Archive for December, 2013

The Best Book Ever

December 31, 2013

A few months before I left my full-time job, we received two enormous boxes from our distributor––a larger publishing company––that contained more than 200 copies of a book by Paul Volponi called Riker’s High.  The book is about––you guessed it!––a seventeen-year-old who is sent to the high school ward of Riker’s.  When we called the company, they told us to feel free to “donate or discard” the books.  How could they possibly let go of such precious prose?  Below, our hero Martin Stokes tells us about the hierarchy of his unit, what makes a thug, and how to chew when your face has been slashed down the cheek.

A minute later, that kid with the chiseled muscles bounced into the room like he owned it. 

            He looked us up and down and a couple of the kids even took a step backward.  I was sitting on the floor, leaning up against the wall, so I didn’t move.

            “The name’s Cedric, but everybody calls me Brick,” he said, flexing a forearm.  “That’s ‘cause I fall down hard on people.”

            Brick probably wasn’t any stronger than a lot of kids with a decent build.  He just looked harder, and had his thug act wrapped supertight [sic].

            I kept my eyes on him as he talked.  And once it looked like he had everybody else in that room backed down, he began to bark at me.

            “Don’t listen to what the Cos tell you.  I run this house.  You want to use the phone during prime time?  You need a loan till commissary comes?  That’s all me,” he bragged.

            I’d seen kids like him before.  He was a straight-up gangster in what was looking more and more like a soft house.

            “I heard what you did to Jersey,” said Brick.  “I don’t hold it against you.  I could use a real fighter on my payroll.  We’ll talk later.  Okay?”

            But I played him cold and stiff and didn’t say a word.

            That’s when Brick turned to the other kids and said, “Maybe they cut his tongue out, too.”

            They all laughed with him, except for Ritz.  I guess he’d got used to standing alone on Rikers.

            Most kids understand what a thug like Brick can do.  They don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of him.  So they usually play it safe, going along with whatever he says.

            “I’ll check you chumps later,” Brick said, bouncing back out.

            About an hour after that, the Cos called the house out for lunch.

            The mess hall workers were mostly kids from our Sprung.  Brick and his crew had spots at the front of the mess hall line, while I was almost at the rear.  I could see from the mountain of food on their plates that they carried a lot of weight in the house.  We had franks and beans all mixed together, with white bread on the side.

            It hurt like anything to eat with those stitches.  And though I’d shoveled everything into the left side of my mouth, the right side moved along whenever I chewed.

            I finished what they gave me and was still hungry.  But none of the mess hall workers would serve me seconds when I went back. 

            “Who you?” one of them asked.

            “Nobody,” another one answered.

            And I had to stomach watching Brick and his crew toss their trays in the trash, still half full of food.


This Is Part of My Job

December 27, 2013

I am a cultural critic.  It’s probably the most obnoxious job title a person can have––what gives ME the right to critique society?  Nothing, really, other than that I have a decent vocabulary, I’m pretty curmudgeonly, and I elbowed my way into getting paid simply for stating my opinions and developing my own theories.  That, and I’m usually right.

To my budding cultural critics out there: watch the below video of a young girl wowing the audience during an episode of Holland’s Got Talent, and write me a short email answering the following two questions.

1. What is wrong with this video?  (Focus on the part after she starts singing.)

2. What larger flaw in our culture (being Western, intellectual, consumerist, etc. etc.––if you’re reading this, you’re probably in it) does this video’s flaw indicate?

Extra credit: How can we prevent this girl from going by way of Susan Boyle?  (I myself have no idea.  I’m just genuinely curious.)

Good luck, pundits.

Shel Silverstein Was Wild

December 24, 2013

The beloved children’s poet wrote satire, travelogues, and drew erotic cartoons for Playboy.  He also covered Fire Island in a hilarious strip for the aforementioned, which you can see here.  He also wrote a book––out of print!––called Playboy’s Silverstein Around the World.  It’s expensive, but if you have my address, feel free to send it.  Synopsis below.

Yuk yuk.

Yuk yuk.

Displaying the wit and marvelous drawings that made Shel Silverstein one of the most beloved artists of the century, Playboy’s Silverstein Around the World collects and reproduces the twenty-three travel pieces Silverstein created for Playboy between 1957 and 1968.

While children and adults alike know Shel Silverstein for his classic books The Giving Tree, A Light in the Attic, and Where the Sidewalk Ends, they may be less aware that Silverstein also created a dazzling series of illustrated comic travelogues published by Hugh M. Hefner in Playboy. Playboy’s Silverstein Around the World not only reproduces these fascinating articles in facsimile form, it also provides an introduction with never-before-seen photos and drawings and rare, illuminating biographical detail.

