31 July 2005

Further Proof Art Will Save Us All:

Free museum admission for the naked!

29 July 2005

All Hopes Dashed

All of that warming, touchy-feely, hope-for-humanity bullshit I was on about yesterday? Yeah, it all evaporated and dried up as soon as I read this article about the current state of international diplomacy...as drama camp. In the words of Bill Hicks, We are a virus with shoes. Nothing more...

28 July 2005

Grounded

NASA announced yesterday that it would be suspending all future shuttle flights until it can fix the recurring problem of chunks of the fuel tank falling off and damaging the shuttles' heat-shield tiles, which, as you've all heard and read and therefore already know, is what caused Columbia's re-entry 'problem' a couple of years ago.

This makes me really sad. The fact that we (we humans, not we Americans) have been hurling people and massive hunks of metal and electronics into space with some frequency for the past fifty years or so (only two years until Sputnik's fiftieth anniversary!) and then getting them back down here more or less intact is one of the things that allows me some glimmer of optimism in life. It was thought to be an impossible task. We did it. With ease, essentially, we did it. Over and over again. Somehwere, at some point in the last fifty years, NASA's space shuttle's white nose-cone and penguin-winged shape became emblamatic of that very venture. And that may be no more.

We all had that moment during our childhood, lying in some grass or on a roof somewhere, when we looked up at the sky on a clear summer night and for the first time took in the giant expanse and let our imaginations bounce around in the ether until, from somewhere we hadn't ever known was even inside us before then, up bubbled the question What If? The shuttle program has always led me to believe that the other side of What If? was only a matter of time in the making. Even when, sitting in a fourth grade classroom, I watched the Challenger explode, I calmed my fears and confusion by believing that we'd simply rebuild and go back up there. I thought the same thing after Columbia. I'm thinking it now, too, but for some reason, with the information I've been reading and hearing from friends in the aerospace community (yes, oddly enough, the flaky poet has smart engineering friends...), that the shuttle program as we know it may be past due for a scrap pile anyway, it's a little less sure a voice in my head.

I realize this is just one program in one country, that innovation is what got us into space and onto the shuttle program in the first place, and that China and Russia's space programs are still (sort of) going strong or will be soon and that the EU is upping their stake in space as well, but still, it hurts. Right here it hurts. You know where I'm pointing.

27 July 2005

Alone at the Movies...

There are certain rules one must adhere to when attending movies by one's self. For starters, no romantic comedies during the day. At least for the men. And as I'm a man and I'm the one writing these rules, that one gets top billing. Don't get me wrong, I love me some romantic comedies--When Harry Met Sally is, proudly, one of my favorite movies. I can very likely still recite its dialogue in its entirety and in order. And Notting Hill is a movie I often turn to on hungover Sunday mornings for a bit of comfort. And don't get me started on St. Elmo's Fire. I have nothing against the romantic comedy. But seeing a romantic comedy alone in the middle of the day is, well, just creepy. You're surrounded either by retired people, usually coupled or in sets of polyester-clad women, or there's a smattering of younger women, also usually in sets with other women (often, but not always, with less polyester). Both of those groups merely look upon the Solo Man at the Romantic Comedy Matinee (SMATRCM) with false, forced sympathy. And that just ruins the experience and makes one a bit self-conscious. The other problem with the Romantic Comedy is the few straggler straight couples there for the cheap matinee-priced date. The men of this group do not look favorably upon the SMATRCM. I've never shared a favorable eyebrow waggle with one of these men, and that's enough to say definitively that there is no love in their hearts for the SMATRCM.

Solo midday movies can also not be straight-ahead, big laughs comedies. It's just hard to get all worked up and giddy when you're shirking responsibility and life in general by ducking into a theatre just after lunch for a bit of escapism. I mean, guilt can ruin a good time faster than a wet fart. That may only apply to those recovering-Catholics among us, but I don't think so. I saw Napoleon Dynamite for the first time by myself last June at a 1:00 Saturday afternoon show at the Avon on Thayer Street in Providence. There were maybe ten people at the show. Though I was dumbfounded at how funny the movie was, I was merely left to sit smiling in my seat and think My god, this is fucking hilarious. I laughed out loud maybe twice. Instead I just looked around wondering if the other nine people were equally impressed by the wonder on-screen. I would have liked to have laughed. But the solo laugh-fest is best done under the cover of night. Trust me.

No, mid-day movies are for big, awful action movies. The sort of thing where if there's not an explosion or other violence followed immediately by a witty retort at least every two minutes, you begin to feel cheated.

And so, with that in mind, I flopped down my $6 on Monday afternoon and asked the high school aged part-timer for a ticket to The Island, please and thank you.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, But Michael Bay directed that. He's constantly being accused of making high-brow films, films too muddled in their own intellectual labyrinths to ever allow an audience in, films critics describe as 'obtuse' and 'masturbatory' and 'relying a bit to heavily on obscure French and German theorists.' How can he have made an action movie suitable for midday solo viewing? I know, I know. The man who brought us such intellectual classics as Armageddon, The Rock, Bad Boys I & II and that wonderfully balanced, hugely controversial political satire Pearl Harbor, he couldn't possibly do for a Monday matinee. I mean, shit, he's slated to direct the upcoming Transformers live-action movie! Well, somehow, through some miracle of computer animation and lobotomy, The Island is all a solo matinee should be.

For starters, it's beautiful. At least the half of it that I saw. Damn near everything is white--walls, outfits, shoes, floors, furniture, &c.--and the construction of many shots are thoughtfully arranged around one single piece of color--a bowl of granny smith apples, a television screen, blood, &c.--so as to highlight the contrast. The set-up shot for the scene toward the beginning where Ewan McGregor's character visits his 'doctor' is jaw-droppingly beautiful. There's also Scarlett Johansson and Mr. McGregor to up the beauty ante a bit, although that's countered heavily by the appearance of Steve Buscemi, but that's a bit beside the point. And besides, he's always funnier than everyone around him on screen. In every film he's ever been in. Ever. Always. But I digress...

