Notes on Truth, Travel, and Architecture

Thanks to the man on the plane, while we waited to de-plane—in Philly, who asked what podcast I had been listening to—for hours across the country. I told him it was philosophy and he said “Oh, because I run one of the leading podcasts in the country.” I succeeded in not asking him the name of it. I’m very good at not talking to people when I don’t want to. What I’ve got to get better at is turning to the man, shaking his hand, and introducing myself as a prize winning slam poet. Because truth is a strange, malleable thing, and random architectural boxes and flying machines are a funny sort of context for memory and conversation. But we can make it work.

20160705_170040To Mom and Dad, for being a hotel, a cafe, a restaurant, a poolside resort, and for all the talk of the siblings and futures and the adventure of the unknowns. For retirement and for letting me say again and again, visit, mom, visit before your grandkids are old enough to vote. By then you won’t be able to convince them of anything. Of course, with Kaelin we were too late the day she was born. For beginning the discourse on architecture in unexpected ways, or am I not supposed to talk about that? I’ve never thought of your house as having five bedrooms, only as losing the yard for the brilliant, sparkly sake of pool and for still having four bedrooms and five beds seventeen years after the last child left for other kingdoms and empires. Make fun rooms of rectangles, for what else is life worth living? Thanks for June, because poolside conversations are not conversations on couches in winter. Thanks for hanging on to the paper model of the gymnasium I made in the 80s. Look at that! I did take an art class. Should have been, could have been, was. All my old 35mm photos of the gym were out of focus. Now I have new ones and the model can finally be burned on a pyre to the gods of fencing strips and manila card stock. I will design a new one where the fencers don’t have to compete for space with basketball. Yes, this decades of bickering is my fault. I had a chance to get it right 30 years ago but see where I put us. I blame the lack of an Internet
and a car.

20160721_072009To the neighbor’s girlfriend, for being the friendliest new neighbor in the neighborhood. The names of friends often escape me—because in my head, secretly, I’ve renamed the rabble lot of you. Hers will just have to be a secret to start with. I can live with this. The neighborhood of my youth is an ever evolving assemblage of second-floor additions and fences and sheds and porches and shrubbery. Praise for the steady advancement of the forest. Have any of you living there noticed how these towering weeds have re-taken the dirt-piles and clear soccer-pitch yards? In another 20 years roots will push the houses out of the way and there will be nothing you can do. Garden parties will become forest parties. Deer will steal the tomatoes. Raccoons will misappropriate the potato salad. The robot pool cleaners will become choked with leaves and the water will turn green again. The bullfrogs have already moved in.

20160720_144645To April for using the bus lane and for minutes, perhaps, calling my name. I had already mentioned my issues with names. For the bag of snacks and the mixtapes, cast to me magically. I love a rental with bluetooth. Thanks for extending the mixes so I risked life and limb less often, less often swapping playlists with my thumb while dodging semis wearing bright blue body armor. For Adirondack chairs and rum on the rocks. For a mattress in a box and warm coffee in the morning long after you had gone off to fight the good workaday fight. For goofballs and hoagies and american ruins and air conditioners and antique frames. For thin brick houses, keys, porches, and Earle. For bats and thieving Marmota. For potatoes in a muffin tin. For pausing to see if you could help the man on the bike. For unkinking a garden hose. For teaching other parents’ kids how to properly enjoy a sprinkler. For art, photography, bleached and burnt words, and collage. Of course there was a goofball laying by the side of the trail.

To John and Alyson for the beer and the memories of theatre and the touching on marching bands without having to get too close. My best memories of marching bands are through an open window from more than a half-mile away. The noise on the horizon was always perfectly furious in the way horizons should be secret and wondrous and distant. I never dared get any closer. To think I’ve never before been asked what I know about marching bands. I believe I said something to the extent of, “Snare drums and parading around, oh, and majorettes.” Everything else I now know is thanks to Alyson, and soon… Guatemala—in a way. I hope that sunlight training pays off. Just pull out a deck chair and sit next to that new car! For John’s taste in beer, I advise everyone follow his lead. He and I are different in many ways, but we are alike in the honest belief that sometimes you do something just because of a girl, and often that’s perfectly alright. It makes things go in a direction and that’s always a good thing.


