Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sitting Inside a Functioning Apartment With A Cell Phone By My Side

The title is a reference. It's not to be taken literally. Although it does describe what I'm doing right now.

The fire alarm was a false one.

What fire alarm? The one at work today that I didn't write about it in my blog because I don't blog from the office.

Don't forget to read Stylus Magazine's list of Top 50 One-Hit Wonders. It's more interesting than you think. The level of writing for songs #18 through #15 is particularly good.

Maybe it's the mood I'm in. Maybe it's just because it's March, Madness and all. But holy crap I love this Gus Johnson remix (via Deadspin). Who's Gus Johnson? He's a college basketball announcer. He's enthusiastic sometimes. This is a music-accompanied remix of his most excitable calls. Yes, it's "Bautista with the CATCH" (go to the 1:46 mark for the best example) and "Ha-haa!" (2:35) set to a dance mix.

Maybe I'm easily impressed. Listening to it for the fourth time. What else is there to do? Watch Scrubs reruns? Go to the gym?

Remember this song?

This stuff is good. It's helping me sleep.

Yeah, I should go to the gym.

I can see the Griffith Observatory from my window. It's all lit up in the dark. I used to think the observatory lights looked like a vagina. I don't think that anymore so much. Yes, I just said that. Yes, I'm blogging from home. Seymour is at my side, purring in a contented manner.

I still think this guy (the lead singer) looks like me (assuming it was 1987 and I had blond hair). I don't know about the song though.

Phone is ringing. Alex?

Yes. Alex doesn't like it when I do impersonations of her car door warning beep. She doesn't need to ever hear it again (my impersonation, not the beep).

Back to blogging. Seymour's still here. Though, during the phone call, I spent some time on the porch with the neighborhood cat. This one:

No Time For A Title

I don't know what to write about today.

I have some ideas. Not big ideas. Little ones. Basketball and pop culture. Songs and more songs.

I could urge every single one of you to watch Andy Barker P.I. tonight. The ratings haven't been too good and it just happens to be the best new show I've seen since... yep, since this show. This review sums it up pretty well.

I could write up that trip I took to San Diego in '79. Or the one to Grand Marais in '02.

Or I could just stay here, rooted in my gray chair at my brown desk.

Uh oh. Gotta go.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dinsoaurs, Houses

This past weekend I was in Minnesota. Yes, it was for a vacation... a gentle soul-searching and memorable-food-having and old-home-showing trip with Alex. On Sunday, we found ourselves in Eden Prairie (a suburb of Minneapolis) and I took her to see my old house, the last one I lived in with my family (July 1984 - June 1987), on the corner of Amsden Way and Talus Circle.

That night, on the plane back to Los Angeles, I tried to write a little essay about the feelings that seeing the old house stirred in me. It was the first thing I wrote in my new aluminum notepad, purchased from the Walker Art Center. I had planned to post the piece on here until I reread it last night and realized that it didn't quite say anything meaningful.

You see, the old house - the final place where I existed as part of an insular, semi-permanent family - didn't stir anything in me, other than an air of recognition and a slight twinge of excitability. Maybe it was because I only lived there for 3 years. Or maybe it was because I haven't lived there for nearly 20 years and the 17 places I've lived in since then have numbed me. Or maybe it was because I was largely an absent resident of that house - heading off to the movie theater for work, to the university for school, or to lots of bad restaurants for conversations with friends. Or maybe it's because I had spent 8 years in my Buckingham, PA house and those formidable years (10-18) resonate more than the later years (18-21). I'll just have to go to Buckingham some day and find out.

Or perhaps it's just I've overwhelmed myself with nostalgia lately. Just in this blog, I've written about my relatives' old neighborhood in Orange and the old workplace in Encino. I wrote 5,000 words or so that were ostensibly about college basketball but really about my past. In addition to that, I've driven past another half-dozen of my old workplaces and former homes in recent weeks. Does any of it really mean anything? Is it all that notable to say "I used to live there; that's where it didn't end well" or "I used to work there; I was never happy" or even "that was my favorite apartment; I used to walk into town for the paper."

I've met someone really amazing who wants to spend time with me. I'm living in a place (and time) that promises so many good new inspiring beautiful things that moving forward seems infinitely better than looking back. Sure, I'll still listen to some of the old songs as I consider purging old home furnishings (anyone want to buy a patterned rug? I have several) And old friends and, yes, even old places will still mean something to me. But the present and the future - all the "music and creative endeavors," all the "thoughtful conversation and peaceful disagreements," all the "open minded experiments" - will mean more.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Good

There are good songs here.

Good photos here.

A good TV show here.

Good spring rolls here.

A good final shot here.

And good advice here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hornets vs. Cougars, 1980 (a short story)

In 1981, due to an aging population, the city of Edina, Minnesota merged its two high schools - Edina East and Edina West - into one school. The previous year, the city held an election in which residents would vote on which of the two old school's nicknames - Hornets or Cougars - would be used at the new school. I've written a fictional account (with some real people from my past thrown in) about the effect of the Hornets-Cougars debate on the people of Edina.

Hornets vs. Cougars, 1980

Mach speaks first. “It’s got to be Hornets. Hornets is tradition. The west side got the school. At least let’s keep the name.”

Patti shakes her head, clears her throat so what comes out won’t be a mumble. “Cougars is so much better than Hornets. It’s not even close. Cougars is sleek.”

“You think a Cougar is sleek? Have you seen a Hornet flit?”

“No. I can’t say I have.”

“Look, the point isn’t sleekness. It’s tradition. It’s fairness. They got the high school!”

“They?” Patti interrupts so loudly she couldn’t mumble if she tried. “They? You live on the west side. You are ‘they.’ I’m east side!”

“And I’m trying to protect your east Edina history, your tradition, your way of life.”

“Way of life? Mach, it’s a high school nickname we’re talking about. And we’re in college. Who cares?”

“Well, you do. You’re arguing with me. You’re planning on voting, aren’t you?”

“Yes. But ‘way of life’? Come on!”

