Archive for August, 2013

The Tower

If you asked Alex why she helped her professor move, she’d probably say, “Well, I haven’t thought about it, exactly”. Then her mind would drift back to the end of class that Tuesday when Professor Fournier, Ms. Anna Fournier, asked the class if anyone wouldn’t mind helping her move into her new apartment that Friday. She’d like, buy them pizza or something. “You guys don’t have to answer now, just come and see me, if you’d like to.”

Alex would say, “I thought everyone would want to. Help the professor and be with her, outside of class. But I was the only one who stuck around and said Sure, I’ll do it.”

Alex took a bus out to Fournier’s soon-to-be former apartment. She expected some kind of philosophical discourse while they moved stuff, and tried to initiate it herself, but Fournier was all about the nitty-gritty basics of moving her this shit into the U-haul van.

“What did I say? Something like, when we were picking up the huge leather sofa, Ms. F do you think us ladies can lift such a big thing? Ironically, of course. The kind of joke Fournier used in class all the time. But no laughter out of her, not even acknowledgment.”

They loaded everything and moved. Loaded everything and moved. Loaded everything- and moved. Three times. By the time they made their last trip, it was 8PM. Alex helped put the bed where it needed to be and moved a few other things in the right rooms.

“It took a while because she wanted everything in the right spot” continues Alex, “She visualized where everything should be while I twiddled my thumbs trying to appear useful wondering if I could leave.”

Finally, finished, Alex collapsed on the leather sofa and Fournier ordered a pizza. While they waited for the delivery guy, Fournier asked Alex to put on some music. Alex looked through Fournier’s Itunes, found The Bends by Radiohead and turned it on. That first watery sound spilled into the room through Fournier’s expensive German speakers. When Alex turned around Fournier was filling an immodest bong with what looked like killer weed.

“I was surprised. But then pleased. That she would smoke with me. That we were smoking together, committing a transgression. And that I got to smoke some weed, plain and simple.”

One hit of that stuff from that thing was all she needed, but they took several.

The pizza guy came, commented on how good the apartment smelled, but wasn’t invited to take a hit. Then Fournier began talking. A lot.

“And then I finally began to relax. Because the whole time previous she was quiet-like. But when she started talking I could settle in, listening to her, eating my pizza, listening to Radiohead, being high. Then, when the song ‘Just’ started, Fournier became filled with enthusiasm.”

Ms. F said, “This whole ecological catastrophe we’re living in can be traced back to a misogynistic dialectic. You have pristine nature, virgin forests, Mother Nature concealing her secrets like some tease, that these phallocentric guys got to probe with their little lab-tools. They treat her like Jezebel, like she needs to be brought under control. Tamed. Groomed and manicured. Dominated and made to produce, made to sub-serve the ends of the Patriarchy. What a croc!”

The pizza was decimated, at this point. Bits of mushroom and globs of tomato sauce covered the cardboard box like a melted face was peeled off the pavement. The chorus echoed inside Alex’s skull:
You do it to yourself
and that’s why it really hurts
You do it to yourself

Alex would say at this point, “My mind could only focus on the lyrics. They made me think about my own shit. The guilt. How all of my problems and pains hurt so much more, it’s true, I do it to myself… No, it can’t be my fault. Not completely… what’s that you’re saying Ms. F? Justa bell? God. Everything she’s saying sounded so abstract. Even she herself looked like a hologram. The only thing that was real in the room were the sound waves of music. God! This is good weed.”

Ms. F kept on saying, “And they think the planet is some kind of cog in a machine, rotating mechanically according to the laws of the universe in a perfect circle. What laws? This planet is a hunk of organic matter wobbling along an elliptical path. The Earth is alive. Plain and simple. Down to the core- it’s an egg. We don’t realize it, that we’re floating in egg-stuff, because air is so transparent. To. But fish would say the same about water, and that’s, you know. Water.”

They both laughed, a lot.

“And even the ozone, or what’s left of it, is more like the yolk of an egg than an empty sky. This whole planet is ovum floating willy-nilly in the Milky Way. Gai-a!!!”

She said it just like that, shouting the ‘a’ like the karate kid. That shout broke whatever tension was in the room into pieces. Stomachs filled, adequately stoned, Anna said, “Check this out.” She dug through one of the cardboard boxes until she found a small wooden box of inlaid wood, done just beautifully, made to show The Tower, like in a Tarot deck.

