Friday, August 31, 2007


There are, and I think most people will agree with me on this one, plenty of reasons to dislike the poetry of the American author Charles Bukowski. Which is not to say that I don't like his poetry, but there are the usual caveats to liking such a thing - facts such as:

-he never revised
-he wrote the same poems again and again
-his subject matter is vile
-his poetic voice is the worst kind of egoistic
-he published everything
-you have to wade through piles of terrible poems to find the couple amazing things snuck into his expansive catalogue of books

There are plenty of reasons to dislike his fiction as well, and many of those reasons are similar to the poetry-list right up there, so I'm not gonna bother re-listing them. But, at this moment, I'd like to mention a smaller, more nit-picky thing that I don't like about Charles Bukowski's poetry: (drum roll...) that is, that he always makes such a big deal about the fact that he's listening to Classical music on his radio in all the damn poems where's sitting around drinking and listening to the radio. You know what? I'm not impressed by his specifying the detail of listening to Brahms. At all. It doesn't make the poem better. It doesn't make him some kind of neo-Romantic for Skid Row. At all.

But, sometimes, in my blog posts (and really, all three of us bloggers here are guilty of it), I like to mention the fact that I listen to "classical" music. In fact, right now, I'm listening to Ligeti's Sonata for solo Viola. Impressed? Me neither. And most of you, knowing that I'm listening to, can name the two CDs that I'm most likely listening to to be listening to that particular piece.

But, all this talk about CDs gets me to where I wanted to be going (how about that!). I still remain vehemently anti-ipod (Antipod?), but I think sometimes I listen to music in the way that iPodders do. To clarify, an anecdote:

I popped the back tire on my bicycle. It was bound to happen. There's bike shop only 28 or so blocks away, so I'll get there soon. Get a new tube, maybe a patch kit, and the little special lever thing to get the tire off/on the rim. However, until then, I'm left walking to campus, and the last couple days, I've had to walk to campus just to get on the shuttle bus to go to the other campus, thats an hour-long bus-ride away (and we'll leave all the what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-in-Miami stuff out of this post). This leaves me with time to dig out the ol' portable CD player and headphones, and plan ahead enough to through 3 or 4 CDs in my backpack - listening for going places (see this).

It takes more planning than Ipod, though clearly, trying to cover the bases for potential listening needs for two half-hour walks and two one-hour bus rides (something angry, something blue, something classical, something new), but in other ways, its probably very similar. For instance, Yesterday, I had the lucky-enough foresight to have thrown a CD of Janacek's Sinfonietta (coupled (trioed?) with throw-away pieces by Martinu & Suk) in my pack, because, as I got off the shuttle bus back on the nearby campus (after one 30 minute walk and two 60 minute bus rides) I had the sudden urge to listen to the opening fanfare, really loud, over and over again (repetitive listening, while probably a common-enough human trait, is something I still tend to blame on my father (whether I inherited it through his genes or his behavior)).

That's probably just like listening to pop-rock on an iPod right?

But at least, I get to decide whether I was pre-cogniting my later-that-day need for Janacek or setting up a self-fulfilling/fulfilled prophecy. I don't think you get to have that little discussion with yourself if you listen to an iPod.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The End of Idealism

THE END OF IDEALISM, proclaimed the New Haven independent newsweekly this morning. Heady stuff for a small city independent newsweekly! Fortunately the article itself only has to do with how poorly entry-level jobs in progressive political organizations pay, with no larger ramifications for idealism in general. So I got to hang on to my usual wide-eyed optimism after all.

Though, cruelly, this idealism was shattered later this afternoon, when the office was not granted a half day (as it should have been, idealistically speaking) to head down to Louis' Lunch and watch the 1:05 Sox/Yankees game somewhere on Crown Street. Nuts to that. On the other hand, I still wait expectantly for the nationwide return of level-headed, liberal governance.

In the meantime I'll be in Philadelphia through the long weekend. Happy Labor Day, everyone!

Brooklyn Entertainments for the Mild-Mannered

August is, as one already knows, nothing if not a procession of Dog Days, and having not left New Haven for any considerable length of time during August, it would be a time when I'd expect to start feeling a bit antsy, yes. And I did. So I went to New York last weekend to hang out with Mandy, and to meet up briefly with a couple of other people, and in between to watch that Donkey Kong movie.

Good times, especially a healthy chunk of Saturday that was spent in Brooklyn. It's nice to start your Dog Day in New Haven and end up in Brooklyn! I didn't often go to Brooklyn when I lived in Queens; it takes forever to get to Brooklyn from Queens.

And what does one do in Brooklyn on an afternoon during the Dog Days? If you said, "Attempt a high-stakes bank heist with Al Pacino," then congratulations, you're John Cazale. But to that I say, "Not so fast, Fredo, I don't have those kinds of Hollywood connections, and I'm not out looking for trouble anyway." And to that you say nothing, because you died in 1978. But don't feel bad: all 5 feature films you starred in were nominated for Best Picture, and now there's a theater named after you at Broadway and 76th Street. (Thanks, the Internet!)

I was going somewhere with this.

The Brooklyn Museum is much different than I expected: larger, for one thing, and invested with a peculiar kind of middlebrow energy. At least it was in the contemporary art & American art wings that Mandy & I wandered to.