The fun really starts to get going, though, when we realize that this movie blatantly and without any pretense of irony or shame steals from other, better movies. Great, right? First, the characters are all clones of other people. Immediately we get a Blade Runner sort of vibe. When our hero and heroine escape the cloning facility and the bounty hunters head after them, though, that's when the real Blade Runner pilfering kicks in. Before that, though, there's a nice mix of The Matrix (the set design for the cloning rooms is so close to the human crops in The Matrix that I actually found myself looking for Neo), George Lucas' THX 1138 (the shot when Ewan and Scarlett Jo finally pop up into the desert is almost frame-for-frame the same shot as the final scene of THX 1138; so similar, in fact, that I laughed out loud), and, in the largest and most obvious doses, the classic Logan's Run. The echoes of that movie are so great and so varied that it's easiest for me to just say rent Logan's Run, watch it, then go see The Island and figure it out for yourself.

So I'm enjoying it. I'm sitting in my squishy chair in the air-conditioned cavern of a theatre enjoying myself full-hog. Things are blowing up on screen, GM concept cars are flying all over the place, Scarlett Jo is getting drunk and being hit on by bikers--everything I could ever want from a shitty movie. Then the fucking fire alarm goes off and next thing I know, I'm standing in the parking lot with a hundred other people, sweating under mid-day sun and wondering where the fuck the fire engines are.

So I only saw half a movie. But I got a free movie out of it. Well, not free, but I got to go to another movie.

That brings us to last night. Night has a different set of rules. One can pretty much choose anything from the movie-going buffet for a solo night-time viewing. You can freely laugh at comedies, you can cry at dramas, be scared shitless and jump out of your seat at the latest Rob Zombie movie (anyone want to join me for The Devil's Rejects this weekend?). You can even go see a romantic comedy in safety. Why? I don't know. I don't know why these things are true, they just are. I've simply been going to movies alone for a long time and I have noticed a few things. The people at night are more forgiving, less judgmental of their surroundings. And there are no pitying looks from the Bridge Club or their hobbled hubbies either, as they're all in bed watching the late local news broadcast. So, movie freedom for the solo movie patron.

I went with The Wedding Crashers last night, as that's just bound to be funny and I'm a sucker for the surprise Will Ferrell cameo. And it was funny. Very, very funny. So funny that one of the women in front of me turned to one of the other women she was with and said My fucking mascara's running down my face already because I'm laughing so hard. That was twenty minutes into the movie. Essentially, if you're a fan of Vince Vaughn doing the thing Vince Vaughn does best, the rapid-fire, mostly-offensive-but-somehow-masking-it monologue, then this movie will slay you. And the Will Ferrell cameo paid off as well. Oh, and Owen Wilson's crooked nose gets some good screen time as well. So that's nice. But funny? Sure, The Wedding Crashers is fucking hilarious. And I freely laughed out loud to my heart's content. I giggled. I think I maybe even snorted once or twice on accident while trying to stifle some heartier laughter. It's that funny.

The best part of the movie though, more surprising and more fulfilling for me, were the closing credits. Well, the song over the closing credits. The Weakerthans. A song off of their middle album. One of my favorite songs. By one of my favorite bands. The song with the line "In love with love and lousy poetry," a line I'm certain at some point will either grace my body in permanent ink or be directed via my will as a headstone inscription. Inexplicably, this song played over the closing credits. And it caused me to break the last of my solo movie rules: Leave early. Not before the movie ends early, but don't linger over the credits just to figure out who was covering that Smiths song in the bar scene or to see which other movie-goer will be the one to ask Just what does a Best Boy do anyway? The longer you linger the more people stare and those pitying and judgmental looks come flying back out. But last night I stayed until the end of the song. And as the theatre was clear fairly quickly, I even sang along. Quietly, but out loud. Then I got up and left, got into my car, pulled up some other Weakerthans on the ipod, and drove to the grocery store for some late-night shopping, another of my solo loves. But this has gone on long enough and that's, well, another essay.

25 July 2005

Why I Love Smart People (& Weirdos)

A conversation had today over email with my archaeologist wife in response to this article:

Me: My favorite thing about this is that it was used for flint napping.
That's just awesome. Imagine whacking a stone cock against a rock all afternoon to make something else. Oh, and that it was used as a dildo, too. That's pretty great as well, obviously.

Her: One of the very smart people here at Geek Camp actually said, "Well, it really does look like a dildo." You might imagine that I got out my Teacher Voice and said, "Using our cultural logic is not really an appropriate way to make inferences about the past," or something equally annoying. But I said it in a nice teacher way! Anyways, he doesn't hate me.

Me: Huh? I don't get it.

Her: His defense of the conclusion that the object is/was a dildo was to say that "it really looks like a dildo," which basically means that whatever makes sense to us today must also be culturally relevant thousands of years ago, too--i.e. the logic that a bowl looks like a bowl looks like a bowl...or a knife looks like a knife looks like a knife.

Me: Oh, I didn't realize he was saying it must have been a dildo because it looks like a dildo. I thought he was just saying it looks like a dildo. Which, of course, it does. And which therefore would have been an astute, if obvious, observation and would not have warranted any retort, in Teacher Voice or otherwise. You can see my confusion, no?

Her: No, I got your confusion...I can be very confusing and jargon-y when I get excited about archy-related things. But you get my point now, right?

Me: Indeed I do. Like an Ice Age dildo to the head, I get your point.

22 July 2005

Your Day with Frank

You think nothing about returning his phone call. You are, afterall, trying to sell your house and his message sounds genuinely interested. You call, he answers. You think it a bit odd when he yells at you to speak up, damn it!, but he sounds kind of old, so you let it slide. He'll be coming around tomorrow morning at 9:00 he tells you. There was no question mark at the end of his sentence.

You clean furiously until 2:00/2:30 that night, helplessly attempting to make that clicking noise in your head go away by scrubbing the underside of the bathtub's lip one more time. Then you treat yourself to some reading for an hour or so though you know better. Before getting in bed, you set the alarm for 7:00, as you figure you'll want that extra couple hours to clean whatever mess arises in the next few hours or whatever surfaces you might have missed.

He shows up a little after 9:00. You watch as he pulls up in front of the house, looks at the front yard with a slight smirk, then wheels around the corner into the alley at an alarming speed, almost taking out the neighbor's hedges. He parks dangerously close and perpendicular to your car in the driveway. You think Huh and go out to greet him.

