Tag Archives: 1998

To buy is a specific act. To not buy is not an act.

The thing is, I should start saving money, just for the sake of being frugal and to further my larger goal of saving a down-payment on a house in this Near West Side, between-downtown-Urbana-and-the campus neighborhood. (The house across street that, just Thursday night, I indicated to D.G. as a house I would like to buy, went up for sale.)

And I have gone through book-0buysing spells like this before — summer of ’93 an example. I wonder if I’m a tad of a compulsive (“impulse” is more-appropriate word) buyer — because while I normally have a strong money-saving sense, my lust for books seems to overpower it. If this is a compulsion, it would be the other half to my obsessive behavior — double checking stove burners to make sure they’re off, and “notebook-wallet-keys” to make sure all are in my pockets.

But I don’t really think so. I’m not clinical. Sometimes I do put books back, telling myself I really don’t have time to read them, and that I can buy them later (sometimes the fear is that they’ll be gone later , and sometimes the fear is I won’t remember to buy them later).

And maybe the problem is partly one of existence. To buy is a specific act, and a book, a specific thing. To not buy is not an act; it’s a continuing condition of refrain from, and as such gives the positive act an overshadowing power that continues to haunt and influence after I leave the store. Every time I go back, I have to renew my resolve not to buy. And it’s (almost) impossible to use a negative state as a guiding principle because the anti-X statement inherently postulates and affirms the existence of X. The only successful response is to replace the statement or belief “anti-X” with positive statement of belief “Y” (Matt Nixon’s paper on “Forrest Gump” explains and credits this idea — as it relates to myths — to Barthes.). This idea like quitting smoking: gum or carrot sticks, if used as substitutes for cigs in the mouth and /or hands, merely remind of cigs.

So books — I think my motivation in buying is different this time from before. This time, I feel kinda like how N. described his buying of CDs when he was unhappy with his job. He was unhappy with work but he had to keep his job, and so he had cash and little time or freedom — so he bought CDs.

I like my job — I just wish I didn’t spend so much time doing it. I have cash but no time, so I buy books because it is fun, enjoyable to buy books, and I’m not fetishizing these books. I would like to — do intend to — read them. But I just don’t have time. However, I guess that I am fetishizing the books in the sense that I am buying/consuming objects, and that the act of obtaining is pleasant and that therefore, I am taking a materialistic view of these objects that are, in their creators’ purpose, idea-vehicles rather than commodities. (For the publisher and marketer, books are commodities — sales-objects, material, but for the artist, a book isn’t “product” or even “content” (I hate the currently fashionable use of that word to mean facts, numbers, stories, visual art and music in a publishing or media context, as if they are all interchangeable, for one thing. It’s very condescending and telling about the attitudes of publishers.) To an author, a book is the “story,” the “argument,” the structured (as opposed to a list of numbers) ideas. It’s the result (by my definition of art as the result of a certain mental state) of mental concentration, of putting ideas and words in their proper (according to inherent structure of the work) order.

[From journals of Sun., 8 Feb. 1998, Journal 21, pages 9-12]

I used the word “clear” instead of “black” for coffee, as that Toronto hairstylist told me in NYC

$62—the cost of our stay tonight. We passed by numerous small motor-inns, a la the Rip Van Winkle Motel and the Blue Sunset (or something thereabouts) Motel to get past Buffalo.

Zen talk tonight at the Niagara Falls Terrapin Lookout Point over the Canadian falls.

Deciding to limit myself for rest of trip to one roll—24 exposures—of film so as to (1) increase the value of each image, and (2) so also as to not be concerned about “taking” these images and these experiences back with me, as much as experiencing/observing these things in a more observational, egoless way (my words as I’ve described it before: the opening up/flowering of the observations such that some observations give way because they aren’t necessary first steps or a progression—but are merely more, and in numerous perspectives and areas—to many more observations). When in this mindset, I can go from not noticing anything about a person to noticing 500 separate characteristics/attributes.

So I told D__ my dissatisfaction that every place I go, I feel like it’s just a change of an image, like I’m in an IMAX (realistic) theater but the scene is never real, only a different movie.

But then D__  reminded me of Zen thinking of living in the moment, no goal, no materialistic/Western-style thinking of “seeing it all” (which means, of course, never really seeing fully anything).

But I came to live in the moment, calmly, observationally, and not feel the loss of the moment, but the real moment itself (and cast off nostalgia). The rays of the sun through the clouds became for me not the loss but them in their glory—and I felt good.

