From A Motel 6

I love the vérité of seeing Nick Piecoro report live from baseball's winter meetings from what I assume is his hotel room — complete with unmade bed, oversized dress shirt and rumpled hair — in the video at this link. You have to sit through a long commercial, but it's funny to see.

Piecoro's blog is also fun for the impertinent cultural detritus he contributes (he's clearly a big indie rock nerd) at the end of his exhaustive posts about all things Diamondbacks related. Here's an example:

This might be the best gift idea I've seen this year.


Someone showed me a site with more amazing Google Street View pictures.


In town a day early, I got to see this Houston band last night called the Tontons. I was impressed.

Celebrate the impertinent! It's more fun that way . . .

Posted: December 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Clickthrough | Tags: , , ,

And That Was How My Jonathan Franzen Back Tattoo Became Two Indian Maidens In A Canoe

The Brooklyn Paper writes about a new coffee table book about people's literary tattoos — not so much literate tattoos but rather tattoos literally about literature:

Friends Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor noticed a rise in these literary tattoos, from highbrow pieces inspired by James Joyce's "Ulysses" to the covers of the "Twilight" books. They sent out a call for submissions, and the tattoos came pouring in.

The resulting anthology has more than 150 color photographs of literary tattoos, ranging from lines of verse, quotations from authors, illustrations of scenes depicted in novels and poems, and even a flaming typewriter.

"We tried to present the crème of the crop," said Taylor, a Bushwick-based author who, as far as these things go, is tattoo-less. "We wanted a lot of diversity and to be as all-encompassing as we possibly could. You'll find some high literary stuff in there — Pynchon, T.S. Eliot, 'Moby Dick' — as well as J.K. Rowling and Stephen King."

Now maybe this does illustrate the importance of literature, the timelessness of the great themes, the power of words. Or maybe it just confirms what I've long thought about tattoos, which is that there isn't anything really worth permanently inking on your skin. I mean, do you really want a tattoo of something you do to kill time on a cross-continental flight?

It's not to say that Moby Dick isn't a classic but rather that I'm not sure I got the same thing out of the book as someone who has a tattoo of it.

I only read Moby Dick fairly recently, in a spate of wanting to finally get out of the way some of those "timeless," "important" books that have clogged up our bookshelves for years. So I packed it in my bag and took it with me to work, and knocked out that bad boy in eight lunch hours at a chain coffee shop in Midtown.

If I saw a tattoo of Moby Dick, here's what would come to mind.

1) Sperm. Specifically, Chapter XCIV — "94" to you and me — "A Squeeze of the Hand":

Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say, — Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

After Jen and I visited the Taj Mahal, the earnest tour guide turned to us and said, "There are two people in the world — those who have seen Taj and those who have not; You, my friends, have now seen Taj." In a similar way, the world changes once you have read Melville's sperm chapter.

I guess it depends where you read it, too. I don't know how I'd feel taking that in on a cross-continental flight. In the chain coffee shop, it came off like this: "Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever" — [fellow patrons looking productive on their laptops] Tap tap tap tap-tap-tap tap tap tap, tap tap tap tap-tap-tap tap tap tap — "In thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti" — skweeek! [the squeal of a wooden chair scraping the floor], skrrrrroneeeek! [a table moving lazily against the tile] — "A sweet and unctuous duty!"

On the one hand, yes, nineteenth-century realism. On the other hand, that's what you want to tattoo?

2) How About An Editor? While the sperm chapter almost rises to a level of pure tattoo-worthy genius, I'm a little perplexed about the long passages detailing stuff like the "interior structural features" of whales (Chapter 103, "Measurement Of The Whale's Skeleton"). Here you are, page 650, and Melville goes on a tangent about the whale's skeleton — you think, we're in the home stretch, and this? It's less realism than an Asperger's symptom.

Chapter 105 details arguments for why or why not the whale's magnitude will or will not diminish — Pliny is consulted, comparisons are made between herds of whales and herds of buffalo (imagine what would have happened if Melville decided to write a book about buffalo — you'd be tattooing a buffalo somewhere), and the eventual oil-for-bloodletting conclusion that the species is "immortal." Maybe you don't realize that when you tattoo Moby Dick on yourself, you're actually tattooing a rationalization of our resource-depleting society, and when I see that tattoo, the only thing I think — besides sperm and besides absent editors, that is — is that Moby Dick will kill Mother Earth.

