Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Road, The Voyage

On Saturday I boarded a plane from Los Angeles to Oakland. In Oakland I rented a car (a mini-SUV - the Saturn Vue). I drove to San Francisco, picked up my cousin, some (but not nearly all) of his belongings, and his 3 cats.

We then drove east, for 2,146 miles or so, ending up in Chicago on a lovely sickeningly humid 99 degree day.

During the drive and on my subsequent stay in the midwest, I made a few discoveries:
  • The area around Lake Tahoe is beautiful.
  • You can't drive 87 in a 75 zone in eastern Nevada.
  • People in Utah really are Mormons.
  • Liz Phair is amazing. Yes, even her new stuff.
  • I make really good mix CDs
  • They should call me Mixmaster Fahm
  • The best soy mocha in the world can be purchased at a gas station in Salt Lake City.
  • There's a great college radio station in Lincoln, Nebraska.
  • Iowa and Western Illinois? Nothing!
  • Illinois in general and Chicago in particular has no infrastructure. That's what you get when you keep electing corrupt politicians.
  • In the 5 years since I was last there, Hyde Park (in Chicago) has been gentrified beyond recognition. This is not a bad thing.
  • When I'm tired, I should just sleep.
  • Casy the cat has a good solid purr.
  • Public Storage employees can be bribed.
During the visit, I ventured up to lovely Wisconsin. Now there's a state with an infrastructure! I found the loveliest house in all of Dousman. There's an art teacher there, with a way about her. The region is doused with lovely trees. A hush and a rush. Green clouds and purple moons. Dreams of unicorns and warring centurions.

Because of unforeseen Public Storage-related delays, I was late for my flight. I drove like a maniac from Hyde Park to Midway, filling up and returning my rental car in a brusque manner, running through the airport like USC's Reggie Bush in the Fresno State game, eluding would-be tacklers. Luckily, my plane was delayed in taking off because of a lightning storm. Ninety minutes on the tarmac. It wouldn't have been so bad if, before going to the airport, I hadn't gotten my shirt soaked moving my cousin's stuff out of storage, necessitating the borrowing of a T-shirt from my cousin. And the T-shirt he gave me, the T-shirt I wore during my mad rush to the Gate A18? This one.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Greatest Thing Anyone Has Ever Said

What is the greatest thing any person has ever said? This is a question that has gripped many historians and philosophers. William Shakespeare said a few impressive things, as have Gandhi, Lincoln, and King. But no one, at no time, has outquoted an anonymous woman in Minneapolis in 1999.

It was May Day. Each year, on the first Sunday in May, the May Day Parade takes place in the Powderhorn Park section of South Minneapolis. Stilt-walkers and puppeteers, community activists and weird-bicycle riders - they all convene for a festive pageant of spring time, madness, and love.

The greatest thing ever said was not uttered at the parade, or at the annual festival in the park that followed the march down Bloomington Avenue, No, the greatest thing anyone has ever spoken out of their mortal mouth was uttered on the porch of a nondescript Minneapolis working class house. I wish I remember the house, or even just the street. I don't. All I remember is that the greatest thing ever said was said during the walk that my friends and I were taking from our car to the parade.

On May Day, one often has to park very far from the parade. But, after a long miserable winter of indoor life, a long walk on a sunny day is welcomed. I don't remember exactly where we parked. But I think we walked somewhere between 5 and 10 blocks. I would place the location of the greatest thing anyone has ever said as somehwhere between Lake Street to the north, 36th Street to the south, Cedar Avenue to the east, and Chicago Avenue to the west.

I am not the only one who heard the greatest thing anyone has ever said. There were three other witnesses: Laurel, who many of you know and one of you is; John, who some of you know and one of you is, and Greta, an old friend of Laurel's who I don't remember ever seeing again after that day. The four of us had driven to the parade together in my 1995 Honda Accord. We parked. We walked to the parade. And somewhere during the walk, we heard it.

Like I said, the greatest thing ever said was said on a porch. The houses on the south side of Minneapolis are big and old, sometimes decrepit but often not. The houses were mostly built between the World Wars, though some of them date to the turn of the century (between 19th and 20th). Most houses have porches, many of them covered (or "Three Season" as they like to say in the upper Midwest). The one non-porchworthy season is winter of course because it's too cold to sit on an uninsulated porch when your tongue is freezing and your nostrils are crackling.

