Monthly Archives: June 2012

our little wild time had just begun

6/10/12

The old Steely Dan hit Rikki Don’t Lose That Number has this great chorus:

Rikki, don’t lose that number

You don’t wanna call nobody else

Send it off in a letter to yourself

…which brings up how very difficult it was to flirt with people before the internet made everything so goddamn easy. There was a time, you know, when it was possible to never see somebody again. You could have a life-changing conversation someone at a party, and if either of you were suddenly whisked away, you could spend years with that “what if” inkling in the back of your mind.

It could be much bigger; you could have a summer romance with boardwalks and road trips, howling at Saturn over a rocky precipice, dropping acid and having months full of meaningful, soul-divining sex… and then lose touch. Forever.

All this led to the romantic notion of The One That Got Away, a person who embodied everything you didn’t have, or weren’t getting from your relationship at the time. You’d never actually see them again, but they’d appear in the short stories you might write, or the songs you’d sing. They would be lingering in that twilight liminal state in the wisps before sleep: they’re out there, somewhere, waiting.

In the Facebook era, The One That Got Away never quite gets away. They become a Facebook friend, and unless they take the trouble to un-friend you, their whereabouts are meticulously documented for years on end. In fact, not only can you find your crushes, you can find anyone’s. How about Rikki, Whose Number You Were Not Meant To Lose?

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Say hello to Rikki Ducornet, who was a student at Bard College when Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (of Steely Dan) went there in the late 1960s. Fagen met her at a party in Annandale and gave her his number, wrote a song about it five years later, and now there’s her picture and here are some of her cool paintings.

How about another one? Let’s take Same Old Lang Syne, the Dan Fogelberg classic that I have both hated and thought about since 1981 – you know, where he runs into his ex-girlfriend in the frozen foods section and, well,

She said she’s married her an architect

Who kept her warm and safe and dry

She would have liked to say she loved the man

But she didn’t like to lie

Fogelberg always said it was autobiographical, and kept the identity of the woman secret for the rest of his life, as did she. Until, of course, he died and the internet took over…

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Say hello to Jill Greulich, who was a student at Woodruff High School in Peoria, IL, when Dan Fogelberg went there in the late 1960s. Fogelberg dated her before he left for college, wrote a song about meeting her ten years later, and now there’s her Facebook picture and an article in the newspaper.

When you start comparing eras, it’s easy to be an old fart and kvetch about how Kids Today™ with their twittering and twattering don’t know anything real, and drown themselves in a vat of unceasing information, rendering them hopelessly unimaginative. I’m sure the same thing was said about us, so I always repeat the mantra “not worse, just different.”

But I will say this: there is something magical about some people leaving your life, forever, in a cloud of lingering possibility. A chance encounter, a dream dance, a moment that gets to live evermore in its time. I had a superlative moment with a girl 20 years ago, then met her again through this blog and now I can’t imagine not having her as both friend and confidante. But I’ve also had a question that remains unanswered, and those stories without endings can inspire stories without end.

it’s not small, no no no

6/7/12

When you were a kid, you’d go to other people’s houses – perhaps for a sleepover, maybe for a meal – and you’d be stunned at how foreign everything seemed, even if they lived next door. Here’s my list of other families’ things that seemed “not quite right”:

• Hunt’s Ketchup (instead of Heinz)

• or worse, generic “catsup”

• weird-smelling towels

• Post© Raisin Bran instead of Kellogg’s™

• economy-sized vats of Honeycomb cereal, for that matter

• big plastic water glasses that made you dribble down your shirt

• Pepsodent or Gleem; Colgate was only a little better

• pot-smoking older brothers who only like the Stones (not the Beatles)

• Intellivision (no Atari)

• long, hand-holding prayer before dinner

• watching “B.J. and the Bear” instead of “Love Boat”

y’all got any?

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yes, yes, I know, but it was better than B.J. and the fucking Bear

new car caviar four star daydream

6/6/12

Despite a marginally successful media blackout, I’ve become ever more demoralized about the future of this country, now that the real money from the Citizens United debacle is starting to flow into Republican ideas. You can decide not to care, as I have tried, but the fact is this: we’re all affected by this somehow, every day.

