'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

Reading Stephen King in Riyadh

Cover of "Under the Dome: A Novel"

Cover of Under the Dome: A Novel

I hadn’t read Stephen King since I was 12. Needful Things, which came out in 1991, was the last gasp of what you’d probably call a childhood obsession. Over about 16 months, helped by an aunt who ran a used book store in rural Montana, I devoured them all — The Stand, Misery, even his pseudonymous Bachman Books. I was hooked on the horror and drama, of course. But there was an inkling in the breakneck reading that I was being driven by desires more important than mere titillation.

On reflection — and as inspired by this latest reading — I now realize that my King thing was more than a child’s first crush on scary stories; it was a young man’s effort to figure out how to be an adult. Because — more than macabre tales — King’s novels almost always take some big-hearted stand on what is wrong and what is good and how we should live. (Cujo was about the frailty of man in the face of animals; The Stand about the inherent danger of big cities and the technology that comes with them; Pet Semetary cautioned us not to love animals — or each other — too much.) And a King book is invariably a very long book, a fact that made reading any of them feel like that much more of an accomplishment. Read the rest of this entry »


Filed under: Books, Homesick, Writing, , , , , ,

Saudi FAIL: Not dead, I was nonetheless hit by a car today

Riyadh - Mecca Highway

Zoom zoom along the Riyadh-Mecca highway. (Image by Bakar_88 via Flickr)

The sun glinted off oil-smeared asphalt. Winter’s already over, and the heat was building in the last morning minutes before the call to prayer would ring out across this city of several million.

I stood at one of Riyadh’s busiest intersections, half-way across Olaya Street. With cars blasting by to my rear, I checked the light ruling the traffic I’d need to cross. Sweat began to bead. I felt like a bug: All flesh and limbs and fluid, ready to pop against the unforgiving weight of a metal cleat.

No one walks here. Sidewalks are built beyond human scale, with foot-high drop offs at the curb. Driving isn’t much better: Women are banished from the wheel, so their 12-year-old sons take up the slack, with predictably dire results. With not much else to do, these boys drag race and hot rod and have perfected the dark art of drifting. For so many locals, disposable income is high enough that one can actually imagine — after an accident — abandoned BMWs, Mercedes, and even Rolls Royces, of which I’ve seen three gathering dust. New cars are easier than fixing old. The accident fatality rate is reported to be the highest in the world.

Thinking all this, surrounded by the sonic and visual whirr of traffic blasting by, I readied myself for the light to change. That flash of red would stop oncoming traffic — in theory. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Death, Homesick, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Traffic, World, ,

As 'Times' constricts, a look at its sickly sweet heart

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

A regular feature in the Monday edition of the Times, the Metropolitan Diary is a typically quiet collection of Dear Diary submissions from readers with a unique New York experience to share. Often drawn from overheard conversation, tender accounts of stolen moments, or funny encounters, the feature sounds pretty treacly. And it can be. But for whatever reason, I absolutely love it.

Take this entry, from this Monday’s paper.

Dear Diary:

When you work at a luxury hotel, as I did, employees must make sure the guests get exactly what they request. This can be especially frustrating when a guest is asking for something completely irrational.

In this instance, a couple of years ago, it was a businessman on a fiery tirade about reducing the noise that garbage trucks make in the morning. I stood at my doorman station with a hotel security guard and watched the man berate our co-worker at the front desk until the guest finally picked up his briefcase and stomped in our direction.

He passed me and stopped directly in front of Julio, the security guard. “Call me a cab,” the businessman ordered.

This was not Julio’s job, but not wanting to ignore the guest’s request, Julio looked him straight in the eyes and calmly replied, “You’re a cab.”

Julio turned around and walked away as I wandered into the street, waving for the nearest cab and grinning from ear to ear.

Maybe it’s because I’m homesick, or because I’m excited to see evidence that New Yorkers can be impressible, humble beasts, but I can’t look away. This is an appreciation made more poignant given that later this fall, my favorite newspaper will be letting go up to 100 — or eight percent — of its newsroom staff.

