wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Category: boston

(with pleasure)

It’s 60+ degrees in Denver all week, I’m sitting on the porch this morning in a t-shirt. We head to Denver Internat’l Airport. Security takes forever, we miss our flight. Book on another airline, $1,500 for the three of us. Horrible meal at O’Hare. Arrive Boston three hours later than planned. We’re in the long-term overflow parking lot — the RED LOT yes — but we get on the bus for the regular long-term lot, so that eats 30 extra minutes.

Boloco on the way home, I inhale my teriyaki chicken burrito.

Step in the house, my son washes his hands.

A pipe bursts.


Wellllllll, but perhaps we are about to discuss a paraphilia or two.

(This I wrote in mid-January, for reasons I can no longer recall, and wouldn’t admit to even if I could. Onanism? Yes, I suppose it is. But here you are, Reader(s), subjecting yourself to the one-man show. –wa.)


Light. As a man of wealth and^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H taste, I naturally keep a variety of notebooks — not quite ‘one for every occasion’ but I do cover the bases. I’m not a fetishist, really, but there’s a lite ritual quality to my notebook buying. I keep Leuchtturm 1917 books, which look like Moleskines but with (1) nicer apparatus in a bunch of small ways, e.g. the contents listing, page numbers, dots, rear folders, and (2) different proportions, which I much prefer. I’ve got a stack of used/filled Moleskines upstairs; they’re fine too.

The day-to-day is an A5 (5.71×8.27). Compared to trade paperback size (6×9), it’s a touch roomier on the line and the slight but perceptible squatness feels great in the hand. Big enough to feel like a proper notebook/journal, small enough to stack with works of plodding workmanlike lunacy like, say, Montauk Revisited, about which more later.

Last year I picked up an A4 notebook for (hahaha) big picture stuff and schematic notes — this is where, say, book outlines go. This is where my son and I are mapping our expedition to Thunderdelve Mountain. Dotted pages, twice the size of the A5. Taking it out feels decadent and faintly ludicrous — it monopolizes the table — but filled A4 pages feel just ace. There’s a curious psychic pressure to write only ‘impressive’ things in this book. I knew that’d happen, frankly, and that’s half the reason I bought the book, for that novel mildly unpleasant sensory/emotional weirdness. It does feel nice to write in a carefree way on a large canvas — ask any kid. There’s a biohazard warning sticker on the front. A notebook without a sticker feels like ostentation.

worldbuilding. I’ve also got a handful of pocket Moleskines around. What’s the term, ‘ubiquitous capture’ or somesuch? There was a genuinely humiliating cultural moment when people with expensive degrees used the term ‘hipster PDA’ to mean ‘a stack of 3×5 cards clipped together in your pocket.’ I wrote a book lampooning these people, called Fixing You. Excerpts appeared in a self-published essay/&c. collection of mine, Falsehoods, Concerns. Maybe someday I’ll rewrite the abysmal last chapter (with its decent last line) and publish the whole thing.

On 2 January, feeling resolute, I rode to Bob Slate to buy a planner. Instead I picked up this odd little ‘Some Lines a Day’ journal. The schtick is that each of 365(!) dated pages is divided into five sections, each with a little ’20__’ space for the year; you work through it over the year then start over, one section down, for five years. Neat little structure, and it’s a solid notebook — too thick to comfortably carry anywhere, though, and not made for full-on journal writing. But I don’t do that anyway.


Carry a highlighter. Trust me.

Two pens. First, Dr Grip, which uses G2 gel refills so it’s cheap and which has a big rubber grip so it feels nice in the hand. My wife and I have gone through a bunch of these over the years — for some reason they split in half easily. Totally worth it though. Actual pen fetishists have problems with G2s for reasons I can’t begin to fathom. To hell with those guys; normal human beings will do quite well with one of these.

Second, one of the silliest things I own, a Baltz pen (from the Kickstarter). It was a Christmas gift from a dear friend with more refined taste in pens than I can afford to have. With the original ink cartridge in, it was the most sensually pleasurable writing experience I’ve ever had: this perfectly weighted and proportioned bullet of a pen which moved like silk over skin. The refill cartridges I’ve used have been underwhelming.