He doesn't acknowledge you as he walks back around to the front. You meet him at the front door. He sticks a meaty hand at your stomach and says Frank while staring at a spot beneath the front windows, maybe, you think, at the peeling paint. You forget to introduce yourself as you frantically wonder if you should repaint the house this weekend. By the time you're done imagining the trip to Lowe's, the little white painter's hat, the ladders, Frank's behind you in the house, putting a match up to a window pane.

You see two flames, it's insulated. You only see one, that's some fucking bullshit Mickey Mouse cold fuckers of a window.

You say Right... and stand still, wondering what is about to happen.

Frank marches off into the dining room, not bothering for your lead. He stops in the center of the room, does a slow 360 degree turn, and marches into the hallway, the bathroom, and the bedrooms, turning on lights as he goes. You are left trying to catch up, shouting useless information behind him--Sorry about the office, there are just too many books. Both bedrooms have the same closet space. Yeah, that is a nice bathtub, thanks. No, it's my toothbrush, why?

Frank has yet to make eye-contact with you but has said fuck in some form about thirty times. He has been in your house all of three minutes.

Well, he says, looking into the backyard at the barking dogs, let's see the fucking basement then.

You open the basement door and let Frank take the lead. He stops on the second step, turns his head back over his left shoulder. You're fucking doing laundry? Where's your whore? Then he laughs, his eyes bulging out and his mouth making a perfect O. His laugh sounds like Ernie from Sesame Street, full of air and no real noise save a clicking, forced air sound. You think, He is the crazy, evil version of Ernie, look over at the Ernie cookie jar on the hutch and wince.

What's that fucking furnace, a hundred years old? Fucking gas bullshit. Just supporting the sand niggers with that shit. All my properties are full electric. He finally makes solid eye contact, leans in to you close, and speaks slowly. Full E-lec-tric. Then he heads out the basement door into the back. You stand still again, wondering if you could punch a 65 year old man without feeling guilty.

He screams Little mother fuckers! at your barking dogs. They stop their noise almost immediately. You think Don't encourage him, you're supposed to be on my side.

You find yourself standing with him by the back gate, looking at your house. You slide your phone out of your pocket to sneak a look at the time while he talks about money. It is 9:14. You slept for three and a half hours last night. The man standing next to you, you realize, just said something that sounded like She sold her little cunts to me for 300 a head. My daughters I mean. You turn quick to face him again.

Wait, what?

Yeah, he says, the fucking whore owed me $600 and couldn't pay up. I told her the only thing she had worth anything for collateral was her little cunts, so I'd be back for them in a year if she didn't pay up. Went back in a year and she just fucking handed the little whores to me. He mimes picking up a little kid under her arms and handing her to you. They were five and three then, I guess.

You are dumbstruck. You are smiling weakly, against yourself. The noise in your head sounds something like a building exploding, but you're too confused to classify it. Finally, your voice comes back.

You bought your daughters? Your voice, though back, is weak and a bit scratchy.

Ah, their whore mother was fucking useless, their father was a drunk, and I have more money than is good. They were better off.

You think to say With you? but don't. You look again at the house, trying to hide what you're sure is a look of disgust on your face. Or a look of something that says, No, I don't think they were better off.

He is talking again and laughing in that evil Ernie way. There are times you think his eyes might pop out of his head or that he is having a heart attack. You learn that ain't nobody mess with Mama. She fucking loves her fucking kids. Is fucking protective as fuck about her kids. You learn that Frank had a brain aneurysm a few years ago and was told he wouldn't live and if he did, he'd be paralyzed at best. And that the doctors left some things in his head they weren't supposed to and had to go in the next day to retrieve, but that he won't sue the fuckers because they said they was wrong and never said differently and when you go to court ain't nobody wins but the two fucking Heb lawyers. You learn about his plan to get us off of sand nigger fuel by converting solar power at a higher return rate, that cars are the most inefficient fuckers on the planet, of his plan to steal his oldest daughter's own daughter from her yet, that she got pregnant at fifteen, that her younger sister is engaged now because she wants some bastards of her own, too. But her fucking stud is a moron and ain't nothing gonna change that. Can't even get a job, that fucking mother fucker. You learn that he went to IU after being in Vietnam and graduated with a business degree in under two years. You figure you'd guessed his age wrong. You learn that he can gage IQs just from talking to someone. A cunt's IQ, on average, is around 90. A man's about 100. I can tell, as you've got a house here and a graduate degree and all that, and because you've let me talk and haven't interrupted too much, that you're above average. He lowballs your IQ at 110 or thereabouts. You relive those fantasies of you-on-Frank violence.

You remember, at some point, Scott Smith taking you and Brian Schneider aside at the bus stop in kindergarten and teaching you to swear. You figure you swear more than the average person. You've been told as much. You realize Frank swears more than anyone you've ever met, more than the other Vets in the psych ward with your uncle, more than any hockey player you've ever seen rolling around the ice injured, more than your pro-boxer, Airborne Ranger grandfather did. You know you don't swear like him and feel relieved. You realize, too, you've been half-smiling for well over an hour and your face hurts. You have been steadily chanting leave in your head as you've stood there in the sun with Frank. Your phone now says 10:42. Frank needs to leave.

Only one I had trouble with was the faggot writing teachers.

The faggot writing teachers? you ask.

All of them writers are butt pirates and cocksuckers. All of 'em. I mean, I could write a dramatically correct sentence perfectly, just didn't have style. I had the drama down perfect--noun, verb, object, got it--but those cocksuckers wanted some fucking style. Well, that ain't my style. I'm a talker, not a faggot writer.

Your smile grows a little wider. When, somehow, he gets to talking about those mother fucking niggers you find yourself inexplicably saying, My mother's black. Frank looks at you, confused. You say, feeling the weight of two hour's-worth of racism and homophobia and sexism piling down on you, My father remarried. Just watch it, all right?

Frank smiles for a bit, does another of his evil Ernie laugh explosions. No, I ain't got nothing against black people. I got black friends. My brother married a black cunt, got half-black kids. No, I ain't got nothing against blacks. It's niggers I hate. You think he's going into a Chris Rock skit, confused. Anyone who is lazy, won't work, hurts and disrespects their family--they're niggers. Don't matter if they're black, white, purple or green. Niggers.