I think Laurel and I were trying to set John up with Greta. It didn't take.

At one point, Laurel and I were walking together, with John and Greta trailing, smoking as they unwisely did back then. But, when the greatest words ever spoken were spoken, John and I were talking and it was Laurel and Greta who were trailing, perhaps discussing the fact that the John and Greta set-up just wasn't going to work out.

The words rang out from a porch. There may have been many people on the porch. Or just two. I do remember seeing at least two people there: the older African American woman who said the greatest thing ever and the young boy to whom she as speaking to.

She said it in a rush. To untrained ears, or to ears who only heard the first part of the quote, she may have sounded angry. But she wasn't angry. She was undeniably happy.

The boy was playing havoc on the porch. The woman was sitting down. I don't remember what she was sitting in - a rocking chair perhaps. Rattan patio furniture maybe? I don't know.

Later that day we were at a post-festival party in a big old house in the worst neighborhood in Minneapolis. Not until I left the party did I realize that I had spent a few minutes talking to the brother of my first real girlfriend. It had been 12 years since I'd seen him so I didn't make the connection until later. Someone at the party played Brimful of Asha over and over again. I like that song.

Back to the walk to the parade, when the greatest thing anyone has ever said was said. Again - there was a porch, with two or more people on it, there were four of us walking, in gender-based pairs, John and Greta just weren't into each other, the houses were old, and the sky was sunny.

She said it. The old woman said it. I heard her. The other three heard her say it too. Presumably, the boy she was talking to heard it too. I hope he still thinks about what he heard that day. This is what she said:

"Don't be putting a run in my stocking. Grandma's got a hot date tonight."

Friday, May 19, 2006


Here I am, nestled in the comfortable belly of my office, preferring this life to that of a boiler room sailor, trapped at sea for months, weary for home, etc.

Still, there are alternatives to being an academic researcher.

Including: professional poker player (I dominated the Altadena Regional Ronnie James Dio Memorial Poker Tournament last week), Midwest peasant farmer (I hear the soil near Madison is lush), reality show producer (I have an idea!), novelist (it all begins under a mango tree), raconteur (whatever that means), blogger-for-hire (e-mail me if interested), or social psychology instructor.

Perhaps I should just take three deep breaths and look around at the world around me.

Or maybe I should follow the dust in the wind, carrying on home like a wayward son.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Pants, Fancy

Greetings from Chicago. For the first time ever, I like Chicago. It didn't seem tired last night. It was alive. And soft. In a way, it was just what I needed. I could have done without the insomnia, although my trip to the hotel lobby at 4:30AM to ease my racing mind was sort of fun. As I lounged in a leather lobby chair, I watched the sun rise over the Chicago River and read a long essay on the life of Phillip Roth.

Some things I've discovered in Chicago:
  • People like to talk about the weather here.
  • Thin pizza crust in Chicago = Thick pizza crust in Los Angeles
  • Myopic Books is a real store, in addition to the name/subject of a great Mark Eitzel song. It's a cat bookstore. In other words, there's a cat that lives there.

I wonder what the cat's name is. Fancypants perhaps?

Thanks to everyone who I took poker advantage of on Saturday night in Altadena. I vanquished all of you but one. I guess if I have to finish second in a tournament it may as well be to the pregnant host of the party.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The 10 Greatest Songs of All-Time, May 9 edition

(many of the parenthetical years are pure guesses; I don't have time for research today)

10. The Stranger - Billy Joel (1977)
The man with the piano gets all Camusian and the result is something that really makes you think - in a Rodin's Thinker kind of way, as opposed to the way people really think, which is by staring into space. Good momentum-laden melody too.


8. You Were Right - Badly Drawn Boy (2002)
This song about mortality aligns the nostalgic longing for an expired love with the untimely deaths of beloved musicians. The way Damon Gough carries the awkward melody merely by stretching his voice and carrying his heart forward is inspiring. Plus, any song that gives you one more verse than you're expecting is a winner in my book.

7. (tie) Black Coffee in Bed - Squeeze (1980)
I should be opposed to this song for two reasons. One, black coffee is disgusting. Pour some milk in it dude! Two, what's this about a "stain on my notebook"? The singer (or his bedmate) puts the black coffee mug on a notebook and the sickly black liquid condenses or spills out to the point that there's a stain on the notebook? Huh? Notebooks are sacred. Treat them with respect. Great song.

