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Thursday, March 28, 2002

Time To Lighten Up and Mellow Out

It has been brought to my attention by several readers that my writing style is a little too caustic to attract the younger target audience. One young reader, 16 year old Josh Henshaw of Taylorville, Kentucky, wrote in with this question: Is it true that you write all of your daily posts while sitting in a small, dark room with a loaded gun in your mouth? Ha ha, well you’re half right, Josh. I'm kicking off a few new features that should prove, once and for all, that I’m not an old sour puss and that I can write for the younger audience. I hope you enjoy it.

CELEBRITY NEWS

Multi-talented mega-star Cher turns 77 today. Happy Birthday, Babe. Interviewed in her 85 room Beverly Hills home Cher said that she will spend the day with her great great grand children and undergoing a series of blood transfusions. All I gotta say is man, can that hag rock or what?

11 year old Frankie Muniz, star of the popular Fox series Malcolm in the Middle, was arrested and released today at the Dallas-Fort Worth Municipal courthouse on charges of assault with felonious attempt and possession of bootleg Xbox video game cartridges. Two area transvestites remain in serious but stable condition at Saint John’s Medical Center from injuries they received in an apparent rough sex session with the young actor in a cheap motel room. Muniz was released on bond and returned to his home in Malibu, California to attend a benefit gala sponsored by the Save the Children Foundation. The only statement the young star released to the press was this: "I left the money on the dresser and I broke my high score on Dark Summit."

Teen sensations Britney Spears and Shakira were treated and released today from Mount Sinai Medical Center in NY after injuries incurred while the two fought each other in an argument over which one had more natural looking fake boobs. Miss Spears lost two front teeth in the cat fight and Shakira suffered saline poisoning when one of her implants burst after being stomped by the spike-healed Spears. The two continue to be friends and are planning a tour together this summer.

Show biz laments the passing of two comedy legends Dudley Moore and Milton Berle. They say these things come in 3's. (Please God, please let it be Adam Sandler).


INTERNET FUN TEST

In an effort to cut down on bothersome original content on this page I will pass along this mind-numbingly entertaining questionnaire:

1) What would you do if you only had one day to live?
I would return my World’s Funniest Skateboarding Fatalities video to Blockbuster, get a haircut, and do at least three loads of laundry.

2) If you won the $25 million state lottery what would you do?
Talk about a no-brainer. I would fix the radio in my car. It is really embarrassing that I have to pound the dash board for all I’m worth to get the connection to work. My life would be so much easier after that.

3) Do you have a favorite season of the year and if so do you perform any sort of ritual human sacrifice in its honor?

Yes.

That’s all for today, kids. See ya.

Things in this World that Don't Suck

Just so the few folks who come across this page won’t think that I wallow in sarcasm and bogus, pseudo-hip irony 24 hours a day, I thought I would mention something in my life that brings constant joy and light.

As I write this I am listening to a Real Jukebox play list of Mozart's slow movements from various piano sonatas, string quartets, and other combinations of instruments. One piece in particular continues to consume me. The adagio movement of his piano sonata K. 332 in F major was called “the summit of expression Mozart reached without departing from the formality and reticence of his epoch,” by the English critic Arthur Hutchings. This is another way of saying that Mozart was no grand innovator like Beethoven, he simply took everything he touched to the highest level. Mozart didn't invent the piano sonata, the string quartet, the symphony, or the opera but he raised them to new heights.

I am drawn to Mozart’s slow movements because those are about the only things he wrote that I can play. One of the first pieces that I was determined to play when I began on the piano was the andante movement from his first piano sonata. He wrote it in Munich, Germany in 1775 at age 18. That he had the technical ability to write this sort of music at such an early age is amazing but that he had the depth to FEEL this at 18 is even more incredible.

Before I began playing the piano four years ago I would go on a Mozart bender and listen to his music exclusively for weeks at a time. I felt like a charlatan because I knew so little about music and yet I felt tremendous passion for practically every piece he wrote. I didn’t know the first thing about music when I began. I was a clean slate, a tabula rasa. I had to learn to read music on my own and I was thoroughly overwhelmed by the piano: how in the fuck could a person make his hands do two completely opposite things? I am still trying to answer that question four years later but I have come a few notes in the right direction.

Mozart is one of the shields I use to protect myself from the mediocrity that makes up most of pop culture. Here is an interesting question: Is a person drawn to the music of Mozart to escape from the horrors of pop culture or does an understanding of classical music make it difficult to appreciate what passes for music today? The whole chicken and egg question.

Sunday, March 24, 2002

Make a Wish

Based on a true story

The Make a Wish Foundation is a charitable organization that grants wishes to children suffering from life-threatening illnesses. On the surface this sounds pretty noble. They called me up the other day soliciting donations, and without thinking, I gave them the usual faked disconnect. It went something like this:

Telephone Solicitor: Good evening, I’m with the Make a Wish….

Me: Ah...click. Dial tone. Damn these cell phones, always cutting out at the worst times.