If I were a Republican right now, I’d be so psyched – sure, you don’t get the Presidency, but if you control everything else, it doesn’t really matter. And sure, maybe the billions of dollars being poured into races like the Wisconsin recall election ain’t really “fair”, but hell… you know you’re right, so who cares how it comes about?

History tends towards cycles, and it seems like we’re destined for a Tammany Hall-style, union-busting, fat cat era – at least until there are enough scandals and enough abject misery to force a quiet (or not-so-quiet) revolution. But that takes decades, and in the meantime, we have to live here.

How could the Supreme Court possibly decide that money is speech, and therefore protected as a fundamental freedom? By that math, doesn’t that mean that rich people are fundamentally more free than other people, thereby desecrating the idea that “all men are created equal”?

Look, I’m not going to write a profanity-laden thesis. That only happens when I believe in possibility. I do want to ask this one question, however. Let us fundamentally accept that the “undecided America”, the ones that actually dictate who wins what, could be informed by knowing both sides of an issue equally. Why can’t conservatism and Big Business offer their ideas on an even playing field?

That’s all I’d ever want. Two ideologies presented, and the undecided choose. When reduced to its basest parts, that political system would look like this:

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If progressivism failed that debate, I would gladly acquiesce. I’d say “nice game, gentlemen” and take my backgammon pieces home. But that’s not what we’ve got. For the next generation or so, it seems we’ve got this:

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And I don’t like those particular odds.

a goddess on a mountain top

6/5/12

Yessiree, astronomy-related events are just a hair shy of ham radio jamborees and fruit canning when it comes to your sperm count, but I don’t care: Venus was going to pass in front of the sun, and I kinda wanted to see what it looked like.

So did Lucy, who has no trouble stirring up serious passion for these sorts of things. Luckily for all involved, we still had the pinhole viewers from the eclipse a few weeks ago, but when we used them today, we couldn’t see anything. So we had to bring out the big guns, fellas.

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I drilled a small hole in a piece of plywood and clamped it to the top of a ladder. Over the hole I stretched a small piece of tinfoil and poked a teensy hole in it with a needle. About 12 feet away, I took our largest pinhole viewer tube and balanced it on my old bicycle. AND BEHOLD!!!

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Yes, I know, you can barely see Venus in the lower right quadrant of the sun (which is actually inverted from reality). Thank goodness, then, that I BOUGHT A CHEAP PAIR OF #14 WELDING GLASSES last week FOR THE WIN!

Frankly, I didn’t think they would work. And it led to me saying the following sentence to Lucy: “Okay, sweetie, this is the only time in your life I will tell you this, but look directly at the Sun.”

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I can’t quite describe what it was like, because it was unexpectedly breathtaking. I mean, you never get to see Venus as a “place”, it’s always this giant gaseous object hanging incongruously in the evening sky. Half the time you mistake it for an airplane.

But looking straight at the Sun, and seeing Venus right in front of it… it seemed so real for the first time, so understandable, like spotting a good friend clear across campus. When you view it, you get the sense of Earth as not just this exceptional, separate place, but as part of a family, a brotherhood of orbs lining up around our mother.

I put the welding glasses in front of my camera lens, turned the aperture way down, and clicked, hoping I could get something. Surely there are better ways of doing it, but the image is oddly haunting:

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I’m a dork, sure. When I was about 12, I remember getting up at 3am in Iowa, sneaking out to the high school down the block in 10-degree wind chills to see a shitty penumbral lunar eclipse, easily one of nature’s least-interesting phenomena. But if any of these fun, silly projects Lucy and I do together happens to spark something in her – even something completely unrelated – all the masking tape, aluminum foil, felt, cardboard, glitter glue, pink paracord and plywood will have been worth it.

i’m covering my ears la la la la

6/4/12

A few days ago, there was an article by Stanley Fish about spoiler alerts in entertainment. Fish is usually a compelling writer (when he’s not in “get off my lawn” mode), but his apparent insouciance about spoiler alerts is something I find personally gobsmacking.