They have a large collection of feminist art, and like most "statement" art it's hit-and-miss, some pieces being aesthetically compelling, some making their statement and then just hanging there awkwardly till you move on. The centerpiece is Judy Chicago's room-sized installation The Dinner Party, from '74; you can read about it at the museum website and get the general idea. Despite the hammer-subtle thematic approach (best described as "strongly vaginal," in a Julianne-Moore-in-The-Big-Lebowski voice) it's engrossing; I like the craftwork of the plates & placemats and the way the mirror-black, triangular room suggests a '70s Space Odyssey aesthetic.

The American art wing has walls painted in various unexpected colors (bright purple; lime green and baby blue) and juxtaposes romantic landscapes and portraiture with modern paintings and contemporary abstract pieces. This is what I mean by peculiar middlebrow energy; the place basically shouts Hey, LOOK at all this AMERICAN ART! There's SO MANY KINDS of it!" My favorite piece, in a quiet corner, was a Mark Rothko painting from the '30s of an abstracted subway station. I've never seen a non-color-field Rothko before, and now I'm curious why, since this one had an appealing, odd personality.

In contrast to your truly A-list museums there are no landmark pieces here; no Timbres, Espace, Mouvement, no Sunday in the Park with George. But they do have a Cold Storage Facility, or at least that's what I like to call it: a large, heavily air-conditioned room where they have non-exhibited pieces on display in ceiling-height, plexiglass-plated metal shelves. I don't like looking at 18th-century furniture, but I do like looking at a ceiling-height metal shelf labeled "18th-century furniture" that's full of chairs.

If you say "Brooklyn Museum" to your coworkers who know about the art world, they'll kind of say "Oh yeah, the Brooklyn Museum" and note that they tellingly changed the name from the "Brooklyn Art Museum" a few years back.

The Museum is adjacent to the excellent Brooklyn Botanical Garden, itself part of the majestic Prospect Park. We didn't have time to spend in either, which was just as well since, again, Dog Day: like 85 and humid.

There are all kinds of places to eat in Park Slope, particularly along 5th Avenue. The thing to do is to write down a few options in the morning from the Time Out New York website, and then decide they're all too fancy and expensive and sit down in a tony little sandwich shop instead. Hey, fresh-squeezed lemonade!

Bargemusic is a year-long chamber music series that floats in the East River at Fulton Ferry landing; they don't attract top-of-the-heap acts, but it's comfortable and unpretentious and worth checking out. Saturday night's performance came courtesy of a string quartet whose name eludes me; you might see them, Pete, since they're an ensemble-in-residence at your new school. The Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor is an astounding piece, and it got an enjoyable performance, though not an indelible one.

Mahler's single movement of teenage Piano Quartet and Edvard Grieg's half-finished Second Quartet, which comprised the first half of the program, are not particularly good pieces, particularly when you haven't yet gotten used to the barge going up and down, up and down. The acoustics gave the strings a bit of a weepy sound, too.

Next to Bargemusic is the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, and it's well worth waiting a half hour for your cone. Oh the sweet sweet blissful melty part.

And then the Brooklyn Bridge is right there, so you can walk back to Manhattan under that chalky, starless nightsky Toni Morrison's so fond of.

If there's one thing to say in conclusion, it's that I'm about to have dinner with my roommate, so this is as far as this post is going to get.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Party Like It's 1982

If it's playing in the city where you are, you should go see The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a documentary about the world champion of Donkey Kong. That's a fellow named Steve Wiebe, who (unsurprisingly) beat the record after losing his job and moving an arcade console into his garage and (rather surprisingly) ran up into a difficult controversy cooked up by the defending champion, who holds significant power in the arcade-championship officiating circle.

The movie keeps a respectful distance from the severe nerds whose lives it chronicles -- it has a lot in common with the tone of the film Trekkies, another really fun one to watch -- and there's a pleasantly surprising amount of emotional resonance in the story too. Wiebe's wife and two kids seem to deal with their somewhat tragic situation with a combination of bafflement, support, and occasional desperation. (The most poignant scene has Wiebe's young daughter asking her dad why the Guinness Book of Records is so important, and noting innocently after his reply that "yeah, but a lot of people seem to ruin their lives getting in there.")

The plot, when it gets going, is almost too good to be true; it feels like something that might have been cooked up for a Will Ferrell movie. The ultimate high score potential of Donkey Kong, meanwhile, turns out to be clearing 255 levels with a maximum of a bit over 1,000,000 points.

I also strongly recommend Superbad, which supplies a bunch of laughs and, more importantly, gets Michael Cera a role almost identical to the one he played as George Michael in Arrested Development.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Brief Classical-Musical Thought

Every orchestral composition by Silvestre Revueltas reminds me of the drunk scene from Dumbo. This also goes for any of south-of-the-border-sounding stuff by Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein etc. Always has. The portion of the clip from about 3:25 onwards might explain that, but I'm not sure why the movie hasn't messed up any of the other musical genres it parodies for me.

