Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Can See Again

My wife has a habit of giving me really fabulous birthday gifts. She gave me the computer that I'm using to write these words.

This year she gave me a new camera. A real digital camera. Wow. It's a nice machine.

For one thing, it takes a picture when you press the goddamn shutter release, not three seconds later. For another, you look through a viewfinder, not at a small screen on the back the camera. It's light as a feather. It's a Canon, so I reckon the glass and the optics of the lens are also pretty damn good. Oh yeah, my girl got me a nice zoom lens, too. If you take it off and look inside the camera, it's all brushed metal, gleaming chrome and mirrors in there. Ooooh.

I almost feel bad thinking about how much abuse it's going to suffer at my hands. I am going to enjoy shooting this thing to death.

One thing: it's a Canon Rebel. Hee he. It makes me think of Billy Idol.

The lens is a wide angle. When I looked through it for the first time, I saw the world as I did through my first real cameras. (Which were Canons, too.) It was like being struck with sight. Suddenly I remembered what people and rooms and nighttime are supposed to look like through a camera. All those years ago, I developed my way of looking at the world with a wide-angle lens and Kodak Tri-X black and white film. But for the past ten years or so, I've been shooting these dinky digital point-and-shoots, with their "normal" lenses and shutter lags and crappy optics.

What a silly man I have been.

So here's the first pictures I made with my new camera. Now I've gotta go. I have a lot of work to do.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"They had sold everything that was any good, and there wasn't anything to eat anymore, and still the people went on fucking all the time."

Ever feel like a character in one of those bad sci-fi movies where time becomes a loop? The ones where the hero makes some amazing and slightly eerie discovery, which takes him on a wild and strange journey which comes to an explosive! climax, and then the guy wakes up and it was all a dream, or was it? Well, that's how I feel now that I've re-read Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s Breakfast of Champions.

Long, long ago, and I mean, in a galaxy far, far away, when I was fifteen or so, I read Breakfast of Champions and three or four other Vonnegut books. I loved them all. They must have made some sort of searing imprint on my then-gelatinous soul. After that, I moved on. But for many years--in fact, right up until the present day, Kurt Vonnegut was one of my most-read authors. (The others are Barbara Tuchman, umm, J.R. R. Tolkien, Jim Thompson, and if you count pages instead of number of books-read, the stupendous biographer and historian Robert Caro.)

So I picked up a €1 used-copy of Breakfast of Champions about three months ago, and I read it again, voraciously, this week. I loved it again. It made me ashamed to call myself a writer. Motherfucker compacts incisive philosophical deathblows, outraged politico insights and then penis jokes into 25-word masterpiece sentences. Narrative left-turns that make me cackle with joy. Writing with black black humor and a big heart.

And I feel like I'm living in a re-run. Because as I read'em, I can remember that these sentences made me want to write! All those years ago. Now they make me want to be a better writer. Even though I've been doing it for more than thirty years, I can't even touch this guy. This fuzzy-headed, tired-eyes-having, aggressive mustache man was so funny and sharp and brutal and right.


But I guess this gives me something to shoot for in the next thirty years.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Alone again at the switch

See that frazzled guy on the subway? The one with breakfast stains on his shirt and a torn orange balloon sticking out of his back pocket? The guy furiously checking to make sure he still has the kindergarten phone number stored in his cel because he's worried they'll call him to pick up daughter number two because she's dissolving into a puddle of snotty tears on this, her 8th day of school. Or maybe they'll call him to come pick up daughter number one because she's having another asthma attack? That sneezy guy, whose gaze drifts as he mentally crosses his fingers and hopes his own cold doesn't get any worse? I'm talking about the fella who's counting the minutes till his wife gets back from the USA. Yeah, that's the guy.

Okay, yes, I'm playing this for sympathy, dear reader. It's really not so bad to have the kids alone. Whenever Anette goes away, I set myself into a defensive position, a bunker mentality. It's like I squat down, one kid on each knee, and think, 'Do we really need to leave the house today? Can we eat rice and spinach again? Must I shave?'

Plus, as I have noted before in this very publication, when my wife leaves town, I am Master of all that I Survey. That means that I may leap around the ballroom to the strains of the Pixies' "Bone Machine," while I am stark naked, as my two daughters, fully clothed, gawp at me in bafflement. At least that's what I did this morning.

