Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween horror in the men's room!

This afternoon, on the very day of Halloween, I had a chilling - nay, blood-curdling - experience in the men's room on the third floor. Don't ever, ever got there, lest you encounter this ghost, this demon, this phantasm who terrified me and shook me to my very core.

This afternoon, I went to the men's room, as I so often do, a little while after consuming my lunch. In this particular chamber there were three stalls. My fatal error was in selecting the middle one, although I had no choice: the last stall was out of service, but there was someone already occupying the middle stall. A stranger. Someone who will haunt me for the rest of my life....

I was going about my business as well as minding my business, as one does in the men's room. Yet this person next to me (was it a man or a devil? I shall never know!) was having a difficult time. His feet were moving and he was breathing erratically. It was weird. Then, after a moment's respite, he suddenly spoke. He said: "You can start ket glot ack to now ran, app toe kee rack." What? I froze. I had the slow comprehension you sense when you realize someone is speaking in another language, and you stop trying to piece together words in English. Then he said: "You know?"

I was the only person in there. I could hear him breathing next to me. I quickly wrapped up and left the stall. There had been a small puddle of water by the toilet (it had to have been water) so I discovered that I left a footprint behind me. I could see his feet moving behind the stall door, and I heard a toilet flush. I didn't want to have to face him - had he been talking to me? Was he on a phone somehow? A bead of sweat gathered on my brow. I could hear him opening the latch on the stall door as I pulled a towel out of the dispenser. I saw my footprint from the water all over the bathroom - I didn't want him to follow me. Thank God my shoes were nondescript. He cleared his throat and he started opening the door, but he was ensconced in shadow. Not daring to look back, I flung open the bathroom door and darted down the stairway. Who the hell was that? A poltergeist, a spirit, the ghost of a long-dead 1L? I raced down three flights of stairs and back into the safe anonymity of the library, hoping my footprints wouldn't lead the creature to me. There, in my carrel, weeping and convulsing, I composed this blog post.

So consider yourself warned - there is a ghoul in the third floor men's room, a ghoul who speaks in tongues and makes things very uncomfortable and awkward for other users of the bathroom. Can you imagine anything more horrifying, frightening and suspenseful than that? Dear reader, neither can I. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Mysterious city of mine

Tonight in Greenwich Village there is an odd, sweet smell in the air - it smells like maple syrup. Even among the exhaust and hot dogs and pizza and burritos and people and dogs and general squalor, somehow there is a scent of syrup riding on top of it all. Walking home tonight I looked down expecting to see some thick brown rivulets slowly meandering along the sidewalk, but nothing. I see nothing that could explain the aroma, but it's really pleasant.

Last week a fire in the subway station near my apartment shut down all the train lines on the west side and snarled up a morning commute for millions of people. There were more than ten fire trucks and ambulances glaring around the neighborhood, police tape blocking the walk, and on the news they showed great waves of green smoke billowing upward from the street grates. Green smoke one day, maple syrup the next. Easy come, easy go, I guess.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Women we love: Toni Braxton

A lot of people come up to me and ask, "Hey, MKD, if you could only listen to one rhythm and blues-style artist for the rest of your life, who would it be?" Well, there's an answer to that. "Listen," I reply to the people who ask me this. "You can keep your R. Kellys and Mariahs and Jill Scotts, even your Eric Benets, Musiqs, and Janet Jacksons. For me, there's only one." And that one is Toni Braxton.

Why is Toni Braxton the one? Let me count the ways. Her voice is husky and low, but with a great range. She peppers her music with "oohs" and "yeahs." The love she sings about is mature, passionate, angry, unrequited. She whoops. Her songs are written intelligently, with irony and confidence. Her songs are well-produced, and unlike many other singers, she is not afraid to ride the instrumentals for a minute or two. Her albums are interesting, not formulaic, yet her music fits squarely into a consistent, larger ouevre. She is continually having her heart broken.

She has a new album out, "Libra," and it's awesome. Her last album was a bit of a disappointment, but this album has the smoothness, the pain, the beauty, the sex appeal that are her hallmarks. It helped me get through last week, which was characterized mostly by computer issues and law school malaise.

Now I'd like to offer an"American Psycho" style review of Toni's albums, for those not in the know (and to delay the inevitable start of my Torts homework). This is about to get dorky, real fast:

Toni Braxton blew onto the scene in the early 1990s, riding a wave of mushy Babyface-produced ballads. But despite the synthetic beats and velvety orchestrations, the songs were catchy and lyrically nimble: "Seven Whole Days," "Another Sad Love Song." The inescapable, respiratory anthem, "Breathe Again." The daughter of a preacher from Landover, Maryland, Toni was not the cutest singer in the world with her short hair, but that's ok.