“Look, first, it’s the high school and then it’s Hornets being taken away and then Edina is suddenly merging with Minneapolis and we totally lose our identity. Or worse, the high school merges with Eden Fucking Prairie in a westward migration. We’ve got to nip this in the bud?”

“Nip this in the bud? Dude, you’re 19. No one our age says that.”

Mach takes this as a challenge. “And I’m alone among our generation in protecting history, looking back as we look forward.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

Mach claims to be royalty. Actual Thai royalty. A prince. He’s boasted of a castle in Soi Ratchawithi that would dwarf the seven-bedroom west Edina mansion he lives in with his family when he’s not down at St. Olaf studying finance. Patti was the only one in their high school set – the smart-as-a-whip theater crowd – who believed in her heart that Mach was not a prince, that his parents were just garishly wealthy. Patti figured that when you’re that rich and you’re the only Thai immigrant in your high school class, well, you could get away with a few lies when you swarm into town at 15, lies like claiming a future throne that won’t exist.

Yes, Mach is lying.

Patti’s family has been in Edina since the 1920’s, setting up camp in a small-for-Edina Victorian house, blocks from the Minneapolis border to the east. She wavers on calling herself a lesbian. These days, she is. Last spring, she was part of the next-to-last graduating class of Edina East High School. The Hornets.

When Mach first arrived in Minnesota, in his freshmen year, he went to Edina West, home of the Cougars. For part of his junior year, he transferred to East for their good theater program and to make life more difficult for his family. He spent his senior year back at West, for reasons he’s never shared with Patti.

In September, Mach and Patti matriculated to St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges, respectively. Both colleges are located in Northfield, Minnesota. It was as if the duality of their high school life had been transplanted to a farm town in the south, 35 miles away but all the same.

Today, they’re back in Edina for the long Thanksgiving weekend. It’s Friday morning. They’re having breakfast at the Ediner, a newly opened ‘50s-style restaurant in the Galleria mall. In one week, all permanent residents of Edina will vote on which high school nickname to bestow upon the city’s newly merged high school, Edina High. The declining school-age population necessitated the merger of Edina East and Edina West. The city's post-war expansion slowed and its residents got older, as people do.

A man seated alone at the next booth – in his 40s, blonde, conservative-looking – first eyed the short-haired punk rock girl and the flamboyantly-sweatered Thai prince with suspicion, but when he overhears their conversation, he eagerly gets involved. “Excuse me. Don’t mean to interrupt but it HAS to be Hornets. I agree with you, sir,” he says, looking at Mach with a forced look of almost religious sincerity.

“Thank you,” Mach says, a little too loud for Patti’s liking.

“Brad Paulson. Edina High. Class of ’51. The first graduating class. The school they now call East. The school they're tearing down. Before there was even an Edina West. When all we had was that square brick structure on France. When we were PROUD to be Hornets. That monstrosity on the west side has no right calling itself the one true high school of this city. But I guess it has better facilities for you kids. That’s what they say.”

It was as if Brad Paulson was saving himself for just this moment. He continues. “So be it. Kids need space, they need computers and what not, they need wide hallways, they’ve got to have the newest gymnasia. But at least keep the name Hornets, for God’s sake! For the rest of us.”

Patti can’t believe her ears. He said ‘gymnasia.’

Someone in the kitchen applauds. Brad Paulson is loud.

Mach joins in the applause for two claps. “That’s what I’m trying to tell her.”

“It’s not 1951 anymore. It’s the eighties.”

“What’s so eighties about Hornets?” Brad asks.

“It’s sleek” is all Patti can come up with. Patti likes sleek. Her hair, jittery bangs swept to one side, could be described as sleek. The way she drives? Sleek. Her skin, her clothes, her mental acuity – all of it sleek, cougar-like, feline.

“Don’t mind her, Mr. Paulson. My name is Mach. This is Patti. She lives on Arden and 50th and she doesn’t want to keep Hornets.”

Brad is stunned. “But that’s east side!”

“Don’t tell people where I live.”

“A hornet is sleek too, Patti” Brad says innocently, in an attempt to make Patti certain he wouldn’t lurk around 50th and Arden, lying in wait for her, for the sake of tradition. She doesn’t like that he said her name.

“I was trying to tell her that Hornets are sleek too. They flit about from branch to bush.”

“Do you know why they called us Hornets when the school opened in ’49?”

“No, tell us” Mach says, eagerly, just as the waitress arrives with his omelet and Patti’s French toast.

Patti rolls her eyes and begins buttering the French toast, each stacked slice getting half a pat of butter. She eschews syrup.

Brad holds his coffee stiffly in his meaty hand, leaning over the booth so much that Patti feels her space is invaded. “Well, it was just a few years after WW2. The Green Hornet comic book and radio show were very big then. It wasn’t on TV but it was in the movies. All of us kids loved the Green Hornet. He was smart. And tough. And crafty. And yeah he was sleek. He was everything American at a time when Americans were all over the world fighting. They wanted something that would make us kids proud, a nickname that everyone liked, something that looked nifty on a sweatshirt. And when they announced that it was Hornets, all us kids were happy. I was in the 8th grade. I came home, screaming to my Mom. 'I’m a Hornet.' 'I’m a Hornet.'”

Patti now realizes that Brad Paulson has much more at stake with the Hornets-Cougars election than she or Mach. She just wants to finish her breakfast, gossip about high school friends with Mach. Actually she wants to get out of here. She sees enough of Mach down at college. She wants to be alone, in her old bedroom, reading her old books – her Nancy Drews and Edith Whartons. She wants the shades open so the November sun makes the 20-degree weather a little more tolerable. Winter is coming and sunlight is at a premium. Sure, Mach is soaking Brad’s story up. But Patti suspects Mach is getting all worked up over the nickname vote to have something to tell his rich friends back in Thailand or Europe or wherever. A story about the simple folk of the American Midwest. Or maybe he’s biding his time until his parents die and he gets the fortune and can open up his own high school, in a depressed district of Bangkok. He can call the school’s team the Hornets or whatever the hell he wants.