And though our conversation had come to feel tired, our conversation had “plateau’d,” then it rose to new level and it felt energetic and refreshing.

And I want to maybe get pastels—art supplies (D__’s quoting of van Gogh—why paint if not actually looking at the subject itself?)

We were at Niagara for, like, two hours or so, until 9. It was good to stop for a while and relax, observe. It’s that demi-meditation time (for looking or writing, etc.) that I require.

Me thinking of how an intellectual, D.F. Wallace-sort of writer might connect in a story the mist rising from the foot of the waterfall to the water dripping from the raincoats in the Cave in the Wind tour office, to the wash water on my hands after washing them in the bathroom—thinking that there’s any real meaning there, unless it’s merely descriptive of my experiences/perspective, but it seems I’m reading crap like that in writers like D.F. Wallace (such as his “Adult World” haughty-joke story).

D__ on there being no meaning (he wonders if he’s using this search for meaning to ease sadness).

Writing the moment of men/women/eye contact/passing, the tension there.

We had another laughing fit in a Tim Horton’s, the first being last fall with R__ in Leamington (“The tomato capital of Canada“). (Also, as far as “of Canada” towns, we passed through Brandstad or something, the “telephone center of Canada,” and “St. Catherine, “the garden city.”)

But this one—I used the word “clear” instead of “black” for coffee, as that Toronto hairstylist told me at that Italian restaurant in New York City—and so we avoided that problem of “black coffee.” That tripped us up at the first Tim Horton’s. But this “scene” (as in, we “caused a scene”) grew out of our having a bill of $4.97 or something and D__ lobbing two-dollar coins on the counter. Also, a “I have this, too” and tossing a 10-dollar bill on table, and we started cracking up, strong stomach-clenching fits of laughing, and over-mascara’d clerk smiled but was true to D__’s theory of the abrupt, terse Canadian idea of politeness (which he had discussed earlier on the road).

Left R__’s today after helping him move until 4 a.m. and (for the list of adventures) riding in a tall moving truck yesterday. D__ decided we should leave before we were roped into more moving labor.

Got $10 U.S. changed into $14.20 Canadian, and I commented to one of the girls how the money looked fake. I agreed with her that it was more colorful than the tired old American greenback, but it still looked fake, not having a money-value.

But somehow I was glad to be back in the U.S. today (at Niagara). Canada kinda boring—the road too far away from cities to see them. We only saw signs proclaiming their existence, but no real cities. And walls blocked off the few houses we saw.

[From journal of Sun., 12 July 1998, Batavia, N.Y., Super 8, Room 181, Journal 22, page 1-5]

Not to be considered for publication in my Collected Works

Random thought—of course, this section is not to be considered for publication in my Collected Works unless it is deemed particularly telling about my personality and/or mind—and I’m afraid that it will be deemed relevant unless our sensation-driven culture has reformed by the time a volume of my Collected Works might even be considered. This is included for completeness.

My thought is that I am embarrassed by my excrement—or maybe it’s better to say “burdened,” and also more succinct to say that I feel burdened by my need to shit. And to deny critics the satisfaction of assigning me a Victorian discomfort with the bodily, with the base, or the worldly—that’s not what I would say this impulse is. Or at least maybe a little—in the sense of public embarrassment, how I don’t like going into the toilet stalls in the Greg Hall bathroom if other people are in the bathroom (if they’re only in stalls, no problem). I don’t like facing people, especially other people I know, like WILL staff, when I go into a stall. …

I don’t mind coming out of the stall afterwards as much as I don’t like seeing others as I go in. And I’m sure to wash hands after, because it seems so gross when I witness others leaving stalls and then grabbing the door handle and leaving the bathroom. That’s just sick, and that’s why I grab door handles by the lowest part of the handle, and with my pinkie finger, or with my cuff over my hand, if I’m about to eat. My assessment is that most people grab the top of middle part of door handles (the vertical-bar kind) because the top is easier to hook and the middle is closer to the natural hand height of most people.

It feels strange to write this—except that it also feels freeing, good to get off my chest, because these are exactly the same thoughts—legitimizing reasons—that go through my head any time I use the bathroom.

[From Sat., 14 Feb. 1998, Journal 21, pages 44-6]

Washington Square Park: More from Pocket Pages notebook #50


This phone number no longer connects to me.

