Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Exit Someone

It was time for a name change. I decided to uphold the tradition of stealing my blog title from an admired song. But with a twist of course – a deleted S here, an added S there. The change is also proof that I read – and listen to - your comments.

I recently made a mix CD for a friend who turns 40 soon. Two CDs actually. One song for every year of his life. A one-song-per-artist limit. The process got me to thinking. Thinking got me to make a list.

The Top 40 Years For Music, 1965 – 2004

40. 1971. Tepid, slight, murky.
39. 1982. Clunky. The synthesizer not yet perfected.
38. 1990. We turn off our stereos, we read books.
37. 1965. The Americans are fading, the Brits are still learning.
36. 1995. The implosion. Blame O.J.
35. 1970. Britain begins its seven-year vacation.
34. 1992. No, there are too many of you.
33. 1998. Don’t get too close to the speakers.
32. 1973. Art, I think I make it on my own.
31. 1979. This is your music industry on eggs. Hall, Oates buy their villas.
30. 1987. A for effort, C+ for legacy.
29. 1968. Uh-oh, you’re starting to try too hard.
28. 1996. Big black boots. An old suitcase.
27. 1976. Backbones are formed.
26. 1981. I was 15. She was 13. We were heroes.
25. 2000. They’re better live.
24. 1969. Aah, that summer.
23. 1986. There’s always the import section.
22. 1985. A freight train filled with disappointing follow-ups.
21. 2001. Waking up to the D.
20. 1993. All roads lead to the LBC.
19. 1974. Rhythm finally catches up to blues.
18. 2004. Foggy, clearing up.
17. 1989. Simpleton’s Mayor ponders poi.
16. 1997. Women and men.
15. 1972. Contractual obligations make good double albums.
14. 2002. Introspectors take over.
13. 1980. Mussels are pulled out of shells.
12. 1966. Brian Wilson overweight, not yet obese.
11. 1991. Guitars are pulled down from attics.
10. 1975. Bruce revs a hemi-powered engine.
9. 1988. They might be P.E. in full effect.
8. 1978. Fools believe in this year’s model.
7. 1999. Please bear with me as I recite my 69 joys and concerns.
6. 1983. Lions find the garden, the shortwave radio is on.
5. 2003. Dear catastrophe perktress, greetings from L.A.
4. 1967. Seminal.
3. 1994. An entire generation reaches its pre-implosion peak.
2 1984. Dearly beloved, I dance in the dark with the having-fun girls.
1. 1977. Aja. Rumours. Disco. Punk.

There’s always room for debate.

Monday, March 28, 2005


I work in a cubicle. Many people work in cubicles. I’m nobody special. I’m not complaining. It’s a big cubicle. If I crane my neck the right way I can see out the window at the immaculate vista of downtown and east Los Angeles. But it’s a cubicle. And there’s another person on the other side of my faux wall. And this other person likes to talk on the phone. A lot. Most office workers don’t talk on the phone a lot, not like back in the pre-e-mail days. But this one does. This young Ph.D.-educated research scientist likes to talk on the phone a lot about things like…. and I have to be coy here …. Things like event planning. And Catholicism. And the difficulties of relationships. And event planning.

It’s not really the phone conversations to which I’m drawing attention. Nor is it the preposterous volume that this Pac 10-research university-educated research scientist chooses to reach during the conversation. No, it’s the fact that this person with more seniority than I chooses to combine loud phone conversations with lunch – i.e., talking (loud, for long periods of time) with his/her mouth full. It almost makes me regret incorrectly predicting this person’s graduate alma mater to win the college basketball championship last week. But, like I said, I’m nobody special.

Since we’re on the subject of lunch, I enjoyed mine today at Skew’s Beyond Teriyaki. I just wanted to get that name out to the world: Skew’s Beyond Teriyaki. I’m very happy that someone went beyond teriyaki. It was time.

This person is still talking. Her/his lunch is finally over, thank God. I’ve got my headphones on. I’ve got the volume on my government-issued laptop on LOUD. And I can still hear every word this person (whose first initial is the same as his/her last initial, at least until the wedding) says.

So I will breathe deeply. I will fill the big room with love. I will chase that elusive position in academia. I will continue writing the screenplay. I will breathe deeply.

The screenplay, a short update: We’ve got out Maverick. We’ve got our Ice Man. We’ve got our Walk on the Beach.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Who Knocked the Crack in the Liberty Bell?

Apparently, "Blueprint Blues" is the name of a British blues magazine. So I need a new name for this thing. No, I haven't been contacted by their people. When only six people read your blog, it takes a while for word to spread to West London. It's just that I want to express an original voice. Any ideas?

