Thursday, October 27, 2011

Utterly Smitten

Ok, these two are on a crazy streak of delightful. My friends Celeste and Kim run a blog called Utterly Smitten. It used to also be run by Leslie (who was kind enough to let me sleep on her New York City living room floor), but now it's just the West Coasters. And they're doing spectacular work.

I ramble on this blog a whole lot and, as a collection, it's wildly self-indulgent. So, Utterly Smitten, in its concise, precise way of articulating joy as a worldly project, is sort of the anti-Cobblestone Address. It's whimsical, gleeful and appreciative. It covers art trends, fashion, food, home decor and general hey-maybe-we-should-be-creative-and-excited-or-just-smile-a-little-more-since-life-really-ain't-so-bad pieces. There's something about the collective vibe of the blog that reads like it's for adults reinventing nostalgia, from treehouses to costumes, and you find yourself wondering, hell, why couldn't we still giggle about old photographs and let our imagination get the best of us?

Some radical posts of late:

- One Couple, Two Houses

- The Soul Of Vinyl

- Dear Photograph, I Love You

- Adventures In Dreaming

Anyway, here and there, I get sick to death of myself and need a break. I can't even imagine how it is for people who aren't me. So, if my blog ever seems like it's become a mess of drunken poetry and obnoxious anecdotes about nothing, I recommend Utterly Smitten. Celeste and Kim are like...rainy day changer extraordinaires, a two-person tribe of the High-Five elite, the elected officials of Good Mood City. Yeah? Yeah.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Old Flames VII: Shadows Come

Shadows come, bear us the frosty mornings we dream in your darkness for. I have lit all candles and sat on my couch all night. I have waited for starlight demons to dazzle me with coy sleight of hand. Mesmerize me, faintest moon beams. Boon with me with a majestic sorrow, for I have cut up your universe and made you lonelier stars.

From this, I became a summer. I sat in the fields of gold listening to the corn grow and a jazz piano in the winding road. We watched afternoon disappear like an old friend. I wrestled with my morals out beyond the creek with my closest of blood brothers. I paved my way to hell and adulthood with shoes I never wore. Shit knows they came every Christmas.

Oh, darling mistress Christmas, you were good to me as a child and I am easing into the winter holiday as an adult. There is new ingredients in the eggnog and friends by the tree. We all become winter wanderers when the weather outside is something we ain't used to. Give me the pumpkins and stars and four leaf clovers from other holidays. We're cooking a seasonal stew to get warm. Stay eternally warm. We want these clouds we threaded to be throw pillows for when we have guests. Let this house fill itself with guests. So, bring every schoolmate and ex, we're drinking ourselves gorgeous tonight.

Hot damn, blessed be our busted knuckles and wrap them in bandages for when we drink our hottest of sweet ale, to finally go swimming into the fearlessly golden beyond.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Old Flames VI: Hammers & Miles

All I wanted to hear was Peter, Paul & Mary's "If I Had A Hammer" or The Journeymen's "500 Miles." Marching through the swamps and meadows, I shed my clothes to be a better man here in the new west. No knives in my pockets, no powder in my nails, I arrived to be greeted by sunshine and soul songs in countryside. Lord, why couldn't I go back home?

Even in this heaven, even in this messiahless land of washboard words and stick clapping, we are only praying away the spirits of Olde English Rule. Bathe me in the river to make me a moralless man. Whisper love letters to the wind and don't pay the government. Harmony came too softly, lovingly rooting itself in American folklore. We all read it, but we never got the anthems tattooed.

Barrel-chested men stand at the cliffs singing sailor songs for dead mates. God buried them at the bottom of the ocean for the sins of drinking buddies. All desolate friends find themselves in churches when the dearly departed catch the last train home. But after two beers and a handful of songs on guitar, we'll all sniff the gunpowder in our broken fingers, wrecked cracking dry by godless hands. Working the railway or the highway, sweating my guts clean for a savior who won't show, this has always been the murderous lullaby.

