Thursday, March 20, 2014


These sorts of stories always have an enchanted passageway, totem or ritual that spirits its protagonists to the netherworld where the action takes place and the truth is told. A wardrobe, rabbit hole, looking glass, tollbooth, DeLorean, ritualistic chanting, the Guardian of Forever, the Neverending Story, Jumanji, the temporal nexus, what have you. But the trigger that took me into my own past was uncertain; I had yet to really think about why; I was stuck in where it took me, distracted from how I got there. It was certain that the first journey back arose from the fall down Emily’s staircase, but I assumed it was the tumble down the stairs, the disorientation and head injury, not the stairs themselves. I didn’t know if I lost any time between when I landed and when I got back up, how long I lay there, the correspondence between the 8 hours I experienced in the past and the time that passed in the present. At the time it seemed a mere second, though somehow elongated by the the stretched-out moment that preceded it.

Head injuries illustrate the subjectivity of perspective, that what is outside of us is not seamlessly processed and understood by the inside of us—there is a complex mechanism that reality is transmitted by, an imperfect and fallible one, that we are convinced is reality. It is precarious, and when we experience a concussion we experience this precariousness, we don’t feel the blow to the head, per say, we feel a tingling and startling concussive blanket that washes over our entire body like the blast of a soothing atomic bomb. And the fallout remains upon our perception in a way we cannot perceive, in a way Oliver Sacks, et al are deciphering as we speak, so to speak. 

And so, did I break my head when it broke my fall down those stairs? Is my present perception of past events the fuzzy result of this initial trauma? Am I mentally ill? While I am not a neurologist, I am a diligent student of narrative, so I decided to take my notebook and visit Emily and her basement to see if anything about it resembled the threshold to an alternate reality, so I could potentially rule that out. The following are the notes from the visit:

My sweetheart and I rode bikes north to Emily’s house and were received warmly and ceremoniously. It had been a month or so since we had seen each other so we postponed the business at hand for being humans in the host/guest roles. I asked what might signify the supernatural w/r/t to the basement, the house, the property, etc. For one thing: the house reeked of sage.

I composed my notes in illustration form after recording the initial observation that “cats love it.” Emily described often seeing one or two cats lingering or lounging at the base of the stairs, a detail that is surely meaningful, perhaps comprehensibly so. And in fact sage was left burning in the hours before we arrived with nobody in the house. And, yes, it was possible that sage was burning the night I tried to take a bath and eventually did. I was lent a headlamp and I stepped out the side door to explore oh so carefully. I stepped slowly out into the night—the same time of night, the same time of year one year later—and I knew this time not to turn the corner with haste, knowing the precipitous stairs lay precisely there. Yet they were not right there, they descended several paces forward. Where else could they possibly could have been? Nowhere: they had to be there, but I simply didn’t let my eyes adjust to the dark, or I entirely misunderstood the house, which is not unreasonable as I hadn’t studied it to this meticulous extent. It makes as much sense to me as anything that I was pulled by these stairs. I should also note that I grew up in an era in which nothing about a house was dangerous, so such a staircase did not exist in my mind. Perhaps this literal headlong crash into an antiquated, unsafe feature of a centurion cottage is a metaphor for my need to do everything wrong in the logic of the present in order to fulfill a worldview rife with nostalgia and romance. This wouldn’t be the first time a born-at-the-wrong-time protagonist fell victim to the contents of his own Pandora’s box.

I walked down the stairs—still pulled to a certain extent, though very slowly—and noticed the wall holding the dirt back seemed strained, a no longer straight line of concrete curved by the pressure of soaked soil attempting to flood the basement, cracks developed, moss. It seemed amazing to me that half a foot of a wall set in 1905 could hold a dozen foot section of the earth’s surface from falling to the inevitable, but such is the basis of civilization, I suppose. I ran my hand across it when I reached the bottom of the stairs but realized I was off track. I crouched in the spot where I had landed, noted the grate, bent inwards like the wall, leaves, rocks and all the other minutiae that finds itself victim to gravity. The broken glass I had found by my head a year before had been removed. I looked up the stairs and felt like I was looking straight up, as at a ladder. Cats love it, I thought.

Inside the basement I immediately noted the washer/dryer, which drew me down here initially to find the dry towel to take my bath, but I noticed something more—the water heater. I studied its pipes, tracing their path along the floor above me. I also realized the bathtub was immediately inside the house from the entrance to the basement stairs. I came back upstairs and shared what I had found. A circular pattern came to me to describe the forces at work, one that very well could have produced a vortex: smoke emits from the house and mingles with forces that push down into the basement entrance—gravity, cats, descending vines, earth pushing into the staircase wall, cracking the now concave cement—and there in the basement the water heater heats the water before it is sent upstairs to the bath faucet—which was at the time running—where its steam mixes with the swirling sage smoke into mystical wispy cornices, creeping beneath and out the door frame. 

To me my research proved conclusive: I had found a time warp activated by burning sage and drawing a bath upstairs. These cats passed through all the time and daily encountered how many other realities, I cannot say. I had no symptoms of concussion, all I knew was that my senses presenting a swirling and euphoric descent down those unfamiliar stairs and that, before I realized what had happened, I had relived eight hours of a life already historic to myself in the quote-unquote present moment.

