Zero Sum Zenith: Shuffling the Fine Line Btwn Coming & Going, Exciting & Boring
01.03.09—In flight, Zurich to NYC
There’s only blinding white light when I lift the window shade to see from this plane. Somewhere below the stacked layers of air and water is where the Titanic sank. When I think of the North Atlantic that’s what I think of mostly—what lays beneath, and the historical context of it all.
Before we even left the ground, I read a good chunk of Fog & Car—at the Nairobi airport, after enduring the mayhem that is Nairobi traffic—matatus driving in whatever available space, forging new roads beyond the already rutted shoulders, just trying to get there with no regard to everyone getting there together, as a whole, as a society. There are no rules in Nairobi. Things just follow some sort of natural order of progression (or regression), and I’m not entirely sure what that is or what it's based on. Not that I entirely understand the American way of doing things either, or know what logic suits me. But I think it’s necessary to have some sort of law and order, otherwise greed and corruption and abuse of power will prevail.
Fog & Car is free from all that, up above in the clouds. Coming from a place like Nairobi it is American and benign. It delves into the seemingly mundane and diverging (and converging) domestic lives of Jim Fog and Sarah Car, who are getting over a failed marriage. It's an everyday mundaneness reminiscent of Delillo, pushing the envelope of normalcy until something is revealed—“How it is he works his mornings, rises, day after day, finally, sees it,” says Mr. Fog.
Divorce or even break-up is not something I can relate to much, and I'm not usually into books or movies about relationships. But this is a different twist on it. The closest thing to divorce I have been through is leaving New York City. And here I was going back. Or coming back. Sometimes I get confused between the difference.
To be specific, where I started reading Fog & Car is a place I call the inland ship. To be even more specific—the pool at the UN after a long workout (to prepare our limbs for sitting in one place on a plane for some 20 hours, summing the curve beneath like the integral of an arc).
Car says, “There were other ways she thought of it. A terminology of health and exercise, a mental clearance, a meditation involving repetition. She felt her limbs go stronger. Also small aches that were gradually incorporated into her sense of herself so that they were finally no longer identified as such.” Fog and Car are each functions. They bifurcate and splinter like fractals, reiterating and reconstituting to form something new.
When people think of physics, they think of particles. But what fascinates me most about particle physics is the relationship between particles, how they can be identified and classified by virtue of their relationships to one another. Relation ships. What happens when they collide, then smash apart into different constituents to sink or swim in the ether. A particle is meaningless without other particles to interact with. These interactions are something in their own right.
Over our lifetimes, we become the sum of all our past experiences and interactions. Our emotional states become the sum of all past emotions. Our physical state becomes the sum of how well we have taken care of ourselves to this point.
In the wake of their divorce, Fog is shipwrecked in their Ohio home, while Car spins off to New York City. But both are still “happy in our ruts,” and would “lose hours in various simple digressions.” Both have problems shaking the residual memories that plague them like sand in your shoes. Or corn in your poop. Sarah “had begun to think about him quietly, caging her thoughts with swimming, errands and work.” Though “him” morphs into something else. Souls are shuffled and traded in Fog & Car just as energy is transferred when particles collide, changing their composition. The book also abounds with serendipitous divergences. As time increases and more and more events accumulate, the likelihood for serendipity also increases. Obsession is also a cumulative affair.
These metaphysical thoughts are not necessarily implied by Fog & Car, but are my thoughts (in no particular order) in thinking about Fog & Car as I was revisiting NYC with my better half. Now I’m reading it in the Zurich airport, which seems apt, though I can’t say why, it could be my own mind needing to connect to the real world. Air travel will do that to you. You lose the ability to connect one place to another. To connect the dots.
You could think of Fog & Car as a connect-the-dots book. Or a finely tuned Swiss watch. The dots you'd connect though, don't form pictures though, but emotions.
