Archive for March, 2007

Prolific and most generous poet and writer Marly Youmans interviews me in palatial style. Scamper to The Palace at 2 a.m. to see the scrim lifted.


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Our neighborhood is changing; it has been for the past two or three years. Especially the kids.

Land is being rezoned all around us from residential to commercial. Modest ranch-style homes on multi-acre lots are being bought up and bulldozed, replaced with strip malls containing the ubiquitous nail salons, dollar stores, carnecerias and billiard halls. I have no problem with any of these establishments, but how many of them do we need in a five-mile radius?

Gwinnett County, GA, is bursting at the seams.

Family farms are selling off their land and in their place sprout cluster-home developments whose starting price is a quarter of a million per home. And they all look the same: aluminum siding crackerboxes 20 feet apart without a tree in sight.

We live in one of the few remaining older subdivisions with spacious lots full of hardwood trees. In a single season in our back yard we regularly see bluebirds, cardinals, finches, three species of woodpeckers, thrashers, grackles, barred owls, great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, rabbits, turtles, herons, and ducks.

Along with this paradise of nature we also hear the distant roar of highway 316 and police helicopters searching for the occasional criminal.

We also have gangs. And graffiti. And it’s not creative or artistic. It’s just plain ugly.

We also have neighborhood kids trying to imitate gang tagging, and it’s even uglier. They’ve tagged our neighbor’s old black oak:

And they recently tagged our carport:

At first I attributed this to the recent influx of Hispanic immigrants. How dare they bring their LA-style violence and lack of respect for the land to our quiet little county. But the Mexicans, Peruvians, Dominicans, and Columbians I’ve met in our neighborhood and at our girls’ elementary school are hard-working people trying to make a better life for themselves and their children. They are intelligent and kind, and seem pleasantly surprised (if not a bit amused) when I resurrect and thrust my rusty college Spanish on them. Bless is heart, they might be saying in Spanish, or perhaps What an idiot.

Residents fed up with rampant development can attend zoning commission meetings and voice their concerns, but the land rezoning is still railroaded through. If people want out, they’re free to sell their land to the highest bidder, and we’re powerless to stop it. It is, after all, about the bottom line.

I’ve finally realized that all of this is my fault. It’s me. Really. I’m responsible, at least for the vandalism and disrespect for property.

I attribute it to the Chocolate Doughnut Principle.

It begins this way: I grew up in sleepy St. Petersburg, Florida, in an older neighborhood much like the one I live in now (before the change began). My brother, sister and I were latch-key kids in a neighborhood of mostly retirees. We threw rocks at passing cars, we knocked on bedroom windows late at night — we terrorized the old folks mercilessly. Especially our widowed next-door neighbor, Mrs. Davies.

She was a retired Presbyterian minister from Wales (we attended the local Presbyterian church but were still evil) and we did horrible things to the side of her house. The Reverend Elsie Davies was convinced my brother Greg and I were out to kill her.

We threw rocks and water balloons onto her roof, eggs at her house,

and I once smashed a chocolate doughnut onto the side of her yellow house. My brother, a talented cartoonist, even drew a cartoon about the incident. Funny, funny stuff, we thought. I see all too clearly now how the chocolate doughnut represents the karmic circle. What goes around comes around.

My bad childhood behavior has come home to roost.

The kids who cut through my yard and paint graffiti on my house are unwittingly paying me back for my childhood indiscretions.

Then again, maybe these kids and I share similar childhoods. My brother and I were often left at home alone (our divorced mother worked full-time and couldn’t afford after-school care, like there was such a thing back then), we didn’t have lots of money, and we were bored most days.

Still, I think the doughnut had something to do with it.

Someone stole our recycling bin (huh?!) a few weeks ago.

It was more a kidnapping than a theft — the bin was missing for four days. I found it one rainy afternoon in the woods behind our house, the plastic and glass contents strewn about in the ivy, bobbing in the creek. Oddly, the emptied bin was refilled with heaps of new and used orange extension cords. I thought I was having a bizarre dream standing there in the rainy woods, pawing through the lime green industrial-strength plastic bin full of orange snakes.

The recycling bin now lives in the garage until trash day.

I find discarded bicycles in my yard that lie there motionless for days. When I was a kid, I’d be devastated if my bike was missing for even one night.

I take the abandoned bikes now and offer them to the first kid who comes along.

So now I just paint over the graffiti, smile at my neighbors, tell myself I’ll try to attend the next neighborhood watch meeting if I’m not working late.

I consider myself a very liberal guy, open to all cultures, curious about many customs, but in mid-life I’ve realized I am an age discriminator: What is wrong with young people today? I say, at the same time recalling my grandfather ranting about “longhairs” in the ’60s who were ruining this country with their rebellious ways.

