Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Wharf rat

I'm sitting in a coffee shop. A Boston afternoon. People wandering in and out. Seats at a premium, but I have no one at my little table. White laces dangle from the occasional ear. Outside, a young girl gets out of her Jetta, skips over to fumble a coin near the parking meter. She has a white canvas bag lying on the back seat. Mellow bright sunshine puddles between the shadows. A Jewish family ambles by with a stroller. A fat black man with an ID card around his neck is talking to a younger white kid. His lips frame the words - one hour. I have a book in my side pocket; it is called The History of the Smile. It feels warm against my leg.

Excuse me, is this seat taken?
Only if you listen to me.

Old man down
way down, down
down by the docks of the city,
Blind and dirty
asked me for a dime--
dime for a cup of coffee
I got no dime but
I got some time to hear his story

I just got back last night. It was raining when I got in. A white punk with a nail through his left ear had been sitting in front of me on the plane. His new wife was in the row behind. They'd just been on their honeymoon. The flight staff had refused them entry on the plane despite the fact that they had valid tickets. So they had yelled, standing by the gate while all the other passengers boarded in front of them. All but one, actually. I was also waiting. The security staff hadn't punched my boarding pass -- the one stamped SSSS for special security. I always get tagged. This time I hadn't got punched. So I was waiting. The punk and his wife yelled. I waited. When the guy came, he checked me out right there at the gate. I knew the routine as well as he did. A kindly looking lady smiled apologetically at me. I shot her daggers. I ate a granola bar on the plane. A kid at the carousel nearly got himself squished trying to catch a suitcase twice his size. But that isn't really the story of my life.

My name is August West
and I love my Pearly Baker best
more than my wine
...more than my wine
more than my maker
though he's no friend of mine

The trip was eventful, hectic, stressful, fulfilling. Making my second presentation of the conference, back to back in a jampacked room on the first morning I withdrew my hand in a flash from the projection screen I'd been pointing to; I'd realised the shadow was trembling in full view of a few hundred people. Speaking to one of the leaders in the field I didn't realise I'd impressed him by asking whether the Hebrew word neta is at the root of the name Netanyahu. It isn't. He went on to impress me by telling me he'd been to Burning Man this year. He stunned me by saying he'd been invited by John Perry Barlow. I surprised him by knowing who John Perry Barlow is. I impressed him by telling him about the EFF. All this I realise now. Back then, I wasn't thinking. I had stuff to say to this guy. Two conversations across two days, I said nothing. These are my thoughts.

Everyone said
I'd come to no good
I knew I would
Pearly believed them

Other stuff happened as well. Lots and lots. People got picked on at sessions. Fake conversations were held outside. There was a reception by the poolside. Several subsets of collaborators met with each other. I spent a few hours in a friend's room trying to recover some results she had got but not saved. The organizers did not provide breakfast. Many people went to the theme park event. I did not. Instead I sat around chatting with friends. One night I was so tired I did not even have dinner. Another night there was a party in my room till after 5. A senior person hit on a graduate student right there on my bed. Afterwards, she leaned over to me and asked, why did he do it? People are strange. Sometimes more so.

Half of my life
I spent doin' time for
some other fucker's crime
Other half found me stumbling around
drunk on burgundy wine

We were up at 7 the next morning anyway. There was work to be done. My friend from Argentina had not been seen the first couple of days. Everyone assumed he's not coming, then on the last afternoon he showed up. I saw him first. He'd been in Madrid and his plane was delayed so he rerouted himself via Nueva York. So good to see old friends. He moved to Argentina instead of staying in the US. It was for the sake of his family. It was a mistake, I heard him say. To the person who had been his advisor. Also mine. Everyone's making mistakes. That's what I was told as well - what's the reason to make such a big compromise? If I were to apply your research, I__, said I, the more I think of reasons the more I should compromise. He laughed, and changed the topic. Doctoral students said, we liked your topic, we liked your presentations. One of them reportedly said that the Indian guy on that session was cute. Conferences are the stuff of rumors. People said - we should get together and talk sometime. Sure, said I. Another friend told a student -- it's like Hollywood. Everyone knows everyone, and you can't say anything negative about anyone. Ultimately it's all the same everywhere. You have to put your head down and work. People say whatever the heck they want.

But I'll get back
on my feet someday
The good Lord willing
if He says I may
'cause I know the life I'm
livin's no good
I'll get a new start
live the life I should

And so ultimately, ducky, it doesn't matter very much. Life goes on. You overcommit, others underdeliver, people politic, backstab, snipe, gossip, and your true friends are the ones who are there when the chips are down, the ones who make you such that there will come a time when you won't need them even though you want to, which is why you will. Blind and dirty. Am I boring you?

I'll get up and fly away
I'll get up and
fly away... away

Because that is the sum and substance of what came to mind. None of this really happened, you remember? It's still a sunny day outside, even though the clouds that roll in are dark. And the cars that are parked are parallel, just like everything else I've been talking about. My decaf is now gone, but I still feel the comforting presence of the book against my leg. Look at the happy Asian girl with her wrinkled grandmother. I wonder what language they're talking in. The old lady has a shopping bag on her arm like it's a handbag, and a ring on her middle finger. I wonder if it's a wedding ring. I wonder when her husband died, and how much she misses him. I have so much to do, but today is my day of rest. Enforced, dull boy. I'll get up now and wander, wander downtown.