I use that one on all unwanted calls. Try it sometime. It is incredibly liberating when you realize it is OK to just hang up on people who have somehow got a hold of your personal phone number. No ‘sorry’ or half-assed explanation; just give the dial tone. They won’t call back because they all use auto-dialers.

Anyway, after I had hung up I thought about this charity. I had heard of it before several times and I had time to fully articulate my ideas on its specious pretense. They’ll do things like take a dying kid to Disney World or to a ball game. It sounds like a nice idea on the surface. The trouble lies in the potential for abuse. Take the case of the eleven year old kid in Sioux City, Iowa who faked bone marrow cancer. He even went as far as shaving his head just so the foundation would buy him the new Microsoft Xbox. OK, I just made that up but what if it was true? Wouldn’t that be terrible? What a horrible little kid. Let's get him!

What if a kid said he wanted to make it with two nurses at once? Everyone does but life just doesn't always work out that way for us all. What if you had a kid who was really sick and he wanted to go to a Cher concert more than anything in the world. Wouldn’t that kid be better off dead? I’m not a physician but I would have to answer ‘yes’ to that question. I think he has probably suffered enough.

Anyone who has read this far is thinking, without a doubt, that I am an incredibly insensitive prick. Sure I am, but I am also a bit of a philosopher. If I were dying, or if I had a child who was dying, I wouldn’t go to fucking Disneyland. In fact, I wouldn’t go there if you threatened to kill me if I didn’t. This attitude of buying your way to happiness or nirvana is at the heart of our entire society. This is telling these kids that the purpose of life is to entertain yourself as much and as long as humanly possible.

Everyone dies--everyone. It is as much a part of life as being born. If life has a purpose, and I'm not certain that it does, I'm pretty sure that it isn't about going on Magic Mountain. How about this as an alternative to Make a Wish. Read a poem to these children. Sit them down and have them listen to Mozart. Teach them about history. Maybe this isn't our purpose here but it isn't a bad way to pass the time between reveille and taps.

Friday, March 22, 2002

Changes in Latitude

or

IS THAT MANIC DEPRESSION OR ARE YOU JUST NOT GLAD TO SEE ME?

The vernal equinox passed just recently, marking a day when every place on the planet experiences equal parts night and day. The sun is now making its way up into the Northern Hemisphere. Every point on the globe receives the same amount of night and day but the higher latitudes have drastic changes in daylight and darkness between summer and winter. This is all a bit of science that most people take for granted but something that slaps you in the face if you have moved to Seattle from the subtropics of south Florida.


The first winter in Seattle was a little rough. I arrived in August and the weather was perfect. Sunshine and endless views of the two mountain ranges that flank the city: the Cascades to the east and the Olympics across the sound to the west. As far as beautiful cities go, Seattle is difficult to beat in August.

Everyone warned me that it rains a lot here but I figured if it was this nice now, how bad could it get? It started raining in mid-October and I don’t think it stopped until the fourth of July. The same people who had warned me about the rain were now telling me that this much rain was highly unusual. I just got lucky. I love it when I get to stand in a puddle during a winter of record rainfall.

I bought a beautiful royal palm tree for my apartment that year. In a matter of weeks the complete lack of sunshine killed it as dead as Paulie Shore’s career. The metaphor of that palm was not lost on my own psyche. My skin turned from a golden brown to something resembling poached chicken. I had some serious questions concerning my great northern migration.

It rained and it was dark, dark as night by 4:30 in the afternoon. My alcohol consumption spiked that winter and I spent a lot of time in bars trying to stay dry. Was I depressed? A little bit, perhaps. OK, maybe more than a little. OK, so I was playing Russian roulette between shots of Jameson, but I was just trying to fit in with everyone else.

It kept raining through March and April. I seriously thought of moving, but I stuck it out, and summer finally arrived. Long days of sunshine seemed to make up for the long day’s journey into night that I had survived. I can’t put my finger on the precise moment but something in me changed, I had adjusted to the latitude. I enjoy the dark days of winter sipping a heavy beer in a bar as much as I enjoy climbing down off of a mountain in June as the sun sets at almost 10 p.m. I feel a certain lament as the days grow longer. At least until the equinox passes and then I love how the days grow by almost five minutes per day.

The best part of acclimatizing myself to this latitude is that I am now able to do something that I have always wanted to do. Ever since I was 17 and I read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises I have wanted to live in Paris (thus the whole Leftbanker thing). The big drawback, the impassable hurdle of living in Paris, is the frightful weather of that city. I can go there now but not just yet; I like the weather here.

Freinds Don't Let Friends Write Drunk

Sure, everyone knows Hemingway did it. Fitzgerald was a big drunk. Faulkner, forget about it, a total booze hound. The fact is, after two Crown Royal manhattans your average hack can’t write one coherent thought. I am nothing if not your average hack.

Lowering inhibitions, opening pathways in the mind--all of the great things about alcohol that we have come to know and love unfortunately present problems for anything that tasks the body. Drive an automobile while intoxicated and you’ll have cops on a first name basis, lawyers on speed dial. Try writing after a few cocktails and you could be headed for real trouble. Mixed metaphors, run-on sentences, you name it. Sober as a judge I’m not much of a writer; a little tipsy and I come up with a post like this one.