02.03.09 to 06.03.09—NYC (Central Park West and 68th)
I received a card shuffler once as a gift—one of the most memorable gifts I ever received. For weeks before, my father let me visit the present, which he had caged in a box in darkness so I could hear and smell it, but not open it. I think there was a sign on it that said "do not touch until Xmas." Actually I lie, this wasn’t the card shuffler gift. This was another memorable gift—a piggy bank in which you’d put a coin in a slot and a hand would reach up and grab the coin and pull it down into the bank, which was made to look like a coffin. I am not sure why I'm telling you this, or what it has to do with Fog & Car.
On the plane here I watched some movies, most not worth mentioning besides Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I did see some program on Andy Warhol though, and they were talking about his movies, the ones where he would put a camera on people, unscripted, without guidance, and then leave the room. They'd leave the camera on them for hours, until something had to give. Somebody commentating on it was saying something about how Warhol dances this fine line between what’s exciting and boring. And how this is sexual or some such thing. I'm not sure why I'm telling you this, except to say that maybe Fog & Car skates this same fine line. Through rout reiteration, Lim pushes boring to the extreme that it becomes exciting. How does Lim do this? To quote his character, “the normal always let my mind go the farthest, always the immediate physical world was navigable without thinking, so that thinking would head elsewhere, deep into its own self-contained jungle.”
In a sense, this is what particles do: bore and excite.
Obsession is a cumulative effect, and stalking is rooted in obsession. At one point along the Fog & Car curve, Car stalks Fog’s soul-swapped friend Frank. And a homeless guy (cum-serendip alter ego) stalks her stalking him. At times like this, Lim channels the voices of Auster or Laird Hunt or Deb Unferth. Fog & Car is a scattermap and we are left to make sense of the trails.
We’ve been drinking non-stop for almost a full day now. I think it's good to keep your blood-alcohol level at a constant, on a slow burn, as opposed to fluctuating. Maybe I'm inspired by the increasingly lush Car who takes to drinking to cover her tracks. After the ship, we went to the nursery to have our last meal and some wine. Then to the airport to have a few more Tuskers. And then unlimited wine on the Swiss Air flight (though the wine was from California). Then a brief intermission with espresso in the Zurich airport, and back to Bloody Mary’s on the Zurich to NYC flight, then more red wine with our lunch (actually some of the best airplane food I’ve had, though I neglected to take a photo of it for the record). And we're still going. Speaking of liquids, they took away my Malawi gin and peri-peri sauce going through security in Zurich. So if you were expecting such liquid gifts from me, sorry.
Connecting the dots on the realtime scattermap... we flew over the alps at sunrise. As I mentioned, I watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on airplane. I’ve seen it dozens of times but still think it’s one of the best, especially as far as the movement it creates in it’s cinematography. The line Sundance says upon arrival in Bolivia, “What could they have here that you could possibly want to buy?” is pretty much how I feel about Nairobi. Everything I feel about Nairobi was verified in a NY Times article Jess was reading to me off her Blackberry in the Zurich airport. Not that I feel the blunt edge of it, but you sense these things just being in the place. It rubs off on you. You can't help but to sense that everything is going to shit there. We need to jump ship before it sinks. For now we are just surfacing for fresh air. To alleviate the confusion between here and there.
I like watching the big picture map when I'm on planes. The 35,000 foot view. I can stare at it for hours, even if it’s only a cartoon representation of reality. It's the only way to at least attempt to connect the dots, to appease the psychogeographical needs of my mind. I also like how they show what part of the world is in daylight and what part is in night. Just like I'm confused between the difference between coming & going, there & here, I'm often confused between early & late. Fog & Car are as different as night & day. But then again, they're not.
Disconnecting the dots ... Lim does some interesting experiments with form. In part two on “Marriages” that are two gaps with nothing on the pages, as if there were gaps in memory, or repressions. Unless that was just my copy.
