Wednesday, June 28, 2006


I first encountered Anne Tyler in 1991. I was a senior in college, taking an elective course called Popular Literature with Dr. Gerald Siegel. That was an excellent class. We read In Cold Blood, I, Robot, and Gone With the Wind. I recall vividly a really bad unintentional pun from Mitchell's lengthy novel, something along the lines of:

When life hands me a bowl of lemons, I make a meringue, Scarlett said tartly.

Dr. Siegel read that aloud as part of a longer passage, and then the pun struck him, he sniggered, said "Oh, God," and the class fell apart. Strange that I remember such a thing so clearly, 16 years later. Strange that after taking dozens of literature classes at four universities I can still remember the syllabi of most.

I also remember Tyler's Breathing Lessons rather clearly, and I'm a notorious forgetter of novels. A sort of clueless grandmother who likes the Grateful Dead features prominently. There's some confrontation at a family planning clinic. Whatever! I liked the book enough to buy The Accidental Tourist after that semester, but didn't read it until now.

Tyler has a great comic touch; she creates warm, familiar characters, and her books are light without being insipid. At least that's true of the two I've read. Macon Leary appealed to me because I've got some things in common with him, things I despise and try to change. His manner of changing--however fictional--done me good.

It's also fun to read novels featuring locales like York Road, Towson, Timonium, Lexington Market, and waitresses who call patrons "hon." I remember Anne Tyler shopping at the Towson Borders from time to time. She was very gracious, very humble (unlike some Baltimore-based novelists). One time we had dozens of copies of five or six of her novels in hardback as remainders. She signed them all and we stacked them around the Info Desk with Signed by the Author stickers and they sold like hotcakes.

Touchy Feely

I manage to avoid much of the Liberry silliness because of my HVAC equipment room 'office' and second-shift schedule, but since I've been here two years without going to many gatherings I decided to attend the Employee Appreciation Luncheon today.


The food was great (whichever Aunties made the bean salad, the couscous with chick peas, and the feta spinach salad--yum!); there was pleasant chit-chat; there was coffee; there was some old dude retiring...and then a motivational speaker took over.


He read bad poems. About ripples in ponds and butterflies causing hurricanes. Then he made us close our eyes, and while playing some dentist's office soundtrack (perhaps Acoustic Alchemy?) he tapped people on the shoulder, who in turn had to stand and roam around touching people who "gave their all" or "made [them] laugh" or "shared a secret" or "was trustworthy."

I don't hold truck with this sort of tepid feel-good activity at all. I don't want people randomly poking me on the shoulder or patting me on the head, co-workers or no. A couple times I peeped with my head down to look at the feet of whoever was touching me. Half the time it was the mutherfucker giving the presentation. I don't need your pity pokes, Mr. Man. Someone touched me at 'is a leader' and I snorted contemptuously. Mostly I practiced zazen and imagined perverse variations of the touching options: touch someone who gives you a major wood; touch someone who smells like onion; touch someone so old they're growing mold, etc. Then my turn to touch people came and I touched everyone within reach at every opportunity.

There were some Aunties who actually started crying at the end.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Meese is the Word

Ed Meese of all people is speaking here at Towson University tomorrow evening. Unfortunately I'm scheduled to work--nothing would be more pleasurable than showing up to ask him a pointed question or two.

Funny how awful I thought things were under Reagan, and how I couldn't imagine a worse, more corrupt regime. Those days seem rather quaint now. Hopefully 20 years down the road I'm not thinking: "Wow, I remember thinking George W. Bush was awful, but these jerks in power today are truly terrible."

In the Pink

So I'm doing laundry Friday night and I notice as I'm pulling clothing out of the dryer that everything is kind of pink. Five pair of pants, two pair of shorts, several shirts--all have streaks of pink. There's no shred of red clothing in the load, and I'm a bit flumoxed to have ruined a couple hundred bucks' worth of laundry mysteriously.

Then I notice there are angry blood-red splashes like Freddy Kreuger cut open the dryer door. Upon closer inspection I see that the interior drum of the dryer is also dark red. Puzzled, I look around the basement and see a long table set up with a bowl of red dye and a sheet of streaked plastic with brushes...

"Cha!" I yell. "What did you do to the dryer?"

She dyed costumes for the student performers at her work fundraiser, then threw them still dripping into the dryer. My wife doesn't believe in allowing the dye to set, washing the costumes after, running the washer while empty to rinse the dye out of the machine, washing the costumes again before drying. She simply throws just-dyed clothes into the dryer. Of course the students were amazing, their costumes were lovely, and the entire stage production at Center Stage went off without a hitch, including a great job by Marc Steiner as MC. That's what's so wonderful about Cha--she can stage manage an enormously complicated event and pull it off without a hitch, and then ruin my laundry.