And then I look through this week’s copy of the New Yorker (20 MAR02). The fiction this month is by New Yorker institution, Joyce Carol Oates. Talk about thinking small, talk about minimalist bullshit fiction, this broad wrote the book on petty story lines. Upholstery is the title. True to Oates’ style of high ambition it concerns a quasi rape attempt(?) of a 13 year old girl by an older neighbor man. Stupid men and their stupid penises. More kiddy porn than haute literature, more boring than all get out, more a complete waste of time than you could ever imagine. I couldn’t help but think that, even drunk, I could do better. This is the sort of tripe served up without a hint of irony in classrooms in the best colleges in the country. I shudder to think what literature classes must be like in these days of hyper PC.

The story goes on for a couple thousand words and says nothing. Where is the social relevance in this shit? Where are the big issues being addressed? We are a culture that is being systematically reduced to an ever narrowing catalogue of target markets and Oates can only obsess about childhood sexual fears. She is the Sally Jesse Raphael of American letters. I can see nothing of the society I witness in anything this woman has written in years.

Traditional publishing is dying a not-so-slow death. The New Yorker prints story after story of authors of her ilk, week after week, month after month. The same tales of the banality of the individual’s personal maladjustments. When is our society as a whole ever chronicled in fiction? Why do so few writers step out into the world and hold up a mirror in which we can see ourselves, our collective selves?

So much of what passes for good writing in this country is utterly devoid of ambition. Does Oates really believe that she is addressing an audience bigger than a graduate women’s literature seminar? Is it any wonder that so few people read in this culture? A couple more pieces by this woman and I may give it up myself.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Is it still America's New War?

More than anything I have come to view this war as a siege against what little remains of the American Left. By Left I mean anyone or any institution that views the needs of the people to be more of a national priority than the need for big companies to squeeze out another dollar. Bush entered the White House through the back door and this whole terrorist event was a godsend. Suddenly everyone either thinks he is wonderful or is too afraid or too cowardly to oppose him in any way.

Have you noticed that even liberals must preface their arguments against Bush with an "of course the events of 9/11 are unspeakable..." (See several mealy-mouthed monthly columns by Harper’s Lewis Lapham). I don't feel any need to apologize for voicing my dissent. I refuse to relinquish my right as a citizen to criticize a president not elected by a majority of the populace. A president not elected, but appointed by his dad's supreme court.

This whole thing is so blown out of proportion it isn't even funny. The media has everyone believing that if only we can get rid of these pesky terrorist everything will be paradise. Since 9/11 this country has lost about 18,000 lives as a result of automobile accidents. That is more of a threat to our security than anything some religious zealots could dream up. The truth is that the average person has about as much chance of being the victim of terrorism as suffocating by having their head stuck in a horse's butt like in Police Academy (see this in The Onion).

Taking off your shoes to go on an airplane, three hour waits to get across the Canadian border; this is all a bit much for me. Did anyone else out there notice that this whole Homeland Security (rhymes with mall security) is pretty creepy and Orwellian? Security is a myth, it is a joke.

Some moron host of a political debate show on CNN or one of those infomercial stations stated that Liberals hate America and this American kid they found among the Taliban is proof because he comes from "liberal" California. The show's supposed "liberals" were too afraid to venture much in the way of argument. I guess it never occurred to anyone on the show that Osama is pretty much the textbook definition of a conservative as was Timothy McViegh. I can't think of any liberals who have committed atrocities.

I can see Bush doing away with the minimum wage, social security, and public education as a means to fight terrorism. He is very quickly trying to dismantle all of the safety nets put in place during the great depression. Gotta go, I think someone if smashing in my door.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Eroticize the Bus

I’ve had my car for three years and I’ve only driven it 8,000 miles. My car is the ugly step-child of my transportation family, the nutty uncle I keep chained up in the basement. I prefer to ride one of my bikes, if and whenever that is possible. In my weird world, driving is just plain fruity; you may as well figure skate to the grocery store, you big poof, you.

Most of the time my car lies dormant on the street in front of my building, sometimes for weeks at a time. Its purpose has almost entirely shifted from that of a personal transportation device to a receptacle for bird crap. Actually, because it is white, it seems to be a blank canvas upon which the winged creatures of the Pacific Northwest paint their story.

On the rare occasions when I do get behind the wheel, I have to run the windshield washer for a good minute or so to undo the creative endeavors of the neighborhood pigeons, seagulls, blackbirds, and nasty, snarling crows. The window never gets very clean; the window washer is just a sort of mercy flush. I am assuming that what is coming out of these birds’ butts is normal. I am forced to inspect it quite thoroughly. My windshield is like some great microscope slide. Maybe this bird shit is normal or perhaps some delinquent seagulls are raiding the dumpster of Jalisco’s Mexican Taqueria Restaurant next door. Maybe they polished off the leftovers of a grande bean burrito with extra sour cream and guacamole and washed it down with a six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans.