He moves back into actually talking about the house. He says I can't make it play at this price. Can't make it play. Three bedrooms, maybe. But not two. Won't play.

You say Right, right. Okay. You think Leave now. Leave now. Leave now. Leave now. Get out of my yard. Leave now.

He tells you again about Mama, his cunt daughters and their asshole, idiot studs.

When he mentions class in passing you latch on to it. Speaking of class, you say, I have a class to get to at a little after noon.

Frank looks at his watch. Fuck, I've been running my mouth for two and a half hours. Fuck. Well, I been doing two things at once, I can do that. I been thinking about the money on this house while I been yappin and I still just don't think it's gonna play.

Okay, you mumble, again thinking Leave, leave, leave, leave...

Finally, somehow, he is shaking your hand goodbye, he is in his car driving away, you are in your house on the couch in the living room, moaning softly.

The day is ruined along with your spirits. You are tired but can't sleep. You lay yourself down on the floor and continue moaning as the dogs lick your ears. After an hour, you get up, leave the house, find a computer on campus and try to write. It doesn't go well. You are thinking as you type, All of them writers are faggots and getting mad. You could have opened your mouth a bit more, you think. You could have told him to leave, to shut the fuck up, to fuck off and die somewhere else.

You leave campus after a few fruitless hours. You go to a pizza place and order breadsticks, as the plain, doughy taste of them is all you can imagine putting in your mouth just then. You take the breadsticks home, share them with the dogs. You spend a few hours flipping aimlessly through the television dial, stopping at nothing. You shut off the television, pick up a book and head to bed. You read twenty pages of Steven Millhauser's The King in the Tree then put it down. You pick up A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes, hoping it was merely the subject matter and not still Frank that ruined the experience for you. You only got through twenty pages or so of that, as well, before putting it too back down. You pick up Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate but don't even open it, knowing that reading is not going to happen and that a novel in sonnets is probably not going to remedy that. You turn on the television in your bedroom. The dogs are sleeping beside you, both quietly snoring and twitching through dreams.

And there on the screen is Dave Letterman holding two CD's you recognize. He says Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis Costello and the Imposters and Emmylou Harris. The camera moves over to find them standing in a blue light. Someone counts off one-two... and then a very familiar song begins. You say No shit and sit up a bit in bed. Sure enough, after a few seconds, Elvis begins to sing Love hurts, love scars, love wounds and mars... Emmylou's voice floats above his beautifully. You say aloud again, Oh fuck, Gram then remain silent for the rest of the song.

When it ends, you turn off the television, roll over, ready to sleep for twelve hours. You know that when you wake up you'll be humming "Love Hurts," not thinking at all about Frank and his horrific stories. You say Thank you, Mr. Letterman into the darkness and begin drifting off.

19 July 2005

Confession(s)


I stayed up until 5:00 o'clock last night. I finished the new Harry Potter joint a few hours beforehand but was so emotionally wasted that I couldn't sleep. So I watched Hackers on Showtime. And I liked it. Sort of.

I think J.K. Rowling must be a witch herself, first making me cry then I like this shit movie...

18 July 2005

Accenting the Accent

Last night, at some point during my Sunday night Six Feet Under / Entourage fix, I came across the infuriating commercial for the new HBO series, Rome. Why, you might ask, would I find a commercial for a series that has yet to begun infuriating? Well, for the same reason I was confused and irritated with Hunt for Red October the first time I saw it. For the same simple reason I find most films in English set in places where English is not spoken infuriating.

Rome is set in 52 BC in, well, Rome. The people in Rome in 52 BC would have been speaking Latin, as modern Italian wasn't really up to snuff by then. They would not, as they are in the commercial (and, as I have sagely deduced, will in the actual show) be speaking with posh British accents!

Why oh why? Why do we need to hear American actors performing roles about Latin-speaking dead folk as though they were each a Shakespearean creation? Well, for the same reason, I suspect, we need to hear American actors playing Russian naval officers speaking English in Russian accents (with the sole exception of Mr. Sean Connery, who inexplicably goes about in his usual Bond-ian Scottish drawl). Hunt for Red October actually gives us, the befuddled audience, a nod toward the end of the movie and makes it clear that the scenes on the Russian sub had been translated for us through the magic of the movie. When the American naval team boards the Red October, there's a moment when the Russians are speaking Russian and the Americans are speaking English. We are saved, eventually, by the genius of Alec Baldwin, but not before it is made clear to us that we were being catered to by the filmmakers. For our sake the rascally Ruskies spoke English, as though a fog of translation hung between us, the audience, and them, the Russian submarine folk. So why the fucking accent?

I cannot sit through a movie comfortably that contains some form of this, what I came to call years ago The Accent Dilemma. It ruins movies for me. Completely. Ruins. Them. It's awful. There are southerners I know who have trouble watching movies set in the south or with supposedly authentic southern characters because they all speak as though they were pre-Civil War aristocrats (or like Foghorn Leghorn; one or the other), dropping Rs and filling the long vowels with enough air to have sustained the Red October on its entire trip across the Atlantic. It ruins the familiarity we want in a film or a television show. It presents to us a world that is trying so damn hard to look and sound like ours but fails more grievously as a result of that same effort. I don't want Julia Roberts miming Scarlett O'Hara in Steel Magnolias anymore than I want Russian accents in the English of Red October. Julia Roberts grew up near Atlanta--she should know better. The Red October folk should just plain know better.

I fear that, like most minor blunders of the world to which I take offense, I am alone in my grievences. I have been told the accented English of non-English speakers in movies makes these movies more realistic. In being so grievously unrealistic, we are lulled into 'believing.' Or it's a way of marking differences between sides or characters. Honestly, I'm certain I could have remembered who was who between the American and Russian sailors without the accents. And I'm damn certain I would remember that the characters in Rome are in ancient Rome. They're wearing togas and body armor, after all. Plus, they have names like Gaius Julius Caesar and Titus Pullo. I can figure this out. I swear I can.

Of course, my being so adamant in this may have something to do with my own history with accents. I was raised in Rhode Island, the Biggest Little State in the Union, sure, but also the one with the weirdest collection of accents. My father's speech best resembles the most dominant of the RI accent. It is something of a cross between the Brooklyn accent of WWII movies and the hyperbolic Boston accent imitation of Mayor Quimby on The Simpsons. My last name ends in -er. I have never--NEVER--heard my father say it as such. It is instead replaced by a quick, percussive -uh. ManCHESTuh, with the stress falling on the middle syllable and the -uh just sort of falling off into his chest.

