Thursday, April 28, 2005


I'm only a quarter in and there are no frights as yet, except for the exact recreations of chain bookstore employment horrors: inept, judgmental management; frustrating customers; cantankerous and worrisome elevators; bratty children at story-time; ridiculous rules based on lawsuits at other stores; strange employees who explain their vague jokes after no one gets them; public restrooms; bleary-eyed 3am trips to the store for false alarms; pornography stashed in the children's section, etc.

The Overnight is bringing it all back, down to the paging system, the punchclock error sheets, the dank breakroom with the sinkful of days-old dirty mugs, and the inventory procedures! I can't wait to get to the reason for the title, which frightens me in and of itself. There's nothing more awful than a retail overnight.

I love Campbell's prose (here describing an employee getting lunch on break):

The walls and ceiling of the supermarket are as colourless as the befogged spotlights. Unspecific muffled music hangs in the air while silent personnel unload cartons in the white aisles. Wilf takes a moss-green plastic basket to the rudimentary delicatessen section and bears a pack of sushi to the nearest till. The checkout girl, who wears an overall like a dentist's and has eyes weighed down by mascara, hardly glances at him even when she passes him the sushi in a bag so flimsy it's sibilant...

Protect Yourself

The latest in French AIDS awareness ads.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Quarterly Dividends

I managed to earn $225 in Amazon GCs this quarter (some from sales through here, some from credit card reward programs), and I bought a bunch of shit I don't need but really wanted, like the six-volume Trask translation of Casanova's History of My Life (a book impossible not to enjoy), the latest Ian McEwan, and the newest by my favorite horror writer Ramsey Campbell. Here's a snippet from his Acknowledgements page:

In March 2000 I went to work full-time at the Cheshire Oaks branch of Borders. Most of my friends were shocked that I needed to take a job other than writing, though Poppy Z. Brite sent several enthusiastic emails...In the months I worked at the shop I made quite a few friends and conceived this book out of my experience. What more could I ask?

I just saw Ramsey as a commentator on The 100 Scariest Movie Moments a few weeks back. His last couple of novels have been superior, after a four- or five-book downturn. His novel Incarnate is perhaps the best-written supernatural story I've read outside of M.R. James.

Where's Paul Maud'dib?

Arrakis or Iraq?


I just spent an hour watching librarians eat cookies, cakes, and drink tea, all the while fete-ing 3 retiring compatriots with something like 110 years service between them. They were so cute in their tea party outfits, using the "archive china." What better way to rinse such a quaint scene out of my skull than to pop in Black Sabbath's mighty first album, which I've not listened to for years. Best rhythm section ever!

Will I ever have a job for more than 5 years? Two of the women retiring today have worked here longer than I've been alive.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

More Gore

...for some reason I am relieved not to see most people, even those I like--or once liked. I understand now why the old enjoy the obituaries of contemporaries. I used to put this down to play-acting in the face of momento mori; now I think it is a sense of relief in letting go for good of people one no longer needs. I recall something Santayana said as he led me into his cell at the convent. "As you see, I live as if I were already dead."

from Palimpsest

All I need

All of my favorite flowering trees around Towson are about at full throttle now. Soon the lavender azaleas around Cook Liberry will open, adding to the spectacle; at this time of year I don't mind walking to work--actually, I love walking to work, but I mean I don't mind it in the sense that I don't care that my destination is work as I'm walking at this time of year, whereas during the winter for example I'll only think about going to work as I walk and how much I hate being at work. Now I walk under two of my favorite flowering trees on the way here each day, and on the way back at dinner, and on the way back here after dinner, and then again on the way home, though that's typically after dark. The entire time I look at those trees and think not of work at all. As I do my standard 3.5 mile runs around Towson I can visit my trees that happen to live in other people's yards and note their progress. This makes me happy.

But still, shit intrudes when all seems well. I got home to grab some chow and there's a phone message from Mommie Dearest, using her concerned Mommie Dearest voice, so I think perhaps something happened to Dad or to Grandpa and I call. The news: A good friend's brother committed suicide last Friday, but was only found today. Not one of those "cry for help" cases, he first took an overdose of pills, then used a knife to cut himself badly, then shot himself in the head. At 46. Just a few months ago their mother had died. And my student assistant is out today because somebody died.

But I still don't feel maudlin. I feel very content and centered today, and I can see the flowering trees far away outside the tiny slit of a window available across the Liberry floor from the Service Desk, and that's about all I need.


This morning I was dreaming of a woman wrapped in a yellow blanket, pleading and crying in the corner of her bedroom as a threatening man yelled at her. Then, I woke to realize I'd been hearing my neighbors screaming at each other through the shared wall of our townhomes. She was in the corner, crying loudly, saying something like "everything I do I do to try and please you, to be who you want me to be." He shouted "look at you! You disgust me!" and then I heard their back door slam and her sobbing continued.

These neighbors are not nearly as bad as the previous neighbors, who fought like this every week, but I've heard them fight numerous times the past year. Each time I'm instantly back in childhood, listening to my parents scream at one another, dreading the moment when one or the other of them would come in and use me as a weapon against the other.

I need to live where there are no people.

Wickedly filthy

This link transcends mere pornography, wittily combining Penthouse Letters discourse with the Federalist Papers.

