Heron’s sister and her friend came over this weekend and rearranged our house as a wedding gift. They put my books all around the house, and it provided a great opportunity to look at some of them I haven’t paid attention to in a while. So I decided to put together a list of my favorite book covers I currently have in my house. Now, I didn’t include art books, because I thought that would be unfair, and some of my books I gave away. But these are the books I find myself just admiring for the cover sometimes long after I had finished it.
So earlier, I was walking my dog down Barrington, and the sky was oh-so blue; the flowers were blooming; and the traffic was slowly meandering towards the 405. I HAD been at work all day, and the spring air was thrilling — almost like something you would read out of some grocery-store novel to enliven the jaded from winter-solstice blues. I was training Hendrix, my dog, and I was thinking about something I saw earlier on Facebook: Anger is a choice.
That’s when I noticed a truck barreling down behind a car on the way towards Santa Monica. The truck blew past the car trying to turn left, and as the truck was passing, the guy stuck his finger out the window and flipped the car the bird. And it wasn’t just a regular old middle finger; it was the Washington Monument of Fuck Yous — if you know what I mean.
Los Angeles, I have never seen a city so free with their middle fingers. The other day on my way to work, I was driving towards Westwood, when a white Bronco came out of nowhere, swerving in and out of lanes, and for whatever reason, the Bronco starting flipping me the bird — as if I had just cut her off. I couldn’t figure out what this person’s problem was because we were stuck at a red light and nobody was moving. It just struck me very strangely — don’t Angelenos know that the middle finger should only be used in the most extreme offensive? Only in times of extreme offense like somebody kicked your dog or called your wife a bitch.
So why is it that Angelenos use the middle finger so freely?
Because Los Angeles is so large and people are moving so fast, I have a feeling most casual users of the middle finger have never experienced this gesture gone wrong. A driver will flip the bird, and there will be no time for retaliation. Well, I, unfortunately, have experienced the wrong side of the middle finger.
Back in high school, my buddies — Czar and C-Mac — were driving up to Riverside Park — an amusement park in Springfield, Massachusetts, now called Six Flags — in my Subaru Wagon. I was driving, and we were rushing to get there. We wanted to have the whole day at the park to make the crazy admission fee worth it. So I was pissed to find this guy in a SUV, driving 65 m.p.h. in the left lane.
I passed the SUV on the right and then pulled back over to the left lane, slowing down just enough so he could see me. I stared back at him through my mirror, and I saw the man’s face; I saw his wife; I saw the New Hampshire license plate; and I saw his kid in the back seat. Without any hesitation, I showed him my middle finger so proudly you would have that I had been waiting my entire life to tell someone they drive like an asshole.
Big mistake. I drove a little bit faster, and then all of a sudden, a red truck pulled up out of no where, and they flew right behind me. They were right on my bumper, and I thought they were going to hit me. I looked in my rearview mirror, and there were two guys, maybe about 23, with their shirts off, a small confederate flag draped over their mirror, and they were demanding I pull over.
My buddies didn’t say a word; they just looked at me to see what I was going to do. I didn’t know what I was going to do though. So I just pretended like I didn’t see them. I stared straight ahead, thinking they would go away.
But they didn’t stop. They drove up to the side of our car, and they were yelling at us, calling me a pussy and telling me to pull to the side of the road. Well, I wasn’t stupid; I wasn’t about to pull to the side of the road in the middle of Wester Massachusetts. Remember, I was 17–years old; I basically just got my license. Best I can figure it, these were the older sons of the guy in the truck — or maybe even brothers — and they were exacting revenge.
I thought it was going to get real bad when they pulled up in front of my Subaru and started slamming on the brakes. Luckily I stayed calm and just avoided their truck. It must have went on like this for over 15 minutes, until they gave up and moved on.
They sure scared the shit out of me, and I learned that I would make sure if I was going to use the middle finger, then I should use it for something worth fighting about.
