Thursday, August 31, 2006

Top 6.666666 Books of the First 2/3 of the '00s

To detract you from your work day and to avert your gaze from my new creepy picture, I'm delivering the first of my promised Top 6.666 (2/3) ______ of the First 2/3 of the '00s List.

Today, August 31, 2006 marks the end of the first two-thirds of the decade. It's been a crazy 6 years and 8 months!

(does anyone know html code for putting the "infinite" horizontal line over the 6 so I don't have to put so many trailing sixes after the decimal to indicate the endless beauty of 2 divided by 3? If you do, please comment)

Top 6.666666 Books of the First 2/3 of the '00s

Number 6.666666. Jubilee World by Me (first ed., 2003)

I'm not doing this out of ego or even spite. Dude can write. I'm giving this collection of short stories and poems the coveted/feared 6.666666 spot because it is an unpublished (but available!) work. In other words, it's not really a "book." It's only "two-thirds" of a book. Still, there's a lot to be savored in its pages. In the title story, the intersecting circumstances of transgendered nurses, the first George Bush, and the guy who steered the Exxon Valdez reveal a lot (perhaps too much?) about America. In Little Big Junebug, the author uses the odd vernacular of rural southeastern Pennsylvania to tell a story of friendship and wonder. In the poem Not Without My Daughter, a (half) Egyptian childhood is recalled, with nostalgia, regret, and the thing that is both nostalgia and regret. Finally, an early version of The Caketopper demonstrates what can happen if one doesn't have an ending. Or a beginning really. Overall, a great read.

Number 6. Chronicles Volume One by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is a fine singer and songwriter. But he really shines as a storyteller. I used to joke that Chronicles was a great "novel," that much of what is passed off as "fact" seems apocryphal or, at the very least, decoratively recalled. Upon further thought, I think what he wrote is pretty much true. And the delivery is perfect, from his heartfelt recollection of studying Civil War history in the New York public library to his richly detailed stories of his college years, when he lived in the Dinkytown section of Minneapolis (where most of number 6.666666 was written) and visited the homes of crusty Midwestern folkies. The extended section on the process of recording his eighties album Oh Mercy is fascinating, both for the details he leaves in and the secrets he leaves out. (that last sentence is proof of why I wouldn't make a good book reviewer.)

Number 5. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski (2000)

I barely remember the story, the detail of this book. I do remember how I couldn't stop reading it, how it creeped me out and confused me, and how I admired its audacity. Plus, Mark Danielewski expertly capture the states of dreams, fearful wakefulness, and Virginia. And when he autographed the book at a reading I attended, he was extra nice to me and everyone else. That counts for something. And he had blue hair. His new book comes out in the fall.

Number 4. Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (2003)

This is one of those choices were nothing but sheer talent pushes a novel from the level of "serviceable" to "outstanding." Sure, Lethem annoyingly named one character Dylan and another Mingus but this otherwise benign coming-of-age novel with colorful characters turns into something special with enough passages like this one:
  • It was entirely possible that one song could destroy your life. Yes, musical doom could fall on a lone human form and crush it like a bug. The song, that song, was sent from somewhere else to find you, to pick the scab of your whole existence. The song was your personal shitty fate, manifest as a throb of pop floating out of radios everywhere.

Number 3. On Beauty by Zadie Smith (2005)

I always like a good college novel. As with #4, mass swarms of writing talent guide this book. At its center are, moreso than any other book on this list, fully realized but not always recognizable characters. The plot may be nothing but set piece after set piece but that's what college and family and marriage are anyway. (And to the woman who borrowed the book from me... you know who you are... you're up in Santa Cruz now - keep it, read it. It'll help.)

Number 2. The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd (2001)

I first went to college in the mid-80s. This book was set in the late 50s. But, based on Chip Kidd's age and the story's sensibility, it might as well have been set in that hallowed fall of '86, where the snow came early and the leaves died late. This is a deceptively simple story - young man learns about love, sex, art, and himself (in that order, both forward and reverse). The author is more well-known as a book jacket designer than he is as a novelist. But he can write, perhaps better than he can design. And this is the only book on this list that I've read twice. A third time is likely. That counts for something.

