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The Naked City


A while back I had a kinda corporate job. After a time, they made me a manager, and a while after that, they made me the managers’ manager. I had to travel from office to office, firing people, mostly. It made me a kind of tethered vagabond, expected to see everything in an instant and to be mean without malice. I found out that to be really lonely in this world, you have to be included but feared; and I was certainly that. A city is like that, writ large. In a city everyone is included, but feared. It’s not lonesome in the woods. It’s lonesome hanging on a strap in a tube full of people trying not to look at one another much.

The company was based in New York, and I had to start going to their… my… the office out on the island from time to time. When they canceled the plane from Providence to Lawn Guyland, I had to drive it a lot. I remember the first time I drove into The City as part of my job. I’d driven through it before, but to be a part of it, a participant in its affairs, is an entirely different thing. I was accordioning into one of its many tunnels, the cars jostling and pushing their way into the maw of the underpass, and I can still recall the feeling of immense power invested in the place. When London was the center of the world, they called that feeling The Hum. I’d read that, but until The City digested me and I passed into its bloodstream instead of passing right through, I didn’t really understand The Hum.

If you don’t have a skin in the game, and visit it as a tourist, you might miss that. If you’re a denizen, you might become inured to it and miss it too. But someone that’s in it, but used to observing his surroundings with a bit of a detached eye, now that’s a valuable guy to have around. My friend Gerard of American Digest is such a man. Bookmark the Tumblr stream of photos of the city he called home, taken right after the foundations of that city were rocked to the granite ledge beneath them. He left it after that, but he was smart enough to make an impression of the key to the city in the wax of his camera before he made his escape. Feel The Hum.

Not Really A Plumber

It’s not approved. How can we tax it? I can’t find a slot in the wall of conformity for it. Best not allow it. Take your ration and put it in your ricebowl and like it until we break that too.

There’s a line and this ain’t the back of it. Do you know who my father is? The secret handshake? I thought not. NQOCOP. Kiss an ass and you can work for nothing in the place built by a Rockefeller until an old man gropes you and then you’re in. Don’t forget not to recoil in horror.

The glowing rectangles flicker and a parade of the pre-approved march by. You could set yourself afire, or claw at the door for the amusement of the cheap seats, and feel the contempt radiating from inside, if you like. You’ll get your few minutes on the rectangle, the lidded gaze will rest heavy on you for a moment, and then you’ll be discarded. Grab the meter money, quick, before the lever is pulled to spin the meaningless symbols again and drop the coins in the tray for another.

There is some hidden process. If you don’t know it, you might go poking around the outside of the machinery, trying to glean what you need to know with your wits and your hands. You bust your knuckles on the rivets, and occasionally you tug on a loose panel and get a blast of steam in the face. Gardy loo.

Or maybe you turn your back on it. No one can stop you if you don’t ask them if you can start. Do not pray to their god of mammon. Drift through the pagan culture — still vibrant and muscular with its hopes and exertions, not sallow and anemic from its tuffet — and find the souls who cannot fit, no matter what they try, and concoct a brew from it. We’ll make our own things out of our ration of nothing.

Going Norm Galt


Many people with skinny glasses instead of safety glasses talk a good game about self-reliance. They grow cucumbers in a window box and put together an IKEA shelf, then start blogging about how they’ve returned to their pioneer roots. They’re going Galt. Complaining you’re being forced to hoard your quarters instead of buying toys with them right away sounds vaguely familiar to me. I did it when I was six, when my mother made me fill a Christmas Club card from my allowance every week instead of blowing it immediately. My behavior was understandable, if not commendable. Gleeful references to John Galt from the well-off are similarly understandable, but not commendable.

But I was in first grade. What’s your excuse? Ten percent of the population of the US is being told that the creative destruction they’ve always had to deal with–the hard way –while their managers shrugged and ordered a third martini at lunch, has morphed into permanent unemployability. Telling them it serves them right for not being rich enough to threaten to take their economic ball and go home, like you say you’re going to do, is unseemly.

I’m beginning to become slightly irked at continual references to that Harlequin Romance version of economics everyone but me seems to be captivated with. Then again, actors in unwatchable Batman movies win Oscars like they’re Olivier now. No use complaining about it, I guess.

Did you know Norm Abram retired from his TV show, The New Yankee Workshop? Probably not. Let’s test my hypothesis, using Google News:

Two references. Both not about the subject. Let’s see what the average Netizen does know and care about. How about the Balloon Boy:

Over 20,000 news stories.

