Sunday, January 01, 2023

Wizard and Dragon

Things I enjoyed:

Frost Is All Over
Whistle and I'll Come to You
Darkest Dungeon
Devil House

Nina and I went to Puerto Rico for about a week in December. Astute readers of the blog will remember our previous trip more than ten years ago. Consider that since our last visit, the island was subject not only to the devastation of Hurricane Maria but also the devastation of PROMESA. Warmly esconced in first Obama term, we did not imagine it, though maybe we should have. Maybe Papo did. But the island is mostly still there. The Gallery Inn is still there, too, and we stayed there again, as a lark.

I flew out solo, since Nina had arrived several days before for a work thing: a sort of post-Somos Somos. The flight is nothing. You could decide you want to go, in the morning, on a whim, and be there in the afternoon with plenty of time to walk around on the beach. The concierge at the front desk at the hotel asked if I understood what the hotel was all about. Yes, I said, I'd stayed there before. I looked over at the laminated printout taped to one of the plaster busts: "Do not feed Campeche! He is un diablito." Waiting for Nina in our room, my head throbbing from not eating or drinking anything on the plane, I really did feel the vibes coming back. The place is not clean, exactly. The paint on the plaster walls is decades-old and there is snail shit on it. But there is also a fancy antique bookshelf full of cheap old paperback novels in English and Spanish, and if you turn off the dehumidifier, the room doesn't feel like it's indoors at all. It's about as close to camping as I'm willing to get, and ironically it feels a lot more hospitable than an actual hotel. La Perla is still right across the street, but it's gotten a real "glow up" with billboards, neon signs, and fresh paint and sidings on the buildings visible from the road.

Whereas we'd spent our last trip exploring the natural wonders of Puerto Rico, this time we did a lot more "city stuff." An affordance to me, really. I'm a big baby and like to stay where the buildings are and where there's stuff. Nina indulged my desire to visit the Museo de Entomología, and also my desire to not call for a reservation in advance like our old Lonely Planet book recommended. And so we dashed across the highway in Rio Piedras to find that the gatehouse was abandoned, and that the little bathroom inside the gatehouse was all smashed up. And we ventured up the road to where the museum was supposed to be and that building seemed nice and new inside but it was of course closed. So we wandered around the grounds of the University of Puerto Rico's agricultural school (because that is where we were) and waved to a few of the botany students who were tending to their gardens before heading back out to the highway and calling a car. I should have gotten in Trouble for making us do that but I didn't.

We went to La Factoria, which we seemed to remember had at one point been named The Best Bar In The World. It's a good conceit, phenomenal if you can imagine experiencing it in your twenties: A pretty cool bar, with a mysterious door in the back; through the door, another, different bar, with a slightly different vibe. In total I think we "discovered" four bars, but the Internet says there are six. Wowza! Another evening we went to El Batey, which I think might actually be the best bar in the world, and played the most casual round of eight-ball before adding our names to the floor-to-ceiling graffiti with a sharpie.

In the afternoons we dranked iced tea in the front courtyard where a blue macaw (presumably Mikey from our earlier visit; they live forever) had a large cage, a big red and green parrot perched on an artifical tree under a corrugated metal root for shade. There were grackles everywhere, hopping up on the tiled stone table to steal crumbs from our pastries, cocking their heads to look at us with their small golden eyes. Bullying the much larger birds out of their birdseed.

We got paletas from Señor Paleta. I bought us savory mallorcas from a kiosk in Plaza de Armas staffed by a woman who didn't seem to mind the many wasps buzzing around the pastries. I bought us more mallorcas (really the simplest thing to have for breakfast) from an upscale coffee house where I had to listen to some crypto shitheads negotiate a deal while I waited for the pastries. (The island is a paradise but fucked.) We ate mofongo at El Jibarito during a torrential sunshower. I found the location of El Caldero Sabroso, the first place I'd ever had mashed plantains, a decade ago. There was a faded notice that the place was closed, but nothing else had moved into the tiny storefront. Just a padlock on the gate. I made Nina eat yet more vegan tacos at an outdoor food court in Santurce where wild chickens roamed the gravel around the picnic benches and flew up to roost in the trees when it got dark.

A few steps from Señor Paleta is a narrow stone courtyard called Parque de las Palomas, named for the hundred or so pigeons that make their home in nooks carved out of the ancient stone wall of the colonial house next door. (San Juan Viejo is full of these places, an ancient terrace around every corner.) In terms of sheer number of pigeons, the place does not break any records set by New York City. Or even the New Haven Green, where I was once practically mugged by birds after opening a bag of chips. But this is a place you go expressly for the purpose of meeting and interacting with pigeons, and there is even a small kiosk inside that sells birdseed at certain hours. (Though this is in apparent conflict with a sign on the gate outside warning you not to feed the birds.) We found ourselves standing next to a young woman who was absolutely decorated with birds, likely on account of the considerable amount of birdseed she was holding in her cupped hands. A young man was filming her on his phone. Although the birds were polite, she seemed to be a bit unnerved by the sheer number of them on her head, shoulders, and forearms; and she offered to offload some of her birdseed to us. I took some of it, and immediately a pigeon fluttered into my hand to take some. I wasn't prepared for how warm its body was. Like holding a puppy or something. After that we walkd up Calle del Cristo and went into a sock store where they gave us frozen piña coladas in plastic cups and we bought some socks.

Though it felt like July in NYC it was actually almost Christmas, and in the evenings the waterfront and Calle Comercio were dotted with stalls selling gifts and holiday confections, and a skating rink with a synthetic "ice" surface was set up in front of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company's offices on Paseo de la Princesa. The line for skating snaked over itself several times the length of the rink.

We spent a few nights walking around in Santurce, the cool neighborhood in San Juan. We dropped in on an outdoor film screening at La Goyco, a community center repurposed from an old elementary school. We were too late to catch the movies but in time to listen to a panel, mostly in Spanish, from the filmmakers. It was a warm night and I sat in pleasant bafflement understanding about 50% of what was said. We'd walked deep down Calle Loíza looking for "limbers" which are a kind of frozen fruit juice served in plastic cups. That part of San Juan seems caught in a tussle between the cool jovenes living their lives and the rich colonial scum who want a pied-à-terre on the beach. There was a scruffy but impressive community library ("Libros Libres") on the corner of Calle del Parque; a block away, million dollar condos at Gallery Plaza. I know, that's always how it is! We hung out and watched people dance outside the market stalls at La Placita while we ate alcapurrias. (I don't know if I like 'em.) Another night we cut through the concrete courtyard of an apartment building in Parque down to the beach and walked along the water's edge in the dark towards Condado til we reached what looked like a pier half buried in the sand. A huge shape, some kind of industrial hulk, protruded from one end. What was it? We walked closer to see. Oh, a big sewage outflow: "NO SWIMMING." We walked back up to the road.

