Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Sticky Things

I like the long Memorial Day weekend. It doesn’t promise too much. It delivers what it does promise. It’s slow and relaxing and the days are longer than your typical long weekend, languorous sunrises giving way to an endless midday, before the drip-drop sunset appears to (but doesn’t really) send the sun into the Pacific.

Speaking of the world’s finest ocean, the weekend was a little too cool for swimming and body surfing. So Laurel and I drove to the high desert, passing the windmills of Palm Springs and the biker bars of Highway 62, before settling in Joshua Tree National Park, where we climbed the sticky rocks, pulled sticky things out of our clothes, and soaked in the clean quiet air of the far away.

Elmore Leonard, a writer who writes books that turn into entertaining movies, once said that the first rule of writing is to never open with the weather. Blogging isn’t literature. It isn’t even literature-with-adapted-screenplay-in-mind. Still, I apologize for not only breaking Elmore’s rule today but crushing it with the four fingers I type with.

Besides the weather, there was a birthday party for one of this blog’s four readers. Today’s the day, Jason, isn’t it? Happy birthday. There was also a visit to the Inland Empire family compound (the Fahmpound), where my mother and assorted relatives live comfortably in a (needlessly) gated community of earth tones and neutral waves from minivans. At least they have a pool. And a dog who strangely doesn’t like the pool. Lucy recoils from its edges, refusing to set paw nor tail in the blue water.

Finally, an-unasked-for recap of my weekend wouldn’t be complete without a mention of one of the more amazing film experiences I can remember: Crash. It’s hard to make a great movie. It’s easy to make a bad one. But nothing is more difficult than setting out to make a well-thought-out, perfectly cast, beautifully shot film about the ever-interesting topic of race relations in an American city, amid a backdrop of Christmas, crime, and family turmoil, and ending up with the worst movie ever made. There have been other well-intentioned bad movies created by talented hands. Just in the past ten years or so there’s been Secrets and Lies, A Simple Plan, Fight Club, Pushing Tin, the first Crash, The Way of the Gun, and Return of the King. But to make a film that rings false in everything it has to say about Los Angeles, features absurdly wooden dialogue that makes even Matt Dillon wince as he forces himself to spit it out, wastes good performances by Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, and the ever-evolving Brendan Fraser, and telegraphs its surprise moments more clumsily than that writer who doesn’t like talking about the weather, well that takes some kind of talent. And an awkward wrongheaded vision. It takes a Canadian. Anyway, Crash is so bad that I recommend you see it.

To end on a positive note, I think everyone should see Team America: World Police, now on DVD. And everyone should drink Passion Fruit-Mango Juice Squeeze.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Demolition

Here's a new story I wrote. It just got posted on the very fine short story site Pindeldyboz. The story went through seven titles before I decided on the one you see above. It could just as easily been called Threadbare or We Used To Go Driving Down Paved Roads. Or Albatross or An Accident. Or Time Brought Us Keeshas. Or The Again Twist. But it's called Demolition.

I don't have that much to say today. Or, to be more accurate, I don't have the time to say it. I will say I enjoyed my arduous workmanlike weekend in San Francisco, a city that glows in the sun when it gets the chance. I enjoyed the new Todd Dolondz movie Palindromes. There's a moment in it that just might be one of the best moments in film history. You could even see it coming and shudder from the sheer amazement of the moment. Overall, the movie is a creepy palindromic delight that will offend the sensitive and the insensitive, two groups to which I belong. I did not, however, enjoy my flying experience. My new rule: if the city is within 600 miles, I'm driving.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Floating

As of tomorrow, I'll have 1.05 jobs, instead of 1.3. It's easier that way. More time for blogging, too.

Floating is cool. I like things that float. My diploma is floating in a glass frame. Clouds are floating in the sky. Buoys. Rubber ducks. Hot air balloons. Floating.

So do I have to watch tonight's CSI episode because Quentin Tarantino is directing? Or can I continue to shut myself off from the crime scene investigating genre, much as I've shut myself off from fictionalized science? No, I think I'll watch it.

That was a very nice basketball game last night. And I'm not talking about Detroit-Indiana. Can we just have Dallas and Phoenix play a best of 15 for the championship?

Frontispiece, the definition: an ornamental fa├žade

Frontispiece, the reference: Arrested Development, Season 1, the "In God We Trust" episode (aka Nevernude).

