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It is nearly five am and the world’s least-favorite day is an hour away from sunlight. I am sitting here in my dimly-lit room wearing a terrible t-shirt and a terrible hat, listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack and wondering when was the last time I closed my eyes and rested my body. (Lord—it’s been almost twenty-four hours.)

There’s Japanese beer in the refrigerator and I’ve watched all three Daniel Craig James Bond flicks in the wrong order in the last four days. Skyfall is pretty good. I think I like that one best.

Tomorrow I will ride my bicycle to Downtown Oakland and get a P.O. box for this fine website. And then I will figure out if my roommate’s mother actually runs an art store in Berkeley (as opposed to me just thinking (or perhaps misremembering) that she does), and when I get there, and if it exists, I will buy a watercolor set. Then I’m going to create some things that I will give to anyone who is interested.

I just knocked over the French press with my foot. I guess I forgot to clean the damn thing out. Hours ago, who knows how many, I was drinking coffee straight from the press, which is not only hardcore strange but also greasier.

Somewhere not far from here there are cars racing down black highways to get to San Francisco for reasons that can’t be altogether good. I’m going to close my window now and shield myself from the noise and the cold autumn breeze that comes with it.

Once you’re sure there’s no one lurking, you open the door and check for light-proof curtains, outlets by the bed, and a coffee maker too small to have been used for washing delicates. You used to smell the shampoo, but you’ve had the soap selection at all of the major chains memorized for over a year.

You adjust the thermostat and approach the chair, for there is always a chair and your suitcase always goes on the chair. Heels are kicked off next to the chair; watch and ID go in your left shoe so you can’t forget them. Then you pull the neckline up with your left hand so you can reach the zipper with your right. You collect the bobby pins, give your hair a shake, and understand why loose hair was once considered transgressive. You peel off pantyhose.

You think about slipping on a dress, but now that they’re bare the scars and freckles of your legs seem too intimate to share with strangers. You’re a woman traveling alone, and any hint of a body apparently means you’re asking for it. They grab your waist and whisper room numbers into your ears and you’re exhausted and just want to eat something that isn’t canned tuna or another oatmeal packet heated in a coffee maker. So you venture downstairs and sit alone at the bar eating food that tastes microwaved, or maybe you are lucky and tonight is one of the nights when you meet someone who gets it—a fellow wanderer, another crew member maybe—and you stay up too late firing back and forth and leaving sparks in your wake.

When you wake up hours before the sun and reverse the ritual you’ll inevitably have forgotten where you are and peel back the curtains looking for an answer. But there is no Eiffel Tower or Space Needle here, just a flickering streetlight and a sprawling expanse of industrial sameness.

mgmt

In 2007, college friends Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden made a record because they probably didn’t know what the hell else they were supposed to be doing. It was called Oracular Spectacular, and it was pretty good. It had some nice songs on it. They were enjoyable to listen to. A few songs from the album attracted the attention of millions of mouth-breathers the world over, and suddenly Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden knew they would probably never want for anything ever again, but felt bummed about it anyway, because Jesus Christ, people, you bought the album for “Kids”? We don’t even really like that song, thought Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, maybe, and we wrote that shit all the way back in 2005. Oh, well, thought Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, before placing a few more tabs of acid on their beautiful watermelon-pink tongues.

Two years later, obviously creeped out by the success of their first album, and after touring the world many times over and standing in front a bunch of dopes who don’t really give a damn about the cool dudes bleeding out before them, the two released a “reactionary” album called Congratulations. It was about a million times better than Oracular Spectacular. Most of the album sounded like the weirder, more esoteric second half of OS, which people didn’t seem to care for or understand, because they couldn’t really dance mindlessly to it at their jerkoff friend’s dumbass party. The album was a big shrug. It was two guys saying, “Man, whatever, here’s some more fucking music I guess.” It was so good that a 23-year-old man in Baltimore, who had just broken up with his long-term girlfriend whom he still loved, listened to it and very little else for three otherwise miserable months. Congratulations became an album that the drooling amorphous blob of cells known as “people” claimed just wasn’t all that good, because y’all didn’t make anything that sounded like “Time to Pretend” again, which was catchy, and hell, you know you gotta make them songs catchy if you want any chance of being loved by human-shaped creatures who don’t know what the hell they like or why they like it in the first place. MGMT shrugged at the world, and the world shrugged back.