Of course she was so upset she woke up early Saturday and bought me clothes.

Thanks Guys

One expects that Brazil will beat most anybody, so I didn't actually think Ghana would pull off an upset today. Still, I really wanted Ghana to win, but they simply proved yet again that a team can seriously outplay Brazil and lose. Brazil looked sluggish, were selfish with the ball, and outside of a miserable defensive collapse due to opening jitters (allowing Bill-Buckner-hobbling unfit Ronaldo to score his 15th WC goal), Ghana played a truly masterful match. I thank them for the Cinderella run which gave me no end of joy.

Brazil has too much firepower, too many players with exquisite skill around the box. They coast through matches, but are deadly on quick counterattacks and always exploit defensive failures. Had Adriano been called offsides instead of getting Brazil's second goal the outcome might have been different.

I don't think Brazil can beat Spain playing as they have been, and they'll likely have trouble scoring on France, who until recently were themselves incapable of finding the net. But somehow they find a way to win. Looking forward to this afternoon--I like both teams.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Three days spent moving the in-laws' shite. Three huge truckloads of junk loaded and unloaded. Today roped BroJ into helping out. We killed ourselves with that fucking piano. Couldn't get the truck up to the house because of yesterday's 10 inches of rain. Got the truck stuck in the fucking muck and took 45 minutes to get it out. Moved furniture out of the house across a muddy field to the truck, including the damnable piano, which we rolled along on various pieces of scrap lumber until we got fed up and hefted that shit and baby-walked it over to the slick aluminum ramp up to the truck bed. I composed a Symphony for Hernia and Sciatica once we got it into the truck, using themes from Schoenberg. Now I understand why there are such beings as piano movers. They must be superhuman muthafuckas.

Arrived at the Liberry at 5pm, bleeding from my bashed fingers and badly barked shin, hunched with aching back and limbs. Too old for such labor, and don't know how Cha's parents, both well into their seventies, can handle it at all. I was literally spent after emptying the truck this afternoon, which we finished at 4:15. Glad to find a lot of Inter-Library Loan to do this evening to top off my day.

There's still more shite at the old house. Cha and The Nameless are up there trying to move a fridge and some desks and a few dozen remaining boxes and small pieces. God bless and keep them and their backs. We still have to move some dressers upstairs at the new place. BroJ and I got them in the house and left them in the living room. Couldn't face wrestling another bit of furniture up that narrow stair. On my last trek up I was carrying three stacked drawers full of undies and I got to the second step from the top and almost keeled over--just couldn't get my legs to continue moving. I had to put down the drawers and take a break right there on the stairs.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


I'd seen all the Bergmans available at Netflix as of six months ago, and began going through an Existentialist withdrawal. What better fix than Persona, with the most ethically challenged psychiatric nurse in cinematic history? Bibi and Liv stride around rocky Scandinavian coastline in gorgeous black and white, Ingmar drops disturbing avant-garde camera tricks and montage bits into the mix, and no one lives happier ever after. Absolutely shattering, even on a third viewing.


It never fails--whenever we move or help someone move it rains like a muthafucka. Today we spent about eight hours loading the mother-in-law's stuff into a 15-foot truck while torrential downpours soaked us. Tomorrow Cha is going to try to dispose of most of it at a flea market. Failing that, the Salvation Army will get a load. Although we don't settle on the new house until next week, we've been granted permission to move in now, and should be done Monday. Then the in-laws will be right across the alley.

They've been in their house 20 years, and have accumulated an enormous stash of trash. I swear to God I'm getting the 800-Get-Junk guys into our house ASAP so when I'm in my 70s I don't have piles of useless shit stacked all over the place. Cha kept screaming at her mom about all the junk and how she should just get rid of it, which struck me as terribly ironic. "Heal thyself," I told her, which earned me a punch in the kidney. At least she cleaned up her godawful mess in the basement--she roped poor Virginia Monologues into helping.

Cha's dad is acting like a prick again, and after telling everyone he was pleased with the new house has decided to obstruct it. "I'm not living there," he says. "I will go to the Philippines."

American Idyll

I always say my wife can sing like an angel. Well, now I have proof.

Friday, June 23, 2006

No Comment

It's come to my attention that the comments function has not been working. When I switched from HaloScan back to Blogger comments I fucked something up, and didn't know I'd set the damn thing to require my approval to publish.

