Friday, March 31, 2006

A Moron's Take on Music

It is, this very moment, where I'm at, justabout 9pm on Friday. Since last Sunday at 4pm, I have either been working or in the car or taking care of the child solo or in class damn near every available moment. But, I was moved to articulate something that has been in my brain for a while because of a link from FUQUAD's blog (and wasn't it a damn shame he closed down AND wouldn't allow comments on the same day) that mentioned in the title the band Cake.

Let me first say that Cake supplied, at one time, one of the worst concerts I have ever seen. They were touring after Fashion Nugget, and I saw them at Bumbershoot, and they were studio-band-out-of-water suckage.

But, they, beyond anyone else I have ever heard, have an incredible sense of syntactic pacing, which I credit entirely to their lead singer. He has a cellular level understanding of when to hesitate and when to draw out a syllable.

Best example...

The way you treat me lightly only slightly brings me down a lot.


The way <>
you treat me <> lightly
only <> slightly
brings me <> down
a lot

... which is just fucking perfect.

Is it the best song ever? No. But, what it is, is done damn well.

Which got me thinking about albums, and how the best total albums don't necessarily contain the best songs. There is something akin to good syntactic pacing that good albums do well when heard straight through.

So, I decided to share my picks for favorite albums. Not the best bands, or songs, but the most complete and well-crafted album experiences I know. I'm sure that musically astute folks like the LyamHound will recognize a pedestrian nature in my choices, and I won't even defend them, but I think all have the quality of rightness that Cake has in its delivery of singular lines.

And the nominees are:

Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Johnny Cash - the first American Recordings album
Los Lobos - Colossal Head
Sublime - Sublime
Beastie Boys - Ill Communication

Because in each case, the tempo, the correlate to syntactic pacing, is pitch perfect.

And PE gets my nod for best album ever. Ever. In the same way Charlie Chaplin's is the only good autobiography. Ever.

But I'd love to hear the differing opinions.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Regrets, I have a few

I love walking into an uncomfortable cross-cultural exchange.

My very local QFC, late. The checker is a mid-50’s Scandinavian woman, meaty and talkative.

“Oh, no, I just meant, well, you’re so tall.”

The customer is 6’4” or so, broad and blonde and wearing Carhartt overalls and a trucker hat. He nods and half-smiles and tries to look away.

“It’s just the people I know are really small. They’re from Estonia and… Where are you from in Russia.”

His smile is more strained by the moment, and he still isn’t looking at her.

Russia Russia.”

“Oooh, Russia Russsia.”

And I so badly want to escalate. I’m sweating, and start prancing like a little girl who has to tinkle.

“Yeah, not so much to say after we kicked your asses in the Cold War, huh?”

My restraint makes me sad. But at least I didn’t get my ass kicked by a big Russian fisherman.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

They Now Are Found

I'm back in school as of this week, with a much longer commute because I'm travelling during rush hour, and working an assload of extra evening shifts, so I'm pretty much losing my tater mind.

And, in the no taters state, I've found these two bits of found poetry, the first pulled from the apologetic comments people paste onto the "forward this and Bill Gates will totally send you thousands of dollars" emails, and the other from the block of invisible text that spammers use to slip by filters (I so want the job of writing that stuff).

I simply refuse to believe this works.
I never send these along.
One wonders if the attorney
is on the level
if Microsoft is still paying.
A classic American gambit!
Wanted to try this to see if it works.
I have been told that it does.
Well here goes.
Okay what the heck
I normally NEVER do these things
but I have to say
it's can't hurt
and it's costing me nothing!
I know this won't work
but what the Hell

cathedra psychoanalysis to jesse bernhard keenan

gaur brillouin cotoneaster
slag atavistic insubstantial buildup

do glide
juridic militiamen embark tsarina
category centennial
lateran rim
dehydrate semaphore clergyman
switchboard desecrater
huge colorado forbore


ethan dexterity benefice
mycenae australia crown anatole germanic knight
inclination drawback
hasten sandman
demolish allege
compote can't


fern screwdriver
kill cashier
attitudinal pasty

reversible dignitary expectation
vocalic fleece

broglie pediatric dill
continental cost dibble
consolidate partner anagram
kelp mound


Yeah, I'm a lazy motherfucker.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Fairy Tale Endings

Liv and I were at the library the other day, and I picked up a bigass anthology of Russian fairy tales that had somehow made its way into the children’s section.