1996 brought a big album, "Secrets," featuring the ubiqitious Diane Warren ode to grammatical liberalism, "Unbreak My Heart." She also had long hair now, which was a big improvement. This album included "You're Making Me High," my favorite Toni song ever, produced by Bryce Wilson, with an awesome intro, great bridge, and slightly dirty lyrics. This title was the inspiration for the small sign I made when I got to see Toni perform on Broadway in 2003 in the title role of Aida. [TONI / You Make /Me High] She enjoyed it and blew me kisses, clasping her hands in the empathetic symbol of "thank you, please sleep with me."

Her best album, "The Heat," came out in 2000, featuring the Rodney Jerkins track "He Wasn't Man Enough for Me," the acoustic masterpiece "Fairy Tale," and the pure erotic bliss of "Maybe." "Heat" marked Toni's departure from Babyface's shadow. She and her husband, Keri Lewis of Mint Condition, produced this album and gave it a sound that was contemporary, lively, and true. This album had legs, and I listened to it regularly for about - oh, five years now.

"More Than A Woman," Toni's 2003 follow-up, was problematic. The album's title came from a song from the recently deceased singer Aaliyah. Why she did this is unclear to me. (The only time Toni and Aaliyah collaborated, as far as I know, was when Toni vamped it up in a memorial video after she died. Everyone else looked somber and mournful, and there's Toni, caressing herself. Awkward.) There was an ill-suited but effective Neptunes track, "Hit the Freeway," and some wretched hip hop collaborations. But the album's suite of ballads had some great numbers - "Rock Me, Roll Me," featuring full orchestration and a smooth coda, and the Jerkins track "Do You Remember When," as well as "Tell Me," a sly nod to her aural predecessor, Anita Baker.

And now "Libra," which I've been listening to for two weeks. This album is strong. She is on a new label and has something to prove (not unlike Mariah, last spring). "Take This Ring" is a pretty blatant derivation of Amerie's "1 Thing," both by one of the best producers out there, Rich Harrison, but it is awesome. The tight syncopation of the chorus, the relentless neo-gogo drumbeat, and the jagged edges of the background vocals make for a supremely interesting song. Other highlights include the last track, an acoustic number called "Shadowless" that was recorded live, and "Finally," in which she shouts out herself by citing all of her song titles in a look back at her romantic past.

Anyways, I am glad to see Toni is doing well. She has a voice like no other. I've learned a lot about love, music, singing, and sex from Toni. I like singing her songs late at night because then I can really wallow in the low notes. She's a fun chick. Frankly, she's everything rhythm and blues should be.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Under pressure

To continue the string of weird, ambiguous things that have happened to me lately, on Monday I went to Brooklyn to go to a dinner party with some of my shiny new law school friends. We all got tipsy off of wine, which is acceptable, because it's a dinner. But after the meal, as everyone is relaxing and this writer is ready to start heading back, is it following proper etiquette for a guest to leave the apartment and come back with more alcohol? Like, say, 40 oz bottles of malt liquor, one of which was designated for yours truly?

The night continued, and a group of the guys - young, fratty, sort of decent, mostly well-intentioned guys - were intent on getting me plastered. I said, "But it's Monday," or, "I have a memo due tomorrow," but they were relentless. Every time we took a swig, they said my name: "To Mike D---!" And they would all clink. And stupidly, like a lemming with low tolerance and a paper due, I would drink. The thing is, I can't stand that appellation of my name. My skin crawled every time they said it. But I let them do it.

I drank about 36 of the 40 included ounces. Why? I didn't need it or want it. It was a Monday night, I had work to do, I was in an outer borough. Later all the camaraderie and hearty bonhomie evaporated when I poured the last few ounces of my drink down the sink. Then I was a bitch, a pussy, a loser. Hey, thanks guys. That's what friends are for.

Ever since then I've been mad at myself for succumbing to the peer pressure. Why did I let those dumbasses make me drink? What was I doing? And to have that idiotic toast each time - "To Mike D---!" - it made me angry and shameful. I thought of Tom Wolfe's novel, where the main character's name is her own mantra and reassurance, and now my name, for that evening, to me, represents stupidity, weakness, and useless, pointless, wasted debauchery. I am too old to fall for that shit and too smart to waste my time with people who would do me that way.