Nowhere to go just to hang around.


Blogger wildflower seed said...

Beautiful piece, with Wharf Rat worked in very deftly! I get chills just thinking about Jerry signing Wharf Rat from DP3.

Very nice.

10/03/2006 10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are rather the prolific writer ! Must say your writing is talented. Impressive. Am amused with your 8% more oxygen story... so indeed, were we getting lesser O2 ?

- PM

10/04/2006 5:19 AM  
Blogger km said...

Vunnnnterful. The Netanyahu/EFF/Burning Man exchange was very nicely crafted.

It's also a very David Lodge-esque post. Didja know that?

10/04/2006 6:59 AM  
Blogger MockTurtle said...

Nice writing TR. And quite an eventful weekend - "A senior person hit on a graduate student right there on my bed."
You seem to have brought some of your good weather with you. It's been unseasonably pleasant the past couple of days.

10/04/2006 8:31 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

what a great post =D
you travel so much!! am totally jealous....

10/04/2006 11:05 AM  
Blogger kundalini said...

great read, tr. more please.

10/04/2006 11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nicely written TR! bravo...and VB reminds me of DP3 :)))

10/04/2006 11:56 AM  
Blogger Arthur Quiller Couch said...

Most excellent, Herr Kerouac.

10/04/2006 4:01 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

thanks. that's the way it came, you know. wharf rat came up on the poodle while i was sitting there. strangely, i couldn't remember its name for almost a whole day.

thanks, and welcome! yes, now that i think of it i'm of the opinion that we do get less o2 on planes. (that's why i can't get any work done on them :-)

thankee! i had to go back and read that section again -- wasn't on purpose. about david lodge, last i read him was about 15 years ago, and the only thing i remember is something about wife-swapping. no, this conference wasn't *that* far out.

thanks, and you bet. i generally stay out of these happening circles, but this time they were brought right home to me, so to speak. and yeah, the weather's been awesome (except for when i landed). that's why i've been tootling around coolidge corner doing nothing :-)

thanks! i do get to travel a fair amount, but there's a difference between traveling on work and traveling on fun, and too much of it is of the former variety. BUT if plans work out, by this time next year i'd have visited a couple more *very* interesting places. cross your fingers for me!!

thanks! i should go back to dp3. as vb knows, for me that show is all about the sugaree.

ach, merci.

10/04/2006 6:51 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

woops, sorry i missed you!
meant to say -- thanks a lot, but you know, i only tells it as it is :-)

10/04/2006 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Ph said...

I love the pace and tone on this one.

10/04/2006 11:30 PM  
Blogger gaddeswarup said...

I was trying to find more about BT cotton and missed this so far. Very nice post; I enjoyed it as much I enjoyed another recent one "Standing Hidden..."

10/05/2006 4:03 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

thanks! on reflection, i do sense a certain phantasmagorical feel to it, so [hat tip].

thanks! (what's BT cotton? and why has it kept you so occupied?)

10/05/2006 8:48 PM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

You do know how to say it. Very nice indeed. And am glad you had a good presentation. Really loved the way you wove in the song.

10/06/2006 1:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I confess to not knowing too much blog etiquette, so am commenting on previous post... your fly story was cool.. "cornered", "framed" and "kamikaze" was excellent. A thousand words indeed.



10/06/2006 5:38 AM  
Blogger gaddeswarup said...

Sorry; I frequently go off topic hoping that somebody else may understand these things better and explain. I will write a bit about BT cotton in my blog. Meanwhile you may enjoy this:
Please feel free to delete this post.

10/06/2006 8:26 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

Ok. Fingers crossed.
But you have to post travelogues...

10/06/2006 4:54 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

thank you! i assure you the song is much nicer than how it came across :-)

you feel that way too? :-D
don't kill yourself over blog etiquette.

there's no such thing as off-topic around here. thanks much for the link -- very interesting!

would i let you down?

10/06/2006 8:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice post. the approach takes well to travel. did you get a chance to read my grand opening post from last month?
i put the blog back up.

10/06/2006 11:10 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...


i've been meaning to ask you about your blog -- it wasn't letting me in and for a while i suspected the beta blocker. anyway, all's well that ends well.

10/07/2006 5:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

buddhist stupor

10/07/2006 1:25 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

wasn't that a few posts ago?

10/07/2006 7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10/07/2006 10:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice, TR. Very Nice. But it sounds a bit, oh, I don't know.. sad (hmmm. not the right emotion. Bittersweet, maybe?).

Does that surprise you, that its got a mood, your piece?

- NS

10/12/2006 11:22 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

thanks. no, i don't find it that surprising. we do lots of moods around here. (why no !, btw?)

10/13/2006 1:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah! that exclamation mark. Everyone notices it (she says in puzzlement). I must've forgot. Your piece, you see. Made me feel all grown-up and moody (that word again!) like being in one of those elusive French movies with no plot and many subtitles. And of course no exclamation marks. Ever.

I particularly liked the grad student sliver of gossip, though the netanyahu exchange came a close second. btw, was I one of those admiring doctoral students who liked your work? I might've been, yerknow!


10/13/2006 7:24 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

never thought i'd stand accused of scripting one of those french movies :-D

i don't think you're guilty as accused. did you even attend either of my sessions? i thought you had better taste.

10/13/2006 8:36 PM  

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