The balloon boy’s parents are “Reality TV” people. There has never been a more inaccurate sobriquet in English. Everybody seems to be fascinated with nothing.

Norm Abram is the penultimate example of true “Reality TV.” He made real things, and encouraged others to do so. No pretense. Not a scam. The balloon boy’s father will get his 15 minutes, but being part of Katie Couric’s nightly geeks and freaks sideshow act is a virtual reality, it’s not real real. He’ll get a book deal or an ankle bracelet, maybe both, but he literally contributes nothing to the sum total of the world’s worth. If you count up just the Twitter time he wasted, which is all waste anyway, he was the most destructive force on planet Earth for a week. But you didn’t have to look. I didn’t. You can’t even dissect him as an example of a media frenzy, because there’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s all just stupid.

“Reality TV” is an absurd concept to people that live in the real world of work and worry. They get reality every day, they don’t need a faux one to amuse themselves. Cubicle-bound endomorphs think a contest that looks like figuring out a subway map, a bus schedule, and an airport tote board is an “Amazing Race.” Catching a trolley is not a bloodsport, no matter how heavy your backpack full of energy bars is. Adults going camping while participating in activities too silly and sedentary for an overweight child’s summer camp, with office politics thrown in, hardly makes them a “Survivor.” I’m told that when you’re all done watching all this onTV, you’re going to weave your own clothes and barter with your next-door neighbor, the grizzly bear, with Kruggerands. Sure you are.

There actually is one hint of unreality to Norm. The workshop isn’t his; not many people know that. It belongs to the producer of the show. Norm, as successful as he is, has been dragging his ass to the factory every day as if he was just another schlub. But that’s it. He’s immensely more influential and successful than most anyone I can name on television. He could walk into any home center, tool shop, construction trade show, and any restaurant in New England, and get carried around on people’s shoulders if he felt like it. It’s not his fault you don’t know that. He’s not an idiot celebrity. He’s important to a lot of people, and for good reason. He’s as close to a real folk hero as you can find in contemporary American life. It was as if Johnny Appleseed was on TV for two decades, but everyone was too busy watching execrable people with no talent judge singers with even less talent to notice. You didn’t get to lounge around and vote on which table leg Norm used, instead of putting down your bowl of lotos petals and making one yourself, so you weren’t interested.

Norm is going Galt, if you insist on using the term. He’s still making lots of dough pointing and smiling on This Old House, the only shelter show worth a turd, and money will roll in from all the books and drawings and videos and advertisements from his shuttered but amiable and useful show forevermore. He doesn’t have to stand on someone else’s concrete floor and smile while his feet hurt and back throbs anymore. Norm will be fine. His audience’s life will be diminished because he’s not in it as often.

I keep hearing others say they’re going to drink taxpaying gasoline, eat supply-side dynamite, have a trickle-down nitroglycerine enema, and then swallow a serves-you-all-right John Galt match. Beware. Daffy Duck teaches us it’s an exciting trick, but unfortunately you can only do it once –just like your fifteen minutes of fame. It would be a shame if you went John Galt and no one noticed.

The Continuing Series: Pictures Of Paul Robeson Playing Softball Pictures

Sippican Cottage once again apologizes for our lack of alacrity in adding to our ongoing series: Pictures Of Paul Robeson Playing Softball Pictures. Pressed for time again today, and unable to locate the steamer trunk we have filled with pictures of this great thespian and fair hand at throwing the leather, we offer as a milksop, to our tens of thousands of fans that clamor daily for additional pictures of Jose Ferrer missing the tag on Paul Robeson: Videos Of Marlon Brando Playing The Bongos In A Grotto Fashioned After A Drunkard’s Nightmare Videos.

Blues Guitar, From Primordial Soup To Cloud Cities

Pretty much everything ZZ Top has done for the last twenty-five years has been a joke. An amiable joke, it’s true, but a joke nonetheless. A man’s gotta eat. Billy Gibbons is an amazing player, though; and like many of his brethren, a true scholar of what he’s doing. This is the rarest of things here: a person that knows what’s what explaining it without pretense or ulterior motive.

Here and there, you hear a real ooh or aah sneak out of the guy while he’s playing what is for him a mundane, workaday thing. He’s remembering the pleasure he got out of discovering it. It’s an old man, fishing through his old toy box, finding his old treasures.

Month: October 2009

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