Sunday, June 29, 2008

Memories of a Clubman

I've let my membership lapse, but I used to belong to quite a nice city club. You know the sort of thing: old wood paneling, cushy leather chairs, gas lamp to light your cigar by. Classy. Once I quit the rat race to become a happy and fulfilled itinerant barber I couldn't swing the dues anymore, but I remember the place fondly. There were annual events that were unique to the club which gave secret meaning to the calendar and made membership a great honor. I've dealt with the sense of geographical ungroundedness that my chosen career requires, but I've never quite recovered from the temporal ungroundedness that the loss of these events brought on.

The Feast of Reason
: A sumptuous 20 course elimination banquet that lasts the better part of a week, and resembles nothing so much as a congressional filibuster in a five star restaurant. The most rhetorically gifted members of the club compete to see who can deliver the best speech giving a rational basis for the next course. Speeches are judged on eloquence, universality, and ability to make the mouth water. The weakest speakers are removed from the table at the conclusion of each round/course, until one man remains who will be awarded the title of Dessert Demosthenes. The one year I made the cut to compete (a fluke, I assure you) I was eliminated after the first sorbet. The winning 1986 oration ("Sherry Trifle Considered as an Ouspenskian Model of the Universe") is still widely quoted in certain circles today.

The Musical Rhubarb Forcing Festival: A strange legacy of the founder's horticultural madness is the suite of rhubarb forcing sheds that the club counts among its many outbuildings. As everyone knows, forced rhubarb grows so fast that one can actually hear it shooting up. Since all sound has the potential to be music when properly organized, some of the more musically inclined members of the club decided to see what could be done with the palette provided by burgeoning rhubarb. Through trial and error involving grafting, experimental soil mixtures, subtle manipulations of temperature and other arcane minutiae, they managed to produce several differentiated strains of rhubarb that can be relied upon to produce a specific tone upon being forced. The festival takes place throughout the growing season, with daily concerts to show off works new and old. It's an eerie experience: rhubarb forcing by necessity takes place in complete darkness, so one sits in the sheds blinded, taking in the creaking tones of pieces like Muller's Sonata in A Minor for Strains 1.2684 and 1.2684b and Langston's seminal Cantata Rhubarbica.

The Founder's Day Pageant: Unlike the previous two events, this one is not only open to the participation of all members but actively requires it. It began as a simple affair lasting 10 minutes and featuring three characters: THE FOUNDER, THE BANKER, and THE ARCHITECT. By the time of my membership a performance took six hours and had over three hundred speaking parts. This growth happened slowly over the 200 year history of the club, each chairman inserting his own additions. Some of these were simply a few lines added here and there, or a short scene memorializing the death of some eminent member. Others were impressive works of dramaturgy, radical re-imaginings of the history of the club that placed it in a cosmic and mythic context that it perhaps did not deserve.

For the first 120 years the pageant took place in the main library, but eventually this space was no longer adequate for mounting a full performance. The spectacle moved to an open air amphitheater for the next decade. When a new chairman was named, he found this far too rustic, so he commissioned a special theater to be built on the club grounds. This theater was only to be used for performances of the pageant, though an exception was made once for a speech by President Coolidge. To drive home the Wagnerian pomposity and hubris of the whole thing the theater was actually designed as a quarter scale model of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. The pageant is a ludicrous and self-aggrandizing spectacle, of course, of course, but I have seen grown men moved to tears (myself included) by scenes like the death of the 27th chairman during a mustard gas attack in Flanders, or the heroic efforts of the junior sommeliers to save the liquid treasure of the cellars during the 1902 flood. And if you'd ever heard the death soliloquy of the youngest of those brave men, gurgled out as he sinks beneath the waves clutching a crate of Château Mouton Rothschild that tragically proved to heavy for him, you wouldn't judge me.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Stay Down Here Where You Belong

It's what you'd expect from a sepia toned depiction of hell, with indistinct edges and a general blurriness that grows exponentially as the image recedes into the distance. The photo appears to have been taken out in a flat bit of desert somewhere. Stylized cardboard fires of various sizes are perched all over the place. Unconvincing demons wearing flat masks and carrying comically over-sized pitchforks are captured in all sorts of activities. One is pushing an old man into one of the "fires". Another is sharpening the tines of his pitchfork on a grinding wheel. A demon pianist is playing an upright. A demon bartender is serving cocktails from behind a mahogany bar.

I turn to the Madonna of Conflagration. "They dragged a piano and a full sized bar out to the desert? Who the fuck took this picture, Erich von Stroheim?"

"I Know! Isn't it like, the most perfectly ridiculous thing you've ever seen?"

I continue studying the photo. More demons are ostensibly torturing a bevy of scantily clad maidens. This takes up most of the foreground, and is, let's face it, the main reason for the picture's existence. I point out that the "torturing" would be better described as "cavorting" or "frolicking". She makes sure I notice that some of the poses are downright porny.

"According to the guy, that's how you can tell it's from 1916 or around about there. We were between backlashes or something. He says this one's actually super tame for the time. Like, that's why he likes it I think. He doesn't want something too smutty, but he doesn't want an absolute Disney kind of deal either."

"Which one are you going to be?"

She points to a flexible young lady with a winning smile and presumably infinite patience. A heavyset demon is holding her out at arms length towards the camera, his meaty hands clasping her hips. Her back is to the viewer, but she's arched over enough that her whole face is visible (albeit upside down). She's a dead ringer for the Madonna of Conflagration, if you put about a pound of kohl around each eye.

"Wow, he must have been glad to find you."

"You know what? He actually cried. Just a little but like, real tears, okay? It turns out that he wants to do this re-creation as a present for his grandfather. Granddad's totally ancient, and his ninetieth birthday is coming up, and the guy wants to do something special. The original of this photo is like, a family heirloom."

"Passed from sticky hand to sticky hand, and lovingly stored in the sock drawer of the master of the house?"

"Oh don't. I think it's kind of sweet. Well, sweet-ish. Anyway, it's damn good money and all I have to do is stand still for twenty minutes or however long it takes."

I go back to the picture. Towards the back, presiding over the whole thing, sits the devil himself. His throne sits on top of a pile of plaster skulls. Unlike the demons, there's no mask on this guy. They went the makeup route, giving him crazy painted on eyebrows that nearly run in a circle around his face, wavy horns that go on for a mile, and a pointy false beard that you could use to stab someone. Two figures lie at the devil's feet. One is a buxom maiden, who clutches his knee with one hand and holds what could be a pomegranate in the other. The other figure is actually being used as a footrest by the devil. Based on the pointy helmet and huge white whiskers I'm guessing this is one of the more hated political figures of the day.