We went to the Art Museum, and the Contemporary Art Museum (with its Big Ass Fans) and the tiny Museo de San Juan, mere feet from the Inn.

On our last day we visited Save-A-Gato, the cat sanctuary in Old San Juan, a short walk down Calle Norzagaray from the hotel. The sanctuary itself is a small, unassuming building between some basketball courts and one of the buildings of a nearby design school. Didn't seem big enough to accommodate visitors, and it didn't look open anyway. But the surrounding "Parque de los Gatos," a scrubby lawn with a large banyan tree presiding over it, is where all the cats were. Dozens of them, scruffy, skinny, limping; alternately missing ears, eyes, tail tips. But they all seemed pretty satisifed with their lot. Some were friendly and affectionate, most of them indifferent to the handful of people who were carefully stepping around the turds to get a look at them. From there we walked down to Paseo del Morro and traced the ancient sea wall around the Fort until we got too hot. In the evening, we went down to the Cementerio Santa María Magdalena de Pazzi, the necropolis at the end of a short road from El Morro where you can see the waves crashing out beyond the array of white headstones. Time stops for a moment.

Back up on the broad green lawn of the park, dozens of people were walking, sitting, and flying kites. As it happened Nina had never flown a kite before, and there was a woman selling kites and other picnic tack from the back of a van near the entrance to the Fort. We bought the cheapest kite, printed with a picture of a wizard astride a great golden dragon; unspooled the line, and ran it up into the sky. The sea wind by the Fort carried it up rapidly, and it we took turns tugging the bridle back and forth to keep it aloft. There's a real pleasant disorientation that comes with flying a kite out where the sky is really huge and the sun has just set and you're in a huge field that's full of people but it feels like it's only you and the sky wheeling above.

Once it got truly dark we placed the kite on a low stone wall near the rotary on Calle del Morro where people were leaving behind things that could be reused. We'll come back for it in ten years.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Turn, Season

When I first started this blog, I thought I wanted it to be like Moby Dick, or the Old Farmer's Almanac my parents had when I was little: Open to one page and read an argument for the ontological disposition of whales. Turn to another for a limerick or story, short enough to digest with breakfast. Instead, I wound up writing mostly about bands I saw during what I think of as the "Wonderful Underworld" epoch of North Brooklyn; and then once that was over, little essays about my feelings and a brooding annual evaluation of my Progress as a Rake. 

But now that I have settled a bit, I would like to write more often and more in the Almanac mode. So here is a morning chapter:

The best tuna salad in the world
Yield: 2 servings


One can of tuna from the store
One or two stalks of celery, diced
One shallot clove, minced
About half of one kosher dill pickle, seeds removed, minced (a couple of Claussen's "sandwich slices" work well for this)
One large spoonful (like a soup spoon) of mayonnaise
One tablespoon sriracha
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Ground black pepper to taste

Mix the mayonnaise, sriracha, paprika, Italian seasoning, and pepper in a medium-sized bowl. Discard any excess oil from the can of tuna and add the tuna to the bowl, using a fork to flake it apart. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix well. Put the tuna salad into a sandwich or enjoy with crackers or something.

A pretty good green salad
Yield: 1-2 servings

Salad parts:

A couple of big handfuls of arugula and baby spinach leaves
One handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
One handful of baby carrots, sliced into thin rounds
One scant handful of dried cranberries
One handful of walnuts, crumbled by hand 


A splash of extra virgin olive oil
A splash of apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon of spicy mustard (Kosciusko Spicy Brown Mustard works well for this)
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
A splash of lemon juice
Ground black pepper to taste

Whip the dressing ingredients together, then pour over the the salad parts.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

City of Dogs

We lost David's campaign.

I'd been knocking doors for him on Tuesdays and Sundays, more frequently and more regularly than I think I've ever come out for one of our candidates. Per usual, I took some time off before election day to canvass even more; and then on election day itself, I woke up at 4:30am and took a car service from Sunset Park out to a house on Coleman St. in Marine Park, right on the edge Flatlands, to help a nice older Bernie supporter lady named Carol run one a volunteer dispatch site for the southeastern section of the district. My site co-captain Chris and Carol and I got everything set up in her back yard in the cool, pre-dawn twilight; our first volunteer arrived for his shift at 6:00am. By 9:00am the sun was creeping across the patio and it was clear that it was going to be a blazingly hot day. I spent the next eight hours turfing and dispatching canvassers and occasionally taking refuge in the A/C in Carol's furnished basement.

In the late afternoon I got fidgety and picked up a visibility shift at a nearby high school. I staked out a corner diagonally across from a mouthy Kevin Parker visibility guy who was flagging down cars in the intersection to hand them lit. (A weird and bad tactic, but a strategic step up from most machine incumbent visibility hires, who usually just sit under a tent with a boom box.) In the final hours of voting, the campaign sent me to a synagogue on Ralph Ave. At 9:00pm when voting closed, I asked one of the poll workers if turnout was any higher than in the June Assembly primaries (in which we'd gotten washed in races that should have been slam dunks for us, like Samy Nemir Olivares' in AD54). She said it was maybe a bit worse, which I felt immediately in the pit of my stomach. A few minutes later, Chris and his wife picked me up in their car on the way to the results party. We found out en route that we'd probably lost.

A year's effort! For a result that took minutes to compute. I felt gutted, and like a child I didn't try to hide how I felt at the party. I suppose part of it was that I'd been so deep in the work and seen so many other people deep in the work that I was sure we were gonna pull it out. I could just feel it, you know? In my fugue state I'd forgotten all of the reasons the campaign was a long shot: The Bad Unions supporting the incumbent, the self-righteous fake progressive spoiler who wouldn't drop out, the mid-campaign redistricting that ratcheted up the difficulty of the turf. It was sort of... existentially embarrassing to be brought back to reality so quickly. I drank a few seltzers-and-bitters and limped home on the subway. A rotten night. On the platform at Atlantic Ave. some time around 2:00am I saw a Kurt Fuller-looking dude wearing a "Biaggi for Congress" t-shirt over his button-down shirt. Well, I thought, at least that guy is having a worse night than me.

The following weekend Nina and I flew to Mexico City.

I hadn't left the country in three years, and Nina'd built up some vacation time that needed to be spent. CDMX was an enthusiastic compromise destination. This guy's requirement: Not a beach. It's not a beach! It's an almost unbelievable geographic premise, actually: A sprawling metropolis physically built around the sacred architecture of multiple ancient civilizations. A tropical London, but cleaner and prettier with better food. And not actually tropical—the temperature in the city never rose above 75 degrees for the duration of our stay, and often dipped into the 50s in the evenings. And yet it was greener than I expected, with towering rubber trees and palm trees and Jacarandas draped with lianas, and brightly colored flowers exploding on every side street and down the greenways built in the middle of almost every major thoroughfair.