Number 1. The Royal Family by William T. Vollmann (2000)

The world's best and most prolific writer tells a daring, devastating, funny, and heartbreaking about (but not only about) a man's search for the mythical "Queen of the Whores" amidst the pre-dotcom-boom beautiful scourge that was San Francisco, with its desperate-but-not-dead prostitutes, lethal "hotels," and dirty/pretty streets. Mix all that up with unrequited love, virtual reality, biblical overtones, sibling rivalry/rage, hobo life, and the scarily named (but perfectly so) Dan Smooth and you have the best book of the 2/3 decade. For "proof," an excerpt:
  • Dark tracks of ecstasy down which slid blinking lights and fluffy lights, rays of warmness on cold tracks; these carried Tyler and Brady past brick hofbraus and pavement-holes. Ahead, a police car turned the corner. Pizza lights marked the edge. Then all the brightnesses started getting skinnier. White-lit arches launched them down long white slides tulipped with lamps, and they passed the Peacock Club, outside of which the first whore of the evening stood fussing with her science-fiction garter belt.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


I have a strange relationship with sleep. I love sleep. But, like many beloved things, sleep is elusive. I chase it in the night only to be met with indifference. I don't suffer from nightmares (with a few exceptions). I suffer from light sleeping. Very light sleeping. Lighter than a feather on Atkins. Lighter than the depth of the plot in a Deadwood episode or a Michael Chabon novel.

The peace of my night is penetrable. Sometimes it's noises that penetrate - helicopters, slamming car doors, cat panic, dead fruit falling on a tile roof, etc. Other times it's a thought that explodes in the deeper part of my brain and must be worked through at the shallow end, before purging. Often in my wakefulness I see patterns - of numbers, Scrabble tiles, playing cards, and stray singular words - coddling, fissure, sprout, adamant.

Sometimes, the thoughts and patterns and startled state of my imagination keep me up enough that I turn to television to soothe my racing mind. In almost all cases, the 2:30AM lull/roar of the TV is better than what's in my head. Yes, even Carson fucking Daly. But especially Tivo-ed episodes of Colbert and The Office. Next thing I know it's 7:17AM and I have to get to work to begin the cycle of work/life/(little) sleep for another day.

I've listened to suggestions for solutions. Sleep in the bedroom, not the living room. Give up caffeine. Try Valerian root. Exercise. Breathe. Warm bath. Hot shower. Open windows. clsoed windows. Light. Darkness. Cats. Solitude. Many of these things help me get to sleep but none of them help keep me there.

Maybe it's age. Am I now an "older" person, one that does not need as much sleep as the "kids." That could be part of it. But if I don't need as much sleep, I definitely want more than I'm getting.

Okay that's enough bellyaching. I must be an old person. I just said "bellyaching." Goodbye. Lists will commence tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


On Thursday, the decade will be two-thirds over. August 31, 2006. 6 years, 8 months gone. 3 years, 4 months to go. Now I'm not one to make lists, but this seems like a good time to make some retrospective lists. Usually I make lists at arbitrary points in time. But the two-thirds point makes sense for several reasons:
  • -No one else will be making lists because a holiday weekend is coming up.
  • -No one else will be making lists because no one else is a math geek like me.
  • -Two's company; three's a crowd.
As an added feature, the lists will be 6.666 entries long. Decades lend themselves to top 10 lists. 2 divided by 3 is 6.66666666etc. I haven't exactly worked out what the .666 thing will mean - perhaps it will be a regular entry, making them top 7 lists in essence. Or, maybe I'll get all meta and find great incomplete works for that last spot.

I will make lists of the regular things you expect of me - movies, books, fruits, albums, etc. There will be 6.666 lists, the last list being a top 4.444 list because, well you know why. I will take your suggestions for list subject matter.

Now what to call the decade we're currently in? I refuse to call it the aughts because that's just ridiculous. People who say "aught" are people who pronounce "grease" with a Z sound and leave toothpicks in their mouths well after the meal is over.

They called the years 1900 through 1909 the 1900's. I'll call this decade the 2000's.

The lists will begin appearing Thursday and continue into next week.

In the meantime, I apologize for linking to this.

Monday, August 28, 2006

2 Poems

Two Cypress Trees

There are two cypress trees on my street
One is invisible
The other wakes me
Every morning
Except the days
I dream of the silver lining
Softening the undermining
Of the night
Turning into the Hollywood day
Those days I am more
Pure and suddenly alive

They take the dead
Down Western Avenue
The tranny knife fights
Deflect the street lights
As funeral cars crawl down
The swooning part of town
The winner tonight
Has a half shirt
Gives her twice the hurt
As the loser

There are two cypress trees on my street
One is my favorite tree
The other’s dead to me

end of first poem
Listen to the 4th song on this page
proceed to second poem

Do You Even Know Me?

Between my softest mumble
And my deepest thought
Lies my desperate answer
To your exasperated question
“Do you even know me?”

I think
I scrunch my nose
I touch my chin
I make a list

1. Yes I even know you
2. From the beginning of the dawn of time

Below the wordless stumble
Of my shallow stab at immortality
Sleeps the ancient thrust
Of bloody futility

3. Yes I even know you
4. Until the end of the death of earth

I reach
I smell the air
I look above
I see the exposed pipes
And the hidden camera
They got me again

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cobras and Metaphors

I don't like to speak (or lament or boast) about my social life. It's tempting. Being single for the first time since the summer of 1998 (that hallowed era before the internet, espresso machines, and call waiting), I am intrigued by the new technology, opportunity, and rules that have sprouted in the dating world in the past 8 years and 12 days. Besides being aware of how clumsy that last sentence read, I am also aware of the risks involved in saying too much in a public forum. Just like you can't unbend a paper clip, you can't take back what you write in a blog. Sure I can delete and edit my posts but that assumes that no one has read and/or cached the original versions of my posts (not an unreasonable assumption).