“Ahh… The Edifice.” She said with a voice of familiarity which Alex grappled to comprehend. “What is it with these guys? They all want to erect their own tower of truth- after tearing down all the other guys’. Descartes, Freud, Locke. Heidegger- the exception- at least he just wanted to tear down the tower of metaphysics, not erect anything of his own. Then again, he made that into a fetish of his own. Haha, what the fuck was I doing? Oh, right.”

the tower

She opened the ornate box. Inside rested a strip of velvet wrapped around two objects. One was a small brass pipe. The other was a mass of what looked like tar, itself wrapped in a crumpled sheet of cellophane.

“Smoke hash before?” Alex shook her head No. Anna picked a chunk of resin with a bent paper clip and dabbed it onto the end of the brass pipe. Then, before lighting it herself, handed it to Alex saying, “Ovum”.

Alex lit up, handed it back. Fournier lit up, handed it back. Back and forth. Back- and forth. Three times.

“Be careful. The pipe gets hot.” Sure enough. The flame on that brass pipe made it hot, almost too hot to hold. Almost. A big Almost because they were determined to smoke all of the hash in that little box with the tower on it.

Alex could say about this period of time little (11PM?) except that, “When I closed my eyes geometric patterns cascaded from the center radiating outwards. And the music was different- French electronica that I don’t remember Anna turning on. And we were laughing and real warm. And close…”

And it happened. First, Anna’s hand was on Alex’s thigh. Next, their lips sealed. Then, there wasn’t philosophical discourse, just the nitty-gritty basics of fucking, heightened by the substances they ingested.

But you wouldn’t ask Alex, because she hasn’t told a soul.

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The Northwest Passage and the Difference Between Rifles and Shotguns, or, How I Learned (relatively) Late to Be Happy With Good News

Once when I was little my grandpa sat me down, grabbed a scrap of blank newspaper and pen. He drew me this:

The Northwest Passage

The Northwest Passage

The vertical line on the right is supposed to be the eastern seabord of North America. The line extending to the left represents the St. Lawrence River. What he was trying to explain was the history of the Northwest Passage. The Northwest Passage (the St. Lawrence) is a river early European explorers believed (hoped) would take them all the way to the Pacific Ocean to their true goal: China. Attempt after attempt failed. Turns out, the St. Lawrence dead ends in the Great Lakes. The Northwest Passage, said my grandpa, isn’t really a passage at all!

In hindsight, things worked out for the Europeans. The cities they built along the impasse- Montreal, Buffalo, Chicago- became the backbone of America and arguably more lucrative than any trade route to China would have been.

But I can identify with the feeling of failure, that the passage you’re taking doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’m talking about my work as a barista. Working at a coffee shop is my ‘Northwest Passage’. My colleagues and I all have ambitions outside the café. We want to make a living writing, acting, designing, playing music. But because of the nature of each of these passions, we have a very difficult time doing so. In the mean time we sling espresso to pay the rent, working off the clock on what we really want to do. The operative statement here is “in the mean time”. We don’t know if we’ll ever break out and be successful enough to be able to devote all our time to our art. We fear, like the early European explorers, that the passage we’re taking doesn’t lead anywhere.

Recently, I had a review at work. Pretty good grades, but the important part of the discussion was about ways I can expand my knowledge and even specialize a little at the café, in the domains of tea and espresso machine mechanics. My boss offered to facilitate this growth. That is, pay me to learn. Good news, right? Oi.

I had a negative reaction to the supposed good news, asking myself what am I doing, how far down this rabbit hole am I willing to go?- Lake Erie, Lake Superior!? If I devote all this time to cultivating myself in the coffee world, it might be a waste of time if it’s not my world after all!

In the past I would have kept panicking, followed by a rash decision. This time, I asked people in my support network what I should do. They said I could apply spiritual principles to the matter. Whatever the hell that meant.

Well, today it happened, things cohered…

There was just one other thing we talked about during my review. My latte art. After 12 months it, well, sucks. I told my boss I have shaky hands. Don’t worry about your latte art, he said, focus on the other stuff. Okay, I told him, I’ll forget about the latte art and not worry about it.

