Lou Reed Screen Test

Andy Warhol’s Lou Reed Screen Test

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I Just Gotta Ask

I know that no one on the political spectrum is suggesting this, but I’ve been thinking it for the past few months, so I’m just going to say it:

How long till we kick these Republican states out of our country?

I mean, it’s not like they want to be here, right?

Noah Cooper, 1982-2013

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This summer has been a tough one for me.  It began with my grandfather’s death.  Shortly afterward, I learned that the husband of one of my best friends had killed himself — the reasons were mysterious, as they always are with suicide.  Lastly, just a few days ago, I learned that my earliest friends, Noah Cooper, was found dead in a park in my hometown.  The cause of death is still unknown.

Noah was my first friend.  His parents knew mine and so we had play dates before from the very beginning of our lives.  Once I was old enough to form memories, I always thought of Noah as one of the big kids since he was born almost two months before I was.  It made me proud that someone of his advanced age would want to hang out with a youngster like me.  Later on, we went to the same daycare at the old Bailey School, where we enjoyed climbing on the ceramic dolphin in the sandbox and using wood chips to dig up earthworms under the trees by the swing set.  Sadly, all friendships give way to time — in our case, the coming of kindergarten.  We went to different elementary schools, although we kept seeing each other at daycare.  Around 2nd or 3rd grade, he stopped coming and, although we saw each other from time to time while growing up, we weren’t very close friends after that.

I haven’t been in touch with Noah much in recent years.  When I was on Facebook, we would exchange a message from time to time.  In recent years, he has been finishing up law school and has been getting very involved with Native American rights in Michigan.  He participated recently in a smudge ceremony to save a threatened sand dune from development. He wanted to go into tribal law.

We’ve seen so little of each other in the past two decades, but I have definitely been thinking of Noah and his family (Tracy, John and Cheyney) in the last few days.  A lot of childhood memories have been coming up.  Noah was a great kid then, and it seems like he was a great man too.  I haven’t seen him much in twenty years, but I feel — oddly — like I’m going to miss him.  I’m honestly surprised how strongly I’m feeling the loss after all this time.  It goes to show that sometimes someone makes an impression on you that’s so strong that, even though they aren’t in your life anymore, it’s comforting to know that they’re still there, still being the person you loved.  Noah was the sort of person who could make that impression on a lot of people, and I’m sure there are all sorts of people like me, people who lost touch, who are feeling what I am now.  There are people we are lucky to have had in our lives, and Noah was one.

Mission Accomplished

Wall Street Journal 7/4/13“Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.”

New York Times 8/15/13“Death Toll in Egypt Clashes Climbs to 525”

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.  Go team.

Jack Burton, 1924-2013

My grandfather, Jack Burton, passed away this afternoon.  Here is the eulogy I’m working on for him:

Six years ago, when my grandmother died, I didn’t say anything at the funeral.  I had traveled about thirty-six hours and crossed an ocean to be here and I was exhausted.  And anyway, I didn’t know what sort of thing to say you say at a funeral. 

Maybe the reason why I couldn’t think of any words to say about Nana is that for most of my life, to me, Nana wasn’t just Nana—she was half of Nana-and-Papa.  When you’re a child—when you’re a grand-child—you don’t really see your grandparents as whole people, you just see the grandparent facet.

So today, I’m going to talk about Nana and Papa.  Papa never had any trouble making time for Nana, and I don’t think he’d mind if we made a little time for her today.

When I think back to what summertime when I was little, I hardly remember anything except for the summer days I spent with Nana and Papa in their house on Stony Point. 

I say it was their house.  Actually, it was Nana’s house.  That’s how I remember it.  Nana in the living room knitting.  Nana swimming in the bay every morning, no matter how cold it was.  Nana in the bedroom reading a paperback novels with well broken spines, or watching soaps on TV in the afternoon.  Nana sitting on the back porch at happy hour, with a cherry in her drink.  Nana spending hours in the kitchen, making wonderful suppers for all of us, which she would find fault with the moment she tasted them—just to hear us object, we used to suspect.  And I remember her zany, sometimes exhasperated sense of humor.

