23 August 2005

Travers, Here I Come!

Perhaps it's true that you can't go home again, but I'll be consoling myself this weekend with the idea that I can at least go back to the town I went to college in and gamble away my money...

I just finished putting the finishing touches on an impromptu weekend in Saratoga Springs, extending a wedding trip east by an entire week in celebration of (read, addiction to) Saratoga's brilliant race track and the large hats and circus atmosphere that accompany the season's biggest race, the Travers Stakes.

My only goals for the thirty-six hours or so that I'll be there are as follows:

1) Consume at least one Doughboy from Esperanto.

2) Find a hat at least half this ridiculous, either to photograph as being worn by someone else or, better yet, to wear myself.

3) Finally, to cheer myself hoarse (yes, very much intended) in support of this man, my favorite wee man horse cargo, Mr. Jerry Bailey (the man after whom we named our horse-sized dog).

Robin, shall we say breakfast at the track on Saturday (in the form of mimosa)?

22 August 2005

Bruce Wayne, Vicky Vale, & Me

I woke up yesterday morning a little earlier than usual for a Sunday, mostly due to the (much) larger of my two dogs putting her sizable snout three or four inches from my face and barking her Big Dog bark. She had to pee. I had to pee, too, I just didn't know it yet and I probably wouldn't have screamed in her face to let her know if I had. But such is life without opposable thumbs, I suppose. Anyway, I'm up, it's early, I want to go back to sleep but have to wait for the dogs to get done doing their thing in the backyard before that's possible and, besides, there are some dirty dishes in the sink from dinner the night before and that's reason enough to interrupt sleep these days. So I wash.

Or I begin to wash. Half-way through the initial surface scrubbing of a pot I began to notice some movement in my periphery vision. Without turning my head, I know it is not a moth, as I assumed in the first second I sensed the movement. This was bigger. And moving much more than a moth would be capable of doing without, you know, zooming all over the fucking kitchen like an outtake from Top Gun. I finally turned my head.

To say that I reacted to what I saw in a manner befitting a man of my age -- any age, really, post-toddler -- would be a lie. I reacted like the woman who owned Tom on Tom & Jerry every time a mouse scurried across her kitchen floor. I made noises that I've never heard before. I curled myself into a sort of standing fetal position as I backed slowly out of the kitchen. And I swear I could feel my bones shaking in a way I'd only known previously from being shot at in an abandoned parking lot in the middle of the night.

Apparently, I am afraid of bats. Really, really, really afraid of bats. I had no idea. I mean, I've seen them flying around, only slightly above my head, and felt no reaction at all; and at my family's cabin in Maine growing up they'd be all over the damn place but never moved me to do anything more than photograph them or, occasionally (read: when the older, super-cute neighbor girls were around; forgive me PETA, I was eight), throw rocks at them. But this, this was something else entirely.

I am fine with bugs of all stripes: roaches, spiders, cicadas, &c. Same with mice, rats, and whatever other rodents might be lurking in the nether regions of a living space. I have reached out and had dogs place into my upturned palm the carcasses of mice, rats, rabbits, birds, squirrels, a opossum, and a cat that was, before being the property of my parents' dog, roadkill. I have been fine with all of it, so long as some hot water and soap were in my immediate future, anyway. But this I was not fine with at all.

The bat likely came in through the bathroom window (Paul McCartney be damned!), as said window had been painted open (sans screen) earlier this summer and remained so until very early yesterday afternoon (no motivation for minor household tasks like irrational fear, I say). Judging by the guano littering the tub, our bat friend spent some time in that little cave frantically trying to find his or her way out. Which it (fuck it, I'm going with it, as anything that frightening should be an it and not subject to sex clarifications) eventually did, only to be trapped again.

When I saw the bat floudering around up and to the left of my dish-washing, it was trapped at the bottom of a cylindrical flower vase (wider up top and tapering off toward the then bat-dwelling bottom) on a shelf next to the back door, about a foot beneath the ceiling. My guess is that it was circling the ceiling (or doing easy, looping laps of the whole house while I slept naked and unarmed mere feet below...) and, doing its little sonar thing, discovered what sounded either like a tunnel out of the house or a comforting cave-like space to hole up in for a time and get some shut-eye. Once down there, it was unable to get back out, as the bottom of the vase wasn't wide enough for its wingspan and the glass didn't offer any traction for a possible climb out.