Who doesn't want to read about Ann Coulter getting bum-stuffed and ATM-ed by a Liberal? Even Noam Chomsky makes a brief appearance...(link via The Rude Pundit, of course).

Monday, April 25, 2005

We are in for a century or two of race wars unless, of course, nuclear weapons are employed early on, in which case we join the dinosaurs, our irradiated remains shining in the museums of our heirs, the sage cockroaches.

Gore Vidal, Palimpsest


Makes that seafood risotta I had Saturday slightly less appealing (found via Eschaton).

Oh, and blech!

Beautiful Maladies

Again, Bergman plumbs the depths of his characters' misery, and nearly goes too far this time. I don't mean that lightly. The list of taboos featured in this film is unparalelled (like in The Piano Teacher we get a particularly nasty scene of genital self-mutilation, but unlike in The Piano Teacher where mom and daughter are a bit too comfy we have lesbian incestual overtones galore between sisters, and to top things off Bergman offers us lesbian incestual necrophilia). The story centers around a dying sister in a marvelous old estate--her two sisters and a maid tend to her painful final days, and though Cries and Whispers is only 90 minutes long, I felt I'd been through those final days because her dying is a wrenching experience and done with unbearable intimacy. As one sister dies, the other two tear at each other with their own abominable secrets. For the first 45 minutes there's very little dialogue, but because we see brief scenes of each characters' life we really get to know their "major malfunctions" before they begin destryong one another. Liv Ullman--wow. She's on track to supplant Gong Li as my favorite actress.

Potent, dastardly cinema.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


A weekend filled with friends and conversation--Friday I spoke to Julio for more than 2 hours on the phone; we had one of those far-reaching discussions we've been having for more than 20 years. We talked about becoming adults, meditation practise, writing and painting, music, aesthetics, identity theory, bong hits, etc. Then Friday eve, Yahtzee (who just turned 36--goodness) showed me his new Volvo (very swank) before clobbering Stewie and me at Risk again. When I got back home at 2am Kw'ali and Klezma and Virginia Monologues and The Seoul Shiksa and duChamp and Cha were all singing in the living room and having a karaoke party. Only one of them was a good singer.

Saturday we had the good fortune to hang out with Conniption and Double-Engine, and not only to hang out but to go out for drinks and then dinner (hooray for reliable baby-sitters!). We had a great time, and I felt mysteriously adult sitting in Grand Cru with my Chimay Ale talking about whatever. Double Engine has a friend who knows the owner of a joint in Fell's Point she recommended--we found it and ate and drank some more and Conniption was having too much fun in the restroom.

I realized when we got there that I hadn't been to Fell's Point for a beer in many a year...since the Parker's Pub days! Judging by the quality of Birches, we may have to stop hanging in Towson and Mt. Vernon all the time.


I'm a sucker for this kind of maudlin "life not lived" film; C.S. Lewis--despite his successful academic career and growing celebrity as a writer of juvenile fictions--finds himself aged and living out the Henry James story The Beast in the Jungle. To spare him the fate of living vicariously through reading alone, and offering him risk, love, hope, the nasty, and all that other good stuff, The Universe presents him one Joy Gresham, and Lewis gets more than he bargained for. He must test his thoughts about suffering and perfection and God, and we get to watch the incomparable Anthony Hopkins at the height of his skill in the role of old C.S. I've wanted to see this film for ten years and never had, but at a point in my life when I needed to see it the Netflix envelope arrived.

There is no better film than this. I need say nothing more about it. If you haven't seen it, I pity you.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


God Bless the Next Blog button.


Inexplicably, I know all about this pathetically sad horseshit from CNN/MSNBC/FOX News this morning, but I haven't heard anything about this.

Must I be informed every time our spiritually adolescent citizenry sees God manifested in pita bread, cheese sandwiches, windows, and tortillas? I mean, that current stain passing for the Holy Mother of God reminds me of pee-stains on cement foundations; the construction crew I used to work for left a bevvy of such beer-soaked saints and all the apostles daily because our boss was too cheap to get us a Jiffy John. Nobody worshipped that shit.

Why does the press ridicule UFO sightings and abduction claims while giving this side-show valuable air-time? At least with the UFO crowd we get the (apologies to Wonkette) pleasure of anal probes.

Edit As if on cue, bigfoot returns!

Love and Marriage

I wouldn't trade being married for being single any day--not only am I madly in love with my wife, but I simply can't imagine going back to the dating rat race again after 11 years. But marriage can be damned peculiar, like an interpretative dance where one partner is doing The Spastic Sea Monkey and the other The Mashed Potato. Case in point? I got home last night after work and hugged my wife around the waist:

Cha: Oh my God I'm getting fat.
Me: Whatever! You are not. Kiss me.
Cha: My belly looks huge.
Me: Where's the remote?
Cha: Is your Mom going to Curves?
Me: She said she lost 16 pounds last month on the South Beach Diet. She's down to 480 pounds.
Cha: Shut up!
Me: Ok, ok...
Cha: I ate two ice cream sandwiches today.
Me: Well, if you're worried about gaining weight, that won't help.
Cha: I knew it! You DO think I'm fat!

