Thursday, January 31, 2019

Chess Club

So today I finally went to a chess club meeting in Hamburg, and it was really cool.

When I first got there -- it was at a community center kinda place -- I felt a little awkward, because one of the club members told me that the people I saw sitting at the chessboards were “league” chess players, which means, I think, that they were rated. I had thought that the whole thing was going to be just very casual. Still, I felt a little better after this club member told me that non-league players can also play on Thursdays, and they usually do in the kitchen, which was off to the side of the room.

Well, after a few minutes of watching the “league” players play, which was kinda boring because they play pretty slow, I went into the kitchen. There, a boy, about 10, and an older man were playing. They greeted me nicely and I just watched them play for a while.

Things began to get fun, at least for me, when a man around 50 years old walked into the kitchen and set up a chessboard in front of me. He asked me if I wanted to play and I said yes.

After introducing myself -- I feel as though this is very important before playing a game of chess with a stranger -- we began.

He had the white pieces and played the Queen’s Gambit. For those of you who don’t know much about chess, a person who plays the Queen’s Gambit opening seeks to attain space in the center of the board and to bring several of his pieces into attacking position.

I played something called the Queen’s Gambit Declined. When Black plays the Queen’s Gambit Declined, he is effectively saying to White, “OK, I respect that you are playing something aggressive against me. I’m not going to try to match your aggressiveness, but you are going to have to work for your win." This being because the Queen's Gambit Declined is quite sound.

Anyway, let me speed this up: I won the game. But I was really proud of how I won. I basically let my opponent hang himself. What happened was, he kept on making these aggressive moves that really didn’t have too much of a point, and if you do that in the Queen’s Gambit, eventually Black’s pieces will have a better set up and will be in a better position to attack.

Anyway, after making several of these nonsensical moves, my opponent blundered and I was up two pawns. But what was cool was that by this point there was no way he could really win because (a) the position was pretty much equal, (b) he had no prospects and (c) I was simply two pawns ahead. The noose just kept getting tighter.

Yet, he kept on attacking. But really, by this point, I simply viewed the game as a war of attrition. And he must have known all was lost, too, because after I forced him to trade his queen, he resigned.

After the game was over I realized I really had not made one offensive move. Basically, every single move I had made was a defensive one -- but I still won.

I thought that that was damn cool.

Poem: "In the cafe there's music"

In the cafe there’s music
And the singer’s singing in French
But something isn’t right.

Inside the cafe there’s warmth
And candles lit
On every table candles lit
But something isn’t right.

Inside the cafe there’s peace
A respite from the street
Like an oasis, even
But something’s just not right.

It’s not right like a table leg that’s too short
Or a body out of stasis
Or the weightlessness of space
Or a crowd of strangers’ faces.

In the cafe there’s music
And the singer’s AlizĂ©e
But something’s not OK, OK?
Something’s not OK.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Poem: "Morning"

The other day, I published a poem on this blog that I thought was aggressive. The poem below is on the other end of the spectrum, peaceful and contemplative. Enjoy.


The sky cracked open
And fire dripped out
And before anyone knew it
The horizon was a molten trail over the houses.

In the subways, sanitation workers with brooms and dustpans cleaned corners

And bakers were already on their second cup of coffee
And train operators— well, who knows what they were doing.

The sky cracked open and before anyone knew it, birds were chasing each other up above and everything was awash in that surreal shade of sapphire blue

And before anyone knew it, it was morning.

Half of What I Say Is Meaningless

My mom and I have a strange relationship.

I mean, some of it is normal, but there are some things that make it, well, unique.

For example, sometimes I feel as though my mom is in competition with me.

I guess it makes sense, though. I mean, we both are into English and writing, and sometimes people with the same interests do try to outwit, or test, each other.

But my mom sometimes seems a bit offended if I know something she doesn't.

Still, one thing she has always given me credit for is my creativity. For some reason, she doesn’t think she is creative. I really don’t know why; she is in some ways. But she just thinks I’m the one with the creative spark.

One thing I like about this dynamic is that often when my mom and I are talking about things related to creativity, she just defers to me and just wants to hear what I think.

One such time was when I was around 16 years old. I had brought the Beatles song “Julia” to her attention, and after having listened to it several times, she really liked it.

But she mostly liked the melody. I had told her that John Lennon wrote the song for his mother, who died prematurely. My mom said, indeed, she understood that the tune was meant to be somber.