I was delighted in the very first story I read, "The Frog Princess." In the story, the prince has traveled many miles to recover his wife, a frog that his father forced him to marry, but whom he has come to understand is actually a princess. She, magically forgetting him, has become engaged, but she recognizes the prince immediately and they jump on a magic carpet to fly home. But, ahh, her betrothed is cunning, and follows them, coming with ten feet of catching them.

Here is the delightful part. The moment the pursuer is close, “they flew the carpet into Russia, and for some reason he could not enter Russia, so he returned home.”

Three page story. Bridegroom appears in the second to last paragraph. His pursuit of the couple is solved by those magic words “for some reason.” That is just beautiful.

But, that, delightful though it may be, is not what I want to talk about. Far more delightful is this ending, which appears in dozens of tales: “I was there, and I drank mead and beer. It ran through my mustache, but didn’t get in my mouth.”

I’ve been rummaging around the web trying to find out what this means, but the nearest I have found is that it is merely a convention of Russian folklore, much like “they lived happily ever after.”

Brief tangent. A few years back, I read a translated Chinese or Japanese short story about a couple visiting the ruins of a temple, which ended, roughly, with “And that was what happened at the temple that day.” It struck me, but upon reflection seems like an appropriate convention of ending for a piece of Asian literature. Something of the matter-of-fact closure had a cultural resonance (and I can’t possibly tell you why).

So, I’m wondering what it might be that the mead-mustache-mouth convention says about Russian literary culture. What the hell does that phrase mean? Or, as is indicated in one use of it in my anthology, is it merely a flourish? A reminder that what you have just heard is fancy? There seems to be a very Russian taste to it that I can’t articulate.

It has got me thinking about what literary conventions say about a culture. The above-referenced “happily ever after” is an easy one, I think, and maybe only because it is of the culture I live in and sprang from, but also for the bald political implications it carries.

Makes me want to write a fairy tale with this last line:

“And Horatio the Algerian lived happily ever after.”

Why do sex workers hate me?

OK, perhaps that is a little dramatic for a number of reasons. I'm using a very inclusive definition of sex worker, and it probably isn't true that every last one hates me. I mean, I had a fling with a stripper once, and this porn site chick used to proposition me on a regular basis (Porn girl: "Jim, do you need a ride tonight?" Jim: "Oh, no, thanks. Calvin is giving me a ride home." Porn girl: "That wasn't what I was asking." Mexican cook in the background: "Oh, fuck, dooooooooooooood." (Important to note that I was well aware what was being offered, and that refusal was the TOTALLY RIGHT WAY TO GO IN THIS CASE.))

But, it occurred to me today, that there are a few stories in my life that resonate with one another, and lead me to suspect that perhaps the default setting for sex workers is to hate me.

Age 20, a sexually-frustrated virgin (I was a very late bloomer), sitting at home on another Saturday night (even in college, I rarely ventured out on Amateur Night), leafing through the alternative weekly and perusing, again, the phone sex ads. I had failed to rise to the dares I had dared myself (I'm not very daring, apparently) many times before, but thought "Fuck it. The roommate is back home for the weekend, and I'm curious and horny."

So, I did the deed. This was one of those deals where you call the service and then the hot-voiced chick (who was likely 300 lbs and bouncing a brat - I've seen that Aerosmith video) calls you back.

I'm totally nervous. She starts chatting a bit, and that voice, damn, well, I just gotta say that their hiring practices were right on.

She asks me how old I am, casually.

22, I say, because a 20-year-old college kid calling phone sex lines on a Saturday night, especially one attending one of Playboy's top-five party schools in the country, was just too pathetic.

More chatting, nothing sexual yet, and, again casually, she was good at her job, she asks what year I was born. Fucking math whiz that I am, I tell her my actual, and therefore incorrect given my lie, birth year.

"Oh, really? But that would make you twenty, and you said you were twenty-two. This phone call is over. Goodbye."

And she hung up, leaving me a shamed young man with a withering hard-on in his hand.

I never called a sex line again.

Fast forward three years, and I'm still in Syracuse, out drinking with my girlfriend's brother, Tim, and his friends. The guy driving us is a dry alcoholic, and cuts the deal that he'll only drive if we end up at a strip club. Not a problem.

Place is dead. It's a weeknight in Upstate New York, after all. I'm up near the stage, drinking and talking to Tim, while a semi-attractive girl is dancing.

(Side anectdote: Walking down Denny Way past the old Razzmatazz strip club years back, I see a stripper out front smoking a cigarette. The guys walking a few meters ahead see her, too, and one says to the other "Sheee-it. I go to a place that to see girls I can't have, not one I can." Moral of the story is that 75% of strip clubs in the world feature chicks you'd rather not see naked even for free.)

