Monday, March 18, 2013

My Norfolk Top 10

Suggested listening, in reverse chronological order: This, that, or this.

As my time winds down as a (somewhat obsessive) community activist in sleepy ole Norfolk, Virginia, I've been struck with this near-past nostalgia. It's like the way you take a picture and then add a filter and it immediately looks old. I've only been here 4 years----but oh, they've been some years.
The Roma would hit high voltage lines at Norfolk's Army Supply Base while on a trial run and crash on 2/21/1922.

Here's my top 10 things I've been involved with in NFK I'm most proud of, in an order only understood by the owlish innkeeper of my brain. Hyperlinks are to media coverage because lists like this have a way of sounding like they should include inventing the piano key necktie. 

1. The City Council informal sessions are taped, aired, and put online because Ethan and I did it ourselves and the next week the city manager said the city should be doing it. This made our city government more transparent in a really important way.
2. Street performance (busking if you're British) is legal because Jesio and I pushed it on AltDaily but more importantly directly to City Council members and in the informal work group set up by the city manager. (City Council passed with unanimous vote.)
3. Two years of Art | Everywhere, which filled the empty storefronts on Granby with lovely art--an idea conceptualized by Hannah and I, and we brought together Grow, the Downtown Norfolk Council, and Re:Vision Norfolk to make it happen. Ultimately got written up in Fast Company Magazine and was part of the Virginia Arts Festival calendar.
4. When Whitney realized the first Survive Norfolk was going to be much more than just she and her friends running around the neighborhood, she called Hannah and I, and AltDaily came on as a fundraising, logistical, and promotional partner. Huge success, with press as big as USA Today, and virtually nothing negative happened.
5. Running for City Council I got the endorsements of the teachers, city employees, and local unions. If you look at the spending per vote, I won that side race in a complete landslide. This as an absolute nobody in this town, with an absurdly small budget.
6. After my election loss it was time to either slink away or rise up with vigor. Hannah and I chose the latter, devoting ourselves to making an arts district a reality. The Norfolk Arts District is happening. Backed by a coalition that includes the City Council, city planner, manager's office, local university art departments, neighborhood property and business owners, this has huge potential--all manifested without a budget or an institution behind us.
7. The largest gay pride event in Hampton Roads, Out in the Park, used to take place hidden away in Chesapeake. The lobbying of myself and Patrick Mullins got it moved to the region's premier park, Town Point Park in Downtown Norfolk.
8. The Naro movies have mostly been big successes. It's been so cool to see a bunch of people drinking beer in the theater and laughing at Bill Murray movies.
9. A few things I helped launch that weren't quite home runs, but were independent successes, and certainly added a ton of vitality, fun, and newness to the local culture: Chalking of Ghent, Hampton Roads the Canvas (paved the way for the Arts District), the Norfology campaign (paved the way for Hatch and Start Norfolk), RedRail, which brought performances onto The Tide, and The Rise Up concert. I'm also proud to say that I am a founding member of Re:Vision Norfolk and Bike Norfolk, and helped to launch Generation Norfolk.
10. Unless something has changed and nobody told me, this Spring the city will be launching the employee bike share program I pitched.

1945. VE Day Granby Street. | Norfolk Public Library
I've given a few shout-outs here, but all of these have been team efforts. Hannah's been my partner from day 1, Jesio is the all-time #3, Jenn Mackey on the Naro movies, Max Shapiro on the Council run, Elyse Lovelace and all the artists on the Canvas project, James and Cindy and everyone else at Pride who worked their butts off to make that happen, Bonnie and Careyann were the soul of Art | Everywhere... some of the most good hearted and talented people I know came together to make all this happen.

The core of it all has been AltDaily in general. All of those articles that have promoted artists, musicians, small businesses, grass roots causes (including food trucks). 3-5 new stories every day since I came on, almost all somehow Norfolk/Virginia Beach-focused. There are almost 500 pages of posts with me as the author alone. Crazzzzy. As the college boys say, I have fought the good fight, I have finished my work. So stoked for the next chapter and challenge, whatever it may be.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

new poem for Allen like most

Oh glory
Oh pandemonium
Oh crashes of mile high bookshelves onto the heads of a 
thousand high speed internet bottle babies. 

The bombshell in the polkadot dress 
sings offkey about little mermaid female empowerment.

The drones buzz overhead
we all let ourselves believe they're cicadas.

The co-eds on TV jump up and down on the home parquet
future leaders of the free and clear world
We did it We did it We did it.

The tragedy of dull desires.

The thrill of the month. 

Ghetto children born siamese with upper class ideals
they'll spend their lives supporting 
for other people
but never themselves. 

Oh glory
Oh pandemonium.

Oh instincts ingrained in us since our juvenile bacterial days
that'll never be understood
a framework of phantoms telling us to
sit stay fuck chase hide
download download download
a push-me-pull-you message instructing us to survive
when what the original Bart Simpson spitballer, God,
wants for us is to divine. 