This kind of thing goes on regularly now--Cha tells me how fat she thinks she is, how fat she feels, how much she's eaten, and I do my best not to fall into the trap she's setting for me, but inevitably I say the wrong thing because I'm either a tease or a jerk or both. Whatever I say gets translated/twisted into "you're fat," but not speaking isn't an option.

She has gained weight since we've been married--so have I. Big deal! She weighed 110 pounds then, and she still looks muy sexy to me--in fact, I luxuriate in her tiny pot belly and her overwhelmingly charming derriere, and I tell her all the time how hot I think she is. What I don't understand is that strange need to entrap me into saying something negative. I don't run around saying "I'm an unambitious, pasty, paunchy, chinless, moon-faced bit o' white trash" all the time, trying to goad her into confirming my lack of self-worth.

Explain this behavior to me!

She also told me her "freaky" dream from the night before, and blamed me because I was watching 100 Scariest Movies which scared her. "I was in the bathroom and I killed 12 very small people in a row and hid them from you. They were helpless and I shot them all and poked them with sticks until they were dead, and I knew I would do it again every year because I'm a psychokiller."

This dream has nothing to do with Scariest Movie moments.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

CSPAN rules

I hadn't allowed myself the guilty pleasure of watching the ultimate reality TV for several weeks, but last night I stumbled on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee "business meeting" about John Bolton (video available here). I'd of course already read that the Committee--typically the most collegial bunch of Senators--had voted to delay sending Bolton to the floor, and I was curious about how that went down. Bass Ale(s) in hand, I spent a delightful couple of hours watching delicious political theater. Lugar, none too happy, was trying his best to ram a quick partyline vote through, while Biden objected, Sarbanes waxed indignant in that odd mix of reasoned Rhodes Scholar with a twinge of Bawmorese, Kerry, Boxer and Dodd added objections, and then things got heated. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd were particularly excellent; Joe, who can grandstand with the best of them, was red-faced, wiley, and absolutely convincing. Dodd really hammered home his concerns, Kerry and Sarbanes questioned the need to rush in more sedate tones, and even Obama quietly got in a plea for time. There was much red-faced bellowing.

Then, a remarkable thing happened. Chuck Hagel broke ranks to say that while he supported voting to send Bolton to the floor, he in no way intended to suggest he would support Bolton because the concerns Biden had raised were very serious indeed, and then Sen. Voinovich of all people said he was very very concerned by what Biden and Dodd had just said--and despite the contempt for process the wormy Norm Coleman and attack dog George Allen showed, the Committee decided not to decide.

There's hope! Bolton might deservedly get sent back to bureaucratic anonymity. My favorite moment? An overly exercised Chris Dodd yelling that Bolton's actions "oughtta be indictable! Instead we're going to promote this guy!"

Satisfied, I flipped over to Fox News and watched as Mort Kondrake and Charles Krauthammer expressed serious concerns about Tom DeLay's ethics. Bizzarr-o world, I tells ya. The momumentally on-message block of Righties are fracturing a bit.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


The Baby Bug has felled another couple--Damnyelli emailed me today (of course after Ferocity already dropped the gossip!) to announce that she and Earthdragon are expecting a wee one in November. We had dinner with them two Fridays back and Earthdragon kept talking about some recent reading he'd done re: female and male genitals and the different "tubes and flaps and muscles." Cha and I found this a bit curious at the time, but now it makes sense. Congrats are in order.

Good Lord! How long before K'wali and Klezma and Julio and Yo! Adrienne join the diaper divisions?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Monopoly Night

Friday we revisited a long-defunct tradition: Monopoly at Buf and MA's. When they lived in Towson we did this once a month, and kept it up for a while after they shuffled off to Parkton, but it had been more than a year since we played.

As usual, I kicked ass.

Before the game we walked a couple miles out their country lane to its end as their two boys rode scooters ahead of us. I found this very pleasant, and as Buf told me about a cemetery he found while following the Gunpowder River trails I became agitated because I know that spot well--I used to go there when dating EC in high school, sometimes with E, sometimes with her twin sister L who dated Julio at the time. I took the Hulk there on Halloween once when there was a full moon and he got so freaked out he took off running down Upper Beckleysville Road.

I really enjoyed being a teenager in bum-fuck, and miss being able to walk out the door of my house, catch a horse trail along the river, and get lost in the woods. I used to find all sorts of weird foundations in the middle of nowhere. That cemetery was from the Hoffmanville settlement and the graves went back to the early 1700s, and there used to be a huge paper mill in the 1800s but it blew up because someone used an iron hammer which sparked a conflagration. Last time I saw the cemetary some moron had restored the stones by cementing the broken ones back together, re-doing the fence, and putting a ghastly monument up. Completely destroyed the aesthetics of the place, though the giant elm tree growing up through one of the graves was still there. Cha and I used to regularly wander around those trails and get up to no good, and once I even took the Dazzling Urbanite back a few miles and had to navigate us out in the dark. Fortunately I know how to "see" trails at night.

But I also like delivered food, walking to work, and living near museums and shops.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Pretty Cool

Can't wait to read what's in these.

