Monday, September 29, 2003

Oh, yeah!

I've tweaked somewhat over the past couple of weeks, among other things, improving navigation between it and this journal - check it out over on the right. I'm still too lazy to figure out how to post this thing directly into my web site and kind of like the blogspot address.

I've also added some new content to the words section, primarily essays, including my review of It's A Wonderful Life that originally appeared in my zine, zuzu's petals. In short stories, a life in progress is the first chapter of the never-completed novelization of the ill-fated screenplay that drew me into the slams at the Nuyorican back in the day.
Still recovering from a long weekend...

-> My new favorite song: Harder to Breathe, Maroon 5. Also, I bought the Nappy Roots' new CD, Wooden Leather, and, after the first listen, it sounds like another winner.

-> Taylor's Teacher, Teacher was a lot of fun. A little unfocused and uneven in its tone but I think it stakes out interesting ground for him and has a lot of potential. Not as self-indulgent as some other one-person shows I've seen and has a couple of really powerful moments. He's got rights-of first-refusal on further commentary.

-> Kids and pictures are a tough combination. We went to Picture People yesterday to get Isaac and India's birthday pictures taken - she turns 1 on Saturday; Isaac, 3 on 10/24 - and between Isaac's reluctance to smile (must get that from me) and India's refusal to sit still, it was a crazy experience. Salomé and I jumping up and down behind the camera trying to get their attention, yelling and waving props and generally acting like fools. The things you do for your kids! Ended up with great pictures of Isaac and the two of them together but India's solo shots weren't so good.

-> When growth is the goal, change is inevitable. You can't have your cake and eat it, too. PSI needs to decide whether they have to shit, pee or just fart, and then do so or get off the pot. It might help for them to realize that their continued existence has little bearing on the future of poetry and focus on the one thing they can influence and nurture: the slam COMMUNITY.

-> Brooks Bollinger. Paging Brooks Bollinger. I mean, really. Why the hell not?

Friday, September 26, 2003

It's felt like an unusually long week and I'm tired as hell. Might have something to do with letting myself get dragged back onto the poetry_slam listserve yet again! Grrrrr...

Went to Urbana last night for Cristin's surprise tribute and send-off to Australia for her six-week trip. Hadn't been there in a while and it turned out to be a lot of fun. I lost count of how many of us read but we took over the open mic and each chose a poem of Cristin's to share - except for Orion who did his usual whacked-out Orion thing. I read Mother, my all-time favorite of Cristin's. Cristin was alternately blushing, laughing her ass off and hanging her head in shame as we covered everything from Hard Bargain to Funny Poetry Isn't Poetry? George McKibbens is a trip and Regie Cabico...well, Regie is Regie!

I was conflicted earlier in the day when I found out there was a Neruda tribute happening at the same time in midtown at the CUNY-Graduate Center for only $5! I kept flip-flopping on whether I'd ditch Urbana (especially since I had no interest in the features or the slam) to catch it. I stuck with Cristin in the end and was glad I did as I had a good time and bumped into Ed (who had the same Neruda conflict) and Eric. Eric and I bailed when the open mic ended and wandered over to the dive bar on 7th Street where I'd hung out with Phil West a couple of weeks ago. We killed off two pitchers of Magic Hat #9, plus a couple of mugs, and talked shit like we hadn't in a long time. It was particularly refreshing that the majority of our conversation had nothing to do with poetry or the scene in general.

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, Acentos had one of their best shows yet, both in terms of turnout (yay, Sarah Lawrence!) and content. Jorge Monterosa was quite impressive, delivering 16 tight, well-crafted poems - 15 of them on page - that had the audience in sheer rapture. The kid was good, plain and simple. After the show, the Acentos Cabal got together to talk and make some plans that I think are going to make this next year extremely exciting. I feel like I did back in the early days of a little bit louder, when it was all about developing and community and sincerity and making a difference. I like that feeling.

Going to catch Taylor's Teacher, Teacher performance tomorrow which will make this one of the fulllest weeks of poetry I've had in a long time. Throw in my trip to Oneonta from last week and I'm beat!

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Thought for the day:

Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.
-Frank Lloyd Wright
I have something of a reputation for being both stubborn and contentious.

While it's true that I will debate most anything with a passion - no matter how right or wrong I may be - just for the hell of it, I will only fight for the things I truly believe in. Contrary to popular belief, however, it is not impossible to change my mind on something I believe in, but it is most certainly a difficult, sometimes daunting task.

Rightfully so, I think.

If you truly believe in something, I believe you should be willing to fight for it. I would expect no less from anyone else and have no respect for anything less.

This isn't because I don't respect other people's opinions or think that I know everything or that I'm always right. It's because I hate wishy-washiness. I hate passive-aggressiveness. I hate indecision.

