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2008-12-20 - 9:06 a.m.

Often, I think of my writing here as a release after the storing-up of thoughts, memories I'd like to see play out on the screen, insights, smells. Like nuts in a squirrel's cheeks. I carry them around, as best I'm able. And then I let them out.

So, yesterday morning, half-asleep and listening to Morning Edition on NPR (how many people have this same experience around the country, I wonder?), David Simon of The Wire was talking to the host about his favorite movies. He's all about brevity and concision and the avoidance of wasted movement, so he picked movies in which much is conveyed via gestures and brief, tangy bursts of dialogue. And then he got to a movie probably a lot of us have seen--The Hustler, with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason as Fats Domino--and the program played a final, important part. It's after Paul Newman has had his character change, and he's shooting pool and talking about pool-as-life but he talks too much or does too much or something (David Simon has very specific ideas about what should and should not be and most of the time I respect that) and then they cut back to the studio and Simon explains why he thinks the movie told too much, rather than show. And the host says something like "So that's a movie that didn't make your list," and Simon says no, it didn't, and that last scene is "heartbreaking." Heartbreaking. That's a strong one. The line, with that guy, is easily overstepped.

I got my mom the complete boxed set of The Wire for Christmas. I love that she's a fan of that show. The subject matter couldn't be farther from her day-to-day. I love what we're capable of, we people, we people I know, we people I wish I knew.

Reading Nothing To Be Afraid Of, Julian Barnes' memoir that is really a book about death and what you do about it while you're alive and living with pretty much no religion. I've read a little of him before, but I think he's my new favorite English writer. He's so smart and dry and funny, the kind of guy you'd like to take along to some juicy American stuff like a rodeo or a bingo hall and constantly lean in close, to find out what he's smiling about. Witty English writer as cipher, I guess. That'd be my Christmas present to myself.

Going to sleep last night, I had a strong whiff of my grandparents on my mom's side, Granddad and his second wife, Frances (who we considered our grandmother). Could've been the glass of wine I had. Anyway, they've both been gone for more than ten years now. They were old-school classy. He was a banker and they had a nice house, with a nice, fancy living room with flower prints on the walls but also a better one downstairs with bowling trophies lined up along one wall, a fully stocked bar, and Granddad's seventies-era electric organ with its two rows of keys and its dozens of knobs that I'd tweak when he wasn't looking. Growing up, he always gave each of us a dollar when we visited. They were good people. The memory I had was of my brothers and me sitting in their little dining room off the kitchen, sitting there quietly and eating Utz potato chips out of a bowl and drinking glasses of 7-Up because that's what Frances always had on hand because she mixed it with Seagram's. And the four adults in the next room, drinking and talking and usually laughing. Granddad was a big man and had a big laugh. And the loudest sneeze I've ever heard, and no exaggeration there. Just incredible, the amount of noise and force and power that came out of his mouth and nose when he sneezed. It was like a jet taking off, but all at once, all of that locomotion and energy released in a half-second. It put me in a nice mood, all of this Granddad stuff.

I am on point, later today, for a soup, for a soup party. It has been suggested that I make a potato soup, and while I'm sure potato soups are nice, it doesn't knock my socks out through my shoes. I will do some soup investigating, is what I'm saying.

I went to a Stoop Storytelling thing this past Monday and I meant to write about it here and maybe I still will but the quick version is that it was amazing and there were performer-audience singalongs at the end and the mayor of my city told a story in which she used the word "poop." I almost skipped home though I am not a skipper.

We're off to London (staying on a houseboat for two nights) and then Norway (Oslo then Trondheim then a ski-town in the mountains and then back to Oslo) in three weeks. We've been advised to bring wool underwear. I am pretty excited and also curious about whether Norway has any of these ice bars I've read about.

Last one: Last night, standing outside Dionysus, a homeless guy came up with a plastic bag from which he pulled, like, a novelty Christmas gift thing, maybe an elaborate ball-point pen with tinsel on it or something. We said we weren't interested in buying it for his asking price (four dollars). Ten minutes later, he came back, and this time he had a bag full of costume jewelry: beaded bracelets, those things young girls put in their hair to keep their hair back off their foreheads. He said, four dollars for the whole bag. No one was much interested. Three dollars he said. Sorry, man. Two-fifty, he said. Final offer. People smoked cigarettes. Two dollars, he said. He pulled out the hair thing. This here's nice, he said. Another guy leaned in close, shook his head, and said, "Already got one of those." The homeless guy ambled off, going at it all over again with the people outside the pizza place, cycling through his story, bargaining all night and into today and again into tonight.

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