This was very gratifying to me, to make this headway in understanding the situation. Mostly I was pleased—even surprised—to have not fallen into the vortex again.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Today the condition went haywire. Every door opened on a new reality. I came out of the bathroom at the house and I was outside the bathroom at the restaurant. I was now a hostperson in 2011 or 2012. I wore a tie. I came to the front of the place to see if I had to seat someone. To see the date. What year it was. It was 2011. My boss gave me a wine list and two menus and told me D5. I gestured right this way to the couple and led them to the two top in the very back of the restaurant. It was 2011. I had to pee again. I left them at their table with the menus elegantly placed on the settings. I went back to the bathroom. I had a moustache, I saw in the mirror. I had a moustache? I opened the door to leave and saw just outside, theater 3, the big one, on the other side. I looked back and saw the hallway of the theater behind me. The restaurant was gone. It must have been 2009. I started grabbing half eaten bags of popcorn, kicking up the flapping seats, pushing up the cup-holder arms between the seats, removing the 32-ounce soda cups, barely consumed as wet with condensation on the outside as they are sticky on the inside. I swept the sporadic messes into my dustpan—those ones at the end of a three-foot pole—and, once it was full, went to empty it in the hallway. I backed into the door to open it and look over my shoulder at what’s behind me as I turn to face it and the broom becomes a tote bag and the dustpan is a cup of coffee and the room is full of six and seven year olds and their parents who let themselves into their classroom before I, the day’s substitute teacher arrived. It’s their classroom after all. I’m just visiting. I have a beard now. I’m underslept, hungry. I drank last night. Everybody’s speaking Spanish. ¿Puedo leer este libro? I am asked by a chorus. How should I know? Whose book is it? Where is the lesson plan? Where do we start? Which school is this? I worked for a district that built three identical schools in, I’m guessing 1992, when they replaced the rings of fields of lettuce and strawberries around the city with a track-house halo. There’s still plenty of lettuce and strawberries, just a little less, and now more elementary schools named after John Steinbeck and Cesar Chavez, in memory of when we were farms first and people second. We are now more people than most major cities in California were one hundred years ago, before the track-home halos that came to define us. I manage to find the lesson plan as thirty three-foot-tall adults of the future hand me crumpled sheets of homework pulled from backpacks not much smaller than themselves. I write my name on the white board and take a deep breath. 
Buenos días, clase, I say pausing purposefully for the response. 
Buenos días, maestro, approximated by a chorus of thirty. 
Good morning, everyone, I continue. My name is Mr. Shaw-Kitch
I direct these strangers with my hands like a conductor, Good morning, Mr. Shaw-Kitch
I find the date on the white board from yesterday. I ask what day follows Wednesday. Thursday! exclaimed a more tentative chorus. 
What comes after the fourteenth? 
What is the date, everybody? 
I start slowly, holding a pointer over Thursday, mouthing the words as the students say them out loud, some shouting in excitement, Today is Thursday, April fourteenth, two thousand and ten.
It’s another two hours before morning recess when I will open the door and return to the passage of time in the so-called present moment. In the meantime I really have to pee. Couldn’t I just leave now? Wouldn’t the me who already did this remain to fulfill this experience while I return to my destiny? What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe I opened this door anyway to check outside. What’s the weather like today, class? Let me check.
And I am falling down those stairs again, grabbing for anything again, finding only blackberry brambles again, pulling them into my skin, feeling pain and weightlessness again before a thud, nothing, tingling, and I am waking up on a floor of a kitchen in Eugene, Oregon. It must be 2004. I have to go to the bathroom and I do, saying hello to someone in the living room I met in 2004, and I open a door onto my 11th grade English class. I’m the fifth one in, early. So I set my stuff down—I don’t want to be here—and rush to the bathroom. I am back at my house, the hallway outside the bathroom. It’s as close to the present as I need right now, though not sure if it’s the same day I started. Today is Thursday, January twenty-sixth, two thousand and fourteen. I hear this on the radio, I repeat it to myself. I open my computer and this document, the document for the book. There’s hardly anything there, compared to two months later, now. This must have been the day when I wrote this, this piece of writing I don’t imagine writing. I write this and sit for awhile, afraid to open doors. I turn on the radio and remember the news that happened today.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


When I try to explain my bocce-related work the desired effect—understanding—is not achieved. The first inhibitor is whether my audience knows the sport of bocce. A bit of explanation usually solves this—one might recognize it from seeing it played in a park, one might have played shuffleboard and thus analogously understands it, etc.—but this is a red herring, the work is not about bocce. It is about nothing, really, that bullshit paradox in which it intends to be about everything—vaguely describing friendship as communion, travel as pilgrimage, openness, awareness as prayer, positivity as faith, something basic as something universal, or at least kind of important. This perhaps is comprehensible, though it seems too much, needlessly pretentious, or, more simply, needless. It is a travelogue, it sounds like, is this not the genre? 

But no, I am explaining in my head at this point, because I have lost them, I am back in my—apparently—inexplicable thoughts, unable to convey them, enjoying the fluid uncertainty, content in that, yet sure I could write it sometime soon. it is a new genre, I think, or it has no genre. I don’t want to manipulate anything. I don’t want a genre to manipulate the truth of my story. I don’t want to bend the world to my own conception of it. I don’t want to invent. Above all else I don’t want to fictionalize. I only want to recreate what I experience in a way true to the way that I experience it. Any experiment I want to attempt in the text I must first visualize in my life. However dull this may all sound, it is only as dull as the life I lead. Of course it all seems more interesting at the time except it takes much longer to get to the point and it can be even duller. 