As an aside, after rewatching that particular chunk of Dumbo for the first time since childhood I seriously doubt that alcohol is the substance that actually inspired that whole sequence, unless Dumbo and the circus-looking rat decided to find out what happens when you mix absinthe with mezcal.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In Other Good News

Bob Odenkirk's new movie, The Brothers Solomon is coming out soon. Once again, directed by Odenkirk, starring Will Arnett. Looks like it should be at least as good as Let's Go to Prison.

Miami Livin' (Groceroceries)

Yesterday and today I had my first meetings for my teaching assistantship, so the bubble of abject loafing here in Miami has somewhat burst - I have three books to read by Friday, to prepare myself for my job. Work sucks! But then, I do remind myself that being an online tutor for Freshman English 101 students for 15 hours a week beats the hell out of working at a grocery store for 40. Except that the grocery clerking pays better, and had better health coverage.

Not that I miss the grocery work. Certainly not. Its just that, you know, I haven't had a job since the end of April, so suddenly being told that I have to do something for 15-20 hours a week, and having, like, time slots scheduled wherein I must do something, and be accountable for those things-that-I've-done kinda sucks.

I do miss the particular store where I used to work, from a shopping perspective. I will admit that. For various reasons, not the least of which is that, over the 2.5 years of working for said "Unique Grocery Store," I got very used to consuming a certain range of products. The grocery store down the strip from me here is called Publix, and it is not a unique grocery store. Even worse than missing certain products - most notably Brown Basmati Rice (I actually went so far as to ask an employee for help, I was so bewildered that they didn't sell it) - is seeing what other people, normal, not-unique, people buy.

The other night, for instance, I was in the express check-0ut lane, waiting to buy my 6-or-7 items, when I realized that the guy in front of me had totally ignored the Express thing, and was buying a full cart of shit. Like, shit shit. Everything from Hostess Ho-Hos to frozen Lean Cuisine meals to an 18 pack of Bud Light. I would have almost forgiven him for shirking the rules-of-line-forming, had he been buying, like, produce, or organic anything. But to have to wait for a cheater who is buying shit is just insulting.

I tried to have a conversation with the register jockey about it, but she wasn't interested in talking. They never are. Target sells food, but the place gets more and more depressing everytime I sneak across the highway to buy something. And don't get me started about what the people buy at Target. Damn. I mentioned it to a colleague at this meeting this morning, how depressing Target has become already for me in the three short weeks that I've been here. He said "Yeah, that Target sucks. Now, the Target down by me, it's brand new, it's great to go into."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Many Talents of Mr. Coffee

The box my new coffee machine came in describes one of its Easy to Use, Dependable Features:
  • Lighted On/Off Switch lets you know when your coffeemaker is "On" and "Off"
Amazing! I'm glad I didn't buy one of the models where you have to reach inside and grab the heating source to see if it burns you.

The important thing is it makes coffee, which I can refrigerate overnight and take to work in the next day so I don't have to spend two bucks on iced coffee every morning. This will eventually cut my monthly utility bills in half, if you count iced coffee as a utility, and I think there's a good argument for that. As much as I love the routine of stopping into the coffee shop on the walk to work, out the window it goes.


I feel like I should post something today that doesn't involve bizarre doodling.

Hey, it's the middle of August! The BBC is webcasting Proms concerts on the Radio 3 website. Sound quality isn't the greatest, but it's worth listening if there's a concert of interest.

This week you can hear Gustavo Dudamel and the Youth Orchestra of Venezuela lay down a solid Shostakovich Tenth Symphony (or, if that's too cheesy for you, Bernstein and Ginastera on the other half of the program). Pretty amazing. (Review in the Guardian here.)

Also of note, the world premiere performance of John Adams's Doctor Atomic Symphony. It's hard to judge without hearing it live -- so much of the quality in Adams's recent music is in the texture and orchestration, its shimmer and resonance -- but geez, this piece sure sounds like a nonstarter: formally and dramatically shapeless, and for close to 40 minutes at that. That concert was earlier today (yesterday, rather, in London); I'm curious what the reviews will say.

For another couple of days, you can still listen to Leila Josefowicz playing Oliver Knussen's Violin Concerto, too. Josefowicz is amazing, and it's good news that she's picked up this piece, which is that rare atonal work that manages to be lyrical and elusive and very subtle. I heard it when the Philly Orchestra brought it to Carnegie Hall in '03, the year it premiered, with Pinchas Zukerman; the orchestral part is mesmerizing, done in deft watercolor-like strokes.

Case of the Tuesdays

Fig. 1. The Doughsbury Pillboy.

NoVA has been suddenly cool these past couple of days, with briefly achieved high temperatures in the low- to mid-70s and a lot of rain and gloom. It's remarkable how cold and wet this weather feels when it follows the usual hot and wet late-summer weather here. Add to that the dead maple leaves on the sidewalk out front (the tree's apparently rooted near enough pavement that it doesn't stay green for much of the year, though the taller ash trees near it do well enough) and leaving for work feels strongly like walking to middle school during the first week of the new term. If humans have any inborn reaction to seasonal changes, my summer-to-fall one has been completely co-opted by the thought, "Back to school..." And so I trudge just a little bit heavier through my Monday and Tuesday at work than usual. Even my windowless office space, which maintains a fairly consistent level of medium-dark and medium-cool throughout the year regardless of what's going on outside, seems both darker and cooler than it should.

