ON THE AVENUES: Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger.


Dearest readers,

At the beginning of 2020, I resolved to play it completely straight and rededicate this weekly column to the proposition that it might be freed from reruns — for the most part.

I might on occasion incorporate bits of previous writing, or quote myself, but no more cutting and pasting entire past columns — however much I rationalize that you urgently need to be reading them for a second or third time.

I’m happy to report that I made it all the way from New Year’s Day to June 4, and have produced 20-odd columns of fresh material. However, this week I’m struggling, and the block is odd given there is no shortage of available topics. But maybe abundance is the problem, and there’s too much to sort through.

Speaking from the perspective of my polemical workbench, the first two months of the year were spent detoxing from daily doses of local political discourse — or what passes for it in intellectually constipated New Gahania. A new study from the Pew Research Center suggests I’ve successfully stuck to the terms of the sabbatical 86.7% of the time. 

In March came our moment in medical history, the coronavirus pandemic — and yes, it was real and remains so quite outside the denials so many of you have chosen to embrace. The attendant dislocations of COVID have been challenging, although the dictates of karma urge me to refrain from complaining when our household vantage point is one of good personal health.

The past two to three weeks have been about America’s periodic avoidance of an honest reckoning with history as it pertains to Black Lives Matter(ing). I’ll support just about any movement aimed at anti-racism, anti-fascism and anti-robberbaroncapitalism, but at the moment, as an old white guy myself, I’d hate to be lumped in with Bumbling Bill Hanson’s elder hostel of white male newspaper columnists pontificating about race from their pulpits in Otisco.   

Oh, and I forgot that it’s also an election year. Roughly 1,000 years ago, Bernie Sanders was still in the race and we had a modicum of choice to defeat The Donald. Now we have the sort of Democratic candidate that Squire Adam would fill buckets drooling over. So much for “hope.”

Obviously I might be writing about any of these trends, but somewhat curiously there seems to be little for me to add to the ongoing discussion. Maybe the essence of this writer’s bottled-up blockage is persistent anger — at the ongoing and still unspeakably bizarre Gahan personality cult, at the science-denying narcissists unable to look past the tip of their noses, and at the unreconstructed racists reminding me of the prevalence of sheer American dumbassery.

Writing isn’t easy when you’re angry, or at least it isn’t for me. A measure of detachment is necessary, and I haven’t been able to manage it lately. Stream-of-consciousness rants are possible, and have been deployed before, but the older I get, the more hesitant I am to undertake them. They’re like running a marathon, and absolutely wear me out.

Accordingly, there’s is a sizable element of fatigue, and I need to push through it. Let’s begin right here.

Knowing that writing more often for pay (a novel concept for me, indeed) would factor into the 2020 workload, I began in January by reducing NA Confidential blog’s output (again), from three daily posts to two; probably owing to the six-month or more sabbatical from the rhetoric on behalf of the anti-Gahan resistance, this has resulted in a marked decline in reader interest.

So be it. 

I’m trying to write about beer as often as possible at the Pints&union blog in hopes of keeping a few balls (or beer bongs) hanging in the air until our likely reopening in July — and don’t quote me on what this return will look like, because it isn’t yet clear. All I can say is that a new era will dawn, soon.

At Food & Dining Magazine, faced with no real possibility of publishing a summer print edition, we resolved instead to build up the web site and release as much original content as possible on that platform. A share of this surge falls to me, some to others in our stable of excellent writers; either way it takes time to implement, and my learning curve in terms of being a “digital editor” hasn’t yet flattened.

I’m not breaking rocks or putting up hay, although at times this year my brain has needed a break.

With the traditional restorative activity of travel taken off the table this year by the virus, relaxation has come through the Forever Nostalgia Project: digitizing slides, negatives and photos of past European journeys, of which there have been 40. Around 1995 I abandoned slide film for the most part and went to regular printed photos. By 2005, digital was the norm. Here are the year’s results, some of which are being shared at my Facebook page.