Beginning in May 1957 with “Return to Tokyo,” the pieces reproduced in this book took Silverstein from Scandinavia to Africa and the Middle East, from Paris and London to Moscow, ending in the summer of 1968 with the two-part epic “Silverstein Among the Hippies.” This unique collection is a legacy of the close relationship between Silverstein and Hefner, who saw the great potential of this particular combination of artist and assignment, and the social revolution led by Playboy in the 1950s and 1960s.

With its wry, ribald humor and beautifully produced color illustrations, this tableau of the mid-twentieth-century world is sure to please and fascinate Silverstein’s millions of fans.

An Old Girl Crush

December 20, 2013

Making out with a skull.



xoxo Thanatos.

Um, G-d?

December 17, 2013

So I write for this nonfiction blog and they occasionally send me books that they want me to look at or write about in the coming months.  In the last package from them, I was expecting one book (on the Arab Spring) and found that, but also a copy of The Last Interview and Other Conversations: Hannah Arendt, part of a series from Melville House.  I felt like the luckiest little quasi-intellectual this side of the East River!  Herewith, a bit of her talking about her background with German journalist and politician Gunter Gaus.

GG: You studied in Marburg, Heidelberg, and Freiberg with professors Heidegger, Bultmann, and Jaspers; with a major in philosophy and minors in theology and Greek.  How did you come to choose those subjects?

HA: You know, I have often thought about that.  I can only say that I always knew I would study philosophy.  Ever since I was fourteen years old.

GG: Why?

HA: I read Kant.  You can ask, Why did you read Kant?  For me the question was somehow: I can either study philosophy or I can drown myself, so to speak.  But not because I didn’t love life!  No!  As I said before––I had this need to understand… the need to understand was there very early.  You see, all the books were in the library at home; one simply took them from the shelves.

Serious Question

December 16, 2013

Remember when lip-synching on stage automatically sparked controversy?  Now, it’s more or less expected.

Famous Daughter, Famous Mother

December 14, 2013

Someone at Rap Genius (or Poetry Genius, which is… the same thing?) please evaluate the work of Sonja Yelich in light of her daughter’s lyrics, or vice versa:


Time is white

& the baby came in a new season

but you could say that about all of them ~ ours


i looped them over the undoing of our street

all born in a house 2 here 2 there

i worked them into the dawn awake


firstly we slept zero

with the smell of milk

& our babies —

& the rigmarole of wrapping & the unwrapping of them


we signed our roundy names on the Certificate

of Authenticity crossing to the townhall

with its full clock ~ meat pie in each hand


we drove to every beach when they would not sleep

with our atlas of rivers & mountains & rocky roads

in the stony days of long sounds.


twice in one week i smacked the front out of 2 cars


at one beach

the size of latitude was light ~ longitude quiet

i slept myself.  my babies ears to the shore on lull & hush.


today ella says matt

knows what sea means in maths —

back then it was roundabout an hour



December 14, 2013

Tolstoy, that is.

“On the eve of their marriage, Tolstoy gave Sophia his diaries detailing his sexual relations with female serfs.”

The Island That Swallowed the Elephant

December 9, 2013

Picture by GL

“The 1929-30 two year period in Argentina ([Saint Exupery] should have stayed a few months) will be memorable. In Buenos Aires he writes Night Flight, inspired by his own adventure in Patagonia, which was released in 1931 (the Prix Femina will consecrate him as a writer), and meets the greatest and most tormented love of his life, Suncin Consuelo Sandoval de Gómez, the red rose of the Little Prince, the only woman poetic and whimsical enough to be able to see the profile of a boa eating an elephant in his famous drawing of The Little Prince, inspired by the profile of an island in front of Peninsula Valdez.”

Overheard at Self Serve

December 7, 2013

The “more” as promised:

“Tantric sex still counts.”

“I wonder if you guys have anything that would make sex while pregnant less painful.”

“These are NOT the batteries that go with these.”

“Sometimes those vibrators are really persnickety.”

“We’re looking for massage oil.”  “Oh, you’re in the lubricant section.”

“We used to have leather that was local.  And blindfolds.”

“I’m holding out for a bondage belt.”

“Who wants to fuck a plastic bag?”

“I’ve been so cold all day except when this one couple came in and asked me a question and I got so hot.”

“You play with penises, you should know this.”

“I wouldn’t put your penis in anything called a ‘Hot Octopus.’”

“You insert them into your vagina and you just walk around.”