Anthony N. White - writer

My Little Black Notebook

In 2005 I became obsessed with what Jack Kerouac called “New American Pops” or non-syllabled haiku. Just like haiku, the American version that Kerouac played with is just a tiny snapshot of words that can quickly evoke a powerful emotion.

I knew I wanted to be a novelist but the amount of work it was going to take seemed so overwhelming that I didn’t think it could even start. So this was my solution. If you can write a story in just a few words that evokes powerful emotion then it should be easier when you have seventy-five thousand to do it.

At the time I was living in Watertown, New York and taking classes at SUNY Empire. That summer I worked at a restaurant near the library so I would leave for work early and spend some time in the library researching different Japanese Haiku Poets. I figured in order to break the rules you have to know them so I went back to the originators of the art and studied as much as I possibly could.

There in the basement of the Watertown Library I came across my favorite haiku. It was instantly my favorite and without a doubt had an immediate impact on me. I read it over and over again, sitting on the floor in between rows of books. I had gotten used to writing down the ones I liked the most in this little black notebook I carried with me and this one was no different. I scribbled it down and for months went back and read it over and over again.

About a year later I moved to Rochester, New York and stashed all my old writing in a box. I thought that someday it would be fun to go through it, maybe take note of how far my writing has come, or rehash old ideas that never made it passed the scribble stage. Sometime later, after my third or fourth move in Rochester, I decided to look through that box. There were so many memories in it, but not the little black notebook filled with haiku. I was disappointed but I figured that I just didn’t look hard enough, that it was probably stuck in the binder of another notebook.

Years went by. I could remember parts of my favorite haiku and occasionally I would google lines related to it. I couldn’t remember the author, but just new when translated it had the word “lichened” in it. I knew it was something about rain, a grave, and sadness. That was all that would come back to me. Google didn’t have the answer and whenever given the opportunity to look through books of Japanese Haiku I would, but I never found it. That little black notebook contained the answer and it had somehow vanished.

Year later still, I thought of that poem. Only this time there was a death in the family and we would be going to the same cemetery that my grandmother is buried. I needed that haiku. I dug the box out of the basement and went through it very carefully, examining each book and paging through them all. I took other boxes apart and looked through them. Nothing. The book was missing. I stood there in amazement and disbelief. How did I have all of my term papers from college, labeled and stored in hanging folders, but missing a notebook I spent months writing haiku in? “What a wasted summer,” I thought to myself.

Yesterday, I found it. I’ve been thinking about this book for about twelve years and I wasn’t looking for it at all and I found it. It dropped out of a newspaper article I was saving. I must have jammed the New York Times over it and it got caught up in there somehow. What’s more interesting is that the section of the Times I was saving was an obituary that Paul Westerberg wrote for Alex Chilton. Not only do I love both of those song writers, the day Alex Chilton died was the same day I started my punk band in Rochester, Pat Buchanan’s Hearse, or PBH. I saved that article for so many dear reasons it’s actually comical to find that it had been housing that notebook all these years. Chilton died in 2010.

Today I’m going to carry that notebook around all day. I just want to hold it. I genuinely missed it. Maybe in a different post I’ll share some of the haiku that I had started writing because of my studies. But for now, here’s the one that haunted me for almost fifteen years:

Winter rain deepens                                                                           

Lichened letters

On the grave…

And my old sadness

-Roka

Anthony Norman White - Freelance Writer

The Insufferable Writer

I change my mind constantly. One second I’m writing the outline of a new novel, the next I’m querying about a completed one, the next I’m retying terminal tackle to chase after steelheads, and the next minute I find myself setting up a closet as a makeshift studio to record an album I haven’t even written yet.

I haven’t played much guitar the last two years. I had a failed attempt at writing a bunch of songs two years ago. I had a month or so where I really wanted my old band, Pat Buchanan’s Hearse, to get back together. But it just wasn’t going to be possible. I hadn’t written hardly anything since my son was born. So I sat down to write a new PBH song and what came out was Once Surround. I made a demo of it to show the band, hoping that they would like it so much that they’d want to take it up and at least give it a shot at recording for real. It never happened.

Here’s what I had started. (I put the video together quickly so no judgement on it.)