You may have to take me to the mat to get me on your side but, if you succeed, it will be because your own passion was strong enough to make me consider your take on things. Accomplish that and you not only win my respect, you gain a tenacious ally who will go to the mat for you.

Otherwise, if you come at me with faulty logic or disingenuous arguments, I will eat you alive. As my toughest nemesis once said about himself, "I am formidable and relentless."

Now THAT was some arrogant shit! And words to live by.

PS: The guestbook is working again.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Tonight is Acentos and the cluttered attic that is my brain has been toying with an idea that Rich Villar mentioned last month, a couple of weeks after their show with Louis Reyes Rivera.

When I heard they had a disappointing turnout for it - including my stupid hungover ass among the missing! - I was extremely surprised. Not even the scenesters made the short hike to the Bronx for what was, by all accounts, an amazing experience. At the following Acentos, Rich and I talked about it and some interesting ideas he was considering.

In a seemingly unrelated moment, while preparing for the Oneonta show last week, I was putting together a list of poetry resources for the audience and was dismayed to realize that I had nothing representing Latinos! Spent a while on Google looking for an equivalent to the Asian American Writer's Workshop or Cave Canem and came up empty.


All of this got me thinking about the significant gap that exists between the generation of poets that founded the Nuyorican Poets Café back in the '70s and my own generation of relatively unpolished but well-intentioned newcomers, echoing the concerns Rich had raised a few weeks earlier.

In my mind, the Café no longer represents what it did back in its early days, having morphed into a multi-cultural tourist attraction promoting starry-eyed wannabes with no real understanding or appreciation of what came before them, like some bizarre version of the American Idol auditions. Not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself but, reading Aloud and renting Piñero just isn't enough to call yourself a poet, much less a Nuyorican!

Rich and I, along with Fish and Oscar are going to brainstorm to figure out ways to address this problem. Oscar's already suggested convening a barbeque-summit which I think is a great idea! Stay tuned.

PS: During my search, I did come across an interesting magazine I'd never heard of before, US Latino Review, but I can't tell if they're still publishing as it doesn't seem to have been updated since last year and I can't find ANY information on the Hispanic Dialogue Press, its non-profit publisher. Going to try a find a copy at the bookstore today at lunch and see if there's any info in it.

Also, today I came across a pretty good list of writers at and links to relevant sites.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

From the Things I never thought I'd say file:

1. I like Rush Limbaugh.

Of course, I'm referring to the Rush Limbaugh currently appearing on ESPN's NFL Countdown and ONLY in that context! His input on the show - "Rush Challenge" - has been refreshing and provocative, forcing the regular commentators to dig a little deeper in their analysis and sometimes revealing their inherent biases as former players. What I like most is that he's obviously done his homework and speaks intelligently about the game, even when offering opinion over analysis, and his presence on the show is more substantial than spectacle. Certainly beats the weather bimbo Fox added to their broadcast a year or two.

Where I used to switch over to FOX or CBS at Noon when their broadcasts started, I now stay with ESPN to the start of the game because it stays fresh for the full two hours.

2. I hope the Patriots beat the Jets.

Sacrilege, though it is, I can't bear the thought of them bouncing back this week and Vinny Testaverde getting any more undeserved accolades. The guy's 9th on the all-time passing yardage list, a decent game or two away from Johnny Unitas?!?! WTF? He's a career has-been who would have been put out to pasture years ago if not for the admittedly amazing season he and the Jets had in '98. Unfortunately, that one season allowed him to linger and let his overachieving mediocrity seep into the entire team.

The saddest part about his lameness is that it could lead to Curtis Martin leaving the Jets in an undignified way. Defenses don't need to respect Vinny so they key in on Martin who doesn't have the kind of support up front he needs to make things happen anymore. Lamont Jordan's knocking on the door and Vinny's helping open it sooner than it should be.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

You are The Cap'n!

Some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some slit the throats of any man that stands between them and the mantle of power. You never met a man you couldn't eviscerate. Not that mindless violence is the only avenue open to you - but why take an avenue when you have complete freeway access? You are the definitive Man of Action. You are James Bond in a blousy shirt and drawstring-fly pants. Your swash was buckled long ago and you have never been so sure of anything in your life as in your ability to bend everyone to your will. You will call anyone out and cut off their head if they show any sign of taking you on or backing down. You cannot be saddled with tedious underlings, but if one of your lieutenants shows an overly developed sense of ambition he may find more suitable accommodations in Davy Jones' locker. That is, of course, IF you notice him. You tend to be self absorbed - a weakness that may keep you from seeing enemies where they are and imagining them where they are not.

What's Yer Inner Pirate?
brought to you by The Official Talk Like A Pirate Web Site. Arrrrr!

Friday, September 19, 2003

Just wanted to elaborate on a little something I touched on in the previous entry which was initially sparked by a discussion on Phil West's LiveJournal earlier this week: the question of emotion vs. polish or, a bit more esoterically, authentic vs. reflexive.