So, I'll just keep rolling along, keeping my blog persona coy but informatively entertaining. I'll nod my head to the rising sun and willowy wind. I'll shrug my shoulders at the inevitability of consequences. I just used Blogger's spellcheck to check on my spelling of consequences and was amused to learn that blog is not an acceptable word. Their replacement suggestions include bloke and blown.

Back to by oblique thoughts... I'm swimming in a glistening pool of my own contentment. I'm happy. I know nothing of the future. I've spoken enough of the past. Seymour (a cat) is snoring as he splays himself on the Scottish blanket on the couch next to me.

On an unrelated note: Wow.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


By request, here are my Top 3 Memories Involving Cheese:

3. I used to date a Mormon. She was a nice girl, a tall girl with red hair and a gentle loping gait. After our break-up, we stayed in touch. She would invite me to her parties - gatherings where Mormons and non-10-percenters would cordially gather and festively laugh but not cause too much trouble. In 1995, she invited me to the Christmas party she was hosting with her slutty roommate. My cousin Sharif (then quite the angry intellectual) and I traveled down to Long Beach, from the 310 and 818 respectively. We arrived with a mixture of cynical anticipation and scornful superiority (and cheap Trader Joe's wine) because that was what single men in the mid-90s did. The Mormon offered us some hot cider and what would become her signature Christmas party dish - hot melty brie and slices of warm pear on French bread. The combination of flavors coalesced in my barely-30 mouth and though I will forever resent the Mormon for saying the worst thing to me that anyone has ever said (something no one else will ever hear), wow that brie was good!

2. As a little boy I would react with glee when my mom brought home the Laughing Cow cheese in its little triangles-in-circle package (creamy Swiss of course). Not a specific memory... just a general recollection. We were in River Vale, New Jersey then. We shopped at the A & P usually. Sometimes Super-Saver. Those stores seemed bigger than the ones I shop in today. They were probably smaller.

1. It was a cold and snowy Saturday late afternoon in 2000. I was having coffee and writing a (likely) plotless short story on my first laptop at Espresso Royale Cafe in Dinkytown (Minneapolis, USA) - still my favorite coffee shop ever. I got hungry. I went up to the counter and ordered up a piece of their crusty French bread. As I was in the throes of my half-marathon training, I declined the counterperson's offer of butter. But then she asked if I wanted any cheese. Cheese? I hadn't thought of cheese. Could I have cheese? Since when did Espresso Royale carry individual portions of high-end cheeses wrapped in cellophane in their refrigerated display case? How would the cheese affect my training? While she waited for my decision, Alicia the counterperson said that she'd give me the cheese for free, that I can't have bread without cheese, not on a cold day in the Midwest. Yes, I remember Alicia's name. I had a crush on her. No I wasn't married then. Yes I was engaged but hey I wasn't blind.

"It's Havarti," she told me. "It's really good."

Yeah it was good. It was dill as well. She didn't tell me it would be dill. I may have been scared by the dill. But I didn't know any better. I just spread the soft beautiful cheese on the soft pillow of the crusty bread and soaked in the world around me - the snow flurries, the huddled college students, the music (they were playing mid-period Tears For Fears; yeah the music could have been better) and of course the Havarti.

(Note: my memory plays tricks on me. It might not have been snowing. They could have been playing Modest Mouse. It might have been 2001. I might have been married. I know it was a late Saturday afternoon - that I'm certain of.)

Monday, August 21, 2006


Identity is a tricky thing. Who am I really? I write a semi-anonymous blog with my real name in the URL. I receive e-mail at 7 different e-mail addresses, each of which is similar in name to one but no more than one of the other addresses. I’ve lived in 4 different states (5 if you count the Massachusetts experiment) and 3 different countries (Sweden doesn’t count really but I was born there and that’s important.) But I don’t instinctively connect with any of these places as “home.” Since moving away from “home” in college, I’ve had 16 different homes (18 if you count the Massachusetts experiment and the Anaheim month; 14 if you don’t count those places and you further ignore that I twice moved within the same apartment complex/building). That’s somewhere between 14 and 18 homes in 19 years. Not a good ratio. But maybe that’s my identity – the every(place)man who can adapt to his environment (as long as the environment is adequately contained) and is expert at ordering new cable service and locating the nearest Trader Joe’s.