To David for the glasses of red, a lifetime’s run of margaritas, and a bottle to go. It traveled some 1000 miles before it was opened in the hot pocket heat of our nation’s Capital, may she survive the present decade. There was a toast, but I treated it like I treat handshakes and was distracted by something else in the moment. For the free parking in the midst of a liberal monopoly. For the museums, for the clothes that move like a snowstorm about the exhibit—and the people that wear them. Membership has its privileges. For Japanese and Hoboken architecture, for late night 80s vinyl after more drinks than a fraternity rush party. For airbeds out of thin air, because when I am semi-conscious everything is manifested out of thin air. For your fascination with trains, underground passageways, and history of buildings. For chipped marble facades that look like they came through a war. For, amidst the 80s themselves, listening to Empire Strikes Back on vinyl and building those first high-rises of plastic girder and polyethylene window paneling. Models! Architecture. Cheers. For the view of bright morning sunlight rising above the skyline of New York, for your story of 9/11, your stories of hedge funds and banks and bubbles, your love of ephemera, your perspective on monkeys and family. Big man. Small camera. Great eye.20160709_152309

To Anne and Gerry and Paul and Sara and Carolyn and Paul and Emma for being our ‘Italians’ in Jersey and every year making me grin to say it’s where I’m from too!, was born—what-have-you. A small, glorious thing to be brought out nights between the second and third bottle. Never have I been so relaxed to sit amid Gerry’s cooking and the funny swivets. For the pool, the politics of which side of the pool to sit on, and the other snips of block scuttlebutt. For Emma and the hat. For the escapade with potted plastic ficus. May it continue to fall over again and again. I know it’s still bouncing from lawn edge to sidewalk to mulch garden to living room to sidewalk like some garden gnome on an adventure that begins with hope and ends with a funny form of despair and abandonment. For not taking a picture of Gerry and I as we schlepped it up the hill, Gerry hatching crazy plans, me limping. We know it happened. Better in memory. I think Gerry really would have carried it all the way by himself. Thanks for the guacamole and the water bottles, for sending me to bed when I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Someone knew I was going south into the kettle of the sun. I am both sorry and relieved I left behind the watermelon vodka. Some things should stay in Jersey.

To Elizabeth for giving a good estimate on the distance to Nashville. Let me know when you come to your senses and return to Virginia. Next time I think passingly of flying to Louisville to see Sylvan Esso in concert just because, I’ll just do it, because that would have been nuts and surprise to find you all there. There’s a lesson. Go with the thought. Because that’s close right? Everything in the middle of the country is squashed together right? I know too many people in far too many far-flung places. I’d really appreciate it if you would all cluster a little more. Belatedly, thanks also for the little note this spring about Scalia. Perspective is a wonderful thing.

IMG_5754To Elise for another picture of our castle in France. Let me know when we’ve had it refit for the badminton gym. Also if your phone does not work in France, no more birthdays in France. I have few requirements, but this is one of them. And you should know the café stereo is belting out La mer. Still have to put Shazam on my phone. Go back there soon. I’ll not thank you for being so far south not even I dared find you this time. Some other year we will continue that unbounded dinner and the waking up of the poor homeless while trying to find our way out of a closed restaurant. The waiter was sitting at another table waiting for us to finish talking. Imagine that. The ghost of Edward Hopper was hiding in a corner. But mostly, thanks for always asking how I am and how far away I am and never saying too much.

To Ebony and Bree for all the bagels and the goodies inside, and Bree especially for encouraging me to get the cup of water with breakfast. The day started out in the core of the sun and already I must have looked like I was going to be wandering blind in the desert.


To Catherine for inspiring worlds of good people. For the chess, once upon a time — and at some point when there were no witnesses, admitting I was “actually pretty good” at the fencing thing. For letting me go to Alaska all those years ago—without objection, because you were always the practical one. For your tree, only temporarily surrounded by improvements on the perfection of the Academical Village, and fences and unkempt lawn in a place all the lawns are immaculate. White marble. Red brick. Barbecues. Beer and long spatulas. Sebastien will wear his hat. I tried not to go to class very much in college, but when I did it was usually at Clark Hall. Coming out those doors now, your tree is right across the road, visible on the other side of the Brown Collage arcade. I like this. I will visit again and maybe I will get all the way to Charlotte as well. I finally told the family you were gone. It was something I had to hold on to for a while. You always knew I am selfish this way.