An example of Latte Art (don't be misled to think I drew this; credits to Ms. Cole)

An example of Latte Art (don’t be misled to think I drew this; credits to Ms. Cole)

… I stopped caring about my performance. You can probably guess what happened. I had a break-through. Latte Art. I GET IT. (It’s a felt nonverbal thing.) I’m actually excited to go back to work and practice more. In a sense, I’m getting paid to create.

My grandpa taught me one more lesson, that day with the newspaper. He drew me this.

The Difference Between a Rifle and a Shotgun

The Difference Between a Rifle and a Shotgun

On the top is an image of a rifle. The inside of the barrel of a rifle is grooved like the threads of a screw so as to spin the bullet as it escapes making it more accurate. Like throwing a football with a spiral. The bottom image is of a shotgun. Rather than shoot a single bullet, a shotgun shell expands outward in multiple shots. Obviously, the advantage of this is that if you shoot in the general direction of a target you’ll probably hit it. While the advantage of the rifle, on the other hand, is greater precision, especially at distance.

My mistake was using the shotgun for long term goals. I was trying to figure out all the details of my long-term future, my entire life path, based on pure speculation, all at once. This made me miserable with my lot, unwilling to learn, and afraid of the future. Like a French fur trapper paddling on the beautiful shores of the Mississippi, making himself wretched by dreaming of Chinese silk. All he had to do was realize he didn’t need to go anywhere.

As for the rifle, the target in my future? The willingness to learn. Whatever it is.

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Captive Chicago

open fridge
early morning
cold feet

it’s ok
don’t rush

open my eyes
from meditation
snow drops

a cough from inside
a window
full of plants

she laughs
at me
i don’t know why

old man looks
at a pigeon
walking away

mariachi music
from the tamale vendor

a smile
young man
who knows

a girl
viva la mexico

something popped
a woman laughing
car horn

sad man
expensive car

homeless man
pushing radio

these things
in my room
when i die

flash of light
like a bug

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Nature- not me- Knows Best

My apartment smells like vinegar. That’s a sharp improvement upon four days ago. Four days ago, my apartment smelled like rotting, moldy food. Why? Because there was rotting, moldy food in my apartment. Why? Because I’m trying to raise worms in my apartment. Why? It’s not their fault, I swear!

Jeez. I sound like a co-dependent, rationalizing the worms’ bad behavior. But really, it’s in the literature. “Bad smells are the result of rotting food, not the worms, so always be sure to keep the food covered”. See? It’s not their fault. My bad. I’m supposed to keep the food covered. Wait a minute, why am I trying to raise worms, anyhow?

Two months ago, the idea of getting an indoor worm composting bin landed in my head, and like all unfortunate ideas that end up there, it swirled around for weeks and weeks not going anywhere, bothering me every time it spun around. I thought it was a good idea for two reasons 1) I could put scraps of food in the bin instead of the garbage thus diminishing my negative impact on the environment thus decreasing my guilt thus increasing the size of my ego. 2) I could harvest valuable humus from the bin and add it to my garden.

First, I grabbed the empty worm bin my sister wasn’t using. Then, I did some research, and by research I mean I went to google and typed worms + compost + chicago and picked the most user-friendly looking website that came up. I ordered one pound of worms, that is, a thousand worms, that is BLANK dollars worth of worms. I’m ashamed how much they cost. But you have to keep in mind reasons 1) and 2) – this was such a good idea! I was saving the world (inflating my ego) and contributing nutrient-rich soil to the Earth. OK. $34 bucks and some change.

Moving on… I went to the location listed on the website when my order was ready, which happened to be a multi-functional loft-space in Lincoln Park that does a number of things including but not limited to: yoga, holistic medicine, physical and emotional rehabilitation, gardening classes, worm sales… all top dollar, for the millionaire moms of Lincoln Park feeling sore after carrying too many bunches of organic kale out of Whole Foods. I shouldn’t be mocking them, because apparently it’s my crowd.