"The devil, flanked by Persephone and Kaiser Wilhelm? Smut was so much more literary and cosmopolitan back then."

"Yeah, I knew you'd dig it. Anyway, I gotta split. Or uh, whatever they woulda said back then. 23 skidoo or something?"

"Works for me. 23 skidoo backatcha."

She takes one last look at the photo before putting it back in her bag and heading out. But she pauses in the doorway, bends her knees and leans back until she's in the same pose as her doppleganger (minus the support of a meaty demon), and smiles. Then she snaps up straight and walks out into the night.

This piece was partially inspired by Henry Burr's recording of the Irving Berlin song "Stay Down Here Where You Belong".

Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Failed Business Ventures

-Parkour Proofing: A spectacular catastrophe, based on the flawed assumption that everybody finds parkour and its practitioners obnoxious. We sold kits for installing clumps of nails and broken glass on top of fences, in foot sized nooks and crannies on walls, along the sides of drain pipes, etc. Sales were never great, and I pulled the plug when we starting running afoul of mantrap laws in several states.

-Tiny Little Finger Shoes: Sets of ten wee shoes, designed to be laced onto your fingertips and worn at all times. I knew I was in trouble when even Japanese teens wouldn't go for it. Managed to break even by donating my remaining stock to a luge camp for underprivileged children and taking a fat tax deduction.

-Great Big Finger Shoes: A pretty standard looking pair of sneakers, but with the great (I thought) hook that the soles were custom designed based on the right and left index fingerprints of the wearer. We sold two pair, one to a guy who was actually missing a finger, so we only ever produced three soles. The cause of my second bankruptcy.

-Will It Fit?: A mall kiosk franchise operation, Will It fit? consisted of an array of cubbyholes of various sizes, bearing labels like "Bread Box", "Ikea Bookshelf", "Small Refrigerator", "Antique Bird Cage", and so forth. The idea was that, for a minimal fee, mall patrons could stick their purchases into the relevant cubby in order to see if the item would fit where they wanted it to before they brought it home. People loved it, but they just used the holes without paying.

Bastards. Bastards.

-Bat Sharpeners: A place you could go to get your baseball bat carved into a spear or a short wooden sword. You could also get you initials burnt into the handle for a small fee. All I can say is that I was incredibly high when I came up with this, but unfortunately so was the VC who funded me. In his defense, he passed on the first idea I pitched, which was also called "Bat Sharpeners" and involved cruelty to animals.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Aldred Takes a Seat

It's an admirable coil of rope that Aldred finds wrapped around himself when he regains consciousness. Silken, pliable yet firm, glowing white: it looks as if it would be at home on the deck of a very expensive boat. Aldred reflects that if one must be tied to a chair, waking slowly from the effects of an expertly delivered blow to the head, this is the rope to be tied with. It almost makes the blinding pain worthwhile to associate with such quality goods. Almost.

Groaning, he cranes his neck around, trying to get a sense of where he is. There's not much light besides the pool centered around the chair, and that's dim. He can tell that the floor is concrete, of the cracked and old variety. As his eyes begin to adjust he can just make out a gleam that would appear to indicate a tiled wall. He makes a little experimental shout, and hears a series of rapidly repeating echoes bounce away from him. Finally, he gives a good sniff to the air and nearly gags. The quality is unmistakable, an unpleasant musk reminiscent of urine and exhaust in an overheated urban space. He's in an abandoned subway stop.

How unspeakably gauche.

Aldred tries to remember how he got here. He had been on the beach. His plan had been to take a brisk stroll up to the lighthouse, but he had been distracted along the way by a horseshoe crab shell of unusual fineness. The carapace glistened in the morning light in a way that was simply impossible to resist. Aldred, usually firm of purpose where brisk walks are concerned, had stopped to bend over and examine it. The blow came seconds later. Reflecting now, he has a nasty feeling the shell was set out as bait, by somebody who must know him entirely too well.

Back in the subway tunnel, he hears footsteps and spies a flickering light in the distance. Soon he can make out the figure of a tall thin man carrying a five branched candelabrum. Aldred recognizes the healthy and handsome face of...well, he supposes Mountford is his nemesis, but the word is so freighted with melodrama that Aldred would rather avoid it. He prefers to think of the man as his competitor, his very aggressive and very talented competitor.

Aldred is full of apprehension. After his last encounter with Mountford, he needed to spend six months in Lapland living in near complete isolation while he herded reindeer and tried desperately to remember his name. His aggressive and talented competitor had nearly succeeded in obliterating Aldred's identity entirely. It was not the friendliest of competitions. Granted, it was a fascinating experience, but it wasn't something that Aldred was keen on going through again just yet.

Mountford stops a few feet away from him. He sits down on the floor, placing the candelabrum between them. Silently, he studies Aldred over the flames. Aldred returns his glance, and notices there's something different about Mountford. Even in this dim light, his pupils shouldn't be as dilated as they are. Aldred finds himself with the unshakable impression that while Mountford is here, his eyes are somewhere else entirely, somewhere even darker. After a few more minutes of silent contemplation Mountford speaks.

"You know, they say it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but to my mind it's best to light a candle and curse the darkness. That way you're cursing from a position of strength."

Aldred forces himself to lock eyes with Mountford and a charge immediately begins to build in the air. Tendrils of consciousness lash out from both men and begin to grapple with each other. As they clash, shared images are formed in each of their minds: an apple tree shattered to splinters by a sudden lightning strike, a ragged pillowcase stuffed with fresh cut heather, the slag heap from a radium mine glowing faintly at dusk, a broken broom on the shoulder of a six lane highway, an incompetent exorcist being tossed from a haunted clock tower...Dozens flash by, none of them lasting for more than a fraction of a second, each man flinching occasionally as a particularly vivid or freighted image deals him a blow.

The flames on the candelabrum have been rising slowly throughout this exchange and are now almost a foot tall. Aldred sweats under their heat but Mountford seems scarcely to notice them. A small smile rises at his lips but doesn't quite make it to his displaced eyes. He's winning: he knows it, and Aldred knows it too. Mountford's images begin to dominate the stream, and Aldred finds himself knocked aesthetically sideways by the idea of a green cube sitting in a brown field. He doesn't have time to recover before Mountford conjures the sun rising in the west over an abandoned farmhouse, which Aldred weakly and only partially counters with a stone obelisk half sunk in an ornamental pond. Mountford snorts with contempt and builds a grand vision of a glass sphere the size of a planet shattering into billions of pieces while still holding its basic shape.