Brad realizes he’s bothering Patti. He thanks them for their time, for listening to his “trip down memory lane.” He walks with a limp to the cashier to pay his bill. Patti feels guilty for being sort of rude. The guilt fades quickly.

“Now are you convinced, Patti?”

“No. I still like Cougars. In fact, I LOVE Cougars.”

“You’re canceling out my vote.”

“And you’re canceling out mine.”


“This way, we don’t have to send in the absentee ballots. Our votes mean nothing. I just saved your royal family 15 cents.”

“That was cold.”


A few minutes of awkward eating silence pass, followed by a few minutes of formal conversation discussing their plans for the rest of the weekend. Soon, Patti is back at her family house, in the old part of town, the east side. In her room, she reads The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion and thinks about growing her hair out, to Nancy Drew length. After a nap, she eats dinner with her parents and younger brother. Her parents bring up the Hornets-Cougars vote. Her mother says that everyone at church is voting for Hornets. Her father insists that Cougars doesn’t have a chance. Patti listens but doesn’t speak. When her brother asks which name she’s voting for, Patti says “Cougars” quietly and stares at her chicken and rice. She doesn’t look up at her family to gauge their reaction. No one says a word for thirty seconds.

“It’s because they’re sleek.”

“I see,” says her father.

“Cougars are beautiful creatures.”

“That makes sense,” says her mother.

Her brother, the one person who has the most at stake in this debate because he's about to start high school, says "Either way is fine."

One week later, the election is held. Hornets wins in a landslide. Mach thrusts the front page of the Edina Sun (which he’d had his Mom sent to him via overnight mail) in Patti’s face when she opens her dorm room door.

“You see. Tradition!”

“In 20 years, everyone will be sorry they didn’t pick Cougars.”

“Did you vote?”


“Neither did I. I forgot."

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Ugliest Building

I wish I could show you a picture of the ugliest building. Google Images yields no results. The company that leases space in the building doesn't even bother showing a picture of it on their site. I can tell you that this is where it's located, next to a depressing McDonalds and across the street from a moribund IHOP. I can tell you that this is what it looks like from above (below and to the left of the arrow). You see that "penthouse"-looking mini-building on the roof? I worked there for 16 months, from late 2002 to early 2004.

I didn't like the job I had in the ugliest building. I didn't hate it though. My reasons for disdaining this building have more to do with the general mood of true emotional despair that permeated the musty hallways and sluggish elevators. Sure, I look back at this job as the low point of my post-Chuck E. Cheese-working career (I worked at Chuck's back in '84 if you must know, for 2 weeks.) And yes, at my ugliest building job, I was "laid off" for "budgetary reasons" by a boss who twice made comments about "Middle-Eastern men"that could be perceived as insensitive at the very least and racist at the very most.

But the tepid beige rectangularness of 15720 Ventura Blvd. is what I'm here to talk about, as well as the feeling one would get when pulling into the ridiculously ill-designed parking lot out back each morning, a feeling that one had made a decision to sell a portion of one's soul for a slice of one's life, so buck up and drink your vanilla coffee, grad school is fucking over!

If you drive by the ugliest building today, you'll see that, from the outside, the building is not spectacularly ugly. Oh sure it's ugly. And no less an expert than obscurapersona agrees with me on this. We drove by the building together yesterday and not even the Blades of Glory billboard on the roof could shine a spit of light on the dark torpor (even in 80 degree sunlight) of that multi-use office building. No, what sets this building even farther apart from the tiniest inkling of feng shui is the interior: flaking ceiling tiles, spotty brass handrails in the too-often-broken elevators, cement morosity in the randomly locked stairwells. Not a good place to spend a 110-degree afternoon in the Valley heat. (though I must say: the restrooms were spotless!)

The "suite" of offices in which I worked (wishfully referred to as the "penthouse" in the mailing address) was/is a tacked-on mess. Thank God for the giant billboard that protected us from one-half of the valley heat (we got to see the back side of the billboard, thus saving us from an image of a certain accurately nicknamed L.A. radio personality during our 8-to-5's for most of my 16 months there.)

Am I going too far? Am I writing too negatively? Nah, sometimes you just have to let it all out. I should mention here that I really like where I work now and where I worked in between 15720 and now. I really do like buildings. Most of them.

In the halls of 15720, there are real estate agents, specialty doctors (when I worked there, one tenant drove a car with the personalized license plate of "DRHERPEZ"), and, up on the roof, a for-profit public policy educational/social research firm. On the ground floor there is a massage therapy institute. But what there is more of than anything else in this building are therapists.

Now why would a therapist/psychiatrist/psychologist/clinical social worker/counselor think that this soulsuck of a property is the best place to set up practice? Why would people want to work on their deep-seated and surface-ready personal issues in the saddest place in the San Fernando Valley? Sure, business is tough, with the glut of helping professionals in the greater L.A. area. But really, even a two-story stucco dingbat office complex on the Van Nuys/Arleta border is better than this crappy crapfest in tony Encino (the family compound of this man is just up the hill from the ugliest building. Shirley Jones lives in Encino. As did Phil Hartman. He died there too, a block from the UB.)

I won't blame the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer's tragic death on the ugliest building. But I do think I can at least partially blame one suicide (a man jumped off the 6th-story fire escape at 7 in the morning; the parking guy had to wave us past the tarp) and one murder (another man killed his wife in her therapist's office). I'm not saying that a better choice of real estate by mental health professionals would have saved these lives. I'm just saying choosing the ugliest building didn't help. Oh and some guy died in a shootout in the IHOP across the street... and these were just the deaths during my short time there.

Why am I writing about this today? Well, I did drive by the place yesterday with Alex, the music on Jack-FM temporarily forgotten as we sneered at the monstrosity (among many ugly and beutiful buildings on Ventura Blvd.) We were on our way to see a tract of Eichler homes up in the north valley. On our way there, I wanted to give her a part of my past. It's important to do that sometimes, to give the people in your present, the ones who will be in your future, a piece of your past... even the sort-of-sad murky recent past.