CDMX is enormous, and its major geographic partitions are called delegaciones but I think you can think of them practically as big neighborhoods. We'd booked accommodation in Roma, a formerly fancy (?) part of the city downgraded to shabby chic after the earthquake in 1985. It's now full of coffee shops, and—strangely enough—book and vinyl record stores that actually receive foot traffic. The first full day of our trip we walked around the neighborhood, admiring the parks and plazas, and exploring a collection of artwork at Museo del Objeto del Objeto made by patients at a local "psychiatric rehabilitation facility" (prison, really). My favorite artist was a guy named Enrique who'd drawn an endless series of tableaus of anime muscle guys going down on anime girls with bat wings. On a recommendation from Chi who'd spent several years living in CDMX I ate an ethereally good avocado-and-mint cemita at Panadería Rosetta.

The second full day we were there we took a bus north to San Juan Teotihuacán to see the pyramids, leaving from the CDMX version of Penn Station, filled with fast food outlets and bakery stalls where the pan dulces were crawling with honeybees. We stopped outside the entrance to the site to examine some enormous nopales growing by the side of the path. We were part way through taking pictures of them before we realized we were standing on top of a nest of fire ants. The site itself is a sort stone avenue lined with built. The Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, which are just staggeringly huge, are positioned at either end, and the Pyramid of Quetzlcoatl is sort of in between. There is scrub grass and wildflowers and what we realized were pink peppercorn trees growing everywhere. Despite the presence of hawkers selling and noisily demonstrating little mouth devices that simulate the roar of a leopard, the city of the gods was very quiet. A half dozen stray yellow dogs wandered around in the shade of the pyramids, politely begging for food and water from visitors. Some of the dogs had distended nipples from having recently given birth. They seemed like they knew things.

After stopping to rest and buy Pinguinos from a vending machine (and accidentally catching some of the dogs having sex) we visited the on-site museum. A figure who appeared again and again in sculpture and mural work was Huehueteotl slash Xiuhtecuhtli, the "old god," the old man of the fire. I was really taken with his appearance and overall nasty vibe! The ancient Mesoamericans really tapped into a resonant vein of godhood with him. Witness him: Stooped, emaciated but indestructible; sneering toothlessly as he emerges from the darkness lit flickeringly by the heavy brazier he somehow carries on his head. The old man demands blood sacrifice at the mile markers of your life; he sees you become old in due course, standing by with leering fascination as you fill up with bitterness and regret. The snarling old man who outlives you.

We took the subway home from the bus station, passing through La Raza station where - instead of advertisements - the walls of the pedestrian tunnels were given over to a large educational display on the science of dark matter and the history of the universe. A long section of tunnel was kept dark except for glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. Yr fave (the MTA) could never!

Everyone told us to set aside a full day to visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología, so that's what we did. It's a great museum, really comprehensive; maybe similar in scope to AMNH, minus the animals. After uneasily clocking more than a few variations on Huehueteotl as he surfaced in the pantheons of all the major Mesoamerican societies, we took a walk through the Bosque de Chapultepec. We crossed a footbridge over Circuito Bicentenario into Condesa, pausing to watch a helicopter weave its way between the skyscrapers in Cuauhtémoc. We ate dinner at El Tizoncito, where they claim to have invented the taco al pastor. They were pretty good!

The next day we headed down to Coyoacán to visit the respective museum-houses of Leon Trotsky and Frida Kahlo, as well as Diego Rivera's personal indigenous art collection, Museo Anahuacalli. I had maybe the best hot chocolate of my life at Café El Jarocho. Trotsky's house does what it says on the tin: You can poke around in the actual building, preserved (in theory) in the state it was in when he was murdered. I saw The Prophet's toilet. We touched the oven knobs in the kitchen and looked at the hutches in the courtyard garden where the Bronsteins kept their rabbits. Naturally, there were roses growing around the hammer-and-sickle cenotaph. (I touched that, too.) Frida's house is hugely popular—you have to wait on line to get in, and they kind of herd you through it. There's not much to it, though; all of her really famous work is in museums and galleries. So the house is mainly worth seeing for its preserved studio workspaces and day beds and kitchen and such. I didn't really care for the Museo Anahuacalli, which seemed to me like not much more than a rich guy's hoard of artifacts, presented without much curation or attention. It's in a very cool building, though, and for climbing to the top floor, we were rewarded with a huge study for a mural featuring Stalin and Mao telling the rest of the world how things were going to be.

The place we ate at that night, a bar/restaurant in Condesa that fried heart-shaped tortillas and promised a really good michelada (though we couldn't figure out how to get them to bring us anything but the simplest kind) disagreed with both of our digestions. So we spent the next day largely confined to our hotel room, watching most of the ridiculous Netflix scammer drama Inventing Anna.

The next day we felt stable enough to head out to the Centro Historico and the Templo Mayor. The Centro Historico is appropriately historic and central; the subway station you get off at is Templo Mayor, which is a block from the Templo Mayor, the Aztec pyramid that the Spanish repurposed as the seat of colonial government. You can walk around in the exposed ruins of Tenochtitlan and touch the stonework. We touched it! By the time we finished exploring, it was too late to get into any of the other museums in the neighborhood, so we sat on a bench in Alameda Central and ate medianoches from Pastelería Ideal.

After checking out El Chopo, the "punk market" in Vasconcelos, we spent the last full day in Polanco, where went to the Museo Jumex, which had a fun, cheeky exhibition by Urs Fischer, featuring an artwork consisting of a motorized human tongue that would slurp out a manufactured crack in the wall every so often. There was still time when we got out, so we walked across the street to the Museo Soumaya, which Chi warned me was not great, and, you know, it's not great! It's a lot of European paintings of fucked up chinless Jesuses collected by a rich guy. The building is cool looking, I guess, and on the top floor they have a bunch of Rodins.

I'm still recovering from the trip and from the campaign. But I'm starting to feel... free. And Halloween approaches.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Conqueror Worm

Well, reader, what can I say: Your narrator got COVID-19. Your boy was infected with the novel coronavirus. After approximately 2.15 years of side-stepping the crashing waves of world-historical events, one of them overtook me and splashed all over my ankles. Suffice it to say I am fine, but boy is it ever a pain in the butt to have to isolate oneself, even in the most plush circumstances.

