new writing in long forma proper archive for this site

i am having a dumb-day. my head isn't working and all the muscles around my jaw and neck are twitchy and crabbed. other symptoms of dumb-day include: having overdue library copies of Billy Liar and The Third Man ready for viewing but still insisting on cueing up a copy of Die Hard 2 on DVD so i can hear things go bang bang boom. before i sat down to write this i was sitting on my couch in a pair of greasy denim overalls, eating a barbequed squirrel on a stick and taking big, sloppy hits from a 3-gallon jug of Hawaiian Punch. i'm ready for my intervention.
- I FELL APART AT 01:53 p.m. ON 19 JULY, 2001

i added a piece called "THE LOQUACIOUS TOLL-BOOTH ATTENDANT" to the New Words section. seemed like a fitting place for it.

i've also changed a lot of normally familiar things on the site, including a reformed 'about' section, with over ten new milestones added to my neurosis timeline. (i can't believe i just called your attention to that.) it was a struggle to launch this stuff and there are some other things on the way but i was sort of in a now-or-never publishing situation with myself, especially since this launch comes right on the heels of my new almost complete disinterest in reading any writing on the web. hopefully (for many reasons) you're more open-minded about such things. tell your neighbors to say hello to tremble and please drop me a line when you can.
- I FELL APART AT 01:00 a.m. ON 19 JULY, 2001

what's new? a lot, i suppose. for one, i felt it was time to clean tremble's ears out and in the process changed some things around. hopefully, everything will be a bit easier to find, even if you're kind of stupid. longer, (hopefully) more thoughtfully considered pieces of writing will still be updated in 'new words' and a complete history of those writings live in 'old words'. 'published elsewhere' is pretty much what you'd imagined, as are most of those other links. click around. i won't get mad.

oh yes. here's a new thing! this page. i really wanted to make tremble as excellent as all of the other high-quality personal web sites available for free, and i decided the best way to do this would be to make tremble exactly like all of the other high-quality, free personal web sites. that means i'm pushing words to this page whenever it suits my fancy, to let you know special things or just to spread my homespun brand of hate-mongering. thanks to pitas for providing the necessary technology to let me update without incident.

there are bound to be problems. i'm not a very attentive person when it comes to page design quality assurance, so i would ask you two things. first, be large in the heart and full of forgiveness. and second, please report any weird things to the proper authority. have a nice time. and remember: you are my favorite reader.
- I FELL APART AT 12:44 a.m. ON 19 JULY, 2001

look what i found! i was sniffing around my computer's hard drive, amazed that i am still in possession of text doodlings i wrote over six years ago (about the time i first learned, by attrition, how to use a computer). among the scraps was what i guess was supposed to be a poem called 'girlfren'. in case you thought me invincible, feast your greedy eyes on all my sad artlessness:

my girlfren
talks like a maintenance man
thinks like a hurt artist
holds court with everyone and a cigarette

my girlfren
made of customized rubber
shaped like an ass beating
from your childhood crush

my girlfren smells
like a flower
in my front jeans pocket
her hair is where she wants it
her hands are never wrong
her feet
while her body sways with me
with me now

(apologies this instant!)
- I FELL APART AT 12:35 a.m. ON 19 JULY, 2001

ask anybody - i am famous for my delightful and drole Subway Sandwiches stories. tonight, like any other night, i dreamed of six inches of slightly stale wheat bread hugging some hand-folded Subway fixins. and tonight i acted.