But then we started talking about the lyrics. The lyrics to "Julia" are a little dreamy. Understandably, my mom said that she didn’t really understand all the lyrics. But the thing was, for me, the lyrics to "Julia" were always clear. Even though they aren’t that clear literally, they always had a very specific meaning to me.

And so I remember, I had begun telling my mom what I thought the lyrics meant: “Yeah, so when John Lennon says, ‘Half of what I say is meaningless,’ I think it means that no matter what he sings  he can’t bring his mom back...and then that one other part, where he says, ‘Julia,  seashell eyes, windy smile,’ well, I think that means that he sees his mother now in nature, that he feels her essence and sees her in ethereal things. But, I mean, I don’t know...”

And then right there, at that moment, when I was about to let the whole thing drop, my mom said, “No, no -- keep going. Tell me more about what you think.”

And her saying that made all the difference.


I have to admit that I was in a little bit of an aggressive mood when I wrote the following poem. I don't know...maybe this poem comes from this mood, maybe it comes from my recently having reread "The Catcher in the Rye" or maybe it's other things in my life. But this poem is a bit aggressive and certainly makes a specific point. Just so you know, I wrote the piece on the subway right after I saw on my phone that another celebrity had written a childrens book. Viewer discretion is advised.

"It seems like every other idiot writes a childrens book"

It seems like every other idiot writes a childrens book.

Like this fucking jerk-off has wisdom to impart.
It seems like every other idiot makes a cute kiddy book.
Adults were never that smart.

Adults desire, want, need and crave

And do not behave.
Perhaps they have a braincell more or two
But can’t tell you what to do.
Adults have no wisdom 'cause they don’t know themselves

So just put it on a fucking shelf.

Spare your words and pictures

Your moral tales cute  
Your talking bears and lions scared
Your bird that cannot sing

Go get yourself some help, you hear

Go on now, hit the road
And take your pearls of wisdom
And shove them in the trash.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

"Dream Variations"

Sometimes when I’m in a bookstore and I'm looking at books, there comes a moment when I feel as though I must own the particular book in my hands.

It’s like a magic synapse happens, and I just think, “Yes. I need this book. This is going to enrich my life.”

Below is the poem that I was actually reading the moment I decided I would buy “The Zoo of the New,” a Penguin anthology of poems that, according to its editors, “surprise, delight and thrill."



"Dream Variations"
By Langston Hughes

 To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
    Dark like me—
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance!  Whirl!  Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
    Black like me.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

We Saw Brilliance...

You know, one thing I love about music is the way it can remind me of things.

Let me explain. There are some lines in songs that make me think of very specific times and situations.

For example, whenever I hear the very first lines of the Elliott Smith song "Everything Reminds Me of Her" -- “I never really had a problem because of leaving/But everything reminds me of her this evening" -- I’m transported back to a house party that I attended at my college one Friday night in the fall of 2002.

This party, I remember, was hopping, and I was actually having a pretty good time, but then my ex-girlfriend Keri showed up with a guy she had been dating before she met me, and seeing her with him again was so surreal and disturbing that I had to leave.

I never really had a problem because of leaving/But everything reminds me of her this evening.

I really love the line. It's so evocative for me. Every time I hear it -- boom -- that night, that situation.

Another piece of song text that really stands out and absolutely touches me is from Linkin Park.

The line comes from the band's 2017 song “One More Light,” which is about the tragedy of losing a person you love and how your loved one might just be one person to the world, but the world to you.

Anyway, there’s this line in the first verse, and it's great. Thinking back to times shared with the person who is now gone, Chester Bennington says that he and this person “saw brilliance when the world was asleep.”

I absolutely love this line. I love it because it makes me think of my old friend Andrew. Andrew was my best friend for about 15 years. He and I did so many crazy things together and had some of the most incredible laughs together. I really feel that he was my male soulmate. Anyway, this line from "One More Light" reminds me of one Saturday morning spent with Andrew in the summer of 1995.

What happened was, Andrew had slept over my house and had brought with him this, like, scary plastic mask. It was, like, a translucent clown mask -- a really creepy looking thing -- and we did something so crazy with it.

But before I tell you what, just know Andrew and I had stayed up all night that night. Don’t ask me what we did, but we stayed up all night. And then when it was about 6:30 or 7 a.m., we still weren't done.

What we did, actually, instead of going to sleep, was we took turns scaring passersby with the mask. Every time someone would walk by down below on the street, either Andrew or I would wear the mask and stick our head out the window of my room and scream, "Rah!" After the people would look up, Andrew or I would let the person get a good look at the awful mask and then duck back into my room. And laugh. And laugh and laugh.