In the simpler of the two debates, emotion vs. polish, I typically lean towards preferring emotion. Polish - especially taken in the context of whom Phil was having the initial discussion with - is often used as a euphemism for "better," with the inherent implication that emotional work is less-polished and, as a result not as good.

Staying within those simplistic black-and-white parameters, I've often found the contrary, that work that was too polished lacked the necessary emotion to make an honest connection. Poetry, for me, is not simply about the craft. There needs to be some functionality in there, too. If the way you say what you say strikes me as more impressive than what you have to say, it's the page equivalent of a great performance of average material.

American Beauty is a great example of trite material taken up a notch by strong performances. Much of Saul Williams' work strikes me the same way. Patricia Smith, on the other hand, is a perfect example of polished emotion, making the connection without sacrificing the craft or letting it overshadow the content.

For me, 33-1/3, is pure emotion - written out of frustration back in late-1997 and revised more times than any other poem of mine - with just enough craft to make it viable. I have a love-hate thing with the poem, partly because I can't seem to escape it. It's one of my few inherently high-energy pieces and it definitely has an audience that appreciates what it says.

Ironically, despite my preference for emotion, the majority of my own work seems to lack it, at least on the performance side. In slam, I would draw my energy from the competition, channeling it into my performances. Nowadays, being far removed from the need to compete and even further removed from the anger that inspired and drove much of my earlier work, I find myself looking for new ways to present a poem on the stage. With most of it being more narrative than inflammatory, I seem to be drifting into storyteller territory, one eye on connecting with the audience, the other on connecting with the underlying metaphors in the poem. I look to Willie Perdomo for inspiration there, the way he can sit on a chair reading from his book and do things with his voice that knocks the shuck-and-jive antics of the average slam poet out of the water.

Perception is also key, too, as my using "schuck-and-jive" to describe the more performance-oriented antics of some poets suggests a conflicting bias with my supposed preference, and certainly describes how I feel whenever I pull out 33-1/3 at a show. Weird.

Side note: Patricia's new children's book is out - Janna and the Kings, and Willie's new book of poetry, Smoking Lovely, should be hitting shelves any second now.
Oneonta turned out to be a lot of fun. It was weird in the beginning as I realized about 20 minutes before the show started that it was my first solo college appearance and I was all alone! Other than Robb Thibault, who was busy getting things organized, I had no one there with me. The nerves were a'jangling!

They had a great turnout for their first show of the year - 180 people, the most ever! (Coincidentally, it was their 13th show overall!) After a brief open mic, I went up for a 30-minute set, dropping Reality, Manifesto, The Long Walk Home, Prodigal Son, The View From Airplanes and Other Leaps of Faith, Mozer, Betha and I, and Breathless. After the slam, Robb brought me back for one more piece so I went with the energy and did 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Minute (Post 9/11 Remix).

While the whole night went well, it was that last piece that got the best response, driving home a point I'd come to accept long ago. People appreciate the well-written narrative stuff but they love the high-energy, easy-to-grasp, pop culture stuff the most. Even when it's antagonistic and self-critical, like 33-1/3.

The trick is to be able to give them both, kind of like slipping the medicine in with the ice cream.

Something else interesting was the difference in the interaction when you've been invited by students versus faculty. The college shows the '98 Nuyorican team used to do - always sponsored by a collection of vibrant student groups - were high-energy affairs with after-parties full of alcohol-fueled debate and discussion and the slightest tinge of star-fucking mentality to it all. This time, there was a very cool - literally - feel to things where I felt like the adult at school on career day. The students that talked to me - beyond the ones already active on the college slam circuit - were almost annoyingly respectful, coming just short of calling me "Mr. Gonzalez."

After the show, I hung out with Robb and some of the faculty and had a good time - not to mention an early night - but the difference was glaring. Made me feel a little old, but not really in a bad way.

Slept in the next morning and finished reading Children of the Shaman before I hit the road back home, skipping a side trip to Cooperstown. Shaman's ending was a bit abrupt and rather brazenly sets up for a sequel, something that seems to be the norm in the fantasy genre. The drive home gave me a lot of time to think about my own project, fleshing out characters and backstory. There's a pretty standard formula to the fantasy-adventure genre but there's so much room to play within that formula.

Rydill's strong suit in Shaman is her characterization, so even when events slip from the fantastic to the unbelievable, she doesn't lose you because the characters are so strong. That ability to create an entire world and populate it with characters that you care about is what most appeals to me about the genre. There's still a couple of other books I want to read (currently: Cormyr, by Ed Greenwood and Jeff Grubb) before I actually start writing mine but the juices are definitely flowing.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Mr. Lawnge's remix of Queen's Flash Gordon Theme is playing on my Launch station as I start writing this. :-)

A busy week ahead as I'm taking two days off work to head up to SUNY-Oneonta for a feature on Wednesday night. Robb Thibault - Fargo, 1998 - runs the Student Union and invited me to open their slam season. Have a full 30-40 minutes so I'm looking forward to stretching my legs and doing some pieces I haven't done in awhile. Getting paid nicely, too, which is always a good thing!

