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Loud, obnoxious students

Sure, I know my title may be a redundancy. Most college students, at times, tend to be loud and obnoxious. It’s their nature. It’s the nature of the beast they’re allowed to be for a few short years of wilding between ejection from the parental nest and ingestion in the corporation.

My wife and I have been in our new house for less than two months now, and already I’ve been awakened three or four times by loud, obnoxious noises from behind the house. Our rectilinear grid of a neighborhood puts us cheek to jowl with our neighbors in the back. Everybody is united, and divided, by privacy fences, and though the fences may shield us from the sight of our neighbors they do nothing much to block out sound.

loud obnoxious neighbors

Orgies next door? Hooting and hollering? Tell 'em to cool it -- and throw you a beer so you can calm down and go back to bed.

So when students, or anyone else, start partying after midnight, or 2 am, as the case has been, then some of us, particularly the early to bed and early to rise crowd, wake with a start and gnash their teeth. They may fly out of bed, cuss, and stomp the ground like Yosemite Sam (even those of us without flaming red hair and saber at side).

The first time I was waked by noise, at 2 am on a weeknight, I climbed the fence in the back where it connects, and separates me, kitty corner, from my student neighbors. A group of six or eight had a fire going in a fire pit, the music going rather loud, and the voices raised in a chorus of glee. (No, I saw, this was not a glee club. Too informal and cacophonous for that. Too disorganized and jolly.) When I called out, Do you realize what time it is?, one of them, a tall young black man, came over and apologized. They hadn’t realized how late it was, how loud they were getting, etc., etc., etc. Within a few minutes they’d doused the fire and the chatter — and disappeared inside.

But this late nite revelry, with or without drinking, has continued, and I’ve been awakened several times. The other night, when it happened again — the hubbub and then the Yosemite Sam wrath — I simply called the cops. But before the cops could fairly get here, the kids had dispersed and gone inside.

The next day I delivered them a letter of complaint, which included a protest to their landlord, too, an academic who’d taught at U Ark and then got a job at the University of Michigan. The kid I’d talked with came down from his bedroom (this was about noon) and we talked. He was apologetic but perplexed. What’s all the fuss about? It wasn’t he who was raising hell but some of his guests, could be.

The day after, a roommate of the first guy came over to our house and gave me his card. Before I call the police again, he urged me, call him. He’ll calm down any celebrations or excesses that might be going on. He hoped they wouldn’t get started. Alcohol wasn’t part of the routine, at any rate (he’d never had a drink in his life), and wasn’t the fuel for the late night fire of talk and, yes, fire.

That was cool, I told him. I’m not always a crabby old man, but I am when I’m waked in my bed by disturbances of the peace. Why don’t we all just get along? I said, playing the Tom Hanks bit. We don’t have to be friends, necessarily, or love each other, but we can live together, lion and lamb (who’s who?), without much growling or much blood, can’t we?

I remember when I was a student, back when, and might have been loud on a few occasions (I hope mainly on weekends), one of my housemates, in one undergradate abode — the Pink Pussy Palace, we called it, as opposed to the Baby Mansion our young black student neighbors occupy — was a loud, obnoxious (how shall I put this, gently?) prick. He blasted his rock music from his stereo system so loud that the house trembled and shook. And the neighbors, in the house next door, maybe ten feet from our windows, trembled and shook. They came over, more than once, trembling with rage and threatening action, but I don’t recall that my housemate moderated his behavior one bit, the prick. The loud, obnoxious prick.

Yes, lion and lamb, shall we lie down together, brethren? Not too much growling, please. Nor any blood.


Watch out whose ass you grab

Yes, a timeless challenge, for sure.

If you’re caught with your pants down, or your hand in the cookie jar — or, worse yet, pants down with your hand in the cookie jar — you must confess.

An innocent display of affection?

There’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

But in the case of ass grabbing, you’ve got to be careful whose ass you grab. Even before, eating humble pie, you confess your crime and guilt.

In the case of your daughter-in-law, you are given pause.

In the case of your daughter-in-law, who comes over for Easter dinner and, being the Norwegian she is, when you are putting your arm around her for a hug, averts her face and hip and your hand, which meant, did it not, to hug her hip or waist hugs, make that grabs, her ass!

And then, being the Norwegian she is, she says, Hey, was that an ass grab?

Which leaves you nonplussed, Polack that you are!

As in, Gee, did I mean to grab my daughter-in-law’s ass, or did she avert herself (face, hip) and in so doing invite an accidental misapplication of her father-in-law’s (old, horny) hand to her ass?

Oh, my gods! This is almost a theological question! How many angels, and their asses, can dance on the head of a pin? How many pin-headed scholars can dance before the eyes of the she-dragon?

Be it hereby resolved, then, as much as anything can be resolved, that I will keep my hugging to a minimum, alas — if my Norwegian daughter-in-law can keep her aversions to a minimum. Her turnings away, I mean, from what to all intents and purposes is an innocent desire to embrace her to the bosom of the family.

