Street Lights As Planets And Stars

“There was a sky somewhere above the tops of the buildings, with stars and a moon and all the things there are in a sky, but they were content to think of the distant street lights as planets and stars. If the lights prevented you from seeing the heavens, then perform a little magic and change reality to fit the need. The street lights were now planets and stars and moon. ”
― Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

I was riding my bike west down Gaston under that awful elevated freeway and when I emerged I saw the final stages of sunset over the crystal spires of the city. The moon was a tiny thumbnail shaving floating in the sky. I pulled over into a weedy lot and fished my camera out of my pack.

As I was shooting, a guy in a car at the light said, “I was coming in from the east on I30 and the sun was a big orange ball behind the city.”

I nodded and tried to think of something witty to say, but the light went green and he shouted, “Gotta go.”

Downtown Dallas at sunset.

Downtown Dallas at sunset.

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You Insolent Demon, How Blind You Are!

You insolent demon, how blind you are! You may think I’m small, but I can grow easily enough. You may think I’m unarmed, but I could pull the moon down from the sky with my two hands. Don’t worry, old Sun WuKong will sock you one.
—- Sun WuKong, The Monkey King

I love noodles! Because of that, I was excited when, about a year ago, I read of the opening of a new place in Deep Ellum – The Monkey King Noodle Company.

Restaurant review: Monkey King Noodle Co. is a Chinese noodle soup lover’s paradise

All Hail The Monkey King

There had been this two-story taco joint on Main Street. I don’t think I had ever actually eaten there – but it was colorful and smelled delicious and I was unhappy when I saw it closed down. But it wasn’t long before construction started up. When I found out it was going to be a noodle spot – greatness.

Monkey King promised fresh hand-pulled noodles and authentic Chinese street food recipies. That sounded right up my alley – but I was never able to work out a visit. They were closed every time I stopped by.

Finally I was riding my bike down Main and saw someone out cleaning at Monkey King. I checked my phone and saw they would be opening at six – which was a half hour or so away. I rode on down to The Cold Beer Company and had a Temptress, then came back a few minutes after six.

The line was already halfway down the block but I had time so I locked up my bike and joined the queue. The guy in front of me said he lived nearby and was a huge fan of the Soup Dumplings – but since this was my first time there I went ahead and ordered the top of the menu, The Spicy Beef Noodle Soup.

And it was good. The hand thrown noodles are thick, chewy, and… well, perfect. The broth was as spicy as promised and the hunks of beef surprisingly hearty.

The small Monkey King building has a scary steel spiral staircase up to a patio on the roof. I really enjoyed chatting with the folks up there, eating our food while the sun set behind the crystal spires of downtown.

Now I have to go back and try those Soup Dumplings.

Monkey King Noodle Company, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas With cool covered patio on the roof.

Monkey King Noodle Company, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas
With cool covered patio on the roof.

Spicy Beef Noodles from Monkey King Noodle Company

Spicy Beef Noodles from Monkey King Noodle Company

Beauty Is In The Eye

Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.
—-Kinky Friedman

Deep Ellum, then and now.

I am old enough and have lived in Dallas long enough to have seen Deep Ellum rise, fall, and now rise again. When I first moved here in 1981 it was an urban industrial wasteland – known only for cheap space for marginal businesses.

Yet, even then, the neighborhood had a long and famous history. The music from the 1920’s, lead by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, Texas Bill Day and Bessie Smith paved the way for modern jazz, blues, and rock and roll as much as any other place. But in 1969 a giant elevated freeway choked off the urban oxygen and the vibrant area fell into decay.

Then in the 1980’s fueled by cheap funky space and the punk revolution in music Deep Ellum regained its reputation as a spawning ground for music and nightlife. I was there for that – and it was something.

But again, the city zoning laws, rising crime, and the fact that the wealthy edge of the city was vomiting out over the cotton fields over an hour north threw Deep Ellum back into disrespect and disrepair.

Now, though, the population is moving back in and Deep Ellum is coming back with a vengeance. This time it is different, the rebirth is fueled by people actually living in and around the area. This time it feels like it might last.

The last Friday of the month is Dallas Critical Mass. I always enjoy these, a lot, even though it took all my will power to get my stuff together and catch a train downtown – work wore me out so much, the siren song of the couch was almost irresistible. This is a rare sweet spot in Dallas weather – and a big group showed up in the park for the ride. One of the fun things about the Critical Mass Ride is that nobody knows where it is going. This month we wound around downtown, then headed out Main Street through Deep Ellum.

When we crossed Exposition the bicyclists were clumping up in a big group right in the middle of the street, and I realized we had reached our destination. It was the Cold Beer Company – a new bar/restaurant/place to hang out on the edge of Deep Ellum.

I realized that I had seen this little building before, and had even photographed it and posted a blog entry. It was once the rundown and abandoned spot that used to hold Vern’s Kitchen until it closed in 2009. I liked the place, even with the broken windows and graffiti, but didn’t think that Deep Ellum would grow enough to resurrect a business on such a wayward spot.