What I saw then as I looked up and to the left from my pot-scrubbing was a freaked-out bat bouncing at the bottom of a flower vase, alternately spreading its wings as wide as it could and flinging its little body up at the walls of its bat-prison. I went from thinking moth to thinking mouse to thinking aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

After slowly backing out of the room in my defensive fetal walk, I quickly donned a football helmet and a garlic bulb necklace, armed myself with a hockey stick, sat myself against the wall furthest away from the kitchen that still allowed for a view of the beast, and prepared to dial 911.

But by then my wife was up. She very calmly and quietly assessed the situation, pulled the vase down off of the shelf, opened the back door, walked the vase and its occupant across the backyard, through the gate, into the alley, set the vase down on its side, backed away a few feet and watched -- smiling! -- as the bat crawled out of the vase, shook itself off a bit, and flew off into the morning sky. I watched all of this -- frowning and making guttural noises -- through the kitchen windows. When she came back in, without looking at me or stopping as she walked across the kitchen, she simply said Right, so bats go on my list then and went to get in the shower.

19 August 2005

Mr. Sandler, May I Borrow Your Hair-Helmet, Please?

I watched Spanglish last night for the first time. I was completely against the movie from about twenty minutes in. This has nothing to do with it being a bit hokey and over-wrought and melodramatic or the fact that Adam Sandler's hair was so bad it made it difficult to look at the screen at times. No, I can put up with that shit. (Need I mention my all-encompassing love for St. Elmo's Fire, both the movie and the soundtrack, as proof? Didn't think so.). The moment I knew I would be from then on incapable of buying into the fantasy of this movie was when, in the course of maybe five minutes, we learn that Adam Sandler's character is a four-star chef who has worked in both New York and (now) LA and that he doesn't speak any Spanish whatsoever. That, my friends, is more improbable than a lollipop stick Viking ship crewed entirely by Vikings made of Starburst wrappers and Peter Pan's wet dreams.

Seriously, all of the Spanish I know was learned in kitchens. In Rhode Island and upstate New York and Indiana. It's essential. We can talk about the class implications and global politics connected to this fact until our tongues are stretched to Gene Simmons-like lengths, but the fact of the matter is, if you're in a professional kitchen anywhere in this country, chances are really good there's Spanish being spoken. And I imagine the likelihood of that goes up exponentially when you're in a kitchen in Southern California.

I remember roughly three things from the last time I read Anthony Bourdain's classic Kitchen Confidential: treat delivery drivers at all times and at all costs like you would an insolent puppy and you will reap rewards; great bakers can be forgiven just about anything, including late night drunken phone calls that consist entirely of a screamed demand to Feed the Bitch!; and that if you plan to make a living preparing food for the masses in America, you absolutely must learn some Spanish. With that in mind, Spanglish was forever ruined for me as soon as Adam Sandler uttered So you work here and don't speak any English? That's just great... to Paz Vega's character.

And, if I've accomplished anything here today, hopefully the movie is ruined for you as well.

16 August 2005

That Love for Humanity Thing is Kicking in Again...

It's nice to know that in a world full of war and strife and reports of Madonna's being thrown off a horse interrupting a story about Iraqi civilian casualties on CNN, there are still people doing important, life-saving...arts and crafts. All I'm saying is, there was obviously a reason they were in Amsterdam. In the ever-sage words of Kumar, "Harold, you do realize what's legal in Amsterdam, don't you?"

15 August 2005

Where Have I Been?

(This is a long one, folks. Sorry.)

Well, it's safe to say that I’ve not been camped out in one of the computer labs on campus for the past few weeks. It’s also safe to say that I have not been spending much time with a computer at home. I’ve done neither. I haven’t even really checked my email in...well, in a good long while. I have, however, had both my cell phone and my home phone at the ready throughout the duration (and, for that matter, my front door open most of the time) and have noticed that neither have done much in the way of ringing (or been knocked upon, as it were), so I’m not too worried about your being too worried about me or my whereabouts. Therefore, we can all safely continue on with our regular breathing patterns, as we clearly, all of us, had continued on with our regular breathing patterns and did none of the sort of breath-holding that might accompany the actual fretting over the disappearance of a friend, either virtual or real. (And speaking of: Robin, I thought you’d given up caring about music? I recognize the sarcasm, but still...) Alas, I was not disappeared. Nor was I kidnapped, though that has always been a minor fantasy of mine (or was anyway, when I was younger; I am not pining after it so much these days as to warrant paying someone to do a mock-up of the event, which is a very real possibility in these current United States of ours). Nor, obviously, am I dead. Or maimed, physically or mentally or emotionally brutalized, or stricken with apoplexy*. I am alive, well, and again in possession of my trusty Power Book. So.

