I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

March 9, 2008

(I started writing this a while ago, but then I sold all of the jokes to gypsies, so now I must furnish the entry with new ones.)

An old friend of mine won an Oscar recently, which is excellent, and much like the crafty Ms. Passion, I had an influx of traffic on this here website due to a link on said friend's old blog. Given the, uh, adult nature of the traffic, I am feeling a certain amount of pressure to adopt an intriguing pseudonym like "Lorenzo from Accounting" or "Lunch", and posit scenarios which might better fit the expectations of these new visitors.

Yes! Us, together

I never thought it would happen to me! Despite his incorrect and shameful choice of headgear, the professional affiliation of great service toward our corporation was overwhelming! Together, we searched very much to achieve bare financial milestones established with great knowing by the regional management for whom effortless brilliance of leadership and strategy is infinitely disappointed by our meager abilities and profound inadequacy. But yet we both felt great seriousness toward our professional responsibilities!

There is an article coming in a local newspaper about the travel book, so I am looking forward to that. In the March edition, upon much consideration, we decided to change "Birdgeport" to "Bridgeport" on the map for that part of the city. One bar on the south side closed, so that came out, and a Neapolitan pizza place on the north side went in. But we haven't done anything about the somewhat daffy computer-generated index, which has to be seen to be appreciated.

Reports have it that Cheeta was featured on Episode 350 of This American Life. I haven't listened yet, but I am always excited for the old fellow to get some of the recognition he so richly deserves. His masterwork "Green, Brown, Yellow" recently had its first formal exhibition in my living room during a party, and I think everyone was very impressed. (I should note that I had it framed at The Practical Angle in Chicago and they did a fine job.)

The ecstasy of monkey (I)

I never thought it would happen to me! I was just sitting there on the mountain, on the lookout for peanuts or old fruit, when...

February 25, 2008

It is not entirely accurate to say that I have been up to my old tricks, for among the tricks were new ones, such as the publication of a goddam book. I have never done that before, and now that my author copies have arrived, it is delightful to see words that I have written in print. The book is a travel guide to the entire city of Chicago; I covered the north side and most of the west, and shared duties on the center of town. It was written with another fellow whose talents complemented my own, under contract to a publisher overseas. The idea was for us to write a book, and then post more or less the entire thing online for people to collaborate upon in wiki-form; whereupon we, as editors, will incorporate any quality submissions received into the text of the book, which is printed on demand whenever someone orders it, ensuring that it is ruthlessly current.

The publishers received some coverage on the blogs last week, most notably on boingboing, where a commenter named JOE had this to say:

"Their Chicago guide is 468 pages? That's not a travel guide, that's a travel novel. You'd spend the majority of your trip reading the beast."

Damn right! Thanks, guy.

This kid will rule the world

So that's what I did with the latter half of 2007, and also the first month of 2008. It was a lot of work, but I am pleased with the finished product. I did rather a lot of writing, of course, and plenty of walking around to find things and telephone calls to confirm other things; two of my photos adorn the cover, and there are a few more scattered throughout the book in black and white. Rogers Park receives an entire chapter, and although travel literature is a form simply not equipped to capture the sweet, savage nature of the old stomping grounds, I did enjoy the chance to write about my ancestral land in guidebook form.

You can buy a copy of my book here; and I leave you with that.

(Obviously, I haven't written an entry for quite a long time. Both my day job and the aforementioned travel guide require sentences that do not wander too far into the labyrinth of alarm and excitement and halfway state that is the mark of my usual prose, so it is kind of enjoyable to stretch out with all of these clauses.)

February 25, 2005

Some people have written to ask if I knew the Killer Japanese Seizure Robots. Actually, I did. I cannot pretend that their English showed much improvement while I was there, but I miss them all the same. I go to their webpage rather often and feel nostalgic, and also epileptic.

Last week, in the midst of discussing my own impending birthday, I delivered a powerful oration on the nature of holidays in North Korea, noting that, as far as I could tell, St. Patrick's Day was the only one that had not been revealed by the North Korean media to be Kim Jong Il-related in origin. Following up on that, we have the following from our sideline reporter, Arden:

I really am as shocked as anyone about the failure in coalescence of Kim Jong Il and St. Patrick's Day. One upside of flunking out of U of I was my opportunity to study "The History of China and Japan" at the substantially less politically correct Parkland College, where you learn things like, "Korea is known as the Ireland of the Orient, because they also have a history of alcoholism." With a shared culture like that, how could these countries not be attending each other's parties?

I thought about that, and I suppose one reason might be the hair issue. We know, from science, that all Irish people look like this, while the government of North Korea has set clear guidelines for hair and attire. How, then, might a drunken North Korean socialist fanatic judge the Irish?

1. The hair of the Irish is too long in the back, and it is unruly. Although men aged over 50 are given allowed two extra centimeters of hair to cover balding, that is clearly intended for use toward comb-overs. Irish people allow their excess hair to spill out of their hats, and it provides no aid towards concealing their baldness.

2. The nappy ends of the hair and beards of Irish people tends to suggest that they do not get a trim once every fifteen days, as prescribed. That leaves them with undue amounts of free time in which to be infiltrated by corrupt capitalist ideas.

3. There are, the North Korean media reports, civic advantages to wearing smart shoes. Irish people, however, choose to wear long, yellow shoes that are pointy and bent upward at the end. By no reasonable measure are the shoes of the Irish smart. In fact, as one representative from the goverment argued, "No matter how good the clothes, if one does not wear tidy shoes, one's personality will be downgraded." It is a sensitive issue, even among fellow drunks, when one's personality has been downgraded.

4. If there is a link between a person's clothes and appearance and their ideological and emotional state, one is hardly encouraged by the inability of the Irish to put their hats on straight. Are Irish people perpetually drunkenly challenging the world to fight because they favor pointy clothing over smoother, less angular ensembles, or do they favor pointy clothing because they are drunkenly challenging the world to fight?

The sad fact is that while North Korea and Ireland may be able to overlook those differences before the wine starts flowing, it is inevitable that, by the end of the night, someone will have accused someone else of falling short of ideals in accordance of a socialist lifestyle, and someone else will suggest loudly that certain parties appear more interested in socialism than girls and are, therefore, gay. None of that is likely to be taken well; fisticuffs will probably ensue. So maybe that's why.

The skill with which I settle things has to be admired.

(news) But U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci told reporters Wednesday that he was perplexed over Canada's apparent decision to allow Washington to make decision if a missile was headed toward its territory. "Why would you want to give up sovereignty?" he said. "We don't get it. We think Canada would want to be in the room deciding what to do about an incoming missile that might be heading toward Canada."

Fucking hell! Yes, you might think they would...but they don't. That is the central enigma of the Canadian psyche and I cannot believe we have such a hopeless incompetent as this Paul Cellucci contending with it. The Canadians are going to eat him alive, metaphorically of course, there is no telling what they will actually do, but it is not going to turn out well for any of us. God damn. Get him out of there!

To answer your next question, yes, I am willing to take over as Ambassador to Canada. Holy shit! I will be so good at it.

My life has been quiet for the last week or so. Tonight, I will get my car back. My mother went joy-riding in it a few weeks ago and some guy rammed into the back left corner while it was parked, so his insurance is paying for the entire rear bumper to be re-painted. That's nice, I guess, but there is really no point to having a freshly-painted bumper when you live in the city and park on the street. Like moths to flame, degenerates without any semblance of parallel-parking ability will be hypnotized by its bright, unscarred green, given over to the irrational notion that they have plenty of room to fit their rusted-out Oldsmobile behind my car. I will be lucky if the bumper lasts two days before returning to its previous state, or worse. Really, what's the point? Every time I see one of those stupid gee-whiz-so-fast DSL commercials, I shake my fist. Fuck the internet! Where is my rocket-pack? I was led to believe there would be rocket-packs! I am increasingly irate, and a disturbance even to myself.

There is one more thing that I should mention - you have no idea how thoroughly these entries encapsulate everything that is on my mind at the time they are written, so I can't leave anything out - and that is the death of Hunter S. Thompson, the noted American lion-tamer. It's hard to write anything about Hunter S. Thompson because you must constantly check yourself to be sure you are not trying to write like him; perhaps it's not a problem for the old folks, the hardened professionals, but we young'uns have to watch out for it. You either wind up sounding like a pale, mis-shapen imitation of the man or a colorless version of yourself. (Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, and Raymond Carver: read them, but not while you are writing anything of your own.)

There have been many tributes, summations, epitaphs and reflections over the last week or so, and nearly all of them have had a palpable self-consciousness about them in some way, shape or form. You can't be unfair about that, though. Nobody was expecting to have to write these things; everyone was caught off guard, and only the worst among us were glad to have the chance. When it comes to memorials for Hunter S. Thompson, all you can really ask is that they leave you with something. Compare, for example, this one, by Alexander Cockburn, to this one, by ESPN writer Eric Neel. One writer is far more skilled than the other, far better-versed in history and politics and literature, and the other is more or less exactly what I wrote about, timidly placing words next to each other until a column has been formed. And the interesting thing is, the first one leaves you with less than cat shit, and the other one leaves you with this:

The only time I ever spent with Hunter Thompson took place on one strange night at his home outside Aspen. I read aloud from his latest book that night -- Hunter liked that kind of thing, liked to hear his words come alive, he said. I held a number of weapons, the names of which I can't even remember, because he would just hand them to you and say, "Here, feel that." (My friend Daniel carried a sword around for more than an hour for fear of offending the good doctor.)

