Friday, August 31, 2007

The Perpetual Winner

I hear the band practicing. They just keep getting better. Is that Benatar's Heartbreaker they're playing now? Of course it is.

A clarification: When I say I've owned only 2 belts since 1995, I mean that I've owned only 2 belts since 1995. The brown one (purchased in 1995 in Owings Mills, MD) and the black one (purchased in 2003 in Santa Monica, CA).

I've worn one of them nearly every day since then. I amaze myself sometimes.

Here's a cool Shins video.

Here's a brilliant (and fairly speculative) comparison of two of the best concert movies of all time, neither of which I've seen.

The Situationist continues to fascinate: why New Yorkers live longer.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Did you know

that I've owned only two belts since 1995?

Goodbye Georgia, Hello Verdana

Today is a new day. I've redesigned Blueprint Blue. New font. New colors. New quote. everywhere you look: new style.

New links.

Some old links, deleted (doesn't mean I don't like you).

Most importantly: no more serifs.

Please tell me if the gray background annoys you.

When I was 19, I liked a girl named Lynn. She told me that a test of whether a person was cool and worth knowing was how they spelled gray: gray or grey. People who spelled it "grey" she told me, they were cool and likely British or at least influenced by the Brits, an Anglophile perhaps.

I liked her so I spelled it grey for years. I got over that affectation. Today, I go with gray.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Penny Whistles Out of Key

I finished this morning's NY Times crossword in 4 1/2 minutes. Pretty good for a Wednesday. Some day I'll break the mid-week 4 minute barrier.

It's not that I'm showing off. It's just that I haven't posted anything for 5 days and I don't want people getting the idea I have nothing to say.

Things are so quiet at this moment, in my new office. My closest and second closest office neighbors don't get here until 9:30 and 11:00, respectively. I have no music playing now. I'm still playing this song in my head. I've been listening to that song since that memorable fall day in 1990 when I worked that awful temp job in northeast Minneapolis and I couldn't wait to get in my car and drive home, listening to my cassettes. I always thought it was a good song. Now I realize it's brilliant; it's words tell me everything I need to know.

Another day, another "fall" banquet. We celebrate the beginning of a new academic year with platitudes and coffee urns and disposable cutlery in a cardinal red-festooned ballroom. I love this job.

There's a dead ant on the bottom of my palm. How did it get there? I didn't kill it.

I've had strange dreams. In one of them, I was on the precipice, at a great height. I was about to fall down. In another, I was on another precipice, about to fall. In neither dream did I actually fall.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just another way of passing the day

Some things about me:

That's me in the picture. It's nearly a year old. It was taken during my birthday mini-golf outing last year. That's not my white truck. I don't know what was up with my hair. It's Jason's truck. I think I've told you this before.

My fingers are sticky from too much trail mix. My head is slinky from not enough sleep. I took three long walks today, two for fun and one for purpose. I feel better, sunnier.

I'm not a complicated man. I like the music of Caribou. I like Superbad.

I'm still not sure if the "italicizing titles" thing I do in this blog actually works the way I want it to.

Today, I had lunch for breakfast and breakfast for lunch. Seems backwards but it all makes sense to me.

I'm craving the enchiladas at Malo. I want my kitchen to clean itself.

I don't want to have decide between two equally compelling options. But I will if I have to.

I'm the kind of guy who, when I was a teenager, really appreciated a stray onion ring in the French fries.

People who know me are leaving town, disappearing in big cities, struggling, stalling, singing, living, taking pictures, and masking the brittleness of bones with the sanctity of time.

People who know me are disappointed, perplexed, impatient, and patient.

I didn't even see it coming. But I'm glad I saw it pass.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cruel, Cruel Summer

It hasn't been a good summer for my favorite basketball team:

First, the Timberwolves trade Kevin Garnett to the Celtics, the team that caused me so much pain during my adolescent years.

Then, last week, Mark Madsen, arguably the worst player and second best blogger in the NBA, injured his shoulder in a jet skiing accident.