Anyway, the woman who sold me the worms was extremely skeptical of my competence, because I peppered her with questions throughout the transaction. Questions like, ‘can I put egg shells in the bin, what can’t they eat, do I need to water them, Oh- they need a paper bedding- what kind of paper bedding???’ Etc. Etc. Maybe she wasn’t skeptical, maybe I was projecting, but she asked me if I knew what I was doing and told me to call if I had any questions. ‘OK’, I said, jamming the worms in my bookbag. My book bag is slender, meant only for a lap top and bike lock. The one pound one thousand count of worms (which, by the way, was wrapped tightly in a purple fabric not unlike the faux-velvet cloth used to wrap Crown Royale) was a wee bit too big so to fit it I pushed down with both fists like I was trying to shut an over-stuffed suitcase for an extended trip to the Bahamas- she screamed, ‘Stop Stop!’ ‘Oh’, I said, ‘I forgot- they’re alive…’

I biked home on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year, thus far. The heat radiating from my back must have put the little package of Crown Royale upto over a hundred degrees when I got home (not good, they like it cool). I prepared the bin as instructed (laid down a layer of shredded paper, watered the worms to wake them up, placed them inside), put in some food (organic, frozen-thawed-pureed kale; god, I’m a Lincoln Park mom), and put on the lid. Nothing. I was struck by the nothingness I felt, after waiting a month for my worms, after getting my great idea.

That first week just happened to be the one heat wave Chicago has had this summer, and I was worried how the worms would fare. The literature said that they don’t do well in temperatures greater than 80˚F. My apartment faces the west, has no air conditioning, and is thus exposed to a brutal sun for the latter half of the day. It’s sweltering. Any word used to describe the weather that has the word ‘welt’ in it, you know it’s bad. So I grabbed a thermometer and tested the environment… 99˚F. I panicked. My worms aren’t going to survive. I need to DO something!

So I decided to install Air Conditioning. According to the A/C literature, “Do not use this appliance for special purposes such as cooling pets, foods, precision machinery, or objects of art”. Worms… I tried to rationalize my way out of it. They’re not pets, per se. But they are definitely a ‘special purpose’. I ignored the literature, installed the A/C, and turned it on full blast. As soon as I smelled the vague chemical smell of Freon I realized the irony of installing an air conditioner in order to preserve my worms… whatever good I’m doing for the environment by having worms is surely being negated by the damage the A/C does to the ozone. There goes reason 1), help the environment, and there goes my inflated ego. Pheeeeeep. (That’s the noise it makes.) Not only that, I develop a dry cough from the dehumidification effect of the A/C and worry daily that the balancing I act I relied on to install the A/C unit will end in tragedy when it plummets three stories below and kills a Mexican Alcoholic. No really, I mean it. There’s a Spanish speaking AA club right below my apartment. (unidad, servico, recuperacion).

I installed the A/C in my kitchen because that was the only place with a window that fit. After two days of having it on full-blast only one room in my apartment is cold, and it’s not the bedroom, not the bathroom, not the bathroom and- most importantly- not the large closet I’m storing the worms in… no, all of those areas are still 90 friggin degrees. But the kitchen. Is. Freezing. But I hesitate bring the worms there, because while it’s cold it’s also the brightest and noisiest room in the house and, according to the literature, those are two things the worms detest about as much as heat. I cut my losses and bring the worms into the one air conditioned room in my apartment, setting them beneath the kitchen table (for added shade), hoping neither they nor the recovering pedestrians beneath me perish.

Having them beneath the kitchen table means every time I sit down to eat and stretch out my legs I kick the bin knocking the poor wrigglers and then (I imagine) they curse, saying to themselves “where the hell are we, on the San Andreas fucking Fault?” because I stretch out my legs at least five times a meal unconsciously and I can’t break the habit despite the fear I have of disrupting my babies, the worms that will soon provide me with 2) choice soil for my garden.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention. The lady at the affluent hippy multiplex said that the worms wouldn’t be making the kind of volume of soil I could actually use for at least three months. That means October, when it’s about time to harvest… there goes reason #2 for why this raising worms is such a brilliant idea.

And I haven’t even got to the vinegar yet! The worst part! To make up for the excess of heat and light and car traffic and periodic kicks of my feet I feed the worms an abundant diet of carrot clippings, apricot pits- organic, of course- and (Metropolis) coffee grounds. The result? Happy worms? No, I over-feed them. The food sits there, time happens, and the then: moldy, stinky food. Which attracts… fruit flies. Hundreds of them.

