i walked from erbenheim to the wiesbaden art museum.
things seen on the ground:
bloated worms, a rusty bicycle chain, paper, paper, paper, fallen berries from a strange bush that grows clusters of blue berries in bleak february, living worms struggling on the tar for the soft ground that had recently vomited them up in the rain, paper, paper, little pink berries from a barren bush that still seemed to grow tiny pink berries in the empty stems, bottle caps, bottles, more bottle caps than bottles, dogshit that has not been stepped on, dogshit that has been stepped on, dogshit with the straight boundary through it from a bicycle wheel, abandoned bits of mostly-eaten pastries, a broken umbrella, lost parking tickets, a thousand cigarette butts, a thousand cigarette butts, a million soaked cigarette butts, my shoes (only one shoe at a time. i pick one up and put the other down and pick one up...)
also my eyes are on the ground because it's raining, and i don't want to look up into the freezing rain.
Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
i walked from erbenheim to the wiesbaden art museum.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
the us military issues their own brand of chewing gum. it comes with 100mg of caffeine.
my sister gave me a piece. it's the size of a gumball. i imagine that an inventive soldier, in dire need, could hurl these rock-like sugar pellets at the faces of his enemies. when i first put it in my mouth, i couldn't believe it was gum because it was like a rock in my cheek.
the rock tasted like cinnamon candy. when my saliva finally crumbled enough of the flavored shell, the sweet cinnamon candy filled my mouth. yet, underneath was a nicotene-like hint of the true purpose of the gum.
she told me that the military issued the gum because soldiers had to go on 72-hour missions, and could not sleep. they could not realistically stop a convoy to allow a soldier to pee, so them that can't find a spare gatorade bottle had better not drink coffee.
i chewed the gum. i felt my heart racing. i felt taller. i felt stronger. my hands trembled with untapped energy reserves.
the gum soured in my mouth. the sugar wore off. the rubbery remains was like chewing wet cigarette filters mixed with silly putty. perhaps the gum doubles as an emergency adhesive? perhaps the gum is also flammable so it can be used to catch fire and stick.
i spit it out before i could let my hurt burst from the energy. i waited a while, for the crash.
it came. i slept. i dreamed of the undead.
Monday, February 26, 2007
of course, i had to break the only part of my computer that cannot be replaced at a german computer store, and also renders my computer inoperable.
someday, some wise computer designer will create a power plug that isn't located at the one spot most likely to hit the ground at a bad angle if the laptop falls to the ground. when will the power supply connect to the side of the moniter instead of the back bottom corner?
now i can only work when my sister isn't around so i can borrow her computer.
and her bedroom is full of all this... girly sister energy. i need my laundry and coffee cup labyrinth if i am going to truly operate at my peak!
oh, e-bay, when will you send me my part?
Sunday, February 25, 2007
i rented a jacket for the night and wandered an elegant european casino. wiesbaden is one of the wealthiest cities in germany. their casino looks like it.
the art pieces, pagan entirely, line the marble halls. apollo, hestia, arthena and all of their signs and symbols and friends glow like sculptured constellations in the warm light.
inside the spielbank of the wiesbaden kasino, men in jackets and women in heels fondled chips.
the games of the day: roulette, blackjack, and poker.
i was with off-duty army officers who had just returned home from riyadh. they wanted to dress up in suits, eat an elegant meal, and pretend to be james bond for a while.
i gave them tiny ladybugs for good luck.
they told stories about life in kuwait and baghdad. they talked about how hard things were.
of course, their grandfathers probably said the same thing about the very ground where we came to relax.
someday, our grandchildren will wander the restaurants and casinos of baghdad, pretending to be rick from casablanca and try to unwind. they'll wear suits, and flirt with waitresses and laugh while the roulette wheel uses up any luck they had left from their survival.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
i was in the bed of a truck, surrounded by the immigrants to this great land of life.
outside the truck, a gripping sunset silhouetted a million buffalos merging and peeling away from each other like a soul river. cowboys and indians on horseback tried their best to keep the herd together, and away from the road. the sunlight backlighting them wasn't sunlight, but the perfect light of heaven.
i rode the truck, and stood next to a boy. he told me i'd meet his mother soon, in germany. the truck drove straight north towards the border, and we all looked straight west at the perfect, immortal sunset past the buffaloes.
behind me, parallel to the road, a modern train, all steel and glass windows, chugged smooth north.
i focused on the gorgeous buffalo and all the cowboys and indians like living spirits of the amon g. carter collection.
then, i woke up alone.
sometimes i believe my dreams, sometimes i don't.