Weekend Netflix

I wanted to see Saw when it was at the Charles (briefly) but missed it. Now that I've seen Saw I'm content to note it was worth seeing; I saw Saw Friday and found it pleasurably intense. Are there plot holes large enough to drive an aircraft carrier through? Yes. Is the acting a bit amateurish at times? Sure. But the gruesome audience expectation laid out at the beginning is used with sophistication: will he/won't he--should he shouldn't he--he ought to/he oughtn't--would I/wouldn't I? I fell for it, and there was sufficient creepiness in the setting and the killer's malicious persona to charm the jaded afficionado of cinematic ghouls.

Serial killers are driven to play God: they want absolute power over their victims, and feed vampirically off the desperation, panic, and fear they cause. The killer in Saw is only briefly seen, but we get the sense he also likes to punish his victims for moral transgressions and hypocrisies. Slasher flicks are often extremely reactionary and Puritanical in an ironic way--Saw fits the genre to a tee, and borrows heavily from films like Seven and the surprisingly interesting Michael Douglas flick The Game, but manages to be stylistically unique nonetheless. I did not see the surprise ending coming, and I'm always pleased when a film fools me, and when a film fools me and makes me uncomfortable I'm very happy.

And speaking of films that make me uncomfortable:

I couldn't bear it. These poor kids! They suffer so much, and for what? The chance to be humiliated on ESPN by the word "Darjeeling"? Fuck that. Very enjoyable, but tantamount to child abuse; the vignettes introducing the children are very well-done. Then, these poor charming nerds are thrown to the wolves in DC and we get to watch.

Ok, yeah, I know all this. Achbar's film is lavishly produced and is interesting and challenges to a degree the CW about America's most successful institutions, but I found nothing new here. Noam Chomsky spouts the same spot-on critiques he's been spouting for decades, Michael Moore reveals himself to be the messianic self-absorbed windbag The New Yorker said he was last fall, and some CEO's talk frankly (on both sides of the debate) about business and sustainability. How to move corporations from their current incarnation as psychopathic and undemocratic institutions to a more sustainable business model is the question--you'll find many criticisms here, but what are potential solutions? The Corporation doesn't provide them.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Highly Recommended

I love this book! Montefiore knows quite well he's dealing with perhaps the greatest monster of the 20th century, and yet at times the circumstances of the story make Papa Joe and his entourage almost sympathetic; despite the piling corpses there is wit and humor aplenty in this thick tome.

Montefiore's account of the absurd days before Hitler's betrayal of the USSR is a case in point: Stalin knows Hitler is gaming the Soviets with his phony non-aggression pact, and yet Papa Joe is convinced the Fuhrer will wait until 1942 to invade. When signs of an imminent German attack are reported in June of '41, Stalin gets furious and has his intelligence officers shot and replaced because he's sure they're falling for British attempts to get the USSR into the war. When the Germans do attack, none of the Politburo want to inform Stalin the invasion is underway because they're afraid they'll look disloyal, and the earlier Terror--in which Stalin mercilessly killed nearly everyone--has them trembling to intrude actual reality onto the Premier's. Stalin resigns immediately when the shit hits the fan, but no one knows for sure if his resignation is real or if he's simply testing the other Soviet leaders' loyalty--and the actions of the other players in this grotesque drama (Molotov, Khrushev, Beria, Kaganovich) both fascinate and disgust.

As German Panzer divisions are closing in on Moscow the media busy themselves broadcasting stories of the mighty Red Army throwing the Fascists back into Germany--sounds like Saddam's desperate pronouncements as the US army entered Baghdad! I know this history, and yet Montefiore's narrative whisks along and I find myself cheering on beleagured General Zhukov, one of the few to escape the Terror, as he runs from battle to battle pulling Stalin's chestnuts out of the fire, all the while wondering why I should care who wins this battle of monstrous regimes.

Who was Stalin? A literary expert of some critical gifts, a gifted baritone who sung opera arias and Russian and Georgian folk tunes, a paranoid murderous bastard, a man who delighted in children and who loved film and read widely in history, an expert political manipulator and a bumbling fool. This is not a biography, but a portrait of the workings of the top echelon of Communist Party bosses during Stalin's reign. I think it's magnificently informative and entertaining.

Vraiment sans merci....

C'est simplement un cauchemar qui roule a la renverse...a volcano that sucks in its wretched magma, a study in merciless filmmaking. Nothing is resolved, everything is wrong, but there's a possible nullification at "the end" which is really "the beginning," or is it? We can't know because of hints there's some prescience going on. Technically, this is a masterwork, with some unbelievably complicated boom work and extended looping shots that would make DePalma drool. Mulholland Drive meets Momento meets I Spit on Your Grave. I strongly caution you to avoid this if you have a weak stomach and if you prefer tidy moral resolution. There's none here. If you enjoy challenging the limits of your tolerance for depravity, however, give it a whirl.

Le temps detruit tous!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Eye of Newt

I'd just emailed Sluggo yesterday and told him that if Gingrich was going to run for President in '08, he'd probably have to distance himself from Tom DeLay, whose ethical problems are far worse than anything Jim Wright got up to back when Gingrich was taking over while accusing the Dems of corruption.

Et Voila!

BTW--Congrats to Sluggo and SW; according to the latest scans, baby #5 will be a girl. At last!

And speaking of Apocalypticians...