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Beyond Belief

This weekend I will travel to the northern part of my state, where I will search under cars parked on hills, wheels to the curb, for my cousin’s cats. The cats apparently ran through an open door and into the dusky city of disappointed beauty, San Francisco. I was going there for a visit anyway, to drive cousin and cats to a mountain hideaway for their recuperation and voluntary imprisonment in natural beauty. It will be an interesting weekend, I bet. Perhaps I will see visions rising from towers. Or a fleet of reindeer carrying nothing but a carriage, for their leader is underground, chasing rats through tunnels.

Besides up-to-date NBA mock drafts and the spread of false rumors, another benefit of the Internet is the easy availability of radio stations in cities where I used to live. Minneapolis is one of these places. I’m listening to one of their stations on my headphones, here in Los Angeles, where the new Mayor-elect has big plans. But the sound in my ears is from far away. I’m reminded of the accents and the quaint love of detachment. I’m reminded of the glory of pop songs. And now they're playing Gershwin. I’m getting sleepy.

Yes, I've changed the blog name. It's temporary. It's always temporary.

I like this writer's writing. I can't wait for the book.

Friday, May 13, 2005

My Mother Is Wrong

It's Friday, the day I traditionally have to play catch-up with all the work I didn't get done during the week but I get to do it while attired in casual garb - short sleeve shirts of bright solid colors with the occasional stripe, the blue cords, the comfortable but stylish brown shoes with the yellow stripe. Yes, it's Friday. This leads us to another Friday tradition, now a full week old - the Friday List, in which I fill screen space with an easy-to-write, quick-to-post list and then get back to the work for which I'm actually paid. Today's list is a Top 14, in honor of Friday the 13th and the fact that many 13th floors in large buildings are labeled 14th floors, an interesting example of wayward belief systems infiltrating the workplace.

The Top 14 Fruits

14. The Texas Grapefruit. In the dead of winter, when there's nothing else in season, a juicy red Texas will do. Sometimes it will even satisfy. A last resort fruit, like listening to Badly Drawn Boy on the car stereo because the other CDs are at home, but like BDB, it makes the list.

13. The Tangelo. The closest thing to an orange that will ever make my top fruit list.

12. The Strawberry. The U2 of fruits. Been around forever. Always gives a solid effort. Shows up every year ready to face the world. Wide-ranging commercial success. Not going anywhere soon. Puts out a good product that satisfies if not exactly inspires.

11. The Blueberry. Like Tim Finn, it works better with others than alone. Like Matt Wilson, it sometimes has to work alone because of its ego, singular vision, and odd seasonality.

10. The Kiwi. See number 8.

9. The Lime. Not really something I eat on its own. But as a squeezable garnish fruit, it's in a league of its own, like Snoop Dogg on the radio in the spring of '94.

8. The Pomegranate. If only there were a machine that makes it easier to eat.

7. The Asian Pear. An inconsistent fruit, yes. But when it's good, it's sweeter than a Joanna Newsom harp sweep.

6. The Nectarine. Its prime season only lasts a month or two. Its prime ripeness only lasts an hour or two. But it's the most cereal-friendly fruit on the list. And its smoothness is reassuring, like a Kevin Garnett turnaround jumper.

5. The Blackberry. The Ben Stiller to the raspberry's Owen Wilson. Not quite as talented, more prone to a bad batch, but a solid comedic actor of a fruit nonetheless.

4. The Peach. Its fuzziness is reassuring. Its color is pretty. The peach is solid - the Amanda Peet of edible-skin fruit.

3. The Watermelon. The perfect dessert fruit. The cafeteria in the 29-story-that's-really-only-28-because-there's-no-13th-building where I often work sells fresh cut watermelon in little plastic containers for $1.89. It's a little overpriced but there's nothing more refreshing after my long post-lunch walk uphill across the high bridges of my city.

2. The Raspberry. In an everlasting battle with the top fruit on my list. The Belle and Sebastian of fruit - tender, small but flavor-packed, life-affirming, innocent but prepared to bite back if necessary, fiber-packed, and surprisingly filling. It's also the # 1 yogurt-friendly fruit, which is like winning the Golden Globe when you really want the Oscar. But you take your victories where they come, my friend the raspberry. Maybe next year.

1. Mango. My mother says mango tastes like soap. She's wrong. Sweet, delicious, transcendent. My early memories of resting under mango trees have largely been displaced with memories of carefully square-cut mangoes in pressure-sealed Tupperware-style containers. Either way, a ripe mango is like an unforced smile - the kind of thing that makes the world spin around the sun.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Railroad Man

Today's entry is intentionally written in the style of Ian McEwan, a fine writer with a penchant for details and a tilt toward the proper.

