Wednesday, February 07, 2018

With apologies to Poe

Oh, the rapping and the tapping
And the wet and ceaseless slapping
Of the rain as it relentlessly does fall!

How I need a long vacation
From the tintinnabulation
As it strikes the air conditioner down the hall!


And yet I edit these notations through it all.

Rob

Sunday, January 07, 2018

The Very Model

"I am the very model of a modern stable gen-i-us/
A presidential pussygrabber, Hail to the Obscen-i-est/
Who can’t help tweeting Rocket Man, whose button is the teeniest/
And other flimsy metaphors for measures of the peen-i-us"

CHORUS: His hands are tiny metaphors for measures of the peen-i-us!

Rob

Sunday, December 24, 2017

"They're putting up reindeer, and singing songs of joy and peace"

I discovered the musical equivalent of Die Hard being people's favorite Christmas movie: Joni Mitchell's "River" is one of my favorite songs to hear around the holidays. It's not a Christmas song; it's a song about sorrow over a breakup that happens at Christmas. But like Die Hard, its setting is clearly Christmas, and like Die Hard, it uses a Christmas tune in a minor key to set the mood (in this case, phrases from "Jingle Bells").
It's not a Christmas song, but it's such a large part of my holidays, and such a counterpoint to the prevailing sentiment, that it's easy to mistake it for one. And sung beautifully tonight, as always, at Glen Burtnik's Xmas concert in New Hope.

Rob

Friday, December 01, 2017

NaNo, and NaNo Some More

So National Novel Writing month did not result in my churning out 50,000 words of my novel, Oubliette 7. However, I did manage to put nearly 20,000 words on virtual paper before the wheels came off the cart -- a confluence of the good (sudden work from a few new clients) and bad (a cold that took me out of the running for a few days).
But in doing what work I did, I made significant progress on learning about: How the prison planet works; the aliens that populate the cell block I focus on; some galactic history, and how it can turn on at the whims of a booking agent for a Canadian morning news show; the underpinnings of one of the cases my detective is investigating; a number of other characters in the prison. 
I also questioned my decision to spell guardbot as one word; had it been two, I'd probably be another thousand words closer to my goal. 
Regardless, I know a lot more about this book than I did at the beginning of November, and have been writing notes to myself about new characters to introduce and directions to go.
One other thing: On Thanksgiving morning, I got an email from an editor I'd pitched the book to (sending him an overview and a first chapter) back in May. While he won't be publishing it, he called it "a strong SF/noir pitch with a great protagonist." So that's a little extra fuel to propel me to finish this sucker and get it out into the world.

Rob

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Rififi Riff

So in my dream last night:
There was a trick, performed live on the Conan O'Brien show, where Penn & Teller for some reason had to change clothes in the back of a moving pickup truck, and when Teller took off his socks he wiggled his toes and said, "Sweet freedom!" on a live mic. Which was a big deal, because Teller doesn't talk onstage.
This was all part of an orchestrated uproar, for P&T and crew (of which I was a peripheral part) to steal $1.3 million from the Vatican. Which seems like money they don't really need, and is pretty much a rounding error for the Vatican, so I don't quite know what the point was.
Anyway, we were all celebrating at a casino afterward, and more and more people left, and suddenly more and more of the tab was being left to me. I'd told a couple people I'd pay for their drinks, but I started looking at what was left on the receipt, and their were lavish meals and acrobats and prostitutes to pay for. Which was not part of the bargain. (And not really part of my dream, aside from the accounting, either! Which is irritating.)
So as I'm starting to look around for someone else to pay this tab, since I'm not gonna get my expenses reimbursed by the company because I'm a freelancer, my phone rings, and it's my bank already calling me about suspect credit-card charges. (As it does about twice a year, but never *before* the fact!) And I realize...I don't have to deal with this. I'm dreaming, and this is paperwork. I have better things to dream about.
Never got back to the sex acrobats, though.
Rob

Monday, November 13, 2017

Rise Up

The Rise Up Chorus concert of thanksgiving for veterans was an incredible success -- both the adult and the children's choruses sounded amazing (as did the oboe interlude, playing an Ennio Morricone piece I'd never heard, "Gabriel's Oboe"). The songs were well-chosen and well-sung, and I'm thrilled and proud for Kathy to be a part of this group.
There was one moment toward the end, when the choir was singing a tribute medley to the armed forces, where the members of the various branches were asked to stand (or raise their hand) when their branch's song came up. There was a gentleman in front of us who stood when "The Army Goes Rolling Along" was being sung, and then sat down for "The Marines' Hymn." Then he stood up again for the Navy's "Anchors Aweigh," and I thought, "How many branches did this guy serve in?" But then he reached down, and helped the man sitting next to him to his feet, and then sat again while the rest of the naval theme continued. At which point he stood up and helped his friend back to his seat.
I guess what I'm saying is, it's important to remember we're all on the same team. We should lift each other every chance we get.
Rob

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

This Fucking World

“A zombie virus has spread throughout the world. The item to your right is your weapon. What is it?”

Got that meme on my Facebook feed today. The item to my right was a coffee mug. But it doesn’t really matter what it is, does it? We’re all humans here, and if there’s anything we’re good at, it’s using whatever item we have at hand and killing people with it.

Follow your bliss, I guess.

Rob

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!

Rob

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.

Rob

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.


Rob

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.
Rob

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.

Rob

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:


Rob

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.


Rob