And yesterday, a man who drove into a moving train in Houston and whose charred remains needed to be identified by dental records turned out to be former Timberwolf Eddie Griffin. He had his share of troubles, which included alcoholism, violence, and masturbating to porn while driving down University Avenue in Minneapolis. But, as Brown Recluse at freedarko so cogently noted, the guy likely had a mental illness that (he and others) couldn't get help with:
...many people in this country in situations completely dissimilar from Griffin’s suffer from mental illness that is not identified and treated adequately. The unwillingness of people to even discuss this issue in this case illustrates how far we as a society have to go in the way we deal with mental illness.

As a postscript, I want to make it clear that I’m not absolving Griffin of personal responsibility, but to some extent, blaming Eddie Griffin for not cleaning up his act and becoming a stand-up citizen is equivalent to asking someone with Parkinson’s if they could please stop twitching all the time.
I realize that diagnosis-through-media isn't always accurate but Griffin's depression issues were frequently acknowledged. It seems too obvious to say everyone should get the help they need. But it needs to be said anyway.

And finally, today, Latrell Sprewell, the player who truly revitalized the team in the early '00s and helped propel them deep in the playoffs, had his yacht repossessed in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

I don't really have a conclusion to reach about all this news. It just hasn't been a good summer for the Wolves. But the new season starts in two months. So... hope.

Monday, August 20, 2007


There's a man barking like a dog into a megaphone a hundred feet from my office. That's the one downside of the office move. I'm closer to where the "yell team" practices. I'm also closer to the band. They're cool. They play marching band versions of Sexy Back and Carry On Home Wayward Son.

For the twelfth time in my life, I'm trying to become a vegetarian. I like tofu. I like veggie meatballs. I'll still eat fish. Even if fish really do have souls.

Here's an appreciation of Paul Simon's underappreciated 1990 album The Rhythm of the Saints on Stylus. Everyone talks about Graceland (and they should - it's one of the 14 best albums ever made) but his follow-up is pretty great too.

Here's an amazing collection of covers for Kerouac's On the Road (via Design Observer, via Alex).

Sometimes I prefer the chocolate brownie Clif bar. Sometimes I prefer the chocolate chip Clif bar. It just depends.

Superbad is funny. For example: .............

The man really is barking like a dog into a megaphone. He has the voice of Super Dave Osborne.

I haven't had any protein yet today. Except for what's in the Clif bar. I need more. But no meat.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I'm On My Way

It's been a few days. Thursday, I walked on sand and felt the magnetic pull of the ocean. Friday, I gave advice as part of a group and tried to sell some of the most obscure CDs of 1997 to Amoeba (they only took a few; why doesn't anyone want my Bicycle Thief or Balloon Guy albums?)

Today is Saturday and I have a headache. I'm sitting on the couch with Seymour (a cat) by my side. Seymour's been clingy all night and all morning. I know he just wants me to freshen up his food but it's kind of cute.

Here's a cure for a headache: An amazing old SNL piece involving a one-on-one basketball game between Paul Simon and legendary player Connie Hawkins (via freedarko).

Today: Hitchcock movies at the Aero. Keeping out of the heat. Superbad maybe? I need coffee.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Chemist, you want tuna?

I'm in my new office today. Metal desk, wood top. Black chair. Nothing on the walls (yet) - large photos and small ones in waiting. Music on my little speakers.

It's hot today. I'm in my new shirt. I like my new shirt.

I had this idea: give to the other exactly what the other wants. Nothing less. I like it.

The new office has a sliding glass door. I can see outside. I can step outside. The air inside is cool and big. I need plants.

It's okay to shut down. Burlesque, tightrope - good ideas.

I like space.

I sleep on the floor because it's big.

When I look out the window, I want to see the big, not small. Today, in my new 37.5 hour per week environment, I see a fence. I see a tree. I see parked cars through the fence. I see the stadium. I see the brick building.

I open the sliding glass door and I can hear it all.