And I really do have a cold.

So, yeah, strange times around our place.

The girls are amazing and strong when Anette is away: Adinah starts helping out in all sorts of ways, like cooking with me, or occasionally bringing V. a clean shirt when she needs one; V. asks for Anette (and ice cream) frequently, but after I've told her that yes, Mommy will return eventually, and no, we won't be having ice cream in the next few hours, then she just calmly returns to one of her many projects and hobbies.

In short, we're fine. Really. And when Anette returns sometime next week, I'll tell her it was a walk in the park. Then I'll sleep for a week.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

cow herders cabin, part 2

Adinah did not relish the idea of spending a week at a remote cabin in the mountains. Neither did V., though she's not yet able to express displeasure with anything more florid than "Baaah!" So a few weeks before we left, Anette suggested we go to the beach instead. She was afraid the weather would get bad and we'd be stuck in a shack with no electricity and two displeased and wailing kids.

I said, 'No, let's go to the mountains! It'll be fine. Even if the weather turns shit, the kids will just enjoy staying indoors and spending time with us, their loving and devoted parents. They love playing with adults!'

As it happened, the weather went to hell the moment we got to our little wooden 'hutte' in the wild, and so began thirty hours of pure demonchild misbehavior. Adinah became a raving, spiteful princess, and V. just threw things, including an unidentifiable kitchen utensil, which beaned Anette just above the eye. Nevermind that it turned out to be a very cozy, though small cabin, with electricity and an actual toilet. Nevermind the gorgeous mountains that towered and boomed above us, and the beautiful light and clouds that drifted across them. Suddenly, our kids were absolute fiends.

We got pretty ugly ourselves. Deanie couldn't sleep the first night (probably because of the high altitude of the place), and after trying to soothe her and talk her down for a few hours, I lost it. I vaguely remember lifting myself off my bed and angrily sputtering something like, 'Adinah, if you don't get some sleep right now, then we'll all be miserable and we won't make any sense tomorrow morning!!'

Anette flipped out a couple of times too. We both thought we were in such an amazing and beautiful place, and somehow we couldn't make Adinah and V. feel the same way. Isn't it funny how kids sometimes have their own agenda?

Sometime the next morning, somehow, we turned the corner. I pulled Adinah aside and said, 'Look we really want to stay here, and we'd like it if you would just try to enjoy it a little bit. Can you do that?' Maybe that made an impression on her, maybe not, but after that, things got a bit brighter. We all shimmied up one of the mountains and picked wild blueberries, and then sat in the sun and watched wispy clouds roll by. On another day, V. insisted on trying to hike with her pants down around her ankles. It took us about forty minutes to walk thirty feet. So I plonked myself down in the middle of the dirt road and enjoyed the scenery as I waited for my youngest strong-willed daughter to single-handedly conquer the wilderness.

It wasn't Adinah's favorite vacation, but the adults in the group had a nice time. And that's okay. One of the dictums about parenthood that I've heard most frequently is 'Sleep when the kids sleep, eat what they eat.' Which works for a few years maybe. But that's not real life, is it?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

a new European

(Pat Blashill is currently winging his way home from a mountain holiday of undiverted bliss. As he makes his way, please enjoy this vintage July 2005 brew of self-doubt and hapless hope.....)

I left home this morning, with my new cel phone in my new computer bag, and my new (short short) haircut. I was soon pedaling fast on my new bike, along the Donaukanal, past Schwedenplatz, on my way to pick up my (re)new(ed) passport, feeling almost like a new European. I don't know exactly why, but I thought to myself, 'I'm starting to get the hang of this.' I felt light and graceful. Maybe it was because I had forgotten my bike helmet. But I realized that maybe, just maybe, I will eventually feel like I belong here, that I fit into this place, just another guy on a bicycle, going to work in an uncomplicated fashion, here in Vienna.

I haven't written anything down since the night before we left New York. The next day, when we left the Lower East Side in the car service minivan, all my fantasies about escaping from New York became a punchline. I'd always wanted to look back on Manhattan, through a rearview window as we crossed one of the bridges, and think to myself, "So long, motherfucker. I got more outta you than you cut outta me." When it finally happened, as I actually did look out the rearview window, past Anette and Adinah, who were talking and playing quite comfortably in the backseat, I couldn't even see Manhattan. All of our baggage was blocking my view.