What I have been doing, more or less, is enjoying the waning days of summer and all that they offer. I've been playing tennis (quite poorly; though I (once) possessed the hand-eye coordination and skills necessary to play college-level ice hockey and three varsity sports in high school, not to mention the dexterity needed to roll a near-perfect joint while driving, I have never possessed even the slightest hint of skill at the various racket games--tennis, racquetball, squash, ping pong, badminton: each and every one a torturous display of flailing equipment, furrowed brows, and non-stop apologies). I have been riding my new bike around town (I love--LOVE!--my new bike; it has been so long since I’ve coasted dangerously fast downhill beside slower-moving automobile traffic or felt the tingling sensation that comes in realizing here to there is really not that far anymore (I usually walk) that I’ve been having trouble with bugs in my teeth as a result of all the smiling). I have also very nearly eaten my own weight in fresh sweet corn and tomatoes and various non-citrus fruits. (I’ve also been doing my fair share of sushi-eating, though that has nothing whatsoever to do with seasonality; it merely has to do with the fact that, as I’ve said before, sushi is what the gods would serve if they existed and invited me for dinner at their god-house and, as such, should be eaten with as much frequency as possible.) I love summer, yet it always takes me a few months to realize that fact anew each year and, as a result, I don’t actually get into the whole Summer = Good mindset until a bit into August. Such is the current state of events.

In addition to the unintentional bug-proteins and sushi-related gluttony, I have also continued listening obsessively to new CDs, both the ones I mentioned oh so long ago and some newer ones. (On that note, the new Dane Cook album is AMAZING! If you don't know, Dane is a comic--and fellow Southern New England refugee--who I have loved for years and whose post-Christmas shows at the Faneuil Hall Comedy Connection have become something of a tradition for me and mine. He is also the first comedian to have an album in the Top 5 on the Billboard album chart since Steve Martin did it in 1978 or something like that. I’m proud of the boy. Damned proud. But I digress...) And as I promised way back when to provide a review of the utterly brilliant Smoosh album, I shall live up to my end of the bargain and do so now. Besides, it’s really either that or a few hundred words on the pure, unadulterated joy that is fresh sweet corn, and that’s just not too interesting (no matter that it is among the greatest things life affords us; my last meal, for the record, would consist of the following, to be served on the back deck at my parents' house, preferably without my parents (though my sister is welcome to join in if she so chooses): tomato & mozzarella salad prepared following my grandmother’s dressing recipe; steamers (for the non-Rhode Islanders among you: these are very simply a variety of clams that are steamed and served with drawn butter; steamers, like cribbage and--I don’t know--the smell of my grandparents' house, are something I cannot remember not knowing intimately and loving deeply) raked and collected using my grandfather's clam digging equipment; lobster pulled from my uncle's pots; and as much fresh corn as I can consume before whatever (seemingly) planned demise is enacted (it is, after all, a last meal I'm working-out right here). The corn would of course be the star of that meal. This meal would therefore apparently have to take place in August, to capture the utmost in corn freshness and its corresponding deliciousness. Well, that settles it, I die in August. Beware the Ides of August. Done and done. And I mean done.) Where were we? Right, Smoosh...

Smoosh, She Like Electric (Pattern 25, 2005): I came to this band as a result of an interview with them by Steve Almond in the (relatively) recent music issue of The Believer. As Steve Almond has never done me wrong before (and had work in the first three journals I was ever published in and therefore holds some weird fascination for me) and as any music being created by two sisters years away from their driver’s licenses that is being hailed as worth listening to by the likes of Sleater-Kinney and Cat Power (and, for good or bad, Eddie Vedder) must, in fact, be worth listening to, I bought the CD. Yeah, you read correctly, Smoosh are two girls, sisters, and they're young: Asya, who plays keyboards, is 13; her drummer sister, Chloe, is 11. Or they were a few months ago when they were interviewed by the Candy Freak guy. Regardless of that fact--or because of that fact--this album is incredibly worth listening to. Over and over and over again, if my recent listening habits are any indication.