I remember that, one of those summers, Nana taught me how to use an electric typewriter—ancient technology!—and let me waste an entire package of her typing paper writing stories when I should have been playing outside.  I remember I tried to teach her how to use a computer, first an old Apple II, then, later, a Windows PC.  But she never really got the hang of the computer.  She had been a secretary at MSU, and I think she just couldn’t see how a computer was an improvement over a typewriter.

Papa must have been around the house as well, but I don’t really remember him there.  Papa always had someplace to go, and he liked to take me and my cousin Erik along with him.  Sailing trips on the Tula Boo, hikes “up the Mountain” where we would wage war on burdock bushes by beating them with heavy sticks.  He took us on pirate adventures, took us birdwatching, taught us astronomy, climbed the dunes with us a Pyramid Point, took us to concerts at Interlochen.  I remember one time we drove all the way to Grayling just to look at a stand of old growth white pines—which is an exercise in patience for a nine-year-old.

Despite all of the wonderful things we did, I’ve found myself thinking in the last few years things I’ve missed.  Six years ago, in this church, my mom told us that Nana “lived in a brighter, more vivid world” and I wish I had taken a little more time to get to know what that world was like.  What was she thinking about while she knit all those Norwegian wool sweaters?  I wish I had listened to Papa more on our walks in the forest.  He told me the name of every tree and I didn’t pay attention.  Now I struggle with a field guide to tell the difference between a beech tree and a yellow birch.

For the last ten years or so, I’ve noticed a book in Papa’s living room.  It’s written by Hemingway and it’s called The Nick Adams Stories.  There’s a story in it that always reminds me of Papa.  It’s called “Big Two-Hearted River.”

I read it to Papa a few days ago.  It’s an amazing story.  I’ve spent a lot of time trying to write good short stories, but I’ve never come anywhere close.  If you listen to the text of the story and don’t think about it carefully, you’re just going to hear about a man who visits the Upper Peninsula to go fishing in a river he used to fish years ago.  He arrives to find the landscape changed—scarred by forest fire and just starting to heal.  After a short walk through the forest, he begins to fish the river.  He’s a good fisherman, and though he can’t see the trout below the surface of the river he knows exactly where they’ll be.  As he fishes he feels the darkness of the swamp just down the river, just down the river, but he decides there’s plenty of time to explore the dark swamp later, if he choses.  Right now, he’d rather fish in the sun.

That’s it.

I know.  Not much of a story, right? 

Except the thing is, that’s not what the story is really about at all.  Anyone who has ever gone fishing, or taken a walk in the forest, knows that you do those things because it gives you time to let your mind wander, to forget your troubles and deeply enjoy all of the world’s little pleasures.  We have no idea what the man in the story is thinking about as he casts his line, but we know that there’s some reason he’s so captivated by the burned landscape and the ominous, dark swamp.  Like in the river, there are a lot of invisible things that are moving beneath the surface of the man.  There’s so much we wish we could know but we could never quite ask.

So there are two ways the story reminds me of Papa.  It’s about a man who would enjoy walking through a Michigan forest to cast some flies in a river.  And it’s about a man who is occupied by a lot of thoughts—deep ones, maybe dark ones—thoughts that you and I can’t really guess at but that we sense are there—but he’s in no rush to find answers or resolution.  There’s plenty of time for that later, for now he’s content to fish the river, and walk in the woods.

Newyorkism

“I knew I had to keep on writing or else I’d let the ambient cultural noise drown out my thoughts, which weren’t paraphrasable wisecracks or wisdom but rather a way of looking at the world or the self.  French people dismiss the cultural chatter and self-centered attitudinizing of Paris as parisianisme.  A similar noise is generated by hip New Yorkers, though we don’t have a word for it and perhaps we haven’t isolated it yet as a reprehensible phenomenon.  This “newyorkism” is so opinionated, so debilitating, so contagious with its knowingness, its instant formulas that replace any slow discoveries, that only people who are serious and ponderous can resist its blandishments, its quick substitutes for authenticity.”

-Edmund White, City Boy