Friday, February 23, 2007
"hey, e____, do you know what's weird about playing chess against yourself?" says me.
"um... uh..." sounds of woman rummaging for pots and pans.
"whichever side i'm sitting at is the one most likely to win. you know, if i sit on black's side, black wins. if i sit on white's side, white wins," says me.
"okay," she says.
"i know, the real answer to the question 'do you know what's weird about playing chess against yourself?' is 'the fact that you are playing chess against yourself', but the other thing that's weird is how the side i'm sitting at is much more likely to win."
"i think it's great when you answer your own questions like that," she says.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
the bus driver, slouched in his seat, did not seem to notice those two volkswagons that had to swerve hard right to escape with their fenders intact.
the bus driver drove right past a stop, despite the big, red sign saying "wegen halt" that lights up when people want to get off the bus.
they jumped and shouted, "hey! "hallo! halt, halt!"
the bus driver came to a screaching halt in the middle of the road. a car zipped around us, honking, furiously at the bus driver that slammed his brakes in the middle of the road.
the people got off the bus, mystified about what had happened. this is germany, after all, where the buses run on time, and the bus drivers are respected for their work, and respectful of others.
the bus driver didn't apologize. he closed the doors, and started driving again. he had his stoic slouch, and his furrowed eyebrows.
he zipped past somebody's stop again. everyone shouted at him, "hey! hallo! halten sie, bitte!" he comes to another screeching halt. he let them off the bus.
i was still sitting, waiting for my stop.
the bus driver started driving again. then, he just stopped. he wasn't at a bus stop. he wasn't where he was supposed to be. he just stopped in the middle of the road. he turned off the lights in the cabin. he opened the doors. he told us all to get off because the bus was closed.
people shouted at him. the bus driver just ignored them. he told them all to get off. he was quitting, and wasn't going to drive anyone else anywhere else.
we got off the bus. we looked at each other. we kind of, collectively, shrugged. we walked away, each in our own directions.
the whole time, i had ash on my forehead from ash wednesday. i was coming out of mass. i walked through the rain to my sister's apartment. the ash ran down my face. i wiped it off. now it's all over my face, and all over the sleeve of my jacket. and i feel blessed, because the crazy bus driver didn't pull out a gun and go postal on us, and he didn't hit those cars.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
a common sight among the condos and apartment buildings and duplexes and houses shoved close together in the meandering streets that used to be cart trails: two story garages, with a deep basement below the huge entryway.
first my sister pulled up in her boyfriend's car, stopping right outside the garage door. we got out. we pulled out all of the bags of groceries and items that needed to go upstairs in the apartment.
she used her room key in the arch of the garage door. the door opened. then, she used her key again to operate the car lift. inside this garage, three cars can park side by side on stiff metal slats. when my sister turned the key the metal slats lifted the three cars up one level, to the second floor, revealing the second layer of the garage. she pulled her boyfriend's car inside, careful to get it exactly straight. she looked up and down to the two different levels from the nose of the car to make sure nothing was going to impede the progress of the car.
she returned to the archway, her boots clomping on the steel slats. She turned her key, and her car descended into the darkness below the earth. the three cars came back down from the sky.
she complained about it. she said that when it breaks, it's a horrible hassle. she said it was a terrible invention, really.
i watched her boyfriend's car fade down into the darkness, sunset and the weak garage light flickering on the glass like some kind of fire. six cars fit in a spot that's wide enough for only two.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
a man in a grass skirt with a giant wig asked me, on the bus to mainz, in english, "do you like beer?"
i said, "yes, i like beer very much."
he opened his backpack and handed me a nice, cold bottle of delicious bitburger beer for no apparent reason. i heartily thanked the man, and decided i was probably in for a good time.