A little while ago our grandfather finished reading "Great Expectations"; he told us that he had thought he'd read it two or three times already but, after finishing the book, was amazed to realize he had never read it before after all. Prior to this morning I would have told you I had changed one of my car's headlight bulbs before, but the experience turned out to be surprisingly unfamiliar. Added novelty came from the particular way in which the power steering fluid reservoir blocks one's line of sight to the headlight apparatus in a 2000 Civic, my general awkwardness with gadgetry, and the moody drizzle falling on my back out of the overcast skies. The driver's side headlight, happily, works now, though the passenger's side light stopped doing so at some point during that whole process, but I have higher hopes -- greater expectations, if you will -- about repeating the process tomorrow morning. I'd do it tonight but I'm gambling on having no rain at all by then.

As I'm typing this, a small pink something, curiously shaped and wet, appears as if by magic below my laptop keyboard: Sort of like crumpled tissue paper, with two stalks rising from it eerily like antennae... A little bit of slightly weirded-out probing reveals it to be two stuck-together tree flowers. My first hypothesis was that they were somehow disgorged by the AC unit directly next to my table but it's more likely that they just fell off of the top of my head.

B-Day 2K7

Let the record show that I entered my twenty-sixth year exactly as I lived the first twenty-five: in a bemused, alcoholic haze.

Not really, but Microsoft Paint is a cruel medium.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

There's a Cello in Your House Now

Judging by the little bit I'd read about it, and what the story involves, and the tack taken by the poster in the lobby, I expected to enjoy the movie Rocket Science a lot more than I did. Quirky, high-school geek kind of movies are usually right up my alley. But not this one: a couple too many times it walks over the line from "weird" to "uncomfortably weird," a lot of the little comic touches miss the mark, and the plot spends some time wandering around aimlessly.

It's a neat trick to set up an expected plot structure and then subvert it! But then you should probably replace it with another plot structure at least as interesting.

There are some good aspects. I still wouldn't really recommend it.

On the other hand, Hot Fuzz is out on DVD now, and you should immediately move this to the top of your NetFlix queue if you haven't seen it yet. Absolutely hilarious.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


It's a shame that the woman in this picture doesn't know that the new Steelers mascot has been named "Steely McBeam". Because if she had been able to speak his name within the past twenty-four hours, he wouldn't be there to claim her firstborn son.

(Photo via the Post-Gazette's main webpage this morning.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

RIP Max Roach

Max Roach died today. I know his drumming best from his collaborations with trumpeters Clifford Brown and Booker Little (who both died tragically young), but Roach was there in all aspects of Bebop from the start.

I remember at some point, back in college, in one of my Jazz History classes, having the teacher playing records just so we could hear Max Roach's playing. Pointing out not just the way, in his solos, that the cymbols were carrying melodic material (which I was taught was something that he invented), but when he was just laying down fours (if they were fours), that if you charted the poly-rhythms (which the Prof. did, on the blackboard) on those cymbols, they were inhumanly complicated. Sounded really cool too.

Miami Livin' (Sterereo Edition)

So I'm finding that one of the great joys of living in my own apartment is having my stereo set up in the living room, as opposed to my bedroom. This experience may be boosted, in fact, by the fact that I haven't had my stereo set up at all. Add in the fact that I have no job and no car, and it's like, in the 90s and humid here everyday, and suddenly I sit around listening to records all day. In fact, its good thing I'm not bringing any money right now (and, really should be sitting comfortably in the red for the next three years), 'cause otherwise I would be wasting all sorts of time shopping for records.

Of particular note is a favorite record of mine, that I have no analgous CD recording of: Bohuslav Martinů's Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Timpani. Played by the Czech Philharmonic, under the baton of Karel Sejna. I think its a record that Jack gave me, back during a brief phase of time where he would give me interesting records that he stumbled across in Philadelphia.

It's a fast-slow-fast three movement thing. When people down here ask me what kind of music I like, under the influence of my stereo being across from my futon, I tend to just go for it and say "20th century Eastern European art music." (I don't like to say "classical" (but will say "classical," if clarification is necessary).) I listen to it loud.

I'm tempted to try a Jack-style of a description of the music itself, but I'm unfortunately distracted by the recalling of the Mr. Show sketch (which, sadly, does not seem to be on where Bob Odenkirk, as a faux-Hemingway style author gives a description to a hunting lodge that is entirely inappropriate for Of Mild Interest. "You don't know what words mean, do you?"

I will mention that sometimes I think that Angelo Badalamenti (the guy that wrote the scores for most of David Lynch's movies (starting with Blue Velvet)) cops Martinů's tonal world a bit in his orchestral scoring, when he's going for the creepy this-is-a-David-Lynch-movie sound. (And incidentally, Lynch didn't use Badalamenti in his most recent film, Inland Empire, instead going for a score that I think, as I heard it, was mostly Penderecki (which made sense, I guess, 'cause there was a lot of weird shit having to do with Poland in that there movie).)

