The definition of luxury

When I first moved to Illinois and made hardly any money, my definition of luxury was the Embassy Suites in Lombard, which you can see from I-88 on your way from Naperville to Oak Brook or Chicago or wherever. There is nothing fancy at all about this hotel, but it's narrow and tall and it has a high domed green roof and the rooms form a ring around the perimeter of a hollow center lined with windows, which is lit up at night in a way that looks glamorous from the road, at least to me. I remember driving past that hotel year after year and thinking, someday I'll come back to this place from somewhere far away and that's where I'll stay, and I'll finally know what it's like to look out from the inside. That's where I stay now, when I visit, and what you can see is I-88, and a shopping mall, and a Chick-fil-A, and some low-lying office buildings, and the last time I stayed there, in May, I saw a car lit on fire on the side of the road.

The definition of luxury is different for everybody, but lately I've come to define it as small tokens of ease: tools or objects that make life better or more pleasurable in infinite, often unremarkable ways. So my idea of luxury these days is:

  • SPF 50
  • A car with air conditioning
  • Air conditioning
  • A car (not "small," but still)
  • Spare rolls of toilet paper in the closet
  • Spare rolls of paper towels in the cupboard
  • Cupboards
  • A spare set of sheets in the closet
  • Closets

Furthest, fairest things

Furthest, fairest things, stars, free of our humbug,
each his own, the longer known the more alone,
wrapt in emphatic fire roaring out to a black flue.
Each spark trills on a tone beyond chronological compass,
yet in a sextant’s bubble present and firm
places a surveyor’s stone or steadies a tiller.
Then is Now. The star you steer by is gone,
its tremulous thread spun in the hurricane
spider floss on my cheek; light from the zenith
spun when the slowworm lay in her lap
fifty years ago.

— Basil Bunting (via Anecdotal Evidence)

Still thinking of Kevin

I'll go to my grave hearing Patti Levin shout "Kevin!" This video title spells it "Kyevan" but I think it's more like "Kh-yev-uhn"—no fewer than three syllables, at least towards the end. 

"Aw, you're on goddamn fire!"

She's so good! I'd almost say they were my favorite couple on the show but I love Nora & Kevin too much to ever make that claim.

What kind of nerd are you

Isn't it nice to know there's something on the internet for everybody? I tried to bail several times but I'm positively hypnotized by this eight-minute wordless video about organizer pouches. I have a thing for containers and a thing for travel goods, plus a thing for organizing, but still. Eight minutes! About organizer pouches! Stunning.

And then we came to the end

A game I like to play lately is called "And then we came to the end," which is just me running through various scenarios that could potentially occur around any given event, big or small (usually small) and winding up with excuses to be lazy. I stole the title from a book by Joshua Ferris, which I read X number of years ago and have since 100% forgotten about (sorry, Joshua Ferris), except for the title, which I still like. Thus my personal game has nothing to do with the book, which is both an important footnote and not, since as I mentioned the two are completely unrelated. 

Anyway. An example of my game goes like this: I'll wake up at 6:30 on a Sunday morning looking like I just woke up at 6:30 on a Sunday morning (empirically not good) and have to decide whether or not to "do" something about that before I walk to Whole Foods. On one hand, it might be nice to address the situation, or at least find some unwrinkled clothes or wash my face, but on the other hand, all of those things take a lot of goddamn time and effort with little to no payoff, from what I can discern, and I'm going to sweat no matter what. So I always hear my mother in my head saying, "You could at least comb your hair," and then my brain, like a five-year-old, automatically says back, "Why?" What's the worst thing that could possibly happen if I don't? Maybe I'll go to the store and bump into somebody I work with, and they'll learn the enormous, long-hidden secret that sometimes I look terrible, but... so what? Will my day be ruined? Doubtful. Will their day be ruined? Even more doubtful. Will I get fired? No. Will I get arrested? No. Will I die? Will anybody else die? Will the world literally come to an end if I refuse to comb my hair before mixing with the masses in front of the freshly misted vegetable selection? NO!?? NOOOOOO.

And if I come to the very end of this "will the world come to an end?" scenario and the answer at every intersection is NOOOOOO, I'll pull on yesterday's sad, wrinkled clothes, and not bother with makeup, and I'll go buy yogurt and trail mix and prosciutto and olives, and I'll know I was right. I did what I needed to do and the world was just fine.

I'm not saying this is a game that will suit everybody, or every situation, or that I even have all the rules down yet (this is just a half-baked blog post, after all, not some academic whitepaper backed by rigorous study), but it can be applied to a lot of things. Like wearing a seatbelt when I get into a car (could I die if I don't? you bet!), or should I go to work this week (will I get fired if I don't? probably!), or will the world end if I don't vacuum or if eat a second piece of bread or care about different things than I used to, or change my mind about others...? (NOOOOO. No, it won't.) It's also a way for someone like me, a boring perfectionist, to relax the rules a little bit around some frankly trivial cosmetic or societal concerns, and find some perspective, and because life is exhausting and hard and when it comes to the truly, deeply unimportant stuff I need to learn how to give myself a fucking break.

p.s. I always do comb my hair, though. It's a real rat's nest up there in the morning.