in mainz, people decked out in costumes hopped like ravers in the streets while shouting along to european techno music, drunk as drunk can be. a very happy, goofy gentleman decided that i made an excellent arm rest and that i should be shouting louder. in fact, he did not speak a lick of english in his blissful stupor. he figured that if he spoke slower and louder i'd be able to miraculously understand him. unfortunately, he usually forgot what he was saying halfway through the sentence and decided just to dance and shout the lyrics in my ear.
in german, "drunk" is expressed with the color blue. if you are drunk, you say "I am so completely blue right now!" incidentally, a popular costume theme was smurfs. it was like walking through the entire smurf village with pixies and aliens and the kind of rocking shindig papa smurf would not allow.
one young woman, who did not want to get cigarette ash on her costume decided to peel off her elegant angel wings, complete with halo and hold it out to one side. in her other hand, she chain-smoked four cigarettes while drinking half a liter of martini, her angel wings held aside.
on the bus home, a quiet girl with "kiss me" written in black upon her cheek rode home alone, wiping tears from her eyes. grandmothers calling it a night packed in, with their bright clown wigs and cheered at the marching band that was trying to get home in time to be awake for their morning parades. the grandmothers wanted music. the band played, the bus sang along the songs of fasching. the bus driver got on the intercom to say, "bravo!" at the end of each tune. the quiet girl smiled, wiped a few more stray tears from her eyes. she got off the bus. she walked home, alone.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Saturday, February 17, 2007
in the marketplace, workers set up bright carnival stands, rides, and beer stalls. all of them are airbrushed with every color of the psychedelic rainbow and the colors take shape in nightclub dancers, dragons, wizards and giant smiles.
monday morning, catholic germany explodes in debauchery and joy.
the large stock exchange building has this sign plastered to the somber exterior:`Helau!´
the black, dominating windows like darth vader´s summer retreat look out from around the colorful mask as wicked and leering as any window that´s tinted so dark one doesnät know who is behind the glass, leering at the naked drunkenness in the streets.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
late last night i tried to post here from a webcafe i hadn't used in a while and blogger hopped, skipped, and jumped backward every time i attempted to log in. don't know why.
the only thing i can think about right now is how bad the pacing is in this book i'm trying to write and about all the things i'm trying to do to fix the pacing.
i swear if i see someone in a pacers jersey i'm going to punch them.
the book is otherwise good. solid writing, solid characters, solid plot... just bad pacing!
if i had been able to log in at the webcafe i would have given you some drunken rant about an american couple that was here in wiesbaden on vacation looking for a restaurant, and i'll dig out my notes eventually.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
german beer is better than american beer. don't let those sam adams' ads fool you. there is no comparison. if any american beer won some contest with german beer, the game was somehow rigged to sub-categorize things or skew the results towards bad beer.
even german beer bought in america tastes different than german beer bought in germany. i suspect that to make the beer legal in america they have to add something strange and unecessary, or perhaps america's obsession with "cold" beer forces the perfect german beer to survive unappropriate conditions in transit.
all german beer is required by law to be organic. there can be no weird additives. it can only contain the basic ingredients of beer. flavored beers do exist, but they are labeled as "not" beer. they are flavored beers.
german beer, in and of itself, will have the cleanest aftertaste you've ever experienced in your life. it will be like the perfect release of a symphonic note that hangs open in the air. when you are drinking it, it will be full and rich and have the precise texture that the color of the beer is supposed to have.
and, it will be so easy to drink way too much of it, because even good beer is cheaper here than bad beer costs in alcohol-tax-happy america.
way too easy to drink too much. way, way too easy.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
on the buses of wiesbaden three signs indicate what cannot be done on the bus.
firstly, one cannot smoke cigarettes. the picture of a cigarette with the universal red line makes that very clear.
secondly, one cannot consume these three food items: drinks in glass bottles, pommes frittes, and ice cream in cones. these three items squeeze into the little box where the ubiquitious red line tells us that one cannot do these things on the bus.
thirdly, a pair of rollerskates. not in-line rollerblades, mind you. no, these are white rollerskates with four wheels arranged like a very small skateboard below a boot. the red line makes very clear that we are not allowed to rollerskate on the bus.
i do not know why one needs to put a sign up about the rollerskates, but there they are. the people on the bus with bad shocks bounce and tustle their way to the market, to the school, to their homes. not one of them wears rollerskates. most don't look like rollerskates are ever part of their lives.
but, if there is a sign, then there must be a reason for the sign.
