Saturday, December 31, 2005

Exhausting

My great-grandmother used to go into hospital every six or seven years, crash, get resucitated, crash again, and then when an astonishing brood of kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, and cousins of all removals gathered at the bed of the matriarch, she'd wink and pull through. This was her way of getting the family together from time to time. She died I think 6 or 7 times the last twenty years of her life. She died two times at age 85 but didn't cash in her final chips until her mid-nineties (she'd kill me for the gambling metaphor--once she berated me because I was learning magic tricks with a card deck. "The devil's in them there cards," she intoned.).

Today my grandfather, aged 85, had an 'episode' after breakfast. I got a call at 10am that I needed to get to Gettysburg Hospital ASAP--my Mom was on the way and word was he was going fast after a week of growing incoherence. My uncle from Florida came in, Gramps' last remaining brother and his whole clan, my sister and her kids, trailerpark cousins I hadn't seen in 20 years--there were 30 or 40 people headed in. Gramps was cold, he was pooling blood in his legs, his fingers were purple and the nails blue, he wasn't responding, and we were told he wouldn't last through the evening. I told him I loved him and kissed him, and we all took turns talking to him. The nurses changed his IV bandage and pulled a great quantity of armhair out--"Mercy Hallelujah!" he shouted in pain (he's never had a drink of alcohol, a smoke, nor has he uttered a swear in 85 years. That's as close as he'll come). "I'm sorry," the nurse said. "You don't sound like it," he replied. Though he wasn't responsive outside of this outburst for another three hours, I could tell from that smart-alec remark that he was still in there, trying to decide if he had any fight left. He declined all afternoon and we were assured the news was grim. Stroke and infection were suspected. We made peace with the inevitable. I remember opening the window of his room when everyone else had gone off to cry in the lobby--the sun was out and a flock of robins were bopping around the bare hospital grounds, gearing up to head south I suppose. I was ready.

Then, around 4pm, he opened his eyes and started talking. For the first time in two weeks he knew everyone around him, and he was joking and reminiscing like old times. My sister said "Do you know who I am?" and Gramps replied "Pushy Wushy," winking at me. My Mom said "How about me? Do you know me?" "I think I oughta," he said with a smile. I'd seen him Monday at the nursing home and he couldn't remember who I was, but knew my wife--he, like everyone else, has a crush on her. But now he remembered everything, including the time after my parents' divorce when we lived with him for two years and he was basically my Dad and Grandpa. "It's the Final Rally," we all said, whispering in the hall outside his room. "They do this when the time comes." The Final Rally lasted six hours, and he got more chipper and happier as the evening wore on. I fed him applesauce and a vanilla shake with a spoon, and he told me right before I left at 10pm that he'd really enjoyed this night. "That's the biggest crowd I ever got together," he said, a twinkle in his eye. He told me how his father got his hand caught in the thresher and lost it--afterward he wore a wooden hand which proved peculiarly effective when banged on the pulpit at Church. I pinched him and kissed him again--and I'm off to BWI now to pick up uncles from California and Kentucky, then I'm headed back to Gettysburg at 3am. Maybe this is the Final Rally.

But I have my suspicions...

Friday, December 30, 2005

Netflix



A touching tale of three Kurdish musicians who go on a quest from Iran to Iraq during Saddam's massacre of Kurds after the Iran/Iraq war. Surprisingly funny and optimistic, sort of like a poor man's Catch-22. My third foray into Persian cinema, and I'm going to continue the explorations.



Ok, yeah, this is a pastiche of 7, Reservoir Dogs, Momento, U-Turn, Chinatown and Saw, but the production is superb, the direction is clever and engaging, and even if you guess some of the twists ahead of time, you'll likely not get them all. Unbearably cute and cuddly--take the whole family! I watched it drinking lots of wine with Pierrot Lunaire and K'wali--Klezma didn't like the scene with the teeth and had to go upstairs for a while.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

FDR Dreamed It

An interesting article in the current Harper's proposes that the UN will continue to fail in its missions unless one man succeeds Kofi Annan next year: Bill Clinton. No one understands the minutiae of such a variety of global problems so well, no one else can speak extemporaneously and elegantly about those problems with such ease, and few would have easier access to world leaders and the degree of respect Clinton has earned globally.

I had major problems with Bill's presidency (though now those are the halcyon days of yore), but this strikes me as an excellent idea. His Global Initiative has done some amazing things.

Also--Tom Bissell's article on Iraq continues their excellent reporting there.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

WTF?


Can someone please explain why I still live in Baltimore when something like this is available?

Netflix



I slacked off for a while, but having a week off is helping me catch up on Netflix DVDs lying around the house.

Strange that the queue delivered this Fellini gem on the heels of Bergman's Hour of the Wolf, because the two films have a lot in common thematically and it's interesting to compare Bergman's dour specters with Fellini's three-ring circus of fun-loving ghouls.

Juliet (the incomparable Giulietta Masina) is the well-to-do wife of a successful PR man who occasionally comes home to sleep or eat a snack before leaving for "work." Soon enough Juliet begins to suspect that "work" is often a euphemism for fucking someone else. She's got some innate leanings as a medium, and after a seance is in steady contact with several spirits who advise her and keep her company, and some of the spirits seem to be warning her that hubby is hiding the sausage elsewhere. A guru advises her to become a whore, a PI tells her to reconcile with her man, and a shrink tells her she doesn't need him. At the end she achieves emancipation from everyone, including the spiritual tormentors. The plot in this Fellini joyride is throw-away; it's loosely structured like 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita, and the characters and the sets and the whirlwind conversations and party scenes make it a classic. Imagine it as a bridge between Satyricon and Amarcord, with a bit of Barbarella Queen of the Galaxy thrown in for good measure. I can't help but think however that Masina was wasted in this role--her energy,lively humor, and depth aren't tapped once in 2.5 hours.

