Monday, February 28, 2005

The One to Skip

My world is a version of yours.

A version.
*
Words cannot describe the disapointment of waking up this morning and finding that, against all possible hope, I was still alive.

I had been dreaming about pieces of water colour paper soaking in coloured solutions so diluted the hues were scarecely perceptible. I can't remember what this meant but somehow, these sodden, tinted sheets of paper explained me to myself. Signifier and signified coupled in almost divine unity, I fought desperately to keep the sign fixed in my mind. The image soothed me inefably and it seemed all the secrets of the world were revealed to me as I watched the paper float silently atop vaguely orange-ish water in pyrex dishes.

I was happy there, deep down under, but against my wishes, something tugged on my line.

I began barreling towards conciousness at break neck speed, the tranquility curdled by nitrogen invading blood, chaos wresting peace. When I got there the bends were crippling. Just before breaking through the surface, I lost the papers. The trays of delicate solutions emptied out into a stormy sea of sentience and in chemical terms became nothing more than parts per millions, parts per zillions and so on forever.

The cold and snow today is peaceful, cleans out my lungs and calms me. I'm fixated on peace and calm today, after the rock and roll, whiskey and heartbreaking ravages of last night. This then, is also one of those days when, inexplicably, everything brings tears to my eyes. On the way to work I rode the train all the way around the loop instead of getting off and walking a few extra blocks like I usually do. It felt peaceful on the train. I was moving through an alien world. Chicago is a piece of this alien world.

Winding the corner onto Lake, I peered into the secret world of a parking garage. The cars were parked on an incline, leaning to one side and looking like they'd tumble down were someone to flick the first one in the row. Rolling, crashing like steel dominos they'd cascade clunkily down the concrete slope, glass shattering, metal groaning. This made me want to cry for no reason I can explain.

I thought aboug going to the art museum after picking up my pay check. One would be hard pressed to find a more peaceful place than still, silent galleries. Late last night, I was saying to someone how painting is like a stuffed vaccum cleaner bag. It did it's job. It's over. It has passed from the realm of potentiation. My analogy-generating machines clearly hampered by a stretch of 24 wakeful hours, a smokey campfire I'd doused with alcohol. I don't understand why I was being so contrary. I could have just as easily recounted how when I was younger I would sit and meditate in front of the signature Mark Rothko at every museum I visited. I would sit for a very long time until my legs cramped up and tears streamed down my cheeks. At the carnegie museum in Pittsburgh, there was a particular Sam Francis painting I used to drop in on regularly as if it were some child with whom I'd established visitation rights. In my solipsistic 19 year old world, I was convinced that this painting was a plastic embodiment of a poem I had written entitled "The Historyless Morning" and privately refered to the "composition no. 12" or whatever it was called, by the same title.

My sentimentality knows no bounds of taste or reason and it was this, truly, that led me to study art in the first place. I miss that version of myself and on days like today I catch a glimpse of it.

If I had a magic genie lamp the first thing I'd wish for would be a 1000 more wishes. the second thing I'd wish for would be to be lying on the beach right now. Any beach, it doesn't matter as long as the sun is toasting my skin and its all red and yellow and orange under my eyelids and the beach sounds and voices sound echoey and far away until people walk by and then they grow louder and then fainter again as they pass in the sand. My Third wish would be to regularly cry again in front of paintings.

Instead of going to the museum, I might just get on a train I don't normally ride and ride it for a long time and just go where it goes and watch the snow.

Hopefully in a day or two I'll feel better. I'm going to quit drinking and smoking for three days.
I stop just short of making that a promise.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Closet Revisited

I must have been about 19 when my parents informed me I would no longer have a room of my own at their house. This made perfect sense, though to this day I do sullenly maintain it was a bit on an injustice. True, I had moved out and my younger sister needed the room, but so had my younger brother. In the 6 years since this shift occured, he has come home to visit the family only a handful of times while I return every few months at least, sleeping for the most part, in his room which he keeps as a sort of shrine to himself

I placed certain demands on my sister when I handed over the kingdom keys, the most important being that that I retained control of the big creepy secret storage area accessible through a swinging door in the back of the closet. She acquiesced. From time to time I poke around in there, though my sister keeps her room such a horrific mess that I haven't dared, or felt compelled to rummage through there in years.