I was taken on a tour of photographs on the walls (not framed, just tacked up there in little collages), some of the young, fit journalist, some of the baggier, more weathered writer, some of the headlong madman, and all with a half-remembered story. I ate some kind of crackers and cheese and nursed a glass of gin, praying he wouldn't peg me for the lightweight I really am. And for a stretch, I sat next to him on a low-slung leather couch watching the Kings and Lakers go head-to-head in the fourth quarter. Hunter had money on the Lakers. They were winning but not covering, so every missed shout was a wincing blue streak and a chance for him to ask me what the hell they were doing and why wouldn't Kobe feed the Big Daddy?!

Everyone hates on Hunter S. Thompson's Page 2 columns, but I liked them. It was fucking cool when he wrote this, about the 2001 Bears:

"I owe the Bears an apology. I called them "phony," but I was wrong. They are a gang of Assassins and I fear them. They will croak St. Louis in the playoffs."

Even after the Bears got killed in the playoffs, we fans still had that, not the Lombardi Trophy but not that bad either. More than anything else, I liked the Page 2 columns because most of them were evidence that someone to whom I felt a deep sense of gratitude was now enjoying himself with friends watching sports. I liked the Eric Neel column because I wanted to watch football in that room, even though there was no way that it was not going to be awkward as hell for a non-drinker (non-smoker, non-drug user, non-meat eater!) like me. Possibly, I would have been shot. Well, Eric Neel told me what it would have been like, a little.

(Does anyone else remember how, in the days after September 11, 2001, every fucking so-called celebrity in the country solemnly pressed Their Take against our chests, hoping that Theirs would be the One that Was Remembered, that History would Say, This One Commemorated It, This One Defined the Moment? Well, unlike basically all of them, Hunter S. Thompson's column doesn't look like shit when you read it today.)

One thing the man had absolutely mastered as a writer - there were many things, of course, but I'm just going to identify one of them, because this is only a weblog, after all, and you people don't even provide me with an expense account - was the full range of synonyms for the verb 'to say'. Read something he wrote with that in mind. I always enjoyed that about his writing. But, again, be careful about doing it while you're writing something, or you'll wind up having to print out a list from some online dictionary to avoid feeling like a brick-layer every time you settle for 'say'. He opened up one of his books with this quotation from Mark Twain:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.

Yes. That, exactly.

I keep straying. Here is my entry into the eulogy-stakes:

Hunter S. Thompson could tame lions, fierce motherfuckers with sharp teeth. I saw him do it. He's gone now, but you can bet those lions still see him when they go to sleep, here and forevermore.


January 11, 2005

Today is the same as yesterday, only with snow outside. My project manager is out sick again and she is the only person I have been working with. I called the temp agency to let them know that I am just hanging around here with nothing to do, because I like this company and I do not wish them ill. No problem, said the temp agency, go back tomorrow and get paid some more. And so, my last day lasts another day.

I bought an interesting book called Lenin's Embalmers, written by the son of the doctor who figured out how to preserve Lenin's body for public display and then was in charge of keeping it in near-mint condition for the next thirty years. (Until Stalin, in a reach even by his own standards, charged him with conspiracy and sent him to Siberia.) In the book, there are a couple of photos from right before Lenin's death, when he was recuperating from a series of strokes, and I found the degree to which he looked bat-shit crazy to be rather striking, so I decided to spend some of my idle time trawling through Google to find the most deranged Lenin pictures available on the web. There weren't many, unfortunately. People who created or distributed images of Lenin looking anything less than dignified were generally shot. But you may enjoy these:

Light-bulb Lenin;
Spar'anything Lenin;
Melting Lenin;
And, on the bottom right,
Holiday Lenin.
Which is awesome.

You may also enjoy this statue, although it is from a different, less deranged area of Lenin iconography, namely the 'half-amused and implacable' school. I saw it when I was in Moscow and thought it was great. Most of the collection found here is pretty good stuff, actually.

December 30, 2004

One of the things that I really missed about America was quarters. They are a bomb-ass form of currency and life in other countries is poorer for not having them. The 100 Yen coin in Japan is shaped much like a quarter, but it is dangerous for Americans when the dollar-unit is not represented by a paper bill, because we are not taught to be serious about how we spend our coins, and therefore they can go pretty quickly. Japanese money doesn't involve paper until you get up to 1000 Yen. I have a special fondness for the Y1000 bill, because it features Soseki Natsume, a novelist from the Meiji era whose most famous book was a 650 page epic called I Am A Cat in which the narrator is a cat, written long before college rhet class students were writing stories from the perspective of a spoon. I wound up at Natsume's summer house once, by accident, and found a life-size black-and-white cardboard cut-out of him kneeling on the porch, racking his brain for ideas, and I thought of the words of another of his narrators, Botchan:

"Ever since I was a child, my inherent recklessness has brought me nothing but trouble."

One of my students quoted that to me once, in their own translation.

No! I am talking about quarters. I don't need to tell you why they are good: they make arcades come to life, two of them buy you a can of pop, one of them buys a fine gumball, or at least it should. It's the phone-call coin. I have never felt completely without options as long as I am in possession of a quarter. The fifty-cent piece tried and failed to subordinate the quarter. Any coin that is called a 'piece' is not a coin that I trust. God damn! I found a dime on the street in Osaka once and was understandably perplexed. How can a coin that small expect to compete? On one hand, you could always swindle my brother into swapping a big nickel for a small dime. On the other hand, when you did, you'd earned five extra cents. Way to go. What are you going to get with that? And the little bastard holds a grudge.

When I returned to the USA, I was excited to see the progress that had been made in the State Quarters series since I'd been gone. I used to enjoy a good evening sitting around the fire, talking shit about the quarters of different states. (In case any readers of this webpage have ever thought that it might be fun to hang out with me, that should set you straight about what you could expect.) Ohio has and continues to be the best, as it prominently features a moon-man; Indiana was generally acknowledged as the next best, owing to their use of a giant race-car. The quarter of my current home state, Connecticut, is for shit, which is, in that way, much like the state slogan. But what are you going to do? They elect Joe Lieberman to the Senate here.

As for quarters introducted after I left, everyone knew Illinois was going to go with Lincoln, but at least it was Action Lincoln. Wisconsin probably has a valid claim to best quarter now, which must be something nice to talk about on those cold, wintry nights. The one that interested me the most, however, was Florida:

Has anyone else noticed how interesting that is? I know what they think they're going for with that design, or at least what they think you think they're going for. But has anyone noticed the order of events there? The Spanish galleon is arriving just after the space-ship has left. They are saying that the space-ship was there first. In other words, the Florida quarter argues for a retrograde interpretation of history - either that, or it's suggesting that human beings were planted on the earth by aliens. That's a pretty fucking provocative thesis for a state quarter, especially considering their electoral history.

It is a lazy Thursday afternoon at the consulting company. For all of my bluster about keeping their expectations precisely modulated to ensure the perfect nexus of slack and paycheck, it turns out that I finished the first draft of my project too early, so I had to take an unpaid holiday on Monday until they had the revisions ready. I was much more careful with the revisions, leaving thirty minutes' worth of work to be accomplished today, so that I could not be left at home again while they catch up. This is a nice consulting company, though, and I wish them no harm. I do good work for them. In a show of school spirit that surprised even me, I used orange-and-blue as the dominant color scheme for the presentations I worked on. The presentations are all about building teams and being a leader. Interestingly enough, counter to the notions of some of my colleagues, they do not appear to recommend punching people in the face. I'm wondering if I should just go ahead and put that in there for them. They seem wise, though, and perhaps they do not need my counsel. For example, there are always snacks in the kitchen. They keep a basket stocked with chips, peanuts and chocolate. Why do more businesses not realize that the loyalty earned with free food far outweighs the actual cost to purchase it? If Beelzetron had kept me stocked with cookies they'd have saved a fortune on white-out.

December 22, 2004

I am trying to get my sea legs back with this whole web-page thing. It's been a while. I did my best to keep it current while I was in Japan, but the fact is, to me, weblogs are all about being stuck at work. I don't really understand people who blog from places other than work. What is the motivation? If you weren't chained to a keyboard, only able to half-concentrate among the piercing hum of a hundred office machines, why wouldn't you just go outside and play, or read a book? For all of the goofy talk about digital content revolution, it has always seemed to me that weblogs are just the new media scheme for caged birds to sing. Or talk shit, as the case may be.

Poo-too-weet. There will be new photo galleries added over the next few weeks and they will be tremendously exciting, each bringing vivid illumination to some fascinating corner of the world. Below, you can already find a link to one such visual journey, in which monkeys run wild over a sleepy Japanese suburb and the police are helpless to stop them. There is a story that goes along with that gallery, and now seems like a good time to tell it. The suburb in question is in the northern part of Kyoto, near the mountains. My friends Tianni and Travis lived there. One warm summer night, not long before I left, they had me over to their place for dinner, and we had a grand time. Travis told me that one of his co-workers had talked to someone who claimed to have seen monkeys running through the streets in that area once, a long time ago. The monkeys had come down from the mountains for whatever reason, and then the police had chased them away. We talked about how great it would be if that were true. Monkeys in a city, I thought. Holy shit. When it was time to catch the last train, I walked back to the subway by myself, calling out "monkeys!" along the way in that way that I do when I'm walking around and looking for something I don't really expect to find. (Friends of mine will know the tone of voice.) Then I boarded the train and went home. Tianni had the next day off, so I didn't see her until Tuesday. When she came into work, she pressed her digital camera into my hands without a word. The photo gallery below records what had happened the next morning.