I'd been vaxxed (twice) and boosted (once) starting in early 2021, thanks to the efforts of my sister, who'd mastered the city's scheduling system once the vaccines became generally available. She also drove me to my initial vaccine appointments (Pfizer) at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, just around the corner from Mayday Space. She and Pete had bought a new car, and she and I marveled on the journey at the way it automatically paused its engine to save fuel while idling at a crosswalk. The vibe was off that summer, but being vaccinated at least made me feel like I could once again go anywhere, do anything. But then the winter came, with the contagious new variants, and that good feeling evaporated.

So I had been playing it reasonably safe for the first months of 2022. After the COVID spike eased in January, I'd gone back to working out of my one-seat Gowanus co-working space, strapping a mask on whenever I got up to get water or go to the bathroom. And I'd been canvassing twice a week for David Alexis, NYC-DSA's standard-bearer in Flatbush and the figurehead of an organization-wide effort to end the career of Kevin Parker. We'd been knocking doors since the fall (with a pause during the winter Omicron spike) but had been consistently masking up while doing so. In the end, my best guess is that I got it from a trip to the dentist, the only out-of-the-ordinary thing I'd done the week in question.

The first sign that I was sick was a mysterious pain in my upper back on Saturday afternoon. Like a pulled muscle, though I hadn't done anything strenuous. Nina and I went to sit in the grass on the western slope of Sunset Park, and I just couldn't get comfortable. So we got up and took the subway to Home Depot to pick up some seedlings for the burgeoning herb and tomato garden she's been cultivating in the alley behind our apartment. The next morning, ahead of my canvass shift, I was feeling decidedly "off" - light-headed, unmoored. I resolved to take a COVID test just to be on the safe side, and that's when I got my first, faint double line. I promptly holed up in my little office room and began to work out logistics with Nina (who improbably tested negative) by calling down the hall.

It's hard to recollect my symptoms precisely because of how mild they were. I had something like a sinus headache at first, then a scratchy throat and a sniffle. It didn't feel great, but it was obviously nowhere near what people were experiencing in the first wave. For a few days I lost my sense of smell - but not my sense of taste - which was fascinating but also annoying, because it happened right when I was feeling fully recovered and wanting to chow down on the nastiest foods: Signature sandwiches and waffle fries from Sunset Bagels, the various snacks and frozen treats Nina had acquired for my convalescence.

By far the worst thing I experienced physically (and mentally) while I had COVID was fully self-inflicted. Nina'd bought us some breakfast from the Sunset Park Diner and had thoughtfully ordered me an orange juice. That stuff has historically been challenging for my digestion, but I figured I was sick and I should get some extra vitamin C so I drank it anyway. Sure enough, it sent me straight to the bathroom within the hour. That part wasn't great, but the real awful thing was that I managed to clog the toilet with way too much of the fancy toilet paper we've been spoiling ourselves with. (I know, I know.) And then when it wouldn't go down, I stupidly tried to force it down with the plunger, which only stopped it up more. It's the worst I've ever fucked up a toilet. We tried everything to unclog it, including...
  • Dish soap
  • Epsom salt
  • Flushing it a lot
  • Using a drain snake
  • Plunging it a lot
  • Just waiting a while (8 hours, maybe?)
  • Messaging all of my nice friends in DSA asking for advice because I fucked up my toilet like a child
The thing that finally worked, which we happened upon after I sent a panicked, eleventh-hour text to our unflappable building super Pawel, was a special variation on the drain snake called a "toilet augur." It looks sort of like a big violin or cello bow. Pawel dropped one off outside our door and within minutes the toilet was working again. Just hugely embarrassing from start to finish.

I tested positive for 12 days, from the end of May 'til the first week of June, and I was resolved to stay in my room for the duration, no matter what the CDC might have to say about it. So I had to find some way to pass the time.

One thing I did was dig into Breath of the Wild on the Switch. As a sort of shared, household holiday gift, I'd picked up my friend Noah's Switch and found a copy of BotW on eBay. Somewhat to my surprise, Nina fully embraced the game and invested hundreds of hours into it over the winter months. It didn't even bother her that the thing was suffering from Joy-Con drift, which I noticed immediately the first time I picked it up to play, and which made it impossible for me to concentrate. She just powered through it. Once she relinquished the device, I'd had it fixed, and now that I was laid up I figured I should take my turn. At first, the game failed to grab me - the promise of an "open world" frankly didn't seem all that appealing. As a first mission, I'd done an important favor for a king in exile and been rewarded with a hang-glider (?!) unlocking a massive extent of new terrain filled with monsters and villagers and quests and problems and dialogue and so forth. It was all a bit overwhelming, in a familiar sort of way, having done this kind of thing over and over again across a lifetime of Gameing. So at first I only engaged with the game in small ways, like picking up a side quest where you try to recover some of Link's memories of Princess Zelda. And this was where a compelling (to me) narrative thread emerged: The unlocked memories reveal a world-historic attempt to unite disparate factions and defeat a powerful opponent, with Zelda herself organizing the entire course of her life in preparation for the conflict. And she fucks it up and everyone dies! The leaders of the factions she's brought together all die. Link pretty much dies. So the the world you are exploring is sort of what's left in the aftermath of the Good Guys blowing their big shot. Feels alegorically rich!

I also watched a bunch of movies. My friend Steph and others answered my call for recommendations, and I got some real good stuff off YouTube for a few bucks a pop. Here are some highlights:

We're All Going To The World's Fair - All of my Twitter Friends were talking about this one forever and I got sick of waiting for it to come out on Streaming so I just bought it on YouTUbe. A young person sort of mentally disintegrates after joining a collaborative online role-playing community. Very queasy and disturbing but kind of ethereal as well. It's good!

Let's Scare Jessica To Death - Very, very beautiful movie about a lady who gets out of a mental hospital and struggles to deal with being in an open relationship while she fixes up an old house with her husband in upstate New York. And there's a hippie vampire. Zohra Lampert is extremely plausible as Jessica.

Anguish - This is a wild one! Zelda Rubinstein from Poltergeist and Michael Lerner (who I guess has been in a million movies but always puts out a strong single-episode Seinfeld character vibe) are the stars of the film within this film which is basically about having a panic attack at the movies. Speaking as someone who had to go out to the lobby for a few minutes when I watched Twister as a kid, this was very relatable and authentic.

Popcorn - This is one of those movies with a cover that really made an impression on me as a pale, unhealthy pre-teen picking over the VHS tapes at Tower Video. And has often been the case when I've sat down to actually watch these movies as an adult, this one turned out to be pretty goofy and not very scary at all. A group of college students organizes a film festival to rehab a dilapidated movie theater and a guy starts killing them. There are a few different films-within-the-film that are clever and plausible.

