Monday, July 31, 2006

Better than porn

What Next?

While Cook Liberry was searching for a new Director (University Librarian), the boss of Technical Services (my boss's boss) was Acting in that role. Today there was an impromptu gathering of Aunties to celebrate her now-finished tenure--the new Director starts tomorrow.

There was much tittering and muttering, and much cake and ice cream.

As I was leaving this get-together the formerly Acting Director and once again mere Director of Technical Services (Boss of my Boss) said "I don't know what the new Director is going to do about your job, Geoff. You have a wide range of skills. We'd like to keep you in some capacity."

Thanks for the heads-up. Sounds to me as if my current position is being shit-canned!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Dead Guitarists I Admire, Part III

Unfortunately this is live concert footage poorly synched with the studio track of 'Walk,' but it's all I could find. Dimebag Darrell turned a simple hook into a killer song (my wife, who loves Abba and the Bee Gees and Blondie primarily, considers this her favorite song, and thrashes around like mad when she plays it. Her favorite line? "Can you hear the violins playing your song?"). His soloing is mind-bendingly inventive here. Some motherfucker shot him in the head during a concert a couple years ago. Now he's dead.


The commercial for Tempurpedic mattresses features a young lady in pajamas jumping on one side of a mattress fashioned from "space-age foam" while an unmolested wineglass stands firm before her bouncing feet. We have a Tempurpedic and typically I'd agree with that infomercial's assessment of the stability of its product.

But while reading Absurdistan I was beset by a storm of guffaws so potent the resultant quaking could have bounced an entire wine cellar off our Tempurpedic and clear down York Road to the Chesapeake Bay. I'm afraid A Confederacy of Dunces has been dethroned as the funniest book I've ever read.*

In Gary Shteyngart's novel the Apocalypse doesn't arrive with a bang or a whimper, but with great gales of laughter. In fact, the Apocalypse is unfolding around us right now, a great drama of hilarious doom. Laugh while you can.

*Mr. Toole's masterpiece, remains, however, a superior literary achievement--Shteyngart's is funnier, but less substantial, and does lose its potency about two-thirds of the way through. Buy them both!

US Tax Dollars at Work

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Matriarch

Because my in-laws have a new house, and because my father-in-law's birthday is imminent, some relatives from Canada are coming down for the weekend to eat steamed crabs. My in-laws' new house is directly across the alley behind us--just now Ma was here bringing me food* and telling me I should soak my dishtowels in Clorox--so we'll have some spillover guests staying with us.

This sent Cha into an extremely rare cleaning frenzy. She washed curtains, dusted behind things, and actually threw junk away--unheard of! Why this sudden urge to tidy? Ate (pronounced Ah-tay) is coming. In Filipino culture, the oldest female sibling is The Boss of the family and earns the title Ate. Last night Cha was panicked because she didn't finish cleaning one of our four bedrooms--her catastrohic 'studio.' "Who cares?" I told her. "Nobody goes in there. We have plenty of room in the guest room."

"You don't understand. Ate is coming. She cares. She will see." When I got home from work there was Cha, precariously perched on a stool, cleaning dust off the ceiling fan. Ate could stand on a stepladder and she'd still be too short to see up there. But anything that gets my dear wife to tidy is a blessing--anything that gets her to throw junk away instead of squirreling it away in the attic is a godsend. I wish Ate would show up monthly, because typically I do the cleaning (what little gets done, anyway), and I have to work around great mounds of art supplies, tubs of misceallany, HSN products bought and used once and left where they are, remnants of Green Party/Young Audiences/Community Association fundraisers, toilet paper and paper towel tubes and plastic containers that will be used in something someday, socks, bras, panties, nail files and hair clips, musical instruments from Africa bought on sale, Big Gulp cups, etc. The house seems empty now that the mess is gone.

Ate is four foot four inches tall, and the fear she invokes cracks me up. Everybody younger than her has to take her hand and touch it to their own forehead saying "Mano po." I look forward to the lecture about children, which I get each time I see her. "You should have had children ten years ago. You could have five by now. You are getting old. If you didn't want children there's no reason to get married." Because Cha and her two sisters have no kids, my in-laws have no grandkids. This is scandalous, and causes much muttering in Tagalog. The only subject more important is who has become tabacho(fat). But these are by no means dour people despite their heavy Spanish Catholicism and mysterious tribal ways. Once the obligatory lecturing is out of the way, they're great fun and I like seeing them. Aunt Emmy will be here with her Japanese husband Ken. He's got business interests all over the place and is an interesting guy.