Of course all details mean, and most mean more than one thing, one must admit, if not already agreeing that every detail points inexhaustibly if not infinitely. This author feels confident in the choice to spend a writing career explicating or complicating the meaning of details that already exist in this world or, better, the perceptions that create those details, as opposed to creating details. I already interact with too much already with the ensuing insights floating on top of and around them. Perhaps that sounds lazy. Perhaps fiction allows us a necessary respite from reality, and should avoid it in order to do so. Perhaps fictions parallel to reality are needed to establish the literary disconnects  between writer and story, story and audience, perception and reality, hand and—. Perhaps a life that is written as its lived never becomes a book or a life, just a back and forth rearrangement of signifiers, a game of Jenga that its players are convinced will defy gravity and never end, or a game where you throw objects in one direction and contemplate the composition before throwing them back the other direction and doing the same, and doing the same and doing the same. And doing the same.

But how does one describe a book whose entire content is its description? The formerly interested party has left and the thing spins in circles in the mind, the play with reality and the document of the experiment. All convention is thrown out—is that even possible?—for it oozes with the sap of mediocrity. Storylines feel contrived, characters reused and redundant, but what’s true will always feel true, and truth requires no convention. The world has become too deranged, absurd and manifold for one to tinker with the mere creation of a story. There’s too much on my heart right now. There’s too much at work in the stories that surround us already to continue the perpetuation and reuse of stale tropes, plots and metaphors, lest we become as trite and obvious as the media we consume. The institutions and systems we’ve devised have replaced our personal, human agency with arbitrary and banal patterns. We have come to see the world through tv and the world has become tv shaped. Stuffing a reality-shaped peg into a tv-shaped hole. There’s too much and at a certain point relying on the same recycled fictions is pure distraction, escape.

And so I assemble a collection of examples, creators that evaporate the frame and create the ouvre on all sides of “cut” and “action,” writing only before and after the fingers hit the keyboard, within and without the idiot box, or maybe, I think, the frame exists but is stretched to include everything. I write essays on Robert Kelly’s self-referential construction of R. Kelly, I write a book on the ontological game of peekaboo between Seinfeld the man and Seinfeld the sitcom, I admire excessively the work of Steve Coogan, feel alone in appreciating John Barth, I became manic with excitement upon seeing Joaquin Phoenix in I’m Still Here, I stop reading fiction and instead read only essays, preferring those with a narrator very present in the narrative, I listen obsessively to the College Dropout, convinced Kanye West has eliminated the line between living and making art. To become this person, who does this thing, all you have to do is do the thing that defines the person you want to be. But you already do this thing, you already are this person, this is you and this is what you do—what you want is a life that looks more like someone else’s, preferably with Benjamins fluttering in the air. A rapper is someone very different from someone who raps, it is not nearly that simple. Shawn Carter describes it very eloquently. Well, Jay-Z. I guess it’s not real clear if this is the voice of the man or the myth:

Rappers refer to themselves a lot. What the rapper is doing is creating a character that, if you’re lucky, you find out about more and more from song to song. The rapper’s character is essentially a conceit, a first-person literary creation. The core of that character has to match the core of the rapper himself. But then that core gets amplified by the rapper’s creativity and imagination. You can be anybody in the booth. It’s like wearing a mask. It’s an amazing freedom but also a temptation. The temptation is to go too far, to pretend the mask is real and to try to convince people that you’re something you’re not. The best rappers use their imaginations to take their own core stories and emotions and feed them to characters who can be even more dramatic or epic or provocative. And whether it’s in a movie or a television show or whatever, the best characters get inside of us. We care about them. We love them or hate them. And we start to see ourselves in them—in a crazy way, become them.

The Lacanian refraction of desire that I earlier alluded to is explicated beautifully here by Jay-Z. You want to be a larger-than-life performer like the rappers who have come before so you simply become a larger-than-life performer. And your audience can thus, through you, “in a crazy way,” become this larger than life character, which you are only able to be because the audience believes in it and desires it, in the same way your idols only became larger than life because you believed in them. Joaquin Phoenix, however, complicated this because he didn’t really want to be a rapper—it was all a put on. He wanted to perform the performance, he created a larger-than-life performer, “a mask” (ratty long hair in his face, beard, broken sunglasses, perpetually lit cigarette). It was the joke that celebrities, once they become famous, don’t actually do work, they just polish the statue. A rapper just wakes up, smokes a blunt, walks into a room where the track is running and describes the morning that just happened, maybe the night before, too, drops the microphone and continues to exist as P Diddy, so to speak. The difference between this conception and the truth is what makes both JP and Kanye so captivating. We never are who we want to be, because we never are a single fixed thing, being is changing, wanting to be classic and relevant, fixed at the top of the game yet active, evolving, (unpunctuated)

Kanye’s story, however, is so resonant because he was a rapper, he had lots to say, a character in the making—but nobody believed him, so he stayed a producer. “That’s great, Kanye, but, please, just produce us another solid gold track over which we may describe how great we are and the breadth and quality of our harem, etc.” But then he got into a car accident, had his jaw wired shut and “started to approach time in a different way,” as he explained in an interview with Steve McQueen.

Before I was more willing to give my time to people and things that I wasn't as interested in because somehow I allowed myself to be brainwashed into being forced to work with other people or on other projects that I had no interest in. So simply, the accident gave me the opportunity to do what I really wanted to do. I was a music producer, and everyone was telling me that I had no business becoming a rapper, so it gave me the opportunity to tell everyone, "Hey, I need some time to recover." But during that recovery period, I just spent all my time honing my craft and making The College Dropout. Without that period, there would have been so many phone calls and so many people putting pressure on me from every direction—so many people I somehow owed something to—and I would have never had the time to do what I wanted to.