The Slumber Party Massacre - Does what it says on the box! I don't know how much I got from it as a viewer in 2022 but it's a real, you know, artifact; and I'm glad I finally watched it.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Year of Spending Money

Things I enjoyed:

Evolution of Horror
No One Is Talking About This
Comfort To Me

Midway through the journey of my life, I found myself on the threshold of a dark forest.

It was late June. In my capacity as Co-Chair of NYC-DSA's Brooklyn Electoral Working Group I had just presided over the humiliating defeat of two of our three candidates for City Council. Our organizers had mounted valiant campaigns on their behalf, and Co-Chair Grace and I had personally canvassed our hearts out for them alongside hundreds of DSA members, but it hadn't been enough. I tortured myself with explanations that seemed obvious in hindsight: We'd taken on a fundamentally inessential project, trying to distinguish ourselves in a field uniquely crowded with Nice Progressives. Worse, our members knew it - knew we'd violated our sacred pledge not to waste their time - and resisted our attempts to turn them out to canvass at the levels necessary to win. Was this explanation correct? People smarter and less emotional than yrs truly presented a litany of persuasive alternatives. These things are certainly complex. But at my most hopeless it was hard to shake the feeling that our failure was our fault.

On top of this: Within days of the election, which in my home Council district was in part a referendum on Brad Lander's proposed Gowanus rezoning, Nina and I woke up to find a crew of workers in hazmat suits stripping asbestos from the roofs of neighboring buildings. No doubt the real estate trust who'd bought up most of our block had pulled the trigger on a demolition plan months in advance and in full anticipation of a successful rezoning, but it certainly seemed like the concrete manifestation of the outcome of the election. Within a week or two, the buildings on either side of us were surrounded by scaffolding and gutted down to their facades. What would replace them? The developer's web site decreed a stately pleasure dome (with multiple floors of shopping and dining) occupying almost every square foot of our block, except for a carve-out directly around our building. Our landlord had apparently missed his shot at converting our little mound of plywood and styrofoam cladding into cash. (Was he greedy and short-sighted, like all landlords? Or simply lazy, like all landlords?) My job was gracious enough to pay for a seat in a small co-working space a few blocks from home (in a minor coincidence, the same cubicle farm that had served as Team Brandon petitioning HQ) but faced with the prospect of a year's worth of construction, and with being surrounded by so obviously worse a built environment, we knew we had to get out.

I was days from turning forty. The prospect of navigating the hell of the rental real estate market had me preemptively bitter and brooding on the future. I'd been wasting my life in various jobs since I was a teenager in the name of saving money. I'd long planned to use those savings to escape the market, escape the scam of wage labor. I'd had a dream of devoting myself to useful technical work on projects of my own design. I'd had a dream of learning to be creative, of making Something Important. Now I was Old, and it seemed to me that I might no longer have the time or energy to follow through on those plans. Was it too late? What was I waiting for? I suggested to Nina: What if we bought an apartment?

We interviewed a few friends and relations who'd been through the process themselves, which was tremendously helpful and orienting. It also yielded a connection to a broker who explained the technical aspects of the process and began setting up appointments for us to look at apartments. Because of the pandemic, and because of our broker's summer vacation schedule, we looked at all of the apartments unaccompanied and then debriefed with him over Zoom. The very first place we looked at was a huge and beautiful apartment in a Finnish co-op in Sunset Park, eerily close to everything we'd said we wanted. I was a little shook, to be honest. Surprised at how good an apartment could look. We went on to see a few more places: Another huge apartment, this time in a massive Flatbush co-op; a shiny, newly-renovated apartmenet in a Prospect Lefferts Gardens building in the process of going condo. "Only a few rent stabilized tenants left," the seller's broker bragged. We could almost see the blood dripping down the walls. It was the prime of summer. Warm afternoons, surprise downpours that caught us as we speed-walked down streets in Kensington. After some deliberation, we resolved to make an offer on that first apartment we'd looked at in Sunset Park.

Buying an apartment confirmed a few things I had suspected for a long time as a renter but had never known for certain: First, the housing stock avaialable for purchase is just... fundamentally nicer than what's on the rental market. It stands to reason - rich people want to live somewhere nice; landlords merely want to find the price equilibrium. Second, the people who shepherd you through the process - the buyer's and seller's brokers; the gelatinous, incompetent lawyers - are essentially parasites who perform very little actual labor and reap a huge financial windfull simply through proximity to the core trasaction. In this way, they're not much different from landlords and rental real estate brokers, except that they're not shitting on you and pressuring you the whole time. The sums of money involved ensure that everyone is very nice as they exploit you.

The application and interviews and closing process lasted through the end of the summer and into the fall. Our closing was on an early afternoon towards the end of September, at a law firm that happened to be a few floors below my old office at Conductor, at 2 Park Ave. South. After it was done, we walked south towards Union Sq. trying to shake off the unreality of it all. Eventually we found ourselves near Flats Fix, where Comrade Alexandria used to work. It seemed like a good omen, so we stopped for guacamole and margaritas. Our server laughed when I asked if the bartender could make mine a bit less strong. In my anxiety over the day, I hadn't eaten anything. I got to my little office space tipsy bordering on drunk, still trying to metabolize what we'd just done.

It feels good to be coming back to Sunset Park. It's not mine, of course. I'm a white guy, not even Finnish. But I've invested quite a bit of my life here, in different ways. So I hope it'll have me.

This new home has been far and away the nicest place I've ever lived. We'd failed to note during our search that the building in Sunset Park wasn't just one of the genuine original Finnish non-profit housing cooperatives, it was quite possibly the first one, with a bronze historical plaque and a Wikipedia page to make it official. We moved in towards the end of October, in time for Halloween. The brownstones between 4th & 5th Ave. draped in decorative cobwebs. We weren't set up to receive trick-or-treaters on the day, but figuring there'd be kids in the building we put out a basket full of fun size candy bars on a stool in the hallway. Sure enough it was picked clean by morning, fulfilling a lifelong ambition of mine to give away the good candy.

A dozen years ago when I lived down by 5th Ave., I'd always thought of 8th Ave. and the wider Brooklyn Chinatown area as being a long hike up hill for not much to see or do. That was a mistake, and I see it differently now. It's actually a paradise, alternately bustling or idyllic, with every modest pleasure of commerce just a few steps away. There's a Buddhist temple with a vegetarian restaurant in the basement down on 51st St. and an aquarium's worth of sea creatures on sale for culinary use on 45th St. The gruff genius cook who sells huge bags of dumplings for an impossibly low price out of an assuming storefront on 44th St. We quickly painted most of the rooms (no shade to the previous owners who'd covered everything with a sort of dusty cream color) and in doing so became regulars at the Brooklyn Color Factory on 7th Ave. Ba Xuyên, still great. A full grocery store, right across the street, open 'til 9pm every night. In the other direction there's a kind of ur-bodega piled high with crates of Modelo and boxes of Marinela Sponch; occasionally staffed by an enormous and affectionate gray cat named Mickey. Then there are the two cats at the small convenience store a block to the north, and a rambunctious kitten at the 99c store on the far corner where old guys play video lotto all day. ("Too many names" for that cat, said the guy at the register.) The hardware store on 5th & 41st that I used to go to all the time is still there, and their current cat is a friendly calico named Linda.

