Saturday, January 21, 2006

Eulogy 3: For Jessica Elisabeth DeWarner, as told by Jeffery Montovia

Hi. You don’t know me. My name is Jeff Montovia. Accent’s on the toe, not the vi-a. Three syllables, not like the preacher said it.

I was in the crash with Jessica. She was in 21C. I was 34F. There were 56 people on flight 488, and 34 of us survived. After everything calmed down, we, the survivors, got together and kinda drew straws to get 22 people, to send one to each funeral. To let them know what it was like in the end, you know, in case there were any questions. Like tying up loose ends.

I don’t really want to say that stuff up here, it’s pretty traumatic, I don’t want to get anybody crying. It’s pretty awkward, actually. I mean, I don’t even know if I saw Jessica on the plane. I don’t really know what to say. I’m a lot older than her, we don’t have that much in common. I mean, most of the pictures show her in her car or skiing. I walk to work and I’ve never seen snow, so…

Wait a second, let me start over.

I’m sure she was a great person. Or maybe not, I don’t know, I never met her. Maybe all you people hated Jessica. I dunno. I can’t say her life was “cut tragi-cally short” either, or any of that stuff in the paper. Maybe she woulda had a big skiing accident or crashed her car next month or something. I can’t see the future.

Now, wait a second here. Wait a second. Calm down, lady. I’m just gettin’ to the good part, here. Calm down.

Yeah? So what if I had a drink this morning? This is tough stuff here, lady. It’s tough. Y’ dunno …

Oh, yeah? Do you know what it’s like, what happened? Do you know? I’ll tell ya.

That stuff about your life flashing before your eyes, thass’ all bullshit anyways. This is what it’s like. Everything’s moving around, bouncing, and you got that thing, that orange cup thing? With the bag onnit? It’s strapped to your face. You can’t see anything. You donn’ wanna see anything. Nobody looks out the window. Butcha can hear it, right before it happens. It’s like right before god claps his hands, it’s like waiting, ya know? Right there. And you kinda hunch over, like this, see? And you close your eyes. Everyone does it. And get quiet, no praying, or anything. And it’s like right before you sleep, and you can’t tell how big anything is? Like your head’s a balloon and it’s inflating? And your eyes are closed, and you can feel them. Everyone. An’ they know you’re there, too. An’ everyone’s the same. All the same. Thass’ why I’m here. Not for Jessica whassername. Thass’ me in there. That’s me.

I don’t care what you wish, lady. Thass’ it. I’m gone.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Eulogy 2: For Richard Horner IV, as told by Richard Horner V.

As I am but one in many who want to say something here, I will keep this short. My father was a well-known and influential person, and I am sure that most of you here knew his public face very well. Others who are here can tell you more about his political and business life; everyone in town knows Richard the upstanding citizen and keen businessman. I don’t feel the need to expound on his gifts as a father; bromides about little league games and post-graduation advice are not a fitting way to memorialize this great man. It will suffice to say that he was old fashioned, strict, and generous in love and advice. I stand up here in awe of what my father has accomplished in his life. He died as he lived, a gentleman of business, passing away in his leather armchair as he read what must have been the fiftieth draft of his last will and testament.

I feel a need to augment his public image, however, as it’s difficult to grieve in more than a generic way for my father as Richard Horner IV, lawyer and senator for the great state of Iowa. The small booklet distributed at the door seems to be more effective in understanding his civic contributions than in conveying his essential humanity. Until a few days ago I was actually at a loss to find some anecdote or fact that would add to this public face without seeming maudlin or trite. However, examination of his estate revealed one startling secret that I will now share with you, as I am sure it reveals some hidden aspect of his character, even if that aspect is as yet enigmatic.