Here, a man swings from a tree, and it's up to the writers tell you once they decide if the man is alive or dead. Could be the end of the line noose, could be the childhood tire swing. All I know is I'm miles away from home with just a hammer, so either I build stages or gallows. I can swing my tool in the daylight sprites of wayward youth, as I come down on the nails like I was sealing shut the coffin for the last vampire on the west coast.

In the distance, I hear a train and I grin my dirty pale coating, because I know the right kid got outta the country. We'll watch each other shrink in the distance until we see each other as tycoons. We'll compare our hearts like egos and grind our groin slowly. We are men after all. Only gods for a summer evening, we think. What a long ago waste we missed. Put your arm around me, old friend. I want to see our youth and it'll take everything we both have.

I'll forever be away from home, you know. I'll always have the farmland in my red skillet heart, but I'll always have skyscrapers in my diamond sky eyes. Tender and brash, I'll take my grass stains and drinking problems home when the moon comes to set. Just let me see the coast. Just let me breathe the mist and watch the gulls dive. Let me hear the echoes of rocky beaches and the rolling waves of teenage romance.

Let me start over, for I have doors to open and windows to close. Why do last hope criminals get redeemed when I can't do anything about regrets as a god-fearing realist? This is the chain gang as a yuppie boardroom. All men in suits sing the anthems of dead sailors anyway, you see. From the peak of god to the peaks of man come the afternoon heartache, all watching the sun from mirrors in their heartless rooms.

So, we turned on the music and started laughing. Nothing hurt. Nothing came. We just painted a future for the kids we'd have after the shrugs and giggles got out of our system. Then we became husbands and wives. We became kids all over. We just got the money we needed for our big, big plans. Honey, I've loved you since I was a kid. I just didn't know the right name to write in my journal. But I knew you. I talked about you constantly. I told them you'd come. I believed you'd come. I watched all those folk documentaries and foreign films, so I'd have something good to talk about on our first date. I wanted to impress you. I wanted you to get reckless with your heart. Lord knows I did.

There I go again, carving up the gospel, just so I'd have lyrics or poems to give you. I'd give you all my words if I didn't need them for pillow talk. Let me tell you these stories all over again some day with the right music. Darling, honey, you'd be in for one hell of a surprise.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Old Flames V: Dog Statues

I remember the dog statues at the wavy house at the end of the block. It was the summer I discovered the skin of the country. It was Great America on the speakers. The soldiers always came home and got jobs. Some became artists, clueless knives and all. The books were buried. This was the new white burn. It's just one lost love after another.

So this is the tonic water we taste on our tongues. This is the heartache. This is the crassness. This is how I got through the war of it all. So bury this axe tonight in the skin of the door, all with wood from crosses never carried to the holy ground. Yay, yay, the priests will say, but we'll really know just who would toke a quiet huff in the diamond snuff. And so it became the last letter of broken words, severed at the gut. Mankind, why won't we hear us out?

Just because, that will be the empty chant that'll come back, tar and feathers and all, and we won't fall, we won't even crawl, no matter how lonely we get. Savor the smoke, as we drag through the ashes looking for the keys to Heaven.

This masterpiece is too much to ground, so please serve this to the troops. We have one too many authors writing haikus. Get them on the tombstone to save the canvases for tents. Shall we not die out here, away from city kings, away from poisoned church wells, buried hatchet ivies, more failed graces and dead lovers. Move on, move on, please.

Too many comedians swinging from the balcony, too many loons try to stage for free, and we mostly just let the whos and whats figure it all out. Why can't we play God's grand dice game? What are we, poisoned rats? Awash us, awash us, anoint us harrowed princess and garden graveyard of fairies. This was not the end we played so well. Dig it up, dig it up, we have alibis and grudges to deal like the devil's last poker game. Swear it to live, kid o' gray street almighty. Swear it to all graves here.