being lazy, i decided to purchase the exact sandwich featured in the glossy advertisement on Subway's storefront window. it was a chickeny thing that i would never have ordered if slick advertising did not command me to - and a meat stuffing that was completely new to me in Subway world. when it was being prepared, i watched the employee pluck a neat, naked chicken breast from its designated plastic bin. then, only because he didn't chop it up (as the ad's image promised) i noticed something profoundly upsetting: the piece of chicken was narrow and long. in fact, it was exactly six inches long. which means that, well, it means, means reams of meetings and research measurements and development and fine-print in contracts and projected revenues and more and more and more. and suddenly it stopped being food to me. and then i ate the fuck out of it, tears in my eyes, barely stopping to breathe between bites except to occasionally fill the empty pockets of my mouth with pieces of otis spunkmeyer cookie.
- I FELL APART AT 12:13 a.m. ON 18 JULY, 2001

have been on a movie-watching bender lately, thanks to my library's free video policy (suckers!) and the netflix dvd subscription service. (allow a brief editorial aside here, please: i am conflicted about whether netflix is a worthwhile service for anyone not living in a town small enough to have its name appended by "falls", "corners", "park", or "shithole". while it is nice to get videos in the mail, and to be relieved of the guilt and debt inducing late fees, netflix - like many internet applications - further removes spontaneity from your life. you have to plan to want to see videos, and browsing is somewhat annoying and lacking surprise when you aren't staring before a large wall of videos. chances are, using netflix, you're less likely to take home The Last Dragon or A Gnome Called Gnorm out of reasons of sudden nostalgia or loss-of-good-sense. frankly, i still miss the days when every gas station and card shop in town carried a small selection of videos because no one wanted to miss out on the 'craze'. i thank netflix for freeing me of my $50/month late-fee habit, but i curse it for its coldness and its not-so-subtle anti-semetism)

where were we? oh yes - videos. as part of this bender, i watched the 1972 film, The Heartbreak Kid. i think i pulled its name from AFI's list of 100 finest american comedies (it was listed three slots below cheech and chong's The Corsican Brothers so i knew it was in great company) and, with elaine may directing and charles grodin starring, it seemed to have a lot going for it.

it's been almost 24 hours since i watched the film, and i'm still sorting it out. if you haven't seen it, please do. it's a comedy, but a really grim one. here is the best way i can describe it: take that last scene from The Graduate in which benjamin and elaine, having acted on probably a very real and very liberating passion (at least to them), are sitting next to each other on the bus, looking around as if they have no fucking idea what comes next - now follow that moment and those characters to a natural conclusion. that's the heartbreak kid, i think. it seems to be about impetuous mistakes, mostly. here's the outline. the main character, lenny, decides that after five days of marriage he has made an awful mistake. essentially, he has married his mother (although this isn't explicitly stated). on his honeymoon he meets someone else who excites him in completely new and (as far as he knows) sincere ways. this is the right woman; not his current newlywed. what follows is a series of awkward moments as lenny tries to secure his new relationship and end his old one - all during his honeymoon. this means terrible lies and deceitful behavior, and the most pathetically passive-aggressive breakup speech in movie history.

and here's my trouble with the film. i watched it, fully expecting lenny to be punished for his behavior. i expected him to learn how to be alone. i expected him to be caught in every lie and left out to dry by his newest object of affection. the thing i kept losing site of was his blind determination to make his new relationship work. i forgot that perhaps this new love was actually the real love, and not just another flip decision. just like in the graduate, where the characters might actually be experiencing a vague moment of doubt at the end of the film, i carried a looming sense of doubt about lenny throughout the entire film - ignoring the fact that he's actually feeling something exciting. it's my typical anti-Ayn Rand response - i think she's a terrible person for promoting individual desire and vision above society to such a degree that it absolves that individual of any responsibility toward a society in which he can potentially do good. (if howard roark had exploded the Citicorp headquarters instead of a low-income housing facility, i probably wouldn't have felt as conflicted as i did - but i guess that was the author's intention. which side are you on, boy?) can that same principle be applied to relationships? should your mistakes in one relationship be punished, considered and repented before you are able to move on to the next? why do i care? why do i think lenny should be unhappy? why would i share this with you?