"don't walk on the grass", ergo people are walking on grass, somewhere.
"don't dance in front of the Alamo," ergo people are dancing in the sidewalks in front of important monuments.
etc. etc. etc.
thus, i see the signs that prohibit cigarettes, french fries, and roller skates and I say to myself, "ergo..."
somewhere, people are smoking cigarettes, eating french fries and drinking from glass bottles. they're wearing roller skates all over town.
i'm keeping my eyes open for them. i'll tell you if i see them.
Monday, February 12, 2007
i went to the pizza parlor last night. two turkish men, clean and polite, spoke absolutely no english.
i explained what i wanted in german. they thought i was insane. they asked me over and over again, "this is what you wanted, yes?" in german. they made the pizza. they joked with other customers assuming i couldn't understand them about how they were going to add lots of this odd combo to other people's pizzas.
when the pizza was complete, they showed it to me hesitantly. they asked again, befuddled, "that is really what you wanted?"
i said yes. i gleefully paid the man and rushed home to devour the most delicious pizza-topping combo on earth: Ananas und Zwiebeln. (pinapples and onions).
"Ananas und Zwiebeln? ZWIEBELN? Du weiss was das ist, ja? On-onion?" (Onions? ONIONS? You know what that is, yes?)
try it sometime, good people of the internet, if you like things a little sweet and sour.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
i've been busy editing, and i accomplished nothing else except for this little useful tip i picked up in college:
for a little mid-winter warmth in your cup of coffee, place approximately three shakes of cinnamon, a touch of cloves, and/or nutmeg into the coffee grounds, with sugar to taste. thus, you have just made lovely "pumpkin" flavored coffee without resorting to some strange, expensive syrup, or to some strange, expensive flavored bean.
adjusting the spices can make your coffee taste less like pumpkin and more like something right out of southeast asia.
other then that, i'm piecing together streets that twist like serpents, and plotlines that twist like serpents for a little book that will read like a paradox-free labyrinth - i hope...
Saturday, February 10, 2007
power went out all over town. morning twilight grew into a sunny, chilly weekday. car sirens went off like traveling alarm clocks.
i had been reading too much sci-fi, too much news, because i was at the window, waiting for someone to start their car. i wasn't scared, or anxious. i was merely thinking too much.
a woman on another street, visible from my sister's window hopped into her car, and flipped on her lights and drove away.
i told my sister that it wasn't an emp shockwave because people could start their cars.
she looked at me like i needed to get out more. which i do.
Friday, February 9, 2007
on the meandering wandermanstrasse that winds down the hills like a frozen river, ruined nineteenth century buildings crumble a millimeter separate from a wealthy, respectable home. these buildings jam together with no alleys, and no parking lots. on one sharp curve, the german red cross cut back the old street to make a parking lot for ambulances beside a first aid station.
i, the wandering man of the street, steal glimpses into the windows. everything karl marx hated was inside these homes. this is the top of the economy, on this ancient, meandering road.
then, there are the hair gangsters.
a shop window, spills euro-techno out from a corner between travel agencies and banks. painted into the glass in bright purple, a very assertive little cartoon man looks downward at his hand in an explosion of purple hair.
in his hand, he's holding an electric razor. the purple hair comes from some defeated little head, shoved forward beneath the assault of the hair gangster.
imagine, a street so bizarre that the only street gang are a group of hair stylists. the only graffiti are the band names plastered all over the stylists' cars. and the wealthy men and women with their wealthy sons and daughters stroll blissfully into the care of the gang.
make me look like a hair gangster.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
sun-tzu's art of war, a notorious military classic, is most interesting to me not because of the book itself, but because of the dozens of introductory and historical materials that get folded into the pages.
the notes and notations spill in iterations of excessive scholarship over 2500 years of active study.
the great controversy of the man: he was not mentioned in the annals of his time. was he real? was he a literary conceit? was he the son of the great general?
the famous story told of sun tzu, when the king brought him to the palace to test the general's ability, is also probably as mythical as george washington's cherry tree.
the emperor, upon meeting sun tzu, wished to test the leadership of the man who urged action when the emperor desired peace. jokingly, the emperor amassed his concubines and handed military equipment among them. he gave sun tzu command of these delicate, amused flowers. the emperor's favored concubines were given command as officers.
sun tzu ordered the troops into formation and ordered them into military manuevers.
the women descended into amused giggles, too busy playing soldier to pay attention to their commands.
the great general called down the wrath of heaven. he barked and howled with fury at his disobediant troops. he ordered executioners forth with their giant axes.
