Saturday, August 12, 2017

Charlie and the Kibble Mush Factory

And now, a word about Charlie.
We'd been feeding him by hand all week, as he hadn't shown much interest in food. Just wet, mushed up kibble (sounds delicious, right?) scooped up off our fingers, a little bit at a time, at various intervals during the day. It was just an upset stomach, we figured, and he'd get over it in a couple days.
And he seemed to be, as he was a lot better off on Wednesday than he'd been on Tuesday.
I wasn't home for a lot of Thursday, so that was a setback, but we thought he'd probably go for his regular food soon. He didn't. Not Thursday, and even yesterday he would seem interested in it, but never take a bite. So yesterday I decided I'd take him to the vet today. Kathy wound up taking him instead, because she's a hero, and also because the bakery a block away makes some of the best doughnuts we've ever tasted. Nothing fancy, but oh, so good. So fluffy and sugary and...
I'm getting off topic. My apologies.
Anyway, it turns out that there's a small foreign body in Charlie, which is upsetting his stomach. He'll be able to pass it, but we're going to be giving him antibiotics and something to ease his stomach distress for the next week or so. (And laxatives, which are sure to bring joy to the entire household.)
So Kathy brings Charlie home, $288 lighter from the X-rays and the medicine and the doctor's visit. And she lets him out of the carrier...
...and he goes straight to the food bowl and starts chowing down.
Great timing, buddy. But we're glad you're feeling better!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Nick Cave at the Beacon, June 14, 2017

I didn't know a lot of the songs he sang. A lot of it was new, and there's a lot of old stuff I don't know, too. But even when I didn't know the song, it was intense.
And the ones I did know were some of my favorites. There was "Red Right Hand," of course. Which was incredible. And he shocked the hell out of me by playing "Tupelo," which was the song that really first blew me away. (Although it was watching him sing "The Carny" in "Wings of Desire" that first turned me on to him.) It was so much like the album version -- the driving, insistent bass line, Cave's growling delivery -- but subtly different, and delivered with such thunder.
And then, in the encore -- as he pulled person after person from the audience, creating a writhing, dancing crowd onstage -- Stagger Lee. An old, violent song, and Cave modernizes the brutality, making it so crude and over-the-top, giving it almost Tarantino-like hilarity:

She saw the barkeep/
said, 'O God, he can't be dead!'/
Stag said, "Well, just count the holes/
in the motherfucker's head!
Pat Boone also sings a version of this song. Let THAT sink in.
Of the three go-into-the-bar-and-kill-everybody songs on Murder Ballads, my favorite is probably "O'Malley's Bar" -- but seeing this performed live, with all this infernal energy, makes me revise that opinion. Besides, with the similarity of our names, I've always felt like Stagger Lee was like this badass criminal relative my parents never told me about.
(He's not, of course -- "stagger" was a nickname. The real Stagger Lee was "Stag" Lee Shelton, an African-American pimp who killed Billy Lyons -- another relative's name! -- in St. Louis on Christmas night, 1895. Anyway, that's what Wikipedia tells me. Cave sets his version of the song in 1932.)
And after bringing the crowd into the gutter with Stagger Lee, Cave closed with a beautiful rendition of "Push the Sky Away." I'll leave you with that here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Thumb in the Eye

There's an old board game called Wiz War I've played a few times with my friends. The original edition has this card:

THUMB OF GOD (Attack/Anywhere)

This spell allows you to flip, drop, or throw the die from a distance of no less than 6 inches onto the board so as to hit playing tokens. Whichever space the displaced tokens land closest to is where they must be placed. Tokens knocked off the board are put back on onto the nearest space. There is no COUNTERACTION against this spell.

I feel like we're living through this right now.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Ain't Nobody Like to Be Alone

I just looked up the setlist to Friday’s Springsteen concert in Philly, and I’m even more impressed by the scope of the thing now than I was that night. Thirty-three songs!

A few memories of the show:

First off, had a blast tailgating with brothers Ed and Jim, sister-in-law Lindsay, and cousins John and Suze. How’d I go through 46 years of life without ever doing this? By not being a sports fan and not seeing a lot of big-arena concerts, I guess. (And after the show? More tailgating. So much better than pointing the car into the endless scrum of escaping vehicles.)