If it’s not already part of your routine, head to Metro section each Monday and enjoy. Who knows how long it’ll be an option?

PS: There’s some question as to how rigorously, if at all, the Diary is fact-checked. This seems important, but I read anyway.

via Serious Money in New York, but Chump Change in Greenwich – NYTimes.com.

Filed under: Entertainment, Homesick, Journalism, Media, New York City, New York Times, , , ,

Homesick again: Envying a rollicking, piano-banging gravestone benefit in NY

Duke Ellington during concert break at Jahrhun...

Duke Ellington woulda been jealous, too. (Image via Wikipedia)

If yesterday’s news that a Denver newspaper was hiring a pot critic made me homesick for America, this story describing a crowded New York nightclub made me desperately miss the Big City.

A definition of righteousness: about 75 people, crammed into the West Village club Smalls, watching a series of pianists play James P. Johnson on a grand piano in a benefit concert to buy a headstone for his grave.

I don’t know much about Johnson, but the set — which featured 12 different pianists slapping keys for five hours — sounds like it would’ve been an excellent introduction. Here’s critic Ben Ratliff’s description of the turn at the ivory taken by Ethan Iverson, of the excellent if sometimes overly nerdy Bad Plus, the band responsible for that jazzy cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”:

[Iverson] played “Carolina Shout” with sensitivity and clarity, keeping the stride rhythm steady in the left hand. Then he went off into his own updated, posteverything style, full of explicit dissonance, repetition and strange dynamics.

“The Charleston” was his killer: it started with deliberately messy tone rows, his two hands playing at cross-purposes, the left staccato and slow, the right flowing and medium-tempo. Inevitably, and with humor, he finished in the song’s proper style.

Johnson died in 1955 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Maspeth, Queens. When the concert promoters finally erect his stone, hopefully we’ll read about it and I can schedule some rainy afternoon to make a visit. I’ll bring my friend Tim, who’ll appreciate the trek, and I’ll tell him — as I’m telling you know — about the time in 1921 that Johnson and Duke Ellington stayed out hollering until 10 a.m.

Duke reportedly said a night with Johnson was worth more than a semester at a conservatory. Here’s to you, Mr. Johnson; may you teach us all.

via Music Review – James P. Johnson – Raising the Roof (and a Headstone) for a Giant of His Era – NYTimes.com.

Filed under: Don't be lazy, Homesick, Journalism, New York Times, , , , ,

Denver rag to hire pot critic? Now I'm officially homesick

WAMP supporters march to Los Angeles City Hall

Is the next weed wordsmith pictured here? (Image via Wikipedia)

Here’s a story that smacked me squarely in the face with the fact that I live in Saudi Arabia: Denver’s alternative weekly is accepting job applications for a freelance pot critic.

No kidding: The mile-high city is now home to as many as 100 medical marijuana dispensaries, the New York Times reports in its piece, and the Denver paper is eager to help consumers pick the best ones.

The idea is not to assess the green stuff itself, but to review the dispensaries that have sprouted like, um, weeds in Denver this year.

“We want to see what kind of place it is, how well they care for you and also how sketchy the place is,” said Patricia Calhoun, editor of Westword. “Do they actually look at your medical marijuana card? Do they let you slip some cash under the counter and bypass the rules?”

The applications, evidently, are totally wicked, bro.

Last week, the paper published a call for a regular freelance reviewer with a real, doctor-certified medical need — asking each candidate to send a résumé and an essay on “What Marijuana Means to Me” — and received several dozen applications within a few days.

“Every time an application comes in, it’s like opening a little birthday present, because most of them are quite hilarious,” Ms. Calhoun said.

So why am I so homesick? Not for the product on offer and not for the job, as fun as it might be. I miss the crazy brew of highs and lows that come with a culture like America’s. The needle just doesn’t bounce as much here in the big desert, where we’re all stone-cold sober.

via Wanted for the Denver Newspaper Westword – A Marijuana Critic – NYTimes.com.

Filed under: Homesick, Journalism, Medical marijuana, Saudi Arabia, , , , , ,