It's not until Chapter 106 — 106! CIII! — that the book starts to coalesce into something you "recognize" — in the way you "recognize" Jeopardy! questions, bumper stickers and I guess tattoos, too. The chapter about Ahab's Leg sort of jumpstarts that cool psychological sketch Melville does that you always hear about, but 665 pages and 105 chapters of setup? Really? You know what a literary agent would say about this if she consented to reading a draft?

Maybe the person who tattoos Moby Dick on him or herself had a different experience with the book. That's OK, I get that . . .

Re: Pynchon/Joyce . . . I guess if you make it through Gravity's Rainbow or Finnegans Wake then you deserve the tattoo.

More from the Brooklyn Paper:

In addition to Talmadge, there are Bryan Waterman's portrait of Walt Whitman; William Clifford's seven tattoos, the most from one person featured in the book; Cristina Moracho's Albert Camus tattoo; and Stephanie Anderson, a manager at Greenpoint bookstore Word, who has nine literary tattoos, including "Words, words, words," from "Ulysses."

Whitman, eh? Quite a beard, no? But a tattoo?

I also read Leaves of Grass around the same time as Moby Dick. I actually had two copies, both of them gifts (maybe the gift givers thought I looked like Whitman or something?), and their presence on our shelves haunted me for years. My impressions of Whitman definitely included "Camerado," "Calamus" and "O Captain, My Captain," but my overwhelming impression was someone who was somehow both death-obsessed and a straggler. Chapter 34, "Sands at Seventy," is as much about Whitman as "that guy" as it is about an aging poet:

Shunning, postponing severance — seeking to ward off the last word ever so little, e'en at the exit-door turning — charges superfluous calling back — e'en as he descends the steps, something to eke out a minute additional — shadows of nightfall deepening, farewells, messages lessening — dimmer the forthgoer's visage and form, soon to be lost from aye in the darkness — loth, O so loth to depart!

Which is to say, Whitman was the kind of guy who just didn't know when to leave, who you'd see to the door only to have him remember some bleary-eyed 2 a.m. detail that could have waited until the morning, or even the next time he came by. And it's only after Whitman finally leaves that you close the door and sigh: Look at all those dishes, look at the chip dip hardening on the sides of that serving dish, look at all those crumbs caked into the carpet; this will take hours to clean up, and it only gets later as you hover over the pile of dishes in the sink wondering where to start. Maybe that sort of thing flies in Camden, but . . .

There are no hits for "Henry Miller" on the book creators' website. Can you imagine that one? If I saw a Henry Miller tattoo, the first thing I'd think of would be "cunt," just like the Amazon Key Phrases feature says:

Amazon Tropic of Cancer Book Page Screen Grab, March 21, 2009

Sorry, did I write "cunt"? I meant "rich cunt." (This was from March 2009, when our book club read Tropic of Cancer, but the key phrases feature is still on the book page, just scroll down.)

True to form, here's page five:

O Tania, where now is that warm cunt of yours, those fat, heavy garters, those soft, bulging thighs? There is a bone in my prick six inches long. I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed. I will send you home to your Sylvester with an ache in your belly and your womb turned inside out. Your Sylvester! Yes, he knows how to build a fire, but I know how to inflame a cunt.

Seriously, Tropic of Cancer reads like the ten plagues of Egypt. Second paragraph: Lice. Second page: "The world is a cancer." Third page: Six-foot whale penises and Jews. Page 5: Reaming out "every wrinkle" in a cunt. Page 7: "Foggy farts" on windowpanes. Page 16: Getting erections from statues. Page 20: Cigar-smoking fetuses and sap-oozing thighs. Page 23: Syphilis! Page 35: Bright red cabbage breasts. Page 45: A golden-toothed prostitute's "bushy twat." It's relentless! And that's even before the bed bugs come in the picture.

I'm not always sure when or whether Jen is "Irishing up" a story, but she tells a good one about a guy she knew back in high school who was so psyched to have met the band Goldfinger that he told them he'd was going to go right out and get their logo tattooed on his back. Then he woke up the next day to discover the logo of the band Goldfinger tattooed on his back. Jen said that he went back to the tattoo artist and the artist decided that there wasn't much he could do to conceal it except perhaps to fill it in to look like two Indian maidens in a canoe, which is how this guy got a back tattoo of two Indian maidens in a canoe.

The point being, just who are these guys that you're tattooing on yourself? Part of it I think has to do with the bombastic nature of "the novel." I'm not totally sure I understand why something that clocks in at 100,000 words is something that we should or need to celebrate. I'm guessing there are few Leonard Michaels tattoos out there — but that's clearly his own fault, because if he wanted tattoos, he would have obviously wasted much less time writing all those short stories.