I was wrong. We stayed at the Cold Beer Company for a couple of cold beers (Peticolas Velvet Hammer to be exact) and I pronounce the location to be back and back for the better. The room is small, but they have done a great job with their patio and garden areas. They even have a cool custom bike rack out in front.

The building that would become The Cold Beer Company, in March of 2013

The building that would become The Cold Beer Company, in March of 2013

The Cold Beer Company today... from about the same angle.

The Cold Beer Company today… from about the same angle.

Indistinguishable From Magic

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
—-Arthur C. Clarke

concentration

I’m not sure what… but something today brought back a very old memory – and I’ve been thinking about it.

I’m guessing I was about eight or so, and that would make it 1965. I liked to watch the game show Concentration – Hugh Downs would have been the host. I especially liked the end of the puzzle, when the contestants had to guess the Rebus.

rebus

I have never been good at those things, and I think I enjoyed the frustration and release when a contestant was able to get it right.

At any rate, the moment I remember so vividly was when the contestant won a grand prize of some sort. With great blurry grainy black and white hoopla they wheeled it out to present it to the woman.

It was a videotape recorder/camera/playback combination. It was the size of two standup refrigerators. The camera (though demonstratively smaller than the studio units used on the show) was the size of a suitcase and seemed to weigh over a hundred pounds.

It seemed to take forever, but they managed to set the machine up and take a short segment of very bad quality recording of the woman that won the prize. She was standing there, shifting from foot to foot, and looking very uneasy – with that fake early-1960’s smile plastered on her face. The giant tape reels spun at a dizzying pace and after a bit more fiddling (this was live TV – they must have been brave to try and pull this off) the little black and white (I assume it was black and white – I surely wasn’t watching it in color) piece of the big-haired woman came up on the impossibly tiny Cathode Ray Tube almost lost in the maze of complex equipment.

Everyone cheered and the cat food commercial came on and that was that.

To this day, almost a half-century later, I remember how excited I was. Imagine! The ability to put your own moving images onto magnetic tape!

Then, equally strongly, I remember the internal backlash as I wondered what use something so large, unwieldy, and of such terrible quality would actually be. Where would that poor woman store the thing? It must have drawn an incredible amount of power (those huge cabinets concealed banks and banks of glowing vacuum tubes, no doubt).
My eight year old self felt the falling disappointment in technology.

Now, of course, I carry a card-sized device in my pocket which, among many other things, can take a high quality color motion capture with perfect sound, transmit it from my hand, and broadcast it all over the world where anybody that cares to (if anybody cares to) can watch it to their heart’s content.

Not only was that sort of technology unavailable in 1965, it was unimaginable. I know that was fifty years ago, but it doesn’t seem that long to me. Hell, Hugh Downs, the host of the show, is still alive. I’m sure he has a smartphone.

downs

One Groove’s Difference

“What goes around may come around, but it never ends up exactly the same place, you ever notice? Like a record on a turntable, all it takes is one groove’s difference and the universe can be on into a whole ‘nother song.”
—-Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Cover of Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon

Cover of Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon

I have always had an odd and powerful relationship with the novels of Thomas Pynchon. I have spent a good portion of my life with his work in my hands. It started with Gravity’s Rainbow – which took me twenty five years to read… and I consider it to be my favorite novel. Even though I first tried to read it in college I was not able to get through the massive tome until the advent of the internet. I had to follow along with a chapter by chapter summary and a hypertext compendium of characters and information to keep from getting lost.

Then, over the years, there was the almost equally massive V – then the short and bitter Crying of Lot 49. Time marched on to the West-Coast based Vineland and by the time Mason & Dixon arrived I was writing online and chronicled the devouring of this text as I went along.

From my old blog – The Daily Epiphany

Daily Epiphany -Friday, March 19, 1999

Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs

May 2, 1997. A little less than two years ago. That’s the exact day that
Mason & Dixon arrived from Amazon (an online journal is useful for finding useless factoids like that).

Over those two years I have, sometimes dutifully, more often sporadically, with plenty of vacations and sabbaticals, slogged through the pages. I was well known to be seen carrying that book around, it’s cover handmade by me from the red white and blue Tyvek wrapper it arrived in. “Aren’t you finished yet?” asked on many occasions.

That didn’t bother me. After all, it took me twenty five years to read Gravity’s Rainbow. In some ways, Mason & Dixon, though shorter and less complex, was even more difficult. The weird faux colonial Olde English and bizarre capitalization and punctuation added an Extra Dimension of Difficulty to the usual Pynchonian Puzzlements.

So slowly I kept at it. Week by week the irregular, oval coffee-stain on the pager-edges moved, slice by imperceptible slice, from my right hand to my left.

Tonight, I finished it.

I bent the cover back and slid the crude Tyvek cover off and dropped it into the trash. It was replaced with the original two-layer cover, preserved from the travails of two years of pawing, stored safely in a dresser drawer.

In order to make room in my bookcase for the Pynchon, I had to pull something out. So, now, it’s Infinite Jest. It’s only 1,079 pages long. Print looks a little small. I even have a bookmark for it. I bought the book used and it contains a loose snapshot of some scrubby looking guy posing by a motorcycle. I have, of course, absolutely no idea who this is. That’ll do.

