Drinking Newcastle and Eating Cold Chinese Food

November 30, 2006

At long (long) last, I’m back from Reykjavik, Boston, Los Angeles (actually, Anaheim and Burbank), San Francisco, El Dorado Hills and Bodie, California. Along the way, I walked through a blizzard, suffered some kind of debilitating muscle thing in my gut, hung out for a bit with Wil Wheaton, learned that 75% of my family still uses dial-up (’cause, I guess, they’re Quakers or something), saw the Scrubs hospital, saw porn (i.e. pr0n) star Sunny Lane at a karaoke event, visited a ghost town, met some wolves and got robbed on the streets of San Francisco.

All of these things are true. Some of these will be written about in the future. But tonight there’s no time for that, ’cause I’m busy doing work-type work and enjoying a trip back into literal poetic nostalgia with my new copy of former-Poet Laureate Billy Collins’ The Apple That Astonished Paris.

To wit:

“The fox you lug over your shoulder
in a dark sack
has cut a hole with a knife
and escaped.

The sudden lightness makes you think
you are stronger
as you walk back to your small cottage
through a forest that covers the world.”
–“Hunger,” by Billy Collins

What’s surprising about this book, ten years after I read it in Mr. Brown’s class in high school, is how mediocre it is. It is gloriously fallible. The seams in these poems are visible. You can hear some of these poems stutter and hum. Even Billy Collins wasn’t always as good as he is now. As a writer who still reflexively calls himself “a wannabe writer,” let me say what a fucking relief it is to catch one of the greats stumble through a joke.

It’s the time of year, I think. The leaves aren’t just on the ground, they’re dead on the ground, half-rotten like corpses undiscovered in the woods. Bare branches splay across the sky like spilled ink. Leaves fall past the window like a tablecloth dragged off the top of the house. It makes me think of looking out a classroom window in Illinois, when the polish had just come off a new school year, and ignoring a teacher in favor of daydreaming about that night’s game of Vampire: The Masquerade. That was a long time ago, and it feels weird to think that I’ve been hear long enough to have a long time ago. So I buy new copies of old books that I’ve liked — The Apple That Astonished Paris and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories — and I drink Newcastle and I eat my cold Chinese food.

My wife’s grandfather, Ray, died tonight.

Noise: “Earth Died Screaming,” Tom Waits


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