Monthly Archives: May 2002

Man vs. Himself

Cheryl wants a story with no conflict.

She tells me this with conviction, slightly frustrated — if only she could remember what we’re talking about from one minute to the next. “I don’t understand why everything has to be so fraught with conflict. I mean, for real,” she declares, brow furrowed in puzzlement. Danielle is on stage, belting out the blues in the Burren back room, and it’s all about conflict. The blues are, in general. Somebody’s always down on his luck (man vs. himself), somebody’s been cheatin (man vs. man), or somebody’s cornbread is burnin (man vs. nature). As I’m musing over this idea, Cheryl slams her fist down on the broad wooden table, rattling the line of empty beer bottles. “Life is NOT high school literature class!” She is exasperated at this point, though still smiling slightly cause she’s digging the music.

Her eyes turn earnest and she leans forward suddenly, the key to the universe in her hands, eager to pass it on to me solemnly in this Sunday night barroom. I lean in to hear what she has to say.

“Does art really need conflict to be good?”

Funny, this Cheryl. I’ve known her for about six minutes. She latched onto me while I was mentally sorting through the day’s creative advances, including the birth of my new novel. How did she know what was on my mind? Every once in a while someone I’ve never met will suddenly approach me with no provocation and say something to me with such startling fervor — the words I’ve been dying to hear, or the words echoing my own self doubts — and for one second I’ll feel like I’m looking right into the eyes of God, and all I can say is, “I’m listening. I’m listening. You have my attention.”

I wrote a hefty portion of a novel the summer of 1999 called “August in Winter Hill.” It’s mostly done. It’s about being seventeen and setting the city on fire, and thinking you know everything, and discovering gorgeous treasures in the broken, the mundane, and the obvious. It’s about trip-hop and lemonade, city heat and Massive Attack, half-Asian bike messengers, pit bulls and wildflowers, pigeons and streets falling away into nothing. And it’s about the sensation of flying down Winter Hill at 2:35 in the morning on your Honda Elite scooter with someone you have just fallen in love with riding on the back, never wanting to pull over and let them off because of the burn of summer in your soul.

I think fewer than five people have read it. I made a poor choice of audience by giving it to the two people voted Least Likely to Enjoy a Fairy Tale. One of the first readers was this evil boy I went out with that summer. He was a writer, and I have since vowed never to date another writer. There is too much neurosis and ego there to support two people. We didn’t know what to do with each other. He wrote creepy erotic science fiction stories and was a manipulative freak and began suggesting that since I was so hesitant to let him read my newborn gem of a book, perhaps I hadn’t really written it at all. And I assured him I had, but he managed to wrest it out of me, and after dashing through it with his red pen, he looked at me and told me I was “childish.”

“It’s a love story.” I told him.

“It’s boring.” he said. “There’s no conflict. I keep waiting for something to happen.”

My defense was that I wanted to cut a little slice of a splendid time and place that should be able to stand on its own, like longform poetry — poems don’t need conflict to exist. Though I mulled over the possibility that he was right. I was impressionable at the time, and thought there might be some truth to his graceless criticism.

Of course, there were a few more people I allowed to read selected portions of the book, but since they liked it, I don’t remember what they had to say.

The last person to read it was a highly-scientific, relentlessly critical person whose opinion — at the time — I revered. He also got select chapters of the book out of me before I had recovered from the previous scathing review, before I felt ready to accept constructive criticism.

“Is this August for real?” he asked incredulously. “She’s too perfect. Those two together are annoying. And there’s no conflict.”

I see a pattern here.

So I decided two things. One, that no one else would read this book. Two, that I would infuse it with some scorching pain and scandal, some hard core conflict.

The conflict didn’t seem to fit. It felt awkward and pasted-on. I felt awful doing these mean things to my beloved characters.

“I’m sorry, August — maybe the coma was too much. But Joel thinks you’re boring.”

“Jason, I know. I know. You loved that bike. But what can I tell you? That’s life.”

“Yes, Aphrodite, you’re pregnant. And the father is a pit bull.”

The book died, and I buried it. It had good imagery, a neat idea involving Tarot cards, an excellent sound track, and perhaps unrealistic characters. So there you have it. Recently I was talking to a friend who wanted to read it, and for one second I entertained the idea of handing it over — but I think it’s time to let the dream go, and take the good parts and learn from them and bring them into my new project.

Bathrooms have always been my main source of epiphany, and I can’t explain why. Not even one place in particular in the bathroom. Just the clean (ideally) white porcelain and solitude, and the sound of running water. I get all my big ideas in the loo. And I was tossing around ideas to explore for my book, all centered securely around conflict. Because this damn book is going to have conflict. And I got it. All at once, in between the grapefruit shampoo and the new bar of Dove soap, during the shower song (Morphine’s “Buena”), the story came to me in its entirety, full of characters with comic book brightness, a dashing plot, a perfect setting, and undeniably valid conflict.

“I mean, what’s her problem?” Cheryl exclaims, her eyes shining. I lift up the corner of her 12″ Heffenweiser glass that is tilting steadily toward my lap. She turns her attention once more to Danielle on stage. “She’s beautiful. She’s successful. Why all this drama? See, as you get older, things aren’t as big of a deal any more. Not like in high school. Not like in college. God — when you’re 20, everything in the whole world is this gigantic painful struggle. Life chills out later on, you know?” She shakes her head. “Musicians create their own bullshit.”

