Arthur, My Cousin and Me

I don’t know how to detangle Arthur from myself enough to write dispassionately or accurately. Instead, what follows is something like half him, half me. It’s more journal entry than elegy. To a general audience, that might make this less interesting than it otherwise could be, but it’s what I’ve got. Remember this if and when you get to the end.

Anyway…

I feel like I knew Arthur. Then I heard what others had to say and saw what others had to feel. Following his death, I still feel like I know him. In certain ways better than most or all. But there’s a part of me that’s often strained to believe that I was in more of his inner circle than I actually was, and his death exposed the truth of my position.

It’s a practical observation, not a dramatic one. I’m not saying he had a dominating and hidden alter ego or that he pitied me. It’s simpler: his death revealed my confidence in our bond as an illusion innocuously leftover from being kids together, from back when we actually spent serious time together. I want him back now like I’ve continuously wanted back what we lost long ago, but now it’s double-permanent and legible. Before it was remediable and blissfully hidden — embarrassing in hindsight, like most nostalgia.

But he also had that same nostalgia and held onto it, too, which makes me feel better. That mutual thread to our shared past was strong for both of us. It gave us a lot to lean on, but we leaned on it a little too heavily. Without that crutch, our adult lives were mostly opaque to one another, but also we were getting close again, involving each other again. Building anew. The left hook following the right. It’s a shame we weren’t closer than we were, when he died. It’s a shame our getting closer was cut short.

I guess it makes sense, generally: as adults, we’re all doing niche things, and niches are small and excluding, so everything else trends towards becomes small talk. (And that’s fine and right, because focus is necessary for growth. Just try and stay loyal, which Arthur did and my cousins do.)

Maybe it wasn’t so much that I was uniquely outside of Arthur’s confidence, but more that we had both (or all) grown a bit into our own isolation. In any case, I mourn the loss and its new finality.

So that’s him and I as adults, apart. Who was he, though? What can I tell you?

Well, I’ll briefly start with me, for context. Who I am is still him, the result of his influence, for sure. Of growing with, then adjacent to him, then apart, then converging again (more on the converging, later). If you distilled me down and got rid of all the litter and trivia, the rare and potent stuff remaining would be similar to what I knew of Arthur. We had the same essence, as I saw it. So I can show you that reflection, and you can tell me if it’s accurate (See: first paragraph’s disclaimer). (Also, note my calling out our similarity is carefully placed right before I go on to flatter him best I can — tactics, baby — but don’t read my ego into this. What follows is all my cousin.)

Arthur and confidence. Old saying: the pro fails more often than the amateur tries.

The subtleties of his personality were sophisticated and complicated. He could spar at an exceptional level from an early age. But he started out lazy and overthrowing a lot of his punches, gassing out quickly.

As a kid, he was autistically independent, preoccupied and hyper focused, but without any of the social hangups. He could talk to anyone and impressed everyone. He was adored, and rightfully so, but he also marched to the beat of his own nunchucks, exclusively. You couldn’t bullshit him, and you couldn’t placate him unless he was genuinely fascinated with what you offered. This is how kids should be, insatiably curious and wild. It was my favorite era of his, and where we spent the most time together. I was such an asshole to him, and he still always hung out with me. And we followed each other into a lot of similar interests.

Then he got his first hit of testosterone, and followed a phase where he literally held a fist up in every photo taken of him. Ha. Puberty’s a bitch. That didn’t last long. Reality checked and he stabilized. The important thing is that he knew he wasn’t going to watch, he was going to play. I loved him here, jealously and from a further distance. I couldn’t hang.

Then maturity: The firm handshake, the direct eye contact, the bright teeth, the smiling cheeks. Approachable, but not daffy. If anything his charisma was a prank and shrewd tactic; a car salesman during the first act, a playful subversion before the intellect and wit made their debut; or, worse for you, they didn’t. You’d start talking to Arthur and think you were walking in on a frat-boy breakfast table, then he’d go on to tell you why your problem was really because of what Robert Moses did back in ‘56, or he’d ask if you thought the The States were in a similar stage of decadence as Rome before its fall.

To him, your reason was more important than your choice, which is an axiom of all good conversation, one that most people are afraid to admit because doing so requires the ability to tread water. It’s easier to talk about the weather or watch sports. But Arthur wasn’t afraid of going deeper, and he had the tact to know when it was the right thing to do.

He was a man of appetite. A true traveling gourmand. He could scoff at you from within a seersucker, but he never compared oysters. If a menu offered Seattle’s or Rhode Island’s, he’d reply, “keep ‘em coming” and demand littlenecks or (and) crawfish to follow. He was less interested in varieties of wine, more in varieties of tomato and whether you had a good coarse salt.

He was spoiled rotten — as we all were, and mostly by the same sources — but he lacked pretension, except for that deliberately wielded for ironic effect. Underneath all his developed and developing taste was a lot of comical stoicism — laughing at gross injustice and absurdity, but also doing something about it, literally. His principles were conjured up from experience with the trappings of pleasure, with readings of history, with a variety of surprisingly worldly stories. I always wondered where and how he got it all. The guy had seen things, but not that many things. How was he always so versed? I don’t know, but if you’ve ever watched him eat a box of clementines straight up, wide-eyed in a wrinkled rugby shirt, then you would also know he was more pensive than pleasure seeking.

Entertainment was a defense, one he was growing out of as he realized it interfered with his goals and their requirements. A defense against what? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect the typical. On one hand, a lack of patience and a petulant refusal to be bored. On the other, the existential and solipsistic. A defense against the subconscious shame and pain of cynicism. Was love real? Was wealth worth anything? Was the world bogus? Was anyone authentic? Ethical? Himself? Others?

Look, I’m not saying he was overwhelmed with this gooey crap. He was a thinker, not a navel gazer. I don’t know if he even said any of this stuff out loud, but anyone with a brain is going to ask some questions about the life they’re living and the society they’re in, and most of us don’t like the first obvious answers we come up with. Then we do something about not liking those answers. We put fingers in our ears some of the time, we do what’s easy some of the time, and we do what’s difficult some of the time. And also, anyone with any talent is going to find themselves bored among the average, and falling short of their own standards. These were Arthur’s struggles, I think. At least, they’re kind of my struggles, and Arthur seemed to harmonize with me when we’d commiserate. Or maybe we were both pompous assholes, wannabe aristocrats from the suburbs. Or maybe that was just me. Ha.

To some, it might seem appropriate to haunt him here in this postscript, as if to justify his death as the terminal approach of a depression into cessation. Let me be clear: this was totally not the case, from my vantage. Instead, the above attitudes are more like the required cost-of-entry to a great show. If the unexamined life isn’t worth living, it does not mean the examined one is easy to live. The alternative is Judge Judy and a monogrammed armchair. Not for Arthur. Caulfield eventually quits his bitching, but he has to eat a lot of shit first. Siddhartha finally leaves the brothel, but he had to walk in that door in order to walk out of it later. Hard times are the prerequisite to epiphany. Painful and confusing; but hopeful, not despairing.

And you could tell Arthur was among this company because the personas he employed became increasingly sophisticated, useful, attractive, and comfortable. From the brawling, pack-leading, indulgent, jokester/show-off into the relaxed, independent, luxurious, conversationalist who wasn’t as afraid to let his guard down, who was increasingly responsible. He was cultivated. He had a tamed self-consciousness (as we all aspire). It was impressive to watch him pull his own strings, to compare that with your own attempts and be humbled.

And thus, as I see it, the irony, hard to swallow, is that Arthur was finding answers to life’s hard questions in fistfuls. Love was possible. Work was worth it. Viktor Frankl was right. And he was learning patience and conviction, already better at their practice than most (e.g. me). As Dan put it, he was just taking off. He jumped and then a hand reached up from the almost escaped gravity and cut him by the heel.

A complete, but simple tragedy.

Complete, because the good guy lost.

Simple, because Arthur’s life was not some melodramatic airport novel. His death was a lightning strike, a deus ex machina in reverse. A two sentence accident, not an assassination. Not much more to be read from it. Mortality is hard, right? (See: Genesis).

And for all my elaboration, I don’t even think Arthur was all that noxiously introspective or exceptionally self destructive either. The guy knew how to love and be loved. How to let his hair down, appropriately. How to shift gears and drive forward. How to resist temptation. How to find and be good company. How to stare at a fish tank. How to sit and read. How to eat fruit in the sun. He was typically bright, with a lot of flair and personality. I know he was grateful.

Or I’m wrong. Maybe I’m inventing a story to make sense of something more concealed or of pure chaos. I don’t know. I don’t think so.

In any case, it’s a tragedy. And regardless of what is true, I’m still glad I got to hear his story and be part of some of it. He was and remains a good influence to me, a fellow bright eyed boy attempting to sustain himself in the body of a straight-backed man. He’ll live on for a long, long time. And I keep talking to him.

That’s some of what I knew of him. And given this is my catharsis, forgive me further, but more about me:

Sadness, gratitude, and disappointment.

I’m sad. Still? Yes. Always? Probably not. The inevitability of death hits a certain emotional bedrock after enough love is lost. I’m probably not there yet, still more distance to fall, but things are tapering off, in the aggregate. Maybe I’m just cold.