But everything is ok now. I've approved all comments I missed, and have turned off the moderating function. We should be back online.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


In my humble opinion Dixon is one of the finest writers going. Yes, there are recurring themes mined from his personal life (his wife's illness, his daughters, his New York and Baltimore residences) reworked in all his books, but I never grow tired of his stuff because that curiously engaging voice pulls me right along. Old Friends tells the story of Irv and Lenny, two writers who meet in middle adulthood and grow old as best friends. Lenny descends into dementia and Irv is confronted by his own mortality. It's a sad book, but also funny and manic like all Dixon's novels.

Read this one tonight at the Service Desk, giving an indication of how much work there was to be done.


This wee collection (a mere three stories) is a hoot. I think The Laying on of Hands--about a memorial service for a dead masseur whose speciality was happy endings for the rich and famous (including the Anglican clergyman presiding)--is a minor masterpiece. All three stories are hilarious and full of sly social criticism at once subtle and ballsy. Reminds me of Eveyln Waugh--Bennett is a prose master with a dark sarcastic bent who nevertheless accents the humanity of his characters.

The Poet emailed this morning and alerted us he's at book number 52 for the year, and has two of his own en route. Even Anna Rose can't slow him down...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


In what is perhaps his billionth book Noam Chomsky again assails doctrinal structures in the US media and explodes our self-righteous propaganda myths. His approach is typically devestating: he finds examples of hypocrisy on behalf of the US and its Western minions and exposes them; he dissects the narrow spectrum of acceptable discourse and demonstrates how corporations and powerful political interests manipulate history and images in a cynical game to delude the public into thinking they have a 'choice'; he finds new ways to take institutionalized 'truths' and re-cast them factually through 'paired examples' and detailed analysis of the most arcane reports and government documents, pointing out that much of what is accepted as 'fact' in our political discourse is actually Orwellian doublespeak.

Chomsky's primary argument here is that the US has become a 'failed state'--a state with collapsing democratic institutions; an apathetic, increasingly harried and undereducated public; leaders beholden to the wealthiest sectors of the citizenry; and a brutal foreign policy completely at odds with international or US law. There are the usual chords: East Timor, Nicauragua, Haiti, Walter Lippman, the PR industry, Israeli and US obstruction of the Middle Eastern "Peace Process"; but here we get Chomsky riffing on Gulf War 2, Katrina, the contempt for democracy of the US elite class, the most recent propaganda assaults on the New Deal, and other new material. I love the fact that he calls Negroponte and Sharon 'terrorists.' There's no mincing of words, there's no anguish about tarnishing those typically thought to be good guys by definition because they're American or a close ally.

Chomsky rules. Those who think he's a wacko or a conspiratorial nut or a traitor are unable to refute him, ever. Intellectuals who publicly challenge Chomsky always resort to straw man or ad hominem attacks or red herrings because his attention to detail, his analytical skills, and his depth and breadth of research are uncanny. Failed States proves it yet again, and despite its catalog of horrors, the book ends on an optimistic note.


I'm not sure why I didn't like Syriana. Thematically it's a perfect match for my Chomskified worldview: Evil Corporations are ruining the Earth and using politicians and covert ops to foment profitable unrest in the Middle East! The idea of a major Hollywood release featuring major stars and such a "speak truth to power" premise in George W. Bush's America? Let's just say it's surprising such a film was made. I won't say it lived up to my expectations, however. The actors are mostly good to excellent, the stories are not unclever, but it's a bit like going to St. Chappelle on a cloudy day--you can see the potential but can't experience it without sunlight. Though at times impressive, Syriana lacks spark, and seems adrift and lacadasical in its approach to great subject matter. Clooney appeals in his Orson-Wellsish chunkier incarnation, but I shan't recommend this.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

World Cup

The Chef and I were agitated no end about today's England v. Sweden World Cup showdown. Both teams are wicked good off set plays, after all, and each are demons defensively around the box. The Chef might be disappointed in the resultant 2-2 draw, but I think it my favorite match so far. Both sides served up tasty goals, and the Swedes were inches away from racking up four or five scores against a harried English defense in the 2nd. The English might have all the starpower with their Beckhamses and Crouches and Gerrards and Coles and Roonies, but I'll take those -ssons, -gruns, -lunds to go deep in the tourney.