For someone who’s not really a big Springsteen fan, I sure know a lot of his songs. Out of the 33 songs he played, I could have hummed 24 of them before heading into the show...and walked out amazed that he hadn’t even gotten to “Jungleland,” “Born in the USA,” or “Thunder Road.” (Not to mention “The River,” the title song of the album this tour is celebrating.) The man has a catalogue. 

My favorite stretch of the show came early on, a four-song stretch beginning with “Spirits in the Night,” and then moving on to “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” “Kitty’s Back,” and “Rosalita.” I like other Springsteen songs, but I’d be hard-pressed to name another four that I like better and go so well together.

Then again, there’s “American Skin (41 Shots),” inspired by the police shooting of Amadou Diallo and still so relevant today. It's a song that can't help but stand apart. Springsteen is a curious phenomenon, in that he’s so beloved, and yet more liberal than a significant portion of his fans. I’m trying to think of another artist who are similarly outspoken (in either direction) and still enjoy the broad swathe of fans that Bruce has. (On a much smaller stage, I’m a big fan of Bill Willingham’s comics, and Nick Searcy’s Deputy Art Mullen was always a joy to watch on Justified; two conservatives whose work this liberal can’t get enough of.) Anyway, back to “American Skin”: Absolutely haunting, marred only by my minor annoyance that the people next to me took the opportunity to step out to get a beer. (The conservative version of football players not standing for the National Anthem? Maybe so, judging by my irritation.) 

I was really impressed that Bruce would pull signs from the audience, show them to the cameras, and then play them with the band. They seemed prepared for anything, including inviting a college student to come up and jam with them on “No Surrender.” And then at another point, a handful of other fans came up to the stage, including a little girl with a guitar. Bruce tried to adjust her baseball cap to let the camera see her face a bit better; this’ll be a memory she’ll have a chance to look back on forever. Her ponytail wended through the hole in the back of the hat, so there’s was only so much he could do, but it was a thoughtful gesture that stood out for me. 

And then there was “Hungry Heart.” The band played, and we all sang the lyrics on our own, with Bruce urging us to continue between the lines. He wandered through the audience, found a woman with a sign that said she was a breast cancer survivor, on her 7th week of chemo. He held up the sign and we sang our hearts out -- a cascade of love going toward her, music and love rising into the sky. It’s a fanciful idea that something like that can help in any tangible way. And yet there are tears in the corner of my eyes as I type this. I’m some kinda romantic, I guess. 

Overall, Bruce played for nearly four hours, so there’s plenty I’m glossing over. (One silly moment worth a mention: When “Dancing in the Dark” started up, some fans began waving giant poster-size heads of Courtney Cox.) But it was a phenomenal show, made all the better by the time spent with family not as family, but as friends.


Friday, August 26, 2016

What's Spanish for 'Heaver,' anyway?

A quick Fest story so I don't forget it:
Sunday night after the show, the Dunces and the Monks headed into heavy camping to see where people were playing, and Brian could join in with his guitar. Found a great group camping in the back corner, The Fish, who had people jamming in back around a table of snacks and bourbon. A great, friendly bunch, they welcomed us in, and we sang and played a bunch of Beatles tunes, a few Monkeys ones, and this and that—”Mrs. Robinson,” even newer stuff like “500 Miles.” A big guy—named David, I think—offered a bottle of bourbon and was pulling people into the circle. (I stuck with beer, still recovering from a rough Saturday.) It was someone’s 50th birthday, and a cake was cut up and shared—pound cake piled high with icing. It was a great time. Everyone was singing and playing. A couple people got into the Fish’s pantry and were using anything they could find there as percussion.
Eventually, after the singing breaks up and we start walking back to Dunce Central, we start comparing notes:
“That big guy was from Los Lobos, right?”
“I thought so, too. He had one of those special performer lanyards.”
“I think it said Los Lobos.”
“Well that’d do it, then.”
“And that one guy sang a parody of ‘La Bamba’ to him: ‘What are the words to ‘La Bamba’? What are the words to ‘La Bamba’? Nobody knows, nobody knows, nobody knows...’ He just shook his head and said ‘My mother is crying right now.’”
So—although we’ve no hard proof of this—I’m choosing to believe that we were all hanging out with Los Lobos frontman David Hidalgo, belting out a Proclaimers tune at the top of our lungs. I’d walk 500 miles right now to do that again.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

The Accidental Breakdancer

The body is a gyroscopic miracle. Even my body. Even yours. 

