Monday, June 27, 2005

Larry and the Mayor at the Canadian Honker

Tomorrow's the big day.

The 2005 NBA Draft.

After tomorrow, or maybe the next day, I will stop talking about basketball until October. I promise. But tomorrow... tomorrow I will come home from work and hunker in front of the soon-to-be-transported-to-the-new-apartment TV, with Kettle Crisps perhaps, and I will compare my intricately fashioned mock draft to the actual players drafted. I will shamelessly root for my favorite team (the Timberwolves) and my 2nd and 3rd favorites (Lakers and Clippers) to not draft those long-named Europeans and choose instead a gritty American kid with 2 years of college. I can say this because I was born a (short-named) Euro. I will chart the number of times Hubie Brown says "upside" - that is, if Hubie is on the crew this year now that he's gone bigtime with ABC. I will continue to wonder what anyone sees in Charles Barkley as a television personality (as a player he was good - a poor man's Maurice Lucas, a rich man's Caldwell Jones). The next day, I will, as I do every year, feverishly read Bill Simmons' Draft Diary, as well as his timeless draft archives. I will forecast the Timberwolves 2005-06 roster, predicting playing time and stats. In my predictions, I'll assume Fred Hoiberg's heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic goes well. And am I the only NBA fan who wonders if some day this week Fred and Pistons coach Larry Brown (soon to be at the Mayo Clinic for some tests on his bionic bladder) will hang out while they're both in Rochester? My bet is they'll be having lunch at the Canadian Honker on Thursday. Or maybe it'll be lattes and bear claws at Daube's.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Birthday Cake-Pie

June 23: 1 day. 2 posts. Enjoy it while you can.

Yesterday at work, we had more unnecessary meetings (see March 10 post). During one of these meetings, the small 12-person work group to which I belong debated whether it was appropriate to continue the short monthly "voluntary" birthday get-togethers during which all birthdays in the larger (50-person) organization are celebrated. Some people didn't like being forced to have fun. Others wondered why fun was such a problem. Some people disliked being invited to parties they did not wish to attend. Others wondered why some people couldn't just say "no" to the friendly invitations. I sat bewildered, wondering why either side was all that important in the great wonder of the universe. Sure, I don't like any kind of birthday cake that doesn't include chocolate. I especially dislike carrot cake, the favorite of this year's social committee (yes, there is a social committee, a group no one wants to be a part of in the upcoming fiscal year, which prompted the whole debate). I cringe when Happy Birthday is sung out of tune and unenthusiastically. But I still can't see myself getting worked up enough to passionately (and it was all very passionate) argue the notion of monthly office birthday shindigs. I understand why they're important (everyone gets recognized in a democratic, almost random way, except for those unfortunate December birthdays. Those poor folk are always forgotten). I understand why they're sometimes painful (as when the "Birthday Breakfast" idea failed miserably back in February. No one realized a toaster (illegal in our building, for insurance purposes) is a prerequisite for English muffins). But 45 minutes spent debating a 10 minute-per-month event is overkill. And it's not over yet; no "consensus" was reached. It only took me 5 minutes to write this, so don't go noting the irony of my post.

I hope the birthday parties continue. This September, I'd like a chocolate cake-pie. The richest of chocolates, the moistest of cake textures, the flakiest of pie crusts.


7 predictions for tonight's Game 7 of the NBA Finals:

1. ABC announcer Al Michaels will seem both bored and impressed with himself. He will, however, provide an effective play-by-play account of the game.
2. Commentator Hubie Brown will switch between first, second, and third person, and between past and future (but not present) tense in the same sentence. Everything he says, however, will be spot-on.
3. For each big shot Robert Horry makes, he will miss two. The ratio is 1:1 for most other players.
4. I will be the only person who remembers when Chauncey Billups was a Timberwolf, and how if he had been on the Wolves last season, they would have beaten the Lakers.
5. Rasheed Wallace will be the best player on the court.
5a. Tony Parker will be the second best.
6. Spurs 98
7. Pistons 94

It seem like I should be getting closer to cracking the spider code in A Treasure's Trove (see below) But I'm not. Now, I'm too frustrated to even begin the process of writing down color combinations and matching them to 5x5 alphabet-with-missing-Q grids. I've been reduced to just reading the story and adopting more of a holistic approach. Note to my friends in Minnesota: If one of my nine new hunches is even remotely plausible, I may be sending one of you to the greater Bemidji area. Bring rubber gloves. And salad tongs.