Sadness is the least interesting. I am separated from someone I love, and that sucks. We all have people we’ve loved, and we are all damned to lose them. But yes, I get those black bile clutches to the chest as I’m reminded that Arthur (et al.) is gone. And I wanna hold your hand, if you’re feeling it too.

It’s a curse that requires gratitude. Time keeps on slipping, and the portion of time that one spends with good people is shorter still. I’m thankful for Arthur’s good company. From childhood to peerdom. This is what I’ll try and focus on. It’s the mantra I’ll repeat. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Then there’s the sulking disappointment. My head slowly shaking, my eyes unfocused contemplating the loss of the unpredictable conversations, the refreshingly interesting trivia, the uniqueness, the independence, the honed never impersonated taste, the great breadth of knowledge, the artful ball busting, the avoidance of cliches, the shared recommendations, the belly laughs. Obnoxious mutual indulgence — food and talk — during Thanksgiving at Stacy’s table, the shared past at Everit Ave, the just started planning. The feeling of a just missed answer to the question of how to get it back, continuously nagging.

More on that: I’m dealing with a huge mess of unanswerable questions and impotence. There’s so much broken by his leaving, least of all in me, and I can’t fix any of it. No way to organize it. I can’t even help others fix it. Acknowledging the impossibility of the situation seems better than ignoring it, so I will (…acknowledge that death breaks the world and makes inconsistent a lot taken as granted). Arthur’s death is an oily surreal void in the middle of the road. A portal to nowhere. And sure, life will go on. We will preserve. Time heals all wounds. That’s all true. But any schmuck can offer a platitude. I want to be responsible for what he’s left behind, in precise detail. I want to pick up the slack, fill in the blank. But what was his remains his, locked up behind whatever door his soul is now shut. It’s maddening.

I went so far as to tell Olivia that I was her brother, too, and that I would be there for her. Idiot. I love her, she knows I love her, I know she loves me. Yada, yada. I need no pity for my vomiting on the rug. My point is: I can’t be Arthur. I can’t even be close to Arthur. Adam — while still pretty good — isn’t a substitute for Arthur. I apologized for being so naive and sloppy, but the moment taught me what I was trying to say above: that I am ignorant of so much of Arthur’s life, and in ways that can’t be remedied by interviewing his friends or reading his book or wearing his shoes, sort of speak. A lot of it isn’t just unknown, it’s unknowable.

This requires more thought. Surely something can be done. Entropy can’t be rewound, but duct tape can keep a plane in the air. So here’s something I’m going to try: I’m going to be more vulnerable. I’m going to expose myself the way a brother or a son might, and see what happens. It won’t transform me into a replacement, and I’ll probably make a clown of myself. But it’s worth a shot. To build different connections, instead of replicas. I can already see that the cousins have been hammered stronger by this. Now it’s time to be deliberate, and keep that train going, if possible. And yea, I’ll do the practical stuff. You can’t call Barb, enough. And I’ll call Liv, too, but with finesse, without overdoing it. And the rest of our family, as well, because we all lost something. For some a spleen; for others, more vital organs.

Moving on.

It’s further maddening to have Arthur’s death aligned and intertwined with so much of my pleasure. I’m a week into marriage. I’m ecstatic and overwhelmed by the potential of my future. I’m also newly terrified of losing a child not yet even conceived. That’s a fun one. Probably a lot more neurosis to come. But, yea… it’s a violent set of waves to endure and ride. It’s exhilarating and crushing, and guiltily I’ll admit, more of the former. I’m pronoid.

The guilt compounds as I realize that I’m only comparing the conflict between my pleasure and pain, when the actual accounting includes my pleasure, my pain, and all the pain of all the others he left behind, those we both loved. What about Alexandra? Barb? Liv? Dan? A dominating, trailing factor; ego-hidden and selfishly deprioritized. What would Jesus do? Not have a wedding during shiva, although I appreciate all the encouragement and insistence from the also mourning invitees.

Back to Arthur and I having grown apart and then, more recently, back together:

There exists a line separating most relationships. On one side of the line you have people who have a reasonably complete model of you in their head. (See: Theory of Mind.) On the other side of the line are people who have a functional model; they know what they need to know to get the job done, but they don’t know, perhaps have never seen, the whole thing. For ex., a spouse vs a colleague (most of the time).

The line is called intimacy, and relationships on both sides of the line can be valuable, but the intimate ones have more potential in both directions, fat tails; the intimate ones can yield fortunes and bankruptcies. Acquaintances are tepid.

I described it above, how Arthur’s and my relationship moved from the intimate to the distant. I’ll skip further detailing that transition, and just get to the thing that hurts now: we were getting markedly closer, again. I could see the trajectory of our friendship and would bet on our returning to intimacy and confidence.

If the isolation of vocation and growth drives most bourgeois adults apart and into impersonal silos, then eventual mastery and plateau allows room for a focus on humanity, again. And humanity is universal and objective. People can stand on it, together, and get to know each other (again). That’s where I felt Arthur and I were.

I felt like Arthur and I had taken two separate tracks at a fork 15 years ago, and just recently those two roads started to merge back into the same path. We had stories to tell each other, of our time in the wild. It was the basis for a new bond, perhaps stronger than the old one.

Unsolicited phone calls. Talks of marriage, health, wealth. Suggestions of books and podcasts that were actually followed through with, instead of disappearing into the void like most cocktail party prescriptions. We’d follow back. Not rushing each other past awkward silence. Being patiently invested in one another. Showing up. Talking about vulnerable topics, like fears and aspirations for careers, and relationships, and family. And then, right during the peak of this rekindling, this jubilee, he died. And I doubt that I was the only one whose newfound growth and compatibility were cut short. You’re not alone.

So I hurt for the spent love, yes, like that of most grief. But I hurt more for the lost potential. I had so many fresh dreams that included him. It’s disappointing and sad.

To be clear, I’m disappointed in what’s lost, not disappointment in him. I blame him for nothing, even if maybe I should or others do. But any of his mistakes could have easily been mine, and so I sympathize. I’m not angry. Ambition implies risk. Vice is vice is inevitable. Growth means growth from something. Different contexts, need not apply.

Anyway, what else? The thing I linger on now is a weird faith. I have little faith or rather I have difficulty finding faith. I scrutinize faith until it’s demoralized. And yet, the discontinuity introduced by Arthur’s absence gives me faith, illogically but compellingly. I don’t strive for it, it’s simply there, point blank. I can’t explain it, but I can describe it.

Arthur is gone forever, and Arthur is part of my future. Both irrevocably true, yet incompatible. What to do about it? Apparently, not much. My mind absolutely and happily refuses to budge. The feeling that Arthur is part of my future supersedes the knowledge that he’s not. Knowing he’s gone does nothing to my belief that my future includes him. So it continues to. Sue me, I can’t help it.

See you in the funnies, Arthur. (More trivia: I never called him Artie or Art or Archo. He was always Arthur to me.)

Lastly, some good, more recent memories (skipping some that have already been shared):

The last thing I spoke to Arthur about was extensive advice, over the phone, on how to structure a prenup. “Don’t put anything about kids in there, because the courts won’t accept that you understood what you were agreeing to, prior to actually having the kids.” Smart. “Everyone should get one! The courts encourage it! Helps ungunk the works.” Ha. Kelly and I never got a prenup, but the candid advice on such a touchy subject makes me laugh.

Eating a whole pig at a communal table, biergarten style, at Saxon and Parole, in New York. Arthur talking the whole table’s ear off about everything, and then after discussing eating brains, we asked the chef to bring the pig’s over, and he did. Afterwards, walking to our trains, jolly, drunk.

Visiting Arthur in Scotland. Going out to some Uni warehouse party, and me getting lost with some bird. I didn’t have a working European phone, and so when I got home at dawn, seeing him and his big bravado looking like a worried mother goose made me laugh and proud, like a big brother again. Him cooking the two of us mussels and linguine with three whole heads of garlic. Delicious. Steak in Edinburgh, and him showing me the castles like he was himself a duke, personal friends of Hume and Smith.

I wished we went on more walks together.

Us planning on going to Joe Beef, in Montreal, with Alexandra and Kelly.

Him calling me to tell me Anthony Bourdain had died, and subsequently talking about it. “If he can’t make it, who can?” There’s that cynicism again. But it was a candid moment. And we ended that talk, more or less, believing we could make it, even if Bourdain couldn’t.

Discussing whether we were fated to end up like our parents.

Him shooting the .38 up in Gilboa.

Legos, spanky, ice box bedroom, V8-turbo toilet, the pool, the trampoline, the screen porch and its green furniture, endless chicken rolls followed by cold pizza, karate in the basement (no shoes on the mats), rolling on the carpet (i.e. roll mosh), forts, the Barbie game on the gateway computer in Izzy’s room, Snood, army men in the mud ripping up sod by the square foot unit, jealousy listening to Timberlake camp stories, the suburban with 100 blankets in the third row and Don McLean on the radio, toxic farts, the Pokemon store, the Pokemon cards I’d steal from him after going to the Pokemon store, a million cups of Lipton at Barb’s table, Rage Against the Machine in Dan’s car, lanyards, fishing in the Hewlett Bay, Harry Potter, him never sleeping over my house and getting rides home at 2am after attempting to (me pissed), hiding in that lone pine tree in the front yard, making window art out glitter glue, salamanders, watching him attempt to ride a bike in the driveway.

