Monthly Archives: May 2008

sweepin’ the… clouds away

5/29/08

Our plane took a rare turn over Manhattan whilst landing this afternoon, and I have to say… sometimes the beauty of this place is greater than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Sunny and 75, every child outside, every stoop populated, just one of those days so perfect it beggars translation.

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click for bigger

eighty-eight keys, one door

5/28/08

Quick update to say our meeting was, um, kinda awesome. We’re still a little neophytic at this, so sometimes we don’t know what really happens at these things despite actually being there. Sometimes I really wish I could write in full detail about our job…

My bum-bum is going to hurt from sitting for 11 hours. I waved at about 730 of you from 35K feet; I assume you saw me.

the mind wanders, the thread drifts

5/27/08

Well, it’s a good thing my moral environmental relativism is on overdrive, because we are doing something seemingly end-of-the-Roman-Empire in its gluttony: we’re flying to Los Angeles and back to NYC over the course of one day. I can’t say that’s a normal Wednesday, but we got a called to a meeting that, well, you just don’t say “no” to. You interrupt your Antarctic trek, leave lots of blubber for the huskies, and get your ass to Hollywood.

So look above you today, all blog readers, because I will fly over each and every one of you and tip my hat.

Which leads me to the CODE WORD question for the next two days: are you there? Are you around for the next few months? The summer is hell on blogs (rightly so) and I’d like to know if we’re all in this kayak together, or should we agree to meet again when the sun is not as beckoning?

‘cuz i’m stuck like glue

5/21/08

I was in love with my piano teacher’s daughter. She was in my French class in 9th grade, and every Wednesday I rode the bus with her to Virginia Beach, got off on the same stop, and walked with her to her house.

This would imply there was the vaguest intimacy between us, and there was decidedly not. Even though our entire 9th grade class was 99 people, and her mom was a celebrated musician in a town where my dad was the symphony conductor, I got the feeling she could scarcely conjure my name. When I got off the bus with her, I’d walk twenty paces behind, faking a problem with my shoe or my backpack, to relieve her of the burden of pleasantries.

That was the only kind of romantic love I’d ever known – being so positive that my crush would find me laughable, that I’d deliberately keep myself completely out of the running. Forget about “the fear of rejection”… as far as I knew, I was from a different universe without a common language or genitalia, and approaching a girl seemed like breaking the laws of physics.

Carolina changed all that, and the repercussions of so many years in romantic utero came back to haunt me, but I digress.

One night I finished my piano lesson around 8pm, went to the foyer, and did something known to my family as the third circle of Hell: waiting for my mom to pick me up. She was, on average, about 45 minutes late each time, but it could vary wildly. So I settled into the vestibule bench.

Upstairs, I could hear the piano teacher’s daughter put on a 45 single, and before long, “My Guy” by Mary Wells conducted through the walls. Not being from the kind of family that would have played 20-year-old Motown hits at home, it was the first time I’d ever heard it, and thought the chord progressions were pretty cool. After the song ended, I heard the daughter walk over to the record player and play it again.

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The second time, I noticed some of the lyrics:

No muscle-bound man could ever take my hand

From my guy-

No handsome face could ever take the place

Of my guy-

He may not be a movie star, but when it comes to being happy,

We are.

On the third and fourth time she played the song, I began to think I could be that person, the one who isn’t handsome, the one you can’t help love anyway. She didn’t want any of the boys I saw her with at school, not the lacrosse players or the wealthy studs she’d known since kindergarten – she wanted the guy who sneaked up on her, the one she adored despite all logic.

By the seventh or eighth time, I was sure of it. Each time the song ended, I could hear her bare feet walking across her room, the same number of paces, carefully taking the record player needle and placing it back at the beginning. She was trying to conjure this “guy” – didn’t she know he was sitting twelve feet below her?

By the tenth time, I was beginning to wake from my reverie. Where was my mom? Why was she always doing this to me? By the twelfth time, I began to feel sorry for the piano teacher’s daughter – doesn’t she crave at least a little variety in music? Could I actually be in love with someone who could listen to the same song that many times in a row?

By the time my mom’s headlights pierced the darkened raindrops of the foyer window, I had heard “My Guy” sixteen times in a row. I got into the car, and my mom apologized for making me wait, and then asked “how do you like the piano teacher?”

“She’s fine,” I said, “but her insane daughter drives me up the wall.”

the dodgeball diaries

5/20/08

I would like to begin today’s blog with the first page of a book proposal I wrote five years ago. Here it is:

Hey you!