After giving away several major plot points of “The Hunger Games” in his previous column, he justified it with research from UC-San Diego and the Psychological Science journal:

…in a controlled experiment, “subjects significantly preferred spoiled over unspoiled stories in the case of both… ironic twist stories and… mysteries.” In fact, it seems “that giving away… surprises makes readers like stories better perhaps because of the pleasurable tension caused by the disparity in knowledge between the omniscient reader and the character.”

I mean, sure. And as someone who dares string verbal yarn together for a living, I’m also fascinated at the way us humans can feel suspense during a scene we’ve seen 35 times before. It’s as if, deep down, we believe it might be different this time, a character may act differently, like Jeff Daniels’ character in The Purple Rose of Cairo.

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As a writer, however, the concept of the spoiling the ending – or the hook – of a TV show or movie is like getting stabbed in the fucking heart. No amount of psychological research will convince me that watching “The Sixth Sense” would have been better if someone had told me the ending. That theater that night, as it dawned on us – it was something akin to religious ecstasy.

Just think, someone always there to tell you: “Rosebud is his sled,” “this is where Uma Thurman gets an adrenaline needle in the breastplate,” “Keyser Sose is actually…” and so on. Thinking of that great twist, the popcorn-dropping mindfuck, is what I am here to do. To think of it so carelessly discarded makes me weep like Bluto when they cleared out the bar.

As such, I treat all TV shows and movies with the same respect to their endings and plots, which makes me an annoying completist: I have to watch everything in order, as the creator intended. Tessa is happy to catch bits here and there, and miss entire episodes, and that’s fine… but I just can’t do it.

I have been purposely avoiding all talk of “Mad Men” from TWO SEASONS AGO because I eventually want to watch this week’s finale with Matt Weiner’s true intent. I went on a “Game of Thrones” binge so that I could bask in Sunday’s season finale with the collective unconscious.

If I wanted my films spoiled, I would go back to work writing movie trailers, where we did it almost every time. But now I want my movies straight, no pre-chaser. I need to be wowed and captivated by something I didn’t see coming. Saying spoiler alerts don’t really matter is like saying sex is awesome, but orgasms are overrated. Like Woody Allen said, even his worst orgasm was “right on the money”.

kids in a sandbox, wasps in a glass

6/3/12

I need to ask a serious question: what is your survival strategy for the next five months, given the election? I have tried (and occasionally succeeded) in media blackouts over the years, but two things keep ruining it: the unwaveringly brilliant writing of The Daily Show, and the ambient awareness of other events whilst trying to skip to my favorite parts of various online haunts.

Put simply, I cannot STAND how this country now elects its Presidents. I know that makes me look like a pusillanimous, dainty little pipfarthing, but there are no real exchange of ideas going on. The level of discourse would be shamed by your average kindergarten fight over Legos, and one side is so clearly fucking crazy that even talking to them sets up a false equivalency.

In short, Mitt Romney is a rare combination of buffoon and robot, harboring ideas about women, gays and money that smell distinctly of 1953. The inside of his brain looks like the lobby of a mid-century Howard Johnson’s. What troubles me about the dog-on-roof incident is not that he did it, but that he took the dog down, cleaned all the diarrhea off the car, dog and crate, and then strapped the poor fucker back up there.

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As for Obama, us progressives feel sick about the things we’d hoped for, so sick that we forget how many amazing things he’s actually done. We might be frustrated, but one thing’s for sure: the alternative is unfathomable. And so I, like most people I know, have a sneaking suspicion Obama will win by seven points just like he did last time.

But until then, oh, the rivers of shit they will all make us swim in… the faux 3-day scandals, the bursts of righteous indignation, the game-changer bullshit, the cable news horrorshow. God, the arguments over semantics, celebrities and parfaits while so many suffer. How will you do it? How will you process your American world for the next five months?