I know this because I was in New York’s Penn Station the other night, talking on the phone to my wife. There was an unexpected hangup as Kathy and I were saying goodbye, so I was sending her a text to explain. (This is not the miracle. This is just me setting the scene.) I’ve got my phone in my hand, my earbuds are still in my ears from the conversation, my backpack is around one shoulder. It’s a warm night; warmer inside the station than outside. My thumb is telling Kathy to say hi to our ferret, Charlie.

Behind me, as I text, I hear a buzzing. “Excuse me, sir.” Bzzzzzz. “Excuse me, sir?” Buzzzzzz. I don’t know what this is, but I do know I’m out of the way, tucked into the side of the hallway, leaning against the wall. There are a bunch of late-night commuters walking past, so I assume the voice is talking to someone else. I look behind me anyway, because you never know.

It’s a guy riding one of Penn Station’s floor-polishing zambonis, basically the size of a golf cart, moving slowly toward me. 

I startle. I realize he is talking to me, and he needs me to get out of the way. He’s hugging the wall, same as I am. I reach down to pick up the bottle of water and the banana at my feet. There is literally a banana peel at my feet, but it is wrapped around a banana, so I don’t immediately clue in to the type of situation I’m in. I am still holding my phone in my hand, its earbuds connected to my head. My backpack, loaded down with a Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, a bag of dice, a crime novel, a notebook, and a half-dozen comic books, is slung over one shoulder. It is full of the pressed pulp of dead trees; it isn’t light.

I’ve got one hand free to grab the banana and the water bottle. The backpack is keeping me off-balance, but I manage to lean over and pick up both items with my left hand, like some sort of boardwalk claw-machine miracle. This is a feat any schoolkid could do. I feel like an acrobat. 

As I start to stand upright. bringing the banana and bottle up from the floor, my glasses slide down my nose and off of my head. Warm night; sweaty bald man.

The polishing zamboni maintains its approach.

I have my phone in my right hand. I have my backpack over my shoulder. There is a banana and a water bottle in my other hand. I am off balance. I am bending over again. I am on one foot. There is a zamboni bearing down on me.

I try to slip my phone into my shirt pocket to free my hand. The pocket is unhelpfully horizontal, rather than at its normal vertical orientation, because I have bent over at the waist. I am balancing on one foot. I don’t remember putting my other foot up, but I am on one foot. I think it’s to counterbalance the backpack, pulling me to the right. Toward the zamboni. The inexorable zamboni. I think about my crime novel. Cause of death: Inexorable zamboni.

The guy driving, dreadlocked and smiling, says, “Take your time, take your time, man.” He’s chill, but he’s not stopping. And my glasses are on the tiles he’s about to polish. 

Somehow, bent forward and on one leg like an impossible backpacked flamingo, I manage to slide my phone into my horizontal shirt pocket. With my now-free hand, I bat at my glasses, my fingers suddenly unwilling to grip. The glasses move a few inches, still in the zamboni path. I teeter from the effort, a middle-aged example of Newton’s third law. Swat glasses, wobble: an equal and opposite reaction. The weight of my backpack sends me listing to the right. I flap my arms like a cartoon duck that realizes he can’t fly. I spiral toward the floor, Swan Lake–style.

A second swat sends my glasses out of the path of the zamboni and toward the center of the corridor, where people are rushing to catch their trains. I jettison my cargo: Backpack, banana, bottle all gone. I spring after my glasses among all the high heels and sandals. Did my upraised flamingo foot ever touch the ground, or was it a one-legged spiraling leap? Grainy Penn Station security camera footage will have to tell the tale.

