Saturday, November 26, 2011

When is My Brother Not My Brother?

I imagine that you would use the mattress I found as a mattress.

Is that a fair assumption?

That you’d use it to sleep on? For its stated purpose – a stated purpose maybe even appearing on that Do-Not-Remove-Under-Penalty-of-Law tag, if that Do-Not-Remove-Under-Penalty-of-Law tag had not been torn off this mattress I have blocking the entrance to my little closet?  

Yessir. Torn clean off and gone. Lost. It’s no wonder so many of the homeful view all of us homeless as criminals.

But I am not using the mattress as a mattress. It is doing me more good blocking the entrance to my little closet. And anyway, a mattress would only cramp my style. You cannot readily sustain a transient lifestyle if you have to worry about lugging around an enormous mattress from place to place to place.  

So I do not sleep on a mattress, in my little closet beneath downtown Houston, but that is okay by me. There is nobody here for me to try and impress.

I do not expect visitors.

I do not believe “MTV Cribs” will be popping by for a surprise visit.

Grunewald's "Temptation of Saint Anthony" (1516)
I am under no illusion that this is where the magic happens.

I do not intend to stay long, at any rate.

This little closet of mine beneath downtown Houston, I think maybe it was once a server room. Or maybe a place where they kept backup generators, back before the big flood of 2001, when they all realized that underground was a lousy place to keep server rooms and backup generators during a big flood.

When I push past this mattress, then I walk further up and I look out on an old elevator shaft. There is a truck hanging there – vertically – held aloft by something-or-other hooked to its rear axle.

This is how I gain entrance my little closet: I climb down through this truck. I bet the truck has been there since 2001, too, hanging. There’s gotta be a story behind how it came to be hanging like that. I do not know that story.

But what my point is is that it’s not all that easy to find my little closet, what with the elevator shaft and the truck and the mattress-that’s-not-a-mattress and whatnot. And that is why, roundabout noon this past Thursday, I was so surprised to hear someone on the other side of my mattress shouting my name.

“Katy! Katy? I know you are down here somewhere!”

The voice was correct. I was down here somewhere!

Now normally, a voice’s accuracy would not – in and of itself – convince me to allow the voicer entry. I mean, would you answer a late night knock upon your door merely because the knocker proclaimed, “The square root of 529 is 23!”?

I imagine you would not. Is that a fair assumption?

But this voicer who voiced the truth so unexpectedly outside my little closet was not just any voice. No, this voice was in fact that of my own twin brother, Anthony. Anthony, who also happens to be the husband of my husband, Aesop, and of my wife, Dana.

Salvator Rosa's
"Temptation of Saint Anthony" (1645)
This was an important voicer! So though my closet was not really set up for visitors, I pushed the mattress aside and I let Anthony in.

He had an enormous backpack packed upon his back.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” my visitor said. Then he handed me a carton of cigarettes. I do not smoke cigarettes.

“I know you don’t smoke cigarettes,” he said. “I thought maybe you might need them to, um, you know, trade for things or something.”

“Thank you,” I said because I am polite. I set the carton of cigarettes on a shelf.

Then I said, “But you know, I am not in prison.” This was demonstrably true. I looked around me. The Supreme Court would never have allowed the State to store its criminal humans in this manner.

“Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving!” my visitor tried again. Then he reached into his backpack and he showed me some food.

“This is just like the first Thanksgiving,” I said. “White man goes out into the wild and shares food with those who do not believe in the concept of property. Bring on the smallpox-laden blankets!”

At this, Anthony looked sheepish. He pushed the blanket he had brought me further down into his backpack.

We ate food for a little while. I was moderately thankful.

After we had eaten most of the food, Anthony said this: “We found your blog.”

He meant him and Aesop and Dana. He meant this blog. He meant “Lesbians in My Soup.”

“In your blog, why do you call me ‘Anthony’?” said Anthony.

I shrugged. “It is a masculine pseudonym I use sometimes,” I said. “After Anthony of the desert? … The fourth century Egyptian monk?”

My visitor with the blog-name “Anthony” shook his head. It seemed my brother – who had lived in Nepal for a little while in order to meet Tibetan monks – was not familiar with Western monasticism!

Salvador Dali's
"Temptation of Saint Anthony" (1946)
I said, “Anthony of the desert lived for many decades in a hut on a mountain near the Nile. Other contemplatives fashioned their lives after his example.”

