Monday, December 17, 2007

Spice Quiz Results

My score on The Which Spice Are You Test:


(You scored 50% intoxication, 50% hotness, 100% complexity, and 25% craziness!)

You are Fennel!

You're a cool cat. Crisp, clean, fresh, and extremely complicated. You're like quantum physics or modern jazz. Think Niels Bohr meets Ornette Coleman. You may look normal now, but once you sprout, you look kind of, uh, funny.

Link: The Which Spice Are You Test
(OkCupid Free Online Dating)

Friday, December 14, 2007

1000 Years

I’m going to veer wildly from my usual subject matter—me—and write about musician Richard Thompson.

Born in West London, the son of a Scotland Yard detective, Richard Thompson started his recording career as a member of the British folk-rock band Fairport Convention in 1967. The band’s take on Celtic music provided a graceful accompaniment to the burgeoning psychedelic scene, using traditional acoustic instruments and vocal harmonies to balance out heavier American counterparts like Jefferson Airplane and The Byrds. Thompson played guitar in a style influenced by Django Reinhardt, Les Paul and Buddy Holly as well as older forms of English folk music. He is mainly noted for his guitar playing virtuosity, but his rich voice, which one critic claims just gets better with age, is also a strong feature of this subtle musical craftsman.

Thompson left Fairport in 1971, partly due to the band’s slow progression toward original material. His solo career showed uneven success, but he remained critically acclaimed for much of this 35 year span. The early and mid-seventies saw Thompson recording with his wife, singer Linda Peters (later to be Linda Thompson) with whom he converted to Islam in 1974. He still remains a committed Muslim. The Thompson’s marriage lasted until 1980 when, at the height of their first measurable critical success for their release Shoot out the Lights, they went their separate ways under less than amicable circumstances. At one point during this period Linda reportedly kicked Richard in the shin during a guitar solo.

After the couple split, Thompson continued a journeyman career in and around the recording industry. He managed to negotiate a deal with Capitol Records which allowed him to release a consistent flow of material into the early ‘90s. In 1991 he received a Grammy nomination for Rumor and Sigh, which included the masterpiece modern-folk single "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." Thompson left Capitol in 2001 and has since been exploring different venues of style with independent labels.

I just acquired Thompson’s 2006 DVD release 1000 Years of Popular Music. Thompson has recently been touring this DVD/CD and is stopping by my stomping ground on Jan. 18th. The concept of the show came from a Playboy interview which asked artists to name the ten most important songs of the last millennium. Thompson, a student of musical origins and genre took this to heart and formed a collection of songs beginning in the 13th century and ending, well, relatively speaking, right now.

The breadth of the song list is remarkable. There are traditional songs from the Elizabethan era, an Italian madrigal, a piece from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, a Smokey Joe’s reminiscent "Java Jive", Cole Porter’s "Night and Day", and a soul-melting version of one of my favorites, "Shenandoah."

The range of these selections is ambitious, but viewing the DVD from start to finish in one session is—and it is hard not have this sound trite—like making a musical journey through time. To conceive that you have just watched the same performer play Vecchi’s "So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo" an hour before playing Bowling for Soup’s “1985” is to take part in more than just a great live performance. There is some instruction going on here as well.

Thompson demonstrates the occasional universal thread that connects the music of the past to today. As he introduces a modern pop-song he identifies the chord-structure as one that resembles those of the distant past. During the song he skillfully places a waltzing, finger-picked classical form of the chord-sequence in the middle of a typically “whatever” attitudinal assertion of adolescence. The song is Brittany Spear’s “Oops I did it Again.”

Thompson’s version of “Oops I did it Again” shows what a song (any song) can be in the hands of a talented musician. I’ve had it my head for about three days now, but not in an annoying way—or at least not yet. To hear this pop-confection performed with a voice that could come straight out of the Scottish peat-bogs transforms its meaning, even though it is a song about a teasing teenager suffering a brief moment of guilt for toying around with someone’s heart. There is beauty in the notion that an aging male folk singer is conveying this pre-adult sentiment.

I’ve watched this DVD about three times since purchasing it on Saturday, and I know I’ll be watching it tonight. I can hook my stereo up to my TV, and the music is so good that household chores seem to take care of themselves as I leave the DVD running and get on with the endless War of the Dog Hairs. The video is that much more pleasing because of the presence of Judith Owen who is a singer of seemingly limitless range and very easy on the eyes. The overall impression that Thompson and his three piece band are having a ball with this material sets the overall tone of a modern bacchanalian romp.

So I’m looking forward to the concert in January (I better start looking for tickets). My mind has been distracted of late, but some of the life-long joys are coming back at a time when I have more time to focus on them. These distractions are welcome, and I hope more are forthcoming as I depressurize and start, temporarily, resting on a laurel or two. See, I knew I couldn’t go a whole post without writing about myself.

Here is Thompson doing 1952 Vincent Black Lightening

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stick a Fork in Me

“Stick a fork in me Jerry, I’m done.” I’m quoting Kramer from Seinfeld here, but unlike him I haven’t basted myself in butter and sat out in the sun all day. I’ve just finished undergraduate.

Last night they had a reception for all of us who are graduating this semester. It was in a barn-like auditorium they use for student dances. It has a cement floor and cinder-block walls, and I’ve never felt like chattel so much in my life. It was sweltering. The air parked itself motionless above the screaming babies and sweating students and I have to say, I became cynical.

Most of the graduates are adults: single moms, adults going back for a second degree, and people who weren’t ready for college the first-go-round. I fall into the last category. As I stood there listening to the generic “now-all-the-doors-are-opened” speech, smelling stale bodies thinly masked by cheap deodorant, I tried to make this momentous occasion mean something. Still, I couldn’t help feeling like a number—a boost to enrollment, a warm body. If you are going to recruit adults to your institution and then give them four years of liberal-arts ideology you have to expect a few to see it for what it truly is.

Okay it is time for me to boast uncharacteristically. Why? Because after last night I need to remind myself of what I’ve done here and not feel like a statistic who’s just received a distracted and patronizing send-off in a building with the warmth of an abandoned train-station. Here are some things I’ve done at college.

The Thomas Thompson Award for History
The Eugene Hire Award
The Dorothy Gilbert Award
The CCE History Award
Who’s Who’s on American Campuses 2006 and 2007
Dean’s List 9 semesters
Phi Alpha Theta Historical Society
GPA 3.8, GPA for History 3.9
Was a TA
Wrote a very well received food review column
Landed three campus jobs
Helped numerous students with projects, papers and other life-issues
Double majored—with English being my second major
For most of this time I worked full time while attending school full time
Organized two benefit dinners for The African Medical Mission raising $15,000
Taught my dog to play Frisbee

It’s hard for me to brag. I don’t like doing it and I don’t like people who do. But I feel I needed to do this in order to individualize this experience. Still, I’ve been around long enough to know that how ever well you’ve done, there is someone who will do better, unless you are Michael Jordon.

After the ceremony wrapped up I ran into Vivian, a woman who was with me in my very first class. She graduated last spring. She gave me a huge hug and we talked for a while. She said that for a month after she graduated she would keep writing in the margins of every book she read—she just couldn’t help it. I believe her. It’s hard to give up these habits of thinking, reading and writing.

It was great seeing Vivian, and she lifted my spirits to no-end. Life throws some strange coincidences at you and I feel that this chapter has been book-ended in some way by the presence of Vivian. She was there virtually on my first day and my last, although I rarely saw her after that first semester. She was so gracious and encouraging and funny. I realized that this whole thing has been more than just a treadmill for me and a payday for admissions. As I pull away and try to put things in perspective (the curse of a student of history) I know that through time I will see this for what it is, truly. And then I’ll be ready to start giving back.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

My Friend, My Brother, My Shirt

I can tell the pressure is residing. Today I actually folded clothes. This is a change from my pattern of the last three or four weeks, which saw me grabbing something from the wrinkly pile I had hastily washed the night before and putting it in the dryer for five minutes as I frantically shoved things into my book bag before rushing out the door, hopefully with the article of clothing on my back. The wrinkly, but clean, pile was acceptable, but on certain days when no laundry was available I resorted to the dirty wrinkly pile—not something I’m proud to admit. My only consolation is that during this period in the semester many resort to the same style. I’ve even heard professors admit it.