Ending on an up note, I was 23-9 in my first-round tournament picks. 11 of my Sweet 16 picks are still in it, as are 6 of my final 8 and all of my final 4. Not an amazing performance, but I have a shot at something special. Yes I do.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The rest of my predictions

This post is not funny. This one, which I just posted, is much better.

Assuming I'm correct on my 32 first round games (which would assume that Stanford ocmes back from a 25-point deficit in the last 3 1/2 minutes vs. Louisville), here are the rest of my tournament picks:

Midwest: Round 2: Florida over Arizona (sorry Alex), Wisconsin over UNLV (sorry Jason, congrats Jason's in-laws), Oregon over Winthrop, Butler over Maryland. Round 3: Florida over Butler, Oregon over Wisconsin Final: Florida over Oregon

West: Round 2: Kansas over Villanova (congrats Alex), UCLA over Indiana, Pittsburgh over VCU, Holy Cross over Illinois. Round 3: Kansas over Holy Cross, UCLA over Pittsburgh. Final: Kansas over UCLA (sorry Bruins - you need an inside presence)

East: Round 2: North Carolina over Michigan State, Boston College over Georgetown, Washington State over George Washington, USC over Texas. Round 3: USC over North Carolina, Boston College over Washington State. Final: USC over Boston College

South: Round 2: Ohio State over Xavier, Memphis over Nevada, Pennsylvania over Stanford, Long Beach State over Virginia. Round 3: Ohio State over Long Beach State, Memphis over Pennsylvania. Final: Ohio State over Memphis

Final 4: Kansas over Florida, USC over Ohio State. Championship: USC over Kansas (sorry Alex, congrats self)

2007 NCAA Basketball Tournament Predictions (Part 4 of 4): The South

This concludes my 4-part series predicting the 2007 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Parts 1, 2, and 3 can be found by scrolling down. My legendary 2005 predictions are here and here. My 1966-2004 and 2006 predictions are here (pointing to my long-term memory).

Actually, this doesn't conclude my predictions. I'll post the rest of my bracket (assuming all of my round 1 predictions are correct) later today.

And yes, I wrote this BEFORE today's games started. I'm just posting it now. I wrote it last night, in fact. At home. I would NEVER write anything during the work day. Honest. Not being sarcastic here. I'm being completely honest. I am.

(#1 seed) Ohio State vs. (#16 seed) Central Connecticut State

Mark Eitzel, the world's best singer and songwriter, is best known as a San Francisco artist. But he spent much of his early life in Columbus, Ohio, home of Ohio State University, In honor of his greatness and to celebrate the Buckeyes' victory, here are my Top 5 Mark Eitzel Lyrical Verses (either solo or as part of his band, American Music Club) (special thanks to this amazing site)

5. In the Shadow of the Valley (aka L.A. Is My Woman), AMC, 1994
I gave up my cynicism, I gave up my hard shell
I gave up everything that would cause you the least pain
I'm immodest as a child old before it's time
Why should I hide something I've no chance to see
My night was sleepless so all through my day
I took the next shade of weariness down to L.A.

4. Mission Rock Resort, solo, 1996
Let's have a drink at the Mission Rock
Watch the Oakland lights across the dry dock
Watch the blue, blue sky darken like an inhalation
Over the graveyard of ships and your conversation

3. Myopic Books, AMC, 2004
One day I left my room in the evening
The sun had just gone down, but the sky was still shining
And not even the stars out, up in their heaven
Could throw their ashes on the blue still burning
Over this ugly city - and that makes me happy
And that makes me happy…

2. Highway 5, AMC, 1988
Try and try, leave a trace
And all we ever leave is a sour taste
You're half asleep when I crash through
I'm like a drop of water on the dry sand
I'm a scar across your face
I'm an itch that's driving you mad
Highway five

1. What Holds the World Together, AMC, 1994
Through the window
The warm summer air does a two-step
I wish there was some way I could keep it
And clear away the Mission Street in my head that
Keeps this watery weariness in our bed and
Sets up more windmills that I'll waste my time missing
When it should just be your lips that I'm kissing

(#2) Memphis vs. (#15) North Texas

The film Hustle and Flow was set in Memphis. It featured the song and sentiment "It's Hard Out There For a Pimp." In response, I wrote a comic essay telling the pimps of the world to not complain so much, that it's really not all that hard out there for a pimp. It was really funny. I told the pimps - in an open letter format - to quit your whining and get to working. I submitted it to various humor-friendly websites. It was summarily rejected. Is this enough for me to pick North Texas in a huge upset? No. Memphis wins.

(#3) Texas A & M vs. (#14) Pennsylvania

This prediction thing is taking a lot out of me. I'm tired. So, the University of Pennsylvania is in Philadelphia. Soft pretzels, cheese steak sandwiches, Ben Franklin, etc. Penn in an upset!

(#4) Virginia vs. (#13) Albany

Back in the mid-late-eighties, I had a crush on a girl I worked with at the movie theater. She had curly hair and told me she preferred the spelling of "grey" to "gray." She liked The Cure and the poems of Whitman and Dickinson. Eventually, she went to college in upstate New York, near Albany (but not the Albany University that's playing this game). In 1988, I took a trip to the east coast to see my friend Patrick (drummer for my old band Customer Parking Only, among many other names). We drove to the college near Albany to visit the crushed-on girl. The three of us walked around campus and ate turkey sandwiches at a homey pub in town. There was a river there. I wrote that girl many poems. I never saw her again after that day. (You didn't know I had a band, did you? We played cover versions of Joe Jackson and Violent Femmes songs. Billy Joel and the Beatles too.) Virginia wins.

(#5) Tennessee vs. (#12) Long Beach State

Aah, Long Beach, city of broken promises and unrealized potential. Up against the Pacific... tall buildings and big ships. Orange street lamps and pretty good parking. Yes, Long Beach, where a redheaded Latter Day Saint I once dated hosted a Christmas party in 1996 at which a stand-up comic named Pooch called everyone together and said "you HAVE to see this video" and then we all saw the South Park Christmas video for the first time. There was melted brie and soft bread there as well. Yep, Long Beach. You win. (Did I mention that the comic Pooch was incredibly funny and should have been a huge star? Haven't heard from him since.)