I’ll assume the deafening silence to my college basketball entries is due to either a reflexive disdain for sports-related writing or a reverent silence felt by those who read the pieces and can only sit back and say “there’s nothing more to add.” Or maybe the entries were so mind-staggeringly long and (apparently) challenging that, like the films of Kurosawa or the books of Murakami (neither of which I’ve seen or read), they rendered themselves to being passed over for another check of one’s e-mail or a trip to the impressive New York Public Library digital archives: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/index.cfm

That said, let me add that Illinois, Arizona, Washington, and West Virginia will win Thursday. And North Carolina, Wisconsin, Duke, and Kentucky will win Friday. This means that seven of the eight final schools will also be names of states. My revised Final Four: Illinois, Washington, Wisconsin, and Kentucky. My revised championship game: Washington over Kentucky. Because, like I’ve said before: I’ve been to Seattle. It’s a nice city.

What’s more frustrating than reading about a sport you’re not interested in? How about hearing a weather report from a place where you may not live? Los Angeles is lovely today. Puffy Dutch clouds. Azure skies. Warm, no rain. Melted marshmallow clouds. And those Santa Ana winds, here they come again. None of this is visible from my cubicle on the 22nd floor (23rd in name but there is no 13th floor). All I see peripherally is (lovely) framed art, a hardly-ever-used desk phone, an empty bottle of “endurance” water, my “souvenir” Jeopardy audition pen, and yellow sticky notepaper, with my mad scribblings bounding to their borders. One more hour in the skyscraper and then it’s off to the salt-aired far west side, where the people are ruddier but happier for it.

And if you need an explanation for today's title, click on this (sound!) link (via John Paulson, who by the way is not the John referenced in part 2 of my predictions. thanks):


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Today, In Los Angeles, It Rains

My basketball predictions are moot of course. My champion lost on the first day, my two-time alma mater on the second. Well, at least the Lady Gophers are still alive. And Cal. State Fullerton’s in the NIT (the lesser tournament), at least for a few hours. Go Titans.

But not everyone is a basketball fan. So…

The script is shaping up very nicely, thanks especially to the hard work of the Third Writer, he who will not be named because I haven’t written up the confidentiality forms yet. The scientist is less mad. The reporter is more important. And everything tastes better in threes.

And, to be very secretive because who knows if my co-workers read this and sure, they probably don’t but still… anyway, there may be very good news in the soon-to-be-here future. I just have to say yes. And there will be no more long drives to the big office, just short walks to the home office, the one that shares a wall with the bedroom. I just have to say yes. I’ll probably say maybe, you know… test the whole thing out, make sure it agrees with me.

My first ever blog-based film review: Laurel and I saw “Millions” last night. It was alright but why not just have one ending? Maybe two. Seven endings is too many. The thing with the Mormons was funny. And the Euro subplot was brilliant. And that Danny Boyle could direct a caterpillar scaling a phonebook and it would still be visually cool. It’s too bad that the guy sitting in front of us who looked exactly like Ben Kingsley in the screen’s reflected light turned out to look hardly anything like Ben Kingsley in the clear outdoor streetlamp light of Wilshire Boulevard.

My first ever blog-based music review: I finally listened to Elvis Costello’s “The Delivery Man.” Much has been said about U2’s longevity. But Elvis has been around even longer and at the top of his game mostly. Sure, there’s the obligatory “raunchy authentic” song that he sticks on every album to make it seem that he’s a down-home delta blues man and not a well-educated Brit. But he gets it out of the way with Track 1. And there’s the too-clever wordplay on “Heart Shaped Bruise.” But otherwise it’s stellar and stately and lovely. And have you ever wondered what it is that makes his eyes so beady and his inhales so stubborn? It must be the melody pills he takes every morning, the ones that make his counterpoints (a word I do not know the meaning of, musically) so lilting.

Finally, here’s a wholly agreeable explanation of why the short story form is so often preferable to the long story form: http://mobylives.com/Almond_story_lover.html

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Gypsies, Tramps, and Cheese: NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Predictions, Part 2

And here's Part 2. Be sure to check out Part 1. It's both entertaining and disturbing.


1. North Carolina vs. 16. Oakland

The mere sight of Carolina blue on a basketball court triggers a sub-cortical reaction of resentment and a desire to see the Tar Heels go down in a swirly ring of liquid fire. But they’ll win this game over Oakland of Michigan, a spry team with a losing record. My pick: North Carolina.

8. Minnesota vs. 9. Iowa State

I remember the day like it was yesterday. But it was pretty much exactly 20 years ago. March 1985. My first day at the University of Minnesota. Not my first day of college, mind you. No, that’s a story for another time – i.e., whenever Penn State makes the tournament. Anyway, there I was. In a gloomy chalky rotunda-like classroom in Murphy Hall, home of the university’s vaunted School of Journalism, writing notes vigorously in a thick spiral light-blue Mead notebook. Speaking of spirals, my GPA spiraled down to sub-School of Journalism levels, sending me into the abyss of the introspective psychology major, leading to my altogether accidental Ph.D. But what does that have to do with basketball, or with the gritty Gophers? Not much.

In 1985, there had been a big sexual assault scandal with the Gophers. Many players left the team, resulting in a legendary six-man roster for much of the 1985-86 season. It would have been a wonderful story if they were a good team, if they had made the tournament. But they were bad. Really bad. But I became a better student. And I met a girl on the bus to campus. And we went places, we did. And then she joined the sorority system. And we went our separate ways. I graduated and found myself in Brea, California, where the fruit trees are trimmed to sculpted precision.