Since that day, Anette and I both taught courses at an American University called Webster; Anette has pretty much accepted a year-long teaching position in Innsbruck (which will mean she commutes to that city--five hours away--and stays there for three days of the week, while I stay back in Wien with the kid); Adinah has started going to Kinderkrippe, a public pre-school, and she loves it, especially the buttered bread, and the two little boys named Vincenz and Alexander; and I have begun looking for a job, which is currently opening up all sorts of middle-age despair, ennui and wee-wee in me. Moving to Vienna is a great opportunity to reinvent myself. But as what, as who?

But the real problem--my night-time friend, my demonic buddy--gnawing away at me, giving me a thousand-yard-stare when I'm supposed to be listening to my wife tell me about her day, is something else: What happened to me, back there, somewhere around age 38, 39? Did I lose it, just fumble my career away out of ineptitude and arrogance? Will I ever get it--or another one--back? Is it all over for me? Why am I not famous yet? I dreamed of so much More for myself.....

and yet, today is a beautiful day in this amazing old city. I am with a beautiful woman--in fact, we were married four years ago to this day. Our daughter is a ray of (almost) pure sunshine. I've got a bitchin' new bike. We've got plenty of food in our refrigerator. The only thing I've lost is what I gave away, and what I've gained is a wonderful family and another day to enjoy them. I'm going to take Lynryd Skynryd's advice. I'm going to try to be a simple kind of man. With an American accent.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

quitting the biz

(Hello, my name is Manley Dudlove, and I'll be your host for this weeks's episode of Who Am I This Time? Join us now on a trip to yesteryear (well, April 2005), as we explore the half-baked notion of leaving the entertainment industry without a safety net......)

This week, I did the one thing a music critic is never supposed to do. I e-mailed 161 music publicists and told them to stop sending me free CDs. I did it. I'm free.

I've always thought that quitting, or even trying to quit the music biz would be like trying to bust out of pornography and go legit. The e-mails I received in response to my spam seem to confirm that: one of them read "congratulations - I admire your breaking free of nyc/the music industry in such a spectacular and grown up fashion!" A lot of them wished me well in my "new life," and reading those words made me dizzy. I guess I have stepped off the precipice and plunged into the swamps and quicksands of "reinvention." But even though that is the most over-used word of the nineties, it seems we still need it to describe what a lot of us are doing, apparently.

I don't feel like I'm becoming something else exactly. I think I'm always going to love rock and roll, and probably always want to write about it, too. But when I say this, I always think of an interview I did with Brian Johnson, the singer for AC/DC, where he told me that he was almost embarrassed to be in his fifties and still so much in love with rock and roll. He felt that most men outgrow such things. Nevermind for a moment that his multi-million-dollar career probably helps sustain his passion for music. That night, there in the hotel bar, I could tell he was being for real. And I know what it feels like: I know and care way too much about a good guitar solo and/or some mysterious album cover that has puzzled me since I was fifteen.

We're three weeks away from getting on that plane. I'm taking care of business and wrapping things up. It feels clean and organized, like a fresh cut. I think about being at the airport, and landing in Vienna, and going to the Stadion Bad for the first time again this summer. I feel a little liberated. Yeah.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

saying 'no'

("PB" has left the building, and his answering service couldn't find anything but the following rerun (from November of 2006) to post to this blog. Do not attempt to adjust your set. You are our prisoner. You are getting sleepy.....)

I'm tired. Sad and tired.

I guess we may not have a second child. I may have just made that decision. Anette thinks so. She's at home bummed out and I'm at Blue Orange drowning my sorrows by sampling fifteen albums of new wave music....lost in my disease.

I just can't commit to another kid right now. I'm so far away from myself, from doing what I want to do with my life again, from writing well or making photos or doing journalism or all that other stuff that made me. This is the first time I've written a journal entry in half a year. Getting back to that stuff is the second most important thing in the world to me right now. Maybe it's ironic that the first most important thing is my family. But I can still dream (can't I?) that somehow I may get back to myself, that I can someway have a family, this family, and still do work that fulfills me.

I still dream that dream.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

'monkey man'

(Pat Blashill has refracted into several other colors in order to question the nature of existence. He'll be back in fifteen minutes. Or, if he's not, please feel free to read this irrelevant old prose haiku, from the golden years of Euro Like Me, ca. February 2005...and this one is dedicated to Keepsie..)