Playing somewhat of the devil’s advocate, I toss out the age-old argument: “Maybe art needs conflict to be good. Maybe without conflict, there would be no art. Or at least, no interesting art.”

“No way. If someone wrote a book with no conflict, and that book could stand up on its own without it, that would be a good book. And I would read it. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with no conflict.”

Should I let Cheryl in on my little secret?’

“I wrote a book with no conflict.”

She is shocked, amazed. She grabs both of my sleeves in her fists and shakes me. But I stop her before she gets too excited about it.

“The critics said it was boring.”

At this point, the friend I arrived with pulls me from the conversation and asks if I need to be rescued. But I smile and tell her I’m okay. This is entertaining. And despite her rampant inebriation and the occasional lemon brew spittle I’m enduring on my face, I’m hoping Cheryl is on to something.

“Nuh uh. I don’t believe it.” She begins searching frantically for something to write on, and finally surfaces from her enormously cluttered hippie bag with a torn handbill. She scrawls her number on the back. “Call me. I want to read it.”

I ask her if she has Internet access, because I’m rarely comfortable talking on the phone. Especially not with strangers. And certainly not about my boring book. So I put in a plug for my DiaryLand site. She doesn’t have a computer. This explains a few things.

We part ways that evening, Cheryl with newly-kindled hope for the possibilities of a literary future free from strife and hardship, free from adultery and car accidents, free from inter-racial love affairs and pregnant border collies who got it on the wrong side of the tracks. I leave slightly amused, wondering if this is some kind of message, and if so, what exactly to do with it.

Heaven & Uneaten Shrimp

It’s Prom season.

The night of my junior Prom I got in my 1985 tomato red Ford Escort standard transmission two-door wearing a $1000 gown I rented for $75 and a pair of dyable pumps a size too small because they only went up to 11. My hair was really long and it took the stylist almost 3 hours to get it up on top of my head. It barely fit in the car.


Aren’t Proms weird? As if there aren’t enough casual social nightmares in high school, we need to make people super-uncomfortable formally. The boys are drunk on pilfered whiskey and the girls haven’t eaten for weeks. You dress up a bunch of kids who have no idea how to walk in heels or use a fork, and make them sit around a table pretending to have fun.

Maybe I read into things too much.

I recently found my Prom pictures (see above and below) while putting together some albums, and it got me thinking. Last weekend was the Prom at some area school or other; Harvard Square was full of boys yanking at their cummerbunds and girls running around holding up their skirts by the hem and their stilettos by the straps. It was raining on their $300 hair dos. White limos were lined up around the block. One door opened to squeals and the sound of a large volume of vomit exploding on the wet pavement.

Limo? You’ve got to be kidding me. I was the only one of my friends that had my license and a car, so I drove us all. Crinoline draped over the stick shift, barefoot in my pantyhose, enormous hair pressing against the ceiling of my car.

Do you remember your Prom song? I’m thinking Bryan Adams — I remember the invitation saying “Heaven” but I don’t’ remember what the song sounds like. I’m sure that’s a blessing.

All I know is I went with my boyfriend, the most beautiful boy in school — even if he was a freshman and almost 3 years younger than me. (I think that’s illegal in some states.) He didn’t have the money to go, and I knew that, so I went to Mr. Tux by myself and bought a gift certificate and told him I got it free when I rented my gown. So he came with me in all his white smile golden-haired glory. His eyes matched my dress. I felt like I’d won the lottery.

He made me cry at the Prom. Most of the evening escapes my memory but that I remember. That and not eating the shrimp because I was afraid to split a seam by breaking my 6-day fast. During that insipid Elton John song, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down” or some such nonsense, he wouldn’t dance with me. So I danced with someone else. And he got jealous and said some very mean things to me. I don’t recall exactly what, but I’m sure they were really mean. In the morning we went to IHOP where he knocked over a glass of water on everyone and ran out, embarrassed, disappearing for hours. I drove around Hamden shouting his name melodramatically from my car. I cried the day after the Prom too.

My senior year Prom was a bit different. By this point I was thoroughly fed up with high school bullshit and had no intention of subscribing to that mentality. Especially if it meant trying to find size 12 dyable shoes again.

So I wasn’t going. I didn’t make a show of it, I just decided not to go. And a few days before the Prom, my sometimes-boyfriend said, “Hey — I’ve never been to the Prom. Do you want to go? Let’s go.” He had gotten kicked out of his school sophomore year, so he never made it to any of the formals. “It’ll be fun.” he said. Going with him — hippie local-band rock star — totally fit in with my anti-high-school-bullshit attitude. So I agreed, on the condition that we didn’t do the whole frantic preparation thing. No problem there, let me tell you.

My sister went dress shopping for me while I was at work, and I had three to choose from when I got home. I wore a little black ballerina dress with a choker collar and fishnets. I dyed my hair Deadly Nightshade with Manic Panic. Steve forgot to take the chipped black nail polish off his gnawed-at finger nails. Renting a tux was out of the question and he didn’t have a jacket so he borrowed his brother’s. And the pants. Oh — you should have seen the pants. Guatemalan patchwork trousers. With combat boots. We were definitely not invited to the Yay-Rah-Rah North Branford High rally.

In all the fanfare of the Prom Day morning, one of the most popular kids in our class was speeding in his car and hit a tree and died. It was really crazy. The school grinded to a halt. The Prom turned into a memorial for Cody, with photographs and speeches and flowers. And everyone left an hour into it to go home and comfort one another. It felt surreal.