I'd not heard of this guy before--and now I'm intrigued. His thoughts mirror many of my own, but unlike yours truly he's got the smarts to back up his claims. Perhaps we'll get our Y2K Dark Ages after all?

Let's just say I'll be glad I worked construction for six years! And all those summers spent in Grandma's garden may pay off down the road.

Edit Conniption just dropped by--I gave him a brief outline of this interview and he asked if I'd read:

and I said, "No, but it's the same guy!" He says Geography of Nowhere rules.

Too many books to read before the cataclysm.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Decisions, decisions....

A few months back, wholly on a whim, I applied to the U of Md's PhD in Lit program. I figured "well, with tuition remission I can take a course a semester and see how it goes."

Today I got a letter from MD accepting me into the Master's in Lit program. Apparently the English Department at U of Md has decided to class my MA in English from Temple University as an MFA, even though it's accredited as an MA with a concentration in writing, and instead of telling me to fuck off, they knocked my ap down to the MA level. I tried to protest this classification of my MA to no avail.

Sigh. Now I've got to decide if I want to go through another 1.5 to 2 years of graduate work in order to possibly go get a PhD that I'm not sure I want anyway:

  • there's no guarantee I'll get into the U of MD PhD program in two years even if I kick ass in the MA program
  • I'm really, really enjoying not being a teacher right now--and what else can one do with further graduate work in the Humanities?
  • I like reading what I want to read instead of what some Prof tells me I should read
  • If I went ahead and did this program now and got into the PhD program down the road, the soonest I could complete my doctorate would be 2012--I'd be 43. 2012 is the end of the Mayan calendar anyway, when the Earth descends into fiery chaos; having a PhD won't help me fend for myself in a post-apocalyptic landscape.
  • It is free for me to go, dammit. Why not drive down there once or twice a week? I like talking about books and writing bullshit papers.
  • I hate driving to College Park
  • My work schedule is such that it overlaps with all the graduate English classes offered at MD--I'd have to go to work three hours early, leave around 1pm, drive to College Park, sit through class, and drive back to Towson to work until 10pm. Fuck that.
  • I could quit my job and go back to teaching as an adjunct--NOT!

I've got some decidin' to do. Fortunately, I've got until September to make my decision--they don't need to hear from me until the first day of class. I can always say I'm going and then drop out later as well, given that it's free.


Was having a very intense and bizarre dream last night when I was awakened by a loud popping/creaking noise. Sometimes if you close a storm door and lock the deadbolt without latching the handle all the way, the latch will snap sharply later of its own accord--that's the kind of sound I heard. I jumped up because I thought maybe someone was pushing on our front door or testing the handle, and I stopped momentarily at our bedroom door getting my shit together (where's the phone, should I just wait or go agressively downstairs, do I have something I can use to clobber someone should the need to clobber someone arise). As I was standing there listening, Cha woke up.

Cha (way too loudly): Geoff!
Me (whispering): I heard something downstairs.
Cha (again, very loud): Are you sleepwalking!?
Me (whispering): I said I heard something...
Cha (even louder): What are you doing!?
Me (whispering angrily): SHHHHHHHHH, for God's sake, shush up!
Cha (whispering now): What, did you hear something?
Me (Rolling eyes in the dark): Well, duh!

Normally she'll sleep through anything short of a nuclear attack. Once when we lived in an apartment the smoke detector short-circuited in the wee hours and was screaming at 100 decibels. Our roommate Shan and I worked diligently to try and shut the goddamn thing up somehow but couldn't, so I smashed it with a hammer. Cha never even heard it, and woke me up the next morning asking why the smoke detector was in pieces. But I guess my sudden spring out of the bed last night shook her despite the Tempurpedic cushioning.

I went to the top of the stairs and heard the noise again, a sharp noise but somehow stealthy, and it was indeed coming from the front door. I envisioned some dude with a backback trying to break in and steal my DVDs--there's really no way to steal much of importance or value and get it out via York Road, but I turned on the downstairs lights from the upstairs hall and pulled on a pair of shorts (why, in the case of fire or potential robbery do people pause to dress?) and proceeded to investigate.

I found nothing downstairs. I heard nothing. I turned on the lights, checked all the locks, and there was nothing and no one outside when I looked.

Then this morning I saw a cigarette butt on the front porch--a Kool. I occasionally will smoke but haven't in months, and I hate menthol, and every day I'm on the porch and I know what's out there--there was no cigarette butt there yesterday afternoon or evening when I came home. I've had a bike stolen out of the back yard, and our neighbors had a break-in five years ago and lost $2000 in CDs and some liquor, and perhaps someone was testing previously fertile ground anew. Being a light sleeper normally sucks, but there are advantages after all.

Hmmmm. I wish we could have a dog, but Cha's allergies won't permit it.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Sunday, April 10, 2005


A former student of mine emailed to alert me that his new business venture is up and running. Check it out.

Signs of hope

I watched This Week this morning before work and noted how calm, cool, and calculated Dick Santorum[R-Pa] was. He even hinted there might be something to the DeLay ethics charges. So different from the rabid "man on dog" vitriol this lunatic fringer usually spews.