*I agreed to sign on to a second mortgage for a second house with Cha, Ma, and Leesha primarily because I want the in-laws nearby where we can help them as they get older. Secondarily because the house is a good investment, even though we could use the money spent to fix up our own house. Thirdly because I knew Ma would bring me food every day.

**The photo is not our Ate, of course, but I'm sure she's somebody's Ate. Taken in Banaue, Philippines.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Hold on to your hats with this one. P. D. Ouspensky begins with a problem proposed by Kant--that 'space' and 'time' are simply constructs of consciousness--and runs with it. Boiled down to its barest argument, Tertium Organum suggests that the world we perceive is an artificiality; we cannot perceive the world as it is because our perception is self-limited. Lots of analogies about how two-dimensional beings would perceive three-dimensional objects passing through planes lead Ouspensky to suggest that we fail to understand what we see. His answer? What we perceive as 'time' is actually the movement of fourth-dimensional objects through our plane of existence. It is possible according to Ouspensky to achieve the consciousness required to understand the 'realm of causes,' because the technology exists in our mystical traditions going back millenia. The Fall of Adam and Eve actually marked the imprisonment in Matter of Spirit. We can liberate ourselves with proper training and devotion.

Elaborate bullshit or the key to higher consciousness? Doesn't matter to me so long as it entertains. I loved it. Any book capable of rationally marshalling disparate figures like Hegel, William James, Lao Tzu, Madame Blavatsky, Jacob Boehme, Sufi mystics, the Mahabarata, Plato, and Plotinus can't help but challenge a three-brained being.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dead Guitarists I Admire, Part II

SRV's performance of Texas Flood at the El Mocambo, 1983

My first concert was SRV at the Towson Center when I was 16. My head blew clean off into the stratosphere. Stevie suffered major addictions (Keith Richard visited him in rehab and told him he better chill--imagine how sobering that must have been!), but got clean and was at the top of his form when Eric Clapton offered Stevie his seat on a doomed helicopter. Now he's dead.

Dead Guitarists I Admire, Part I

Michael Hedges went to Peabody for awhile. He used to play Neil Young covers at Angel's Grotto here in Towson, before figuring out how to play the guitar like a piano or some freaky drum. Now he's dead.


Seth recommended this, and the concept appealed so much I instantly Netflixed the DVD. Well worth watching, foot in a tub of ice, glass of pinot, etc. Caution: scenes of genital injury and general hilarity may cause spontaneous laughter. Not a good thing with a mouthful of pinot, especially if one's couch is off-white (thank Cthulu for Scotchguard). I like films (and lengthy novels) unafraid of mixing high-brow literary material and low-brow farce. Tristram Shandy does so with Pythonesque aplomb.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I watched with no small pleasure today as the Towson University soccer team moved out of the house next door. The property sold (for 100k more than the previous owners paid two years ago) and apparently the new owners refused to renew the lease. Perhaps the new tenants will be less bothersome? Maybe the new owners will actually live there? All I know is things can't possibly get worse--the guys moving out had loud parties every weekend, and their drunken revelry often woke me on weeknights as well.

Of course I thought things couldn't get worse five years ago when Tammy and Wayne rented that house and had drunken white trash fights three nights a week. Wayne once pulled his refrigerator over and knocked a ceiling fan down with a broom in a rage because Tammy wasn't there when he got home. Wayne and Tammy seem like ideal neighbors in comparison to the crew moving out. It can always get worse.

Monday, July 24, 2006


I realize this is supposed to be a landmark novel, a document of a change in American consciousness (or at least of the generalization into the youthful mainstream of a change of consciousness begun much earlier). Perhaps I'm too old to be reading it for the first time, because I found Yawn the Road a turgid, restless, unfocused mish-mash--and I'm a restless seeking soul typically open to freaky drugheads who wander around observing. Yes, there are some frenetic passages that whisk one along with zippy bee-bop language, but the same can be said for Penthouse Letters XV,which no one insists must be read by every senior in high school. I not only disliked it, I found it a completely hateful chore to finish, but did so out of some misguided obligation to the 'canon.'