The news that John From Cincinnati is canceled makes me sad. I predict that the first ten episodes will thrive in a DVD format - the story line, the messages, the brilliant humor - all of it will be finally recognized. And a nation of millions will admit their mistake: not watching it in the first place, ruining the ratings.

(The title of today's post is a particularly amusing line from the 9th episode.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Merely Maps

It's all out there: truth in the atmosphere, consequences in the dimly lit diner.

Merv Griffin died yesterday. His was a fascinating life. His new game show - Crosswords - sounds like it would be worth a look.

I was thinking about the bridge that fell in Minneapolis. It got me to thinking about that portion of the Mississippi River and its eerie (to me) history. Just south of the 35W Bridge is the Washington Avenue Bridge, one I walked and drove across so many times I stopped noticing its beauty. This bridge is famous for being the site of the poet John Berryman's suicide in 1972. He jumped off of it. Berryman's death was the catalyst for one of my favorite books from the early nineties (the out of print Three Nights In The Heart Of The Earth by Brett Laidlaw) and two of my favorite songs from the past year (Stuck Between Stations by The Hold Steady and John Allyn Smith Sails by Okkervil River).

I remember a day in the spring of 1985 that I walked across the pedestrian bridge portion of the Washington Avenue Bridge. I passed someone with whom I shared a very strange brief history. We looked at each other and silently and mutually agreed that the story was over. And it was.

I remember another day in the spring of 1997, walking away from that same bridge. I saw someone I knew walking toward the bridge. She was a girl I had a crush on. She worked in a copy store that wasn't Kinko's. She had scars on her wrists that you could see when she wore short sleeves which was always. This wasn't the reason I liked her. Anyway, as she walked toward the bridge, I thought "I hope she doesn't jump into the river." We said hi to each other. She didn't jump. She's still around; I saw her Myspace page.

Later in 1997, I went to the apartment of one of my University of Minnesota professors. It's the tall foreboding apartment building visible in news accounts of the 35W Bridge collapse, just to the west of the bridge. You can see it here. The professor was having a dinner party for all of the students in our graduate seminar on ethics and morality. Her husband was a retired professor. He was twice her age. He was her mentor, in a way. I say this not to detract from her skills and credentials - she was a great professor.

Anyway, the husband was dying. But he enthusiastically co-hosted the Thursday night dinner party, telling stories of his own research and interest in ethics and morality. He spoke of the suicide of the leader in his field. It was a strange claustrophobic night of wine and cheese and grad student drama and drunkenness. It was one of my favorite educational experiences. I'm writing a novel about it. I'm six pages into it. The novel is also about the river and the university, the bridges and the streets. Here's a short story about the same things.

The professor's husband died a few months after the party. The professor left Minneapolis shortly after that. I think of them every time I see that building, which is often when I'm back in town. I saw it a couple of weeks ago, just before the collapse. I've been in the stairwells of that building. It's called Riverview Tower.

I'll end with a John Berryman poem:

The Traveller

They pointed me out on the highway, and they said
'That man has a curious way of holding his head.'

They pointed me out on the beach; they said 'That man
Will never become as we are, try as he can.'

They pointed me out at the station, and the guard
Looked at me twice, thrice, thoughtfully & hard.

I took the same train that the others took,
To the same place. Were it not for that look
And those words, we were all of us the same.
I studied merely maps. I tried to name
The effects of motion on the travelers,
I watched the couple I could see, the curse
And blessings of that couple, their destination,
The deception practiced on them at the station,
Their courage. When the train stopped and they knew
The end of their journey, I descended too.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Last Days Of 201N

A careful analysis of my blog counter statistics yields some important clues about my readers:
Many of you get here accidentally, by performing such common searches as "train songs" or "protective cups."

Others seem to live in or use ISP's based in Irvine or Akron.

Most of you use Firefox or Safari.

Exactly one
of you gets here via a link from someone else's blog.

Two or three of you have me bookmarked.

One of you lives in South Korea.