My mother, on the other hand, has been trying to fight against this her entire life. She was raised in a bilingual household (English and Sicilian) in a neighborhood of Sicilians, Irish, and Jewish immigrants. She hated being Italian. She would tell anyone who asked that she was French. (Her maiden name is Paola. Incredibly French-sounding, right?) She attempted to differentiate herself through her accent, which is nothing like my father's or any of her five siblings'. It is weirder, to say the least. My mother's accent runs against the dominant accent. Where my father would say Manchestuh, dropping the -er sound, move stresses around, and let all words sort of slide around on his tongue as though they all have the same weight, my mother adds -er sounds to words that just plain shouldn't have them (idea = ideer; diploma = diplomer; etc) while still dropping -er in the middle of words (underwear = undaweeer). She also simply pronounces words incorrectly on a regular basis, adds stresses to the wrong syllable, peppers her diction with words well above the working vocabulary that somehow don't quite seem to fit in, and generally makes a rather amusing mess of her speech. (Amusing in the best way; it's brilliantly fun to listen to mother get all worked up about something. We laugh with her, I swear.) She also has a mouth like, well, like most of my friends, people who feel more comfortable saying things like Fuck you, you fucking fuck! than anything more refined.

This made for a very confusing childhood, to say the least, and landed me a few years time in speech therapy classes in elementary school (well, this plus the rampant and aggressive thumb-sucking campaign I sustained until 4th grade). By the time I was 9 or 10, however, I pretty much had no accent at all. I had/have what my sister has referred to as The Starbucks Accent: the vanilla, regional-free, flat manner of speech that has spread across the country in the last couple of decades like the coffee giant.

I can no longer even do a good impression of my father's accent, unless thoroughly drunk or thoroughly tired, when I just slip into it unconsciously. Even now, however, I have to think about how to say certain words that should really just roll right out of my mouth. It is one of the reasons I speak so annoyingly slow, full of stops and starts, uhmms and stutters. I'm mentally forming the word against the one in my head that is stamped correct.

17 July 2005

My New Favorite Word is Fuck!

my new favorite word is fuck

Today marks the end of Tremendous Fucking Week here in Bloomington, with the Tremfu boys having finished up their seven day sprint through the various noise dens of our fair city. As I have again reclaimed my title of Hermit the Asshole, I can only vouch for Friday night's Second Story show, during which I had my ass handed to me. Multiple times. The rest of the week, I'm sure, was more of the same. And the new cd kicks its own brand of ass, as well. So go and take a look and buy their goodies here. Just fucking do it! Fuck!


professor patch

14 July 2005

From the Vaults...

Talking about hair reminded me of this, circa 2003:

There was always the obvious dose of Indiana farm-boy innocence in his off-topic comments in class. He never saw anything wrong in saying that such-and-such was furthering the left-wing liberal sexual revolution without providing any support (or explanation of his terms). The claim always spoke for itself. The proof was self-evident. The other students actually laughed at him when he spoke—slow and deliberate and full of unnecessary words. It was a laughter I could never damper.

But he was sweet. Sweet in the sort of way my grandfather’s blind hatred of Bell Atlantic was sort of sweet or the way my other grandfather doesn’t trust any meal not involving beef. Naïve and anachronistic. A throw-back. Classic in the worst sense.

Which is why our conversation was so unnerving. Or, at least, troubling.

He had told me earlier in the semester that he was to be deployed at the end of April, a few weeks before the actual end of the semester, but was trying for a reprieve. National Guard. He’d keep me informed.

That was before bombings, before war.

It was quiet and we were more or less staring at each other, waiting for the rest of the class. I said, “John, have you heard anything about your deployment?”

“We got the reprieve. I can finish and then catch up to the rest.”

“Afghanistan?”

“South Korea.”

“Right. Sorry.”

A pretty long and awkward silence blossomed in front of us. I was sitting on the edge of a table in the front of an auditorium that seated a hundred comfortably and he was in the fifth row, the only person in the deep plot of seats. I was supposed to be showing the class a film, but he’d been the only one to show, the rest of the class already ten minutes overdue.

“What do you think of the war, Dan?”

A question I’d hoped he wouldn’t ask. Not that I didn’t have an answer or that I didn’t relish going on about the subject given half a chance, but, rather, just something I didn’t want to get into with this kid—only 19 and still living out, I assumed, his father’s or his mother’s or some other teachers’ or just someone else’s ideas of the world—who I truly liked, despite—no, mostly because of—his naiveté. I didn’t want to tell him I thought the war unjust and foolish and an obvious late-imperialist move, so on and so forth, all the basic, boring, anti-war bullshit we’ve all heard. I didn’t want to tell him because I liked him and I didn’t want him to go away hating me. Or distrusting me. Going away to Korea, I mean.

I assumed because he was being deployed and because of things he’d said earlier in the year that he probably liked the idea of war, the idea, at least, of this war, bombing a man our President and the media had portrayed as a conniving, genocidal, maniacal fiend who went to bed each night on a seven-story stack of nuclear warheads and vials of smallpox. But I couldn’t think of anything else to say. It seemed grossly hypocritical to lie. So I told him I thought the war was unjust blah blah blah, going into a country without provocation seemed blah blah blah. He nodded. He said he’d figured. I figured he meant my long hair. He probably did. More silence.

Then he said, “It’s gonna get ugly. I mean, my uncle’s in Basra now and he said they’re getting into street fighting, which we’re not trained to deal with. We’re best when it’s open spaces—planes can bomb and then we can shoot who we see, but street fighting’s different. You can’t see them. It’s guerilla-style. Hiding and stuff, and shooting when you can. They train us against any civilian deaths. But you can’t help it when you’re in a street.”

I said, “Yeah,” just taking up space in the conversation.