A menial history, but ours. Anyway…

Arthur, you were great. It’s not for me to say that you’re now resting in peace, because I think you were pretty zen while you were alive, in your own pastel-colored kimono kind of way. So instead, I hope you’re as satisfied there as you were interested here. I’ll see you soon, and until then, I’ll try and hold the line for you. Love ya’.

A marriage ends.

He realizes all the meaning he’s taken for granted, now gone. He weeps, the image of which he immediately imagines as being sympathetic. And then, immediately after that thought (i.e. that he looks worthy of sympathy while weeping), actually during that thought, he’s disgusted. A massive loss of substance, and he’s preoccupied with his image. Reflecting further: this vanity and conceit must be why his marriage ended in the first place; what he offered was thin and presentable but not sustaining. And then, another step: if his past offers were so easily invalidated, so vain, then so is this present, supposedly sympathetic image. Cyclical self-defeat, paradox. His tears aren’t worthy of sympathy and his presentation isn’t worth worrying about, and yet he continues to cry, so his tears must be for a real loss and not vain; but he is crying as a result of his vanity.

The whole idea implodes in on itself, and he’s left lost, defeated.

(Untitled)

You’ve been of age for years, but midway to the bar you still get nervous.

Walking there, it’s dark out and your jacket is too thin to block the gusts. Wet, coarse asphalt, alongside the concrete, alongside chainlink guarded baseball fields and short three-story apartment buildings. The occasional back-alley yellow cab making that dopplered paper rip noise cars make as they coast past through shallow puddles. Street-lights tinting things the rarely realistic slight-sepia of city night.

At the entrance your nervousness peaks as your wallet is in motion preparing to provide identification. Why the guilt? 

It’s deeper than being afraid that they might not believe you’re you, or that even if you are you, that you’re simply not old enough. Instead, the standard they’re applying has always had some unspoken aspect to it, something more sophisticated, more quality-related than a yet-to-come birthday. Not any of that superficial distraction either: e.g. clothes, entourage, velvet rope. By now you’re reflexively over and above petty vanity like that, unaware of its existence at the same level of unconsciousness that you ignore panhandlers and protesters. It’s boring. Both need to lose the signs and the jingles. But in the other direction, there’s this bar. This is a scene you’ve volunteered for. It’s attractive. It has serious potential. You went out of your way to be here. To be terminally judged here is to fail against your own standard. A standard that you’ve never fully laid out for yourself and, in its ambiguity and through your own self-doubt, a standard that you’ve always wondered if you will ever meet. All of this is encapsulated in the more manifest embarrassment of neither knowing what to do with your hands or where to look (and for how long) as the guard looks over your license. Confidence is elusive.

A glance later, he unceremoniously hands the card back to you from his outdoor bar stool, while at the same time turning his head to the next person in line, his expression unchanged, the whole algorithm, simple, fluidly executed, effective from the venue’s perspective. One disinterested guy doesn’t arbitrate The Scene. They know that, he knows that, and now that you’re in you remember it too. And so with your proof accepted, the whole scaffolding around the doubtful feeling collapses, and so the feeling implodes and pops out of existence. You start to toy with whether or not you’re going to check your coat, regularly unaware of your hands again, excited about good music, cocktails, friends, the mystery of idealized strangers.

Through the threshold, you pass into The Scene. Are you part of it or observing it? Are the decorations hip or hipster? Chic or ironic? Are you? Opinions flow turbulent like a chipmunk’s GPS. Look at all these kooks. Posers. I wonder when my friends’ll get here. She’s cute. Does anyone here know how to read? Do the readers know how to drink? Was that the drummer?

Past the entrance hallway, you prove your ticket, and get inside the venue where the show is between opening and headlining sets. The lights are up, but dim. The bar is operating like a dependable engine. “What can I get ya’?” … “Leave it open?” Glass left to pour itself unattended as she sets up the tab, pushing different sized squares, paging through sequential options on the touch screen, finishing with just enough time to cut the tap, pass you your drink, pick the next customer, and shoot out the finger-gunned “what can I get ya’?” all over again.

Scanning for your friends, you see circles of people chatting. Some of them have their coats draped over interlocked arms, most are holding pint glasses, beer. You get in line to check your coat, and attempt to text one of your friends, but get distracted by the habitual cycle of digital litter. Cycle complete, you send the text and look up leaving the phone in your hand. The coat’s checked, yet no return text. What to do?

You start with a lap around the place, passing bodies with a drunken-boxing rhythm, bringing non-existent hot coffee to the front of the pit, focused on reaching the rail of the stage. Arrived. Take in the sights. Set-lists, just out of legible view. Gaffed cables. Behind you, the atomized clusters of people who already know each-other that, together, make up the crowd. Some of them with the beginnings of show-glow, an offering left by the opener. You gracefully ignore the assumed (brief) scowls projected at the back of your head by the last group of people who you just elbowed past. Glance at your phone. Still no response.

What do you call this kind of a moment? There’s a restless emptiness to it. It’s a void. No hand to play, but the body keeps moving. Gaze scattering around, energy focused into ticks like checking the phone, looking at the ceiling and over the shoulder. It’s anxiety over the lack of stimulus, and yet you know the show will start in minutes. There’s nothing to be responsible for, nothing to aim at. All that’s required is still, calm waiting. But it’s difficult. The flywheel hasn’t slowed in years, and if it stopped wouldn’t that mean death? Standing still, even when you know it’s the right thing to do, is difficult. More difficult than moving. Shouldn’t the required effort, and not the lack of effort, relate to how difficult something is? It doesn’t, always. Why?

There’s your friends. The difficulty is forgotten. You snake your way back through the crowd with intent and its provided relief. Wrinkle-eyed, high cheek embraces. The lights dim further. A wave swells. This moment is right. The first chords are awesome. You close your eyes and smile wide open. 

(Untitled)

I’m gonna lick your heart.

I’m gonna floss your fingers.

I’m gonna inhale.

I’m gonna read your work.

I’m going to pluck your apple, honey; and press its taught skin to the inflection between my nose and upper lip.

I’m gonna smell your fields, and doze absentmindedly in your radiance.

You’re gonna crack the igneous shell in my head and let forgotten fragrant life seep out in relieving streams of cool viscous purification that flow over my open eyes and open mouth.

We’re gonna leapfrog the common vanities into a unique chaos, unpredictable personal permutations born from a new union, one unmarketable, unremarkable and thus unknown to others, but instead lock and key to us. Vital.

An iridescence impregnated with significance, because we’ll be in the right mood for it, out of the gallery and into our moment, exploding apathy into a billowed focus, custom-deluxe just for us.

A Few Memories of Bob Jones

Us grandkids called him Papa.

It’s sort of absurd how many eulogies I’ve had to write recently, and there’s something obscene about how thoughts from one period of loss might be relevant to another. Your gut tells you that you shouldn’t compare, that every experience with life should be unique and pristine. But having reflected on death, love, and family so often as of late, I’ve found some repeating patterns.

The first I’ll mention is that: grief is rarely the predictable, black-veiled, tear-soaked thing seen in movies. In actual practice, it’s more piecemeal and circumstantial. One moment you’re laughing with friends and family, reminiscing and soldiering on. Then the next moment, a fragment of a memory floors you and there’s nothing to hold on to. (That thought of Papa singing hymns to Barbara from his hospital bed comes to mind.) Another moment later and you’re thinking about whether there’s milk in the fridge, and a moment after that you’re feeling guilty for thinking about something so trivial, worried and despairing because you’re not sad enough. And then the whole thing repeats, in different proportions and orders. So grief is like life: it’s chaotic. Maybe this is a wisdom that the more mature among us have always known, but it’s still news to me, and so I think it’s a sentiment worth sharing.

Another thing I’ve learned is that there’s rarely an ideal authority to reference for these remembrances. How’s some snot-nosed kid like me supposed to summarize the life of a great man, a man who was married longer than I’ve been alive? It feels inappropriate. There’s so much we weren’t there for, so much we can’t have known. But then again… a friend would lack the family experience, a wife would lack the time spent at work and war, a son or daughter would lack the time before they were born. In every case, there’s a tradeoff – something missing, something offered – and so all we can do is share what we know, and let others fill in the blanks.

The memory of Bob Jones will not be perfect, but it will persist.

So what do I remember?

I remember a principled man who did what was right without having to think about it. I remember a man who was somehow simultaneously known, lovingly, for his temper and lack of patience, yet who was also uncompromisingly methodical, and effortlessly warm and receiving. When you saw him, you’d get these half-moon eyes and a tilted head, always interested in what you had to say, always leaning in to listen to what he could’ve all too easily tuned out. You’d always get a Hello and a curious question from him. 

“Hello, Mr. Adam. How’s business in Colorado?”

Papa wasn’t burdened by his ambitions like other more confused men might’ve been; and that’s because Papa’s ambition was his family, and his family was a job well done.