But I digress. This isn’t about aviary intestinal disorders (Note to self: from now on tell people that I specialize in Aviary Intestinal Disorders). This is about leaving the car in the garage, keeping it in the driveway, leaving it on the street for the birds to bombard. It is time for us as a nation to grow up and at least start talking about life without cars. We spent the past century as slaves to these dangerous, inefficient hulks. If we begin now we can part company with automobiles by the end of the 21rst century.


The way to get Americans to change their behavior vis-à-vis the automobile is not by having some hippie kid from Greenpeace lecture us on a street corner. The way to end our love affair with cars is to employ the same crew that suckered us into buying them in the first place. If the Madison Avenue marketers can convince every man, woman, and child to buy something as ridiculous as an SUV, then they can convince us to take public transport. Hell, they are so good they could talk us into giving each other piggy back rides to work.

If we can allow ourselves to be brainwashed into thinking that cars are somehow sexy why not think the same thing about the bus? Instead of the ‘loser cruiser’ the bus could be the ‘love bus.’ Run TV commercials with big breasted women in really tight clothes riding the bus and doing some sort of stripper thingie, you know, like how they sell us beer. If we are destined to be sheep let's at least be socially responsible sheep.

Saturday, March 16, 2002

Things I Didn't Put in the Emails

I was in Chihuahua, Mexico on my last visit. This was an episode I didn’t write about in my e-mails. In honor of celebrity boxing I thought I would fill in the full story.

El Sinaloense (named after the province of Sinaloa) is this crazy saloon and dance club. As you walk past, the loud ranchero music crashes out of the place like a drunk thrown through a plate glass window. You push through a pair of swinging doors and strut up to the bar which runs all along one wall. The prices are painted on the wall above: Tecate $8, tequila $12 (they use the dollar sign to signify pesos). The place is full of cowboys. A two-piece band cranks out ranchero music. The vaqueros, or cowboys, are here for the dance girls. For something like 20 pesos you can take your pick of about 20 girls and do the two-step, or whatever they call it down here. The gals aren't hookers, at least not all of them., The dancing is all very chaste--no bumping, no grinding. You'd let your daughter dance with these fellows although you might want to disinfect her afterwards.

The only thing this place was missing was a shootout. I'm sure that happens from time to time. El Sinaloense is without a doubt the biggest dive I have ever visited. I think that is saying a lot.

I asked one of the dance girls if I could have a couple of minutes of her time, to talk about her job and El Sinaloense. She led me to a table in a big back room. We had been talking for a couple of minutes when a big cowboy-type asshole came up to the table and started yelling at her. I assumed that these two were some sort of item. I fully understand the Latin man’s jealousy issue so I immediately introduced myself to him and explained that I was a writer, and I was only interested in finding out more about Chihuahua . He didn’t direct any of his anger towards me but he was a major prick. Usually when a guy nuts up on me my first reaction is to tell him to go fuck himself, but I behaved myself, and worked desperately to defuse the situation. I told him I’d buy him a beer, and I walked over to the bar leaving the two alone. He came over a couple minutes later and took me up on my offer. I thought everything was cool.

About two sips into the beer the guy starts raving about how I’m after his gal. He wasn’t really making much sense and he didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. This is when I should have got the hell out of there, but I was drunk, and besides dealing with this psycho I was having a good time. Just then a guy walked by, noticed that I was a gringo, and asked me where I was from. I walked away talking to him. We sat down at a table and he started to explain the bar. He had obviously spent some time here because he knew everyone. He told me the big cowboy was sort of dating the dancer. He said he was a bit deranged. He was interested to know that I was actually writing about this dump. I had my notebook with me, as always, so I showed him what I had written thus far. I left my notebook with him and I went to the bathroom.

The bathroom was disgusting, as you can imagine. It was a tiled room about twenty feet by twenty feet with a trough that went around the walls that served as a urinal. The floor was oozing with whatever fluids inhabit the floor of a filthy Mexican public toilet; use your imagination. I had just finished doing what I had come in there to do and as I turned around to leave my nose hit the fist of the big cowboy. He got me pretty good. He broke my nose and there was plenty of blood.

I've studied martial arts for several years: karate and jiu-jitsu. Something that was drilled into my head when I studied Niseido jiu-jitsu under Professor Rick Riccardi is that most people can take a pretty good punch, and it doesn’t affect your ability to defend yourself. There aren’t many people capable of throwing a knock-out blow. Most people get sucker-punched like this and they freak out, a little bit. They freeze up. I had been hit harder than this plenty of times during training. This nose-breaking blow didn’t hurt a bit. No kidding, I didn’t even feel it. I immediately went at the guy and clinched up so he couldn’t hit me again . I didn’t want to go toe-to-toe with a guy who had several inches and many pounds on me. I dropped him to the filthy floor with a hip throw. The the fall stunned him and I could feel the fight oozing out of him.