But I’m moving too fast. You want to know more about my dewy-eyed undergrad days at the College on the River. Pull up a chair. There were the days, the numberless days, when I ate at that oniony sandwich shop in Dinkytown because I had a crush on the curly-haired girl from New York who worked there (this was before the bus stop girlfriend). And the day Chris Iverson, Annie White, and I went to campus early one day to beat the lines at the bookstore, and on that same day for reasons that go beyond the scope of this blog, I swallowed toothpaste. There was the infamous 21-credit quarter in spring ’86. And I can’t forget my wholesome obsession with jangly pop songs. When I think of the Washington Avenue bridge I hear the opening strums of Zeitgeist’s “Freight Train Rain.” And then there was the time I ran into Prince on 4th Street and he asked me….

No, I’m boring you with my tales of nostalgia. So I went to college there. Big deal. I graduated. And nine years later, I found myself there again. Yes, I left Southern California for the Upper Midwest. I returned to the University of Minnesota. My second run there lasted twice as long as the first. And now you can call me Doctor. And there will be no rosy-eyed recollection of the 1996 to 2002 years because I have more tournament picks to get to. There will be no mention of girl at the copy shop on whom I had a sweet and verdant crush and where I made ridiculously large amounts of copies for a crazy professor for whom I worked as a T.A. I still have the answering machine tape, when the professor called me “the lowest-performing T.A. ever.” Well, I got my degree and you didn’t get tenure, Dr. E.  I will not tell you about the hundreds of hours spent at the lovely well-lit Espresso Royale cafĂ© in Dinkytown, by far the best writing and reading environment I’ve known. And the woman who worked there who kept trying to sell customers cheese – chunks of rich Havarti – whenever anyone ordered the mini-sourdough baguette. No, you won’t know about her. Nor will you find out about my turtle-slow dissertation process. Or the statue in front of Burton Hall that inspired my first-ever-accepted-for-publication short story.

I did get the cheese once. It was the best cheese I’ve ever had.

Back to basketball. During my time in grad school, the Gophers reached the Final Four. They lost to Kentucky in the semis but it was an exciting energizing time to be on campus. The excitement and energy were dissipated somewhat two years later by a far-reaching academic scandal. A lot went down. Tutors wrote papers for players. Coaches were fired. Players transferred. The basketball program fell apart. Their best recruit in years, Joel Pryzbilla, left after one year. I saw him at the Mall of America once. He didn’t look 6’11”. He’s a Portland Trail Blazer now. And he’s better than you think. So this year the team is making their first tournament appearance in five years. They’ll win this game. My pick: Minnesota.

Round 2: North Carolina vs. Minnesota. In a prediction not clouded by bias of any sort, I pick Minnesota.

4. Florida vs. 13. Ohio

The Star of my Entering Grad School Class of 1996 at the University of Minnesota was a tall attractive always-well-dressed woman named… well, no names here. She zipped through the program like a comet and now teaches at the University of Florida. Or maybe she teaches at Florida State, I don’t know. The Black Sheep of my Entering Class of 1996 was a tall attractive dowdy-dressed woman who read Abe Lincoln biographies. She was from Ohio, a fact she’d remind you of at every possible opportunity. Star beats Black Sheep. My pick: Florida.

5. Villanova vs. 12. New Mexico

During that spring of 1985 when I first found myself in a University of Minnesota classroom, Villanova won the NCAA championship. I was happy because I used to live near Philadelphia, where Villanova is located. I bought a Villanova T-shirt. I wore it proudly. Maybe this is why the girl at the sandwich shop grew weary of me. My pick: New Mexico.

Round 2: Florida vs. New Mexico. Florida will win because they play basketball better.

3. Kansas vs. 14. Bucknell

Rebecca, this one is for you: Along with North Carolina, I’ve felt a special hatred for the University of Kansas. I didn’t like the way Roy Williams poached players from California with cash rewards and promises of co-ed sex parties. It just wasn’t an even playing field. But now that old Roy coaches at North Carolina, it’s safe to root for the gritty Jayhawks. Even if it’s a little unusual that Wayne Simien has been playing college ball for 12 years. So, Rebecca, I say to you and everyone else in your lovely state of rolling hills, Go Jayhawks! My pick: Bucknell.

6. Wisconsin vs. 11. Northern Iowa

Don’t get me started on the state of Wisconsin. I said DON’T get me started on Wisconsin. My pick: Wisconsin.

Round 2: Bucknell vs. Wisconsin. Wisconsin will win. Have you ever spent a weekend in Sheboygan? Not an afternoon. Not a day. An entire weekend. I have. It’s not so bad.