Hung out with Phil West on Friday night, in town for some marketing shenanigans involving him dressed as a tomato that apparently looks more like an angry pumpkin. Pictures to come. Dinner at Holy Basil and drinks at a cool little dive bar on 7th Street that serves Magic Hat #9! It's funny the relationships I've maintained on the slam scene over the years, and those that have faded, for various reasons. Phil's not someone I'd have ever thought to be in touch with, this far removed from the height of my involvement in PSI. Once you move beyond the competition and fade into the background of the community at large, it takes more than being a fellow poet to connect. Had a good time talking about poetry and parenting and life in general. If I'd have known he was going to beat me in fantasy football this weekend (79-74), I'd have made him buy me a drink!

Speaking of football, the real thing, the Jets stunk it up again, scoring only 10 points even though Vinny had almost 400 yards passing, keeping alive the debate on whether it's Vinny's fault or offensive coordinator Paul Hackett's. Pennington saved Hackett's job last year but, if he can't adjust the gameplan for Vinny, this will be another lost season. That their running game has completely disappeared doesn't help things. I feel sorry for Herm Edwards, though I can't imagine his job is in any jeopardy at this point. You never know, though. Black coaches aren't usually given as much rope as white coaches are.

In other news, my research into the world of fantasy (writing, not sports) has led me to the delightful discovery of Jessica Rydill's Children of the Shaman. One of my favorite things in the world is to spend an hour or two in a bookstore in search of a writer I've never heard of, especially when I'm looking into a new genre. Matt Ruff's Fool on the Hill, Daniel Evan Weiss' The Roaches Have No King and Lawrence Block's When the Sacred Ginmill Closes were all random discoveries that still rank amongst my favorite books ever. (In Block's case, Ginmill was actually the second of his books I'd read but was much better than Eight Million Ways to Die which is the one I'd first stumbled upon.)

So far, a little more than halfway through it, Shaman is exactly what I was looking for: a strong fantasy novel, set in it's own world, grounded enough in reality to not be silly or derivative. Rydill has a strong sense of character development and the world she's created takes elements of our own reality and refashions them into an intriguing blend that both fascinates and provokes, exactly what I'm hoping to do with my own work.

Where she uses Judaism and old Europe as her foundation, I'm planning on using Taino myths and "New World" history for mine. The beauty of this is that it allows me to research Taino history for my own edification while providing fertile ground to create my own fantasy world. And for anyone that's wondering what happened to the comic books, it is less of a leap than one would think. The structure of most comic book stories - at least the ones I enjoy - are excellent models for concise storytelling, the poetry of fiction, if you will.

That's all I'll say for now. Don't want to jinx myself.

Finally, today's NY Times has an article about the surprising turn of events that has found Stephen King being awarded the National Book Awards annual medal for distinguished contribution to American letters! Harold Bloom is in rare form with the expected hateration. Kudos, Mr. King. Your work was an early and frequent inspiration for me - and millions of others, I'd willingly bet - and I thank you for it.

As I finish, Tito Puente's Take Five is playing. Today's going to be a good one.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

On my generation's equivalent of Pearl Harbor Day, another tragedy weighs equally heavy in my thoughts. It's been 7 years since Tupac Amaru Shakur's murder and, sadly, not much seems to have changed.

Not in hip-hop, or the world in general, for that matter.

We're no more or less safe today than we were on February 26, 1993 or April 19, 1995 or September 8, 1996 or March 9, 1997 or September 11, 2001.

Hopefully, we're a little more aware of our place in the world and that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction and that every cause has an effect and that there is rarely such thing as truly innocent bystanders. Our lives today are the result of our [in]decisions yesterday and the day before that, etc, etc, ad naseum.

None of us are innocent bystanders. At best, we might claim feeling helpless and be honest about that feeling being rooted in complacency.

Anyway, I'm feeling a little melancholy and disconnected today and I dug up something I originally wrote for my zine, zuzu's petals, back in the fall of 1996.

Tupac Amaru Shakur

Keep Your Head Up...

Friday, September 13th, 1996, I was at the Back to School Jam at the Nassau Coliseum. It was halfway into Nas' set when the music stopped. There was an uncomfortable moment that always comes at a Hip-Hop concert during pauses in the music. Seconds passed before, Hot 97's Ed Lover (formerly of Yo! MTV Raps) stepped out onto the stage. He solemnly quieted the cheers and yells. He had an announcement. At 7:03pm EST, Tupac Amaru Shakur had succumbed to the injuries sustained in a shooting the previous Sunday in Las Vegas, NV.