(#6) Louisville vs. (#11) Stanford

Stanford has two seven-foot twins named Robin and Brook. They're the Lopez twins. This is what they look like. They win.
(although, it must be noted, Stanford is currently LOSING by 31 points!)

(#7) Nevada vs. (#10) Creighton

Creighton is in Omaha, home of Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes.

This University of Nevada is in Reno, home of Trudy and the rest of the Reno 911 cast.

Ignoring for a moment that they're the same person, who would you rather have on your side? Or, to put it another way, who has the better emo bangs?

Trudy wins.

(#8) Brigham Young vs. (#9) Xavier

I pick Xavier. Only because I really wanted coffee that one Sunday back in May I was driving through Salt Lake City (home of BYU) and because of some weird religious anti-caffeine thing, me and my cousin had to practically go to Park City to get coffee.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

2007 NCAA Basketball Tournament Predictions (Part 3 of 4): The East

This continues my 4-part series predicting the 2007 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Parts 1 and 2 ARE MUCH FUNNIER THAN PART 3 and can be found by scrolling down. My legendary 2005 predictions are here and here. My 1996-2004 and 2006 predictions are here (pointing to my memory).

(#1 seed) North Carolina vs. (#16 seed) Eastern Kentucky

I don't like North Carolina and their powder blue uniforms and their "tradition." Whatever. Anyway, they win.

(#2) Georgetown vs. (#15) Belmont

Hmm. Georgetown is in Washington, DC. I spent a week there back in the fall of 2002. It was a fun time. I took the train everywhere. I ate gourmet sandwiches. I spoke at a conference. I think I even watched TV in my hotel room. It rained a lot. But the sandwiches were good. Oh yeah - I saw that Igby Goes Down movie in DC. Nice movie. Hoyas win.

(#3) Washington State vs. (#14) Oral Roberts

This is where the memories get darker. You see, that trip to DC in '02 was back when I worked for a company that shall remain nameless. My boss at this job, as I've mentioned in this blog before, was a Washington State alumnus. She had a miniature tea cup collection. She was a part-time hypnotherapist. She once made a patently offensive comment about one-half of my heritage. No, she twice made that comment. This regrettable action was almost made up for the fact that she and her husband owned the entire pre-breakup oeuvre of Steely Dan. On vinyl! Washington State wins because Oral Roberts is a televangelist.

(#4) Texas vs. (#13) New Mexico State

The University of Texas loses points because it is the alumnus of George W. Bush. However, it gains more points because it's in Austin, hometown of a long list of great bands... bands such as the Reivers and.... who else? Hmm. I think that's it. Daniel Johnston lived there for a while but I like melodies so he doesn't cut it. But the Reivers, back when they were known as Zeitgeist, recorded the greatest, jangliest song in the history of music: Freight Train Rain. That's enough for me. Texas wins.

(#5) USC vs. (#12) Arkansas

I don't know what to say about this one. I wish I had some kind of personal connection to one of these schools. I wish I had some kind of story to tell. But I'm drawing a blank. Arkansas? yeah, I've heard of it. Bill Clinton went there, didn't he? USC? University of Southern California, I think. Don't know much about them. I think their team is called the Spartans. Let me check on that... ... ... ... oh wait, they're the Trojans. Trojans! Cool name. They win.

(#6) Vanderbilt vs. (#11) George Washington

Vanderbilt is in Nashville. Johnny Cash is from around there. George Washington (the school) is from Washington, DC. See my Igby Goes Down story above. Johnny Cash is cooler than Macaulay Culkin. But is he cooler than Macaulay Culkin, Jeff Goldblum, AND Amanda Peet? Of course not. GW wins.

(#7) Boston College vs. (#10) Texas Tech

I was in Boston once, in 1996. twice, actually. In the early 80s and then in '96. On my '96 trip, I went to a Spiritualized concert at a club right next to Fenway Park. But they didn't play Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space so it was a waste. Come to think of it, that song hadn't even been released yet, so it was a retroactive waste. Okay, back to reality. Texas Tech is coached by that annoying Bob Knight (Hey Knight, please don't take the Gophers job if they offer it to you) and back in the mid 90s, there was that great NBC sitcom about life in a Boston college (not to be confused with THE Boston College) called Boston Common starring Monk's personal assistant. I liked that show. BC wins.

(#8) Marquette vs. (9) Michigan State

Wow, this one is ripe for a story. You see, I spent some time in Milwaukee (home of Marquette) this past spring and summer. But you've heard enough stories about Milwaukee, haven't you? You don't want to hear another? And how could I top my Michigan State entry from 2005? I can't so I won't bother trying. What I wrote back then was poetry!

Okay, you got me. One more Milwaukee story. It was the 2nd of July, 2006. I was carrying the pizza. She was carrying the DVD. We found the tiny shiny car, parked in that lot behind the place where you could get an amazing tofu thing for breakfast. We drove west, to Dausman. The movie (You, Me, and Everyone We Know) was good, not great. The pizza was somewhere between good and great. And the story ends there. Two days later, I was back in Los Angeles, climbing the Music Box Steps (or something approximating them) to get a better look at the 4th of July fireworks. Milwaukee was a memory, but a nice one. Unfortunately, Michigan State wins because... just because.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Behind A Wall Of Sound

Do you remember when I joked in my jury duty blog entry last week that the only trial I wanted to be part of a jury for was the Phil Spector murder trial? I ended up not being called for any trial. of the trials they randomly called people for that day was a trial they expected to last 75 days, a trial that would begin March 19... the whispers around the room indicated that it had to be a high-profile murder trial. Well, that trial is indeed the Phil Spector murder trial. Damn, I was so close.

2007 NCAA Basketball Tournament Predictions (Part 2 of 4): The West

This continues my 4-part series predicting the 2007 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Part 1 can be found by scrolling down. My legendary 2005 predictions are here and here. My 2006 predictions are here (pointing to my head).