Until now.

A week or two ago when Len and I were at Guitar Center, I found myself interested in playing only two kinds of things off the wall: black acoustic guitars and Mandolins. It occured to me that somewhere in that secret storage area I owned a Balalaika, a Russian variation of the mandolin, which my uncle had brought me as a Bat-Mitzvah girft from St. Petersburg many years ago. I could only imagine what horrible state of poor tuning the strings would be in but as I'm wont to do, I got obsessed with recovering it and made an appointment with my sister to access the storage unit this afternoon.

Dutifully, she cleared me a path and I just spent a few moments up there. I could have spent all night there really, if I wasn't in a minor hurry to get to Jorge's and Drink George Dickell and smoke cigarettes with him and Becca. Suffice it to say the experience was intense.

Heaps and heaps of all this junk that belongs to no one but me. Not just me, but a former version of my self. Covered in dust and insulation flakes here are some things I found:

-my first pair of combat boots
-a tupperware FULL of nailpolish (when did I wear nailpolish??)
-shoeboxes overflowing with notes I passed back and forth in middle school, filled with the usual "Im SOOO Bored" "so and so got felt up by so and so" and a whole secret language for describing all sorts of contraband like pot and secret crushes.

(Let it be known, as an aside that passing notes to the extent I did back then was VERY hard work. Sometimes i'd be conducting two or three communiques across the aisles, often gossiping ABOUT the other correspondents. Beyond the the obvious danger of getting caught by the teacher, loomed the threat of mistakenly mixing up my channels of communication. A deadly error for a 13 year old girl which, if you weren't careful would no doubt result in tearful lunch-hour girls-room dramatics.)

-notebooks upon notebooks of very embarrasing teenage poetry (I thought about posting some on here for laughs but decided that I need just a few more years before it ripens into "funny")
-notebooks of less embarrasing writing from my later teenage years including a suprisingly moving account of walking through the streets of Jerusalem alone at night
-letters from and aborted letters to my beloved first boyfriend when we were 17 and I was living in israel. He wrote me faithfully three times a week (remember real paper letters?), sometimes iserting flyers for shows his band was playing at local punk houses.
-a slew of CD's and *casette tapes* including pearl jam and the beastie boys. (why those were EVER expunged from my collection and banished to the secret storage area I can't imagine)
-my blackwatch plaid, polyester uniform skirt from my days at jewish private school. I noted with satisfaction that some sort of spider had attached an egg-sack to one of the pleats. At least someone feels at home in it.
-A folder of xerox materials from the "underground" newspaper Sara and I started in 9th grade at said Jewish School, entitled appropriately, "The Heresy."
-An old, maroon, leather thrift store wallet which contained not one but TWO neatly folded ten dollar bills. They are they old design of ten dollar bills too which makes the find that much sweeter.

-and, of course, the balalaika. It's a little dusty but a pleasing, glossy black. Around the bridge is a painted a scene of sorts: an acrylic rendering of the kremlin or some other very regal building precedded by a stylized, tempestuous mote. Standing over the property at larger than life size is a bearded man in Billowing Medieval gard. He looks like Alexander Nevsky about to drive off the Teutonic invaders. As predicted, it sounds awful.

I promise a more detailed report of the contents of the secret storage room when I come back to my parents in late april. Until then, If you live in the Chicago area and know how to tune a balalaika, please do get in touch.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Beast with Two (aching) Backs

An important Jewish Mitzvah (positive commandment)is Bikur Cholim, visiting the sick. This might have been instilled in me as a young child, along with the usual others: honoring your parents, refraining from gossip, practicing kindness to animals and about 610 more (plus rabbinic commentary- Judaism is hardly for the lazy) but never had any real relevance in my life until I reached adulthood.

When you're sick, not only do you feel like shit and need help going about your business but it becomes easy to slip into despair over these things.