Tupac was dead.

He requested a moment of silence that all, except for a handful of idiots that can be found in any crowd, respected. My head was bowed. No matter your feelings for the man, he deserved that much. With a thank you, Ed Lover left the stage and the show went on.

Something was different, though; something, an almost palpable something in the air had changed. The strangest feeling came over me there, surrounded by the crowd, momentarily lost in their own thoughts. It was a sort of numbness, a vague sense of loss, a collective sense of mourning. In the middle of that crowd, I felt alone and exposed...

Although I had never met Tupac Shakur, he had affected me through his music, his films and his personality. Brenda's Having a Baby was the first time I can remember being aware of Tupac. The video was on either BET or MTV, I forget which. The song was haunting; from the honest, gritty lyrics to the sorrowful chorus, Tupac had grabbed my attention.

Underneath the Thug Life exterior was the heart and soul of a poet. His poems were the often harsh tales of the life of a young black man searching for the answers. If he ventured into sensationalism, it was always with one foot in reality. He was a storyteller, expressing the fears, hopes and dreams of a generation without a voice. A generation that wasn't represented by Kurt Cobain and friends.

Isn't it interesting that the suicide of a drug-addicted, white alterna-rocker was worthy of martyrdom and the media-awarded status of a generational icon while Tupac's murder has been seen as, among other things, deserved?

Hip-Hop lost one of its greatest talents. It's a shame that we'll never find out what else he had to offer the world. R.I.P.

[Originally published in zuzu's petals, Autumn 1996]

So Many Tears
Tupac Amaru Shakur

I shall fear no man, but God
though I walk through tha valley of death
I shed so many tears
Please God walk with me...

back in Elementary, I thrived on misery
left me alone I grew up amongst a dying breed
as my mind couldn't find a place ta rest
until I got that Thug Life Planted on my chest
tell me can ya feel me ?
I'm not livin' in tha Past, Ya wanna last
Be tha first ta blast, remember Kato
no longer with us he's deceased
call on tha sirens, I seen him murdered in tha streets
now rest in peace
Is there heaven for a 'G' ?
remember me, so many homies in tha cemetary
shed so many tears


I suffer through tha years
and shed so many tears
I lost so many peers, shed so many tears

Now that i'm strugglin' in this business
by any means, label me greedy gettin' green
but seldom seen
and f**k tha world cuz i'm cursed
I'm havin' visions of leavin' here in a hearse
God can ya feel me ?
take me away from all tha pressure and all tha pain
show me some happiness again
i'm goin' blind
I spend my time in this cell, ain't livin' well
I know my destiny is hell, where did I fail ?
my life is in denial
and when I Die, baptised in Eternal Fire
shed so many tears...


I suffer through tha years
and shed so many tears
I lost so many peers, shed so many tears

Now i'm lost and i'm weary
so many tears, i'm suicidal, so don't stand near me
my every move is a complicated step
ta bring me closer
to embrace an early death now there's nothing left
there was no mercy on tha streets
I couldn't rest
I'm barely standing, bout to go to pieces, screaming peace
and though my soul was deleted, I couldn't see it
I had my mind full of demons tryin' ta break free
they planted seeds and they hatched sparking tha flame
in my brain like a match, such a dirty game
no memories, just misery
painting a picture of my enemies killing me in my sleep
will I survive till' tha morning ta see tha sun
please lord forgive me for my sins
cause here I come...


I suffer through tha years
and shed so many tears
I lost so many peers, shed so many tears

Lord knows i've tried, been a witness ta homicide
drive-bys takin' lives, little kids die
wonder why as I walk by
Broken hearted as I glance at tha chalk line, gettin' high
this ain't tha life for me
I wanna change
but ain't no future right for me
i'm stuck in tha game
i'm trapped inside a maze
see this Tanqueray influenced me ta gettin crazy
disillusioned lately
i've been really wanting babies
so I could see a part of me that wasn't always shady
don't trust my lady
cause she's a product of this poison, i'm hearin' noises
think she's f**kin' with my boys, can't take no more
i'm fallin' to tha floor
beggin' for tha Lord ta let me in Heavens door
I shed so many tears...


I lost so many peers
and shed so many tears
I lost so many peers, shed so many tears

I suffered through tha years and shed so many tears

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Polls, for the most part, can be twisted to say whatever the poller wants, but I'll take some small glimmer of hope from this one:

Bush Rating At 2-Year Low
Wed Sep 10,10:24 AM ET
By Joseph Guinto And Sean Higgins

All three of the Presidential Leadership Index's components fell in September.