The move to the new apartment is in exactly one week. The crazy neighbors have been strangely quiet. I foresee one more wild burst of action this weekend. Perhaps the former tenant, the hunched one called Hambone, will visit.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


My life has temporarily been taken over by a treasure hunt. More specifically, the hunt for one of the three (or four) remaining tokens in the treasure hunt related to the book A Treasure's Trove. I will find one of the remaining treasures - hopefully, the spider (the most valuable one, at $400,000 or so). Of this I am certain. I may be super-busy at work. I may be moving in 9 days. My in-laws may be arriving in 4 days. But I will find the treasure. To paraphrase jittery rapper Eminem, this sort of an opportunity only arises once in someone's life, yo. I'm about 20% convinced that the spider treasure is housed in a park in a smallish city in which I once lived, during my harvest years. Many have speculated on the pleasant smell of the nights in this town. Poems in which the transparency of memory emerges as a primary theme have been written about this very park.

It's now official: Robert Horry of the San Antonio Spurs is the most overrated athlete in the history of organized sports. He's been in the NBA so long that his fade haircut has fallen out of style, come back in style, and fallen out again. During this time he's had exactly one good game (this past Sunday) and now people are comparing him to Sidney Moncrief, readying his Hall of Fame plaque. Okay, he's made a few clutch shots. He's missed slightly more. I'd rather have Antonio McDyess coming off the bench at the 4 spot. Or even Elden Campbell. I could post Robert Horry up and drive for a layup. And I'd get the foul. And he's something like 6'10". Still, the Spurs will win in 7.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Change Is Good

I'm updating today. On a weekend! This is so my fan base doesn't have to look at the same boring obscure entry for another day.

It's a lovely Santa Monica day. We sold our rarely-used elliptical machine to a nice couple of folk. They wore flip-flops and drove a truck.

Last night we were treated to yet another fine Captain Creamsicle's Laughateers improv comedy show. Our friend Lisa's the funniest one (bottom picture, rop row, 2nd from right). She combines the comic timing of Will Ferrell, the range of Julia Sweeney, and the surprise factor of Gil Gottfried in his prime. And yes John, the guy right below her really did play the son on that forgotten nineties series Sherman Oaks.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

At the Edge of Reason, in the Black Swan Pub

Early reader(s) of this blog may remember the running tale of my screenplay. Tenuous and delicate, the screenplay has seemingly imploded from neglect and out-of-control big-ball-of-rubber-band-like overwroughtness. That and the third writer finished his other script and is working on getting a certain granola-sample-dispensing rising young star to play a key role (i.e., the role of the guy who does the four-way) and this third writer may not have time for sub-nascent malleable concept films about the psyche. Actually, writers number one and two don’t have time for it either.

I’ll now follow up on some things from last week. I still like the new Hold Steady album. It’s welcome has not been worn. Any band that can work in the mascot names of high schools in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, while making jokes about dove-wielding shawl-wearing 70s rock stars AND dissing the overall aesthetic of the 80s is alright by me (someone who wielded doves in the 70s and actually liked the 80s, the latter part of which I drove past said high school on my way to work at the movie theater that only the true believers remember the name of, a theater that was blown up in ’91 to make way for a Barnes and Noble. I believe the very spot that now houses the self-help section once held the lockers in which we hung our powder-blue usher’s jackets and later our blood-red vests. The popcorn room is now anthologies. The box office is now new paperback. And so on.)

I’m still not that impressed with the NBA Finals. I knew all along Dallas-Phoenix was the real championship series. I’m glad to hear that Phil Jackson is coming back to coach the Lakers though; I met his son at a party once. Twice, at two parties, actually. The son’s a good guy and the father seems to be too. They're earthy folk. And Tom Cruise, I’ve discovered by reading a recent interview, is indeed crazy and doesn’t deserve my defending. Poor Katie. You were in Go! And now this is happening to you?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

And Now You Finally Know That

(Note to readers: I corrected my blog settings and now anyone can comment anonymously or by name. Previously, I had the default setting and you had to be registered in order to comment. Now, anyone can say anything to me. I may even read it)

Today I’m posting from home. Usually I’m at work, in my gray-walled cubicle as I strain to find just the right set of words to bring the paragraph home, around the bend and up the mountain. (Note to bosses: I do all blogging during one of my two union-required non-lunchtime 20-minute breaks. Note to readers: Do you think I’m lying to my bosses?)

But it’s a quiet Thursday night. I’ve just watched the sluggish Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Seymour (a cat) sleeps on my feet. Lily (another cat) paces around the room. Laurel (a wife) is out, socializing with the Alexander Technique community.

Uh-oh. I’ve alluded before to Seymour being bulimic. And he just purged on the living room rug. I must clean it.

Never mind. It’s nothing but a hairball.