So that's that.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Classical Links x 3

Here's a substantial story from The Observer (UK) about El Sistema, the Venezuelan youth orchestra movement. (linked by classical writer/blogger Jessica Duchen.) Gustavo Dudamel, the dynamic young guy poised to take over the LA Philharmonic, came up through its ranks; the article's half about him and half about the huge number of other young Venezuelans affected, often dramatically, by their involvement. Worth reading, and a good reminder that involvement in the arts can actually have a tangible impact.

If you're not yet reading the blog by Tim Mangan, the classical critic for the Orange County Register, I recommend that you start. He reviews a Spanish-flavored Hollywood Bowl concert this week and uses it to argue persuasively for the value of the "light classics," which he notes have been "going the way of sitcoms, newspapers and bees." It's nice to see a few thoughtful words extended to Emmanuel Chabrier's "España" rhapsody; as Mangan says, it's more sophisticated than classical-minded people give it credit for, and it's an attractive introduction to orchestral music for people who aren't inclined to head straight for the 40-minute symphonies.

(That said, I haven't listened to Chabrier's "España" for a long, long time now, since all the tunes in it can get annoying after a while. I still love this Cincinnati Pops CD it's included on, though, one of the early purchases from my classical-listening days.)

I also heartily recommend CSO Bass Blog, written by Michael Hovnanian, one of the double-bassists in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Seems like a down-to-earth and honest account of life as an orchestra musician.

Rockin' It Off-White in the Living Room

Nothing satisfies the mild-mannered aesthetic pleasure centers of my brain quite like taking a flat white room and painting it a slightly different color. Charlie & I acquired some paint over the weekend and redid the front room of the apartment in a lovely shade of Behr brand Satisficient Off-White #330-E2. (That comes off as much less pink and much more beige in real life.) Viva la slight difference!

Tomorrow: sofa shopping at Ikea. And eventually curtains. I tell you, it is a whirlwind of unpredictable excitement around here.

The next beige I paint a wall with may be Behr's #330-E3, just since its official name is "Sensible Hue." It's like someone's finally marketing in my language!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Miami Livin' (Part II)

Well, I’ve told you all about my skin, so now let’s talk about my hair. And let’s face it, when a person has such thick, luxuriant, curly hair as I do, it’s reasonable for one to blog about it. I really only bring it up, because its gotten relatively long again (as can be confirmed by my still-quite-new Florida driver’s license (and, for the record, since I don’t think its been stated out right, I moved to Miami to go back to Graduate school)). It’s actually difficult, I’ve found, over the last decade, to grow your hair long, when its as thick, luxuriant, and curly as mine.

The usual tactic is to wear a baseball cap from the time that the hair starts to get a bit long-ish, and then, one day, several month later, take of the hat to find that your hair is now quite long. In fact, the last time that my hair was short (the now legendary Pete hair-buzzing of ’05), one of the most easily identifiable proximal causes of the hair-discarding was the loss of my Pittsburgh Pirates baseball hat (a rare specimen of durable free stadium giveaways, dating from the early months of PNC Park) at a Thai restaurant in Astoria, Queens. With no hat to keep the hair out of my face (accompanied by an unwillingness to wear a hat that was not a Pittsburgh Pirate’s freebie), the primary cause of hair cutting was too strong to resist.

And this new Southern-Floridian way of life has me once again confronting that cause: a change in water qualities. Leading up to the great Buzz of ’05, I had just moved across town in Boston (switched ends of the Orange Line), and along with that move, came a great change in the mineral-content of the water in the shower. Suddenly, my hair became very difficult to deal with (in the first town-of-residence (Malden), I had taken to washing my hair with a bar of soap, which, in the long run, was probably a bad idea (it made it that much harder, I suppose, to adapt to the different water conditions of the second-town-of-residence (Jamaica Plain))). Without a hat to keep my now-unmanageable hair out of sight and out of mind, buzzing quickly commenced.

Which brings, once again, to the present. The scene: North Miami Beach. The water: I dunno, but my hair is borderline unmanageable (despite having broken down and purchased both a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of conditioner (with matching names) at the Target that is right across the street from my apartment). And I’ve got a PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates free hat (a exact clone of the first freebie Buccos hat (it pays to have a relatively large family). But it’s still pretty shitty, right now, to have hair that’s as high maintenance as my thick, curly, luxuriant, nearly shoulder-length hair has become.

But, luckily, for my hair, I planned ahead this time, and shortly before leaving Pittsburgh, for the 23.5 hour U-Haul trip to Miami, buzzed the bottom half of my head, with no attachment on the clippers, leaving me with no choice but to keep my hair growing long until I’ve got enough hair underneath to even consider getting a normal-ish haircut (I give it at least another two months). Of course, my FL driver’s license is officially a “big hair” ID now, but that’s okay – so what if my hair exits the frame on both sides of my head in the picture. Still doesn’t look nearly as bad as my passport photo.

Friday, August 10, 2007

And That's the Ballgame

Hey, softball team made the playoffs! Well, everyone makes the playoffs. We won one game in the regular season, which is one more than we won in the playoffs.

Playoffs started this evening, and ended five or six innings thereafter. Beautiful night, though. Go team!

By "team" I mean me and a bunch of people I'm not likely to see a whole lot more from here on out. It's been fun! . . . just, no everlasting kinship or whatnot. Ah, likemindedness, the most elusive of all mindednesses.