Then there are the stories. I read and reread them (I think they’re good) and I search for myself in them and sometimes I find a sliver of me and sometimes I just see a whoosh of darkness or light that passed through my life but was most definitely not me. I was never a mallwalker. I was never a caketopper. I have always been a writer. Sometimes what I write are numbers. In my first 21 years I lived in relative stability – 9 homes, including 1 for 9 years. But if you asked me to describe that house – my childhood home on Southview Lane in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, I would tell you that it was rust-colored, that it had two stories and a basement, that I played basketball in the driveway (and I was good – I had an awkward but accurate outside shot that could rival Jamaal Wilkes’), that the backyard was so big there were likely parts of it I never touched. But I don’t remember the interior. I can’t see the size or shape of the rooms. I know my bedroom was the last one on the left but I’ve got to grasp and guess at other details.

I know I feel like the observer, the outsider, the journalist with his fresh pens and notebook. I think I made the right decision to forsake my original college major – journalism – for a simpler one – psychology. I might tell you I did it because psychology would tell me more about me (journalism told me about the outside world and I already knew enough about that.) But oddly I chose not to apply my psychological education inward. I just read the books and took the tests. Then I wrote 2000 poems and 200 stories and (200 blog posts once this one goes up and yes that last number is a complete coincidence. I just looked it up. I would’ve guessed 180.) And in those writings you might find me. Or you might not. I can tell a good story. I can relate a memorable incident. I can call out a co-worker with Cheeto-stained fingers. I can remember playing basketball in the driveway when my Mom called me inside to tell me John Belushi died and trying to decide whether this was tragic news or just inevitable. I can remember sleeping on the floor of my North Hollywood apartment in 1995 because my doctor recommended it to combat my back problems and then the phone rang and a stranger told me my father was dead. I still sleep on the floor sometimes because I like it.

But are memories identity? Are lists of adjectives and other descriptors identity? Can the language and plot of my stories be translated into an actual life lived, into a real person? Can I tell my life story in lists? I don’t know but I sure enjoy doing it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Chips Ahoy

I'm making a rare second-post-in-one-day to direct you to the new single by the world's most important and greatest and funnest and cleverest band The Hold Steady.

This being the season of really good almost-perfect comedies, I feel compelled to determine for you the maximum number of times a person is allowed to see these comedies in the theater before being labelled an obsessive:
  • Talladega Nights: 5 times in 4 weeks (I'm allowed 3 more viewings in the next 3 weeks)
  • Little Miss Sunshine: 3 times in 4 weeks (I'm allowed 2 more viewings in the next 2 weeks)
  • Clerks II (yes you read that correctly!): 2 times in 6 weeks (I have one left before my next birthday)
Pitchfork finished their Top 200 songs of the 60s list. Now I'm not the kind of guy who's into lists but I have a few comments:
  • The 60s was a pretty good decade for music
  • It's hard to argue with # 1.
  • But I will argue with #1. My joke yesterday notwithstanding, Suzanne by Leonard Cohen (#41) or Be My Baby by The Ronettes (#5) or that one good Stones song could easily be #1. Try A Little Tenderness by Otis Redding or Santeria by Sublime aren't bad either.
  • Still, #1 is not a bad song. A little sappy but then what isn't?
  • Where was Carrie Anne by the Hollies?

Wren (a short story)

Today is story day. Here's a newly heavily edited short story from the past.

Tricky Betty says it’s too late for games now, we’ve got to go to the backup plan and run the fuck out of here. Tricky Betty is one to make big pronouncements of irreversible change like that. Today, though, she’s wrong.

No, we can still do it. We don’t need to run. Those who have seen us will forget us in mere moments. Those who have not seen us will not notice anything remarkable. We are not wearing masks. We are dressed like the people. Though we may be enigmatic we are not noteworthy.

I am the ugliest of the group. I go by the name of Wren, my last name. I am old and ugly but dressed like the people. I am experienced at heists like this one - complicated, on multiple floors of a single building, in daylight.

Tricky Betty is the oldest but certainly not the ugliest of the group. Oh in her day... But today she is all about the business and though she is not to be trusted with any weapon, she is still an integral part of getting that business done.

Red, so named for his fiery mane, is the kid of the bunch. Though I’ve learned to speak in his argot, he is not very skilled at communicating in mine. Still, he owns the guns and knows how to use them. He is fast on his feet and quick in his wit. I may be the leader but Red is the most indispensable of us.

Finally, there is Zero. His given name.