1985, the first trip to Europe
1991-92, the Slovak teaching sojourn
1993, Germany, Denmark, points east, etc
1994, Switzerland, Albania and Pamplona (Spain)
1997, Czech Republic and Germany
2003, Main/Tauber/Altmuhl/Danube (rivers) bicycling, Frankfurt to Vienna

In addition, there were a few odds and ends stateside. At any rate, quite a lot of images are left to scan (at least 14 European visits), and they will take years to finish … but hey, we all need hobbies.

One real-world manifestation of nostalgia about the 2003 bicycling trip is a determination to get our bikes back in working condition. They’re at the shop now. Soon, after seven years out of the saddle, there’ll be a comeback. It will not resemble the halcyon days of the 2000 – 2008; commuting and the occasional Greenway should be enough.

Reading is a good diversion, too. Here are the year’s books to date, in reverse chronological order. My favorites are marked with an asterisk.

*Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s, by Frederick Lewis Allen
Which Fork Do I Use with My Bourbon? by Peggy Noe Stevens and Susan Reigler
How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomachs, by Melanie Mühl and Diana von Kopp
*Bliss Was It in Bohemia, a novel by Michel Viewegh
An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, by Elizabeth David
Russian Cosmism, edited by Boris Groys
*The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World, by Christy Campbell
Bluebeard, a novel by Kurt Vonnegut
The Ghosts of My Life, by Mark Fisher
Capitalist Realism, by Mark Fisher
Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginnings of the Modern World, by Thomas Cahill
*The Prague Cemetery, a novel by Umberto Eco
Bavarian Helles, by Horst Dornbusch
Strong Towns, by Charles Marohn
The Tragedy of Liberation, by Frank Dikkotter

Awaiting its tenure on the night stand is the annual blockbuster summertime novel, as calculated to simmer my brain in its own juices. I’ve never made it all the way through Ulysses, by James Joyce. Is this finally the year?

Musically, it hasn’t been a great six months for The Kind of Music Roger Likes. I’m buying fewer CDs of new music, but listening to each of them more closely than before. If you can’t go wide, go deep. Here they are, organized in two-month increments. Why? I can’t remember.

Album releases 2020, May and June
Blossoms … Foolish Loving Spaces
Ocean Alley … Lonely Diamond
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever … Sideways to New Italy
*Sleaford Mods … All That Glue
Sparks … A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
*The 1975 … Notes on a Conditional Form
The Used … Heartwork

Album releases 2020, March and April
Grouplove … Healer
*Rookie … Rookie

Album releases 2020, January and February
*Courteeners … More. Again. Forever.
*Titus Andronicus … An Obelisk (2019)
*White Reaper … You Deserve Love (2019)
Wussy … What Heaven Is Like (2018)

Movies and television?

C’mon, regulars readers should know better. However, we’ve been working our way through the ageless Rumpole of the Bailey canon and a few other British dramas. My memory is shaky, and I may have watched the Downton Abbey movie. If so, I plead excessive gin.

Ah, yes. Drinking, another of my self-defense mechanisms.

It has been strange in this regard, and no one is likely to believe me, but as a guesstimate, I’ve consumed perhaps half the alcohol in 2020 as I would have swallowed normally.

It isn’t clear to me why, although one possible explanation is that I dislike being constantly self-incapacitated during an unprecedented public health crisis, all the while surrounded by sniveling racists, reckless drivers, Trump-co-vidiots, masturbatory nihilists and various other bad actors.

Facing up to my deep-seated anger while keeping relatively sober? Now THAT’S a tall order, and yet I’ve tried every other way. Maybe playing against type really is best. Fools give you reasons … wise men never try.


Recent columns:

June 4: ON THE AVENUES: There, there. People are dying, so you may have to wait until 2021 for your pork chop sandwich.

May 28: ON THE AVENUES: The late, great Lee Kelly — by Matt Nash.

May 21: ON THE AVENUES: Godlessness in defense of heathens, infidels, idolaters, atheists, non-theists, irreligious people, agnostics, skeptics, heretics and apostates.

May 14: ON THE AVENUES: Food is my friend, but please, I’m no foodie.