So as I was folding my first round today (a wrinkly pile that had been sitting on the back porch for about four days) I ran into a dire moral dilemma, one that made me reevaluate the notion that I might be obsessive. I realized that some of the clothes had almost deteriorated into rag-status. As I examined a frayed and grease-stained golf-shirt I thought “why am I wasting energy and water on washing these things, I can’t wear them in public and I rarely want to wear them around the house?”

I gathered them up and put them right in the garbage. Done, problem solved. But when I started folding again I realized I had missed one. It was the green polo-style shirt. I wore it into the ground, retiring it when an un-removable stain appeared and it was good only for yard-work-days and lounging. This I grabbed up too and unceremoniously tossed it into the trash.

I moment later I had pulled out ole’ Greeny and the rest and put them on the ottoman. I just couldn’t throw them out. I was humanizing the damn things.

I suppose there’s something about pack-rats and people who can’t throw out anything from bottle caps to broken refrigerators. I can tell you why I do it. The clothes represent a time I believe I will have to let go of if I throw away any physical representation of it.

Ole’ Greeny and the rest are probably ten or more years old. What was I doing ten years ago? I was a chef at a country club, Margaret and I had just taken our first trip to Scotland—an amazing trip—and I was in the first or second year of my mortgage, a proud homeowner who did yard work regularly and played in a band with two old friends from high school. I was actually making a little money as well.

Some of those things are still with me, some aren’t. But the clothes are. Even in their rag-tag incarnation they provide sentimental recall for me. Ole’ Greeny (I know, that name is getting old) used to be my favorite shirt! How can I throw it out? Do I have to move on? I can’t seem to picture the shirt in a landfill somewhere surrounded by plastic grocery-bags and empty soda cans. First of all, it's 100% cotton. You just don’t do that to 100% cotton.

I have no idea what to do with these clothes, and if anyone has any suggestions I’d love to hear them. They are definitely not material for Goodwill—they are way past that point. My mom used to turn old clothes into house-hold rags, but to me that seems like a demotion, like sending a guy with a .322 lifetime-batting-average to go run the concession stand.

So, I think I’ll post pictures—a Hall of Fame for knits. A strange thing I know, but for me, appropriate.

Old Greeny

These shirts alway get holes around the collar.

These have seen better days.

Friday, December 7, 2007

From the Vault

This is a draft of a post I wrote in October. I don't know why I didn't post it then, maybe I thought it was too ranty. But I just re-read it and I think it needs to go up.

Right, I'm pissed off. My favorite time of the year, Autumn, has been ruined by the greedy fossil fuel industry and our do-nothing government not to mention bipsy-bopsy in her gargantuan SUV which she bought because she is such a coward that she wants to make sure that if she gets in an accident everyone else will be killed by her civilian tank and not the other way around. It's October 19th and it feels like August 1st. Where is the crispness? The cool clean air? The beautiful leaves? The hint of frost? The promise of snow? Maybe in Nova Scotia, but not here.

I missed the environment blogging day, but better late than never right? My area of the country is experiencing severe drought. Water restrictions with diligently enforced fines are being issued in all of the surrounding counties. I've talked to people who know more about this stuff than I do, and they believe that this drought is not a fluke (in fact it can't be, it is actually an ongoing event that has been plaguing our area for a number of years). This is what global-warming is folks.

Today it rained, but not nearly enough. It is overcast and muggy, and while getting ready for work today I began to sweat profusely just minutes after my shower. I had to move into the living room because my office is too stuffy and I refuse to turn on the air-conditioner. This is okay in July, but the summer is only bearable in this part of the world because of the "fact" that there are determinable seasons here and that cool weather is always just around the corner. Well I believe that corner has been blocked off by greed, good-ole boys, and selfish Americans.

The Weather Channel reported yesterday that rain clouds are evaporating at an increasing speed which makes it difficult for any appreciable amount of rain to fall. Why? Well if you stare at the sun without protecting your eyes your eyeballs would burn off. If we expose storm-systems to increased exposure to the sun's heat, caused by depleted ozone, the systems will evaporate and my little part of the world will become Mojave Desert East.

Dammit let's do something. Conserve, recycle, carpool, plan for making less trips, and for God's sake let these bozos who are running for elected office know that if the environment is not a major plank in their platform then screw 'em. Let the people decide how our country should be run, not big business!

Now that they've ruined "my time of year" it has become personal.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What I lerned in colage

Today I attended my very last class of undergraduate school (unless some unforeseeable circumstance arises and I’m forced to take botany over again). Here is a list of things I learned in college.

1) Turning on the passive voice setting on the grammar options for Word is the most annoying thing I’ve ever done. That green squiggly line under every “did go”, “is maintained”, and “was forwarded” almost caused me to throw my laptop though the window this morning.
2) When I’m trying to look casual, I usually look awkward.
3) When I speak in class, I don’t throw up on my feet like I always think I’m going to do.
4) However smart I feel at home is directly proportionate to how stupid I feel in class.
5) Getting through with classes has not eased my anxiety, now I’m a basket case over grad-school.
6) I’m old.
7) How to actually believe the B.S. I write in a paper. I can convince myself of anything now.
8) My hand starts to shake when I hold it in the air too long.
9) Witty banter is not my forte.
10) That the piece of plastic that clips a Bic mechanical pencil to your shirt pocket breaks very easily.
11) That when people bring food to class I’m usually too worried that food will dribble out of my mouth to actually eat any.
12) That when you try to say something funny and people just look at you with a confused look on their face, what you said wasn’t funny.
13) A lot of adult students complain.
14) A lot of traditional students skip class
15) Occasionally a student will show up drunk to class, no matter if he is a traditional or an adult student.
16) That when I have a day where class makes me feel smaller than a bug, writing a post usually helps.
17) That if I can’t be a creative genius all the time, then life ain’t worth a damn.
18) That I don’t know how to spell genius (but spell-check does). Officially, you can’t be a genius unless you know how to spell genius—so scratch #17.
19) I lack confidence.
20) Singing the confidence song from “The Sound of Music” doesn’t help, it just makes me feel creepy.
21) Without spell-check and my dog, I would have flunked out.
22) Never look at your transcripts from when you were an eighteen-year-old punk.
23) Applying to grad-school is like trying to work your way out of burlap sack in order to play a sonata on a piano in another state.
24) Every professor I had here was awesome in one way or another, even the one who gave us a study guide for an exam and put none of the questions on the actual exam.
25) That I would rather write history than lit. theory.
26) To love postmodernism (sigh).
27) That at this school, for the first time in my life, I might be considered a conservative—but I’m not dammit!
28) That film classes are not an easy way to pass the time and earn some credits. They can be tortuously dull.
29) That any school where you spend a week discussing “The Big Lebowski” is a school I’d be proud to graduate from.
30) That sometimes it’s alright to end a sentence with a preposition.
31) That the sun just came out and I feel better!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Sunny Side

I believe some have seen this already, and for that I apologize. Too busy to write right now, but not too busy to dance around the kitchen. (This was shot last week.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Birthday Present from Lindsay and Dan

I now know what I'll be replacing all those fascinating scholarly articles with after graduation. My "books read this year" list will be pretty small in 2008. This will take at least four months. But what a great four months. Thanks Dan and Lindsay!

...and the Sky is Gray

It is a gray drizzly day in my neck of the woods. On top of that it is Monday, and now that Thanksgiving is over the weeks until Christmas offer a no-man’s-land of dark afternoons, bad traffic, empty trees and a restless dog.