It seems natural that a child who came from your belly, or who looks like you physically would feel some sort of deep connection with you, and inspire deep feelings in you too. That's "just natural" and it's "God's way" and it's "instinctive." I guess that a lot of the connections between father and mother and child have a lot to do with simply living with each other and, hopefully, loving each other. But I don't know because I've never had a bio-child.

All I know is that Adinah and I have got a good thing going on, especially now that she's into the same music that I'm into. Well, she's into one song that I'm into: the classic ska tune "Monkey Man." Toots and the Maytals did the oldest version that I have, but some of my most teen-new-wave moments--and there were many--were played out to the Specials neo-ska version of "Monkey Man." Adinah seems to favor the song, and either version of it, mostly because of the chorus: "Aye-yai-yai, Aye-yai-yai (digga digga!)!" She sings along and shakes her bottom, and in doing so, shakes her entire upper half. It's such a cool dance. I certainly can't do it.

The question is, 'Why do I love the fact that she loves this song?' Because this is me reflected back from her. My passion, my history, a part of me, lighting up her eyes when she sings along and makes the gorilla noises.

Okay, one could say, 'It's a catchy song,' or, 'Jeez, you made her listen to that terrible old song,' or even, " "Monkey Man" is clearly not Toots and the Maytals' finest work,' although I might really get pissed at anyone who said this last thing. But it's also possible that she loves the song because she can see that I love it. Or that she acts like she loves the song because she knows it might help her get more cookies outta papa.

Say what you want. Fine. But whatever is going on over here at our house, I like it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Night Swimming

(Pat Blashill has retreated to the hills to grow a beard and argue the merits of The Moody Blues. While he's gone, the EuroTron 869 will be posting some classic moments from the golden years of Euro Like Me, including this gem from January 2004.....)

Snowy holiday with Anette and Adinah and pretty much all of Anette’s family in Austria. Except that holidays are more hectic now that we’ve got a little girl to take care of—she hasn’t been sleeping so well, what with different beds and and different faces and new foods (chicken! Sugar cookies!) and jet lag and so much silence out here in the country life.

The quiet nights have maybe been playing with my mind too. I’ve had really vivid celebrity dreams: I was hanging with Prince one night, and doing deals (obliquely) with James Truman the next. The other night, I dreamt I was with my once-lover K., and she suggested we just swim home. We must have been across some ocean from home—maybe she was suddenly here with me in Europe. But her idea was we should both just walk into the ocean, and as she explained, it’s a well-known fact that if you do this, and then just be still and let the ocean current carry you, you will float home in about three hours or so. ‘Of course,’ I thought, that sounds like a relaxing way to get back Home. Because in dream logic it made perfect sense that we could float across the Atlantic (and later when I woke, I found myself wanting to find out if anyone had ever swam or floated across any ocean).

But this was one of those meta dreams, where you start to think outside of the dream too, and I started to question this whole ocean floating deal. ‘Surely,’ I thought, `It would take us longer than three hours to get back there, to home, and hey, maybe crossing a fucking ocean like this isn’t even possible, and oh, am I in a dream here?’

Still in the dream, but thinking like a wakeful man at the same time, I started to think, ‘She doesn’t mean to get home at all, she means to kill herself.’

I woke up thinking K. has a death wish.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


My website is down. My e-mail is kaput. My posts to this blog are slowing down to one every three or four days. I haven't called my friends in the USA. If there's a gene for staying in touch with the world, I don't have it.

Apparently it's crucial to be wired, plugged in and always posting. I'm not exactly sure when this became part of the social contract, but I know I'm in breach.

I feel a little guilty about it. But only just a little. And less so since my last phone call to my mom. I apologized to her for not calling more often, and I tried to explain that I spend most of the day teaching and administrating people from all over the world at my job, and then I come home, grab the kids, goof off with them for awhile, then cook dinner, then clean up and strap them into bed, and then after that, you can stick a fork in me because I'm done. Talked out, fully-expressed and socialized to a crisp. At the end of the day, I don't have the energy to blab electronically. I'm ready to drink a tall boy and watch It! The Terror From Beyond Space.

This I explained to my mom.

And she said, "You're entitled."

Thanks, Ma.