2. Connecticut vs. 15. Central Florida

Why all the hate, Fahmy? Yesterday, derision was directed toward coaches Pitino and Knight. Today, it’s North Carolina and Kansas. Don’t you feel love? Or at least appreciation? Yes, I do. I appreciate and respect the work Jim Calhoun does at the University of Connecticut (I refuse to call them UConn). Exciting teams, good players, championships. And my favorite college basketball player ever, the man who brought the Huskies the 1999 championship, my Minneapolis homeboy: Khalid El-Amin. My pick: Connecticut.

7. Charlotte vs. 10. North Carolina State

Did I just say "homeboy"? In 2005? My pick: Charlotte.

Round 2: Connecticut vs. Charlotte. Connecticut wins. Though I didn't like being there that one night in May '96.


1. Duke vs. 16. Delaware State

My second favorite basketball player ever is Christian Laettner from Duke. I know this will lead to derisive chuckles from some of you and quizzical raised eyebrows from the rest of you. Yes, he’s known as the guy who only made the ’92 Dream Team because they needed a white college player on the team. But he was a Timberwolf. And he made that amazing shot that beat Kentucky. And he’s actually been a pretty okay NBA player. And he had that goth girlfriend back when he was a rookie with the Wolves. My pick: Duke.

8. Stanford vs. 9. Mississippi State

I drove through Palo Alto once. My pick: Stanford.

Round 2: Duke vs. Stanford. Here’s a little West Coast bias: Stanford wins.

4. Syracuse vs. 13. Vermont

I could go off on a basketball tangent here and explain why Syracuse, a team with two tournament-savvy seniors, will win. Or I could point out that 4 is a lower number (and a higher seed) than 13. My pick: Syracuse.

5. Michigan State vs. 12. Old Dominion

Here’s a story about two Michigan State alumni, told in list form:

-MSU student #1 meets MSU student #2 in a classroom.
-They get married.
-They move to Florida, where MSU student #2 is a small market public radio host.
-They move to Minnesota, where MSU student #2 is a medium market public radio host.
-MSU student #2 decides he likes boys more than girls. Divorces MSU student #1.
-MSU student #1 meets the writer of this blog and they go see a John Cusack movie.
-MSU student #1 can’t decide if she wants to date the writer of this blog or a guy who looks like late-period Eric Stoltz.
-In an upset, she picks Eric Stoltz, only to leave him for a guy who looks like late-period Ed Begley Jr.
-At blog writer’s wedding reception, MSU student #1 makes an inspirational toast on a microphone to 150 people, concluding with “And it could have been me.”
-MSU student #2 moves to California where he’s a public radio reporter in blog writer’s hometown. I just heard him this morning. Good work on the unsafe hospital story, J.
-MSU student #1 moves back to Michigan, where she marries Begley in a civil ceremony. I wish them well and no, I’m not completely sure it could have been you, Cynthia.

My pick: Michigan State

Round 2: Syracuse vs. Michigan State. In an upset, Michigan State.

3. Oklahoma vs. 14. Niagara

I've been to Niagara Falls. And Joyce Carol Oates is from around there. Is she any relation to John? Oklahoma wins.

6. Utah vs. 11. UTEP

I had relatives who lived in El Paso back in the seventies. I dated a Mormon in the nineties. My pick: Utah.

Round 2: Oklahoma vs. Utah. Utah. She tithed. It was cute.

2. Kentucky vs. 15. Eastern Kentucky

Gotta go with coach Tubby. My pick: Kentucky.

7. Cincinnati vs. 10. Iowa

Cincinnati always loses in Round 1. Not this year. My pick: Cincinnati.

Round 2: Kentucky vs. Cincinnati. Tubby’s nickname is kind of ironic. You see, he’s skinny. He’s a slight man who wears finely tailored suits. They call him Tubby. My pick: Kentucky.

To review, here’s my Sweet 16: In a HUGE change of format, winners proceeding to the Final 8 are indicated by CAPS:

ILLINOIS vs. Boston College

WASHINGTON vs. Georgia Tech
UCLA vs. Oklahoma State (UCLA HAS to win. They’re already in CAPS)

MINNESOTA vs. Florida
Wisconsin vs. CONNECTICUT


And then Illinois will beat Southern Illinois in a game taking place in Northern Illinois. UCLA will easily handle Washington in a match-up befitting my shameless pumping up of the Pac 10. Connecticut will destroy my alma mater because that’s what will happen. And Kentucky will easily handle the Spartans, sending a particular pension expert into a temporary funk.

In my Final Four, UCLA will upset Illinois. Kentucky will beat Connecticut in triple overtime. And UCLA will win it al, because like I said yesterday, I’ve got a feeling about these plucky Los Angeles kids.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Fairly Dickensian: NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Predictions, Part 1

As promised yesterday, I'm offering my predictions for this year's tournament. My picks, as always, will be colored by my personal interactions with the colleges and universities, their alumni, the cities in which they're located, and the cities' residents. Not a basketball fan? Don't know what a tournament is? Don't worry. It will still be fascinating. But you may want to skip the next paragraph, where I explain my process. Go right to paragraph #3.

