Thursday, October 22, 2009

the military-industrial-entertainment complex

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hey there, hi there, ho there -- I just realized that I have been HORRIBLY lax about updating this, so here's the short version.

The store moved.
Kelly broke some bones by falling off a ladder.
I had a terrible case of poison ivy.
I broke a toe.
There was one day where Finnegan would not stop barfing. The solution, according to a vet, was to feed him some cough medicine. This led to Finnegan not stopping barfing, and now barfing in a vivid, Technicolor red. We are still working on getting the carpets back to normal.
My sister had a baby. It is a girl. Her name is Emerson.
I am going to enter the Pillsbury Bake-Off.
I got the flu. I think it was H1N1, but that may just be wishful thinking, because it seems more daring.
I recovered from the flu.
I made apple butter, pumpkin butter, elderberry tincture, and Danish. (These were not all part of the same recipe.)
People were apparently tortured during the Bush Administration by being forced to listen to music including Metallica, Britney Spears and the BeeGees. In short -- the Bush Administration would have apparently saved money and time by locking their detainees at my house. There would have been no waterboarding, and I could have tried out my Pillsbury BakeOff recipes on them.
I continue to be mystified by pretty much everything.

Monday, August 3, 2009

the quiet summer symphony of cicadas and tree frogs

It's hot here in Jefferson County, which is actually a phrase that any number of people in pretty much any state in the union could be writing right now. I've been feeling kind of beaten-down by life lately, and keep hanging on to the idea that come autumn, things will be better. I'm not much of a fan of summer. I have never liked the humid heat, which is unfortunate, given that I have never lived anywhere that the two don't go hand-in-hand. Still, I get a little nostalgic for my childhood when the temperatures rise and I find myself in a room that's just a little too hot to be comfortable. When I was a kid, I would sit in my (generally sweltering) room and read, or listen to the radio, and convince myself that if I could just lay as still as possible, the heat wouldn't be so bad. Another thing that conjures up "heat" for me is hearing any song by Little Willie John, or anything from the series of records called "Oldies But Goodies," of which my father had about 10. So in short, anything on Ace or Roulette or Chess, old rock and roll of the Huey "Piano" Smith school -- all of this conjures up maddening, stifling heat and the orange-gold light of early-evening, the kind that cinematographers wait for all day and is flattering to everyone, even when you're caked with sweat and grime and one more day's failures to be brilliant, world-altering, and compassionate.
I've been playing with the dogs this evening, who are also not summertime fans, and this makes me feel better. It makes me think that it is not the fault of the hyper-critical, rational mindset I have always had that makes me hate the weather. I made some peach tea, and took a book outside to read, where it's just this side of stifling, listening to the sun set. Autumn will come soon enough, I suppose, and then winter, then spring. These things that seem awful now will eventually become stories filled with asides about my own intemperance and foible, and I will forget that it was as bad as it currently seems. When I come inside, I can hear the tree frogs singing in four-part counterpoint, and I forget that just minutes ago, I was outside and couldn't hear them at all over the noise of my own brain. Distance and time are gifts.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

enough already with the confessing! freundlaven!

Unquestionably, this will mean more to those of you who were fans of Animaniacs. "Commence with the screaming and running and the hair-pulling and the freundlaven!" being the signature of the Animaniacs' Jerry Lewis auteur-like feller. "Freundlaven! Flamiel! HOYL! How'd you...with the were there...but here are...for me to'd you do..."

Anyway, seriously, Mark Sanford? You were just kind of sadly, weirdly pathetic the other day (what with the hubris and the talking and the schlockiness ...freundlaven!) but now you are squicking me out. Enough with the Argentina and the mistress and the Harlequin Romance-inspired monologues. HOYL! You make me want to put my fingers in my ears and chant "lalalalalalalala"until you go. Away.