Santorum and Christie Todd Whitman were both elected when I was living in Philly as a grad student. Now that Christie Todd is out flogging her book about whackjobs taking over her party, I'd like nothing more than to see one of the biggest of those whackjobs lose in '06--Santorum himself!

I think the Right is where the Left was a bit more than 10 years ago: corrupt, confused, drunk with power, and about to fragment and lose its stranglehold. If Santorum is not breathing fire out of fear he's misjudged the electorate, if Chris "One of Us!" Shays is jumping ship, if DeLay's cronies are going to put a cap in his ass, while the Majority Leader himself launches a desperate offensive, we could be in good shape in '06 indeed. Especially with the poll numbers for Congress and the Bushies right now.

World's Greatest Netflix Double Feature

Ray is damn good. I mean, yeah, we've seen the musician biopic a dozen times, we've seen the genius struggling with temptations (babes and smack here) and overcoming obstacles (segregation and blindness here), but Jamie Foxx, whom I've always regarded as a charismatic and talented mimic more than an actor(Foxx's Ray says at one point "I can mimic anybody"), is splendid, the music is to die for, and the story moves. Ray Charles was like many artists a "complicated" man; "complicated" is often used euphemistically to mean asshole, jerk, outright bastard, etc. But because of his situation and the vignettes of his early childhood, we can understand him and sympathize and celebrate his outstanding achievements. Particularly effective are the flashbacks to young Ray and his kick-ass Mamma. Keep some tissues nearby.

And speaking of tissues--The Piano Teacher has the greatest Kleenex scene in cinema history; in fact this film is a laugh riot from start to finish. I haven't had so much fun watching a DVD since Audition.

An aside: Thank God for Isabelle Huppert's supplemental interview--she calls Le Pianist "a parody of a melodrama," and since I laughed heartily at several points during this powerfully disturbing film I'd begun doubting my own sanity. Again, the music is to die for! Schoenberg, Schubert, Bach, Beethoven, all played magnificently. We also get: genital self-mutilation, daughter-mother incest, a BJ barf scene, one of the vilest, meanest pranks ever perpetrated on the silver screen, and two of the least erotic sex scenes ever. In Sideways pinot noir serves as a metaphor for Miles' personality and his unfulfilled needs; in The Piano Teacher the deteriorating mental state of the heroine is reflected in her admiration for Schubert, who went ga-ga at the height of his talents.

There's an interesting scene in Ray where things are going both wonderfully and not-so-well for Mr. Charles; Jamie Foxx sits at a beat-up country ass piana playing Beethoven's Moonlight sonata as Ray's world deteriorates and explodes with opportunity. I love that music because of what it implies about Beethoven's own tortured soul--so skilled, so transcendent, and yet so gloomy and mysterious. The thrumming bass notes so ominous, so potent, and yet the slow tempo and melody are calm and peaceful. The turbulence is in check, but barely. Both these films--while worlds apart--deal with the same thematic territory.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Ride 'em Cowboy

This film truly ran rough-shod over me late last night. Burton proves himself able to stirrup the emotions, and he's my new mane man. Playing a psychiatrist treating a boy who's saddled with a woeful personal mythology, Burton manages to reign in and out-flank the young man's defenses, breaking him and making him stable anew. Before the boy takes the bit, Burton wonders if he's not happier and living more intensely as a "crazy" person than he would otherwise, and consequently whips himself into a lather. I've read that Equus has many neigh-sayers, therefore I'd like to mount a campaign to...ugh, this has to stop!


Ok, I already wrote something and Blogger ate it, so now I'm pissed.

But how can I stay pissed when writing about Sideways? Last week I watched Closer, thinking "I'm going to hate this fucking movie," and it turned out I was completely wrong in my pre-judgment. I was positive I'd hate Sideways as well because I don't like "buddy" pics or "midlife crisis" pics and I'm not a big fan of Paul Giamatti (not because of his acting but because he looks exactly like--and even shares some facial tics with--an annoying real life person I know). Again, I was wrong. DEAD wrong. There are some scenes that ring false, and a couple moments where we get a bit too close to territory covered a billion times before, but overall I thought this was a significant film.

Paul Giamatti is brilliant in this movie; his Miles has to be funny while also being a Willie Lowman loser, and few actors can pull this off. Miles is a middle-aged, divorced, miserable, alcoholic middle-school English teacher with writerly pretentions so emotionally bottled up he's liable to implode at any time. He takes his best friend--soon to be married--for a trip along the Napa valley, and Sideways recounts this adventure. There are a few truly mesmerizing scenes (when Miles gets "happy" news in the church parking lot, for example) where Giamatti explores the limits of his character's sanity to great effect. Particularly transcendent is when Miles has his big chance with Maya (Virginia Madsen)--his singular joy is an enthusiasm for fine pinot noir (a grape which metaphorically represents his character), and as Madsen gives her "each bottle of wine is alive" soliloquy watch his face; either this is an actor wholly in command of his craft, or Giamatti is simply responding to the terrific work Madsen does--either way it works, and at last we see that Miles, who so far has been so miserable as to become hateful, has a bit of hope.

And speaking of Madsen--who is she? Why haven't I seen her before? That soliloquy is terrific, and few actors going could pull it off (perhaps Kidman, Julianne Moore at her best, or Naomi Watts). She literally freezes this film for a few moments and makes it all about Maya and how captivating she is, and does so without chewing a centimeter of scenery. Marvelous! And Miles' failure to seize the opportunity Maya gives him actually made me phyiscally uncomfortable, his performance is so believable.

