Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Interview with Myrtle Von Damitz!

I've started blogging for the San Francisco Center for the Book, and my first post is an interview with Myrtle Von Damitz, III. Myrtle is a New Orleans artist who founded the annual book arts exhibition, Babylon Lexicon, in 1999. She goes into the history and evolution of the exhibition, including what makes it unique to NOLA, as well as some context of the city's underground literary and journalistic history.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wedding Review.9

As wedding season came to a close, a storm was rolling in. This couple was making things legal just barely ahead of the months of heavy rain.

There were several perfumed candles burning in the entrance.

Fighting off a chemical headache, I uncorked the wine and took this time to reflect. I stood in solidarity, I'd always thought, with the spell each wedding attempts to cast; we’re doing similar things here, aren’t we? Me with my pen in hand and you with your better spun, less acerbic sense of narrative. Your signature cocktail, your monogrammed satchel of artisan sweets, the curated perceptions of those who give your toasts: themes emerge. Themes that sneakily defer both future and past to the present.

The fragrance of the candles was taking over, a rose-scented sort of bathroom smell. A smell that works hard to hide bullshit. This, then, weddings, was the difference between you and me. The cooks, who were concerned about the candles clashing with people’s appetites, opened up the kitchen door. The first few drops of rain were falling. 

You’ve always been a little neurotic, the maid of honor read from her notes, the tears lining up behind each awkward pause. But that’s what I’ve always loved about you. She spoke for us all when she said this. It was clear that tonight would veer toward bereavement, not chaos. Fizzle not bang, drizzle not thunderstorm. Sympathy cards all around for the bride. Either way, I regretted not saving that “November Rain” allusion for tonight. 

I went outside to the pantry to eat my dinner, letting the rain loosen up my food on the way. Nothing was going to clash with my appetite—even the raccoons, who despite the open pantry door, failed to make an appearance.

I pondered what sort of changes next year’s season would bring. Would pudding be the new tarts be the new pie be the new cupcakes? Would weddings tighten or ease their imaginative grip?

I went home with several slices of braised pork.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Letter from Pedestrianica.2

I’ve been doing a little marching lately—marching as in walking with a large group of people (not as in lifting your knees in sync with an external rhythm). This marching—which is a simple act, but which is cathartic, thrilling, terrifying, mournful, ecstatic—this marching is the action of the Occupy movement I can most fully get behind.

I’ve mentioned before the creative usefulness of walking, as have many others (Thoreau and Robert Walser, to name a few). And I’d like to explore it further in the future. But for now, let’s quickly touch on it again, and remind ourselves of the loosening that happens while in stride. The stagnancy of the desk gives way to air and stimuli; frontiers of the imagination expand. And what happens on an individual level takes place communally as well. A movement is about moving, after all, and that’s why the march is so symbolic. The world is changing right before our eyes; possibilities come into view that would have stayed obscured behind a windshield.

Not to say the more stationary aspects of Occupy are unimportant, the camps and the general assemblies with their well-honed ways of conducting large meetings. I tend to fear interacting with strangers, though, unable to articulate myself in ways I wish I could, easily annoyed by certain types within activist communities. Isolationism, then, is what I gravitate toward, ironically a symptom of car culture: each enclosed in their own machine, with no time or proximity to study the faces of those you pass. But that’s the way—for right now, at least—things are over here in my region of Pedestrianica. There are comfort zones that need to be transcended, and we’re working on it.

But marching. Marching is an act that doesn’t require verbal interaction. Most of the verbiage is canned and one way: chants. Still there’s an understanding, one that grips and that will crush you if cling too strongly to your feelings of separateness. One that after the numb refuge of individuality, can paradoxically be freeing.