After making it through half of the predictions, I became exhausted. The second half will appear tomorrow. It would have made more sense for me to offer my selections for Thursday's games today and Friday's games tomorrow. But it didn't work out that way. Today, I give you my picks for the Chicago and Albuquerque regionals to be played on both days. Tomorrow, the Syracuse and Austin regionals, also played on both days. After each pair of first round games, I offer my choice for the second round games to be held this weekend. Finally, at the end of tomorrow's report, I'll give my picks for the later rounds, pretending that each of my predictions will actually come true. So, here we go:


1. Illinois vs. 16. Fairleigh Dickinson

(Don’t worry. They’re not all this wordy.)

When my parents immigrated to America in 1968 they chose to settle in Teaneck, New Jersey. Along the muddy banks of the Hackensack River, there were (are?) a series of barracks-like apartment buildings. In one of these apartments lived my aunt and three cousins. They put us (my parents, me, the sister) up in their apartment until we found our own place in nearby Bergenfield. I had many of my earliest memories in or near this apartment: eating moulaheyah (a green slimy concoction that Egyptians like to pour over rice and serve with oily burnt chicken – somehow it all tasted good); being told by my Aunt Samia to not go near the river because a boy from the other building supposedly sunk in the quicksand at the river’s bank; running into Gordon and Susan from Sesame Street while crossing a street in nearby Hackensack; watching my first basketball game ever on TV (referenced below); eating and then passing a penny; and going to the dentist.

The dentist. That’s what brings us back to this game. My parents couldn’t afford a real dentist. Perhaps my Dad’s Honeywell benefits hadn’t kicked in yet. But I needed to go to the dentist. I say it's because my two-plus years of living in Alexandria, Egypt where people brush their teeth with the sand of the Mediterranean damaged my then-nascent teeth, resulting in a hastened need for major dental work. What we could afford were the students in training at the Fairleigh Dickinson University dental school.

Within the walls of the dental school, the horror of my childhood bore its full weight. I recall large unshaven dental trainees with abrupt demeanors. I recall observers – real dentists? – judging the work of their charges, sometimes harshly (“No, not the 31, the 32!”). I remember lollipop bribes. I remember more dental work than any three or four-year-old boy should ever experience. I recall long narrow hallways and a complete lack of windows, resulting in my present-day claustrophobia. I recall the kids’ waiting room, with its black-and-white television showing “Aquaman.” There were so many trips to Fairleigh Dickinson that the mere mention of that university’s name sends shivers through my dental roots and electrical tingles to my gums, which, by the way, are in much better shape these days thanks to the forceful-yet-kind work of Dr. Emma Kim of Pacific Palisades, California, whose office is located next door to that of Pamela Anderson’s production company. Pam and I crossed paths in the parking garage once. She uses her turn signal even when no one is looking.

So, University of Illinois Fighting Illini, you have my permission to run up the score on hapless bottom-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson. Show no mercy. Send them back to their over-bricked campus in deepest Teaneck, with its blue-smocked dental students and their phlegmatic manners of speech. Destroy them. My pick: Illinois.

8. Texas vs. 9. Nevada

I’ve never been to Texas, except for the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. It’s a nice airport but in need of a remodeling. I’ve been to Nevada many times. My results there have been mixed. My pick: Texas.

Round 2: Illinois vs. Texas. Illinois, because they destroyed Fairleigh Dickinson and they will be karmically rewarded with a trip to the Sweet 16.

4. Boston College vs. 13. Pennsylvania

I’ve been to Boston. Nice city. Wouldn’t want to live there. But it’s nicer than Philadelphia, although the suburbs of the latter were home for my teenage years. I do have a soft spot for others things Philadelphian – the early-80s 76ers, the soft pretzels, the underrated vocal skills of John Oates. But Penn is an Ivy League school. Ivy League schools never win in the tournament except for that one time. My pick: Boston College.

5. Alabama vs. 12. Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Milwaukee spawned the Violent Femmes and Sigmund Snopek III, whose 1987 work “Wisconinsane” is the finest out-of-print album ever. But the best song ever is Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues.” And you know what they call Alabama? They call them the Crimson Tide. My pick: Alabama.

Round 2: Boston College vs. Alabama. Although “Deacon Blues” was a fine song, I have to pick Boston College for pure basketball reasons. They’re a better team.

3. Arizona vs. 14. Utah State

It’s February 1980. Heart has just released their lesbian album “Bebe Le Strange.” It’s a masterwork. I’m 14. My family is on vacation in Arizona. Well, my father’s there for work but we’re there for fun. We spend most of our time in Phoenix. But one day, for reasons still unknown, we drive the 100 miles or so to Tucson. It’s raining. During the drive, I listen to Ann and Nancy sing about “Rockin’ Heaven Down” and those who go “Down on Me.” It’s interesting stuff. In Tucson, my father has the idea of taking us to go a college basketball game. Arizona vs. UCLA. It’s still the only college basketball game I’ve ever attended. The Wildcats won, with a stellar performance by Joe Nehls, who never made it to the NBA but works as Arizona’s announcer. I heard him on the radio once. He comes off as a little jittery. The atmosphere at the game was actually kind of energizing. I should go to more college games. On the drive home, Heart sings about a “Strange Night” where strange yearnings are felt, where unexplainable things happen. But not in this game. The favorite wins. My pick: Arizona.