Fall league softball? A lot of the same folks, and the same Thursday time . . . I'm thinking probably not. Not tired of softball; just want to give it up before I get tired of softball. I think this fall I'm going to take an art class.

* * * * *

Hey, 500th blog post!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Succession, Workspace, Foamover

The other night I dreamt the Senate appointed me as President of the United States. Bush had suffered some catastrophic but vaguely defined injury (possibly biking-related), and his replacements had been narrowed down to me and Andrew Johnson. Andrew Johnson and I sat in the hallway outside the closed doors to the Senate chamber until one of us got called in. Johnson was dressed in period garb and had really bad teeth.

I got called in first, and I was it. There was a chalkboard where the votes had been tallied up; it probably helped that the Senate was almost entirely made up of people I went to college with. (Though Denny Hastert was there too, a possibly unrealistic touch since he is, of course, a member of the House of Representatives.) My main feeling was happiness that everyone thought I was so smart, though I knew I wouldn't be able to do as good a job as they thought I would.

I figured I'd try to govern as a moderate, since that was probably easier. I had no idea how I'd try to manage the withdrawal from Iraq.

I'm not sure there's a greater meaning here. I think it's a career anxiety dream that would have made sense if I'd had it in late 2005. The only sure piece of insight is that my subconscious mind is unfamiliar with Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.

* * * * *

The other day at work one of the editors came by my desk and asked, Do you know where the department back scratcher is? (referring to one of these.) I said, You're pulling my leg or someone is pulling yours. No, no, she said, and our managing editor backed her up, A few years ago I said we should get a department back scratcher, and your predecessor bought one and used to keep it by your desk here. Well, okay. We looked, but we couldn't find it.

We did turn up a box that contained two bottles of cheap wine, both 1996 vintage, that have evidently been aging in a storage cabinet next to my desk for a decade or so. I never looked much in there since otherwise the cabinet only contains cleaning supplies. There were also a couple of 22-ounce cans of Sapporo that I doubt have aged as well. I'm told that these were going to be taken to a cherry-blossom-observing department outing to Wooster Square that was rained out, or something, in the late 1990s.

(I didn't know we had cherry blossoms in town, even a few of them. It'll spare me a trip to DC next year, at least, and the blossoms probably won't have been pelted off the branches by the weather by the time I get over to see them, either.)

I work in a very strange department, sometimes.

* * * * *

Someone with beer knowledge, tell me: what force is it that will make every bottle in a six-pack of beer immediately foam over when you open it? I didn't shake them up, and they've been in the fridge for a week and a half. Is there something someone has done wrong? I'm stumped.

If it matters, this is a six-pack of Utica Brooklyn Summer Ale. (I've been favoring seasonal beers recently, since it's easier to confirm that the mediocre beer store on my street hasn't been keeping them on the shelf for two years.)

I've actually intended, twice, to bring this six-pack to an event, and then forgotten and left it in the fridge. Which turns out to be a blessing, since if you opened these up it'd basically be an Instant Party Foul. I still have to deal with them being an Instant Eating Dinner in the Kitchen While Watching Old Simpsons Episodes on My Laptop Foul, but that's a lesser foul and one that I can deal with.

Just South of Hollywood

So I've been slowly getting settled, here in North Miami Beach, and think that maybe I have enough anecdotal evidence that I exist here to get away with trying to post about it. Mostly I just wanted to post, though, to brag about my tan.

My activity thus far has been relatively limited. I mostly just kick around my apartment, but have managed every day to go out for a bike ride, which is nice. I found a State Park today that has a couple of trails and a beach, and it's only about 1.5 miles away, so that's good. The heat and humidity here, though, are rather stifling, so a 3 mile bike ride suddenly feels much longer than it might otherwise.

I'm not sure that it's ever been mentioned in blog-form before now, but every summer I become quite proud of my farmer's tan - I am outside in short sleeves from the moment its not too damn cold to do so until the last possible day when its too cold (whether that too-cold day even exists in Miami remains to be seen). And its not so much that I'm proud of the color of my skin, but that I feel that my arms, having been appropriately conditioned to summer living, are impervious, from just above the elbow on down to the fingertips, to burning.

Thus, as I prepared myself to go biking around in mid-morning, early-August Miami, I think to myself, "Sunscreen?" and then, quickly, "Naahhh."

As I type this, I'm sitting in my apartment (computer monitor and keyboard propped up on some cardboard boxes from the move, leaching internet from some neighbor out there in the building somewhere), where, since I live alone, I've taken to keeping the temperature somewhere just north of "cool," preferring to not wear a shirt than having a more costly electrical bill, I have an excellent view of my arms.

The color of my skin, on the tops of my arms, on both of my elbows, especially when in sunlight, looks purple. That deep, old-man-fuck-you-possibility-of-skin-cancer-at-the-beach purple. Oops! First mistake in my new Miami lifestyle. It is interesting to note, though, that the tops of your arms, around the elbows, get more sun then the rest of your exposed skin, when you're riding a bicycle. In the yellow incandescent light of my bathroom, the skin looks a more typical shade of brimstone orange, but still.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Television, Television, Classical, Jazz

Several weeks ago I asked my coworker Alex what he was listening to these days, since he has good tastes in music, and in answering he turned me on to Television, a punk-associated (if not quite punk) band from 1970s New York. I've been listening to their album Marquee Moon a fair amount since. It's good stuff: smart, incisive, and clean in the sense that it doesn't waste anything. I suspect that something in the way they often structure their songs on small, modular accompanimental licks appeals to my Bartok-addled musical mind, too.