A sampling of CDs acquired this year, either via gifts, purchases, or Liberry borrowings. This is about half the 2006 tally so far. I give music short shrift on this 'blog.
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Monday, June 19, 2006


Ramsey Campbell's novels come in two varieties: the supernatural books, typically involving some creepy antediluvian pagan menace re-emerging in modern England, and usually heavily indebted thematically to H.P. Lovecraft; and the mad slasher/kidnapper books. Secret Story falls in the latter category, and is one of the finest such works he's done since The Face That Must Die or Obsession.

Campbell's unique gift is a sort of hallucinatory and extremely paranoid descriptive style that is at times impenetrably oblique, and he loves elaborate and layered puns. In Secret Story he avoids overdoing the former, and drops some good groaners along the way in achievng the latter. The 'hero' of the novel is Dudley Smith, a dangerous psychopath who writes short fiction based on his own killings, scribblings he keeps to himself. His mother discovers these writings and submits a story to a new Liverpool magazine, which decides to publish it. A local filmmaker affiliated with the mag decides to create a movie persona based on Dudley's character. All along everybody is blissfully unaware that Mr. Killogram is real and is writing dialogue for the script, and when Dudley decides to take a staff member from the magazine for his next 'research' project, things get downright harrowing. Read it by the pool or at the beach.

Too Much Football

Watched a zillion matches the last four days. Got to see Brazil v. Australia; one expects Ronaldo, Ronaldhino, Robhino, Adriano, or Kaka to score...but Fred? Immediately off the bench as a defensive replacement? Awesome.

One of my favorite things during World Cup is seeing small countries take on the European powerhouses. Very pleased to see Tunisia beating Spain 1-0 well into the second half today. Of course Spain has a much-vaunted offense, and things got ugly late.

Friday, June 16, 2006


Further proof that the 1980s was a bad decade for film. I hated everything about it, in particular Slater's watered-down Nicholson schtick.

That's more like it. Flop-house full of saucy underemployed actresses, dancers, and singers. Ginger Rogers, Kate Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Adolphe Menjou. Love Kate's acid delivery: "Evidently you're a very amusing person." Stage Door changes tone quite suddenly and to the film's detriment near the end, but its worst bits tower over the best of Heathers.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Started out promisingly, then for much of the book I felt (and here I'm quoting Mr. Martel's novel) "so bored [I] sank into a state of apathy close to a coma." I didn't like the gimmicky ending, which ruined the book's few subtleties for me. I didn't hate it, but could have done without Life of Pi.


It does indeed suck to go for a 4-mile run in the sweltering early summer heat only to find out there's no water at the house. I turned the faucet to engage the shower and was rewarded by a dry sputtering. I stink like Richard Simmon's sequined tank top with no way to freshen up. There's a water main break under York Road and it's been leaking and spouting occasionally since Sunday. Only now are the County workers shutting down two lanes of York Road to fix it. All the pipes in the house are by turns gushing and groaning. I feel like I'm on a boat or in a giant aquarium.

One advantage of no water? Another surprise day off. Very rarely working evenings pays off.

Back to World Cup. Go Trinidad & Tobago--shut down the Brits!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A 2nd Home

So Cha, Leesha, their mother, and I are teaming up to buy the house directly behind ours across the alley. It's a nice three-bedroom townhome completely updated, but I'd always imagined a second home in the Yucatan or perhaps in some Italian hill town and not here in Towson. The idea is to get my in-laws out of their dumpy digs in the country and into a nice house where there won't be 1.5 acres of grass to mow, continous problems with the well water, no heat, a sagging kitchen floor in danger of collapse, etc. Plus, we want them closer to the stores and nearer to hospitals. My in-laws have valuable land up in the boonies but Ma doesn't want to sell because Pa may take the money and bet it all on cockfights in Manila. Since Pa is trying to force her to sell he keeps sabotaging her efforts to buy a house. That's why we're doing this behind his back. We close on June 23rd.

Many friends have given me quizzical glances when I tell them my in-laws will be living right behind us, as though the idea were somehow dangerously stupid. I don't care, because Arcy makes the best pansit, chicken adobo, bibinka, ginger chicken, etc. Julio said we're building Little Manila in the heart of Towson.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