I absolutely felt a dark mood coming on after work today and, thankfully, was able to spur myself on a fast-paced 3 ½ mile walk with Booker. He had gone without a walk for three days, and I had no choice on the pace of the walk, we were going fast regardless if I wanted to or not.

That was alright with me. By the time we got to the top of the Moravian graveyard I was panting hard. I was trying to get rid of a prevailing train-of-thought and get a little peace of mind today. I can’t say if it worked entirely, but by the time I got home I was determined to make my house warm and inviting instead of dark, dingy and depressing.

I put on Son Volt’s The Search, and while the first track always drives me to despair (probably because it reminds me of my current situation), the rest of the album is incredibly upbeat, especially for this band. So I started cleaning.

I straightened the living room, but the kitchen isn’t in that bad shape, I just need to toss the remaining Thanksgiving leftovers and clean the pans. I have to admit, I’m procrastinating on that one.

Here’s a funny one about the leftovers. On Friday I was getting prepared to make a meal of the leftover turkey. I pulled the pecan pie out and made a turkey sandwich. Then, after I was finished, I went to the store down the street to get some batteries. I was gone for five minutes. When I got back there was an empty pie-pan and a very satisfied looking Booker sitting on the living room carpet. He had eaten an entire pecan pie in five minutes! I suppose he deserved it though, he had to spend all of Thanksgiving cooped up in the house. But still, I really wanted that pecan pie.

Back to this afternoon. As I was cleaning up the living room, I started opening mail. I picked up a letter from my insurance company. Since the premium isn’t due until next month I thought that this must be a promotion of some sort and I almost put it in the junk mail pile. But I opened it for some reason.

It said that I had won $125! And it is legitimate too. They do a grand drawing every month of those who pay their premiums on time. This is one bill I’ve managed to do that with. So I was the grand prize winner this month. Man, am I glad I decided to clean up the living room and not throw away that letter.

Jefferson said something about luck didn’t he? The harder you work the more luck you have. I’m starting to believe that this is true.

I guess I’m superficial but nothing can turn a potentially dark day into something grand like a little windfall like this. I started whooping and Booker did his I’m happy but I have no idea why dance--complete with super-sonic wag-tail and everything. It’s only $125, and it is probably already spent, but it just made my day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Link to Me

Okay, I tried but I was unable to embed this video this go round. I'm going to keep trying, but until then, here is a link to a youtube video of me rambling somewhat incoherently.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Quick One

Okay, this is going to have to be very fast. I'm busy, busy, busy. Sorry the posts haven't been very frequent and I haven't been commenting on anyone's blog. I'm not going to worry about typos either today, so blah.

I went to see Beowulf in 3D. Fifteen minutes of pretty cool 3D stuff (nothing really made me jump out of my seat though) for every hour of crappy dialogue. $8.50 for this. But what the hell, at least I could relax for a minute, and even doze a little between epic fight scenes. Angelina Jolie has stiletto feat which killed any 13 year-old adolescent urges I was experiencing during her famous virtual nudity. Man, but what lips!

I realize that my mind drifts even more during action sequences than boring declarations of love and fealty. While the dragon was dragging Beowulf around the mores I kept wondering if I'd turned the coffee pot off. I also kept wondering if the dragon would ever hurry up and die, along with Beowulf, so I could get on with my plans for Saturday. The sequence where Beowulf rips out the dragon's heart with his bare hands took forever. Haven't these people seen Enter the Dragon? Bruce Lee did it in a split-second.

The 3D glasses were cool though. Cheap as hell, but better than those white cardboard ones with one blue eye and one red eye. These look like Elvis Costello shades. Kitsch my ass. Whoops.

U2 is coming out with an Imax concert in 3D, they showed the preview. It was cool for a moment but I don't know if I want Bono stomping all over my lap for two hours. Although I though this Beowulf was going to be good (Ebert liked it for chistsake!) and I was wrong about that so maybe the U2 will be good, who knows. I'd rather see them in concert, anyone have tickets?

This is good, a couple more sentences. I've been working on a long wordy contract type thing since yesterday and this feels like riding down a steep hill on bicycle with your hands off the handlebars. You don't know how freeing stream-of-consciousness writing can be after coming up with hackneyed neophyte legalese for 24 hours.

So I will sign off. American folks, have a good Thanksgiving. All others, have some Turkey, or some pie, just for the hell of it. We Yanks can be pretty cool on this holiday.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

69/72 by way of the Beatles

The other night I watched the new DVD release of Help! (how do you punctuate this without making it sound like you are shouting the whole sentence--editor types, please advise). The movie has its ups and downs. I loved watching the Beatles run around England to the sound of their own music, but it was hard to take the rest of the soundtrack. Still, it's really magical how the Beatles (this version) can still inspire a feeling of childlike innocence in me, and one element in Help! that is not in their first feature length film, A Hard Days Night, is color. The vibrancy of the English streets added to a feeling of deep familiarity that I couldn't put my finger on. Then I thought about it, this was the England I knew as a kid.

Well not quite. The film first played in theaters in 1965. (I think, but please go easy on me if I'm off by a year, I've been doing research for the better part of a week and I really don't want to verify one more fact right now.) My parents first hauled their newly completed crew to England--all four children--five years later, in the summer of 1969. I was 2.

When do we start remembering things? Well, I suppose I will never know for sure when my brain filed its first memory, but I believe at least one of them was on this trip in 1969. We were in London, and I was either with my cousins or my sisters. My father held me on his shoulders while I stared at the largest, most elaborate lego display I could have imagined--it may have been my first introduction to them. (later, legos would take over my room, and you would have to be careful not step on them during a late-night trip to the bathroom). And I also imagine a grey blur of streets and taxis, with a bright candy-apple colored double-decker bus grinding by from time-to-time spewing diesel fumes.

I vaguely remember a chocolate mousse in the shape of a rabbit that my aunt's cook, companion, and all-time-champion spoiler of children made. I have conflicting feelings on whether I actually remember this, or if it was mythologized by my sisters between this trip and the trip we took in 1972. I might just imagine that I remember it. I do know that by the time I got back in '72 I was very interested in experiencing the chocolate mousse rabbit again. This is when the chocolate addiction was born.

Those are the two memories that I may or may not have of England in 1969. If I had been aware what was going on with the Beatles and the rest of the world at that time I might not have been so ready to grow up.

I can even relate the trip in '72 to the imagery of Help! Seven years after the film's release, the child-appeal of this country, which seemed like one big toy to me, was still everywhere. There were still double-decker buses and Union Jacks far and wide, life-sized on the street and tiny versions in sweet-shops. The Americans have never really figured out how to mix milk and chocolate, but the British have this technique down to a science, and I'm sure, although I can't really remember, that much of the trip was spent pleading with our parents for sweets. What made it worse was that my cousin supplied vending-machines to all the local pubs and had a garage filled with Cadbury products that we couldn't touch.

I definitely remember smashing my finger in the garden gate that summer. I want to say I shrieked, but I don't recall, I just remember the children around me looking very distraught, like they might run away and abandon me. My finger turned dark red with little black spots on it. One thing I do know, moments earlier an adult had said "mind you don't smash your finger in the garden gate."

There was also a rumor, embellished fully by my sisters, that one of the hotels we stayed in was haunted. We knew this to be true because my oldest sister said she had seen the end of the toilet paper roll swishing back and forth in a ghostly manner. We were appropriately terrified for the rest of the night.

Castles, knights, tanks, toy-soldiers, the changing of the guard, lukewarm tea which was mostly milk and sugar, bangers and mash and BOAC, they all fortified my one-fourth English blood. But the orange juice was horrible.

I’m very glad that Help! made me remember this version of England. The Beatles, right after Beatlemania and right before the summer-of-love, projected a childlike enthusiasm which allowed us then, as it does now, to laugh and discover.

Just don’t smash your finger in the garden gate.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Ramblin' Man

I am way way way way way over due to post. No excuses, and I really shouldn't be posting right now as the things I need to to do are steadily overtaking the things I've managed to get done. If that last sentence is convoluted and confusing, just use it as an example of my life right now.