We’re doomed, at least in my little neighborhood, and it’s all because of that ancient chocolate doughnut incident. With my decision to take that confectionery delight and, instead of popping it into my mouth and enjoying it, smearing it onto that yellow stucco wall, I’ve become the guy I used to torment on my childhood streets. I’m now the old fart in the Buick tooling down the road who sees the kid on the corner with something in his hand who at the last second chucks the object at the Buick.

I’m the guy in that car who slams on his brakes and thinks, What’s wrong with kids these days? and then yells out the window “Hey you! Come back here!” as the kid sprints away laughing, rounding the corner and disappearing down the alley.

I’m also destined to be the homeowner chasing kids away from the side of his house.

I just hope these kids have nothing more potent than a chocolate doughnut for me and my house. A tres leche cake, perhaps . . .

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Went to J’s talent show dress rehearsal this evening (it went really well!) then to our favorite Thai place for dinner. (Okay, the girls — timid tastebuds that they have — had Wendy’s instead.) Low key tonight was fine with me now that my life is half over — I mean, half begun(?). The wild party is next Friday when Sue and I celebrate in tandem with the Combined Pisces Pandemonium Show.

Ah, yes . . . the NOVEL. [See Family Guy excerpt in previous post.] I’ve been working on a middle chapter that will probably be either seven or eight, definitely after the snowy holiday party chapter, and after W. learns the true story of his uncle’s death.

In this chapter, which I hope to finish (at least the shoddy first draft) for Saturday’s critique group meeting, L. is walking to C’town in search of the past. I mean, he’s literally trying to walk back in time. It doesn’t start out this way, though; it starts with his aunt’s death, his failed attempt to reach the neighbors by phone, a strengthening snow storm and his decision to walk to his childhood home 26 miles away.

Walking into the past begins to play a more significant part in L’s delusions the closer he gets to C’town. An old Vonnegut reference conjures up a skating fantasy for him, and Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin'” keeps looping around in his head. The lyrics provide the perfect set-up for the final scene on the lake. The creative process baffles me sometimes — who knows where this stuff comes from? I’m truly embarassed that I used the phrase “creative process” , too. Sheesh.

Anyway, all this walking talk is leading to another of those odd coincidences. Just when I need it, along comes today’s Daily Dose email from Powell’s Bookstore:

"Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

by Rebecca Solnit


Recommended by: Andrew in Brooklyn. ANDREW'S COMMENTS

"Solnit's book is a masterpiece in sustained mediatation on a

single, seemingly inconsequential topic: walking. Beginning with

recent discussions among primatologists and anthropologists that

the bipedal walking is not only typical of, but fundamental to

what it means to be human, Solnit launches into a cultural and

political history of walking....This book was unfairly lost in

the crowd of micro-microhistories that flooded shelves a few years

ago -- of salt, of cod, etc. -- but it stands above the rest as

Solnit blends personal account, literary history, and political

passion into a fascinating and compelling homage and plea for

ambulatory culture and ethics. Read this book as the precursor

to her more recent 'A Field Guide to Getting Lost.'"



Drawing together many histories -- of anatomical evolution and

city design, of treadmills and labyrinths, of walking clubs and

sexual mores -- Rebecca Solnit creates a fascinating portrait

of the range of possibilities presented by walking. Arguing that

the history of walking includes walking for pleasure as well as

for political, aesthetic, and social meaning, Solnit focuses on

the walkers whose everyday and extreme acts have shaped our culture,

from philosophers to poets to mountaineers. She profiles some

of the most significant walkers in history and fiction -- from

Wordsworth to Gary Snyder, from Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet

to Andre Breton's Nadja -- finding a profound relationship between

walking and thinking and walking and culture. Solnit argues for

the necessity of preserving the time and space in which to walk

in our ever more car-dependent and accelerated world.


"Delightful...Solnit covers all kinds of ground in her inspiring

book on walking."

-- The Seattle Times

"Solnit presents an absolutely fascinating look at how the act

of walking itself has influenced our history, our science, our

literature, and the very way that we see ourselves as human beings."

-- Booklist

"Meandering through human bipedalism, urban policy, garden design,

nature treks, pilgrimages, and the joys of urban roving, Solnit's

beautifully written chronicle visits several continents but ends

with an inspired promenade down a new pedestrian paradise: the

Vegas strip."

-- Entertainment Weekly

"Solnit is an elegant essayist...as a guide, she knows the path

well; she is tireless and sure-footed."

-- The New York

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Thanks to Barry A. for the PFF suggestion. I now have another excuse to do something besides writing THE NOVEL.

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