# 41

I liked Mr. Lachman's biographical sketch of Schwaller de Lubicz so much that I decided to buy his book. A Secret History of Consciousness covers an enormous amount of territory and does for theories about the origin and evolution of consciousness what Howard Zinn did for US history. Lachman is obviously interested in the occult and theories of evolution which fall outside the mainstream, but he avoids the casual errors of the writers of so many similar books--my favorite being a propensity by New Agers and conspiracy writers to speculate wildly and then within a few pages turn their absurd flights of fancy into accepted fact upon which to build further wild speculation. Lachman--one-time bassist for Blondie and guitarist for Iggy Pop--offers no deep insight into the theories of consciousness discussed, but does a rather extraordinary job of distilling mammoth works and theories into draughts palatable to a layman. For anyone suspicious of John Searle's absolutist materialism over the mind-body problem, or anyone with an interest in those things not "dreamt of" in Horatio's philosophy, A Secret History of Consciousness is a great read, and owes a debt to rational cataloggers of altnerative or esoteric thought like Colin Wilson. I learned some new names--Jurij Moskvitin in particular sounds interesting, as do Jean Gebser and Owen Barfield. Lachman does an excellent job of situating esoteric theorists in the context of their time and balancing them with heavyweights like William James, Hegel, Bergson, Whitehead. We get portraits of Rudolf Steiner, Madame Blavatsky, P.D. Ouspensky, etc. I'm more convinced than ever after reading Lachman's brief explanation of Steiner's phases of conscious evolution that Stanley Kubrick was a Theosophist (and perhaps Art Clarke as well). 2001 owes an obvious debt to Steiner's concepts of lunar consciousness and Jupiter consciousness, and Eyes Wide Shut resonates with Goethean/Theosphist color theory. (Some other nut has had a similar idea about Kubrick, and has been placing tiles around the world with a message about Kubrick and Toynbee (also discussed in Lachman's book) and resurrecting the dead on Jupiter.)

But I digress. A fun book, not too hysterical, but unafraid to pose interesting questions and to take pot-shots at rationalism.

Monday, June 12, 2006


An interesting documentary about a painfully stupid joke that has nevertheless become a testing ground of improvisational mettle for comedians. Some of the versions are awful (I found Paul Reiser's and Stephen Wright's particularly lame). George Carlin's take is masterful, and Sarah Silverman personalizes The Aristocrats to a discomforting degree by incorporating her own family (including poor Grandma). Bill Maher, however, has the most elegant and hilarious variation. Plumb the depths of scatology, incest, murder, and sadism with Bob Saget. Worth a visit.


An intensely busy weekend spent dashing about from event to event--Move Like Seamus show, Woodhall wine tasting, pleasant dinner at the Traveling Joneses', Risk night, Yahtzee's place, Katipunan Filipino Fiesta in Towson, dinner in DC at Marrakesh.

And Sunday was our 12th anniversary to top it all off. I might fumble my way through life with no great ambition or direction, but can rest assured I made at least one excellent decision. Thanks to Eric and Michelle for joining us in DC last night, thanks to Seamus for the Friday-night anniversary shout-out, and thanks to the gracious staff and patrons at Marrakesh who embarrassed us by making us stand and kiss to applause. And thanks to Cha of course for 12 years of wedded bliss!

Saw lots of friends and babies. Ate too much food, drank too much, watched too much football.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Watching Germany v. Costa Rica and feeling major wanderlust. I've been in Europe for every World Cup and European Championship since '94, and was fortunate enough to be in France for the entire World Cup in '02. Nothing beats settling into a local pub after a heavy day of tourism (or hiking around Lermoos*, for example) and watching matches and drinking heavily with a seething crowd of football fanatics.

Looks like it's not to be this time around, however.

*Lermoos is one of a thousand painfully lovely Austrian towns we visited in '97 & '98. Stay at the stereotypically named Hotel Eidelweiss and have a schnitzel mit kartoffefrei und ein große bier.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


The New York Review of Books reviewed Donald Antrim's new memoirin such glowing terms that I immediately purchased his previous books from Alibris (for $3 each). I read The Verificationist first, though it's his third novel, for no particular reason.

Though I enjoyed Antrim's fine writing and peculiarly excitable imagination, I'm not sure The Verificationist succeeds. For such a ridiculous novel to work it must be at once highly insightful and hilarious; this book is insightful only in ways many far better novels are, and is only occasionally funny.

I love reading psychoanalytic theory, so Antrim's idea--a group of analysts gathering in a pancake joint for a regular meeting find their gathering devolve into a surreal airborn orgy--had merits fitting it precisely up my alley. Alas, I've read better books in a similar vein by Nicholson Baker and Stanley Elkin and George Saunders, and those books made me laugh out loud. Antrim merely amused me. I'll read the rest of his work and let you know...


I first encountered Sarah Silverman on late-night TV. Her brief appearances as a guest on Late Night with Conan O'Brien were raunchy and satisfyingly un-PC. When I heard she had a DVD I was excited. Jesus is Magic is, alas, a crashing disappointment. Most of the jokes on this DVD are the same ones I saw her do on Conan years ago, and there's a lot of filler material, mostly in the form of musical numbers, that truly plumbs the depths of inanity. Avoid at all costs, unless you've never heard the five or six good bits she re-does here for the zillionth time.