On our way home — my friend Jay was driving this year and I got to relax in the spacious back seat of his Hyundai hatchback — a motorcycle veered past our car going a buck ten and hit the car in front of us. We watched the guy — no helmet, no leather — die on the side of the highway in convulsions. We decided it was time to get the hell off the road and stay there.

The anticlimax of the evening was me in my pajamas making omelets for everyone in my parents’ kitchen. Then we sat in the sunroom playing guitar. And as I found out years later, in a fit of ultimate cliché, Michelle lost her virginity in my basement on Prom night.

I’ll take a rain check on the details.

I May Let My Fingers Roam…

Today I realized three things:

  1. All of my favorite songs are about masturbation. Or heroin. (Or both.)

  2. People delight in telling you that you look tired when you’ve been sleeping 3 hours a night.

  3. The elevator really does come faster when you hit the button repeatedly.

In my travels online today researching marketing trends, I discovered that my skepticism concerning certain strap-on vibrating muscle builders was right on the money. They are currently under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising. Somebody took too many jolts in the belly.

On to the subject of masturbation, and perhaps that’s why I’m listening to Josh Ritter right now — he is a breath of fresh, clean air, with no double entendres (that I’ve discovered yet anyway). I think I am just too pure of thought to GET IT sometimes, these boysongs. I remember years ago driving in my car listening to Dave Matthews “Crash Into Me” which had been one of my favorite songs, and suddenly it was like I was hearing it for the first time: “Hike up your skirt a little more and show your world to me.” I mean, I guess it’s obvious but where was I? Off in romantic land, where Josh Ritter sings “pull your skirt up to your knees” but he means to run through fields of tall grass under a full moon eating raspberries. Oh Josh, we are too naive for this world.

What brought this to light was a certain song that has long been one of my cherished favorites, called “Say Goodnight.” I love it because it starts off all sweet and quiet and ends up building into this wall of sound and crashing drums and tragic guitar. He sings about hearing this girl all the time in the apartment next door and she’s saying “nobody cares” and he’s thinking “I do!” and wishing she would say goodnight and turn off the light.
But at the Jump show last week that bittersweet image was soiled.

Before that song, Jay Clifford, who is too much like a puppydog to be speaking these words — nevermind on stage — told the audience, “My dad said this next song sounds like it’s about things you do to yourself when you’re alone in your room, and I told him no — of course it’s not about that. But it really is. Sometimes it’s okay to lie to your parents.”

All this time, Jay Clifford has been singing about masturbation.

And nobody cares – especially me
But I can’t help myself as I fall asleep
To turn out the lights
Turn back the sheets
Say goodnight
And turn me on.

Oh, and there’s no Santa Claus.

Then Catherine Wheel singing “Lifeline” — I imagined it was about tossing someone the help they desperately needed, because you wanted to save them and it’s all about shooting smack. Although I guess most of their songs are — directly or indirectly — about shooting smack.

Then there’s Lou Barlow — painfully emotional indierocker extraordinaire on whom I developed a panting crush for several years.

Sittin’ around with my homemade bone
naked and loose when no one’s home
and I may let my fingers roam
juicing free on my holy bone…

I know these references probably look completely obvious to other people, but maybe that’s because your minds are in the gutter. There are others that I won’t detail mainly because they make me look like even more of an ass.

I just want to hear pretty songs. There’s no need to sully up a ballad with talk of excessive self-gratification.

Hold up — I’m not going into this any further because I’m beginning to tread into a whole different topic that I’m not up for tackling today. Self-gratification is fine by me. I just don’t want to hear about it through the pristine lips of rock stars.

Next topic, please.

Sleep. Yeah. Every once in a while I don’t sleep for a few weeks. This is one of those weeks. I don’t think I really look tired, but everyone’s telling me I do. I think they’re just jealous that they have to spend 8 hours a night out cold while I’m running around the city like a lunatic. What medication? I hate sleeping. It drives me crazy to be wasting that much time. I also never nap. Once in a while on Saturday afternoons sometimes I get sleepy and lay down for a nap and always wake up an hour later in the throes of panic attack. So I’ll follow the cue from Mademoiselle magazine with tips on how not to look like you’ve been out whoring all night.

Also, the elevator thing — I’m beginning to believe it’s really true about pushing the button more than once.

But none of that is as stimulating as masturbation, is it?

Deep Blue Moracco

Oh, heart.

I came home to play my shiny black Takamine acoustic with the turquoise and purple butterfly, but I broke a string and so…

And so listening to Underworld’s “Dirty Epic,” one of the most gorgeously dark songs ever created.

Freeze-dried with a new religion. Here comes Christ on crutches.

It’s a jammie-sad day, wandering home in the gray almost-sunset; springsky heavy with storm, broken leg aching with rain, to put on my powder blue flannel PJ’s with tiny stars on them.

I came here to my amber throne of a room — antique orange and magenta Christmas lights, gauze dragonfly wings and little fish hanging from the ceiling — to feel comforted.

And so, what? I was at the Someday Café reading Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block and I have such mixed emotions about that book each time I read it — sometimes so blithe and flimsy in its vibrant chaos, and tonight just making me sad that the whole world cannot be mint chocolate chip ice cream shakes and plastic palm trees forever.

Reality rears its ugly head.

Which is why my room is always perfect – a slice of fairytale, gargoyles and seashell lamps, surrounded by 47 notebooks — each page filled, and things around me with their polish loved off, shaped like my hands and fingers and feet.

