Tuesday, December 28, 2004

chapter 2: north, then home

“Sneaking out” was a phrase his mother used to describe suspicious activity in the dark. Despite its origin, this phrase now defined the loose and shifting realm of stolen night time to Marcus. Sneaking was a fair description of the adrenaline and silence of car-pushing, door-closing, and stair-climbing. And the rest of the night was definitely Out. Sneaking out was done so often now that it had become his primary life, with school and day being a hazily remembered back side spent in anticipation, writing letters, obeying rules and napping.

It’s getting dark now, slight orange and red to the west spreading over to the east and becoming deep blue-violet. The highway is a line bisecting this, I-35 going north northeast, bowing slightly, pulled by the city’s gravity. The highway is an extruded no-man’s land, lofted above everyday life, deadly. He went to New York one time on a band trip and found the whole city occupied. Not even an alleyway to escape the dense crush of eyes and ears and feet covering every square inch with gum and trash and spit and view. He found the most interesting spots the cracks between boarded up windows, the sliver of dark just visible beyond the curve of the subway tunnel, the areas no-one can see, spaces that live alone with themselves, the rest of the city a floodlit exterior, occupied and known.

Marcus likes the shoulder of the highway, gravel and weeds untouched like the moon, likes to stop, wants to stop, but the minute he loses his velocity his power is gone and the other cars can see him, strobelit, naked. Velocity is the frontier of the highway, the texture of the road elongated by speed into a barrier that nothing can cross, a million cars a million isolated pockets of air drifting in space.

They used to go out at three or four on K-10, and pick an offramp, seldom used and isolated, turn left and drive down a country road, perpendicular and away from this extruded civilized frontier, into nothing farmland. They would turn out the lights and drift slowly through clouds of insects with the windows open, no longer a vehicle but part of the landscape now, a moving component counterweighting the delicate trees and fences, ditches and grass that stretched out for miles, rolling beneath the wheels. Everything was the same color, a graphite that reflected like pewter and fell away to infinity. A firefly would strike the windshield and leave a green fluorescent smear that would slowly fade to shining grey. At some point you would have to stop, because the only way back is the way you came, retracing your exact path, being pulled back home as if by a string, by gravity. But the stops were the best part of the trip, the infinite point of rest at the apex of the pendulum’s swing, spent in the backseat.

In the dark, all space is negative, the void filled at points by headlights and billboards and rhythmic yellow and black lines, the occasional green roadsign fluorescing into existence in the corner. One is supposed to pay attention to billboards, but more interesting is the space below and around, scaffolding and eaves, with shadows of every imaginable shape. Marcus has a friend that explores this interstitial space, finds clearings and vistas and overhangs and long winding stairways, with inches of dust and soot and spraypaint everywhere. Spraypaint is dust thrown out of a can with glue to stick it to a wall. Some warehouse somewhere is filled with barrels filled with color.

One of these places is dead center of three monolithic silver office towers, a fountain and steps and a few sickly plants, up a few feet, like an altar for necktied sacrifices. It’s busy enough during the day but in the middle of the night it’s alive by itself- the water is still on and light music still plays from hidden grilles, music just for crickets and empty cigarette packaging. Marcus likes spaces like this, like the highway, better at night, with yellow and blue sodium lighting that vibrates only barely, adding waver and strobe to everything, and a hum that is always just inside of your ear, to the back and right.

The car is moving in a river of positive space created by the road and light, a puddled space that spreads to enclose all available road, sidewalks and parking lots and garages, the asphalt and the blueyellow overhead light symbiotic. From overhead you don’t see the light directly, only the rounded grids of illumination, the darkest areas complete voids. One never sees people or even cars moving in the lit asphalt lots, everything is arrested by light, frozen and static, watched. As a child Marcus used to think of vision being like beams of seeing coming out from his eyes, grabbing objects and making him aware to them. But it’s the opposite—his eyes are passive receivers of the controlling beams thrown by hooded towers.

Locations were always paired by a journey, ends of a string. Home to diner, diner to her place, out of the car hidden across the street and through the door to her bed, making the smallest of noises as moving parts unstuck and stuck again. But it was the string that kept memory, the journey the shape of the car’s interior stretched across fifty miles, tiny orange buttons red dials and the white headlights turning into glowing threads that follow every curve and bump in the road. And everything else charcoal. The car was an aging BMW near to death, with round headlights that were identifiable from two blocks away, as he waited on the corner in a chilled sweatshirt.

The highway splits away to the left and he follows, pulled by the dive into a deep crevice unnaturally vertical, dynamited. The road curves and gives way to another notch and this time he goes right, perhaps north, now cut loose of the infinite grid of Cartesian reality. It is dark here, streetlightless, and he turns the stereo off to better hear the car as it displaces the air, creating eddies and winds. Suddenly, it becomes a street with houses and shops and delicate curbs coded with parking information. Detail is revealed in the lightest of grey shading, the neighborhood the lightest of pencil tracings on black paper.

He stops here, pulls into a diagonal striped space, a notch for his car. This is the point of rest before swinging back. He stops because you always stop. He gets out, feeling the cut of the wind unaugmented by grille or glass. The transfer is from a cocoon of warmth and quiet white noise to one of cold and almost silence, with a faint whistle.

The street goes like this: window-sidewalk-curb-parking-asphalt-parking-curb-sidewalk-door. The street is a room open at the top, traveling for miles in each direction. He starts to walk in the direction he has been traveling, as if pushed by his car’s former velocity. The chill is felt on his cheeks and eyes and ears. The road is so deserted he begins peopling it with memories, friends and people from school, remembering previous drives and how they ended. The memory is a piece of steel that keeps his spine stiff, gently humming at the back of his skull, pushing his head rigidly forward. The memory is numb.

Holy shit it is cold, his coat feels like saran wrap, and thought is impossible. He gets back in the car but does not turn it on. He and the car are the same color as everything else. His coat and the car are thin carapaces that mimic the street and sky, layers in an infinite cocoon, of which he is a homogenous core. He pushes gently and turns and the car shakes alive, producing color and sound. Heat and light and movement, all related in an intangible way.

