24 December 2008

I Can Never Remember Whether It Snowed For Six Days And Six Nights When I Was Twelve Or Whether It Snowed For Twelve Days And Twelve Nights When I Was Six


My great, great grand aunt, Anna McCurdy, was from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, just like the rest of the McCurdys and the Scotts–I am a McCurdy Scott. In June, 1875, Anna McCurdy married George Upton, who was from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Anna moved to Gloucester with George, and in so doing left behind her widowed father and five younger siblings.


My grandparents, Janet and Andrew, have been reading the letters that were sent between Gloucester and Gettysburg that year. This is Anna’s Christmas letter to her father, dated December 17th, 1875. As it happens, December 17th, 2008, was just about when I started thinking of Christmas presents this year. Another interesting similarity between Anna and me is that we generally begin each paragraph with “I”. Apples, trees. Self-centered Christmas apples, self-centered Christmas trees.

I aim to preserve original punctuation.

My dear Pa,

I am sending you a Christmas box [ed: my grandmother guesses this was by dray or train to Boston, then on a steamer to Philadelphia or Baltimore, and then another day train to Gettysburg] hoping that it may give you all as much pleasure to receive it as it has given me to prepare it.


I only wish that it was twenty tims as valuable as it is, but we have done our best this year. The shirts (red flannel anti Rheumatism) for yourself I know will be useful and the red silk hankerchief, sham, finger sponges from the sea &c may be acceptable also. Charley [ed: Anna's litte brother] will need the Enxesis and white silk hankerchief when he is going to a party or a concert; the delicate fragrance of Enxesis is very delightful I think–the bottle of bath powder he may like too but I can’t vouch for its worth as I can for the shaving soap–it is through George’s, not my own experience however–I am sending Mollie [Anna's eldest little sister] my damask silk knowing that she can make a beautiful dress of it sometime and have given hats to her and Puss [Anna's youngest sister] because they are the two who never had satisfactory ones, to my knowledge.


The young ladies in Boston seem to be wearing white or very light hats this winter and I met two very stylish girls from Phila. when we were at Cousin John’s on Thansgiving and both of theirs were much whiter than the one I have had made for Mollie. The white plume on it was never worn an hour but the wing was in my wedding hat–I suppose I ought to have kept all these little knick-knacks to remember the event but as I have George himself it doesn’t matter so much.


I would rather that you tell that girls not to open the box I am sending to Julia Jacobs [a childhood friend]–it contains pressed ferns, two little finger sponges like yours and some sea mosses very much like those George gave me when I was at home–these articles are easily soiled and broken and the girls can see them at Jules’s sometime.

The vase is for Sarah McPherson [another friend] and the stockings for the old family piece [ed: oh man, I am embarrassed, but let's be fair: "old family piece" is a...servant]. Lillie’s [another sister] box contains collar and cuffs white tie trimmed with lace and a pair of kid gloves which I bought in Boston and wore only once–they will come good next summer–Ginnie’s [sister] slate colored kid gloves and scarlet necktie I thought would suit her taste and I did not forget to send the inevitable bottle of perfumery for each of them.


The bundles of miscellaneous articles, calico dresses, chemise, dancers skirts, apron, hood &c which I sent to Lillie and Ginnie I thought would be useful although they are not very handsome. And now comes Puss. I want her to write and tell me how she likes her hat, cosy and blue waist.

The toaster you will find very convenient to broil a little steak as well as for bread. You just take off one of the griddles and hold it over the top of the stove. I put in some nutmegs & tea to fill up the little spaces thinking they could be more useful than wads of paper… The pressed ferns and sea fan (Fan Gorgan) are for Mollie. I suppose you have rec’d [sic] the half barrel of mackerel which George sent you.

The barrel of mackerel (salted? Oh let’s hope salted) did indeed make it to Pennsylvania, although it took three weeks. In a letter to the Gettysburg side of the family, George advocated said mackerel and wrote,

Anna and I do have very cosy breakfasts off of it occasionally–I mean cosy always and mack’l occasionally.


[Ed: all images are from the archive of the Denver Public Library, available in the "History of the American West" collection of the Library of Congress's American Memory database.]

16 December 2008

happy birthday, mary!

25 September 2008

You Are Always A Little Too Young To Understand He Is Bored With His Sense Of The Past The Artist


Wilco_No More Poetry

Wilco_Forget The Flowers

by Frank O’Hara

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.

to Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating.
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
a Thursday.

Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET’S
CORNER. Giulietta Masina, wife of
Federico Fellini, è bell’ attrice.
And chocolate malted. A lady in
foxes on such a day puts her poodle
in a cab.

There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?
And one has eaten and one walks,
past the magazines with nudes
and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
which they’ll soon tear down. I
used to think they had the Armory
Show there.

A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.

[Ed: the above poem was first published in Frank O'Hara's "Lunch Poems," which, squirt that I am, I gave to my father as a birthday gift the year I turned 14 and he turned 50.  That is a little like what will happen when our children give us a copy of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and say, "You really gotta check this out.  God, MOM."