To get to work, I often take the B70 bus, which passes practically right past our front door on its way up from the VA Hospital in Dyker Heights, down to the train station at 36th St. On a cold morning, it's a small luxury to curl up in a back corner seat and make 10 minutes' worth of progress on a John le Carré novel. On the way home I usually get the D up to 9th Ave. and walk past the new location of Savoy Bakery and the El Bronco taco truck, over this one weird gurgling sidewalk grate in front of that building with the ridiculous name, The Dartmouth.

Two days after we moved in, the wrecking balls started swinging in earnest in Gowanus, turning the South Brooklyn Casket Company, the kickboxing gym, and various and sundry warehouses into rubble. It felt like we'd only just managed to grab the rope hanging from the helicopter in an unlikely escape from the mummy's collapsing tomb. With a good deal of it behind me (?) I can see that so many things in my life have gone that way: So many opportunities I just barely managed to grab, so many awful consequences just barely avoided. I'm slow to recognize when I'm on the precipice, slow to appreciate a good thing when it's right in front of me. I'm trying to get better.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Toilet Mouse

Things I enjoyed:

Fetch The Bolt Cutters
NO TIME / ooh la la
Bodega Boys

I built a dream around myself in the beginning of the year. I had been elected Co-Chair of the Brooklyn Electoral Working Group in January, a responsibility I still can't believe I was prepared to take on. Here was my plan: Co-Chair Jasmin and I would spend the year commuting between the districts for our endorsed state candidates (we called them DSA For The Many) running trainings, supervising our field event leads, and personally knocking tons of doors. In particular I would spend a lot of time in Marcela's district, where our volunteers would meet up for tacos in Sunset Park after a canvass, or bowl a few frames at Melody Lanes and talk to Pete, the Dickensian but affable fixture behind the bar - a decent prospect, provided we never had to find out what his politics were. Asher and I had talked through an early sketch of an idea to start a DSA bowling league, perhaps mostly a scheme to print up embroidered jackets. And despite being a patron for many years I had only just discovered the gallinitas sold by La Flor. The pefect pastry! The closest thing to lembas bread outside of Rivendell, for only a buck fifty. So I'd make myself fat on those, to boot.

This plan also held that we would run the largest grassroots field operation for Bernie Sanders in advance of his campaign officially arriving in NYC in the early summer. Bernie'd had a heart attack, sure, but his triumphant Queensbridge rally in October with AOC and Tiffany had dazzled us all into believing that through huge effort and left bonhomie that all things were possible. We'd printed our own literature with a plausible caricature of Bernie on it; I had tens of thousands of palm cards shipped from Radix to my little co-working space in Flatiron. We made t-shirts, pins, and so on.

The substance of the dream held at first. Our brilliant Field Coordinator Rachel had organized a series of hugely successful "Big Bernie Canvasses," including one at The Well at the beginning of March that four hundred people showed up to. We ran out of turf!

Marcela threw a party for us all to watch the Super Tuesday returns in the unadorned back room of a subterranean Mexican restaurant on 4th Ave. in Sunset Park. The wait staff wheeled a big T.V. into the room on a cart as if setting up for a middle school sex ed presentation. I got through about half of an unappealing veggie burrito (full of peas and carrots) before the results began to make clear that the knives had come out. I lost my appetite and left early. A week later, Jasmin and I returned to the restaurant for a meeting with Alex and Labiba, Marcela's two young campaign staffers. I went to use the bathroom and realized that the toilet handle was loose; I thought perhaps it had come detached from the chain inside the tank like had happened to my own toilet recently. For reasons I can't explain, I moved the tea light and air freshener from the top of the tank to the sink and lifted the lid off. In the half light of the bathroom I could see that there was no water in it, but to my horror I could make out the form of a dead mouse curled around the flapper gasket. "Hay un ratito muerto en el bano," I tried to explain to the staff.

An ill omen, a drop of blood dissolving in a glass of water. A vanguard of dark clouds advancing over the horizon.

The next week, the shutdowns began. I'd spent the morning petitioning underground at the 36th St. Perfect for canvassing: A wave of fresh targets every few minutes. That afternoon, the Mayor called for a halt to persuasion in the Queens special election. Everyone on the chat wanted to know what we were going to do. Jasmin and I started working on a statement; our campaigns announced they were halting field operations before we could finish writing it up. I packed up a few things from my funky little co-working office in Flatiron and worked from home the next day as an experiment, to make sure it was feasible if I had to do it. But it turned out it wasn't an experiment.

The sense-dimension of the pandemic that struck me the most was how "quiet" the city became, absent the din of human commerce. The birds were bolder, louder. Days without a single person walking down our street, hours without a personal car or bike. Though of course there were so many more ambulances than usual, and you could tell by the continuous sirens. (I would think of the line: You heard the rattling death-trains as you lay there all alone from "The Sickbed of Cuchulainn." But of course they were talking about something else.)

Bernie ended his campaign. For the rest of the year, Nina and I were inside most of the time. We managed to get by on the contents of our pantry for the first month or two, cooking and eating prepared foods at a somewhat higher rate than usual. When our supplies dwindled, we resolved to go to the grocery store at a time we thought they would be the least crowded but wound up overshooting the mark and found that the big supermarkets had all closed early. We'd masked up though (masks still in short supply at this point) and had practically nothing left to eat, so we went instead to Greeny Ivy, the fancy deli on President St. which is open nearly around the clock. We filled our pushcart with staple products, but also with junk food: Cheez-Its, mochi, beer... the pent-up expression of five weeks of self-pity. Our first purchase cost us several times as much as we would have spent on a regular grocery trip. We apologized to and profusely thanked the guy at the register. He told us he was planning to quit the following week. "It's not worth it," he said.

Cheez-Its in particular became a fixation of mine for the duration of the first wave of the pandemic. I insisted we buy family size boxes of every variation: classic, spicy, white cheddar, "toasted" (burnt). We went through all the available flavors of mochi. I made fish stick fish tacos. Nina improvised excellent ratatouille. I honed my "perfect tuna salad" recipe, which includes sriracha, pickles, and McCormick Italian Seasoning.