Honestly, if you are not standing on your feet and cheering by the last photograph, I do not know you.

I went to the Mark Twain House on Saturday. Let me tell you, Mark Twain had a fucking awesome house. His wallpaper was 84% better than the best wallpaper I had ever seen before. They had the house all decked out for Christmas, which was nice. The tour guide said they hoped to have the kitchen restored by May, so maybe I'll go back and check out the kitchen.

August 30, 2002 The History Channel is endlessly frustrating to me. I spend a fair amount of time hollering at it. They'll follow something insightful like a piece on the burning of the great library at Alexandria, calling it 'the most destructive fire in history', with a bit where they take a painting of a king and photoshop a bucket of water into his hand and make it swing back and forth to 'hilariously' illustrate him helping to put the fire out.

I am going away for the weekend. Please watch my stuff.

July 23, 2002 There has been some concern, given my recent bowling scores, that if my current rate of ascent continues, I may turn into a being of pure light some time in the winter of 2003. All that I can say at the present time is that I have considered the issue and will take appropriate steps as they become necessary.

Yeah, I'm basically the Vin Diesel of post-Marxist response to Edith Wharton.

A guy here in the office got his green card last week and it has gone straight to his head. Quite the cock of the walk now, that guy. I don't know how he gets any work done with all the time he spends strutting up and down the hall, making pronouncements about my haircut and the quality of the cake he got from a conference room downstairs. They really opened the floodgates with that guy.

June 5, 2002 I am struggling with the early summer crazy, wherein I up and quit my job, claiming that it is the will of nature that I am free, and expect that things will work themselves out as far as money goes. Some readers will recall that I gave in to the early summer crazy in a big way last year, and it did not turn out well. There is no reason to believe that it would turn out any better this year. But the early summer crazy does not listen to reason. A sense of diplomatic immunity sets in, like the bad guys in Lethal Weapon 2. Work gets harder to do. I did not shave this morning, because I am trying to communicate to the world that I am dissatisfied.

Here is some more of the reading list. I meant to include all of the comic books in the first half, but, evidently, I forgot some of them.

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up
Brian Michael Bendis, various

Whenever Marvel publishes something with 'Ultimate' in the title, it means that the story takes place early in the superhero's career, making it easier to follow for readers new to the title in question. Hence, although Spider-Man has known Wolverine, the Hulk and Iron Man since back in the day, in this book, he is meeting them for the first time. The problem with comic titles that are solely dedicated to team-ups is that nothing of any significance for either character is allowed to happen in them. The characters' editors want the important stuff to go down in the character's own book, so everyone involved has to be exactly the same at the end as they were in the beginning. Therefore, even the best team-up title stories are like the ones here: good writing, and enjoyable while you're reading them, but fairly hard to remember once you're done. Still, good reading, even if I just can't get with this new Hulk that they're pushing.

Victor Hugo: A Biography
Graham Robb

Victor Hugo liked the ladies. He also liked to write poetry, and he seems to have been more or less okay with himself, too. Hugo got to do all of the things writers want: have a lot of sex, live in comfortable wealth, get exiled in a dispute with a dictator where, later, you get to say "I told you so", become acclaimed as the greatest writer alive before you've even written your masterpiece, return to your homeland, most of which is named after you, and inspire millions of Vietnamese to worship you as a god over a century after your death. (Come on, Vietnam. Love me.) This, then, is a massive biography. In the introduction, the author makes a pretty solid case for its necessity, as well as its primacy among English-language biographies of Hugo. He covers everything without exhausting anything, which is mostly good but occasionally bad (e.g. relatively scant material on Les Miserables, which will replace the Bible in the life of any child of mine). The prose is clean, with the occasional wry sense of humor, and the text plays to the reader's intelligence, using a few references and comparisons that all of ten people worldwide might catch (myself not included). And there's some exemplary material on the sorry state of the English translations of Hugo's work. An interesting book, even simply as a historical overview of France in the 1800s.

The Secret Paris of the 30s

I have a sentimental thing going on with Brassai. (Where does one apply to be a one-name guy? I don't want to be one, but I have to wonder whether you're allowed to up and start referring to yourself by one name, or if there is an approval process.) During my Lost Weekend in London last year ('lost' in the literal sense: I spent more or less the entire weekend lost, because I was on my own, and I am a useless navigator), there was an exhibition of his work at the Hayward Gallery, and though I had to rush through because I'd spent too much time at the Goya exhibit upstairs and the museum was closing, I liked what I saw. Most of his photographs fall into two categories: stolen moments, ones that seem completely unconscious that they are being captured on film, be they couples in an embrace or the never-before photographed view at night from the alcoves of Notre Dame de Paris; and working-men, bemused that they are being photographed, giving blithe grins to the camera. This collection, accompanied by a good running essay by the photographer about his adventures while taking the photos, starts out with those two types. Inevitably, though, somewhere around the midway point, the whores come in, and once he starts on the whores, he never gets off them, so the second half is mostly Parisian whores just hanging around in various settings.

A Walking Tour of the Shambles
Neil Gaiman, Gene Wolfe

Limited-run book that I picked up at a book-signing that the good Mr. Gaiman did in Evanston. (Mr. Wolfe might have been there, too.) It's a guidebook to "a mythical neighborhood in Chicago that survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871". 'Mythical' means that the neighborhood doesn't exist, in the more precise sense of the verb, although they do a good job of situating it in a part of the city where it may as well exist, because no one's entirely clear what goes on over there. It's a slight volume, clearly written for fun, and best read in short bursts rather than straight through. There are a few bits that get the character of the city right on, and a few that are completely off (a 'Terribly Strange Bed'? I am the only man in Chicago who conjugates 'terrible' that way, and even I don't do it very often), and most just seem like nifty ideas that the authors had stored up and could apply to any, well, mythical neighborhood. Ultimately, it comes off as an entire book's work of background details from a Gaiman (or Wolfe) book.

All Families are Psychotic: A Novel
Douglas Coupland

The odd, terrible title notwithstanding, this is really quite a good book. For whatever reason, beginning with his last book, Miss Wyoming, Coupland went on this 'mature' bender, signalled by odd press releases referring to Miss Wyoming as his "first novel", implying that the previous books were some other, presumably lesser form of literature - a distinction whose necessity was lost on me, and which made me worry about where Coupland's head was at. Included in the move seems to have been the decision to remove his own voice from his work, which means no first-person narratives and a deliberate avoidance of characters who could be taken as author surrogates. I liked Miss Wyoming well enough, but he seems much more at ease with the "mature" imperative in this one, for whatever that's worth. There's a wide range of characters, and many of them get complex, nuanced renderings even as they cause trouble and gripe at each other. (Some do just remain background sketches, and I wouldn't be conscious of that if it weren't for the 'mature' thing.) The plot revolves around a family - not terribly dissimilar from one of the suburban Vancouver bunches of his previous books, but sped up a bit - who get wrapped up, in a sort of innocent manner, with diseases, drugs, black-market cloning and other bits of chaos, while waiting for one of their members, a flipper-baby astronaut, to blast off in Florida. The story stays grounded, never slipping into crassness, and balances genuine emotional resonance with a sense that nearly anything can happen, which makes the book hard to put down. And it's unconfined by genre, with a ballsy bit of magical realism slipping in when you least expect it. Funny, unpretentious, with some beautiful observations along the way - I liked it a lot.

Animal Man
Grant Morrison, Chas Truog

DC published a handful of titles in the latter half of the 80s that became widely acclaimed mature classics, much to their own surprise: Doom Patrol and Swamp Thing, for example, and, improbably, Animal Man, the story of a guy who can absorb the abilities of any animal that happens to be nearby. Like the previously mentioned pair of titles, the first few issues of Animal Man are odd to read in light of where the book wound up (loosely, animal rights and the existence of a benevolent god). The art is fairly plain, and the writing hasn't quite shaken off the general superhero dictum of its origin. Still, these issues hold up very well, and it adds up to a fairly great book. Grant Morrison is, at present, the most overinflated writer in comics, but this comes from an era where the parabola connecting his ambition to his ability made quite a nice shape. Highly recommended.

Long Day's Journey into Night
Eugene O'Neill

Oh, the Irish, and their whiskey, and their mothers.

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72
Hunter S. Thompson

Approximately 85% serious, smart-as-fuck political writing, and 15% pure crazy. I really admire Thompson's commitment to the total derangement of the senses. I take a lot of shit for my consistently underanged senses, and, like a postcard from the North to the South Pole, I feel a kinship with the guy. (Which he probably wouldn't share. But he's a doctor of pharmacology, and I'm just some guy, so my options are limited about what I take.) Written in monthly installments as the campaign was developing, the book constitutes a strong case for the significance of the 1972 campaign to the nature of politics today. Nixon lurks in the background as a figure of pure evil, making only occasional (yet utterly perfect and memorable) appearances; the Democratic candidates were all more willing to grant press access, so there's much more material on them - and, if you're interested in the pure mechanics of a grass-roots campaign, how the primaries work, the emotions that go into the superhuman effort of selling someone to an entire country, this is great reading. There is also a running paranoid streak regarding George McGovern's press secretary that belongs on any list of the funniest shit ever. It's odd to think that the pieces were written for Rolling Stone. The candidates were all trying to court "the youth vote". What major publication, considered to be in touch with "the youth", would try to get them interested in politics with intelligent writing? Bygone era.