(#1 seed) Kansas vs. (#16 seed) Winner of Niagara-Florida A&M Game

Just 10 miles west of Lawrence, Kansas (home of KU) is the town of Stull, Kansas. According to Wikipedia, Stull is:
          • named for postmaster Sylvester Stull
          • known for its cemetery, rumored to be one of the seven gateways to hell
          • the inspiration for an Urge Overkill song and album cover
The cemetery in Stull has also served as photographic inspiration for Alex, who, I'm sure, will be glad to share more stories about Stull, Lawrence, and KU in the comments section. But what about basketball? Kansas wins.

(#2) UCLA vs. (#15) Weber State

UCLA is the bitter rival of my current employer. UCLA, as has been documented in this space, screwed me over by not giving me that job back in summer '04. Or that other one in spring '04. UCLA is coached by control freak Ben Howland, who calls more time-outs than a rookie teacher in an ADHD-only preschool. Howland also makes more substitutions than The Who make comeback tours. And if you thought those analogies were weak, wait 'til you see how poorly Weber State plays against them. UCLA, as much as it pains me to say it, will win many games in this tournament, starting with this one.

(#3) Pittsburgh vs. (#14) Wright State

Pittsburgh is the hometown of Andy Warhol. Wright State (in Dayton, Ohio) is named for the Wright Brothers. So this game comes down to modern art vs. airplanes. This comes down to Interview Magazine vs. in-flight magazines. This comes down to Campbell's Soup and Marilyn Monroe vs. airplane food and Pushing Tin. I have to give it to Warhol. Because he was involved in this, if only tangentially.

(#4) Southern Illinois vs. (#13) Holy Cross

Holy Cross is located in Worcester, Massachusetts. During my legendary 12-day residence in Amherst, Mass. in the summer of 1996, I once took a country drive to Worcester. I remember listening to Everclear's Santa Monica during the drive and wondering why I left California to go to grad school in rural New England. I remember, as I drove through Worcester's mean streets, wondering if my old friend Rich from the movie theater in Minnesota was back in Worcester, his hometown. Apparently, he wasn't too far away. And I think he reads this blog so if I got your hometown wrong, please correct me. I also remember that 12 days were enough. I left UMass (1 week before the semester started), packed up the cats and the boxes, my big black boots and my old suitcase, in the U-Haul and the Accord and headed west, settling in Minneapolis, with its big river, medium-sized lakes, and ridiculously late starting fall semester (seven commas in one sentence). I never looked back. Except, I always look back. Holy Cross wins in an upset because of the guilt I carry for not giving Massachusetts enough of a chance.

(#5) Virginia Tech vs. (#12) Illinois

Sufjan Stevens' Illinois album wasn't as good as his Michigan one. But it was good enough. Illinois in another upset.

(#6) Duke vs. (#11) Virginia Commonwealth

It's hard to think about Duke, let alone write about them, without thinking of former Providence coach Pete Gillen's famous quote from 1997:
"Duke... Duke is Duke. They're on TV more than Leave It To Beaver reruns."
He was bemoaning the fact that Duke always got the attention, always made it to the final rounds of the tournament, always got the best recruits. But it wasn't what Gillen said as much as how he said it. I wish I could link to some audio of this quote but I can't find it. The cadence, the timing, the New England accent, the petty bitterness cloaked by a basketball coach's professional remove ... all of it combine to make this quote rank up there with Lincoln's "four score...", King's "...dream..." and Kennedy's Berliner thing in historical importance. You see, Gillen empasized the wrong words. He chose to robotically stress "more than," "beaver," and "reruns." In fact, the way he said "reruns" still sends chills up and down my arms. Ask me to do my Gillen impersonation for you some day. But the best part was that Gillen's quote was dated, even back in '97. No one showed Leave It to Beaver reruns back then! Today, you have to go to museums to see Beaver clips. But, Duke is really not Duke this year. VCU wins.

(#7) Indiana vs. (#10) Gonzaga

One of Gonzaga's best players was suspended from the team for possession of psychedelic mushrooms. Indiana University is in Bloomington, where the bicycle movie Breaking Away was set. Gonzaga is the alma mater of dreadlocked Laker forward Ronny Turiaf. 'Shrooms + Dreads vs. Bicycles? Who wins? It's just too damn difficult to decide.

Wait a second....IU is the alma mater of New York Times and NPR Puzzlemaster Will Shortz. Will Shortz!!!. Hoosiers win.

(#8) Kentucky vs. (#9) Villanova

Folk genius Will Oldham (aka Bonnie 'Prince' Billy) is from Kentucky. Villanova is in Philadelphia. Daryl Hall and John Oates are from Philadelphia. Oldham vs. Hall & Oates? One against two? That's not fair. Okay, H&O, you only get to pick one. Who's it gonna be? Oates, of course.

So, now we have Oldham vs. Oates. How can I decide?

Oldham wrote I Am A Cinematographer and Gulf Shores.

Oates co-wrote Rich Girl and Method of Modern Love.

Oldham acted in Junebug.

Oates acted on Will and Grace.

If only there were pictures of each of them communing with nature, then we'd be able to decide:

Will Oldham

John Oates

Oates in a sincerity landslide. Villanova wins.

Monday, March 12, 2007

2007 NCAA Basketball Tournament Predictions (Part 1 of 4): The Midwest

(to non-sports fans: the 1,545 words that follow are not so much about sports as they are about Ali)

(to sports fans: ignore what I just wrote)

This begins my 4-part series (offered to you over the next 3 days) predicting the 2007 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. My legendary 2005 predictions are here and here. My 2006 predictions are here (pointing to my head).

To those of you unfamiliar with March Madness, the "regions" of the tournament are often uncorrelated with the locations of its teams. So don't get too worked up and point out to me that Nevada and Maryland are not in the midwest. They're not. But they are in the "Midwest." So, here are my first round predictions for the "Midwest" Regional:

(#1 seed) Florida vs (#16 seed) Jackson State This is not the best pairing to start off my predictions with. I have little personal connection to either school or region. I do know this: the University of Florida is in Gainesville. Tom Petty is from Gainsville. He made Damn the Torpedoes, arguably the best album by a future Wilbury in all of 1979 or the 1970s for that matter. This, along with the fact that Florida won the national championship last year and they're one of the best 2 or 3 teams in the country, is enough for me to predict that Florida will win this game.