Nicht wahr?


Was up on a ladder screwing a yardarm, for bird feeders, into my fence when I spied my neighbors, immediately behind us, and shouted out, “Hello, I’m your new neighbor!”

We’ve lived in this house, my wife and I, in a golfing subdevelopment, for almost two months, and hadn’t seen the neighbors directly behind us in all that time. No wonder, as all the back yards in our neighborhood are surrounded by  “privacy fences,” constructions of six-foot dog-eared boards and gates. Maybe I’d glimpsed this young couple once or twice, from our kitchen, padding around their bedroom (shades open) or their patio.

neighbor house

Who that livin' across the fence? Am I my neighbors' keeper?

They were in their 20s or early 30s, I surmise. And when I hoisted myself over the fence and hallooed them, their response was — get this — “Haven’t you been here all along?”

Whoa, now, Nellie! Do I look like I’ve been here all along? Look like I’m the one who’s been here, private and isolated, all this time, huddling behind my privacy fence? Nah, the previous owners, the original owners, were here six years, but the young couple, who might not have been in their house all that long, never met them.

I felt like taking down the privacy fence immediately. Something there is that doesn’t love a fence. Especially a privacy fence that clutches us in our isolation and precludes neighborly meetings. Are we supposed to get out our ladders to lean over the fence and jaw with our neighbors? Could be. But we’d rather not, right?

Of course, most of my neighbors, unlike Jennifer and me, are working stiffs. And may be too stiff, at the end of a day or the start of the next, to salute their neighbors and indulge in chitchat. If this is true, dear neighbors, not to worry — I’ll bring out my ladder and halloo you.

The Ugly Man

Reading an essay by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker about Albert Camus, who was evidently a handsome man. Not so, alas, for many other celebrities and commoners. Gopnik puts the problem of looks in a striking epigram: “The ugly man who thinks hard — Socrates or Sartre — is using his mind to make up for his face.”

Ha ha!

Jean Paul Sartre

An ugly if brilliant man, Sartre had to woo strenuously to hit his female marks.

While, Gopnik asserts, the handsome man or woman, using hisr (my epicene pronoun, like it? use it!) mind, suggests that there’s something in the mental life beyond the usual and quick gratifications of handsomeness.

Handsome is as handsome does, hey? But how many handsome people do right? Or do nobly? Or thoughtfully?

Think of the many ugly men in the news today and formerly. I think right off of Alan Greenspan and Henry Kissinger, powerful men whose ugly mugs we saw almost nightly on the news. Or, more contemporaneously, consider the list of ten ugly men that includes such actors as Nick Nolte, Steve Buscemi, and Lyle Lovett.

They’re not the men that most women would want to wake up with in the morning.

Or are they?

It’s the aphrodisiac of power and money that draws many women in.

Or, as my wife suggests, of a certain je ne sais quoi. What is this quality? Hard to say. Hard to put your finger on. (Unless you like to put your finger on every attractive opportunity.)

But if we’re thinking here about thoughtful ugly men, primarily, not just celebrities, it’s the power of the intellect we must keep in mind. The power of the mind over the body, or in concert with the body, the rhythms the mind can engender in unlikely mates, in creatures that would usually respond to more obvious blandishments.

Madame, said our urfather, the original ugly man, could be, I’m Adam. And she, looking curiously down her aquiline nose, replied, I’m your morning, I’m your Eve, I’m your flatterer, I’m your grief. (Or, as the existentialist Camus might have said, Eh, why not just blow our brains out?)


Wasn’t it the French poet Baudelaire who set out, some years ago, to shock the bourgeoisie?

God knows they need more, not less, shocking these days.

If you aren’t a teenager bored out of his skull by life in the suburbs, you may be a Baby Boomer, like me, who lives amid the bourgeoisie — who is a proper burgher — and feels trapped by his comfortable trappings.

Yes, we desire our comforts, our creature comforts, above all else. And when we’re not comfortable, in our La-Z-Boys, our received opinions, we squirm.

So it’s about time we learn to squirm — and get some comfort out of it!

hole in one

Alas, some sick sad teen villains have beat me to the mierde punch.

I tried out this one on some friends recently, some golfing friends no less. What if you had to take a crap while you were golfing, or simply walking through a golf course, and instead of running off to the rough or into the woods you crapped into the nearest cup? Then along comes the next golfer and when he taps in his birdie putt, bends over to retrieve the sacred object and finds –mierde! Oh how disgusting! How revolting! How vandalistic and obscene!

(I see, on doing a bit of Google research, that a group of juvenile-delinquent, bored-out-of-their-skull, white-boy suburbanites has beat me to the deed itself and publicized it on YouTube, where else? Watch the clip and tell me, do you think they are aesthetes?)

