Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The ghost of Tom Joad

I’m a serial fan. Just look at me. Today I wanted to write a posting in homage to the once-object of my affection, Conan O’Brien. Friday marked his last evening as the host of “Late Night” after a15-year run, a run I became entrenched in during the summer after my sixth grade year. From those hot summer nights watching a not-yet-fully-Conan Conan on the fuzzy TV in my kitchen, which was stuck permanently on NBC because the channel knob broke off months before, all the way through high school, my heart pounded to Late Night’s theme song. (Wasn’t it also Max Weinberg’s beats that ushered me into the era of Bruce? Is my life just a flocking from one Weinberg drum solo to another?) My adolescence was all about Conan. I even wrote him a letter asking him to my prom. When he didn’t respond, I composed an anthology of tortured-by-Conan haikus that I mailed him as well. The most poignant I turned in as an assignment for English class:

I wrote you letters
Saying “come to my school dance,”
You don’t read junk mail.

So I was going to tell you all about why I loved Conan and why you should love him too. Then I thought, anyone who’s reading this is going to think I’m a real dipshit. This is a Springsteen themed blog! And here I am, confessing that somewhere during my freshman year of college I went to the poster store and traded all my Conan prints in for Boss ones. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. I think the only poster I ever owned was a 5 ft x 6 ft Les Miserables glossy that I hung over my bed. HUGE fan of musicals. Maybe you’re starting to see why Conan snubbed my prom invite.)

Then, I watched Obama’s address to congress this evening. I thought about how by the time I got to know Barack Obama, I’d turned my “Miss Saigon” t-shirts into cleaning rags and moved out of my dorm. I see Obama through a cloud of cynicism that’s come over me with age. I’m not the little bleeding heart that got carried away with Conan and Bruce. chalked up his idealism and his demands that we share it to naivety. Those idiots in congress will drive him crazy, he’ll ditch the bipartisanship, scale back his goals, and stop reading all those letters the good people of America send to him.

But watching Obama tonight with Conan and Bruce in the back of my brain made me realize what I love about these three men: they take ownership of their reality. They demonstrate that when you reject the shitty circumstances of the outside world as absolute, you defeat them. Believing in who you are, and honoring that you, casts a shadow over your obstacles, makes them perish from lack of sun. Goodness can morph into silly idealism only when you let the world talk you out of your perspective. But these men don’t. It’s not teenage hormones still lingering in my bloodstream that make me love these men. It’s my desire to emulate them. They’re great, but only as an afterthought. What they really are is good.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cautious man

Tonight, as I read my old pal Gina’s posting on the traumas of Valentine’s Day, I remembered my secret. It’s a gross secret, a secret that needs out out out of my heart because it’s making all the stuff next to it go rotten. What are the words you say when you shuffle back and forth back and forth, trying to get up the nerve to jump from a cliff to the water below? Imagine I’m saying those words. Okay, here it goes: Brett, if you’re out there, remember that poem I gave you thirteen years ago almost to the day? The one I had Ms. Redford, our English teacher, deliver (that seems weird now)? The one confessing the ache in my stomach and brain and heart, all for you? Well…

I didn’t write it. I stole it. I ripped it out of Seventeen Magazine’s poetry section, typed it up on my computer, and told you it was meant for you.

The thing is, it WAS meant for you. I meant each one of those sticky, sacchariney, teenagey, words. And just because some other fan of Seventeen Magazine meant them first…and wrote them down…and published them…doesn’t make them any less customized. And how would a little seventh grade you ever find out? I took a chance that Seventeen Magazine wasn’t on your reading list. Seventh grade Brett was reading “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” You were the king of the internet when no one knew what the fuck that was, putting on eyeliner and listening to Dead Can Dance with your new goth girlfriend. You lived in a different world from the rest of the seventh graders. How did you find the porthole? You were unhappy, but gleefully unhappy! Proud of it! Painting angst into your fingernails and dyeing it into your pretty red hair! I think it was the glee that made me do it.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about how people offer love. The forged poem is how I do it in the worst of times, equipped with an ejection seat. I was a chubby, stringy haired 13 year-old, how could I lure you away from your overbearing, cape-wearing, 8th grade girlfriend? She wore a vile of blood around her neck! I didn’t stand a chance. So when I confessed my love to you, I really kept it to myself. I gave you the truth with a lie baked into the middle. And while the truth made me vulnerable, the lie gave me power. Reject me if you want, I snarled to myself, you’re still the sucker who bought that stupid poem.

In The Prophet, Gibran writes:

“If in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure, then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor, into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”

Rock on, all you peeps who hate Valentine’s Day because it’s broken your heart! You are the brave ones, the ones who exposed your heart to the elements instead of keeping it cooped up like an overprotected kid. I’m thinking that if you only give part of yourself, that part is as much as another person can come to love. How would they know to love the rest of you? They don’t even know it’s there.