That’s a poem I wrote once, a long time ago, about how irritating artists are. It’s coming back to me:

Tonight I am an artist
dripping with paints and sarcasm and cigarettes
red wine and candlelight
a million worn notebooks filled with the innards of my fabulous imagination
all the things around me with their polish loved off,
shaped like my hands and fingers and feet
novels with dog-eared pages and highlighted passages.
My moods come and go
but not my Piscean wizardry
I can laughingly discuss death
knowing I am too much for the world to lose.
I sit with my legs tucked up under me and write
with my Bic #2 disposable pencil that I’ve been using for years.
My striped socks don’t keep my feet warm
and my nail polish in “Cabernet” has smooshes in it
because I couldn’t sit still long enough for it to dry.
I speak softly — or not at all.
My eyes open wide and I stare with blinding thoughts screaming out of my pupils
imagining scars on your face, I hear you ask,
“What are you thinking?”
I do not answer because I think in pictures, not in words.
And you wouldn’t understand
even if I tried to tell you.

OH! The melodrama! October 1994, I think. I was surrounded by swankering sophomores, their pipes filled with vanilla tobacco, beat-up copies of On the Road stuffed in the back pocket of their dirty courderoys.

Artboys can be so irritating.

Speaking of artboys (of the non-irritating variety), Benjamin is moving in soon – in two weeks or so, and we have been discussing what to do with Bad Art Night.

I know my friends are all talented, and I also know many of them have stage fright when it comes to creation, so I began the Bad Art Night tradition, hosting parties for people to come play music, sing, read their poems and stories, display their photographs and share their paintings, or sit on the floor with charcoals and paper, coloring books and my little silver Polaroid Joycam. All without any pressure to do it well.

The last one was such a success that I realized I cannot rightly call it “Bad” Art Night. No no. It’s got to be something different this time. Ben suggested “Scared-of-Art Night” and I’m thinking of calling it “Stage Fright Night.”

One of my favorite pieces of art came out of that evening. I put a hardbound guestbook with black pages in my foyer with a jar of silver and gold gel pens, along with several Polaroid cameras. Each person that came in had to take a self-portrait for the book and write one thing about themselves that nobody else there knew – it was quite a trip.

People had some deep dark secrets, many of them involving nakedness.

Toward the end of the evening, the girls from across the street came over – Sarah, this young gorgeous creature with blond hair spiraling to her waist and bare feet and the voice of a 50-year-old black woman, wailing on 12-bar blues. We jammed out until all hours, playing Stevie Wonder (“I believe when I fall in love this time it will be forever” which will always take me back to freshman year, lying on the floor of the Berklee dorm listening to an entire room of boys singing a million-part harmony to that song, amazed).

There was not a crumb of bad art to be found that night.

Now Underworld has ended and JLC’s “Vertigo” spills from my mathematically-arranged speakers. Music is so imbedded in time and place for me. I am instantly Autumn and wearing a tawny sundress on the warm leather seat of my car. This album is the weekend I went to CT to retrieve my aging automobile, but it died on the way to Boston. My parents offered to mail me the title to my sister’s piece-of-shit minivan (which I was grateful for) but when I opened the envelope, it was actually a gift: the title to a new Nissan Altima.

Spoiled brat that I am, I drove my sexy black car named “Verna” over the Mass Ave bridge at 5:10 in the September afternoon, almost-ocean scent pouring in the sunroof, listening to “Vertigo,” singing at the top of my lungs, simultaneously pained and excited by unrequited love.

Tonight’s moodysky darkcloud evening is different from then. Except in one way: the “pained and excited by unrequited love” thing.

 

What can I write about that will be sparkly, witty and uplifting – vibrant enough to dig me out of this furrowed brow? Because life only exists as you document it – I’ve learned that living on the page all these years.

How about the night I found God? June 21st, 2001, 10:23 PM — standing before a magenta-lit stage, when my heart broke open and spilled on the dirty floor of the Paradise Rock Club, raining on all the late night broken beer bottles and cigarette butts, and I walked out weightless into the night, trailing stars.

The world all at once became my playground. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. I just wrote. I was in such a fit of violent inspiration that I couldn’t sit still.

There was too much to do – tin whistles to be played, ceramic angels to be photographed, Irish bands to dance to, stories to be written, and people to truly listen to.

So I stopped doing drugs, cut off my long, dark hair and dyed it fushia, wrote a book, and tattooed the outline of a black star on my wrist so I would never forget how it felt to be that free.

I’m feeling a little bit of that freedom tonight.

Two Degrees

“Two degrees,” he said. As in, “out of 45.” He made the first mark on my physical therapy chart that would soon be filled with notes detailing the weakness of my ankle, as well as exclamation points warning about the strength and accuracy of my right hook. He looked up hopefully to see my stunned face.

The ruler was like a compass that we used in art class in the sixth grade. A healthy ankle has at least a 33-degree range of motion. I was at two degrees.I looked down the length of my leg to the poor limb lying helplessly on the red plastic table that was covered with a fresh sheet. From the knee down my leg was roughly the size of a watermelon, banded with deep welts where the cast had held it hostage. If I concentrated, I could point my toes a centimeter or so before the stabbing pain shot immediately up to my brain.

