I no can buy you banana

December 26th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

was what the Russian girl, in a thin fuchsia sweater and pink puffy vest, told me after a brief conversation on a cordless with what I guessed was the wife of the ground floor convenience store owner. Ali himself, despite being a half-Costa Rican Muslim, had been Noel AWOL since the day before. In fact, I must have seen him shortly before he left, because I was there when, one solicitous hand behind her back, he’d walked the Russian girl through the lobby to his store, at the last minute turning back to wink at the guard who leaned from behind his desk with a double-barreled thumbs up. She wasn’t actually pretty, but her hair was dyed maroon and her eyes were bright as her rhinestone earrings, and when she first walked in looking for Ali, her face at once blase and quizzical, her sparkly phone in one hand bent her wrist back with its weight, as if she’d just hung up. Now, from behind a countertop set on a freezer case of popsicles, apology struggled to break the surface of her inexpressiveness. Sorry, she said, which sounded either sultry or dragged up from the back of her throat.

Ali had a whole rigmarole devised around the bananas, which involved momentarily unplugging his radio in favor of the scale whose cord lay lovingly draped, a jungle vine, over the silver-insulated power conduit that dropped from the ceiling to cool his deli meats. The bulb inside this display had long since burned out, which failed to show items to their greatest advantage. The turkey looked particularly ashen. Ali would then make sure to plug the radio back in before ringing you up. Having never paid attention to the bananas’ unit price, I doubted I could cajole the Russian girl into the whole routine, and let it drop. Yes, we have no bananas today.

Urology and You

December 26th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

His name is Khan, cosmopolitan Turk (international urologist of mystery!), and despite imperfect English hosts his own radio show, because everybody, sooner or later, has a question about sex or plumbing. The office is studded, if that is the word, with vased peace lilies, their prominent spadices all long and drooping, like phalluses with hurt feelings. A dog’s tail looking for two legs to hang between could not be more poignantly disappointed. When people say, ya gotta have a sense of humor, what they are really saying is, what choice do you have? Why make it harder on yourself? Or even, Stop whining, schmuck!

I forget the exact anatomical models and cross-sections, each emblazoned with some drug brand, displayed on the shelves of the consultation room, but the skin color on these groins and testicles is invariably a eerily homogeneous even brown, at once unreal and yet very politically neutral, and reminds me of certain blonde students I had at Iowa, who would walk into my afternoon lit class fresh, if that is the word, from the tanning salon. I remember taking one of the models apart, just to see if I could put it back together, and that was when the doctor walked in. He is the kind who grandly and affably addresses you as “young man,” perhaps because your kind is a rarity in his waiting room.

Perhaps this is a relic of his London education. Apparently he also picked up some French there, something I learned in the middle of a cytoscopy, when his Filipino nurse (was there no one in that office with a firm command of English?) decided to pipe up brightly with the information she’d gleaned from me in the sort of casual conversation that naturally occurs while pumping a large syringe of anesthetic gel up someone’s urethra. “The gentleman is a French translator,” were her exact words.

It was a smooth handoff. Dr. Khan grabbed the baton and kept running. “Ah oui? J’aime parler français. C’est une belle langue.” I seemed to be the only one riveted by the pink and dark recesses of my bladder on the small monitor as the inquisitive camera continued its ascent.

After that, it seemed the worse his French got, the more he insisted on using it to narrate the procedure, supplementing his vocabulary with a word or two of what sounded like Spanish whenever he seemed to be grasping about for the mot juste. He conducted the rest of the visit in French, in fact.

Change of Address

December 18th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m not moving, but the Newark City gov’t. is changing the address of my building. Like I needed more busywork right now. Anyway, write me if you have the old but want the new, since I can’t promise I’ll get around to giving it out. Thanks!

UPDATE: Basically, the property lies in a strange quadrangle between Broad St. and Martin Luther King boulevard, with entrances and direct frontage on neither. The mailing address is shifting from the former to the latter. Building buzz has it that this is so the shifty owners can benefit from lower taxes, implying that MLK Blvd. is objectively a less desirable address.

My initial reaction to learning of the  impending address change had indeed been “Hey, wait, am I getting devalued?” But I dismissed that, thinking it a joke in bad and perhaps even racist taste. Clearly, reality didn’t think so.