This Valentine’s Day, my heart is gonna lie out naked on the metal roof. With no sunscreen. This year, I’m going for the sunburn.

* Bruce says it way better.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Living proof

When I make sweeping generalizations, I don’t really mean them. For the most part. Australians are fine, I sometimes eat mayonnaise, and I’m sure some of the people who keep birds as pets are perfectly sanitary. My mind really does work to undo those knots of prejudice when it recognizes them. It wants to be open. I just say stupid things because I want to be funny.

But seriously, what the fuck is with Nigerians? In the last six months, Nigerian scams have ambushed me over Gmail, over Craigslist, and just today, over eBay! I felt so violated, making the polite offer to pay shipping for whoever wanted to take an unused iPod off my hands, only to find that the highest bidder once the auction closed wants me to mail the thing to Ile Ife, Nigeria. I attribute to my good nature what first occurred to me: the bidder is an idiot. Come on. The iPod did look exceptionally shiny in the photo I posted online, but that was mostly just glare from the flash. It’s really just a normal iPod, one that can be purchased in first world and third world countries alike.

But guess what? Apparently these scams are rampant! People con you into mailing them stuff at your expense then cancel the money orders they’d sent you as payment! Beware eBay virgins! Oh sure, bidders will tell you they like you for your items, that they respect you as a vendor. But they’ll take your product and your free shipping and leave you battered on the side of the information superhighway.

In my anger, I had awful thoughts about what internet cafes in Nigeria must be like. Somewhere between the place Denzel was running his heroin ring out of in American Gangster and Caligula. And I haven’t even seen Caligula. You don’t want to know the things I’ve imagined about Caligula. Lots of snakes are involved.

But then the guilt of judging all those Nigerians who don’t run internet scandals set in. So to remind you and to remind myself of the yin to the Nigeria’s my-brother-is-a-prince-who-needs-you-to-pose-as-his-next-of-kin’s yang, I give you Fela Kuti.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tenth avenue freeze out

Maybe it’s the 19 degree weather outside that’s making me think about the day my brother and I took this picture. Here we are 13 months ago (a zebra’s gestation period!) drinking beer at the fanciest hotel in Niamey, Niger.

It was so hot that day it took us til sunset to leave my brother’s apartment, where we could walk barefoot over the cool tile floors and read our books in rooms almost too dark to see the pages and fall in and out of sleep with no one to nag that we were late for work or school or plans we’d made with friends.

We drove to the hotel at dusk out of lazy guilt, and the trees that lined the street looked ornamented with black plastic bags, like it was a trash holiday we were heading to the hotel to celebrate! On the terrace where we drank, we could look over the dirty river as the city’s sewage floated past us, camouflaged by the murkiness of the water itself. And there was the bridge too, just to our left, connecting the half of the city with a hospital to the half of the city without one. Poor city planning for the days like yesterday, when a camel got pounded by a Peugeot and bridge traffic wound its way miles down the main road for hours. On the bank of the river men unloaded a pirogue full of watermelons by passing each down a line of ten. I’d like to do that job, I think.

There’s a reason to drink beer on the hotel terrace right at dusk. At first you think those are birds cutting the sunset’s pinks and oranges with contrails of high-pitched sound. Screeching sound. But if you’re there with your brother, who could tell you where in Naimey to buy a bottle of whiskey or swim in a pool or see the street kid with elephantitis, you know better. Those are bats! The ones sleeping in the trees on our drive over, disguising themselves as third world waste. First there are not even so many as to make you notice them. Then there are more. Then so many cloak the setting sun it’s like you’re staring at a candle through a hole in your sweater. By the time they thin out, it’s dark all around. As if the bats gobbled up the sunlight like a rotting piece of fruit.

Today, even though the sky is clear and blue there are no birds on telephone wires. Dogs wear coats and shoes to pee outside. Too cold for bats today. Too cold for newborn zebras.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Ain't no sin to be glad you're alive

I bet you thought my superbowl posting was going to be about Bruce. Would you share with me what you whisper to your lover during sex? What you tell your priest in confession? Do I ask you the balance in your checking account? There are moments veiled by darkness, iron screens, the series of tubes we call the internet, which give the us we know a giddy privacy. Intimacy is key to the relationship you have with yourself! So keep what you felt between you. I’ll keep what I felt between me. We’ll plug it into our hearts like a nightlight. You’ll see its glow from far away like a lantern inside a tent.

(Psssst. Psssst. I think I know what it was. I think it was…shhhhh…joy...shhhhh)