fuck all of this. tomorrow night i'm going to rent The Meteor Man.
- I FELL APART AT 06:59 p.m. ON 17 JULY, 2001

there is a great line in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the 1973 film based on the play by balzac) which should serve as the official slogan for every creepy slasher film that has followed this film since: "that's the last goddamn hitch-hiker i ever pick up."
- I FELL APART AT 06:54 p.m. ON 14 JULY, 2001

i worry about my optometrist. his latest girlfriend is too young, i think. i saw her tax return recently and saw that, under 'additional sources of income', she was still including 'the tooth fairy'. (cue rimshot)

we all attended a Teenage Fanclub show this evening, and it was difficult being in the company of his girlfriend. she's teething, and her constant crying and fussing required that my optometrist and i take turns walking her stroller around the block. naturally, it meant missing a good portion of the concert. at least my lack of intimacy with her relieved me of the responsibility of changing her diaper. i told my optometrist she was too young, too sensitive for unstrained food. lesson learned, i think.
- I FELL APART AT 04:29 a.m. ON 14 JULY, 2001

i wonder, as i sit here nursing my tender hands, how old i will be when i stop coming home past 2 a.m. and falling down in my stairwell, my clothes infused with cigarette smoke, pickled egg juice, and pogues lyrics. want to know the truth? i don't wonder too hard, actually. time to soak my hands.
- I FELL APART AT 02:32 a.m. ON 13 JULY, 2001

i wish my life were measured by a series of to-do lists. more often than necessary i suffer from the anxieties associated with existential inertia, as i wait patiently for a force to act upon me. i discovered this morning that if i arrange my life as a to-do list, or a group of to-do lists of varying importance, i become energized with each item i can cross off.

this need is the product of my inability to handle encouragement very well. i become suspicious of the sincerity, and suspicious of the credibility of my source; i often ask to check references, etc. i am climbing this imaginary ladder of validation, constantly seeking out more refined and rarified sources. at some point i'm afraid i will only be able to answer to the ghost of groucho marx for creative reinforcement. i realize all of this means that the one person whose approval i cannot have is always going to be the same person whose approval i crave most. (at this point all the psychoanalysts reading this can prick up their ears and pronounce, "that one person is you, todd," and then invoice me collectively.)

but measuring my success by the rules of to-do lists makes me feel like i'm obeying a tenable, mathematical formula for satisfaction. i can fool myself into believing a crossed off item is complete beyond all doubts and second-guesses. if i can cross off "mail postcards from france", even when i'm mailing them from my brooklyn home weeks after returning from france, i feel like i can safely move on with my life. i know that part of the inertia i experience is a belief that if i can't mentally cross something off my mind, i must stay put. it's linear thinking. that's why i'm going to start making to-do lists with pre-completed items like "write acceptance speech for pushcart prize" and "free slaves". that way i can wake up, check my to-do list, think to myself, "hey, i'm doing so bad," and suck up enough faith to clean the litterbox.
- I FELL APART AT 01:39 p.m. ON 12 JULY, 2001

i used to hate libraries. full of books on subjects i know nothing of - world history, captains of industry, esperanto - all just sitting there trying to make me feel stupid. when i was a child, my legal guardian often took me to the library for 'quiet time'. (during my quiet time he'd usually disappear into the library's bathroom and emerge 30 minutes later uttering vague insinuations that he might be the messiah. then he'd fall asleep in the non-fiction 700s.) i hated the library - its smells and its vast volumes of knowledge - and would usually squander my time reading the latest garfield the cat opus or stan lee's How to Draw Scientific Parallels the Marvel Way. it was unbearable. all those pages i'd never read. all those ideas i'd never have time to ban.

but recently, after a very long public hiatus (i stopped spending time in libraries after garfield lost his edge and my legal guardian overdosed in the men's bathroom of the library of congress), the library system won me back. and how did it do this? by offering movie rentals! libraries are notorious for stocking foreign cinema and 'classic' films (i.e. movies in which every character wears a hat, no matter his or her occupation), which is perfect because i have no desire to actually spend money on old, dusty films or films that were too cheap or shoddy to hire real american, english speaking actors.

