Thursday, September 28, 2006

You Can't Have Wanderlust Without the Lust

I should write something here today. I've been too silent, too complacent in allowing my old to linger here for you to reread and reread until you can pull no more meaning out of them.

But I'm not sure I have anything to say today.

Instead, how about an old poem about Barry White? I wrote this in 1998 (my second favorite year)... a few years before he died.

Barry White, Alone

I hear the calming
whisper of Barry White
on this October evening
this quiet city Saturday night
Barry speaks of loving
Barry speaks of the descent
Barry is old and different now
and that’s cool
but the whisper I hear
is a song from the middle
part if his career
the waking, the tumble, the risen hero
the lunging, the craving, the desperate and gone (the disco years)
the loneliness of stardom
turned into legend living long
too long because he can’t
keep up the ruse
he’s used to the looks
and now he can’t separate
the leering ones from the laughing
the last chance looks from the love
he is out on his own thick limb
but baby, they’re almost through laughing at him

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Javelin

Today is a good day. The Minnesota Twins are in the playoffs! Having lived in Minnesota for 11 of the past 22 years, I hold some allegiance to their sports teams. But this allegiance is not held equally for all Minnesota teams.

The Timberwolves are my favorite for many reasons (basketball is the best sport ever invented, KG is a saint, Mad Dog has a blog) but mostly it's because the team's 1990s ascent coincided with my bouncing back and forth between Minneapolis and Los Angeles like an overly nostalgic boomerang and the Timberwolves acted as the one consistent anchor, from their rock bottom in '93 and '94 to their disappointing playoff appearances 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, etc. years later to the near-glory that was 2004 (why did you have to go and get yourself injured, Sam?)

Next on the list would be Twins, the only recent champion in Minnesota sports (1987, 1991). They play in the ugliest stadium in America. Their icons leave the game for semi-tragic lives and deaths. But they're the Twins! And in September and October I love baseball. This year the Twins are still in it, as are the Dodgers who I've begrudgingly taken a liking to, a process that's been 18 years in the making. The Dodgers have 5 days to make something happen and no my heart wouldn't be torn in half if the Twins and Dodgers play in the World Series as they did back in 1965, when I was a month-old newborn eating mango chunks on a veranda in an Alexandria grotto. I'd just watch the games and proclaim my joy because it is important throughout your life to proclaim your joy.

The teams from my twice-alma mater, the University of Minnesota would come next. The Golden Gophers haven't had much success or failure so I haven't had to stir up emotion either way. There was the Final Four for the 1997 basketball team but apparently due to NCAA sanctions for illegal "tutoring" and other activities, that never happened.

Then come the Vikings. I don't know why my support for the football team is half-hearted. I like football. I watch it often. But my disappointment when the Vikings lost the NFC Championship game after the '98 season was not nearly as steep as what I felt when the Timberwolves traded Pooh Richardson away in 1994. I heard the announcement while exiting the eastbound 101 freeway at Laurel Canyon in Studio City. It was a Wednesday. Yes I remember where I was 12 years ago when a bad basketball team traded away a disappointing point guard. Anyway, this year's Vikings are the most boring team in the NFL and I would be aesthetically offended if they won more than 7 games.

Finally, I heard there was a hockey team called the Wild but it's hockey so why bother and oh I forgot about the Lynx (WNBA). Put them in between the Wolves and the Vikings.

Usually I warn people in the first sentence of a blog entry if all I'm going to talk about is sports. Today I chose not to because sometimes you have to have your pudding if all you want is your meat. Finally, speaking of sports, whatever you do, DON'T look at this.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The 6-Foot Viking

I had a dream last night in which Rod Stewart stood in front of a crowded ballroom with a microphone railing against George Bush and the right wing political/corporate establishment. At the end of his rant, he repeatedly screamed "I am the 6-foot viking! I am the the 6-foot viking!"

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Another year, another MacArthur Genius Grant ungotten. Would someone please nominate me? I wrote Applehead Man for god's sake!

Is it soon to make a joke about....? Yes, it's too soon.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Books of Longing

I realize I've been lax with the 6 2/3 lists I promised. I've delivered 4; 2 2/3 to go. I promise to deliver them before March 31, 2007 - the 3/4 point of the decade - when one of the 7.5 lists I will give to you will be the best songs in 3/4 time. Expect many waltzes.

