Monthly Archives: August 2005

katrina and the waves

8/31/05

To answer Ken Sumka’s question from a few days ago, I told Tessa the day Katrina hit that every paper would have this headline. Two days later, only the Brits had thought of it, so it appears that we are getting older and nobody remembers our little novelty songs anymore.

This has to be one of the worst weeks in the news in recent history: to wit, 1000 people were trampled to death in Baghdad, and Hurricane Katrina is turning out to be the most devastating natural disaster we’ve ever known, soon to trump the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.

This is a perfectly dreadful time to get political, and while Bush has no control over the weather, all I really wanted him to do was act Presidential. In fact, I’m desperate for him to do so, but instead, we got this picture yesterday:

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And that’s not all. I mean, I know this is going to enrage the conservatives who frequent this blog, and I can hear the chorus of “you’ll blame the Republicans for anything” and all that shit, but the facts show that Bush systematically railroaded and under-funded every attempt to fix the system of dykes and levees around New Orleans. They cut New Orleans flood-control funding 44% to pay for Iraq, and the National Guard is busy getting blown up in the Middle East, thus there weren’t enough troops to stop the looting and help find survivors.

Shit, why do I even bother finding those links? It’s all too unbelievably sad. I lived through September 11th with my girlfriend-now-wife Tessa in downtown Manhattan, and I’m here to tell you that this is way worse. In the final tally, almost as many people will have died, and the blow to America’s history – and culture – is incalculable.

God loves to kill poor people, and this disaster was no exception. The two neighborhoods I lived in for a short while – the French Quarter and the upper Garden District – were largely spared, but the poor parts of the Ninth Ward – pronounced “nite woid” if you met someone from there – are under water.

[Quick digression… the true Cajun accent sounds exactly like a very ugly Brooklyn dialect. The Acadians – refugees from France and then Nova Scotia – settled in two places during the 18th century, around New York City, and in the bayous of the Gulf Coast (some of them stayed in Maine, hence “Acadian National Park”). “Acadian” became “Cajun” down south, and the two peoples evolved very differently, but the accent remained the same. My old girlfriend from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi sounded exactly like a cab driver from Flatbush.]

With all the people dead, homeless and suffering, it seems hopelessly self-involved to bemoan your own loss, but New Orleans was truly a place where I first felt freedom in all its guises, where anything could happen, and later on, when I had some money, it usually did. God, the architecture was so beautiful – you could wander down the wrong street and yes, you might get your ass kicked, but the shotgun houses lining the roads were so heartbreakingly cool. Even the ones in disrepair just made you want to spend a year there fixing them. Now those blocks are gone.

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at Audubon Park last year – I have no idea what is there now

We should have been more prepared than this. If this is any indication how America will respond to large disasters, man-made or from nature, then we’re going to have to get really good at kissing certain towns goodbye. What the hell have we been doing for the last four years?

Now comes the big questions on whether or not to rebuild – some people think the entire city should be abandoned forever. Even if you do fix it, who would insure a city lying so far below sea level? I say that’s bullshit. If we can grow babies in petri dishes and record quasars from the Big Bang, we can sure as fuck rebuild New Orleans and devise a pump system that can withstand a Category 5 storm. A category 6 storm even, god dammit.

I’m in absolute mourning, and I’m done blogging for the week. Why did a storm have to take away such a wonderful place? How is New Orleans under water and yet Dallas sits pretty? Up the East Coast, in Atlanta and Charlotte, rumors of “America is out of gas” is causing panic, with cars snaking around the block. Since 9/11, we have always waited for the other shoe to drop, but perhaps it is a huge shoe that gently drops for years. I was reminded of the brilliant line from Marlowe, when Dr. Faustus asks the Devil how he got out of hell. “Why, this is hell,” the Devil replies, “nor am I out of it.”

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Michael Jordan hits gamewinner against Georgetown, New Orleans Superdome, 1982

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me and Tessa at Saints game in the Superdome ten months ago

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refugees in the Superdome yesterday

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swaddlers size 2

8/30/05

That’s the thing about getting all hot and bothered on the blog; you can always post pictures of the baby when things get a little too steamy. And after a day like today, which was very difficult, it was so wonderful to come home to our little trooper. She just started sleep training – our own version of Ferberizing, I guess – and is doing really well, even though her cries are pure anguish for us. She always stops pretty quickly, however, and goes fast asleep, and I feel like I can hear the air crackling with her learning. It’s hard to describe.