And the power. Rarely do I feel such Pedestrianican power. I’m usually one small body in a sea of steel and speed, but when the crowd takes over the street (for there’s nothing more flaccid than a march that’s been restricted to the sidewalk), there is vindication. At last, one small slice of space and time not subject to the motorist’s tyranny. For once, this crowd says, you cannot go where you want, when you want. For once the streets are whose? Ours. The crowd brings to light the stupid, stunted, unadaptable nature of the car.

Which is dangerous, this smug reversal of violence. The names of the crimes in these instances—the infractions the police cite as reason for breaking out their “less than lethal” weapons—the names of these crimes are telling: obstructing traffic and pedestrian interference.

In the last couple days, the media focus actually seems to have shifted from violent protesters to violent police. News sources have been forced to address police brutality as more and more footage of it surfaces. But two of the most disturbing examples of violence during protests in the last few weeks have been at the hands of motorists. During a march in support of Oakland’s general strike on Nov. 2, a man appeared to deliberately run over two pedestrians, badly injuring both. After Oakland police failed to respond to a 911 call, onlookers ran to the nearest BART station to ask the transit police for help. After taking down information, the BART police let the man drive his Mercedes away from the scene.

And in Washington, DC, when Occupy protesters set up blockades outside of a convention center where the ultraconservative Americans for Prosperity Foundation was meeting, a driver plowed into the crowd, injuring four, including a pregnant woman and a 13-year-old boy. Rather than charge the driver, though, police chastised the pedestrians for being in the street.

It makes sense that police would be on the side of the motorists. So much of what they do is based on an ethos of bullying, and the driver’s right of way comes from a similar place: Get the fuck out of my way, pussy, I’m bigger and faster and more armored than you. And get a police officer behind the wheel? This kind of compounded power is terrifying, resulting in gratuitous high-speed chases. My old roommate was skittish about walking her dog after cops unnecessarily chased a car into our Oakland neighborhood, resulting in the deaths of two innocent people. This kind of fear is in the air on so many different levels. It divides us, which makes us even more afraid. On a side note, which is unfair, I know, and simplistic, but perhaps a topic for another time: it’s interesting that fascism rose in the years after our cities became fully infested with cars.   

There has been a call to replace the name Occupy with Decolonize. America stands on land that once belonged to other nationsthe Ohlone here in Oakland, for oneand the implication of the word Occupy is imperialistic to say the least. It’s staggering to think of the layers upon layers of asphalt and cement, these concrete colonizations that smother the ghosts and bones of those whose land was stolen. When you look at it this way, the cars are just the icing on the cake. Some heavy icing, yes, some icing that's not going to be easy to scrape off. But we need to start working toward that first step, slow down this needlessly constant motion, stroll around the block for a second, acknowledge our common humanity, and discuss how we can work toward righting the injustices of the past. It’s this kind of reflection that will allow clearer visions of the future to finally come into view.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dream of Aimless Unemployment

In this dream, I had a job where I was unappreciated—to the extent that my boss could never remember my name. I decided to walk. Perfect timing, as my grandma pulled up in a minivan to treat me to lunch. Sitting across from her at a table in a woodsy diner, I tried to explain the injustice of my workplace. She didn’t understand.

Circumstances became such that we had to leave the minivan at the diner and walk through a busy park. There were all kinds of men with mild, mysterious smiles, wearing red athletic uniforms and chucking soccer balls against a fence. My grandma walked confidently ahead, skirting the fence, the men pausing to let her pass. As I followed, though, they began to throw the balls again, and I could feel the whisper of each as it sped past my head. The violence was in strange contrast to their smiles.

Somehow I lost track of my grandma, and went inside a decrepit parks maintenance building to try to find her. There was something wrong with this place, I realized: it was rat infested, I could sense them scurrying around in the shadows. The building’s unease felt more like a haunting than an infestation. There were all sorts of spiders and webs and egg sacs which clung to me now, and which I couldn’t get to fully leave my skin.