Las Vegas was my honeymoon — a lune de miel — except it wasn’t. Unfortunately, Heron and I didn’t leave for Europe or Cambodia immediately after our wedding, and we went back to work. I was exhausted after the wedding — we sure smoked it to the filter — and I was still sore from our family football game at the beach (my best man did elbow me, accidentally, in the face). And on the way to Vegas, driving through the Mojave Dessert, I was married and young and alive. It was exhilarating, and it was my first time to Vegas. Before the trip, I balked at the thought of the Sin City; the image of men and women popping quarters into slot machines depressed me almost as much as that dog commercial with Sarah McLaughlin. But I decided to give it a shot, and what I found was I absolutely loved Vegas. Let me explain.
5. The Beatles’ Love
If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know I’m a huge Beatles fan — like most of the world. Ever since I heard there was a show in Vegas built around the Beatles’ music, I’ve almost wanted to go to the city in the middle of the desert just for that. Well, Heron and I stayed at The Mirage, and we splurged and bought some tickets. Well, it was a great show, and there was a moment during “Within and Without you” where a large tarp was flowing over the crowd, and it became clear that the director was trying to realize a deep spiritual understanding, a global consciousness, a Jungian harmony of epic proportions, that I understood how special this show was; it was something more than just a dance or performance; it tried to express the underlying themes of my favorite albums.
Well, people who go to Vegas always talk about the buffets. And I’m not really the biggest fan of buffets; all that food just sitting there, rotting and wasting away in the neon lights and glassed by sneeze bars. So in an attempt to try something new, Heronand I went for it, and we ate the buffet at The Mirage. It was amazing. I ate eggs Benedict, sushi, crab legs, barbeque, pho, wonton; basically I feel like I tasted a little bit of the world. Surprisingly, the food was fresh, and the dessert bar was one of the most unreal displays of gluttony I have ever seen. It was nice to let go after a few weeks of a crazy wedding diet.
3. Opulence, vainglorious, grandiosity, absurd swagger
Honestly, before I went to Vegas, I thought it was just a soul-sucking world where people threw money around like they were making it rain in a strip club; I thought that it was a stain on the country so obsessed with all that was anti-soul, anti-knowledge, anti-enlightenment. Ah, I was so serious. But when I arrived in Vegas, I just started to laugh. All of the opulence and mosaics and sculptures, well, it seemed like a joke. Instead of over thinking the superficiality of Vegas, I just kind of became a part of the joke, the theme, the grand gestures that signified nothing. I let loose and laughed at the computerized murals of Michelangelo. I laughed at the vainglorious attempt to bring joy to the adult world. And I wondered, what the hell would future generations think of this place? Would they call Caesar’s Palace a monument? Would they see beauty in our vanity?
What surprised me — and sort of scared Heron — was how much I loved blackjack. I sucked at blackjack, but I started to read about the game and when to bet. So at one point I was down 60 bucks, and I started to play the game differently. I ended up winning 10 bucks, but I started to enjoy the chances, the calculated risk. And then I started applying these lessons to economics. I began to wonder if the stock market was like gambling. The house always wins in blackjack, but does the house always win in stocks and investment? I’m starting to see myself as more of a businessman, strangely, and somehow blackjack just encouraged a deep hunger of mine — an almost need to put my chips on the table and succeed.
1. Vegas is a science-fiction novel
Of course, Hunter S. Thompson pointed out the absurdity of the city in Fear and Loathing, but I feel like the appeal of Vegas is deeper than drugs and the search for the American Dream. It’s a place that Vonnegut would have imagined for one of his characters; it’s a place where time and location exist in its own world; and it’s absurdity runs so deep that the week before we showed up, a huge gun battle happened on the streets. Think about it: you can head to the Venetian and see Gondolas; you can see a pyramid next to the Eiffel Tower; and no one seems to pay attention to time — as if the city existed outside of any Earthly moment. It’s a place so unique in its wonder and nonsense that it seems to make perfect sense for the setting of a science-fiction novel. And that awesome strangeness is fascinating.
Ever since I started working at my new job in public relations, I haven’t published anything new in the LA Weekly or the OC Weekly. In fact, I haven’t published any form of journalism since I was married. Honestly, starting a new job, planning a ceremony, writing a blog and a memoir have all sort of over taken over my life. Though I have been working on a larger piece for the LA Weekly book section, my interview with Amelia Gray was the first piece I had published in a bit.