This phone number no longer connects to me.

21 February 1998: My radio-station colleague Cheryl Uitti the other day said how we’re all haunted by the media image of the white woman.

2 March 1998: Symbolism, paradox, irony, appearance/scene-setting: the literary tools of my new journalism. But are these too pat, too easy a set of analytical tools?

4 March 1998: I’m here at the station late again tonight, but this time it was exciting. Talking with [reporter colleague] Rob about stories, about my organic agriculture story, about using simile, about being passionate and using that to pitch public radio. And I got excited about the crack house story tonight on “All Things Considered” — how raw that was, and how incredible. Maria called and I got excited just telling her all the details of the Whitacre sentencing [I attended]  today — how technical the jargon and details, yet how informal the interaction was. And the judge semi-scolded Whitacre before he read the sentence: how Whitacre was unlike most defendants in that he had opportunity, he was a “meteoric” success, but that his motive was “garden variety venality and greed.”

4 March 1998: Taking a shit is an act of health.

6 March 1998: On plane: Substance/denial/meaning: the fallacy of food and material “pleasures.” There’s no meaning for me there, and therefore little pleasure from food these days — so little desire for candy, shrimp, etc. A hollow experience.

How many people are like me? You don’t hear this (old-fashioned) idea in pop culture. But you can’t legislate or really even preach it and have this idea accepted. People have to see the emptiness for themselves.

6 March 1998: 5-ish, Barnes & Nobles near NYU campus, New York City: There are so many people here. Yet they aren’t all famous. A few rise up — maybe there’s hope for me.

Taking pictures of small things as emblematic of the whole is false.

Old wooden water tanks on top of buildings.

I don’t even want to stop and read things now. I’m too dazed and my attention captured by all the sights around me — buildings, people, etc.

7 March 1998: NYC, hotel lounge, near Chinatown/Little Italy: The fruit seller, the bean curd (?) seller, the mob guys I see out this window — I don’t know them, they’re meaningless, they are symbols, objects to me. The “mob guys” outside “Maria’s Restaurant”: old Scorsese-looking guy smokes a cig, puffing it, not really smoking it, his hands in his pockets, standing there while a young, somewhat unraveled-looking Chinese guy talks excitedly to him. Then the younger guy, who is sweeping thru this and ignoring the guy when he directs his talking and hand-slapping to him, this young guy whips out some bills, the Chinese guy takes them, goes on to a retail store down the street, slides in thru an opened door. Those two stay there like they are conducting street business as much as the curd seller and his shopping cart are. Not long after, they went inside (maybe) and closed the garage door. And a kitty there later — too perfect.

7 March 1998: The subway goes below our hotel. Little tremors, sound like thunder, when it passes.

The older buildings here in Chinatown: lots of dirty walls, old water taknks on top of the buildings.

Lots of foreign voices here in C-town. This would surprise me more if I didn’t hear this with some regularity in Champaign-Urbana. See, I am somewhat worldly compared to how I was in high school.

This city is laid out differently from what I thought from seeing it in movies.

Lots of activity at the fruit stand pretty early — at least there was when I got up at 8.

I’ve seen some pics of NYC in movies, etc., but even those establishing shots don’t move. There are hundreds of views of even the same building, and so the one shot you get in a movie is so 2-D, so shallow, unreal. The richness of even just one building in the flesh vs. a single picture of it.

I’m planning on walking the city today. Even I’m a bit surprised at my — what’s the word — brashness? Comfort with the city? I’m not even sure I would do this with Chicago or D.C. Here, the “good” area is lots bigger. When I look outside at the fruit stands, etc., and see all the moving people, going places, I get a little hesitant to go out into that, to fight crowds, etc. But then I know I want to and I brace myself — but not much because I’m not that reluctant.

9:40, The bean curd guy packed the crates and buckets into his shopping cart, strapped it down with a bungee, and wheeled his business away.

7 March 1998, Saturday, nearly 11 a.m., Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, NYC: I’m writing this note while sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park! That’s the only real point to the message, is that it’s being written in Washington Square Park.

And as I’m writing this, I’m thinking that as I read this some time in the future, it’ll be more like a thing, a souvenir, than a memory, and that it won’t come anywhere near recreating this scene, which is to say, it’s a cloudy, cool but not cold day, pretty much meets expectations for an early March day. There’s a mild wind, and that’s cold, but OK to sit here for 10-20 minutes, but not much longer. There are a fair number of people here, more adults than any park I’ve ever been to, on a day when there’s no festival, anyway.