Once, through an accident of fate and duty, I found myself in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. I sat on the bed of my well-appointed hotel room in Deadwood, an old west town cleansed (mostly) of the grime, tragedy, and disease featured on the HBO show of the same name. I had work to do the next morning but the sun hadn't set on this day yet, so I decided it was time for an adventure. I had seen postcards of Mount Rushmore in the lobby. I knew it was close enough that I could get there before nightfall. But for some reason the highway pulled me in the other direction, toward Rapid City and the airport I had landed at two nights before, in a claustrophobic plane filled with quiet people, seven of whom were men in cowboy hats. I half-planned an early escape out of town. My luggage was back at the 3 Aces Hotel and Casino. For the price of a changed itinerary, I could catch a flight to Salt Lake City and then to LAX that night and send for my things later, claiming an emergency. Not that there was anything inherenly wrong with South Dakota in late winter. The people were nice enough. The weather was crisp and invogorating, like Gatorade on the beach. The hotel room TV had many cable stations.

Before I could even think about the unlikely but daring step of taking the exit for the airport, I became hungry. As a budding vegetarian with a distaste for most fast food and a fear of local color, my options were limited. Seeing a Borders bookstore near the Rushmore Mall (itself so many miles away from Mount Rushmore that its name was a cruel joke), I pulled my rental car into the parking lot, grabbed my briefcase with laptop in tow, took a deep breath, and hoped that the advertised "cafe" would have something for me. I could tell you stories about my other meals on this trip, tales that invoke the young and the meek, Quizno's, a small college's student union, a lively debate between prospective student treasurers, and a restaurant in Deadwood owned by Kevin Costner at which there really is a Postman Black Bean Burger. And a Waterworld Breaded Halibut Sandwich. And big screen TVs showing NCAA basketball tournament games. But those stories would go nowhere. This one has more potential.

I neglected my vegetarianism and ordered a clean fresh Mediterranean chicken wrap from the cafe-in-a-bookstore. I sat down with my laptop at a window seat because I had some work to do. But first I would enjoy my sandwich and the local newspaper, USA Today. With the final shred of green tortilla and morsel of black olive down the gullet, I sensed a commotion in the room. Amplifiers and microphones were being set up. Townspeople were entering the cafe in unexpected numbers. An older man who looked like he'd led a long hard full life on the railroads of the west sat down at the table next to me. He carried a guitar case. As did the pockmarked teenager who greeted the older man with a "glad you could make it." Yes, it was open mic night at the Rapid City Borders. I would be treated to a show.

The teenager sang serviceable enthusiastic renditions of Dashboard Confessional, Jack Johnson, and John Mayer songs. Or so I guessed. He had a gushing fan base of two teenage girls, who clapped at the right moments and mouthed along. It was heartening. And then he invited the older man to the stage, introducing him as Steve and I've forgotten the last name. I wish I could remember it. For the old man put on one of the most inspiring shows of western folk music I have ever seen. Yes, he was indeed a railroad man. He never called himself a hobo and he may have been, though my guess is that he worked the rails and sang when he could get the chance, like on a Tuesday night at a chain bookstore next to a misnomer mall. He sang Ring of Fire. And a few other recognizable songs. And a few superb originals. And he introduced a truly amazing song about his brother, a "doctor in California," by telling a tale about two kids in the same family choosing impossibly different paths in life - successful physician and railroad troubador. But they were always brothers and you could tell Steve really missed the guy. And then he said "good night," packed up his case, and walked out into the night, the sunset over and the sleep ahead. I wish I knew his last name. Maybe he's put something out.

The next musician performed soothing guitar instrumentals and I found myself in a deep work groove at the laptop, finishing Excel charts on a deadline like my life depended on it (it didn't; still doesn't). I left before the poetry began and drove back to the hotel, figuring I could make it one more day before skipping town. I had a restful night's sleep and it all seemed so simple then. This morning I'm groggy, my sleep not so restful but that's okay. I'm in Los Angeles, with its lovely May morning gloom. I've got a new pair of brown shoes on. I think I'll go places.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Cowboy Songs

It's Friday. Time for a list. Sorry, Paula Cole.

Top 8 Songs With Cowboy in the Title

8. I Wanna Be A Cowboy - Boys Don't Cry
A straightforward desire becomes a generational catchphrase. It would seem that these men - these boys - who feel the need to announce that they simply are not the type to produce tears are maybe not the most likely candidates for cowboy status. In other words, real cowboys do cry. For their fallen horses and their absent cowgirls. Still, these guys rocked the loudspeakers of many mid-priced chain restaurants from '87 to '92 and for that we should be thankful.