The first song on the album, "Massive Cure," begins with a really dirty-sounding keyboard riff, something between the blues-metal of early Zeppelin-era Jimmy Page and a Flea bass solo. Or the sound Jack White always just misses. It is quickly paired with a surprisingly interesting marching drum line thick with the heavier sounds of bass drum and floor tom and sprinkled on top with a whispering ripple of hi-hat. The album more or less continues on in that vein from there, to astounding results. There are moments when Smoosh manage to sound like Tori Amos, a pre-adolescent Black Keys, Ben Folds' younger sisters, some great lost mid-80's post-punk band, and, well, like young girls. This latter point is most apparent on the fourth track, 'Bad,” the "rapped" lyrics of which tell us we should all just be happier, damn it! (only, of course, without the damn it part) and that maybe joining a soccer team might help in that endeavor (not a bad suggestion, maybe, but still...).

I've noticed a certain need among people like myself, people who listen to a whole lot of pop music and think about it and talk about it with far too great a frequency, to require the pop music they (we) love to be weighty, or at least to pretend that it is meaningful in one way or another. Like, we need to be able to point to the newest PJ Harvey or Bright Eyes or Common album or whatever and say, beyond its just lopping our asses clean off and making us (heaven forefend!) happy while listening to it, that it is also incredibly smart and has insightful things to say about this and that. This is akin to the person I met recently who proclaimed her love for Desperate Housewives but had to back it up, guiltily, with a long-winded disquisition on its merits as a comment on the American Middle Class Suburbs and all of its secrets. Let me tell ya something, I grew up in the American Middle Class Suburbs, already know that it has secrets, and don't need this piece of shit show or American Beauty or anything else to tell me as much, no matter how many Eva Longorias or Mena Suvaris you throw at me. But if you like the show, just like the show for fuck's sake. There's nothing wrong with just liking something because it moves you in some way and, I don't know, stop fretting about your upcoming whatever's upcoming for a little while. Plus, this is a program on prime time network television--no matter how many hours you spend working out sound arguments about its greater redeeming powers, I'm not going to believe that it is in the least bit subversive. Save your breath. But like I said, I'm guilt of this myself, often. Especially when it comes to music I think I shouldn't be liking, things that seem to just be shoved down the pike for consumption, plain and simple, and to sell a few billion units on the sole power of the singer's tits. That last Pink album, the one with Linda Perry's fingerprints all over it, comes to mind. That album is amazing. But it has very little redeeming qualities outside of its making me wanna dance, make out with motocross riders, and somehow finagle Linda Perry to produce my next poem. But I spent a considerable amount of time trying to work out why it was acceptable on a larger social level for me to be listening to it and propounded on that topic to people I'm sure could have given a shit what I was listening to or why. We all suffer pop guilt from time to time, and it's about damn time it stopped.

Smoosh (it's pronounced Smoooooosh, by the way, with a big, long O sound) cures us of this disease. She like Electric is full of such purely joyous sounds completely without pretension that it's almost impossible to not just sit back and smile. It reminds some part of us deep down what it was like in junior high school when we were all alone in our rooms singing into a hairbrush or dancing in front of the mirror. (Oh sure, like you didn't do that shit, too. Whatever, cool guy.) And that's what's so amazing about this album. It is some of the most unrestricted and free (and freeing) music I've heard in a really long time. And that's all I'll ever have to tell people about it. And it'll be enough.

So (Robin and all else) go buy it. But prepare to set aside some time to dance around your house in your pajamas. Because you will, whether you mean to or not. Promise.

*: The word apoplexy, by the way, makes me giggle. And, in a similar vein, the whole "my phone didn't ring" thing, that was a joke, too. I'm not quite that petty. Buck up, campers, the world hasn't ended. Though we do have a few more years of this administration, we're not totally screwed just yet...