Jiu-jitsu is mostly about taking someone to the ground and finishing things up there. As I was trying to wrap this thing up I had two thoughts going through my alcohol-impaired brain. The first thought was how disgusting this was, fighting on the floor of a squalid bathroom. My other thought was that I needed to get the hell out of here, and fast, before a couple of the cowboy’s buddies showed up and beat me to a pulp. I put him in a hold called kesa gatame which is like a headlock but you only use one arm and it's much more effective. Usually from this hold I progress to another move to choke out the opponent or inflict some very serious pain with an arm lock. I think that because I was drunk my normal killer/survival instinct was in not working properly, but I had complete control over him. He was bucking like a rodeo bull but resistance is pretty futile if the hold is applied properly. He went limp from exhaustion very soon.

I kept telling him that I didn’t want to fight, that I wasn’t interested in his girl, but he kept raving something--I wasn’t really following his psycho logic. He got tired out ande went totally limp. I let him go and stood up. All I wanted was to get the hell out of there. He came at me again and we were going at it again. He grazed my chin with a punch before I hooked his leg and tripped him backwards right into the urinal. He hit his back pretty hard, I would imagine, on the urinal wall and now he was lying right in the thing. I drilled him with three punches on his left cheek and left him in the pisser.

I thought I could get out the back door, but it was locked which meant I would have to walk past the bathroom to get out. Fortunately, the bouncers were escorting señor asshole out. Evidently this wasn’t the first time this dude had been rowdy here. I went back into the bathroom and washed the blood off my face and set my nose as best I could.

My next move was to make a quick exit from this charming watering hole. Just as I hit the street through the swinging doors the other guy I had been talking to grabbed me and gave me back my notebook. He seemed embarrassed that a decent gringo had been assaulted for no good reason. I told him that I just wanted to go home. My hotel was right around the block. Just as I walked around the corner Mr. Cowboy was standing there in the street, bleeding like hell. He started up with his rants about me and the girl. He started to walk towards me and I screamed at him that this time around I would kill him. That seemed to dampen his resolve and he walked away.

Once inside my hotel room I threw everything I was wearing except my shoes into the trash and took a shower. The next morning I packed my bag, took a look at myself in the mirror, and grabbed a cab for the bus station. I really looked like hell but it didn’t hurt a bit. I am more ashamed of this incident than anything, and I didn’t write about this initially. Upon reflection I felt that I should put this in here because it really happened and even if it is embarrassing I should write the truth.

The truth is I should have avoided the whole situation and I’m lucky all I got for my drunken mistake was a broken nose and a scrape on the chin. I should have never been in such a rough place when I was tipsy, at least not alone. I thank Professor Riccardi for teaching me to defend myself and ask his forgiveness for using my skill in such a stupid situation. I know that I didn’t do anything to deserve getting punched but I should have read the situation better and avoided the conflict. That said, I have to say that I was in a potentially life-threatening fight. The guy was certainly crazy; he hit me as hard as he could without warning. God knows what he would have done had he had the upper hand. I could have messed him up a lot worse than the broken cheek I gave him but that could have turned out badly, too, had the cops got involved. I had every right to totally destroy the asshole but I’m probably better off that I didn’t.

I have this feeling of being invulnerable. I know that I can fight better than most guys and I have no fear of fighting. I never back down and most of the time that is enough to scare the hell out of guys. Martial arts saved me but at the same time had I not studied jiu-jitsu I would have been extremely reluctant to even walk into a dive like that in a foreign country. I learned a lesson.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Rock and Roll Will Never Die

Perhaps rock and roll will never die. Perhaps medical science has reached such a pinnacle that it can keep this dying patient alive indefinitely. But can't you smell that? That! That god awful stench that permeates practically every level of our pop culture. That horrible fetid odor that is rock and roll. Perhaps rock will never die, perhaps the forces of marketing are so god-like that rock will be around forever. Keeping it alive hasn't been too pleasant this past decade, it has been like the gangreneous character in Hemingway's The Snows of Kilamanjaro who suffered and slipped into delirium. I think that many would agree that the Hemingway character, and rock and roll, are better off dead.

It was fun while it lasted. It was a good run. Now it is time to face the facts and admit to ourselves that it is over and it is now time to find a new popular music that is completely different. For the past decade most of what has been happening in rock has been remakes. Covers of everything and we have taken almost every song from the past 30 years in rock and used it for some sort of advertising jingle. It is as if our pop culture was like the Berlin Wall that we tore down and sold, bit by bit, to the highest bidder. This trend has been just as disturbing in films. It is as if there is nothing in our pop culture past that is too insipid to be remade and remarketed. Lesson to be learned here: nothing is sacred and nothing is too big of a piece of shit that it can't be resold to the youth market. OK, I got it.

Most people that I talk to don't seem to mind that rockers have sold their product to advertisers. Perhaps that's what these artists had in mind when they were starting out in some garage somewhere. Perhaps they were thinking, "I want to write a song that will make people want to buy an SUV." Maybe that's what Sting had in mind, who knows? Perhaps in these times songwriters are as concerned with product tie-ins as they are choruses. People are free to do whatever they wish. Just don't tell me that you aren't a jingle writer. Andy Warhol was being ironic when he painted soup cans--what's your excuse?