the library now envigorates me by making me realize how much i resent spending money on yellowed, forgotten back-catalog titles when i can be investing those same dollars in movies with costly linticular box art - movies like Jack Frost. (the scary one; not the based-on-a-true-story one). the presence of movie rentals in public (FREE!) libraries allows me to have the best of both cinematic worlds: free old movies to balance out the expensive blockbusters that need my rental money to survive. just today (at least for the purposes of this fiction), in fact, i brought home two classics that i can't wait to watch: Garfield in the Rough and How to Watch Movies the Marvel Way. i'm awakening my love of nostalgia.
- I FELL APART AT 12:47 a.m. ON 12 JULY, 2001

my european vacation was a washout, pictorially, thanks to an old manual camera and a completely inept cameraman. out of three rolls, two fell off their spools inside the camera. in other words, i was parading around europe operating a camera that for all intents and purposes had no film in it, the way one lets a baby 'operate' old, broken cameras or phones or electric can openers. 'well, at least he isn't hurting anyone,' god proclaimed.

the one surviving roll contained a few salvageable (i.e. properly exposed) black and white photographs. while i'm sure most of the things i saw in paris and barcelona have already been photographed at one point or another by far more skilled and gifted photographers (or at least photographers who know how to load film), i did have one small bit of luck on my own. thanks to a carnival ride at far-off street fair and a conveniently placed statue in le jardin des tuilleries, i got to keep this one.
- I FELL APART AT 02:35 p.m. ON 5 JULY, 2001

everyone has a friend with a quasi-super power. it's not usually anything to write home about - like heat vision or werewolf agility or the power to remove bras and panties telekinetically - but it's usually something that warrants a story or, at parties, a live show. things like being able to swallow a piece of string or chain and pull it out through your nose. or an ability to remember every major league baseball player from the 1981 season. or being able to orgasm twice in one night without losing one's vision temporarily.

i don't have any parlor tricks i can perform. i am not a go-to person in this sense. i can't even catch a stack of quarters from my elbow or make a paper football. i can't do anything that could be demonstrated in less than 15 seconds (which is the 'patience ceiling' for these kinds of tricks). but tonight i was thinking about how great it would be if i could eat any kind of food and instantly have the knowledge from sense-memory to re-create that food from scratch. nothing difficult, like Dentyne gum, but maybe tom kha gai soup from my favorite restaurant or a cheese sandwich. that could be my power. and if (when demonstrating this power) i attracted criticism i could just turn their bones to powder with my Psychic Pulver-Eyes®.

i know someone who can remember the birthday of every single person she meets, even if she can't remember your name. this may be useful or charming to others but i found this talent depressing, if only because it revealed to me that i share a birthday with carrot top. (yes, he got the looks and the sense of humor. i got all the spirituality, though.)
- I FELL APART AT 09:42 p.m. ON 3 JULY, 2001

tonight i realized (again) exactly how deep my own petty insecurities run. i have a friend who performs in a show called De La Guarda, a kind of theatrical performance/house party centered around a handful of incredibly well-toned young adults engaged in all manner of athletically charged movements while suspended from the ceiling on bungie cords. part of the novelty of the show is that, at one point, performers swoop down from the ceiling (the audience stands below them, marveling and getting a mouthful of artificial rain and confetti), snatch people from the audience, and pull them into the air high above the rest of the ticket-holding crowd. (i've been told that for each show they generally try to grab two women and one large man, for variety and good showmanship.)

i was nervous and fidgety for the first twenty minutes of the show, up until the part where the performers make their way into the crowd and interact with people (arbitrarily, i guess). it was like a school dance for me. i kept waiting to see if someone would grab me, or climb on my back, or pull me into the air to fly. they didn't and i spent the rest of the show thinking that it was only because i am unappealing and unloveable. i wish i could say i was making this stuff up. i felt like i struck out at the catillion.

now i realize the feelings of rejection and self-doubt i experienced at an audience-participation performance are nothing more than the mechinations of a clearly insane brain, but that still doesn't explain this: when one of the performers brushed up against me she flinched, and then immediately demanded that a nearby cast member toss her a can of Cootie Spray. honestly, i don't even think there's any such thing as Cootie Spray and that doesn't matter anyway because i do not have cooties - i swear.
- I FELL APART AT 01:57 a.m. ON 2 JULY, 2001


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2001 todd levin