An introductory panel to the video of his first single, “Through the Wire,” gives the context of Kanye’s new lease on life: “Last October grammy nominated producer KANYE WEST was in a nearly fatal car accident. His jaw was fractured in three places. Two weeks later he recorded this song with his jaw wired the world could feel his pain!” And then the video and the song start and we hear someone who sounds like Kanye after eating a scoop of peanut butter proclaim, “they can’t stop me from rapping, I spit it through the wire.” This sounds like some kind of figure of speech. Not the last-minute urgency of “Down to the Wire” or “Under the Wire.” He has all the time, a second chance, but he doesn’t want to waste a minute of it on someone else’s desire, “chasing y’all’s dream and what you got planned.” “Through the Wire” is the new idiom, when you realize that now is the only time that you can fulfill your aspirations, that not doing it nearly killed you, that everything you do that isn’t it is killing you. “So I won’t be taking no days off til my spaceship takes off,” as phrased in another song on the album. But it’s not a figure of speech: he is literally laying down his track with his mouth wired shut, the utterances pass through the wire. The moment he’s “gladly risk[ing] it all” and doing it, is physically the most difficult moment for him to be doing it. Yet here it is, this is his origin story:

But I’m a champion, so I turned tragedy to triumph
make music that’s fire, spit my soul through the wire

The context of the song is its story, so the actual content of the song is commentary on what it means, but that’s as confused in meaning as his actual ability to speak becomes compromised: “I really apologize for everything right now, if it’s unclear at all / they got my jaw wired shut for like, I dunno, the doctor said like six weeks.” His ambition was always greater than his talent, his genius beyond his capacities, or at least beyond the genre he was hoping to participate in. It becomes stripped down, minimalist, so ultimately honest that its entire subject matter is, simply, itself. He looks at the situation like a literary critic and breaks down his trope, the relationship between disfigurement and fame, pain and its voicing—and so he is Emmitt Till, cut down in his prime and Michael Jackson when the Pepsi-sponsored pyrotechnics burned his face and he is Mr. Glass, the duplicitous superhero of Unbreakable, and he is everything in between, including, most importantly, himself. And thus is born Yeezy, a superhero of hype, flying through levels of signifiers, masks and metacommentary, a persona whose design is “to go too far,” as Jay-Z put it, “to pretend the mask is real and to try to convince people that [he’s] something [he’s] not,” just to see if they’ll buy it, and they do, they always do. There’s nothing more American than hyperbole. And George Bush doesn’t care about black people.

Monday, February 24, 2014


At this point I had flown from St. Louis to Berlin and gone to Amsterdam and back to Berlin, to Bremen in the West of Germany, and flown from there to Girona, an hour north of Barcelona, taken a bus to Barcelona, a bus to Andorra to visit a friend teaching English there living in an apartment on top of a waterfall, and taken a bus with her back to Barcelona where we rented a car which we were in the process of driving to Granada. In Tarragona I first noticed the scratches on the car. It was after our first night there when we saw a band play inside what appeared to be an archeological excavation of the Roman ruins into which the club was built. I was already anxious because, when we hired the car at Barcelona Sans, as we were completing the transaction, the lady informed me that it was illegal for me to drive in Spain without a Spanish driver’s license, or at least a European one. This was something she was required to say, apparently, but we should be fine, she assured us. Also, I learned, in the next moment, the rate we had booked, which we happily could afford, included no form of insurance at all. That would cost more a day than the rental itself. I don’t remember the spanish word for liability, but I understood it in context. We were very liable, but we should be fine, she assured us. And from there we followed the directions up the stairs, outside, into the hotel and its elevator, up and out the hotel to the rooftop parking lot, assured that if we understood all that then maybe we weren’t doomed in some tragic parable about cross-cultural hubris. I was against the idea to begin with, I should say, as car rental strikes me as a kind of tax on the bourgeoisie that segregates them from the true traveler and fills the coffers of the owners of all the world’s most scenic parking lots. But then I thought about the open road, the window down, the radio on, and all that other bullshit. I would hear “Call Me Maybe” for the first time on that radio, driving through the andalusian countryside. Perhaps “Call Me Maybe” is its own kind of tax on the bourgeoisie. This is not intended to explicate “Call Me Maybe.” Moving on.

I had never driven in another country, in another language—so to speak—and I had never rented a car before, and I hadn’t even driven a car in months, much less a stick shift, much less in the middle of one of the biggest cities in a world. Much less in the five lane roundabout that one immediately finds traveling southwest from Barcelona Sans, but there I was, and there we were, off to the South of Spain, our destiny with the steering wheel, in my hands. Ten and two.

If I had rented a car before, especially without insurance, I would have checked the car for blemishes, scratches, dents, because, when I first noticed scratches on the backseat passenger door, a small dent on the driver’s door and another in the passenger door, I would have known that we had acquired them, they were our burden to carry, or if they were there to begin with, we had inherited the scars of a previous traveler’s burden. But I did not know when these signifiers of imperfection became a truth of this reality. There were windstorms both nights we were in Tarragona. There were, as there were in any town, idealistic youths who resented the visits of wealthy outsiders—another such tax on the bourgeoisie, a sort of psychological one on the owners of capitol. Graffiti. A voice for those can’t assert themselves through property. You may own this building, this car, this wall, but you don’t own this city. 