Awww. Birdies are cute. Liked best the footage of puffins at Skellig Michael--that's one of the coolest places I've ever been. An enormous gannet with Shaquille O'Neil wingspan almost knocked me over a 700-ft cliff there. Perhaps when I get up some steam I'll write about that as Part Two of a series of strange travel experiences.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


This morning I was buffeted by mysterious dreams, and a creepy hypnagogic experience that lasted quite some time. I recall at one point witnessing my own funeral, and then I was watching my wife play bass in a band with It's Australian For Beer!, who played drums and sang. After, half-awake, I decided sleepily to re-dream the dream because it was unsatisfying and incomplete. This resulted in a dream wherein in my dream self watched the original dream about my funeral and halted the action from time-to-time, asking others in the dream how they felt about my passing. In fact, my dream self seemed more interested in burnishing his (our?) own ego(s) than in re-creating the original dream. Then my dream self was confronted by the conundrum of what I (we?) was (were) dreaming, and my dream self in the re-visited dream confronted my dream self in the replay, at which point I surprised them both by appearing and announcing that I was not in fact dead, but had faked my own death to have an ego-satisfying dream about how many people would show up at my funeral. The three of me (us) had a good laugh. Then I was playing guitar in the band with my wife and my other dream selves and all the funeral attendees were watching. We rocked the house. Strangely, in the dream, I was amazed that It's Australian for Beer! was able to sing a complex melody in a completely different time-signature from the drumming she was doing, and I was able to marvel at this fact while playing a guitar part taking advantage of both time signatures and adding counterpart to the melody, while Cha in my dream was hammering out a bass line worthy of Geddy Lee. When I woke up it struck me that I was responsible for all of these characters, all of their actions, all of their musical performances, the song, the singing (in another person's voice), the audience and their reactions, my own dream emotions, the perception of all of this, and the entire setting.

This is all silly, but deadly serious, and I have no desire for the world to be anything but both. Nothing in my dreams differentiates the dream world from the 'real.' If I can create such lavish casts of characters, such lush realities, and inhabit so many different facets of my self and others at once whilst sleeping, how can I possibly know I am not doing so all the time, when awake? How can you know I am not merely a figment of your imagination?

We can't.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


A recent Harper's article turned me on to the work of Deborah Eisenberg; I'd somehow never heard of her. These are fantastic stories, featuring interesting heroines who remain a bit lost, and who never quite catch the gist of what happens around them. Since I often find the world entirely inexplicable and my place in it unsure, I inhaled this collection in a matter of hours. In Days a woman quits smoking, then finds herself merely substituting other addictions (to swimming and running)--her local Y features a carnival of freaks like a line of medieval penitents. In Under the 82nd Airborne a failed mother visits her daughter in of all places Tegucigalpa during the CIA shenanigans of the '80s; somehow coups, photo-op air-drops, and non-existent invasions involving actual battles are no less nonsensical than the warring of an estranged mother and daughter. In "A Lesson in Travelling Light" a woman in a terribly vague romantic relationship moves cross-country with her lover. As they stay with his friends all over the place, she realizes she has nothing, not even a self, and begins to grow restless without any tools to achieve self-aggrandizement.

Eisenberg writes effortlessly--as well as anyone in the form. Her stories are as masterful as those of Cheever, Auchincloss, Scott Fiztgerald, or Joan Didion, and feature a quirkiness reminiscent of Ann Beattie or Bobbie Ann Mason. Excellent stuff.

Happy Holiday!

In honor of 6/6/06, I'm listing some of my favorite Satanic music and films:

Thematically appropriate, though an uneven effort. Three quality tracks, including the title tune.

Ozzy might be a new media darling now, but this is still the best devil music.

You need to go to confession after listening to this. Altar of Sacrifice and Jesus Saves are two of my particular favorites, but this CD is a 28-minute joyous bloodbath.

I remember when the cover of the 8-track sent Grammy into paroxysms of rage. Now I play it in remembrance of her.

Fuck the remake. This always reminds me of childhood.