If Lim had asked me to do the cover for Fog & Car (he actually did ask me to publish it a while back, and in retrospect, perhaps I should’ve, but then again, it’s better he did himself, it's always better that way, everyone should), I would fire up my barbecue and get some hot coals going. Then I would take a rusty tin can and puncture holes in it and tie a string to it. I would fill it with coals and sling it around. Then I would somehow capture this image—the bubble-chamber image of a charged atom in an excited state, shooting off sparks, and transforming to another state. It is the image of soul-swapping. Instead, Lim has a photo of some tree branches, which makes for a very fine cover. This is the point where I should show a picture of the book in the location I read it, and there's ample opportunity with all the barren strands of trees here in Central Park, but the honest truth is, I'm lazy and it's too cold out. I did go out to the park in the snow, but I didn't have the book on me. I did manage to capture this cardinal, though, if you look carefully. It's the antithesis of this weaver bird I captured in Nairobi. Red to yellow doppler shift.
My favorite sentence in Fog & Car is: “I’ll just go straight onward and this zigging ad zagging summer I’ll remember as only a zero-sum zenith.” Not that I know what it means.
Nor do I know if Lim knows anything about physics. I do know he is a Buddhist though. I'm meeting him for sushi tonight at Takahachi. I'll ask him. Tonight being 09.03.09, despite this sectional heading. I can't keep up with myself. The only thing that matters is date, place and what we ate.
The first night, we walked from the UWS to the west village and ate at Hasaki. We recommended Hasaki to our Swiss flight attendant, and funny thing he appeared. Seeing a flight attendant in the destination city after a flight makes the city seem but an extension of the flight. Could we still ask him for another bloody mary? I had moved on to soba beer at this point, and Jess to sake.
Even stranger is knowing the pilot, which has happened to me before. Just like it's a different story reading a book and knowing the author. This makes it hard to disconnect the author from the narrator. I was at times blushing reading Fog & Car and I can't say I would've otherwise. “On another night, I would read the sad eroticism of her very practical underwear drawer, of her medicine cabinet—and that night, I fell asleep masturbating to the rhythm of a (too easily recognized) lonely and antiseptic sex life. Her bathroom sink held encyclopedia volumes. Her sock drawer a novel.”
Just like how corruption will prevail, so does debauchery. Toward the end of Fog & Car it gets more and more Feliniesque. Actually no, more like Eyes Wide Shut. It spirals into surreal debauchery, climaxing in a (spoiler alert) wedding party where guests “exchange possessions.” Even though I saw Eyes Wide Shut before I lived in NYC, there are places in it I recognize from the movie. Like this costume shop on 3rd Avenue. Or maybe I’m making this up in my book?
When I see Eugene tonight, I'll ask him to exchange shoelaces. Again, tonight being 09.03.09.
Taking some steps back, in an attempt to reconnect you with the linear narrative, to thread the holes with the laces:
02.03—Snowed upon arrival. Walked Jess uptown to Columbia in a blizzard. Trudged back through Central Park off the trail until nothing was recognizable, until there were no tracks. That's where I captured the photo of the cardinal. Here's another photo I took, this one of the tree under which we had our goatless going away party nine months ago. A far cry from that sweltering day if you remember it.
Then I trudged though snow to midtown to meet our Kenyan friend who had never seen snow before. Can't remember what we ate that night.
03.03.09—Walked, or skated, across the park in ridiculously cold weather to the Mali embassy to drop off my paperwork for a visa ("Timbuktu or bust" is on deck). I felt sort of at a loss, like the cold was sucking the entropy right out of me. Met Jess and others down in the meatpacking, ate at Vento. We were supposed to see Jess's colleague who's in this band 1000 days, but we got in to this "Rock-it Scientist" show just as they were playing the last chord. We did however see Rufus Wainwright. I've never paid too much mind to him, but seeing him live has me converted, if anything for his voice alone. Unfortunately I didn't get him doing "Going to a Town," but here's a clip of him doing, "In My Arms":
04.03.09—Still freezing. Hasn't been above 20 degrees since yesterday. I got some new Nike Vomeros, but it's too cold to run so I worked out at the YMCA on 63rd street. I didn't feel like going out in the cold, so I worked on a story called “The Resin Queen of Dirtpile”. Then I went to the Nets vs. Celtics at Meadowlands with the Spicer. Had pizza and nachos and beer for dinner which made me feel like crap. The Nets lost, but they made it interesting towards the end. I’m not sure who I was rooting for anyway. Is it funner if you are rooting for somebody? People say that about writing too, that you need someone to root for.