To the Nags Head waitress for asking me whether I really wanted to sit in the sunlight and perspire like the outside of a cold glass. For asking me where I was from and was I traveling alone and on business—not that you don’t ask everyone this. I should have asked you for your story. I am working in that. Thank you for suggesting the better orange juice, for appearing at the right time with more coffee, for smiling cautiously when you approached, as if I were something wild and unruly and needing to be tamed before letting back outside. It’s an art. I appreciate that. If I turned my head slowly it was because I was carrying the plague and felt slightly guilty about breathing on people. Medicine would suggest it was microbes. I blame the sun. Like a vampire I was needing the night and an offshore lightning storm. Unlike a vampire I was sitting in the sun like an idiot.


To Kitty Hawk Kites for waxing poetic about the beauty and strength of kite nylon over the brush and brambles of the more inhospitable parts of the world. For knowing that spare parts and tent patching is proof against some strains of heartbreak. For inhabiting a space that reminds me of the best bookstores, for being maze-like and stuffed with wonders. For being there every time I think to return. For being a landmark and a starting point for adventure.

20160715_123815To Steph for contemplating the thinnest house in the world. First things first—we will build it after you spend that year on the AT. I’ve seen some of our options and there are unlimited alleyways to choose from. The wait will work in our favor as there are several forms of magic that technology needs to catch up with. It will be impossibly narrow and proof against zombies. This is the goal. Thanks for the monuments. Everyone needs to revisit FDR. For all the vegetables, the dutch babies, soft serve, Alaskan salmon, and professional calibre hashtagging. May I quote? “#growyourownfood #garden #imakefood #urbangarden #katnisseverdeenofvegetables #lazygardner” For pointing out all the cracks in the infrastructure. The bridges did not fall on us this time. For narrated home videos. For honest talk about Alexandrian architecture and the impossibility of surviving the zombie apocalypse in the urban maze. For tiger mosquitos. What horrors are these? #invasivespecies #notwhenilivedhere  I will carry my scars for years. Work on those herbal deterrents. We have it easy in the far North.

To Vince for the drive-by, For saving us from sunstroke and getting out of the city in record time. For keeping Steph practical and out of prison. Keep her working, gardening, and off that trail for as long as you can. The fence was a good move, and not just because zombies. Thanks for the dogs and the office mattress. For talking politics and renovations and jobs. Because we’re only young twice. Cheers to good people doing good work. For defining what it means to be a teacher, for prizing education, and having the guts and spirit to redefine it. For having a blast along the way. Now, cutting it short, stop reading this and get back to finishing off that doctorate.

To Mary Anne, forever bringing people together. For the couch and the cats pushing heavy ceramics around in the night—for almond milk and time travel. For knowing all the restaurants. Tapas. Tapas. Tapas. And art museums! This is not the first or the last time, because thanks for all the times you’ve had a spare couch in the big city. For talking fencing and politics and fencing politics. One day I will return with weapons in the trunk because sometimes you love something enough to bear with the politics and the people who lead with rulebook. For allowing the years to lend perspective, not bitterness. Thank you for thank you cards and knowing every birthday! Oh, but you are temporarily unfollowed on Facebook. Only because you’re the best sharer and the bearer of interesting news in the world—and Alaska if you did not know is four hours behind the eastern coast—and because olympics and fencing results. #Thippit Now Al Jazeera America has shuttered, I’ve cancelled all my other news services.

To Hyong and Anna and Alex for letting us see a draft of the book. #100lovenotes. There’s nothing like a hotel lobby as an excuse for thumbing the pages quickly and not getting choked up—yet. For hugs, for logical arguments on Pokemon Go, for putting up with a half-conscious-throat-sore-from-arugula-and-southern-sunlight Roger. For help finding the tree, for seeing Anna argue and debate and express herself in the fiery spirit of her mother. We did not stand a chance, but at least I knew to keep quiet. Only Anna would solve the dolphin puzzle in her hands and not lay it out on a table. Next time I’ll be prepared to answer questions about the past—maybe. Anna knows how to blindside. I wonder who she got that from.