Batman: Dark Victory
Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale

Fucking phenomenal graphic novel; sequel to The Long Halloween, but not overly reliant on knowledge of its predecessor. There's a pretty good mystery along the way, but the main joy, for me, came from seeing the characters used so well. I mean, they made The Calendar Man cool. That is a remarkable achievement. As an old school Batman fan, I love seeing the Joker and Two-Face interact with each other. Neither character is to be fucked with under any circumstances, but for different reasons, and Loeb knows those reasons. This is the stretch, early in Batman's history, where Robin arrives and where the mobsters of Gotham become extinct, overtaken by the supervillains. I'm a huge fan of Tim Sale's art, and this is the best work he's done - there are several layouts that you have to stop and stare at. He has an immaculate understanding of the unique advantages of the comics medium, and uses it to the fullest. Towering stuff.

The Inhumans
Paul Jenkins, Jae Lee

Quite excellent graphic novel starring Marvel's Inhumans, of whom I only have foggy memories from back in the day. Jenkins, another one of the best writers in comics today, reimagines them as an entire civilization with a lush, suggestively detailed yet accessible back story. I've never liked Jae Lee's art very much, and there are a few parts of this series that I think someone else could have handled better, but it doesn't by any means ruin the story, which revolves around wariness of humans (I can relate) and problems caused by the machinations of Portugese mercenaries and evil geniuses (again, I can relate). The civilization itself is the lead character, with most of the individual Inhumans (other than the lead pair) staying in the background, and it's a great creation, with overtones of ancient Greece and the movie Metropolis. Definitely a unique piece of comics art, and worth reading.

Plays: 2
Dario Fo

Referenced by Dave Eggers in a blurb on the back of The Onion's Dispatches from the Tenth Circle collection as being "maybe" the only superior to the Onion as "the most consistently perfect and excoriating social commentary we have". That is nonsense, and should be decried as such. Dario Fo is not as funny as The Onion. In Can't Pay? Won't Pay!, included here, the social commentary sits outside the action in the form of occasional monologues that bring the play's slapstick to a grinding halt. In his later plays, although agenda and action are better integrated, the agenda still comes first and tangibly determines the form of everything that comes after. Eggers' determination to have the world know that he is down with Fo is not Fo's fault, of course. I suspect that I'd worship him if I'd been born in Italy, and that seeing Fo's travelling company perform these plays is a vital part of the charm. They all seem like they'd be a lot of fun to produce, too. So, nothing against Dario Fo. These plays are pretty good. I just want to see The Onion paid some respect as literature.

There, then, is my updated reading list. Why do I read so much? I have long accepted that people are going to try to kill me, one way or another; I simply want to make absolutely sure that their reasoning has nothing to do with me not reading enough books, just in case, because I have control over that, if nothing else. There does not seem to be much of a link. But I am not absolutely sure, so I must press on.

May 31, 2002 That last entry was, I think, my first written with impaired faculties and no memory the next day. (I was sick, and it was 3 or 4 a.m. Why I felt compelled right then to write something and upload it, I don't know.) As a result, I did not give much thought to the Ottoman Empire war veterans on Memorial Day. Sorry. I am thinking about them now. Are there any left? Are they allowed to get together with veterans of wars fought by other defunct countries? This world can be lonely sometimes.

Today is my last day as the Ombudsman. It has been a blistering week and I have not enjoyed it. Everybody's a goddam insult comic fresh off a week at the Catskills, man, and I'm handcuffed to say a word in response. My self-discipline is good, but I wasn't planning to waste it on this.

Here is about half of my recent reading list. I'll do the other half later.

Ultimate Spider-Man, Vols. 1 and 2
Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley

Ace re-telling of Spider-Man's origin and beginnings, rebooting events to begin in more or less present times. (As a rule, even the hippest of comic book writers are about two years behind the curve when they work pop culture into their stories, and attempts to use hip youth lingo tend to make the baby Jesus cry.) Great as the Spider-Man movie was, this has an even tighter and more effective plotline for introducing all the major players and bringing them all together. Mark Bagley is a good artist and looks like my uncle Joe, so I have nothing but positive feelings for that guy. If you liked the movie and want more Spidey, these are what to get. (Vol. 1 runs parallel to the movie, more or less. Vol. 2 is uncharted territory. It features, in an encounter between Spider-Man and the Kingpin, one of the single greatest jokes in the history of the medium.)

Revenge of the Green Goblin
Roger Stern, Ron Frenz

Fairly useless story in which the Green Goblin, having escaped death through the aid of some hooded acolytes, strikes at Spider-Man where he is most vulnerable, through his toothpaste. Not bad or anything, but unremarkable and vaguely irritating. (Uses the original Spider-Man continuity, wherein all of the issues published since his first appearance in the 60s are part of his history - essentially, this is the older, experienced Spider-Man.)

Amazing Spider-Man: Coming Home
J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita Jr.

Pretty good story in which an unbeatable vampire dickhead hunts Spider-Man, who is depressed because his wife recently left him. Am I the only person who remembers Kraven? The unbeatable vampire dickhead reminded me of Kraven. Anyway, Straczynski was the creator of Babylon 5, which I have never seen, and writes a good fight scene. John Romita Jr. is a great guy, and does some lovely things with page layouts. Peter spends a fair amount of time reflecting on his youth (when he's not getting beaten up by the vampire dickhead), and it's not heavily wrapped up in past issues (other than the basic fact that Peter was dumped), so it serves as a nice ten-years-on from the movie.

Superman: No Limits!

Fairly good collection, with a few really good stories and a couple of bland ones, though it's hampered by moronic sequencing of the individual issues - the most interesting subplot gets put on hold for 48 pages at a time because it was running in Action Comics but not Superman or The Adventures of Superman, issues from all of which are included here. And there's a bizarre Superman Does Beowulf in Virtual Reality With Wonder Woman For Eighty Years story that throws everything off. For the most part, though, it's a solid choice if you just want to read some Superman, because it isn't overly steeped in plot details from older issues. (Although Superman For All Seasons, occasionally available in proper bookstores, is the shit as far as Superman goes.)

Green Arrow: Quiver
Kevin Smith, Phil Hester

Kevin Smith's comics writing is better than his film writing. Not a single one of the criticisms usually leveled against his films can be legitimately applied to his comics, and every one of the films' strengths remains present in them. He's not terribly prolific, but for a few years, he has been going from character to character, spending 8-10 issues on him, and effortlessly making the character cool again. Which is quite nice of him to do. His work on Green Arrow rates a notch below Daredevil, his other major project, because Daredevil is from Marvel Comics, and Green Arrow is from DC, and while I am a DC loyalist at heart, DC has spent much of the last decade fucking up most of their characters with convoluted plotlines and cynical attempts to recreate the surge of publicity they got for (temporarily) killing Robin and Superman by killing, in 'shocking' fashion, almost all of other ex-Super Friends. (A new low was reached when they killed Aquaman last year. Surprisingly enough, CNN was not on the scene.) Smith, therefore, had to undo several years worth of shitty stories to make Green Arrow useable again. (The difference is that the stories preceding his on Daredevil were just flat - he could focus on telling his own story right from the start.) He pulled it off, though, and managed the impressive task of making the untangling of bad stories into a good one, so he deserves all respect. And, like the brief appearance of Spider-Man in Daredevil, Smith writes a short Batman and Superman pairing that, in a word, rules.

N.B. Some readers may have noticed that I am omitting the names of the inkers on the various comics I have been mentioning. This is because I am hoping to lure an angry letter out of an inker.

Brian Azzarello, Richard Corben

Competently written but basically unremarkable story that doesn't do much other than to announce This Is How We're Doing The Hulk Now. It's not his origin, but not much seems to have happened since then, so it doesn't require much prior knowledge other than who Doc Samson is. (He's this guy.) The faintly Robert Crumb-esque art is an odd choice and doesn't catch the raw power of the Hulk very well. I've always been fond of Dale Keown's Hulk for that.

I'm glad that's been settled. Y'all was probably freaking out. Why y'all be bugging? One of the great mysteries of the world.

April 23, 2002 And now, I will attempt to win back your love. These departures, they are not my fault. They are the fault of military action in the Middle East. I am not saying that an increased workload for me is worse than, say, people dying, or even people starving or getting sick or having their homes blown up, all of those things are absolutely worse than a lot of work for me to do, but, all the same, I would like it to be taken into consideration by the powers that be in Israel and elsewhere that I did not sign on for this, this was not part of the agreement when I took the job, and if you do not make peace, I will quit, just as soon as I find another job, because I'm not doing that unemployment shit again.

(news) Powell talked for about 45 minutes in the meeting with Arafat and sent a "very clear message,'' said the official, "that the bombing had to stop.'' Powell stressed the point throughout the meeting, the official said. Little progress was made. The Palestinians served their guests chocolate cake, which was brought by the Norwegian ambassador a few days ago and saved so they could serve it with a bit of coffee.

I noticed that bit of news last week buried deep in a page five Sun-Times article. Now, of course, the Powell mission is over and failed. But how can the Palestinians' sincerity be doubted when they put all that effort into making sure that, even though they weren't being allowed out of their headquarters, there would be dessert when the visitors arrived? They even risked pissing off the Norwegians by claiming to be full and not in the mood for cake (or however else they explained not eating any of the cake while the Norwegians were around). The chocolate cake, for me, is the smoking gun of the peace process.