7. (tie) The Birth of the True - Aztec Camera (1985)
The only song on this (or any other) list where the singer/narrator references his butler and sings the word "gratuitously." But Roddy Frame nails young love with this song and one must give him his props. Actually, maybe it's the girl's butler.

7. (tie) I'm the Man - Customer Parking Only (1981)
Here, a legendary garage duo predates and surpasses the White Stripes aesthetic by dropping the guitar entirely - all drums and vocals and visceral teenage rage! In this cover of the Joe Jackson non-classic, the drummer (currently a New Jersey bar band legend) keeps perfect time while the now-forgotten singer struggles to keep up, catching up to the beat with guttural but lovely forced screams in an available-only-on-cassette kind of way.

6. Work It - Missy Elliott (2003)
A political parable for the modern era. Missy flips it and reverses it, "saying yo George Bush what's up with the war and hey Rumsfeld tell us the truth!" Or it's about sex in multiple settings/positions.

5. Drift Away - Dobie Gray (1971)
I have nothing to add here.

4. (tie) Toolmaster of Brainerd - Trip Shakespeare (1988)
The Toolmaster held a job at the Buckeye Creamery in Brainerd. He had a way with the old machinery. When the shutdown came, he rumbled down to the Twin Cities for a change of scenery. Eventually he came back. An anthem for an era that never existed and a disparate place that never congealed. If you ever saw them sing this song live, you'd not only know why it made my list but you'd ask me why the hell it didn't make the top 3.

4. (tie) The Hula Hula Boys - Warren Zevon (1982)
Seemingly a throwaway song by a great singer who threw nothing away, this little ditty about a woman who dances with the Hawaiian natives while her man stews in the background is seemingly slightly naively racist too. But seemingly is just seemingly and things are never what they seem (e.g., this song is actually about teenage lust.) What the hell did I just write?

3. Maple Leaves - Jens Lekman (2004)
"She said it was all make-believe
But I thought she said maple leaves
And when she talked about a fall
I thought she talked about a season
I never understood at all"
And they that the Swedes can't write poetry! I just heard this song for the first time on Sunday. Two days later, it makes my Top 10. I may be impulsive but I can back it up.

2. When Doves Cry - Prince (1984)
Sometimes you gotta go with the obvious.

1. Johnny Mathis' Feet - American Music Club (1992)
When Mark Eitzel (my favorite singer, regardless of the song) sings "A real showman knows how to disappear in the spotlight" after peppering a mythical pop legend (Mathis) with frustratingly unanswerable questions about his (Mark's) career arc, a chill rises within me. This song inspired my own spell of celebrity poems, in which fame-addled mid-career pop and film icons grapple with their place in the world (metaphor for my own place in the world of course). Besides all that, it's a shambling pop cabaret masterpiece.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The 10 Greatest Songs of All-Time

10. (tie) Viceburgh - Lifter Puller (2000)
The last minute of this song is more alive than the aggregate life on all of the life form-inhabited non-Earth planets in every universe there is, in all directions. A slow drowsy dirge is propelled by the slightest of chord changes to an icily beautiful close.

10. (tie) Ana Ng - They Might be Giants (1988)
The saddest happiest childhood memory song ever. I almost wrote a movie based on this song before I got sidetracked into trying to write a doomed sci-fi vehicle. My fault. I'll get back to you some day Ana.

10. (tie) Add It Up - Violent Femmes (1983)
As far as I was concerned, the Femmes invented punk. Yes, 1984 seems late for an invention that had been perfected and destroyed long before then. But this is my history.

There is no Number 9

8. Famous Blue Raincoat - Leonard Cohen (1971)
"It's four in the morning. The end of December." And from there it just got better. The only song on this list for which I wrote a sequel

7. (tie) Summer Guest - Sigmund Snopek III (1987)
A beautiful instrumental written by a man from Milwaukee. The only song on this for which I once tried to write lyrics. When it's time to score my first film, this will play over the opening credits. Unless the film begins with a violent death scene, for which this song would not be appropriate (I'd substitute the other Milwaukee song on this list.)

7. (tie) Sunset City - Magnetic Fields (1995)
The first time I heard this song, I was sprawled out on my living room floor in North Hollywood, California, in the throes of the the worst back pain in my life. I would remain on this floor for much of the next few weeks before I spontaneously healed. In the interim, I kept listening to this synth-folk masterpiece about seeing the world and falling in love. This song cured my pain.