Of course there's also Sandra Oh! And that guy from Wings is good, too as the crass and shallow Jack who proves to be less crass and shallow than expected.
The film is shot beautifully, and as a bit of a wine poseur myself I don't doubt much of my appreciation of the work stems from vinyard tours and tasting scenes.

Despite seeing the ending coming ten minutes too early, I was satisfied by its taunting ambiguity. This is a superior film--as good as The Aviator or Million Dollar Baby, but different from either. Think of Woody Allen's stuff as he moved from goober humor to existentialist Bergmanesque goober humor.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Nothing to report

Nothing particularly interesting today. I woke up, ran 3.5 miles, and went to work where I checked my email to find the usual two dozen messages questioning the size of my unit, offering me cheap meds, and pretending to be from people I know. Cha and I met at Kyodai for dinner and between us ate enough chum to satisfy a Florida shark storm. Man, oh man, that roll with the lump crabmeat, tempura shrimp, and salmon, tuna and avacado--Jeebus!

Conniption just stopped in and we shot the shit for a while: so good to talk religion, sex, beer, music, martial arts, politics, and books--all in 45 minutes!

Yesterday I was having a strange dream about worms, then Cha woke me up to tell me she needed worms for her elementary school art class and asked where to buy them, and I told her to dig them out around the composter, and then at work my student assistant kept showing me a kid's book featuring worms as characters, and finally when I got home after work Cha told me all her worm stories from school that day.

Any Jungians out there wanna help me with this shit?

Through the "Next Blog" button I found a site where teenagers in a church abstinence program supported each other by blogging about their hormonal urges and how important it is not to masturbate or succumb to physical needs. One of the entries bemoaned the fact that women couldn't have "wet dreams" like men. I should've saved the link.

Hey--the Dark Side of JPII.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Hubba Hubba

It astonishes me anew every Spring. As soon as we get a couple sunny days, the campus seems overrun by beach models/Hooters waitresses who are immediately tan, sporting half-shirts and low-rider pants that display either thong or an inch or two of exposed asscrack. I've written here before that I'm not a fan of thongs poking out of jeans; I wondered if this were due to some sudden curmudgeony conservatism, but no, I think it's because I'm much more a fan of the surreptitious glimpse of delicious female flesh. When everything is on display I don't get the pleasure of seeing something secret and surprising, and therefore all fun and mystery is drained out of the experience. I just walked across the main floor of the Liberry from the Tech Services office to the lobby, and no lie I saw 75% of a fantastic teenaged ass, perched on a stool at a PC, the owner of said ass leaned forward and instant messager-ing frantically whilst twirling an abundance of light brown hair around her finger. An entire mob of young fratters was chewing straws, pens, pencils, and knuckles, gathering around the Reference stax and pretending to browse dictionaries while in actuality browsing grand pink fleshy globes. Continuing to the lobby I counted no less than six additional exposed asscracks (these not as severe as the other but still vivid).

There are many situations for which we have no etiquette: what does one do upon meeting a new co-worker and seeing there's a booger hanging out of the poor sot's nose? Emily Post offers no hope. Four years ago I took it upon myself to tell a young woman that I could see her ass and thong in class, thinking I was offering aid in a potentially embarrassing situation. Her response? "Well, duh, it's supposed to be like that." So today when I saw the young brunette with nearly her entire ass hanging out and half the male population of Towson drooling behind her, I did nothing except look myself and keep walking. Maybe it is supposed to be like that.

I used to tell my students that whenever older people gave them a hard time about their generation's taste or work habits that it was probably out of jealousy. Grandad complains that kids today have no work ethic? He's jealous that he had no DVD player, PC, iPod, stereo of his own as a youngster. Grandma says kids today are dumb and got no sense? She wishes she'd been able to party and download porn instead of having to sit through 6 hours of church a week. Perhaps my objection to the current ass-baring fashion is based in the fact I'm out of the game and married ten years and my college library never looked like the lounge at Gentleman's Gold Club.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Oh my God

I'm rarely speechless; I suppose some people simply have far too much time on their...?

Worst Pun Ever

I don't know what's worse--the following academic pun, or the fact that I laughed like a Hee-Haw cornfield castmember when I read it:

The Helen in that play is hated, as she is in Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris (c. 412 BCE) and Iphigenia at Aulis (c. 405 BCE), and she has no phantom double--though Iphigenia, who (especially in the former play) functions much like Helen, has one: she is saved (from being sacrificed by her father, Agamemnon) by a deer ex machina sent by Artemis to take her place.

From Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India
by Wendy Doniger

I wonder if they wanked to it?

The world's oldest PO5N. I always thought the stash of '60s Playboys and '70s Penthouses The Hulk and I dug up in Hampstead, MD was the oldest.