I took the damn GRE finally. I might get into Bill's graduate school and taco-stand with the scores I made. As predicted, my math score was a negative number (first time in the history of the test) and my verbal score indicates that I am a Bulgarian third-grader (no offense to Bulgaria or third-graders). Actually it is really hard to tell how I did because when I go on-line I find chat threads where people are crying that they got a 1500 and can never get into Princeton in a million years. Wah wah wah. Showoffs!

But I'm glad it's over. I was really quite calm during the test, and afterwards I did the unthinkable and stopped at McDonald's for a quarter-pounder and some "chicken" Mcnuggets. Yea, I know, this food would kill Superman--in fact I think they put small doses of kryptonite (sp?) in it--but it was Friday, I had just spent four hours trying to remember the meaning of words like obfuscate, and I wanted to feel like I was sitting in a room where everyone wasn't way smarter than me. The Kernersville Micky D's did the trick perfectly.

I really don't know how my scores will affect my overall chances at grad school. The programs I am interested in are in a broad range of tiers and when I sit back and really look at the big picture, I'm very happy that I even have a chance. Five years ago, when I was a shlepping chef who didn't have to take out a loan to buy a CD, I would have never pictured myself poised to enter graduate school. If I had known how much dept this project would accrue I might have patted myself on the back for sticking around with the sadists and the snobs who worked at the club. But I sometimes told my friends during late night beer drinking contests that I had always regretted not getting a bachelors degree. Then we would pour beer over ourselves and sing Margaritaville at the top of our lungs. Not really, but close.

So I keep trying to remind myself of why I am doing this. You've heard of those families where junior was the first one ever to graduate from college? Well, if I make it another six weeks, I'll never have to worry about people saying junior was the first one in his family not to graduate from college.

I've made excellent grades here. It has been lonely at times, working in a corner of the library watching the college socialites laugh and go off to their dorms together. They say a person has an average of eight good friends, and if that is true I can say that while I've been here I've added at least two to that average, so I think that is a very good thing. Plus, my typing is starting to reach mind numbing speeds. But nothing compared to the guy typing next to me right now--he's incredible.

This has been a rambler of a post but I have to go now, I'm being kicked out of the computer lab because a class is about to start.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bill Buford’s Search for Chocolate

This is a somewhat formal thing I wrote for the Guilfordian Practicum.

Bill Bruford, in this week’s New Yorker, continues his association with obsessive foodies with an article that follows the exploits of chocolate-entrepreneur Fredrick Shilling into the Brazilian rainforest in search of the perfect bean. Bruford, who wrote last year’s best selling book (Heat) about party-animal celebrity chef Mario Malto, approaches his subjects as a novice, taught by the people on the cutting-edge about the changing nature of their obsessions, which is usually food. He often seems to play Sal Paradise to the larger than life personalities he writes about, but his style is deceptive in that it offers subtle insight into the quirks of these Dean Moriarty-like figures. In this article, Buford exposes the contradictions of Shilling’s vision for a purely organic chocolate revolution and leaves the entrepreneur’s decision to sell his company, Dagoba, to Hershey for $17 million up to the reader’s interpretation.

The story of Dagoba goes roughly like this. In 2005 Shilling and his girlfriend Tracy Holderman debuted their products in New York to rave reviews. They started a company, smoked a lot of pot, but didn’t know business so they brought in Shilling’s father to help, and soon business was booming. A few years later Shilling allegedly had an epiphany in the form of a dream that involved a Mayan goddess and a whirlwind tour of the cocoa growing-areas of the world. Soon after, Shilling sold his company to Hershey and now acts as a consultant.

Although chocolatiers may consider Shilling a sell-out, Bruford depicts Shilling as a relentless, although sometimes misguided, visionary. The reader might find Shilling’s personality, like much of his products, somewhat hard to digest. Bruford does a masterful job of amalgamating the personality and the product, combining Shilling’s over-the-top enthusiasm with an honest critique of some of his wares, many of which seem inedible. Shilling is looking for organic serotonin substitutes and antioxidants much of the time, and the results can be brutal on the palate. At one point, after tasting a drinking chocolate, Bruford asks, “Why make a drink that tastes disgusting?”

Bruford’s article is also a rich resource for a 101 guide to the role of chocolate in world history. The research is meticulous but not pedantic. Descriptions of the mystical qualities of chocolate from Montezuma to Pepys provide the reader with a good understanding of why Shilling is so obsessed. The bulk of the article relates a trip Bruford took to the Brazilian rainforest with Shilling, one that saw the men sampling cocoa pulp and spitting out the bitter seeds, the part used to make chocolate. Bruford explains how the plant relies on the bitterness of the seeds to regenerate more plants. Animals and people eat the sweet citrusy pulp but eject the seeds, assuring continues growth. Details like these, interspersed with the personal history of their guide, Badaro, bring Bruford’s journalistic experience into full focus. The trip culminates in the three men immersing themselves in fermenting cacao pulp, sloshing around like pigs in a trough, a bacchanalian if not exactly appetizing image.

Bruford’s subjects may represent the cutting-edge of culinary quests, but in a sense there is a cutting-edge quality to Bruford as well. Rejecting the idea of writing as a seasoned insider, Bruford instead immerses himself from a point of little reference and then gathers as much information from actual experience necessary to write a thorough expose. As Shilling searches for the perfect cacao bean, Bruford also seems to be searching obsessively for something—the nature of the compulsion that drives people to dedicate their existence to a single vision. The reader can be glad for Bruford’s attempts to locate the origin and destination of these visions.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ian's Index

Beginning a post with a description of how badly I’ve been procrastinating is getting redundant so I’ll just give you a statistical update:

Statistics for October 21, 2007:

Minutes studying for GRE: 0
Minutes watching Redskins game: 72
Minutes reading Huckleberry Finn when you told yourself you would only read a couple of chapters and then study for the GRE: 125
Minutes trying to start a new satirical blog about litblogs: 49
Minutes spent believing that Wordpress is run by Nazis: 9
Minutes deciding that you would try the new blog with Blogspot and not Wordpress: .3
Minutes spent trying to post a picture in the header of the new blog and not have it be frighteningly gigantic: 18
Minutes spent trying to spell frighteningly: .9
Minutes spent believing Blogspot is run by Nazis: 9
Minutes spent deciding that you don’t really have the time to keep up with a new blog: 2
Minutes spent noodling on the guitar: 17
Minutes wandering around looking out the window: 8
Minutes spent noodling on the guitar s’more: 14
Minutes spent giving self pep-talk to gear up for a five-mile walk with dog:
Minutes spent going on five-mile walk with dog: 0
Minutes spent looking for syllabus to see what to read for tomorrow: 6
Minutes spent doing assigned reading for tomorrow: 0
Minutes spent trying to come up with the next statistic: .8
Minutes spent checking comments and reading blogs: 70
Minutes wondering if my comments are arcane and awkward: 13
Minutes checking email: 2
Minutes responding to emails: 0
Minutes it takes dog to convince me to let him get on the couch: 1.8
Minutes it takes dog to take over couch and push me into a corner: 15
Minutes it takes to get every dog-hair out of house: 1,235,689,675, 869,638
Minutes being annoyed because there is something in my eye: 5
Minutes being amazed that the Redskins are winning: 32
Minutes feeling guilty that my team has such a politically incorrect name: 6
Minutes feeling guilty that my other team, the Braves, have such a politically incorrect name: 6
Minutes rationalizing that judging things as politically-incorrect is just another form of suppression: 9
Minutes spent wondering if that thing is truly out of my eye, it feels like it, but not quite: 2
Minutes spent looking around my office and realizing what a mess it is: .5
Minutes wondering how I’m going to find the time to clean it: 1
Minutes spent trying to figure out how I’m going to wrap this post up: 4
Minutes spent grasping for a pithy end statistic: 7
Estimated minutes I will spend correcting typos in this post: 27
Estimated time I will spend doing the things I told myself I would do today: 67
Estimated times I will tell myself that this is the last day of fall break and I deserve a rest before the final push: 89

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Historians Circling Overhead

Several months ago I was walking across campus with one of my professors and two other students, and the professor started describing some strange birds she had seen on the way to work that morning. She claimed they were enormous, and were spreading their wings and doing a kind of dance. I think she said that it looked like they were about to mate. She believed they were eagles, and one of the students confirmed that eagles were indeed making a comeback in our part of the state. I was skeptical, although I didn't express it at the time. All I could offer was to describe them to my dad, a dedicated birdwatcher, and see what he thought they might be. One of the reasons for my scepticism was the many times I myself made broad claims about spotting raptors and the like, only to have my dad reveal them as crows or pidgeons.