Nothing makes one feel so prematurely aged and decrepit as back pain. This is a fact. I strained a rib muscle from coughing when I had the flu and it doesn't seem to have ever healed. In fact, now it has a buddy, a knot of angry pain on roughly the same latitudinal line but around the corner on my back. I hate sounding like a complainer, a weakie, but shit if it isn't a painful nuissance that slows me down, disturbs my sleep and makes me cranky and lethargic.

My good friend Sara, however, has it much worse. She's suffering from back and neck pain so intense she's had to miss school and is virtually houseridden. A First rate scholar of Yiddish Haskalah literature, these troubles have cut severely into her daily 18 hour reading and writing regimen. And she's depressed and fretful.

Two young women with back aches. How lame. I borrowed Becca's car and drove over to Sara's house, bringing her some sushi to go. I took out her garbage and helped her devise an outline for a fellowship application essay. In return, she made me coffee and we sat at her place for the better part of a lovely sunny afternoon, each working in painful silence on our homeowork, pausing every now and then for doleful groans and Icy Hot application.

Actually, back pain aside, it was the perfect way to spend the day. I love the scholarly peace in her cluttered apartment, the israeli pop-music station she plays via webcast on her laptop, the convenience of having her around as a reference for all my random questions as I plow through my literary theory. (Sara, when did Einstein publish his theory of relativity? (i don't know, tens, twenties) Sara, when was Hegel writing? (before Marx at least since Marx was a member of the Hegelian circle) Sara, what's the name of that guy, the creepy mysitcal dude, the close friend of the last Tzar who was murdered? (Rasputin, Abby) and so on...)

When Becca called and said she'd gotten out of work early and the best way to return the car would be bringing it to the Old Town and joining her for a drink, I flew into a petulant, childish sort of rage. I sulked on the sofa in the throws of a silent temper tantrum. Had I been 6 years old It might have been flushed bawling and pillow punching yelling "But I don't WANNA go the bar and DRINK BEER I wanna stay...here...and...keep...reading...and...eating vanilla WAFERS!!!!"

I ended up having a fine time at the bar though it took me forever to find a parking spot. My back troubles have made me loath to walking beyond what's absolutely necesary. Anticipating this would be the case, I said to Sara as I put on my coat and prepared to leave, "If only I had a bicycle instead of a back ache. That would be a very elegant solution to all my problems."

If wishes were bikes then achers would ride.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Cheese for Critters and Knowing in Kelvin

I'm not the only one on vacation. So is my baby sister. She, like me prefers to occupy herself with company so I volunteered to spend the day with her while everyone else was at work. We started when I finally woke up around noon by combing through cook books trying to find something our notoriously picky eater father and brother would deign to eat for dinner and then bundled up and walked in to town. It was a beautiful winter day in Ann Arbor, the kind of softly falling snow that is magically accompanied by mild temperatures. We went to Sparrows produce in Kerrytown and bought what we needed to make minnestrone soup, played with toys in the toy store upstairs and tested the insanely swanky furniture in another spot for comfort. I drank my first cup of coffee in two weeks and it tasted wonderful. After enough pestering from me she decided that a trip to the library sounded fine. Although she's 10 years old and a reader of the sophisticated chapter book, she enthusiastically allowed me to read to her one of my favorite picture books of all time (with which she was unfamiliar), Maurice Sendek's classic metaphysical surrealist romp, In the Night Kitchen.

When a voice came on the speaker announcing there would be a free winter book making workshop for kids downstairs in five minutes we made haste to the basement. We were soon joined at our table by a classmate of hers, a sweet and very bright girl and her younger brother. The Activity leader showed us how to make some accordian-like paper books and prompted our narrative instincts by printing the following phrase on the board:
In the bleak mid-winter...

Some of our gang had a hard time getting started so we did a little exquisite corpse type of deal to get us all inspired. Tonight after dinner, I presented my parents with my and Jo's books. It was a sensitive moment you could tell watching them read, side by side, the works of their oldest and youngest children. Jo labored very hard on some lovely colored pencil techniques which cut into her composition time. It's a shame you can't see those pictures here. Mine, not suprisingly, is devoid of illustrations:

Cheese for Critters(by Jo):

In the cold mid-winter she went for a walk.
She saw a hawk eating a mouse.
It was bloody and GROSS.