Aldred screams in terror, utterly defeated. In desperation he conjures the image of himself being carried off on the backs of a herd of reindeer. Unlike the other images, this one lasts for more than a split second. Indeed, it sustains for the better part of a minute, the imagined Aldred dwindling into the distance as the seemingly endless herd thunders across the frozen plain.

When the image finally fades, Mountford finds himself sitting before an empty chair, the coils of rope still wrapped around it. He howls with laughter at Aldred's cowardly retreat, an absolute indicator of the complete victory he would have had if the contest had played to its true end.

It's only when he stands up and begins to walk out of the tunnel that Mountford notices that something seems to be off with his vision, as if his depth perception was...gone. A terrible suspicion begins to form in his mind and he runs back to the abandoned stop. He hops up onto the platform and frantically searches for a reflective surface. He finds it in the form of the chromed top of an old trash can. He leans in with the candelabrum, already knowing what his distorted reflection will confirm: that bastard Aldred stole one of his eyes when he ran away.

Mountford's curses can be heard echoing out of the subway for the next five hours. The candles give out after three.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Portraits of Statisticians: Sir William Petty

Famously described by William Congreve as a "Paint-drinking, skewwigged ninnybob," Sir William Petty lived to be insulted. He had at least a brief association with every significant figure in late 17th century politics and philosophy, and he seems to have been lambasted by all of them. Scholars disagree as to when Sir William began to deliberately seek out the vituperation of the great. It is an established fact, however, that the first of many journals where he recorded each insult begins with a pasted in note, believed to have been written by the captain of the ship where Petty served as a cabin boy at the age of 14:

"Thisse fowl bagg of sloth in form of boye, thisse lackluster lackwit lackey of Lusifir, thisse caldron of yncompetence, thisse lard befingered mangler of knots, thisse ill starred lodestone that ever pointeth Hellward... in short, thisse ydiot is put from off thisse ship to wander the shores of Normandee, in the sure hope that he shall bring the entire nation of France to tumble oceanward, and thus redeeme himself in somme small measure."
The captain set the tone for Sir William's future employers and acquaintances. While working as Thomas Hobbes' personal secretary he contrived to spill a bottle of very fine and rare brandy over a nearly completed early draft of Leviathan, compounding the error by setting the whole thing on fire. Hobbes' reaction, as recorded in Petty's journal, was understandably distraught:

T.H. did screech and leap about, beating myself around the head and shoulders with his burning book, all the while declaring me to be "the very stuff of which dung heaps do one day aspire to be made" and "the ditch dropping of a hog impregnated whore." I thought this last very fine, though not a patch on the previous week, when M. Descartes named me "a pustule of which one cannot tell if the greater foulness be contained within or spread upon its bloated surface," after I trod not once, not twice, but thrice upon his gouty toes. I believe it was his appalling accent that added a certain savor.

While at Oxford, Petty met Robert Boyle. Sir William delighted in neglecting the social graces around the fastidious Boyle, chewing with his mouth open when they took meals together, taking his shoes off and placing them on the table in the middle of a conversation for no apparent reason, and constantly reaching out with a moistened finger and attempting to smooth out Boyle's wild eyebrows. When he could take no more, Boyle cried out that Petty was
" unto a large fart in a small room, noxiously invading the senses of all men of taste!"
Petty also met John Milton during this time, who referred to him as "a purest twat, the sight of whom makes the onward march of my glaucoma a great mercy."

One glaring omission from Petty's conquests is Oliver Cromwell. During the Commonwealth Sir William did all he could to get close to and then infuriate him, but Cromwell proved either unflappable or oblivious. Finding relatively subtle tactics like sneezing in his face ineffective, Petty pulled out all the stops. He propositioned Cromwell's daughters, loudly and as crudely as possible, in Cromwell's presence. He performed obviously unnecessary amputations on key members of the New Model Army while serving as their physician. He even made a point of emitting regretful (and dangerously treasonous) sighs whenever Charles I's name came up. It was all to no avail. Sir William thought he was finally getting through when he started addressing the Lord Protector by the nickname "Ollie Crom-Crom," but was horrified when he discovered that Cromwell had fallen in love with it, going so far as to sign the brutal Act For the Settlement of Ireland with the name.

While Petty's attempts to get up Cromwell's nose were missed by their intended target, they did not go unnoticed by others, and may have been instrumental in saving him from execution upon the restoration of the monarchy. He bounced back, and had his greatest triumph when, while receiving his knighthood from Charles II, he slipped and "accidentally" bashed his forehead into the sovereign's nose, eliciting twin torrents of blood and abuse. Petty writes
I feared to have died of pleasure, as the king screamed out a whole lexicon of invective. A stream of "arseholes" and "whoresons" gave way to the sort of eloquent curse that can only come from God's anointed monarch. I was told that I was "not fit to be skinned and used as a condom by Satan"; that "the company of a dead weasel that had been rolled in the vomit of a buzzard" was preferable to mine; and that he would "take an onion studded with broken glass" and place it up my fundament if I ever crossed his path again. I have never been more proud.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Aldred Makes a Noise

The silence spread subtly yet swiftly across the world on that day. The first things to disappear were machine noises: jackhammers faded out, cars began to glide noiselessly down the road, a million ambient whirs and clicks and electronic buzzings died away. It was an unsettling yet holy thing.

(Aldred notices what's going on immediately and heads for the warehouse he has been renting in case of just such an occurrence.)

The sound of the human voice goes next. Conversations weighty and banal drift away. Songs devolve into humming, getting lower and lower, eventually crossing the line into inaudibility and non-existentence. Cries, shouts, screams, sighs all warble away, suddenly useless and out of place. The verbal, the pre-verbal, the voluntary and involuntary: if it comes from the throat, it is no longer needed in this new and sacred place.

(Aldred muscles open the receiving doors, comforted that they still groan in protest, though not as loudly as he would hope. He runs quickly to the exact center of the warehouse and pounds a rail spike into the floor. He is disturbed that his hammering is already virtually silent.)

The natural world is the last thing to shut up. Clouds and tree branches still give visual evidence of a wind that should be roaring. Formerly babbling brooks roll by in eerie silence. The baseline of insect mating calls that has existed uninterrupted in some places for millennia is gone. The last thing anybody hears is the sound of the body, the high whine of the central nervous system, the low swish of circulation. Then these too are gone. Even the memory of sound fades from every brain. The silence is absolute.

(Aldred ties one end of an enormous spool of heavy green twine around the protruding head of the spike, using a special knot that he has practiced daily but had hoped to never have occasion to use.)