6. LSU vs. 11. Alabama-Birmingham

I alluded earlier to watching my first ever basketball game on TV in Teaneck. Or at least the first one I can remember. It involved LSU and their star “Pistol” Pete Maravich. Dad said great things would happen to Maravich. “Pistol” Pete became a legend in college and a pretty good pro. But he died of a heart attack while playing a pickup game. I’ve been to Birmingham once, for an unsuccessful “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” audition. But it all worked out in the end, with the next audition in Las Vegas. My pick: Alabama-Birmingham.

Round 2: Arizona vs. Alabama-Birmingham. Arizona. Salim Stoudamire can ball, that’s why.

2. Oklahoma State vs. 15. Southeast Louisiana

No stories here. Oklahoma State wins.

7. Southern Illinois vs. 10. St. Mary's

I had a job interview at Mount St. Mary’s, an all-female Catholic school in Los Angeles. It was an all-day thing. I interviewed with six different people. I was fed me a fine lunch, with white tablecloths. But they didn’t hire me. Was it because I wasn’t Catholic or a girl? I don’t know. The school in this game, St. Mary’s, located in northern California, has nothing to do with Mount St. Mary’s. But they’ll lose anyway. Because I wanted that job. My pick: Southern Illinois.

Round 2: Oklahoma State vs. Southern Illinois. Southern Illinois, because I need to make at least one big upset pick.


1. Washington vs. 16. Montana

The University of Washington is located in Seattle. It’s a nice town. I would want to live there. The campus is lovely and green, with surrounding trees and walkways. They have a fine point guard in Nate Robinson. My pick: Washington

8. Pacific vs. 9. Pittsburgh

Pacific is in Stockton, California, the home of Pavement. Pittsburgh is the home of Joe Grushecky and his Iron City Houserockers. Who would YOU pick in a Battle of the Bands? I know who I’d pick: Pacific.

Round 2: Washington vs. Pacific. Well now Pavement’s got to go up against everyone that ever came out of Seattle: Hendrix, Nirvana, the Walkabouts, Heart. No contest: Washington.

4. Louisville vs. 13. Louisiana-Lafayette

I will never pick a team coached by Rick Pitino. Never. My pick: Louisiana-Lafayette.

5. Georgia Tech vs. 12. George Washington

It’s hard to go against the guy on the dollar bill. But Georgia Tech has Will Bynum. And Georgia Tech has Luke Schenscher who, I heard, has a posse. My pick: Georgia Tech.

Round 2: Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech because Lousiana-Lafayette only got this far on a technicality.

3. Gonzaga vs. 14. Winthrop

Gonzaga is in Spokane, Washington. The woman who laid me off from my last job, the woman with the miniature teacup collection (see yesterday’s blog) is from Spokane. This is the hardest decision I have to make. On principle I should pick Winthrop. But the Zags have Ronny Turiaf. And my ex-boss has lived in L.A. for the last 20 years and I like L.A. So why blame Spokane for her misdoings? My pick: Gonzaga.

6. Texas Tech vs. 11. UCLA

This is where gets really tough. Miss Teacup actually attended UCLA. And shortly after she fired me for no good reason (budget cuts notwithstanding), I interviewed for two different jobs at UCLA, located just five miles from my Santa Monica home. Now, the first interview was for a job I never really wanted. But the second one would have been perfect: good pay, interesting work, great location, nice people, etc. They toyed with me for months. They told me I was in the Top 2. They told me that the other guy wasn’t sure if he wanted to relocate across the country. I thought I had the job. But I didn’t. They picked the other guy. So there is more than enough reason for me to pick against UCLA on principle. But I have a soft spot for the Bruins. I became a fan during their 1995 championship run. They’ve got some talented freshmen, straight out of the L.A. school system. And Texas Tech is coached by the second most egregious coach there is (Pitino being #1) – Bob Knight. So, my pick: UCLA

Round 2: Gonzaga vs. UCLA. My mind is spinning with justifications for either side. But there’s something about this Bruins team. I can’t quite grasp what it is. But it’s good enough to beat Gonzaga. My pick: UCLA.

2. Wake Forest vs. 15. Chattanooga

My fingers are getting tired: Wake Forest.

7. West Virginia vs. 10. Creighton

Never been to West Virginia. Creighton’s in Omaha. Drove through Omaha once. Bright Eyes is from Omaha. Good work, Conor. My pick: Creighton.

Round 2: Wake Forest vs. Creighton. Wake Forest, despite last week’s ball-kicking incident.