Anthony chewed a piece of bread. “Christian monk, though, was he?”

I ignored my brother’s question. I said, “In art, Saint Anthony is famous for the temptations. Demons came to his hut in the desert and they descended on him. People at the bottom of the mountain could hear Anthony screaming. But he withstood the demons’ temptations, people say, and he kept on living alone on only bread and on water and on contemplation.”

I said, “So ‘Saint Anthony’s Fire’ is a medieval term for hallucinations due to ergot poisoning.”

Then I was quiet. We ate a little bit more food.

My brother stared at the mattress, which was blocking the entrance to my little closet. The mattress was dirty. Probably, it was too dirty to sleep on.

Finally, my brother said, “So are you hallucinating demons, Katy?”

Then there was a long pause.

“There are no gods here,” I said to Anthony. “There are no gods here, and there are no spirits, and there are no temptations, and there are no demons here.”

This was correct. I had never slept so soundly in my life! Saint Anthony of the desert could not have hidden so well as me. I knew that nothing and nobody – no matter how long and how deep they searched and searched – could ever find me in my little closet behind my mattress below the hanging truck.   

I said, “Why, not even the Devil himself could ever find me down here! Not even –”

I looked around my little closet. I looked at my shelf.

There was no carton of cigarettes. There was no backpack. No smallpox-laden blanket.

No Anthony.

I lay down and I slept.

I imagine you would sleep, too.

Marten de Vos' "Temptation of St. Anthony" (1594)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A New Experiment in Living

Dear Dana,

There’s a little monkey-man who lives out near our front gate, just under the mailbox. He is very little, very monkey-like.

He’s the one who told me I should go away and move to the underground.

Now, you might say this sounds crazy. And I admit that normally, I would be tempted to agree. But Dana, here’s the thing: That little monkey-man was right. I have to go. I must.

Life is too short to be spent inside of houses.

And yes, I know people will talk. Your people will talk and I know what your people will say. They will say that human beings live inside of houses, and if it should so happen that a human being does not live inside of a house or equivalent structure, then the aforementioned human being is crazy.

I have discussed this at length with the little monkey-man who lives out near our front gate.

Here is what the little monkey-man said about that. I pass it along to you now so that – when your people talk to you and say that I am a crazy human being – you will stand ready with an appropriate response.

*     *     *     *     *

1.  The response. Just last Thursday, the little monkey-man told me, while smoking his strange wooden neon pipe beneath our mailbox, that I cannot be crazy.

His logic was cogent. Irrefutable.

He started with this: “You say to me, Katy, that the act of going away and moving to the underground labels you a crazy person. Yet you would agree with me that crazy people – that is, those human beings whose minds work in a manner contemplated and recognized and classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – do not know they are crazy.”

Then he said this: “You would also agree with me that these so-called crazy human beings do not choose to leave their families and their houses and to move to the underground. They become ‘homeless’ – for lack of a better word – because they get lost and they get confused and they wander away without their medication.”

And the little monkey-man said this: “But you yourself, Katy, you are not lost. You are not confused. Unlike the crazy person, you know how crazy all this sounds, yet still voluntarily, proactively, and with much forethought, choose to move out of houses and go into the underground. The crazy person is incapable of such a decision. Ergo, you are not crazy.”

Then, his point having been made, the little monkey-man crushed out his pipe, rolled himself into a ball, and soaked back into the soil beneath our mailbox.

See? I’m not crazy after all.

*     *     *     *     *

2.  Deep Houston. Oh, Dana, I only wish you could see it! There is the downtown Houston that you see when you go to work. When you leave work. The one you see when you go to the courthouse or when you meet a client for lunch at a restaurant.

But then there is another Houston that exists only an inch – maybe less! – outside of your peripheral view.

First you turn right off of Travis, near the old Gulf Oil building. You let your mind wander, sort of floating free, like maybe you are looking at one of those deep 3D autostereogram paintings from the Nineties. You let your mind float free and you let yourself get lost.

Keep walking. Then you see it. You see the labyrinth of deep Houston. You see the place I am going.

Beneath, beside, betwixt or maybe between the downtown Houston stuff you know, there’s an older place. There’s the skeletons of the Enronoic Era. The powers behind the last war and the ones that will make the next one. There’s landmarks of the Golden Seventies, when Saudi princes flew in on Friday night to pick up Texas girls and snort away millions.