A deadly calm settles across the soundless world. People are beginning to stare up into the sky, jaws hanging loose, their heads so full of bliss there's no room for anything else. The globe seems to be rising and expanding, bringing the curve of the earth towards the dome of the sky. The goal —whose goal?— would seem to be compression, grinding everything on the surface against the seemingly solidified shell of the sky.

(Aldred hunts for the long crowbar, the special titanium one that the perfect masters blessed for him, and panics for a moment that perhaps it is in another safe house, too far from this one to reach in time. A moment later he lays hands on it, sighing noiselessly in relief. He inserts the crowbar through the center of the spool of twine.)

The firmament has begun to darken to a rich deep blue that has never been seen before. The bliss spreading like a noxious gas through the entire world population is doubling in strength ever second. All that crawls, flies, swims, photosynthesizes or otherwise lives will soon be ground into a fine paste sandwiched between the earth and this impossible but now undeniably solid sky.
(Aldred takes a deep breath, then runs across the warehouse floor, out through the receiving doors, leaving a line of twine behind him. For several minutes, the twine lies slack across the warehouse floor. Then suddenly it snaps taut. Aldred has reached the ash tree a mile away and firmly wedged the spool in its forked branches. The tree looks as if it were grown to receive the spool.)

The bliss swells rapidly inside every being, expanding beyond their bodies, merging into one global bubble of joy and shared experience. It is a holy thing, but the peril of the situation indicates that it has been executed ineptly, and that the bliss is destined to be hermetically sealed forever by the barrier of the sky, instead of flowing out into the universe.

(Aldred takes one last look at a sky so blue it's black, gets a firm grip on the crowbar with both hands, and pulls the hooked end across the twine as quickly as he can. He is pitched over backward by the effort and finds himself staring up into the sacred canopy, the awful heavens above. He hopes he wasn't too late.)


The note of the vibrating twine starts quietly, all but silently. It builds quickly in the absence of any other noise, rapidly filling the uncomfortably small area of open space left. The note gets stronger and stronger, using everything in the world as a resonator to perpetuate and enhance itself. Waves of sound begin to crash against the sky, battering it with exponentially increasing force. The sky holds, holds, holds... and then is suddenly pushed back, hurtling away and shifting back into gaseous form. The expanded earth sucks back into itself. The note of the twine disperses immediately, pulling every other sound back into existence as it goes.

(That was a near thing, thinks Aldred, respooling twine as he walks the mile back to the warehouse. The crowbar tucked under his arm is vibrating slightly, and will continue to do so for the next few days.)

(Note: Some of you may have read an earlier version of this piece, in case it seems vaguely familiar.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

So Tell Me About Belleville...

-It's a one horse town that's been visited by horse thieves. The horse in question was named Mr. Stuckey, and by all accounts was much beloved. He was kind to children, enjoyed carrots, micturated discreetly, and wore a straw hat with holes cut out for his ears (this may not have been by choice). In 1933 Mr. Stuckey vanished mysteriously. There were signs of struggle in his stable, and although his spare shoes were left behind, his saddle, bridle and bit were taken, leaving little doubt that Mr. Stuckey did not go of his own accord. Neither the thieves nor the horse were ever found, but under a quirk of Wayne County law the case remains open 75 years later, so Belleville retains it's "one horse" status. When we file the renewal papers each year we have to put "HORSE CURRENTLY MISSING" in the notes section.

-At night the sidewalks roll up. Then they're loaded onto a municipal flatbed truck and transported to the sidewalk storage shed, where they are carefully registered, tagged, and stacked. The sidewalks spend the night under lock and key in a climate controlled environment, safe from vandals and the elements. Assuming the next day is a sidewalk day (Saturdays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and alternate Thursdays), they get picked up in the morning and are usually reinstalled by eleven.

-We have our own currency, but it's just US dollars with "BELLEVILLE BUX" written on it in black Sharpie. The Treasury sent an agent once to investigate the large number of defaced bills emanating from the area. Supposedly he was very nice, and everyone was very cooperative. It's still not clear how the accident happened, or what he thought he'd find out on the lake. There's a series of tasteful commemorative plaques marking the various places his remains were found.

-Nearly every state in the US has a Belleville, the only holdouts being one of the Dakotas and Rhode Island. The Dakota refused its Belleville at gunpoint, and Rhode Island simply wasn't big enough. All the Bellevilles were originally manufactured in 1916 at the Evanston Small Town Foundry, the first production run for the then new industry of manufactured towns. While a few of the Bellevilles were installed right away, World War I disrupted the process, and installations didn't resume until a few decades later as part of the WPA. When Alaska and Hawaii became states, the occasion was officially marked each time by a Belleville installation. This largely ceremonial gesture has had unintended consequences for Puerto Rican statehood as all 48 of the original Bellevilles have now been installed, and the Evanston Foundry was decommissioned years ago. So-called Bellevilleistas, who demand that the ceremony must happen for true statehood to be conferred, have successfully blocked each bid. Rumor has it that Washington has suggested a square mile of the original Levittown as a compromise recently, and that the offer is being considered.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Drink With The Madonna of Conflagration

The other day I was talking to the Madonna of Conflagration, and I could tell something was on her mind. Normally our conversations are great: she gives me the latest about her various fire obsessed clients, and I laugh until my lungs hurt. I can't begin to guess how many hours we've wasted arguing about whether her clients should be called pyrophilics or pyromaniacs. But yesterday she was subdued. So we sat there in silence, until she said:

"You know, I liked you a lot better when you were into William Blake."

I pointed out that this was years ago.

"Yeah, I know, but it's just like, you could be a lot more fun then, you know? I mean, you were also an incredible pain too, but the kind of pain it was like, interesting to be around. Those poems you were writing, the ones 'in the style of Blake' but with all that militant atheist shit? Those were really trying. Incredibly, seriously trying. And that time you got a life-mask made because Blake did it, and the guy you went to didn't know what he was doing and ended up ripping out your eyebrows? You were pretty damn hard to look at while they were growing back in. I kept offering to pencil some on for you, and you were all like 'I am a mystical poet, not your fucking Barbie Make Me Pretty'. And then you went on for months about how Lambeth was this incredible place and must have all this great energy, and you could be really spiritual there, and you were totally going to move there, and become a printer and learn to draw and all that shit? And then you found out it was in the middle of London or something and not some shitty little village like you thought? And you kept trying to have visions but, like, you couldn't, because you don't believe in visions, so you started imagining what having visions might be like and you were just wrong, like totally totally wrong? And you kept going out with these women named Catherine and they were all terrible bitches, and you asked one of them 'Do you pity me?' and she threw a drink in your face? And uh..."

She trailed off.