The physical therapy center was the first medical establishment that I had been to that was in any way soothing. It was on Huntington Avenue in Boston, on the campus of Northeastern, on the ground floor of a sunny building. The front of the clinic was all glass and you could watch pedestrians strolling by, casually using their legs for good and evil, without a thought of what it would be like to have one put out of commission for almost a year. The clinic was cheerful. Everything was brightly colored and clean – shiny wood and sparkling tile floors, giant inflatable balls in primary colors, huge elastic bands in every hue, and the dumbbells arranged in ascending weights through the whole spectrum of the rainbow. And amid all these cheery organic strength and flexibility tools crouched The Machine.

The Machine was a hulking beasts on a rickety AV cart that looked like it had been rescued from the rubble of a demolished high school somewhere. The cart creaked as it approached, groaning under the weight of its burden. I shivered in fear as the hair on the back of my neck rose. The Machine was the size of a microwave oven, that 70’s brown simulated wood paneling and obscenely large dials and knobs with little windows displaying varying degrees of electric voltage. I sat uncomfortably on the bench as the P.T. rolled it toward me. I saw the shock pads and cringed visibly. Electro convulsive therapy. I saw a movie on that once. The resulting patient rolled around in her own drool for the rest of her days.

Now they have these devices on television advertised as something you wear that builds muscle while you sit on the couch and stuff your face, watching infomercials. They are based on the same technology as The Machine. But I don’t think these people could possibly strap one of these things on their stomach voluntarily. Just like the once-popular Epilady that ripped the leg on your hair out by the root – it sounds great on TV but when you get that thing near living skin it’s a whole different story.

The Machine purred and hiccupped, glaring at me with an assortment of beady red eyes. I glared back. The P.T. peeled two fresh gel pads from sterile paper packaging sporting a red cross. One on my ankle, the other on the muscle running right above the shin bone. He woke up The Machine, flipping switches and sliding levers like the Dolorian in Back to the Future. It shuddered to life, whirring violently like a flying saucer.The tiny throb started to bounce between the two pads on my leg as they convulsed rhythmically and alternately, creating a strange warmth somewhere in the middle. As the levers on The Machine climbed steadily upward on the digital display, the frequency of the beats increased until they were a steady hum. My muscles began to twitch.

It’s weird when your body does something without your consent. When you’re staring at a part of your anatomy and it’s behaving all on its own, and you’ve got no conscious control over it. I witnessed the muscles in my leg twitching in a spasm, trying to get them to stop, and they would not. The Machine had control over my nervous system, and I watched the electricity zing up and down my leg.The procedure was supposed to stimulate the muscles enough to clear out some of the edema – which is this truly disgusting kind of swelling. The P.T. would work on massaging my ankle, and as he put pressure on the bone, the flesh would pool around his fingers, and the hand prints would be left for ten or fifteen minutes. I had fun with that, drawing smiley faces and other things in my leg when I was bored.

I spent the last fifteen minutes of each session with The Machine, and often times I would be left alone with it in one of the back rooms. I tried not to look at it, tried to read the freshest copy of Entertainment Weekly. Tried not to be mad that it had control over my calf muscle and I didn’t. Tried to feel okay about being manipulated by a piece of machinery from three decades ago whose sole purpose was to shoot electricity into my body. Don’t people, in general, try to avoid electrical current? I remember licking a battery in the third grade on a dare and deciding I’d never do it again.

Although my injury was quite serious – 180 degree dislocation (foot on backward) and compound fracture (bone snapped and poking out through skin), I felt like a bit of a moron sitting there as athletes of all stripes paraded through the door, wearing their assorted injuries like a badge of honor.

Malcolm, relay runner: “Yeah – I was sprinting for the finish line, ahead of the whole pack. I felt the twinge in my thigh, but pressed on even though it hurt at the time. I couldn’t help it – I wanted to win.”

Sasha, three-time Olympic gold medallist: “The uneven parallel bars – you know how it goes.”

Todd, star NU quarterback: “I scored the winning touch-down and my team went on to win the championship. Sure, it’s a knee full of pins for the rest of my life, but imagine the stories I can tell my grandchildren.”

Kristin, klutz: “So, um, I was walking. . . down the street. . . and I fell.”

Well I guess I could flesh that story out a bit. I was walking home from the company party in January, in the dark, with a belly full of amaretto sours, and I slipped on a nasty patch of ice outside my apartment that had been haunting me since the first snow fall. I hit the pavement hard, and looked down in shock to see my foot completely facing the wrong direction, so I stood up to fix it. Yeah. You can imagine where the compound fracture came from.
Come on people — does that inspire awe, or just a sympathetic giggle? Two and a half surgeries later (one didn’t involve general anesthesia and probably should have, judging by the fingernail marks I left in the surgeon’s face) I was sitting in the bright shiny New England Baptist Hospital Physical Therapy Center, trying to figure out how to move my own toes. And The Machine was not making it any easier on me.

The Machine had a timer with an auto shut-off, and a buzzer to notify the P.T. when it was finished zapping me. But since clinic traffic picked up in the summer, I was shifted from the main area to the private back rooms, where no one could hear me screaming in surrender. Nor could they hear The Machine bleating wildly in completion. It was a 70’s buzzer, not the gentle chimes or alarm-clock-like sounds of modern technology. A buzzer like the world was going to end. And sometimes the world ended several times while I waited for the staff to remember that I was back there. I could not reach The Machine in my state — leg elevated, packed in ice.

The edema began to clear a bit, so my tangles with The Machine became more brief. Six minutes is all we spent together, and I started getting cocky about it. “So you think you’re such hot shit, huh Machine? We’ll see. We’ll see.” And I would limp out of the room, rocking on my crutches, glancing indignantly at the growling beast over my shoulder. It would shudder and glare back.