This novel will be taught as a curiosity in cultural studies classes 50 years from now, if it survives at all. The Academy should cast it aside and focus on more worthy, lesser-known material by far more interesting Beat figures.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Saturday Morning


Doug and 98 of his 99 brothers congregate at the family manse in order to discuss the whereabouts of the old man's urn. Sibling rivalries flare up, old and current addictions wreak havoc, and at the novel's climax the narrator takes a leak on William Hazlitt in the family library. Just like Antrim's The Verificationist, The Hundred Brothers is absurd, pointless, and full of much gorgeous writing.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Moira Shearer had an exquisite derrière. That's not why you should see The Red Shoes, of course, but I must note its aesthetic importance. Flea told me that she'd not updated her romance novel blog lately because she'd read a completely unbelievable scene about a man facing execution who thought longingly of his lover's ass just before his turn at the gallows. That would be the last thing a doomed man would think of, Flea said. I disagreed. I'd think of ass and nothing else in a similar situation.* What is a guy supposed to think about near death? His soul? Ha! The great mystery of existence? Hell, no. He's going to dream of luxurious ass, and yards of it.

But I digress. Pressbinder's dark fairy tale (no pun intended) is spectacular, and features the greatest dance sequences ever. Love of craft vs. true love: which will win out in the end? I shan't spoil it for you. Even its Anna Karenina finish couldn't ruin this lavish treat.

And, because I spent most of today ailing on the sofa, I also watched My Best Fiend, Werner Herzog's tender recollection of his professional relationship with Klaus Kinski, making a double-feature of films about monstrous artists driven to madness by their need to express something inexpressable. Herzog takes us to the apartment flat where he and Kinski met and tells funny stories about Krazy Klaus. Then he revisits Peru and shows footage of Kinski rampaging. We meet the native chief who offered to kill Kinski for Herzog (he declined the offer, a decision Werner regrets to this day). Herzog shows footage of himself during the filming of Fitzcarraldo, and he's discussing the jungle:

Everything is misery. The trees are in misery. The birds are in misery; I don't think they sing at all. Rather, they shriek in awful horror at their suffering. Everything is growing and eating and fornicating in a giant chaotic cycle of death. And yet I don't want to leave the impression that I hate the jungle. I love it.

*I think of ass in most situations.

30 Days in the Samarkind Desert with the Duchess of Kent

I saw five or six of these episodes before FX pulled Spurlock's show for the immediately canceled Iraq War show. Excellent TV--a lot of time and care went into crafting each episode, and it shows. My favorite? The straight guy from Michigan who lives in the Castro District for a month, or perhaps the mother who binge drinks daily with her daughter trying to make a point and failing. I found it very engaging TV, often funny, often shocking, always thoughtful. Like The Real World for readers of The Nation. At any rate, worth owning if you like buying DVDs; if not, Netflix it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I don't know how much longer I can continue running. I keep thinking of Dr. Andrew Weil saying "I know people who run deep into their 30s and then they can't walk at 50. Your body will tell you when it's time to stop certain activities."

My body's been sending me signals since I was 25: shin splints, bad knees, a bum hip, flat feet, blisters, callouses. I simply put more Dr. Shoal's cushions in my shoes and keep plugging away, because if I don't run I tend toward corpulence. The first third of this year I was running 25 miles per week, then I had ankle problems (a new pain!) that required a month off. Since May I've been running about 10 miles per week, mostly in three days, and walking on alternate days. I've given up road running, and walk to the rubber track at Towson High, run, then walk home. This was working well for me until yesterday.

I finished my run as usual--2.5 miles on the track in the gorgeous triple-digit Baltimore heat--walked home, showered, went to work, sat at my desk ordering books and videos for three hours, then attempted to stand and nearly keeled over in agony. At the juncture of lateral malleolus, calcaneus, and talus in my left foot is a gooey swollen spot the size of an orange, and I don't know why. I didn't turn or twist my ankle, I didn't drop anything on it. It just started hurting.

Actually, I do know why it started hurting: old age. I'm likely to take a couple weeks off and then start running again, and in November something else will fall apart.

Dr. Weil has a point. Is it time to become a swimmer or a cyclist? Maybe I should get a step-climber or one of those gazelle things the fat steroid dude with a pony tail rides on late-night TV.

