Category Archives: Sprawling Narratives

Long-winded, rambling, or otherwise lengthy.

Biomusicology

I found myself this morning in a scenario I couldn’t have typically pictured myself in, but faced it anyhow:

I was storming – annoyed, livid, call it what you will – towards the office. Nearly three full weeks into the semester, I’ve admittedly grown more than a bit frustrated with small technical issues that keep piling up – no fault of any one party, but constantly there and things haven’t really smoothed out yet. Given the number that I was facing this morning, I was feeling myself start to slip from my traditionally calm mood.

This was compounded this morning by an “ongoing police investigation” that had screwed up service on roughly five subway lines, including mine. This means my usual office walk (four blocks crosstown, one block up) was considerably longer (four blocks crosstown, nine blocks up).

This was also compounded by the fact that [I was wearing a suit](http://www.flickr.com/photos/remydwd/45165255/in/photostream/). Sure, it was for a good reason, but it’s also still damn hot in NYC, and having to walk that far in a constricting suit is far from pleasant.

In total, these three disjoint items had formed a hell of downer. But as always, I found myself pulling myself back together through music. I drowned myself in a sea of unlike sounds: Kanye West transitioned into Clap Your Hands Say Yeah over to Japanese teenagers shouting hip hop onto Bloodhound Gang.

Sometimes, I worry about how much power music holds over me. I am running out of space on a 40 GB iPod, which I didn’t think was possible all those years ago when I started collecting. I fixate on songs, associating them with people, places, times in my life, or moods. I realize I’m not alone in this, that it’s a shared behavior the whole world around; that we all make these connections between the things we do and the things surrounding us when we do them, or the things that remind us of them.

Anyhow – [here’s my song for right now](http://www.tedleo.com/audio/Biomusicology.mp3). Lots of things I needed to hear said.

> Had we never come across the vastness of pavement,
The barrenness of waves and the grayness of the sea;
Never lost, or ne’er been misguided,
We’d have ne’er reached seas so shining —

> Or come from out of a hansom in Camden to a bar in the basement,
While all the while it rained;
Or come around to the friendliest of faces,
Handsomest in ugly places —

> Or come from out of the tunnels we dig in
To see that tunneling’s not living
And working doesn’t work;
Or come to find that loving is labor,
Labor’s life and life’s forever —

> Or come to see that keeping’s not giving,
You get what you’ve given,
You get what you deserve;
And in the midst of all of the action,
Maybe only there found satisfaction…

> Chasing sea-foam dreams around another dirty old town;
Parallel run streams toward the gray ocean from the green ground;
“Oed’ und leer, das meer,” but look beneath the glassy surface —
All the songs you hear: down there they have a purpose.

> All in all, we cannot stop singing,
We cannot start sinking —
We swim until it ends.
They may kill, and we may be parted
But we will ne’er be broken-hearted.

Smell Like This

New York is a city of sensory experiences – sight, touch, taste, sound, and particularly smell. I’ve grown to simultaneously love and hate the city for its smells; loving the delicious (the Greek bakeries in Astoria, the various shishkabob carts, the flowers and trees of the Upper East Side) and hating the ridiculous (the disgusting odor in the 51st St. subway underpass from the downtown 6 to the E/V; anything that smells like urine).

Last week, while at work, I started to notice a very faint but familiar scent. I have become used to strange smells near my desk, as there’s a vent above it which is constantly blowing crap into me with smells ranging from “barbecue” to “gasoline”. However, this was a new one – cherry (and I use the term “cherry” only very loosely) scented urinal cake. For those who don’t use urinals, this may be a foreign smell, but in brief: nice in a 5 second dose once a week, not nice for prolonged exposure.

I compared olifactory notes with other co-workers, and I seemed to have been the only one who noticed it. This only increased the annoyance level of the smell, because it made me wondering if my nose was on some sort of hallucinatory drug.

Today, however, as I was working and going to throw something out, I actually looked down into my trash can and noticed a very pink mini-gumball sized pellet. It looks like a piece of urinal cake. I looked through the transparent trashbag – there were more underneath, near the other trashbags. (Our janitorial staff likes to load up multiple trashbags at once to save time later.) I leaned down to take a small whiff. Sure enough, my nostrils were assaulted with the scent of fake cherry.