I got



for Xmas (it was the only thing I asked Santa for), as well as



I'll be busy for a few days...

Back to Bergman



The supernatural is not uncommon in Bergman's cinematic universe; old Ingmar tends toward the Jungian, and ghosts and prescience and small synchronicities occur in several of his works. Typically, however, these spectral events are tied to a specific character manifesting internal psychic contents experienced visually only because we're limited to that character's POV. I'm thinking as an example of the drowned sisters who vomit bile on young Alexander, imprisoned in the attic in Fanny and Alexander. The ghosts are real to that child enduring unimaginable punishments, but are they actual supernatural manifestations? Likely not. Alexander's father's ghost also seems quite real, but again he appears to no one else in the film--Hamlet of course is a major theme. These "ghosts" are externalized psychic contents more than actual entities.

In Hour of the Wolf, however, the ghosts are not only visible to Johan (Max von Sydow), but to his wife Alma (Liv Ullman). So this is an actual "horror" movie, featuring actual ghosts on a haunted island. The ghosts certainly are tied symbolically to Johan's state of mind, the state of his art, and his failures and sins, but they manifest aggressively and physically, and at least one appears to Alma outside Johan's influence, giving her information that must come through parapsychology (though a Turn of the Screw altnerate interpretation is possible, because Johan shows Alma sketches of his tormentors before she sees one). Alma mentions that old couples living together for a long time begin to resemble each other, and perhaps they start to think the same thoughts as well. In other words, his ghosts become their ghosts, and the results as in all Bergman films are awful.

There's the typical disintegrating marriage, the misery of an artist incapable of expressing what he's driven to, and a slow decent into madness. None of this is unusual in a Bergman film. But the apparitions are extremely disturbing--one of a small child who attacks Johan truly freaked me out!--and the effects are what one would expect from an auteur of unparalleled skill. Ullman, von Sydow, and Erland Josephson are excellent as usual, and the DVD features some great extras, including a documentary about the film and interviews with Ullman and Josephson from 2002. This is not a Bergman "must-see," but if you're a fan and interested in his body of work I recommend The Hour of the Wolf; Ingmar rarely made "genre" pieces, and he pleased this horror fan just fine.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Random Xmas pix

An exhausting three days, with travel to and from Glen Rock PA and then to and from Gettysburg and a stop in Parkton MD and Xmas at three houses and two gatherings at our place...I need a nap.



Leesha has just told Ma The Big News: Big Red popped the question, and bought a Cartier signature ring to seal the deal. Ma gave Leesha a big hug and was overjoyed--Leesha pointed to Big Red and instead of giving him a hug Ma hugged Chalupa the dog.



Our place on the 26th.



Our god-daughter is too cute.



Xmas day at my folks'. Extrememly rare to get the entire Mozdy/Godfrey/Martin/Boswell/Friedman/Cruz, etc. clan together at one time. Nobody has enough room!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The New Kong



When I was a wee lad I used to love a show called Dr. Shock's Mad Theater that played once a week on Channel 17 in southern PA. Dr. Shock would do hammy intro bits to an eclectic blend of classics like Karloff's Mummy and Lugosi's Dracula, cornball B movies like The Screaming Skull and Let's Scare Jessica To Death, and I loved that stuff even though I spent many a night in morbid dread of subtle sounds in the heating system as a result. Many vivid memories of TV childhood--the awful spider fight in The Incredible Shrinking Man, for instance--still linger from those years when I was 7 or 8 and watching stuff I shouldn't have been.

One day Dr. Shock showed King Kong and I was floored for several reasons, the most powerful being the idea that giant beasts weren't necessarily the villains when confronted by monstrous people, and I cried like a baby (I was a baby!) when the ape fell at the end. I had a King Kong tin lunchbox with the ape straddling the Twin Towers and holding a flaming jet fighter in his fist that I took to Stewartstown Elementary a few times before losing it. How I wish I still had that sucker!

So despite my love of Pete Jackson's stuff I saw Kong's latest cinematic incarnation with a bit of trepidation. This is sacred ground being re-tread, and usually that's a bad thing. I loved the movie however. Jackson makes his Kong an hommage to old Hollywood moviemaking, and though there are moments when cinematic cliches burst in veritable geysers of CGI to unimaginably goofy crescendos, I was exhilerated and moved and didn't notice the 3.5 hours or whatever it took to achieve denouement. There are problems--the movie bears too much resemblance to the Lord of the Rings, for one, but that's to be expected I suppose. There are scenes unnecessarily cluttered with too much digital action, to the point the mind shuts down. The CGI falls apart at some key points and just looks flat and smeary.

But this is akin to watching the original and pointing out the animators' fingerprints in the monkey model's fur. Just enjoy the ride. It's like a classic Disney animation with its humor and romance and fine frights and laws-of-physics-defying spectacle. A lot of children were crying when the inevitable happened--The Senator was full of sobbing wee ones experiencing what I did 30 years ago, and that's just great.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Merry Christmas

Elrod Hendricks 1940-2005



I haven't followed baseball for more than a decade, but when I went to 30 or more games a year we'd often sit in the cheap seats and chat with Elrod over the bullpen fence at old Memorial Stadium. Another link to the Orioles' glory days is gone, and his passing the day before his 65th birthday is shocking. A sad day for Baltimore.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Netflix



One might be forgiven for thinking this merely another rote period piece about Victorian oppression of women and female sensuality, as it takes that track initially and for much of the film. But The French Lieutenant's Woman is more slippery, more troublesome, and more problematic than expected. I can't make comparisons with Fowles' novel for the simple reason I have yet to read it, but I enjoyed the film a great deal.

Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep play dual roles: in 19th century England they are Charles and Sarah, he a progressive Darwinian, she a notorious woman of undeserved ill-fame. In 20th century England they are Mike and Anna, two actors portraying the original characters in a movie version of their story, and though both performers are married, they have an intense affair on and off the set.

I first suspected something strange and unexpected when Anna, at Mike's house, talks to Mike's wife, who stands symbolically for the un-liberated, Victorian housewife, busy with her kids, house, and garden while her husband fucks actresses. Anna, flush with the knowledge that Mike wants to leave his wife and marry her, says "I envy you," instantly casting doubt on the thematic pretentions of much of the film. There are consequences to liberation and equality. Not every member of an oppressed group is worthy of pity, nor is every member of an oppressive class worthy of contempt--what his bid to "save" Sarah costs Charles is unthinkable, and her reaction is quite surprising. Anna and Sarah's actions are peculiar and very interesting. Does freedom require moral character? Were Victorian cautions about female caprice apt? Are comfort and security worth a loss of freedom?

No. Equality means women are free to be jackasses too, and men can find themselves used as sexual tools as well. Mike's wife can keep house if she chooses, and Anna can fuck multiple men without commiting. And movies are fun. Jeremy Irons hasn't aged a day in 25 years.

More Preston Sturges



It's funny how I'll tolerate goofball romantic comedies from the 30s and 40s, but can't abide the current batch; even the previews send me into paroxysms of rage. Had this film starred Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey I'd likely excoriate it to eternal damnation, but with Claudette Colbert and Joel MacCrea and Mary Astor...that's a different story.

The Palm Beach Story is fucked-up shit. The standard wedding plot is turned on its head because the central characters are married immediately during the opening credits. The plot begins with Colbert's quest to get a divorce to help her financially hapless hubby by landing a richer man--her intention is to get investment dollars for his foundering business. The opening credits feature the strangest narrative montage outside David Lynch, there's an extremely bizarre twist at the end, and some old coot named the Wiener King keeps cracking me up.

The main reason to see it?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bastard



Julio is headed to a medieval Italian hill town for seven weeks this summer, teaching a couple of courses for MICA during their summer session.

I'll be in Cook Liberry.

Signs of Life


Pulse is faint, but getting stronger...


I helped a patron last week whose assignment was to print out the front page of the New York Times from her date of birth. As I pulled the microfilm reel for her I noted she was born the same week I graduated high school.

I never think of age or birthdays or any of that maudlin stuff, but sometimes it hits you. I'd not been jolted like that since I first saw a Playboy centerfold younger than me--and that was a long time ago.

Today is the Liberry Holiday Party--and several of the Aunties are decked-out in red and green gear, with holiday pins and assorted jewelry. This perturbs me.

(image: Charging into Night by Robert Schwartz, courtesy ArtNet.com)

Malaise



This morning I was carrying my backpack and a cup of coffee. I got to the door here at the Liberry, took off my gloves so I could get my wallet out for my key card, perched my wallet on top of the coffee cup so I could free up a hand for the door, swiped my key card through the reader, opened the door and held it with my foot, and my key card and one of my gloves flew out of my hands and down into the loading dock area by the dumpster. Trying to stop this caused my wallet to fall and I spilled coffee on it. Typical.

I've been in a bad mood for a few days--mostly based on the remaining 3 years of Bush's term. Looking at that guy and his coterie of shameless ideologues daily on the TV, and reading their Orwellian spew in the press, is compromising my mental health. Last night I saw a "debate" on Hardball about the Patriot Act and the recent domestic spying scandals. The participants? Conservative John Harwood of the Wall Street journal, ultra-conservative Tony Blankley of the Washington Times, and throwing the softball questions (my fave? Have the Democrats sunk themselves by aggressively going after Bush on the spying and holding up the Patriot Act?) was Mrs. Alan Greenspan. Her involvement in the Plame scandal, and her attempts to pretend she's an objective journalist merely commenting on the case have taken away all her credibility, and yet there she is, still working (like Matthews and Russert and Woodward--all should be shown the door like Judy Miller was).

But Mrs. Mitchell/Greenspan might have a point. The Democrats (and a few principaled Republicans) may indeed be shooting themselves in the foot on torture and domestic spying and the Patriot Act. Americans like torture when we're doing it to others, they like the executive to have tons of unreasonable power, and they want the courts in their neighbor's bedrooms (but not their own) despite proclamations against "activist" judges. As Jane notes, the Republican genius for exploiting Americans' peculiar enthusiasm for macho pseudo-fascism is unparalelled--yes, they've hit some snags lately, but until Rove is indicted and Cheney blows an aorta we're in the shit. Few Democrats have the skill or the balls to confront these issues publicly--most (HRC and Biden in particular) are taking the low road of Republican light (Biden and HRC have both been talking up flag-burning laws lately. Need I say more?).

The last time I taught a class my students were overwhelmingly in favor of allowing the government to do "sneak and peek" searches without warrants. Their justification? "If you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear; if you are, you deserve to get nailed." When I suggested that "the government" could plant any evidence they wished without checks and balances to help guard our civil liberties, and that the government would likely target political opponents with such powers, well that idea was beyond the pale. This isn't Iraq or Saudi Arabia, after all. American presidents would never do such a thing, nor would our police or intelligence services.