Enough math. I'm back at work. I don't want to be here. Would anyone like to hire a blogger? A poet? A writer of short stories (like the one on Friday which, I'd like to clarify, was written not about recent events; in fact, it's 5+ years old - although in retrospect it may be entirely about recent events). I heard there's free donuts over in the break room. I am refusing the donuts.

I want to be a serious filmgoer. I want to see every gritty indie and ill-translated foreign film. I used to do that in fact. It was fun. It was the nineties. Lately, I'm content to watch Ferrell/Carrell movies over and over again, like a child pressing replay with his/her Toy Story 2 DVD. I'm not proud to say that I've seen the entire ouevre on Zach Braff, although for one of those movies I didn't have to pay (thanks H!). I feel like I'm missing out on something more special. It's not like I can't see obscure arcana in Los Angeles. This city has more movie theaters than the tenets of Buddhism has inconsistencies. I'm just lazy. TV is easier. But even with TV it's easier to watch Anchorman the 17th time than some Turkish film on IFC the first time. Speaking of Anchorman, I may have seen Veronica Corningstone at a book reading on Saturday night. I did see Poe there. Based on overhearing a conversation she was having, I can say that she may be the nicest person in the universe.

The reading was for her brother Mark Danielewski's new book Only Revolutions. I put his last book in my top books of the decade list. This one might be his School Daze compared to the first book's She's Gotta Have It. In other words, not as good. Did he really write a novel in verse? Did he really riff while reading the book on stage like a beatnik poet? Did he really make those hand gestures? What happened to the humble young man who write a giant novel about fear and longing?

That was my weekend: movies, readings, a little football, enough sleep thankfully, a little hermiting, not enough laundry, and I almost forgot about my haircut. In the last 7 years, I've let two people cut my hair, one the daughter of Minnesota glass stainers, the other a Scotswoman and fan of 90s Britpop. Living too far away from the Scottish lass, I tried out a local haircutter. I'm not sure of the results and frankly I'm a little uncomfortable talking about my hair here so I'll stop.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Do I need to do more baiting? Shall I provoke you? How else can I get more comments? No comments for 5 days? That's unheard of in blueprintblueland! It's not like I'm writing fluff, the birthday poem notwithstanding. I gave you the mole story! I gave you a top albums of the decade list so insightfully written that it deserved a dozen bantering comments from a half-dozen banterers. I gave you iconoclastic iconography.

So. It's provocation you want? Here goes. Deadwood is even worse this season. The Wire is even better. People in Minnesota talk funny. Neil Young was the weak link (harmonically) in CSNY. David Lynch is better (way better) at directing TV than film. David Foster Wallace is better (slightly better) at writing fiction than non-fiction. Claire Danes can kick Natalie Portman's ass. The worst basketball game is more compelling than the best football game (and I like football.) Hipsters are good people, for the most part. Thinly cut French fries are better than steak fries. Mike, remember the other night when you told me that the referee in the Vikings game looked like Keith from Six Feet Under? Come on! You were so way off that I'm really concerned about you.

Okay that was a little over the top, all that provocation. I'm really a nice guy. How do I know people aren't happening along this blog for the first time? They could get a really negative impression of Ali. I like poetry. I enjoy a good picnic. I let a woman with 1 1/2 arms cross the street today and she wasn't even at a crosswalk. I tip over 20%. Every time. I like to laugh. In fact I laughed earlier today at a funny comment I overheard. It involved an elephant and the story of Job.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"This has been bothering me all day"

I wanted to tell a story today, a story about a stiff wind, an obelisk, the California High Desert, an electric grill where hot dogs were spun, too many Krispy Kreme donuts, They Might Be Giants, a poorly lit museum, a scientist from Reseda, and a great experiment that would explain how the pyramids of Egypt were built.

But the story, no matter how many times I rework it, isn't as interesting as the paragraph I just wrote.

It's a true story, based on an incident in July 2001, two months after everything changed for the good (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire) and two months before everything changed for the worse (9/11) or for the better and then worse (9/22). You could call the incident a turning point. You could call the great experiment I was witnessing a metaphor for the life of the crux of the universe. You could call that whole long July weekend - the weekend that began not with the experiment but with a coyote in a driveway and ended not with a whimper but with vomiting in a Las Vegas hotel room - you could call that whole weekend the most important 3 days of my life: Saturday through Monday.