Scratches, graffiti means in Italian. The language of the disenfranchised artist, using the physical world that does not support an artist class as the canvas. We will not be silenced, it says, even if all the world perceives is a dull scratching. We will be heard. 

But no—this was a cruel joke on us: we were piecing our lives together with monies as threadbare as our worldwide reputations. We had funded our own brief rental car residency and it was to pay off with inspiration and creativity. We were to scratch in marks on to the rental car of the world and a decade of quasi-adulthood artistic toil would finally yield something other than the profitless schmaltz of personal satisfaction. But this was not intended. The thousand dollars I had left waiting in California for the third and final bocce tour, it was for the production of my work, it couldn’t go to these mystery graffiti produced by someone I had never met. 

We googled “sleeping in your car” our last night in Tarragona and found the enthusiastic camel-riding avatar of The Perpetual Traveler who began the post, “If you can sleep in a car, you’ve gained an enormously valuable life skill.” We could thus have two productive travel days bookended by the comforts of a hostel and forgo paying one night’s lodging. The seeming discomfort of sleeping in a car, The Perpetual Traveler explained, “is mostly a problem of perception and adaptation.” This first post was mostly about the consciousness shift needed to pull off automotive shut eye, a second detailed where to put the car before attempting to sleep in—an integral first step. The idea of a “sleeping hat” is mentioned, and that “free sleeping is no excuse to avoid dental hygiene.” Also, “when you wake up you probably want to get in the driver’s seat and drive away as soon as possible.” Like most tips this last one was somehow both reassuring and really unsettling.

She had been reading Eileen Myles’ Inferno, a self-described Poet’s Novel detailing the poet and performance artist’s years of obscurity, her development of self, craft, confidence, the very novel we were reading, a chronicle of the ability to create feelings and stories with words, the absurd decision to devote yourself to that. She read it out loud to me as I drove. Like all road trips the fact that everything happens as you’re driving creates the illusion that everything happens in the car means more because it literally rides over a greater trajectory—it was not two hours before dawn, one before we’d arrive in Granada, and she was still asleep in the backseat as I listened to the history of an angel with whom I was unfamiliar. A simple narrative—we drove from here to there—carries a more complex and emotive one—this was it, I was traveling with my book inside me and I was sharing it with the world, I had quit the life I lived and placed all my stake in this, with the friend who quit the country and chose to be an artist ten years before in the moments and conversations in which I chose to be a writer. The car gives it literal momentum, meaning, even if it is standardized, the same for everyone, for safety reasons. We may not have discovered the Alhambra, but we found it eventually.

We improvised songs. We had conceived of a series of songs about the trip, a couple of which were recorded. After passing through Sax at dusk, its castle illuminated, and seeing several more lit up on top of a hill we wrote “Light Up My Castle,” before moving on to one of the same r & b-meets-folk genre: “Milk the Car.” The premise was that, when one had a car, everything else became extraneous, redundant: a watch, a music-playing device, temperature-controlling clothing, and, the piece de resistance of the number, a place to sleep. “We’re gonna milk the car tonight / ‘cause it’s all ours tonigh-ight.” It was the old bohemian dream that transfixed us a decade earlier, drugged us into choosing a variety of truth-flavored ephemera over money, comfort, etc: you can do everything with less money and it is precisely this means that will make experience real. How far this logic goes, of course, is uncertain. I definitely got by on less when I was twenty, but I don’t think I approached situations with the same mindfulness, or perhaps I have been brainwashed into thinking so by my comparative comfort. Discomfort does not equal truth, and a car seat is pretty fucking comfortable by design. 

We arrived in Lorca around eight o’clock. We had a trunk full of bread, cheese, chocolate and a bottle of 5 euro cava. We found a pleasant parking lot and walked to an adjacent pleasantly-lit park. We ate like royalty with the 40-odd euro we saved and spent elsewhere, we strolled the Versailles-inspired paths like they were ours and then we walked back to the car, brushing our teeth at a drinking fountain on the way, peeing in well-trimmed verge, and tried to sleep in the car. It is possible to convince yourself of a false truth, but the sleight of hand can be so beautiful. You’re simply being read a story while you’re driving on a highway, distracted by the possibility that you are liable for someone else’s scratches.

I have a collection of important documents. Not diplomas or w2s or anything: drawings, receipts, scraps of various sizes. The Avis document I signed that October afternoon in Barcelona is one of them, as a reminder of sorts—of what?—not to worry so damn much? that I’m not fit for car rental? That everything was always already OK. It listed the name of the part of the car, the descripción of the blemish, and the cantidad. Aleta delantera izquierda / Rasguño / 1 ... Puerta delantera izquierda / Abollado / 1 ... Poetry to my ears scratch, dent, scratch, dent, scratch, scratch, ones that I hadn’t even noticed, right passenger door, back left door, they seemed to appear out of nowhere, a hallucination of one who suddenly possesses, convinced of his downfall before any noted evidence. 

This piece of paper was always in the car, we needed it to remind us where and when to return it, to ask for gasoline sin plomo. It told us thanks for choosing Avis. Gracias por elegir Avis, but I failed to note the carefully detailed “Estado del vehículo,” choosing instead to hear her read Eileen Myles’ Inferno as we drove back from Granada descending from the Sierra Nevada, When I left Queens College and was just in New York I felt like I was in some tremendous vat and kept falling and falling, but that was life, wasn’t it. I wrote a poem called when you quit and it was about this dive into nothingness, to stop trying to be good not even bothering to go to graduate school and instead trying to do something. Not an outside thing. I couldn’t even explain this to myself. I just kept falling.