05.03.09—I woke up and painted a wall in the apartment we are staying in Hemlock (olive green). I've always wanted to be a copy writer for a paint company, coming up with the paint names. I ran the 6 mile loop around the park in my new Nikes. I like being sore enough that you are aware of your physical presence, even if you are wearing layers and layers of clothes. Like there’s a gap between your skin and clothes. It’s hard to explain. But if I can’t feel my own body then I don’t feel healthy. You can let yourself go without knowing it. You need to constantly be paying attention.
The weather was significantly better. I met Gary Lutz down in the Bowery at Sohotel (where I'm writing this from now). We meandered upwards and took some copies of the Stories in the Worst Way issue to St. Marks. Browsed around looking to see what’s what, but didn’t see much new besides Evenson’s Last Days, which I’ll be back for, although I've essentially already read it in pieces here and there. Went up to Union Square and met Jess at Virgin, hopped the L to B-burg switched to the G to Greenpoint. Ate at some Mexican place called Papacitos that wasn’t half bad. Blake Butler and Justin Taylor met us. Blake had Nachos, Gary had a Chimichanga, but I don't remember what Justin had. I had pozole and chile rellenos because I couldn't decide between the two. Then we went to nearby Word Books where a reading was to take place. Robert Lopez read. Then Gary read. Then Blake read. The room was cozy and full of warm bodies.
06.03.09—LES (Bowery and Broome)
Woke up and ran around the park. Lugged all our stuff on the subway down to Broome & Bowery, checking in to the Sohotel. Can't remember what happened to the rest of friday, but I'm pretty sure there was drinking involved.
I started to read NY Tyrant vol. 2 no. 2. Now that Sleepingfish is homeless, it's probably the only other experimental fiction lit journal out of Manhattan that I know of. It's edited by GianCarlo DiTrapano, who I met briefly at the reading the night before. It had a bunch of great stuff, like Lish and Sam Michel. Call me biased but my favorite was the piece by Blake Butler.
07.03.09—Woke up and had huevos rancheros at Cafe Habana. No better way to clear your head and recharge.
Walked around the West Village some, contemplating our future. It was nice enough that we could sit in the park. Jess got a fancy haircut while I hung outside on Bond street people-watching. Then we got pondicherries from the dosa dude in Washington Square. Still as good as ever, though he cut his hair and trimmed his stache so he doesn't look like Cheech Marin anymore. Then we went to the Armory show. Saw a bunch of art, oldies but goodies like Pollock, Basquiat, Rauschenberg and Cornell.
Works by Gonzalo Fonseca kept catching my eyes. And I have to admit these works by Kim Gordon caught my eye before I knew who it was:
Some other imagery from the Armory:
In the same way that it's hard for me to distinguish between coming and going, sometimes it's hard to tell when you are in a museum or on the street. Here's the Columbus Circle subway station after we left the Armory show. I used to walk through here every day and never saw it like this. Viewing "art" will do that to you.
After the Armory show, we met Les & Mark and others at Frankie's. Their cheese was really good. Then we went to this speakeasy-type place (White Star) by our old digs on Essex that had Absinthe. My first time having it. I thought the first sip was interesting, but from there it all went downhill.
08.03.09—Huevos Rancheros at Cafe Habana was so good the day before that we did it again. Only this time I got green salsa instead of red and it was even better. Wandered around and ended up seeing Gomorra at the IFC Center. The first movie I've seen in a theatre in like 9 months or more. It had an interesting ambience and characters, but otherwise I didn't see the point of it.
Went for a run across the Williamsburg bridge, then went to see Milk which I thought was good. I kind of remember seeing the Times of Harvey Milk back when in came out in 1984, back when I was living in the bay area, but I'd be curious to see it now, to see how Penn compares to the real thing. Went to Rosa Mexicana afterwards, which though expensive, I must admit is quite good.