Marcus grasps the lever and maneuvers the car to face back home. He has a good idea where he is and the journey is a glowing string in front of him, a channel of vistas revealed in gentle curve. Now, with a destination, expedience takes hold and the whole route makes itself known at once, a clear shape in his mind.

Someday these trips will make sense; they’ll have a purpose and a place and everything will work together, he’ll be like an arrow in flight, fired at a high trajectory but uncertain in its target.

Back onto the highway, like a rail this time, why do people even need to be here, you just need to keep the wheel steady and the pedal down. The lights sweep the inside of his car rhythmically, his car motionless with waves of light cascading.

There will be a home, a center that is his, dents that are his, scratches created by his hand. The door will make a noise that is his and he will know this. This is a city that is big but not intimidating, cold in the winter and hot in the summer, dry when he wants it and with huge broadleaf trees reaching towards windows.

When he was a kid the places he was driven were isolated pockets of concrete-plastic newness in a sea of farmland. Then one day he climbed a hill and saw felled trees for a mile in every direction, curved streets and cul-de-sacs already etched in the ground. The huge grids of farmland fragmented and preserved in pockets, recreated as a backdrop for picture windows, only visible from a single angle, like a diorama.

There is some adult place out there with the same raw excitement as the spaces beyond his childhood back fence, and he will find it, show it to his children, a mediated frontier that is not alone but alive, created somehow by occupation. And all around them the grids of asphalt containing these pockets, waiting.

He crests a hill and passes a low rock wall and then he is home, through the big door for the car and then a smaller one, into the ticking woodframed home quiet. Marcus doesn’t want to stop, everything has ended so quickly and he still has some potential energy to spend, his mind racing to compensate for his still body.

There is a schism between the life he likes and the life available, a schism of quality. There is nothing of that childhood space, that stolen time, in any job or home he knows, but it has to be out there, there is something real waiting in the just beyond his view, and it’s only a matter of time before he finds it. He can see his life from a satellite, the regular grids with a twisting path among them, and it’s amazing how much is flattened, how most of what matters is an invisible texture from this scale.

In the house, beyond the sound of the house cooling and shrinking, there is white noise, air pushed off of cars a half a mile away, transmitted across the valley and through the cracks in the window to his ears. He knows what is out of view, over the fence, it is schematically clear to him because he has been there, and will go there tomorrow, after he sleeps.

Monday, December 06, 2004

chapter 1: south

Marcus starts the drive by a right and then a left, a quick lateral jog that maintains a straight southern course. The streets here are compass-true, each crossroads making two lines that perfectly quarter the earth. Longitude is not the same as latitude, to understand the horizontal bands one has to tilt their head until it is parallel with the equator—twenty two degrees, understanding this infinite plane that slices the earth like an orange, revealing the fact that this entire town was created at some bizarre angle to Cartesian reality.

The drive begins with large houses on small lots, crowded together, maximum isolation, maximum comfort, maximum efficiency, cost completing this equation, the envelope of each house swelling and contracting until an optimum figure is reached, freezing it in its thin stone and wood frame. Traveling south the houses get smaller and the land gets bigger, as if each structure bleeds itself to create more space. There are more hills out here—or maybe you just see them more readily, as the land takes control over structure and yellow fields surpass green trees and grass under the blue-white spotted sky. The air is cool and the wind is light, and if he puts the heater on the windows and sunroof can stay open to the air.

In a satellite photograph a car is a tiny dot, maybe you can tell the color but not any real detail, not how old the occupant is or if they have friends in the back seat. Driving has the same perspective to Marcus, everything flattened and reduced to coordinates and flash-frozen at every present moment. Driving was a series of thin slices, like that fat criminal in his highschool biology book that they’d cut like deli meat and splayed out on glass. On the highway at night he would pass by a hotel, and if you looked at the right moment, knew the sightlines, you would see lobby coke machines on every floor out the windows for an instant, the building bisected by a dashed red line. Driving was about tangents, the orbit of a satellite was made of an infinite series of straight lines, with the Earth always pulling at a right angle. The way an object changes shape as you go by it, everything lining up for an instant and then spinning away, it’s perspectival moment spent and gone.

He looks to the side as a bean field passes by, the field opening up as the planting’s row lines point into his eyes, and growing more opaque to the sides until it is a thick yellow blur. It is a moirĂ© that is the result of roundness, light falling at from every angle, but all of the light his eyes receive was pointed straight at his pupils, a sphere of particles bombarding his face at every possible now. The roof of the Volkswagon is reflecting the sun, creating a vertical column of light at a constant angle from the two o’clock sun, perhaps briefly illuminating the interior of some passenger plane, a cloud, or the moon.

The streets change surface from smooth asphalt to a rougher, potholed variety, one without markings and curbs, and this gives way to gravel. One moves to avoid the dust that one creates, constantly running from a white cloud in your rear window. There is a crunching sound from the tires, and Marcus likes to gun the gas and jerk the wheel to send the rear of the car swinging back and forth, until things turn uncomfortable. He stops for a train and watches it go past, slower than his car but massive beyond belief, and long string of inertia, its contents heavy and elemental. He can see in between each train for a moment, as the linkage passes in front of the car. If he took a picture at night, holding the shutter open, the whole train would become blur, semitransparent in the middle, revealing the road that points infinitely South.

Marcus lives in a house that goes like this: street-yard-wall-house-yard-fence-trees-ditch-path-stream-path-trees-field-highway-street-hill-horizon. Sitting in front of his rear window he feels like a suburban talk-show host, an animated diorama with tiny cars and trees behind him, framed and finite. As a child he could see the cars on the highway, especially at night, when he had to go to bed with people still rocketing by, audible even under the covers out of view inside his bed. The highway pushing sound over the gully, through his walls, around corners and deep into his ears, keeping him wide awake late, staring at his glowing red clock, waiting for it to have been long enough to get up and look. Occasionally his parents would take that road and he would desperately look out the window for a glimpse of his house through the trees, the house staring back, diminished and monochromatic.