I write most weekdays at Render Coffee, down in Boston on Columbus off Mass Ave. (Or I did, until the brake line snapped on my bike.) It’s about a five-mile ride from my house, straight shot, so when the weather’s decent the ‘commute’ is a perfect mental reset before and after work. One hesitates to call Boston biking meditative — everyone who drives here is a murderous asshole — but I enjoy the ride. Render serves good coffee, plays fine writing music (until mid-afternoon, when things get more intrusive), and serves excellent rosemary-potato breakfast sandwiches. I like the baristas, who with one or maybe two exceptions are extremely relaxed human beings.

herrod-on-the-reik, the steel city Failing that: the Cambridge Public Library (main branch) has loads of uncomfortable seats and the most natural light in town, Le’s in Harvard Square will sell you a day’s worth of calories in the form of the fried rice combination plate for $9, Life Alive in Central Square has killer vegan meals and is handily close to Rodney’s Bookstore and our local nerd store Pandemonium Books & Games, the BPL is a superb work environment when the jackhammers aren’t running (in summer the courtyard is Boston’s loveliest writing spot, though a bit antiseptic some days), and Cafe Luna puts out one of the heartiest salads in Cambridge.

Venue is important, though less so for me than for, say, a sculptor or painter or playwright.


Carry earplugs. ALWAYS CARRY EARPLUGS. They’re cheap, they work, and they instantly turn most urban environments into quiet writing environments.

Instrumental music, obviously; writing to other people’s words, sung or spoken, is hard. Stars of the Lid, Jon Hassell, certain Phish/Dead improv, Ornette’s Prime Time, Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack stuff, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the Solaris score, Frippertronics, Soft Machine, and recently a lot of Software.

Learn to make a proper seal with your ear buds — it’ll allow you to hear clearly at low volume and will restore proper bass response, so you won’t have to blow out your eardrums. Remember that hearing loss is generally irreversible, and take it from me that tinnitus is potentially dangerous to your mental health.


I don’t know how people can carry only one book around and live with themselves.

atonement with the father. Lately I’m reading a bit of Joseph Campbell, Timothy Zahn’s original ‘Thrawn trilogy,’ some Barbara Tuchman, some Philip K Dick, some David Simon (I’m not convinced that I need to finish Homicide). I just read Kripal’s Mutants & Mystics, which I’m hesitant to review at present for complicated reasons, and the first two books of Viriconium by M John Harrison, which make me embarrassed for for nearly every SF writer who isn’t M John Harrison.

(The hero’s-journey pic is actually from Andrew Rilstone’s book on Star Wars, which I heartily recommend.)

With the Kripal book I started using David Seah’s book outliner, which I’d printed ages ago but couldn’t be bothered to actually try out. It works. Give it a go.


Cranium-shattering levels of genius wasted, WASTED, on absolutely vapid content.

Sunday Funday 1+1+1day

Woke to pale blue sky and the smell of my wife’s hair, got to cleaning the bathroom and living room floors, enjoyed a Skinny Zesty Egg White sandwich from Bruegger’s. My son ate the same. He’s such a little guy and I worry about his weight but he did well and was issued one of the chocolate chip cookies our adorable new neighbours brought over the other day. Added the next weekly line to my son’s Allowance ledger — he’s learning the hard way, but with good humour, that money doesn’t grow on trees — and with an unexpected $10 Frequent Buyer bonus burning a hole in our wallet we’re off to Henry Bear’s this morning to buy Legos or a book or, indeed, whatever the hell he wants.

Even brushing our teeth together is perfect. Even sorting the recyclable junk mail from the months-old medical bills. Even just lazing through the day.

For the first time in a long long time, I look at the bookshelf and see things I’m excited to learn rather than obligations I’ve dodged.

I hear him upstairs say, ‘Instead of armadillo can we do, like, “harmadillo?“‘

Once we were going to live forever, and now we know we won’t; nothing has been lost.


Bourbon over ice, dark beer, ruby port, or we’ll need to talk first. A bottle of coconut rum got me into a situation with a redhead once. I had a period of drinking alone in my room, stupidly, bringing no relief from a situation with two brunettes. Threw a half-full bottle of Knob Creek into the sea at an all-night beach party. Summer 2000 I filled most of a thick notebook on two bourbons three (four?) nights a week at a terrible bar on Boylston Street. Now a single whiskey ruins my sleep. But I miss its sweet sting.

Thanks given.

Our friends’ two kids have between them an extraordinary array of allergies — the usual nuts/gluten/soy/dairy, but also beef of all things — plus some digestive fun to deal with on dad’s side. They can’t really eat at any restaurants in town and need to bring their own food when our crew gets together. My wife and I headed over to their place for Thanksgiving. It was wonderful: pumpkin pie with a slightly odd texture and outlandish snickerdoodle crust, delicious mashed squash/yams, cornbread stuffing, some sort of butteresque chemical experiment…

We drank wine while our kids wrestled and hollered. We dropped by the nearby school playground to talk and swing. Outside, it was 57F or so, and spirits were sky high.

My dad called, wanting to video chat with his grandson. He’s appearing in a production of The Crucible. He’s 81 years old.