At lunch today they resurrected the idea and clinked their water bottles and soda cans. "To Mike D---!" So I left the table and went to the library. Fuck them. If that night was a moment of weakness, it has left me with some clarity as far as putting myself in a different orbit at school. And clarity is the name of the game.

Yet, in this week of verbal assaults, peer pressure, and unexpected intoxication, there has been one great thing -- and her name is Toni Braxton. More on that topic soon.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Another wacky night at Sapphire

Friday night, at Sapphire Lounge with L and James. "Drop it like it's hot, drop it like it's hot." We are standing near the mirror by the wall (a favorite spot, I'm realizing) taking in the scene. There is a couple dancing crazily in front of us. She is wearing like this sundress or something, and she is arrhythmically jerking her body into all sorts of angles and contortions. Her head is thrashing around and her arms dart away from her body. At times she play-punches the guy she's with, who is big and sort of beefy and sweating through his oxford shirt. He keeps a loose grip on her hands and dances around her, the pair making a wide circular arc that clears part of the dance floor. People are openly gawking at the pair, at their lack of rhythm and inhibition, at the wide sweep they are cutting through the dancing crowd. James wonders if they are on drugs. They are like junkies from Talbots.

Standing by the wall, I am holding my elbow out to prevent the guy from crashing into me. His body contacts my elbow once, twice, three times. You'd think he would adjust his trajectory or try to avoid the person obviously behind him. He hits my elbow again. Then he turns around and looks at me and says:

"Back the fuck up, you fuckin faggot."

What. What. What. What. I am aghast. The last time I was called a faggot was when I was thirteen, by some asshole in junior high. What. What. I'm not wrong! He's the one bumping into me! What! WHAT!

I don't say anything and just gape at him. The couple continues dancing. I think about things I could have done - I could have kneed him in the balls maybe, or slugged him? Or I could have told his girlfriend some wicked lie about him? And then run like hell? I don't know, I've never been in a fight before. I tried to laugh it off and we stayed for a while but I was bothered. Watching them dance out there, totally unaware of the shitstorm they kicked up in my head. I was livid.

We didn't stay much longer. On the way back I felt defeated, and found myself reliving the scenario again and again, going through all the different things I could have done or said. I was mouthing the words. I had dark fantasies of cut lips and blackened eyes, public brawls and squad cars. But I felt defeated nonetheless.

Postscript: Karmic sympathy - one good thing, though, is that a genuine black person gave me some respect for my dancing ability. And tonight at the movie theatre I found $11 on the ground. That helps in a way.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Pensive/Life lessons with Martha

Every day to get to school I walk two blocks south to the subway station. I ride the A train uptown - 14, 34, 42, 59 - and then walk four blocks or so to my school on 62nd Street and Ninth Avenue. On the way up to school in the mornings, amid the commuters and the guys hawking free newspapers and the men asking for money, I find myself asking these questions:

Why am I going to law school?
Why am I going to Fordham law school? I never even heard of it until I moved here.
Why did I leave my job?
How did I end up here (New York City, law school, this subway car)?
Who are these people I go to school with? Do I belong with them, am I one of them?
Why again am I in law school?
When exactly did I decide to go to law school? Like, fifteen minutes before orientation started?
Am I willing to give everything it takes to make law review and be at the top and thrive there, or am I willing to step out of that race in order to be happy with the I've cobbled together already?
Am I willing to step aside from anything?
Am I willing to take a different path from the others, when that puts me out someplace by myself and I don't have the safety of a crowd to comfort me?
And if I do take that lone path, can I do it without second-guessing myself?
What will I do after this is over? Where will I go?

When I think about these things, it's like pulling bricks out of a wall, deconstructing my life until there is nothing but a pile of rubble. And then the order I think I've created is slapped back down into chaos. I don't think anything could withstand the kind of interrogation I'm willing to put myself through (for whatever reason), but even when all of these external issues are on the ground below me (school, job, apartment) there are still the strong and tensile relationships binding me to my life (L, my family, my friends). If the choices I have made post-college form a brick wall that can be chipped and broken apart, the relationships form a web behind it that I couldn't break even if I tried. Sometimes I feel like my life has been this aimless, erratic flight ever since college. At times I feel like I've spent too much time in school, especially when I consider that of the six years after college, I will have been in school for four of them.

When does it become clear? Does it ever? Do these questions ever abate?

I'm not depressed or anything, just pensive. Spending all my days at the law school, reading the books they tell me to and thinking about the topics they assign, I wonder what exactly it is that I'm doing. My life right now, as much as I enjoy it on one level, seems comically and irredeemably random much of the time.

