Spotted at St. Mark’s

Look! Face out with all the new titles at the front of the store, on the anthology shelves (near Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005, which has my friend Jess’s awesome story “The Death of Mustango Salvaje” in it, and near Best American Poetry 2005, which has my friend Shanna‘s sexy poem “To Jacques Pépin” in it!), it’s Homewrecker:

And clearly it’s been manhandled already.

This is when having something better than a crappy cam might come in handy.

Upward-Looking Caution

Who reads these journals? asked my friend. We were sitting outside at the picnic table. Other writers, I said. For the most part, I think. It was late, the party was starting to die down. I’d mentioned some particular rejection slip I’d received recently, although I can’t remember which (they’ve been flooding in lately). Why do we do this? he asked. What do we hope to accomplish? Who do we want to reach? Why do we send our stories to lit journals if the only people who really read lit journals are other writers? Why don’t we just make ten thousand copies of our best paragraph and hand it out on the subway to the first ten thousand people we see? Here’s the tidied-up version of what I did a clunky job of saying right then: because there are a lot of people out there who like good stories. Most people. All people. But we, all of us, make a lot of culture. People need trusted recommenders. We need an army of editors, we need movies, we need Oprahs. Ten thousand paragraphs handed to ten thousand strangers would end up in ten thousand garbage cans. A good story sent to the right place at the right time, on the other hand, has a chance to be a step on the road to that goal, to reaching a reader. Isn’t discovering a new writer like the courtships of the extremely shy? Agents, editors, publicists, reviewers, booksellers, they’re all yentas. A natural caution requires a slow woo pitch. These things take time.

Short-Short Written on My Lunch Break Beginning with a Line by Shanna Compton

(The original, here.)

“Quick, grab the Kodak,” Wilhemena stage-whispered. “Someone’s flummoxed Bill.” Always such a busybody! But Bob’s agile mental perambulations indeed had snookered this girl’s husband under the foldable card table laid out thick with hot dish. “Cut him off,” the rude gal snorted into our hostess’s eager ear. Bill’s eyes bugged. “Oh, this is too precious,” Wilhemena hooted, fever-pitched. Bill barfed a rude stew: cranberry daquiri, vodka tonic, Senora Traffico’s Frito pie; Carmine’s Instamatic flashed and clicked; I blushed like a whore in church. Thus floundered the Kickboxers’ virgin picnic, circa aught four, the year the leaves stayed on the trees all winter. Remember? The television weatherman implied circumstantial millenialism nightly, aping John of Patmos through to Easter. And the picnic? That was that, such as it is. That Kodak smacked sorry William’s state senatorial aspirations. The sad sack sublimated his sorrows in the book of Mormon Saturday nights, trannie hookers down on Alabama Avenue Sunday mornings. I couldn’t hack it. See you later, what-all remaining tatters, his and my done-for marriage. I heard tell the old fool shacked up out in Vegas with a latter-day Brazilian elbowgrease saleslady, jointly hawking second-hand snow monkeys to perennial unwitting Norwegian tourists, but I pay no never-mind. I read scripture. No reminder necessary. I’m a cheek-turner.

A Note about My Crappy Cam

About a year ago I wanted to get a digital camera, but a very particular digital camera, one I wasn’t sure even existed: I thought camera phones were awesome, but I just wanted the camera part, not the phone part. (I’m generally in favor of products that are designed to only do one thing, and do that one thing well, and for a long time, but that’s another story, and a dull one.) I thought the shitty little pictures camera phones took were great—too small for printing, only big enough for e-mailing, sending to another phone, or posting to a Web site. Totally snapshot-y, like a Polaroid i-Zone [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant]. I thought it was great how there was no flash, how the pictures had weird and messed-up colors, and how the camera aspect of the device itself never seemed to have anything fancy or technical about it—no options, nothing to manipulate, just a button to press to take the picture.

In other words, I wanted a camera that I would use for the sole purpose of taking pictures for this Web site. Surely if this technology existed, I thought, someone made a product that was just a crappy cam, sans phone?

A few companies made products that fit this description—although not many, and only one or two of the cameras I found were Mac-compatible. The Nickelodeon Nick Click, for example, looked promising, but the software was Windows-only. I almost got a tiny camera made by Bell & Howell [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant]. But the one I ended up buying was even tinier, the Oregon Scientific DS6618 [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant]. (I paid $44.95, but you’ll notice that a year later the price has dropped to $29.90.) It looks like this:

(The weird black rectangle under my left hand in the picture is the carrying case; the dangly strings are the strap.)

I found it after a lot of obsessive Googling for phrase combinations like “digicam” “no flash” “no preview” “Mac,” etc. I knew this was the camera for me when I read a completely negative one-star review on Amazon, here.