6. Summer Flesh - Lock Up Your Daughters (1999)
This is the apotheosis of their well-crafted sound: cool beautiful lyrics, hot silky guitars, and temperate congealing keyboards. When they played it at the Acadia Cafe in Minneapolis '00, the thrust of the awe in the room was impenetrable. Whatever happened to Coco in the attic? Whatever happened to LUYD?

5. Deacon Blues - Steely Dan (1977 yo)
No explanation necessary.

4. Fast Car - Tracy Chapman (1988)
What this song meant to me in the summer of 1988 will be the subject of a future entry. I'll say this: the first time I moved away from a city on my own accord, this song provided a little bit of the impulse. When I hear the opening chords, I immediately think of driving a Hyundai out of the parking lot in the ugliest apartment building in south Minneapolis, heading west so the three of us (me and two people who could barely contain their love) could have bad Vietnamese food. Plus, the way Tracy slightly changes the words and delivery in each incarnation of the chorus to further propel the song's sad story is amazing.

3. I'm Waking Up To Us - Belle & Sebastian (2001)
Not the sweet brooding mopery of their lovely early years, nor the bright sunny pop of their equally important later years... no this is just a perfect song, relegated to a between-albums single that no one noticed because the world started falling apart. Though musically brilliant, this song's appeal lies in the lyrics and vocal delivery - a perfect combination of comedy and tragedy in just about every line - the Boogie Nights of music.

2. Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen (1975)
Is it coincidence that 3 songs on this list (#7, #4, #2) are purely about escape. This is the only song on the list that I can sing from start to finish if asked (and no I won't do it karaoke night unless someone accompanies me on the harmonica.) A full 75% of this song's appeal to me might be nostalgia but what better reason is there to love a song?

1. Freight Train Rain - The Reivers (1985)
Now the writer's block kicks in. I can't concisely explain why I love this song. Maybe it's simple. It's just the words and the music. And the jangly guitars and the urgency in the singer's voice. Not even the ill-advised decision to have one of the band members inexcplicably do an improvisational jazz-scat scream in the background throughout the entire song can detract from its eternal appeal.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

a e i o u

I've received additional secret messages indicating that countless others are reading this blog. By year's end, we may reach the double digits! In the mean time, I will write like I always do, pretending that you care and hoping that you pretend.

Today, I co-planned a going-away party for my research assistant. I'll miss her, as she ventures out into the world as the only sports psychologist/fitness model/data analyst I know of. I'm taking applications to fill her position: 20 hours a week, no benefits, a desk in the hallway (no cubicle, no office), and the opportunity to make my life easier.

In my co-planning for the party, I was responsible for the cake and the drinks. Have you ever seen what happens when one of those long narrow Diet Coke 12-pack containers falls through a flimsy plastic bag and onto Figueroa Street? Well, the cardboard doesn't hold up either and the first one can escapes and then the next and then the other 10. They don't all roll in the same direction either. Did you ever notice that "Figueroa" includes all five vowels, each appearing once?

I think I succeded with the chain store bakery chocolate/raspberry cake with the creamy white insides, despite it being referred to as a "whore cake" by someone who may be reading this. Good cake. But yes, I could have done better.

For the 40% of you that care about basketball, Mad Dog has outdone himself with his latest flurry of blog entries.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Moving The River

I was informed over the weekend that my readership has increased by 20%! I now no longer have 5 readers. I have 6! You can expect that my writing will be 20% better, with tighter editing, more prescient commentary, cleverer pictures, and more satisfying links. Welcome, Sarah, into the tight-knit community of Blueprint Blue readers, 6 disparate individuals spread out over 5 cities in 3 states in 3 time zones.

Despite my immigrant status (naturalized citizen for 30 years or so), I came to work today. I'd rather be on Wilshire Blvd., waving my meticulously sewn Egyptian/Swedish/American flag, offering complete strangers my unique opinions on borders (messy, unnecessary), nationalism (messy, usually unnecessary), television (how about that Big Love?), basketball (Kobe... wow), and early-80s British pop (High Land Hard Rain or Two Wheels Good - which album is better? Does it even matter? Yes, it does. I vote for Wheels.)