After three months, the day came when I was informed that I would be freed from The Machine. The muscles were now a little bit more developed and the swelling was coming down substantially.I sat wistfully with The Machine during our final session. They had left us alone in the back room to say goodbye. Sure, we had been through hell. But we had been through it together, dammit. Through thick and thin, through 40 sessions of physical therapy, through 12 issues of Entertainment Weekly. There is a hostage phenomenon that occurs when someone is held for long periods of time against their will; they eventually feel connected to their captor and not want to leave them. I thought about that as The Machine purred, massaging the muscles in my leg for the last time. Sometimes at night I still see its eyes glowing in darkened rooms.

Liberation Day

Today I saw the back of someone wearing a t-shirt that said, “Spending the last week of college partying with lifetime friends: priceless.” I didn’t see the rest, but I imagine it was one of those rip-offs of the MasterCard ad campaign that should have died years ago, along with “Got Milk?”

The front probably said something like:

Getting shit-faced on Landsdowne Street: $250
Blackmail for photos of you pissing on the Dean’s lawn: $100
Having beer bottle removed from your skull at Mass General: $1,895

The concept of spending the last week of college partying with lifetime friends was a foreign concept to me halfway through a dismal May 1998.

I didn’t buy my cap and gown until graduation day, and by some chance the BU bookstore was still open. I didn’t have any money, but I did have points left on my meal card, which they graciously accepted at half their value. The gown was white and wrinkled, and of some sort of vinyl-coated fabric, so when I attempted to straighten it out with a borrowed iron, it melted into folds, peeling and turning brown in streaks. I looked like a total rock star.

It was raining but not really, more just gray and overcast and misting. I stood in my room in a dull haze, staring out my window which framed the Citgo sign — the landmark that led me home on many nights out wandering, the monstrosity that lit my room in alternating rays of blue, red, white for an entire year.

Classes had been over for almost a week, and my dorm was empty save for a few graduating seniors unlucky enough to still be dependent on university housing (me this year) and the few odd kids that had stayed to cater for commencement (me in previous years). My room was completely empty save for the blue plastic mattress, a gym bag full of notebooks, and the ferret sleeping in my laundry basket. I remember that mattress, always a symbol of change – whether coming or going – it all began and ended with the blue plastic mattress. I sat down on it, feeling vinyl on vinyl crinkling, watching the soggy day lit up by a procession of giddy white gowns.

I despised school and my last semester of classes was particularly miserable. So I was happy to be freed of it on this cool, wet day, staring over my bruised radiator at the Charles River, watching the sailboats slice through the choppy water.

I walked the halls of the empty dorm in a fog, wearing my burnt and wrinkled white vinyl gown, skirting piles of trash left when everyone had moved out. Seniors weren’t supposed to live in the dorms. But this senior was on scholarship which stipulated I live in university housing. Otherwise I would have headed for the hills years ago. Or at least Allston.

My family had arranged to meet me at the graduation site. As for lifetime friends? There were only two, and they were not spending the week partying with me. Mon Frere was in San Francisco. Ruby was waiting across the street for me at Deli Haus, for my pre-ceremony lunch. I was a nervous wreck and could not eat, and instead downed three quick pints on an empty stomach, boarding the T to West Campus festivities alone with an uncomfortable buzz.

The T was full of families, smiling, taking pictures, small blonds with their beautiful boyfriends and perfectly ironed gowns that somehow didn’t melt under the pressure of a hot iron. I held the handrail as the train lurched along, wondering if my parents were there yet, angry that they had made me go in the first place.

At the ceremony I stood among my peers, and realized I didn’t know a single one of them. Everyone was so joyful, hugging and squealing. They had sunglasses on and they had written clever little messages to their parents and professors on the tops of their hats. It brought me back to my high school graduation. A photo of me had appeared on the front page of the New Haven register, the words “Boston or Bust” written on my cap. What does that mean? I don’t even know.

I was surfing a panic attack all day and at the ceremony in particular. I waited for the rush of “Oh shit — it’s over!” to hit me, but it felt more like quiet release, cutting off the limb that had long ago died.

When the ordeal was over, my family left abruptly and I was suddenly at my kind-of friend Rachel’s insane sublet in the college ghetto of Allston – some old house turned into a seven-bedroom apartment, with tapestries in the living room forming walls and roommates who didn’t know each others names yet. One fridge contained a Brita pitcher and a moldy orange, and the other had a padlock on it because it held the beer.

Rachel put on a Ben Harper CD, which soothed me instantly in the organic steel slide guitar way. She lit Nag Champa, which burned slowly, curling in ashy billows on the dresser she wrestled up three floors from the trash on moving day. The scent reminded me immediately of Una’s sidewalk sale, where they always burned that kind of incense, and the freedom of wandering Harvard Square with a backpack and a bagel.

“A graduation present,” Rachel said, opening her palm to reveal a handful of gorgeous yellow pills, of which I took several gratefully. When the Valium hit, I was sprawled on her tiny back porch overlooking the Latin quarter of upper Allston, in a half-hearted afternoon sun, beneath clanging wind chimes, trying to decide what to do with my life. Because, you know, I had to figure it out right then.

Moonbeams & Fruit on the Beach

Is there a doctor in the house? In the House of Pancakes?

