Ponte nothing (daily practice)

I shirked my duties at the neighborhood banquet preparations and stood shirtless on the bridge in the cold rain. Preparations of my own making were in effect. A stress test ahead of the annual bridge melee. The Nicoletti and Castellani would face off here once again tomorrow at Ponte Nothing, the victors laying claim to another year of collectively hallucinated social superiority, evening privileges, dibs at first fucks behind the church grilles. At the midnight bell’s toll to close New Year’s mass, once again donning masks, selfless, our social worth would be reassumed not by family visage but raw strength and virility.

I am a Nicoletti and this, my first bridge fight, would be ours to conquer, even if it meant death. The likelihood of which appeared stronger this season as reflected back to me in the slick mud of the canal, the usual fart smell of the city’s sewer highways having receded deep into the lagoon. If it came to throwing the last Castellano headfirst to his grave, I wished for anything but a quick snapping of the spine. I prayed for pain. Redemption through suffering. Victory through sacrifice. Torn flesh, gouged eyes, cracked limbs, bruised bones. La pena senza fine. This doomed reckoning of violence spiraled faster and faster in the pouring rain, but I let myself fall ever towards it, darker, colder.

Through the din of glass and silver clinking through the banquet halls, I could hear the sweet voices of the Mendicanti flowing like sweet incense into the streets:


                        Miserere Mei. 

[after “Carnival, quintessence of the Venetian spirit” in Vivaldi’s Venice by Patrick Barbier]



pulverize (daily practice)

apocalyptic daydream 

There is no situation that cannot be made worse with the introduction of a policeman and the world’s Top Cop intervened with flames. In the end they tore themselves to bits. Like rabid dogs in a cage. Buildings pulverized down to dust. Holes burned through the safety nets of nations. Tribes disappeared, decayed. Books burned. Not a single datum survived to replay, recount, recall what happened. Every bit of plastic and paper history melted down into a uniform nothing as it had always been. A return to primeval origins, though some memory persisted in isolated cells of survival. Volts left in the tubes, switched on in the dust, sparking their scarcest neon in the dark, blinking

Open Open




Radiant (daily practice)

You could tell immediately that this time was different. The slight uptempo and volume of the man’s cadence over the intercom sounded the alarm far more effectively than bells. “Ladies and Gentleman, Ladies and Gentleman” (hear ye hear ye, important announcements always begin with repetition). “There is a fire at the 9th Avenue entrance! If you leave the building, please exit on the 10th Avenue side.” Some ran for the exits, but most of us stood awkwardly, confused, “does that mean we should go?” I couldn’t remember if I was still the floor’s designated fire marshal, so just in case I said, “Everyone remain calm. I’m not sure that means we have to leave.” I don’t think it helped matters.

Someone finally pulled up Twitter: “Whoa, gas main explosion on 9th Avenue!” I felt vaguely scared and texted my wife: “Fire on 9th ave and 15. Evacuating. Love you.” The last part was a little dramatic admittedly but the intercom voice sounded serious and I was getting carried away. I asked a pregnant coworker if I could help her carry… anything… “Like what?” she asked. I didn’t know.

It was one of those brutally hot days in New York where you can feel the heat radiating straight off the buildings. I didn’t really want to go outside, but the rush of bodies toward the exit made me feel a little stupid if I didn’t leave now, considering the dramatic text and all. Everyone looked as confused as I felt. “He didn’t technically say we have to leave, right?” By the time I made it to the 10th Avenue side of the building, the report of “gas main explosion” turned into “minor fire at Chelsea Market.” I was disappointed and stood looking out toward the river, assessing the urgency of the situation, or lack of it, by the flow of traffic on the Westside Highway. Tourists walked the pedestrian path gingerly with umbrellas and sips of Gatorade. Construction workers sat in the shade with their heads bowed, helmets off, neon green shirts soaked through at the pits. I shot off another text to my wife: “Not evacuating. All good.” She hadn’t even responded.