“That’s not gonna be quick,” he said, “you know? We’ll get in there, maybe not Basra, but Baghdad, for sure, because he’ll be underground with that—what’s that? the Republican Guard?—in the subway system and we’ll get pissed off because we aren’t supposed to fight like that and then we’ll just start bombing. Everything. Just level the fucking city. And then people are gonna die. Civilians, I mean.” He began speaking down to the seat in front of him, his chin tucked into his chest and voice low. “I saw this woman on CNN the other day who lives in Baghdad by one of the governmental buildings and I know she’ll be dead. And she had, like, seven kids. They’ll be dead, too.” He shook his head quick and put his hands up in front of his shoulders, palms out toward me, a pose meant to feign ignorance or exasperation or both. It was a pose I’d perfected in class to mean What do you guys think about this? “What does that have to do with weapons of mass destruction?” he asked. “What does that have to do with Saddam?”

He looked desperate. He looked like he was actually asking me for an answer. An answer I had no idea how to even begin formulating.

Impotence is something rather warm and blushing, a feeling that takes you slowly, like embarrassment or terror.

He was staring hard at me and I was staring hard back. I had nothing to say. I had no answers. I was experiencing the limitations not only of my abilities as a teacher—which were disturbingly palpable in that moment—but also the broader context of my inabilities: my inabilities as an American citizen, as a world citizen, as a befuddled anti-war supporter who hates the singing, dancing, all-too-chipper anti-war movement as much as he hates the bombing of civilians.

I said, “John, I don’t know. I don’t know what that means. And I don’t know how to argue it because it’s gonna happen anyway.”

He said, “I know,” and looked away. He looked hurt, troubled, let down. He shuffled his feet. He readjusted his clothes a few times. He asked, “Do you think we’ll watch the movie?”

“No,” I said, “there doesn’t seem to be much point, just me and you.”

He nodded, got up, said “Goodnight then,” and left.

13 July 2005

On Vanity, Gumby, Bo-Rics, & an Impending Decision

I’ve always been consciously aware of my hair. Yes, that’s a very stupid thing to say—everyone with enough strands to talk about is likely conscious of his or her hair. (Actually, many of those with less are likely even more so.) We know it’s up there, crowding our necks, itching at the backs of our ears. But I’m extremely conscious of it. I’ve proclaimed with certainty when my hair’s grown fractions of an inch, envision its position on my head from the way it digs into my scalp when I wake up in the morning, knowingly and vigorously paw at it during horribly inappropriate moments (playing the disciplinarian in the classroom, sitting over a bowl of soup). It’s not (entirely) driven by vanity; mostly I just like knowing it’s there. And that it’s mine.

Nearly all of the men in my family, on both sides, are sparse on top, so to speak. In truth, so are a number of the women. An early memory of my grandfather shows him sitting in his recliner (most memories involving my mother’s father put him in this recliner) while I stand beside him, running my little hand over the topography of his shiny, tanned head. Better grow yours out long a few times, he said, save the clippings. Then when you look like this they can make a rug from your real hair.

And I’ve done that, minus the clippings doggy bag (who is this they anyway?). Since I was twelve, my hair has been in a constant, more or less regular two-and-a-half year long/short cycle. Twelve was not random. I’d planned for twelve. For some reason, because my parents had provided my older sister with her own phone line at that same age years earlier, I deduced that twelve was the year my parents believed their children responsible. So from about nine on I planned the case I would argue for my hair come my twelfth birthday. Until that point, my mother was adamant about my hair parting on the right and essentially being plastered to the scalp as it stretched off to the left. Think Alfred E. Newman, only black, not red. I leave to your imagination the traumatic events of my childhood associated with this unfortunate hairstyle. They are the thing of cliché and Hollywood coming-of-age stories. You know the troubles my hair brought me.

So, at twelve, I argued for the emancipation of my hair, for the will to tell Vito (the only barber to ever have clipped a hair on my head) that I wanted something different, something more me. I actually said more me: at twelve you believe in that sort of obvious assertion of self-hood. It worked.

The first move was a flat-top, because puberty wasn’t making me awkward looking enough. And because it was as far from my mother’s understanding of what my head should look like as I could imagine. Then I let it grow until high school, cut it in ninth grade and a few times after, grew it out again until leaving for boarding school three years later, grew it out again by the time I graduated, on and on, clipping and growing, waiting for it to fail in growing back.

The longest it has been puts it somewhere just south of my nipples. That was in college. Then I got six (seriously, six) haircuts in about two weeks and was left with little-to-no hair, though not shaved bare. This is the period my wife refers to as your best hair. A couple of years later, by the time I graduated from college, I was shaving my head again, clippers poised just so as I stood naked in the middle of the kitchen every five days or so.

When I moved here to the midwest, I was still shaving my head. But that only lasted a few weeks, then I figured—as unemployment has a way of convincing us of moves we might otherwise not make—that it was a good time to grow back the mop. Months went by and I began having hair again. The problem with growing one’s hair back from the scalp-bared brink is that at a certain point what I call Tennis Ball Stage creeps in. This is the point when the head looks like a dandelion gone to seed. Or you look like a little kid whose parents are too lazy or too afraid to allow their child an actual haircut and he just ends up with a halo of hair, matted in places, sticking out at unfortunate angles.

It was at that stage I made my biggest hair mistake. I went to Bo-Rics. Now hear me out on this—I had very little hair and only wanted it to not look like sporting equipment. Ten bucks strikes me as a decent price for those services. Looking back, I’m no longer so sure.

What happened was this: I go in. I wait. My name gets called. A teenager with a thick Southern Indiana / Northern Kentucky accent asks me what I want to happen when she starts a-cuttin’. I explain I’m trying to grow my hair back out and that I just want it to stop looking like I’d been electrocuted. She responds, So, you want a normal haircut then? Okay, I say, I guess I do want a normal haircut. She turns me away from the mirror and takes off my glasses. I am now effectively blind. I next hear the unmistakable click and buzz of clippers and feel pressure above my right ear. I jerk left, look at her, say, What are you doing? No clippers! I want it to grow back, not be shaved again. Okay, she says. Sorry. Cutting (with scissors) commences. Ten minutes pass. She turns me around to face the mirror and asks how I like it. I still haven’t gotten my glasses back and am therefore still more or less blind, but I can see there is something amiss in the shape of my head in the mirror. She hands me my glasses and asks again how I like my hair. My mouth drops open. The hair on the top of my head is short and spiky, ranging in length between an inch and three inches. It also grows longer as it moves right to left. I look like Gumby. Or Arsenio Hall in the early 90’s. Either way, not good. I make some non-descript noise. She gives me a hand-mirror and spins me around to get a look at the back of my head. It is as long and as puffy as it was when I walked in. Considerably longer than the hair on the top of my head. I then notice the sides, which are very short. I raise a hand to my right temple, the one I’d felt pressure on at the beginning of the sheering. Bare skin. There is hair around it, but this part is definitely bare. It is also a perfect circle.