Anyway, here are some pics from the last week or so… first off, I’m glad we gave birth to a chick that really appreciates a good road trip, you know, so we can burn more fossil fuels as a family. As long as it doesn’t go more than 4-5 hours:

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In New York last week, Lucy met (what I hope to be) one of her future best friends, as Laurie and George Gilmore gave birth to the beautiful little Polly:

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Tessa’s mom Sandy came this last weekend, so I thought a little genetic documentation of recessive blue eye genes were in order:

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And I know babies cry, and La Lux is no exception, but she really is a happy kid most of the time, and makes her parents feel so unbelievably blessed. Lucy, if you ever read this years from now, I want you to know that you bring your mom and me an insane amount of joy every waking hour.

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it’s just the sleeping hours that could still use work

back that ass up

8/29/05

This just in: FLEET WEEK, the musical penned by Sean, Mac and Jordana, won Best Musical in the New York Fringe Festival 2005. Over 1600 people went to see it, even in the hastily-set-up show on Saturday, 1500 of which do not even know any of us. That, my friends, is an incredible feat, especially given that they wrote FW as an act of revenge, since their equally awesome show “Lucretia Jones” was snubbed last year. We were so excited that we dropped shit on the floor in Venice, CA, three-thousand miles away.

Which begs the question to a select few out there: why the hell didn’t you go? Since I’m not really involved, I can be the asshole, much like the party-giver who realizes – after a great throwdown – that several of his best friends hadn’t bothered to attend.

Here’s the thing about experiences: if you don’t have them, you don’t have them. That play went up six times, and that will probably be it; the specificity of the event will never be replicated. You can TiVo a show, you can re-read a book, but there are some things – like live theater – that exist entirely within the construct of Buddhist ephemera.

I’m calling all of you out, and I’m calling myself out too. Once you have a kid, your energy level for any exertion outside shoveling food into your own mouth dwindles to a trickle. You have to FORCE yourself to stay with the flow of culture and the exchange of ideas, and you must always err on the side of adventure. Yeah, yeah, I know, “easy for me to say” and all that crap, but that’s just the river in Egypt makin’ you squawk.

Dearest friends, I am thousands of miles away from you right now. Eventually I’m going have another big party, or perhaps someone else will bother. If you don’t come, you will be, in the words of one commenter describing me during one of my C-list celebrity sermons, a giant, quivering, pink, pearly pussy.

I’ve ranted to you before about this and I am far from perfect, but your life is not a goddamn dress rehearsal. When you get ass cancer or when half your body doesn’t move anymore, or you’re stuck at Fuckwood Springs Elderly Shitbox Centre barfing away the last of your existence, you’re going to bloody well wished you saw FLEET WEEK.

a tropical depression

8/28/05

Yes, long-time readers will know I responded to New Orleans’ possible hurricane in much the same fashion last year when Ivan was heading towards Louisiana (complete with picture of my hair that Tanya makes fun of), but as of this writing, we could be looking at one of the worst storms in history barreling down on my favorite town in America.

I once made a terrifically bad Photoshop example of what would happen if a 25-foot storm surge poured over the 18-foot levees and engulfed the French Quarter:

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click for bigger

…and I’m sorry, but I just don’t think I could live in a world without the Verti Marte, the Café du Monde, the Joan Good jewelry store and basically every other dive frequented by my friends since we first discovered the place in 1987. In fact, Tanya, here’s my hair on that trip:

To think those waters behind me are now threatening millions of people fills me with dread – perhaps red-state Florida and Louisiana will think twice about voting Republican given that the G.O.P. still doesn’t believe in global warming, which will make storms like this even more commonplace. I’m amazed nobody has tried to make that a campaign issue, but I suppose it’s just too easy to discredit scientists in our budding theocracy.

I once wrote a screenplay where a hurricane is shoved out of the way of New Orleans, ask me about it sometime. The worst hardly ever happens in these big storms; pray to your favorite float queen at Mardi Gras that America’s most interesting town is spared.

we’re all one, and life flows on

8/25/05

Chapel Hill quietly (or not so quietly, if you were turned to 89.3 FM) lost an icon today, for this is the fabled day in history that Jay Murray left Chapel Hill. Those of you who missed 1991-2005 at Carolina can only guess at how unfathomable today is, as Jay was the eternal, steadfast beacon of hope (or at least indie-rock slackerdom) and the last of us still leading an active social life in Chapel Hill. Except for Annie, and that’s Carrboro, gents.