Father was not a reader of fiction. However, he knew the value of being informed, so the pile of work on his desk was more often than not crowned with some small volume about investing or managing or communication. When his fathers’ health was failing, these books were augmented with a few pamphlets and softcovers on Parkinson’s disease and cardiovascular health; after the funeral there was a small book on grieving properly. I once joked with my father that he should be writing books of advice rather than reading them. He just gave a small toothless smile and submitted something along the lines of “no man is an island.”

One of the more interesting items revealed in the audit of my fathers’ estate was an air-conditioned self-storage unit outside of town that contained several thousand self-help books and pamphlets. All of this literature has some evidence of use; some books are dog-eared while other books just have a few pages folded over for bookmarks.

Some of the choices, such as “Unnatural Leadership” and “Business Secrets of the Ivy League” seem fitting, if not a little bit odd. “Tax This! An Insider’s Guide To Standing Up To The IRS” is perhaps out of character, but at least fits into my expected bibliography. However, I cannot imagine my father reading “Power Eating: A Guide” or “Automotive Upholstery for Dummies,” let alone “How To Draw: Sexy Manga.” The entire gambit of the do-it-yourself industry appears to have been covered, from “Internal Cleansing: Revised 2nd Edition” to “Small Engine Repair.” Every imaginable hobby is described, from “Beginner’s Stamp Collecting” to “Fishing On the Edge.” There is also surprisingly little overlap. “Poker: Bad Beats & Lucky Draws” is the only book on that particular card game, but is right next to “Baccarat Secrets” and “Beat Her at Bridge.” There are about a dozen books on gardening, such as “The Rose Bible” and “No Rabbits NOW.” There is, however, only one book on computer programming, “PERL in a Nutshell.”

In addition to technical manuals, business secrets, and how-tos, there is also an entire wall devoted to the more traditional self-esteem and life choices kind of literature. This ranges from “The Hookup Handbook” to “Intuitive Thinking: a Sacred Faith,” to “Coaching the Artist Within.” This one-room personal library appears to have covered very nearly the entire realm of the self-help book. It can be seen, in a way, as a library of basic advice; nearly every hobby or problem or repair could be facilitated through a perusal of this collection.

I cannot for the life of me imagine these books helping my father in any regular fashion. He never, to my knowledge, utilized or conducted any process information he obtained from reading this library. I never saw him weeding or golfing or drawing cartoons. He was worthless at home repair, and was unfortunately cold as a father and husband.

I have one tentative explication. My father was a successful man, in part, because he figured out the rules to his particular world of law and politics, and learned how to exploit and then change them. He saw the entire world, in a way, as an extension of the laws and bills he helped create and interpret. Surrounded by talk of relativism and the deconstruction of literary and social code, it may have comforted him to own a library of basic rules and guidelines, organized by topic and recorded for posterity.

For those interested, this book collection will soon be removed from storage to a more permanent location at 233 E. 31st Street. As it was not provided for in my father’s otherwise impeccable will and testament, several private donors have been procured to endow the Richard Horner IV Library of Basic Truth and ensure its growth and protection. Access is by appointment only; there is no fee for admission. The reading room is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 4pm. Thank you.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Eulogy 1: For Edward Kolski, as told by James Brander

I am not sure why I, of the six of us here, am speaking for Eddie. I am not one of Eddie’s parents. I am not his brother. I didn’t know him before the age of twenty three. I have not seen him for twelve years, since an ill-remembered alumni event in which we did not speak. Eddie and I have not spoken, in person or on the phone, since graduation, over two decades ago. I don’t remember what his voice sounds like. I only know his face by looking in the casket to my left.

Earlier today, I was told quietly that not many of you liked Eddie very much. He was reclusive, rude and cold. He did not go to his father’s funeral or his brother’s wedding. I am glad that you showed up for his solitary event, and I can understand why you are all reticent to speak for him. I didn’t really like him either. But I am up here. I am speaking because, unlike all of you, I knew him very well.