Family photo

This was taken right before or right after we tossed my Uncle Gary's ashes into a stream, cupful by cupful, hand by hand. It was a beautiful day. We remembered him well, there in the sunshine, surrounded by trees and flowers and birds and the sound of that water, and it felt like a holy thing, at least in the way I understand such things to be: not trapped in a dark place surrounded by strangers, no solemn hymns, no talk of heaven or higher beings, just a simple passage marked by family with kind words and laughter. That's a good life, I think, and not a bad way to leave it.

It was a normal conversation

One of the New York Times’ favorite hobbies is batting down dumb things Chris Christie says about New York City, usually by pointing out that he’s from New Jersey, but also by highlighting the very specific nature of what it means to actually live in New York City.

Normal conversation here, as most New Yorkers know, consists of a garbled public address message that “downtown local trains are making express stops on the local track; for bypassed stations take the uptown express train making local stops on the express track,” followed by unprintable language, followed by someone yelling, “What time is it?” and his friends yelling “It’s show time!” followed by someone saying, “Are you getting a signal?

It goes on for quite a while, and is full of gold: 

In Highbridge Park in Upper Manhattan, Ira and Karen Simon, who moved to the city four years ago, said a normal New York City conversation was often one struck up with strangers.

“We go out of our way to act as an ambassador of the city,” Ms. Simon, 66, a retired teacher, said. Her husband, a retired principal, added, “And then we demand loyalty from them!

And weird gold, uttered by sages:

Andrew Vladeck, 39, who performs as a singing cowboy under the name Hopalong Andrew, said that a “normal New York City conversation,” if such a thing existed, was an attempt to connect — about “a late train, an odd person, an odd smell” — and was characterized by “speaking clearly and directly.”

“It’s not speaking in innuendo or a vague manner,” Mr. Vladeck said.

Of Mr. Trump’s remarks, Mr. Vladeck said, “That wasn’t a New York conversation,” but “more like an Atlantic City conversation, if you get my drift.

This piece is of course accompanied by a photo of Hopalong Andrew, and you should see it.

After The Leftovers

I will miss this show so goddamn much. In the end, the only question it asked—the only mystery—was how do you live your life knowing with 100% certainty that you will lose every single person you love. And the best answer it could give was this: you reach out a hand.

I've thought about this a lot lately, the defining characteristic of my favorite cultural and life endeavors, and I finally figured out that it's "generosity." A generosity of spirit and humor, an openness to asking questions that have not one but a thousand different answers, with each of those answers based on a personal experience, and each relying on a simple shared acceptance of understanding. What can you do but ask someone to trust that what you've experienced in this life is real? How can you express love or communion or faith or courage in any way but "yes"?

p.s. Neil Diamond

p.s. Neil Diamond was "the bomb," as they say in 2008. There was an overlong (and frankly unwelcome) bird interlude somewhere in the middle, staged to a video loop of swooping pigeons 'neath azure skies, along with some number I'd never heard before about a bunch of random people whose only connection to each other was that they were "done too soon." This was essentially a worse version of "You Didn't Start the Fire," itself one of the worst songs in the history of the world, only Neil's list included, for some reason, John Wilkes Booth. Now "done too soon" is the sort of nonsense tautology that could apply to literally every person who has ever walked the earth (you seldom hear "he lived exactly the right number of years" when somebody croaks), except for someone like Hitler or Idi Amin or, of course, John Wilkes Booth. It wouldn't even occur to me that this was debatable. At first I thought perhaps I misheard a lyric, but there was JWB's face in the corresponding montage video, which actually made it worse. And then I wondered why nobody ever brought this up to Neil. It made me concerned for him a little, that he hadn't realized what he was putting down in song was weird and unwise, and that nobody around him thought to mention it. In the end I guess I don't care about it all that much, except for being a thousand percent sure I don't need to hear any of those songs ever again.

Me shouting to Groucho during the bird segment: "This is like a Christopher Cross video."

Groucho shouting back to me circa John Wilkes Booth: "This must have been a low point in his career."

Here's where our faces tell the story of joy, followed by concern and confusion:

I realize I sound pretty harsh, but there was an entire row of very drunk forty-something men and women sitting right behind us who were enthusiastic about Neil Diamond in all the wrong ways, and even though Groucho and The Old Man and I were appropriately behaved, it sort of colored my enjoyment of the whole affair. The lesson here is sure, have your fun, but also don't use that fun in an oppressive and encroaching way—through kicks in the back of the head and non-stop chatter and the repeated middle-aged screeching of the made-up word "beautimous"—to fuck it up for others. I can't even believe I have to type that out loud, but there you have it. 2017.

He did sing all my faves, though, and wrapped it up with "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," which I hope we can all agree is a pure and unfettered force for good in the world.

Rock on! Enjoy your diamonds while you can! etc.