The Daily

First Person

Royal Quiet Deluxe

October 13, 2014 | by

Marinus Adrianus Koekkoek, In the Chicken Yard, ca. 1850, oil on canvas, 22.8" × 29.7".

In 1972, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings changed the face of country music forever with the Outlaw country sound. In 1974, the Ramones did the same thing for rock ’n’ roll. In 2000, my friend Tim and I set out to do the same for both genres with a way-out sound and a more ambitious instrumentation.

We call ourselves Royal Quiet Deluxe, which is also the make and model of the typewriter I play as percussion. Tim plays the guitar and the bass, often simultaneously. We provide the backing rhythms for two live chickens that peck out abstract melodies on toy pianos.

Every rehearsal and performance is a spontaneous improvisation, and no two performances are ever the same. The chickens are named Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline. Different individual chickens come and go, but in our pretentious barnyard Menudo they are always named Kitty Wells or Patsy Cline.

The band played two shows last year in college that we felt went incredibly well. Our former housemate lives in Japan now with a boyfriend who books bands in Osaka and Tokyo. We lied to her a little about how much we’d improved since graduation, and she lied to her boyfriend a little more on top of that, and now he says that if we can get him a solid live tape, of an actual show with a cheering audience and everything, he can book us a tour in Japan.

And you just know Japanese people are crazy about this kind of shit. Read More »

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Letter from a Retreat

September 29, 2014 | by

How not to meditate.

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Photo: Michel Royon

Martin had a long pair of navy-blue socks that he wore when it was cold. He wore them in the morning before sunrise, and usually took them off before noon.

We were doing a silent, shamatha meditation retreat in the foothills of the Himalayas. The retreat was led by a stern Zen monk from Japan. We referred to him by his honorific, Venerable. Venerable was tall. It was hard to determine his age. He might have been fifty years old, at most. He wore aviator-style glasses. He had square front teeth. His eyes tilted a bit down at the outer corners, down toward his ears, giving him a sad, warm, sexual look. He was handsome and he was stern. He told us that if we learned to sit shamatha, we would no longer have nightmares, and all our anxieties would reveal themselves as mental disturbances and nothing more. He asked us to consider, when we were feeling anxiety, if that was really bliss. Really look at it, he said, really ask yourself. Actually, I don’t think he understood our practice, but I think he’d gotten some instruction, and I was a little offended and a little uneasy that he’d come and sit here and insult us—suggest vaguely that his style of Buddhism was superior. But maybe I was imagining it.

On the first night of the retreat, Venerable told us that ego is like a vampire. Martin, whom I was secretly dating, raised his hand and asked how, if he was to think of his ego as a sneaky vampire, he was expected to relax. The phrase “sneaky vampire” got stuck in my head. The question seemed like a comeback. It made Venerable seem, all at once, ridiculous. I was afraid, while Venerable answered, that I would start laughing, so I didn’t hear his answer. The next person asked a question. I was still thinking “sneaky vampire.” Then I broke. I started laughing. Each time I got my laughing under control, it would explode again, worse, when I thought, “sneaky vampire” while looking at Venerable’s handsome face, noticing his elegant comportment. Venerable was answering an Australian paraglider’s question about light. “Ah, light,” he said, “that is a big subject. For that, come and talk to me in private.” Read More »

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The Brothers 40K

September 24, 2014 | by

War game as money pit.

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Ork Boyz from a recent version of Warhammer 40,000.

When you’re growing up, having a brother close to you in age means you’re never alone. There’s someone to share your clothes and chores, your blame and punishment, and, as was my case, your bedroom—my brother and I were together even in a state of sleepy unconsciousness. The second of my two oldest brothers predates me by a mere ten and a half months. When we were young everyone thought we were twins; even we secretly thought so for a while. A major, if less apparent, perk of our bond was that we could partake of enthusiasms we wouldn’t have wanted others to know about—not our friends, nor the girls we had crushes on, nor anyone, really.

The summer before high school we stumbled on something unbelievably uncool. If we hadn’t had each other for company, I like to think we wouldn’t have given the endeavor a second thought. We had our reputations to uphold, after all. His was being cool—he was a drummer in a punk band whose members, including a female bass player he would later start dating, were much older than he was. My brother drank a can of Mountain Dew every morning for breakfast and wanted everyone to know about it. I had considerably less to lose: I awkwardly straddled the world of jocks and skateboarders, with mixed results. But since my brother and I had each other, we found no reason to limit our interests, however obscure, unpopular, or geeky they may have appeared, and however much they might have jeopardized us in the eyes of our peers.