But I like running. I've been doing it the better part of 20 years. Ugh. Being a pedestrian kind of necessitates preserving my musculoskeletal system, however.

UPDATE 8am Thursday: I can't touch my left foot to the ground without significant pain. WTF? Is it a sprain? A stress fracture? Fuck this. I had to slide on my ass down the basement stairs to fetch a set of crutches left here by the previous owner of the house (thanks ghost of Willard R. Bowman). Making coffee on crutches sucks.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Kindred is thematically expansive; on its surface the novel is a sci-fi yarn about a modern black woman beaming back mysteriously to a Maryland plantation where she saves the life of her white great-great-great-great-great grandfather on several occasions. We never know the agency responsible, or the mechanics, or the reasons for these temporal teleportations--we simply accept this alternate reality, content to ride a marvelously constructed book to its dread conclusion.

And by conclusion I mean the end of the plot only; there are no easy conclusions to Butler's thematic meanderings. Kindred is about the complex inter-relations of history, about moral ambivalence, about perception, about race, history, memory, the past as present. I could go on. Dana, who in 1976 is married to a white man named Kevin, accidentally takes him back with her to the nineteenth century on one of her trips. They try to fit in, try to create lies to make their sudden appearance sensible to the locals. They watch kids playing a game where they sell each other off at an auction. The reader thinks about this, about the changes from then to now, about the way things maybe should have changed even more, and wonders what s/he would do in the past in such a situation. Dana's husband Kevin says:

"Look, I won't say I understand how you feel about this because maybe that's something I can't understand. But as you said, you know what's going to happen. It already has happened. We're in the middle of history. We surely can't change it. If anything goes wrong, we might have all we can do just to survive it."

Kevin, the white man, admits he can't possibly see America's past the way his black wife sees it. She can't see it the way he does. They're both living in the past and unable to change it. And yet they also both live in the present and could just as easily transpose this attitude about the past to 1976. Dana is several times tempted to let her white ancestor die for his injustices, but she knows she has to keep him alive so she can exist someday. This is a troubling lesson about privileging the Self over others, and explains a lot about the politics of slavery, about the relations between the slaves as they negotiate their own positions on the plantation, and about the relations between black and white. The most monstrous humans in Kindred show humanity in surprising ways, and the heroic characters are degraded more than once. Dana is mystified by the (then future) examples of Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman. What possibly could explain the existence of such souls, able to act solely without thinking of the consequences to Self? Her novel is brilliant, and deserves its reputation. I'll be reading more of Butler's stuff down the road.


Imagine Klaus Kinski wrestling horses and contemptuously flinging monkeys from his decaying raft on a river in the Peruvian jungle. Then imagine Werner Herzog filming it all with a stolen camera.

How can you not see this?

The stories Herzog tells on the commentary track are, as usual, as good as the film.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Where there's a Will...

George Will is a bow-tie-wearing smarmy pipsqueak who has spent decades peddling the sort of nonsense that degraded our politics enough to allow neo-cons to grab power. But I'll give him props for crying foul at an appropriate moment.

[graphic stolen from]

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Naqoyqatsi is my favorite installment of the Reggio 'trilogy.' Yes, it features a lot of digital effects and animation of the sort entirely absent from the first two cinematic collages, and some of the sequences border on a level of cheesiness previously only achieved by those computer-generated digital music videos of Rube Goldberg instruments that play themselves on PBS late at night. But it's also lovely, hypnotic, and terrifying. Reggio reaches into the abstract often in re-imagining our creation of a world without 'nature.' A montage of dinner guests in black and white are revealed as saturated by liesure and comfort, dupes of shallow experience. Religious symbols and advertising logos jostle for prominence. Violence and natural forces shatter the illusion we can ever control Life.

At times reminiscent of Stan Brakhage, Naqoyqatsi also features a great Philip Glass score. If you hate Glass, avoid at all costs. Some primo grade wacky tabacky might elevate your appreciation, or so I'd imagine if I knew about such things.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Can't Stop Listening

More recent acquisitions on CD:

Nothing Changes

I worry. I turn on the tube to get 'news' about Israel in Lebanon. Is it the '80s again? Is Ariel Sharon running rampant again? I remember Reagan got fed up, and so did Bush I, with Israel. W. refuses to interfere because he thinks the actions of God's Chosen will bring us closer to the End Times. Unfortunately he may be right.