Wow. It’s 10:00. I have dishes to clean. And I think I want a bath. I’ll listen to the new Clem Snide CD. I’ll read that book I’m reading. I’ll think about that novel I imagine myself writing. Bye

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Ali Was A Hoodrat*

(WARNING: After the first paragraph, I ramble on endlessly about obscure and not-so-obscure musical artists. If you prefer my blog entries where I lightly discuss the events of the day and mention a movie I like or a new fruit that I finally tried, you might want to stop reading after the word “ago.” If you prefer cross-generational hipster minutiae, read the whole thing)

Celebrity sightings are not rare in Los Angeles. Still, three sightings (combined, for me and Laurel) in five days is an impressive number. It’s not that I’m in awe of these stars as much as I am slightly interested in a bemused way by the details of their lives. It’s a little surprising that American Psycho Christian Bale shops at The Gap while eating his frozen yogurt. It’s notable that The O.C.’s Peter Gallagher hikes with his lady at Temescal Canyon Park. And it’s absolutely fascinating that American Idol’s Simon Cowell actually has a personalized license plate that reads IDOL as he inches through gridlocked eastbound traffic in his tricked-out black Acura on the 10 Freeway an hour ago.

But I’m here today to discuss a more specific kind of celebrity: The Minneapolis Local Rock Star. It’s an established fact that I lived in the Twin Cities for 10+ of my 30++ years on this earth. In my days there, I saw local rockers put up on pedestals and knocked down because they didn’t belong (Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum) or because they couldn’t produce in the face of fame (Paul Westerberg, Oil of Thuja). I’ve seen them move to the east coast (Bob Mould - the Ringo Starr of Husker Du) because they were sick of being recognized, or to St. Paul (Grant Hart - the John Lennon of Husker Du) because the rents were cheaper. But mostly I ignored them. The rockers bored me. I preferred the paisley-swatches-on-flannel bounce-pop of Trip Shakespeare or the bossa-folk of noted librarian Jim Ruiz. And Prince was good too. The local rockers were, as a group, too mannered and by-the-numbers, too in love with the notion of being nothing more than a gritty bar band. Even when they broke free of the constraints of the white rock trade (grunt the verses, scream the choruses, drink way too much even when people have paid to see you play), the local rockers could only sustain it for one album (Husker Du’s New Day Rising) or two (The Replacements’ Tim and the one after Tim). At the end of their arcs, the local rockers faded out, relegated to tending bar or dying or farming or unplugging to varying degrees of success.

Then there was a band called Lifter Puller. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never actually listened to a Lifter Puller song all the way through. Maybe some day I will. But I knew there was something different about these guys. You see, my friend Brett liked them. Unconditionally. And the number of bands Brett liked unconditionally through the years was very small. There was Rocket From the Crypt. And I think Elvis Costello for the first two albums. And that Foetus guy from the eighties. Brett used to wear a T-shirt that read “I like hate. I hate everything else.” But he also liked Lifter Puller who, blessed with an adoring local fan base, a moderate national following, and the best band name ever, broke up a couple of years ago. A few of their members, including singer/lyricist/guitarist #2 Craig Finn, moved to Brooklyn and formed The Hold Steady who last month released their second album Separation Sunday which is so good I can hardly believe my ears. For, despite their technically being a Brooklyn band, The Hold Steady is the most clear distillation of a Minneapolis rock band there could be. And Craig Finn is the seemingly-laboratory-produced perfect specimen of the Minneapolis Local Rock Star, despite living 1200 miles away. And I’m forced to rethink my relationship with that city and the music it produced.

Okay, I’ve rethought my relationship with that city and the music it produced. I still think I’m right. You see, The Hold Steady break all the rules I mentioned earlier. They don’t grunt the verses. They speak them coherently, as literature – i.e., the way lyrics are supposed to be sung. They don’t scream the choruses, for they really have no choruses. They are not mannered or by-the-numbers. No one else, except maybe early Springsteen or Steely Dan in their California days (1975-1978), could have written such a fascinating concept album about suburban kids getting into (big) trouble in the city (Minneapolis usually) and in places that are so clearly not the city, about those kids getting older and realizing that as adults they’re farther away from – not closer to – getting out of that trouble. Mix in some Catholicism, drop some familiar street names, reference Ybor City, and I’m hooked. And they do it all in a fashion that’s sentimental, cynical, heartfelt, nasal, lyrically perfect, and, despite the classic rock guitar solos, not at all bombastic or primal. Listen.

*today's title is not a factual statement. Instead, it is a thematically linked allusion to a song.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Awkward Sentence Structure

I have only a few words in me today. Work has been work-like today. My creative energy has been spent by a few clever as-yet-unresponded-to e-mails. And I ready myself to go to a puppy-warming party, at which my sister-in-law and her boyfriend will lead a cheery welcome to their new dog Noble.