Uh oh. I guess I'm stuck telling the story now. A chronology of the weekend:

  • Very very early morning: Impetuous late night drive from La Verne to Los Angeles and then back to La Verne
  • Very early morning: Coyote in driveway
  • Early morning: Donuts in an SUV
  • Mid morning to very early afternoon: The obelisk experiment in the desert (you see, my friend Katinka dragged me and my friend John (both of us were visiting from Minnesota) from my Mom's house in La Verne where we were staying to the far away desert town of Rosamond where, if the wind conditions were right, a team of scientists would use balloons to lift a giant heavy stone obelisk. This would then prove that such a thing could be done and in fact was done by the people who built the pyramids when in fact it was built by the sweat, hard work, and ingenuity of the Egyptians and/or their slaves.)
  • Early afternoon: The wind isn't strong enough, according to the lead scientist, a woman from Reseda (where, it's been told, the vampires move west on Ventura Boulevard). The experiment is shut down, beer and hot dogs packed away.
  • Mid afternoon: This place.
  • Rest of day: Nothing

  • Morning: Drive to Las Vegas
  • Afternoon, night: Gamble, eat, drink with large group of people from 3 time zones
  • Mid morning: Witness one member of our party put his hand under his own shirt and forcibly remove a hair from his chest mole, in full view of the rest of us, at breakfast in the patio of a restaurant at the Paris Hotel and Casino. He then held the chest hair to the light and exclaimed "This has been bothering me all day."
  • Morning: Hike in Red Rock Mountains
  • Afternoon: Go to seemingly world's largest Target store, also in Las Vegas. Watch New Yorkers in our party buy lots of Target stuff.
  • Early evening: Eat at Mexican place in the Venetian shopping mall, witness the violent food poisoning of one of the members of our party.
  • Mid evening: Drive back to California.
(Note: I may be combining elements of two different 2001/2002 trips to Las Vegas but this is a blog not a historical document and I'm 78% sure I got it all right.)

So, there you have it. A story in list form, a story in schedule form, not a prose piece exactly. Those sure were interesting times. I'm not sure they were better times. These days are good too. Football season just started. The weather's cooling down. I just hired a new assistant who will make my work life 74% easier. Noir is making a comeback. I got a rejection letter for one of my stories yesterday and I agreed with it and I will now incorporate the editor's helpful feedback because it's true - my jumping back between different points in time can be muddled. I got a great new refrigerator magnet for my birthday. It features a provocative photo and as long as I remember to take it down when my mother comes to visit, I feel the magnet will enrich my life. That's my story today.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bad Poem (with links)

(the result of too much time spent on

I'm one day older than Moby
Though I have all of my hair
And Eskilstuna's far from Harlem
As Melville is far from Cassius Clay
Happy Birthday, Moby, it's okay

I'm one week younger than Charlie Sheen
Though I never shot Kelly Preston in the arm
And I never won a Golden Globe
And when I lived in Santa Monica
I wasn't friends with Rob Lowe
Or Sean Penn

I'm two years younger than Randy Johnson
The Big Unit of Walnut Creek
I never killed a bird with a fastball
I never neglected my love child
And I'm not ugly

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

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

August 31, 2006 marked the end of the first two-thirds of the decade. To celebrate, I'm making lists.

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

I Am The Orange Prince
- Lock Up Your Daughters (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003)

The late lamented trio's second and final album gets the coveted "2/3" spot because this disc was never released. I could burn you a copy if you really wanted it. I may be biased by the fact that I'm collaborating on a screenplay with the guitarist, that I used to married to the bassist, and that I've been good friends with the keyboardist/producer/multi-instrumentalist since back in '84 when we learned the intricacies of the "glorified adding machine" in a stuffy meeting room in Edina, MN . I could be biased by the fact that I wrote the chorus to Moons In June. But this list isn't about my personal connections. No, it's about the joyous songs. From the Amish-emo Gregorian chant of On Our Honor to the post-Human League sizzle of Jamie to the positively Eitzelian crooning that drives Martian Meadows Metals, this band sounds like they're having fun and that fun is awfully infectious!