Sharon is a vegetable, and there's a new Bush in the White House who makes the old Bush look squeaky clean--no mean feat. I briefly watch three networks: Ann Coulter is on Hardball discussing Israel with Moron O'Donnell. Bebe Netanyahu is on CNN. Somehow notorious anti-Semite Pat Buchanan--on NBC's Tucker Carlson--sounds reasonable compared to the others. Lots of nutjobs and hatemongering chuckleheads sound reasonable these days, given the crew in the White House and Pentagon.

Oh yeah--this is why I stopped reading the newspapers.

Funny to hear Chuck Hagel on Larry King last night suggesting Jim Baker go to the Middle East to broker peace: does Hagel (whom occasionally I find agreeable) remember Baker saying "Fuck the Jews, they don't vote for us anyway?" Perhaps he does, but I'd think that disqualifies Baker. The other suggestion was Colin Powell, who seems more likely.


When I was a grad student at Temple U I possessed a VHS tape of Shock Trauma admissions given me by my sister who works there to this day. I saw surgeons peeling a forehead off a skull and joking about "Ronco Snap-Back Faces." I saw a guy who'd put a shotgun under his chin instead of in his mouth, and lived with shredded gelatin for a face. I saw a doctor saw off a foot and throw it three yards into a toy basketball hoop over a biohazard bag.

In those days I used to wake up in the night and have to write short stories. That was I imagine a feature of young, male, Taurus blood--but like blueballs and nocturnal emissions that need faded completely with age.

But the Shock Trauma VHS produced a great story, one of my best, about a prostitute hired by anonymous charities to pleasure mutants and the grotesquely disabled in a secret ward at Johns Hopkins. I went balls-to-the-wall, trying to find a level of disgusting that would be lovely and erotic. Even dour intellectual Alan Singer admired that story: "You must enjoy such material," he said. "For once your prose is competent." The other kids in my fiction workshop loved it too, but all had the same reaction: too bad you ripped off Geek Love. Ripped off Geek Love? I'd never heard of it, let alone "ripped it off." For years I saw the book at Borders, and resented it quietly. The mutant prostitute story went into a drawer with the other "done before" stories, including 100+ pages of a novel suspiciously similar to The X-Files written before The X-Files was on TV.

Any resentment I may have felt toward Katherine Dunn at having a great idea before me is gone now, because I loved her book, and will likely re-read it someday. What is normal? What constitutes the grotesque? Who isn't ugly and mal-formed? Without the groteque the beautiful is impossible to imagine. The two inhabit the same sphere.


Even Dwarfs Started Small is something else. The cast is entirely made up of 'little people,' and many animals most definitely were harmed during the filming of this motion picture.

Silenus wisely recommended the director's commentary (with Crispin Glover?). Herzog gets off plenty of crackers:

Looking into the eyes of a chicken is weird. There's such a profound stupidity.

Where else would you have such a bottomless pit right there behind the house? I threw a car into it.

You could film one taboo, but to try two and even three at once, including blasphemy, well it was too much. The animal rights people went crazy.

Now, even though he wasn't actually hurt, I knew he was in pain, and yet I still kept filming, and finally watching I saw his suffering was too much and I knew I had to stop and then I waited another minute or two and decided I had to end the film now, end the suffering.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Self-Congratulatory Bullshit

So I started this 'blog I believe in '03 (I'm not sure because I used to host my own archives back in the day. When I switched to Verizon from Earthlink I never 'migrated' those archives, and consequently they are no longer available).
Originally I wrote surreal riffs and late-night rants. Then I focused on politics for a while. Then I started the book and movie blurbs betwixt online journaling. I got some Amazon Associates traffic doing so, and added a counter and some other ads because people started to show up, other than friends and family who were of course obligated.

This week I hit a minor milestone--25,000 visitors in a bit over two years. Add to that about $800 in Amazon gift certs, a check for $18 from Netflix, a check from Google for $118, a check from Alibris for $4, and I'm beginning to think the whole project worthwhile. I never advertised this site, and have watched traffic creep up slowly over the years with pleasure. Thanks to everyone who drops by (even those simply prowling for Google images of Sabrine Maui), and a special thanks to those kind enough to blog-roll me, most of whom are far more interesting at what they do than I'll ever be.