Saturday, March 09, 2002

Teen Killed in Cheerleading Accident

(based on a true story)

I was watching ESPN and some college basketball game was on. The cheerleaders looked so incredibly upbeat. Upbeat, sure, but what if one of them died? What then? What if a young life was cut short in the middle of a peppy cheer? What then? My god, the humanity. What a senseless tragedy. Can you even imagine a world without cheerleaders? Wake up, America!

Only moments ago you were shouting words of encouragement to the team. Things like "go team" and "steal that ball" and "For fuck's sake, can you at least pretend to play a little defense?" Now your mangled corpse lies sprawled on the gym floor, your little hand still clutching a pom-pom. But wait. You're moving. Thank god, you're alive. No, it's just that gross nervous twitching thing that dead things do. Can we get this body out of here? We still got another quarter to play.

The game must go on. Nobody knows that better than the lifeless heap with saddle shoes the janitor is dragging out the fire exit by her ankles. What a trooper, a real team player, right up until the fatality. There will be a burial, stop being so impatient. This is the week of the state finals so right after that we'll take proper care of the body. A week or two won't make any difference, what with as cold as it's been lately.

Friday, March 08, 2002

Fat and Ugly

(This story is to be serialized over a couple of days)

Fat and ugly--just saying those words is painful. They also make for a lousy opening line, much better to begin with ‘thin and beautiful.’ Everyone would keep reading that story but this story is mine, my autobiography, and I'm not thin and beautiful. I'm fat and ugly—the two worst things to be in this culture. It makes me laugh out loud to even refer to 21rst century America as a culture.

I was born ugly. Ugly goes way back in my family, generation after generation. Ugly is my birthright, a sort of feudal duchy I have inherited. As far as fat goes I guess you could say that I am self-made. I would like to tell you that it was difficult, that I struggled long and hard to be fat, that I did it all on my own, but I had plenty of help. I would like to thank a few people: Ben and Jerry, Little Debbie, Mister Frito-Lay, the list is long and distinguished.

The funny thing is (I should say the curious thing because I’m not laughing about it) that although I am butt ugly and big as a house, when I’m out in public it’s like I’m invisible. If people pretend they don’t see me I guess I won’t litter up their People magazine’s World’s 25 Most Beautiful People world. Even my co-workers ignore me, unless they need the definition of a word they’re too dumb to even spell, let alone look up in a dictionary, or they need some other factoid. I forgot to mention that I am incredibly well educated, but in our culture, who cares?

The level of intellect of the people I work with is utterly appalling. I don’t think that any of the quasi-literate office drones can state a single fact confidently enough without tacking on an intonational question mark.

”Italy, that’s in Europe?”

“World War II was against the Nazis?”

“Mexicans speak Spanish?”

The answers to most of life’s central questions my co-workers leave blank.

I don’t mean to sound bitter. The fact that I’m ignored by my co-workers suits me just fine. That I’m not included in their after-work goings-on is a relief. The few times when I find myself in their social company I get so bored that I could actually faint. Their conversation revolves around petty office stuff or, even more boring, their personal lives. Maybe if one of them is feeling particularly lofty, they may mention an opinion on something seen on television.

“I think the girl’s parents did it,” they say as they sit back and contemplate this tidbit they have contributed to Western thought. I excuse myself and jump from a third floor bathroom window to escape.

Work is called work for a reason. I don’t get too concerned about them one way or another. I prefer being ignored, it beats trying to carry on a conversation with someone about whether or not some movie star looked fat on last night's TV appearance. About the only way I could get noticed around the office is if I came in to work with a hunting knife sticking out of my skull.

There is no knife in my head today so no one notices when I leave work a half hour early. I step outside and walk to my car. I work in what is euphemistically know as an office park. Whoever tacked on that name should be forced to look up 'park' in the dictionary. It's a four story building surrounded by a parking lot and fringed with a bit of grass and shrubs (the park part?). This entire part of the city is diced up into these office park units. There are no retail or housing units in the area so something as simple as finding a place for lunch becomes a sort of safari. Forget about walking anywhere except to your car in the parking lot.

If I were an undercover agent posing as white trash my choice of automobile wouldn't blow my cover. It's a 1979 Ford LTD, a real boat. I take neither pride nor shame in my vehicle. I paid practically nothing for it and it runs, good enough. It's not like my appearance would be improved if I drove something like the other people at work: the Legspreader V8 or the Barbie Malibu Lipsitck Funmobile. I'm not willing to shell out the cash to get in one of these and it would take the jaws of life to get me out.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

It's the Music that Matters

(caution: this entry is completely irony-free)

I buy sheet music compulsively. I have at least five feet of music on the shelves in my apartment. My piano is stacked with stuff I am playing or playing around with. I have much more music than my abilities and time left on this earth will afford me to play. I keep buying more because I like the way music looks. I like having the possiblities contained in these books at my beck and call.