Ways of Seeing CB2

December 10th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

Mumbai morning. Artist Parvez Taj’s momentary glimpse of an Indian boy on his way to school at Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai. Impressionist digital montage of film, software and UV ink on stretched unframed canvas trends muted indigo, browns. Artist’s signature and bio on the back. Collectors take note: this one-time-only limited edition of prints will not be re-issued, so don’t miss out.” ~ CB2 2008 Holiday Catalogue



“These people belong to the poor. The poor can be seen in the street outside or in the countryside. Pictures of the poor inside the house, however, are reassuring. Here the painted poor smile as they offer what they have for sale.



Reg. $24.95

Reg. $24.95

“(They smile showing their teeth, which the rich in pictures never do.) They smile at the better-off — to ingratiate themselves, but also at the prospect of a sale or a job. Such pictures assert two things: that the poor are happy, and that the better-off are a source of hope for the world.” ~ John Berger, Ways of Seeing

Above Your Television

The Little Indian Boy Above Your Television

“With an MBA, Parvez is both artist and entrepreneur… With Parvez Michel, Parvez plans to do to the world of wall art and home decorating what the Gap did to fashion. By emphasizing the brand-name status and playing up his first-to-market position, Parvez Michel plans to make ‘fashionable’ art affordable.” ~ Parvez Taj, Wikibio

Vendredi noir

December 2nd, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

On vient sur ces côtes de passer Thanksgiving, fête politiquement problématique dû à ses origines coloniales, donc devenue prétexte anodin pour se réunir en famille. Rien de plus simple pour une fête ; on ne doit pas l’examiner de près, et l’on peut facilement imaginer de pire. À en juger par mes amis, les américains ne prennent plus au sérieux les fêtes, peu nombreuses, qui leur restent. Ou bien se peut-il que je ne sache plus m’enthousiasmer pour ces repères qui m’importent de moins en moins avec le temps. Il y a dix ans déjà David Mamet disait que les vraies fêtes américaines n’était que deux: le Superbowl et le jour du scrutin. Soit, cette année ce dernier nous avait donner de quoi nous réjouir, mais le rituel du football américain m’a exclu depuis enfance. La jeune nation est dynamique, se dit-on ; à force de s’inventer à plusieurs reprises, on court toujours après de nouveaux rituels, en quête de quelque chose de durable et de nourrissante, qui s’évide moins vite de son stock de sentiment (“We in America need ceremonies, is I suppose, sailor, the point of what I have written.”). On a l’impression, je ne sais comment, d’avoir épuisé les nôtres ; vu sous cet angle pessimiste le Thanksgiving n’est que la voie ouverte au délire de dépenses qu’entraine Noël commercial. Les magasins nous guettent, prêts à nous gober (pauvre con d’interimaire piétiné à Walmart!); dans leurs interminables galeries ornées de ceci et de cela on s’efforce de s’afficher un peu de gaieté, tout en se doutant de l’inanité du seul impératif qui semble nous rester, la consommation. Mais trève de marxisme simplet.


November 17th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

In Phoenix, between planes, I bought a Vitamin Water (focus) for $1.75 (!). And a box of Mexican Jumping Beans. Not from a bowed crone, her gray hair in a headscarf, who claimed with gaptoothed smile they’d sprout a pogo beanstalk, but from a woman in a vest and nametag, silken neckerchief and smile, who sympathetically enthused: “I know, people have asked me the same thing: how can your prices be so low, and at an airport? Did you know, our bottled water’s only $1.25!” There were three beans apiece in boxes small and clear as if for earrings, dumped higgledy-piggledy in a plastic tub on the counter before the woman. The jumping beans made jerks and clicks of protest.

From what I understand, the animation is a form of curiously inexpressive puppetry: moth larvae tugging on the silken strings with which they’ve replaced the contents of legumes they’ve consumed. There’s something horribly bacheloresque about buying pets, if pets they can be called, of a very specifically limited lifespan—jumping beans are a step back in upkeep from my hermit crabs of grad school. The larva can survive for months, I’m told, but the moth, once released, lives only a few days. Of the boxed three, only one shows any evidence of having survived the trip.

I think of girls with jumping beans for earrings, which at the ends of silver tassels bob and jostle in the sun even when the wind is still: and the moment, never expected, when in effortless legerdemain a diminutive moth flies off from below the ear, as if to make whatever was just said the last line of a poem.