One part of the Jones legacy that I’m most proud of is our ability to communicate, to be flesh-and-blood humans in a world that feels increasingly robotic. Everytime we sit down at a table together, there’s never a lull, there’s never that awkward quiet moment of knives scratching plates, stale tension broken only by some forced ridiculous question, usually concerning the weather or traffic. We don’t do that. Instead, for better or worse, no one in this family ever shuts up. But the conversation is always interesting, and it’s always something I’ve looked forward to. Over the years, a lot of those conversations built up to shape who I’ve become, those seven layer and crumb cakes developing into a set of principles that laid the foundation for my personality. And when I think back further, the most iconic landmark for this subtle tradition was my grandma Annie’s kitchen table in Rockville Centre. That’s where I first learned the practice of looking people in the eye and speaking the truth. How right is it, then, that Papa built that table? A natural metaphor and actual example of his life’s contribution, or at least part of it.


Other, smaller things I’ve been thinking about:

Going to my upstate house to hunt, my dad pointing Papa to a bedroom for him sleep in. The next morning, when everyone woke up I noticed Papa had put his sleeping bag over the bedding, leaving the blankets and pillows neat and made.

Me asking him if he’d like a beer those times he came over for lunch or dinner. And then when he accepted, asking him what type of beer he liked, us having a few varieties, and him saying, “Cold and wet.”

The few times you’d get him with a racy joke and he’d transition from this high eyebrowed respectable listener, to a coy smile and raspy laugh. And you knew you were seeing the guy underneath the grandpa. I liked those moments.

The little singsong pet names he had for his children.

The way he used to say “At any rate…” to tie his thoughts together. Or when he’d say “Time to run away…” when he was done with a party or dinner.

The way he and and Annie used to blink the porch lights as us grandkids would leave the house to go to our own homes. Or the time I fell on the sidewalk, and he pointed to a crack in the concrete and told me I broke the thing, and that made me feel better.

I remember him trying to teach me how to dive off his homemade deck into the above ground pool in his backyard, and then another time him having me help put a patch on a hole in the vinyl, me proud I could hold my breath long enough to be useful.

Putting those little tree seeds we’d call polynoses on our noses in his backyard.

Him taking me to the attic of his garage, with its musty smell and greasy windows. And him letting me bang nails into scrap wood in his basement woodshop.

Small things, but here I am however many years later, and I remember them. 

Those moments meant something to me, and so did he.

I loved him and I’ll miss him.

Here’s to Papa.

Eulogy for Pappou

Adamos Georgiou has passed away. Finally, he is allowed to rest.

The obvious and uncomfortable irony of trying to memorialize him now is that he’s been gone, in truth, for a long time. The mind of the man who passed away was not that of the man who created his legacy, my family’s legacy. It is a harsh thing to point out in such a sensitive setting, but my pappou’s late condition is necessary to note in order to properly prioritize the simple, tragic, and relatively short-lived character of his later years; against the bold, sturdy, remarkable stroke of his long past. It’s too easy to think that his more recent life was the more relevant, and therefore that it should be what I talk about now. But his dementia stands insignificant and unnoticeable next to the massiveness of his past.

Another irony of this eulogy is that I’m likely not the right person to make it. I mention this not as false humility, but as a proper acknowledgement of the fact that I did not know Adamos Georgiou for the majority of his lucid life, and even when I did, I was just a dumb kid intimidated by this grizzly bear of a man who spoke in foreign poems with a straight back and wise eyes that could just as easily be iron as clay.

I look back and I remember silly but vibrant moments.

Him sitting at his kitchen table, from his reserved corner seat, telling me the old stories of Aesop and Socrates and Plato. I can still see and hear him describing Icarus flying too close to the sun, how the beeswax that held his wings together melted, his pride becoming his downfall. Or how Socrates willingly drank the poison he was sentenced to die by, rather than flee, in order to prove his belief in the righteousness of the justice system that convicted him.

I remember Pappou not liking it when I preferred pizza and hot dogs to his gourmet curries, but always passing a well cut slice of an apple or orange to the backseat during long road trips upstate.

I remember him fiercely giving my sister and me his famous single syllable roar when we were being too rowdy in the car on the way home from church, and us instantly cowering away silent and terrified.

I remember him waking up before dawn with my dad and me to go fishing out in Greenport, him ready with a meticulously packed tackle box full of lures, lines, and savory snacks for both us and the fish.

I remember his gardens, before he gave them up. Me, useless and happy with dirty knees and a spade, always impressed with how he managed dozens of vegetables and herbs, when at our house we only ever had tomatoes and cucumbers.

And I remember his shed, in it a small, red, trapezoid toolbox made out of steel, full of rusted tools; and shelves with a half dozen spools of different types of string, one type, waxy and thin, he would use to make elaborate grips to knives and fishing poles, and another, nylon and white, he would use to hold tomato vines to their supports.

Everything he did was a detailed project that he was consciously steering towards success.

That’s why they called him the Captain.

Adamos Georgiou was a man who took life seriously. He didn’t let life happen to him, instead he grabbed it in both fists and bent it to his liking as best as he could. When it was time to make a decision for himself and his family, he didn’t wait, he acted.

Moving from Cyprus, to The States, back to Cyprus, and then back to The States – chasing opportunity, avoiding war and risk, and refusing to be disheartened by material injustice – he never gave up, he never stopped working, and he never compromised his principles. You couldn’t break the guy. He wasn’t the type that would let his own animal impulses distract him from his higher goals. He believed in the potential for people to create meaning, to create good works; and he knew he was responsible for realizing that potential in his time on Earth.

He took responsibility. That’s what I see as the overwhelming theme of his life. He took responsibility. Consciously, and with intent instead of dogma, he took responsibility. And in so many cases, he won the games that he played.

He raised and supported a beautiful, healthy family. He was hospitable to the communities he operated within. And he imparted so many wonderful, significant traditions with such a hearty charisma.

When I was younger, I used to hate going to Greek School. In theory, Greek School was an extracurricular class where you were taught the Greek language through a strict, proven method in a focused, formalized environment. In practice, Greek School was a bunch of Church ladies cycling between filing their nails, picking students to read from single-ply textbooks sold by the Greek Scouts of America, and propagandizing you to be more patriotic through the door-to-door selling of cement and sawdust chocolate bars. I still have flashbacks to one of those teachers spitting on me as she howled, “YOU MUST BE PROUD, ΠΑΙΔΙΑ! Be PROUD THAT YOU ARE GREEK!” And I still have some of those chocolate bars in the back of my freezer. All I ever wanted back then was to get out of that repurposed house-turned-classroom and to go to Taco Bell.

One of the yearly chores of those classes was to memorize a Greek poem and recite it in the church basement for Greek Independence day. This was simultaneously one of the more interesting and nerve racking assignments, because it involved memorization, which I viewed as a kind of game; but also you had demonstrate this skill in front of the entire parish. Year after year, I would do this. I would get on stage, and recite the sounds and syllables I had committed to memory over the weeks, no idea what I was actually saying, and then I’d pass the microphone to the next kid in line, and breath easy until after the ceremony when it was time for bagels and glasses of milk. (Meanwhile you’d get yelled at by the church custodian, Marco, for taking glasses of milk, because as everyone knows milk is for coffee not for children.) None of this ever meant anything to me beyond the moment’s anxiety. But then one year something different happened.

I remember our class got off the stage and they invited my pappou up to say a few words. This had never happened any of the years before, to my pappou or any other adult, as far as I can remember. Usually, it was 5 to 6 classes of kids, each a year older than the last, each shuffling through monotone and rote read poems of imperceptible difference, each poem a test of patience and self-control and maddening boredom for those sitting around waiting for the others to finish.

But now my pappou is on stage. I know that guy. He’s alone. Why is he up there? What is he doing? And in the brief instant during which all these questions were popping into my mind, he boomed into a multiple paragraph poem, energy overwhelming his posture, and exiting through both his voice and an outstretched finger, which would come down to mark the significance of a specific stanza or piece of punctuation. His greatness in that moment was undeniable and the church-goers sitting in that basement hall stayed silent the entire time, and then when he finished, many minutes later, they crashed at him with reverence and applause.

My pappou had faith in the power and beauty of words and ideas, and he knew it was his responsibility to pass them on and keep them alive, for if he didn’t who would? I knew then that many of the adults in that room didn’t have the courage to be onstage, let alone the talent to deliver the words with such confidence or even the knowledge of knowing the words in the first place. And that meant that my pappou likely didn’t start with that talent or knowledge either. At some point in his life, he made the choice to develop and to learn. Someone once said, ‘Courage isn’t an absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to act despite fear.” In that moment, watching my grandfather, I began to understand what it was to be a man. I was proud to be Greek and proud to be his grandson.

My own love of books; of telling stories; of the balance between hospitality and gratitude; of nature, the mountains, the sea, the animals. Every backyard BBQ, every early morning adventure, every household project. The focus, the finesse, and the brute force, at times. The desire to achieve and to persevere and to preserve.

All of the things that together add up to being a good man. All of the things I hold as ideals.

They are rooted in him. In Adamos Georgiou.

When I think now about his death, I truly don’t feel sad, as in the heartache of lost love. That grief has already been paid slowly over the years.

Instead, I am overwhelmed with a combined sense of respect and inspiration and thanks.

And if I am sad, it is the sadness of a disappointment that he couldn’t be around longer so that I could’ve thanked him as a man, and so that I could of continued to have learned from him directly, instead of simply through his legacy.

Eulogy for Yiayia

Death is difficult.

It’s hard to think about, it’s hard to watch, and it’s hard to experience. On top of all that, it’s hard to be honest about. What do you say?