I usually don't like non-acoustic music, even on CD, since the sound seems so artificial. But Marquee Moon has a really distinctive mix to it, where the drums & bass seem kind of washed out while the guitars & vocals are toothy & brighter. This is as satisfying as a well-balanced beer, probably one on the light side.

From the liner notes, frontman Tom Verlaine describes the final song in the album:
Verlaine's concept was a ballad with "weird chords, because the song before is like a '50s major-chord song, and I wanted this contrast. I heard some Stravinsky in the '70s 'cause some guy in a club said, 'God, you guys sound like Stravinsky.' So I went and bought three Stravinsky records for a dollar apiece, and I still had no idea what this guy was talking about, except for these weird chords."
Tom Verlaine is right: Television sounds nothing like Stravinsky.

* * * * *

In terms of "actual" television, I haven't been watching much in the last several months, mostly since I don't actually own a television. But I've been watching Top Chef 3 this season, since some friends and friends' friends (largely an overlap with the folks I just went tubing with) have made a habit of watching it as a group on Wednesday night. Watching TV in a group setting, just once a week, seems healthier than the alternatives, even if it's just a reality show.

The series itself is fun (it's on Bravo); I'm perfectly happy to follow it & throw an hour a week at it, though I'm still a bit resistent to buying into it entirely. (Weekly: cooking challenge, judges' panel, eliminate one chef.) This is rigged to some extent -- a disclaimer before the show notes that the producers have some kind of invisible input into who goes -- and moreover it steers itself constantly into the bizarre negativity that has people doing fairly amazing things and constantly being taken down a notch for not doing it perfectly. (It still isn't as aggravating as the commentary during Olympic gymnastics, though. All that "her foot slipped, that'll cost her" talk while someone is performing near-impossible physical stunts drives me absolutely out of my mind. I hate Olympic gymastics commentary.) I think America has a love affair with seeing people unfairly getting taken down a notch.

Either that or people like to be snobs vicariously: you want the pleasure of turning up your nose at amazing food, but of course that's really hard to know how to do. So, in steps the teevee.

I've been cooking a lot more myself recently, which might mean that the show is making a subconscious impression on me. Either way I'm happy to be cooking again, since it was a New Year's resolution I'd been ignoring, and also since it's been about 3 weeks since I started, I think that means that it might be safely ingrained as a habit now. (I recall learning in middle school health class, or somewhere, that it takes 3 weeks to begin a good habit or end a bad one, as long as you're not talking about chemical dependency. If you learned it in middle school health class, it must be true!)

* * * * *

The school music library cut back its hours this summer, so unlike last year I can't head over there after work to pop on big padded headphones and fill my head with obscure string quartets or whatnot. That's a shame: it's a comfortable and really attractively designed library space. On the other hand, one of our department's summer interns discovered that the University has a blanket subscription to the Naxos record label's online listening library, which means I can listen to all sorts of kooky stuff at my desk if I have mindless work to do. (At $15 a month for an individual subscription, or $25 for better sound quality, it actually wouldn't be that bad a deal, at least if you're in the position to actually listen to a lot of it. As far as the standard rep goes, they've got essentially all of it.) Some other independent classical labels are up on there too, notably Chandos.

Listening highlights from last week, in no particular order: Robert Russell Bennett's Suite of Old American Dances, a whip-smart wind band standby; Alfred Schnittke's sprawling, avant-garde First Symphony; a phase-y, parallaxing piano trio by Per Nørgård; flawed and neglected Symphonies No. 2 by Henryk Gorecki and Andrzej Panufnik; a vivacious early string quartet by Wilhelm Stenhammar; Samuel Barber's clangorous and crisply tart (respectively) Piano and Cello Concertos; a Danish new-music vocal ensemble's rendition of Terry Riley's "In C" (or most of it, before I had to go photocopy something); that one little Mozart chamber piece with the glass harmonica; the sweet parts of Bernstein's "Age of Anxiety" symphony; "Hallelujah Junction," a recent John Adams two-piano throwback to early John Adams; Honegger's "Pacific 231," to go along with the morning iced coffee; and the last movement of Neemi Jarvi's Shostakovich 10, which I should really get on CD since it's the first Shostakovich recording I ever fell in love with.

* * * * *

I recommended Toni Morrison's novel Jazz to Pete a few weeks ago, and in doing so realized that I didn't remember much of it. So I bought a copy and have been rereading it; it's really fantastic, a salacious but weighted winter tale from 1920s Harlem that dips back and back into the characters' backstory in 1880s rural Virginia. Realism only; none of the magical touch as in Beloved (that's the only other one of hers I've read); I prefer it this way. Morrison writes in incredibly fluid poetry, and she has a great touch for scene-shifting and point of view, too. The narration blends and weaves from a cryptically omniscient presence (who speaks conversationally like a knowing neighbor) to reined-in first-person streams of consciousness. Events are out of order, traced and retraced; one chapter relates a straightforwardly framed story and then immediately backtracks to tell it in a closer, more intimately detailing voice.