To Becky and Jesse and Trevor for the BBQ lunch and for being so flexible as I changed my schedule again and again. Thank you for doing most of the talking. That couch is far too comfortable and those grapes far too good in the middle of a marathon day. Thanks for talking Facebook and distance friendships in the modern age. Thanks for reminding me of the empire beauty of how children fill all our spaces. They know the peripheries of our vision like they know the capacity of a chair to support the weight of multiple people. To Trevor for showing me all the toys and giving me all the hugs and for putting the moose together again and again. For talking ebooks and asking about the writing. I have to work on ways not to dissemble, to redirect, to apologize. Give me another 25 years.

To Stacy for driving in from Jersey. Oh, but you like to drive don’t you. Next time closer to your home. And more people, lest we might be able to talk forever. For three and half hours! I can’t remember what we talked about exactly but I think it might have made a good audio book. Travel and sports cars and racing and reunions and high school tribes and marriages and theatre and Harry Potter and Black Lives Matter and travel and enjoying the local, and politics and gyms and ice cream and retired-life, among other things. Go. Drive fast and teach all the girls how to defend themselves.20160719_110517

To Laura for museum backdoors and an uncrowded café in New York at lunch where I could order quiche without blushing. For pointing out directions along avenues like there were horizons I could see for the buildings. I too think architecture is transparent if we stare at it long enough. For talking about writing and thinking big picture complicated projects as a way of living. For talking about exhibits in exhibits, for browsing galleries like we used to record shops. For braving demonstrating to me prototype media when we both know it never works right under pressure. For the New York minute and tidy, deliberate meetings so I can sit in central park for an hour before my next appointment.

To Cindy for pointing out all the landmarks from the penthouse, for pointing out the South Harlem hotspots I had already found—the subway, the community garden, the corner coffee shop. There is hope for me. I felt so accomplished. For living so accessibly I had time to stop for strong coffee, crisp music, and 70s carpet. Next time in the city, I’ll train up to 116th just for the coffee, even if there’s a premiere in Europe that week. For making sense of moving blocks and floors in search of better rooms, pavers, and then sky. For the ‘nibblies’—the cheese and crackers, the pistachios and the dates. For laughing and knowing how to enjoy the ride.

To John Luther for the John Luther Adams National Forest, for the iced green tea. For not settling. For returning from Mexico and the this is the rest of your life world tour just when I happened to be in town. For tackling the structures of the world, the big things, through music and finding the time to sit still. Lessons in life: A Pulitzer lets you put up awnings without asking the building committee. Or is it more the other way round? Thanks for another story of breaking convention and covenants. I’ll petition the Grammy museum next time I’m in LA. They need to put more than pop-stars out on the sidewalk.

20160709_161330To Amtrak, may you always be late to the gate, because waiting in stations and watching people is only second to sitting on trains and staring at the backs of heads and looking out the windows and jotting down a thousand notes about the backsides of history. The skipped-a-meal crowd watches the departures board the way the well-dressed look at important artwork. Outwardly they hold still. Inside they are an earthquake. They will the board to move. They wait for it to chatter like old AM radio news. Stations are for watching. Trains are for writing. Cars are for sleeping, in the sunlight, head against the window, once again ignoring mum’s single-minded, everything-i-see-is-pavement driving. We need to get the airport early. The state of the world is such that we need to spend more hours in the in-between. Watching people in airports is useless business. Everyone is themselves and none of us interesting. Security is buzzword. Our names are as advertised. But whether today’s horror is sunstroke or plagues of sore-throated zombies, we will adapt. Airport security has a bad rap this week, so for today’s early-bird special you can keep your shoes on, leave the laptop in the bag, walk through the older metal detector in a summer sweater. Even the Philly TSA isn’t looking for a fight, just because—PR and we have places to be. Drive purposefully, with music. Upload the podcast philosophy before leaving friendly wifi. Remember the smell of the neighborhood, the spacing of the trees, the heights of the fences. Admire the bruises on the doorbells.

—from three weeks on the east coast (2016), writing and visiting.

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