And it felt great, because I was able to speak to an amazing writer and discuss with someone who is infinitely more successful than me. That’s always inspiring, because it reminds me that they were once where I am. And it’s a struggle; it’s a fight; it’s a ton of hard work to go to a place where Amelia Gray is currently standing: a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist. Wow, could you even imagine that? Well, check out the interview to see what it must feel like.
Last week I posted “The Marriage Blog: I put a ring on it,” and to date it’s my most successful blog post. I credit my beautiful wife for being such a great model. And today, I was going to write a post on my first trip to Las Vegas — which I’m still planning on for later this week — but my friend, fellow writer, and former colleague, Tania Cepero Lopez, helped me realize that I wasn’t finished with “The Marriage Blog.” I still had ideas I was leaving on the table, so I decided to push myself further.
Tania is a professor at Florida International University, and she teaches writing. If I dare, then I might also call her a rhetorician — a scholar. She is interested in the way we communicate, and she was particularly drawn to my post because of my questions posed on the way social media will help us remember. Check out her piece here: The Rhetorical Writer. In her post, Tania writes:
[Joe] identifies a problem: the way we remember is changing because our memory artifacts are changing. He’s concerned by this change and feels like it needs further attention, further exploration. Whether this change is good or bad is another story, a question he has not explored yet.
In a sense, Tania did me a huge favor; she analyzed my thoughts, broke down my writing, and, in a very admirable way, showed me where I stopped, where I could keep going, where my mind was wandering. If it wasn’t for her post, then I would have just moved on.
So now I must confront the question: Are these new ways of recording our lives — Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Google+, etc — good or bad? How are these social platforms changing the way we remember, and is it changing the way we, then, perceive our world? Woah, I just got wicked nerdy…lol.
Let me put it this way: On my wedding day, I knew I was going to have a gigantic challenge — staying in the moment. One of the hardest aspects of my life is staying in the present, not future tripping. On that day I knew I had to be aware of my world, be aware of the first time I kissed Heron as my wife, be able to smell the flowers as my cousin tossed them onto the floor, be able to feel how cold Heron’s skin was as we stood outside taking pictures in the freezing cold, be able to hear the guitar player strumming the melody of “Here Comes the Sun” as I walk back down the aisle. And I tried my hardest to capture those small details, those incredible small features of our world, and ingrain them into my memory so deeply that my vision of the past would be fuller.
That’s what I really want, and maybe what most of us want, is a full vision of who we were, once were, where we once were, in order to understand who we are now and in the future.
Now back to the original question: Are these social-media platforms good or bad? Well, the answer is obvious; it’s good. Tania points out that a result of being so connected is a faster exchange of ideas — in turn a growth in innovation. That’s an awesome point. Our blog posts are a microcosm of that effect.
So now I’m going to branch off from her idea a bit. All these social-media platforms are incredible for, yes, the freaking human being, because it expands our vision of the world; it expands the angles from which we can remember; it grows the perspective from which we can see.
Let me explain, dear reader. (Have I told you how much I love that you’re reading my blog?) Take a look at some of the pictures below. When I was dancing with Heron during our first dance, I was telling her, “Don’t look at anyone else. Look at me. No one else is here. This is our moment. Let’s be in the moment together.” Unfortunately, what I told Heron was a lie; we couldn’t be fully in the moment. No matter how hard we tried.
And anyway our moment, staring at each other, was only a small part of the larger one — our family, the music, the sun setting over the marsh in the background, the position of the DJ, the crowd watching from behind. Because all our friends were there with their phones, recording the whole event, Heron and I now have a much fuller vision of our day. I can almost pop into different perspectives to see how the world, our world, looked for someone else. Then I blend it all together.
But wait, then what the hell happens to my memory? Does it become a collection of all of our memories? A collective memory? Social media as a collective memory?
Well, that’s a nice thought, but even with social media, we can’t capture all the stories — though it’s nice to think we can try. And at the most fundamental level, social media is giving us a fuller vision of our lives, a more advanced engine to remember our loved ones in ways previous generations never thought possible.