Sometimes, on major issues, I just get determined to have a viewpoint that no one else does.

The rabbi had surgery on his leg last night, leaving me with less work to do and, more importantly, the excuse that I've been waiting for to start calling him 'Pegleg'. I figure he'll love it.

I've been meaning to head over to the Mies In America exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art and start fights with people. Just walk up to someone and say, "Less sure is more, huh?", and if they agree, give them a nice cockpunch.

Here are some more of the books I have been reading:

The Hero With A Thousand Faces
Joseph Campbell

Camp-dogg's famous comparative study of myths from a vast array of pre-modern civilizations and their relation to Freud, Jung and the collective unconscious. I can't take Freud seriously, and I think the book is at its weakest when it leans heavily on him to explain the development of ancient religious myths. There's also a labored, fawning explanation of Buddhism that stops the book's momentum cold, and a streak of new-agey All-God yammering. But, for the most part, it's a pretty good book. The prose is fine, and it provides a nifty cross-sectional introduction of ancient myths other than the Greco-Roman hits. In my experience, knowing those sorts of things comes in handy during the strangest times. Campbell's outline of the quest of the hero (and its variations) is also useful. Whether it's an ancient script that exists in the collective unconscious of humanity or not, it does serve as a guide to the bare mechanics of a number of stories that have resonated with readers / listeners for thousands of years, and it's handy to play with or play off while writing something of your own, either for dramatic or comedic effect.

Three to See the King
Magnus Mills

Bearing in mind that I thought his first two books were brilliant - does two equal a bias? - I thought this one was screaming genius. I laughed out loud on the train, a deep sense of tranquility came over me while reading, etc. Magnus Mills is a bus driver in England. His stories feel like the result of a lot of time spent on public transportation at off hours. (That may be too wrapped up in how I feel about a lifetime of public transportation to mean something to anyone else, though.) His narrators are completely reasonable people who accept their world and think in one sentence at a time about it, but wind up surrounded by other people, who are not reasonable, and wind up drawn into strange versions of hell, which is far funnier in practice than it perhaps sounds here.

I wrote an essay on metaphors, and how teachers never tell you that the whole point of using a metaphor is that a reader is not supposed to catch you at it, but it got boring at the end, so I deleted it. The point was that Magnus Mills does great things with metaphors: the Incredibly Obvious Metaphor that's funny because of the air of smug cleverness that hangs around the practice of metaphors, and the Insufficient Materials Metaphor, where you use something ridiculously simple, like a darts game, to suggest something immense, like communism or the Bible. And by the end, you realize that none of the metaphors fit exactly, that this is its own full, odd and unique thing, and you smile, or at least I did.

Jim Jarmusch: Interviews

The films of Jim Jarmusch are great. As this collection demonstrates, he is occasionally interviewed by pretentious bastards, but not always. You may have heard his name and associated it in a vague way with static, boring Important Films By Men Who Have Seen Many European Films And Hollywood Won't Show Them, The Bastards. But don't. His films are crazy, funny, smart. They are about and for wild men. "Down By Law" is amongst the greatest shit ever. The very invocation of Ghost Dog's name speaks volumes. Yes, see the movies. This book is okay.

Sweet Thursday
John Steinbeck

Sequel to Cannery Row, which would go on the same list of Greatest Shit Ever as "Down By Law". This one is a single straight-line narrative, more or less, which puts a restriction on the number of characters that can be involved and the schemes they can hatch, and it doesn't have the Fell Straight From Heaven, Perfectly-Formed air that "Cannery Row" did for me, but it's still pretty great. A few characters are gone, and the rest have aged, and no one is as sure of himself as they used to be. It's incredibly funny, full of brilliantly observed characters and dedicated ultimately to beauty and love and all that good stuff, humanist at its core in that it tells an honest, unsentimental story about how people can live together and care for each other without religion or politics ever coming into it.

I've always been confused about why Steinbeck used those clumsy metaphors in "The Grapes of Wrath", because his other writing really suggests that he'd know better.

Also, I have read a whole lot of Spider-man in preparation for the upcoming film.

April 3, 2002 Here is a thought for the makers of robots: the simulation of consciousness is a fine and interesting goal, but I think that many people would be satisfied to have someone to play catch with.

I did not work today. I will not work tomorrow. I received the lowest power bill of my life today, less than half of last month's total, twenty-two percent lower than last March, when I was gone for a full week at the beginning of the month. I was unduly perplexed. I don't know what was different about my life last month. The power bill will sit around for a couple of weeks until I am tired of seeing it, and then I will pay it.

A pair of overdue book reviews:

A Death In The Family
James Agee

Not the landmark storyline in Batman from 1988 wherein the Joker killed Robin, but, rather, the only novel by James Agee, who was known for his work with photographer Walker Evans on populist Dust Bowl journalism in the 1940s and his film criticism, which served as a model for the genre in that he was devoted to finding overlooked beauty and championing films of value without wallowing in intellectual self-indulgence or easy swipes at so-called Hollywood product that are, themselves, as shallow as that which they claim to critique. (Or, more succinctly, Jonathan Rosenbaum.) But let me get back to Batman for a moment. It's an interesting historical note that, although the Death of Robin storyline had a major impact upon comics for years to come and shattered sales records over the course of four issues, it really sucked. There were three good pages: one single panel with Lady Shiva early on, and two pages with Superman in the last issue. The rest were unbelievably bad, devolving to a point wherein Iran nominates Joker as its envoy to the United Nations just to irk Batman. I mean, holy shit. The novel by James Agee, on the other hand, is good. He belonged to that school of classic American writers in the first half of the last century who had a lot of talent, drank a lot, and died early. I don't agree with the editors of this volume that Agee was "basically done" with the book when he died, but it is more or less complete. It's a meticulous, careful study of the love a family feels for each other and then grief, as felt by characters of three ages. (The small boy, Rufus, especially gets me. He reminds me quite a lot of the boy from Joseph Heller's Something Happened. Man, I'm always reading these books that wreck me. Everyone else on the train reads Harry Potter.) Agee's roots in populist journalism ensure that the book is never sentimental or morbid, and the characters' voices are perfectly heard. And the essential humanism (vs. religion) at the heart of the book goes down nicely with types like me. Undeniably brilliant. Not a barrel of laughs, though.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again #2
Frank Miller, Lynn Varley

Not the landmark storyline involving Batman in 1986 wherein a brilliant psychological portrait of an aging hero was drawn, but, rather, the sequel to that storyline, 16 years later, and, sadly, significantly less good. There is just nothing compelling about this series, no vision, just a lot of sound and babble and flailing about for effect. By the end, it doesn't even seem as though Frank Miller can lay out a page any more. Was Klaus Janson the real talent behind The Dark Knight Returns? Well, no, probably not. But, man, has Miller ever lost the plot with this one.

I have seen some commercials for the trip to Antactica contest, and I have not yet won it, so I am now changing my strategy, which is to request that everybody signs up for the contest and just plans to have me along. You will like me. I am a real charmer when I have to be.

March 20, 2002 I didn't have to work last night, so I take back everything nasty I said. I got no problem with that guy. I just stayed at my desk when everyone else got up to leave at 4:15, and no one asked why I wasn't going, and I went home at 5 as usual. As I was leaving, the rabbi said that I should be careful, because it was wet outside. Does he think I am soap?

I ordered a lomo last week. Let me rephrase that in the correct syntax: I ordered a lomo!! ahhahahahaha!! Now I am only waiting for it to arrive. It is due today, or tomorrow. Lomo is the insane genius of cameras. Sometimes they fall apart, and you grow tired of the lomo's antics, and want to give up on it. (This is what I have heard.) But sometimes you make the lomo to dance. (This is also what I have heard.) Lomo is for stealth. No flash is required. Lomo can take pictures in any light. Its pictures have the incredible. But sometimes it up and falls apart. Lomo is the raving mad Dostoevsky camera. Sometimes you are to the lomo, go! You drink and you gamble and you are so bad! But then the lomo is good. (I have heard this.)

I work at a Jewish place of employment, although I am not myself Jewish, and therefore I have a bunch of time off for Passover. I wanted to go somewhere, but nothing has come together, so I will probably do some prime sitting around instead. Or I'll go take a vacation in the kitchen. I don't know. One thing that is going on during that time is author Irvine Welsh's promised appearance at the Metro here in Chicago. Columbia College told lies before, and I hate them for it, but this is claimed to be true:

Thursday, March 28 Columbia College Fiction Writing Department Presents... "TROUBLEMAKERS: LITERARY ROCK & ROLL" featuring readings by IRVINE WELSH JOHN MCNALLY JOE MENO followed by a one-hour DJ set by IRVINE WELSH Tickets: FREE! All Ages Doors: 7pm / Show: 7:30pm

So there's that. I'll go, and if they are lying again, I will do much the same as I did before, which is to complain.

My cats have this crazy new thing to contend with. I went ahead with my plan, as stated yesterday, to buy a big tree thing for them to climb on. It's pretty neat. There are three tall, mid-sized logs that stand straight up from a carpeted base, and nestled between the logs are three cradles, which are also carpeted, and presumably comfortable. The highest cradle is about even with my neck. At the base is a hut where the cats can have some privacy. My mother says they are called 'kitty condos', but I am not a big believer in private ownership of land, so I call it a 'kitty collectivized recreational installation'.