Ha. The same group of students thought it was ok to have only rich white guys running against each other all the time. "They're rich, meaning they're successful and better than us--they're the people we want in office." I'd not heard such a powerful argument for monarchy from a classful of American teenagers before, and it had a lot to do with my decision to stop teaching. The Heritage Foundation has served its purpose.

Who's been the target of the recent FBI/Pentagon spying (and no doubt the NSA spying as well)? Peace groups, Green groups, aid groups, civil rights activists--the usual dissidents. NOT terrorists.

But I think back to my initial reaction to 9/11--when a bunch of muscular thugs were waving "Don't Tread on Me" flags at the corner of York and Burke, and when an Egyptian customer at Borders was sporting a fresh shiner from said thugs--and I can't help but think that things could have been much worse. Of course we still might get there. Or, W. might have finally gone too far by sidestepping the Courts with this NSA thing, and he might get the Tricky Dick treatment so long deserved.

I promise to watch some Netflix DVDs and read some books soon and get back on track here.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Live Long and Prosper

Apparently space wasn't the final frontier for Mr. Nimoy.

Library Thang

I sent $10 to Tim Spalding at Library Thing because I'm a sucker for his website. So far, I've cataloged about half my personal library , and after another 100 titles or so I'll have to start looking in boxes to put up more because I forget the stuff I packed away years ago. You can start your own list at Library Thing for free, but there's a cap of 200 titles.

My favorite feature is the Blog Widget, which generates a display of random titles (on the right of the page about a third of the way down). Somebody clicked through a title to Amazon last week and bought a bunch of stuff--thanks. In two years I've made several hundred dollars in GCs that way! Library Thing also lets you categorize, review, and otherwise manipulate your books, and it also automatically does recommendations based on the libraries of those who have your books. Cool stuff!

I also really, really like our new Verizon DSL hookup. Half the price of Earthlink and Earthlink DSL didn't work on our line (I wonder if that's because Verizon scrambled them somehow?).

The Grind

At work in the AM for once. Feels strange. I'm covering Inter-Library Loan for the next few weeks--so I'll be busier than usual, and that's a-ok.

Last evening Yahtzee and I drank more than $100 in wine from his cellar, and he loaded me up with great Xmas gifts. Cha made more than $200 at the Ottobar flea market, selling a basketful of old VHS and DVDs I gave her to unload.

I missed Bush's speech last night. Was it different from the other one he's been repeating for 5 years?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Loads of Liesure

Ah, the semester is over and the Liberry threat to stay open Sundays during winter break has faded. I'm home on a Sunday for the first time since August and it feels marvelous. I can watch the news shows and read the papers at liesure, and suddenly it's the early '70s again with an out-of-control Executive Branch reading our emails and checking out lists of our magazine subscriptions and library borrowings and bookstore purchases.

Fuck reading the papers and watching the news shows.

Friday we hit the Seamus show at Mick O'Shea's--new Daddy Earthdragon and crew were on point as usual, and Earthdragon went off on his fiddle like never before. I fully expected a rendition of Devil Went Down to Georgia. The Hulk made a (thankfully) rare appearance--he and his date drank two pitchers and four pints and had a meal, and he left $20 for their $50 share of the tab. Sigh. Yahtzee and BroJ also showed. I missed the entire second set losing at darts to BroJ--and there were new numbers too from what I could hear in the back of the bar.

Saturday night was K'wali and Klezma's annual Chanamus shindig. It was very well-attended and there was a LOT of great food and assorted quality alcoholic beverages. Cha chugged a portion of some sugary bottled berry beverage and became instantly comatose, disappearing upstairs to sober up. She played with stuffed animals with an angelic child for a while before rejoining us downstairs. I chatted with K'wali's niece and one of his workmates who holds a PhD in Comp. Religion from my alma mater Temple U. Pierrot Lunaire was in rare form too--a good time was had by this pseudo-innalectual. Their party is always a multicultural fun-fest, with Indians, Persians, Jews, Chinese, African-Americans, African-Africans, Filipinos, a smattering of blends, and a handful of Caucasians thrown in for good measure.

Today Cha is working a table at some Baltimore flea market from 3pm to midnight, so I'm off to Yahtzee's to exchange gifts. I work 8-5 for four days this week and then we're closed until the 3rd. Sweet.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Xmas Cheer

Working for years as a bookstore manager wore away my tolerance for holiday music, but here are my favorite holiday CDs:



Oh yeah, baby--I want your Christmas Kisses.



I love the Baroque, and I love The Messiah, and in particular I love this Solti version. They jam "All We Like Sheep."



Shazzam!



Not technically a Xmas album of course, but Duke Ellington's take on The Nutcracker gets me in the spirit.



Everything John Eliot Gardiner does is amazing, and his interpretations of J.S. Bach using period instruments and a quick tempo I find particularly engaging.

Mmmmm, that's good soda



Conniption and Co had a Jones Soda tasting at work.

The results:



Reminds me of:

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Netflix



I'm not sure why I came back to this after 15 years; at 21 I thought My Dinner With Andre was the bomb after numerous bong hits of Harford County skunk bud--at 36 perhaps it's my recent salvia experiences that made me curious...Or, it could be the My Dinner With Andre video game, played by Martin at the beginning of a Simpsons episode. He eagerly pushes the Tell Me More button again and again, and perhaps that decided me to add this to my Netflix queue.

I dunno. I guess I still like this film, and still think it's good, but I'm less enthusiastic about its pretentious facile New-Aginess. Andre reminds me of guys I've met at Green Party events who immediately start confessing their turgid, vacuous life stories. Like I need to hear about your suicidal thoughts and your bipolar meds five minutes after we meet!