The four of us met where criminal crews get together: in a park under cover of darkness. There we assembled nightly and hatched our plan to rob the two largest jewelry shops in the Mall ofAmerica in Bloomington, Minnesota. We would rob the two stores simultaneously, both for effect and practicality. Zero and Red would be the point men. Tricky Betty and I would be the watch, vibrating cell phones awaiting text messages. The mall, big enough to hide a thousand jewel thieves, would in essence be our getaway car. In its bowels we would scamper and roll until we would find ourselves at the predetermined common spot, where our four identities would be blurred and we’d calmly walk out into the mall center, amidst the amusement park rides and giant Lego sculptures. We would eat mall pretzels and drink mall slushies. Then, with our bags filled with jewels and cash and our bellies sated with sugar and carbohydrates, we would calmly walk to our white van (always a white van) parked in the West lot, level four, the Hawaii section (in the Mall of America, the parking structures are divided into “states”). From there, we would drive to another meeting place, split the goods and the money and go our four separate ways. None of us liked each other. We only needed each other.

But of course there were problems. There are always problems. Red and Zero had successfully gone into Ben Bridge Jewelers and Helzberg Jewelers, respectively, and, with their big shiny guns acting as the catalysts, robbed the two places of their dignity and a good portion of their less-than-impressive post-Christmas profit margins. And some jewelry. Red and Zero then reconvened in the bowels, behind a trash receptacle in the clandestine service hallway behind Just For Feet, the athletic shoe superstore. There, their heads dancing to the fumes of discontinued rubber and dislocated cardboard, the two salty young ex-convicts waited for Tricky Betty and me. We held their changes of clothes and their disguises. We had the keys to the white van. We were their way out.

During the robberies, which occurred on the more upscale west and south sides of the mall, Tricky Betty and I pretended to shop for linens and stuff at Linens and Things on the east side of the mall, practically within spitting distance of Just For Feet. The meeting place was much closer to us than to Red and Zero, which does not seem to make much sense to the outsider. But, you see, they were quick on their feet and they wanted to throw off the mall security guards and local police, who from what he had heard, were suburban and slow-witted and not prepared for experienced thieves. I think it was Zero who had the idea of running like the wind and fooling the lot of them. Maybe that was naive.

Naivete or not, according to a text message, they were there at our hiding place, waiting for us, having signaled that everything was on the up and up and all was cool.

That brings us to this moment, to Tricky Betty’s consternation. As we approach the secret door by the pay phones, the door that would lead us to the trash receptacle behind Just For Feet, we notice two uniformed police officers enter through that very same doorway. According to the plan we hatched in the park, Zero and Red were to have entered the service hallways from the northeast and we (Tricky Betty and myself) were to have entered from the southeast. Now, we see the two uniforms entering from the southeast. Uh-oh. Not part of the plan.

And these aren’t mall security lugs. These are the real thing, Bloomington 5-0.

So Tricky Betty says it’s too late for games now, we’ve got to go to the backup plan and run the fuck out of here.

Her logic is impenetrable really. If the younger half of our crew does get caught, they can’t turn us in exactly. We only assembled in parks under cover of darkness. They don’t know our names or where we live. Yes, they know me by Wren, my true last name, but for all they care, it’s spelled Ren or it’s my first name or it’s my nickname. Besides, I’m from Canada – no records on this side of the border. If I run, or even just walk quietly, out of the Mall of America, I am essentially home free. Tricky Betty – same story. She’s from Canada and they don’t know her full name, her address, her real hair color (black… a rich silky black).

We could be in Thunder Bay by morning, eating meat pies and drinking whole milk. Because as she says, as Tricky Betty has so skillfully put it: it’s too late for games now.

But you see I want to play games. This is my big score. My last hit. This is the one.

So I bid Tricky Betty goodbye, good luck. These could be the last words I share with her. We had a history. But that’s why they call it history.

I see her vanish. Bloomingdales, second floor, she’s getting smaller. She’s so small.

And then I see their next text message. “Plan B.” We (well there’s really no “we” anymore) are to walk around the mall’s second floor in a counter-clockwise direction. Zero and Red are to hide in adjacent restroom stalls and wait for my “all-clear” text. The mall is a big circle, no a square really, so I may have to circumnavigate it a few times before I'm sure all is clear.

I begin my counter-clockwise walk, wondering about the events in the aortic hallways. I am hoping Red and Zero are quick thinkers. I am hoping they initiate the backup plan correctly.

I am hoping they are not greedy.

I am hoping for so much. I get to thinking that if you hope for too much, you’ll get more. Because God loves an optimist.

Everyone loves an optimist. Everyone loves a winner. A winner loves an optimist. I am nervous.

Look, a sale at Old Navy. Always a sale at Old Navy. These clothes, Old Navy clothes, they are too young for me. I am an old man.

There should be a store for old men like me. I could open a store with my profits from today’s twin heists. I could call it Wren’s Army.

Who am I to trust Red and Zero? They themselves could be in Thunder Bay by now. Although I don’t know why they’d go to Thunder Bay. Why cross borders unless you have to? They’re not Canadians.

They don’t have to. They can fend for themselves here, in the Twin Cities. They can do it. I don’t see them. I don’t hear any commotion. No gunshots.

I am hoping they are not smart and greedy.