Anyway, I'm not paying attention to her. I'm bored and talking to Tim about the bachelor party he'll soon be hosting.

"Excuse me, I'm dancing here."

I turn to her briefly."I can see that."

"So, are you going to give me some money?"

"Why? I'm not even watching."

"You're an asshole."

Yes, called an asshole by a naked chick on stage. And not for being lewd. Awesome.

OK, last one, and it's brief.

Worked in San Francisco for a few months a couple of years back, and was walking home to our incredibly posh corporate flat one night through the strip club/massage parlor/hooker section near Chinatown. I'm thinking about something else, but apparently staring at a lady (I think) of the evening, and she says, I shit you not, "Keep walking, small change, else I'll spend you."

That floated up out of my besotted memories just today, and got me thinking about this whole thing.

Why do sex workers hate me? Is it because I've put so little money into their industry? Channeling that money instead into copious amounts of liquor in an effort to make girls cuter and me at least marginally charming? Did my mom pay them off?

It doesn't really, matter, I suppose. All of that happened before I was married. But, it does seem to add yet another reason that I'll never visit a prostitute. She might laugh at me or kick me in the balls or something, and somehow I don't think I'd be sharing that story with anyone.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Trifecta

I have three general ideas kicking around in my head, none of which seems to deserve a post all it’s own, so I’m doing them as a triptych instead.

Inserting a Strange Attractor Into Your Life

Last Wednesday, Liv and I got up, ate some oatmeal and were deciding what to do with ourselves, and I noticed that Syracuse’s first-round game in the Big East Torunament was on TV. We colored, played with Legos and watched the game.

I had pretty low hopes. My beloved Syracuse Orange(men) (they just recently stopped being the Orangemen, a archaic reference to members of the Onondaga tribe, and became just the Orange, which creates all kinds of interesting pluralization puzzles, but anyway…) were a weak bubble team playing in a stacked conference tournament with a guard, Gerry McNamara, who the Syracuse student paper and anonymous assistant coaches around the league had labeled “overrated.”

And then, down by two, that very same Gerry drained a carnival shot three with a half second left, and I scared the crap out of Olivia will my little girl squeal.

The next day, playing the #1 team in the country, Gerry again, with five seconds left nails the three that forces overtime, and the Orange go on to win.

Holy shit. They might win. A week before they got blown out by some JV girls team called DePaul.

Friday night, me and the girls and The Orange and the hATed Georgetown Hoyas. We get pushed around all night, but stick around. Livvie gets into it – I taught her to say “Syracuse is the master of the zone!” Less than a minute, and Gerry drains yet another three to pull within one, dishes off a sweet pass for the go ahead bucket, the first lead they have had the entire game and it comes with nine seconds left. Gerry steals the inbound pass and they become the first team to ever win a tourney game after an overtime win, and the fifth team to advance to the finals.

At this point its academic to say that I went out and got very drunk with two very good guys I rarely see, the Orange beat Pitt handily to take the title and overrated Gerry McNamara was the runaway MVP.

For four days, this delightful little narrative appeared in my life. I mean, I actually care about Syracuse basketball, which may seem silly, but opens up the possibility that some random Wednesday morning, my team will embark upon a magical championship run.

Love of sports is a strange attractor, a point around which phenomenon will gather, and one with a non-rational element. Sure, I’m stretching the definition from chaos math here a bit, but the idea is that opening yourself up for the possibility of random narrative is worthwhile.

Why care about sports? Why the fuck not? It’s fun.

Progressions and Regressions

I’m happy to report that I was being a big, whiny baby about potty training. It has gone incredibly well, and most credit goes to my wife. But, Liv digs it. Less than a week in, she was refusing diapers at night (with only a few minor issues since) and actually requesting that we wait until we go out so she could use public potties.

And, damned if she doesn’t seem to be so much older with just this one difference in our lives. So much more a little kid than a baby, so much more independent.


Did I mention that apparently whatever brain cells she used to upload the potty training overwrote any ability to actually listen to her father? Within the space of a twenty minutes this morning, she set off the car alarm after being told not to play with my car key, spread the contents of my wallet around the living room after being told to put it back on the table, and lost my house keys after being told they weren’t toys. Considering each offense was rewarded with a two-minute time-out, leaving just fourteen minutes for actual perpetration, that’s damned impressive.

How is it that she seems so much older, and yet I’m suddenly feeling the need to baby-proof the house all over again?

And, I’m starting to see what lies ahead, the brand of mayhem native to the third year that Livvie is quickly approaching. As evidence I offer these words coming from my mouth yesterday…

“Olivia, do not put you toe in the cat’s butt! And, oh, no, don’t put your toe in your mouth!”