Jay’s fame as the eternal student eclipsed most other fictionalized accounts of other people who never left college, indeed, he eclipsed my own attempts when we made the Pink House movie based tangently on his (and my) circumstances. He had already been a grad student for nine years when we began filming, and that was a while back. People used to ask me if Ben Folds’ song Steven’s Last Night in Town was about me, but I always said it was about Murray.

Jay and I share the same birthday (May 26) which made for great parties when we lived together at the actual Pink House. We had, however, drastically different tastes in music, which led to all kinds of shit-talking in the kitchen after 2am. I found his radio show – and WXYC in general – to be the most pretentious, unlistenable crap south of free-form jazz.

Many songs sounded like a refrigerator falling down an endless set of concrete stairs. Those guys would play anything and everything, as long as it was guaranteed to make me want to claw my face off. One time, me, Scotty and Jay got into another WXYC dust-up, and I bet Jay $20 that we could turn the radio on that second, and it would be something ghastly.

He did, and to my triumph, it was a recording of a guy counting backwards from two-thousand. No lie. Ask anyone.

The farther away I am from Chapel Hill, however, the more I came to appreciate the anything-goes sensibility of WXYC, and even began to listen to it via the Web (it was the first radio station streaming on the internet EVER). I began to view it as a strong antibiotic: you don’t want to use it every day, but I’m glad it’s there when I need it.

And Jay, who has tape-recorded every single 6-hour shift he’s ever done, became the standard-bearer for the musical roads less traveled. Mike Johnson, whose XYC show came right after the inimitable Grant Tennille, once went on a road trip with Jay, who left the radio on 89.3 all the way up the coast just to see who else was sharing the frequency. Annoying, but in a way, quite endearing.

He got his doctorate, so his last radio show was today, and then he’ll make his way to New York City, only a decade or so after the rest of us. I called him up at the station this afternoon, and just to rekindle an old debate, I requested a Beatles song on behalf of me, Scotty and Chip – the three souls forced to listen to Jay’s show ON TAPE for hours in the Pink House kitchen.

His last song was “Within You, Without You” from Sgt. Pepper, which acts as a fitting tombstone to the Jay Murray Era. God speed!

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Dave Surowiecki, Scotty Bullock, Jay Murray, Pink House 20s party, 1997 by Lars Lucier

everyone’s a captain kirk

8/24/05

One obvious by-product of our zany Hollywood sojourns is the frequent spotting of stars past and present in pretty much every place we go. We’ve dealt with many kinds of stars – from last year’s Naked TV show, which had people on the brink of fame – to Lucy’s unbelievable amount of flirting and smiling with currently-hot Rachel Weisz and Famke Janssen last week.

The other sort of celebrity is one whose star has faded, and obviously, they’re the most populous. You see them sitting at the next table at lunch, pulling up to the stoplight in an old BMW, even yakking it up in a bar with a few similarly ex-famous friends. American culture cruelly calls these people “has-beens,” but today Tessa decided that she thinks being a “has-been” is actually quite nice. She figures it absolves you of past experience and allows you – if you let it – to get on with the next phase of your life.

I’m with her on that one, because the snarky assholes who always go on about “has-been” are never-weres themselves, most likely having never distinguished themselves in any field except sarcasm and schadenfreude.

The same goes for music snobs talking shit about “one-hit wonders”: they have one more hit than you ever had, you sniping butthole. Sure, you can denigrate Nena and Animotion all you want, but they also have a nice platinum record hanging in the hallway if you ever want to visit.

I say be nice to your has-beens; they put themselves out on the line for you, brought happiness to your younger, less cynical self, and ask for nothing in return but a simple nod and smile in their direction. Oh, and maybe the upper right-hand box on Hollywood Squares.

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oh, zone

8/23/05

The site traffic on this blog – and I imagine, on all blogs – takes a huge hit in these waning weeks of August, and to be honest, I’m usually gone right now anyway, with my family filling in. Since we’re stuck with each other this August, I’d like to do a little prerequisite Bush-bashing just to keep my anger muscle erect. You know, you liberals, if you don’t keep your righteous indignation member throbbing every few weeks, it’s liable to fall off.

To wit: something incredible happened at Harvard last week. They took normal skin cells, and transformed them into stem cells. This little anecdote, missed by many, may well end up the biggest piece of news in the early 21st century (but of course, we’re distracted by Ali G getting dragged into the ocean by bodyguards because he tackled Pamela Anderson during her DOG’S WEDDING).