I told one of my new law school friends my strategy for answering questions in the class, and then I heard it again from the hapless Shawn just before she got booted from The Apprentice: Martha and now I wonder if it is the way everyone stumbles through adulthood, faking it 'til you make it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The weekend

The computer situation is sort of resolved. Luckily I was planning on returning home this weekend, so I brought my empty husk of a laptop back down and turned it over to the IT guy my dad works with. By the end of the weekend, he had somehow magically transmitted my data to my dad's old laptop, which I brought back with me. I use this loaner for about a month, and in the meantime we mail my original laptop back to Dell so they can fix the hard drive. I wanted to make a Terri Schiavo comment there, but I abstained.

It was an awesome trip home. My sister came up too, of her own volition, and the entire time she gave very strong signals that she is slowly learning to pull her head out of her butt and act like a cool adult person. So that was exciting. We watched "National Treasure," which is a cheesy Da Vinci code of a movie about the Declaration of Independence, the Freemasons, and Nicolas Cage, in his finest work since "Captain Corelli's Mandolin." We visited the new mall. Did you know that Victoria' s Secret has shed its previously classy image and is now going for a "Sexiest Store on Earth" motif, complete with black walls and pink neon? It looked like a brothel at Disneyland. I don't know how I felt about that. It was awkward walking by it next to my parents, I can tell you that.

So that was my weekend. I am trying to post more regularly, and this happened to be on my mind. Seacrest out.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


You are concerned about the safety of your computer, considering it is now the home of all of your law school notes and briefs, and so this morning you of course assent to to the latest Windows update. And you are also concerned that your antivirus and firewall protection seems conspicuously obsolete, as no helpful prompts ever appear to encourage you to update them. So you decide to shell out $40 for the latest Norton Antivirus. After all, what's $40 when you're living on the government's dime anyhow?

You begin to install Norton right before your morning torts class. Something is wrong - the screen is frozen and an error box has appeared - fatal error - the mouse is not responding - so you restart. When you restart it is as if you have opened a door into the wrong room. Your icons have been replaced with uniform blank boxes. You cannot open any files, any programs. Somehow, in this fog of uselessness and utter confusion, you are able to access the internet.

You spend two hours of class wracked with nerves, sweating. You hastily take out a notebook to take notes, but you can't focus. You hastily scrawl a note: "My computer died - should I stay or go try to fix it?" but you don't know who to show it to. You stay. You can't restore it, you can't work in safe mode, you can't access the twenty-odd documents that are the sum of your nascent law school career. At one point in class your arm starts shaking. You think of what you will say if you are called on. Once, in class, your computer emits a loud and broken beep and many people turn to look at you. A death knell.

After class you run to the tech center and they can't help you. You need to reinstall Windows, apparently, but your files should be ok, and until then you are stuck with a thousand-dollar paperweight. You eat lunch in ten minutes before class starts. Your body is anxious and exhausted from worrying. In a fit of inspiration you realize that you can email your notes to yourself, so you do that - you'll be ok.

People were talking about you and your dying computer today - you heard your name in the cafeteria. You left law school today feeling low, low in the dirt, stressed and discombobulated. You needed a drink, you almost needed a cigarette. Your new goal over the weekend is to restore your computer.

Thank God you spent $40 on Norton Antivirus to avoid any debilitating problems with your laptop.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Last boat to America

Tonight L and I went on of them sunset cruises around Manhattan: two hours in a boat, meandering around the southern tip of the island as the sun goes down and the city twinkles back to life. I got us these tickets for her birthday a few months ago, and I thought this would be a romantic, studly evening. Wine would be served, the website said. There would be cheese and snacks.

Well, there was no wine. Nor was there cheese. There was an open snack bar, though, and a woman selling programs and Statue of Liberty foam crowns. And there were 85 Asian tourists as well as a smattering of Europeans, other miscellaneous tourists from other countries like the Midwest, and a few New Yorkers who had clearly gotten on the wrong boat. Right as we left the dock, the announcer (Paul, who regaled us with a two-hour lecture and a helpful tutorial on tipping practices) pointed out the other boats across the pier - the ones with sleek lines, the ones with tinted windows and provocative curves. Those were the dinner and dancing boats, the ones we should have been on. But they were too expensive. So instead we spent a romantic evening on Toot Toot the Ferryboat, moonlighting as a night cruise from its usual duty of shuffling bored Staten Island workers to the city.