(#2) Wisconsin vs. (#15) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Aah... the University of Wisconsin, in the idyllic town of Madison, land of fully realized liberal ideals, parties where they overplay Bob Marley songs (please don't write in saying that you can't overplay Bob; you can), and a fine research-rich state university. Yes... Madison, land of puffy halcyon clouds, unicorn-befriending gnomes, faerie-cajoling gypsies, and earthy bakeries where the loaves are gilded with silver and the recyclable bags can be used for earthworm compost because that's they way they roll in Mad-town. Oh yes... Madison, future home of an upward career-arc-climbing advice columnists and LPGA prodigies. And... Madison, home of a damn good basketball team which will beat TA&M-CC by double digits.

(#3) Oregon vs. (#14) Miami (Ohio) I could tell you stories about a former grad school classmate in Minnesota who did her undergraduate work at the University of Miami in Ohio. She had a name that seemed almost fictional, a name that was too good to be true, a name I won't reveal here, to protect her privacy. She shared her first name with a seminal Elvis Costello song, one in which Elvis, after all these years, proclaimed his aim to be true, though she spelled it differently. Her last name was made up of two parts (those Dutch!), each of which was a word in its own right (one word was a noun, the second word both a noun and a verb.) I could tell you stories about her, like the way she enthusiastically read Abraham Lincoln biographies and brought the subject of Abe up at the most unexpected - but often most appropriate - times during class discussions. Not only could I tell you stories like this one, I've actually written a short story on the subject of this woman and her Abe fetish (in the story, the Ohioan eventually perishes in a fire; in real life, I'm sure she's doing just fine, probably raising horses near Louisville, though I don't know for sure because she's un-Google-able.) Anyway, her alma mater will lose because the Ducks have Aaron Brooks, that's why.

(#4) Maryland vs. (#13) Davidson Maryland wins. I have no story here. No, wait! I do have a story. Have you heard the story about my favorite belt? I'm wearing it right now. It's a brown belt, constructed from thick brown leather, with a fat metal buckle, a belt that is sturdier than a thousand Allman Brothers Band guitar solos. I love my belt. I've had it since September of 1996! I've worn this belt approximately 300 times per year for over 10 years. That's over 3000 times! And where did I buy this belt? In Maryland? At freaking Abercrombie and Fitch in the effing Owings Mills Mall, for god's sake! The mall in the suburbs of Baltimore, not really close to the university that I'm projecting to win this game. But it's close enough. Have I told you how I had to take a bus back from the mall to my Baltimore hotel because the one cab company in Owings Mills wasn't answering their phone at 9:30 on a Saturday night? Why was I taking cabs and buses in an around Baltimore in the first place? Why indeed?

(#5) Butler vs (#12) Old Dominion I really have no story here. Butler's a good team though. They win.

(#6) Notre Dame vs. (#11) Winthrop I have a friend named Jim. I haven't talked to Jim in nearly six years (hey Jim, check your e-mail!) I've written about Jim before. Jim went to college at Notre Dame. He actually started out at Trenton State University in New Jersey (a surprisingly interesting college back in '85, with architecturally appealing dorms and great nearby pizza places) but transferred to his beloved (he's Irish, you see) Notre Dame. But the story I tell of Jim doesn't involve Notre Dame or Trenton. No, it involves a girl he liked in high school. You see, Jim had a crush on a girl. The girl - let's call her Marybeth because back when I went to high school, girls were either named Mary, Beth, or Marybeth - already had a boyfriend. The boyfriend was the star of the football team. One day, Jim and I were driving around Doylestown, PA in my Mom's Mazda GLC (stands for "good little car") and Jim wanted me to drive by Marybeth's house, ostensibly to see if the football star's truck was parked there. But he didn't want to be seen driving by the house. I suggested he just slink down a little in the front seat. But it was a summer night and the sun hadn't gone down yet and Jim feared he'd be noticed. So - and this was Jim's idea, not mine - Jim decided to hide in the trunk of the car while I drove past Marybeth's house and looked for the football player's jacked-up truck parked in the driveway or on the tree-lined windy street in front of the house. I'll say it again, in case you missed it. He hid in the trunk of the car! And yes, I was a willing co-conspirator, if only so I could later mercilessly tease him for hiding in the trunk. Anyway, at my wedding (the last time I saw Jim), he made a very touching toast to me and my late father but preceded it by coyly mentioning the name of the street and the model of the car involved in the trunk incident, a reference no one (except me) got. What's the moral of this story? Jim hasn't had the healthiest relationships with women, the football player Marybeth was dating injured his knee as a senior and his presumed scholarship to Michigan State never came through, my marriage ended in divorce, and Notre Dame will be upset by Winthrop.

(#7) UNLV vs. (#10) Georgia Tech Wow. UNLV. the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. THIS is as good a time as any to tell all of you the story I've only shared with a select few: The Sbarro Incident. But I've already written 1,251 words today. This entry is getting long. The Incident, which occurred in Las Vegas, deserves its own post. It's like the Geico Caveman commercials. As ads, they're really great. But they deserve their own time, their own show. So what should I write about instead? I could again make reference to my friend Jason, an advice columnist actively seeking questions, who went to UNLV. Or maybe I'll take the Georgia angle. Georgia Tech is in Atlanta. I used to go to Atlanta a lot, on business. I stayed in the finest hotels of Buckhead and the lesser ones by the Perimeter Mall. I liked Atlanta. I liked its underbelly, its preponderance of Chick-Fil-A's. But this isn't about chicken. This isn't about pizza. This isn't about advice. This is about BASKETBALL. And UNLV will win.