So, I had a Gumby mullet with hole. Excellent. And she called this normal when I sat down? Needless to say, I shaved my head when I went home.

I then grew it out for a few years. Then I got a less memorably bad haircut and shaved it off again. That gets us up to the present, or near it at least. My head is still shaved. But I’m feeling the itch to grow it back again. I actually miss my hair. Is that wrong? Is it normal? More normal than a Gumby Mullet with Hole? Surely. But maybe it just has to do with my knowing I can grow hair and therefore feeling some uncontrollable urge to do so, to flaunt it in the glare reflected off the bald stretches of my relatives’ scalp? Maybe I just need something else to fidget with now that I’ve quit smoking. Let’s go with that one.

I’m not looking forward to Tennis Ball Stage.

12 July 2005

Muggles!

Last Thursday fourteen copies of the new Harry Potter book were sold in a grocery store in British Columbia. A BC Supreme Court Justice has since told those people now in possession of the book that they must keep quiet until the "official" release of the book. (Story's here.)

What the fuck?!?!

I mean, this is a book, right? One that damn near everyone in the literate world will be buying in the near future regardless of what these fourteen sneakthieving Canadians say on CNN about it, right? Seriously, would knowing that Dumbledore eats it or that Ron and Hermione conjure some naked spells together or that Harry finally loses it and slaughters the Dursleys really stop anyone from reading this book? No, no it won't. (And for the record: yes, I am looking forward to the new book, thank you very much. I already told you I have no one left to impress and no desire to do so.)

Shouldn't the Canadian courts be concerned with more important matters right now? Like how to interpret international law in such a way as to allow for the swift and total annexation of the US? Or whether or not the likenesses of Tegan & Sara and The Weakerthans can be put on legal tender? (Of equal import these two matters, I think.)

I understand copyright laws and marketing problems and whatnot (in that I understand they exist) and I hope to have my own brand of fiendish children's books in the world at some point (or something close, anyway...) that I'm sure I'd like people clamoring for, but good fucking Lord Voldermort, Batman, this is ridiculous. We have bigger secrets floating around right now than how Harry's coping with the death of Sirius, don't we?

Don't we?

07 July 2005

The World Needs Another Manifesto Like We Need Another Bomb

I know it's been a while. I was good and busy at the alma mater doing the poetry-with-the-kids thing, then I was in RI without motivation enough to hike to a coffee shop with wireless or something similar. I actually started writing this two days ago at my parents' house, but my grandmother showed up and I was dragged away from the computer in order to visit with her in proper fashion (she chain-smokes while I laugh at things coming out of her mouth; words, I mean, not drool or anything...silly buggers.) I am now back in the Dirty M-Dub, in the world's largest student union, listening/watching to the world blow up again on television. (The CNN reporter woman just asked whatever expert is on now, "How do people usually die?" Sure, she had a specific context she was working in, but c'mon.) More on the State of The World later. I feel compelled to finish this post now, as I was damn near done with it when the Gram showed up. So.

The conference/camp thing was great, as usual. The kids impressed the hell out of me (the fiction writers especially--m'lawd!--not that my poets didn't kick some ass of their own...) and the faculty are a fine bunch of folk to say the least. Plus, as noted, the place is fucking beautiful, even more so without the horrible students (my classmates, I mean) there to make it the hell that it forever is in my memory. It still takes a few hours/days to get over that feeling of dread I get just from driving up to campus. Oh well. And I aged a year while I was there. Well, I had a birthday, anyway. It ruled. Best gift ever. EVER! Some of the kids made me a banner that they hung in the dining hall screaming Happy Birthday, Dan! Well, the banner screamed that, not them or the dining hall. I'm a bit too tired and lazy-feeling to figure out the proper syntax of that sentence. Anyway, they also gave me a crown, which proclaimed me King of the World (or some small part of it, anyway):

crown

Needless to say, they rule it. But they get second place. Well, maybe they get a footnote on first place. They may have known about the Big Surprise and kept it from me like everyone else and therefore they get a footnote, but mostly they're second. Because my wife showed up unannounced and quite unexpectedly and lemme tell ya, that was a hell of a gift. Plus, she gave me a new camera. But more importantly, my wife flew across the country to surprise me on my birthday and spent roughly twelve minutes with me before flying back across the country. That's pretty fucking rad, any way you look at it. And those were some seriously fine twelve minutes, might I add. If I've spoken to you at all in the last few months, you'll know it was a hugely unexpected surprise (that's a bit redundant, but you know what I'm on about, I trust). But it ruled and that's all that really matters.

But I wanted to talk about something else. I mean, I got on here to talk about something else and then I got going on this birthday tangent and whatnot and I've completely lost my focus. I wanted to talk about Henry Rollins. Well, a little about Hank, anyway.

hank

I got back to my sister's in RI on Saturday and kicked it with her for most of the day, then crashed hard (amazing how tiring 30 teenagers all day / every day for a week can be). Sunday I did some visiting, some moving around, but eventually found my way to my sister's couch and her digital cable, that sweet, sweet friend. I watched the new episode of Entourage (it would now be entirely accurate to say that I am hopelessly addicted to that show) and had a half hour to kill before last week's episode of Six Feet Under came on. I filled that half hour with Brother Rollins.

If you've never seen Rollins' Film Corner on the IFC, calmly injure yourself in a low-key way now. Nothing serious, just a little pinch or a slap to the thigh just this side of lightly. Now remember that feeling the next time you pass up watching the show and you will watch and it will be good for you. The show is funny and smart and rude and incredibly honest--you know, all the things that have made Henry Rollins an interesting and consistent culture icon for the last twenty-some-odd years. But I digress. (Well isn't this just like talking to me, one minor point and a circus of tangential journeys and sideroads...ugh.)