When my Grandma Annie died I was 20. I had lost a loved one before, but never as an adult. Losing someone as a kid is intense, but also kind of cartoonish. When you’re a kid the future is completely unknown anyway, so while a violent change in plans is rough, your plans aren’t that developed to begin with. It’s easier to adapt. But with Annie I understood that something intimate was lost forever. I remember coming home from college on a train, staring out the window at the Hudson river passing by, completely stunned. I wasn’t really sad or angry at that point, I was more so frozen. I was scared for my mom. I thought of her as particularly sensitive and also as particularly close with her mother, and I couldn’t imagine how she’d react. I didn’t know how our family would change, I didn’t know how our traditions would continue. I was confused. The three hour trip felt like nothing and forever at the same time. It was without time. It wasn’t until I got home and saw that people were sad, but that they were functioning, that the clocks started working again. And at that point, a new set of thoughts started to seep into the void in my mind.

I began to worry. I was worried that I wasn’t sad enough. And I was worried that I couldn’t remember all the times I had spent with Annie on demand. And I was terrified that I hadn’t – and seemingly couldn’t – cry. Time passed between getting home and the funeral, and I thought I was broken. Until we got to the church. And I sat down, and saw the coffin by the altar, and the entire reservoir of emotion that had dammed up behind my own naivety broke. And I was overwhelmed by sadness. And I couldn’t stop crying. And I couldn’t imagine how anything would ever be bright or warm again.

And then my father’s mother, my yiayia, put her arm around me, in what at the time felt like a completely surreal, angelic gesture. I looked up to see her, the only other woman who had ever held a similar role to Annie in my life, bracing me and smiling and being strong. And I don’t remember what she said to me, but it was comforting when the world felt like hell. And as we got up out of the pews to follow the coffin to the hearse, I never stopped crying and she never let go of me. Stoically, and elegantly, and radiantly, this woman walked me out of the church. And I knew it would be OK.

And now she’s gone. And all I have is the memory of her and that intense, horrible, inspiring moment to help me this second time around.

This was Ipapanti Georgiou.

She was kind and simple and she was generous with her love. She thrived on other people’s success and she bore their suffering so they wouldn’t have to. During one of our last visits together in the hospital, I spent hours alone with her. She knew she was going to die, that was obvious. And yet, all she talked about, between gasps for air, was her family. She’d tell me to be nicer to my mother and to call Irene once and awhile. And she’d tell me to find a nice Greek girl and to make lots of babies with her. She talked about that one a lot.

She was so ambitious and driven. She’d put anyone who’d listen to work in her garden. And then she’d follow them around, exhausting herself just the same as if they weren’t there helping. She’d point at weeds to be picked, and flowers to be moved, and rocks to be organized, orchestrating everything with her cane like an choir conductor does with his stick. I remember one chore in specific: she’d hand me a small rake, the head of which was less than a foot wide. And she’d tell me to scratch the lawn with it, to air-ate the soil. No matter how hard I did it, she’d yell at me to do it harder, until one day I accidently broke the wooden handle of this 20 year old antique tool she brought over from the motherland. So I’m standing there with two pieces of rake in my hand, and I looked up at her, and – I kid you not – she standing there with another rake, this one with a metal handle.

When she wasn’t in the garden, she’d be inside with a thimble and a pincushion that looked like a tomato, working on some project of some neighbor or friend or family member. This, I’ve been told, was a reflection of her childhood. When she grew up, it was all about taking care of the household and her immediate family, especially her father. And it was her father who insisted she have a skill, thus her learning how to sew.

And when she wasn’t sewing she was sharing meals and telling stories. I can’t think of many memories of her that don’t involve a set table. Always some chicken, and some burnt pieces of toast or pita. Or the one time when someone had brought over Japanese food and Yiayia ate a dollop of wasabi thinking it was guacamole. She didn’t eat a lot Japanese food after that.

And I think back to her shopping. She was always on the hunt for the ideal $20 handbag or the perfect pair of slippers. Endless trips to Marshalls and TJ-Max, where she somehow managed to return more things than she’d bought.

And then there was church. She had countless stories about cathedrals in Greece, the exploits of saints, prayers she thought were good, hymns she liked. I’d come home from school for the summer, and see her and she’d ask me, “Adam, does the church lock the doors during the summer? Are they closed?” “No, Yiayia, I don’t think the church closes during the summer.” “Ohhh, that’s interesting, because I didn’t see you there last Sunday…” I remember her driving me to church as a kid, and then sitting next to her during services later on. She’d always point to where we were in the liturgy book, even though I was terrible at following along.

These are all little trivial memories. They’re important only if you knew my Yiayia, but they were trivial nonetheless, even to her. To her the only things that ever mattered were the people in her life, her family, and God.

As my Papou began to lose his memory and his autonomy years ago, she carried on taking care of the house and him, a job my family still finds difficult doing with the force of several people helping all together. She did that impossible job, alone, unwell, and with a smile on her face till the very end.

I never saw her in a bad mood. I never saw her act in a way I could ever call selfish. She lived for others.

Her influence was a train, and her love was the sun. The world will be slightly darker without her.

As the youngest of her siblings, her father used to say, “εαρθεν η μικρή”: here’s the little one. I like to think he’s going to say that again very soon.

I love you Yiayia.

We’ll never forget you.

Jet Lag

Woke up unusually early, six o’clock or so, the happy accident of light jet lag.

Shower, teeth, fold the laundry I left in the dryer the night before. It’s still dark out, dawn is an hour away, and the wind is rolling in hard, preceding the sun. It sounds like surf, but not confined to the hearth of a beach. It’s all around, louder, sporadic, and as a result more mesmerizing than the ocean.

Right after waking up, or even way after, it’s rare for me to be able to focus. In the morning I’m typically distracted by grogginess, thrashing against the temptation to go back to sleep and attempts to do things before my flywheel has begun to spin. Later in the day, I tend to tweak out, burnt on too much caffeine and not enough exercise, the channels constantly changing in my mind, craving instead of fulfilling.

But not this morning.

I ride my bike to a coffee shop about a mile from my Boulder apartment. Muted color is flushing into the hills and Flatirons – dusk in reverse – and that wind and its cold are refreshing. As I rode, I wished I had a scarf and then laughed at myself because I just wished I had a scarf. It’s late October. Another season and its change is as invigorating as the wind but in a different way, at a different scale. The surprise of a predictable season is a reason to live.

Now I’m at the nearly empty coffee shop. No one is walking the mall. Inside, there’s high ceilings, brick walls, wooden fixtures and floors, and five-bladed ceiling fans that lazily push around the barely-on duct-heating. Of the handful of people here, no one is talking, and I’m sitting by the window using two hands to sip on a shallow teacup, filled to the brim with coffee and cream, as the increasing light starts to normalize the magic outside.

The only noises are the barista and her queue creaking the scratched up floorboards as they otherwise silently work, and – it’s Boulder – meditation bells on the house stereo. Normally I’d roll my eyes, but given the context the music seems appropriate instead of ostentatious.

Time passes.

The sun is up, the coffee shop begins to fill, people are eating pastries, and conversation overpowers the subtler sounds. The moment has evaporated, replaced by something else pleasant but more common.

I let go, happy, and reopen the book I closed to write this.

Quit

Social media is a middle school cafeteria.

Political post’s possible outcomes: people who already agree with you nod their head. People who don’t agree with you make themselves known. People gracefully change their minds. With some exceptional charity let’s assume you convince everyone to be on the same page, and we all end up thinking that it’s appropriate for players to (not) stand during the anthem. Then what? Nothing. Superficial problems inspire surface-level solutions. We find something else to fight about or gape at. Keep it rolling, pass the popcorn.

Maybe it’s always been this way. Migrated from radio to television to the internet, it’s not new to say that media is overly dramatized, simplistic, and anecdotal. That’s because it’s for-profit entertainment, not a public service. O'Reilly and Maddow are what the market wants. But now we, the people, are all contributing to the static, we cultivate it without realizing, we enrage it. It’s no longer The Man, but you and I that are doing the damage. In the past we were only ankle high in a sludgy Viacom byproduct, capable of walking away from the boob-tube to a place of shared intention, to Vitamin D, to grandma’s for dinner. Now it’s self inflicted. We’re constantly face down in the gutter, drowning in our own mental dumpster water, hunched over, bloodshot and exhausted, aimless. A break to sleep, then back to being insect-eyed.

Don’t you feel it? This shadow of a thing, relatively new but now uncomfortably familiar, that’s come and snaked it’s way into our lives, constantly lingering, souring and numbing moment after moment. It’s a forcefed awareness of the chaos you can’t affect and a constant distraction from that in which you have actual authority. What a horrible trade. There was a time without this. A time spent alternating between calm, motivating boredom and focus soaked follow-through. Now we restlessly thrash. Instagram fixes boredom about as good as opening the fridge for a second time.

Even talking about social media has become disgusting. It gives me heartburn every time I hear that vulgar, two-word phrase. I wince, embarrassed, prepared to listen to some regurgitated analysis about filter bubbles, fake news, or superficiality. The discussion is played out, soulless. The worst cliche: a wide-eyed pitch for the next dumbest startup.

“We’re going to do Tinder for half Jewish girls from Long Island who also own Honda Accords. I know some HTML. Can you help? Do you mind signing a nondisclosure before we talk more?”