But there, deeper down and buried, there’s the Allen Brothers, washed up from the bayou, finding strange, not-quite-Spanish structures of unknown architectural origin.

And now Dana, you have to climb quite deep to get there. There, there are peoples who have not seen the bright downtown like you and your people know for generations.

But I can live there. And I am going to.

That does not make me crazy, Dana.

*     *     *     *     *

3.  Leaving houses. Your people will also say it is dangerous. Dangerous to leave houses behind. Dangerous to leave clocks and stoves and bug spray and central A/C. They will say it is dangerous, and especially so for women. They will say the streets are full of crazies and criminals and deadbeats and outcasts.

This time, your people will be right.

But I have my brain.

I have all that I learned last summer when I was there.

I have Captain Torus – that wise old anthropologist with his ankh staff and his sidearm and his knowledge of the Rules of the Streets and Side Tunnels – to protect me.

I have the confidence that leaving houses and moving into deep Houston is something I must do.

Maybe that makes me a little crazy. But only a little tiny bit.

*     *     *     *     *

4.  What I know. Dana, I know I love you. And I know I love our life. I love our family. That is a crazy thing for me to say, in light of this whole voluntary homelessness thing (see above).

I know it is a crazy thing, but it is a crazy thing that is true.

I know I would take you with me if I could take you with me. And we would find there is another way of living.

Tonight, I pack my things. I will place Saint Athanasius in his little box in my pocket. And it is then that the little monkey-man – the one who lives out near our front gate, just under the mailbox – will lead me down into the labyrinth where the crazies and the criminals and the deadbeats and outcasts go when they go away from houses and from clocks and stoves and from bug spray and central A/C.

Tonight, I am going. Going feral. Going stray. Going underground.

I don’t care what the little monkey-man says, I know that this makes me completely, fantastically crazy.

But I am going!

Google can't map where I'm going.

Friday, November 11, 2011

In Defense of ‘Lulu’

Some music is hated.

There is music that is bad – meritless, unoriginal, unlistenable claptrap bad – but there exists much bad music that is beloved.

But some music is genuinely hated.

Like this “Lulu” album thing I’ve been reading about. It is a brand spanking new collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica. A concept album, no less. A double-length concept album about self-loathing, self-abuse, and assorted miseries.

For the past month or so, the internet has been abuzz about “Lulu.” “Lulu” is hated. It was hated before anyone’d heard a note of it. It is hated on principle. It is hated viscerally. When somebody gets indigestion or loses the big account at work, they blame “Lulu.” They blame “Lulu,” and then they come back home and they get on Amazon and they kick it in the teeth a few more times.

“Lulu” has transformed negative record reviewing into a full-contact competitive sport.

“Metallica finally found a way to keep people from illegally downloading their music,” someone over here says.

“Lulu is a complete failure on every tangible and intangible level of its existence,” says this review.

“Reed mutter[s] the title over and over as if he was rudely woken up and shoved in front of a live microphone,” says this one over here.

And Pitchfork – oh, dear hipster Pitchfork – says “Lulu” has one too many good moments to be the worst album of all time, thus failing even as a failure.

Yeah, I’ve listened to “Lulu.” I even bought “Lulu.” Paid money for it. Online, of course: There was no way I was going to be seen walking up to a cash register with that thing.

Now, I should tell you, I am a fan of Lou Reed. I have listened to Lou Reed all of my life.

I am a fan of how unlikable he is. How difficult. Inconsistent.

I am a fan of his ugly imagery.

I am even fan of his clunky lyrics. My favorite Lou Reed album ever begins with the line, “Life’s like a mayonnaise soda.” That’s pretty clunky!

But as best as I can discern, when it comes to “Lulu,” the criticism centers around only about four things:
     1.     The awkward mismatch between Lou Reed and Metallica;
     2.     The songs (both lyrics and melodies);
     3.     The musicianship; and
     4.     The vocals.

Other than that, there does not seem to be much trouble with “Lulu,” really. Just those four minor things.

Damn you to Hell, Hal Willner.
Me, I blame Hal Willner. He produced “Lulu.” Hal Willner is a terrible producer. Just awful.

For years now, Hal Willner has produced novelty projects that look great on paper but sound awful in execution.