The thickness and size seemed familiar so, on a whim, I pulled that Tyvek bookcover out of the basket, turned the cover around.

It fit exactly.

A few years later, I tackled Against the Day, then fell off the Pynchon wagon (for no real reason except maybe the intrusion of real life) until now.

Now, I decided to read Inherent Vice – Pynchon’s noirish dark psychedelic detective crime novel.

“Dealing with the Hippie is generally straightforward. His childlike nature will usually respond positively to drugs, sex, and/or rock and roll, although in which order these are to be deployed must depend on conditions specific to the moment.”
—- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

“It had been dark at the beach for hours, he hadn’t been smoking much and it wasn’t headlights – but before she turned away, he could swear he saw light falling on her face, the orange light just after sunset that catches a face turned to the west, watching the ocean for someone to come in on the last wave of the day, in to shore and safety.”
—- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

I had the trade sale paperback on the shelf for a long time, but I had to read it right now because, next month, they are coming out with a movie made from the story.

Oh, and not just any movie, a Paul Thomas Anderson movie.

Imagine that, Paul Thomas Anderson filming a Pynchon novel. This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Modern technology has advanced now to the point I could sit in my reading chair with the book in one hand and a tablet in the other, with web pages queued up to alphabetical and page-by-page summaries to help me with the complex plot and kaleidoscope of characters.

This is arguably his most accessible novel, if for no other reason it has a familiar setting and is woven upon a loom of an established detective genre. It is the only thing I’ve read by Pynchon that I would say is remotely filmable – though just barely.

It still has the Pynchonian style of paranoia, subtle complexity, and, especially, a huge cast of odd characters with odder names. I enjoyed the book immensely. It is, without a doubt, the kind of thing you will like if you like that kind of thing.

Now I am psyched for the film. Only a few days before the premiere. This will be the second beloved book (after Cloud Atlas) committed to celluloid (actually its digital equivalent) by a stylish director in the last two years. I loved Cloud Atlas (both the book and the film) though it predictably bombed at the box office.

I suspect a similar fate for Inherent Vice – I can’t imagine the ordinary teenage-minded moviegoer enjoying the complex interplay of humor and horror that the Pynchonian Universe produces splashed across the silver screen. But I will be there, staring up as if it were meant for me alone.

“You need to find true love, Doc.”
Actually, he thought, I’ll settle for finding my way through this. His fingers, with a mind of their own, began to creep toward the plastic hedge. Maybe if he searched through it long enough, late enough into the night, he’d find something that might help — some tiny forgotten scrap of his life he didn’t even know was missing, something that would make all the difference now.”
—- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Looking at the IMDB page – it sure looks weird, seeing all those big time (and not so much) stars arranged against those wonderfully outlandish Thomas Pynchon character names.

Reese Witherspoon … Penny
Jena Malone … Hope Harlingen
Joaquin Phoenix … Doc Sportello
Josh Brolin … Bigfoot Bjornsen
Sasha Pieterse … Japonica Fenway
Owen Wilson … Coy Harlingen
Benicio Del Toro … Sauncho Smilax
Michael K. Williams … Tariq Khalil
Eric Roberts … Mickey Wolfmann
Maya Rudolph … Petunia Leeway
Martin Short … Dr. Blatnoyd
Sam Jaeger … Agent Flatweed
Katherine Waterston … Shasta Fay Hepworth
Martin Donovan … Crocker Fenway
Timothy Simons … Agent Borderline
Yvette Yates … Luz
Serena Scott Thomas … Sloane Wolfmann
Keith Jardine … Puck Beaverton
Elaine Tan … Xandra
Madison Leisle … Goldfang
Steven Wiig … Portola Barkeep
Jeannie Berlin … Aunt Reet
Christopher Allen Nelson … Glenn Charlock
Hong Chau … Jade
Jefferson Mays … Dr. Threeply
Peter McRobbie … Adrian Prussia
Samantha Lemole … Gold Fang Mom
Toyia Brown … Harmony
Diana Elizabeth Torres … Lourdes
Sophia Markov … Amethyst Harlingen
Andrew Simpson … Riggs Warbling
Victoria Markov … Amethyst Harlingen
Martin Dew … Dr. Tubeside
Michael Cotter … Rhus Farthington
Taylor Bonin … Ensenada Slim
Laura Kranz … Chryskylodon Patient

“Later they went outside, where a light rain was blowing in, mixed with salt spray feathering off the surf. Shasta wandered slowly down to the beach and through the wet sand, her nape in a curve she had learned, from times when back-turning came into it, the charm of. Doc followed the prints of her bare feet already collapsing into rain and shadow, as if in a fool’s attempt to find his way back into a past that despite them both had gone on into the future it did. The surf, only now and then visible, was hammering at his spirit, knocking things loose, some to fall into the dark and be lost forever, some to edge into the fitful light of his attention whether he wanted to see them or not.”
—-Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice