A Week in Culture: J. D. Daniels, Part 2


The Culture Diaries

This is the second installment of Daniels’ culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


9:00 A.M. Slept eleven hours. A dream of my desk, very clean, nothing on it but a flower, inkpens, my hourglass. After waking, I arrange the desk to match the dream. I stare out the window for an hour until the phone rings: and this is why one must take the phone off the hook. My father calls to say he’s mailed two boxes of his old sweaters to me. Ninety degrees Fahrenheit projected for today. NYT and WSJ.

11:00 A.M. On the scale at the YMCA: I have gained forty-one pounds since January, thirty-five pounds of steel-hard muscle and six pounds of greasy trash. My goal is eleven more pounds before I go back to Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Encounter with P at the grocery. I haven’t seen him for two years, not since I was so skinny that they called me the disappearing man. “Now you’re a monster,” he says. But I am not a monster: I am a nice person.

6:00 P.M. Walk along the river. Humid. A woman needed help untangling her garden hose: held her dog for her. Sparrows taking dust-baths, beating their heads against the ground. Starlings. A plague of robins. A single night-heron.

7:00 P.M. Pasta with red peppers. Finished Dash Shaw’s graphic novel Bodyworld.

8:00 P.M. Turned on This Old House and saw Bill Pierce from Agni sweeping polymerized sand into the cracks of his new patio. I gave a lecture to his night class at the Extension School last week. A student asked if I worry about what people think when I “write something cheesy.” “Cheese is very good for you,” I said. “It contains calcium and vitamin A and phosphorus. So fuck them.”

10:00 P.M. Staying up late to finish Leila Marouane’s novel The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris.


9:00 A.M. Rain. Re-reading D. H. Lawrence on Whitman at L’s instigation. NYT and WSJ.

11:00 A.M. I call downtown to see if I’m going to be able to hock my bass amp. The fellow on the phone—enthusiastic, not to say coked up—begins to describe his evaluative process to me. “It’s like Pawn Stars on the Discovery Channel,” he says, “have you ever seen it?” No, but I have been in a lot of pawn shops. The last time I was in this store I threw a fit, the kind of fit I thought I didn’t have any more. But I was mistaken. My analyst found it all very interesting. “Hmm,” he said. He’s always humming, that man. He sounds like an old refrigerator. Sometimes I’d like to break his fingers. There are ten of them.

1:00 P.M. Home, with the bass amp converted into not quite enough money to buy a used saxophone. “My mouth isn’t deformed,” I tell the guy on the phone. “I’m not following you,” he says. “What I mean,” I say, “is can a normal person learn to make a sound on it?” “It’s an easy instrument to begin,” he says, “the saxophone. At first. Relax.” People are always telling me to relax.

4:00 P.M. Cleaning the downstairs library. These other culture diarists are more interesting than I am. I wonder if they are lying. The temptation to lie is very great.


7:00 A.M. A cicada molting on S’s office window. Its slow green leg. NYT and WSJ.

11:00 A.M. To the Y. Maxing out my deadlifts again. I want more, I’m greedy, I’m weak, I have so far to go. I don’t know how Sven Lindqvist maintained his veneer of calm in Bench Press. I never cared about sports until I was thirty and I used to think it was ridiculous when I saw athletes getting psyched up, but now I’m scared enough of being crushed under my squat poundage that I sometimes have to slap my face a couple of times before I can begin. You lift weights with your mind, not your body.

2:00 P.M. Takeout: dumplings, pork with garlic sauce, beef with broccoli, chicken fried rice. Five fortune cookies have been included: apparently this was thought to be a meal for five.

3:30 P.M. Comatose for two hours.

6:30 P.M. To J’s house. Crates of books he must get rid of. Burnaby’s On Horseback Through Asia Minor, wonderful. Giants walked the earth in those days. They taught themselves to do without. Maybe they didn’t want it in the first place. See also: Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it.


9:30 A.M. To the Cordon Bleu academy on my bike. Today: eggs. I sign up for eggs Benedict since I know what a poached egg is. What is a crepe, I wonder. A crepe is sivilization. I make Hollandaise sauce and English muffins with ham. This course has turned out to be restaurant training, army-cooking, industrial-scale cooking, breakfast for twenty. I’m learning a lot in “Back to Basics” but it’s clear what I needed was “Basics the First Time Around.” I make mayonnaise, whisking until my wrist is sore. I stand there with my hands on my hips, laughing: it really tastes like mayonnaise. The whole class comes over with spoons to see what the big deal is.

2:00 P.M. Comatose for two hours.

6:30 P.M. I take the mayonnaise to M’s and we eat it with lobsters in order to give a visiting Milanese biochemist a taste of New England. And the evening and the morning are the seventh day.