Not romantic. Gross. If I were that Jenny Sanford (re: Mark Sanford:"I'm going to try to fall back in love with my wife"), I'd say, "wow, that's really big of you, but please don't put yourself out. You derivative, soap-opera watchin', two-timin', tango-dancin' self-consciously self-serving piecea poo."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

you've got to get it right while you've got the time

Tonight, the world's all agog with the news about Michael Jackson, and I myself am not sure how to feel about it. I think this is a watershed moment, actually, kind of like when Elvis died. A hinge moment, I think they call it. A tipping point. I mean, Elvis was about the dawn of a new kind of youth culture, an engineered kind of celebrity, a tale of promise gone to success gone to seed. He started out as a marginally talented kid who got rounded up by some hucksters who realized that the time was ripe for something new, something different, a little bit dangerous and ultimately all about sex...and the denial of its power, even as it was being flaunted in this sort of creepy, underage way. Elvis and his crack team of handlers went about it by merging black and white music, and that was also the genius of Quincy Jones and MJ, successfully emasculating and white-ifying funk on the dance floor...though I will unkindly point out that while Elvis was about a figurative merger of black and white, MJ took things a little farther than people were comfortable with, given the whole "gradually becoming white"/"maybe it's vitiligo"/ "plastic surgery addiction" thing.

Anyway. Elvis dying was an end of an era, and a moment when people about the age I am now stopped for a moment and thought, "oh, I really liked him when I was a kid." It got to be one big mortality-check for people just on the cusp of middle age. But you know, the Elvis death stopped everyone for a moment, and people all rushed to Graceland and started this whole (to my mind) odd thing where you leave candles and teddy bears and flowers and such to rot in front of some random place, as though the places themselves are magical and mystical and somehow imbued with the dearly-departed's spirit. I myself think that there was more of the spirit of Elvis embedded in the walls of Sun Studios. Anyhow, I see this kind of continuum, this kind of arc of the Cult of Celebrity, maybe beginning with Elvis, reaching its apogee with Princess Diana, and then, perhaps, just perhaps, ending here, with the sad news today about this poor kid from Gary who was turned into a moneymaking machine, who never got the chance to really create any kind of self outside what the public decided he was supposed to be. I think the weirdness displayed by MJ in the last 10 years fed on itself -- that was how he got publicity, it was how he stayed in the public eye, and being used to the star-maker machinery of the 70s and 80s, that was all he really knew how to do. The new, faster, frankly more vicious celebrity machine of the here and now was something he didn't know how to cope with, I think.
But maybe this will be the thing that changes the paradigm. I mean, I'm not holding my breath, but you never know. The death of Elvis marked the end of the beginning of the whole created, bought-and-paid-for, mass-marketed celebrity culture. Maybe the death of Michael Jackson will mark some kind of ending of the end. Maybe now is when we've finally reached critical mass, now that the tabloid poster child for The Sickly Fascinating Odd has passed to his great reward, whatever that may be. Maybe now is the time that people quite caring about random pretty people doing random things, being famous for fame's sake. Between Jon & Kate, Spencer & Heidi, Robert & Kristen, LiLo, Paris...maybe now is the time when we're all so sick and tired of ourselves and our apparently limitless voyeurism (and our fellow-travellers' apparently limitless exhibitionism) that we can't stand it any more. Though probably not.

I was reading my friend Doug's observation that he was someplace, as the news about Michael Jackson was unfolding, and everyone was staring down at their communication devices, thumbs flying across the keys. I find this unbearably compelling, and unbearably sad. No one wants to look each other in the eyes any more at a time of startle and shock. We want to look at the screen, which is looking back into us, just like the abyss. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it. Wouldn't be the first time. We want to know everything, we want to know it now, we're feeding the beast to the point of bursting and we still want more. We are making things worse, just when we thought that *more, more, more information* would make things all better. Someone asked me about an hour before the official death announcement came what was going on, and I went to for the latest news. Then I went to Twitter. What does this say? When did this happen? What's the next step? Who are we becoming?