I like it

This movie is great fun because it looks like a date flick or "chick" flick, but turns that sappy genre totally upside-down, pumps it full of crystal meth, evicerates the corpse, and force feeds you the innards in a delightfully cynical, mean-spirited manner. Jude Law is great--charming, witty, smart, and wholly amoral. Julia Roberts (of whom I've never been a fan) generates emotional weight and depth and looks better than ever. Natalie Portman--who belongs in "chick" flicks with her cheeky good looks and cute bubbliness--goes bad. But it's Clive Owen who really steals the show with a breakout performance that's equally funny and painful; this guy's got depth and sophistication and manages to generate sympathy for his character while being a right bloody bastard (tho he only bites back). So nice to see a movie which presents sex as dangerous and obsessive and painful, and shows lovely people using fucking as a weapon and a tool as much as a source of pleasure. Soon to come from Netflix: Ray, Finding Neverland, Sideways, and 2046.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

One of my favorite things each year is the first spring night I can sleep with the bedroom windows open; one of my least favorite is Spring Forward.

Unfortunately, they coincided this weekend. My excitement over the one and dread over the other cancelled each other out. But, I started a new book (despite the fact I haven't finished the other 10 I'm currently reading), and it kicks ass:


Close call.


In book retail we called them "the ghouls": these are the individuals who rushed into the store to buy any merchandise written by or about a recently deceased public figure, and the management (including myself) would encourage this behavior by assembling a display of such items as soon as we'd heard that Sinatra or John R. Cash or whoever had bought it. I must've been interviewed by local TV a half-dozen times at Borders because somebody famous had kicked off. Inevitably an overly made-up young Broadcasting and Cable subscriber with a microphone and cameraman would pose me in front of a display of Princess Diana books and ask me questions about what customers were buying and saying about the dearly departed (BTW--Diana was the worst case of maudlin ghoulishness on the part of the US public. In my ten-plus years in book retail I never saw anything like it, and that awful Elton John rehash playing in the store all day nearly resulted in my own martyrdom).

The cable news coverage of Pope John Paul's "near death" state this weekend exemplifies this nonsense. Do we really need round-the-clock coverage of an old man dying? The Catholic Church has lost popes before without an army of nitwits pontificating (no pun intended) and speculating and editorializing, creating an empty media event. I single out MSNBC for its particularly cheesy Windham Hill-ish dying pope music and graphics.

When the pope falls ill, it's news. When the pope dies, it's news. All the rest is morbid pandering to the ghoulish.

I disagreed vehemently with Pope John Paul II on many things--most notably birth control and preventing AIDS--but I agreed with him on war and the death penalty, and recognize he did a lot to end tyranny in the Old World. He did make moves toward tolerance of other faiths, and recognized the crimes of Christians in an unprecedented way. BUT he also held the throne of St. Pete while countless youngsters were sexually abused, and as far as I'm concerned he has to take some responsibility for the shameful attempts by the Church to hide these crimes and to protect repeat offenders from public justice. I also wish he'd been more liberal about the role of women in the Church and about homosexuality (I know many homosexuals, and not a single one of them is evil!), but I'm not a Catholic, and don't even believe in God, so my opinion amounts to nada anyhow. J.P. II was one hell of a marketing genius; recognizing that his brand wasn't selling in Europe anymore, he went vigorously after the third world, and turned canonization into a publicity machine, canonizing more saints than all other 20th century popes combined--by 300%! He was in many ways a fascinating guy, and must've been a superior intellectual to speak and/or read 11 languages. So adios, adieu, etc.

I'm reminded suddenly of my Latin prof at Loyola college: Father Fitz was in his 80s and used to tell me seriously when we talked politics that regardless of what the Pope said, Loyola should hand out condoms to its students and let them drink beer in the dorms. "In a culture of life we need to act in practical ways that increase the likelihood our kids won't die from AIDS or drunk driving." In other words--kids will get drunk and fuck regardless of what the Pope taught, so the Church should try and limit the harmful effects of drunkeness and fucking. Sounds reasonable! Maybe the next pope will work on this.

Because the papal coverage saturated the cable channels, I didn't spend too much time surfing the tube this weekend--Cha was in Toronto with her parents for a funeral and I watched a couple Netflix arrivals:

Ok, admittedly I'm slumming, but I liked this. It never took itself seriously, and actually had some wit and featured clever killings to boot. The charm of the first few Freddy films arose from Wes Craven's ability to fool his audience; his characters would seamlessly drift from reality to dream state, the viewer never sure but always suspecting they were now in Freddy's territory. In F. vs. J. we get some fine transitions along these lines, and even a visit to Freddy's corny boiler room. I've never been a fan of the Jason movies, though I've seen three or four of them--when the two horror genre heavyweights battle it out we get half WWF, half faux Kung Fu Matrix parody. You may be surprised by the result. As my old friend Evil Twin used to say: "Freddy rules because he fucks with people before killing them." Indeed.

Sexy, disturbing, and very interesting. Imagine Adaptation meets Mulholland Drive with a bit of Satyricon thrown in for good measure. I'd like to wait a few months and watch this again to see if I really like it--some images stuck with me, in particular an enormously hung guy slathered in grey clay on a beach becoming engorged. What a strange close-up, with sticky sound effects to boot! Watching Sex and Lucia is like dreaming for three hours with eyes wide open. Apparently there's an R-rated version for those who don't like excited male genitalia. I'd recommend it for its intellectual honesty; Cocteau would have approved of this meditation on the writer's life.