You’ve never been comfortable in your own skin. You’ve always looked upon the world as a strange, uninviting place where your talents are not fully appreciated. You’ve been late to class, perhaps multiple times, hand frozen on the doorknob, terrified to draw any attention to yourself as you walked to your desk. There may be one, perhaps two things you master that set you apart from the unwashed masses, but they sure as hell never got you a girlfriend. You look into middle distance during dinner and a half hour speeds by. You fret about your physical appearance, but always get distracted en route to doing something about it. You know the Midpoint Formula, or Clytemnestra, or the capital of Chad, or the THACO of a White Dragon, or C++. You know that Sappho was actually a bisexual.

You smell, or at least you once did. You still hate your 3rd grade P.E. teacher. You lusted after many; most did not return the favor. Nobody gets you. Or if they do, they are of a small, disturbed following. You masturbate brilliantly. You are capable of infinite sadness and unbelievable ecstasy. You wish to be left alone; you wish to be discovered.

Revel in it, plant your flag in it, do not shy away from it.

You are a DORK.

You may never be happy. You may save the world.

And this book is for you.

What followed was a proposal: nine mapped-out chapters, the book’s audience, the tone, the logistics, everything you needed to understand both scope and humor. I’d been doting on this idea since about 1996, collecting newspaper clippings, taking notes, writing bits of chapters, interviewing great geeks of our time. I even designed massive graphics, including a chart of every kind of nerd (Dungeon Master, 2nd violinist, car enthusiast, ham radio operator, college radio DJ, etc) placed on a spectrum with cool visuals.

I’d gone back into the 19th century and mapped all dorks and their journey to the present, touching on racial stereotypes, the blessing of being ostracized and the curse of being loved. I was going to write the history of dorks in America.

Elizabeth Wurtzel’s then-recent cover of her book “Bitch” looked like this:

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So we thought it’d be funny to make a book called “Dork” with a cover like this:

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and yes, that is a slide rule and a calculator watch

It’s always good to accompany a book proposal with one of your articles appearing somewhere else, so I pitched a nerd-flavored idea to Salon, which ran a week later (see a less-funny edit here). My awesome lit agent sent the proposal to the big publishing houses, and… well…

“Hasn’t this been done before?”

“We really don’t think a book on ‘nerds’ will sell at this point.”

“It feels like familiar territory.”

“We don’t really know what this book is about.”

This was during my Year of Career Failure™ anyway, so the responses were unsurprising, but INFURIATING nonetheless. No, there was no other book on dorks/nerds/geeks released in the last decade, certainly none with my angle. And they “didn’t know what the book was about”? What part of “the peculiar history of dorks in America” was so fuckin’ hard to understand?

Here we were, in the middle of a huge culture tectonic-shift that gave the technically-minded and socially-inept more power than any could ever imagine… and they didn’t see a book in there? In disgust, I threw my proposal in the drawer, and within weeks, we were summoned to Los Angeles to do this fascinating thing called “write for television”.

I have oft whined about getting scooped on my projects, a phenomenon that has happened so many times now that I’ve almost stopped caring. But yesterday I saw something that made me actually clench my fists: one of the hot new bestsellers on Amazon is American Nerd: The Story of My People by Benjamin Nugent. Currently ranked #2 in the Social Sciences bestseller list, and the subject of a glowing article on Salon, the place that had run my nerd story so many years ago. My article is even linked at the bottom of the page.

The only sound worse than sour grapes is a kitten being strangled. So I’d like to err on the side of graciousness, as it’s obvious Benjamin Nugent is a very good dude and has written a great book. And there’s some succor in knowing I was right: there was a book there, and it was going to be a hit.

But for chrissake, what does a spaz gotta do to get a blowjob around here?!?

carpathia arrives safely

5/19/08

When it comes to columnists, I’m sort of a “ya get what ya pay for” shopper – Maureen Dowd is going to use Maureen Down phrases, Dave Barry is going to be slightly obvious and then sneak up and say something brilliant, and Ann Coulter is going to eat her own mother. But Bill Kristol, recently hired by the New York Times, has now crossed over into Bafflingly Terrible territory.

The idea that the NYT needed a conservative columnist is further proof how antiquated and behind-the-eight-ball mainstream media has become. It’s an effort to “cover all the bases” in a world that has largely left that sort of tokenism behind. And it’d be one thing if Kristol were any good at the job, but his recent column contained another whopping factual error, the kind that gets you demoted/fired at any newspaper unless you hide behind the translucent curtain of the “opinion” page.

This is the third completely avoidable error from Kristol since he took the post; not content with being ideologically bankrupt, he has to undermine himself with “facts” that never happen. That’s the problem with conservatives who fancy themselves Serious Intellectuals© – so much of their analysis is of the “I make my own reality” genre that it never holds up under scrutiny. If I were one of you actually smart right-leaners, I’d be pissed off.