The sunlight outside was a relief, the men and their soccer balls less of a visceral threat as I began to make my way back to the minivan in hopes that my grandma was there. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Even the most genius of jokes is doomed to not hold up

Interrobang?! has posted a very short story of mine called "Windowless Room, Silverless Fish". It's told from the point of view of a comedian whose vampiric existence is causing him to get a little existential. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wedding Review.8

Why, I feel it’s time to ask, do we drink so much? Are we caterers such drunks because our work is more stressful than most, and thus we need more numbing? No. Martyrs aren’t the type to wear all black. Maybe it’s just because there’s so much alcohol around. Get it while we can, we think, or maybe we don’t think—we just unthinkingly reflect the behavior of our guests.

Or is everyone—weddings be damned—always this drunk?

This was a wedding that neglected to provide its guests with champagne. There was moscato, yes, there was moscato. But moscato is something that’s too sweet to consume like air. Thus I waited a few hours—of sobriety, mind you—I waited a few long, long hours before risking that telltale hematic wine lip: before going on in for the red.

The bartender was yelling. A man had grabbed her, and at the same time was threatening the structural soundness of the bar. Baby, just believe me, he told her. I can hold my liquor. She was torn, she said, between running away and standing there to prevent the bar from falling over. The bar—this was a wedding, after all—was not a bar, but rather a linen-draped folding table. Give and take, you might advise this bartender, trapped as she was between the two. But by now, something like this for her was second nature.

And weddings, perhaps, should now stand and examine their dusty old clusters of give and take. We all know who’s doing the taking, don’t we? The theatricality makes it obvious (The couple? The couple’s mothers? Just bear with me). And the giving, of course, is given unwillingly. The father had a tear in his eye as he gave the bride away.

The moscato, unlike champagne, seemed too celebratory to become habit. I went home with yet one more bottle of red.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I put on the best clothes I own and passed hors d'oeuvres

I just finished this broadside, which is a heavily fictionalized account of catering a children's birthday party. I wrote the piece last year, and, in a way, it prefigures the wedding reviews I've been writing for this blog: it's told from the point of view of an acerbic caterer and highlights the more sinister aspects of ritual. It does, however, run a little more freely into the realm of the absurd. I'm not sure how I feel about the visual results—I tend toward a cleaner aesthetic. The content of this piece, though, is so chaotic and debauched, I figured it was a good excuse to lay it on thick. To see more broadsides, visit my website.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Daylight savings. Such a slight adjustment, yet something, if you're sober enough, that reverberates, that scolds. The state finds it useful, amusing even, to remind you twice a year: they are the ones who decide who you must be and where you must be and when.

Nobody saw me do it, you can't prove anything

Here I am with my pals Bart and Tintin yesterday, as they graciously hosted me as Cartoonist in Residence at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Interpretive Propaganda

This poster is an idea (using a phrase taken from a Mekons song) conceived by artist Gabby Miller as a tribute to today's general strike in Oakland. "I was amazed by how quickly something unimaginable become a possibility," says Gabby, "and how rapidly the idea spread. For me, the Occupy movement is very much about going beyond the imagination." The layout was adapted from a silkscreened companion poster that teacher Miriam Klein-Stahl developed with her students. Chinzalee Sonami and Andy Turner bravely assisted us last night as we printed over 400 copies! We hope to someday invite artists to collaborate by filling in the poster's blank space. You can put money toward this project here. Gabby will be at 14th and Broadway today in downtown Oakland, handing out free copies!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cartoonist in Residence!

I'm the November Cartoonist in Residence at San Francisco's Cartoon Art Museum! Which means I'll be there this Saturday, Nov. 5, holding court at a drawing table from 1-3 pm. I'll have some comics and zines for sale, and will display the just-finished originals from an illustrated essay memorializing the legendary drugstore, Super Longs. I also hope to get going on some doodles for an interview I did with fiction writer, Jincy Willett. The Cartoon Art Museum is located at 655 Mission Street, between New Montgomery and Third.