So now I knew the source. But why was I the only one smelling it? I went to another trash can nearby – sure enough, more pink pellets. And then it occured to me – there are three trashcans in immediate proximity to my desk. More than anyone else in the room. I’m not hallucinating, I’m just getting triple the dosage level of sanitation.

I do the only thing I know how to do when faced with bizarre and surreal working conditions: complain. I tell our administration. I tell my co-workers. Everyone else suddenly notices that hey, the room *does* smell like a urinal cake. Questions are asked as to what the hell our janitorial staff is thinking. I start to consolidate the pellets near my desk into one trash can instead of two – this backfires, however, as it exposes many more pellets to the air as I remove a trash bag.

Meanwhile, in a part of my body disconnected from most of this affair, my stomach decided it was lunch time, and insisted I get a wrap from the cafeteria. I oblige it, and then – without much thought – plop back down at my desk to eat the tasty wrap.

Sometime after I finish ingesting, my nose starts communicating with my stomach, telling it the story of the past few hours in much of the same way I’m retelling it to you now. My stomach decides it would be fun to mix the smell with the digestion process.

I immediately get sick to my stomach. I leave work an hour early, come home, crash out for a two hour nap, and completely fuck up my sense of time.

Long story short: Urinal cakes have now joined the list of smells I cannot stand.

Leaky

When I was a young boy
I wanted to sail around the world
That’s the life for me, living on the sea
Spirit of a sailor, circumnavigates the globe
The lust of a pioneer, will acknowledge
no frontier

Back when I lived in Trumansburg, between my tender years of 9 (early 1990) and 21 (mid-2002), I lived in an old house on some farm land. The house was surprisingly modern compared to the barn structures that occupied some of the remaining 19 acres of land, but it had it’s, shall we say, quirks.

One of these quirks was that directly above the kitchen was one of the two attics we had. Squarely placed above the kitchen in said attic was a window that didn’t particularly like to stay closed. The winter in the Finger Lakes region is, of course, a merciless thing, and so we’d often get pounded with snow from November through April. Systematically, snow would get into the attic, sit there in a perfectly content state until the weather warmed up, and then using the powers of thermodynamics, melt. The melted water would then realize the party was downstairs, flow through the now well-worn wooden floor of the attic, and inevitable start dripping rapidly out of the light fixtures in the kitchen.

This happening once is shocking; twice is creepy; but enough times to lose count over twelve years makes it sadly mundane.

I remember you by, thunderclap in the sky
Lightning flash, tempers flare,
`round the horn if you dare
I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Lucky just to keep afloat

While in college, I found myself gathering my monetary might with nine friends to collectively rent a house senior year. The house at 133 North Quarry was pretty nice, all things considered – ten bedrooms, two kitchen plus an extra fridge, three bath. But like any house, especially in a college town, it had some “quirks”, to put it nicely.

The most notable one, at least as a one-time thing, was that when it started raining one night, we discovered a leak in the roof of the house. It was only a small leak, and ran down the wall of the person who’s bedroom it opened into on the third floor. What we weren’t expecting was that it then managed to carry on through the floor and down the bedroom wall of the person directly below them. What we weren’t expecting further still was this to occur again, leaving a trail of water going from the third floor all the way down to the first.

Aotearoa, rugged individual
glisten like a pearl
At the bottom of the world
The tyranny of distance
didn’t stop the cavalier
So why should it stop me
I’ll conquer and stay free

By this point, I think the story is kind of obvious in path, but let’s continue regardless.

Last night, around 11 PM, I’m sitting at my desk and notice a slightly repeated tapping sound coming from the bathroom. Slow, maybe once every ten seconds. I chalked it up to the heaters, which were just turned back on to accommodate the unusually cold April weather.

But in what was almost no surprise at all, when I went into the bathroom half an hour later when the click again bothered me (GET IT?!), I found a few drip points in the ceiling. Most of them were heading into the trash can, which was a hugely lucky break, but there was the larger issues. What was the cause? How can I fix it in the short term? Had someone moved my chair?