Finally: Here we are in the year of our Lord 2013, and the two young men collectively known as MGMT have released their third album, a self-titled collection of ten weird, somber Brian Eno tunes. It’s fantastic. It’s the best thing they’ve put out. There’s no part of it that says, “Here’s that thing you wanted.” Rather, it is, even more than Congratulations, forty-four solid minutes of, “Here’s this thing that we would be making by ourselves with no audience anyway, but, uhhhh, you guys can buy it if you feel like doing that.” The cover, which features lavender child VanWyngarden standing frozen in a glob of inertia-indifference as Goldwasser gazes on, half-amused, if he’s not asleep, into what very well may be an empty bird cage, in front of a suburban hair salon/consignment shop that is maybe holding a yard sale on a perfectly nice, harmless, muted, floating-through-a-painless-dream kind of day, is all you need to know about the album. It depicts precisely how the album feels. In that sense it’s as honest as they come.

A 25-year-old man in Oakland, who has few “real” friends and no girlfriend, and who has zero prospects or desire to change that fact, has hung out with MGMT’s MGMT since the day it was released—has listened to it about a hundred times now. And it has made him feel pretty OK at an age when feeling OK requires a great deal of effort that he’s not sure is worth the expense.

As far as I can tell, not many people seem to like MGMT. But then again, who cares? The world is a god damn joke anyway.

For what it’s worth, it is a nice thing and the few of us still paying attention are glad it exists. Thanks, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden.

ryanmail

Generally every day during lunch I write a letter to someone far away. It’s a nice thing, to put pen to paper, and to draw skeletons and cats (and skeleton-cats), and to place into envelopes all the strange, flat items I find in my room. Even if the person never writes back, it does something to me—something I would say is altogether wonderful and free of any downsides (how many of such things exist?)—to hear from these people in some other medium, usually through my phone, that they have received my labor and have placed it somewhere safe to keep for-ever.

I told John the other day, while we were sipping bourbon from a hollowed-out skull and chopping firewood at 2 am, that we should get a P.O. box for VIII NOTHING where we can receive letters and packages and boxes containing severed hands. He made a noise, kind of a grunt, that I interpreted as him finding this to be an agreeable idea. The letters we would receive, I went on, would be swiftly answered to whomever had written—that our thoughtful pen-pal would get a one-of-a-kind follow-up letter no later than seven business days after we had scanned their fine work in our trembling hands while standing half-dead and half-drunk in the nerve center of VIII NOTHING (our kitchen).

John grunted again and collapsed into the herb garden, mostly overgrown with mint, and began burp-yodeling “Soul Man” by legendary R&B duo Sam & Dave.

So: next week we will make our way to the swank post office in Downtown Oakland and get a P.O. box. Once we have the address, we’ll share it here, and you can write to us if that is what you feel like doing. We’ll write you back!

Dante is willing to receive mail as well. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? To receive fan mail for a cat? Shit, maybe he’ll respond, too. (Dante is illiterate according to our standards, but we’ll figure it out.)

Want some stuff? We’ll send you some stuff. Just words? We’ll send you more words than you’ll know what to fuckin’ do with.

We’ve got two typewriters in this house, after all. Hmm. We’ll see!

danters

Y’all knew we had a ship’s cat, right? A ship’s cat is a feline buddy who accompanies sailors and other boat-dudes on long voyages across the sea, primarily to hunt for rodents, but also because cats are cool as hell and it’s nice to have them around.

Anyway, this ship is the S.S. DOOMSDAY, and it’s not actually a ship at all: it’s a big ol’ house in Oakland, California. It’s where John and I do our sleeping and eating and bathing and blinking and breathing. We work on VIII NOTHING there, too. It is our corporate (hah!) headquarters; our citadel of sin; our shelter from the madness of this doomed planet.

And of course we’ve got a cat running around this damn place. That cat is named Dante Greyhame Allan Poe Starsailor, and he’s a righteous dude. (He’s also super weird.) The picture you see above was taken three days ago when I stepped out of my sleeping quarters to put the kettle on; it was high noon and time for tea. There was Dante, splayed out on the couch in an “aw, he thinks he’s people” sort of way. It was terribly funny—I could hardly stop laughing.

He just sat there, gazing at me, as if to say, “Yes? For God’s sake, did you need something?”

I said the magic word after that, which was “hungry”. I phrased it as a question: “Dante, are you hungry?”

Dante seldom meows—only when he’s sad about something—but when he hears the few human words he knows (“hungry,” “food,” “sit,” “Dante!” and “treats” (he’s learning “tuna”)), he chirrups. This amazing little trill comes tumbling out of his throat and he prances about, tail swaying, because he wants me to know that he understood what it is I have said to him and that he would very much like it if I filled his food bowl with whatever tasty noun I think he should have.