This month's episode (it's a monthly show) was devoted to punk. It's apparently Punk Month on the IFC (check the listings, as they're playing some absolute classics, concert films/documentaries and fictional movies alike). Anyway, the part that hit me was a review of Rude Boy, the 1980 film about a British kid who gets a job working for The Clash. I've been thinking a lot about a post I put up sometime last week, the one involving Margaret Atwood and George Orwell and political motives in art. I've also been writing some overtly political poems in the last couple of weeks. I think maybe I've got out much of the detritus of my past onto a page already and now I can deal with the detritus of now. Which is grim from where I sit, to say the least. So I'm thinking about these things already and then Hank goes on about The Clash in the way one does about his first girlfriend or the best dog he ever had, a way that lets you know he is still in love and still full of respect but a good bit beyond the moment so not entirely pining. In doing so, Rollins put all of their political power into perspective and dropped the self-affixed Clash label, The Only Band That Matters, more than once. I was suddenly eleven again, in my sister's boyfriend's car, hearing side one of London Calling for the first time, wildly intrigued. (That was so long ago, I got to type "my sister's boyfriend"; how fun.)

So I'm chock full o' love by this point and ready to go out and watch Rude Boy six or seven times even though I know that it's more or less shit except for the live footage (here I disagree with Hank, but he was the film's target audience--or very close; if only he were British...--and would very shortly after the release of the film go on to make some of the best punk records in history at least partly because of The Clash, so...). And I'm ready to write scathing political poems for the rest of my life. Nothing but. Every poem a middle finger, or at least a nut-grab and some deftly aimed saliva. But then I left the couch and went upstairs to the room I am staying in to get a piece of paper to write down all of the wondrous images and sounds bouncing around in my skull. I had apparently left my computer on with iTunes running, because when I entered the room I was met with the bridge of Aretha Franklin's cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Waters," the live version on Live from the Fillmore West. I fucking love Aretha. I have said before that the closest thing I know to divinity is the disembodied voice of Aretha Franklin. Yes, I'm overstating it and yes, I'm usually just making a foolish point about the nature of the divine, but still, the woman's voice is brilliant. Don't argue, because you'd just be wrong.

Suddenly, in hearing her voice, I realized that I didn't want to write political poems and nothing but political poems for the rest of my life. Hearing Aretha, I began thinking about other musicians I love and why I love them. If I had to make a Top Five List of musicians and I had to actually be honest about it (I'm married and apparently "officially old," so who have I got to impress, right?) both the Clash and Aretha would be involved. But there'd also be Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and probably A Tribe Called Quest. This is not so unusual a list, I'd guess. Maybe Tribe throws it off, but I don't know. And it changes with my moods, sure. Fugazi could very easily sneak in there. Or all things Jeff Tweedy (Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Golden Smog, The Mermaid Ave. albums, etc). Or, I don't know, The Weakerthans. But this is beside the point (have I hit my quota on using that sentence in this post yet?). What it means is this: the things I'm drawn to, like everyone I hope, are all over the map. Well, at least not all on the same continent.

As I was mixed up in a music-poetry metaphor anyway, the listing broke down like this:

* The Clash gives us, obviously, the earnest political power. (And sleeveless jump suits covered in red stars, which is something, to be sure.)

* Aretha gives us the craft. She could sing her way out of a vault or a reality tv show reunion special. Her voice is magic and technically brilliant. If it's true what Frank O'Hara said, that tight craft is just common sense in the way it's common sense to have pants tight enough that everyone wants to go to bed with you, then Aretha's voice is spandex. Well, stylish spandex. (Let's pretend for now that "stylish spandex" is not an oxymoron and that such a thing exists within the context of this argument.)

* Dylan gives us the vision, the desire to be great, to change the world, and to break rules in order to do so. That's different from The Clash, I think--less angry, more naive (at least initially).

* EC brings a sort of geekiness that I've always needed to remember existed in a public and celebrated way before me. He is the obvious bridge between Buddy Holly and Rivers Cuomo, and not just because they share a taste in glasses.

* Finally, Tribe brings the party. Well, a certain type of party, anyway. Throw on The Low End Theory and try not to have fun. You just plain can't do it.

But what the hell am I on about? Basically, I'm too damn fickle to do anything for too long without getting bored. And seeing as writing poems is what I have done longer than anything else that I do consistently and that which I care most about outside of the living members of my house, it seems only natural it would be true there too. This may strike you as a blatantly obvious point. I am not one who sees the blatantly obvious with much ease, ever. Well, at least when it comes to the inner-workings of my self. Least introspective human on earth? Probably not. I hope not, at least. But close, maybe. I just need to be removed from the actual situation before I can make any sense of it. And I've been tearing apart my first full-length manuscript lately and becoming incredibly disheartened about the range of my subject or emotional scope. I mean, sure, I've had to deal with a lot of dead friends and family members, but who hasn't? In some way, at least, we all have. Turn on the news right now and you'll see another country or two being scarred by bombings. Where does my turning family members' funerals into verse balance with that? I don't know.

Or at least I didn't. I think now, thanks to Henry Rollins and Aretha Franklin and the gods of iTunes, I have some perspective. I need the emotionally resonant poem, the one that hurts coming out and will make my parents cry when I read it in public (three poems and counting, thank you very much). But I also need the rant poem, the crafted equivalent of a drunken me screaming into the dawn from the roof of a parking garage then stealing from the corner store because the register jockey can't take a joke. And then I need the joke poem, the stupid, low-rent joke poem, the one with Bill Hicks standing at the top of the page screaming "There are dick jokes on the way, sir. Don't you fear, there are dick jokes on the way." And the geeky poems, too, the ones that simply take pleasure in the feel of words or in celebrating the work of Angela Bassett. I need all of that and I think poetry needs all of that and it more or less needs it all of the time, all at once.

Even right now, hours after multiple bombs killed a few dozen commuters in London, I think of this, four lines from A tribe Called Quest's "Steve Biko," lines engraved into the fabric of my mind sometime in the early 90s and which have not ever been far from my conscious mind for the last four years or so and which, in their own way, I think, take in all that I need from art:

"I'm radical with this like the man this song is after.
Yo, Tip, settle down. What's the reason for the laughter?

I really can't say, I guess I laugh to keep from cryin,
So much goin on, people killin, people dyin..."