Everywhere. The first time I noticed it was just a few, hovering around my kitchen. Then when I went to open the bin a swarm of them plumed out and settled on anything remotely edible anywhere in my apartment. I mean on my dishes on my utensils, in and around my garbage, on the counter next to the stove where grease has collected, in the edge of the cap of my olive oil bottle. Everywhere. The dishes thing freaked me out the most, because to the naked eye the dishes were spotless. But I guess even “clean” dishes harbor invisible atoms of food that the fruit flies find damn appealing. Oh, that wasn’t the worst, seeing the tines of a fork covered with fruit flies wasn’t the worst, not compared to waking up and opening up my medicine cabinet and reaching for my toothbrush and seeing with my half-open sleep eyes a dozen fruit flies hovering above the bristles of my tooth brush chewing (apparently) bits of food that used to be in my mouth. I threw it out, of course. But now somewhere in some landfill is a 6 inch piece of plastic that won’t decompose for five thousand years because some 24 year old idealist thought he would save the world by raising worms. Gone, gone, gone is reason #1: help the environment.

‘Pernicious’. Adjective. Latin for destruction + violent death. a) tending to cause serious injury or death: deadly. b) causing great harm: ruinous. c) {archaic} evil: wicked. d) fruit flies. Fruit flies. Are. Fucking. Pernicious. I couldn’t get rid of them. I tried hiding every source of food. I scrubbed my dishes in boiling water. I wrapped my (new) tooth brush in a plastic bag. I took the garbage out twice a day (adding even more plastic in the land fill, adding only even more irony to the situation). I even started putting all my food in the fridge. You think that would stop them, but every time I open the fridge, a lone fruit fly drifts out at half-steam. None of my strategies have worked. Fruit flies, everywhere.

I tried vinegar. You might know about this- vinegar traps. You take a cup or bowl and fill it part-way with vinegar, tightly wrap the top of it with saram wrap, then poke a few holes in the top. Fruit flies go in and can’t come out. To be extra-deadly, add a drop of dish soap to the vinegar to poison whatever flies get in. I did it all. There’s a dozen vinegar traps around my apartment, right now. As you can probably guess, my apartment smells like vinegar. It works, but not against a hundred fruit flies. I see them every morning. Yesterday morning I saw two of them fucking. Fruit flies fuck? Yeah they do. Doggy-style. When fruit flies aren’t spawning mysteriously out of an apple peel, they’re reproducing doggy-style. I killed those two with my fist. As an astute friend remarked, at least they died happy.

But I’m not. I’m desperate. I went back to the worm literature, looking for clues. “[to get rid of fruit flies] Open the lid of the worm bin a little bit and stick a vacuum hose in the top of the bin. The flies will be sucked out of the bin very quickly!” That’s what I’m down to? My attempt to give back to the earth ends with me shoving a tube into a micro-ecosystem and sucking other living beings out into a vacuum. Somehow, that’s my limit. Maybe it’s my unconscious fear of being removed from Earth by aliens or the Godhead and sent catapulting into the vacuum of space, but I’m not going to vacuum the fruit flies out of my worm bin (besides, I don’t have a vacuum, and purchasing one would be just another negation of reason 1) save the environment).

This week, things cooled down. Literally. I was able to turn off the A/C and put the worms back in the dark, quiet closet, away from my swinging feet and the noisy traffic. My plan is to just not feed them for a week. They’ll be okay. The fruit flies will eat whatever food’s left and then hopefully die. The worms will make it, eating all the paper (yes, they can eat paper) on the bottom layer of the bin. I’ll keep up the vinegar trap regiment. Besides, the smell of vinegar isn’t that bad, especially balsamic.

In the end- what am I saying?- this isn’t the end. I’m a month into this and so far the worms are a headache. But it will probably get better. I’ll learn how to put in the right amount of food and they’ll start to make compost. I am, however, still creeped out by feeding them, especially the stipulation that I have to bury the food, that is, I end up touching them. Perhaps the most jarring experience is the sound. A thousand worms make a sound. Maybe I’ll learn to think it’s cute, one day, like you might think it’s cute when your dog farts. But probably not. It’s the same sound that will be when I am in the ground, being eaten by worms, contributing (finally) to the environment in a way none of my actions can.

OK, don’t want to end on that dark note. Vinegar. Mmm vinegar. I’m never going to be able to eat it again.

The end.

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