Are things moving forward or backward?

The Journalism of Opinion

A few weeks ago, my fiction professor, an accomplished writer well north of seventy, had a peer observation. He had picked up the results on the way in to our last class meeting, and started reading from them.

It was an exceptionally dry telling of the day observed. “David opened the class by asking if anyone had any news. One student reported having a story accepted by Byline Magazine. David then asked if anybody had a story to turn in that day. The workshopping for one student’s story began.”

He set the paper down and said “It goes on like this. Very journalistic for two pages.” He looked down. “Well…” A breathy sort of resigned well that said we might just as well commence.

I almost said something, but hesitated because the professor tends not to quite hear me, whether from poor hearing or my mushmouth speech, and will swing his head toward me with a quizzical look, which, magnified through his trifocals, reminds me in a very unsettling way of bespectacled lunatics from Don Bluth cartoons (the geeks among you will understand).

But, I wasn’t particularly surprised by the content of the evaluation. I’ve gotten a peer evaluation at Western before. They are required, though scheduled at the instructor’s leisure, and they never ever say anything but report what went on in the classroom that day. I read my first one twice and then like looked on the back asking “OK, but was I any good?”

What occurred to me in that moment as I watched David lament the state of peer evaluations is that this situation likely arose from a litigious past. Someone writes a poor eval, and you don’t get tenure, so you sue for libel. A key defense against libel is truth, but nobody, not even a lawyer, wants to argue the nature of truth with a fucking English major. So, best answer, say absolutely nothing, but use a lot of words.

Shit, when I worked in the banking world, the only thing we could say if someone called with a reference is their title and how long they worked there. You couldn’t even say something positive, because then someone might claim that the absence of a positive review actually constituted a negative review.

The result? I know for a fact that I reported innocuous information to potential employers of former employees of mine when I really wanted to say “Never, ever hire her! She is the devil! Do you understand! Princess of Darkness, dude, and she can’t even type fer shit.” And a couple of lovely people weren’t given the leg up I wanted to give them.

(OK, that last part, totally not true, I talked ‘em up and BIG because I’m a motherfuckin’ rebel, yo.)

And, teachers can’t even help other teachers be better teachers.

But, we do this all the time, don’t we? Focus on the innocuous, take objective journalistic stances, because speaking our minds is dangerous, risks blowback. We’ll learn to say nothing even when we have something to say, and kid ourselves that it is an effective ruse.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Unplanned Without Regret

I started considering this idea thanks to a post in the archives of Missuz J. She's the BadAss Mommy listed in the blogroll, and you should read her stuff.

My little girl's arrival wasn't so much a mistake as not really the plan. My wife and I knew we would have a child eventually, but we just didn't expect it would be barely short of nine months after our wedding.

You might be surprised how uncomfortable this admission (even the fact I call it an admission alludes to the influence their reactions has had on me) makes people, how many strained smiles and downcast eyes follow it.

Part of it seems to be the whole idea of an unplanned pregnancy carried to term. It is as if they wonder whether we even knew where babies came from, but, look, short of the pill (and I'd rather my wife not pump herself full of hormones), its always a numbers game. And there is the abortion issue. When I told a friend, a tiny feminist lesbian Butoh dancer painter, that abortion wasn't even on the table for us, she asked "Oh, isn't your wife pro-choice?" as though being pro-choice precludes the possibility you will choose not to have an abortion of convenience.

But, there seems like there is something else there, too. I feel like I have to quickly add something about not trading the world for my little girl now, how much the rewards outnumber the drawbacks, but it feels empty to me because I don't see any conflict here, no BUT, no real need for reassurance. My little girl was unplanned AND I love her more than the sum total of the rest of existence.

I think that perhaps people are uncomfortable with the idea that someone can recognize their actual life as just one of any number of possibilities, not inevitable or destined but what happens to have been true, AND be ok with that. I think we are all uncomfortable with the idea of somebody else's opportunity costs when viewed through the lens of our own values, and that we believe at least a little that acknowledgement of those costs equates with regret.

I just don't agree. Mainly because regret is a funny thing, and we often mistake something else for it.

Think about it. How often is regret actually a wish that we could have had it both ways? How often, when you think you feel regret, would you actually go back and change things at the potential cost of losing everything you have now?

When the cost of changing your present so obviously outweighs the costs that are dissolving into the past, regret falls away.

I love my unplanned daughter without regret.

Wouldn't that make a heartwarming t-shirt?