If I had been on my toes I would have easily realized that they were more than likely turkey buzzards. She had described them as being on the ground, and earlier she had talked about how the road had recently been full of deer so that you had to be careful driving. My theory, one that I arrived at a couple of days later, was that a deer had been hit by a car and the birds she saw were buzzards, very common in our area, fighting over the carcass.

I emailed her (sometimes I just think I have too much time on my hands) with my theory and she concured, relating that the following day as she drove by there were more of them.After all this I began to think about the relationship of vultures to historians.

The class that this particular professor taught had to do, roughly, with the interpretation of the past by fiction authors. I was kind of a willing foil in her class, and I took the stance of the stuffy literalist history major who believes in absolute truths blah blah blah. We read a number of books that distorted history for literature's sake, awesome books like Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf, and in thinking of the vultures I began to see myself as one of them, picking over old primary sources in an archive somewhere and digesting what I needed and regurgitating the rest up for succeeding generations all covered in stomach acids and mucous. I'm kind of gangly too, although gangly is quickly turning into paunchy, and I hunch over a lot and my face can get very red--just like the turkey buzzard.

I've been churning this in my mind for these past months--this class made such an impression on me--but I didn't know what to do with it. I didn't particularly think that the vulture/historian concept was such a bad thing, but I couldn't quite figure out how it could be good. Then I was visiting the always wise and witty (and probably the most shameless punster I know of) Archie and discovered this.

If the vulture keeps the environment free from carcass odor then, if I stretch, I can tie together my analogy. Historians treat history to a thorough deodorizing if they are good. I don’t mean that the historian cleanses the historical event from any of its terribleness (if it actually was terrible), only that they keep the event from just sitting there, corroding and offering up unpleasant myths and misunderstanding for concurrent and future generations. They do digest it, and produce concise packages of molecularly-changed regurgitated information—sometimes in the form of excruciatingly boring thirty-page papers for journals like The Journal of Historical Methodology and Anthropological Survey Statistics.

As I sit on my porch being eaten by little black mosquitoes, I wonder if the historian/vulture, like the mosquito, is nothing more than a parasite. Absolutely not! Whether he, or she, be a garbage collector, an interpreter, a propagandist or a poet, the historian's relationship to his source should always be reciprocal—so that the historian gives back, at least in some form, what he has taken. Let’s see a mosquito do that. Thwack!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rock-on Footballers

There is a band that lives down the street from me called Auto Passion. I used to think it was Audio Passion and I would walk by and shout “how is Audio Passion doing?” They never corrected me.

They are great musicians. The reason I know this is because they play a type of music that I don’t like (probably because I’m too old) and I still think they rock. They have the look too, they are perilously skinny and look like they never shave, although their beards never get to the Chris Robinson during the Kate Hudson days stage. (Robinson is proof that if you rock your ass off you’ll get the hotties no matter how much you look like Tom Hanks in the second half of Castaway).

These guys have the rock band thing down to a tee, but not in any kind of contrived way. They just seem to have been born to it, like I’m born to knocking my elbows on kitchen counters and swearing out loud. They lurch around the yard and smoke a lot. Their recycling bin (yep, I look) has empty 40oz PBR cans and burgundy bottles in it every Tuesday morning. They own an old Econoline, and when they drive by they hunch forward and glare down my street. If they ever see me they wave, but in a glowering, moody kind of way.

Every so often, when the weather is fair, Auto Passion comes out to play football in the street. They don’t really organize a game or anything; they just toss the football around and smoke. Sometimes one of them will have a beer loosely held in his hand while he tries a one hand catch.

I love it when they come out because they suck so badly. Not one of them can throw or catch. They run like they are from The Ministry of Silly Runs, really low to the ground, as if they stretched out any longer their back leg might break off. I sit on my porch and watch this and laugh. Sometimes they see me and they laugh as well; they know they suck as well as I do.

It seems to be a rite for them. I imagine their dark cave-like practice-room all filled with Pall Mall smoke and rank with stale beer. This may not be the case at all, but this is what I imagine. I feel like this football ritual is a way for them to air out a little, not just the football but themselves. As they slink around and hoot when someone hits a parked car, they change into kids screwing around, their talent for music uniquely balanced by their ineptitude for organized sports.

They are part of my neighborhood, and if they move I’ll kind of be disappointed. They have been around for about two years and they add a grimy neo-southern gothic element to my working-class neighborhood, which is in transition but thankfully (at least I hope) not leaning towards gentrification. I wonder if they ever hear me play drums—their drummer is awesome—and they may laugh as I laugh at them and their football shenanigans. I kind of hope they do.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I know its been a while since I've posted, and this one is going to be brief. I'm managing to beat back the huns of midterm (no offense to the huns, they did give us Bach and Beethoven), and in two days it will be fall break--YES! I've had some very welcome good news lately, my guitar playing compatriot Pete is going to be in town in a week or so, and I've been chosen by the college to help with the process of finding a new food service provider. I think its the weekly column in the paper's what's did it.

I am storing up energy for an outburst of posts by eating huevos rancheros late at night, reading, and waiting around for South Park to come on. Booker is getting more and more obsessed with his red frisbee and he carries the muddy chawed up thing around the house like Linus' blanket. Of course his goal is to have me throw it for eternity, and the neighbors might be getting ticked to hear the frisbee hitting the empty house across the street at 10pm. Then there's the drums.

I can do an extended solo for about 6 minutes now, and yesterday, as I was wrapping up, I heard something that sounded like something hitting the side of the house hard. I didn't dare go investigate. I always imagine my neighbors thinking "wow, listen to that fine young man get down on those skins--he sure is improving." But then I think about it. If I've come home from a long day at work would I want unmeasured jungle-rhythms pounding out from the neighbors upstairs window greeting me? Hmmmm, knowing my history for annoyance, I really doubt it.

I once lived in a duplex. The guy who lived next to us was pretty cool, but he would come home from work and crank REO Speedwagon from his stereo for two to three hours. Banging on the walls was futile. We even had a chat with him. It all went congenially, but to no avail, the next day 70s shlock rock was making the plaster chip again.

The only access to the basement was through our side of the house, and we realized at some point that we had the advantage--the fuse box was in the basement.

One day, when we just couldn't take it anymore, I went down to the basement and pulled the main to his apartment. All we could hear after that was the guy stomping around. I let it go for about a minute, expecting a loud knock at the door. Nothing came. After a while I tripped the breaker and we heard that noise (this was in the eighties) of a turntable starting back up, and Speedwagon churning its way from 0 rpms to 33 1/2. They weren't so speedy then. The volume came down and stayed down.

I don't know why I wrote that, I just wanted to post something today I guess, plus I like the story.

Here is a new review for the college paper.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Get Thee Behind Me, GRE

I think this cartoon gets to the the spirit of the GRE really well.