-Bush's presidential favorability rating dropped 2.4 points to 54.0.
-His job approval rating dived 5.8 points, or 10.1%, to 51.9.
-His leadership rating dipped 3.8 points to 55.9.

The favorability and leadership ratings, like the overall index, are post-9-11 lows for Bush.

The job approval rating is the worst of his presidency.

Yahoo! News

The question is, is this too little, too late?

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

It's rant time. The whole home ownership aspect of the "American Dream" escapes me.

A couple of years ago, four or five months after Isaac was born, the combination of frustration over being unable to find a decent apartment to rent and the lure of owning our own place, led us to look into buying a condo. Salomé had not returned to work yet so we applied for a mortgage based only on my income and were surprised by how much they felt we could afford. In the end, the whole process nearly drove me crazy, literally, as the road was filled with so many compromises and we backed out, renting a shitty little apartment instead and, six months later, headed south for Virginia.

It's not the desire to own your home versus renting that I don't get, but the at any cost mentality that people succumb to in order to quench that desire. A lot of it is simply societal brainwashing, no different from the willingness to live above your means on credit or the blanket notion that private schooling is better than public (I'm quite pissed about the voucher amendment passing through the House).

There's a not-so-subtle message in American culture that equates owning a home with success. And don't forget, interest rates are the lowest they've been since...blah, blah, blah!

One of the biggest issues I have with the "ownership is better" logic is the financial argument, that you're better off putting your money into your own home than into someone else's pocket. Building equity. The structure of the argument itself is biased, though, clouding the big picture. Yes, in some cases, you are much better off putting your hard-earned money towards your own home. Those cases include people with stable jobs, that are not essentially living month to month, have at least a six-month reserve in the bank for emergencies and are in a position to benefit from the services their property taxes fund. That's a rather limited group these days thanks to continuing job cuts, an unstable economy and record levels of personal debt.

Also, just because someone can theoretically afford the monthly payment doesn't mean they should own a house because it doesn't take into account the difference between calling the super to fix a leaky ceiling and having to do it/pay for it themselves. Never mind a collapsed roof or even the little nickel-and-dime things like paying for your own utilities, sewage and garbage pickup or mowing the lawn and shoveling the snow.

(Finance 101: The fuzzy math of mortgages and what you can afford hinges on the crazy notion that up to 38% of your gross monthly income can go towards debt, including your mortgage payment. That's gross income, as in before taxes, before insurance, before your 401(k). In other words, if you make $120,000/year (which I was not!), that's $10,000/month of which $3800 can go towards your house, car, credit cards, etc. Not too bad, right? Actually, yes, it IS bad. At that income level, with standard deductions and a few dollars in your 401(k), you could squeeze yourself into the 25% tax bracket, so that $10,000/month is actually $7500/month. Suddenly, that $3800 represents 51% of your monthly income, a huge chunk of change to throw towards debt! Now subtract FICA, state taxes and whatever you pay for health benefits, and you're easily looking at well over 60% of your net monthly income going to debt. And this is on a $120,000/yr income, a pretty good living by most standards.)

The tax issue is another sticky subject. Here in New York, it's a valid argument, as the cost of housing is so ridiculously high, the interest you pay the first five or so years will almost always take you above the standard deduction and get you the tax break so often claimed as one of the major benefits of ownership. If, however, you live in an area where housing is mostly under the $150,000 range, you're likely getting little to no tax break while taking it on the chin everywhere else.

Of course, taxes are the one thing you have no control over and, if you think 5-8% rent increases are annoying, imagine how homeowners that got hit with an 18.5% property tax increase felt last year. No deductions available there!

An example: young couple with a new car payment, some school loans and a few credit cards, endures four-hour round trip commutes from deep in Jersey or the Poconos. They pay less in taxes and get more house for their money, but spend a significant chunk of their workday in a car or bus commuting into Manhattan because there's no comparable jobs or salaries where they live. Not to mention the cost of commuting that often counters any tax savings and, psychologically, lowers their overall quality of life. Further, lower taxes generally means an underfunded school system that's not ready for the influx of children that follows five years down the road which leads to a rise in property taxes right around the same time the tax deductions for the interest on their mortgage becomes less significant or completely disappears.

There's a commercial out right now, I forget for what company, with this guy talking about all of the things he owns - his new house, his new car, etc - and at the end he says, "I'm up to my eyeballs in debt. Please help!" That reminds me of several friends and even more aquaintances who are bending over backwards, making all kinds of sacrifices, financial and otherwise, to afford owning their own homes. Most of them think it's worth it, though, and I guess that's what's important.

Not my cup of tea, though.

Monday, September 8, 2003

Homer driving
"Stupid risks make life worth living."

You love adventure. You're quite spontaneous, and will do anything for a little thrill. You're certainly not boring.

However, sometimes you get a bit carried away, and could wind up doing something incredibly stupid and die. Tone it down a bit.