"You were just a lot more fun then is all."

I didn't see her for a few weeks. I think we were avoiding each other. But one day I came home to find a very nice edition of Byron sitting on the doorstep, along with a note that said:

These would make you hilarious -MC XO

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Music Articles That are Destined to Go Unread

Kilroy is Still Here: The Enduring Legacy of Styx

Rupert Holmes: Master Lyricist

Twenty Ways Syphilis Made Frederick Delius a Better Composer

Metal Machine Music Is For Lovers

Patriarchal Pickin': The Banjo as Instrument of Cultural Imperialism

Like Dorothy, We All Love Toto

What I Imagine A Linda McCartney/Yoko Ono Supergroup Would Have Sounded Like

How to Listen to More Ska

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Tale of the Large Bells

The bells were too large for the belfry, and in consequence never rang correctly. They had been installed by a drunken cross-eyed steeplejack with his mind on other things. The problem wasn't discovered until the day of the unveiling, a day that would forever be a black one in the town's history. The whole population had gathered around the town hall, everyone gushing with civic pride. The mayor took to the podium and made a dreary speech that failed to avoid making a weak joke about bats and belfries. Then the winner of the elementary school spelling bee recited Poe's "The Bells", stopping to spell out "tintinnabulation" in a moment of forced precocity that absolutely ruined the poem and set everybody's teeth on edge. Finally, the mayor pulled a cord and the cheap tarp that had covered the belfry gave way to reveal a lumpy piece of workmanship. The mouths of the bells flared out grotesquely, spilling out of the openings of the belfry and ruining its shape. Fortunately, an unaesthetic line or two didn't bother the mob, but when it came time for the inaugural bell ringing it was obvious there was a problem that couldn't be ignored.

"BONGKLAK-BONGKLAK!" went the bells, the expected rich deep bong abruptly cut off by the bells swinging into the interior walls of the belfry and each other. It sounded like a pair of very expensive buckets being bashed together, and the mood of the crowd began to turn ugly. Questions were shouted out, most having to do with the cost of these monstrosities and the exorbitant millage used to fund them. The mayor tried to lighten the mood by leading a rousing singalong of "God Bless America", but fumbled the words halfway through. This was one outrage too many and a bloodthirsty howl went up. The police had to be called in to disperse the crowd, who even in these modern times had a rope, a tree and a stool handy for a lynching. Throughout all this, no one thought to stop the bell ringers who kept the whole mess boiling with constant not-quite-bonging reminders of the disaster.

Things got worse when a summons was put out for the steeplejack to come and fix his mess, only to find he had fallen to his death in the interim (not while working, oddly enough). The belfry construction project had already had some fairly serious overruns, and there simply weren't funds left to hire a replacement, as even the least competent steeplejacks don't come cheap. Volunteers experimented for hours, trying to find a way to get some use out of the bells but were frustrated at every turn. If the bells were swung gently they didn't collide with each other, but neither did the clappers move enough to produce an audible sound. Lining the outsides of the bells with velvet produced an unsettling staccato noise which several townspeople decried as "the devil's hiccups". A grandiose plan was floated to install concealed speakers in the bells and pipe in a recording of the St. Marks Campanile. Unsurprisingly, no electrician could be found who would have a part of such an unethical scheme. One of them wrote a letter to the editorial page of the only local paper, containing the memorable phrase "a belfry full of discord and turpitude" (which was unfortunately misprinted as "a belfry full of disco and turpentine").

In desperation, the town tried to make the bells a quirky selling point for visiting the town. "COME SEE THE BIG BELLS THAT DON'T RING SO GOOD!" proclaimed the highway signs. The few tourists who did show up were inevitably disappointed by the hourly demonstration. Almost nobody bought the cheap plastic bell souvenirs, and further disaster struck when the t-shirts that were supposed to say "I the Awful Bells" ended up having "I ♥ the Awful Bells" printed on them. A few actually sold, but only to design geeks who found the error hilarious. Eventually the town council realized that they were throwing good money after bad and the tourism campaign was abandoned.

So the bells fell silent for several years. Then, one fateful night, they fell loudly. It was inevitable really: the yoke they hung from was never meant to hold such heavy bells, and was made of shoddy wood to boot. In a March windstorm it finally gave up the ghost, splintering into thousands of tiny pieces and setting the bells free. They tumbled out of the belfry and landed in the town square with a thunderous crash. The townspeople ran to investigate the noise and were absolutely thrilled to see that the bells had finally been dispatched. There was dancing and cheering: the town had never felt so united while the bells hung over it. In an inspired moment, an eight inch pit was dug and filled with cement. The bells were placed in it upside down, their mouths opening to the sky. The cement quickly hardened and the upturned bells became a permanent fixture of the square. Ever since, the bells are filled with lemonade during the harvest festival and other civic occasions. It tastes strongly of verdigris, but everybody in town has at least a small sip to prove a point. No one's quite sure what that point is, but tradition is tradition.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Portraits of Statisticians: Oskar Anderson

They fall before him like sexy wheat, the ladies do. Oskar Johann Viktor Anderson: Statistician, Lawyer, Lecturer, Geological Surveyor, Player. His German mystique is an aphrodisiac beyond compare for the impressionable young ladies of Kazan, their Tatar blood hot for that exotic sophistication. Anderson may have been born in Minsk, but he plays the Teutonic Lothario role to the hilt: wooing with gifts of "Dresden" china (bought by the crate load during pleasure trips to Bulgar) and claiming to have been dandled on Bismarck's knee as a child.

The opportunity to study in St. Petersburg comes not a moment too soon, and Oskar heads to the big city, leaving an army of bastards crawling in the gypsum dust that always seems to blanket his provincial spawning ground. Anderson quickly grows to a big fish in a big pond, wowing the academics by day, seducing their wives and daughters by night. There is more than one ribald local folksong of the period with the refrain "Oh Oskar! Oh Oskar!/Oh oh oh Oskar!", a cry familiar to anyone who strolled around the University precincts during those heady nights.

But all good things must come to an end. In 1920, Anderson had a meeting with Lenin, ostensibly to talk about Anderson's future in the Bolshevik government. In truth, the heated discussion centered on Lenin's winsome younger sister Maria, and whether Oskar intended to make an honest woman out of her, considering the condition he had put her in. Oskar replied that his long suffering wife was honest woman enough for him, and perhaps Maria could be fobbed off on that obsequious Georgian with the ridiculous tough guy nickname who was always sniffing around. Stalin was already on his second wife at this point, so this comment could only be seen as adding insult to injury, and Lenin hurled himself at Oskar, swearing he would "pull off those rotten Kraut bollocks and stuff them into that snide little Kraut cakehole." Oskar replied that he preferred sachertorte, before diving out of a conveniently located picture window and hustling himself home, where he breathlessly informed the wife and kids that they were heading west. Now.