I know, shut up and keep studying.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Random Randomness

I think I've realized that when I am under a certain amount of stress I tend to revert to my childhood. I just noticed that the caption for the photos for the last post were written in sort of a show-and-tell way, and then, at some point, I put up Youtube videos of Bugs Bunny. I'm not sitting here eating a bowl of Sugar Smacks, but I feel like that might complete the package. Bugs Bunny was a large part of my childhood and I suppose one of my early heroes. He's really a wiseguy of the thirties mob mentality, and he actually takes on the mob in one episode. I can't remember what the name of the episode is, but it has the famous line from the mob boss who Bugs is tormenting, "shut up, shuttin' up." So maybe I turn to bugs for guidance, although I'm not ready to dress in drag to fool any crazed rabbit hunter just yet.

Do people do shout-outs anymore? I wonder if the term has been retired, like "Def," or "not." Well, if it hasn't, I would like to do a shout-out to Froshty, who helped me through my half-imagined editorial crises the other day. I have to remember that I'm not exactly in this alone, and that most of the people I know these days are published in some form or another. Froshty's help, and other war-stories from great people out there, have helped me get over my molehill/mountain syndrome and put me on course for the next crises in confidence.
By the way, read Froshty's blog. This is the person who taught us that the infuriating things in life are there to be laughed at and reviled (well, she and our father). No one does a better job at critiquing what technology has done to the English language, and this is coming from someone who uses this tech-language for her bread and butter. She can also tell a damn funny story.

So that's all I have for now, a brief post today. The week has gotten off to a decent start, and my next review should be out on Friday, hopefully gross-error free. I should be studying for the GRE between now and six o'clock class, but what the hell, I've got plenty of time--right? I will say this, I'm taking less credits this term than any other, but for some reason my book bag is always heavier than a bag of rocks you see on those documentaries about the gulags. I'm seriously afraid that I'm going to take somebody out one day by mistake. I was in a narrow corridor today with someone coming toward me and I had to lift the bag up over a rail which took an amazing amount of effort and threw me off balance. I caught myself just as I was about to knock someone behind me over. My right arm is starting to look like Popeye's on spinach while my left still looks like Little Orphan Annie's. End, semester, end.

And speaking of reverting to childhood, this weekend the whole family is getting together for my brother-in-law's ordination. Wish us luck.

Here is the new review with the correct name of the restaurant.

Monday, September 10, 2007


I don't know how I was led back to The Brothers Karamazov but I have found myself once again absorbed in Dostoevsky's last novel. I am reading Richard Pevear and Larrissa Volokhonski's translation whose first printing was in 1990. Pevear and Volokhonski are coming out with a new translation of War and Peace on October 16th, and if their translation brings Tolstoy alive like the Dostoevsky, I might have to reserve three months so I can devote all of my time to it. I suffer from ESRS (extremely slow reader syndrome).

I read The Brothers Karamazov many years ago from the translation by Constance Garnett, who was, until recently, arguably the gold standard in translation of both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. How I wish I could read them in the original Russian, but possibly in another lifetime. I remember very little of the novel, vaguely recalling that there was a murder in a family of three sons. One part I remember, and this was why I was apprehensive about a re-read, was the long theological debates that take place in the monastery at the beginning of the novel. Reading this reminded me of wading through thick mud, but, at the time, I was patient enough to anticipate eventual plot development--possibly on page 456 or somewhere. Now that I'm a hundred pages into the re-read, the discussions don't seem that painful, possibly because I participate in/endure such discussions at the LLAC (little liberal arts college).

Mainly the argument is about the relationship between church and state. I won't go into the main theses surrounding the discussion, but there is a definite undertone of prevailing socialism being tauted by certain members in the debate. Now I see now how important this is to the introduction of the main characters in the novel, and, although it is still tough going at times, the discourse doesn't seem as long as I remember. I actually understand a great deal of it.

I'm also enjoying the development of the rogue father Fyodor Pavlovich, who is cringe-provokingly socially inept. Like an episode of Murder She Wrote, you get the idea that this guy is just begging for it. Also at stake are women and money, so there just has to be a grisly resolution at some point, and the tension is building toward a frantic, emotional, Russian climax.

Could it be the translation that makes this reading more compelling? I've got a copy of the Garnett translation here as well (sometimes I love working in a library) and I want to do a quick comparison to see how the language differs. At times the wording is identical, with the word "countenance" being replaced by "looks", but it seems that Pevear and Volokhonsky add depth to Dostoevsky's expressions. Here is a brief comparison of the same two sentences.

Even when he was excited and talking
irritably, his eyes did not follow
his mood, but betrayed something else,
sometimes quite incongruous with
what was passing.

Pevear and Volokhonsky:

Even when he was excited and talking irritably, his look, as it were, did
not obey his inner mood but expressed something else, sometimes not at all
corresponding to the present moment.

(sorry I can't go back from block quote mode, but F****** blogspot is being stubbornly inept today)

I love the use of commas in Dostoevsky. The placement of the words and the details contained in the clauses feed a rich image to me as a reader. The commas also do something for the pacing, which forces me to slow down, and take in the words individually, something I rarely do when reading any work. At this rate, how will I ever finish the book? It doesn't matter, this work has allowed me to find my groove in the right lane going five miles under the speed-limit and enjoying every bush and vista along the way.

I believe The Brothers Karmazov has a reputation as a difficult read. It may be so, but you've got to love a novel whose chapter titles bear declarations like this: "Why Is Such A Man Alive!", "One More Ruined Reputation," "Strain in the Drawing Room," "Strain in the Cottage," and "The Old Buffoon." All of the language in this novel is provocative and active, and if fiction is meant to be transformative, Dostoevsky is a master at taking this reader out of this world and into his.

Last night, at around 2am Booker woke me wanting to go out. I laid back down but I couldn't sleep. I had gone to bed early and now, in the middle of the night, I was wide awake. I puttered around the house a bit, checking to see if anyone from Indonesia was viewing my blog (they weren't) but finally I picked up The Brothers Karamazov and started reading. The inability to sleep is usually defined by too many things swirling around in my brain. Reading in this state rarely changes anything, except that I have a book in my hand that I can't concentrate on because of the Rolodex of anxieties flipping through my conscious. Last night reading worked, and Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, for all his faults, can be solely responsible for getting me out of myself and into his buffoonery, allowing the Rolodex to stop and sleep to overcome me. I woke up thanking Dostoevsky.

Extra: Here is a link to the article I wrote for the school paper. I'm doing restaurant reviews.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

For Your Next Dinner Party...

Warning: This post is about really gross food, so if you don't have a strong stomach, you may want to skip it.

Casu Marzu (a.k.a. maggot cheese), Sardinia, Italy

I’ve heard about this cheese twice in the past couple of weeks, once on NPR when they were interviewing a scientist in search of the world’s weirdest food, and again on a “disgusting things that people eat” TV show. Seeing the cheese in its maggot popping glory turned my stomach but strangely led me to the internet to gather more information.

Instead of regular cheese, which goes through a fermentation process for flavor, Casu Marzu is more a product of decomposition. The cheese goes through this process by the use of cheese fly larvae that eat the cheese and then secret the waste, making the cheese “softer and more flavorful.”

One of the hazards of eating Casu Marzu is the larvae, which can jump up to 15cm when disturbed. Consumers may be disturbed by the fact that their cheese is jumping and making a crackling sound. Often, connoisseurs refrigerate the cheese for hours before consumption so the larvae can become placid and less, well, jumpy.

There is another danger with eating the cheese. Human stomach acids cannot kill the larvae, so often the larvae remain in the digestive-tract, boring into the walls and causing intestinal lesions. It is no wonder that its home region of Sardinia banned it. Still the allure and rarity of the cheese has food-adventurers searching for black market varieties.

Kopi Luwak: The most expensive coffee in the world. Indonesia

Kopi means coffee in Indonesian. Luwak means civet, which is a small weasel-like creature. The reason this coffee bears the name of an Asian ferret is that the mammal is an important part of the manufacturing process. The animal eats the raw coffee beans, but only the soft outer part. According to one source, the digestive “juices” of the civet provide the coffee with a “unique” flavor. The process removes bitterness.

Kopi Luwak is rare, costing up to $600 a pound and $50 a cup. The quantities are much smaller than a regular cup of coffee and are served more like espresso. Looking to buy some of this? Talk to the Japanese, apparently they have cornered the market.