Sure, let me call Mark Cuban and also kill myself real quick.

Facebook and the rest of ‘em are cigarettes without the movie cool or the headrush. They’re cultural cancer. Coincidentally, nowadays we use both outside of bars and after sex. I wonder if that’s significant…

If someone were selling you a two-in-one cactus and mop, would you defend your bleeding hands as the cost of a clean floor? Is the convenience of this personalized information buffet worth what we’re paying for it?

There are other problems with this stuff too, like:

To watch and to play are not the same thing. There’s a difference between observing culture and participating in it.

Why risk getting a beer with the neighbor who gets on your nerves 10% of the time if you’re already up to date on her entire life? Why go to the coffee shop or open mic, or say hello to a stranger on the street if you’ve already got the zeitgeist’s cliffnotes from Reddit or The Drudge Report or your Newsfeed? Why have an opinion at all when gospel is just a Google search away? Think of all the potentially uncomfortable situations and all the wasted time that can be avoided! With a curated social experience on tap, in your pocket, there’s no need to risk it. Sit back and watch, effortlessly. All the more opportunity for work, Netflix, and wondering why you’re awake staring at the ceiling at 3:38 in the morning. But at least I didn’t have to sit through a (potentially) awkward date!

Well, maybe the anxiety felt over these foregone face-to-face moments had a purpose. Maybe it let you know a situation was risky, but also that it had the potential to pay out. Maybe bad and good are what orient us, maybe they’re what prune life from something raw and harsh into something beautiful, into something worth suffering to feel. Instead, now we’ve already seen everything that’s ever been or will be awesome, and so nothing is awesome; and we already know what most people are about before meeting them, and so no one is worth meeting. Or so we believe. Facebook’s mission is to “…bring the world closer together” but all it and the others do is breed cynicism, stereotypes, and shallowness for sake of selling eyeballs to advertisers. These machines make the world less serious, less intense.

Another problem: stories and information are not the same thing. Stories have trajectory, they are conflict followed by resolution. Information is a scalar.

Your mom, high school buddies, college roommates, colleagues, priest, pee-wee soccer coach, pediatrician, bus driver, and exes are now all in the same room, at the same time, all and every day; and they’re yelling their opinions, into the void, all at once, on topics within the range of sports, gun control, birthdays, deaths in the family, American Idol, vaccine efficacy, North Korea, pop music, North Korean pop music, Avon & Tupperware deals, economics, your little cousin’s football games, and the occasional high score on Candy Crush. Fresh, arbitrary information gets thrown on top of this mess daily, and it’s like watching a dozen cats fall into a locked bathroom’s brimming bathtub. Does this stuff belong all together in the same conversation? Is any of this productive? Can this process ever be productive? Can it remain interesting or, more accurately, titillating? Can anyone pull a meaningful story out of this rats’ nest – i.e. fully describe a conflict and then come up with a practical solution, one that can be believed to work? What does a resolution to a wall of contentious information even look like? Trick question…

Or otherwise, on the image oriented apps, we pump up vanity as a virtue. Look at me, tell me I’m pretty, tell me I’m successful, tell me I’m right. I am right, right? Right? The vacation selfie is the contemporary Cadillac in the driveway, the white picket fence, the American Beauty rose bushes: primed, chin raised, saying “my life is going great, thanks for (not) asking”. But it’s lonelier. More disconnected. Back then when you moved in you got a fruit cake from a flesh-and-blood neighbor. Now our greatest moments, big and small, are sugar coated and sold to one another as postcards, shallowly and anonymously confirmed by a double-tap, view count, or smiling emoji. Compare that to thousands of years of evolution-honed body language: a smile in the corner of the eyes, a furrowed brow, a polite laugh or one from the gut. The result is that our collective conscious is starved for depth, blistered and withered as our habit slowly boils on and intensifies, razing everything along the way into a homogeneous binary of GOOD or BAD. You ever wonder why the only popular apps are picture-based or purposefully short videos? Because anything candid or of decent length would show us for what we really are: desperate and shallow and incapable of performing the deep and meaningful.

Or otherwise still, there’s Twitter, which has never been anything but a stupid idea. “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” Email, forums, and AOL chat rooms were all better, but Twitter threw out Paul Rand’s solutions for Web 2.0 iterations. “Move fast and break things.” That’s 21st Century progress.

Critics of the above mention that these new technologies allow us to stay in touch with people when they’re far away or constrained by time. Two points to make: (1) does that have anything to do with what I’ve said here? Does “keeping in touch” mean we have to be vain, shortsighted, and constantly, mindlessly engaged with everyone we know, about every topic that happens to be in fashion that week? And (2) do these tools even do what the they’re claiming: solve the unavoidable problem of being apart from some of the people we care about? Does a lover living an ocean away become easier to deal with now that I can see a picture of her morning croissant while swiping through every other yahoo’s empty publications? Saying you’re close enough because of Facebook is like saying a Hallmark is as good as a hug. 'Get Well Soon’ never got anyone better sooner. Stop making excuses.

Speaking of excuses, I’m guilty in the extreme of every vice listed here. I’m a whiner. Cheap, gallon-jug Cabernet. I’m a whore for online attention. I’ll do anything for a Thumbs Up. I post all kinds of vain nonsense. I meticulously prune photos, mentally weighing all the ways they might be interpreted, how they might benefit my reputation. I’m a sycophant, desperate for celebrity-like recognition and obsessed with plastic. I judge and criticize topics I know nothing about. In other words, this essay is as much reflection as observation…

Here it is in summary: social media is part of an insidious retreat from hot-blooded, nuanced, mutually-lived culture into a cynical, simplified world of information; information that’s doesn’t fit together when looked at as a whole and information that’s cookie-cutter when looked at through any one tunneled lens. We make this sacrifice of soul for simulation in ignorance, walking away with some dopey, voyeuristic well of entertainment, and an abstract awareness of issues outside of our influence and understanding. A video of The Vatican isn’t a trip to Rome. A list of headlines doesn’t replace a book-length argument. Pontificating about Presidential Tweets doesn’t change the world like small-talk with your parents does.

But: we can move on from this decadence back to substance and to depth and to vivid existence; to talking about the great questions of what it is to live, why it is we do it, and to acting out the answers; to having communal, spiritual fulfillment and making actual progress. We went to the moon once. Has that become such a trite example that we can’t take it seriously? People flew through space, for three days, on an over sized tea-kettle, powered by a bomb, controlled by a t1-83 calculator, so that they could walk on an airless grey rock… for the hell of it? To throw shade on the Russians? No. It was to do something literally awesome. Something great. Imagine being Neil Armstrong sitting in that seat on game day. Really. Actually imagine it.

(Don’t keep reading, use your imagination, Christopher Robin. Close your eyes. Come back in 5 minutes. Tomorrow you take off into the unknown wearing a pressurized diaper, helmet, and obviously giant jock strap. What got you to that point? What are you thinking now?)

What kind of social structures – world-wide right down to the family – had to exist, all at once, to produce an opportunity like Apollo 11 and a person willing to take it? These people weren’t crazy, they were heros in a story we were all acting out. We all had our parts. Their effort is what it means to live for something bigger than yourself, and it can be accomplished at all different scales. We can start small, in our individual lives and neighborhoods, and work our way up to the next NASA.

But before we start producing that play, we need to purge the distraction. I’ve filled my head up with so much high contrast, saturation soaked, dopamine driven trivia – my own and others’ – that there’s little room for anything else.

I suggest you and I take a break from social media, together. A group New Year’s Resolution. Sometime between now and midnight January 1st, 2018, delete the apps and turn down the accounts. Leave them off for at least a year. Don’t plan on going back. Let’s see how it feels. To those that don’t often use social media, I say, fair enough. But just 'cause you’re not a barfly, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t stop drinking. This is an appeal to the affected. That doesn’t mean everyone, but that group includes more than just me.

Does your dream of the future include all these screens? Don’t we expect to raise our kids more responsibly than what’s possible in this cesspool? Don’t we want them to read great books before Buzzfeed? To ride bicycles and kiss in the woods, rather than stare at YouTube or its more obscene siblings? Don’t we want that for ourselves? Don’t we imagine maturing past this era? That, at some point, we’ll move on from all this wasted effort?

Isn’t this exodus inevitable?

Shouldn’t it start with us?

Shouldn’t it start now?

Thanks for reading and considering.

Relevant Links

A Note To Myself

I am evolution and this is just one of my forms.

The Spirit is the chain of evolution, ever better, never ending. The ideal that all which exists results from.

Realized or not, you can think of the idea of a Quality human. That individual represents the best a human can do in making things better, making them persistent and sustainable and harmonious.

What might it look like: imagine we are each one of the wholly spirit centipede’s infinite toes moving it forward. The idea of the best appendage would be one that did its job perfectly such as to move the whole, the entire, everything forward as best as can be done. To sustain the big never ending spirit of evolution. Perfect rhythm. Music. So we aim for that. Or rather, we’re aimed at that. (Chicken and egg, instinct and intention.) But only some of us get close. And maybe some are only somewhat good. But even a somewhat good rhythm can be good and keep the groove alive.