Afterward, it’s all anticlimax. My glasses back on my head, the backpack around my shoulder, the bottle and banana tucked within. Phone miraculously still in my pocket.

“Take it easy, man,” the zamboni guy says. “Don’t hurt yourself.”

I wake up in the morning and wonder why I’m sore.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Thinking about Alan Rickman

I've seen a lot of reminiscences about Alan Rickman today -- mostly about his performance as Hans Gruber or Severus Snape, with mentions of Dogma or Galaxy Quest here or there.
But there's one movie he was in that I haven't seen anyone mention. I saw Closet Land in a film class years ago, an intense film that made a big impression on me. It had just two actors -- Rickman and Madeleine Stowe -- on one set, as Rickman interrogates Stowe, a children's book author, about subversive messages he suspects she's inserting into her books. It knocked me out, this two-person performance that had the power of a much grander drama.
Now, I haven't seen it in 20 years or so. It might strike me now as too sincere, or somehow quaint. The past 20 years have seen a lot of news about interrogation and torture, and today I'd be viewing the film through more experienced (more cynical? almost certainly) eyes. Roger Ebert, a little older then than I am now, thought it pious and smug. But I suspect with actors the caliber of Rickman and Stowe, it's as good as it ever was. And it made such an impression on me, that when I heard he'd died, this was the first movie I thought of. The particulars of the film had faded, but it had one resounding lasting impression: the memory that Alan Rickman blew me the hell away.
The movie is hard to find: Amazon has only six VHS copies available, and I don't think it was ever pressed onto DVD in the US. (Apparently there's a Spanish version that you can switch the language to the original English.) But if you want to see for yourself, your best best is probably YouTube, where it's available in 9 parts.
Here's part one:


Thursday, November 05, 2015

The House on Haunted Hill

Without seeing it. I’d always dismissed 1959’s The House on Haunted Hill as a duller-witted cousin of its relative contemporary, 1963’s The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise and based on Shirley Jackson’s excellent novel The Haunting of Hill House. And while The Haunting is more psychologically rich, and has some moments of terror that Haunted Hill can’t match -- that pounding on the door! -- I finally caught the William Castle-directed movie last weekend for Halloween. I shouldn’t have written it off, because man, it’s a pip.

Vincent Price is Frederick Loren, a millionaire who, along with his wife, played by Carol Ohmart, has invited five strangers to spend the night at a haunted house, with the potential of earning a substantial sum of money. One of the strangers is Elisha Cook’s Pritchard, who has a family history with the house, and walks in terrified. The others -- a secretary at Loren’s company, a pilot, a gossip columnist, a doctor -- all have reasons for needing a lot of money, quickly. And at once point they’re told that there’s a lump sum of money that the survivors of the night will split, giving them a reason to off each other.

And then Vincent Price hands everyone a loaded handgun.

What’s so much fun about The House on Haunted Hill is that there are so many reasons these characters should be fearing for their lives, even without the intervention of the supernatural. The guests have a financial motive for murder. The married hosts, while preparing for the party, have also told each other in no uncertain terms that they’d like to see the other dead. And there’s a vat of deadly acid in the basement! Pritchard (Elisha Cook is so good in this!) tells everyone, almost mesmerized by the morbidity, “It completely dissolves flesh and hair.” A little rat skeleton floats to the bubbling surface.

And then, of course, there are the hauntings themselves. A ceiling drips blood. An old woman appears out of nowhere. A character who has died is later seen floating outside one of the guests’ window. Decapitated heads appear in the darnedest places. Are these plants meant to scare the rubes, or are they genuine supernatural manifestations? Could be column A, could be column B -- the movie plays this close to the vest for the longest time. But with all the backstabbing and suspicion from the living, ghosts are just gilding the funeral lillies.