You should think about this
when you quit.

At least for now I feel I have stopped falling. But I still can’t quite explain it. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Christmas is always a massive disappointment, on the same scale that it is wasteful, hypocritical and generally not Christian. But you just have to watch Jingle All the Way starring Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger to understand that. You could just watch a trailer really. Or I could just tell you that grown men fight over a toy—that’s the whole movie. It was the last Phil Hartman movie released in his lifetime, which I’m sure adds to its aura of holiness, its place in the New Testament that begins with the gospels of Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, though some may argue it an apocryphal appendage. This was of course happening in the real world, the adults fighting for toys. I saw it on the Today Show before going to school one day: Tickle Me Elmo. Just ask Robert Waller who was lucky enough to work for Wal Mart on December 16, 1996 and be handed a box of those toys, lucky enough to be noticed by a crowd of three hundred and to feel their utter wrath as they ripped his box, his clothes and even the crotch of his pants, "suffer[ing] a pulled hamstring, injuries to his back, jaw and knee, a broken rib and a concussion.” What Bryant Gumble failed to mention, what Katie Couric did not read from her teleprompter, was that they loved this story, they told it before it was true, to make it true. But why? What for? Could even the gospel of The Muppets be so tainted? Was nothing sacred? The ‘90s gave us a perverse new kind of shopping which doubles as easily reproducible spectacle, “news story.” The ‘90s gave us the ironic Christmas movie on a massive scale, with 1988’s Scrooged paving the way with Die Hard having something to do with it. 1983’s A Christmas Story is of course another example of the genre with its This American Life dry narration and quirky perspective on American yule. The now classic began to gain a following in the early ‘90s and, starting Christmas eve 1997, airs consecutively 12 times for the aptly dubbed marathon “24 Hours of A Christmas Carol.”

In Jingle All the Way the true meaning of Christmas is revealed—as it is in all of these latter day Christmas movies—which is—always—the topping on the bullshit cake. What does Macaulay Culkin creatively inflicting pain on a duo of burglar caricatures once a year have to do with the Nativity? Well I guess Kevin McAlister hides in a church Nativity Scene—as Joseph, I want to say?—to avoid being seen by the Wet Bandits, but what really does that have to do with the Nativity other than literally being in a Nativity Scene? The Spirit of Christmas is otherwise invoked after the carnage runs its course. Watching The Muppets Christmas Carol was a decidedly better tradition than Home Alone, but less of a cultural phenomenon. Rather: Home Alone was a cultural phenomenon; Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit T. Frog as Bob Cratchit was, however unfortunately, not. I had the Home Alone board game and as the ‘90s became a parody of themselves—Home Alone 3 was released in 1997 with a different protagonist—we stopped watching The Muppets Christmas Carol entirely. We would rewatch Home Alone again years later, as a kind of joke, laughing at our communal solstice ritual: we replaced religion with movies, and this movie was stupid, irresponsible and a kind of propaganda for itself, and not in the literal way it was an ad for Home Alone 2: Lost in the City, or the way the VHS begins with a Pepsi commercial, the way the Pepsi product placement is so obvious, text book, like in Wayne’s World, that taught us a year later how to recognize this bullshit. It’s absurd, replacing the virgin birth with Macaulay Culkin, Pepsi and pagan solstice iconography. We replaced religion with stupid movies, with advertisement for soda, which is its own special kind of American story. I always liked Coke, it seemed more classic—Coca Cola Classic—this choice mattered more to me than Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean anything really: I never thought about Jesus Christ and I thought about soda constantly. There was less cognitive dissonance becoming politically aware in the Bush Administration than learning about Christianity through Christmas.

I preferred Christmas the two years when I worked at a movie theater and wasn’t forced to commit to the infantile charade. Instead I just had to work, ten times as hard because all of post-Christian America goes to the independent movie theater to see the Oscar favorites that didn’t star Americans. And suddenly a theater—that would normally provide a half dozen asocial cinephiles two hours of sounds and images to ponder—must now satisfy by the hundred those who have replaced mass with movies as the new Christmas ritual. I would direct the public and their grandmas to their seats. I would prepare a bag of popcorn and place it in the hands of the believer like a wafer on a tongue, followed by the soda, saying “nine dollars for the popcorn and the soda,” but meaning Body of Christ...Blood of Christ.

It was all bullshit. An art house theater stuffed full of pretenders. The movies have been here all year. International. Diverse. Progressive. Avant-garde. Where were you? You can’t see a foreign movie once a year on Christmas—and it’s the fucking King’s Speech which should not even count—and maybe a Woody Allen movie around Easter, and claim to be an intellectual. We all know you’re at the mall every weekend with Matt Damon, but we’ll forgive you, welcome you on this holy day and sell you your ticket, you’re welcome anytime with that New Yorker you use for deodorant. Christmas is so empty that it sucks the meaning out of what matters to me year round. It’s a month-long build up to a nebulous beauty that disappeared decades ago when some asshole told you there wasn’t a Santa Claus. So fuck that, fuck the Christmas myth, most of the Christian one—saving the anti-commercial meat of it—and fuck the commercial black heart of Christmas that has grown so cancerous that it’s now sucked up Thanksgiving into it expanding death. I just read about “Christmas Creep” on wikipedia, a phrase as old as me.