On a dirt shoulder, it is time to stop. He turns the key and the car rattles to a close, shuddering gently as the aluminum cylinders transmit their force to the frame. The car is a decaying Volkswagon of middle age, red and sagging. Every mechanism in the car seems provisional, voluntary—the clutch or the radio or the seat belt all have an equal chance of working at any one time. The car had survived water, heat, cold, and time, expanding and shrinking until it lost any produced monolithic quality, but was merely a loose matrix of glass, vinyl, and metal. The car was alive, had lost the quality of product and had been consumed by the chaos and decay of the world around it. Gravel stuck in the tires and tiny flecks of white primer showing where the hood had been struck. He periodically filled the car with clear golden oil which it then quickly turned black and proceeded to slowly distribute over the road as he drove. Transmission fluid is a greasy red and radiator fluid, antifreeze, is a smooth neon green. There is water in antifreeze—water in his car.
His insomniac childhood nights, spent staring coldly at the blue/white wallpaper or creating patterns in the textured ceiling three feet from his face, lofted in the dark, his brother gone from the bed below to another room. Sometimes his father would come home late, the headlights briefly creating a sweeping illumination on the ceiling and walls as the car mounting the curb. The light always moved across his room in exactly the same way. His father would come upstairs and Marcus would pretend stiffly to sleep, modulating his breathing as he recieved a sandpaper kiss goodnight. The room always the same dark blue and grey, with the same warm light from behind the door, sneaking out of the cracks.

He stops for a second, enjoys the absence of sound, the void a negative shape, cast, the mold created by constant engine and gravel noise broken suddenly and gone. There are trees along the south edge of this westerly road, and to the other side a smooth bean field. His white cloud has overtaken him. This is not lost enough, and because he is alone and young, Marcus says it out loud: “this is not lost enough.” He isn’t trying to get lost, but it sounds good, like a movie. His voice sounds thin and small stuck between the dust, sun, and car. He gets back in, shakes the Volkswagon awake and turns around, east, to find the highway.

marcus and driving

It's been a while, but I've been working on something longer, a short story based on a previous posting. I'll post it chaper-by chapter below...

Sunday, November 21, 2004

analysis and art are all about making too much of something until it becomes sovereign and not a part of our world

There's a store at the ground floor of "my building," my building being the place were I rent a room to sleep and eat and write and think in from some nice guys down the street from my building. Anyway, this store is an antique store. The definition of "antique, from my perspective, seems to have expanded in scope. There is plenty of stuff in there from my parents' childhood, not all of it of exemplary craftsmanship or original character. According to the shows on PBS, historical character is the primary quality of an antique, so given this critereon I suppose everything in there is equal in antique-ness.

Antiques, then, are a physical embodiment of the power of nostalgic memory. They are a self-organising entity that is valued and moved according to the collective needs of people from bygone generations. As a child I loved chemistry sets and books on weather, so I can't help but think of aggregate activity as a simple application of physics, a placement of energy to create turbulence above. This energy, nostalgia, is like heat applied to the bottom of a pot that makes eddies and bubbles, bringing the contents of everyones attics and closets and junk drawers to a boil, forcing dusty items out of storage and across state lines to be sold again and again and again, because this stuff has no worth except in its aggregate possession and its sale. The item itself, cherished beyond any worth at the time of purchase and documented to ludicrous detail, a swarm of information in itself, yet having a center of gravity that, despite its internal forces, moves in a predictable parabolic path onto a shelf blue-white with halogen illumination from track lighting delicate and powerful. This worldlike item, driven by nostalgia, moves in a chaotic path from hand to hand, but once again the aggregate motion of thousands of these items is self-contained and shaped, like a thunderhead or the motion of milk dropped into hot tea.

This is like a blackboard sketch, however, in that the source energy- nostalgia- has been oversimplified, purified into a single symbol, the subject surpressed so the object can be the center of attention. The precise attachment of value to these scattered items is in itself the distillation of thousands of types of attention, a simple operation in itself: take the collected thoughts of every person on the globe looking at this object, average them, and price that thought. And this happens. It happens without anyone in charge. The heat of nostalgia creates its own valuation, because these objects are moved by and for their value. Nostalgia and value are inseperable, the same as energy and heat. From a digrammatic point of view nostalgic memory exists then to create motion, not to freeze things at a single point in time. It exists to uproot, to re-contextualize, to constantly reevaluate, devolves into hawking and haggling, and dissipates into apathy. These items of collective affection are passed around, the lifeblood of this organism, until the vibration and heat of their motion turns them into the dust that coats closets and attics.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

another outline to someone else's complete thought

There's been a lot of talk recently about bottom-up vs. top-down. In everything. I like this false dichotomy more than most, but it seems that there's a lot of middle ground to be missed. Authorship is also an issue. As far as I get it, this can be used as yet another way to bridge the gap between Derrida and architecture: take the site, context, or any other pattern, invented or real, to substitute for the text. A "bottom-up" approach would then be to deal with this field condition through folds/warps/seams/what-have-you to produce Architecture. This is roughly synonymous with a literary critique. But, while text is a fairly even field, this is less applicable in architecture. Thus, the first real step- before you can work from this field, first you have to invent it. This makes the actual process of complication/critique reductive instead of revealing; to critique one's own creation is inherently to simplify through theme. Or, if not, it's just the first step again, invention, which is not really bottom-up, now is it? These "field conditions" lack the richness of context and ubiquity of existence that allows the lateral slide of associations Derrida was so enthralled with. There is no lateral slide in architecture; the goal of the process is to obfuscate until no readings can be made at all (which, strangely enough, may be a parallel to the literary critique in itself.)

I have just described contemporary theory as both oversimplistic and obfuscating, which, I suppose, makes it fascist. This seems like a rather extreme position to take, so I think I'll back away from this avenue and sleep on the mess I just made.

Monday, November 15, 2004


There's an unavoidable affinity between suburban teens and automobiles. I'm no exception; I tolerate air travel. I enjoy trains and boats. But I am absolutely reliant upon the experience of driving. I love to drive, and I was an absolute addict in high school. There were drives on Sunday, drives after school and long drives in the summer. There was driving at night. I would take my car South, as the houses gave way to farms and gravel roads, bean fields and dead trees and old barns and men with guns. I would stop and look around. I would circle back and enjoy the same sight from behind. I would take myself North, along the highway and then down an unfamiliar exit, into a dim deserted street with no sound and wind that makes your ears hurt with cold and noise. The windows down and the heater on. I would stop and eat. I would get lost. I would drive until I was tired, stop and sleep. I would read signs out loud and sing. My stereo was alive- speakers cut in and out at will, and the volume was never constant. The music was ragged and loud.