Tomorrow: The rest of the predictions. And yes, it could be a long one. My two-time alma mater is one of the teams.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Brackets of Poppy, Teacups of Moxi

Basketball is my favorite sport. So, starting Thursday, the NCAA tournament will take much of my attention for the next few weeks. By tomorrow (I hope), I will foist upon Blueprint Blues my predictions for the first round of games. These predictions will be colored with stories of my personal experiences with particular universities, as well as interactions with noted alumni. I promise you that the topic of dentistry will come up when I discuss a particular game involving a #1 seed taking on a #16 seed. Also, the miniature teacup collection of my former boss, who shares a hometown with a beloved overrated underdog-like powerhouse #3 seed in the northern and western part of the country, will be addressed. This miniature teacup collector’s decision to lay me off for no real good reason may also be brought up, for no good reason.

But that’s tomorrow.

Today I wish to praise Tivo. It really does change your life. In a positive way. It’s not actually Tivo that I have. Sorry Tivo. I know you guys don’t like your company name being used as a generic word. Let’s instead say I have Moxi. Which is the real name of the service Adelphia cable is selling for a measly $9.99 per month. I wish to praise Moxi.

The preceding paragraph is one that I would have written yesterday if I had bothered to. Instead, I will issue the following addendum:

What’s up, Moxi? Why aren’t you working anymore? I come home after a hard day of work – one that involves attending a meeting filled with the (often justifiably) angry constituents of my government-like employer which will continue to remain nameless even though everyone who’s reading this likely knows me personally and knows who I work for. Anyway, this 2-hour meeting, which took place after normal work hours, taught me two lessons about open-to-the-public civic events: 1) Don’t get there early for the food; the food’s not worth it; and 2) Translators are underrated. So, I get home and Moxi/Tivo isn’t working. I had to call the Adelphia 800 number and after a few operator-assisted system resets that didn’t result in restored service, I now have to wait until……


What am I doing? I will NOT resort to being a blogger who complains about petty personal problems and inconveniences. Not until real human suffering is thwarted completely. Then, I will proceed with the complaints.

Instead, some random offerings of praise: Antony and the Johnsons, you make beautiful music. David Spade, you were always underrated. Maria Tomei, you’re the best and you deserve a starring role in something. Steely Dan, I appreciate your body of work. Jonathan Lethem, “Super Goat Man” just might be the best short story I’ve ever read. Orange poppy fields of Lancaster, California, you're beautiful and you respect the wind (the wind respects you back).

Now, I must go and study the tournament field. I picture a silhouette of a roadside diner sign against the backdrop of rolling desert hills in the outskirts of Tucson. The year is 1980.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


In 30 minutes, I'll be going to an hour-long meeting to plan for next week's three-hour meeting. In 3 1/2 hours, I'll be going to another hour-long meeting to discuss issues raised at last week's two-hour meeting and yesterday's one-hour meeting. These issues were raised at a series of three earlier two-hour meetings, each of which had been rescheduled exactly once because the meeting times conflicted with other meetings, some of which were held to plan for the second and third of the three two-hour meetings.

This is where I work.

Wasn't e-mail (which was invented by a former professor of mine - or so he says - in his Orange County beachfront apartment in the mid-80s) supposed to reduce the need for in-person meetings? Can't intra-office communication and document sharing be done electronically? Can't the guy who calls all of these meetings walk up a few flights of stairs if he has a question for me? Can't he pick up the phone and press 5 digits? I'll pick up. Even if it's him.

But the real culprit in all of this is Microsoft. Specifically, their e-mail program Outlook. The reason that the frequency of needless pointless formless meetings has not been quelled by the e-mail revolution is that Outlook includes a feature called Calendar. The Calendar program makes meeting scheduling seamless and easy. Invite everyone to your meeting with a couple clicks and a few keystrokes. Then cancel it with a single click 30 minutes before the meeting and AFTER I've taken an early lunch when I wasn't hungry. Then reschedule the meeting for the next day. Go ahead, Man With Four Names, go ahead and play with your little Calendar program all day long in your doored office with a view of the Hollywood sign. I don't care.

But the screenplay is shaping up beautifully.

All it took was swapping the main character for the dynamic character. Cate Blanchett and her evil eyes will pray for this role. Kate Winslet and her perfect teeth will beg for this role. The two of them will likely wrestle in an Olympic Boulevard below-ground parking lot just for the chance to play this once-in-a-lifetime character. My money's on Kate. Somewhere in the Valley, Louise Fletcher is smiling.

Monday, March 07, 2005


Mold is creepy. My advice to anyone with an old mattress or anyone who lives in a coastal climate (especially one with its most rainfall in 100+ years) is to occasionally flip over your mattress to see if mold is growing. This should be done before the mold has eaten through to the mattress's center. It was awful. Rainbow mold - brown and black and yellow mold. Olive green mold. Pea green mold. Red mold (red!).

Laurel and I did a sort of spring cleaning yesterday, after we had noticed that our windowsills were caked with mold. We had accepted it would be a gruesome job. We knew there was some mold on the floor. We didn't expect the mold-eaten hole in the mattress. Maybe that's why I've had respiratory problems while sleeping for the past few months.