A word about bread: It's not like bread itself was hard to come by, at least where we live - provided you could go to the grocery store. In fact, if anything was hard to get your hands on it was yeast. The Yuppies had bread fever; New York Magazine was writing articles about home baking and selling OXO kitchen gear in the sidebar. So we stayed away at first until we chanced upon a small jar of instant yeast at Green Ivy on one of our rare trips Outside. It took me a while to produce something edible. My first "loaves" were too flat and dense to even make satisfactory toast, which I now recognize as a consequence of not using a real dutch oven. Eventually I hit upon the "Fast White Bread" recipe from Joy, which worked well enough in the nine-inch loaf pans we kept in the cabinet, and which helped me build my confidence with mixing, proofing, and kneading. The first time we made pizza, with dough from this recipe plus canned olives, a hard-won ball of mozzarella, and a bachelor-size jar of Classico marinara source... reader, I almost cried. Much later, once you could start seeing people in person again, Chi gave me a little container of sourdough starter, which makes everything both easier and more complex.

By spring it had become clear that the work of our campaigns would be done over the phone. The campaigns figured out the scripts and the predictive dialers and handled all the trainings; the only thing for me to do was sign up. So I joined phonebanks on weekend afternoons, and looked out the window at the clouds in the sky and at the little community garden off the street behind my building, now empty most of the time. During weekday evening phonebanks, I watched the sunset while talking to people or waiting for a call; the image of the burning clouds was what I associated with the voices on the other end of the call. The dialing software we were using was operator-assisted, so you could expect that most of your connected calls would put you in conversation with an actual human every 30 seconds or so. It wasn't quite the same as canvassing a building and smelling what everyone was cooking for dinner. But it wasn't bad, either.

In the early summer we began to venture outside every now and then. One of our walks took us west into Red Hook. To keep as far away from other people as possible, we walked down to Van Brunt St. and then took the right at the Tesla showroom down to Imlay. We were at Verona St. in front of what looked like a scrapyard when a large stray tabby cat came around the corner and started rubbing against our legs and purring. We stopped to pet her, and after a few minutes a car pulled up. A woman got out with a bag of cans of cat food. At a safe remove, she explained that there was a cat colony living in the scrapyard, a mix of genuine street cats and some abandoned pets. She said the tabby was a former housecat and that a plan was in motion to scoop her up and get her adopted. The others (there were others!) might be too feral to live indoors. We made several trips back over the next several months, getting to know an orange stripey one and a small tuxedo guy. One late summer evening, Chris biked down from Greenpoint with a backpack full of airplane bottles of Tito's and Jameson, and we sat on the sidewalk in front of the scrapyard drinking as the cats cautiously emerged through a gap in the fence and went about their nighttime business on the waterfront. Late night bicyclists passing occasionally on Verona. An enormous and seemingly empty box truck for a poultry company parked in front of us. A kind of summer bliss.

But first the protests, and the fireworks. We joined the first big rally at Barclays Center at the end of May and tried to trail along with a march at least once a week through July. A pervasive mood of repression and defiance: Police helicopters hovering low overhead, for no credible reason, in the late afternoon; an evening stand-off with the fascists at Barclays Center, or the Manhttan or Brooklyn bridge; and then fireworks, huge and lovely and loud being set off all over the city starting as soon as it got fully dark, and often continuing until well after midnight. Where did they come from? Conspiracy theories held that the FBI was using them to keep dissident neighborhoods up all night, or handing them out to entrap The Kids. But it seemed more plausible to me to imagine guys unloading trunkfuls of discount Roman candles from Jersey and Pennsylvania, diverted from their original purpose of dazzling a lakeshore of guests at a now-canceled county 4th of July celebration.

Election day fell towards the end of June. I'd spent the previous week breaking quarantine at the Phara & Jabari office space at 1039 Fulton, a converted restaurant space like 82 Central. Campaign Manager Nathan had whitewashed the crumbling exposed brick to make it less dusty, and the back room had been converted into a small bullpen for comms volunteers. It was so good to see my friends! We drank piña coladas while bundling palm cards and stapling picket signs, people going to and fro largely maskless, a tacit agreement that we formed our own quarantine bubble.

On the day, I got up at 5:30 in the morning and rode my bike over as the sun was coming up. Nathan and I got a couple of big tents set up out front. All the way down Fulton, a row of massive cargo trucks, their drivers asleep in the cabs, formed a wall. At 7 AM the truckers began to wake up, starting up their trucks and pulling away down the avenue. I spent the day handing out warm bottles of water and rubber-banded bundles of Phara & Jabari palm cards. I took an emergency bike ride up to Franklin to buy a megaphone for an impromptu Julia sound car. Late in the afternoon there was a some kind of police action that filled the horizon to the east with a glut of emergency vehicles. A gunman had taken a hostage, we heard? The situation was resolved, somehow. Once the polls closed that evening, it became clear that Jabari held a commanding lead. A film crew that had been following him around jumped into high gear. The results for the rest of the slate were less certain: Phara was within striking distance of Mosley, Marcela had likely lost. Seemingly effortlessly, Kath emceed the livestream that Devin set up. I wrote and tried to deliver a speech over my laptop's webcam from the back room but the wifi failed in the middle, leaving me frozen in gesticulation. What can you do. After midnight the fireworks started.

Because so much of the vote was by mail, we didn't know the full results until July. The mail-in ballots were being counted at a Board of Elections warehouse I didn't even know existed on 2nd Ave. at 51st St. in Sunset Park. I played hooky from work in the morning on the days our candidates' districts were being counted and biked down to greet the people who'd volunteered to observe the count on our behalf. When there was time, I tried to pick up pastries or other treats to hand out. Marcela's EDs happened to come up to be counted on my birthday. In honor of the occasion, I made sure to stop at La Flor for gallinitas on my way down to the warehouse. As I coasted down 51st St. towards the intersection, I saw Marcela and Alex getting out of a car. I took one hand off the handlebars to wave to them and, owing to the heavy bag of pastries unbalancing the other side of the bike, promptly lost control and went flying. Or at least that's how I experienced it - to any observer I most likely just sort of crumpled to the ground. Regardless, I wound up skinning my elbow, and my plastic helmet cracked preventing my head from hitting the pavement. Marcela and our volunteers sang Happy Birthday to me, though, and my blood sacrifice seemed to have been well spent, considering what happened next.