My car was a decaying Volkswagon of middle age, a transitional vehicle that didn't know if it was a sedan or a sports car or a piece of junk. Every piece of equipment was voluntary, was provisional, was optional-- the clutch was as likely to work as the power windows. It had survived water, heat, cold, and time. It was more this way- it broke down so often and in so many ways I couldn't see it as monolithic, but as a series of parts that only fit loosely together. The dashboard was like a Watts tower of plastic and lights, cobbled together, solid but cracking and full of memory and with a living mass underneath. The trunk was a smorgasbord of past events- I could play guitar or put on a hat or change a tire.

This was not a tool of independence-- or rather, not solely. It was a tool of community, a facilitator of conversation. More importantly, when stopping for long behemoth trains or turning the lights off and looking at the sky or hearing the gravel crunch and the engine as the only sound for miles, it was a constant reminder of the size of the world in relation to this capsule of velocity, the fact that horizons always exist everywhere.

cowboy boots are the coolest

I'm going to beat this dead horse one last time. The reason I'm dividing things this way, using the "scalpel of criticism" to cut away everything I declare to be a stage set, is that I always worry that I'm living my life that way. It seems to me that being true to oneself and living in a straightforward manner without regard to opinion may not make you a saint, but internal coherence has a certain beauty. As I tend to obsess over others' opinions, creating an image of coherence seems to be easier than making my own path. The probem is that the seams in this costume are very apparent, and the overall shape is still not very convincing. This kind of feeling for structure applies to everything in my life-- I see almost everything as the result of internal branching and guided growth or a hasty attempt at facade-building. This is probably overly simplistic, but it allows quite a bit of healthy outrage. Sorry for the soapboxing, I will now return to sanity.

more about cowboy boots

Again on the subject of internal coherence- I need to split hairs further on the issue of "real" versus "simalcrum." I'm treading on thin ice here, as these are loaded nouns. So I'll make it simple: I'm not talking about context. A cowboy boot in New York City is still a cowboy boot. It's a matter of process: this object is invested with an intelligence created from its context, a process that doesn't invest heavily in self-consciousness, instead going for performance and coherence. The simalcrum, however, disregards process in favor of end result-- an end result that is about image or symbol, not performance. I guess, in the end, what I'm talking about here is a difference between symbol and object, sign and shed. So this has all been said before, go to work.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

the producers

Saw a billboard today that made me think of the nyc production = assimilation + repackaging + consumption equation. Something about the overall shape of an idea of life, and how something created without regard for consciousness will have a shape created from within, while something created as a simulcum, self-conscious and centered on image, is like the negative of that, a patched together formwork approximating that object. It's the difference between something being what it is and something being carefully cut and folded to look like something it's not. For instance, cowboy boots are a mountain of information; everything from the materiality to the shape to the surface decoration was created out of a context, without regard to its being. A cowboy boot is the embodiment of its purpose, location, intent, whatever. Shoes are great for this because they are both clothing and tool. But the fashionable re-creation of a cowboy boot, however cleverly done, can never regain this meaningful shape; even if it's the identical it's arbitrary. This arbitrariness is not wrong, but it is null. Null in french tends to signify not an absence of value but something beneath, detrious, filler. I like that.

I was flying today and I looked out the window and all of the cars parked and driving were reflecting into the sky. These glints are not just something I see; they happen to me when my eyes intersect a column of reflected sunlight that the car creates by existing.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

parades and sponges

Just walked into the second parade-aftermath of this weekend- one for baseball and one for costumes. I think I may like it more than the parade itself- drunk people, partitions askew, litter and giggling. It feels like it's creating something, where as the parade was something already created. It's hard to find identity in thousands, but among a few dozen in the afterglow of something humongous things become oddly intimate.

On my bus ride I think I comprehended one major difference between Boston and New York that wasn't mentioned in Koohaas' "theory of Manhattanism." Boston, like many cities, reads to me as a chain, dense and strung out, beads of meaning linked together, everything exterior, cold and hard and beautiful. New York is more of a sponge, lightweight and full of holes, only becoming heavy under the weight of its inhabitation, a porous occupiable fullness. This is both comforting and constrictive. Oh, and I also came up with "wallflower philosophy" as a good cocktail-party-epithet for deconstructionism. These are the things I think of while sitting captive watching Mandy Moore movies and avoiding touching the person to my left.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

on cold

I was just reading a novel where people spent a lot of time walking around in extreme cold or swimming in cold water, and it bothered me that this didn't seem to be noted beyond a simple noting of temperature. But then I went walking in the cold and figured out that cold is not bad, it is just cold. This is going to come in very handy for the next six months. I'm wondering if this devaluation of environment applies to lots of other things I automatically apply value judgements to, like honking and b.o.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

laaaaazy post

Well, it should be very clear by now that I'm not very enthusiastic about website maintinence. As a halfassed attempt at apology (to myself, seeing as nobody else reads this), I'm going to post the toast I gave at my sister's wedding. It gets really sappy towards the end, but that's kind of the point.


When watching old home movies of my family, there are certain truisms that hold amusingly constant-- Kate’s always eating, I’m always angry, Sam is always naked—but today I’m going to talk about the stereotype that often seems most apparent in these videos— that kate, even at the age of five, was clearly the boss of the family.

The standard family anecdote here involves my mother sitting down for a mother-daughter chat with Kate, probably in middle school at the time. My mom, angry about my sister’s hostile takeover of the family dynamic, finally blurted out “Kate, everyone is afraid of you.” My sister gave mom a long, hard look and coolly replied, “well, that’s a little pathetic, isn’t it?”