When folks speak of My Dinner with Andre they often refer to "the art of conversation," as if the film portrays a discussion of some sort. Basically Andre goes off on a Joe Campbell riff for two hours, and Wally prompts him to continue now and again by saying "And then what happened?" I think what Andre needs in his life is a bully, not a sycophant. Somebody should give him an Indian burn or a noogie or a wet willy and tell him to shut the fuck up--that'll cure him more than improvising with stuffed teddy bears and Polish actresses in the woods, or trying to do theater in the Sahara with a Buddhist monk.

Yeah, it's worth seeing if you like this sort of thing, "this sort of thing" being art-house pseudo-intellectual spiritualist stuff just a bit more sophisticated than that Wayne Dyer guy on PBS. Otherwise, run for the hills.

Oh, the DVD transfer SUCKS. It's worse than the VHS I had back in the day.

On the road again



Our January vacation is back on--in fact I booked it today. We'll be spending Jan 16th-22nd exploring Merida Mexico and environs. A nice tropical break from the ridiculous cold we're already experiencing in the mid-Atlantic.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My Wife

About six weeks ago the CDRW/DVD drive in our Inspiron laptop failed. I spent hours trying to troubleshoot, de-bug, re-format, etc, even spending time with Dell support on the phone. My wife, the entire time this transpired, only said "yeah, it started acting weird this morning" and clucked her tongue sympathetically at my efforts, which spread out over a couple late evenings.

No biggie. We have an external 80gig zip drive and a floppy drive we can use in the same port, so I just chalked up the cd drive as a lost luxury and let it go.

Then I got my Verizon DSL hook-up kit yesterday and realized I need a cd drive to get started, so I asked my wife again if she remembered anything weird about why the cd drive had stopped working. "Oh, I spilled Mountain Dew in it," she admitted, then started laughing hysterically.

"Why didn't you just tell me that instead of watching me go through all the trouble of trying to get it to work?"

"Because you would have told me I can't have any nice things, even though I know it already because whenever I break something you tell me that."

"You can't have any nice things. Jesus!"

Good Stuff



Another collection of beautiful and funny short stories. Rahman is an astute observer of what lies behind the slick pre-packaged veneer of early 21st century America; he's not as out-there as George Saunders, but covers similar thematic territory.

So, what does lie behind that slick pre-packaged veneer? Nothing. I Dream of Microwaves is a Sutra of sorts, acknowledging and amplifying Buddha's Four Noble Truths with painful wit. If we cause most of our own personal suffering through ignorance and greed and desire, and if America's entire system is set up to intensify desire, perpetuate it, and create our identities solely through our possessions, then we inhabit the most fucked-up amoral society yet conceived, which is at once entirely true and completely ridiculous.

And yet Truth and Beauty still exist in the world, and here a Pakistani-American has proved it anew. Recommended.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Socket to me


I had the enormous pleasure betwixt Friday and Monday of developing what is known as a dry socket. After two days of no pain pills last week, I began craving them badly Friday evening, and then started drinking heavily on top of the pain pills because nothing worked. The lower right corner of my jaw--formerly home to an ingrown toofus--had become an angry gremlin digging at my skeleton with a pickaxe. Every breath was an adventure!

I had a pre-scheduled check-up with my oral surgeon today, and told him I'd developed a bit of pain in my jaw. He peeped in, said "Oh my Lord! How did you get through the weekend? Most people with a dry socket are knocking at my door at 3am begging for drugs!" He numbed the area with some pink goo, then inserted a disgusting packing material with the color, consistency, and flavor of rotted pesto soaked in licorice into the wound.

Within ten minutes I was dancing happily at the Cross Keys optometrists', visiting Pork Heaven at work and shooting the shit. He and his latest gal are getting serious; she's a reconstructive surgery tech at Walter Reed (imagine what she sees daily!) and a marathoner, and she participates in a sect of runners who drink beer and then run and drink beer again and run again. I find this bizarre, being both a runner and beer drinker myself. The two activities have no possible relation to each other. Pork Heaven said his gal wanted to watch a porno and he asked me for a recommendation.

My entire body and spirit feel infinitely better after the pink and green goo treatment today. I lifted weights, ran three miles, and ate solid food before work. I feel human again.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Mencken



Yu Chen, my graduate assistant, was unable to work tonight, so I'm stuck at Cook Liberry for 13 hours straight. What bullshit. The place is packed with hopeless nincompoops studying for finals and coughing on me when they ask questions.

Fortunately I had Henry Louis along to entertain me; the second volume of his autobiography is primarily a series of exquisite vignettes about drunkards, prostitutes, politicos, and other scandalous characters. Particularly engaging is his tale of a young Pennsylvania Dutch gal from Red Lion, PA who flees to Baltimore in search of a cathouse in which to sell herself; after being ravished by her beau (from the big city of York) she thinks this her destiny. I lived in Red Lion for a few years, and used to commute from there to Baltimore daily. At the turn of the last century this would have been an arduous journey by horsecart and rail.

Mencken had moral hypocrites pegged:
I made up my mind at once that my true and natural allegiance was to the Devil's party, and it has been my firm belief ever since that all persons who devote themselves to forcing virtue on their fellow men deserve nothing better than kicks in the pants. Years later I put that belief into a proposition which I ventured to call Mencken's Law, to wit:

Whenever A annoys or injures B on the pretense of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel.
Amen, Henry.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

"We can't stop the dancing chickens..."