All ages of people, all manner — old, parents, lots of young-ish types, 30s and such. Guy with his dog on a 3.5- or 4-foot pedestal. Athletic sort of guy. He tosses a blue ball to the dog and it bumps/pushes it with its nose back to the guy in an arch [or “arc”?] People watch and photograph. Somebody said something like “that dog was in People magazine.”

Little pug dogs around me — little guy nosing all around. A younger woman walked by with a smaller, grayer pug — and the two women talked about the dogs — breeding dogs: “What do you do, put ’em together and let ’em go at it?” — the older blonde smoker with baby — almost a Fred Stoller kind of flat, slow accent. …

There’s a real police presence in the park — several cops walking around, a couple vans. NPR last week said they installed cameras to watch for drugs, etc. I haven’t seen any cameras. A woman during that story said she doesn’t mind surveillance cameras because it makes the park safer, able for her to use it. And I’m thinking about that now as I see the people here. Everyone seems upstanding, not even any gruff-looking people.

A park police guy tells the woman to leash the dogs. The blonde shoves her dog into a mesh basket under the baby carriage. The dog lies down, he doesn’t seem to mind.

Writings done at Washington Square Park.

Writings done at Washington Square Park.

How to describe my sitting here: I’m looking at this pad of paper and seeing the dark green bench, the brick and pavement and my red coat and blue-jean’d legs to the periphery of my vision. I look up, people are scattered at various distances — lots of sitting, walking, watching -(lots of cameras — are professional newspaper photographers here just to get slice-of-life shots? I mean, not that they shoot and print only off-beat photos here, but that this is a regular place to start.) There’s some greening grass, not lush or dense yet. Mostly bare trees, but some are pale, yellowish green with buds. At least the tree is that’s between me and the 85-foot tall monument (I remember the height from a tourist book I read last night).

The monument is north-center in the park. Big brick-paved, concrete-benches circle is in front of me, in park’s center  — and another ring in the middle of that, 100 feet across, maybe. It’s sunken a few feet and step-benches line it, an amphitheater of sorts — a magician/performer was drawing a crowd there yesterday. We didn’t see his act but his circulating of a coffee can: “Any Irish in the crowd? Saint Patrick’s day is coming up. Get out your green.”

A dog run to my right — I’m surprised there aren’t more fights there amongst the leash-free animals.

It’s about 11:30 now. About 10 minutes ago, when the ladies leashed their pugs and left, the whole park play underwent a change of characters. The ball-dog guy left, the dog run cleared out, etc.

The mood here is just kinda mellow — it’s Saturday, nice day for a stroll in the park. There are little kids here, too, dad with two little kids 2,3,4 years at most, in a plastic wagon. Are they NYorkers, I wonder, or tourists. Do those kids live fulltime in Greenwich Village? Those kids are loose now, walking around. One of them does that bubbling giggle, up and down, elicits a smile from yours truly.

Lots of cameras here — is everybody watching everybody else?

I’m conducting a survey of the theory that dogs look like their owners. Not seeing much of a positive correlation in today’s research. I’m starting to get chilled — almost time to go. The park’s open “ceiling” is a nice break from the surrounding tall buildings. The giggling kids are both wearing many-colored fleece overalls, like the PJs I used to wear. One, a pink and purple suit, other, green and blue, with hats.

Bunny Modern author sets his first babynapping scene in Wash Sqr Park. In reading that, I hadn’t quite pictured this, though in a strange way, not so far off, either. A group of about 30 or so college or high schoolers, probably, stopped and posed for a pic around the rim of the amphiteather inner-ring. They want a picture of them in Washington Square Park!

In a way, that’s the image/myth/legend I’m buying into, too, at least when I wrote the first part of this note. The park as a celebrity. A brush with fame! This park today seems safe, even dull — not particularly significant, except for its history,  and that wouldn’t draw people. What draws them is the park’s reputation as it has been popularized in books, movies, etc. [and now in my own blog post. 21 Aug. 2016] For example, the Washington Square imprint is using and furthering the park’s countercultural image. From what I had heard of the park before, I thought it would be in a slum, not near university.

It seems a uniquely NYC phenomenon (or at least it happens a lot more often here ) that you overhear some interesting tidbit of a conversation. Do people talk more openly here than other places, or are their conversations more interesting?