Surrender, surrender, I never met our maker. We were us and this was that. We just wanted to call it a wrap. Let's do grand here and now, merry roasters and boasters of drink, here we sleep in one rambling house for a tremendous dream. Sleep well, sleep well, sleep in one grace of now.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


"If Herman Cain wants proof that sexual orientation isn't a choice, then he should just say, 'Hey, I like women. Could I choose not to?' When he realizes he can't, shouldn't that be the end of the argument right there?" - Kevin Ryder, from Kevin & Bean (surprising, right?)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Last 24 Hours

Well, the last 24 hours have been one wild turn after another. My company is being purchased, resulting in massive layoffs this morning. My car is in the shop for another $1,000+ repair as of this afternoon. And I did nothing today but lay on my couch and watch My Neighbor Totoro and most of Community's Season Two because of some rather harsh food poisoning I brought back with me from Mexico.

But at least I'm still undefeated in my fantasy football league. Hey, that's something, right?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ah, Mexico

I went to Mexico this weekend. I feel like I played a hundred games of backgammon on the beach and danced my feet numb at La Fonda. The paint of my lungs is peeling from cigarettes and coughing from so much laughter. My stomach is full of rice, beans and tequila. I worked on my book like the workweek would kill me. I saw the world in sunglasses and let the wind have a grin so sharp that it would've cut up my hands if I was a praying man.

Also, I need to stop writing posts like this. It's getting, like, super-uber cliche.

But it's like this every time in Mexico and it's been like this for years. Rex and I talked about it during an evening smoke break as we overlooked waves rolling in on an empty beach while a live band played for folks downing real margaritas a stairway up.

We just keep recapturing our youth without even trying. We just keep getting dealt royal flushes south of the border. We just spend our lives never wanting to go home.

Also, they sell puppies at the border now and I can't get over thinking that I'm going to make one hell of an impulse purchase when I get sick of cheese tamales and ice cream. Goddamn.

I'll love you forever, or as long as you let me, Mexico.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Old Flames IV: I Was Sleeping A Mountain

I was sleeping a mountain and coughin' up earth. I slept for days and buried my curse somewhere in Texas, somewhere with a pile of gold and a pistol. We were beggars then. We're bankers now. But we can call it one too many games of three card monty out in the desert. Ride our horses straight into the sunset. But what came? The future rolled with with lighting and thunder, wrecking the dark skies with pale blue and white. So, so pretty, we all said.

But these were days of hot suns and hot damns and the summertime gatherings. Mariners in the lake, darlings in the creek, love awash in dueling streams. There were no need for strings then. No harps, no nooses. We just built our houses with stone. No hanging, no swinging, no playing anthems for choir angels. Though we could use the light, you best ride your horse as fast as you can before the silver screen burns.

This is the future blow, kid. We've got the theaters and the parks for orphan youth to bury the hatchet. We've still got the criminals and crooks. We've still got the roller-coaster that never stops, not in any of us. We've still got the sunsets, the gardens, the fairweather prayers. What was ever wrong with this roof? We could watch the sky send sunshine through skin, breaking the solstice, tickling sparks through the small towns nearby.

I remember these pages of books. I recall these campfire tales of loneliness and grief. No kid grows up wanting a second chance. Why wouldn't we get it right the first time? I looked at my dog once and realized he'd never smoked a cigarette or broken a heart. No one hated him, nobody ever bothered him. I took one last sip of my orange juice and stared at him while he napped. When he woke up, he licked my cheek and everything settled. But, for one night, I figured my dog was smarter than me.

I also remember driving you home in a white dress, I remember losing my heart before my head and I remember coming home with slumped shoulders and a prizefighter grin. I drank honey that summer. I drank cold water. I drank rum in the shade. And that's when I found prayer, though only to the ghosts of history. After too many cigarettes, ask me for a ride home. It's time I should leave.