We still had some caulk kicking around the apartment, so I tried my hand with that. I have learned a number of valuable lessons from this:

  • Trying to caulk over something that’s already leaking is mostly futile.
  • Trying to caulk at the right angle of a wall while it’s leaking is even more futile.
  • Caulking a leaking right angle while wearing dark blue dress pants is a fantastic way to ruin said pants.
  • Any sort of futile experience with caulk will remove the portion of your sense of humor that finds it amusing that “caulk” sounds remarkably like “cock”.

I went to bed around midnight, mostly exhausted but also crossing my fingers that the jury rigged buckets, towels, and badly applied caulk would hold long enough to get to the morning when I could alert the landlords as to the problem.

Ah c’mon all you lads
lets forget and forgive
There’s a world to explore
tales to tell back on shore
I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Six months in a leaky boat

Luckily enough, it did hold for the most part. Sadly, new leak points developed elsewhere – not strong enough of a leak to flood anything, but enough to give the room that lovely faint smell of leaking water.

After failing to get in touch with the daughter of the landlords – who speaks perfect English and is usually our go-to on issues with the apartment – I went to the landlords directly and hit our standard language gap. English is limited to “problem”, “sorry”, “they come”, and “okay” and similar one word directives; most of the Spanish is too quick for me to run a base-level comprehension on; the common ground is gesturing and confused looks. Eventually I lead them to the apartment and showed them the problem, but they in fact already sort of knew; the leak appears to be on the second floor of the house, which means it would’ve dripped through them as well.
In the time it’s taken me to bat out this post, I’ve heard the repeated banging on pipes, and my checking every 15 minutes has showed at this point, the leaking appears to have stopped. I would imagine I’ll have to leave the pots out for the rest of the day, just in case. Katie’s going to come home early to check it all so I don’t have to burn all my personal hours today.

The real problem now is that every little crack and creak I hear, my gaze immediately shifts as I hunt feverishly to make sure there’s no new leak, especially not in any of the main rooms. Keep your fingers crossed for Buttons that he can keep this place together while I’m at work.

Ship-wrecked love can be cruel
Don’t be fooled by her kind
There’s a wind in my sails
Will protect and prevail
I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Nothing to it leaky boat.

P.S. Sixx Mixx 84 – Lowering The Barriers Of Individuality And Personality To Liberate You From The Burden Of Consciousness Edition is out.

You Must Choose Between Pain Or Drudgery

It’s been over six years since I last read my favorite book passage to anyone. This will be familiar to only a handful of people I still talk to – for the rest of you, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


“I’ve got an end of the world story,” says Dag, finishing off the remainder of the iced tea, ice cubes long melted. He then takes off his shirt, revealing his somewhat ribby chest, lights another filter-tipped cigarette, and clears his throat in a nervous gesture.

The end of the world is a recurring motif in Dag’s bedtime stories, eschatological You-Are-There accounts of what it’s like to be Bombed, lovingly detailed, and told in deadpan voice. And so, with little more ado, he begins:

“Imagine you’re standing in line at a supermarket, say, the Vons supermarket at the corner of Sunset and Tahquitz — but theoretically it can be any supermarket anywhere — and you’re in just a vile mood because driving over you got into an argument with your best friend. The argument started over a road sign saying Deer Next 2 Miles and you said, ‘Oh, really, they expect us to believe there are any deer left?’ which made your best friend, who was sitting in the passenger seat looking through the box of cassette tapes, curl up their toes inside their running shoes. And you sense you’ve said something that’s struck a nerve and it was fun, so you pushed things further: ‘For that matter,’ you said, ‘you don’t see nearly as many birds these days as you used to, do you? And, you know what I heard the other day? That down in the Caribbean, there aren’t any shells left anywhere because the tourists took them all. And, haven’t you ever wondered when flying back from Europe, five miles over Greenland, that there’s just something, I don’t know — inverted — about shopping for cameras and scotch and cigarettes up in outer space?’

“Your friend then exploded, called you a real dink, and said, ‘Why the hell are you so negative all the time? Do you have to see something depressing in everything?’

“You said back, ‘Negative? Moi? I think realistic might be a better word. You mean to tell me we can drive all the way here from L.A. and see maybe ten thousand square miles of shopping malls, and you don’t have maybe just the weentsiest inkling that something, somewhere, has gone very very cuckoo?’