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The thing that riles me, however, is that Kristol’s presence at the New York Times is a destructive force at a paper I have always loved. I’m speaking purely on my behalf, having not talked to my friends at the NYT, but there’s something slightly disgusting about Kristol’s tenure, especially given how the Times embarrassed all journalism on the build-up to W’s Iraq War. I mean this in all seriousness: Matt from the comments section would do the job 50,000 times better, and I’d be happy to write the recommendation.

I realize my own contribution to the Op-Ed page of the New York Times probably didn’t enter Pulitzer consideration in 2004, but at least I got all my Harry Potter facts straight. Plus, I got letters from kids all around the world!

The scuttlebutt on Bill Kristol is that his dad Irv was best friends with Abe Rosenthal, and Abe’s son Andy happens to be the New York Times’ opinion page editor. I’m all for nepotism if the charmed subject happens to be great – hell, nepotism gave us JFK, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, and an NBA full of Tar Heels. But in this case, it just makes the NYTimes look like a bunch of amateurs – and if the Old Gray Lady starts shopping at Kmart, we have naught but the New Yorker and Cat Fancy to foment our dreams.

give us those nice bright colors, give us the greens of summers

5/18/08

I warn you now, today’s blog is going to be slightly technical, but it’s something all of you are probably dealing with eventually: digitizing or scanning your old pictures. Longtime reader Tim H. asked me how I was able to pull so many old pictures out of my ass (actually, he phrased it much nicer) because he wanted to start an archive of his own.

First off, let me say this – scanning pictures has to be one of the most tedious, bullshit jobs in personal computing. Nobody has made it particularly easy, and after about five full-page scans, I’m usually so benumbed that I have to be pried off the floor with cooking spray. There are certainly no consumer-priced scanners that whip through pictures like a mimeograph; most force you to load each pic individually.

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I wonder if I caught it

Most of my old shots come from three or four “scanning jags” over the last six years, when I decided to grin and bear it for about five hours each, and even then, I’ve only scanned about 3% of the total. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve taken digital pictures of some of my old photos (like I did with this one), which is easy as long as your digicam is set to Super High Resolution and you haven’t been drinking coffee.

I’ve used Epson scanners since the very beginning, because they’ve always integrated seamlessly with the Mac, and they don’t dump a bunch of software onto your computer like HP and Canon do. If I were to buy a scanner now, I’d get one with an automatic document feeder (ADF) like the Epson Scanner Perfection 4490 Office version, because it’ll also turn batches of documents into PDFs.

The rest, at least for me, is just feeding and Photoshop. I went to the Lars Lucier School for Photoshop; he taught me the 10 basic rules of the game in 1997, and I’ve never forgotten them. I know, as a Mac fanboy, I should be using iPhoto or (god forbid) Aperture, but I love PS and would be nowhere without the “Save for Web & Devices” command, which is how you see my pictures on this blog. If Lars wants to pipe up and give his 35-second PS tutorial, it’s better than any book.

As for workflow, I do my old pictures in batches, fitting as many into the 8.5X11 space as I can, scanning them as one file, and separating them later. This can be a pain in the ass when you have a strict naming convention like I do, and you’ll tend to forget which pictures you have unless you’re extremely attentive, but it saves you hours.

Lars says 300-350 dpi is enough resolution to archive photos, and print copies that have a shot at looking like the original. That may sound proletarian to you cinephiles out there, but anything more, and your eyes will glaze over with boredom as drool empties out of your mouth.

There’s always sending your photos away and having some company do it for you, but I don’t think I could mail pictures from the early ’70s without being utterly devastated when Fedex loses my shit again. I’m sure there’s a more elegant solution to archiving your photos – maybe iPhoto is better now, maybe there’s a scanner that makes it all too easy – but I’ll leave it up to studio audience for a better idea.

On a personal note, Tim H. needs this info because he just lost his younger sister and would like to start a photo project to remember her by. Tim, I just want to say that my family would like to give yours all the warmth in the world, and I hope I can be of service in some tiny way.

we rock these grooves to be self evident

5/15/08

An amazing thing happened today: California legalized same-sex marriage. Of course, it’s more complicated than that (the CA supreme court actually declared any previous gay marriage bans unlawful under its Constitution) but the upshot is the same, and a lot of people are celebrating tonight. I know I’ve said this forty times before on this blog, but it’s important for straight couples (like us) to be vociferous about this, as nobody can claim that we’re doing it out of self-interest. This is a goddamn human rights issue.

The famed 19th-century Unitarian preacher Theodore Parker has one of my favorite quotes: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one… And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”  Your personal cynicism can be measured precisely by how much you believe that quote to be true. Are we on an inexorable path towards enlightenment, or are bursts like this just random flashes of light in mankind’s circular death march?

