Archive for September, 2008

David Stories

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

I need to collect these here so that I don’t forget them all.

Kerri Long reminded me this morning of the time in 3rd or 4th grade when David got in trouble at lunch for pretending to snort powdered sugar off his piece of cake. I think he got a paddling, and had to write an essay on the dangers of drugs.

I think it was at Crawdad Days or some other festive occasion at the square, David, Laura Brightwell and I actually managed to win a firehose tug of war. There was a prize of some kind but we never got it. I only just now realized that my cohorts were both children of firemen. Perhaps our performance was not so meritorious after all.

Sleepovers at David’s meant sandwiches at Coursey’s next door. Free chips and sodas, too. Most of my early memories of David smell like smoked meats.

I heard License to Ill by the Beastie Boys for the first time at David’s house.

In 2004, I remember going out on David’s boat. The water on the river turned out to be really low, so David had to get out and push. Here’s a picture. And just to embarrass him more, another.

I think it’s fitting that Paul Newman has now passed away. David reminds me a lot of Newman in Cool Hand Luke: the most likely guy to eat fifty eggs for no other reason than fifty seemed like a nice round number.

David Neal 1975-2008

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

It started with a text message from Emily Neal: “Please call me. I need to talk to you.” I was in lower Manhattan, a few blocks from Ground Zero. I found a quiet spot in a park to call her back. Then I heard the words, “David is dead.”

They’re still just words to me. They sit like a block of concrete poised above my head, suspended by apparently very strong dental floss that will, I’m sure, snap at any moment. Fortunately not before I endured the longest, most cramped ride on the F train I’ve yet experienced in my 9 months as a New Yorker. So I’ll continue to write in the strange clarity that imminent grief provides.

David was a magnificent jackass. He had a charm that I always appreciated, even if few others seemed to. There was a certain Corey Feldman-esque flavor to him[1]. My fondest recollections of him usually involve us getting into trouble in some form or fashion, like the time Mrs. Smith held us in from recess after we made too much noise playing a game in class. We kind of lost touch during junior high and high school, but we maintained that special bond that two people have when they’ve broken rules together. As Stephen King says in Stand By Me: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.”

We were reunited just a few years ago at our high school reunion when we discovered we’d both been living in Little Rock for some time. So I’d go out to his place in Maumelle to hang out every few months. He or Emily would cook dinner and we’d play dominoes (the man was a kung-fu domino player) or just visit. After their son Cooper was born, I looked forward to being another adopted uncle, and in the back of my mind pictured my future children hanging out with wacky uncle David.

But that’s not the way it’s going to go down. I think this will clinch my decision, though, to return to Arkansas. I was thinking I’d be back in November anyway, but now I definitely want to be available to Emily and Cooper for whatever they might need. This little New York adventure will have been bookended by death. It began with my grandfather and ended with my best friend from 3rd grade. At least I filled up the space.

1.) Which then made me Corey Haim. Or more accurately, Sean Astin. We were the Goonies of Boone County.

David Foster Wallace

Friday, September 19th, 2008

The writer David Foster Wallace died recently, and Philip Martin at the Democrat-Gazette posted on his blog this commencement speech Wallace once gave. It’s lengthy, but very much worth the read. I’ve actually edited it down considerably. The full text is available on Martin’s blog.

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

(more…)

The High Country of the Mind

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

I’m returning to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the first time in over 10 years. Here is a great sample passage:

In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty, and to the enormous magnitude of questions asked, and to the answers proposed to these questions. The sweep goes on and on and on so obviously much further than the mind can grasp one hesitates even to go near for fear of getting lost in them and never finding one’s way out.

Many trails through these high ranges have been made and forgotten since the beginning of time, and although the answers brought back from these trails have claimed permanence and universality for themselves, civilizations have varied in the trails they have chosen and we have many different answers to the same question, all of which can be thought of as true within their own context. Even within a single civilization old trails are constantly closed and new ones opened up.