Now, the Bush Administration hates science, especially when it proves that fetuses don’t feel pain until the last weeks of pregnancy, or, say, that humans and apes descend from a common ancestor. But all this science-bashing goes away when they see a political opportunity to stall progress in the name of some far-off advance in technology.

Now that Harvard “made” stem cells, right-wing wackos are saying that we should go ahead and stop funding of fetal stem cells because the shit will soon be growing on trees. Never mind that the Harvard technology could take decades. In the meantime, all you people with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration and complete paralysis can FUCK OFF in the name of conservative deal-brokering.

Bush has done this before. By hyping futuristic hydrogen fuel-cell cars with one hand while handing Detroit the mushiest, least-effective energy bill possible, he has mortgaged my daughter’s future. Hydrogen fuel cell cars, despite breathless reports by occasional science magazines, might not be energy savers for another two decades. In the meantime, his administration has shown ZERO interest in hybrid vehicles, which could start saving the planet NOW because… well, fuck it. You know why.

Again, this shit isn’t funny anymore. To quote Morrissey, as one should in these situations, “it’s too close to home, it’s too near the bone.”

audi alteram partem

8/22/05

Okay, let’s take care of some flotsam, shall we? Sometimes you want to write a blog about a bunch of stuff with no obvious connecting thread, and that’s just not the way I like to do things. Oh well. Here goes:

1. FLEET WEEK was reviewed by the New York Times. When you read the actual article, it seems as though there’s no actual opinion there, but given the brutal invective hurled at other Fringe shows (“tangle of awkward clichés,” “side-splitting laughter is not on the menu,” “only partly satisfying“) I think we’re lucky to get out alive. Besides, with a little creative ellipsing, Lindsay can do this:

“well-written…’On the Town’ meets ‘Queer as Folk’.” – The New York Times

And if you ask me, that’s pretty goddamn good.

2. Remember how I told you about this entry, which has become the last trading post for Jarts™ on the planet? One of the comments needs to be reprinted here:

The Lawn Game Jarts was invented by my mothers uncle, Dr. Lawrance Barnett in Fort Edward, New York. Dr. Barnett was a Dentist that made his money in the Stock Market. The Jarts were MFG in his Barn for years. He later gave the Business to his Step Son, Robbie Barnett, whom had two Mfg plants in South Glens Falls NY. Even though the box gave all proper warnings a person threw a Jart wildly in the air, it came down taking a minors eye out. Against Robbies lawyers advice he settled with the people and set up a precedense and was sued by almost anyone who owned a set. It was and is a fun game and very safe if one follows the directions.

That, my friends, is awesome.

3. Oft-commenter Lyle, your friend and mine in Bangkok, is starting her own blog. If I had the link, I’d put it here, but hopefully she’ll add it in the comments section. By the way, if you have a blog and you want people to know about it, feel free to use today’s entry to broadcast your warez. Pretty soon I’ll get around to having a blogroll on the side of this page (you know, besides my family) as well as a FAQ for all you Nervous Nellies, Looky-Loos, Noodges and Buttinskis.

4. We’re starting the Ferber process in a few days; our sanity dictates it. Lucy is only a week past four months old, but we think she can handle it. The current sleep situation isn’t do her any favors, and it’s a wonder Tessa can still operate heavy machinery given her deprivation. These are the days, when you’re 25, you laugh with disgust at adults with kids. Fortunately, this is also the day I laugh with disgust at myself at 25.

5. I took Latin, but never came across this:

“post hoc ergo propter hoc”

It’s a great phrase meaning “after this, therefore because of this,” – or, in other words, it’s the fallacy “since B came after A, then A must have caused B.” God, I’m dying to use it.

Oh, looks like I just did! TEE HEE!!!

lose it in the front

8/21/05

We’re back in Los Angeles after a whirlwind tour of NYC, and I have to say it’s really nice being a tourist in your own town. You know where everything is, you get to see everyone you want, and you leave before the contempt of your familiarity kicks in.

Opening night of FLEET WEEK was a stunner. Ovations at the end, and a huge swell of adoring throngs in the street. My take is this: I think you could use FW as a proving ground for your friends. If they find it offensive, then you can dump them with a clear conscience. I was prepared for a lot of foppish double-entendres (and got them), but there is a core of sweetness at the center of this musical that separates it from the snark that is the benchmark of the Fringe Festival.