So, Luna last night at the Paradise. I think I have seen them more times than any other national band. Going to a Luna show is like putting on your favorite jeans. They fit, they’re broken in, you’ve had a lot of good times in them, and you always know what to expect.

The band was rumpled and fuzzy, like they rolled out of bed from a pleasant dream just in time for the show. Except for front man Dean Wareham, who seemed to have just awoken from a vivid nightmare, damp and matted, to discover that he was playing guitar. A few songs into the show, he also discovered that he was on stage, and later, singing to a packed club. I can’t figure out how someone so tortured and neurotic in appearance can make such easy, golden music. The boy needs a sandwich and a big hug.

Luna sounds like sunshine at Coney Island Beach at seventeen, toes digging through warm sand to that cool damp part underneath, drinking a frosty beverage out of a pineapple, smiling. Driving a red 50’s Cadillac convertible with the top down, under palm trees and a shimmering sunset, with your favorite person in the world sitting in the passenger seat.

Sunlight beaming from the amps: Bright major chords and slide guitar on Dean’s sunburst Les Paul, vibrato, double-whammy, Hammond organ, and lolling, wandering bass lines. In the midst of these warm rays stands Dean, like a junkie the morning after, trembling at the mic, staring out past the audience with frightened eyes as though he is being held hostage on stage. His strange voice cracks as he sings unblinking: “You know I tried to please ya / you’re under anesthesia.”

Strange boy.

The cool thing about Luna is that they’ve enjoyed enough commercial success to keep making music for more than a decade, but I can still go see them at Paradise or Avalon for twelve bucks and not worry about lines so much.

If you haven’t heard Luna, I advise that you get your hands on some. Especially now that summer is almost upon us. I think my favorite album is Penthouse, featuring the song “Sideshow by the Seashore” (we stumbled upon the actual place at Coney Island last year while romping through Luna Park during the Mermaid Parade). The new one is called Romantica. They played a few tracks off it last night, and it was good stuff.

I need to start putting up some of my photographs. I wish I had a scanner or a digital camera. If anyone is itching to get me a ridiculously early birthday present, I’ll post an original photo essay as evidence of your greatness.

Please Come Down

I have been up for seven days and it’s beginning to show. Okay, I’ve had sleep in assorted three-hour increments, but I don’t count sleeping on the train from NYC to New Haven because I snoozed with one eye open to avoid being molested by the locals.

Four kick ass shows in six days. That’s got to be some kind of record. And this was not some silly group tour a la Lollapalooza. This was Gigathon 2002, JT-style.

I haven’t written about the Howie Day show at Berklee Performance Center because I’m not sure what to say. It was one of the best live shows I have ever been to. The kid is insane. And for those of you who have not heard him, it’s so difficult for me to condense into a few sentences – it’s really one of those times when you “had to be there.” Because I would say, “He plays a six string acoustic. But he also uses about 20 different pedals, delay and reverb, and he plays the percussion on his guitar with his hands and loops it, and plays the bass on his guitar and loops it, and plays six different guitar parts, and then sings a five part harmony with himself, and then speeds it up so it becomes a techno song.” And you would look at me really confused.

And then I would add that he’s only 20 years old, and the cutest thing ever with bleached blond hair that sticks up all over the place, and he always says something really stupid in between songs; like, “this one is about my dog.” Or “my mom wrote this song.” He plays these beautiful songs and then takes it back – singing in naked honesty and then making some crude comment after the song. Like a heartsick juvenile embarrassed about his vulnerability.

But none of what I can say can adequately describe what it was like to be sitting there on Sunday night watching him work live, imagining him growing up in Northern Maine, with no one to play with, and teaching himself delay and loops in his parent’s farmhouse basement for entertainment, and having that grow into this.

Wednesday I ran over to Fenway to stand outside the ball park, waiting for three members of Jump, Little Children to sing the pre-game National Anthem, and it was priceless — I got shivers up my spine. Jay Clifford is the love child of Jeff Buckley and some Italian opera singer.

Thursday was the first leg of my Jump, Little Obsession Tour, and the show was okay, but just okay, which didn’t satiate my need for something huge after 14 hours of travel. But the best part of the whole trip to NYC was sharing it with Mon Frere in my car, and driving for hours talking about everything under the sun with him because he’s known me forever, and can call me on my shit and save me from myself — all the while reminding me of the wonderful things I have to offer the world when I’m hiding under the bed in “I suck” mode.

I don’t recommend the Village Underground to anyone, unless you like filthy sound on a blown PA mixed by someone with their head up their ass and a stage the size of my kitchen table. I have no idea how they fit an upright bass, cello, drum kit, singer, and dancing accordion player on that stage.

I also, having agreed to be on my best behavior, had to do some deep breathing to dissuade myself from the ponytail-yanking that was sure to rear its ugly head otherwise.

I was an anxious mess before the show, being in the presence of the object of my unhealthy obsession, band member Matt Bivins, who was standing outside the club and whom I strategically ignored. I am such a nightmare.

Mon Frere discovered that toilet paper in his ears remedied the poor sound system, and informed me that it worked best when wet. I would have done anything to escape the opening band. Imagine Ben Folds on crack, with a lead singer who is crica 1983 and thinking he’s being witty and cheeky and cute, and is actually a hopeless dork. The bass player was jumping around in his Converse Chuck Taylors and his in-ear monitor came out and got wrapped around the neck of his bass, and he didn’t notice for an entire song. Yeah – really on top of things, buddy.