The polkadot bombshell sways in the bathroom line
'Do you believe in miracles, you sexy thing.'

The drones skyfall
take sacramental sips
of wine from our necks
we wake up thinking
Who gave me this hickey
as college kids are strewn like empty Diet Cokes
along the side of our souls.

I ask the stranger next to me how he's doing tonight.
'You're asking the wrong guy,' he says.

And the books rise
Visages of cities 
Totems of hope
the glory of heaven expressed in binding and pulp
And I feeeeeeeeeel the pandemonium.
I let it tingle my skin
the candles of infinity lanterns burn
calling us home to versions of ourselves God
will never let us find but she'll keep singing singing
singing until we do.

Colley Cantina, March 12, 2013 

Friday, March 8, 2013

When I'm 34

I turn 34 on Sunday.

I have had a bad attitude about this. It's kind of been like this in my head:

Split screen, SIDE 1: me with, like, snot running down my face as I bike through a hail storm, my shoe falling off and some Navy dude beating me over the head with it and falling into the Elizabeth River, where its tangy juices melt me instantly, the last words I hear being the student loan debt collector suggesting I donate an eye to pay them.

Split screen, SIDE 2: Me and some beautiful brown haired wife and these rad kids (one adopted, obvi) riding their house-trained miniature horses around our loft in Brooklyn Heights, and then I get a call and it's the President asking for sex advice and I tell him my best trick and then everyone eats perfectly toasted bagels while reading my column in the New York Times.  

Expectations are a path to disaster, like seeing a hole in an icy mountainside and squeezing your way through it. So I'm being dumb. I get that. But now that I sit down with the purpose of writing a little life narrative for myself, a decision I made a long time ago is racing back to the surface, an epiphany narrowly eluding the bends:

This was the plan the whole time. I have lived a silly, meaningful, soul-searching vagabond existence, financed primarily by student loans. It was my little trick, a rig of the system: I would keep moving, keep getting degrees, take out a little off the top from the private loans here and there, defer defer defer, and basically ride it as far as I could, at which time I would be forced to get a job where pants are not just encouraged, but expected. The trick would pan out, I reasoned, because by the time I reached the edge I would have a jam-packed resume, setting me up to find a meaningful pants-demanding job.

(To be honest, I was kind of hoping that I'd fall backwards into Split Screen 2. But that hasn't happened. Peanut butter and jelly is still cheap, I can do yoga for free... life is still pretty good.)

ANYWAY. The point of this blog was to write a little life narrative to help me see my situation as part of a bigger plan, and not just a semi-sucky moment. So here goes. 

Born in Danbury Connecticut, a town known for a hat factory that no longer existed. My dad an Italian tough from Far Rockaway, Queens. My mom a smart Jewish girl from the Midwest. Sweet little sister who I would torture by antagonizing into hitting me, knowing my blocking her punches would hurt her more than me (yah, I was that older brother at one point). Super cool older sister who would antagonize me by putting me in a shopping cart and pushing the shopping cart down a hill. My dad had a lock and alarm business that did well--he told me he put the alarms on submarines, which sounds crazy when you say it outloud. But he said a lot of crazy things. He also claimed to have been part of the team that invented the contact lens, that his dad was a character in Good Fellas, and that he was an all state full back who got a scholarship offer to Harvard. So who knows. But he did well enough that we moved to yuppie Ridgefield, an NYC commuter town on the Harlem Line. The house looked like a castle. Growing up in poverty my dad was a complete dummy about money. Cocaine, I would later learn, was his gumba, which helps explain the car crashes and random street fights he'd get into from time to time. But I was one of the first kids to get Nintendo. He took me to the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Even though he was scary as a loose jackal as a Pop Warner football coach, I loved that he was my coach. Maybe my absolute top memories as a kid are with him and the other dads and coaches at the diner in town, Nina's, figuring out the plays with salt and pepper, the syrup at quarterback and mouthfuls of pancakes, New England fall proof of God out the window.

We'd go to St. Louis for Thanksgiving and during the summers and hang with my mom's family. East coast Jews transplanted. My grandpa was a World Warr II paratrooper and traveling bra salesman who would lead my sweet little grandma through the department store by her neck. But I loved my grandpa. He was smart and fair, engaged and engaging. The quintessential Grandpa Hilly: He made the effort to take us kids to Six Flags, but on the way back, while everyone else was asleep, he made me cry giving me the Don't Do Drugs tough love you-won't-be-my-grandson-anyore lecture. I was 7. My grandma looked like a movie star to us. She taught us all to swim and to love to read. I will never *like* anyone more than her. G+G. My cousins and uncles out there were great, too. It felt like a family.

At some point in my childhood the bottom dropped out of my parents' financial situation. Cold showers. Moves in the middle of the night. Food stamps. Yelling, fighting worse. The story goes on and on and on and on.

Fast forward through middle school (three of them) and high school (three again).