Eddie, after college, acted as if I did not exist, save for one thing. Every Tuesday for twenty two years Eddie has sent me a letter. He sent me mail even in the two years when I lived six doors down from him. Each letter is between three and ten pages long, handwritten on yellow legal pad. There is no date and no return address. He does not include a greeting, and does not sign his letters. He has not acknowledged the content of my replies, save my perennial changes of address. I first kept them in a shoebox under my bed. Within a year, Eddie had a filing cabinet. He now occupies a closet in my front hallway, eight drawers of handwritten yellow legal paper. They weigh one hundred and sixty-seven pounds—my wife and I put them on the bathroom scale before I came down here. I am an accountant. I like to know how things add up. I would like to imagine that Eddie, at the time of his attack, weighed one hundred and sixty-seven pounds.

Eddie was an editor. He edited television shows for a living. He did two years of Jump Street Blues, fifteen episodes of Miami Vice, and sixty three episodes of Friends. He did dozens of pilots. He edited the award winning PBS documentary Bottles of Blood: Prohibition Chicago. He put together hundreds of fifteen- and thirty-second spots for movies and household cleaning products by Lysol, and also an infomercial for vitamin pills.

Editing is, as I understand it, a creative act: ordering and cutting hours of footage into the tightest, most meaningful package. The finished product is very different from the raw input. Hugo Farthing, Eddie’s boss, told me last night that Eddie was almost preternaturally good at this work. He knew instinctively when to cut away from a glance, how to build a narrative through different angles of the same scene, how to change the meaning of scenery or character by selection and order and rhythm. To Eddie, perhaps, the raw material did not matter—it was the framework of the edit that gave life to what you saw.

Eddie’s letters contain memories. These memories are a paragraph or two apiece. Each letter has between five and twenty-five separate events in Eddie’s life, told in first person, narrated in present tense and ordered seemingly at random. While there does appear to be some relationship between adjacent events, in no letter have I found a dominant theme or any chronological continuity. These letters have not changed in tone or nature over the course of the last twenty-two years. While there may seem to be no reasoning behind the content of these letters, the nature of Eddie’s job, to me, demands that these events were placed in a specific order, in a specific letter, on a specific day.

The following is one of those letters. I received it on August 23rd, 1988. This was a hot late summer day when my wife and I first found out that we were going to have a baby girl.

new stories

Well, I'm still not entirely sure of these but it's not looking like tons of progess will be made, so I'm going to serialize them. These are three eulogies. They bear no purposeful resemblence to any person, real or fictional.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I was drinking a designer root beer the other day that ties its product to wellbeing and a generally sunny outlook. I looked under the bottlecap and found some text. This was a statement that, according to the small print, was "swiped from actual fortune cookies." I'm not sure what kind of authenticity this is supposed to imply.

The bottlecap/cookie said "You will be successful in your work."

While kind of trite sounding in a cookie fortune, it actually seemed to make sense in the context presented to me. Any person willing to spend $1.75 on a soft drink is probably already on top. I'm guessing that in the wider view of things, I'll probably come out above average.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

life after memory

In Killing Yourself to Live Chuck Klosterman makes exactly one comment about architecture, but it's kind of interesting. He says this:

"...I have no interest whatsoever in looking at any of the tourist attractions in [Washington D.C.]. I guess I don't understand what such things are supposed to teach us. For example... the Washington Monument is big, and I suppose it could be classified as impressive or noble... but what is the 550-foot masonry structure supposed to tell me? What is it supposed to make me understand? Am I supposed to spacifically think about George Washington? Because I didn't. Am I supposed to be reminded that I am in the nation's capital? Because I already knew that. Am I supposed to feel patriotic? Because I don't understand how an inanimate object has any relationship to how I feel about living in my country... what does the Washington Monument speak to? Man's potential to master concrete? Man's desire to overcome gravity? I really don't get it. It's just . . . tall."