I decided to try the toilet paper in the ear thing since the bar didn’t sell earplugs (the bartended looked extremely offended when I asked, but I’m so used to the Middle East stocking them because they at least admit their sound sucks). But apparently the pieces of TP were too small and too wet, and one of them got lodged near my cerebral cortex, and I had a complete moment of total panic, picturing Shea having to rush me to some back alley New York emergency room to have the offending plug removed with open-brain surgery.

Over the music I yelled “It’s stuck!” and he was laughing and asking if I could pull it out, and I got so scared because if something is up your nose you can snort it out and if it’s in your throat you can cough it out but what the hell do you do with your ear? I tried to hear it out — but that didn’t work. I finally dug it out with the help of my strictly-for-effect cocaine fingernail and was grateful that I had subscribed to drug-addict chic. I enjoyed the rest of the show toilet paper free, braving the speakers a foot from my head (basement ceilings) and after a while I couldn’t hear anything anyway. I lay in bed later, unable to sleep because the ringing in my ears was so loud.

One thing that Shea and I discussed on the road to NYC, being the good graduates of Boston University’s College of Communication (okay, so – one of us graduated), was Jump, Little Children’s poor name choice, which is nearly impossible to market successfully, and probably at least partially responsible for their inability to become a more widely-recognized band. It’s sad but true in this soundbyte economy. They do not play kiddie music, nor are they pedophiles. And one rule of thumb when naming your band – NEVER use punctuation. Granted the name came from a good and happy place for them – a blues song with the line “jump, little children, jump — cause momma and papa’s gone,” which is song about freedom from convention and the ties that bind — but for real. They dug their own grave on that one.

The Paradise show made up for every second of the Village Underground show. I worship that venue. Fully on my knees. The air conditioner was on, and the sound was flawless, and the place was very full but not uncomfortably so. The band played a luxuriously long set. With plenty of room on the stage, Matt Bivins was free to slither around and dance like the sex god he is. I left feeling so fantastic that I decided not to go to their Providence show on Saturday, which would have been like washing down a bottle of fine Beaujolais with a 40 of Crazy Horse.

Instead, I went to Toad in Porter Square to see my boys Daniel Barrett and Mike Meadows who rocked the house last night. Big sound, tiny bar. And I’m finally over having to wait in line to get into Toad. (The nerve! Don’t they know who I am?!)

This week the Gigathon continues – I swear I’m going for the Guinness Book for 2002 – with Luna at the Paradise, Josh Ritter at the Kendall Cafè, and Bright Eyes at the Somerville Theatre. I have spent more money on shows this month than rent. Holy music.

Gigathon!

I was at the office until 10:45 tonight. In fear of being there much later, a slave to my content management system, I drank disgusting amounts of food service strength coffee. I am now set loose to play for a few hours as I will surely be up until dawn.

And you, dear readers, are my prisoners.

Late nights at the dot com are an anomaly for me. My loose schedule allows me to shift things around to my fancy — except at the end of the month, when all the sites go live and I am drowning in Content Developer Hell with HTML coming out of my ears.

Despite this fact, I have taken off the upcoming Thursday and Friday to indulge in a whirlwind three-state lust affair with my favorite band in the world, leaving much work to be done by then. My fuel right now besides Columbian roast is the expectation of seeing Jump, Little Children glutton-style for the next three days.

Mon Frere will be joining me for the first leg of the tour, to the Village Underground (“New York, just like I pictured it – sky scrapers and everything!”) which is a tiny armpit of a club. Size matters. With a venue of those dimensions, I can have Matt Bivins sweat directly on me. The last show featured an overwhelmingly female audience, which gave me the advantage of an unobstructed view a foot above them. Out of guilt I allowed several miniature girls to get in front of me. Ain’t genetics a bitch?

The second installment will be at the aptly-named Paradise in Boston. This time I will try to be on my best behavior and not get in a fist fight with a frat boy. (Here’s a fun story.) At the last show, this slew of drunkards were raising their mugs Piano Man style and bellowing the lyrics during this painfully delicate ballad accompanied by sparse cello and upright bass. The audience started getting visibly uncomfortable, so after several verses I put my hands on the loudest Todd and screamed “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” It was not very zen of me. He hauled off to punch me, and his friends held him back with, “Dude – you can’t hit a chick!” I guess he wasn’t used to a biatch getting all up in his grill. I turned back toward the stage and could hear him all surly with testosterone behind me. Later he came over to apologize and offered to buy me a drink. Some people just should not have access to alcohol.

The finale of the tour is Saturday night in Providence, at the Met Cafe, bastard son of Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, which I confess is the worst venue I have ever attended . At my last Jump show there, this bum wandered into the club and started howling, “You suck!” The guy had a 40 oz. in one hand and his pants in the other. I kept waiting for him to drop trou and piss right there on the floor. The bouncer just shrugged and said, “He comes in here all the time.” Jeezus.

I’m hoping to get a chance to thank the band for so much gorgeous fun, perhaps more eloquently than the last time I made their acquaintance. While waiting for a friend before the show, Matt Bivins came slinking down the street in his magenta-haired angel way, swinging a bondage belt. I had never been star-struck in my life, and in a fit of anxiety I called out his name. When he turned and looked at me with his unnaturally-intense phosphorescent eyes, I was completely blinded and I have no idea what came out of my mouth. He hugged me sympathetically and thanked me for coming. Stage fright on Commonwealth Avenue under the marquee of the Paradise. Pathetic.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Sleep tight. I’ve got a few more hours to kill.