Then there’s that which is outside the spirit and its work: The Medium harboring reality, rules beyond livable comprehension. And reality persists through the above dynamic, within those incomprehensible rules along many levels of abstraction all the way down or up (turtles’ backs or whatever) to that of human consciousness. Us realizing and producing The Good through righteous effort.

To manifest our part of the good, that is our calling. To do otherwise is do dwell in the finite, incoherent, limited confines of the flesh. To be the appendage only, and not the whole; the leg, without the centipede. We are built to persist the whole. The whole has no obligation to us. We are it. We can chose to walk or not. But stagnation is no different than death, and the same for purposelessness.

Be the whole. Not the leg.

And pray to the thing that gives hypotheses to show you what you might do to be a better reflection of The Good and then work to actually do that.

Maybe then you’ll be fulfilled.

Also, floss more.

Aaron's Epitaph

What do you write about when someone you truly loved dies?

Should you write anything at all?

Do you write about grief? About how experiencing it changes the more you do it and with age? About how, at least for me, it goes from an uninterrupted frustrated inconsolable sadness, stuttering in air between snot and tears and sobs; to more of a pallet of emotions and ideas? A battle over whether the things you’re thinking are appropriate. Whether you’re sad enough. Whether you’re a sociopath for *not* being sad enough. Whether you’re a selfish asshole for thinking that *you’ve* been robbed of future company, forgetting the afflicted has been robbed of future anything, implicitly dismissing those who based their lives on Aaron’s, as opposed to simply riding along side him like I did. Frustrated with yourself for not being able to recall, on demand, all the memories you’ve made with the person, instead having to wait for the muse to torturously make all too infrequent offers. Guilty after any relieving moment of disconnect, distraction, or worst of all pleasure. And yes, completely stop-what-you’re doing overwhelmed; half the time just staring into space, stuck in a purgatory of thought; the other half of the time, swollen and knotted with horrible sadness and anger and pity for those who you know are suffering more than you.

That’s what I’m going through right now.

What’s even more stupid is I’d never talk like this with Aaron. Aaron was someone I didn’t have to or want to get deep or wordy with. We’d endlessly bullshit, because we loved most of the same stuff and went after it the same way. There was less talking about it, more doing it. That’s what we shared. No pretense, never a need to impress or (really) put down. Just planning for the next thing, following through with the current one, or busting balls in between. Reader, don’t think that meant our friendship was shallow. The connection we had through shared passion and execution is without a doubt more intense than most of the others I’ve had.

Aaron was pure and immediate.

Tell me how timing works on a four stroke engine. Boom. Forty five minute conversation. No problem.

Tell me how spray paint works… “Well there’s two different kinds, really. One has alcohol in it to make it dry faster as it evaporates, you know? The other…” (Thanks to Elliott for reminding me of this one.)

Aaron, should I hit this jump? “You won’t!”

Aaron, hit this jump. “Ok”, in his doofy voice.

It’s common to exaggerate in eulogy, but I mean every word of it when I say: Aaron was undeniably a part of my inner circle and past the point of dismissal. The only thing that could’ve ended our friendship did, and so here we are…

He was my freshman roommate, he was my brother, and he was a partner in so many things.

Ski trips, shared meals, conversations about trivia I didn’t want to hear about (but really did) and mountains we both wanted to visit, countless trips: my first time in Canada, driving over the border for some 18-year-old indulgence; my first real music festival, driving down to Tennessee in 2011; my first time skiing out west in Utah; driving that stupidly big rental van up to fields of wild Bison in Colorado, stoned on gummy bears, and then trying to park it in a garage with less than six inches of clearance; riding snowmobiles through 50 miles of Wyoming wilderness; camping at my dad’s place in the Catskills; hiking Giant Mountain in the Adirondacks. The list goes on.

Then there’s the details.

I miss his stupid cars, racing his Subaru against other idiots on the highway, blowing flames out the exhaust, and him teaching me how to drive it. Scaring people in tunnels with his waste-gate, including that one time an off duty cop chewed us out as Aaron nodded and said, “Yes Sir” a dozen times across my lap through the passenger side window. Driving his big banged-up black truck through running rivers, water up past the doors.

I miss the way he never understood sarcasm, until one day where he finally did and thought it was hilarious to defy your expectations and fake you out with a feigned opinion on something.

I miss always asking him how his dog Ted was. “Good. Gettin’ old.” He never rolled his eyes at me, as if he never heard me ask the question or gave me the same answer 100x before.

Everything and everyone was authentic to him, and he reacted as such. In turn it made him the realest person who I knew and whose company I enjoyed. Sometimes you get one or the other. Aaron was the rare exception of both. He never schemed, he was never fake, he loved to live, and we did a lot of that living together.

There’s no way to solve this problem. I’ve got to live with a hole in my heart from this day forward.

There’s a diminished sweetness to things. A note I can’t hear anymore.

I’ve lost a best friend. I’m so glad to have known him.

greatness and fame

greatness and fame.

some people are famous ‘cause they’re great. some people are great, but they’re not famous. others are famous and suck. most are neither famous nor great.

i once was walking down the street in Chelsea, passed a fancy hotel and saw a mob of people screaming at the increasingly shrinking space between the building’s entrance and a black SUV. i asked one of the crowd’s 13 year old lemmings who she was screaming for and why. she told me it was none of my fucking business. guess i’m an asshole. i asked another and she thought it might be some of my fucking business.

it was a vine star.

even now, after googling for “top vine stars”, i can’t pick the name the latter girl told me out of a short list. but i remember watching some of this viner guy’s sub-minute videos and thinking we had digressed into a kind of post-modern, post-sense ocean of noise.

today twitter shut down (the majority of) vine.

a service that promoted the creation and mass publication of shallow ephemeral content, and that helped to nurse an entire audience – perhaps even a sliver of an entire generation – into believing that such dirt was gold, ends up lasting somewhere around three years.

it’s almost poetic. vine was the business equivalent of a vine. a start-up version of a sparkler: a half-assed excuse for a firework, not that either last for very long. a guy can only hope that twitter itself follows.

a day or two ago i posted a video featuring fran lebowitz. “a very discerning audience, an audience with a high level of connoisseurship is as important to the culture as artists [are].” she recollects a time where writers, musicians, and filmmakers defined the culture with their work and wit. now, according to her, they define it with their fame. the harder it is to get famous through a specific craft, the less important the craft is regarded. the easier the acquisition of fame, the better the craft. books are out, ten second videos of people throwing stolen gallon jugs of milk on supermarkets’ floors are in.

so now vine’s gone.

vine didn’t shutdown 'cause it realized it was a disservice, it shutdown 'cause it didn’t make enough money. other corrupting catalysts of mindlessness are out there, but most modern mediums still offer the option of allowing for sincere, subtle, significant content. vine went out of its way to disallow this kind of stuff.

take notice, fellow culture bearers. fads and fame are fun, but too much sugar will rot your teeth. plus it’s boring as hell.

implicitly self-righteous, cynical, cranky, coffee-shop comments aside, there is something questionable about all of this commentary. the above perhaps typical analysis seems to propose that the good is being replaced by the bad. a one-for-one swap. but what if instead it’s that the same amount, or even a growing amount, of good is now being drowned out by a growing faster amount of bad? these two situations are different circumstances with distinct outcomes.

in the former, the good is dying and on its way out. in the latter, the good is growing, just harder to access.

content and the intentions that generate it aren’t changing, but rather the scale at which they’re exposed. dumb people didn’t have a platform. now they do and everyone’s allowed to stand alongside great work. makes it harder to see, harder to find.

the next backroom at max’s is still possible, it’s just not going to get written into the history. it’ll be written into a history. a history that will undoubtedly be dwarfed in appreciation by that of the noise or bieber’s new album or whatever.

and that’s fine, cause even if bieber’s album does well, there’s nothing stopping anyone from participating in scenes that idolize quality rather than kids who don’t know what a germany is.

quality work is out there and it’s thriving. it must be.

jon and i messing around in the rv

i trust in the electronic eye. it sees all things and it knows what’s right.

crackers and carrots, contemplating chain links and emails.

johnny appleseed and john carmack playing tug of war.

scratch away the pornohraphic veneer and see clear for the first time in years.

love shackled behind brass battled doors of technology and habit.

where is george’s tums, he’s got the runs. not fun, not fun.

high dynamic range cyborg organic eyeballs to see fluorescent sunlight with.

the whole fucking planet tastes like perfume. we’re trying to find others. the hubble is looking and the homeless are cooking their brains in space and it tastes like toothpaste.

rusty strings are ringing. we spent the day drinking and singing. rooftops and Asians, gawking and applauding; wind and waves, a burden, a blessing.

perfection depends on the precision of your perception.

significance is out of reach. sample size is too small, but everyone comes to call. 

recreational outrage is the post modern propaganda, stoked to encourage the accidental smothering of crying conversations that might otherwise have grown both parent and child.

artist by charles bukowski

all of a sudden I’m a painter.
a girl from Galveston gives me
$50 for a painting of a man
holding a candycane while
floating in a darkened sky.

than a young man with a black beard
comes over
and I sell him three for $80.
he likes rugged stuff
where I write across the painting –
“shoot shit” or “GRATE ART IS
HORSESHIT, BUY TACOS.”