7. Lonesome Cowboy Bill - Velvet Underground
A silly throwaway song from a silly tossabout band. Well, a tossabout band with seven or eight perfect songs and a skivload of addlebrained missed opportunities. Which describes the solo careers of Lou and John and Nico as well. This song, about William S. Burroughs, is difficult to remember. And usually unremembered songs don't make lists. But I needed eight songs because a Top 7 doesn't quite sound right.

6. Cowboy - Kid Rock
His shining moment. He stood at the tip of the mountain that straddled the valley of his ahistorical purview. His fall was so hard that not even a dying midget could break it. Now he's a punchline. But back then oh how he mixed it.

5. Rhinestone Cowboy - Glen Campbell
That's one thing about cowboys. The only things they care about more than their horses are their outfits. The hat's got to be tilted just so. The boots need the proper amount of scuff. The whole get-up's got to have a thin fine layer of dust but nothing more. And for Friday nights at the roadhouse or perhaps the dark below-ground bar in town you can only enter from the alley, the place where men and only men look down as they drink, there's rhinestone.

4. Cowboys - Zeitgeist/Reivers
In which the singer claims that you can still hear cowboys. If you listen closely enough. If you pine hard enough. If you crank up the jangle and muffle the bass just so. If you reverb the background vocals and Spectorize the lead. Then, you can still hear them. Riding up the range. Shooting down the moon, as the roar of a freight train mingles with the rainsplash. And you're late for Sociology class. But it's okay. You know everything. You're just waiting to be asked about it all.

3. Japanese Cowboy - Ween
Such a simple concept - something just doesn't seem right - and the guys from the town next to the town I grew up in are the first to nail it just so. You see, something about the singer's relationship is askew. He can't name it. He can't place it. It's like a Japanese cowboy. Or a brother on skates.

2. Cowboy Dreams - Prefab Sprout
Until last week this would have been #1.

Love's a silver bullet that blows your world apart
I wanna be remembered as an outlaw
as the boy who stole your heart
I wanna be the guy who wears the white hat
then rides across the plain
I'm gonna be your enigmatic stranger
honey, you are looking at your Shane.

Need I quote more? And not just that but the creepiest/lamest/most beautiful yippi-ay-a ever uttered.

1. Black Cowboys - Bruce Springsteen
Often when a veteran artist whose best days are past puts out a long-awaited album and it's somehow pleasing to the ears, long-time fans will proclaim it the best work of his/her/their career since (fill in the blank). Most of the time this statement is hyperbole, wishful thinking, crazy talk, etc. Weeks or years later, reality sets in and Carl realizes that Steel Wheels isn't the Stones' best album since Exile. Mike realizes thar Mirror Ball isn't Neil Young's best work since Re-Ac-Tor. John discovers that Margerine Eclipse really isn't Steroelab's best since Ketchup. Patrick realizes that Asia will never achieve the heights of their debut. And critics all over the early-90s pop culture disapora figure out that Achtung Baby is nothing if not a throwaway (if they'd only waited until Zooropa). So it is with hesitation that I proclaim the lamely titled Devils and Dust Bruce's best album since Tunnel of Love. And it is with great apprehension that I judge Black Cowboys to be his best song since Sherry Darling. But here I am. And here it is. And maybe it's been done before - the inner city kid whose neighborhood is afflicted with gang violence reads a book about black cowboys and sets off on a train to Oklahoma to do some research. But it's never been done quite as tenderly as this.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Staff Inflection

The weekend was warm and fleeting. Much time was spent with disc 3 of season 1 of Arrested Development. A green jacket was purchased. Bright lime green. End-of-season sale. I can't wait for the warmth to go away.

Last night Laurel and I saw The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. My fine-tuned rating: Better than any of the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars films; not quite as good as Fever Pitch. Better than My Bodyguard, less good than My Architect.

Today's meeting statistics: 2 meetings attended, 1 of them necessary. During the unnecessary meeting, 4 more unnecessary meetings were scheduled. I suspect that at least 1 of these 4 meetings will result in at least 2 additional meetings. Total meetings completed: 2. Total meetings scheduled/anticipated: 6. Net meeting "gain": 4. For more on this topic, see my March 10 entry.

The NBA playoffs are strange this year. Watching the games and not having any of my favorite/local teams (Timberwolves, Lakers, Clippers) involved is like eating yogurt with a fork: tasy but not wholly satisfying. It's like 1994 all over again and if you know anything about my life, 1994 wasn't one of the good ones (save for the West Coast rap).

Interesting fact: When one gets a collect call from the Cook County Correctional Facility in Chicago (Psychiatric Unit), you know it says on the Caller ID: Prison. That's all. Just Prison. One word says so much.