Today a bunch of us families gathered at some friends’ house in Somerville. Seven kids, none yet six years old, raising hell on a 60 degree day with the windows open. We ate leftovers. One couple brought a sister and a future in-law, and they made (excellent) sushi. I brought one of my copies of Diplomacy and was the first player to stab another in the back — I played England, Germany was the victim. I thought of my dad and didn’t bother to hide my satisfaction as my armies landed in Holland and drove on to Kiel.

Our kids are beautiful and kind. Our crew of friends is full of good hearted people, curious and engaged, devoted to one another and to our children. We love and trust one another — most of our crew met back in the 20th century. We’re the family we’ve made.

I wish to hell someone would write a thinkpiece that’d help me deal with this nightmare.

Lasers in the jungle somewhere.

A housewarming party for beloved friends in Newton (but not the inexcusably chi-chi part), no lawn and not really enough room for all the guests but there’s a koi pond and we lay out blankets in the driveway at dusk. Nerd nights on Wednesdays playing German board games and talking about our spouses. Blueberry picking and a dip in the swimming pool at a commune full of medieval reenactors. July 4th on the lawn on a hill above Union Square, music playing, raucous laughter, the now-unfamiliar clink of wineglasses. Friday dinners with an unexpected group of new friends from preschool.

And everywhere we turn, our children — asking impossible questions, telling weird stories, hiding in the woods, hoarding only the blue Legos, forming tenuous ad hoc alliances against one another, feasting on freshly picked fruit, rolling their eyes at the sight of coffee cups, crashing one another’s balance bikes, dashing down the corkscrew ramp around the massive central tank of the New England Aquarium, pestering Central Massachusetts’s local fauna, repeating verbatim snatches of overheard profanity-laden argument, singing the occasional Queen lyric, scrambling up and down rock formations and the low-hanging branches of deciduous trees, absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and impossibly wise and good. Better than us, though we’re alright for the most part.

I wouldn’t’ve known to want this until five years ago, when I first heard my son’s cries and I transformed (as he did) into some unfamiliar new person.

Now it’s all I want, just about, and though I can’t quite believe it, it’s right here. We have what we need.

The Boston Public Library is a howling cavernous hell.

The carpets are quite nice, as is the new coat of paint on the walls. And there’s loads of sunlight.

But the constant teeth-rattling bellow of construction equipment rather undermines the otherwise cheery vibe.

This has been one of those ‘too long for Twitter, not quite substantive enough for any other venue’ kind of posts, thanks.

‘Human interest,’ I suppose.

A quick response, i.e., I haven’t thought too hard about what I’m about to say:

The Tsarnaev brother who isn’t dead is on trial for the marathon bombing. Since the defense team readily admits his guilt, the point of the trial from their perspective is to avoid the death penalty. Doubtless this will be good for their business — ‘successfully defended the teenager who terrorized a city’ isn’t a stigma in their line of work. But I can’t imagine what Tsarnaev is living for, at this point.

Nor do I understand the appeal of stuff like this, from @hilsarg:

Jessica Kensky: “I didn’t know how many people were hurt, but I knew my husband was critically wounded.” #Tsarnaev

Sargent, a Glob reporter, is ‘livetweeting’ a victim’s testimony (I assume she’s in the courtroom). For once I’m not objecting to the medium. I just don’t understand the mindset of a reader hungry for this kind of coverage. Are there people in this city (my son’s city) who need 140-character snippets of remembered horror — or remembered confusion, or annoyance — to, as they say, ‘put it behind them’ two years later? Is that the point anyway? Would it help to see a charcoal sketch of Tsarnaev himself, or hear a bit of low-fidelity courtroom audio? Would dramatic background music help?

Come to think of it, does anyone want to jump in as cofounder of my context-aware tweet-background-music startup? Equity stake, salary, generous benefits.

As with the OJ (‘Orenthal James,’ as I recall, and what a marvelous 19th-century name it is!) Simpson trial, I find the idea of random Bostonians following the hashtag-Tsarnaev trial everyday…ghoulish. Also boring. Tsarnaev has had enough of our time and attention, and please don’t pretend to be surprised by, or to care about, the Brave Victims who Overcome Adversity to Inspire Us. It’s unconvincing and you’ve seen this show before. Here’s a better idea: go out for a jog today and meet a stranger’s eye without flinching and maybe wave or say Hi. And another: write your mom a letter. She’ll probably die before you. Let’s hope for her sake that she does; she deserves that.

Plenty of people in this city live with the horror of the marathon bombing every day, and they should get what they need — we could help give it to them if we cared to figure out how — but no amount of pseudoconcern about ‘real life’ justifies our voyeurism. The state knows what he did, they know why, they know how. We know these things, or would if we wanted. Put him on the back page of the paper where he belongs; there are other, scarier things for us to pretend to be concerned about.