Maybe they tricked us. Maybe Tricky Betty figured it out. That’s what she said. “Maybe they tricked us.” I didn’t believe her. I trust people.

Why did they even need us? To drive the white van? They could get their own van and it wouldn’t have to be white.

Yes, I am being exploited by the youth of the Twin Cities. I am being used by the rusty scalawag they call Red. And by the dour stern one named Zero.

They are laughing at me. They’re probably down the highway at Joe Senser’s Sports Bar laughing at me at this very moment. I know it. They're counting their money. Giving their day’s work an amateur’s appraisal. Thinking about which five-star hotel they will blow a few hundred bucks at tonight. Bandying about how many escorts they’ll celebrate with. Two? Two each, maybe? In separate rooms. Or maybe a big party. Jacuzzi suite. I’m such an old sap. I trusted them, the fucks. I trusted them. I don’t even know their real names, their last names. I can’t even exact revenge. They’ll be leaving town soon, I’m sure of it, so no chance meetings in parks under cover of darkness.

The kids today, they sure like that Hot Topic store.

I’m hungry. Maybe I’ll get a pretzel. I could sure use a pretzel. And a slushie.

But I’m broke. I left my wallet – and thus my identity – at home, on the TV. Or maybe on the cable box. I did this on purpose, in case I was apprehended. This way, I could make up a name. It could be a dignified name, like Steve McQueen. I wouldn’t actually use the name Steve McQueen, just something approaching its obvious dignity. I wouldn’t use the name Steve McQueen, because he’s dead and one does not do that to the dead, steal their names.

So no wallet. All I have on me are the clothes on my back and the keys to the white van. And taking the white van might be risky, given the police presence I have just seen. Assuming Red and Zero are not gone already. Assuming they didn’t make a copy of the white van keys when they were riding around in it yesterday, for fun.

Shit. They made copies of the keys.

I used to be an intellectual. I used to be a college professor.

Maybe I should check first, behind Just For Feet. To make sure they’re not still there, that they didn’t mess up the plan codes. Before I accuse them. But the police... I saw the fuzz go back there and I haven’t heard anything, no gunshots, no screams, and Red would use it, the gun, if he had to. Maybe they’re still there, the police, searching for the jewel thieves. Maybe I shouldn’t give them a reason to ask me questions.

That’s a nice wall clock at Pottery Barn. If I only had my wallet. If I only had my quarter share. No, Tricky Betty ran. I would be getting a one-third share.

Or did she run? Too many variables!

I am being used. I am being watched. The mall walkers, in their white running shoes, with their green fanny packs, they’ve seen me pass them. Twice already. Old Navy again. Track n’ Trail. Eddie Bauer. I’m lost.

Nobody cares about an ugly old criminal. The system doesn’t give a damn, the kids today, they won’t give me a moment’s thought.

They’re probably at the Mall of America Best Western already. With escorts. And celebratory wine. Corked.

But wait. What’s that?

A whistle.

From the hallway. From the men’s room. Now I remember. Plan C. Listen for the whistle. Red’s unmistakable swirling high pitched whistle, like a European ambulance .

I am walking down the hallway. I am approaching the men’s room door.

I open the door. I see people.

I’ve got to get more sleep. These people are strangers to me. This is not Red. That is not Zero. These gentlemen do not like me looking at them. No, wait.

These are not gentlemen. These are ladies. Wrong room.

I go next door. No sign of anyone I know. No sign of anyone but a boy washing his hands. He dries them half-heartedly. He leaves. I’m alone.

I’m alone. I’m tired. I’ve got to get more sleep. These days, when I walk around the mall in my white running shoes inventing jewel heists, these days are the worst.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I know that my reader(s) didn't want to keep looking at that damn list of 27 things anymore so I thought a fresh post was necessary. I'm not sure if I have all that much to say though. What do I do?

I could post a random picture, like this:

I could send you some juicy hours-killing links, like these:
  • Pitchfork's Top 200 Songs of the 60s (unless Meridian Leeward by The Nazz is #1, this list means nothing.)
  • Various bloggers give us their first-half-of-2006 mixes (scroll down to where it says "update" for the list of other bloggers, including Mountain Goat John Darnielle who will be appearing live at Amoeba in Hollywood on the 23rd (one day after the new album is released) so mark your calendars.)
  • freedarko's predictably fascinating discussion of the Clippers' owner's housing discrimination bugaboo (of interest to non-basketball fans).
Speaking of words like "bugaboo," I used the word "mojo" last night in a non-ironic non-British-music-magazine-referring way. This scared me. I don't use words like mojo. I'm not that kind of guy. I'm not an old white British bluesman. I'm sorry. (aside to the person who heard me say "mojo": yes I know - some clever lines aren't as clever the 2nd time around; and are your shellfish preferences limited to shrimp or are scallops okay too? I love scallops.)