Like this: The last time Hal Willner produced a Lou Reed album, it turned out to be a concept album about Edgar Allen Poe that included actor Steve Buscemi doing a sleazy lounge act. And it sounds even worse than what you’d imagine.

The typical Hal Willner production uses this sort of reasoning: “Hey! Wouldn’t it be weird if we released an album of Leonard Cohen singing Limp Bizkit songs?”

So Hal Willner projects are bad. They are bad, but they are not normally hated.

Hal Willner projects really ought to be hated. I mean, divine justice and all that jazz…

The thing is, on “Lulu,” Lou Reed himself does okay. I mean, he does as well as can be expected. Maybe even better than can be expected. The guy is one hundred and seventy-four years old. I have seen surprisingly compelling evidence that Lou Reed’s major organ systems dissolved back in 1971. It seems probable that he is a zombie.

But despite that, Lou Reed bolts past the starting gate on “Lulu” in full clunky Lou Reed mode, moaning, “I would cut my legs and tits off / When I think of Boris Karloff.”

That’s pretty clunky! That’s Lou Reed!

In other places, “Lulu” distinguishes itself as the queasy Beatnik feel-bad album of the season. Like on “Dragon,” where he keeps repeating something about a “Kotex jukebox.” Or on “Pumping Blood,” where he whines, “I will swallow your sharpest cutter / Like a colored man’s dick.”

Oh. Yeah. I forgot to mention before: “Lulu” is mostly sung in first person from the perspective of a woman. Awkward…

I would imagine all this makes “Lulu” look pretty awful to anyone who did not already think “Lulu” was pretty awful. And don’t get me wrong: “Lulu” is pretty awful. But what’s with all this hatred? Can’t we all just get along?

The real problem with “Lulu” – other than Hal Willner and the Kotex jukebox thing and Lou Reed’s zombie state and the first person feminine perspective and the aimless songs averaging about nine minutes a piece – is Metallica. And it’s not even Metallica so much as it is James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, specifically.

James and Lars are running around right now – even as I type these words – bragging to the music press that “Lulu” is chock full of first studio takes. I believe them. It sounds like first studio takes. Hetfield’s backing vocals on “Lulu” make Lou Reed’s voice sound like Pavarotti or Edith Piaf or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in comparison. And Lars Ulrich is in beginner-league drumfills-a-go-go mode every time the album lurches into ad-libbed abstractness, which is quite a lot.

Lou Reed at the age of 12. 
Mostly, though, it comes down to this: Lou Reed is not for everyone. In fact, Lou Reed might not be for anyone. His discography is best appreciated in theory and not actually experienced, like a secret Venus de Milo sculpted from bovine excrement.

But right now, we’re seeing Metallica fans – all 200 million of them – bitching about a Lou Reed collaboration.

And that is a bit like JK Rowling and William Burroughs writing a novel together and then unleashing Rowling fans to complain about how many ellipses there are… and erotic hangings… and Johnny waking up in Ali’s body… It’s like a hypothetical David Lynch-directed “Twilight” movie being attacked by 14-year old girls for having a non-linear plot.

So I stand alone. Over here.

Yes, me. Right here. When it comes to “Lulu,” I will stand alone. I will spit into the wind. I will defy your conventional wisdom.

I will read the reviews… Listen to the album again…

And I will remain defiant.

Against all odds and against all logic and against good taste and better judgment, I will defiantly award Lou Reed and Metallica’s “Lulu” album an insane TWO WHOLE STARS (out of a possible five).

And that’s a solid D grade.

Yeah, I said it.

Don’t be a hater. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Idiot’s Guide to Lesbians in My Soup

Thank you. From all of us here. I mean, all of us here thank you. We oh-most-so-sincerely thank you, thank you, and also thank you!

I mean, the management, staff, and the board of directors of this here “Lesbians in My Soup” thing do.  And by that, I mean we’re the ones doing the thanking. Of you, the thanked. And buddy, just how thankin’ great does that make you feel, huh?

But now it’s over. Season One, I mean. Season One is caput, finito, finished. It’s dead and it’s done and it won’t be coming home again anytime soon. Don’t bother leaving a light on.

Season One’s done but Two still ain’t here…

So while we’re waiting… Something has come to our attention. Confusion. Yours, not ours. The confusion, I mean. Of you, the confused.