I hadn’t received a work email in about 15 minutes at this point, so I decided to take a stroll outside. A fire truck’s faint siren down down the block reignited a feeling of danger, but only briefly. Probably a coincidence, I thought, and sat down in the small park hugging the highway. My work phone buzzed. An instant message from Kip saying the team should regroup at Brass Monkey for a “firedrill happy hour.” I decided I’d rather sit on the bench and bake. My wife still hadn’t responded and I had nothing to think about, so I started walking back toward the office.

That’s when I smelled the smoke. Something metallic in it struck me as really unusual and there it was again, the danger. I started to text my wife again, “hey i think…” But then a siren blared and a cop whizzed by. Now dread and the metallic smell of fire revealed itself in a flash of flame and smoke. Something in the distance glowed red on the sidewalk and moved like a sheet in the wind. It fell to the ground, bounced back up and veered violently back into the street. I could see people jumping out of the way but not fleeing, like a group of toreadors in a bullfight. A metallic smell turned distinctly into burnt hair and what could only be, by visceral knowledge, charred flesh. The sirens grew louder and it became terribly clear.

I stood in horror, frozen by a paralyzing tonic of helplessness, panic and disbelief. I started backing away unconsciously, my eyes burning, shoulders tensed. The ding of my phone brought me to and I looked down at my wife’s text: “glad ur ok hunny. what’s for dinner?”

Christ stopped at the Villas (daily practice)

..ed era luce pura

This has always been a good town to leave. I’m not sure why anyone came in the first place, but the books in the local library suggest it had something to do, in some order, with caviar, the American Revolution and Atlantic City. Only one of those things matters to a soul here anymore, and at that, only on the off chance of a free summer evening trying one’s luck on the spinning wheel. Almost everyone who stayed either works tirelessly – oftentimes 2 or more precarious jobs – on fishing boats, the short but lucrative service selling fish to tourists, or the runoff economy of tourists purchasing local wares in the strip of historic shore resorts.

Then there are those, not entirely distinct from the first group, that gig from one hit to the next until the final knockout punch. There has been at least one protest against heroin here in the last year – and to be clear, not against local and state policy to end or bandaid an epidemic. That is: In the absence of anything close to rational policy, a desperate protest against the drug itself. It was front page news several days running in the local press, now shuttered.

If you ever lived here over the stretch of gray months, coinciding perfectly with the Exodus of Shoobies to the golden triangle of Montreal, Philadelphia and New York City, then you know that the only unadulterated, pure and genuinely peaceful hideaway (in the biggest spiritual sense possible) is the Delaware Bay south of the Cape May Lewis Ferry terminal. Between the alienesque horseshoe crabs and exposed sewer tunnels that jut out from the sand like hyperloops to another dimension, it’s not of this planet. Though I left nearly two decades ago, it’s the place I most enjoy returning to as a reminder of its mystery and revelation. Of what might have drawn people here as early as anybody has been drawn anywhere from their origins in this country.

This town is a good place to leave, but you must always go home.

NYC’s Tenderloin (daily practice)

When I find myself anywhere near the corner of 34th Street and 8th Avenue, I’m more than likely stressfully pushing through a horde of bodies en route to some other stressful thing or other Uptown, always just barely avoiding a Vision Zero demise. But maybe today the humidity was low enough that my human brain pushed back against the reptile parts, and instead of cursing this fucking sticky piece of shit city, I halted appreciatively before the big columns and broad stairs of the Post Office. If anything could calm every impulse in my body to flee this transit hub nightmare, it’s this truly arresting sight filled to the top with beautiful people.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Had I been paying attention before, not simply dodging pigeon shit, I may have noticed that this Post Office has, deservingly, an official name. The James A. Farley Building, and it’s designed by the same McKim, Mead & White firm whose famous train station once stood in place of the design hell that is today’s Penn Station. I’ve never understood what insanity might have led the rich developers of this city to stick us with the clinical abuses of Penn, but the Post Office at least allows us a glimpse of what the original may have looked like in its Beaux Arts glory.