I especially like the Schirmer’s Library of Musical Classics books. These are yellow with green garlanded trim. They are incredibly inexpensive which further fuels my fetish. The first one I purchased was titled First Lessons In Bach. I remember walking up to the cash register and feeling like an imposter. I thought the sales clerk might challenge me, make me play a few measures, but I just needed to fork over the $3.95 (I told you they were cheap).

Another great series of music books for the beginning to intermediate pianist are the Alfred Masterwork Editions. These aren’t much more expensive than the Schirmer books. They have great looking reproductions of paintings that reflect their content. On the introduction book to Beethoven’s piano works there is a detail from Joseph Mähler’s oil portrait of Beethoven doing his best Gary Oldman impersonation.

Samuel Scott’s Entrance to the Fleet River is on the cover of Clementi’s six sonatinas. The thumbnail sketch on the back cover explains this choice. “This beautiful oil painting was chosen for this cover because, not only does it represent the London that Clementi knew as a young boy, but like his sonatinas, this colorful, bright and refreshingly airy composition is a joyous celebration of the times.” I love the painting at least as much as the sonatinas, but I love that description more. I would love for something that I create to be so described.

A little later in the day, I passed by a middle school orchestra performing on the stage of the Seattle Center. I missed out on the whole band thing as a kid because where I grew up music training was seen as superfluous, or at least highly optional. I look upon young musicians with equal parts awe and envy. A person who learns a language as an adult is almost never fully able to conquer the accent, similarly, it is nearly impossible to master an instrument if you start late in life as I did. Better late, as they say.

I took a seat and listened to the concert. They band concluded with a medley of songs from Annie. Their teacher and conductor was really working them through this piece and the kids rose to the occasion. They looked like they were having a blast up there. As a spectator it would have been impossible not to be moved by the performance, even if you aren’t a big show tune whore like I am. They finished up the medley and the concert with Tomorrow and I couldn’t help thinking to myself that if these kids playing Annie isn't a joyous celebration of the times, a colorful, bright and airy composition, I don’t know what is.

I will probably get beat up for this but I'll leave you with this song which you'll be singing the rest of the day:

TOMORROW

The sun'll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
there'll be sun.
Jus' thinking about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow
till there's none.
When I'm stuck with a day that's gray and lonely, I just stick out my chin and grin and say:
Oh, the sun'll come out tomorrow, so you got to hang on till tomorrow
come what may!
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow, you're only a day away.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Hard Times For Bill

Monday night means laundry night chez moi. Time to load up the week’s worth of acid-washed jeans and Motley Cruë t-shirts in the basket. I throw a copy of Jean Paul Sartre’s Les Jeux Sont Fait on top and head out to the Sit and Spin café laundromat. I bring the book just to impress the waitress. If I need anything to read I can always find a dog-eared copy of Oprah. I don't know why I'm trying to score points with her ilk. The last time I dated the hipster type intimacy consisted of me disinfecting her body piercings.

I had just sorted out three loads of clothes when Mister Gates staggered into the laundromat, balancing a huge plastic hamper on his head. Never mind that a platoon of government lawyers is working around the clock to carve up his empire like so many Balkan republics, he has to have clean shirts just like the next guy.

Maybe his stock has tumbled a bit, and technically he is no longer the world’s richest man, but things aren’t that tough for Microsoft’s founder and chief shareholder. He still uses a name brand detergent, not like the bulk stuff I use, which I keep in an old cookie tin. I guess Fitzgerald was right: the rich really are different.

He watches as I carefully measure out ¾ cup of soap for each load.

“You measure that stuff out like you’re some sort of chemist,” he jokes as he free-pours his box of Tide into four top loaders. What a grand-stander, a real hot dog.

We both take a seat, waiting to add fabric softener. He beats me to this month’s copy of People lying on the table.

“ ‘Sexiest Man Alive'! What’s he got that I ain’t got? Ask any woman what they think is sexy and they’ll tell you a man with power. I could have this movie star pretty-boy picking up cigarette butts in the company parking lot.” He looks at me for support. By way of changing the subject I turn on the TV.

“Mister Gates, you’re breaking out into a cold sweat. Are you OK? This? It’s a very popular show; it’s called So You Want To Be A Millionaire. Your worst nightmare is being reduced to a millionaire? No kidding? The people you know make their kids watch this when they want to scare the bejeezus out of them?” I turn it off. I ask if he wants to join me for a beer at one of the tables.

The beers show up and we pay (Dutch treat, of course). We both comment on how nice it is to be able to drink a beer while doing laundry. Not wanting Bill to think that I may have a drinking problem, I fail to mention to him that I once scoured the yellow pages looking for a post office with a happy hour (I was able to find a barber shop that serves beer, The Burp and Clip).

We both return to the machines to throw our stuff in the dryers when I finally get up the nerve to ask him.