Just the idea of someone jogging by or walking along on a nice summer morning and all of a sudden seeing someone in a clown mask sticking his head out the window going "Rah!" -- it was too much! Oh my God did we laugh.

But to tie it back to the Linkin Park line, “We saw brilliance when the world was asleep.” Well, mostly everyone on that Saturday morning was still sleeping -- it was, after all, super early. But Andrew and I were defying sleep and just having so much fun. We were in a sense seeing brilliance: the joy of boyhood. So the line makes sense: "We saw brilliance when the world was asleep."

 God, I love music.

Friday, January 25, 2019

"Simple Gifts"

You know, there’s this one line I like from a song: “When true simplicity is gained.” I’ve never known exactly what it means, but I think it's commenting on the relationship between "truth" and "simplicity." Usually when there is one, there is the other. There is something so simple about the truth, and there is also something very truthful about simplicity. Whatever the case, I like this line.

Enter a conversation I was having with one of my friends the other day. Over text she was telling me about her dating life and what it was like. I have known this girl for a pretty long time, and she doesn’t always offer very personal details. However, I was being quite open with her, and I feel as though this prompted her to be so with me. Still, at one point I don’t think she realized how honest and vulnerable she was being -- how true -- and I found what she said so satisfying and beautiful.

Here is what she said:
Yeah I am not so hot on marriage myself. All of my friends are all married now and most have kids. I am also seeing a lot of people around the same age starting to go through divorces. I struggle with the same things you're articulating. Like this guy I see -- we're not in love and I want someone to love me. 
That last line, "We're not in love and..."

When true, simplicity is gained.

Thursday, January 24, 2019


Here is an email I wrote to my friend Kaivan this morning. We had been talking about Freddie Mercury and Queen. Kaivan always liked Queen, and the recent movie made me more interested in the band. I just thought what I wrote to Kaivan was interesting, nothing more, nothing less.
I saw "Bohemian Rhapsody" too and really appreciated it -- with a grain of salt of course. The main guy was off the charts, but I also thought the guy who played Brian May was killer good. 
I really think Freddie Mercury had the perfect amount of feminine energy as a rock star. He was masculine and feminine and just great.
Ugh, and that scene where he told his girl to turn on her light, to signal with it, and then he did poignant.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Rush Hour

So let’s say there is a guy, and this guy’s name is X. Let’s just make it up: his name’s X. And X is having a stressful morning: one of those mornings where everything feels heavier and louder and where things that are unimportant seem obnoxiously and dangerously important.

And X is on the bus, and it’s crowded. And people are making big fusses when they’re having difficulties finding a spot to stand or trouble disembarking. And X just hears these people’s sighs and their tongue clicks of discontent more loudly. In a word: everything to X simply seems so more pained, more intense.

And when he gets to the train station to take the train to work, things are not better. As the train pulls up, all the people on the platform just box each other out in front of the train doors that are about to open, and there seems to be a dearth of sympathy in the air. And the announcements are grating.

Are you imaging X? OK, so now let’s suppose that after X gets on the train, a very crowded train, he doesn’t sit down but stands, holding on to a pole, and when the doors of the train finally close, he leans his forehead against that pole. The train is packed and there are other people holding on to this very same pole, but X has managed to find a free spot to rest his forehead. And the metal of the pole is cold. Nevertheless, X closes his eyes and there, among all the people and their chattering and their silence and the noise of the train, he recites an Emily Dickinson poem to himself, eyes closed.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

And he likes this poem so much -- this prayer, almost -- that he recites it to himself one or two more times after he has disembarked the train and is walking the few blocks he must go to get to work.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Geeky Stuff


For the longest time I had not known if the first letter of a sentence fragment after an ellipsis was capitalized or not. Today I got the answer.

Story: I was reading "Catcher in the Rye" and there it was, in chapter 24. Holden is talking with a former teacher of his, Mr. Antolini, in Mr. Antolini's aparmtment, and Mr. Antolini makes some kind of a joke about his wife's friends. It's not a funny joke; I didn't even get it, but it answered my capitalization question. Check it out:

"Excuse the appearance of the place," he said. "We've been entertaining some Buffalo friends of Mrs. Antolini's . . . Some buffaloes, as a matter of fact."

Boom. There it was. The word "some" starts with a capital letter and that is a sentence fragrant right, there, sir.

I can die happy now!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Last Class

So yesterday I had a last class with one my students, and it was nice. It was nice wrapping things up and reviewing the progress she had made. For our final lesson, she and I went over verb tenses. Germans usually have difficulty with our many verb tenses, so I thought it would be a good final lesson.