See you on the other prairie, rhinos.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Old Flames III: The Golen Light of Night

In the bar, there was a mood. Maybe it was a fever. It was scarlet something either way. The dapper yellow dots came from a horn and bounced off the mirror, spilling black notes everywhere, along with the crashing of a melody. We coughed on the gin and told each other stories. She was in pale blue and I was in pale everything. Well, my suit was black, but my soul was ghost white. One too many promises broken to the gods. The worst bookies they were, the lot of 'em. Let the band play, let the friends cheer, let the last drink go down easily. I want one prayer ceremony after another before the Devil finds this dive. We've got a fistful of great days ahead of us and I'm not slipping into a bidding war with the man who steals from the darkest of graves. We could sell our halos for more. So, pry my grip from these tarot cards. We'll see who was dealt a fair hand. Just wait to tip your hat for the bartender still, as he'll be slinging us shots until the end of the world. Drink up, for this soul is all we had and now this fiery glass of regret is all we have. Make waste the cackle, glory in the highest, said the drunken priest. It's just one more man among us. It's just one less god in the world. Can we take home the sky now? This better be the last chant of the tribes of the endless fields and water of the great planet. Now, where were we? Were we in the bellows and howls of the midnight winter slurs? Well, maybe, mariner, you have sailed too far from home. We are value here. Talk to our pirates and chat up our boxers. We have one long journey ahead of us. The cemetery is just down the street, but we'll take the scenic route for a while. Step up, keep up, for this is grand brickwork we tread. Sleep, sleep, says the priest when he can't. This is one harbor stare I won't soon savor. Not enough boats and bells nestling the breeze. And all we did was drink rum inside, laughing cheers to the the battles while heckling our history. This was one long joke told too long. This is last call, folks and mates. Drink up. We have blood on our hands.

Friday, October 7, 2011

My Manliness: An Essay

"Where do you have to go for your errands?" Grant asked me, as I put shirts away in my closet last week.

"I don't know," I said with a shrug. "Or, shit, I definitely have to replace my shower nozzle. So...probably, what, Bed, Bath & Beyond?"

"No, dude, you need to go to Home Depot," he laughed.

"Hmmm. I think I was just looking for a reason to go to Bed, Bath & Beyond."

"You should be looking for a reason to go to Home Depot!"

"Oh my god, have you ever been to Bed, Bath & Beyond?"

This is my existence as a man. It's one long misunderstanding of what manly men are supposed to do. Or I imagine that's not entirely accurate. I guess a lot of the time it's me understanding what manly men do and then very purposefully ignoring it. Oh, what, I'm supposed to eat red meat, tell you all about the UCLA/USC rivalry AND know what's wrong with my car? I've got romantic comedies to watch, people!

But it always comes back to my dad telling me and my brother at the dinner table years ago, "I failed you as a father." It was definitely light-hearted, clearly not true and one of the funniest things the man's ever said. But, when it comes to knowing the manly things, my brother and I are somewhat, if not totally, inept. And I'm worse than my brother. We can't build shit, we don't understand cars and we won't follow sports. But at least my brother can barbecue a steak while talking about Game of Thrones or Call of Duty. Hell, he was probably already in the lead when he asked me, "What the hell is Two Weeks Notice?"

Recently, I took a wild turn and joined a fantasy football league. Why? Because my roommate and friends were doing it and I wandered into the basement on Labor Day wearing a bathing suit after partying my ass off on a Sunday evening. They needed an eighth person and they promised me it wouldn't be much work. Well, now, I'm in first place. In fact, I'm undefeated, leading one friend to check the standings once and drunkenly yell, "Jake doesn't even fucking like football!"

It's true. I only watch the sport one or two days out of the year: Super Bowl and New Year's Day (if I'm not in Mexico). Some years ago, I was at a Super Bowl party with an ex-girlfriend. Her friends' boyfriends talked about sports in the '90s and I laid down all of my knowledge about basketball and baseball from the decade, admitting I was a huge fan up until I was a teenager. They were taken aback, as they had heard the rumors that I was some pansy writer vegetarian. One of them asked, "What the hell happened when you became a teenager?" The girl I was with leaned over and answered for me, "He discovered poetry."