Features as its main characters a mentally deficient musician, a prostitute beset by the most vile pimps ever, and a whacky old mesmerist. When crime-ridden Berlin becomes too hectic for this detached trio, they escape to rural Wisconsin and attempt the American Dream.

At least an 8.5 on the Bleak-o-Meter. Guaranteed to eradicate totally any holiday cheer.

Friday, December 09, 2005

My New Hero



Oh, my God. I'm going to sue George Saunders because reading this book cost me my human dignity. I was reduced to an insensate quivering gelatin during the story "Sea Oak," which is the funniest thing ever in the history of the universe.

Get this eulogy for Aunt Bernie:

We bury her at St. Leo's, on the hill up near BastCo. Her part of the graveyard's pretty plain. No angels, no little rock houses, no flowers, just a bunch of flat stones like parking bumpers and here and there a Styrofoam cup. Father Brian says a prayer and then one of us is supposed to talk. But what's there to say? She never had a life. Never married, no kids, work work work. Did she ever go on a cruise? All her life it was buses. Buses buses buses. Once she went with Ma on a bus to Quigley, Kansas, to gamble and shop at an outlet mall. Someone broke into her room and stole her clothes and took a dump in her suitcase while they were at the Roy Clark show. That was it. That was the extent of her tourism. After that it was DrugTown, night and day. After fifteen years as Cashier she got demoted to Greeter. People would ask her where the cold remedies were and she'd point to some big letters on the wall that said Cold Remedies.


And yet Aunt Bernie was a tender hearted soul who always saw the positive--as her niece said, "What an optometrist." She comes back from the dead and decides to get laid and do all she missed while alive--and that's just one story in this crazy collection!

Read this guy.

Netflix



I adored this Macbeth set in medieval Japan. It may now be my favorite Kurosawa (of course my favorite Kurosawa is almost always the one I've seen most recently). Particularly effective is Lady Macbeth's blood madness perceived through an Eastern aesthetic, and the evil forest spirit whose tantalizing prophecy brings latent lusts to the fore is also a treat.

The Criterion Collection brings forth my latent lusts. Were I a rich man I'd hoard them all.

April in Paris



Well, actually it's June...and successful pop singer Cleo--spoiled, capricious, gorgeous--awaits the results of her biopsy. Everything in her world is surface, and based on her own physical beauty. "As long as I'm beautiful, I'm alive," she intones, en regardant her own visage in a mirror. Much of the first half of the film features extravagant use of mirrors and reflections in a variety of windows and water surfaces. But Cleo begins to develop depth in confrontation with mortality; as she roams Paris--never more lovely--she loses her absolute reliance on the visually attractive and becomes interested in more complicated profundities. At the same time, Paris awakens to its role in the Algerian nightmare.

I'll spare you the requisite Lacanian take on Cleo de 5 a 7; the film is about gaze and subjectivity, and about seeing. What film isn't? And when what we're seeing is that marvelous exhausting city and its enchantingly tiresome denizens...well, I can't think of a better way to spend 90 minutes.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Too Rich


You HPL/Family Circus fans might get a kick of out this site.

[The link to Accordian Guy is only one of many interesting things Stephen Hart has turned up of late!]

Oh, God

I'm at work. Cha left BWI for Chicago around 5:30 and was to arrive around 7. And I see this online.

Update: I just talked to her on the phone--they missed that flight and are still at BWI waiting for another. Whew! Talk about a freak-out.

duh

Another Towson undergrad:

Him: Uh, I tried all three payphones in here and none of them work. Can I use your phone?

Me: Is it a local number?

Him: No, it's long distance.

Me: What did you dial on the payphones? It's weird that all of them would be down at once.

Him: I dialed a 301 number, but it just gave me a busy signal.

Me: Did you dial 1 first?

Him: Yes.

Me: Did you put in any money?

Him: No.

Me: YOU HAVE TO PUT MONEY IN THE PAY PHONES FOR THEM TO WORK.

Comfortably Numb

I stopped taking my pain prescription about 30 hours after my teeth were extracted, and was troubled to find myself achy and stiff in all my joints and in my back. At first I thought this was some effect of the pain in my jaw, but then I realized it was simply how I feel all the time, and the painkillers had masked it briefly.

Getting old sucks.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ingenious



After Monday's tooth extractions I have three miserable throbbing wounds in my jaw. It hurts to breathe, let alone to bray great hearty gails of painful laughter. And for long stretches of this short collection I did nothing but laugh, laugh until I was crying, laugh until my liver hurt and my sphincter shook and my jaw felt trampled. And yet I finished it in one sitting, wiping away tears and doubled up so dramatically I actually fell off the couch.

I chuckled a few times reading Me Talk Pretty One Day; George Saunders is infinitely funnier than David Sedaris, and his book is as significant thematically as anything by Vonnegut or Kundera. I haven't laughed so hard in ages--perhaps ever.

It's fitting that my laughter was painful, that it reopened the stitches in my gums--Saunder's satirical view of late model Western capitalism is as troubling as it is hilarious. Highly recommended.

On TCM tonight



I do like Scorcese's version as an experiment in lavish cinematic excess. Cady alone makes the remake is a classic; DeNiro hams it up as one of film's great cartoonish villains.