Saturday, August 01, 2015

A thinly veiled excuse to link to some Dan Bern tracks

Earlier today, I finally read a Village Voice article on comedians in New York I’d been holding on to since November, finally allowing me to put the issue in the recycling bin (achievement unlocked!). The lede runs through a list of an earlier generation of comedians, and may stand as one of the last mentions of Bill Cosby without any mention of rape. What an innocent time November 2014 was.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with Dan Bern years ago, when I was interviewing him at around the time his first album came out. One of the tracks was a song called "Marilyn," about Marilyn Monroe; I asked him why he sometimes used celebrities in his songs. He said something to the effect that pop songs can only have so many words, and sometimes you can pop a known figure in and make an instant connection with the listener rather than spending those words trying to build a new character. If there’s one out there that already does the job, why not take advantage of that?

Of course, people aren’t frozen in time. The scandal-plagued Tiger Woods of 2009 isn’t the same figure Bern sang about in 1998 (although Bern’s opening line, “I got big balls,” certainly hasn’t been harmed by time’s revelation). The Britney Spears Bern mentions in 2001’s “Alaska Highway” is the energetic teen singer of “Oops I Did it Again,” rather than the tabloid trainwreck she was for a while: Jason Alexander and Kevin Federline loomed in the future.

Shorthand or not, using other people’s lives in your art is a tricky thing. They tend to go on living them.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Back on Track

I hit a later cult meeting than my usual (insane for me) 8:30 morning meeting, and I have to admit I was nervous. My food tracking was spotty this week, but I was aware of all the liberties I'd taken last week (spelled out as P-I-Z-Z-A), and resolved not to do that again. I kept a good eye on portions, and didn't drink very much, either (which makes this whole thing untenable in the long run, but there ya go).

Anyway, I was rewarded with a 2.8-pound drop, my largest since my first meeting this stint in the cult. Very,very happy about this -- it brings me to 11.4 pounds lost altogether ... apparently, the same weight as the frame of this bicycle. Now to go for the tires.

After my meeting, I stopped off at the produce store and bought pears, grapes, little peppers, dried hot peppers, carrots, radishes, asparagus, cucumbers, and bean dip, so I'm off to a pretty good start. The cukes, radishes, and dried hot peppers are going to get pickled this afternoon. Which reminds me, I meant to pick up vodka, too. I've got some sorrel/hibiscus tea that I think would make a good infusion, and I'm guessing will mix well with lemon/lime soda at Crawfish Fest in a couple of weeks.


Saturday, May 09, 2015

First Setback

I've been going to Weight Watchers for a few months now, steadily if unspectacularly losing weight. It changed today, with a gain of 1.2 pounds, bringing my total loss back down to 8.6 pounds from 9.8.

On the other hand, I rode 40 miles in the 5-Boro Tour this week, and actually enjoyed it. So that ain't nothin'.

I'll have to keep a tighter lock on what I eat this week -- I really want next week to be when I break the 10-pound barrier. Here's a photo of an 8.6-pound guitar, that presumably the Man from Mars art when he stopped eating cars.


Saturday, May 02, 2015

Trilobite Therapy

Had what may be the most frightening nightmare of my adulthood last night – certainly of the monster/horror variety, rather than the personal tragedy type of dream. I blame Coraline, Neil Gaiman & Henry Selick’s brilliantly concocted nightmare fuel. Not that my dream followed the movie exactly… no one was going to sew buttons on my eyes. But man, the bugs.

No, instead it started with me showing up at a psychiatrist’s office for “trilobite therapy,” because I was having terrible anxiety about the alien trilobites that had begun showing up in town. These things were colored orange-red to deep crimson; most were the size of a baseball glove, but some were smaller, and some were a lot bigger. From the top, they had a layered carapace, with numerous feelers in front of their tiny heads. If you flipped them over, you could see ten or twelve legs, sometimes wriggling, sometimes undulating in an unearthly rhythm.

There were several here in the psychiatrist’s office, and I stiffened up as I opened the door. What was supposed to happen would be I would lay down on one of the sofas, and the doctor would rest a few trilobites on me and I would, somehow, fall asleep. I noticed the actor Jason Alexander snoozing on one of the other couches, a trilobite poking out from beneath his shirt. The doctor put a softball-size trilobite on my back, and told me to lay back. Then he put another on my chest, this one larger, about the size of a toaster, but flatter. I could feel its legs sweeping against the fabric of my shirt. Finally, the doctor laid one over my eyes.