Anyway, the mattress is in the alley now. Let's hope the hoarding next-door neighbors have already snatched it up so we won't have to pay $25 for the city to pick it up. A trip to IKEA for a replacement mattress is planned.

I have a long relationship with IKEA. Unlike most American children in the seventies, I grew up with IKEA furniture. I thought everyone had to make their own furniture, from oddly translated and wholly incomplete instructions. I thought all furniture was disposable. I thought everyone slept low to the foor. I didn't know what a box spring was until I was 22.

My family made IKEA pilgrimages that coincided with family vacations. I remember going to the original IKEA warehouse and factory in Sweden in 1974. I recall later trips to IKEAs in Mississauga, Ontario and somewhere in Italy. I remember big shipments arriving from the homeland (I was born in Sweden, you see). I remember the goddamn green bed, about as comfortable as sleeping on an airplane.

Then, as I pushed 30, IKEA suddenly invaded the U.S. I was thrilled at first. I know where I was the day the Burbank store opened. Do you? Most of my bachelor shelving and glassware were courtesy of the Swedes. When I moved to Minneapolis for my second grad school stint I was a little sad there were no IKEA stores there (this has changed - they put one up next to the Mall of America last year). But slowly I was weaned off IKEA. Laurel, a child of a household of sturdy wood and quality kitchenware that lasted generations, didn't share my enthusiasm for IKEA. When we moved in together, my furniture didn't survive the cut. When we moved to California, 17 miles from the Carson IKEA, she had to be convinced that it was okay to buy a few items from there, that the notions of disposability and home furnishings could indeed intersect, an intersection proven by the disgusting mattress.

So we will buy a lovely boxspring-less mattress and place it above our lovely bed frame, a quality piece of finished wood furniture that emerged completely unscathed from the mold invasion. When the time comes to dispose of the mattress. we will do so, without shame. We will attempt to extend its lifespan by investing in a humidifier. And before I lose everyone's interest, I will stop here.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

But It's Necessary

Blogging ain’t easy. There are days when nothing of note happens. Today is one of those, as was yesterday. There have been minor blips on the curiosity monitor – an over-the-top e-mailed rant about a particular Oscar winner, a continued demystification of the higher-ups in local government, and a bad-toothed scowl directed my way by a stranger (not my fault). But really, these things are of little interest to a reader or to this writer. Instead, there will be nostalgia.

The persistence of certain memories is a fascinating notion. The other night I watched the short sixties film “La Jetee,” by French filmmaker Chris Marker (if you haven’t seen it and you have the Sundance channel, look for it. It’s on this Friday night). In the film, a particular memory haunts a man. Eyes are cottoned over and time machines are built. By the end of the film – a progression of still photographs, actually – the significance of the memory is revealed. It’s an important memory. But then other seemingly less important memories persist. For example, I know exactly where I was the day after the Minnesota Twins won the 1987 World Series. Specifically, I know where I was at about 7:00PM on that day. I know what I was listening to on the radio. I know the street I was driving on. I know that the stock market had crashed earlier in the day. But I don’t remember where I was the moment the Twins won the World Series, the night before. Nor do I know what I did the morning after (though I think “The Best of Leonard Cohen” was involved). And that street I was driving on at about 7:00PM – Minnetonka Boulevard in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, west of Highway 100 – what was I doing there? I didn’t live or work or go to school near there. Why wasn’t I with my fancypants girlfriend? The reason for me being there hasn’t persisted.

In all likelihood, I was doing what I did a lot of in my early twenties – driving around, listening to radio talk shows or sad folk tapes, wasting time on my drives home, wondering why that girlfriend was slipping away from me just a little, missing my parents who had moved out of the country, leaving me to fend for myself with my funny roommates with their normal names.

Most of my fiction deals with the persistence of memories (real ones, fake ones), the reasons particular memories persist, and, best of all, the layering-on of fictional and often far more interesting details on the real events. So a slightly difficult search of a lakefront home address becomes an odyssey so dangerous and kooky that the movie we saw after finding the house is forgotten and the crisis that never happened is all that matters. Maybe that’s true of many writers. I can name a few who deal in nothing but memory, from which they insert and delete until cows come knocking on the door, having wiped their feet on the doormat, the fools. They’re the writers I tend to read. I trust them.

Which brings us to “The American Astronaut,” now available on DVD. I recommend it highly: http://www.americanastronaut.com/dvdlaunch/

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Well, I didn't make the top 10....


... but it was a long shot anyway, my story not having characters with names or events with clear descriptions. I find solace in my top 140-notable-ness. We can say I finished 11th.

I'm working on a new story - "The Trembler" - which also features characters without names but at least they have physical descriptions and there's a river and a bridge of course. And when the man who lives under the bridge hears footsteps, they'll enter his mind's hallucination and not his dream because dreams are sometimes too easy and I like a good challenge.

I killed some work time this morning (and recent mornings) Googling names of people I used to know. One is a family loan officer. One may be a reporter for the Miami Herald. One curates. One sells Avon. Another curates. And one is nowhere to be found.