This city, at least around here, has the existentialist image down — lots of thin, serious-looking people, quiet dressers, lots of them smoking. At least on a cloudy day like today it looks existential. Not depressing, per se, but mellow, detached.

My impression before coming here was that TV, sports, radio — common interests elsewhere across the country — aren’t as popular here in NYC because what is popular here (at least in Manhattan) are things like theater and books — what the people are into is books, etc., and I like that.

The scene before me is detailed, sharp — I think the overcast light helps that, lights things evenly so they appear saturated colors, etc., lots of detail. 11:50 a.m.

I moved to a new bench. Couple other things: lots of fences here now — unpaved areas fenced off — to save the grass? Snow fences around black metal pipe permanent fences. The statue of Garibaldi at east side of park the frosted-green patina of copper — the statue pedestal below is in poor shape. The statue is drawing a sword. Under that, on the pedestal, it says:

GARIBALDI 1807–1882

and that’s all. No other words, no plaque justifying this statue’s existence. But the concrete below the words is cracked, chipped, peeling.

I just looked up from my new spot — right ahead of me, to south of park, directly up the road, like a path directly there — are World Trade towers. Finally! I see a NY skyscraper.

You know, I want to walk around the city, see buildings and Central Park — but right now I’m waiting for Maria — she says she wants to go to only one Federalist Society [conference] session. “An odd group,” she said today. (I’m not sure if “odd” was her word, but that was the meaning.) And that was what I was thinking, so it surprised me a little to hear her agree. Too many conservatives, too many lawyers, too many men, too many bowties.

So I have another 45 minutes until I am to meet Maria and I’m not sight-seeing, but I’m very happy just sitting in the park this last hour, writing and observing. This is perfect. Nothing I’d rather do.

The mind-boggling thing is that this area has lots of people, buildings, things going on and things to see. And this is only one small part of one borough out of five in one city of (the cabbie said) 13 million people. There’s just so much going on it would be nearly impossible to write about. At least NYTimes does take an interest in the uniqueness of the city, in its style photos and “Living in the City” diary.

I still want to buy a NYTimes for $2.50 tomorrow (the low cost part of the charm, of course) but I don’t really feel much like reading papers this trip, not like I have wanted to read papers in the past, partly ’cause there’s so much else to see here and I have read the Times before but also I think it’s because I’m so sick of all news lately.

7 March 1998, 12:50 p.m., outside in front of NYU law school: It’s hard to believe some of these “Feddies” — more conservative than libertarian, I’d say — but still. This one plump guy who came out, wearing trench coat, hair quite short, glasses like George Will or something, with ear pieces on top — bow tie, white shirt pressed out by belly — pudgy, bland Rush Limbaugh face and smoking Marlboros — jeezus. Kinda like bland arrogance personified in a young body where it really looks affected and put on. Why — and how — would someone try so hard to look like conservatism larvae? I mean, it has to be a put on, right? That can’t be natural, right? I mean, the guy’s not 25, probably.

Synchronized actions: From Pocket Page notebook #50

1 February 1998: I’ve been fascinated lately by the concept of the swiftly, deftly executed move or action, especially when it synchronizes, like gears meshing in time, with other events and times– like stepping to a door, turning knob with hand and pushing the door open, then walking thru the door without pausing, all in one smooth, continuous movement —

And the larger action, walking thru the door, is fully dependent on that little movement — the hand turning the knob and pushing. Sometimes it almost feels like a lock-step, like the hand’s movements are controlled and timed mechanically to function perfectly and be exactly right to not impede the larger machine’s movement, like the knotters on a hay baler. When they are tripped, they seem to act in one quick strike, like the hand on the door. The knotter does its job in a moment and then rests again til it’s called. That’s key to this idea, too. It’s not a constant, repetitive thing. It’s a quick strike, called at any time. But it fits with the larger action — synchronicity.

And it comes about either thru computation and methodical engineer-thinking, like the baler, or thru practice, like me and the door.

The door is the door to my office. But there are other things at a radio station that remind me of this idea/principle/phenomenon. like how most of the time you aren’t under pressure to perform precisely and perfectly, but there are moments with that’s required, when swift execution is needed, like when producing a piece or combo-ing the air product, when numerous little operations on the mixing board are required, hitting of buttons in certain sequences, doing little “procedures” (in a programming sense) that require several steps.