But that was all right. It was awesome. A beautiful night, chilly, with a good woman at my side. I almost fell asleep, but that was natural given the conditions and time of day. The city was so beautiful at night - the buildings offering their own mosaics of light, the water a wine-dark mirror reflecting it all. Very romantic, very Gatsby in a way. Not quite the casanova moment I had hoped for, but when the lecturer stopped talking and you could focus on the lapping of the waves against the side of the boat and the distant twinkling of flashbulbs from the top of the Empire State Building, the night gained an unexpected charm of its own.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Women we love: Amy Poehler

I've been thinking a lot about Amy Poehler lately: I think she's the new Will Ferrell. Amy has been on SNL for a few years and I think that right now, in the absence of a true comic alpha male, she has become the dominant force on the show. She's in nearly all the sketches. She can play it straight or go for the laughs. She is the woman behind one of the best new characters, Kaitlin, the hapless tween (right up there with Starquisha and Debbie Downer). She does it all. She is the glue that holds the show together - petite, blonde, shapely blue-eyed glue, y'all.

When I was taking improv classes at the UCB I saw Amy a few times in different shows, and she was the most endearing thing on two legs. She's funny, smart, and good-looking. She can do a lot of accents, she's good with prop work. One of the only lines I can remember from an improv show was when she was playing a wacky detective and described her technique as "sensalytical." I know improv stories don't translate well, but I almost peed myself at the time.

So that's that. I love Amy Poehler and I think she is the alpha and omega of Saturday Night Live right now. That's all I have to say - I just wanted to put this out there to pander to her and write about some happier things.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

My friend Lea

My friend Lea died one year ago today. Last year it was a Friday. The Tuesday before we had eaten lunch with her, and that afternoon she had a stroke. My boss and I went to the hospital and we saw her wheeled through a corridor - she looked pale and withered, it was such a grim and unforgettable sight. That night I went to my boss' house and helped her kids with their homework while she made dinner, and then I walked home in the rain and wept in the dark. Nothing really changed over the next few days - Lea did not regain consciousness and it kept raining. They said that even if she did wake up, she had lost her language skills. This, for a woman who had been a professor of English and a poet. She thrived on words, on grammar, on the fine points of our language, like no one else.

On friday morning I came in late to work, because I had to pick up a tuxedo for a big banquet that night (a banquet to which Lea had dedicated a great deal of time and effort). I breezed into the office, tux in hand, and went back to my office. Tara came in and told me I should sit down. I said no, immediately knowing why she wanted me to sit and also being irritated that she was being so stereotypical. "Just tell me," I said as I reached up to hang the tuxedo. She told me Lea had died that morning, and I dropped the tux and it crumpled into a pile on the floor. I squatted down there and stayed for a minute and then hugged Tara. "It's ok to cry," she said. "I know," I said. She was talking like a Hallmark card.

I went to see my boss who had to keep doing banquet planning, even though she was devastated, and we couldn't even talk about anything. We just had to keep moving forward. That day I wept in my office a bit but that was all. And that day it stopped raining for the first time all week, since she had slipped into wherever she was.

That night, after the banquet, after everything, I walked home with my tux in a bag and cried as I walked. L came down and took care of me that night, and I felt utterly broken and defenseless. I slept in her arms and I woke up at some point and we made love, and oddly enough I thought of Lea at the time and felt that it was good - this was the most alive I could be, and I wanted to honor Lea's memory by living.

I think of her all the time still, and we kept Lea's spirit with us through the rest of the year. I dreamt of her once and felt such a sense of peace when I woke up. I was able to say goodbye and speak to her - in the dream I was an inconsolable mess, and she was calm and friendly, warm, vibrant, happy. It was the goodbye I wanted.

So now it's been a year. The weirdest thing, maybe the saddest thing (certainly the dumbest), is that for her memorial, someone forgot to proofread the program. Instead of noting the date of her death October 1, 2004, it was listed as October 1, 2005. And now here we are. One year later and: I remember her voice, I remember her friendship and gentleness, I remember the sense of unfairness at her sudden departure. She walked a rough road - mistreated by men, ravaged by illness, aged before her time. But she was a kindred spirit to me in some ways - a reader, a lover of the Delaware shore, a woman who embraced the city as her adoptive home. I think of her a lot and maybe that's only because death places those we miss in high relief, but she was a friend to me and she knew a lot about me.

The summer before she died, Lea sent me and my boss a postcard from Cape Henlopen, where she and her sisters had gone for vacation. It read:

Hello Lavinia and Michael,

We are camping about a mile from this breakwater. Gorgeous days, great campfire meals, star studded evenings. We are in paradise. Michael, I've been collecting info for you on the young and hip life around here.

I may never return, so carry on! Going for a swim now.

Ciao, Lea