Knowing in Kelvin (A Midwest School) (by Abbyg.):

In the bleak mid-winter
against and because of instinct,
I take a train eastward into the snow.
There are secrets Californians could never know
like the way Chicago breathes wind into blood and bones
or how night eats day
like grabbing burgers on the way home
or the measure of bodies
as form under covers
or leavers of tread prints
in a range of substances hardly indifferent
clicking on ice we become metronomes
breathing steam like machines
whose greased, glass gears
wind slowly in the cold.
It's in cycles that the story unfolds
and stolidly informed,
we go.

Here's to Husserl

Fortunately for my poor parents, they only have a vague idea about how many of my visits home over the years have been desperate and deliberate attempts to dry out. I think you know what I mean. My relationship with alcohol ebbs and swells, it is an organic creature kind of like a friend or lover I keep finding and losing, and periodically we dovetail with alarming intensity.

When I find myself blind drunk at 3 am on a Sunday night, smashing dishes in the kitchen I am forced to remember that sometimes I have a problem. (The dishes thing is not AS crazy as it sounds, we had these awful mugs shaped like no animal in particular, just grotesque smiling fantastical creatures which I'd always been loathe to drink from and at that particular moment, ranting that cups should be cups and their transgressive defiance of both category and categorization, not to mention gross bumpy surfaces and creepy grins, felt absolutely compelled to destroy in the most performative, cathartic way possible).

In desperate need of a break I found myself the next night spending the evening with a familiar friend, the Amtrak 354 wolverine train to Ann Arbor. No really, I hear Michigan is lovely this time of year. Relax, despite the way this might have started off like a sad story about my sodden liver, it's really more about an extraordinary phenomenological moment in a dining car on a train ambling, of all places in mid-february, dead east.

I travel this line every month or two and always see the same man working in the dining car. He's slight and chatty and gets off at every stop for a cigarette. He has the most curious manner of speaking, installed in a dubious but distinctly Irish aural syzygy of accent, affectation and plain old-fashioned perpetual tipsiness. As it was an evening train a long line had developed by the swaying stainless steel counter. A waspy middle aged woman and her portly husband bought two bratwursts and a split bottle of red-wine.
"Can you break a 50?" she asked in a hushed tone.
"What lady" my Irish friend droned like a refrigerator and smiling cagily, "You think you're the only wealthy woman on this train?"
The woman reacted strongly, eyes widening, face flushing, jaw slackening. IN an effort to cover her shock she responded melodramatically:
"you mean I'm not the only princess aboard?"
"Nooooo Lady" Says concession guy pulling their food from the microwave grinning widely and gesturing grandly with his free hand "You are surrounded by your kind!"

As if all this wasn't uncomfortable enough, a fat, gap-toothed woman behind them in line piped up.
"sure you're a princess, you're standing next to the king of shit!"
What a comedy of errors were these jokesters! Each one meant to be funny, but delivered dead on arrival, bombing worse than the one before it, wiping out whole populations of congeniality and good taste.
The couple's laughter now was full on shrill and nervous. They were florid and everyone in line shifted uneasily. Shaking their heads in bewilderment, They collected their "dinner" and made a hasty exit.

I felt blessed to be a part of this akward, awful interaction between strangers.

Later in the trip I returned to the dining car in search of chocolate milk. I can't remember the last time I drank it but some girl across the Isle had some and I got hit with a powerful craving. This time I decided to introduce myself to the food car guy. He'd noticed me on that route as often as I him and shook my hand heartily. His name is nick and he's my new friend. All they had was yoo hoo which I'd never tasted before in my life. "how is it?" I asked "I don't know lady, that stuff's for the kids, its made of whey, that's all I know lady, made of curds and whey." I tried it and tried to convince myself while drinking it that It was chilled because it needed to be refrigerated.

In niles Michigan, I overheard my new friend, as he headed out for a smoke, trying to explain to the frumpy older woman across the isle from me what a pub crawl was. I might not rank amoung the princesses of the 354 train, but I take comfort in knowing there's at least one other drunk.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Weekend is Vicious.