The reviewer writes: “Though it is very conveniently small and portable, you will notice that there are no other cameras this small on the market. Why? The camera can only take pictures up to 640×468 pixels. If you know anything about printing and digital cameras, that is absolutely horrible.” I thought, yes! I do know things about printing and digital cameras—and that is exactly the size picture I want. The camera, this reviewer says, makes “crappy-quality photos with a lot of noise and off-the-walls lighting problems.” Perfect! Just like with a camera phone! “The biggest problem with this camera is no LCD display,” he continues; “[w]ith this camera, it’s just hopelessly aim and click.” Yet again, exactly right for me—I prefer the delayed gratification of not knowing to what, to me, is a kind of alienating immediacy with LCD displays—and the hopeless aiming is part of what I love about analog photography. (Without hopeless aiming we have no Robert Frank, and without Robert Frank where the hell would we be as Americans?) Still more: “Lighting is horrible, and colors are all over the place.” Excellent! An opportunity, surely, for happy accidents. In conclusion, the reviewer says, “Any person who wants a quality digital camera needs to be willing to spend at least 300 bucks, not 50 bucks.” A debatable proposition, but on the matter of the DS6618, I was completely sold.

All the photographs I’ve put on this Web site in the past year I took with this camera. For a couple years before that, the pictures I’d been putting up here were ones I took with my Nikon FM3a (with a Nikkor 45mm lens). My Nikon is a great bare-bones 35mm SLR, but with the time it took to shoot a roll, get a contact sheet made, schedule a few hours in the rental darkroom, etc.—as some of you reading this may recall, I rarely updated this site more than once a month. The crappy cam and Movable Type are improvements, I think.

Oregon Scientific, as the name might imply, makes a lot of things other than cameras. I think they might have actually discontinued the DS6618 at this point; it’s no longer mentioned on their Web site. It appears to have been replaced in their product line with the DS6628, which offers 1288 x 962 pixel resolution and a detachable flash; in other words, useless for my purposes! Perhaps they never quite figured out how to sell the crappy cam. (In delusional, pipe-dreamy moments, I’ve had this idea that it could become faddish in the art world, like Fisher-Price’s Pixelvision—but that seems highly unlikely.) Beyond the surprise of how small it is, the product presumably appeals, in its wonderful shittiness, to an extremely limited market. I recommend it, though.

Now Available

1) for purchase: Homewrecker (in the words of Boston’s Weekly Dig, an “anthology about fucking“), in which you’ll find my story “The Blind Tiger of Love.”

2) for pre-order: Quick Fiction #8, in which you’ll find my story “Lost Childhood.”

(The latter, in its 492 words, actually has more fucking than the former—only 300 words long!—which is more about the aftermath of bad behavior.)

Talk about Rain

This past Saturday night, at about 6:55pm, I was walking home from a bike shop in my neighborhood. I cut down South 5th Place, a short connecting street by the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge, bordering tiny Continental Army Plaza. Parked at the corner with South 5th Street, right at the entrance to the pedestrian walkway, I saw a television news van with its transmitter up. A TV news reporter and a cameraman stood next to the van, facing each other. The reporter held a microphone in his hand, but he was not lit. Both appeared to be just standing there silently, in the dark, in the rain, waiting.

Not such a strange sight, of course, but it made me curious as to what had happened in the neighborhood that merited a story on the local news. So five minutes later, back at home, I turned on the television, and there again was the reporter, lit now and talking: this was the lead. I was even more curious. The story? It was raining. A lot. The reporter pointed at the cars climbing onto the bridge behind him; although it was raining a lot, he said, as we could see, the traffic was not slowing down. The segment cut to interviews earlier in the day with regular citizens in the street. One said she did not mind the rain. Another said she actually kind of liked it. New Yorkers were shown tip-toeing through puddles. A tree had fallen somewhere in the greater metropolitan area, and somewhere else, people were without power. But for the most part, the reporter concluded, this rain was not a problem for New York. (He didn’t mention that people were dying in southwestern New Hampshire.)

We are all meteorologists now.

So shouldn’t we all be also talking about this?

And even doing something about it?

(Mike Davis article, originally on TomDispatch.com, here, also republished on The Nation‘s Web site, here.)

Brita Wine

Pulling the cork out slowly. What’s that funny crunching sound? Did I break it? No, no, it’s just the wrapper scraping against the cork. No wait, look, it is broken. A little corner of the lip of the bottle is pulverized. Yeah, that’s broken, I’ve got glass dust on my fingers. How the hell did that happen? Goddamn those fuckers, I didn’t get a receipt! What to do? What happens when you drink glass dust? That has to be bad for you. We could put it through a strainer? No, that wouldn’t catch it. What about that yogi who ate a whole car really slowly? Does your liver filter glass? Put it through the Brita! Is that a relatively old filter? Yes. Do you have a new filter? Yes. The charcoal will catch all the glass. What’ll it taste like? Zima! No, Bartles & Jaymes! Regular wine, except no tannins! Sweet wine! Pour out all the water first. Science! Get your camera! Is it going through? It looks, like, more purple. You guys go first. It tastes like regular glassless wine. Normal non-crunchy wine. (Wait, why did this idea spring so readily to mind? Oh right, this thing.)

Still More Old

Further tomhop.com improvements: I’ve created a new category for drawings, and I’ve re-uploaded six old batches of them from the five years of this site’s existence before I switched from Dreamweaver and hand-coding to Movable Type. (As before, I’m still taking care to reproduce the original dates accurately; the only real difference in MT is that I’ve added titles, but I think that’s a forgivable liberty.)

I’m not totally sure about how all these old drawings look in this template, but I’m happy to’ve put them back up.