To some, today’s Penn may seem more appropriate for its environs, which can feel a lot like San Francisco’s Tenderloin. And like the Tenderloin, there’s no other place quite like it in this city. The main difference, I think, is that the down and out junkies and homeless mentally ill haven’t simply been penned off here by the cops in order to be more easily surveilled, victims of the city’s murderously aggressive gentrification. Rather, they’ve chosen this strange nexus between Chelsea, Hudson Yards and Midtown to cohabitate this space delimiting the city’s bustling working class rush hour (which seems, here, to be all hours). I see students and accountants, tourists and construction workers all drinking in the same bars, while right outside a one-footed transgendered woman stripdances an internet kiosk. Neighbors, that’s all.

So for once, today, I took a moment to look at this abundance of life, not just curse it on my way to the next mind-numbing work project. People here seem genuinely happy at times, together haunting this or that cheesy bar on the corner to share a $2 Bud between 5 and 7pm. The magic really is in the variety of life, and up here, not everyone is wearing the same goddam pair of $200 Huaraches.

I hope those Post Office steps long survive the final days of the empire.

Acattolico Stroll (daily practice)

after John Kidd

I met him in the early morning hours outside the Protestant Cemetery in Testaccio. He was smoking a cigarette and finishing an operation on his wristwatch calculator. I greeted him with a nervous hello, and he in return gave an indifferent nod, cleared his throat and said, “I’d say I have about three solid years left before I need to forge another passport. Let’s get moving.” A strange figure we must have cut. Separated by two generations: This man, who everyone, even his closest friends, believed to be dead, and I, his nervous young acolyte, wan and speechless, like meeting a ghost.

He unlocked the cemetery gates and led me directly to the shed where he kept his arsenal of groundskeeper tools. A few rakes and various shovels, several bottles of fertilizer or weed killer, dissected parts of a sprinkler system, salts and a small desk  hidden under a mess of work orders and a well worn copy of The Case of Comrade Tulayev. I asked if he lived nearby and he shot back a glance that said, cop question. Then he handed me a pair of shears and we headed toward Keats’ wry headstone. His calloused hands glowing blue in the thin skin of old age started in on a patch of weeds, unrooting them with the efficiency of a machine.

Unsolicited he offered that he started every morning here as a reminder. Of what he didn’t say, but I read the engraving slowly back to myself a second, then a third time before grasping:

...in the Bitterness of his heart, at the Malicious Power of his enemies

We spoke little between tombstone visits – various technical tips on garden maintenance, a couple of insects to look out for, especially around Shelley’s resting place – but by the time we made it to Gramsci’s tomb, he opened up about the fear of those first years. The shock. Not so much of the violence, the blood, but of having lived past the first half decade of roundups, torture and psychological terror nearly unmoved. He meant that literally, the groundskeeper job being his domain for fifty years. The Party had assumed him dead after the Palatine Massacre of 2021 and he, having read the news, took a page from The Outsider and lived on, only now under a masked self of his own design.

The writing continued, thankfully, under a pseudonym long assumed to be the real identify of an American political prisoner. In the long trough of political reaction, his research continued only because of his proximity to Gramsci’s body, a mecca of sorts for myriad radicals who were happy to share the latest work on the respected revolutionary made saint. At odds with the day’s earlier reports on his financial prospects, he predicted that he would himself be buried here soon. And that he needed my help ensuring as much.

Before returning to his workshed, he handed me a spade and asked that I dig beneath a collection of vases at the base of Gramsi’s ashes until I reached the locked metal box. He returned a few minutes later and handed me the key. The box contained his birth certificate and a small journal filled with memories of his fugitive life in Italy. One titled “Swimmers” told a happy story of bathing in the Bay of Naples. I skimmed for a while longer as we sat in silence, flashes of goats in Capri, drunk students running the Circus Maximus in late fall, the beautiful disorganization of the Museo Archeologico. The box’s only other contents was a true relic: a small zipdrive containing what he called his masterpiece. These, the proof of his life and his life’s work in refuge, produced here, beside Gramsci, would go back with me to New York. “My granddaughter will know what to do.”