"the officers are responsible for the discipline of the troops. when troops disobey orders, officers are held responsible. by law, they are executed."
the concubines that had been chosen as officers were lined up below the executioner's axes.
the emperor, sensing no bluff from the great general, descended from his high throne. he urged sun-tzu to reconsider for this was merely a mild game, and to lose the favored concubines in such a matter would cause the emperor's food to lose flavor.
sun tzu turned his wrath to the emperor. "the general is always in command of the army, separate from the emperor. once an army is amassed, it would offend heaven not to use it appropriately."
the general ordered the executioners to cut off the heads of the concubine officers. the executioners obeyed the command.
afterward, new officers were chosen among the concubines.
military orders were issued. the concubines obeyed. this army of delicate flowers had hardened into thorns.
sun tzu turned to the emperor and showed him this new army. sun tzu declared that this army could march into any war, now.
the emperor, horrified, sought to disband the army of concubines.
sun tzu, again, called the emperor's attention to the laws of heaven, "to amass an army only to disband it is contrary to the true nature of the universe. now that we have an army, we must use it against our enemies."
thus, sun tzu had convinced an emperor of the necessity of action. the full army of the emperor from chariot to archer to cavalry to infantry was called to war, under sun tzu's command.
sun-tzu's army marched to victory.
afterward, sun tzu denied all rewards and all political posts. he retired to a mountain top, to meditate.
this story is part of the myth of the man that may not have existed. it appears, in one form or another in thousands of versions over the last two-thousand years.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
a light snow painted our rooftops white last night. looking out at the sharply angled tiles, the boundary line where the two worlds of inside and outside merge are clearly visible on the tiles. around the windows, a circle of clear roof cuts into the icy snow. the tiny metal chimneys where steam vents into the sky have this radius of clean roof where all the snow melted away.
also, an open window to prevent dry rot lets the cold air spill into the empty bathrooms. inside the bathrooms, pipes full of water that starts flowing so cold, so cold.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
notice the squinty eyes? never trust a man with squinty eyes.
in the background, the rooftops of erbenheim, and some empty trees.
my sister took this photo yesterday, and we sent it to my publisher because they had mentioned that they wanted a picture to help promote the book.
i told them my picture probably wouldn't help them sell anymore books.
if you're out in the world and you see me, try to see right through me. forget this photo. because i've got squinty eyes.
Monday, February 5, 2007
scurrying over empty streets on a sunday morning, i was running late to church and i was hungry and i was wired from drinking too much coffee and i had gotten on the wrong bus and i had to change buses and i walked down one road believing it lead somewhere and it led me the wrong way so i turned and made my way back to the main avenue of the marketplace until i reached the corner i knew well and i had only two minutes left until mass began without me and i walked fast past the homeless men that held the door for pfennigs i would not give them and i quickly took my hat off and shoved it in my bag and sat down in the furthest pew on the right.
i took a breath.
i had made it just in time.
i had been lost all morning, on wrong buses and down wrong roads and i had only half an hour to find my way back to the roads i knew.
and i made it in time.
Saturday, February 3, 2007
i have always operated under the assumption that grape nuts are healthy. i've honestly never checked. i realized, while i was dousing my bowl of grape nuts with raisins and honey that because grape nuts required a bath of honey (or chocolate, or sugar) to make them palatable that they must be healthy.
they're an unappealing color (brown). they clump up in the bowl in milk and get very soggy quickly. they have this flavor somewhere between sand and graham crackers. obviously they must be healthy.
the box claims they are healthy.
of course, the box doesn't factor in the chocolate milk and butterscotch chips, the strawberries and vanilla soy milk, the raisins and honey.
honestly, this cereal is not healthy. it just pretends to be so you can use it as a vehicle for unhealthy ingredients (though raisins and honey are not necessarily unhealthy, the amount required to make grape nuts palatable certainly is not healthy).
just like oatmeal, the box tells you its healthy. scientists tell you that this is healthy. alas, the ingredient is healthy, but the breakfast is unsound.