In the quiet of the room I’ve returned to, there’s only the ticking of my alarm clock, and the competing jumping beans, on a shelf beneath the desklamp that approximates their sun. Carpocapsa saltitans do not, like flywheels, make good hearts for clocks, but still, if time is to be kept, I prefer the idiosyncratic metronome of a blind worm twitching off the minutes to its own eschaton, dozing toward millennial transformation. Isn’t part of what amazes us about the pupa its blithe sleep toward its own sure fate, which we interpret variously as acceptance, blind commitment, or dreaming faith? What pulse runs through the bean, with its abrupt tumult and periodic lull, must be more attuned than charged quartz to the natural pace of change. I could, I think in the peace of night, measure my life in these erratic ticks of a private time, but before I know it, the gray and silver moth will from its round hole flit, and the hollowed bean give up the ghost.

Hillary or Obama?

October 28th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

This was yesterday. It was one o’clock. A woman left the table with its pens on chains and trays of small forms to rejoin the line. The woman ahead of me turned and addressed her friend.

“It wasn’t there?”

“There’s always a book, but it’s not there. I don’t know. I’m hoping she can look it up for me when I get there.” She nodded at the only open window. “I think it’s 28290. I think that’s it.”

It was a small branch post office by a telephone company in downtown Newark. I had never seen the other window open, or anyone else behind the open one besides Bonnie, with her expression of sorely tried forbearance.

“I’m sure she can look up the zip code of North Carolina for you.”

The woman behind me snorted. “Who asked them to move to North Carolina anyway?”

“That’s what they’re doing—they’re all moving back down south.”

“Now I got to go all the way down there to see my grandpa.”

“You still got your other grandma living up here.”

“Yeah, but I only got one living grandpa. Why couldn’t my other grandma have moved to North Carolina?”

Two more women came in, shaking the drizzle from their shoulders and stamping their feet on the mat.

“You two still here?” » Read the rest of this entry «

The Efficacy of Threats and Pecuniary Competition

October 25th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

This man

Courtesy of Jamie Tanner’s flickr

told me to update my blog more regularly. Or he will do this:

Courtesy of Jamie Tanner’s flickr

So, today, some thoughts on eating at parties, and looking good afterwards:

Lest I give the impression that I appreciate party guests only in proportion to how much food they dispose of, let me tell you about this paranoid reality I survived when I first started trying to lose weight. As at many middle-class American gatherings, talk at the parties I attended often revolved neurotically around diet and suitably cosmetic emaciation. Young wives paraded their newly trim husbands, boyfriends displayed on an arm their slim dates, such words as “yoga”, “pilates”, “South Beach”, and “Atkins” fell like so much chattered confetti on the luscious dip of pure sour cream while hands darted for the brownie squares. I felt the presence of a feral undercurrent around the snacks buffet. » Read the rest of this entry «


October 22nd, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

I am the new owner of a bike. It folds. Slightly used, it did not cost as much as that link will claim.

I am a Pisces. Now, I am no longer a fish without a bicycle. Which is to say, to invert the Steinem maxim, that I am a woman with a man. But neither am I that, nor a man with a woman.

The bike will be useful in fetching groceries.

The lock and chain, however, are a different story.  Half as expensive and a third as heavy as the bike itself, they are my first investment in city-proof security, since this is the first time in six years I’ve had a bike worth protecting.  Pulling the chain from the frame feels like hauling anchor.  I’m not sure if you’re supposed to use it on your bike, or if you’re just supposed to park your bike in sight, keeping the chain with you at all times to beat thieves.

Home Sweet

August 25th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

Like this, but without the furniture. Southwest Exposure

I have of late taken up residence. Photos of the building feature on a Newark blogger’s website. Both snob and dandy in me are deeply enamored of this apartment since learning that these towers (another mirrors mine across a common lawn) were designed by Mies van der Rohe of (at the very least, and nearby) Seagram building fame, one of the fathers of architectural modernism and a name on the lips of every 101 survey student. This only confirms my superficiality, since I’ve never actually loved a van der Rohe building: they all look like they were built in the 60s to me, bland and dated basic corporate towers. I haven’t the eye, apparently, for the simplicity and understatedness of his once groundbreaking designs. Truly, as Jean Nouvel remarked in the interview I recently translated, on the contemporary trend for starchitects’ buildings to be considered objets d’art, brazenly plonked down around the world with disdain for indigenous context, as though for admiration on a pedestal of the designer’s ego: “Les villes seront musées ou l’on vient acheter les grands artistes pour les accrocher dans la vie.” Completing the irony is the fact that the architecture major subletting the place to me never brought up van der Rohe, perhaps believing it not a feature to attract the ignorant masses of which he assumed me a member (certainly assuming he assumed my ignorance is more generous than my assuming his?)

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