Things are going as planned with the move. A truck has been rented. New furniture has been browsed upon. Somewhere in there a Bose stereo system is destined to belong. That's if my union (I have a union!) can get that across-the-board 2% raise approved (thanks, California taxpayers).

I'm not happy with the Detroit-San Antonio NBA finals. But it is the NBA. And these are the finals. So I will watch. Spurs in 7. And let's hope the Timberwolves select Salim Stuodamire from Arizona in the draft.

I promise that I will write more later this week. Possible topics: hoodrats, Prairie Home Companion, the genre of memoir, and a defense of Tom Cruise (no I'm not a Scientologist).

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Moving On Up, Down the Road

We’re moving. After nearly three years at our apartment across the street from the cemetery, Laurel and I are changing addresses, traversing 9 ¾ blocks to the north, where the rents are (slightly) higher and the zip code is (one digit) lower. Why? Well, as anyone who has known us in our California incarnation has heard, we live next door to the most dysfunctional family on the Westside. Not immediately next door – our apartment building neighbors are kind neighborly people, despite the British guy’s penchant for speaking into his cell phone at an auctioneer-like volume. No, I’m talking about the people on the other side of the fence, in the house. And I use the word “house” loosely. For their rather large lot has, over many years (they’ve lived there since 1968, as they reminded me one day), been transformed into a shantytown of wooden planks, tree houses, lean-tos, sheds, and lonesome pillars, their yard filled with the discarded furnishings of the entire 1900 block.

In the main house lives the matriarch, a rather short woman with beady eyes and a blood-curdling scream that wakes our cats from their sleep. She’s the sanest one. Between the main house and the first of the in-progress shanty huts lives the patriarch. He is also short, with a long yellow beard. He lives outdoors, sleeping on the grass, smoking a pipe, coughing tubercularly, and listening to a transistor radio. He meets his wife’s rants with demented screams of his own, often before dawn. Also, though he owns (and not rents, as he reminded me that same day) a piece of Santa Monica property that would fetch two million dollars in a weak market, he can often be seen at the Cloverfield off-ramp of the 10 freeway panhandling for change. His sign reads: Homeless. Any little bit will help. He waves at me when I recognize him there.

Now, if it were just the two of them – the angry dwarf and her homeless millionaire husband – I’d be fine with it – an eccentric elderly couple, counting down their days, bickering over why she won’t let him in the house, half-building their half-built shacks. It would all make for fun conversation at parties, for stories to tell when I get to be their age, but with cleaner hair and all of my teeth. I would talk about the time we threw away our cat scratching post because it had been scratched bare by bulimic Seymour and discontent Lily, and how we looked over the fence the next day and saw the scratching post in their yard, acting as a weight for a tarp made of discarded trash bags, protecting other found objects from the rain. But it’s more than just the two if them. They have children – two grown men who have learned the art of screaming and hoarding from their parents. And one of these men owns a towing business. Normally, one can’t operate a loud 24-hour business from the back of a house on a residential street, a business with roaring trucks that often need to be driven in reverse, resulting in the beeping sound that backwards moving trucks make, even at 3 in the morning. And normally one can’t just decide to supplement the towing business with an auto repair “shop” in the alley. But they do it anyway, despite the fact that every relevant city office knows about the illegal businesses. Somewhere, money is changing hands. And the recipient drives a car with the city's logo emblazoned on it. Anyway, I have never longed for the irony of a tow truck towing a tow truck as much as I have these past few months.

So, the noise – the screaming, the towing, the engine overhauling, the screaming again – has become unbearable. Throw in the fact that the neighbors on the other side of the other fence, the side that faces our bedroom, have recently taken to playing the old school slow jams radio station at high volumes (don’t get me wrong – I like Al, Luther, Marvin, and Anita as much as the next guy. I practically discovered Teddy Pendergrass! But 7:30 on a Saturday morning is too early for classic Philly soul. Or even nu soul) and it’s clearly time to go. And not since my childhood home in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, where I lived from age 10 to 18, have I lived anywhere this long (nearly three years at the same address!).

We will be living in the same city, on the same street. Our stakeout last night confirmed that Classic Towing does not have a north-of-Wilshire branch. By July 1, we will no longer live a half-block away from Santa Monica College, with its renowned planetarium and fitness pool. We will no longer live down the street from the Falafel Hut. But we will live a few blocks away from overpriced restaurants and a fine revival movie house, the recently reopened Aero Theater (this month: the films of Massimo Troisi!). And we will sleep in relative silence. Yes, there are no guarantees. But nothing can be worse. Nothing.

Okay, no more complaining. I’ll instead praise the universe for existing, the ocean for delivering, and John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats for writing my second favorite blog.