Friday, February 2, 2007
I found a note on the ground, in a clean hand and completely in German. It seemed to be torn straight from a teenager's notebook.
I'm the kind of person who picks up notes left on tabletops, and blowing around in the dirt, because I am deathly curious and eavesdrop on silent conversations.
I used babel fish to translate it into something resembling English. I suspect the translation is as disjointed as the mind that wrote the little note in my hand. a clean hand, true, but words that jump around like a monkey on crack.
"I meite od you still jewand others like except picture. there I meant actually stop a young from servant close or in such a way. you have me something with nem warrant of apprehension written however you to me genuinly none my-put. I got none? Hey, you is already again exactly like I. I had the book me also with amazon.de ordered as a calendar fur 2007. Humans again in thing. Clearly with niva live everything folded and is in the box. Place to you forwards Tuesday then on work ne friend and I standig more daruber gequatscht. and others madchens on lokio hotel do not stand were again-went in such a way on the video and lauden funny with "Yom Pornosaur". that those also see walten. those young naturlich not. Naja and I had the video along and there to have we ours ausbilderin in demand whether we the video in lunch time look at ourselves surfen. but we surften that witten in arbeitszect look 1,5 grant. that was so cool. there other things were, erzahlt I you at the telephone after. and we find you the new video eignetlich?"
i've been reading a fascinating book by norman f cantor about the late middle ages, and one prominent figure in particular.
unfortunately, dr cantor suggests that the cathedral at cologne is hideous and overwrought and exactly the kind of cathedral this age deserves.
he couldn't be more wrong. the cathedral at cologne is an intricate thing, like a faberge egg zapped with an enlargement ray. each little corner carries the holiness of a saint, of sacrifice, of human suffering. a thousand carvers dedicated their lives to serving god and building this cathedral that survived allied bombing because of it's excellent, sturdy walls and buttresses. the carvers that burned their life away in the service of god carved imagery of saints that burned their life away (sometimes quite violently) in the service of god.
anyway, i think the cathedral is overwhelming and beautiful.
many reviewers of this particular text also spend a great deal of energy dissing how this text is not a "real" history book due to the footloose, conversational approach dr cantor uses to make his argument. i've read my share of medieval history books, and find one that isn't a long string of footnoted "infodumps" refreshing.
the real main character of this story isn't john of gaunt, though. this is norman cantor's raw personality letting us listen in on him boring his wife to tears in his study. i found it fun.
Thursday, February 1, 2007
once, in jest, i commented that alcohol addiction was better than cuddling alpacas on an alpaca farm.
this season's street performers in wiesbaden hold a coin jar in one hand and an alpaca's bridle in the other. maybe they're llamas? i don't actually know the difference. a man stands on a street corner holding a llama. give him a coin for this spectacle.
regardless, i cannot imagine the opposite scene in peru. a marketplace, mid-city. pedestrians haggle over the potatoes and bolts of cloth. an industrious man holds a coin jar in one hand, and the bridle of a cow in the other. perhaps a sheep, or a horse? ah, these exotic european creature traveled half the world to dazzle the shoppers in a wealthy, andean town.
this is the way of the conquered places. seeing a llama in the marketplace is a sign of an exotic land faraway. in ancient rome, emperors that wished to remind their citizens of the conquering of foreign lands minted coins with a stern face on one side, and an exotic animal on the other, stamped in silver. exotic animals and slaves with different skin colors filled the marketplaces and the coliseums.
european livestock in the peruvian city is merely mundane.
elsewhere in the marketplace, a common sight: a mayan musician selling cds and blowing into a reed pipe.
i imagine a lederhosen-clad accordian player with the polkas of yesteryear doing just fine in a peruvian marketplace. at least, no worse that the mayan with his reedpipe. still, i don't think the prince of polkas would sell too many cds.
this all happened in the shadow of a mcdonalds restaurant. around the corner, a church stands that survived allied bombings in world war ii.
and i, an american soldier's son, stopped for a cup of coffee at a cafe named for an american whaler, lost at sea.