Theodore Parker lived just before the Civil War, and was discussing slavery, but the argument holds. I have to believe we are heading towards enlightenment, even with the repulsive fuck-monkeys currently occupying the White House, or else there’s really no point to any struggle, or, for that matter, teaching your kids anything but survival.

The Declaration of Independence said “all men are created equal”, but I like to think of America as having one golden rule: Thou Shalt Not Be Punished for Things Beyond Your Control. That was slavery’s essence – punishing those babies who were born black by making them lifelong indentured servants. It defines “sexism”, and now, “homophobia”. The next frontier, of course, is “beauty”, but we’re still a long way from considering the irredeemably ugly or morbidly obese as anything but punchlines.

Once you get past the chokingly ill-educated, insanely stupid argument that homosexuality is a choice, from then on, YOU MUST provide gays and lesbians every last protection under the law, and allow them to call their partnerships “marriage” or “civil unions” or “Sapphic trysts” or whatever the hell they want. Just like you can. End of story. Because, like I said, in this country, we don’t punish people for choices they didn’t make. There’s a name for places like that.

Inevitably – INEVITABLY – a bill will be put before the government, or a referendum on the ballot, that will declare same-sex marriage illegal, and it will be sponsored by some of the most morally-repugnant lowlifes in politics and organized religion. I have trouble fathoming most conservative and Republican behavior, but going after gays is truly sickening. It’s one thing if you truly believe in unprovoked war, or unfettered capitalism, or denying climate change… but there’s a special place in hell waiting for those who punish homosexuals for daring to get married. The vindictiveness is astonishing.

Religious conservatives could be trying to end poverty (like Jesus) or preaching tolerance (like Jesus) or spreading a message of love (like Jesus), but they’d rather spend their time going after fags. Forget the cruelty; it doesn’t even make sense in terms of time management. How do these people manage to block off their calendars? I work freelance and take Dexedrine, and there’s no WAY I could squeeze that much gay-hating in the week.

Hopefully, this will seem quaint to those reading from the future. It will have long been settled: homosexuals are married, just like different races get married, just like two left-handers get married. The moral arc of history may be bending towards justice, but man – it’s a jagged, horrible, tooth-chipping ride.

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our friends Jason and Tim hug after their ceremony at City Hall, Valentine’s Day 2004

you got your pisces in my capricorn

5/14/08

Big Meeting® tomorrow, so I only have time for this: Happy May Birthday to Salem (today), Chip (Sunday), my awesome wife (last Friday), my brother Sean (last Sunday), Uncle Dennis (yesterday), li’l Hank Drucker (three on the 28th) and yours truly on the 26th.

Space below reserved for all shit-talking to Tauri and Geminis.

mother dear, don’t let them shoot my kite down

5/13/08

LFMD asked me what I did for Tessa for Mother’s Day, and since I’ve never been one to shy away from boring the ever-livin’ snot out of my readership with my various projects, I thought I’d share this year’s adventures as well. Tessa actually benefits – or is possibly short-changed – by her birthday falling so close to Mother’s Day, so I’ve had to work to separate the two.

For her birthday on Friday, I got her a batch of peonies, because seriously, is there anything on Earth that smells better? I also got her all the flavors of her favorite jam, which is damn near impossible to find in America since Whole Foods stopped carrying it: the delectable Fior di Frutta:

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It contains no sugar, but each flavor is insane: wild blueberry, strawberry, Seville orange, plum, peach, apricot… good god, they’re amazing. But the big present was something I saw at Salem’s wedding.

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I found a lady who makes really nice backgammon tables, the kind with the board inlaid into the top so your dice don’t sputter across the room. Since Tessa always played backgammon with her dad, I thought it’d be cool to start up again (and teach Lucy as soon as she stops swiping the pieces). The table won’t be ready until late June, so I got her a little magnetic backgammon game for nine bucks in the interim so I can learn not to suck.

As for Mother’s Day, I’ve had this idea for a while… we have no real outside seating at the farm except for a brick patio that has been destroyed by countless winters and errant snowplows. I noticed the barn had an ancient door – unused for a hundred years – opening up into the yard, and so I got to thinking.

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what it looked like

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what it looks like now

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what it will look like (thank you, Photoshop)

I thought it’d be great to build a little deck for us to watch the sunset when we’re 104. I’m doing it all myself with concrete piers and pressure-treated wood, and it was totally inexpensive – the only real cost is the offset umbrella, but I can’t stand those patio umbrellas that don’t move, don’t shade, and fall over on kids.

So there you have it. Is it love or Dexedrine? Oh, gentle reader, can’t it be both?