That had some weight and truth to it, though it was also because I realized I didn't give a good goddamn fuck about baseball. And then writing and music pushed out my dedication to basketball, though I still follow the playoffs.

I was on the phone with a friend, discussing football players' stats (because I look that shit up now for fantasy reasons), my brother stared at me, grinned and said, "You happy? Talking about sports makes you happy now? So you're into sports now? Just gonna leave your ol' brother behind, eh? Fuck you! I have to start talking about cars now!"

My old roommates were huge Angels fans. Needlessly to say, they stopped inviting me to watch games with them in the living room, because I'd just get drunk on cheap beer and heckle the television. I wasn't rooting for anyone but me then and watching baseball on television is usually tallied up as a loss in my book. Once, they invited my brother over. He said all kinds of solid observations about trades, injuries, RBIs, ERAs and made thoughtful suggestions about what he thought would improve certain players' games. My roommates were impressed. They all told him how much manlier he was than me and that it was cool to have a Kilroy watching sports with them. Then, around the seventh inning stretch, they realized he kept sneaking looks at his phone and took it away from him. After going through his phone's text messages, it became apparent that everything my brother had said in the last hour was actually his friend coaching him. My brother cackled and then made one last observation of the game: "That pitcher's name is really long." They didn't invite him back.

Thus is the Kilroy Brothers' charm: a resonating mockery of most things manly.

The two of us thrive on refusal. If someone tells us to be interested in anything, especially something manly, we automatically become less interested in it. And, not only that, but we also become obnoxiously uninterested in it. This, I believe, has lead to our ability to talk shit better than the average citizen. We actually don't get much flack for not knowing what tools are which, what team won what championship or what makes any car run. But we take serious interest in everything (another Kilroy Brother trait). We want people to tell us about building and mechanical projects. The two of us are sincerely interested in someone telling us why something is interesting to them. We just don't want someone to tell us we should or need like it. Because then it becomes twenty minutes of us making fun of that person until they feel like a dopey fuckard. Nobody in there right mind would put either of us on their list of Top Five People To Have On Your Side In A Physical Fight. However, I think we'd make it to a lot of lists if they fights were verbal.

At some young age, I imagine we were presented with a crossroads: get interested in manly things or get good at talking shit. We very definitely went with the latter. Nobody really hassles us anymore. We love being invited to do manly things, but we'll goddamned if someone's gonna make us do anything. Example: Both of us get invited to go rock-climbing, though neither of us actually rock-climb. Our friends know this. They invite us out to the spots, very nicely ask us if we want to climb and we very politely refuse. Why do we go? Because we love hanging out, camping and drinking. Our interest in sports goes about as far as makeshift games with friends and doing our best to not die of a heart attack.

But, as for general manly interests, I had an imagination that wouldn't tolerate the main interests of manly stereotypes. I built with Legos and my tools were plastic, so I never asked my dad for a real tool belt, since, to me and my wildly delusional brain, I already had one. I never asked my dad to explain an engine to me, because I had bicycles and go-karts. When he tried one time, I was 12 and told him, "This sounds like math."

For the most part, my dad never pushed any interests on me. But he support and/or paid for any interests I discovered, from drums to website software. He never told me who or how to be. His philosophy was, "If I'm a good father, I'll raise a good son who has good interests of his own." However, my dad was a half-breed: half-manly man, half-not-so-manly-man, which is, in all honesty, probably where I truly fall. My dad's the editor of a racing magazine who self-published a poetry book. He can fix things around the house, but he always says he just barely did it. Realizing my meek frame and spazzy outlook on life as a child, my father probably assumed it would've been dangerous for me to do anything with hammer.

I mean, I'm the son of a journalism father and an English major mother. All I did was read. And maybe my brother looked at the television when an old war or cowboy movie was on (they were on at my house all the time) and then looked at me reading some chapter book in bed and made his decision to be the slightly manlier son, and, lately, he seems to only read books about history and environmentalism.