If you work in the service industry the spirit of holidays is reversed—when people are off work you are on, working harder, which is good if you work for tips and better if you want to go to a bar on your night off or a restaurant and not be overwhelmed by people with real jobs going out en masse. It’s confusing when you end up with a Friday night off and you go to a movie. Where the hell did all of these people come from? Is it Friday? Yes, it is Friday. Why am I not being paid to deal with these crowds? Is Christmas over yet? It’s worth when you live in the small town you grew up in, there are so many people at the bar. People from high school learn that you live in Monterey again, and you learn that they have a real job. They live in Oakland. What are you doing here? might literally be asked. I love Monterey, is not your response, especially not now. You look forward to asserting your own values upon the life you live once again, a respite from buying things, a guilt-free evening to yourself, reading a damn book, writing a fucking essay.

I quit the movie theater job as 2011 dawned in Chicago, St. Louis, Central Time—it was 10 o’clock, is what I’m saying—it’s a long story, but the point is I quit. A week later I would be taking a trip, and I didn’t want to be expected to show up when I was closer to Canada than the theater. I had spent a month respecting the collective beliefs of the society I live in, and now I was free to take my pilgrimage, celebrate my view of reality, think about every one from Junipero Serra to Ken Kesey who believed in the holiness of the north south path along the west coast, El Camino Real, the collision of old world and new world in a place that didn’t have much to do with either. I had bought the presents, eaten the cookies, opened the presents, spoke on the phone, watched TV, but now it was time to rediscover whatever love I had of the world, whatever friends and family were out there, how had they survived the spiritual vacuity of the great December pretending, Christmas’ war on us. In Portland, Ian had managed to find employment for the first time in awhile as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army dressed up as Santa. 

Eventually in January the memory of it fades away as the trees leave the leaving room and briefly lay at the curb, this Christmas that felt omnipotent, like it would never end, its ultimate ironies of charity and greed, both on heavy steroids as though egging each other on, fueled by a nation of people who work too much or too little to conceive of their truth, or to believe that any of it even matters.

This story ends with The King’s Speech winning a shit ton of Oscars and me stuttering out a novel of sorts. I hope you enjoyed the show.

Monday, January 27, 2014


I wanted to write about an event that occurred seven years previous. I wanted to include dialogue from a conversation that transpired between my friend B— and myself so I called him with some notes on what I had approximated from my end of the exchange so he could tell me what he remembered saying, or what he would have said, or what he agreed would be a reasonable representation of what he would have said.

We both lived in one of dormitories at our school in the first months of our first year. It was the night of a weekday and we saw each other at the cafeteria and sat by a window overlooking the bronze statue of Sacagawea and the tree-lined walk to the academic buildings. Really you couldn't see the statue, the only objects visible in the dark were the emergency call posts and their blue illuminations, but I see it now. One of the benefits of memory is the ability to see in the dark, what you remember from the day remains in sight after darkness shrouds it.

You wouldn't look outside anyway—there's too much activity in the buffet-style expanse, eyeing the food lines to time the opportune moment to wait on a slab of sustainable lasagna or a bowl of ice cream, when a fresh pot of coffee is brought out, where that kid is you don't want to talk to, which tables you'd feel obligated to stop and chat with, sizing up a quarter student body in a continued process that began the day you began occupying a child's bed four feet from a stranger, the stories you begin to associate with these studying bodies. Really you just want to eat as much as possible and drink as much coffee as reasonable as fast as you can. You see Sacagawea now in hindsight, but really she wasn't there.

I had been talking to B— about what we had been calling The HBO Show. We had set up phone meetings that played as mock work sessions to get down some ideas. Ever since I fell down the concrete stairs in January I became enamored with this idea. I could fit together all of ideas up to that point, the book about Seinfeld, the collaborative autobiography with Ed, the bocce book, my musical endeavors, all the scenes I had incited or otherwise participated in. It would make a perfect HBO show: self-referential, vaguely intellectual, but it would be our generation's show in the way Girls could never be and decidedly is not. "On January 20th, 2013 Andrew Shaw-Kitch began to go back in time...but as himself."

On this night it so happened that I had some pot and so we conspired to smoke it after dinner and talk up an enthusiasm about whatever studies we intended to accomplish. However, on this night, as was wont to happen, our sojourn along the edge of the ravine a hundred paces off the road into the the redwoods inspired a dialogue that ultimately led to a cataclysmic rethinking of western civilization that spoiled the early evening's supposedly committed library excursion. It probably involved the Muppets, but such specifics are precisely why this phone call was necessary.

On this night it also so happened that Brendan had some beer in his room so we tiptoed up the stairs in our dormitory crossing our fingers that we wouldn't run into someone. It could be an authority figure or simply a friendly hall mate who wanted to say "Hello." Either way the stakes were high, though only because we were. So much is revealed in hindsight, and nothing is more clear than how silly this was. All the same, we felt a great triumph arriving at Brendan's room, looking out the peephole knowing we were in the clear. Everyone deserves the feeling of triumph on a daily basis, even if it's found in simply walking from outside into a dormitory. We sat down and an opened phonebook on the ground started the conversation.

"So, B—, I noticed the phonebook and you noticed me noticing it and I asked, 'where'd you get a phone book?' It was an undergraduate college dorm in 2005, after all, it would seem a little out of place."

"Wouldn't you have said that then, like 'What the hell is a phonebook doing on your floor? Why is there even a phonebook in this building?'"

"I guess so, let me write that down...'in this building.' So what did you say."