When she asked him why, he replied that it was "a political matter".

Monday, June 16, 2008

Aldred and the Arm

Somewhere in the middle of the night, Aldred awakes to the realization that there is a stranger in the bed with him. He's well past the age where this would be a pleasant surprise. Aldred is an inveterate side-sleeper, and the invader's arm is resting on the back of Aldred's head, behind the ear, pointing up as if he were standing close (far too close) behind Aldred and hailing a taxi.

Aldred knows that this is a moment for calm and clear action. Don't panic, act quickly, get to a place of safety. Carefully he works his hand out from under the pillow and lightly encircles the stranger's wrist. Then he slowly raises the whole arm a fraction of an inch, just enough to let him slide out from under this unwelcome embrace. The lifting goes off without a hitch as Aldred has a surprisingly delicate touch. When he tries to slide out from under the arm, however, he finds himself unable to move more than a token amount. The bedsheets must be restricting his movement. Not for the first time, he curses his love of snug linen.

So then, a more radical plan is needed. He's no great proponent of violence, but circumstances have left him with no other option. He tightens his grip on the offending wrist, and takes a moment to steel himself. Then he throws himself out of the bed with considerable force, still holding tight to the arm. He lands on his back, quickly leaps into a standing position, and delivers a savage knee to his enemy's solar plexus, which his grip on the arm should have conveniently placed nearby.

Except that his knee meets only air and Aldred staggers back, desperately fighting this sudden unexpected change in his center of gravity. He tries to reach out his left hand to steady himself as his right is still keeping a death grip on his opponent's wrist, but the only response from his left arm is an excruciating attack of pins and needles.

It's more or less at this point that Aldred realizes he is standing in the middle of his bedroom at 3 am, his right hand locked around his left wrist. There is no invader: his arm had simply fallen asleep to the point where it was so numb he no longer felt it as part of himself. Shortly he will find this hilarious, but his initial reaction is a sickening existential vertigo as his sleep- and adrenaline-addled brain tries to reintegrate the limb back into his sense of self. Aldred almost faints as he goes through the shock of a reverse amputation, the limb binding back to him in a surgical flash of self-awareness. He shakes this strange new limb that is suddenly under his control, as much out of sheer wonder as to get rid of the lingering pins and needles. As they recede so does the sense of newness, and the limb becomes familiar.

Aldred feels a tiny twinge of regret that at the end of it all he has performed no heroics, faced no great dangers, and received no exciting new limbs for his troubles. He gives the same old arm one last contemptuous shake and stumbles back to bed. By the time his head hits the pillow the regret has evaporated, and the chuckling has begun. This quickly gives way to snoring, a consequence of Aldred trying sleeping on his back for once.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Necromancy, Pittsburgh Style

Because I'm here with my parents on a Sunday, there was no way I was going to get out of going to church. So bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, there I was warming a pew on Sunday morning for the first time in years. We sang a hymn, did a properly humble prayer, and I was just settling in for a nice nap during the sermon, when the pastor announced that it was time for "the communion of saints". I didn't remember this from childhood services so I wasn't sure what to expect.

First, the ushers walked down the outside aisles, carefully lowering each blind. At the same time someone slowly dimmed the electric chandeliers. By the time both processes were finished, the only light in the sanctuary was a bit of sunlight sneaking in between the slats of the Venetian blinds.

Then everybody bowed their heads. For a while I thought this was some kind of silent meditation, but gradually I noticed a low eerie humming. This increased in volume for about five minutes, eventually becoming loud enough to make the windows and organ pipes vibrate in sympathy. The congregation held this note while the pastor began to chant: "I believe in the communion of saints. I believe in the communion of saints. I believe in the communion of saints. I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS. I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS. I BELIEVE IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS."

He began to spin in a circle, continuing the chant. Strangely, his voice wasn't distorted by the spinning. This may have been because of the wireless headset he was wearing, but after what came next, I'm not so sure.

The pastor's arms slowly rose to shoulder level and his head went back at a slight angle. I thought he might be doing the thing that dervishes do where they train their eyes on a particular spot so they don't get dizzy. But his eyes were shut tight.


He was spinning faster and faster, his robe whipping out at his sides, his stole fluttering in the breeze he had created. The congregation's humming continued to increase in volume. The blinds were rattling now, and the organ pipes were banging like bad plumbing.


Suddenly the ambient sunlight was gone and we were plunged into pitch blackness. At the same time, the humming and chanting stopped. All was silent and dark. I remember thinking this was much more spiritual than I remember, when I noticed a pinprick of light over the pulpit. Within seconds this had multiplied into a cloud of lights, swarming around each other like fireflies. Then they began to expand rapidly. There was a blinding flash. When my eyes recovered, I looked up to the vaulted ceiling of the sanctuary to find it alive with activity.

Well, perhaps "alive" is a poor choice of words. For there, arrayed in a gently undulating circle, were the spirits of famous deceased American Presbyterians. I saw Jimmy Stewart and Abraham Lincoln arm-in-arm, their faces lit with ecstatic brotherhood. There was Woodrow Wilson, radiating wisdom like an old testament king, and across the circle from him was John Witherspoon, his posture and aura an exact match. Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan marched around the perimeter, stripped to the waist and carrying spears, proud warriors of the faith, defending it in death even as they had in life. Andrew Carnegie held court in the center of the circle, presumably because he was a local boy. He showered the crowd with golden drops of heavenly love, as magnanimous with this in death as he had been with his fortune in life.

I'm also pretty damn sure I saw Danny Kaye up there, which is weird because I thought he was Jewish.

Anyway, this went on for about fifteen minutes, until there was another blinding flash and the sanctuary was plunged into darkness again. Slowly the sunlight crept back in and the electric lighting was brought back up. Everybody stood up and looked around smiling, greeting their neighbors and shaking hands. Then they sang another hymn, took a collection, sang yet another hymn, and walked out into the day. As we were driving home I tried to talk to my parents about what had happened. They just smiled enigmatically and said they were looking forward to their usual Sunday morning Bloody Marys.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Carnegie International

I have two main reasons for being in Pittsburgh this week. One is to visit my parents. The other is to check out the 2008 Carnegie International Exhibit. It's usually a fascinating show, and this year was no exception. Some of the highlights:

-Miniature Heretical Egg Copters: Pretty much does what it says on the tin. A dropped ceiling has been installed in one of the Scaife galleries, reducing the vertical clearance to about three and a half feet. As viewers stoop to enter the room, they are suddenly confronted with a swarm of tiny egg-shaped helicopters. The bodies of the copters are real egg shells, hollowed out and cunningly filled with the workings of remote controlled helicopters. Painted in loving detail on the underside of each copter is a scene of heresy, as described in a thirteenth century Papal encyclical. The scenes can only be glimpsed in passing, and at a certain amount of risk to the viewer. A facsimile of the encyclical is on display in the middle of the room, but the copters seem to be programed to guard it at all costs, so I didn't get a very good look.