But for a more pure, more sinuous creepiness, try the original Cape Fear if you've never seen it. Bob Mitchum is one scary mofo. Nobody else can menace young children with such elegant vileness. I think his Cady is more substantial than DeNiro's, and is scarier even than Mitchum's other horrifying role:

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Stunning



Danny Smiricky is a Czech ex-pat teaching American Literature at a Canadian college. As he lectures about Poe, Hawthorne, Twain, Fitzgerald, Conrad, and Lovecraft, he recalls life as a laborer for the Third Reich during the occupation, life as a sabateur against the Reich, life as an enthusiastic Marxist after the Reds "liberate" Czechoslovakia, life as a disillusioned Marxist, and finally his escape to the West where he finds entirely new disillusionments. Sexy, sad, and often hilarious, The Engineer of Human Souls is exquisitely crafted, and--while an "academic" novel of the first order--is as entertaining as it is challenging. I'll definitely be looking for more Skvorecky.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Le Weekend

Friday

Pierrot Lunaire called me about a free medievial/Renaissance/Baroque concert at Peabody, and that there's some of my favorite shit. The band was a half 'n half faculty and students, and they were sublime. About 12 vocalists, including a fantastic Asian male falsetto specialist whose voice made the hair on my arms stand up. Several lutists and flutists and a dude whaling on the precursor to the oboe made my night. The entire performance was on period instruments or period replicas, and nothing beats that intimate warm sound.

Unfortunately I had to ditch the second half (Messe de Minuit) because I was catching a ride with Kw'ali and Klezma to Flexible Head's going away party. They were kind enough to drive me to Fell's Point where we had a good meal and several Guinuesses. I didn't really get to chat much with anyone because Pierrot showed after set two and we talked classical music for two hours. Flexible Head and his buddy bought a building in Geneva NY and are opening a restaurant/bar. There goes my favorite Libertarian punk rocker.

Saturday

Got up early to visit Gramps. He's 85 and has started to do what 85-year-old guys often do, namely fall down and hurt himself. He banged up his shoulder leaving Bible study by falling in the driveway. In a way it's a good thing because now he can't drive and that's the only way to keep him off the road, but I worry because the pain has his spirits low; this is a guy who almost always has a twinkle in his eye and a joke to tell. When I got to the house he was asleep in his recliner. "I lived longer'n anyone in the family," he told me. "'Cept for Uncle George who made it to 92."

"You'll be there before you know it," I replied, and he said "Not with this kind of pain. I don't need to be settin' any records feeling this way. I'm none too happy."

His second wife, Hazel, is 92, and she's barely coherent. They need someone to check on them every day now, but try getting them into a home or to move in with one of us. Even their cat, beaten badly in a fight by another to the point it has neurological damage, is a mess. It walks awkwardly, falls over, has seizures, and then comes to and runs around like crazy. I checked their supplies and realized they had no food in the house, so ran over to Gettysburg and bought a bunch of stuff, including hot lunches of chicken and beans and mac and cheese which were greeted with wonderment. They really think supermarket buffet fare is "fancy."

I called my Mom and told her we needed to install handicapped handles and bars in the bathroom and bedroom if they're going to stay at the house. Gramps told me "the FBI" had been out twice that week, once because he couldn't get off the "commode," the other time because he fell getting out of bed. Hazel said "it's not the FBI, it's the watchamacallit with the three numbers."

He was sad because Cha couldn't make it. "I look at her picture every day," he told me. "She is nice to look at," I answered, to which his reply was "You're not-a kiddin'!" Cha loves Gramps because she never knew hers. I was very fortunate to know all my grandparents, and even a great-grandmother, into my late teens. Here I am creeping up on 40 and I still have one left. Unfortunately he lives 2 hours away. But I got to eat lunch with the old guy, and listen to him say Grace with that sweet earnestness I remember from childhood: "Lord, thank you for the beautiful day and for this food. Bless the hands that have prepared it."

Mission Accomplished

Dr. A is from Jamaica. His cell phone rings reggae from time to time, and after I was on the gas for a minute he started to dance around and asked if I was "getting into a pretty groovy place yet." His assistant had been telling me horror stories about previous extractions (at my prompting). I suspect she hits the gas from time to time herself.

And people wonder why I like to be awake during these procedures.

I enjoy speculating about the mind/body problem when I can feel someone destroying my jaw but it doesn't hurt. The sensations are peculiar, robbed of any emotional effect. Tooth one was gone in less than 30 seconds. Tooth two--lower right, and never grown in--took more than ten minutes of hammering, drilling, sawing, chiseling, and Dr. A's lame jokes about guinea pigs before it gave up. That's the one that hurts now, as I sit here with a mouthful of bloody cotton gauze. Tooth three was a cakewalk. "At your age the bone density is really a problem. You might feel this tomorrow," Dr. A said. "I think I'm going to hit oil before we're done." I'm on some really loopy painpill but I still occasionally get an urgent missive from the lower right of my jaw. I wish I could eat.

I'd never had the gas before. That shit's the bomb. I could see today's snowstorm swirling behind Dr. A's head, Peter Tosh blasting through the ceiling speaker. I drifted.

Now I've got a roaring fire on the hearth, some DVDs and books, 20 pills and 2.5 days off.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Netflix



This charming documentary has it all: Richard Feynman, a blind polymath blues genius, Tuvian throat-singers, and a tree-trimmer/rock musician/film producer. What's not to like?

Heat Miser

Everything that I touch,
Starts to melt in my clutch.

I'm too much!

My toofuses

Awww, my poor jaw. Tomorrow I get three wisdom teeth yanked--at the ripe old age of 36.5. The one on the bottom right has finally started coming in, and is pushing other teeth aside. The top right grew in years ago, but sideways, and the top left, which grew in fine, has broken and hurts like a motherfucker from time to time. The bottom left was pulled five years back.