The pursuit I speak of is Warhammer 40,000, a dystopian, futuristic tabletop war game set in the forty-first millennium, a combination of Risk and Dungeons & Dragons with a sci-fi twist. Read More »

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Pastless Futureless Man

September 8, 2014 | by

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Image: Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator

“The Marivaudian being is, according to Poulet, a pastless futureless man, born anew at every instant. The instants are points which organize themselves into a line, but what is important is the instant, not the line. The Marivaudian being has in a sense no history. Nothing follows from what has gone before. He is constantly surprised. He cannot predict his own reaction to events. He is constantly being overtaken by events. A condition of breathlessness and dazzlement surrounds him. In consequence he exists in a certain freshness which seems, if I may so, very desirable.”
—Donald Barthelme, “Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning”

I’ve been watching and avoiding a man who lives in the present. We go to the same café, each of us alone. He resembles a distinguished physicist, the kind invited to appear on television when a scientific worldview is needed. So I was intent on listening to him when he stood up to greet his friend, also in his golden years. 

The friend asked him how he had been doing.

“Oh, I don’t know, I misplaced my laptop. I can’t remember where I put it.”

“Did you ask someone for help?”

“I think so. But you know I can’t remember anything. And so I bought an iPad, but I lost that, too.”

“Yes, I lost my car the other day.”

“No. Where?”

“I don’t know.” Read More »

5 COMMENTS

They Put Him in the Freezer

August 11, 2014 | by

Last call at the Blarney Cove.

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Photo: Gabriel Herrera

For a long time, when I came to the end of something—a walk across the bridge, an absence from the city—I would find myself inside the Blarney Cove, a hallway-sized Irish bar on Fourteenth Street between Avenues A and B. The place’s gravity came from its total disregard for the passage of time. Its drywall ceiling was never finished. Its walls, wood paneled with patches of green-and-white striped wallpaper, likely hadn’t been redone since the seventies. Outside, four or five customers perpetually gathered for a cigarette, tending to the drunken chain-smoker’s belief that tomorrow will never arrive. Among this crowd, you could always spot a straggler with a folded dollar between his fingers. “Can I buy a cigarette?” he’d ask the group, waving the bill he couldn’t afford to give away. “You can just have one,” someone would say. (As the straggler knew, at the Blarney Cove, no one ever took the dollar.) Once, I asked a regular from Harlem what it was about this odd and dreary bar that made him take the trip more than one hundred blocks downtown just for a drink. He paused, as if it had never before occurred to him to consider his commute, and then said, “It feels like home.”

There was no more lonesome jukebox in the five boroughs than that of the Blarney Cove. Over the years, I watched all sorts of people haunt the bar’s four square feet of danceable floor—a grizzly man in a cowboy hat, a college girl with big hoop earrings—each gyrating in solitary defiance of the sleepy night. Some nights, after the loafers took their positions along the bar, an older woman named Kiko would walk in and ask each of the men to dance with her, one by one; slumped over in thought and beer, they’d always decline. I watched her once as she swayed her hips to Lucinda Williams’s “Drunken Angel,” alone. Read More »

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Mad, Etc.

August 5, 2014 | by

A panda painting, small-claims court, and the perils of communal living.

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From a 1937 advertisement.

Of the many collectives in West Philadelphia, the Mitten was widely held to be the ideal model. Founded by six young progressives from the Inter-cooperative Council in Michigan, it hosted workshops on social justice and fundraised for local nonprofits. And it was a staple of the queer-arts scene: punk bands played in the basement and drag shows filled the living room, with performers grinding on audience members and audience members grinding on banisters. In the adjacent lot they had grown a lush garden with six raised beds and a chicken coop.

When I first moved to Philadelphia, I was eager to join a house like this one—but brimming with collaborative energy, they were in high demand, and the ones I found lacked the character and spirit that’d drawn me to communal living in the first place.

I was impatient, though, and took a room in Cedar Park, aka “University City,” at an A-frame Victorian with a huge mulberry tree. The quaint facade hardly matched its sterile interior: overhead lighting reflected off marble countertops, the white walls were bare, and there was La-Z-Boy furniture in suburban quantities. This collective included five members, young professionals who, surprisingly, spent the majority of time away from the house, staying often with their partners. A math teacher, a product engineer, a classical vocalist and a software designer—they were mild and even a little shy. But one of the members, Jeff, maintained a particular enthusiasm for the house. He spoke in an affectedly deep voice, noticeably straining as he described the order of things: regular meals “kept costs down”; adherence to the chore wheel “kept everything running smoothly.” He appeared to be the oldest by a significant difference; his skin had a jaundiced tint, and his goatee was visibly grayed. A baseball cap covered his bald head, and in his beige clothing he nearly blended with the plush chairs in the living room. Read More »

1 COMMENT