This is harmless camp. Really. Love the Japanese Satanist who takes pictures of the baby.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Louis Menand, in his foreward, forewarns us that Edmund Wilson was a bit of an enthusiastic Socialist dupe when he first worked on To the Finland Station, but notes that Wilson subsequently came to see that the Soviet Union was perhaps a bit less Utopian than imagined, and re-tooled his Introductions to later editions to reflect a growing disenchantment:

This book of mine assumes throughout that an important step in progress has been made, that a fundamental "breakthrough" had occurred, that nothing in our human history would ever be the same again. I had no premonition that the Soviet Union was to become one of the most hideous tyrannies that the world had ever known, and Stalin the most cruel and unscrupulous of the merciless Russian tsars. This book should therefore be read as a basically reliable account of what the revolutionists thought they were doing in the interests of a "better world."

Thus Wilson becomes one of the list of disillusioned, demoralized Socialists who make up his book. The utopian idealists, the social engineers, the dreamers who see their hard work dashed, their visions proved wrong, their theories found unworkable, their activities crushed and outlawed. Menand is right in his Foreward to point out the shortcomings of Wilson's book (including his complete ignorance of German philosophy, which marrs his analysis according to Menand in ways I can't hope to understand), but Menand still thinks To The Finland Station an astute and wonderful study of how powerful human figures interact with their times to create history.

The book does plod along through a few dense passages describing (incorrectly) the Dialectic of Hegel and Marx's economic theories. But Wilson recreates his characters with a keen expertise more often associated with excellent novelists than with interesting literary critics: from the French progenitors of Socialism like Michelet, Renan, Taine, Babeuf and up through Engels, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, we get portraits of men who strove (rightly or wrongly) to change the world. Some of the writing in this book is sublime, and those biographical bits about Marx in squalor trying to squeeze funds from Engels to finish his books, or about Lenin in Siberia after his brother's execution, or about Michelet going blind doing research in dusky archives, can be quite heartbreaking. The amount of research necessary for this book would daunt a life-long scholar; I'm amazed Wilson achieved it in only 8 years' time. In setting himself this task, he learned Russian and German to read widely in the necessary materials, and read Michelet's monumental History of France in the original tongue as well.

For a better history of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, read Bertram Wolfe. But for my money this is a great little history of revolutionary movements in Europe from the French up to the mid-20th century. Strangely, Anarchists are ignored, excepting Bakunin, who is given short shrift, and aside from the women in Marx's family, or those in Lenin and Trotsky's circles, female revolutionists are strangely absent--I think Rosa Luxembourg appears once in strong opposition to Vladimir Ulyanov.

NYRB deserves credit for producing these editions--I own several of their titles, and love the feel and design. My favorite magazine is becoming my favorite press.

I'll be damned!

Looks like Velikovsky was right after all!

Netflix Galore

A gorgeous bit of blasphemy by Luis Bunuel, in a crystal clear transfer from Criterion. Viridiana is a soon-to-be nun ordered to visit an ailing uncle before taking her vows. He manages to corrupt her completely in surprising ways. Love the lunatic bacchanal with its Last Supper overtones. Hilarious!

The only reason watching Soylent Green Saturday was worthwhile? The Simpsons aped it Sunday night, and I'd have missed the reference otherwise. Where Edward G. Robinson chooses lush nature scenes for his suicide room, Grampa Simpson decides he wants to see "cops beating hippies." The movie is much less interesting than my favorite post-apocalyptic Charlton Heston movies: Omega Man and the first two Planet of the Apes films. Of course, I saw those before the age of ten...Phil Hartmann's SNL take-off of Soylent Green made me long for an extended over-acted climax that never happened.

I think the '80s had a sub-genre of romantic comedies featuring the death of a major character. Terms of Endearment positively reeks of rotten cliché, but we liked it anyhow. I suppose the cast is what carries the day: Jeff Daniels, Shirley MacClaine, John Lithgow before he was a cloying sitcom celebrity, Jack Nicholson in the last film where his schtick was palatable--and Deborah Winger whose performance rises above the pathos. A bit sweet for my palate, but a good movie to watch with the wife. I shan't tell you how we killed time during a lightning storm intermission; let's just say the popcorn wasn't the only thing buttered!

Friday, June 02, 2006

World Cup

Julio called this morning from Umbria. Starts teaching Monday, in Italy for two months. The Mrs. joins him for the final three weeks, then they come home briefly and return to Amsterdam--at which time she'll be teaching a seminar on removing Scotch tape from photos.

I'm jealous, not only of the travels, but of the esoteric skills!

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Regular readers will know Assburger as one of our regular nitwit patrons at the Liberry; those new to this blog will undoubtedly guess his status from the well-deserved moniker. But tonight Assburger outdid himself, achieving a surreal epic sublimity beyond compare. He arrived shortly after a Tempest so potent it knocked our power out for five minutes. "I saw a bearded man leading animals two by two outside," he said, referencing the storm.