(#8) Arizona vs. (#9) Purdue

Tucson (where the University of Arizona is located) is a lovely place. I've heard good things about it. I went there once in the early 80s but I've told that story before. It's time for a new one. Well, you see... there was this woman living in Tucson and she ended up in San Diego and before too long, she found herself in Orange, California, not too far from the Trader Joe's and the frozen custard place and a little too close to this. Today, she'll read this and recognize herself in the story. She'll smile because that's what she does. Yesterday, she was talking about memories... about change... about the bittersweet (symphony?) feeling one gets when a time of year, a smell, a texture triggers a thought, a reminder... like the way a song, heard under the right circumstances, hits you right in your heart (in a good way). Or maybe I'm getting it wrong. Anyway, I miss her. Arizona wins.

If I'm To Be Your Camera, Then Who Will Be Your Face?

(Thanks to Alex for the new photo.)

Tomorrow, this book comes out. I can't wait. Jonathan Lethem's output over the last 10 years has been the best for any writer in my lifetime. And it's been a while since I've latched on to a great novel and there's no reason to think this one won't be worth the trouble.

You might remember my NCAA basketball tournament preview entries from 2005, the first (in my opinion) truly interesting writing on this blog (2005 day one is here; day two here). If you're going to follow the links, ignore the extremely inaccurate predictions in favor of the highly amusing personal anecdotes.

I chose not to tackle the tournament predictions in 2006. I just didn't feel like it. Not enough time had passed. But what about this year? The tournament bracket came out yesterday. I have two more years worth of anecdotes at the ready, as well as newly remembered - but older - stories in need of an audience. Plus, there's someone new in my life who attended one of the number-one-seeded schools and lived in the town that housed another one of the good teams and I've got her stories to tell. Yes, I have to do it. Sometimes, you must give the people what they want.

So watch this space for my 2007 predictions. In Los Angeles today, it's 92 degrees out and drier than Hal Linden's bonhomie. I've got to do something to keep my mind off the weather.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Filtered Water and Pictures of You

I tell a lot of stories, most of them true. I tell them out loud. I write them as fiction, recreating dull scenes as drama, dramatic moments as opportunities for insight which likely didn't come until months later. I write the stories here. This is usually where the stories come closest to truth.

Do I want to walk in the empty streets, with something constant under my feet? Of course I do. Who doesn't? Do I want space, light, and order? Yes, yes, and yes.

And why does it take so long to figure out what one wants, what I want? I'm not sure. I'm just going with it. Why was it so cold last night, when I woke up at 1:59am, to the sounds of the neighbors' balcony party? It was warm when I fell asleep at 10:30. I remember.

Anyway, my heat works well and the cold was temporary. The waking was temporary too and I slept in a cool groove until the sun rose and the radio came on like clockwork (it's a clock too) at 6:17. Somewhere in between 1:59 and 6:17, Seymour (a cat) slept on my feet. Seymour's something constant. Not under but over my feet.

I like my walk-in closet. It's big enough that it could be a darkroom and still allow me to hang most of my clothes.

When I was growing up, all the good stuff was in the pantry: the chips, the pretzels, the potato sticks... all the salty stuff... the little Hershey's chocolates. It wasn't a walk-in pantry but it was big enough to hold a lot of childhood happiness. Today, I just use the one shelf above the refrigerator. There's just enough reachable room for the important stuff: Clif bars, Pretzel Slims (from Trader Joe's), various Kashi cereals, and a small long-borrowed Tupperware of flour for when I try (and often fail) to make my own pizzas. There's water up there too, sometimes. Now I just need the pictures.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Twelve Little Pieces of Me

I lived in Minneapolis from 1984 and 1988. And for a brief spell in late 1990 and early 1991. I went to Annie's Parlour for burgers and/or malts maybe 20 times during these years. It was one of my favorite places to go.

I lived in Minneapolis again from 1996 to 2002. I walked past Annie's Parlour approximately 1,200 times. I never went in once. Why? What had changed in me? What had changed in the world? The malts and shakes and burgers and fries were still good. The view of the railroad tracks was still awesome. Why didn't anyone ask to meet me there? Why didn't I ask anyone to meet me there? Why didn't I take a date there on a summer night or a winter afternoon?

You see, their food, ambience, and location were pretty awesome. And yes I just said awesome.

I should have gone there more in the 90s. It would have been good for me.

On an unrelated note, Gilbert Gottfried (the funniest man in the history of the world) turned 51 a few days ago. In tribute to Gilbert, here's some of his work (extremely unsafe for work) and here's his blog.

I was wrong about this band. They're good. Listen. Listen!

And I think the Timberwolves have turned their season around. Finally. Why? Troy Hudson is in the starting lineup that's why. Wouldn't you want this guy on your team?

Why twelve? Why not twenty?

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Juror

This is my first (and possibly only) post written from the public computer terminals ($5 per hour!) in the Los Angeles Superior Court jury waiting room. Yes, for the first time in my life, I was called in for jury duty. I'm hoping my civic duty will be fulfilled today and I won't actually be one of the people randomly selected to be assigned to a case. This wish to avoid jury duty is based more on general courthouse claustrophobia than it is on a distaste for civic responsibility.

(The exception to this wish would be if I got to serve on the Phil Spector murder trial. That would be fun. I could ask Phil to explain this.)

In the jury waiting room, there are several cheesy fake movie posters advertising the many famous people who have served on Los Angeles juries. They include Jamie Lee Curtis, Edward James Olmos, Ed Asner, Harrison Ford, Judge Lance Ito, and, of course, "Weird Al"Yankovic.

italicized update: I made it through without having to serve on a jury. Back to work tomorrow.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Big Friday

What a busy week. Appointments with doctors, traffic, arrangements with history, new stories, new "incidents," and the best Sarah Silverman episode yet. Not to mention my discovery of an old book from the far-back year of 1995 (12 years counts as old for a new-ist reader like me), a perfect song (thanks for playing this for me, Alex), and that's all I've got... I have work to do and more long drives t0 (enthusiastically) make.

Since it's Friday, listen to this. Oh wait... that's only a fragment. Okay, this makes up for it (3 of his best songs).