Give me smooth-cornered modernism any day: I love innovation employed at the sole pleasure of a beautiful result. Use the device and don't put too fine a point on it.

Following is a rhapsodic passage I'm especially fond of; I remembered it vaguely from the first time I read it, since I'd moved to New York recently and thought an homage to New York's starless night sky was the most perverse thing imaginable, no matter how well-wrought it might be:
But I have seen the City do an unbelievable sky. Redcaps and dining-car attendants who wouldn't think of moving out of the City sometimes go on at great length about country skies they have seen from the windows of trains. But there is nothing to beat what the City can make of a nightsky. It can empty itself of surface, and more like the ocean than the ocean itself, go deep, starless. Close up on the tops of buildings, near, nearer than the cap you are wearing, such a citysky presses and retreats, presses and retreats, making me think of the free but illegal love of sweethearts before they are discovered. Looking at it, this nightsky booming over a glittering city, it's possible for me to avoid dreaming of what I know is in the ocean, and the bays and tributaries it feeds: the two-seat aeroplanes, nose down in the muck, pilot and passenger staring at schools of passing bluefish; money, soaked and salty in canvas bags, or waving their edges gently from metal bands made to hold them forever. They are down there, along with yellow flowers that eat water beetles and eggs floating away from thrashing fins; along with slabs of Carrara pried from unfashionable buildings. There are bottles too, made of glass beautiful enough to rival stars I cannot see above me because the citysky has hidden them. Otherwise, if it wanted to, it could show me stars cut from the lamé gowns of chorus girls, or mirrored in the eyes of sweethearts furtive and happy under the pressure of a deep, touchable sky.

But that's not all a citysky can do. It can go purple and keep an orange heart so the clothes of the people on the streets glow like dance-hall costumes. I have seen women stir shirts into boiled starch or put the tiniest stitches into their hose while a girl straightens the hair of her sister at the stove, and all the while heaven, unnoticed and as beautiful as an Iroquois, drifts past their windows. As well as the windows where sweethearts, free and illegal, tell each other things.

Sunday Tube-Drifting through Satan's Kingdom

On the Farmington River, a little under an hour from here, there's a section that you can float down on bright yellow rented innertubes. I'm just back from there, having gone with a small group of friends and friends' friends. I guarantee that out of all ways to take in nature, this is the most slothful: two hours of lazy drifting, lightly punctuated with three very mild rapids. The treesiness and infinite azure sky are quite nice. Swallows darting whichaway, some visible fish, etc. The catch is that you're surrounded with other bright yellow rented innertubes.

This section of the Farmington is called the Satan's Kingdom State Recreation Area. There's a big sign and everything, "Satan's Kingdom State Recreation Area." According to the Internet, this is because back in the day the valley contained a settlement of Indians and miscellaneous other folks of lesser reputation.

Afterwards we went to someone's backyard for cookout food, chitchat, and three rounds of Catch Phrase. Also coffee, since so much sun and slothfulness will really knock you right out.

Need coffee to stay awake through an afternoon cookout? Might be August.

It was 85 degrees and gorgeous today.

Friday, August 03, 2007

There is Now an Emoticon for What I am Feeling

My friend Kyle yesterday discovered something related to our alma mater that neither of us knew: The first smiley, :-) , was used on a Carnegie Mellon electronic bulletin board in October 1982. So tally up another point of CMU pride next to the self-driving Humvee, the robot soccer team, and Ted Danson.

I like the mildly verbose style of the proposal (very typical for humorous techie remarks), which seems half a world away from its (and its ilk's) eventual dominance as a lazy emotional shorthand. I'd be interested in whether these apparently quarter-century-old emoticons are still commonly used by the current crop of borderline subliterate teens, or whether they've moved on to character sets easier to enter on a cell phone keypad and text to their friends while crashing their mothers' SUVs.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bridges before Roads

Greetings from Atlanta! I'm here, in the heart of Georgia (well, maybe not the heart of Georgia - I actually must admit, I suppose, that I have no idea here Atlanta actually is, except that its about 11 hours and 40 minutes south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), on my driving-trip to Miami, Florida. This is my layover day, to recover my strength (sleep in) before finishing the trek with another 10-or-11 hour drive from here to Miami tomorrow.

So, in my drive, I noticed two or maybe three things about the South:

1) Road signs, on the highway, say "BRIDGE ICES BEFORE ROAD" instead of "BRIDGE FREEZES BEFORE ROAD."

2) There is a large stretch on the highway, in South Carolina, approaching Georgia, where South Carolina really tries to sell itself as the place to go to get peaches. This to me, seemed, pretty like a pretty shallow attempt to cop some of Georgia's peach market. Like Oregonian (rather than Washington) apples. They even had a big water tower, there in SC, painted to look like a peach. I asked my Georgian friend about this, and she reports that there is a noticeable difference between the two states' peaches. South Carolina peaches are, apparently, sweeter and less mealy. I don't like peaches anyway, so I guess its moot to me.

3) I saw an Alabama license plate with pictures of an apple, a ruler, and a graduation cap on it. Yeah right.