The Naked Dutch Painter and Other Songs
- Stew (2002)

L.A.'s best songwriter still hasn't released his masterpiece (either solo or with his band the Negro Problem) but this is close enough. The title song evokes a memorable trip to Europe (really who hasn't known at least one naked Dutch painter in his/her life, whether in Amsterdam or Garden Grove?) The Drug Suite includes the line "Adams and Crenshaw is beautiful" and you know what? It is. Love Is Coming Through The Door is a modern pop masterpiece. And so on. Plus - I saw Stew and bandmate/girlfriend(?) Heidi in the Grove parking lot once. They seemed like good people.

Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State

- Sufjan Stevens (2003)

On the first of his series of albums for every state, Sufjan Stevens nails his home state's beauty/tragedy/ethos/history in a way that he didn't exactly do with his follow-up (itself a candidate for this list if it were 9.999999999 entries long) Illinois. Especially tasty tracks include Flint (For The Unemployed And Underpaid) and Romulus. (shout out to Michigan!)

4. The Ghost of Fashion
- Clem Snide (2001)

Shakespeare painted the Mona Lisa. DaVinci built the pyramids. Kennedy freed the slaves. Eef Barzelay wrote Joan Jett of Arc:

She’d fix me a dinner of sunflower seeds
And ready-whipped topping inhalers
And take me down south with Hall and Oates in her mouth
My first love, my Joan Jett of Arc

My black heart was heavy
But her mom’s Cougar was fast
As little pink houses were whistles
And it was all you can eat at the Sizzler that night
My steak-burning Joan Jett of Arc

The shopping malls and roller rinks all dimmed their lights
Cicadas and crickets were silent
And the train tracks like stitches skidding bicycle tires
As I slipped in my Joan Jett of Arc

And the birds that were crushed
Once had air in their bones
As oil was refined in her honor

The rest of the songs are nice too, though Moment In The Sun is forever marred by its placement as the theme song to the TV series Ed (really? an annoying guy moves back home and opens a bowling alley - that's your show?)

3. Liz Phair (2003)

I really wanted to put this at #1, to stick it to those critics who trashed this album 3 years ago (
I'm too old to use the word "haters" otherwise I would yo.) But I just couldn't do it. #3 seems right. Here are some examples of the critics' misguided words:
  • "it might as well not even exist"
  • "to her discarded fans, at least, she's given the ultimate finger"
  • "shallow, soulless, confused"
  • "pop-by-numbers disaster"
  • "endless barrage of banalities"
  • "trite and shrill"
  • "crass and bloated"
  • "grotesque exercise in self-parody"
My reaction: Sweet songs, fun production, her best vocals ever, and yeah it's not quite at the level of her first three albums, including greatest-album-of-all-time Whip-Smart, but I implore you to listen to it loud in a car with windows open and/or top down. You'll understand.

2. American III: Solitary Man
- Johnny Cash (2000)

You may prefer American IV, with its serviceable covers of bad Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode songs. I prefer this album, with its amazing covers of bad Neil Diamond and Nick Cave songs and great Tom Petty and Bonnie "Prince" Billy songs. And if your heart doesn't break and then get stitched back together when listening to his version of U2's One, you don't belong in my world.

1. Separation Sunday
- The Hold Steady (2005)

I've written better about this before. After repeated (and repeated and repeated) listens over the past 16 months, I feel the same way if not stronger. Craig Finn's singing and lyrics are pretty much flawless. The other guys play their instruments well. I haven't lived these songs but I've felt them. I don't like to make lists but here's a list of my 5 favorite couplets from the album (slashes and uppercasing added by me):
  • 5.
  • She crashed into the Easter mass with her hair done up in broken glass/
  • She was limping left on broken heels when she said "Father can I tell your congregation how a resurrection really feels?"
  • 4.
  • When we hit the Twin Cities I didn't know that much about it/
  • I knew Mary Tyler Moore and I knew profane existence.

  • 3.
  • City Center used to be the center of the scene/
  • Now City Center's over. no one really goes there

  • 2.
  • She said I really like the crowds at the really big shows/
  • People touching people that they don't even know, yo

  • 1.
  • Tramps like us/
  • And we like tramps

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Just To Get Up That Hill

Three unnumbered observations:

The Jeffersons was a weird ass show. Ahead of its time. Full of love and joy and sex. Sherman Hemsley should've been in movies.

On New Hampshire Avenue every song sounds sweeter, every voice is clearer.

Everyone should look at pictures of themselves from their childhood and cringe at the clothes and haircuts and the black-and-white. In between the cringes there is a deeper understanding.