"I have no idea what I said. The phonebook was in your room. We were in your room, you had a bottle of wine or something and you probably wanted to listen to Pavement or something."

This was true, but I simply wanted to clarify something before we proceeded. This night had been running circles in my head for weeks now due to certain temporal incongruities turned its events into a paradox that made might heart race when I got lost in it: 1. I didn't remember waking up with a phonebook opened on my chest that autumn morning in 2005. 2. I revisited that evening several weeks prior to this conversation, December 2013. 3. After that, now January 2014, I came across some notes taken from a meeting dated February 25, 2013 in which I had written down two of B—'s ideas gleaned from the conversation: a. In the present I could be sober, however I end up at a party in the past that is technically prior to my sobriety date. And b. I wake up with a phonebook on my chest inexplicably.

I wanted B— to corroborate this detail for me because otherwise my sanity would be entirely in question. I would fear every word out of my mouth to be non sequitur, contextless, rambling and coded. I would seek help, put myself away. But no the phonebook was in my room.

"That's right, of course! So you asked me about the phonebook."

"'Spareribs, why is there a phonebook on your floor? Where can you even find a phonebook around here?'"

"'That's exactly what I've been wondering all day. I've checked all the buildings on campus and checked them all for payphones. There are six, and only four of them have phonebooks.'"

"'So you don't know how it got in your room?'"

"'I woke up this morning with the phonebook opened on my chest.'"

"'Which page was it opened to?'"

"I have no idea which page it was opened to. Do you remember?"

"Wasn't it like Patio Furnishings and Pizza or something?"

"Couldn't we just make up a maximally absurd page? That seems fair."

"We can do a little research for that one." "'Which two payphones were missing phonebooks?'"

"'The library basement, and the phone outside the cafeteria.'"

"'Were you there last night?'"

As I said: I have no memory of this night, much less the one that preceded it. It felt much like a night I would have had at the time, but all of its specifics escaped me. My first cognizance of it was a month before when I reexperienced it, though differently than my other travels into my past, it was as though I were experiencing it for the first time.

"Now this is where the conversation gets weird, B—."

"The conversation wasn't just weird, buddy. You started looking at me as though in that moment you lost your mind. Your eyes doubled in size, your mouth slowly opened as far as it would go and your hands went in the air, fingers opened, swatting at the air in total, physical disbelief. Isn't that why we're having this conversation? This is the scene when you tell me. This is how it starts."

" remember. This really happened. I haven't made this up in my mind."

"Oh my god. It's January 2014! That's where you were on that night, now I see why you're freaking out. It's OK. Let's just finish the dialogue, Spare. The universe is a loving one."

"'I don't remember where I was last night!'"

"And then you just stared at me still looking totally insane, but I just figured you were really stoned and worked up about the phonebook thing, so I laughed, which seemed to cause you to smile, making your face look a different kind of crazy, occasionally squinting, standing up and sitting down, biting your lip and staring at space as though you were figuring out an intensely satisfying puzzle. Then you sat down right next to me smiling hugely and started to whisper."


"'What's going on, little buddy?' I said kind of anxiously, as I can recall."

"I wasn't drinking wine yet, but you were sipping it out of a coffee cup."

"It was the spider cider mug. I remember because it broke that night."

"'B—, I have something to tell you that might sound crazy, but I want to assure you that I'm not fucking with you.'"

"Whatever I said there had to be kind of cliche or else it would sound out of place. 'Are you alright?' or 'You're freaking me out, Spare.'"

"'In January 2013 I was visiting Emily, or, I mean, I visit Emily. She lives in Northeast Portland at the time. I am at her house alone one night and I go to get a towel from the basement and fall down the stairs as I try to find them. The next thing I am perceiving is the house I live in in Monterey in 2012. I then get up and live eight hours of that day before returning to the moment at the bottom of the basement stairs in Northeast Portland.'"

"'Like in Home Alone when Daniel Stern falls down the stairs and the movie leaves him there awhile before coming back.'"

"I can't believe you said that, of all the things you could have said."

"Whatever, it's what came into my head, your revelation actually made me make more sense of you. You were so damn worried I'd think you were crazy."

"' in Home Alone, the camera of my consciousness left that scene and revisited a prior one, eventually returning to where it left off....'"

"'So where are you now? I mean, where did you leave? And where am I in the future?'"

"'I am in January 2014, that's all I can tell you. I don't think I should tell you anything else.'"

"'I guess that makes sense.'"

'''Except for two things. One: I found a note recently about two story ideas suggested by you that both come from tonight, the phonebook being one. The second is that my present self becomes sober then goes back in time to relive a night in which he drinks, but it's okay because it is prior to his sobriety date. Now, I do not become sober, as far as I know, but, on the first day of the year I decided not to drink for a month, yet here I am with a glass of wine not sure how to proceed.'"

"'So you're telling me that you are experiencing this moment right now for the first time as yourself from a decade in the future and that, due to some time loop I have memory of this conversation and night while you do not until you experience it as your future self? And that I gave clues to you in the ensuing time so that one day you would figure out this was so and realize that for the entire time that we knew each other I knew that you traveled through time and you didn't?'"

"'That's what I'm saying.'"

"But what if this was a mistake, what if you just misread coincidences and I was never supposed to know? What if you ruptured fate by not keeping your mouth shut and going along with evening as it was supposed to?"

"That's not what you said."

"I'm saying this now."

"That can't be. No. That can't be."

"How should we end it?"