 

I’m not sure of most of the lyrics. I lost the sheet I wrote them on. But the chorus sticks in my mind “Convoluted and confounded I was once surrounded”. At the time I wasn’t sure why I felt this way, but it unmistakable. I felt trapped, held back, and like “a dog in a pound”. But what’s interesting about these lyrics is that they’re in the past. “I was once surrounded” as if I was no longer. The song has a hopeful underdog feeling to it and the lyrics corroborate. It took a few years to put it together but I suddenly recognize why. This song, out of the hundreds that I’ve written and forgotten, has become extremely meaningful to me.

Right before my son was born I took a corporate job that had me on the road. It was a good job with great benefits and a pension. I couldn’t have asked for anything better at the time. I mostly traveled in the north east from DC to New Hampshire. I was home every weekend but usually pretty beat and didn’t feel like doing much. My wife went to work on the weekends waiting tables in a restaurant. Our lives were separate. I barely knew her or my my own son.

I missed his first laugh, first steps, first words, and other firsts that’s really  hard to think about now. It was difficult but this was life. I was frustrated and wasn’t sure how to express that. I fought with my wife. I withdrew from friends. I argued with my parents. In general, I was unhappy. But I thought there was something more to it. I thought that I was just unhappy being a father and another cog in the wheel of capitalism. I wanted out.

I went to a therapist and told her what I was feeling. She asked me a dozen questions and listened intently to my answers. I was waiting for her to come back with the fact that she had no clue what was wrong with me, that I needed years of therapy, probably massive drugs, electroshock therapy, and most likely a complete lobotomy. Instead she giggled.

“You mean to tell me you’re stuck doing a job you don’t like, missing out on engaging family time, and not creating, writing, or playing music? No wonder you’re miserable!”

I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t written or created much during this time. She convinced me that I needed to. “You’re an artist at heart,” she said and I swear at that moment  something changed in me forever. I had never considered that before. I had never even thought about really. I just thought I was a little kid having a hard time becoming an adult, playing in rock bands and reading poetry and dumpy coffee houses. Turns out, in a way, I am. But it’s not that I haven’t grown up, that’s how I cope with the stresses of everyday life, including becoming an adult, a dad, and a working professional.

So I was determined to get the old band back together. I made some desperate phone calls. No one wanted to listen. I thought if I just wrote a classic PBH track they’d have to come back! We’re were a good little punk rock outfit. They’d need to try it back on. I never felt so liberated as to play some rock and sweat it all out and feel better and get drunk and laugh and yell and scream and…have fun.

So I wrote Once Surround after a conversation with my friend Mike Leon. I pieced it together with a few riffs I had floating around and then once the melody hit me I penned the lyrics in a few minutes. I never really stopped to think about what I was writing. It just fit the mood of the song and my spot in life. I recorded the demo a few days later and then it got stored on an external hard drive and that was that. Until a few days ago when I found it.

I was once surround.

 

Watching Instead: A Poem

Watching Instead

Every day on my way to work I drive by the same house near the corner of Culver and Main

There’s always a woman there with her three kids, loading them onto the bus.

Sometimes she’s drinking coffee or smoking

But she always looks like the weight of the world has been placed on her shoulders

And her sole job in life is to figure out a way to get it off.

I look at her every time and now she’s become familiar and I expect her.

She’s a birthday card from a long distant aunt.

Recently I drove by, and she was out there, in the same way

Except she had been beaten very badly about her face.

Her kids were there, getting on the bus, and her face was there too, swollen in different colors.

I was instantly incensed and I went to work that day and discussed Employee Assistance Programs.

The director of the program showed a statistic about how many people have been helped

It was broken down by category or the reason they called

Financial Trouble – 13

Employee Relationship – 29

Student Loan – 7

Professional Advice – 5

I stared at all the categories and their numbers until I saw

Domestic Violence – 0

Everyone needs to do more than help women and men who suffer from domestic violence and

Everyone in the room agreed, and later, because of my advocacy, I got a raise.

Imagine that: I got a raise for someone else taking the brunt of their loved one’s fists.

I’ll drive by with my extra $25 a week and stare at the black, blue, red, yellow, and purple

Bruises of this city

And just keep driving

With my eyes focused just in front of the hood of my truck

Intent on helping but

Joining the rest of the crowd

And watching instead.