Herzog's Latest Project

But this being a Herzog film, the lyrical images are tempered by characteristic pessimism. "The film ends our illusions about intergalactic travel," Herzog says bluntly. "We will not do it. We cannot manage it. It's just too far."
From Wired

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I don't know about you but I much prefer the darker, morally ambiguous films Spielberg makes now to those earlier goofball adventure movies. I'll gladly watch an interesting failure like A.I. over Indiana Jones Beyond the Valley of the Dolls or some flick about an angelic sock puppet from Mars with a glowing finger. Yes, I like Jaws, and I saw Jurrassic Park in the theater five times--but there's no depth to those movies. Bad shark vs. good swimmers. Evil scientist vs. common sense. Even in Schindler's List Spielberg cleaned up Schindler's less tidy characteristics to make things more easily digestible.

That Spielberg is gone. Munich makes for uncomfortable viewing because it's possible to have conflicting viewpoints about the issues raised, and Spielberg wants us to think more seriously about The War on Terror than is typical. I suspect Spielberg's elegant introduction with its explanation of his intent was due to the controversy over the film; many thought it 'humanized' terrorists (as if 'terrorists' are not humans?). Some regard questioning Israel's methods or its motives as anathema, and Munich's subtleties will escape ideologues--none of this is new or surprising.

At issue is the targeted assassination of opponents by governments; said targeted assassinations are almost always contrary to the laws of the governments who use them, so are societies justified in using this tool? Everyone has their own POV, and particularly now. Reasonable people can disagree. Spielberg doesn't beat us over the head with an opinion--the film makes no determination of Right vs. Wrong. We see what Black September did at the Munich games, we see what Mossad and Golda Meier might have set in motion. We see how 'the good guys' inevitably use the methods of 'the bad guys' once certain decisions are made, we see some terrible consequences, we see the CIA and Mossad and Palestinian and Arab revolutionary groups and the KGB all double-deal each other. And hopefully, after seeing, we can think more honestly about the sort of things going on in our name. Is killing terrorists good policy or mere revenge?

Munich won't answer the questions raised, but it raises excellent ones for our times. A brave, well-made movie that is also a rather good thriller. Eric Bana is marvelous in the lead role, and Geoffrey Rush again plays an oily Walsingham figure, this time for Mossad.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006



Oona at the Desk asked me to identify an image someone posted on her blog--I said "I think that's Syd Barrett." "Weird," she mused. "Why would my friend send me that?"

Then I sat down and saw over at Seth's that Syd had passed away at age 60.

One of Cha's favorite songs is Effervescing Elephant, which I taped off a double LP set I have of Madcaps Laughs and Barrett when we first started dating. I think Dave Gilmour played all the instruments on those albums.

Shine on...

Monday, July 10, 2006


This is not the first Dick I've enjoyed (oh, don't even); seemed a timely read what with the flick forthcoming.

Two fun things to know about Philip K.:

A His religious experience (illustrated by R. Crumb)

B His robot head was stolen out of checked luggage

Typically Dick's books shred what we view as 'reality,' and alternate modes of perception and memory and time and consciousness seep in at the seams. A Scanner Darkly ingeniuosly continues this mind-fuck tradition. Officer Fred is a narc out to bust illegal drug runners and users. He's infiltrated the burn-out community posing as a user named Bob Arctor, and is working his way up toward big suppliers. But using too much Substance D has begun to zap his cranium in astonishing ways, and when his boss asks him to start surveiling his own alter-ego, things get haywire. My favorite bits are those featuring druggies talking bullshit. I love druggies talking bullshit, especially when Phil Dick is doing the imagining. Some of his rants are worthy of Stanley Elkin.


Setting a comic film in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia might seem odd, but the novel was written by Bohumil Hrabal, whose works often wrench a bittersweet appreciation of life out of awful circumstances. The film Closely Watched Trains captures Hrabal's spirit with fun cinema tricks like incongruous music (an example: the SS capture our hero for interrogation, and instead of the stereotypical Nazi flick set-up a cheerful waltz plays and the camera lingers lovingly over beautiful scenic vistas). There are also numerous visual puns.