The exercise we did went like this: I would write down a sentence in German, and she would have to tell me exactly what that sentence would be in English. Once her answer was 100 percent correct, I would allow her to write the sentence down, in English, under where I had written the corresponding sentence in German.

During the exercise, I told her that I wanted to take a pic of the scrap papers we were working on, for my notes. However, after we had finished up the exercise, I no longer wanted to do that, for some reason. I was just going to let it slip, actually. But as I was getting up to leave, she said, “Wait -- didn’t you want to take pictures of the papers?” I decided to stay with my original plan, and I'm glad I did, as there's definitely value in these papers, especially if you're trying to learn English or German.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Poem: "Nineteen Years Later"

When I was in high school, I used to have a friend name Nina, Nina Deppe. Anyway, I'm not sure what happened to her, but recently she popped into my head, or rather a scene from a day we had once spent together did. I decided to write a poem about this scene. The poem is sort of a free verse kind of thing. Enjoy.

Nineteen years ago, we sat with each other near my bookcase in my room and spoke about whether God existed. 

As proof of God, you offered this: "That feeling that you get when you do something nice for someone." 

You were adamant that this feeling was a form of proof that God existed. You were so adamant, in fact, that you drew a line under your point with a rhetorical question: "If God doesn't exist, what's that feeling, then?"

I just laughed you under the table. I was 17 years old at the time and just laughed you under the table. 

"Oh my god," I had said. "You think that that good feeling that you get after doing something nice for someone is proof that God exists? Are you kidding me? That's not proof God exists." 

You just shook your head at me. My words seemed not to shake your belief about this feeling or your faith in general.

Nineteen years later, I'm writing to tell you, Nina, that I now understand what you were talking about.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Poem: "I asked you who you were"

Here's a pretty cool poem I wrote today. It's got a personal meaning for me, but it's also just a lot of fun and a bit wacky. Enjoy.

I asked you who you were

What a fucking question 
What a fucking night
Everything was wrong. 

The song was out of tune 

The reverend wore no collar 
The cat was bathing in the tub, 
With Franklin on the dollar. 

The jumbo jets grew legs

And flowers bloomed on Mars 
And babies went back in the womb
And Persian rugs back on the loom. 

Everything was fucked, all right: 

The ground was in the sky
The night I asked you who you were
And you could not reply.


Sometimes people say or write things and they don't realize how profound they're being or just how beautifully their words come across. I thought this recently when I received a New Year's message from my old friend Kaivan.

Kaivan and I have been friends for about 25 years, ever since the 6th grade. But we were always a little strange, a little interesting. For example, one of my earliest memories from our friendship is our renting the movie version of Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" and watching it together in his mom's living room, and falling asleep to it. But "The Pit and the Pendulum"? In the 6th grade? Wow.

Kaivan is also the person who convinced me to read "1984" when he saw a dusty copy of the book on my mom's bookshelf. "It'll expand your imagination," he had said at the time. Before he made his recommendation, though, the only thing I had known of 1984 was that it was a year a few years after my birth.

Kaivan and I have remained in contact all these years, and he's still that interesting, zany, unpredictable, deep and mysterious character I always thought of him as.

Anyway, on New Year's this year, I wrote him Happy New Year, and I wished him happy birthday, because his birthday is also on New Year's. When he wrote back, it was with something that was very profound, I felt. His message was almost a little haiku:

Thanks, Chad!
Wow 37... geez.
Hope you had a great and happy new year!
We are lucky to be here. :) 

You gotta love it.

Happy New Year, everybody.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

bzw. (part II)

On this blog I sometimes talk about the difficulties I have learning German. In one blogpost from a few months ago, I spoke of a German word that bedeviled me for years. The word was "beziehungsweise," which is pronounced beh-TZEE-ungs-vahy-zuh and is usually abbreviated in print as "bzw."

All "beziehungsweise" really means is "or rather." Not that crazy in and of itself, but Germans use it all the time in normal conversation. So it would be totally normal for a German person to say, "Ich mag Eis bzw. ich mag verschiedene Eissorten": "I like ice-cream, or rather certain flavors of ice-cream."

Why am I telling you all this...again? Well, today I found a great example of the English equivalent of "beziehungsweise," proof, really, that we actually do use it. I found the example in a 1986 interview with the late writer Primo Levy. Answering a question, Levy begins,  “My model (or, if you prefer, my style) was that of…”

Yup, totally "bzw." territory right there.