09.03.09—Didn't have breakfast at Cafe Habana, but did have an early lunch of a torta and a Mex Mocha at La Esquina. Just having one, just one, place like this in Nairobi would make all the difference in the world. In NYC, there's awesome places like this on every corner.
Went uptown to pick up my Mali visa. Then stopped by the Nigerian embassy but it was closed. Went for a run across the Manhattan bridge. Then we met Eugene Lim, Joanna and Ro for dinner at Takahachi which was as good as ever, and fine company to be with. I forgot to ask him what he meant by zero-sum zenith or to exchange laces with him. I'll see him again this thursday though, he's reading at McNally Jackson.
Afterwards Jess and I stopped off at the Bowery Ballroom to see the Black Lips. We walked in and Gentleman Jesse and His Men were in the middle of their set. In retrospect they were better than Black Lips, sort of Beatlesque modsters that were tight and had well-written songs. I didn't know much about Black Lips going into it, I think James of Bloodweiser turned me on to them and I remembered them being in the vein of Murder City Devils or Dirtbombs. If I had to categorize them after seeing them, I would call them bubblegum pop laced with acid. They relied completely on gimmicky stage antics (vomiting, spitting in each others mouths, exposing themselves, etc.) and drugs. Bad drugs. One of the guitar players had a mouth of metal, like Jaws in the James Bond movie. The other guitar player/singer (Cole) was wearing a poncho and a sombrero and his eyes were glazed over like he had done a bit too much peyote. And he stunk in a bad way. They just gave off a really bad energy. They came off as complete assholes, but all the kids in the audience must have been on bad drugs with them because they were drinking it up like Brian Jonestown Kool-aid. All I know is if someone is going to spit or piss on me, they need to earn that privilege and there was nothing redeeming about Black Lips. The only positive thing I have to say about them is that at one point the bass player Jared walked (on his feet) on top of the audience, which I suppose takes some balance and coordination.
At least seeing a bad band is better than nothing (our only option in Nairobi), and we were interested enough to stay til the end (like watching a train wreck) and managed not to get pissed on (though he kicked a coke all over my parka). In the video above you can see him kicking the curtain at us—could someone who pulls down his pants in public actually be camera shy?
In this Pitchfork interview, the Black Lips say they want to play in Africa. Yeah, good luck with that. They'd rip your teeth out and do something useful with all that metal. And if you tried to pee on them they'd carve out your kidneys and bladder with a blunt machete.
10.03.09—We decided to switch hotels to this other place (Gem) on Houston and Chrystie. They wouldn't let me check in til the afternoon, so to stall for time I went up to the Nigerian embassy, which was complete bedlam so I gave up on that. Now I'm sitting in Grand Central.
"What are we doing here?" you might ask. That's what I'm supposed to be asking myself, or "what would be doing back here?" The reason we are surfacing for air here is because of Jess's job. They are trying to talk her into coming back, for good, so we have been flâneuring about the city with this prospect in mind. Not that there's anything to scout out, we know it all too well. Last time I buried a comment deep in one of these rambly posts about other relocation prospects or desires, that I said her boss would never read, her boss read it, so I won't say much more, except to thank Jess's boss for reading this far again! And sorry I dragged Jess to a concert where the band tried to vomit and pee on us.
It is an interesting proposition indeed, coming back here. There's no denying that NYC is the best city in the world to work and be productive. It is the antithesis to Nairobi really, how functional and accessible it is. When people say everything is at your fingertips, it really is true here.
"Traveling" here is a strange experience. You find your mind taking deltas, snapshots of before and after. Not only of the place, but of how you’ve changed since you were last here. To continue where I left off, here's the Sleepingfish wall in it's current state.
Besides eating and running and seeing awful music, what I've been doing mostly, while Jess is working, is flâneuring—wandering, imagining ourselves living here. Or maybe I'm here to be here. Here's some eye candy I've been chewing on, mostly down in the Bowery.