I am enlisting Len and Jesse to aid me in realizing my newest band dream. A late 70's style power-pop band (a la big star, soft boys etc.). The band is to be called "Weekend" and all the songs will be sugary 3 chord odes to life's most pressing concerns: The Weekend (I always capitalize the 'W'), girls, dad being a dick and not lending out his car- Things of that nature. We had our first "practice" last night which mostly consisted of dancing around my room to the song that inspired the idea, "Weekend" by a band succinctly named "The Boys." This cheered me considerably. a half hour earlier I had been lying on the sofa groaning listlessly, sighing and contemplating death. Thankfully (?), thinking about Weekend bumped me into a manic phase. I'm not sure which Abby is the more awful one to be around, the morose, suicidal version or the hysterically chatty, nervous and bouncy iteration.

I'd been saying for a few days that after being down with the flu for a week or two, when I did manage to reenter the world it would be vicious and certainly involve mayhem, possibly arrest and/or blood. I set out last night with the explicit mission of getting very fucked up. There are few projects I ever manage to see through to completion but this turned out to be one of them. I was even fortunate enough to have a partner in the endeavor-Emilio, also despondent and agitated, keen on drinking and brawling.

We began with a pint of whiskey which we downed quickly during the marriage show at 30-30. So excited about Weekend, I'd forgotten to eat dinner before going out and by the time we got to rainbo, I was having trouble speaking. But heros don't give up. They stoke the flames and drink beer. Outside the bar I was admiring Rand's bike. It was all covered in tape but I recognized the make and model immediately.
"This is a Trek!" I cried. "7100 or 7200?"
"71"
My heart swelled. This was a version of my precious bike which had been stolen out of our basement one month ago.
"Can I ride it Rand?" I pleaded almost in a drunken whisper.
"Of course!"

I took off weaving down Damen, overcome with joy and nostalgia. I raced back and forth, I waved to my buddies, I pedaled in circles in the street. The circles got smaller and tighter until, wasted as I was, I lost control and wiped out in the middle of the road, right infront of a very attractive group of onlookers. "I'm ok !" I yelled, getting up quickly- dazed and embarrased. The heels of my palms were gravely and bloody, so was a patch on my chin, my right wrist incredibly sore. I'd been looking for a fight and i'd found one with the asphalt. We went to Laso's tacos and then to Lorain and Joey's where joey, I'm conviced, tried to kill us with a vile kind of tequilla and homemade moonshine. Emilio offered to conduct some shamanistic healing on my hands but this consisted largely of breathing directly on them. I cut the procedure short shrilly chastising him for "just blowing germs all over my wounds!"

We made it home around 4 and I made a beeline for the kitchen, grabbing the whiskey off the spice shelf. Len, leaning against the sink with a cup of water just looked at me and silently shook his head. "Bad idea?" I asked, by that point incapable of determining so simple a matter on my own. Heeding len's advice, we migrated to jesse's room in search of what remained of the pot I'd given him. Fortunately it was nowhere to be found. I suspect that as well would have been a bad idea. In a word, we were destroyed.

Emilio and I stayed up until the sun was tugging at the sky- reading Wallace Stevens poems, wallowing in general despair and rhapsodizing about floating in the dead sea, from the Jordanian side, not the Israeli. I slept in later today then I can remember doing in a long time. I still feel awful but it was a very good night. I needed to do the Weekend viciously.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Word in Which We Live

Periodically, I give another round of thought to going to school for library science.

I've worked in a number of libraries and am generally at my happiest inside them. I know it’s incredibly old-fashioned to love quiet so much, but it was also kind of old fashioned of my parents to raise a family of 6 children in which even today, serenity is rare. I don't travel that much but every city I visit; I make a point of visiting at least one branch of the local public library system. And when I moved to Chicago last August, my first order of neighborhood exploration was long bike trips to uncover all the Pilsen, Chinatown, and Bridgeport branches.