I wanted Lunch Posts to be a series, but I'm not sure if it will work.  For one, I don't eat lunch very frequently--some of these are dinner posts, I'll admit.  And it's simply not appropriate to take pictures during some of my more significant luncheons.  Last week when Andrew took me to Taco Bell and I didn't know what to order and he told me he was trying hard not to think of John Kerry, for example: in an instance like that, one doesn't want to ruin the mood.]

Buy more Lunch Poems here.

21 September 2008

We Don’t Make Eye Contact

Fuck, I said, loudly, fuck this broke ass city.

TV On The Radio_Family Tree

My Liberty scarf was dragging in the gravel and my yoga clothes had spilled out of my backpack.

I pulled out the credit card sized map Tulane had given my class at orientation.  I’d never looked at it before: I’d evacuated from New Orleans almost as soon as I’d gotten there, and for most of my time in the South maps of Mississippi have been more valuable than anything else.  As it happened, the Tulane map looked like this:

Fuck Tulane, I said.

I was trying to find the Orleans Parish Public Defenders Office so I could start volunteering to conduct First Appearance interviews.  In Orleans Parish, most offenders meet their lawyers in the same courtroom where they’re arraigned.  This means that there’s no chance to discuss mitigating circumstances—the children, jobs, educations and women most people accused of crimes will lose in the initial weeks they spend in jail awaiting trial.  If the accused can make bail, there’s a chance of salvaging some of that.

Of course, it’s hard to make bail when your lawyer doesn’t know how to argue for you, so First Appearance interviewers try to fill in the gap—a gap, I must mention, that is particularly wide in New Orleans’s under-funded, overburdened criminal justice system.

So that was me, scarved (scarfed?  no, not that) and lipsticked, riding through Mid-City.  Caroline and I had walked four miles through Mid-City the previous Saturday, but on that afternoon we were oblivious, directionless and armed with the Brooklyn transplant’s foolish courage.  Mid-City looked different when I was alone, stuck on one side of the I-10, in a rush to get to the other.

I’m home, with guns.

The directions I’d googled told me to stay on Broad Street, but from my vantage point in the parking lot of Orleans International Fish, Broad Street turned into a highway-speed on-ramp when it went over the 10, and all of my new law school analysis firmly informed me that getting on such a ramp would be, at the very least, a failure to exercise “ordinary care,” and probably also be reckless.  No recovery for the reckless, guys, that’s what I like to say.

I took off my scarf and my sunglasses and rode circles around in the bleakness: shells of buildings, sprawling light industry complexes and dim white noise radiating from the highway below.  Mid-City is the kind of neighborhood where you don’t want to listen to your iPod, because someone might ask you for it, and you don’t want to smoke a cigarette because someone might ask you for that, too.

TV On The Radio_Ambulance

I-10 reached out to the horizon in both directions, gashing the city like highways always do.  Last week, Andrew and I were downtown, wandering around after the Farmer’s Market.   I wanted to see the river, which was still roiled and murky after Ike; in the effort to do so, we found ourselves inside the Riverwalk, an eerily anemic mall, filled with aimless and armed National Guard troops and separated from the water by towering panes of glass.

There was, inexplicably, a bust of Eisenhower near the food court, and Andrew said something probably smarter than what I will attribute to him, which is, Old Ike and the military industrial complex.  I then said something probably dumber than what I will attribute to myself, Oh, Ike, if only we knew then what we knew now, and we moved on.

I’ve come to appreciate that milk faced Fudd-ish president because of his prescience, but as I circled around the west side of I-10 I remembered that interstate highways are a really good reason to hate him.  Whether the highway skirts a city or bisects it, it still cinctures street life: the Big Dig?  Sure.  Let’s do that, guys, right after we give every person arrested in Orleans Parish a right to legal representation.

Unbeknownst to me, two employees of International Fish had come out to the parking lot for a cigarette break.

Ma’am? one of them called.  Ah, ma’am, are you trying to get over the highway?

I rode over, wariness and pride suspended indefinitely.  Well, yeah.  I just—that seems like kind of a scary road to bike on, you know?

They looked over at it and nodded, yeah, it seemed kind of scary.

You know, uh, ma’am, there’s a pedestrian path? the second International Fisher said.  It’s over on the other side.

Oh, I said.  So that was that: the kindness of strangers and the inadvertent grace of pedestrian paths.  I got to the Public Defenders in a matter of minutes and walked into the lobby.  A man was standing at a desk labeled “Security,” and I said, I’m going to Suite 700?

He looked at me and slowly began unwrapping a Snickers bar.

Oh.  You’re not the security?

I’m not the security, he said, but if I were, I’d tell you to try the 7th floor.

Thanks, I said, I really appreciate that.

TV On The Radio_I Was A Lover

When I got to the office, I sat down in the waiting room with a man applying for services.  He smelled like Cherry Life Savers.  I start interviewing next week.