For those of you without cable: Colbert has been on fire lately.

And Ben and (mostly) Karen - here's a more public congratulations for the birth of Baby Elliot!

Monday, August 14, 2006

27 Things You Didn't Know About Me

  1. I like cinnamon.
  2. If I could have any job in the world, it would be Puzzlemaster.
  3. I remember the sixties.
  4. I've never gone camping.
  5. I'm not a stoner but I really like stoner movies.
  6. When I was a boy playing basketball in my driveway, I would stage pretend games between bands - e.g., the Beatles vs. the Eagles (I know - 4 on 5, that's not fair... sometimes I'd let Yoko play.)
  7. During my marriage, I sometimes lied about whether I had brushed Seymour and Lily.
  8. I secretly respect the work of XXXXXXX XXXX.
  9. This is a big one. I never thought Mr. Show was funny.
  10. I'm going to see The Hold Steady at the Troubador on October 16. Who's down?
  11. I like sunsets better than sunrises.
  12. I think David Bowie ruined Golden Years with that stupid whistling bridge. What the fuck is that?
  13. This is sort of gay. One thing that's made me very happy lately is Whole Foods' new line of Grapefruit Body Wash. Is there a better morning shower scent than the now-familiar smell of sweet fragrant grapefruit?
  14. All I wanted for my 9th birthday was the single of Steely Dan's Rikki Don't Lose That Number.
  15. In 1982, I unironically wrote a poem bemoaning the upcoming technological computer-based revolution that would beset the United States. The poem was called CompuNation.
  16. One of my happiest moments ever was dressing up as the Blues Brothers and performing Soul Man with my friend Patrick at his wedding in New Jersey in 1993. Later that night I awkwardly danced to the Spin Doctors' Little Miss Can't Be Wrong while Italians ate cannolis and Irishmen drank whiskey (truth not stereotype). I was stuck being Dan Aykroyd because Patrick was fatter.
  17. In 1988, my friend John and I conceived (but never wrote) a movie script based on the Leonard Cohen song So Long Marianne. For some reason, we made the protagonist a reformed porno actor. (John - you may not remember this but it happened. I keep all my notebooks.)
  18. If I hear Rancid's Time Bomb, I will likely rock out.
  19. In 4th grade, I was the victim of a bully named Peter Brown (fuck you Brown!). In 5th grade, I became the bully, punching poor Mickey Gebhardt in the nose (sorry Mickey). I learned to stop this cycle of violence and became a peace-loving liberal at the age of 10, even turning the other cheek when...
  20. During the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, my across-the-street neighbor Chris McGuire repeatedly punched my arm and screamed "This is for the hostages! This is for the hostages!" because he decided, me being half-Egyptian and all, I was responsible for what was happening in Iran. I think I was horrified when it happened but when I picture it these days I just can't stop laughing (at Chris, not the hostages).
  21. I'm shy but I open up when you get to know me.
  22. For much of the nineties, I had an unbreakable habit of reading words in road signs backwards. This led to me having a character named Miehana in my brilliant unproduced screenplay Wingo.
  23. This is the coolest picture I've ever seen. I'd pay ten-thousand dollars for that crown.
  24. I thought I was the King of America but it was just a boulevard of broken dreams. As it turns out...
  25. I'm the King of Rock. There is none higher.
  26. Sucker MC's should call me sire.
  27. My birthday is in 27 days. Note that.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Shrieking of Innumerable Gibbons

I took a drive to the ocean today. Then I took a swim in the ocean. My first time since last summer. It was salty, breezy, not cold, exhilarating, sandy, and very enjoyable.

It's different swimming alone. A little weird. But nice. Like pistachio ice cream. Or the chorus of Prince's Pop Life.
I listened to the Mountain Goats' Tallahassee on the drive home down Pacific Coast Highway. The bitterness and desperation of some of the songs are perfectly balanced by the resolute hope and clear insight of the others. The album is especially satisfying to listen to while one is stuck in traffic in the town that Mel Gibson owns. And in the song Idylls of the King, there is this:
Huge crows loitering by the curb
Our shared paths unraveling behind us like ribbons
And I dreamed of vultures in the trees around our house
And cicadas and loc
And the shrieking of innumerable gibbons
I listen to that verse over and over again. And I play it for others, raving about it with an auctioneer's zeal. Ultimately, it means more to me than them and that's okay.

It's like that scene in Clerks II with the lip balm and the boom box. It just stands on its own as a good thing, like cypress trees or holding hands.

Yes, it's a Saturday full of odd metaphors and blighted similes. And it's not even 5 yet.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Mango Madness

I've just been told that my office will be relocated to another building, just down the walkway, right past the band building. No more short walks for my occasional afternoon frozen yogurt (but shorter walks for my afternoon smoothie!). No more fancy marble hallways. They tell me the new office will be "comparable." I don't want comparable. I want better. More space. Better ventilation. Less crappy desk. Perhaps more steel, less wood. And I better have just as many windows.