Yes, my friends, one of the dangers of golfing in this time and place, surrounded as we are by the forces of darkness, the snickerings of ennui and diabolical indifference, is such vile tricks! Oh we must gate our communities to be sure. Keep out the riffraff. Keep out contamination.

Tracy Kidder

The celebrated creative non-fiction writer Tracy Kidder appeared last night at the Fayetteville Public Library and gave an hour-long talk on the writer-editor relationship.

He was warmed up by an African drumming and dancing corps, which pounded and shook so mightily it was a hard act to follow. How could Kidder expect the toe-tapping to continue, the 3 year old blonde girl in the front row to continue dancing  to his discourse?

07_art1_book_kidder.jpgNo, we held our ground, calmly, appreciatively, planted in our hard chairs, and heard the author talk about a special privileged relation he has had, for over 40 years, with his editor, a laconic and self-effacing man named Richard Todd.

What struck me especially as Kidder went on describing their collaboration over the years was the author’s  need to find in his editor, “another set of eyes,” the reassurance he might have lacked, wholly, without him. Yes, Kidder was fortunate to find his Todd, initially in writing an early article for the Atlantic, for without him he might have plummeted and come plump down to earth the way some of his collegues at the Iowa writers’ workship did.

Who else would listen to you, a budding writer (who feared nipping in the bud), when you called early and late with the latest information on the text you were writing? Who else would be such a sounding board, such a trusted confidant? True, Todd didn’t necessarily want to know all the details that Kidder knew and was sometimes bedeviled by (for example, about the sewage system of New York City), and yet he was there, on the other end of the phone or across the desk, available, assuring.

When I suggested at the end of the talk that this writer-editor relationship reminded me of the patient-psychiatrist pairing, Kidder laughed and half  assented. “Perhaps,” he said.

An entertaining and privileged accounting, then, this talk, of the writer and his confessor, or shrink, if not muse. No, the writer has to find his inspiration where he will, deep in himself and his most personal concerns, as for example Kidder did with The Soul of a New Machine and House. And his particular genius may be revealed in the latter kind of text especially, where he takes a common subject, the building of a house, and makes it uncommon, even extraordinary, where he lights up the everyday and reveals the sublime in the basic structure (planning, building a house).

As usual, the audience sent out a hail of questions, some probing, some naive. Of the latter, one woman wanted to know how Kidder kept up the discipline of writing. A silly question perhaps, and naive. How can a writer write without the habit of writing, the daily need? But, on the other hand, how can a writer keep up without the kind of editorial and human encouragement that Todd provided during the long haul writing of so many works?

Lord Jim & the Costa Concordia

Just finished reading Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, one of those novels that has long eluded me somehow.

But now that I’m retired if not in my dotage, I’m finding time to catch up on my reading somewhat.

The theme of the book, which I’d known at least vaguely for a while, was the title character’s cowardice — and redemption.

Jim, an English youth of good looks and temperament, follows his cowardly captain and mates in abandoning a sinking ship, or a ship that they all assume is sinking, in the Persian Gulf.

In Conrad’s fiction, the ship is an old scow ferrying Muslim pilgrims from Indonesia to Mecca. And the irony is that the ship does not in fact founder, it merely lists, and the captain and mates skedaddle like rats, leaving the pilgrims (read “others,” “aliens,” “savages,” “Orientals”) to their fate.

Costa Concordia

The Costa Concordia, sunk off the coast of Tuscany, January 2012.

In real life, in the news today, it’s Captain Francesco Schettino, of the Costa Concordia luxury liner, who flees and abandons ship and passengers. By now, we’ve all heard how an Italian coast guard commander reams him another nether outlet while the captain whimpers in a lifeboat nearby. You don’t want to go back to your ship? the commander queries. You want to go home because it’s dark? Get back aboard the vessel!

Schettino is under house arrest. Jim, in Conrad’s version, is dead — and lives on — because he had the courage to redeem himself for his mistakes. Not only his early cowardice, in Conrad’s book, but his inability, and unwillingness, to resort to violence to protect his adopted people (“brown people,” “Orientals,” “Indonesians,” “others” he’s become lord over, and one with, thus Lord Jim).

I suppose Lord Jim is a Christ figure, dying at the hands of the native chief whose son has been killed because of Jim’s unwillingness to use violence. Jim stands before the chieftain and offers himself up, and is shot at point-blank range and killed.

We will demand this, as society, of Schettino, I suspect. And I suspect the craven captain will not offer himself up, but deny to the end that he was responsible. (He was merely showing off, it appears, steering way too close to the coast of a tiny island in order to boast of his command of the massive ship, a command he didn’t really have.)

Conrad, a psychological writer, is far more nuanced in his dissection of guilt and innocence, fate and free will than we the people will ever be. Jim surmounts his fate, could be, in his heroic ultimate act, while most of us may prefer to whimper on while the ship (of state, commerce, justice) is sinking. We know how to point a finger, though.