He was a guy in over his head. He made some good records. Every time he'd go to Japan, I'd think of Don DeLillo's book "Mao II," which opens with the thought that the face of the future is the face of the frenzied mob. Ordinarily rational people started wearing red leather jackets with too many zippers so they could be more like him. He was driven mad by having the world at his feet -- a common enough tale. Like Ozymandias, King of Kings (no, not the Watchmen character). Look upon his works, ye mighty, and despair.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Antoinette Perry, we salute you (with glittery hats and jazz hands)

I love the Tony Awards. I like them much better than the Oscars, which I also watch every year. The Tony Awards actually seem to matter to the theatre community...much more so than the Academy Awards do to Hollywood. Anyway, I have been a regular viewer of the Tonys (Tonies?) since my childhood. I remember

--the year the Tony Awards were broadcast from the point-of-view of Bonnie Franklin
-- learning who Bob Fosse was from the Tony Awards
-- learning who Stephen Sondheim was from the Tony Awards
-- being stunned to learn that Boyd Gaines was actually a Broadway actor more than a bit-part TV actor
--figuring out who Harold Prince is
--seeing Bernadette Peters sing with a voice like a foghorn while skipping around doing a number from "Sunday in the Park with George"
--learning that whatever it was, Broadway was something fundamentally different and more immediate than a movie

and so, for all their faults, I love the Tony Awards, and will faithfully watch, every year, just because I think this is the kind of awards show that actually OUGHT to be televised, if just to see the warmth and good humor of the Broadway community.

That is all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

to dream the impossible dream. to drive the undriveable car. to do the impossible job. to open the unopenable jar.

This week feels like it is never going to end. I am not, not, resolutely not going to discuss my job on this page, but basically, I feel like I have aged ten years in the last ten days. I am not having a good time.

Elsewhere, though, I find myself in one of those almost obsessive-compulsive feedback loops, wherein everything is going through this Man of La Mancha "impossible dream" filter. Which is to say, for those of you who are uninitiated, that mentally, everything is "the un-__________-able _______." I am drinking the undrinkable Coke Zero. I am washing the unwashable dishes. I am wearing the unwearable shoes, writing the unwritable piece, sleeping in the un-sleep-on-able bed, petting the unpettable dog. Whatever, I get on these kicks. Every now and again, one of these will strike me as completely hilarious and I'll burst out laughing. I get looks indicating that perhaps I'd be better off in a home of some kind.

Of course in my head, I hear it sung to the tune. "To eat...the uneatable pie! To pack...the unpackable box! To cook...the uncookable dinner! To mate....the unmateable socks! To feed! The! Un! Feed! A! Ble!.....DOGS!"

Whatever, it's a game and it's funny and at the moment, it's what is keeping me (what passes for) sane.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I just think it will happen, soon

I'm on a little bit of a Philip Larkin kick here, lately. Don't worry -- it will pass, and we will return you to your regularly-scheduled swooning over T.S. Eliot, William Stafford and Ted Koozer.

Friday, May 8, 2009

ods bodkins

Weird words of the day*:


* I know what they all mean. They just sound strange to me. It's weird that they wound up being English, if you know what I mean.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

on watching 'willy wonka and the chocolate factory'

Okay, so I saw this film maybe 15 times as a child, as it was the "Overboard" or "Under Siege"of its day -- constantly in reruns, constantly on television. I probably have not watched it in 15 years. I just watched the first 40 minutes. I submit herewith a list of things I do not understand.

1) When exactly is this film happening? There's television, but Charlie's mother is still doing laundry in a giant cauldron with lye soap that she stirs with a giant wooden pole? No wonder they are starving to death. There's TV, there are live satellite feeds, and this woman is basing her livelihood on the odds that people somehow don't have washing machines? Or, alternatively, are lonesome for Victorian England and want to re-live the magic by sending out their laundry to her, rather than to a dry-cleaner or a commercial laundry?

2) Who is paying for all this candy in the opening "candy man" candy store scene? Are all of these children running tabs? Do their parents pay at the end of the month? If the shopkeeper is throwing taffy all over the place in giant, swooping arcs, why would he care if Charlie scooped up a piece and then ran out the door? What is this guy's shrinkage cost per month?

3) What exactly is the content of tomorrow? According to Bricusse and Newley, the songwriters, the candy man:
"can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream...separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream."
So I surmise that either tomorrow or dream is in fact at least partially dairy. The sentence implies that some component of tomorrow or a dream is sorrow, which at some point is separated, presumably because it does not taste particularly good. 100% sorrow-free cream sounds like a pretty good idea, but I'm not sure why a candy man is doing this. Is it some kind of sideline business?