(Update: Apparently all I have to do is ask for those upgrades and I will probably get them.)

Okay my mixed feelings are now unmixed. I'm happy. Change is good. Change keeps changing. So much change in such a short time for such a handsome young man. But like Dirk Diggler, I plan to keep on keeping on. Because we can do better.

The August picture on my California State Parks calendar is of Fern Creek in Muir Woods. I want to go there. It's green and brown and peaceful. I bet it smells real good.

I want to see Talladega Nights again. I may have missed some of the subtleties. But there are other movies to see tonight.

Wow I can write some really boring shit on this blog and people will still read it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Minor Post #2

I don't know why but I find this site exceedingly funny. The Fake History of Video Games is especially good. Why are fake documentaries so much easier to laugh at than scripted conventional comedies?

Oops. I have a meeting to go to.

(90 seconds pass)

Nope. Meeting cancelled. Only 2 of the 6 "committee" members showed up. Me and the other guy decreed that there would be no meeting. This happens a lot when you work at a college during the summer. Nebulous planning, formless vacations, casual Fridays even on a Monday.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Minor Post

I was thinking the other day... the only screenplay I've ever written was a comedy. Almost all of my short stories involve a romantic element (or, at the very least, two people struggling to connect in some sort of romantic way). Why not try my hand at that dreaded genre - the romantic comedy? Then I heard a song. In the song was a story. Now I have it all figured out. Not just a romantic comedy - but a romantic Christmas comedy. I got it all mapped out. It'll write itself.

I'm reading William Vollmann's Europe Central. It's my second try. Wow he can write. I've breezed through 21 pages, 800 more to go. Lots of Russian between-the-world-wars intrigue so far.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Abraham Linkin'

I've updated the links and stories. I plan to add more. But most importantly, I've changed the template to one that is actually readable without inducing white-on-blue small font headaches.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Why Can't They Use Hot Air Balloons?

I'm sleepy today. After a (very enjoyable) evening out last night, I fell alseep easily and breezily, only to be stirred awake at 4:12am by the sound of two relentless circling police helicopters. Usually, they circle farther north, up by Hollywood Boulevard where nothing good happens on the street between 2 and 5:30 in the morning. This morning, they were directly above the street below my street, looking for something nefarious I hope.

The helicopters scared Seymour. He crawled under the blanket with me. except for really cold nights, he hasn't crawled under the blanket since the '94 earthquake. For those who don't know me, Seymour is a cat.

The noise kept me awake, although I was able to sleep in rabbit-hop-like spurts. The helicopters - both of them - kept circling until I woke up permanently at my favorite time, 7:17. Their now-unnecessary lights were still fixed somewhere near the corner of Lemon Grove and Hobart.

I hope they found what they were looking for. I'm sleepy today.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My Favorite Streets

I have a new favorite street to take to work. It's a secret. Let's just say it's a surprise and it starts with a W. Eventually, it changes names and starts with an A.

My links (to the right) are getting stale. There will be an update and a possible redesign in the near future. I feel a fresh start coming soon.

I saw Little Miss Sunshine over the weekend. Great movie. Of all the freaky dysfunctional comedies of the past few years (and there have been over 1,200 of them), this one is the best for the simple reasons of story and acting. And at a moment in the movie when the audience could have collectively winced, creating an audible crinkle-swish that even the space aliens on Galaxy 19 could have heard, the audience - me included - simply smiled. That is an accomplishment.

I have a complicated Mel Gibson theory. It doesn't lend itself to the blog genre. If you see me, ask me about it.

Speaking of Mel, I also saw Who Killed the Electric Car? and he made an impressive cameo as a
pro-electric car raving (Castro-bearded) madman. As did Ed Begley Jr., predictably (not bearded, still raving) .

In addition to going to too many movies, I watch too much TV. To those of you without premium cable, here's my guide to which critically acclaimed HBO and Showtime series are worth seeing and which are not:

Entourage: Breezy but enjoyable
Lucky Louie: Surprisingly resilient.
The Sopranos: Timeless, perfect.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Timeless, almost perfect.
Dane Cook's Tourgasm. Awful title. Lame premise (4 comics on the road). Always entertaining.
Huff: No.
Weeds: Yes. New season starts in 2 weeks.
The Wire: I've yet to actually watch this show in an attentive manner but I think it's brilliant.
Deadwood: The crappiest piece-of-crap show in the history of crap.

I both encourage and expect your wrath.

I have a new favorite street(s) to take home from work. It's not a secret. It's the 110 to the 101. Maybe it's a summertime thing but what happened to the afternoon rush hour downtown LA traffic? Is the End of Days coming? USC to Melrose Hill in 17 minutes? At 5:00 on a weekday?