But, still, my brother's manly by family's standards. The influence of cinematic manliness has never really been there for us. My father's brothers want to drink good beer and discuss Irish music, literature and history more than anything else. My mother's only living brother is a reformed backpacker and current artsy carpenter. However, the one who passed away was a football-watching business owner who left this world when I was in elementary school. And then one grandfather taught me how to play the tin whistle and the other took me to see musicals.

I'm a product of my upbringing and my upbringing was whimsical.

Nobody in my family was fixing up a classic car or following hockey. Also, I'm selling my father, uncles and grandfathers short here for a good laugh. Everyone took me camping and fishing, though my interest in fishing died away when I stopped eating meat as a kid...which, come to think of it, probably sent me down this path in the first place. I mean, what, you're gonna explain power tools to a boy who thinks lambs are fucking adorable?

No, because that boy is going to grow up into a man who was legitimately thrilled when he realized he had to buy home decor for his new place. Shit, a few days ago, I had to buy a standing light. Did I go to Home Depot? No. Instead, I went to Lightbulbs, Etc. Is that because I'm not so manly or because I have really dope taste? Well, it didn't matter either way because I certainly don't have very much money and Lightbulbs, Etc. is crazy fucking expensive apparently. So, keeping son of a bitch manly man Grant in mind, I ended up going to Home Depot, which my friends call "Homes Deeps," a la Lord Of The Rings, and scored a really nice lamp for a totally good price. Good job, Home Depot.

Also, that reminds me of the time that Chase took my brother and I to Home Depot when he was going to build my family a new garage door. It was like the cool uncle taking his two sissiest nephews to carry stuff for him. When Chase would say, "Oh, I also need to check out somesortofsomething," my brother would do something like knock on wood and say things like, "Maple, eh? Pretty strong stuff here. You know, you could build a mighty fine shed with this." This line of silliness would lead to me laughing like an idiot and Chase just shaking his head in sympathy. Sometimes, Sarvas would invite the two of us along just to see how the other half views Home Depot. Guess what the answer is? It's like a way less exciting version of Target, where there's no popcorn or pretzals and we can't buy season two of any goddamn TV show.

The friends I see regularly are men who love Home Depot but also maintain lots of half-breed tendencies. The three guys I probably hang out with the most frequently are Grant, Rex and Chase. They all rock-climb, two of them surf, two of them wrestled in high school and they've all been in fights. I don't do any of that. I've rock-climbed a handful of times, but I mostly go with them on trips to hang out in the wilderness. I've surfed a few times, but I almost always prefer reading on the beach. I played junior varsity basketball for one year and then got over it when they put me on varsity. And I've talked my way out of every fight I've ever talked my way into.

However, I've also watched Love Actually, Grey's Anatomy and The Notebook with those dudes. Also, we definitely maybe saw Definitely, Maybe together in theaters on Valentine's Day one year. So...those are the sorts of half-breeds I hang out with. My high school friends, on the other hand, will never understand why I like anything.

I see manhood as the ever-changing existence. It's an entire spectrum. Sure, I've been known to do yoga while watching several episodes of Sex And The City, but I've also gotten drunk as hell on whiskey in the woods of Missouri. I write poetry, but I also swear like a sailor. My brother once had a long discussion about the properties of being a man. We decided that he saw man as the hunter and I saw man as the poet. That's where it stands, I suppose.

And, in all honesty, the spectrum is so wide that I probably do lots of manly shit by default. But it's a lot more interesting (and manly?) to observe the differences than the similarities. From a distance, I can't imagine it'd be obvious that I own both Sleepless In Seattle AND You've Got Mail when I get all hammered-ass drunk on Jameson and threaten to kill everyone while cackling. It's just a strange balance being a man sometimes.

Ah well. Whatever. Grant went with me to Bed, Bath & Beyond last night so I could buy pillows. And guess what? Bed, Bath & Beyond was totally amazing!