Which Advice Quote said by Homer Simpson are You?
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Sunday, September 7, 2003

The Buffalo Bills have been my second favorite NFL team ever since Jim Kelly came over from the USFL's Houston Gamblers in 1986, eventually leading them to four consecutive heartbreaking Super Bowls in the early 90's. WIth the Jets sucking for much of that time - from the latter years of the Joe Walton era through the horrible Rich Kotite fiasco - Buffalo was often my only chance to cheer for a playoff team I actually liked. In '91, when they lost the Super Bowl in the final seconds to the Giants, wide right, I was devastated, especially since for a split second or two, I thought Norwood's kick was good!

With the Jets having played on Thursday, I got to watch the Bills in action today against the despised Patriots (I think I hate them more than the Dolphins now, largely because of the punk-ass Mr. HC of the NEP, Bill Belichick) and was thrilled at the spanking they were delivering before CBS threw in the towel and cut to the Dolphins game. A little annoying but almost worth seeing the stunned looks on the Dolphins' faces after losing a shocker to the fledgling Texans.

There's something about football that no other sport really delivers. There's something visceral and interactive about watching a game, even on TV. Nothing comes close to a Monday Night Football game, in a bar with friends and the home team on fire, never mind actually being there live for the drama. Even the National Anthem seems a bit more impressive at a football game. Baseball is the most passive of spectator sports, almost like watching a game of chess. Basketball has a lot of action but often it's too much like a game of tennis - back and forth, back and forth - and isn't really that exciting until the playoffs. Hockey, though I've grown to respect the game over the years, will never be more than a bunch of goons on skates looking for a chance to sucker punch someone. Football, though, completely embodies that spirit of "any given Sunday." You can't take anything for granted in football. The fact that it's once a week also gives it a special feeling of an event throughout the season, not just at playoff time. Unlike the other sports, football's grand finale is often the least exciting game of the year.

That also makes fantasy football more exciting as the weekly format means you can better follow your players and every game counts. The challenge of picking the right players, a tricky combination of so-called studs and sleepers, and matching wits against equally savvy fans is unmatched in the other sports because of that. You can weather a few weeks' slump in baseball's 22-25 week season but in football, an unproductive superstar can kill you in just two weeks. I've got four teams this year, two that I really focus on, and both have gotten off to solid starts so far. In my Yahoo! league, a collection of random slam poets and friends from other areas of my life, I'm expecting a strong opening week win as my opponent has assembled a team of mostly Raiders, his favorite team, and I'm expecting the Titans to dominate them tonight. Of course, I'm partially biased as a Jets fan, looking forward to a collapse on the left coast as Gannon, Rice, Brown and Garner finally succumb to Father Time.

Practicing my new chant: "B-I-L-L-S!!!" (You know Lawyer Milloy is loving life right now.)

SIDE NOTE: I haven't been a Yankee fan for 20 years now but for some reason I still feel a little dirty enjoying the possibility of the Red Sox finally knocking them off their perch. Nevertheless, I can't wait for them to do it, Steinbrenner to lose his mind, fire the incredibly smug Torre and trade Giambi to the KC Royals!

Friday, September 5, 2003

Damn! Blogger's lost a post for the first time. Grrrr...

Quick shots:

* It's gonna be a loooooooooong season out at the Meadowlands. The Jets looked terrible last night with Vinny at the helm. Thank goodness for FANTASY football! :-(

* Watched last night's debate and didn't hear anything that changed my mind all that much. Dean is ripe for Saturday Night Live mockery, with that stiff neck and habit of talking out of one side of his mouth. Darryl Hammond should be able to nail him nicely. (Side note: An interesting analysis of the debate at Slate, includes a reference to Dean's humourous Bushism when he referred to Latin America as a hemisphere!) Mosley-Braun reminds me of someone's grandmother, sweet and well-intentioned, but utterly out of her league in the race for President. Despite what NOW thinks, the fact that she's the only woman in the race does not make her a legitimate candidate. In the end, Kucinich still comes across as the only one representing anything more than "Anyone but Bush." I did miss Sharpton's input, though. He always makes these debates more interesting.

* The seminar earlier this week went relatively well. Particularly enjoyed the hors d'ouevres, most notably the raw oysters w/tomato sherbert! Had fun chatting with my old boss, tipsy from the generous drinks and a little giddy from the feeling "not my job anymore" gives you. It was kind of awkward watching the new boss wander around, not really sure what she should be doing. I think the boat's starting to take on more water than she can bail and will sink shortly. Sad.

* Ed Greenwood writes a solid story with a great flair for describing combat. I enjoyed his story the most in Realms of Shadow, and picked up his The Vacant Throne, a non-D&D-based, D&D-style adventure. I'm about 50 pages in and enjoying it immensely. One thing I can't stand about this genre, though, is the names. Don't know if they're based on some Old World dialect or just made up but I find it distracting and it makes it hard to keep track of the various characters and places. I'm going the anachronistic route with the stuff I'm planning on. Easier to follow and more fun.