If there is a zapruder film of Regnier family character traits, it is one where my six- year old sister is directing and starring in a short play about a ghost in a haunted house. The haunted house is our basement, and the ghost is the three of us under a blue blanket. Kate is simultaneously narrating, giving stage directions, and serving as the head of the ghost; I am providing a sullen middle section, and sam happily takes up the rear, his own bare end occasionally peeking out from behind the blanket. This, in a nutshell, was our childhood.

Kate’s skills in sibling logistics and management, however, extended far beyond the entertainment industry. If I remember clearly (and who doesn’t remember being four years old in crystal clarity?), this was only one of a diverse set of responsibilities. Kate drafted the groundbreaking legislation governing sprinkler-running, ball-bouncing, block-stacking, and tag. She kept strict inventory on legos, disbursing them in a system governed by a quadratic matrix of flatness, width, color, and number of connective nubs. And she was a ruthlessly efficient general contractor in the erection of couch forts and puppet-show stage sets, effortlessly instructing us in the rules of composition and furniture tectonics as Sam and I heaved cushions, chairs, wicker cabinets and blankets into the correct form.

Indeed, our shaky sibling alliance would have devolved into complete anarchy without Kate’s steady hand. When her guidance was missing, my brother and I came up with ill-fated concepts such as human hallway chicken, indoor baseball, trampoline-throwing, and my notorious new sport, let’s hit tennis balls at the window. Sam and I thanked Kate endlessly for her benevolent lordship by teasing her, baiting her, and throwing rocks in the air, in her presence, while wearing helmets.

There was one bit of bossiness in Kate that I am absolutely in debt of, however: Kate decided one day that she was going to teach me to read. My absolute earliest memory is of sitting in bed with Kate as she read the same animal book to me the 5 or 6 millionth “last time”, with the excitement and patience that only a small child can muster. Not only did this gift require superhuman effort (because I can only assume, despite what my parents tell me, that I was then just as stubborn, slow, and easy to distract as I am now), but it also introduced me to the world that I am still in thrall with now, almost two decades later. I owe a great deal of my self to the things that I have read, and I probably would never have made it through those books if my sister had never decided to share what she loved in the world with her brother. Kate’s bossiness was just that; love disguised as instruction, because she wanted to be a part of my life just as much as I thank god I am part of hers.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

12 step program

That's it, I'm quitting cspan cold turkey. Righteous indignation is an addictive substance and it's turning me into an asshole.

sonofabitch it's hot outside, and I am irritatingly righteous

There is a storefront space in my apartment building that is for rent by owner. Every day as I come home I have to dodge hip twentysomethings with cool t-shirts and haircuts ogling and writing down phone numbers. It's news to me, but apparently the singular ambition amongst my compatriates is to own a really cool store. I hate this. I hate it the way I hate watching the RNC on cspan on a Sunday night or stores that make you spend $10 to use a credit card. It's a quick spike of adrenaline, followed by an unnecessary asshole grimace and occasionally verbal exclamation.
This is the at the crux of my problem with large cities' production/consumption ratios. I feel guilty living here because the entire purpose of Manhattan seems to be to assimilate, commodify and consume. I'm not even that liberal, and I'm certainly not a marxist, but this pisses me off. On top of this, you have to deal with sanctimonious NYers drop comments about "producing" culture. News flash: polishing, repackaging and adding spin is the same definition of "production" that people use when they use the phrase "over-produced."
These people may be a bit silly and pretentious, but they are not on the whole stupid. Why do they want their job to prove how great their taste is? Why must everything go into proving that your life is on the crest of something? What's wrong with the interior spaces carved out by thousands of cresting waves, deep loam that grows out of layer by layer of fallen detrious? Screw this city.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

more archi-blather

I'm going to attempt a short essay, here... if you find this on google, just pass it on.

Comparing Eisenman

Peter Eisenman has always made it a point to place his own practice at the center of architectural discourse, contantly manouvering to stay relevant and avant the garde. As publicity and comissions increase for published, "celebrity" architects, this places him in a paradox: at the center, but constantly striving for the edge. This contradictary self-image is rich soil for intervention and discourse. In order to place Eisenman in a context (perhaps against his wishes), I am going to go ahead and compare him to two other stars of the community.

Eisenman / Gehry : Buildings

On the surface, these two practices could not be more different; Eisenman is unpredictable, contrary, at times even reactionary, and proclaims an interest in "deep structure," constantly isolating architecture from any but an interior referentiality. Gehry is more interested in assimilation, starting from a desired image distilled from context, and distorting it so that most description is a lateral slide of weak metaphor and association. Eisenman's buildings are often shrouded in obtuse theory, while Gehry's are explained in a disarmingly literal manner (while most people compared referenced Italian sculpture when describing the pipe organ in his LA concert hall, Gehry himself referred to it as "french fries.)

However, there is a striking parallel in their approach to construction as seperate from design; the form is distanced as a sculptural or signifying element that might as well not be built (Gehry might argue against this point). Their disintrest in nonvisible parts of a building leads to a "radically conventional" method of building. The process of construction is hidden, ignored, conceptually nonexistent. Building as communicator has succeded building as structure.

Eisenman / Tafuri : Writings

The recent coauthoring by these two men of a monograph of sorts on Giuseppe Terragni reveals striking parallels as well. Their essays are completely divorced, both on the cover and within the pages, and an almost hostile feeling pervades-- Eisenman writes the intro and first essay, Tafuri refutes and derides in a second, and Peter finishes it off with a framing essay in response. This leads to less of a dialectic than a simple binary or shotgun approach. You get it from both barrels.

However disparate the content, the essays do have one thing in common. They both supress the phenomenological in favor of the literary. For Eisenman, architecture is a series of traces in process that reveal a "textual reading" in the building's final version. Architectural process is thus a form of writing, and buildings are themselves a critique, albeit a self-referential critique of pure form. Geometry, pattern, alignment and other devices are placed above context and utility, as is evidenced by photographs with the surroundings and people carefully ommitted.

For Tafuri, architecture is textual in an entirely different manner. Sociopolitical context and preceding images and ideas provide lateral associations (generally myth and marxism) that reveals the architect's true or hidden (perhaps unknown) intentions. The production is essentially teatrical: this building is communication, revealing (or professing) value and ideology.