I think that’s the moment I pulled out of the dream briefly because I heard myself whimper.

I could feel the trilobites crawling around, but I tried to keep my eyes shut. Eventually, somehow, I fell asleep – perhaps I was even lulled into it by the rhythmic movement of their legs. When I awoke, the trilobites were still on me, but they had curled into themselves. I didn’t know anything about their biology, but they struck me as sated and asleep. Jason Alexander was gone. The doctor told me to pick them up and bring them to an old quarry near town, and to stand at the edge and throw them deep inside. I drove there to do as I was told. As I got out of the car, I saw another one of the bugs — much larger, about the size of a collie — and it shuffled over to approach me. In revulsion, I grabbed a length of rebar near where I parked, and drove it into the beast. It screeched and wriggled as I pushed the spear down, all the way to the chunk of concrete at the end of it. Then I retrieved the sleeping trilobites from my passenger seat and hurled them into the quarry, as hard as I could. None of them smashed; they just rolled a bit.

I noticed that there as a splotch on my arm, a deep black marking about the size of a sandwich roll. My skin was dry and flaky, and was gray-black, like charcoal. A trilobite had spent some time there. I pulled up my shirt, and there were other marks, too. Getting home, and running to the bathroom, I found them on my arms, legs, back, and thighs. All deep gray-black, like graphite from a pencil, and flaky and dusty. I looked at myself in the mirror, and could see only a dark stripe of charcoal where my eyes should have been. My eyes were barely noticeable, either discolored or sunken too deep to see.

You can bet that when my alarm sounded, I jumped out of bed without a second look.


P.S. The art attached is a detail from "Trilobite Boy" by Glendon Mellow. You can find more of his art here.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Pointy, pointy.

Went to my meeting today, and when I weighed in, I was down another 1.2 pounds. That's 6.4 pounds altogether, or the weight of this Excalibur Apex crossbow. (For a moment, at the scale, I thought I was down another three pounds, because last week's weight was never entered into the computer. But still, it's a loss, so I'll take it.)

This drop also means I have one less point to gobble up each day during the week... which will make nights like last Tuesday's soft-taco and wine guzzle a little bit tougher to pull off. But so far, so good. Three weeks in, and I've lost a deadly weapon.


Thursday, April 02, 2015

An Elephant Never Forgets to Post

To keep myself honest, I ought not to skip a week of reporting from my cult. Last week at my weigh-in, I dropped another 1.8 pounds… a pretty good figure, I think. That’s 5.2 pounds altogether, which is the same weight as this majestic elephant statuette holding a wishing bell. Or, you know, a sack of potatoes, but you’ve seen that before.

Next weigh-in is tomorrow morning -- a day earlier than these last two weeks. That is, unless I forget and have to go on Saturday again.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Missing: One Fish

I had a pretty good week, cult-wise. I stayed on plan, despite all the goodies that show up to eat where I'm freelancing (this week, a major cooking magazine, super-tempting), and made some smart choices in their cafeteria for lunch -- smart enough that I even had a few beers this week, as I passed some time, for one reason or another, at bars near train stations.

And when I showed up to my meeting this morning, I had lost 3.4 pounds, the weight of this smallmouth bass caught by fisheries biologist Shawn Crouse at Round Valley Reservoir in NJ. I hope he's okay with me using his photo.

It feels great to have lost that weight, though it's a little odd, too. Somewhere during the week, I'd gotten the idea that I was only 4 pounds heavier than the last time I joined Weight Watchers; turns out the difference was 8 pounds. So while I know I lost 3.4 pounds, my weight is actually .6 pounds more than what I thought it was all week. BUT SHUT UP, BRAIN! YOU ARE TRICKSY, BUT YOU WILL NOT TAKE THIS VICTORY FROM ME!

Plus, on the way back from the meeting, I stopped at this produce shop and picked up beets and sweet potatoes and wonton skins. I have an idea for some vegetarian dumplings for dinner. If it's genius, I'll tell you how I made them. If it's a disaster, we will never speak of such things again.