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

6.666666. 2006
6. 2005
5. 2004
4. 2002
3. 2003
2. 2001
1. 2000

Friday, September 01, 2006

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

Yesterday, August 31, 2006 marks the end of the first two-thirds of the decade. To celebrate, I'm making lists.

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

Let me start by saying how disappointing this decade has been for movies, especially compared to the glorious 90s. In fact, the 00s are to the 90s what the 80s were to the 60s. I don't know why this happened. I think many of the best writers and directors gravitated to TV, for the creative freedom and relatively low financial pressure. Still, due to the sheer volume of stuff that's been made, there are some good ones. Really good ones.Another disclaimer: I don't like action films. I shun trilogies. I cruelly mock fantasy and scifi. And I hold road movies and comedies to such an exalted place of worship that my allegiance toward them borders on the laughable. Here we go.

Number 6.666666. Lola (2001)

If this list were limited to Canadian films, this would be #1. This is not the movie where that dyed-hair German chick runs through the streets of Berlin. This is Canadian director Carl Bessai's film about - and I quote from the IMDB page here - "a troubled woman and her search for identity." Yeah! Now that's what I want to see! A search for identity! Did I mention this is a road movie? No? It's a road movie and to see it on the big screen you had to catch it in festivals or live in Canadia because it never got wide release. I saw it on a cool spring night at the Twin Cities International Film Festival, in the old Bell Auditorium on the campus of the University of Minnesota, outside of which I was once asked the question that will haunt my dreams.
(And why does it get the .666666 spot? What makes it only two-thirds of a film? It's Canadian.)

Number 6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Those who know me understand that I'll give Jim Carrey in a dramatic role the benefit of the doubt and I'll give Jim Carrey in a comedic role the benefit of a complete absence of laughter. In this movie, he expertly plays the somber everyman to Kate Winslet's wacky fireball. Which is fine because Winslet's energy carries the movie and levitates it above the sluggish back-up story line of the guy who does the thing with wires and tapes and people's heads. Nice direction. Great soundtrack. Solid.

Number 5. The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Jeff Bridges and Laura Linney (or was it Jeff Daniels and Catherine Keener?) are amazing in this almost-perfect dysfunctional family film. I complain about the dysfunctional family film genre, bemoaning its partial failures and its (probably) complete failures, but I have to give credit where it is due and Squid, you made the top 5! This film wouldn't be on the list, however, if it wasn't for the absolutely perfect portrayal (in tone, set design, dialogue, costume design, etc.) of that greatest of years, 1986.

Number 4. Sideways (2004)

I can't think of a movie that better captures adult male friendship, with all of its showmanship, storytelling, and masochistic vulnerability. And sure the guy from Wings can't act but Paul Giamatti can and his lack of an Oscar nomination for Sideways is the second biggest awards travesty of the decade (the biggest being this bullshit).

Number 3. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

I want to give you reasons. I want to give you words. I want to be able to express my delight and fascination in this film using sentences and well-formed thoughts. But I'm just not finding what I need in my intellectual reserve. I really really liked this film. That will have to suffice for now.

Number 2. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

Are you as annoyed as me by my new shtick of putting the word "Number" before the number. As if you didn't know they were numbers. I loved this movie because Steve Carrell is a genius and there really are 40-year old virgins and Catherine Keener is a hot grandma and the guys at the stereo shop were just really really funny. Plus it inspired the "you know how I know you're gay?" movement. This movie is about far more than virginity of course It's about reclaiming or at least reviving your life at the advanced age of 40. It's about taking down the Asia posters of his past and replacing them with a life lived!

Number 1. American Splendor (2003)

Further proof that movies about (or adapted from) comic books are often better than the source material. This movie grew on me each of the 4 times I saw it, its perceived flaws peeled away like a stripper who's also an onion. As with #2, it's hard for me to explain this one so I'll just give you the reasons I liked it in list form:
  • funny
  • Paul Giamatti
  • its dead-on portrayal of Midwestern city life
  • the inspiring (and hauntingly familiar) love story
  • the sweet ending (seemingly contrived but not really; I swear)
  • the looks on the character's faces
It all adds up to something big enough to overshadow the strange decision to have the biopic's subjects appear in the movie against a freakishly white background. Yes, this is my favorite movie of the 2/3. American Splendor yo.