Milos becomes a trainee guard at a remote local station where there's little to do. His great desire in life is to lose his virginity, but despite the fact adorable Masa is practically giving it away, Milos fails again and again. Meanwhile his older co-worker lays everyone in sight, and even German patrols get lucky when they come through town. Milos despairs of success and is diagnosed as suffering from "premature ejaculation." He sets out on a dual quest to find an older woman to teach him the arts of love and to become active in the Czech resistance. A funny, touching, and surprisingly erotic film.

Renoir's Grand Illusion skewered upper-crust attitudes about chivalry and nobility during WWI. Les règles du jeu attacks social conventions of the French upper class, including its moral hypocrisies, its 'discretion,' its appetites. At times as crazy and uninhibited and silly-smart as a Marx Brothers classic (with superior direction), this comedy takes surprisingly tragic turns.


The Mrs. is away at College Park for her annual two-week teacher arts integration workshop. They have a contingent of Italians along for the ride who I'm sure are gleeful over yesterday's match, which left a bad taste in my mouth (I'm looking at you, Zizou). Zidane's foul wasn't entirely to blame--I'm not satisfied by the penalty kick finish.

I did this weekend what I usually do when Cha leaves: I drank great quantities of beer and wine. Now I'm at work and it's Monday and I'm bored. I don't hear from my boss (outside of the lavish praise during my performance review) for weeks on end--today I found two fussy, scolding handwritten notes on my chair from her.

Pourquoi, Zidane?

Friday, July 07, 2006

You give me fever

Some medical advice we can't help but ignore:

Professor Norbert Bachl warned couples to refrain from sex if the thermometer topped 30 degrees Centigrade.

And he appealed to those who could not resist to make love "calmly".


The Axial Age (approx. 900-200 BC) saw the development of the major modern religions (the two biggest faiths of course grew later out of Axial Judaism). In The Great Transformation, Karen Armstrong explores the evolution of these religious systems in their cultural and historical contexts. Each chapter moves between Israel, India, China, and Greece, examining the varities of religious expression, the foci of ritual behavior, and the societal turmoil out of which mythic traditions sprang. This is by no means a beach read, but Armstrong is clear and writes elegantly and presents an enormous amount of material in easily digestible chunks. Definitely worth the time. Perhaps I'll check out her others.

I had to run up to B&N today to get some more books. What a shit-hole. Half the titles are mis-shelved by title instead of author.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Sometimes I'm reluctant to read universally praised novels. I'm not sure why--perhaps I fear disappointment, or being exposed as conventional in taste and opinion. Either way it's a disgustingly elitist attitude, and in the case of The Handmaid's Tale I delayed an enormous pleasure far too long for no good reason.

This book fucking rocks, and is easily a match for similar works by Huxley, Orwell, Bradbury. I couldn't put the damn thing down, and was consumed by a deliciously rare combination of dread and fascination; dread at the all-too-possible potentialities, and fascination at Atwood's skillful weaving of a terrifying future that's unfortunately not unimaginable. Magnificent!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Vive Les Bleus!

Yes, we were denied the hoped-for France v. Germany final; imagine the competing dramas of a host country in the Cup Final facing Zidane in his last match! Not to be, however, but I don't regret the Italians v. France a bit. Italy played a magnificent match to knock the Germans out, and France beat Portugal and their petulant cry-baby Cristiane Ronaldo, whose only skill seems to be flopping around in the box like a dying fish to get fake penalty kicks.* Sunday will be an excellent rematch of the 2000 European Championship, which I watched in a pub on the West Coast of Ireland. I like both teams but will be pulling for Zidane and Les Bleus.

*By this exaggerated slur I don't intend to suggest that Portugal played poorly. They dominated much of the second half, failing by centimeters and split seconds to capitalize on a half-dozen exciting chances at goal.


There's a broken water main under Towson, with water leaking at four major intersections around our house. As I read Less Than Zero there was the continuous whoosh of water splashing around inside the walls. Occasionally the whooshing was replaced by choking, gurgling moans.