In both of these writings, the communicative aspect of the building is stressed and the operational and functional aspects are suppressed. This is more than a simply postmodern aim or emphasis. For both, the tests surrounding the building are more important than the building itself. Past versions, renderings, and texts by Terragni (often obstinately literal-functional) point to a true bias: this building is merely the afterlife, born out of a living process of thought that dies with completion. Every moment after the final drawings are submitted is just an echo.

Other than the obvious oversimplification of the design process that is suggested here (construction administration and finishes as part of process), what I find missing is the generation of meaning through use and production. Not just the weakly humanistic dimension of building operation, but the passive act of weathering, the shadows cast on the street, and the displacement of dirt by the basement. This is all important, and on equal footing with form in my opinion. Buildings are often more captivating in the midst of construction, their inner structure revealed and inhabited at odd hours by strange professionals, adorned by safety netting, makeshift fences, cables and impromptu lighting. It's difficult to talk about meaning in relationship to structure and function without sounding like a staid, devout modernist, but remembering these aspects has to be important, right?

Monday, August 02, 2004

putting my architect hat on

I recently found a war memorial in central park that I think might be worth exploring. It is a very specific WWI memorial, for a certain company (I apologise but I can't remember the details). It consists of two plaques, one cast metal and the other hand-carved and rudimentary in a large rock. It's not very complicated; there are smaller plaques on the ground for members, each in front of a tree.
I'm not sure why I found this memorial so sucessful and interesting, but i think it has a lot to do with it's mutability and lack of design. The trees have had different levels of success in growing. A few of them have been removed, leaving the plaques naked and alone. There is an implied hetereogeneity in the arrangement; the memorial was placed, and then allowed to change without a strong effort to maintain a homogenous appearence. This growth and change to me implies a finite (if long) lifespan that somewhat approximates the scale and process of social repair and healing. It's also fairly low-rent, which I'm naturally drawn you (thank you, Houston). Despite the amount of attention that memorials have recieved in the last four years, simple and non-monolithic options have somehow been glossed over in favor of grand, immersive experiences that not only deny a discourse with physical context but refuse to place themselves in the realm of temporality as well. Scale has been lost. 
This is probably the result of multiple factors. The inability to step back from recent trauma. The strong branding and iconography of superstar architects. Tremendous pressure for a final solution to a still pressing emotional experience. Also, nobody lived there. I wouldn't be so crass as to say the trauma of september 11th has been healed, but the memorial project is rapidly becoming more about an official statement of effort than an honest attempt to create a transformative healing space.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

borrowing internet is a dicey enterprise

I was going to write about city culture but I think I'm wrong.
Basically, it was a diatribe. New York, despite being the biggest city in the Union, has no obvious signs of specific local cuture beyond a strange taste in fashion and a few neuroses. This may indeed be true for most of manhattan, but I'm too tired to analyze further.
What it may instead indicate is the obvious- that the culture of place is not easily distilled into a commodifiable entity. In the case where it is (varieties of alcohol, funny skirts, et al), these items usually lose their connection to any local ritual. Where it's both definable and not completely alienable (the weather and shoreline of southern california, for example, or their proximity to mexico, if that counts), this trait is usually diffuse and vague.
That's right, diffuse AND vague. One adjective is not enough description for a writer as poor as I.
In any case, my initial (reactionary) comment is easily refuted by the fact that I could easily recognise a snapshot of a New York street out of a dozen such. Yes, this is urbanism, not culture, but screw you, they're the same. There is a quality, it's just not easy to distill without writing a novel without Gatsby in it or something.
Or something. I'm shining tonight. It's probably just more difficult to recognise culture in New York because cultural traits are unconsious in their purest state, and this is the most self-conscious place I've ever been.
I was in a bar, and the bar had five televisions showing billiards, but no pool table.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


Living in a pedestrian city it's easy to see how people use technology to insulate themselves. I'm talking about cellphones and ipods. The latter is a simple form of isolation-- the apple commercials play it out perfectly, silhouettes on a single color. There is no context, only a generalized idea of one. Cellphones are slightly more complicated. I passed by a woman crying on a park bench last night. Had she been pretty enough I probably would have asked her what was wrong. This shallow presupposition was pre-empted, however, by the fact that she was crying on the phone. This is obviously a different way to shut out your surroundings and neighbors, by keeping in close emotional contact with someone else far away. It's a displacement, not a shield. That being said, it's hard to meet people in a city where everyone has a four-inch talkative friend on their shoulder.

When I went out last night I forgot my keys. By the time I got back John had fallen asleep. I had to pee. Bad. So I went to a bar around the corner, just lame enough that only two compulsively lonely people and a bored bartender were there. I struck up a conversation with two of them (the transvestite poet left when I sat down). After getting two life stories that started off maudlin and got progressively more so, I emerged with very contradictory emotions. First and foremost I felt alone. I felt more alone talking to those two than I do camping in the middle of the desert; I felt divorced from myself, from my future. That being said, I also felt very powerfully the fact that a person lives behind every window on every upper floor, and that they have selves and futures as well. Ghostlike, if I want to be dramatic about it. Anyway, I leaned on the buzzer and John let me in. I felt sick all day today.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

ray charles is dead (and so is regan)

In addition to stealing wireless internet from my neighbors, my new apartment comes fully equipped with mystically free basic cable. The caveat is that we only get fox, upn, pax, and every strange public-access channel known to man. The horse-racing channel. Korean TV. My favorite of the low-rent networks, however, is C-Span. For the past 48 hours, they have been showing Regan's funeral. This is simply footage of people walking in front of a casket, continuously, with a break every two hours for the changing of the guard (which itself moves at a comic 2001-esque pace.) Watching this 15-minute, 3-salute ceremony was humorous, because C-Span chose to leave the sound on. There is no spoken command, music or even audible footstep in the entire ordeal. The ceremony takes place in a gigantic cavern of a room, in which every cough and cellphone ring is hystericaly amplified and echoed. A small child made the same high-pitched noise every 15 seconds for two minutes, with a wonderful counterpoint of aborted cellphone rings as the harmony. This is news in real-time, people. It's restful. It's dry comedy. It's also reassuring that, despite the faster and faster editing in film and television, there is still the boredom of real life somewhere on the tube.