It was in November after the general election when I made my first trip back to my office in Manhattan, to clean it up and dispose of the sad mountain of unused Bernie lit. (Radix, as Fellow Travelers, had offered to recycle it at no charge.) I was prepared to sweep a desk's worth of expired snacks and dead plants into a trash bag and be done with it. To my surprise, my two plants, a spindly aloe and a sprawling snakeplant, were still healthy and green, just as I'd left them. How to account for this? Was a skeleton crew of beneficent custodial staff dropping by with a watering can every month? Or did the plants somehow pull moisture from the air itself, even though there seemed to be none to spare? How did they survive? We sometimes never know our angels, I suppose.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Cape of Good Hope, Cape of Storms

Good stuff:

Night In The Woods
The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky
Dogrel / It's Real
I Heard A Cry / Cup Of Destiny
The So So Glos w / Bodega @ Mercury Lounge, May 25th

What I did:

I knocked doors all over western Queens for Tiffany Cabán. Some people I knocked were DSA members. Some people didn't speak English but could understand my lousy Spanish. I knocked on the door of a friend from college who showed up on my walk list; she wasn't home, she was voting; I ran into her leaving the polling place, met her wife and new baby. A man told me Tiffany wanted to take Queens back to the bad old days when "everyone was urinating everywhere." A groveling worm of a man in Jackson Heights begged me to ferry a message to AOC, to tell her to slow down and compromise, as if I could or would tell her that. Most people were nice. We drank beer at Jackson Heights pool halls and in gay bars on Roosevelt Ave. where drag queens performed in home-made suits of PVC mech armor. We drank Tito's in Dan Lynch's apartment. Rushing late to a Parquet Courts set at Summerstage after an afternoon canvass, I took a head-over-heels tumble down a grassy hill and maybe broke my hand and got dirt all over my face. We stayed up (almost) all night at the Working Families Party offices sorting lit for GOTV. It was a cozy fever dream of an early summer, coming to a head on a broiling Tuesday that started in Willets Point at 6 AM then took me back to Jackson Heights to dispatch canvassers from a sweltering shed next to the United Sherpa Association. I lost count of how many times I went back to the supermarket for pallets of water to stuff into the wheezing fridge. Finally, the sun went down and Chi showed up with momos and we took a cab together to La Boom, where we booed all the grasping electeds and party hacks who were elbowing their way onto the stage.

Everyone knows what happened next.

In August, Nina's job took her to Cape Town, South Africa, so I went along. We flew out a week early, leaving on the hottest day of the year and passing through Charles De Gaulle before boarding a ten hour direct flight to Cape Town. (The international airline routes are a map of colonialism, as Nina pointed out.) Everything you read about Cape Town warns you that it's dangerous. The Lonely Planet guide told us never to go out at night, never to visit the outlying suburbs (the "townships") without an experienced guide lest you be murdered. It warned us that Teens would set us up to get robbed at the airport by asking to check out our sneakers. None of that happened to us. But Nina's job subscribes her to a sort of alert system for NGO workers, and it was frequently buzzing to let her know that a tourist had been killed a rest stop in Hout Bay a few hours before our guide parked us there on the way down the peninsula; a pair of hikers was murdered in the foothills of Table Mountain National Park, just above the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the day before we visited to admire the collection of unearthly wildflowers known as "fynbos."

So we did try to follow the rules, and that meant that we spent our evenings at the hotel for the most part. We were staying in a great big complex on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, within view of the enormous ferris wheel and the famous clock tower, as well as the working port, with its shipping container infrastructure, and the gateway to Robben Island. It being winter in the southern hemisphere, it was chilly at times, and in the mornings, fog would roll down from the top of Table Mountain, which girds the waterfront to the south. We watched quite a bit of South African TV. We watched live footage of the ongoing state capture investigation, presided over by Raymond Zondo - him patiently interviewing swollen and red-faced Afrikaaners, and at one point dismissing a translator who fucked up one too many times. The video for this song - it's a banger - was number one on MTV South Africa. Can't find a version that streams in the US, but I must've seen it a dozen times.

It's hard to shake the physical sensation of standing at the top of Cape Point, surrounded by tiny, pale fynbos flowers almost a thousand feet above sea level, and looking south towards the edge of the world. We stood among the orange boulders on the rocky shore of the Cape of Good Hope, the waves tumbling enormous dark cables of seaweed, each plant as thick as my torso. (I peeked between the rocks to discover a family of giant gray isopods huddling in the darkness.) But we also visited the penguins at Two Oceans Aquarium, heard how the keepers distinguish each one by their individual markings and feed and handle them accordingly. (Visited more penguins on Boulders Beach on the eastern side of the peninsula.) Saw the SACP flag flying at the District Six Museum. Watched a family of baboons hop a fence and break into a cookie factory while we were stopped at a traffic light on the way to Simon's Town. We ate chakalaka and bobotie, which were very good. I had a cheeky Nando's. Skeptically, we went on a guided "street art" tour through Woodstock, Cape Town's equivalent of Bushwick, and found that not unlike in New York, the practice is thoroughly professionalized (internationalized, even!) and well disconnected from the actual streets. But our guide invited us into his home - huge, by our standards, partially destroyed by a fire, but with beautiful old porcelain fixtures - as the sun was going down and served us sweet tea while we talked about gentrification and the burgeoning tourism industry.

Nina stayed in Cape Town for her conference, and I flew back to Atlanta for DSA's national convention, a wonderful surreal experience in its own right, although the nineteen hours of flight back up through Africa (with a brief stop-over in the Netherlands) was one of the more physically grueling experiences I can remember. (I'm tall and have had a comfortable life, you see.) I'd never been to Georgia before. It was warm and rainy when I got in. My fellow delegates were mostly staying in the Westin Peachtree, whose column central spiraled seventy-three stories into the sky over downtown Atlanta. The warm air and the long, summer sunlight hours made it feel so much like... summer camp that Chi and Evan and I thought it would be a good idea to go buy some pints of whiskey to brown bag on the debate floor on the first day of the convention. I got helplessly, stinking drunk and promptly misplaced my wallet, including my room key. I got a replacement key from the front desk after pitifully dialing DSA's emergency number because I didn't know what else to do, and found my wallet, humiliatingly, on the dresser in my room where we'd shared out the booze.

On the evening of the second day, Aaron and I went to a taping of Street Fight at The Drunken Unicorn. A room full of DSA members chanting "Kill Jeff Bezos." We went to a Cook Out (my first) and got quesadillas at 1 AM. Amelia, a native ATLien, took me to Daddy D'z twice, just so I could order their vegetarian sides. Everything was really good.

Strange little insects that looked eerily like bed bugs (except that they could fly) crawled up the _outside_ of the windows of our rooms on the fiftieth-plus floors. I examined them with some alarm, the headquarters of CNN below me in the distance. A single, real bed bug crawled over Jasmin's foot on the floor of the great hall on the third and final day. She squished it and I collected it in a paper towel before handing it over to a national staff member.

A year of wonder shot through with streaks of menace.