A surprising number of you get here by searching song lyrics such as "the screen door slams," "hot middle-aged women," or "get ourselves arrested."
I'm sitting in my small office at the university. I should be packing my boxes and (clear) plastic storage bins. They're moving me to a new office. The boxes will be sent there. The storage bins go into "deep storage" in the basement of the second oldest building on campus. They tell me I'll never see those bins again. That's cool. I don't need them.

My new office will be three times the size of this one. The building it is in has one-third the prestige that this one has. I consider this a fair trade.

I should be packing my boxes but I'm procrastinating. That's what I do. I like forced, artificial time pressures. I have three hours and three minutes left in my work day.

Hey @ - I have an idea.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Holy Crap

I just realized I'm older than John Cusack.

Okkervil River

If you don't want to take the time to read my overly confessional 75%-true story entries below, you should take the time to listen to / buy / download the new Okkervil River album The Stage Names. It's brilliant. You can listen to most of it - for free, for now - here. Tracks 1, 6, and 9 are especially good.

One Hour In September (Another 3/4 True Story)

I couldn't stop, so she had to wait. Her sister suffered a miscarriage. I lived two miles away. But I had work to do before I drove off to comfort her, in her stylishly cluttered and dark apartment.

She was happy that I offered to come over, to stay the night or at least half of it (this was in the pre-Ambien days), to offer comfort. She seemed impressed with my sincere and caring gesture. So what is it exactly that I did wrong? I didn't leave my apartment for a full hour after the phone call. I stayed home playing online poker, hoping to recover a loss that was just another failed recovery.

I recovered the loss (temporarily of course). I packed my things up too quickly (forgot a few things). I couldn't blame my lateness on the traffic. I could have walked to Los Feliz in less time. I made up an excuse about a phone call. She could probably see through my lie.

Yes, it was her sister who suffered the worst but, you see, the sister's pregnancy had offered hope for what was a sad, sad situation. Before that night, she didn't talk much about the sister but she said enough - and with enough of a faraway look - to suggest that her heart was broken by her only sister's misfortune and that was one of the reasons it wasn't open to me. When the misfortune got worse, the brokenness didn't budge.

She told me never to make her a mix CD because she didn't want the songs to remind her of something that failed later, after it failed. Despite her factual accuracy, I still think she was wrong. The mix would have gotten her through Thanksgiving.

It wasn't my worst hour of 2006. That came months earlier, when I didn't stop to think about what the fuck I would do after I got over that ugly hill past the valley (sorry for the obtuseness) and the spring turned into a folly of retreat and boxing clever.

She could be reading this, presumably unlike the subject of the first 3/4 true story. The sister could be reading this. I'll allow that I may read too much into their loss, my gesture, and my stupid addictive one-hour delay.

The experience did offer insight. Insight I couldn't see until December. Insight that I stopped seeing on that June afternoon I got the phone call - the good news phone call - from Chicago. I felt a call of the old and I lost my way for a bit. Sorry again for the obtuseness. The 25% that is untrue could be in the months and details of this paragraph. Or it could be in the title.

I'm smarter than that. I'm better than that. I'll move past my regret and say sorry (to myself, to the sisters, to the dead) and move on. I'll say sorry for disappointing others and step forward. I'll do my dishes and feed my cats and the one outside. I'll wait for the game show to air. I'll throw a party that night.

I'll let go of the aphorisms and remember that camera songs are like train songs - one moves into the next like 37 to 36, like dining car to sleeper. Stations become photographs - remembered, signified, mislaid.

I had a realization in Minnesota that I had to carry on, that pain can be pushed through, waited out. It was hours before I was in the attic, looking at photographs of redwood forests and now-closed cafes, before I separated the music that was mine from the music I would give away, two days before I started my fifth drive from Minnesota to California, this time with someone who I'd like to make the return trip with. I had the realization that mistakes happen and eras end and everyone moves on. Cities and highways and rental cars move on. Strength doesn't turn to weakness. It just disappears. When it comes back, it's good.