You're William Burroughs, the hard man of hip! You'rer controversial and intent upon revolution!

William Burroughs
The hard man of hip! You're controversial and intent upon revolution!

What classically cool poet or writer are you?
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My inner child is sixteen years old todayMy inner child is sixteen years old!
Life's not fair! It's never been fair, but while adults might just accept that, I know something's gotta change. And it's gonna change, just as soon as I become an adult and get some power of my own.

How Old is Your Inner Child?
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Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Oh, yeah. You want to see funny? Check this out:

Of course, it's not really him but, it should be!

Taking a breather from another whirlwind day at work that will conclude with the aforementioned seminar with the greedy but nervous (don't believe anyone that tells you the stock market has recovered) and me in a suit...

D&D at it's CRPG best!Icewind Dale II is the shit! I'm not a big computer gamer - preferring the portability of my GameBoy Advance - but this one has me completely hooked. COMPLETELY! I finally made it through the second stage of the game last night, wresting control of a critical bridge from a ferocious assortment of baddies that would've allowed the evil horde to overtake Targos. Or something like that. The game's got a solid storyline but it's the strategy of the battles that's sunk into my brain. I've even had dreams about different plans of attack!

The battle for the bridge was intense - the game has an amazing soundtrack that really heightens the tension in combat - and it took my half-Elf Bard (my favorite character) sacrificing himself to pull it off. At the beginning of the battle, I had him turn invisible and sneak his way on to the bridge, surprising the two ogres charged with its destruction ("if we can't have it, no one can!") and putting them to sleep. Unfortunately, the wizard leader killed him before the rest of my party could get past the first line of defenses. I toughed out the battle instead of restarting, hoping that a Raise Dead spell would bring my Bard back w/o the apparent repercussions my human Sorcerer had to deal with from his earlier Resurrection. The Sorcerer, for some reason, is now unable to cast spells, making him a glorified crossbow artist that can't take a punch! In the end, after I successfully routed the rest of the bad guys, the party backtracked to the cleric on the other side of the mountain for some healing. After she raised my Bard, I made sure he was able to cast his spells and he was A-OK!

In my mind, the entire group gave him a big hug for his valiant sacrifice and they all danced and drank wine and made merry. I'm not sure but I think someone might've gotten lucky, too! You dirty little dwarf!

This D&D revival is totally taking over the fun side of my brain now, leaving just enough room for my regular comic books and fantasy football. Poetry is sitting in the corner pouting, complaining I led it on, thinking we'd get back together again. I may throw it a shot here and there but I think our time has passed.

In related news, I just finished reading the anthology Realms of Shadow, and have that old feeling I used to get in high school when I was into genre horror and mystery and believed I could write better than most of what I was reading.

Look out R.A. Salvatore. I'm coming for you. :-)

Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Last week came and went and I feel like I didn't get nearly enough done, at work or at home.

With the new boss operating at half-speed - she's asked me to slow down three different times while explaining aspects of her job that got dumped on my desk in the transition - work feels like it's ground to a screeching halt. I think she's in way over her head as she's floundering already and hasn't even seen half of what she's responsible for! They really screwed us with the botched transition and I'm concerned it's going to change this from a job I actually enjoy to one I tolerate for the paycheck. That would be bad.

I've never gone through a transition that involved my immediate boss as I've generally been the one leaving or, the two times I've had a boss leave - both under less-than-voluntary circumstances - I left with them out of loyalty and/or disgust with the process. This time, though there's nothing particularly negative about the change, I can't help but feel this odd sense of...oddness

The new boss seems nice enough, as a person, just completely out of her league running a marketing department. She's more of a manager and delegator, which is a total 180 from what we're used to, and doesn't multi-task well at all. She actually dislikes the creative elements of the job, preferring the detail work, like budgets and stuff. A double-edged sword there as it likely means I'll get to write even more copy than I do now but, the downside is that it I'll have to write that copy on top of the less-interesting stuff I already have to do. Also, she's not very techno-savvy, with a limited range of software experience and the apparent inability to transfer her exisiting skills. But hey, she's got thirty years experience, used to be a publisher, and she came cheap! Ah, corporate America.

Anyway, I now have to dig out a suit as my presence is required at a seminar we're doing tomorrow night, part of this big program we're running for Wachovia and it means I'll have to hobknob with a bunch of money-eyed stock brokers scamming free drinks and a new angle to make even more money. The new boss will be there and I can only imagine how she'll respond. She's got an extensive sales background (though ZERO marketing experience?!?!?!) so maybe she'll be more in her element there?

Reluctantly keeping one eye on my updates... :-(