Spent a summer in Yosemite reading and shooting hoops and hiking and washing dishes. Read Kerouac for the first time. Read Kerouac for the first time. Read Kerouac for the first time. My friends All Star and Mose and I got drunk and snuck into the stables to ride the horses and I was so fucking happy right then, even moreso after a jump in the river, could have swam down to the center of the earth and made love to the dinosaur mermaids if we wanted, we were so powerful. Tried to hitchhike out and made it halfway through the desert in Nevada before getting a cheap hotel, a Greyhound ticket, and Gidgeon's bible to help with my revival. Spent the next summer down in Florida with my sister. I taught little kids to swim. She led a gator tour on an airboat through the swamp. Come September I transferred from the Jesuit school I was going to in St. Louis back to my state school, the University of Connecticut, an action capitulated to the anti-satori: That school was costing a lot of money that it wasn't worth.

Studied abroad in Florence. Fell in love for the first time. Went to Sicily for Carnivale. Had a knife pulled on me, walked away, remembered who my Italian grandpa (theoretically) was, and went back and slammed the guy to the ground when he pulled it again. Went to Paris and discovered how beautiful man's earth can be. Went to Amsterdam--I think. Made out with foreign women, including a girl from Malta, a country I had not heard of before. Couldn't stand sitting in class so I'd take hour long bathroom breaks, gambling with the crooks in the market, hitch-hiking, figuring out European train schedules and the view of the Alps out the window, the art, the art, the art, and the people, man. I got a place in my heart for any American who hasn't lived among Europeans. It's a whole 'nother thing over there, this society thing.

Spent a summer staying at a friend's parents' condo in the Hamptons. We got jobs as interns at the local paper--I wrote a story about how a hurricane was going to break up Long Island into four pieces that summer (it never did) we got promoted to managing editor of the smaller paper in Montauk. The next summer lived on the Hill in DC, teaching little Korean children how to speak English by watching Annie and talking about kittens and laughing too much the other teachers gave me dirty looks. Graduated college. They send Jewish kids to Israel for free. Met my first serious girlfriend in the salt baths--a wonderful girl who I am proud to report is still cute, who happened to live in the next dorm over back at UConn. Worked at ESPN for a little bit. Got a master's degree. Had to keep moving moving moving so applied and got into NYU for another degree. Lived off Washington Square Park. If a person is a Trivial Pursuit game piece, I got the yellow in Yosemite, the red in Europe, and neon in New York. Fell in love with a South African ballerina. Followed her to Jo-burg. Asked her dad if he was cool with it, he said Maaaaayyybe... No. Came back to New York. Fought for her fought for her fought for her. Started a production company with a childhood close friend. Made a documentary about table tennis. Did some work for ESPN. Made a documentary series for BET about the band and football team at Grambling St. in Louisiana. The ballerina and I broke up and she went home. She came back to fight for it. She got deported. I followed her again. I couldn't be in New York without her so I moved back home to Connecticut. Couldn't do that any more so I drove and drove and drove until the car couldn't go any farther.

San Diego. Surfed. Did yoga in a yurt. Sat around the coffee shop. Taught at a charter school. Surfed. Did yoga. Wrote for the local paper. Hitch hiked up the coast. Got incredibly depressed thinking about the girl. Quit my jobs, gave up my apartment, sold everything I could and bought a ticket to Cape Town. Wandered. Almost took a job cleaning penguins mauled by oil. Volunteered at a home for young men. Helped run a mobile soup kitchen. Realized how lucky I was. My mom called me one morning. 'Your dad had a heart attack,' she said. 'And he didn't make it.' Flew home. Fog. Vapor. An imaginary place between my body and the air where I lived for 6 weeks, 2 months, I don't know how long. A Dutch friend from South Africa invited me to be the mate on his ship. Sailed for a while in Holland. Couldn't understand the wind. I wasn't allowed to hook up with the female guests until these German riot cop dudes arrived, one pretty girl among them, and my cop hating Dutch friend gave me the nod. Got fired. Found my way to Ireland. Couch surfed. Hitch hiked. Worked on an organic farm. Worked on a goat farm with a nudist. Worked at a hostel on an island. Got offered a scholarship to go to a school in Norfolk so went there.

Almost left immediately. Met a crazy girl I couldn't resist. Stayed around. Got on board with a local magazine. Showed 80s movies at the old theater. Did public art projects. Saw some things wrong in the city and worked to help get them changed. Chose the business over the girl (mutually). Met another girl, a yoga teacher who helped me see who I really am. Ran for city council. Had surreal things happen like a poem from this blog becoming scandal in the paper. An insane man terrorized me online, came after me outside a courthouse, then got his head shot off in a Rite Aid. Published a lot of art and journalism and community building words I was damn proud of. Helped make an arts district in the smack dab center of the self-proclaimed military capital of the world (pending).

My attitude is getting better. I wrote this for me but I appreciate your time.