Taste testing conducted at Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee in London elicited smiles and compliments from one taster, until she found out how the coffee was made. She reportedly made a hurried exit. Others called the flavor “chocolaty with undertones of molasses and tobacco.”

Postscript: I found a photo of Kopi Luwak in its raw form, but it looked so disgusting that I spared any unfortunate web-surfers from it.

Addendum: I've got to hand it to the civet and the cheese-fly larvae, they really have us humans eating shit.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Patio Update

Okay, so here's what's going on with the patio. I'm still not sure of that word--patio. I'll just start calling it the backyard project.

This is the excavation-site as it stands today. Dug-out, and stones in production. It is taking a long time. Mixing 80lb bags of concrete by hand is a workout. But this is the way I want it done so it'll just have to be that way--apologies for all the contractions.

Now this is the tree in question. It is a maple that dominates this expanse of turf and it's a mean-spirited bastard. But we have maintained a truce for a spell, and the worst part is over, the war of the roots. To me, after all the root-canal work I did on it, it looks like it stands up a little straighter.
These are the slate slabs that were down before the project started. I washed some off to see if I could use them as part of the scheme but they looked butt-ugly down in the dirt. I want to use them because they are awesome, and I'm thinking of a walkway around the right side of my house.

This is the last root I dug out. I was expecting to work on leveling that day, but I discovered this instead. It took me half-an-hour to extract it, and when I was working my neighbor came by and wondered what I was doing. I must have looked like a Scottish blackguard in the indigenous rain forest as I explained the project. She asks about it now, which is good, the more people who ask, the more I'll keep going, because of my fear of public shame. So, keep asking about the multi-month backyard project.

Oh, and speaking of roots, here is the extent of them.
This is what one of the paving stones look like.

This wheel-barrow is pissed at me. I mix the concrete in here and it's about to fall over. I need to tighten its bolts and get it fit again. It works well.

And of course, what would a piece about outdoor activity be without this guy. He is wondering what is happening to his puppyhood.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Flight Night

I try not to repeat on my Youtube sidebar feature, but tonight is the finale of the HBO series Flight of the Conchords so I'm going to feature them again for a few days. I love the band and the videos, but the show also does a great job with supporting characters such as Mel, Murry and Dave. I also hope that the semi-professional actor, Ben, shows up again next season. I'm assuming there will be a next season.

I'm obsessed with this song by The New Pornographers
All the Old Showstoppers

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Pete and Ian--New Uploads

Pete, my guitar playing compatriot, has moved to New Zealand. Here are two tracks we recorded last spring.

I Shall be Released

Big River

These are both cover-songs, so i hope BMI doesn't freeze my assets.

Great Rooms, Dogs and Books

There is a term that gets used more and more, and it is starting to grate on my nerves a little. People, in these strange days of modern housing, love to refer to their "great rooms." For some reason this term seems unbelievably pretentious to me. What used to be called a living room or a den is now called something that hearkens back to the middle-ages. To me this adds to the general feeling that Americans want to view themselves as modern day nobility. A great room?C'mon. Why don't you just call it a big space where the contractor could save money by not having to build any expensive extra walls. I often hear things like this, "yes, we just had to buy the house because of the 450 square foot great room." What are you planning to do, host a renaissance fair? Fly radio controlled airplanes in it? Set up a beach volleyball court? It always amazes me when I enter someones great room and find it sparsely furnished and soulless. I had a friend, a really good friend by the way but one who believed in the power of material worth. His great room contained three items besides the built-in fireplace, or should I say hearth. One was a practice putting green, another a sofa, and the center-piece was a life-sized cut-out of Michael Jordon. The room had no depth at all even though it was very big. In contrast, the bedrooms of this house were tiny, smaller than my smallest guest room.

This came about I believe with the emergence of subdivision housing and later with the McMansion industry. When I was a kid, if we didn't have a number of rooms to escape to when annoying siblings or mothers with a to-do list were threatening our piece of mind, we would have killed each other. Don't get me wrong, clutter and darkness makes me uncomfortable as well, and one things these rooms usually have going for them is abundance of light. It's just the use of the term great room that causes me the most problems. If you tell me you have a great room, when I visit, you better greet me sitting on a throne with court jesters and damsels strewn about. If not, I'll just go back to my house with its damaged porch, its half-finished patio, and its very serviceable mead-hall.

By the way, here is a shot of my "pretty-good room."

I also want to add this. Four years ago I had just left my job of eleven years and was seriously floundering, wondering what I was going to do next. Two great things happened during this time. I was given my dog Booker as a present from my parents, and I read one of my favorite books of all time Life of Pi. These two events would have significance for a number of reasons, and funnily enough both the book and the dog are located in reaching distance as I write this. For those of you who have had puppys you know what the first year can be like with chewing and other fun side-effects of unmitigated cuteness. Well, when Booker was small, nothing was off limits for chewing, and things with my smell on it were particularly popular targets. Shoes, telephones, remote controls, couches, chairs, and practically anything else I had touched were usually found mauled on the back-porch.

So I came home one day during the time when I was reading Life of Pi and found this:

I've kept this copy and view it fondly now, but at the time I was pretty pissed. Now I see it as a souvenir of a different time in my life, one that I've worked hard to steer away from. Both Booker and the book are representative of a time when I caught my breath, gained a loyal companion, and rediscovered the power of good fiction.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Conference

I don’t know why, I just have to post this.

I was twenty when this happened.

Way back in the distant eighties I was in Africa. I was living in a place called Umtata, an outpost capital of a South African homeland known as Transkei. Transkei is where the Apartheid system of the National Party sequestered the members of the Xhosa people in a semi-arid overly-farmed corner of southern Africa. People were poor. I was a volunteer at a school run by the South African Catholic Archdiocese that gave poor disabled children an opportunity for an education. I taught English, music, and art, but more importantly, I drove the van.

The regular school driver was unreliable. No stones shall be cast in this glass house, but let us just say that at eight in the morning he wasn’t at the top of his form, more like he was at the bottom of a bottle. I was awakened more than once to find someone knocking at my door before daybreak claiming that I needed to get my things right away because I would be driving to East London that day. Driver was drunk again. He had a name, but we all knew him as Driver.

I took many trips south to East London where a relatively modern prosthetic clinic was located. Many times I was fortunate to go north, to Durban, but this was usually for more administrative purposes. Often I would be carrying an assortment of passengers: students, nuns, adults with disabilities, and occasionally a low-ranking government official. It was on just such a journey to Durban where this story takes place.

The school charged me with taking two of their most prominent nuns to an ecclesiastical conference of Christian religions from all over South Africa. I want to speculate that this was an ecumenical meeting, but I doubt it is that easily defined. The conference was three days, and at the reception I witnessed a different, more multi-cultural Africa, but one with more trappings than I felt comfortable experiencing. I remember spending hours in the guest room of the conference-center reading Donald Morris’ The Washing of the Spears.

On the first night was a reception, followed by a dinner at the host minister’s house. It seems that only a few of us were invited to the dinner, because the number of participants declined noticeably by the time we entered the man’s main parlor. An African served some sort of preliminary drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and I began talking to the minister’s wife. I’m not sure of the denomination of this particular man-of-the-cloth, but I will just claim him as Anglican which is broad enough for me not to feel as if I’m offending anyone.

The wife succeeded in making me feel quite comfortable in this unfamiliar environment. She did what always eases my apprehension, she asked me about myself. Her questions were polite and she listened with an attentive ear. As the minister invited us over to the dining-room table, we continued our conversation.

The minister’s wife sat opposite me. The preliminaries of the meal required a few prayers from each representative of faith, and as the final prayer was being amen-ed, I felt a prodding on my lower leg. It was a gentle brush at first, and I ignored it as something unexplainable but insignificant. I followed the polite conversation and spoke when spoken to, but, in a moment, I found that the prodding had come back. I couldn’t quite verify it, but there was a general feeling that someone was rubbing my leg with their foot.