There. I tied that one up. I actually found Regan's death and the subsequent hubbub to be thrilling, mostly because I was born on the day of his attempted assassination. This links me cosmically to a person I hate abjectly, which adds a theatrical quality to my life. I only wish it could have been someone else.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

56 hours a week

I've got more free time than working time (or maybe it's the same on average.) I have no children and my girlfriend lives a few hundred miles away. I'm not involved in a charitable cause and my work is also my hobby. I'm going to turn into one of those professional appreciators, aren't I? I'll read and listen and watch and I'll develop taste. How can I avoid this?

-Play video games or do other such mind-numbing things.

-Walk. A lot. Or perhaps exercise.

-Make friends and talk to them (this is highly unlikely).

-Sleep more.

-Write more.

-Learn to knit or build model trains.

Once school has finished, it's rather daunting to realize that one is now completely responsible for how interesting one is. I can't rely on classes and lectures to bring conversation to the fore. I was prepared to commit to work. Now I have to commit to play.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

long time no see

I am now in New York City. I dislike typing the same words in the "City" and "State" blanks in online forms.

Short List: Things at Work that Make Architecture Depressing

1. The phrase "p-lam."

2. The phrase "furr-out"

3. Carpet swatches.

4. Flashing details.

5. Vinyl wall base.

6. Interior elevations.

7. Chair rails.

8. Aluminum mullions on sidelights.

9. Spandrel glass.

Friday, May 28, 2004


Seeing as how I'm moving to a city that I've spent a total collective maybe 36 hours in, it's not surprising that I own maybe 6 or 7 maps of Manhattan right now. It's amazing how many ineffective maps can be produced of the same area. You'd think they'd start cribbing off of each other or something, that people would realize marking all of the subway entrances the same color, regardless of which line they are is just a bad idea.

In any case, the one thing they all have in common is the small blank square with "World Trade Center Site" written inside of it in tiny script. How did this become the accepted terminology? Not "FORMER world trade center site" or "future memorial site" but simply the name of the former buildings with "site" afterwards, as if it was waiting for something. However, this does make a lot of sense:


1. The place where a structure or group of structures was, is, or is to be located: a good site for the school.

2. The place or setting of something: a historic site; a job site.

3. A website.

Definition 3 nonwithstanding, this usage of site makes some sense. Not an official memorial (which, if it ever goes up, with be almost certainly dissappointing and overwrought). Kind of like driving past where your old house used to be, and pointing to the K-mart that is now there. There's the site of a crime, a gravesite, a historic site-- all three apply easily. What is kind of disturbing, however, is the uncertain temporality of the word. Site implies past, present, and future conditions. The actual destruction was so traumatic that we've chosen to completely remove this square of land from the boundaries of time, like it's the moon or stonehenge or the pyramids. It's immense, too large to comprehend, so instead it's a "site," a detatched locale that is placed on a pedestal.

I think this area needs a de-siting. The new plans proposed now that they've figured out there's not enough money to build everything look very promising in a de-siting sense. They show interesting, but non-monumental, pedestrian parks and plazas. I don't think this city needs a pit going 100 feet into the earth, or a waterfall, or even a 1,776 foot tall skyscraper (symbolically bile-producing in my book). I didn't mean for this bit to turn into a diatribe on antimonumentalism. However, I can't wait until the hole in the skyline stops being a hole.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

This is not a rendering. I swear. The fact that this is not only theoretically possible but budgetable, salable and buildable brings up a lot of issues for me.

the big big [media] whoredom

I was talking to Melissa today over vietnamese food. I was explaining my burnout recovery / method of dealing with boredom when I'm home: read profusely, listen to music and watch incredibly bad movies with only a beer as company. I realized that my objectives are different with each form of entertainment. I'm a notorious music snob-- at least with pop music. I stick to the more esoteric, difficult neighborhoods of rock, with occasional cheap forays into country and blues. In reading I run a similar fun-but-challenging gamut, but I allow myself more leeway with the occasional dirty escapist pleasure (mostly sci-fi novels from my childhood). I'm less picky with text. In movies I get equal amounts of pleasure with art-house flicks and awful action movies (provided there is beer). The editing and dialogue of The Transporter is easy enough to decode to make the hour and a half entertaining. I'm also able to get enjoyment out of bad-cinema disgust, whereas bad music just makes me want to leave the room. Maybe it's the added detail and complexity in a movie that makes this possible; maybe it's just the influence of my friends that has made me so tolerant of lousiness in one and so abohorrent of the same in another.

I'm not going to pretend that there's any worth in treating all art as worth thought. In any medium, I'm a firm believer in quality-- at least that quality, as a concept, is valid. Recognising it on my own is often somewhat difficult, but I have no problem enlisting the help of my friends, websites, and the occasional book or newspaper. The issue is more in the nature of analysis itself-- should I be enjoying the experience itself or the mental dialogue that is created? I can watch awful, campy films but still think about them-- picking them apart to see how they are made, second-guessing the director, the actors, the editor. The same thing applies when listening to insipid, formulaic music-- I pay attention to the production, the bassline, the lyrics, figuring out what committee or focus group or fashonista decided to EQ the guitar or sequence the melody or select the theme.

I read an article in adbusters a few months ago that suggested this sort of experience is damaging to our mental health. It is easy to slip into a zone where everything is worth analysis-- every bottle and can in every movie becomes product placement, every truck on the highway is part of some evil globalising economic force. It's a kind of distracted attention-- no serious meditation on a single theme, rather a schizophrenic constant reevaluation of the same idea, the idea that our world is fucked up and that that, itself, is kind of pathetically, nihlistically funny.

I know I'm not like that. At least, I hope I'm not like that. I'm not flexible enough for yoga and I don't affirm anything, but I'd like to believe I'm capable of coherent, meditative thought. It's a good thing I'm moving to the loudest, fastest, most distracted city in the union.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

meta-blog pt. 2

So this is not a journal. But it's not intended for an audience the same way as previous attempts at personal internet expression; here it's more of an "if you build it they will come" ethos. The problem with that is that if someone actually does let me know this is being read then that will change my intentions; the audience is no longer fictional.