These are all very domestic things to write about.

I should explain the tap dancing reference from a few days ago. They mentioned that I can tap dance in the bio used to announce my hiring in the company newslatter, because it's on my resume, and the bio was taken straight from my resume. I can sort of tap dance. I have a pair of tap shoes that fit, and I can make a plausible clickety-clack with them. I learned how to tap dance for a musical I was in during high school. I went to an all-boys school, and nearby was an all-girls school, so theater kids who didn't mind the long walk would swap schools and get better parts that way. The girls' theater department was also streets ahead of ours, both in quality and in fun. (And in...the ladies.) We did "42nd Street" one year, and because I was a personable fellow, and because no one else could dance either (but were, for the most part, better singers), I wound up being the featured male tap dancer in most of the musical numbers. I never stopped being bewildered to find myself in the situation, much like I am with my current situation, and the one before this, and the one before this, but I did my best, and the show was a huge success. At the cast gag awards, I was named "Best Pseudo-Dancer", because although I made every movement more or less perfectly, my feet almost never touched the ground. (The female dancers were loud enough. No one can tell when you screw up tap-dancing if you don't make a sound.) I left it on my resume, at the very bottom, because hiring directors love to notice it during interviews. I'd be fairly fucked if asked to tap at a company event, though. Like a soap-man in "Singin' in the Rain".

March 19, 2002 I hit my head on the bottom corner of my kitchen cabinet on Thursday. It hurt. There was a fairly large gash above my eyebrow, so I put a bandage over it. I was still wearing the bandage when I went to work the next day. I resolved to have a different explanation for every single person who asked about it, and I was pretty excited about the challenge. But no one asked.

There is a RabbiTech fundraising event tonight and I am afraid that I will have to work there. The rabbi and I are the only people in this office who do not work on fundraising. He gives the fundraising people ideas from time to time, and I write those ideas out for him, but for the most part, he has his own agenda, and I follow along. Since I sit among the fundraising people, though, I seem to be classified - when it's convenient - as one of them, and there was a mass email a couple weeks ago saying that all of the fundraising people have to work the event. So, I don't know. We'll see what happens. I will get nasty if I have to go. The event is a stand-up comedy show ($100 seats) by Martin Short. I don't much like Martin Short. He is Robin Williams minus "Dead Poets Society", "The Fisher King", "Good Will Hunting", the legendary early coke-fueled stand-up and improv with Jonathan Winters; when you take that away, all that's left is crafted and crusty "impressions", spitting and spluttering as a punchline and gay hairdressers. All technique, no heart. Probably a nice guy who has no idea he's inconveniencing me. I am capable of getting nasty.

After work today, I was planning to buy a big tree thing for my cats to climb on. Although they never seem to mind, I've always felt bad that they can't go outside, so I thought they might like a big thing to climb. Seems reasonable. I'd like a big thing to climb. I already know there's nothing on the ceiling, though.

I keep forgetting to update my reading list. It's been several weeks now. I will try to catch up now.

What A Carve Up!
Jonathan Coe

Ah! A great book. Thom Yorke referenced it in an interview during the OK Computer era, and it had been floating somewhere in the middle of my list ever since. The reference is slightly misleading, though. It doesn't read like the sort of book that the "character" of OK Computer would have written. The similarity is in what they both react against, the pigs, the sense of outrage that reaches a point where it can't be articulated and then spirals off into something compelling and strange (Radiohead) or hilarious (Coe). (And, with equal power, sad.) The book is about a fantastically evil family, brilliant creations all, and the downtrodden author who pursues them. It's one of those quintessentially British novels where people do horrible things to each other and the reader is trusted to understand that even though what has just happened is very funny, it is also horrible, and you should take appropriate measures with both reactions, which won't interfere with each other. (Americans don't seem to get that level of trust very often from their art.) Gobs of self-assured talent are evident and the story is endlessly inventive. Highly recommended.

Russell Banks

Terrifically long (750+ pgs) book "by" Owen Brown, son of John Brown, rabid abolitionist who led a bloody armed insurrection against slavery before the Civil War. This is one of those books that was more interesting when I wasn't reading it. The relationships - of Owen to his father, and to some of the figures surrounding his father - had all of the complexity and chaotic architecture of ones you'd recognize from real life, but I didn't have any immediate reaction to them until later, when I thought about what I'd read earlier that day or week - which isn't a bad thing, of course, but makes a massive book like this tough going. Most interesting to me (and expertly handled here) were all of the differences in abolitionist theology in pre-Civil War America and the practical, how-to details on showing up somewhere and setting up a home and livelihood. The exciting bits - the insurrection - don't arrive until 600 pages in, and many details that would have been interesting are left out for commitment to the character's limited perspective. I think, for my purposes, I would have been better off with a straight history (rather than historical fiction like this).

Antony and Cleopatra
William Shakespeare

Shakespeare dashes off another brilliant one. I have a degree in literature, which means that I've read a fuck-ton of Shakespeare in academic settings, and he still manages to surprise me. Antony and Cleopatra, two of the greatest lovers of all time, right? So, the easy move is to show them in love, at the height of their passion, etc, and you can show off how well you write romantic poetry. Shakespeare, though, introduces them when they're just past ecstasy, and they're starting to realize that they are bound to each other, and they're clawing and clinging at the same time. The academic interest is in the question of Antony's responsibility to take up his position in Rome or linger with Cleopatra, but the real interest, for me, is the morning after for the two lovers, and as the Antony contends with the younger Octavian, the feeling of age dawning, of trying to get it back. So, another great one for the Big Dog.

The Human Stain
Philip Roth

I have avoided mentioning Philip Roth and Woody Allen around the rabbi because I don't want to hear him do a routine on the whole New York Jewish Intellectuals Who Don't Practice The Religion scene. I'd give the rabbi enough credit to possibly like some Woody Allen films, although it's also quite possible that he doesn't. Either way, avoidance seems the best tactic. This is a good book. Like his previous book, I Married A Communist, this one is fueled by a profound outrage that is very mature yet no less electricifying. That one was about how politics need to leave art the fuck alone because there's so much more to art than politics, and this one is about how academic theorists need to leave humans the fuck alone because there's so much more to humans than academic labels. The phrase he uses is "the ecstasy of sanctimony", and I think anyone who's ever been victim of it will recognize it right away, so you can gauge your interest based on that.

City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America
Donald Miller

Pretty damn good history of Chicago from the first arrival of Europeans in the region to the end of the World's Fair in 1893, taking the city from nothing to insane mudhole to its peak. The author puts a great deal of effort into his descriptions - the surreally disgusting slums, the ludicrous difficulty of making the land in Chicago practical for building and living - and the effort fits together quite nicely with his style of constructing history through well-chosen anecdotes about the common people involved. (Or, proletarian in a useful way. There's a tendency in some populist histories to reject the Great Man Theory of history, wherein history is understood as being moved exclusively by the actions of a few famous people, so thoroughly that it becomes willfully blind to the inescapably major impact of said few famous people.) The focus of the book is on the nuts and bolts of the simple fact of how Chicago was built at each stage of its development, and he gets that across very well. He also does a pretty good job of identifying the major figures (businessmen like George Pullman, architects like Louis Sullivan) and giving them full portraits without stopping the narrative momentum cold. There are a handful of slow patches, but that's to be expected in a history this size, and they're not many. Highly recommended if you're interested in the topic. The only weakness would be the uninspired selection of photographs.

Something Like an Autobiography
Akira Kurosawa

Wonderful! I like Akira Kurosawa's films quite a bit, but this book is worth reading even if you've never seen one. Unlike the standard artist autobiography, Kurosawa ends right before the point in his life where he becomes famous worldwide for Rashomon. Instead, the book is divided between two lovingly and brilliantly re-created halves: his childhood growing up in Meiji Japan, as the country made the transition (in a very short amount of time) from the feudal samurai era to the modern one, and then the story of the fledgling Japanese film industry, trying to stay afloat and find purpose, identity, etc. There are several incredibly funny bits, and even some eyes-water-over poignant ones, all written without apparent ego or calculation. He had an incredible memory for details and brief anecdotes that give a sense of the entire situation. Highly recommended.

Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto

Having written one of my theses in this field - deconstructionist film criticism - I feel qualified to say that it is not necessarily bad to state that the intention of your book is "to problematize dominant interpretive frameworks", as long as the phrase "for me to poop on" follows in quick succession. Sadly, no one told Yoshimoto. His joyless book is now being pooped on.

January 22, 2002

I would like to talk some more about how well I bowled on Sunday. It was very powerful bowling. I have never been the best bowler in any given set of games, because I have always had friends who were good bowlers, but I am a solid second round draft pick. I am a young team. Although my all-time high (150) was never in any serious danger, I did bowl a healthy 25 pins ahead of my average over three games, and I feel that I am on the verge of taking my game up to the next level. I made some mental adjustments, and now I just have to execute the game plan that the coach (in this case, my old VHS copy of The Big Lebowski) has set out for me. I can't get cocky, though. Bowling must be approached with humility, at least for now, until I move on to the Muhammad Ali phase of my bowling career, which should be fun. I want to thank the Lord for the songs the jukebox played while I was up and for the bowling ball marked AYIYIYI that I found. (In this case, 'the Lord' refers to my friend Mike Saul, bowling legend Johnny Petraglia and my old VHS copy of The Big Lebowski.) In any event, I bowled so well that I am going to buy a pair of bowling shoes. And as soon as my average hits 180, I am going to buy a bowling ball. It will have a picture of a ninja fighting with a giant cobra snake. I will probably be elected President because I will be so fucking cool.