"Yeah, we had a power outtage," was my reply. Assburger got an indignant look, said "There was no power outtage," then grabbed his upper teeth with his fingers and started pulling at them before walking off to his usual perch at a corner computer. He annoyed a female patron, he annoyed the annoying Tiny Drum, and then at 9:30 Samuel L. the janitor came in pushing his trashcan. Assburger jumped up and said "Do you have a large trash bag?"

"I sure do," said Samuel L.

"I bet you know what I need it for."

"Yeah, I can guess," replied Samuel L. "I'll get you one."

"Just so long as it's within the next 25 minutes."

"Yeah, I'll get it for you in a couple minutes."

"It's because they close in 25 minutes. That's the only reason I said it."

Samuel L. works here, dumbass, I was thinking. I thought Assburger was headed into that trashcan, was willing it to happen. But Samuel L., instead of obliging my fantasy, simply went downstairs to his cubby hole and brought back a large clear plastic trash bag. In the meantime Assburger came over to the Desk, picking his teeth with a bent paperclip. He had a bloody scratch on the side of his face from where he'd stabbed himself with it. He put this medieval dental implement on the Desk, then began poking his gums with a triangle fashioned of paper, which he also left for me to clean up. He told me lines he remembered from Macbeth after I said to him "Weaving spiders don't enter here."

"I learned this trick in college," he told us. "Do you have a scissor?" I gave him our scissors. He began cutting arm holes in the bag.

"Don't forget airholes," I advised. He had his tongue stuck out like a Peanuts character in concentration, and I began losing it badly because I noted Silenus taking a photo--a photo I hope to post here someday as valuable proof that The Assburger is real, and not some mere phantom like the Yeti or Chessie the Bay Monster. But then Assburger put the bag over his head, stuck his arms through the holes he'd made, and with his eyes closed he began feeling along the counter for the scissors. This is a clear plastic bag--I have no idea why he didn't simply open his eyes. With one hand he was thumping along the Desk, with the other he was pinching the bag in front of his nose. Silenus looked incredulous.

The bag was steaming up at an alarming rate when Assburger finally ceased his odd dance and asked if I could hand him the scissor, please. I barely accomplished his request before fleeing to the backroom in hilarity. He looked like some alien from a '50s B movie flailing about. When I came back he had his face through a third hole in the bag. It had stopped raining by this point, but he stalked off in his enormous Glad condom nonetheless, leaving his Mountain Dew behind, and another bloody triangular paper toothpick over by his computer terminal. What a fucking freak.

Silenus showed me the photo, but didn't have a cable to upload it from his camera phone. Assburger is fully engaged in wrestling his clear plastic shroud. A priceless memory.

The perceiver and the object perceived are one.

Without mental formations, there can't be consciousness. It's as if we're discussing a formation of birds. The formation holds the birds together, and they fly beautifully in the sky. You don't need someone to hold the birds and keep them flying in one formation. You don't need a self to create the formation. The birds just do it. In a beehive, you don't need someone who gives the order for this bee to go left and that bee to go right; they just communicate among one another and are a beehive. Among all the bees, every bee may have a different responsibility, but no bee claims to be the boss of all the bees, not even the queen.* The queen is not the boss. Her function is simply to give birth to the eggs. If you have a good community, a good sangha, it's like this beehive in which all the parts make the up whole, with no leader, no boss.

Thich Nhat Hahn discusses thoughts without a thinker in "The Four Layers of Consciousness" Buddhadharma The Practitioner's Quarterly, Summer 2006

Artwork by Darren Waterston

*While reading this my monkey mind couldn't help thinking of Homer Simpson, Exhibit A for the case of thoughts without a thinker: "What are you going to do? Release the dogs? Or the bees? Or the dogs with the bees in their mouths, and when they bark they shoot bees at you?"


An updated Cinderella, with poor blind Selina (ably and adorably portrayed by Elizabeth Hartman) in the role of drudgery maid. Shelly Winters is her wretched whore of a mother. Playing the Prince is Mr. Poitier as Gordon, who helps Selina in the park one day and becomes her friend, and eventually a bit more than that. Poitier's presence prevents the absolute collapse of A Patch of Blue into after-school special treacle, but the film must be appreciated in the context of its time. Race and class and tolerance are the themes of course, and if this one doesn't move you despite occasional moral heavy-handedness, you're a cold-hearted bastard. I added this to my Netflix queue after catching the last ten seconds on TCM and thinking the black-and-white cinematography lovely. A good find.