The first crisis I thought of here was one of representation-- how are images from a dead past supposed to speak to someone who derives all symbolic meaning from rock music lyrics? And in any case, what was so Egyptian about GW in the first place? D.C. is already an anomoly, an "American" monument designed by a Frenchman in a strict reimagined Roman classicism. The obleisk is, to Klosterman, kind of like the background to that awful Will Smith Song "wild wild west"-- a sample of a cover of a standard for a movie that was a paraphrase of a television show.

But if anything, this is liberating. The obelisk, so ruthlessly torn from context, is now a kind of primal form. Yes, it is tall. Yes, it is white. Yes, it has two red lights on top of it. Ultimately the Washington Monument is a symbol of itself, instantly recognisable and a powerful organiser of space.

In fact, the true crisis here is not one of symbolic meaning but the purpose of monuments themselves. Klosterman believes that a monument has to be didactic in order to be useful-- in another part of the book he says

"[A friend] always wants me to visit him in Arizona so that he can show me the Grand Canyon, but I know I'll never go. . . I have no desire to see the physical manifestation of erosion. The Grand Canyon is just an attractive accident; it has no inherent meaning. I'd be far more impressed if a collection of civil engineers used dynamite and laser beams to construct a perfect replication of the Grand Canyon on a one-to-one scale; that would show mankind's potential to master nature. . . would speak to man's desire to overcome 5 million years of adversity."

"Inherent meaning" to Klosterman is thus tied to a specific implied history that is not subject to debate. This may very well be true. But inherent meaning is very difficult to fabricate; a monument like the one described is really just a monument to itself. No convential monument, save perhaps ancient battlefields and great works of civil engineering, have any inherent meaning. What Klosterman is actually talking about is the failure of monuments to specifially direct an understanding of their form.

I think this is misguided. In its early history any monument will serve its purpose, but successful monuments always act as a conduit for the healing processes of history-- they are supposed to aid in understanding and reevaluation. Thus any good monument will hasten its own obselesence. And the real afterlife of a monument is not only to remind people of its namesake, but to act as an urban fragment, a magnet for the production of new memory. The Washington Monument is only nominally about our first president; it's also about people's trips to the mall, senators jogging by, and views from the top. The point where it becomes mute is the point at which it is reborn.

this may be a strange thing to say from a blog but

I'm calling for a general ceasing of self-awareness. From here on out, we're going to stop navel gazing and everyone is going to find something, latch on to it, and follow it to the end without pausing to be critical of the path. When we talk about our progress, there will be no snickering or admittance of how trite or hackneyed our actions have been, only agreement or disagreement. Apologies will only be said to other people, and only for things we are truly sorry for. Nothing will be implied.

The problem with kicking the ass of postmodernism is that one is not allowed to be aware that they are doing it. This makes it hard to gloat.

It remains difficult to figure out which side is having more fun.

Monday, January 02, 2006

willy ronis à paris

I recently went to the Willy Ronis show at the Hotel de Ville in Paris. He's a photojournalist that had been working in that city since the 1930's until just a few years ago. I entered the packed exhibit with a cynical attitude-- in a city that is essentially a museum of itself, what could be more popular than photographs of the real thing? It seemed that everyone in there was 50 or 60 years old, desperately searching for images to recollect the city life that they knew.

In reality, however, what was proven to me was slightly different. Since the photographs presented a continuous history of the last 70 years, what was emphasized was more the continuity and similarity of urban life. It was difficult at times to tell the difference between 1950 and 1980. And the early color work he did immediately postwar has the effect of recontextualizing the late 40's as today, without really straining.

So maybe the quai d'Austurlitz and Bercy are not quite so dirty and industrial. Belleville is more sterile and less rustic, and Les Halles is a hellish supermall instead of graceful ironwork markets. What was suggested in these photographs was not that urban life has been fragmented, but that it was always so-- moments of real life always exist in pockets; that's why they're so intimate and immediate. The true enemy of this life is not modernity or ubiquity, it's ennui and fear-- as long as people are out, interested in their city and actively claiming pieces of it, photo opportunities will abound.