back to daily life, even if your daily life is as fantastic as Bruce Springsteen’s must be.

We finally filed back to our waiting train, wondering how Bruce was going to come down from his dizzying high. I figured he must stay up until 2 or 3 am just trying to relax. On board the Special Train, a gaggle of ladies, many of whom sounded as though they must have been smoking two packs a day for at least fifty years, compared notes on the concert and told worn jokes. They got louder and louder, and laughed more and more hysterically as we tried without success to drift into sleep. At point they wondered aloud why no one else on the train was laughing along with them. “Nobody likes us but us!” said one woman cheerily. They all cackled.

We pulled into the station at a quarter to one, and finally climbed down off the Special Train. Somewhere, the Boss was in a hotel room, taking his final series of bows.



With my leftover adrenaline from this afternoon's interview, I'm sure I could have biked 30 miles in 90 minutes. But as soon as I got spandexed and outside (and I still marvel at me wearing spandex----me! a former smoker, who likes to watch TV sardonically and make ironic comments about the New York Times while drinking beer and sleep in and eat muffins and chocolate---me! I wear spandex now! It's one of love's miracles.)---as soon as I got out there, the rain began to fall. I thought, no big deal, and went out into the traffic, but it was too much, and after doing some hills in the rain, I came home with just four miles on my speedometer. It's OK. I burned off some sparks and feel better now. Maybe tomorrow it'll be 45 miles. Even though rain is predicted all week. No problem.

Remembering the New

I am interested in how physical surroundings seem to change as they take on meaning. Whenever I walk into a place for a job interview, I look around. I open the door and think: Will I open this door a hundred times? I look at the linoleum stairs and the dirty white hand railing and I think: Is this the last time it will seem so strange and foreign? I relish the strangeness as a singular gift, a passing instant. In previous jobs, I liked to look around at the familiar walls and remember when it all seemed alien. I do that with apartments, too. I am always half in and half out of them. I look around this apartment, and maybe two or three times a week I remember stepping inside for the first time, when the tenant showed it to us because the realtor wasn't there yet, and we craned our necks around doorframes and squeezed each other's hands at the sight of the guest bedroom or the workroom with the sunroof. But even then, when we climbed the stairs to the third floor, I understood it would be our first bedroom together. I could see us there already, ghosts of our future selves, so I knew it had to be ours. And now, I imagine it as it once was, a strange place without us in it---but that never really happened, because part of me always lived here; so it was never strange.

Sometimes it almost seems prophetic. Most of my close friends became my friends after I looked at them and suddenly knew, already, what was to come. I can nearly always point to a moment that I knew, before words had been exchanged, that we were going to be close. I even remember impatience with some of them for not seeming to understand yet, to grasp our connection, though in time they always did. Once I walked into the office of a friend, and met her for the first time, yet we gazed at each other like you would a soulmate. Then my gaze shifted to the occupied desk next to her and the thought "someday that will be my desk" soundlessly crossed my mind. And eventually it was my desk, with no effort on my part. It was not a wishing, it was a knowing.

I didn't feel that kind of magic today. I just wondered. I wondered if this was the creaky carpeted hallway that would lead me to my job, and to a new part of my life. And if that hallway would embroider my dreams now. If I looked hard enough, could I find my own ghost?
Pretty Good

An interview today, for a writing position. It would be a dream.

And tomorrow we're off to see The Boss, playing in Foxborough, MA. I can't wait. My family saw him in upstate New York, and it sounds like he, thundering, sets stadiums on fire. I say, bring on the lightening storm!