4) Grandpa Joe seems like a real son of a bitch. He says "one of these days I'm going to get out of this bed and help out," yet we learn from his daughter that he has not done so in more than 20 years. GJ then states that he would do so if the floor were not so cold, a not-so-thinly-veiled dig at the daughter, who cannot adequately heat the shack in which they live.

5) The family lives in a shack, with a superannuated television, one 40-watt lightbulb, and a king-sized four-poster bed, apparently with bedlinens (which are not particularly inexpensive for king-size, but I digress). Four elderly people, two men and two women, sleep, eat, and god-knows-what-all in this bed. They never leave the bed. How exactly is there a child left in their custody? DCFS should have paid a call on these people by now.

6) They are eating, fairly regularly, something described by Charlie as "cabbage water." There is apparently no money for spices or bread to accompany this meal. Yet the grandfather mentions that he smokes tobacco. Charlie offers to pay for the tobacco. The grandfather demurs, but then his (evil? stupid?) daughter protests: "It's only a pipe a day, Dad." So she is enabling the grandfather's tobacco addiction, and is not averse to her child working at an under-the-table cash-payment-only job delivering newspapers to facilitate this?

7) Wouldn't Grandpa George, Grandma Georgina, Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine be drawing SSRI disability payments? Wouldn't Charlie's mother be drawing Social Security survivor benefits after her husband died? It seems there is some mismanagement of funds taking place here that may border on the criminal.

8) Tinkers roam the streets, offering their knife-sharpening services. And this is taking place when?

9) Grandpa Joe, far from being kindly and charming, decides that despite not working...nay, not GETTING OUT OF BED for twenty years...that he would like to go see the inside of the Chocolate Factory with his grandson. His legs, however, have not atrophied, so I am assuming that at night he is getting up and exercising, or sneakily going for walks or smoking or something. It turns out that despite an initial equilibrium problem, he is actually fine enough to go on a six-hour walking tour of a facility that must, to a starving child, seem like a cruel temptation and mockery of justice. Also, he has a very nice cane, which seems a little amiss in this landscape of poverty.

10) The part about the musical lock? The woman says it's Rachmaninoff? It's not. It's Beethoven. It's the opening of Fidelio.

10) WW&tCF was made in 1971. Amnesty International was founded in 1961. I am skeptical of their silence on the Oompa-Loompa question.

I had to quit watching then, because I was getting too annoyed. Also? Bricusse and Newley? Argh. Who thought this was a good idea?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

the peculiar comfort of lowered expectations

thank you Royals -- you're .500, that is all, repeat ALL, I ask of you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

kyle farnsworth

well, that was 4.5 million dollars well-spent. PHILO Farnsworth would have known better than to pitch Thome straight up the middle on 2-and-1 in the bottom of the eighth, and he died in 1971.

Another fabulous season of Royals baseball awaits.

Monday, April 6, 2009

rule 6.05

Okay, so another baseball season is upon us, for which I am profoundly, humbly grateful, and I'm the kind of person who actually DOES keep score at home, plays rotisserie-league baseball and loves the ever-lovin' heck out of the game, and I swear, I just don't get the infield fly rule. I have had it explained to me and it always makes sense at the time, and then I try later to remember what it is and it's beyond me. Kind of like general relativity, or Fermat's last theorem -- I get this quick flash of complete comprehension, like the green flash on the sea at sunset, and then it's gone.

Anyway, the advent of baseball always makes me feel good, cozy and quiet inside, secure in the knowledge that on any given evening from April through September, I can hunker down with a radio and listen to a game, announced in a way that leaves room for daydreaming and breathing and seeing the whole game, all complete, just like Einstein field equations, now that I'm thinking of it. Maybe that's what I like about baseball -- the game of Euclid, the game of angles, the game of grassgreen and chalkwhite and stripes mown into the outfield -- it changes the way you see things, if just for a couple (or three or four or if it's an AL/NL matchup, five) hours.