The Art of Drunk Food

It’s late night and you’re wandering with a few friends. You had dinner around 6pm but a blurry check of your watch shows that it’s now just past midnight. The last IPA you guzzled left your mouth dry and you can feel that shot of Tully sloshing in your guts as you trod clumsily along.

It’s Time for Drunk Food

The question is, to what degree of greasiness will you be willing to go? Pizza? Cheeseburgers? Nachos? All of it?

There is an art to drunk food, a je ne sais quoi if you will, from conception to plate. Certain things seem less appealing, like an arugula salad with a pair of soft boiled quail eggs, although at 6pm that would seem like the perfect option. But it’s after midnight now and you’re hammed. Arugula and quail eggs can go straight to hell.

No, it’s time for something double fried, dripping with grease, topped with cheese and soggy with mayonnaise. It’s time for a heart stopping, artery clogging mess that you are certain will give you plenty of time for regret as you perch upon your porcelain throne time after time after time the next day.

Why Do We Do it to Ourselves?

It’s for the sake of the art, of course! Someone put together this creation much in the same way that you came around to eating it. You can imagine the chef coming home late, drunk as ever, looking helplessly around his fridge for something to annihilate. There are sparse ingredients, but just enough to pique the curiosity of the blotto culinary creator. A dish is born, and with certain delight it is consumed in pure gluttony, its ephemeral existence quantified by the inhibition-free state the spirits have created while swimming through your bloodstream.

It’s pure bliss. The next step is finding a place to stare into space for a few minutes until your head hits the pillow. Before you know it you’ll be waking up looking for water, your shriveled prune like body devoid of water, saturated with salt, and dreaming of an ice cold Grape Gatorade.

 Personally Speaking After Going Ham

I’ve drunkenly roamed late night in Boston, New York, D.C., Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Toronto, Baltimore, and smaller cities like Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, Kingston, Manchester, Raleigh, and West Palm Beach. I have eaten late night meals in pretty much all of them. Regretted some more than others, but never hated on how great a night it was.

Here are the 3 meals unique to a specific area that I would go back for:

  1. Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh –  Absolute carnage. If you have never had the privilege of eating a sandwich there, its meat, coleslaw, and French fries on the sandwich itself, all piled up and delicious. I had pastrami, with swiss, and I added onions and an egg. I ate it greedily, obsessively, and without breathing. It was the perfect end to a great night.

    primonti bros
    Primanti Brothers Sandwich 
  2. Pat’s King of Steak in Philadelphia – Do me a favor and spare me the “the best cheesesteaks are not at Pat’s or Geno’s those places are for tourists” speech. I was in Philly and I was a damn tourist and the first time I ate a “Whiz Whit” I damn near cried. Tender steak and cheesey goodness was enough to send me to cholesterol bliss. Great night in Philly, too, complete with a memorable 3D Avatar porn experience and Monk’s Café Sour Flemish Ale. Not at the same time.

    pats cheesesteak
    Pat’s Cheesesteak
  3. Dog Town in Rochester – Despite its namesake, The Garbage Plate is delicious. Home fries on a plate topped with mac salad, a hot dog, and a cheeseburger, drowning in spicy meat sauce and speckled with raw onions. Sound gross? Come to Rochester and spend a few hours with yours truly walking around Monroe Avenue and then see what you think. You’ll cave in and then have to sleep for a week.

    garbage plate
    Garbage Plate on an actual plate

What it All Means

I’ve had late night hot dogs and slices of pizza in New York, grabbed after hours meals in Boston, and had a soft shell crab poor boy once in Baltimore that blew me away. But it’s not just what it was, it was the nights that surrounded the first time I had these specific meals, what I was doing, who I was with, and the meal just hit me. It hit me in a spot inside my mind that I can’t describe.

I went to school for a while in New Paltz, New York. I remember a little pizza joint that was on my stumbling walk home from the frat parties. It was called “Italian Supreme”. It’s not there anymore. I remember they had stuffed pizza slices, which were basically just two slices of pizza stacked on top of one another creating a “stuffed slice” effect.

I’m not sure if that pizza was any good. But at the time, at eighteen years old, with friends, drinking cheap beer and whiskey and smoking Natural American Spirits, it was the best pizza ever. We ate it like we were kings, sloppily sucking the sauce off our fingers and laughing till our heads fell off.