And going back to the tattooization of literature, I felt like reading some of these classics outside the context of a college seminar kind of highlighted how strange the books themselves actually were. It was freeing to see Moby Dick, for example, as less "a symbol for many things, including nature and those elements of life that are out of human control" (Wikipedia's thoughts, not my own) than a brilliant description of whale sperm sandwiched by 800-plus pages of crazy shit. And I felt comfortable zoning out during Books 33 through 35 of Leaves of Grass. And I didn't kick myself for skipping entirely On The Road.

I mean, can you imagine someone getting a Jonathan Franzen or Nicole Krauss tattoo? Right? Right?


Posted: October 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Books Are The SUVs Of Writing, Clickthrough | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

"This Blog's Final Post"

There's something sad about a blog post titled "This Blog's Final Post", which is what just happened with The New York Times' Idea of the Day blog. You can see on the comments that many of its regular readers will miss it — they're saying stuff like "tragedy" or "I miss it already" or even the simple "thanks to everyone who worked on this enlightening enterprise." I had the Idea of the Day on my own reader and it was one of the easier blogs to manage — one post a day, and generally you got the gist without even having to click through. I guess that's not a great model for a blog's success, but at least it wasn't a "mark all as read" type of feed.

Blogs are different from bands in that bands can put out a last album and let it go off into the sunset. The band Big Black, for example, knew it was going to break up after its last album. In the liner notes they wrote that "breaking up is an idea that has occurred to far too few groups, sometimes to the wrong ones." In interviews during their final tour they said that they wanted to break up before they started to suck.

The worst kind of blog death is a slow death, with a final post that isn't really a send off or a final post of any sort but rather something that stays stuck in time kind of waiting for another post to happen. Maybe you go to the site every once in a while to see if they didn't just change their feed address or something, but it was just abandoned.

It's worse when the blogger dies — there are examples I've heard about and here's one that comes to mind but fortunately blogging is still pretty new, so it doesn't seem to happen all that often. (And what happens when you die? Someone pulls your domain out from under you.) The idea of suddenly expiring without a "final post" haunts me — it would be horrifying to have your last thoughts on earth be something snarky about how the mayor wants to ban salt. (Here's Guskind's last post, by the way — a picture of a pleather sofa . . . with a typo in there — insult to injury.)

Idea of the Day's Tom Kuntz avoids this worst-case scenario by signing off succinctly: "The blog's end is a result of limited resources in a medium where any number of worthy projects are possible, and where new priorities continually emerge." Fair enough, understandable — I've been a part of more than one blog that kind of peters out for similar reasons — but the way blogs kind of sit there in perpetuity just waiting to be updated is depressing — not depressing in, say, the way Srebrenica was depressing but more in the way C.J. Wilson not blogging is depressing; put plainly, C.J. Wilson is the kind of baseball player that is best seen and heard (and I'm sad that his MySpace page is now set to "private").

Yes, C.J. Tweets, but I've never liked/been skeptical about Twitter. One, it's important to control your own content. Two, why only 140 characters? Lame.

On Why C.J. Wilson Is Great

One, C.J. Wilson is the living embodiment of Mark Harris' Henry Wiggen character — the book-writing pitcher in Harris' baseball novels. I should add that Wilson is much more articulate — and way more straight edge. Two, like Wiggen the character, Wilson is also a great player — and how many awesome pitchers also studied screenwriting?

But let's go back to the straight edge part — in the era of Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire, a Major League Baseball player proclaiming a straight edge lifestyle carries a significance that goes way beyond the typical don't drink-don't smoke-don't fuck connotation. That is cool. No, it's great. And — in my best haughty adult-something voice — it's also important — not so much for the kids (though that's important, too) but for anyone who watches baseball.

Wikipedia C.J. — he's interesting. And if the Rangers make it past the Yankees, you'll be one up on Joe Buck.

Oh, And By The Way, Here's An Abbreviated Appreciation Of MLB Extra Innings That I Meant To Write But Didn't

I came across C.J. Wilson this year while watching the Texas Rangers' feed on MLB Extra Innings. If I had had it together, I would have also written an appreciation of MLB Extra Innings — watching the local feeds is a lot of fun for all the local commercials. You might not have realized, for example, that the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki was growing a mullet this year for charity. If you had the Rockies' local feed, you'd know this — over and over and over, in fact. This local color made midweek Royals-Mariners day games that much more exciting. If you're a fan of baseball and have the time and inclination to sit through more Brewers-Pirates matchups than you could ever dream of, I highly recommend the service.

Posted: October 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Clickthrough | Tags: , , ,