The next morning - after the one-hour gambling delay, after the silence on her couch, after the half-sleep - I woke up early. I needed to go home before work (like I said, I forgot some things.) I had parked my car on Franklin, the street that I once claimed, in a poem, "cuts a swath through the undead part of Hollywood." I go back to that area often. On Franklin, I always think of that morning. I never think of the night before. Next time.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Shortened My Jingle

I've been silent about the Kevin Garnett trade. It's a cop-out to tell you to read this freedarko post but it pretty much sums up my feelings: spent, resigned, a little hopeful. Plus, the photos are great. It's clear the Timberwolves weren't on the correct path with KG so maybe the five new players will change something. Still, he was the best player in the NBA over the past 12 seasons.

A note about yesterday's piece: If you liked it, you're in luck. It's the first in a series of memoir-ish stories about 2006, one of the more interesting years of my life. If you didn't like it, there's always tomorrow.

Today I'm wearing one of my striped dress shirts - the one with four shades of blue and one each of gray and black. I like this one. More than the others.

Here's a link to a video of the 25 best typographic title sequences in movies.

Here are three random observations about John From Cincinnati, relevant even if you've never seen the show:
I like big shows, sprawling narratives. I like that this show has at least four voices of reason (moral centers): Ramon, Kai, Bill, and The Physician. I like that it has five improving antagonists: Freddy, Palaka, Linc, Tina, and Cissy.

The acting is amazing. I've talked about Ed O'Neill's Bill before. But Brian Van Holt's Butchie, Rebecca De Mornay's Cissy, and Jim Beaver's Vietnam Joe are great too. De Mornay's character takes some getting used to but it all begins to click around episode 4.

My favorite line (among hundreds) of the series so far: Ramon, confirming that Shaun indeed skateboards: "It's how he gets around on land." You can find more great quotes here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Disappointment In Reverse (A 3/4 True Story)

April left in the middle of our date, saying she had somewhere to go. I laughed on the inside. I grimaced on the outside.

The night before, we walked up a hill in San Francisco into an apartment that wasn't hers. Inside, there was a spiral staircase and a perfect book case.

She was from Providence, she said. I don't know why I didn't believe her. She had my initials. She read the books I recommended.

I had traveled to San Francisco from Los Angeles on Friday afternoon. I saw her that night. We ate competing stir fry bowls on a rotted wooden table in a dimly lit room. The food was great, the restaurant decrepit and perfect.

There was more rotted wood later that night, in the old movie theater with benches for seats and a rickety sound system. I loved the movie. The movie holds no regrets.

The woman who actually lived in the apartment paid April to watch her place and walk her dog. The woman was in Italy. The dog was white and beautiful. I wanted to live in that apartment. When April walked away, I wondered about the owner.

I wanted to damage the spiral staircase. I wanted to read the books.

I wanted to speak to April more about infrequent luxuries and her trip to London. But, as I mentioned, she got up and left me alone in that noisy Taqueria in the Mission District. It was 24 hours after the first date.

Minutes before I met her there, I saw her walking on the street as I drove past. She looked preoccupied. She was wearing a long black wool coat. She seemed overdressed, even for a cool San Francisco late September night. I called to her. But I said her name like it was the month and not the name. My voice sounded awkward in its lift over the traffic noise. I knew I had made a mistake.

She picked at her food like a surgeon over a dead man. There was no point anymore. I know now that my shouting from my car made no difference. She had made the decision to walk away long before. Given that the first two sentences of this paragraph contain an extremely strained metaphor, April may have been prescient.

I drove around the city for a while. It got colder. April wore the right coat. I arrived at my friend Audrey's house, the place where I was sleeping, in time to sit on the couch with her and her roommate and his girlfriend. The four of us sat side by side and watched John Cusack match wits with Billy Bob Thornton.

I fell asleep before the movie ended. I woke up. I fell asleep again. I went to my guest room and slept until Audrey's damn bird woke me up at dawn. I vowed to forget about April.

Audrey and I had breakfast in the financial district. It was formal and sleek. It was all I needed. I drove back to Los Angeles, listening to big and small songs, making phone calls I'd later regret. I forgot about April.