The art of drunk food is not just how the meal will satisfy your uninhibited hunger, it’s how that meal will entice your memory to go back to that spot in time and relive it all over again.

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.

 

Rochester Newspaper Sells Segregation

An article was recently released by Democrat and Chronicle that articulated the issues that Rochester is facing.   It defines exactly what’s wrong with this city in a simple and supposedly innocuous comment that probably shouldn’t have made the cut in the story.  It’s a line that does nothing for the story itself, yet was left in, as if on accident.  It was something I’m positive that most people read and passed over without a second thought, or simply accepted as a truth.  It is, in my opinion, the perfect quote to highlight why Rochester, NY has deeply rooted problems that will probably never go away.  These problems are not talked about, and are seldom brought up in public forums as far as I know.  If they are being talked about candidly and openly I would love for the residents of Rochester to write me and tell me I’m wrong.

The article was written by a group of staff writers at the Democrat and Chronicle; Victoria E. Freile, Patti Singer, and Todd Clausen.  Democrat and Chronicle’s Executive Editor and Vice President of News is Karen Magnusun.  The article is mostly concerned with the terrible tragedy of two burned bodies that were recently discovered.  The newest body was found near La Grange Park, which is nestled almost in the middle of a triangle with Ridgeway Ave, Mount Read Blvd, and Driving Park Ave.  The article was hard enough to get through due to the violent nature of the deaths, but a simple comment made by a local resident illuminates the odd segregation and tension that is simply accepted in this city.

The comment was made by Michael Bell.  It was the only comment in the article.  The entire quote read as follows:

“You don’t expect for activity like that to be around here.  It is normally pretty safe around here.  I am not saying this is like Mendon, Pittsford, or whatever, but it’s a secluded area here.  It’s quiet.  You don’t expect for activity like that to be around here.  God didn’t put us here to hurt and harm each other.  He put us here to love each other and we have to grasp that.  If there is something going on, there are people to talk to.   There is nothing that bad. “

What Mr. Bell said is direct and honest.  I especially like the part where he says we were not put here to harm each other.  I have always believed in tolerance, acceptance, peace, love, and understanding, but what bothers me about Mr. Bell’s comment was that he assumes Pittsford and Mendon are the safest areas.  That might actually be true.  The misconception that crime is only happening in certain parts of a city seems to be a common thread in news across the nation.  I don’t take umbrage with what Mr. Bell said, although the fact that he felt the need to say it at all made me cringe, but I am thoroughly disgusted that Democrat and Chronicle would print that part of the comment.  It is not part of the story.  It does not need to be part of the story, but it was left in as some sort of gauge, a bright orange cone that will remind the citizens of Mendon and Pittsford that they are somehow safer.

I wonder if the residents of Mendon and Pittsford read that line and somehow held their heads a little higher knowing that they don’t have to worry about such violence in their “part of town.”  I wonder if Karen Magnusun lives in Pittsford or Mendon, or if any of the staff writers do, and this was their strange way of making themselves feel a little safer, a little more at ease, subconsciously rationalizing their higher taxes.  I wonder if they still lock their doors at night, setting their security alarms and praying that the disgruntled riffraff that lives only a few miles away doesn’t figure out how to get in.  I wonder if they still fear the boogey man.

I moved to Rochester about a decade ago, chasing a girl and a dream of being a college graduate.  I stayed for this reason or that, getting wrapped up in jobs and life, but leaving has never left my mind.  I was only here for a month or so when I realized that this is a massively segregated city filled with elitists, extreme xenophobes, racists, and an overall unrelenting attitude that none of this is happening.  Rochester has some amazing people in it.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of them.  The food in this city is amazing.  There is an amazing blend of culture and people that live just under the radar on these streets, but there is an odd and noticeable wall that separates all things East and the rest of the God forsaken city.  It’s why the city is crumbling.  The hate is felt and is passed around so freely that it creates more hate.  The separatists are unapologetic and operate openly; so openly that a comment that was supposed to be innocuous splayed open the bubbling green bile of separation and hatred in a city that seems damned.

I’m embarrassed for Democrat and Chronicle.  They obviously don’t see the larger picture that Rochester and much of America are suffering from; poor brotherhood.  The comment was left in the article, a subconscious slip that tells a larger story, one that the news isn’t telling, but obviously selling.

Here’s the original article.

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.