I’ve seen it all…

Well, it’s Ninth and Hennepin

All the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes

And the moon’s teeth marks are on the sky

Like a tarp thrown all over this

And the broken umbrellas like dead birds

And the steam comes out of the grill like the whole goddamn town’s ready to blow

And the bricks are all scarred with jailhouse tattoos

And everyone is behaving like dogs

And the horses are coming down Violin Road and Dutch is dead on his feet

And all the rooms they smell like diesel

And you take on the dreams of the ones who have slept here

And I’m lost in the window, and I hide in the stairway

And I hang in the curtain, and I sleep in your hat

And no one brings anything small into a bar around here

They all started out with bad directions

And the girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear

One for every year he’s away, she said

Such a crumbling beauty

Ah, there’s nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won’t fix

She has that razor sadness that only gets worse

With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by

And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet

Till you’re full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin

And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen

And I’ve seen it all

I’ve seen it all through the yellow windows of the evening train

– Tom Waits, “9th & Hennepin,” one of my favorite poems, which came to mind today when I crossed 9th Street, while driving down Hennepin, in downtown Minneapolis.

To be pursued but never attained

…until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned…until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation…until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes…until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race…until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.

– Halie Selassie, in an address to the United Nations, 1963.

I thought we could all use the reminder.

Medicine, Magic, and Art

It’s a turn-around jump shot
it’s everybody jump start
it’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts
medicine is magical and magical is art
think of the Boy in the Bubble
and the baby with the baboon heart.

– Paul Simon, “The Boy in the Bubble” Graceland

The Default Setting

The world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing. I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish.

– David Foster Wallace, This is Water (pdf)

Just reading that you can imagine a little bit of how hard it must have been for Wallace to operate day in and day out with an awareness of the world this raw and difficult and intimate. I never met him, but miss this man sooooooo much.

The American Fate

yet there is no avoiding time, the sea of time, the sea of memory and forgetfulness, the years of promise, gone and unrecoverable, of the land almost allowed to claim its better destiny, only to have the claim jumped by evildoers known all too well, and taken instead and held hostage to the future we must live in now forever. May we trust that this blessed ship is bound for some better shore…where the American fate, mercifully, failed to transpire…

– Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Men of Action

All “direct” persons and men of action are active just because they are stupid and limited. How explain that? I will tell you: in consequence of their limitation they take immediate and secondary causes for primary ones, and in that way persuade themselves more quickly and easily than other people do that they have found an infallible foundation for their activity.

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground

(Quick tip: want to read all kinds of great classic lit eBooks for free? Head over to Project Gutenberg.)