-WoodStoneRiverWindPaint nos. 1-5:
A series of wall-sized canvases, done in a photorealistic style, depicting details from various pieces by artist/naturalist Andy Goldsworthy. After the exhibit finishes in January, Goldsworthy has agreed to take the canvases, arrange them artfully in the Mojave desert, and take photographs of them. Then the artist will produce new canvases based on these photos, and so on, until one of them dies or gets bored. Entrancingly pointless.

-I Get So Darn Mad!: Hole punched in the wall using the artist's own fists. This is the twelfth installation of this piece, which may explain why it had "NEVER AGAIN" scrawled in something that looked like dried blood underneath it. There has been a problem with pigeons entering the museum through the hole.

-Nobody Likes A Smartass, Series A: Twenty small still lifes, executed in oils and using an excruciatingly academic style, arranged in a 4X5 grid. I think the concept here was that there was absolutely nothing conceptual about the piece. This seems like kind of a smartass thing to do, so maybe it wasn't entirely successful. Still: nice brushwork.

-Adolph Chaplin/Charlie Hitler: Large photographic print. The artist used a computer program to merge two portraits of Chaplin and Hitler into one composite image. It all converges on the mustache, unsurprisingly, but it's the bowler with an unruly forelock sticking out of it that really makes the piece. The soulful yet crazed eyes will also haunt you for days afterward. Geraldine Chaplin sent an enraged letter to The Pittsburgh Press decrying the work, which was banned from exhibition at the Tate Modern through her intervention last year. There's been no word from Hitler's surviving relatives.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Like Venice with Funnier Accents

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm back in Pittsburgh for the first time in a while, and I continue to be amazed by the changes. I'm really surprised I hadn't heard about the plans to deliberately flood the streets of the Strip District. It must have been a massive project, and I have to say it doesn't look like it was totally a success. Don't get me wrong, there's definitely some good things. The motorized steel gondolas are a very nice touch. And I love the open air live freshwater fish pens at Wooley's. But after about the fifth flower merchant in a snorkel pops up to try and force a blooming lily pad on you the charm starts to wear off. And like Venice there's a bit of a problem with...well, let's be high-toned and call it effluvia and leave it at that. It's hard to buy kielbasa off an ingenious floating grill when your stomach has recently been turned by a similar shaped object drifting past.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I Haven't been in Pittsburgh For A Long Time

They've put up another statue of Willie Stargell since I was last here, and I have to say it's a bit much. It's three hundred feet tall and stands astride Point State Park like some modern colossus. That could be okay, albeit a bit grandiose, but apparently somebody got a deal on a job lot of pink flecked marble, which rather undercuts the solemn tribute they were going for. It doesn't help that it rotates either, and so fast that you can barely make out that it's a statue of Stargell, and not some menacing pink blur descending on the three rivers. And it screams. I don't know if this was intentional or if the ghost of Pops has come back to haunt this monstrosity or what, but I'm 30 miles outside the city right now and I can hear the damned thing still. I don't know how I'm going to sleep tonight.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Books I Have Not Bought (Yet)

When I Am An Old Woman, I Shall Wear the Flesh of My Enemies

Knitting For Men Who Cry

What Your Colloidal Cell Makeup Says About Your Personality

97 Short Plays About Santa Claus

Being The Maytag Repair Man
by Jesse White and Gordon Jump

Smugness for Fun and Profit

Latin for Truckers

My Miserable Time With the Filthy Gypsies

How to Drink Sea Water and Like It

Strong and Silent: Love Secrets of the Trappist Monks

Annie Leibovitz's Blurriest Celebrity Portraits

Brew Your Own Ether

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Found while doing a Google Image Search for the Letter "L"

Portraits of Statisticians: there are links to 375 images of eminent statisticians on here. According to the counter the site has been visited almost 200,000 times in the last five years. I'd say "the mind boggles", but there are some seriously awesome portraits on here. Like this one:

This is John Couch Adams, whose main claim to fame is figuring out that Neptune was there three years before it was sighted by astronomers. I can believe it. I mean, look at that big old brain, and that alienesque head tilt. Dig those Svengali eyes: I think it's entirely possible that Neptune isn't there at all, but John Couch Adams has hypnotized mankind right down to our DNA to think it's there. He was so good, he could even hypnotize machines, even ones that hadn't been built yet. Poor Voyager 2, you never stood a chance against the all-pervading mesmeric influence of John Couch Adams.

Either that or Adams knew Neptune existed because at one time he called it home. Can't you just picture him riding the supersonic winds, his head even more enlarged because the helium he needs to swell his cranial transport sac is plentiful and readily available? Imagine his eyes, ecstatic but still holding that wry gleam, as he takes in the sights of a planet four times the size of earth. He is protected by a bubble of flaming blue methane weirded into an impenetrable shield against the terrible cold, the ancient enemy of the frail Neptunians. He will float and swoop forever, his racing brain never tiring of the glory around him, his fluting laugh somehow audible above the crash of the titanic storms.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The New Swears Are Here!

squelchpuddle: "listen squelchpuddle, I eat mothers like yours for breakfast."

dabhandycak: "This hand thrown mug with fingerprints all over it is a piece of dabhandycak."

calvinghole: "If you don't like it, you can stick it up your calvinghole."

stretchglove: "I wouldn't use a stretchglove like you to scratch the inside of my calvinghole."

tungstenite: "Stop looking at my calvinghole, you tungstenite!"

storch: "Oh, storch! I missed F-Troop!"

Use 'em in front of a nun today!

Aldred Falling

He falls over backward, more out of instinct than anything else. Gravity is the ancient enemy of men shaped like Aldred, and a wise man bends before an unbeatable foe lest he be shattered. So down he goes, distributing the fall across his ample back, adipose tissues acting as a natural shock absorber. He feels a moment's pang, as his prized gabardine raincoat has only just been dry cleaned after years of neglect, and now here he is, pressing it firmly (to say the least) against the grass. But you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, and you can't fall properly without staining a few raincoats. There are consolations at least: the odor of well-crushed clover is wafting up around him. It is a relaxing smell, and Aldred's damaged dignity is instantly repaired.