The insane rush of ego at the end of that sentence carried over into off-screen life right after I wrote it. The rabbi came back with the second piece in a row that I'd written that was perfect on the first draft. I started crowing about it. "I'm so pretty! Can't no one touch my drafts! My drafts is gold!" Someone on the other side of my cubicle spit out what they were drinking. The rabbi told me to watch my head or he would come at me with a triple subjunctive clause. He's a great guy. I need to leave post-it notes around the cubicle to remind myself that I like this job, though. I tend to forget and instinctively begin waging war whenever I'm told to do any work.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America
Barbara Ehrenreich

We're not supposed to care about economic inequity in America any more, what with the whole war against terrorism and all, so it was rather un-American of me when I read this book instead of a nice bin Laden bio or a trenchant essay on the American Taliban and how movies and rap music have made our children into spiritual mercenaries. So it goes. This is an utterly nifty book comprised of three immersion field studies by Mrs Ehrenreich, a renowned sociologist (her work rocked the photocopy packet charts at my university). She moved to three different communities and, without making any use of her academic experience, tried to get jobs (Wal-Mart, waitressing, et al) and survive on the wages they paid. The Amazon.com reader reviews make a hilarious companion to the book (which is, itself, quite funny - I've always wondered why most sociology students are totally humorless when most sociology writers have good senses of humor), polarized and exhiliratingly predictable knee-jerk reactions from both ends of the political spectrum. The book is too smart to be a simple political screed down either line, though its conclusions at the end are, of course, discomforting. I thoroughly enjoyed it and, having experience along the same lines as she did, found it to ring completely true. I worked low-wage jobs of these types off-campus during college, and I was inevitably the only worker out of hundreds who had any college experience. I felt exactly the same way she did about the various tiny abuses, how they add up to affect your mental state, and I loved the waning security she felt in the fact that she had another life away from all of this. Most of all, I loved how useless her academic training was, because damn, was mine ever useless (which never went unmentioned by any other workers who knew about it). That part of my life feels as strange and dislocated as the rest of my life did while I was there. So, aside from being intellectually necessary and a good story, Nickel and Dimed meant something to me emotionally, and cheers for it.

Due to the unfortunate legal controversy of last week, I can no longer safely list a large portion of my post-college work history on my resume. It's all still true, at least as much as anything on a resume is ever true, but said employer would probably have less than positive things to say about me now if they were contacted. ("He'll write witheringly sarcastic things about you on his webpage. Don't hire him!") I was worried, then, about the gap in my work history, since I already have the six months of unemployment from last year (with only "Played a cop in a serial killer documentary" to explain what the hell I was doing all that time). After some consideration, I have simply decided to keep listing the old job but replace the name, like so:

Towers Productions (2001)

Professional actor in documentaries produced for the A&E Cable Networks.

Wu-Tang Clan (formerly known as Wu-Tang Killah Bees) (2000 - 01)
Marketing and Communications during the design and launch of a multi-million dollar global rebranding campaign, with duties including business/media research (on the web, in print and by phone), research library maintenance, designing internal communications (to offices nationwide), payroll and budget issues and other projects (such as travel and teleconferencing).

I can speak convincingly about having done all of those things, so that'll get me through the interview, and I have to imagine that the Wu-Tang HR department does not respond quickly to reference checks, so the employer will give up and just hire me based on whatever other contacts I provide. Jim Jarmusch said that when he was working with the RZA on the soundtrack of "Ghost Dog", he had to wait on dark street corners in strange neighborhoods at 2AM until an unmarked van came by to pick him up, with a hooded RZA waiting in the back. And, seriously, I have known a few Human Resources people, and I have yet to meet one that would be up for that.

"Always with the ninjas," my friend JC said, shaking his head.

January 21, 2002

I will now tell you an asinine story about reunion between a man and an object. The first thing you need to understand is that ice cream was on sale. It tends to be on sale more often during the winter, because fools ain't buying it like they do during the warm months. It was purchased. Okay. Then he falls asleep. He ate two or three bites and then he dozed off in front of a film, inviting couch, lengthy work week. He eats ice cream with a fork. Why? He is, in many of the small ways, if few of the large ones, a ninja. Where was it written that ninjas eat ice cream with forks? Shut up. It makes sense, if you think about it. Anyway, the fork is gone. The ice cream melted, because it's nine hours later, and he's still passed out on the couch. He awakes. Goes to work, late. Okay. Bucket of cream was returned to the fridge to regain its 'ice' aspect. When he comes home, he turns his attention to other foodstuffs. And the next day, and the next. Many other days. The dishes are done, even, and all the other forks washed - and re-dirtied by other foodstuffs. Finally, he returns to the ice cream. The 'ice' aspect has come to the forefront. It is flavored, soft ice. Not as good. Over four sittings, it is eaten. On the third sitting, the tip of the long-lost fork appears. Holy shit. He remembers that fork. It would be great to put that fork back in circulation. Tired of being obliged to use spoons. Yes. Then, on Sunday: I have an appetite. Open the freezer, pull out the carton. Take off the lid. I can see the fork. I am so close. Heart of a champion. One more bite. YES. Hello fork, my old friend. I've come to eat with you again.

He never came right out and said it, but I always had the impression that it was in the fine print of the dream of Martin Luther King Jr that I not have to work on his birthday, especially after having bowled as well as I did the night before said birthday. Oh, society. So far behind.

Something Happened
Joseph Heller

The narrator of Something Happened almost doubtlessly worked on Martin Luther King Jr Day. I have often wondered what jobs in my strata were like before T1 connections at every desk, and this book answered my questions. (Sex, a bit, but otherwise, the familiar fear and loathing.) I think it's fair to say that a great book should have some manner of palpable effect on the reader, usually emotional or intellectual, but this bastard belongs to a rare few whose most immediate effect is physical. It beats the crap out of you. Every page is compelling, but it takes a ton of endurance to make it through, because the effect is so brutal - I kept on because I was amazed that a book could have so powerful an effect, even if the effect was far from uplifting, and also because of the private, solitary, raw thrill that, however painful the experience, there was no bullshit whatever. I mean, this book is defined by having no bullshit at all. And it's valuable because it has the capacity to surprise even the least sentimental readers (I'd count myself) with how much bullshit there is in the world, and what it does to our lives. I learned more than I thought possible about being a parent; I learned how terrified I should be about ever becoming one. I learned new ways to be sad. (My little boy is having difficulties is probably the most harrowing stretch of pages I have ever read.) The book is so well-written that it's hard to imagine it having been created in anything other than a single session, straight through, 500 pages, at the typewriter, arriving perfectly formed. (But, of course, it wasn't.) Oprah Winfrey said that Jonathan Franzen "must not have a single thought left in his head after writing The Corrections." I thought that was kind of a neat compliment. I'd say the same about this book, but it took Heller (author of Catch-22) thirteen years to write it, and that's a lot of time to store up thoughts. So there you go. Before I read it, Something Happened was defined in my mind by my friend Kurt arriving at a restaurant to meet me and another friend, clutching a tattered copy. And that still sums it up for me. It's a brutal book, but it's also the kind of book that you clutch, even as it falls into tatters.

January 10, 2002

After serious consideration, I have settled upon a resolution for this year. My plan is to win the Comeback Motherfucker of the Year Award. All but seven votes will go to me, which will be a record for margin of victory. I will accept the award, and I will place it in the arms of the gorilla I received for Christmas. The doubters will say, "Damn." I will sip a milkshake.

Until then, though, I am legally required to be sad. And so it goes. I'm working, so I won't have to try so hard. I have a job. I write long essays and letters for a rabbi. He's a great guy. He gives me notes, and I try to make them into something. Frequently, I construct entire paragraphs that I find completely incomprehensible. The job, while interesting, is having a serious effect on how I react to language. I can form sparkling passages of prose without knowing what any of it means. I think that's how James Joyce happened. So I have to watch out for that.

In the morning, I find it hard to wake up until I know I am supposed to have left. I spend a lot of time listening to "The Lindbergh Suite" from The Royal Tenenbaums. I have been doing well as far as eating potatoes goes. I don't think Cornel West should get fucked, like the old guys behind me on the train did. I dress better than I used to. My hair cooperates. I don't have any money, but I will. I am not sure if I enjoy any of the goals I have set out for myself. Writing is still the only thing that lets me relax, and I am still terrified every time I think about doing it, because I am scared that I will discover I'm not any good at it any more. I drink mostly water. I still don't get enough sleep at night, and I stay up late wishing I did. I still like the rattling noises that my radiators make. I have found new and vivid reasons to find every member of my family disturbing. I want to go somewhere, but I can't. I wish I was still in college, not because being a student was easier, but because I think now I'd actually enjoy the classes I took. I still don't enjoy talking about myself very much. I am still in exile. They still haven't fixed my apartment's buzzer. I don't have much going on these days.

The rabbi thinks I am very smart and likes me very much, but he gives me a lot of shit for not having any religion. I hum "Welcome to the Terrordome" whenever he gets on my nerves.

So, we in Chicago are robbed of snow. If I wanted a mild winter, I'd live in fucking Florida. I do not want a mild winter. I want snow all over everything, several feet of it, so deep I can't see anything except streetlights and my front door. I want to fall into snowdrifts at night.