But then I had the feverish dream last night in which she reappeared. To explain the sins of my ways. To salute the goodness of my sins. She took on the form of a wise deity and every word she said spoke truth. She roll-called my vices. She charted their costs. She dared me to drive far away again. She put away the easel and the whiteboard. She exorcised my cats and laid waste to my debts. Then she exploded herself, sending her spirit up that staircase, tossing pages from The Fortress of Solitude on the too-white carpet in the apartment that wasn't hers. The dog chased after her. Then, she was gone and I was driving back home, along the ocean but in more darkness than this picture.

After April walked away from our date - 15 minutes into it! - I made a phone call that I didn't exactly regret. The person on the other end told me I wanted too much, too soon. I said I like to aim high. Then my friend said no one knows that quickly. I said I'm usually right about these things. Sometimes I guess wrong.

It's better to remember the times I strove for meaning last fall than the nights I flailed and latched onto the wrong person, the wrong place (though I could tell stories about that too). On one of those phone calls that I do regret, the person on the other end - 28 years old and smart as a whip - told me I seemed bored. I never told her I was leaving town, just that I couldn't see her Friday. She told me she didn't like that I wrote a song about myself. I haven't seen her since.

For a minute - and I knew it would only last a minute - I thought April was my last chance, that if my charms didn't work on a strange loner girl with black hair and a spiral staircase on the top of a hill, then I might as well retreat into the mountains for a spell, like Leonard Cohen. Then the minute ended, right about the time I found my car, parked on a side street that I'd find myself right back on two months later.

I never wanted to simply be a romantic. Words just came out easier that way. I wanted to yield to the darkness too. It's better to wake up from the darkness than never to fall out of the light.

Walking to my car in San Francisco, a city where I've never lived: it's something I always remember. I could make lists of my walks to cars there. Slow walks uphill. A walk with a Walkman. A walk through the torn-up Tenderloin with $1200 in cash in my back pocket (long story). The walk to the block behind the Holiday Inn with the talking elevator, with two friends who no longer speak to each other. A New Years Eve walk - again slow, again uphill.

The appreciation wasn't mutual. The girl from Rhode Island got to keep her secrets.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Rivers Of Suggestion

Blogging hasn't totally replaced my more "traditionally creative" writing. Be sure to check out my story Dinosaur House on Identity Theory and a few new poems here.

I'm also not the only one in my family who blogs.

I wanted to write about the Minneapolis bridge collapse. It's a hard thing to write about. It's difficult to throw out one's personal "experiences" with the bridge without it seeming random and meaningless. It's difficult to express sympathy for complete strangers. I was just in Minneapolis in the days before the collapse and, though I can't say that I saw it coming, I can say that I always felt that that bridge was a little tenuous.

It happened in a beautiful place. The river and its bluffs and winding roads on both sides manage to be both scrappy and gorgeous this time of year. Other nearby bridges over the river inspire me more and those are the bridges traffic will be detoured to in the coming months or years. If you're in Minneapolis, look at the sun reflecting off the river-facing portion of the Weisman Museum in the morning if you're crossing the Washington Avenue Bridge. Or be happy that you're heading toward Dinkytown if you're crossing the 10th Avenue Bridge from the west. Nothing bad ever happens in Dinkytown.

This is the week I move into the new office, three buildings away. I trade in my "access" for a sliding glass door. I give up my "prestige spot" for three times the space. These are fair trades.

A few scattered observations from the last nine days:
  • I like the 101 Coffee Shop at sunset.
  • I like it when it rains outside of Vegas.
  • There's no excuse for Phil Collins missing from this list of the 50 greatest rock drummers.
  • I've been yawning too much lately.
  • Ventura is a quiet town on a Friday night, at least in the parts of the city close to the freeway.
  • I shouldn't speak of serious things when sleepy and sluggish
  • There are some great deals on CDs at the Hollywood Goodwill

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Saturday (Morning)

Hi everyone.

I've been gone a while. I know you missed me.

I have more to write. Later. It will be richly detailed and full of links, lists, and cultural references.