I’m going to do something I’ve yet to try on this blog: use the More feature! (more…)

Small Towns

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Much was made of small towns at the Republican National Convention, so I’d like to offer you my thoughts as someone with expertise in both rural and urban areas of life. These are of course broad generalizations; your mileage may vary.

Small town folk are friendlier and more laid back. The almighty dollar is seldom the bottom line in small towns[1]. People wave to strangers. Doors are left unlocked and keys are left in cars. Small town folk are generally just simpler people. That strength is also their weakness, and so they are easily misled. They vote for the person who most resembles them, and not who is smarter or more qualified. They tend to be suspicious of anyone more educated than they are. They don’t take the time to learn more about the world because their environment does not require it.

Big city folk often don’t know their own neighbors. They seldom make eye contact. They are more private, but they are often more intelligent and observant. Without much complaint they tolerate entire ethnic neighborhoods of different cultures because they understand what it means to get along; peace requires quiet sacrifice. City folk endure a psychological battleground of high-stress jobs, gridlock traffic and public transit. They enjoy a wider understanding of history, socio-economics and politics because their environment presents it to them every day. The luxury of safe homogeneity is something they traded in for the excitement of living on the frontier of modernity.

I know New Yorkers and Bostonians who have moved to Arkansas for its slower pace and friendlier society. And I know Arkansans who have moved to New York for its faster pace and competitive job market. I often wonder if everyone in this country would be better served by moving out of their preferred environment for some length of time in order to better understand both sides. Maybe that’s what I’m doing here.

P.S. As a side note to all of America: voting for the candidate to whom you can most easily relate is what got us where we are these last 8 years.

1.) I say this because while Wal-Mart’s bottom line is saving you money, Hudson’s Supermarket’s bottom line is making you happy. You don’t find sackers who carry groceries to your car in cities anymore and this is a societal tragedy.

Where Have I Been?

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

For the last week I’ve been driving around New England in a rental car, just exploring the northeast. I’ve been to Providence, Cape Cod, Boston, Portland, various points in New Hampshire and Vermont, and Philadelphia so far. Some destinations were of historical importance (Walden Pond, Sleepy Hollow Cemetary), but most were completely random (Woodstock, Vermont). Here are the lessons I’ve learned:

  • The roads in and around Boston and Philadelphia actually make less sense and are more frustrating than New York. NY streets are generally grid-like, whereas Philly and Boston are all triangle patterns and medieval-narrow widths. Trying to get from Berklee College of Music to Fenway Park only a few blocks away, was a Griswoldian nightmare of urban circumnavigation. Also, the suburbs feature parkways that give you no place to turn around, and that are so shrouded in shrubbery that you have no idea if a given exit has an underpass or not. You don’t know what will happen. I drove for 15 minutes down a highway before I took a chance on an overpass.
  • Massachusetts apparently has laws against gas nozzle latches. So you have to hold the thing the whole time. This actually sucks worse than New Jersey where you’re not allowed to pump your own gas at all.
  • Maps of Massachusetts show a “Walden Pond” deep inside an impenetrable fortress of residential streets in the town of Lynn. Needless to say, this is not the Walden Pond you’re looking for. It’s near Concord, which you’d know if you bothered to look it up.
  • Moose collisions are a legitimate threat to your vehicular safety in Maine. Mind you, moose collisions kan be pretti nasti.
  • Vermont is a lot like northern Arkansas if every town were like Eureka Springs. Seriously I never once saw a vehicle on blocks, major appliances in a yard, or anything that wasn’t disturbingly picturesque. The entire state is like a watercolor painting, or the set of Gilmore Girls.

More observations as they come to me. I should have written this stuff down earlier but the days have been packed. I’m still not sure what to do with the remainder of the week until the car is due back. I think tomorrow I’ll go up to the Catskills and see what happens.

Oh, and I’d also like to give big ups to Red Roof Inns for having THE most comfortable hotel bed I think I’ve ever slept in. And kudos to the desk clerk who gave me the “all-in” upgrade (king size bed plus free wi-fi) despite my expired AAA card, which made the night only slightly more expensive than the Motel 6′s that have thus far anchored my travels.