That could be good and bad. The pieces would have to be tighter and more comprehensible. I'd have to care how this site looks. But then I'd be proving myself to people through text. Weblogs are all, at some base level, screaming for attention. The moment when I start proving I'm cool by name-checking books, movies, and cds, that's when this becomes untenable. Spreading uninformed opinions and worthless musings is excusable; acting solely to spread knowledge of your good taste in media is an infraction punishable by death.

Monday, May 24, 2004

wherein i confront my past

In my profile I claim that this weblog is primarly for organization. I'm obviously sidestepping the issue that posting your journal on the internet is different that writing in ballpoint in a blue mead notebook. However, it's not as different as it should be. Back when I kept a journal in a blue mead, I was still, for some reason or another, writing for an audience. I was probably more likely writing for a fictional future audience, perhaps after the journal had been published in hardback after my untimely death. That's what it's like being a lonely teenager. After that, I actually did start a website, where I kept a rudimentary weblog, with semi-regular postings and even an archive. I actually did this twice, once in high school and once in college. Each lasted about a year and then disappeared. These spurts of productivity coincided with (of course) periods of change and frustration. None of this has changed (except that popular culture has provided me with an easy, boilerplate posting process).

The question of the audience is still important. I'm writing this ostensibly as a journal, but with the possibility of an audience there is obvious provisional editing. Thus this is not a record but rather anonymous communication; it's a hopefully-less-pathetic version of a cry for help.

That's not the whole story, either. My writing skills tend to veer between pathetically self-depreciating plainness and baroque wordy overkill. This is probably as much a sort of mental game, like playing chess alone. I guess that's where the title comes in.

I've always been terrified of brain damage. As a kid I would monitor myself periodically to check and see if I had been getting dumber. Afraid of Alzheimers at 8. I'm still wary of Cruzfeldt-Jakobs and alarmed about the cheesecloth-like quality of my memory. I'm operating in a state of emergency; paranoia as fuel, a "nervous system" in its most basic sense. None of this is really helping me to figure out if I'll like New York.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

123 testes throwaway joke

This is an e-mail post. Just read a few blogs. Hope this does not become habit. Contrary to expectations, this was a postive experience-instead of losing faith in the originality or worth of my own writing, all I could think about was how I'd like to talk to some of these people. They seem to have interesting taste in books and film, and ideas that prove they're not just assimilate-and-store mechanisms for trendy thought. Odd that reading something on the internet would disarm my cynical reflex. I don't know how anyone makes this a habit, though.

filler, no killer

I should probably write the obligatory meta- piece about writing, the nature of a public journal, audience etc but I don't really feel up to it tonight, so I'll just throw in something lame and call it a day. I always wrote paper journals as if they had an audience anyway- a textual exhibitionist from the start. A drink of water first, however...

I really like my parent's backyard. I can't call it mine as I've never really lived in this house, nor do I really think its size or location are that wonderful. But the trees in the back just kill me. In the fall, if you're out back on a windy night, you can actually hear the wind moving. Wind isn't a continous force. It's a mass of air that moves around like it wants something, and on the right night when the leaves are dry you can hear it coming in from far off, and then spiral in and eddy in the tall trees next to the pool. If I wasn't so paranoid I'd like it more.

Something about this house brings out secret fears of zombies and serial murderers. I'd like to think I'm generally a laid-back, don't-lock-the-doors kind of person (this is probably untrue), but in this house every horror movie plays out a sequel with me as the victim. I shower with my eyes open, I always have a light on (even though lights attack zombies), and my back is never to the door. It's probably due to the fact that I'm the only one in the basement.

If I end up living in, say, southern california or arizona or new york, I'm going to miss basements. They beat attics ten to one. It's like a gigantic couch cushion fort was created out of your entire house. There are concrete floors and exposed beams, and cool windows that open onto semicircular corrugated steel.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

wherein i meet a legend

I went with my father today to a car museum. It was a private showing, just him and other random Kansas City businessmen of idiosyncratic linkage. One old man, who looked 60 but was probably 80 or 85, was simultaneously irritating and fascinating; he was clearly wealthy and completely satisfied with it, and had a love of non sequitors and bland statements which I wish I could share (I also wanted to throttle him). His name was Harlold Meltzer or something like that, I think. After witnessing the rise and fall of the Studebaker, when we were leaving, I asked my dad who the guy was. My dad, who I found out later does some business with him, instead of talking about his personal knowledge, the man's hobbies, work, or the like, instead said "Harold and his business partner, in the early 20's, invented Spam." This man had invented Spam. He had sold it to the army in World War II. He had then sold the rights to Hormel and made a ton of money off of the stock."

I just tore through my books stored in boxes in my closet at my parent's house. They moved after I went to college, so everything is still packed, four years later. After pulling aside mounds of Gibson, Vonnegut and Philip Dick novels, i found one of my favorite childhood books -- "Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things." I was a really boring kid. This book is still great, though. Harry's not in it. I'll have to write the editors; if horseshoes and long underwear make the cut, this one's got enough pop culture panache to have it's own section.

I feel like I've met a celebrity, this old man in a driving cap and peachy-pink short-sleeved polo shirt. This man invented Spam. Spam is not a wonderful creation; it is not record-breaking in technology or palatability. It has, of yet, had no huge effect upon the world as an object or food. As a concept, however, it has made it through the worlds of military ration and sensible nuclear-family kitchen staple, past the realm of last-resort cheap meat for the homeless and impoverished, into the realm of the uncertain signifier. Monty Python made it funny. It's often placed on t-shirts with the names of bands cleverly placed in the same font where the logo used to be. Most importantly, it now represents the millions of penis-enlargement and home-mortgage messages that are sent to the very corners of our electronic world.

It is utterly rediculous that this should sit so heavily on me. This man's creation is going to outlast his life; it's a household word. What does he think of this? I'd interview him, publish his story, but it would probably make a really awful book. It would make an equally awful special-interest story in the local newspaper. Nobody should care that this man invented Spam. I would try to wrap this up with something poignant, 'a la This American Life, but it's kind of embarassing and largely pointless. There is no thesis statement here. I met the guy that invented Spam.