So I go under the chisel tomorrow at 1pm; I'm actually excited because I'm so bored at work that 3 days off at any price is a great thing. Also exciting--painkillers. Typically I throw that shit in the toilet--I don't even like Tylenol--but there's a black market for Percodan here amongst the Aunties. $10 a pill!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Just Great



Exactly how I like my classic comedies: hapless male leads (Henry Fonda), exquisitely hot dames (Barbara Stanwyck), and tons of sexual innuendo. My first Preston Sturges (thanks to Seth for the recommendation), and I had a blast. See it ASAP.

Any film with Uncle Charlie from My Three Sons has to be good.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Diviner's Sage II

I'm in the rocker again, and this time everything is wrong. The flute raga has become insane clown music, and somewhere beneath my chair is a mighty axle upon which the house rotates forward. I've got no bearings, no identity, and no idea what the fuck is happening. Everything in the room is blooming brightly colored triangles which displace forward and cascade like a cubist rendition of puke, and an immense force is grinding me to the front and down. I sense that the room behind me is soon to replace this one.

Somehow I manage not to jump out of my chair or scream. Those inhibitions were strongly ingrained during a 30-minute insight meditation session before smoking a tiny dose, but in this state I have no language. Still, I'm holding on to the handrails and making gutteral noises of resistance--I know I'm not supposed to move or yell, but don't understand what these things mean.

Then I notice some of the triangles are in fact a lamp, and as I focus on this familiar appliance everything settles quickly. The music is again sedate and relaxing, the force is gone, the room tidy.

And again I slept a full night through. I'll take temporary insanity as a cure for insomnia, which produces longer bouts of same.

Irony of the Day

Bill O'Reilly and other conservatives are in a lather about liberals trying to Grinch their favorite holiday--you know, the one celebrating Mammon...er, I mean the birth of baby Jesus.

Now it's Dennis Hastert, firmly resolving to re-name the Capital Holiday Tree the Capital Christmas Tree.

Personally, though I'm a practitioner of the only faith it's legal to discriminate against in the US (namely, atheism), I feel a bit of distaste for PC euphemisms for Xmas trees, just as I feel distaste for all euphemisms and their political uses. So, you go Denny with your executive decision.

But can someone explain to me the furor over "holiday tree" vs. "Christmas tree"? I mean, a "Christmas tree" has NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH XMAS after all. It's a Yule tradition, a remnant of a pagan practice adopted by Christians after they killed off or converted all those pesky folk who didn't see things the same way. In fact, the Puritans our right wing routinely hold up as the true founders of America condemned the heathen practice of chopping down an evergreen and hauling it into the house for holiday ornamentation.

It's ironic that members of the largest religious group in the world, with unprecedented financial and global reach, are claiming discrimination at all, let alone over something so trebly ironic. "Uh, we wanna make sure that this symbol we adopted from a tradition whose practitioners we oppressed and wiped out by burning them at the stake is not deprived of its uh traditional association with our faith in an effort to do to us what we did to them..."

"The speaker believes a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, and it is as simple as that," said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for the Illinois Republican.


It's nice that Mr. Hastert believes thusly, but trees were chopped, brought home and decorated by the Egyptians, Romans, and Celts long before Mary's womb was impregnated by God's breath moving over her private waters. I doubt the first Christians were decorating conifers in the fucking desert, shit-for-brains! The practice was actually condemned before Christ's birth by the Prophet Jeremiah in Chapter Ten of his book, but since old J.'s not condeming gays or pushing the death penalty in that chapter, no chucklehead Christer is liable to pull out his dictumanary and try 'n read that part.


I think Darwin's Theory of Evolution should be renamed The Christmas Theory of Evolution. Then the right would fight for its inclusion in every classroom.

Brain Candy from Netflix



Like most Ridley Scott pictures, Kingdom of Heaven serves up a sumptuous buffet of gorgeous visuals and stirring imagery. Like some Ridley Scott pictures, it's also painfully adolescent, riddled (ridley-ed?) with overly convenient cinematic clichés. Everything happens at just the right moment, and every person encountered is (not-so-) surprisingly encountered later at just the right moment, and every peasant blacksmith given a 10-minute fighting lesson at just the right moment is able to slaughter 5 of the Bishop's best men and any fully armed veteran Saracen immediately...You get the point. Turn off your brain during this film, because that pruned organ stewing in its intellectual pretentions will only get in the way.

It's still worth seeing, and was precisely the sort of mind-candy I needed to kick Bergman and Kurosawa and Fellini for a bit. Plus, Kingdom of Heaven features actors I adore (Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons), which is a plus, though the star (Orlando Bloom), while convincing as an Elf, fails to register as a valiant Crusader knight who can kick anyone's ass. He's too puny, too obviously puffing out his chest, too obviously trying to deepen his voice.

Watch it for the fight scenes, and try to ignore the pithy dialogue, where everybody happens to utter the exact pseudo-profundity needed at just the right moment.

Arrivederci, travel plans

When I was offered this Liberry gig I was told I could only take vacation in January and August because I work M-Th 1-10pm shifts and Sundays, and covering those hours would be problematic for other staff. Outside of the academic calendar the Liberry typically closes Sundays and stays open 8-5 only, freeing me to leave.

I've just been informed however that the Liberry will now be open nights and Sundays through January, and one of my vacation windows has closed. Now I'm depressed. Since this is a State position, I earn a good deal of vacation, and suddenly I have only a three-week period in August where I'm allowed to use it, which confines any international travel options to the most expensive time of the year. Ok, I'm not only depressed, but pissed.

Fortunately there are staff here who've already volunteered to cover for me if I decide to take a January trip anyway, and I just might. If I don't get away for a while I'm going to start throwing my cataloging into the recycling bin instead of processing it. Plus, the traveling jones is hitting hard. I've got a lot of globe to cover before I die.