“The whole argument goes nowhere, of course. That sort of argument always does, and possibly you are accused of being unfashionably negative. The net result is you standing alone in Vons checkout line number three with marshmallows and briquettes for the evening barbecue, a stomach that’s quilted and acidic with pissed-offedness, and your best friend sitting out in the car, pointedly avoiding you and sulkily listening to big band music on the A.M. radio station that broadcasts ice rink music down valley from Cathedral City.

“But a part of you is also fascinated with the cart contents of the by-any-standards-obese man in line up ahead of you.

“My gosh, he’s got one of everything in there! Plastic magnums of diet colas, butterscotch-flavored microwave cake mixes complete with their own baking tins (ten minutes of convenience; ten million years in the Riverside County Municipal Sanitary Landfill), and gallons and gallons of bottled spaghetti sauce…why his whole family must be awfully constipated with a diet like that, and hey — isn’t that a goiter on his neck? ‘Gosh, the price of mlk is so cheap, these days,’ you say to yourself, noting a price tag on one of his bottles. You smell the sweet cherry odor of the gum rack and unread magazines, cheap and alluring.

“But suddenly there’s a power surge.

“The lights brighten, return to normal, dim, then die. Next to go is the Muzak, followed by a rising buzz of conversation similar to that in a movie theatre when a film snaps. Alredy people are heading to aisle seven to grab the candles.

“By the exit, an elderly shopper is peevishly trying to bash her cart through electric doors that won’t open. A staff member is trying to explain that the power is out. Through the other exit, propped open by a shopping cart, you see your best friend enter the store. ‘The radio died,’ your friend announces, ‘and look–‘ out the front windows you see score of vapor trails exiting the direction of the Twentynine Palms Marine base up the valley, ‘–something big’s going on.’

“That’s when the sirens begin, the worst sound in the world, and the sound you’ve dreaded all your life. It’s here: the soundtrack to hell — wailing, flaring, warbling, and unreal — collapsing and confusing both time and space the way an ex-smoker collapses time and space at night when they dream in horror that they find themselves smoking. But here the ex-smoker wakes up to find a lit cigarette in his hand and the horror is complete.

“The manager is heard through a bullhorn, asking shoppers to calmly vacate, but no one’s paying much attention. Carts are left in the aisles and the bodies flee, carrying and dropping looted roast beefs and bottles of Evian on the sidewalk outside. The parking lot is now about as civilized as a theme park’s bumper cars.

“But the fat man remains, as does the cashier, who is wispily blond, with a bony hillbilly nose and translucent white skin. They, your best friend, and you remain frozen, speechless, and your minds become the backlid NORAD world map of mythology — how clichè! And on it are the traced paths of fireballs, stealthily, inexorably passing over Baffin Island, the Aleutians, Labrador, the Azores, Lake Superior, the Queen Charlotte Islands, Puget Sound, Maine … it’s only a matter of moments now, isn’t it?

“I always promised myself,’ says the fat man, in a voice so normal as to cause the three of you to be jolted out of your thoughs, ‘that when this moment came, I would behave with some dignity in whatever time remains and so, Miss–‘ he says, turning to the clerk in particular, ‘let me please pay for my purchases.’ The clerk, in the absence of other choices, accepts his money.

“Then comes The Flash.

“‘Get down,’ you shout, but they continue their transaction, deer transfixed by headlights. ‘There’s no time!’ But your warning remains unheeded.

“And so, just before the front windows become a crinkled, liquefied imploding sheet — the surface of a swimming pool during a high dive, as seen from below —

“And just before you’re pelleted by a hail of gum and magazines —

“And just before the fat man is lifted off his feet, hung in suspended animation and bursts into flames while the liquefied ceiling lifts and drips upward —

Just before all of this, your best friend cranes his neck, lurches over to where you lie, and kisses you on the mouth, after which he says to you, ‘There. I’ve always wanted to do that.’

“And that’s that. In the silent rush of hot wind, like the opening of a trillion oven doors that you’ve been imagining since you were six, it’s all over: kind of scary, kind of sexy, and tainted by regret. A lot like life, wouldn’t you say?”