And I thought, yes, this little guy, at once my son and confidant and closest companion, yes: he is the official mascot of VIII NOTHING; he is, as John once said, the patron saint of the Oakland literati. I must tell the world about Dante (I thought), because otherwise how will they know?

I met Dante when he was only seven weeks old. I picked him up from some crummy shithouse on Lombard Street in Baltimore and took him home with me so we could be cool bros together. He has been my good and faithful friend ever since.

More Dante news from now on! He’s an important part of this fine enterprise we’re steering into oblivion. Without him, we wouldn’t wake up in the morning (Dante demands to be fed as the sun rises), and there’s no question that we’d be even more unhappy than we already are.

gloomyboston

Yesterday I was blazing across the western sky, 30,000 feet or so above blurry topography I hardly cared about, feeling run-down and broken. And I don’t mean that in some small, cutesy way. I mean my insides were putrified, brain and all, from which I still have not recovered (and probably never will). During the flight from Boston to Houston I felt a sickness creep up my throat and I knew I had contracted something from some fucking jerkoff in New England—maybe from holding on to a hand strap on the T, or from touching the railing to steady myself as I ascended from the darkness of the orange line and into those cold, cold streets. Or it could have come from one of my housemates at the “monastery”—we were in close proximity, living like brothers who were also strangers—in which case I forgive them entirely. They were good and decent people. I met few others.

I am in a rotten mood and I feel as though I could get angry or frustrated easily, which is unusual for me, so I have taken to my bedroom to get away from anyone I could harm to write this thing and have put on some good music and lit some candles and incense and have got with me a hot cup of peppermint tea. These creature comforts, which barely affect me anymore (and which were once so powerful), are mostly ineffective tonight. But what else can I do? The alternative is darkness and silence and time spent deep inside my head, which, other than a public space filled with terrible, mindless, screaming human beings, is the last place I want to be.

Something has flipped, a switch—a significant one, maybe—and I feel like I can’t do the damn thing anymore. I carry on with this ageless face but inside it’s all turned to ash. My body has finally caught up with my mind. It aches and is useless to me. I feel like a wireframe outline of a human: a phantom, an empty highway of misfiring nerve endings and fading neon.

I have just opened a matchbook I found in the breast pocket my denim jacket—when did I put this here?—to light another candle, only to discover my own drunk handwriting scrawled on the back of the cover. If anything can be said to even happen at all, then this must have happened three nights ago when I was wandering dead neighborhoods in Rhode Island feeling bitter and insane. As best I can tell this is what I wrote, probably because it seemed important that I remember it at the time:

I see purple lights under the bridge on Pleasant Street . . . and I think, “What? Why?” This isn’t pleasant at all. I was awoken by the cold and my body needed warm blood surging through it or I would collapse again . . . the sign reads “Pawtucket celebrates 200 yrs of freemasonry.”

Well, I’ll certainly use it when I write this piece, which is complete in my brain and has been since the moments erected themselves around me. On a night when I put myself in the way of great peril, and did things which have, I now know, endangered my future on this planet, I had enough sense to jot down some half-decent ideas on train tickets and bar receipts. They are right here on my desk. I am looking at them. As someone who can’t stand virtually everything, especially my own witless rambling, I like these scattered fragments of that awful night. There is no filter, no audience in mind, just reactions to my surroundings—squeezed out, pulp and all, from a strange and badly wounded place. I will save these little thoughts, which I will turn into great big thoughts, for something that I hope will help my musician friends retire comfortably (“I will bleed myself out for you all,” I had told them in a less dramatic way. “I will make them see what they have ignored for so long.”)

It would be fair to say I have lost, or am losing, my mind. “Madness cornering me from every angle”—that sort of thing. What I want now is comfort and to hear beautiful noise and for my body to be restored. That’s not so different, I don’t think, from what I wrote at 3 am in a fit of exhaustion and delirium during that first stormy night in Boston, only six days ago now, but longer ago in my mind, like some half-remembered dream:

Really all I want is a cup of tea and a hug and for some friendly person to walk on my spine.

In the present my cup is empty and my face is leaking. Dante is hungry and he wants me to feed him. My spine is as crooked as a question mark.

I had said to Jon, the Zen monk, on the morning I left: “When a man is weary the world seems unkind.”

“When we arrive at ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ and the answer doesn’t make a difference to us,” he said, “then we can do either, or neither—or both.”

Rising from his place in front of the old oven, he wrapped a black scarf around his neck and looked through me. “Remember?” he said. “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”