I looked to my left and realized that the gigantic and forbidding nun who I had driven to the conference was the least likely candidate to be rubbing my leg with her foot. On my right was a man, and though it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, I scratched him off the list. Only one person was left—the minister's wife.

I took a quick glance at her. She was listening attentively to the conversation, but there was no mistaking it, she contained a coy twinkle in her eye. I could tell that she wasn’t listening fully, that it was just a ruse and that her attention was on my ankle and my ankle only. A crises of faith swept over me. A married woman? And a ministers wife at that? No way was I going to take that double lightening bolt. But then again, I was twenty-years-old.

The dinner continued and the rubbing of my leg persisted. At one point, when I was required to give my much practiced speech about my plans for the future, the rubbing got more intense and I could barely concentrate on the part about how I planned to become a journalist and everything. I wondered what would happen now. How was I to handle this? This was way beyond my area of expertise, hell, at that age, everything was way beyond my area of expertise.

When the meal ended and we stood up I was in severe crises. I did not know how to comprehend the situation, much less react to it. I did what I always seem to do given mental stress, I waited.

As we bowed our heads for the final prayer—there was so much praying going on at this conference—I quickly looked up at the minister’s wife and she made brief, reassuring eye-contact. I must have shown my confusion, but at the same time I may have decided just to follow her lead. As the minister launched into a lengthy prayer thanking the host for the divine gift of fellowship and nourishment, I happened to open my eyes and look at the place where the table cloth met the floor. From beneath the table appeared a cat. It started rubbing up against my leg.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Fun with Cut and Paste

It seems that books are a recurring theme on the blogs I visit, so in the spirit of recent postings of personal bookcases and favorite bookstores, here is my office bookcase in all its chaotic glory.

Now that I have the capability to post photos, this blog is going to be overloaded with arbitrary stuff that is my material fish tank. Check out this picture of my dog, Booker.

Okay, this is too fun, what else can we post? Hmmm, I know.

Okay, I didn't take this picture,and I've used it before, but I think the maxim "a picture speaks a thousand words" is very relevant in this case.

I call this one" "GRE Hell."

Stay tuned for more engrossing photos.

Note: Tried to get a movie of Booker catching a Frisbee to upload but it took almost two hours for a ten second spot. Seems my laptop and blogspot were having some issues. I'm going to keep working on it though.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Taking a Break

I'm taking a break from blogging for several days because this week has shown me how busy the semester is going to be. I have taken on a lot, and I need some time to get things in place before I can commit to a good post. I hope to be back early next week when the dust settles.

Patio update: Hand made paving stones have gone into production. Hard work, but they look fantastic.

Booker update: Booker got two new frisbies on Sunday, and he has been walking on a cloud ever since. I'm teaching him to play goalie.

School? One regular tough class, one two credit I.S. that will require a great deal of self-starting, and the math--which the jury is still out on.

Work: New position in the library in the special collections.

Personal: Don't ask, not too bad, but don't ask.

GW Bush? @#$!@#%$# ^%$#@ %$!@#$ %^$##@

Back Soon.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Okay, I'm Going to Stop Doing These Quizes Now

I got this from Archie.

You're The Grapes of Wrath!

by John Steinbeck

You're mired in a deep depression that encompasses you and everyone you know. You're trying to get out of the depression, but your idea of help is, in itself, pretty sad. While some are convinced that this all has a deeper meaning, you're really just dull and tedious. And utterly obsessed with dust. You really need to focus on something other than dust. Your best moments center around turtles.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Reading Meme

School has started once again, and I'm all set for my last semester. Wish me luck. It took me twenty years but I'm on the back stretch now. {Please don't let this come back to haunt me later as one of those things I did to tempt fate, and actually I find out that I'll never be able to graduate because I didn't learn how to add fractions in third grade}.

I got this meme from the indefatigable Emily. It was welcome because I was having trouble coming up with a topic, as nothing really embarrassing has happened to me in the past week. (More tempting fate).

What are you reading right now?
Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy: Dmitri Volkoganov
Being There: Jerzy Kozinski
The Fortune of War: Patrick O’Brian
In the Garden of the North American Martyrs: Tobias Wolff
The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
Hmmm, that list might be too long to name. I have a big stack of European history books that my dad gave me sitting between the dining room and the living room. They all look tempting. I also have the seventh in the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian which is a probability. I want to check out the new translation of War and Peace when it comes out in October. Steinbeck always beckons as well. Knowing me, it will be totally random. I started reading Being There because I was practicing drums (a friend left a drum set in my house) and I saw the book sticking out of the bookcase. I’m glad I did. I love it!

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now?
People and The New Yorker

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read?
Sons and Lovers in high school senior English class. I found this to be incredibly depressing and I barely even read enough to take the exam. I want to give it another try, but maybe I should trust my seventeen-year-old-self and leave it alone. Tess of the D’Urbervilles comes in a close second.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
Surprise, surprise Old School by Tobias Wolff. I could go into why I like this book so much, but the main reason is because I identified with the main character so much. Read it everyone.

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don’t they?
Yep, and what’s worse, I’m one of them. I work part time in the library and people ‘round here know me. But…..librarians are shedding their conservative persona. Your modern librarian is no longer the horned-rimmed, hair-in-a-bun type who says “shhhhhh” all the time. We are making reading sexy again. The hormones in this place are practically palpable and you should check out miss ------- in circulation. I told a young woman the other day that I was a librarian and she practically ripped my clothes off, it’s true! Actually, she did say, “that’s kinda hot.” So get ready for the 21st century library geek, the new pop star of the future.

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all?
I reluctantly recommended I am Charlotte Simmons to a couple of people, suspecting that this book would upset, disgust, or just plain bore them. I was right in most cases. I’ve never decided if I liked the book even, but I know it is on my “books that made an impact” list.

Do you read books while you eat? While you bathe? While you watch movies or TV? While you listen to music? While you’re on the computer? While you’re having sex? While you’re driving?
While I bathe: I have, but its awkward to keep your hands dry while you’re in the shower. While I watch movies or TV: Not with movies, but I read during the commercials on TV by muting the sound. Listening to music: I can do it with classical, but if there are any vocals I can’t do it. I even find it hard with Jazz instrumentals. On the computer: only when I’m writing a paper and I haven’t read the text, in other words, when I’m behind. While I’m having sex: No, but I can tell you, reading The Brothers Karamazov one time right after sex caused one of the first pouty arguments I’d ever had with a girlfriend. Imagine, someone being jealous of Dostoevsky. Now, watching TV and sex, that’s another subject, especially during playoffs. While I’m driving: only directions, maps, syllabi's, assignment sheets, schedules, rough drafts, CD cases, the back of video game boxes, but never, never fiction. What is more dangerous than me reading a draft on the way to class is shuffling around to find the draft on the floor of my truck while doing 70!

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits?
Yea, probably. I would always bring really morbid books to school that would show soldiers with their arms shot off, or novels about cows that have gone berserk and have started to eat people. This would get me off the hook somewhat because the kids liked that stuff--well most of them. Also, when I was playing with neighborhood kids, I would excuse myself early to partake in my favorite pastime, eating Marathon bars and reading comic books.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
Patrick O’Brian. This isn’t necessarily true, because I fell asleep way before half the night came along, but I would have finished the book if I could have stayed awake. He just leads you from one fascinating situation to the next, and, for me, totally captures every piece of my imagination. I would have read Being There in one sitting last night, but (knock on wood) insomnia is not one of my troubles right now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'm Demotic

Apparently I'm some sort of crazy offshoot of hieroglyphics--and one letter away from being demonic! Yow.

Your Score: Demotic

You scored

You are Demotic, the degenerate wild child of Hieroglyphics. At least, that's what Hieroglyphics used to say. Quicker, nimbler but a definite trouble-maker in the family.

Link: The Which Ancient Language Are You Test written by on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test