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Sean (in purple shirt) outside after the show

Mac’s book is solidly funny, and Sean has written two of the best songs of his life (I can’t remember what they’re called, but see the show and tell me which two you think they are). But I have to call out my sister-in-law Jordana, who has written the best lyrics of any show south AND north of Christopher Street, and that includes YOU, Broadway. There are so many little turns-of-phrase so clever that, to borrow a line from Pee Wee Herman, you forget to laugh. If someone bothers to post the show’s lyrics to the Web, you must peruse them at your leisure. Not safe for work, by the way.

Reviewers have always taken delight in savaging innocent works of art, and the critics of my generation (save Va. Heffernan, natch) seem to be so self-loathing about their brethren’s crop of creative endeavors that they go out of their way to piss on any parade within their purview. If the reviewers came to opening night of FW, saw the joy in the audience around them, and resolved to put a stop to it, then they can try and do that.

No reviews have come out yet, but it’s a dreadful pity that so much is at stake with the single, variable, objective opinion of one audience member. If they loved it, then we’ll trumpet it from the top of the Chrysler Building. If not, then Sean, Jordana, Mac, Lindsay and the cast need to know they accomplished what they set out to do. Tessa cried with pride during each song (despite it being a comedy) and I smiled for 1.75 hours.

In the last few years my friends and family have teetered on the edge of wild success without a tipping point. I hope this summer proves to be the tiny shove that gets us all where we need to be.

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cake at the after-party

hallways and highrises

8/18/05

Twenty years ago today, my life changed irreparably for the better. Everything has been different since that day; dreams were given a shot, the motions of my current life were sprung, and my fate veered utterly into bliss. It was the day my dad drove me to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for the first time, set me in front of Hinton James dorm, and drove away.

I had never visited the campus, barely knew where Chapel Hill was, and chose a South Campus dorm because it said it had a computer center. The “computer center” turned out to be four dusty green-screen terminals from the UNIVAC experiments of the late 1950s, shoved next to the washing machines.

My mom had slipped eighty dollars into my pants pockets for good luck; on that first day, I took a shower in the dorm, and when I got back to the room, the money was gone. I called my friends from high school, basically in tears, and promptly made them all afraid of going to college. It was 104 degrees, and air conditioners were illegal.

My roommate didn’t show up for another two weeks, and when he did, he plopped his hunting rifle on the bed and muttered something in my direction. It would be the only time he spoke to me that semester.

That afternoon, twenty years ago today, I began the slow walk from Hinton James to the main campus to take my C-TOPS tests, and I noticed a pair of Reeboks and Benetton shorts idling alongside me. A beautiful girl with a heavenly Georgia accent introduced herself to me (a girl? a PRETTY one? talking to ME for no reason?) and told me her name was Kendall: I promptly fell in love. She would be in my wedding party eighteen years later.

A few days on, I was practicing “O My God” by the Police on my bass in my dorm room, and a handsome fella knocked on my door and said he liked it (a guy just came up to my door? complimenting me? someone with friends of his own?) and he told me his name was Bud. Later that month we would finish 2nd in the Hinton James Talent Show by playing “What I Like About You” (the winner was a girl who whistled “Saving All My Love For You”). Bud and I would live together, on and off, for the next ten years, and we would be in each other’s lives for another ten after that, either in person, or here in the blog.

Bud introduced me to Jon and Chip, and well, that’s already been documented. From there, I’d go on to join a brotherhood that counts as my best friends to this day, start writing in earnest, eventually bring my brother into the fold (which now provides his entire social/work life) and… oh yeah, I would meet a crazy blonde chick in 1987 that would become the true love of my life.

UNC, I know people don’t get you unless they’ve gone to you. I know it’s impossible to describe what you mean to me without making non-grads groan, the same way I feel about fans of far-off baseball teams. All I can say is that you saved me from desolation, probably saved me from suicide, provided me Dean Smith’s way of thinking, gave me almost all of my friends, introduced me to the creature of woman, imbued me with an infinite store of confidence, and most of all, gave off the ecstatic whiff that anything great was not only possible, but probable.

That all began twenty years ago today, and I’m not so far gone to know that life and fate hang by gossamer strings that could have swung a variety of directions. That I landed in your neck of the southern woods continues to be an unforgettable blessing.

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Kendall and me February ’86, February 2005