I can do a painting in 5 minutes.
I use acrylics, paint right out of
the tube.
I do the left side of the painting
first with my left hand and then
finish the right side with my
right hand.

now the man with the black beard
comes back with a friend whose hair
sticks out and they have a young blonde
girl with them.

black beard is still a sucker:
I sell him a hunk of shit –
an orange dog with the word
“DOG” written on his side.

stick-out hair wants 3 paintings
for which I ask $70.
he doesn’t have money.

I keep the paintings but
he promises to send me a
girl named Judy
in garter belt and high heels.
he’s already told her about me:
“a world-renowned writer,” he said
and she said, “oh no!” and pulled
her dress up over her head.
“I want that,” I told him.

then we haggled over terms
I wanted to fuck her first
then get head later.
“how about head first and
fuck later?” he asked

“that doesn’t work,” I
said.

so we agreed:
Judy will come by and
afterwards
I will hand her the
3 paintings.
so there we are:
back to the barter system,
the only way to beat
inflation.

never the less,
I’d like to
start the Men’s Liberation Movement:
I want a woman to hand me 3 of her
paintings after I have
made love to her,
and if she can’t paint
she can leave me
a couple of golden earrings
or maybe a slice of ear
in memory of one who
could.

The Zen of a Shitty Crowd

I recently went to a show with a shitty crowd.

An outdoor venue with people sitting on the floor of the pit, pissed that others could be so rude as to think grooving in front of them was somehow appropriate.

Rage that the rail didn’t have at least five feet of space per person. Disgust that a shoe or two might of been stepped on, or worse that their picnic-blanket-colonization of the limited real estate was being disregarded.

Others leaving during the set, returning with entire cafeteria trays full of chicken fingers and french fries, expecting to eat comfortably in the middle of general admission.

People yelling out requests for hits that had already been played.

Multiple-song-length conversations going on throughout the set. I moved spots several times trying to revive my vibe only to find myself in the middle of another out-of-context over-the-music discussion – topics included past relationships, the quality of the vendor’s solo cup red wine, and how much square footage the current year’s leased apartment contained – broken only to make time for text messages and selfies. The hum-murmur of this noise loud enough to be heard over the monitors and obviously affecting the band’s stoke. Several overheard awkward confrontations where some asked others to stop talking so they could hear what was going on on the stage.

Lulls in energy where there should’ve been appreciative woots and excitement.

Woots and whistles where there should have been intimacy and awe.

If someone would’ve heckled “Free Bird” I might have died of perfect embarrassment right then and there.

My default is to brood. Every next piece of concert etiquette broken further justifying the “are you fucking kidding me?” I kept silently repeating to myself. Eyes furrowed, jaw slack in reaction to so many things so consistently and simultaneously messed up. Going down long trails of thought condemning the entirety of New York City as a place whose time has past if this was the best it has to offer a great performer. And my sister, whose thoughts were infected with the same observations, rolling her eyes in agreement next to me, encouraging the whole roast as I continue to imagine the band walking off stage a la Jack White, Radio City, 2012.

Fuck these people, right?

Wrong.

Stupid me. Crying over spilt milk. Sitting in traffic, screaming at the steering wheel. Angry with the rain.

Someone once said, ‘if you think someone’s an asshole, they’re probably an asshole; if you think everyone’s an asshole, you’re probably an asshole’. But I don’t think I was cranky, and other people were bummed out by the same things I was. So it’s a combination. What to do, what to do? (Spend my hard earned money on you, so I will…)

Best thing to do is meditate. Thoughts come and go, uncontrolled. Reaction to those thoughts is the definition of self-control. In front of me there’s music and there’s distraction from that music. Seems wasteful to purposefully indulge the distraction. Time to attempt focus. The main hurdle is the knowledge that shows are so often so good. Going to a show is a sunny BBQ. Sometimes there’s your favorite food, sometimes George burns the chicken, but fishing is better than working. That’s why concert critics and reviews are useless. Imagine if someone reviewed your wedding. “The toast was good, but the cake was flat and lacked energy”. What the hell are you talking about, man? Anyway…

I close my eyes and start putting in the work. Hips moving, frustration fading. It’s effective. It’s not perfect. Clouds of judgment keep blocking my view. But as I practice they pass more frequently and stay out of sight for longer.

Out of nowhere my dad emerges through the clothes rack of people behind us, puts his arm around my neck, and proclaims he has a newfound respect for the singer, comparing his style to staple influences (e.g. Allman Bros, Pink Floyd, and Neil Young). A sommelier of music describing the hints, notes, fragrances of the show in front of him. Brick wall of contrast to my own bitterness. Irony. It’s great.


I try to get a setlist afterward and the army of roadies striking the stage straight up ignore me for minutes. Oh well. We buy some water bottles and leave, cursing them and laughing at ourselves.

A Daydream

We kiss and our teeth clink and smash and disintegrate into each other,
collecting below our floating heads in a pile of shared dust.

We walk over this newfound sand, hand in hand.
Eternal desert, endless horizon, two androgynous silhouettes,
without nipples or genitals or mouths,
pursuing the sun on the surface of mars.

I sniff you into me, and your hair is pasta, my mind melted butter.
A good dish, like a big broken-in leather arm chair
in front of a dusty, ray-laden, library window.

Night time and it’s time for the skeletons to dance,
clinking like wooden wind chimes, all high pitched and rain-like.

A waterfall, two feet tall, washes it all away, and the pine trees
wave goodbye as I float by, ready for another serving of now and gravy.

(Untitled)

warm sweaters and tea
scratchy C. Parker trumpet
add some whiskey too

(Untitled)

Beerful and joyful, swaying to live music, dizzy and dimpled.
I open my eyes, and I where’s-waldo you on the same side of a small basement stage.

I’ve seen you before, but only ever as a patron, never as a companion.
Do you wanna be friends?

Do you wanna dance with me and sing with me and remember that, just because you do this vocationally, doesn’t mean you can’t also do it professionally, confessionally, like me, for free.

Ha! Who am I to doubt! Your authenticity was never in jeapordy. You’re a genuine woman, and one who appreciates Neil Young enough to play him, and – let me tell you – that really get’s me going…

So I put my arm around you and say your name, and your dimples are bigger than mine, and I know it’s all gonna be fine, and we swayed together, and you offered your name, and we talked, but what we said didn’t matter, cause I got to look into your eyes and you into mine, and I saw into that mutual moment we both came from.

I stripped myself of my own perverted perceptions of celebrity, and got to talk to you, lady; and that’s special, it’s exceptional, cause while characters are ubiquitous and heroic, authors are elusive and human; those are the people who I’m interested in.

Now I’m laughing, and the music is bathing us, and I wish I would’ve stayed longer, because while your impression has long since been imparted, I’d need time to reciprocate. Being bashful, instead I departed, back to my sister, back to our crowd, back to being dizzy and dimpled. You smiled.

A brief moment shared, and I won’t linger; there’s plenty to do, and see, but that won’t stop me from writing down the memory, or from loving you, lady; and I know you don’t know me, but I dig what you’ve shown me.

You’ll see me again.

Wonderful night.

(Untitled)

Am I tripping or am I oppressed?

Are my desperations the ephemeral result of a missed cup of coffee or are they the bedrock conclusion following a hollow narrative?

Are my motivations arrested by the contents of my schedule or stifled by its arrangement?

What am I missing and where should I be looking for it?

Am I a coward? Or an idiot? Or am I just temporarily tired?

Am I investing? Or am I squandering, supported by superficial status-quo canon?

Am I cranky or am I lucid?

(Untitled)

Faces frozen having forgotten themselves in the blinding sound, a flow born somewhere outside of time and momentarily mastered by a fellow patron of the elusive perfection.

A Place

Feet buried inches under hot sand; ass planted on a reclined beach-chair, slipping between watching the waves and sleeping; the sepia of dark glasses or the bright black back of your eyelids; optional towel over your head, accommodating if you’ve had too much sun or want to sneak a peak at a neighboring surf-bum’s bathing-suit; cold fruit from an ice-filled cooler; slightly salty lips; the refreshing relief of the right drink; and the pleasure of knowing you have nowhere to be for hours, if not days.

Soon…

Some Swiss Haiku

Lying on the shag.
Glass of wine rests next to me.
Music is playing.

Slippery wood floor.
Not quite Spanish music on.
Dance with family.

Wearing the day’s socks.
My feet are getting too hot.
I take my socks off.

Wine, cheese, chocolate.
Chili-con-carne and rice.
Discussing color.

Counting syllables.
Waiting for crepes to finish.
Clouds out the window.

A Poem After Some Wine

I have escaped the matrix and am here to show you the way of past misfortune and current wisdom. Let’s have some fun, for the sake of all that is good and great and good. Trust in the banjo and banter. Revel in the bliss of bluegrass and the banquet of breath and breadth and burden, too. Why not?! WHY NOT, GHAD DAMN IT!? It’s good for you. Take your medicine, you spoiled blood-line of mine. Good times. Good times. Long live The Beatles.

Something From the Journal

A sweet sadness.
Disappointment, not despair.
A realized risk reminding you that the game is real,
and that there’s something substantial on the table.

A proper bet.
A contrast for both future and past accomplishment.

Escapes and excuses avoided for fear of dulling a deserved pain;
a pain that you need to periodically participate in.
A practice that defines priority and provides perspective.

A reminder to be modest, to know pride’s pitfalls.

Embrace it, live in it, then move on.