I like noticing things like how their computer lab policies work, how well lit the reading rooms are, how renovated are the structures, how encompassing are the collections, the temperature of the water in the water fountains, what kind of homeless people hang out there and what kind of artwork or inspiring quotations celebrating the written word grace the walls. Last semester in my Visualized Communities class, a lovely Australian woman wrote a paper on cultural centers as utopian social spaces, including a capitalist-topographical map of the Chicago Cultural center in which she labeled each area of the structure in a color schema to designate a rating on a sort of utopia meter (particularly pun-ful at that moment of election-related color wars was the fact that places like the food court and gift shop got cast in a deep, bloody, consumerist carnelian). We had a nice conversation about how public libraries are perhaps the last places in this country (especially in these places with harsh winter climes) where people can go to simply BE, uncompelled to purchase any goods or services. Such spaces are obviously a dying breed. Two summers ago in Minneapolis, I was deeply saddened to find local branches shut down for months at a time due to budget cuts.

The Harold Washington library in the Chicago Loop is one of the most perplexing and mysterious Libraries I've ever spent time in. I know very little about architecture and am therefore ill equipped to launch into any real formal analysis of the structure. I can make only some paltry phenomenological observations and lodge some complaints.

The Building itself is formidable. Epic. Monolithic. It is heavier than the world, fashioned out of the kind of hulking bricks I imagine the builders of the ancient pyramids toiling with. At first this really appealed to me. An architectural metonymy that at least in theory, this bibliophile can get on board with : the monumental importance of the written word translated into stone.

But the gloriousness of the Harold Washington is also its downfall. There is plainly no such thing as "ducking" into the library to quickly pick up or drop off books. One must wind through marble corridors, impressive but seemingly unending. Elevators don't begin until the third floor, hell, neither do the books for that matter, necessitating the scenic but time consuming use of escalators. Everything is just so darn big and spread out. You want a drink from the water fountain? Hoof it back to the elevators and then down the halls. The stacks are diffuse. Everything takes fucking forever to get to, forever to find. If you can find it all.

The last few times I've been there I couldn't. Today's frustration centered on my quest for Contempt by Alberto Moravia. I began reading the book last winter and had to put it down. Not because it was bad, but because it was too good. i.e. bore an uncanny resemblence to some romantic issues I was tussing out at the time in a way that made me feel quite uncomfortable. The catalogue claimed two copies would be on the shelf. I found neither. I sifted through all his other books, judiciously perusing the first few sentences in each trying to find a runner up. I felt like crying and stamping my feet the ordeal smacked so much of Calvino's meta-writerly quest in If on a Winter's Night a traveler. Eventually, sulking, I settled on The Woman of Rome a volume which, of course, came in the tiniest, crappiest print sloppily offset on most of the pages. Why is this my luck?

Waiting by the information desk (my hopes that a friendly librarian would check the shelving area of recently returned books for my precious MIA novel were soon enough dashed) The patron ahead of me gave me cause to pause in wonder at the crazy world, and the crazy word, in which we live.

(He, Middle aged, quaffed, plaid scarf, briefcase, waving a piece of scrap paper sort of like he was fanning himself with it): "yes I'm looking for the dictionary of American Slang, I don't know if you keep it behind the desk here."

American slang? Here's a few that popped into MY head: the man, chump, stiff, suit, whitey, bougee fuck-nut.

(Librarian, peering back from the stacks): "we have several editions. Are you looking for that particular one?"
He: Well, sure. Actually, I'll take a look at all of them. We're litigating this case and I need to do a little research on the term 'what, are you on crack?' You know, where it comes from, the different ways it's used. I need to know all the possible connotations."

This for some reason, struck me as absurd. Hilarious even. I can't explain why. I guess it was, among other things, the most pure instance of a library in use. This, I guess, is exactly what Libraries are for.


I spent nearly an hour in the Library and left with my runner-up Moravia and a collection of William Carlos William poems, another thing I'm powerless to explain. I did not find a suitably recent enough Dreamweaver tutorial book. Another source of time wasting and aggravation. I love the Harold Washington Library but every time I go there I am forced to contemplate the places inherent identity tensions: is it a monument to books or a place people USE? How much is any library one or the other? Every major city it seems, must erect a grand main branch that is more the former than the latter. I know this to be the case in New York and L.A too for example. Its my awesome misfortune I suppose that I am most conveniently located to the epic HW. At least until the weather gets warmer and I can go back to Bridgeport bike trips.