It's still not gonna reconcile me to the designated hitter, though.

In other news: a woman I work with wears a perfume made with heliotrope. I mentioned it to her, saying how it was unusual, and she had no idea what I was talking about. She said she thought it smelled like roses. Which it most certainly does NOT. Whatever, if that's what she thinks it is, and she likes it, I suppose to her it does indeed smell as sweet, no matter the name. I just want to know how you get up past the age of 20 and have never smelled what a rose smells like. Which, for the record, is not like heliotrope, not at all.

Oh, well. This is where complex, elegant rules like those in baseball would be useful in the workplace. I say, "nice heliotrope perfume, that's really unusual" and my co-worker says "it's not heliotrope, it's roses, what is wrong with you?" I could defer to the umpire, who in the absence of knowing the difference between roses, heliotrope, opoponax and stephanotis, would call it an infield fly: runners advance at their own risk, and everyone just rolls with it. Crisis averted. Now, if we could just figure out who keeps leaving their old, mold-encrusted coffee mugs in the sink. Maybe we could appeal to the 3rd base line judge on who keeps committing this outrage: we could rule it's Stephen Bartman, for lack of a better scapegoat, and the world will continue to spin on in its epicycles, apogee and perigee, steadfast and solemn.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

stepping lightly, just like a ballerina

I know I have been bad about updating this, but I'm turning over a new leaf. Or, at least, things are just now starting to get interesting again.

What is up with all the sudden rhapsodizing over 'Astral Weeks?' In the last 72 hours I have heard at least 5 people talking about Van Morrison and this record. Hmph. I love this record. I have loved it ever since I switched over from hating it, about 20 years ago. I thought it was strange in 1985, but it stuck with me. I realized that I loved it in about 1988, and all things being equal this mattered not at all, as it rarely came up. Now in the last three days, everyone's suddenly all enthusiastic about it. Ok, whatever. Where were you people when I was un-confident in my own musical tastes? Now that I don't need validation, they're everywhere. I will never, everever grow so old again. Hearing the 2 pieces on NPR, the one TV piece, seeing the three magazine articles, I will try not to feel smug and instead just suggest that yes, it would be a good idea to listen to 'Astral Weeks' again soon. An aside: I associate this music strongly with the beginning of spring. The songs are all shades of green and yellow, and they make me think of things growing in good black soil, stretching for the light of the sun.

Here's something odd that happened today. I went to the pet store to purchase some dog food for the beasts, and as usual there were not enough cashiers, so I'm standing there with a 40-pound sack of Nutro Natural Choice Small Bites in Lamb and Rice Meal slung over my right shoulder as casually as only a 40-pound sack of Nutro Natural Choice Small Bites in Lamb and Rice Meal over one's right shoulder can be, and anyway this woman is taking an eternity up at the checkout stand, and she's just prattling away to the bored teenager who is waiting for her to finish writing out her check. Now, I'm aggravated because I'm waiting and holding this giant bag of dog food, and this nimrod is writing a check(!) and having to fish out her driver's license (!) and she's off on this tangent about, I don't know, switchgrass or something that she is growing for her skunks (!). Anyway, so she suddenly stops in this middle of this soliloquy and looks right. at. me. and says "I have seven cats. What do you say to that?" And I say, "um, me?" and she says "yes. I have seven cats, what do you say to that?" and I think okay, what am I going to say to this, and so what I say is this:
"Oh, wait, I know the answer to this one. The answer is one. I am the one going to St. Ives."
And the woman just *looks* at me. And takes her stuff and goes out the door. So the teenager is ringing my stuff up now and says: "You're weird." Okay, this woman was just talking at this kid for like 15 minutes at top speed and volume about having seven cats (which pretty much is game-set-match on the insanity question) and raising skunks and switchgrass, and I'm the one who's weird, huh?

The world spins on, apace. Retail service-industry teenagers think I'm weird. Music reviewers can't get enough of a 40-year-old Van Morrison record. I can't wait to see what happens tomorrow.
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A Microscopic Cog in a Catastrophic Plan by Laura Lorson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at