While reading I thought of borderline behavior in my own life, and of times when friends fell. I remembered buying liquor from Julio and Malph in the woods along Paper Mill Road. They'd broken into a tractor trailer behind a booze warehouse and transferred crates of stuff to a forest hidey hole. They tripped on acid and sold the stash off to local teens. I remembered waking up Christmas morning in '93 underneath the coffee table in our shithole Loch Raven apartment. My friend Roach was there with her shirt off and puke in her hair. Hell had no pants on and she was curled up next to Burnt. The following week we had a major blow-out party and someone put a Jello shooter in the VCR. A tree was broken out front and carried into the living room, a sort of testament to inebriation. I thought of driving back from Temple U in the middle of the night to surprise Cha and finding one of her roommates and four other men wrestling on a vinyl shower curtain covered in baby oil. There was a filthy appendage the size of Mike Tyson's forearm suction-cupped to my coffee table. I thought of The Hulk carrying a pan of his own puke outside to dump and slipping in the mud, splashing the contents all over himself. I thought of Sluggo in jail, Julio and the twins and I arrested at Oregon Ridge. I thought of climbing up atop a narrow wall along a deep culvert in Vegas while Longshanks and Eric Awesome tried to coax me down. I thought of L'il Mikey drinking himself diabetic, then drinking himself blind, then drinking himself dead. His brother meanwhile drank himself out of a full ride to Peabody and into a plumbing warehouse job. I thought of Duck with that fantastic mathematic mind achieving a couple levels of actuarial expertise before plunging into a crack and E-induced freefall. I thought of smoking dope and drinking bourbon on the roof of Hunt Valley Mall with its I.M. Pei pyramid windows like some glass Giza. Evil Twin and I were supposed to be working at the time. I thought of my father, drunk daily and sitting on a bench in front of the Y in York, PA. I remembered Mr. Traveling Jones at the beach using a plastic shovel I found in the sand to dig a hole to puke in. I thought of Today's Ben Sawyer, whom I saw for the first time in a couple years Saturday, asking me for change for the parking meter, a front tooth missing, drinking 12 bloody marys in two hours.

Less Than Zero agitates because I recognized all of its characters. No, I've never been a rich LA brat, nor have I associated with such people. But I know many folk who have had close calls, who have skirted the border, who've nearly lost it, and have wondered at times how close I've been. I know that tendency is in my genes. Ellis made me physically uncomfortable. Any time a book is that immediate it's gotta be good. It's also funny, but only in that laughter-as-defense kind of way.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Happy July 4th!

We had a busy weekend with lots of family and friends. Busy but fun (at least for me). Stupidly, the Liberry is open today and I'm here completely alone near closing time. No patrons in sight since 6pm.

Tomorrow I'm planning to watch Germany v. Portugal with a bottle of wine (or two). Yahtzee's coming over, and perhaps Old Brassy will drop by.

I note we've passed the midpoint of the year and I'm stalled at 47 books. Never fear, dear readers--I have five substantially started, and brief blurbs shall be forthcoming soon. I blame World Cup and moving the in-laws for the delay.

Have a happy and safe Fourth.


The Mrs. was happy when after seven years we finally found a dentist's office who would accept our insurance for more than two consecutive months.

She's not smiling any more, after a double whammy wisdom tooth extraction. Things aren't all bad, at least.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Hulk's Wedding


Caché is wonderfully creepy and quietly political. A successful French couple are terrorized by extended videotapes of their home left anonymously on the front porch. These tapes are eventually accompanied by cryptic drawings done in a childish style and featuring bloody mouths and necks. What does it all mean? Danny Auteuil as George must confront long-repressed childhood material in director Michael Haneke's exploration of individual and societal guilt. What is uncovered in George's personal life has larger significance in conjunction with France's ambiguous relationship to its own bloody imperial past. Auteuil is a treasure, and Juliette Binoche is still HOT. Haneke makes us wonder continuously if we're watching the film-in-itself or the stalker's films-within-the-film. Pay close attention to the ending shot. One might easily miss what transpires on the lower-left of the screen.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Ring of Fire

From the Travel Channel I learned that hot-food masochists in the know will ask at Thai restaurants for "Thai hot" when ordering. This prevents the waiter from saying "ok" when you ask for very spicy and giving you the standard dish with an extra sprinkle of chilis, an annoyance I encounter at every Thai or Indian joint until they get to know me.

Last night at Thai One On I asked the guy to make my drunken noodles 'Thai hot,' and he told me a cautionary tale about a pepper collector who spent two days on the john. That didn't dissuade me, and my noodles were exquisitely painful to down. I actually had the hiccoughs initially, and drained two Tsinghas and four glasses of water during dinner.

Now we're off to The Hulk's wedding. I hope I can maintain.