Before I could ask my questions, the morning’s first guests, a German couple on holiday, arrived at the cemetery gates. The living apparition rushed away to greet them and signaled with one last indifferent nod my way to the exit.

The W Column (daily practice)

Of all the daily offenses that could bring my blood to boil, why is a Phillies loss felt to be the most aggravating of all? From April to September (and if we’re lucky, October), whether in the wildcard hunt, World Series, or tanking, I dread nothing more than taking another L. (Conversely, it goes without saying, a win feels like an early bonus payout. I fall asleep rich and rise with the pride of a champion.) Maybe it’s a uniquely Philly thing, but any shakiness in performance – bullpen shits itself in the 9th; an overthrow at first; failure to turn a double play – comes as a personal affront. Even personal affronts, to the extent that I think I’ve experienced them, vibrate at a lower reactive frequency. I’ve never responded to an insult with as much bile as I’ve spit Hector’s way after giving up a hanging curveball meatball into South Philly oblivion.


I can liken it to getting robbed or ripped off, not that I’ve been a sucker much, if that helps you imagine what Herrera losing a high flyball in the July sun feels like. (If you think I’m exaggerating, feel free to check the replies to the official Phillies Twitter any weekday between, say, 10:30 and 11PM EST.) But oddly, Herrera’s the shlemiel in this scenario, right? Shouldn’t I have a laugh? Isn’t this whole baseball thing supposed to be fun after all? Maybe for some people, but you and your neighbors, the collective shlemazel of the American athletic world, are not some people. (I know very few Yiddish words, but the schlemiel/schlemazel relationship sticks with me for the very reason that it so accurately captures what being a Philadelphia sports fan means, of course discounting an aberration in the sportstime continuum, circa February 2018.)

The truly odd part of this whole attitude – or maybe it’s better described as a lifestyle, which I’m getting at – is that we have 1980 and 2008. True highlights in Phillies – nay,  sports! – history. We have Mike Schmidt (asshole) and Halladay (saint), Robin Roberts, the beautifully populist John Kruk and the mullet miracles of 1993. Hasn’t it all been enough? Consider the Cubs! Consider the Yankees! You’re neither all time great losers, nor the overly privileged trustfund babies of the League. You’re right there in the lower middle of the pack, consistent, a solidly losing record over 20k+ games across the oldest franchise in history, sure, but you’re known as fighters, working class heroes at that. Give the whole chip on yer shoulder pretense a break and finally chuckle off the battery-pelted Santa jokes. Try quiet pride for once, less open vitriol.


For any reasonably self-controlled adult, that should be easy enough to accept, but only if you express the oddity of it all in terms of a W-L percentage. Being a sports fan, particularly of the Phils variety, isn’t at all about winning or losing, and my proof of it is my own integral desire of underdoggedness (and evidently the whole city’s, if you take The Times’ view). Of needing, at the core of one’s being, to scream at the Manager as though you had a paid position in Kapler’s dugout. There’s the attachment to place, of course, and it’s right there – everywhere, worldwide – that you have the obvious answer to one’s agony & ecstasy of an otherwise completely meaningless relationship to a game. Apart from that, there’s the the very real, very meaningful hope that our collective grumbling will somehow reach the ears of the higher beings in the Front Office. As the ritual meeting place where this hoagie-mouthed praying happens, Citizen’s Bank Park and the Vet before it are – without any figurative sense of the word – the basilicas in the orthodoxy of working class experience in Philadelphia and its parishes in South Jersey / Delco. An image of Silver Linings Playbook‘s Deniro just flashed in my mind as illustrative here, though his character’s limit case superstition doesn’t capture the normally spiritual aspects of fandom. By “normal” I mean… you know, as normal as your grandma’s going to church on Sunday and expecting a Catholic spell to cure cancer.

One expectation of an hour’s worth of focused reflection on this topic – this obsession, really – is that one would take a step back and quit baseball, ye fickle boring game, for an evening.

But nah The Phillies are losing 7-2 to the Rockies and everyone seated in the Twitter pews are going evangelical on ’em:

Kapler has lost the clubhouse
Thank god it’s over
Same shit different day