“I’ve always wanted to ask you something, Mister Gates. So much has been made of your personal wealth but take away that wealth…put down the gun, Mister Gates. I’m speaking figuratively. No one is going to take away your money. But underneath all of that financial and material wealth, I’m sure you’re just a regular guy like everyone else in this laundromat. What’s that? Really? OK, besides the fact that you’ve had extensive gene therapy, and you’ll never get any older or get sick, and you’ll never die, I’m sure you’re just like me. You’ve got the same blood pumping through your veins. Synthetic blood you say? So you’re kind of a Michael Jackson-type regular kind of guy.”

We make it through the usual gossip while we fold (he must have worked at The Gap in high school, this guy is good) when the topic finally turns to what is to become of his company.

“The government boys want me to break it up into two companies: a software company and a cover band that performs at wedding receptions. Weddings are a good business. You know the phrase 'you may now kiss the bride'? I picked up the copyright on that."

Sunday, March 03, 2002

Tragically Unhip

For all of you who have been living under a rock, today was The Day of the Accordion at the Seattle center. I bought a cup of coffee and noticed that the action was going to go off in a couple of minutes. You could have cut the tension in the air with a knife except most of the people in attendance are pretty heavily medicated so all sharp objects must be put out of sight.

The MC of today’s festivities, Ollie Olondorf, took the stage and immediately went for the comedic jugular. “I see a lot of accordion lovers out there today. There must be at least a half dozen of you.” I would have shit myself laughing but I think I have a pretty good handle on my little problem. The meetings have helped and, praise the Lord, I've been 'clean' for going on 19 days. The Tacoma Trio took the stage first and effortlessly weaved their way through an odyssey of Finnish waltzes and Czech polkas. Not bad as far as warm-up acts go.

You could tell just by the way the next group, Cooksie Krammer’s Accordion Band, strutted onstage that they are the bad boys of the accordion world, its seamy underbelly. All I have to say is take everything you thought you knew about accordion bands and throw it out the window like last week’s sauerkraut. These guys put the F U in funk. No less than 12 accordion players and a drummer. Pinch me somebody, I think I'm in kitsch heaven.

The Northwsest Accordion Society information booth was directly left of the stage. A John Goodman look-a-like in traffic cop reflector shades sat behind it, manning the high-tech control center (I'm not joking about the high-tech part, this is Seattle, after all, where little kids at a lemonade stand have at least a palm pilot and a cell phone). This guy was probably pulling double-duty as their head of internal security. He seemed vaguely threatening, like a hit man if Dave Thomas, from Wendy's, were to employ one. In the wake of recent terrorist incidents, you can't be too careful at a major accordion function like this one. The very demeanor of this guy seemd to shout, "Terrorists of the world, go peddle your filth elsewhere." For the first time in months I felt safe.

I hope that no one gets the impression that I don't like accordion music; I do. I even passed by the merchandise table and picked up a "You Can Take My Accordion When You Pry It From My Cold Dead Fingers" bumper sticker. I have been toying with the idea of buying an accordion. The down-side of playing piano is that your instrument is the least mobile of them all so an accordion could remedy that problem.

Friday, March 01, 2002

Men in Cloggs: The Test

This test is designed to determine whether you are a true Seattle guy, or just someone passing time here waiting for your court date.

1. Before eating a piece of fruit you:

A) wash the organic fruit you purchased at the hyper-expensive coop thoroughly in warm water.
B) make sure you wipe the apple on the ass seat of your pants before eating it, but only if someone is watching so they won't think you're gross.

2. At a restaurant you ask:

A) if the soup is completely vegan, or is it made with chicken stock?
B) "Can I get bacon on that?"

3. Do you:

A) always buy fair trade coffee to help Latin American farmers.
B) come within a hairsbreath of getting into a fist fight with the kitchen workers at the Mexican restaurant next door to your apartment during a tequila-fueled argument over the name of the host on the popular TV variety show Sábado Gigante.

4. To impress your date while dining out at a sushi restaurant you ask the waiter:

A) for an order of ARAME and explain that it is rich in iron and calcium.
B) "Can I get some cheese melted on that and served with a side of ranch dressing?"

5. In unpleasant confrontations with strangers your first reaction is to be:

A) passive-aggressive
B) an asshole

6. While drinking in a pub in Freemont:

A) discuss the genius of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.
B) in the warm glow of your third Irish car bomb think you are actually being enlightened when you say you believe that hippies may possibly share some DNA with humans.

7) Your shoe wardrobe contains:

A) several pairs of stylish clogs.
B) my shoe what-robe?

8) Your contribution to conservation causes:

A) dutifully attending every Cascades chapter of the Sierra Club meeting even if it means driving 30-40 miles in your V-10 Ford Excursion while listening to The Love Songs Of Whales on the cd player.
B) you brag about not having a car and taking mass transit but fail to mention your conviction on a vehicular assault charge and losing your license after you drank eleven screaming nazi shots at the company christmas party thus failing miserably in your role as the designated driver.

9) Your insights into the bountiful wilderness of the majestic northwest can be summed up as follows:

A) Man must learn to live in harmony with all of god's creatures.
B) On a recent hunting trip you ate a three-egg bald eagle omlette because you thought it would go well with fried spam.