A contented sigh rolls through his bulk, and Aldred thinks to himself that if one must slip and fall, it is best to have a pastoral setting to do it in. The sky is simply perfect: the rainclouds (presumed architects of his tumble) are parting, and sunbeams are fading in all up and down the meadow. His arm stretches out, walking itself by the fingers across the ground. When the arm reaches full extension, the fingers splay out and then curl in, grasping a handful of clover. The elbow bends, the hand uproots the clover, and travels in an arc to Aldred's nose. He squeezes the clover and inhales deeply. It seems scarcely possible, but his body relaxes further. Tentatively, the hand moves to the mouth and allows it to take a small exploratory taste of the crushed clover.

The flavor is incredible, integrating one more sense into what is turning out to be an ecstatic experience. Aldred the man is no longer there: he is a heap of clover, rudely and robustly growing in the sun, an example to point to if one wanted to define "burgeoning". He is leaves and stems and roots and that glorious smell and flavor, all so delicate and intertwined, following nothing but the sun. He lies like this for hours, until mystic ecstasy gives way to earthy somnolence. As the sun begins to set, his quiet snores ride the breeze like hawks, gliding in lazy circles over the mountain below.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


What do I want out of life? Well, I suppose I want the same simple things we all do, like being able to wear a tri-corner hat with confidence; or knowing how to speak fluent Farsi despite never being called upon to do so; or being the first person to come up with a practical yet still entertaining use for the foaming reaction of vinegar and baking soda. Perhaps even more basic things, sexing geese just by the smell and all that. It's a shame that contemporary life doesn't afford us the time to pursue these basic human desires. We find ourselves forced into the drudgery of polishing doorknobs for a crust, when what we really want to do is open that little shop we've always dreamed of, the one where we use a set of custom made cobbler's tools to turn two right shoes into a pair.

In frustration, we shake our fists at the sky and —startlingly enough— the sky shakes its fists back at us. Who knew the sky had dirty thumbnails? What on earth could it get into up there? We have to admire that the sky at least knows enough about making a fist to not tuck the thumb inside, but it doesn't dull the pain of discovering one more hopeless mystery. And so we lower our fists and eyes, resting both on those dirty streets, the ones so tackily picked out with shards of lapis lazuli and crushed garnet. Our knuckles are pricked, our corneas are scratched, and the distant rolling thunder is just the sky chuckling to itself at our predicament. Truly, we are the damned, doomed to an eternity of frosty chocolate milkshakes and shattered expectations.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Full Denial

I'd like to address the unfounded rumors I've been hearing everywhere about my interest in fire. Now, I fully admit that I like a nice campfire and am entranced by a backyard fire pit. I love a candlelit dinner, a barbecue lunch, and a breakfast buffet served out of chafing dishes. When I think of holidays, I think of jack-o'-lanterns glowing in the night, their features flickering in and out. But there's nothing unhealthy about any of that: we all love these things and the fire that makes them possible. If I might spend a little more time appreciating them than you, it doesn't indicate a problem. I should be able to linger over thoughts of fire without it being misinterpreted as some sort of religious mania (or worse). It hardly means that I'm enslaved to the dark burning heart of the searing flame god, he who licks across the world leaving ash kisses on its blistered flesh. It's not like I wander the warehouse district late at night with a sacramental can of gasoline, lighting up the darkness with impromptu altars. At no time have I been known to sit with a brand new Bic lighter, flicking it on and off until all the fuel is used up, chanting "holy, holy, holy" all the while. Finally, I have never, ever, paid a prostitute an exorbitant amount of money to dress in a red and orange outfit of my own design and refer to herself as "The Madonna of Conflagration" while she sticks lit matches between my toes.

Honestly, I don't know how these things get started.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Fragment From the Archives: Sick City

I wrote this in 2006, during a period where I was trying to write a short piece each day. I'm not sure where I was going with this, but I quite like it.

He's walking down the street, early in the morning, because he couldn't sleep. Why stay in bed? He'd just be miserable: staring at the ceiling and trying to remember fragments of dreams that even he has to admit were boring. It's annoying to lie in bed and be pestered by the phantoms of your uninspiring dreams. Up off the mattress, into the tracksuit, out to the street.

He tries jogging at first, but his fallen arches scream for mercy after only a few minutes, so he settles into a brisk walk. All is disappointment and making due this day: his dreams, this body, even the city around him. He looks up and from side to side, hoping for some grand architectural gesture or solid material mark of industry to make him feel proud by association, but that moment for the city has long passed. It's all broken windows, sooty brick and the smell of an inadequate sewer system now. Even the trash littering the sidewalk looks ancient, as if people are out of things to discard.

There were such high hopes for this place once. Urban renewal, incentives for new businesses, family friendly areas, parks, culture, one of those shopping districts made out of repartitioned factories that always seem to go down well...none of it worked. None of it could mask how tired the place was. If places have souls, this one has gone through a terrible spiritual crisis, and has emerged from the other side terminally soul sick rather than triumphant. A succession of steely eyed mayors, people of supposedly awesome determination, had tried to act the pastor to the city, ministering to its needs with great compassion, while at the same time haranguing it to strive for its own salvation, but it was all for naught. The men and occasional women who had filled the post in recent decades were pointless functionaries, security guards at a museum nobody wanted to loot, let alone visit.

He felt quite at home here.

Monday, June 2, 2008

You're Never Alone With Tinnitus!

Tinnitus is like a little friend who sits in your ear, singing. This jolly fellow sings all the day long. Nothing gets him down; come what may, he sings and sings and sings. It's a simple song, consisting of one joyful note, miraculously held for hours, even days at a time! Why, if you listen carefully you might hear it now:


Oh what fun!

Fumbled Attempts at Tmesis


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Summertime Treat!

1)Cook 2-3 cups lima beans. They need to be big ones. Think fordhook or giant calico.

2) Drain the beans thoroughly.

3) Allow the beans to cool. You can combine this with step two by cooling the beans in a colander.

4) Spread beans in a single layer on a paper towel.

5) Gently inject each bean with vodka. If you're patient, you should be able to get an eighth to a quarter teaspoon of vodka into each bean. Be environmentally responsible: use an industrial reusable syringe!

6) Halve a medium sized round watermelon. Hollow out one half of the melon, reserving the fruit and leaving about a half-inch layer of flesh on the rind. Liberally douse this layer with vodka.

7) Coarsely chop one cup of the reserved fruit and mix with the beans. Serve in the hollowed out melon half. Enjoy!