01 August 2005

Channeling My Inner Greil Marcus

As I've been living the quiet, fugitive-on-the-run lifestyle recently, spending my time hidden behind closed blinds and laid out on the couch further hidden behind a book while my two dogs draw clues as to their own boredom in the hardwood floors with their claws, there's just not that much of interest happening in my life. I am without a subject beyond my own hermitage (Hermithood? Hermitness? Hermiting? Anyone?), and that's just not too terribly interesting for anyone, least of all me. I have, however, in attempts to flee the dual confines of The Wee Purple Palace (house) and The Energy Sucker (couch), taken frequent and lingering trips to the various CD stores of Bloomington (and to the dog park for the mutts to go a-swimming, but that's beside the present and eventual point). I haven't bought too much, sadly, as I don't have enough income to support my habit and must therefore spread out the spending. But I have bought something nearly every time 'round for the past few weeks. I thought I'd continue my reviewing streak and give these new additions to the tens of thousands of wasted dollars neatly and alphabetically stacked in the dining room their time in the sun. Or their time in the blog. In the shimmy. Whatever.

I'm going to spread these out over the next few days because, well, that gives me something to do for the next few days and I like the sound of that. Anyway, here goes:

Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros -- Streetcore (Hellcat, 2003): When the house finally sells and I am forced to once and for all pack up all of my possessions and finally allowed to scrub and sterilize the various nooks and crannies of The Wee Purple Palace, I will find a burned copy of this album chipped and scratched to inaudible degrees hidden behind a shelf somewhere in the house's nether regions. Or I won't and the burned copy that I know exists will be declared MIA and have its name etched into the Pirated Music War Memorial beside and beneath all of the other gems lost to this horrific battle, like that one bootleg copy of Michael Jackson's Thriller copied on my little boom box from the other side of my sister's bedroom in which you can hear her singing along beneath the crackle of the LP. But that sale is looking more and more like it will never happen. So in the meantime, to assuage our fears and find balm for our mental wounds, we buy replacements. And we thank the speed-soaked soul of Joe Strummer that we have done so.

I wondered, the third or fourth time through the album after replacement purchase, whether I loved this album so much because of its being the final shot into the ether by Joe Strummer or because it's just really fucking good. I mean, sure, I probably owe as much of my worldview to Joe Strummer as I do my parents (well, more, really, as my parents informed my worldview by showing what not to do and believe), and I actually miss him now that he's gone the way of our idols and kicked it. Or at least the idea of him; the notion that he was out there making music and bringing even more disparate and weirdo sounds and ideas together into what you have to call Punk was always a settling, soothing thought. That love and sentimentality can certainly be blinding me. And when I find myself liking his cover of "Redemption Song," I'm sure that's what's happening. But the rest of the album, I think, really is that good. The two opening tracks, "Coma Girl" and "Get Down Moses," bring to mind the best of The Clash in all of its many parts--straight-up angry punk, ska/reggae/dub, rockabilly, melodic pop, &c.--sometimes all of it at once. And there's the hint of politics that made The Clash worthy of the title "The Only Band That Mattered." ("You gotta get down Moses from the Eagle's Eyrie / You gotta make new friends out of old enemies / You gotta get down Moses out in Tennessee / They're putting up a theme park called the Sea of Galilee!")

The rest of the album carries out in that direction, moving easily between quiet(-ish) ballads and the more familiar world-punk sounds of the Mescaleros' 2001 Global A-Go-Go, finally coming to a beautiful and glorious head with the closing Fats Domino cover "Silver and Gold," one of those songs that seems very disturbingly to foresee its singer's soon-to-be demise. I remember very clearly sitting completely mesmerized with my friend, the Good Father Doogal, in his girlfriend's car some weekend evening shortly after this album was released, before heading into a bar for drinks, feeling completely full of emotion--loss, grief, happiness, anger, the whole spectrum. But this song, "Silver and Gold," it seems to make that okay. It makes it okay, even, for you to introduce the song, as Doogal did, with things like This is, well, this is just good. And sad, you know? But good. And Joe. I mean...well, listen. And, more importantly perhaps, it makes it okay and ritualistic and cleansing to sing along as you drive alone at night into the dark, quiet hills of southern Indiana, all the windows down and the car radio at its loudest, the high beams on against the darkness, and a cigarette unlit in your mouth, Oh, I do a lotta things I know is wrong / Hope I'm forgiven before I'm gone / It'll take a lotta prayers to save my soul / And I got to hurry up before I grow too old...

Tomorrow: Smoosh!