RabbiCo offered me health insurance along with my paychecks, which was nice. That kicks in at the start of March. God damn. I am an intellectual mercenary.

Arden, who would be expected to respond if I were to call out, "Where my dawgs at?", sent along the valuable information that Dave Thomas was a Freemason. The good news is that his Freemasonry makes it somewhat more likely that his intentions regarding the preservation of the Frosty - if, in fact, he did have any intentions - will be respected, because the Freemasons get their way. The bad news is that his Freemasonry also makes it somewhat more likely that his head will, in fact, be grafted to a giant lizard body. And, for some reason, I feel certain that a giant lizard Dave Thomas would come with a biological imperative to wreck all my stuff.

Next time I do not have enough money for a Frosty, I am going to go into a Wendy's, hold out my hands, palms open, and ask, "Will nobody help the widow's son?" If he was a Freemason, that should get me a free Frosty.

Dispatches From the Tenth Circle
The Onion

A worthy successor to the monumental Our Dumb Century. Although this one is another hits collection, it follows Our Dumb Century in using crafty design to fill every available bit of space with content, and excellent content it is. For me, having a new Onion collection at hand doubles the length of any given trip to the bathroom, but that's okay. I am that much better a person for the time spent.

Incidentally, it is a dream of mine for Our Dumb Century to assume its rightful place as a school textbook by the time I have children.

January 9, 2002

My only concern regarding the recent death of Dave Thomas, founder of the Wendy's chain of fast food restaurants, is that perhaps he was the only defender of their Frosty milkshakes, which are the only decent milkshakes available at any of the major fast food chains in the United States; perhaps evil, sullen forces are preparing to exercise synergy and change the formula, now that his traditionalist ways are out of the way. I doubt it, because he seemed like a bit of a dickhead, but, nevertheless, I fear.

It occurs to me now that, as far as his death goes, I should also be afraid that someone will graft his head to a giant lizard body and send it after me. Okay. I am nervous about that.

One homeless man called me 'Phillip' today, and another one called me 'Billy'. What? On separate occasions, three different senile priests have called me 'John'.

The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1
Frank Miller, Lynn Varley

Pretty good. One has to temper their expectations with the fact that the original The Dark Knight Returns is, inevitably, overrated. It's great, but it has to bear the weight (along with Watchmen) of being endlessly referenced as evidence that Comic Books Are Serious Literature Now. The reason it blew me away as a kid was that it was very clear that a rogue force had seized control of these icons, known only from Underoos and movies, and he was using them for something new and dangerous. That was exciting. The fact that it could be done had implications about the power of being a writer that I recognized even then. He made Batman kick the crap out of Superman. God damn! Now, 16 years later, the sequel arrives. Whereas the original intimated a history but ultimately stood alone, this feels like the first issue of an ongoing series. Like most comic books (but unlike the original), it uses continuity with its predecessor as a shortcut for necessary character bits. It's also less subtle than the original, which is to say that it has no subtlety at all. Few comic books are, but the basic element of subtlety was one of the things that impressed everyone about the original so much. The original was taut storytelling with masterful pacing, and this is all immediate gratification; you get the amazing climax of the last issue of the original all over again in a few pages at the end of this first issue, except reversed in a manner that keeps making me think of Rocky II. Mostly, the characters just don't seem especially iconic. In the original, Superman represented issues of compromise, civic duty, things that you could recognize from newspapers and moral debates anywhere; that's why he did what he did. In this, his actions along those lines are explained away by the fact that he is under the control of a super-villain. Something like that brings up a nagging feeling that maybe the author didn't understand or doesn't remember what the whole point of the original was.

Still, it's pretty good for what it is, and it has potential to get better. Miller is working with more characters here, and, like Alan Moore, he is one of the few writers in comics who has the ability to say something about the characters as icons, not as the lead character in this particular incarnation in this continuity in the 132nd issue of the second series, so on and so forth. The art is pretty good, showing some (though perhaps not as many as I'd like) of the marvelous solid blocks and light-and-dark contrast of his Sin City panels. If nothing else, it promises to be a pretty good comic book series, and if that's all it is after a couple issues, then that's all I'll be expecting.

December 31, 2001

Reading this month:

My Movie Business
John Irving

A post-script to The Cider House Rules, for my purposes, though he writes about a few of his other books in translation to film as well. I just like John Irving a lot. I don't think I write like he does, and I don't even like the same authors (Dickens, et al) that he does. Most writers who labor over detail try my patience, but Irving's worlds are so perfectly constructed that I never think to question why this or that has to be present. Among great writers, I think, there are some who seem to have received their one or two (rarely more) masterpieces fully-formed straight from either God or outer space (Kesey), and there are others who give you the impression that you are reading them talking to you (Vonnegut), and some - like Irving - who just seem to know everything that's worth knowing about the craft of writing, and they get on with it. They rely not on divine inspiration but on working really hard and being determined to get it done well - and, in that sense, the act of writing seems like something very nice they are doing for you as much as the creation of, you know, art. The best thing about his books, for me, is feeling assured at the beginning that the story will not to go off the rails, get lazy, wander off in whimsy or take the easy way out. Characters will be true to themselves throughout; the rules will be followed and, when the necessary time comes, neatly broken.

Anyway, this book itself is fairly minor - it's double-spaced, for one thing, and a real John Irving book is never double-spaced. He writes about his sources for The Cider House Rules and, in a gentle version of William Goldman's style, his experiences with the film adaptations of his books. Interesting if you're a fan, but not a stand-alone sort of book.

The Cider House Rules
John Irving

I have read three John Irving books other than this one, and since I read each of them on a vacation, I held off reading "The Cider House Rules" until another vacation came along. It seemed like the sort of pattern that ought to be respected. ("The Imaginary Girlfriend", his very brief memoir, was the third; I read it on the first day that I tried to work after college, when the temp agency sent me to an office two hours away from where I was living at the time. I gave up an hour into the trip, late and depressed about the prospect of work, and I decided instead to install myself in a cafe, call the agency a few times and claim that I was lost until they lost interest. They seemed to feel bad for getting me lost, and there were no hard feelings.) I have grown weary of dodging plot details from the movie, though, and I figure that the holiday spirit and new employment pays suitable respect to the pattern.

The Compleat Chaucer: Now Revised For Additional Ye-Olde-ness
Geoffrey Chaucer

Still not quite ye-olde enough for my scholarly tastes. Has no one a real commitment to ye-oldness any more? Fuckers.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
Douglas Adams

I tore right through almost everything Douglas Adams wrote in rapid sequence during my early teens. This one, for some reason, escaped my attention. I am tearing through it now, loving every moment. There's really no higher endorsement I can give it than to say it's Douglas Adams on top form:

In fact, a very similar phrase was invented to account for the sudden transition of wood, metal, plastic and concrete into an explosive condition, which was "nonlinear catastrophic structural exasperation", or to put it another way - as a junior cabinet member did on television the following night in a phrase which was to haunt him for the rest of his career - the check-in desk had just got "fundamentally fed up with being where it was."

Portnoy's Complaint
Phillip Roth

A virtuoso performance by the writer as anything else - the book is a breathless rant by the narrator, spanning the entire 270 pages. Ah, late twentieth-century Jews who have fallen away from religion and are mired in complex sexual neuroses and their mothers. Will they never learn? It's a pretty good book, but I felt uncomfortable reading it on the train. I suspect that everyone is reading over my shoulder, especially beautiful women, who think I am reading porn and are crossing me off their list. Wait! Let me explain the context! Ah, nuts.

The Haymarket Tragedy
Paul Avrich

(See 010606 about the Haymarket affair itself.) I've read a few short histories of the incident, but this is the thousand pound gorilla on the topic. Teen years reading (and re-reading) Kurt Vonnegut set me up with a permanent interest in fiercely populist labor history 1880-1930, and the Twain I read previously put me in the mood to read about that era. This is a great book, cleanly written and impeccably researched. Anarchism, far from the tepid rebellion-for-dummies of today, was really interesting in its prime as a philosophy and movement.

The Bible According to Mark Twain: Irreverent Writings on Eden, Heaven and the Flood
Mark Twain

Although this is a 160 pg book masquerading as a 360 pg one, it's still a nifty collection. The essays are drawn from several decades of Twain's life, but all of them share the idea of critically examining the Bible (if Adam and Eve had no concept of good and evil prior to eating the apple, how could they be punished for doing wrong, since they had no idea what wrong was?) and (particularly excellent) commonly-held notions about life in Heaven. All of essays tear the roof off the joint, as it were. Nice. The length is padded to absurd extremes by the imbecilic editors with fragments and other scraps that, while promising, don't really work out of their never-written context; and the editors include gobs and gobs of lunk-headed notes, some rather intrusive, including introductions to every piece that blithely give away many the major jokes. Avoid the intros, but if you've ever wanted to read some Twain other than the standards, this is good stuff.

December 18, 2001

I want to clarify my position on the firing of pandas into outer space, as I worry that it may have been misinterpreted. Please allow me to explain:

I. I do not want to see all pandas fired into outer space, just one, and perhaps a second, to keep the first one company. I would like to keep a majority of pandas here on earth;
II. I do not mean to imply that the Chinese have vast stores of pandas, hidden and secret from the world, and they can afford to lose a few in the interest of astrophysics;
III. I think the panda(s) should be brought back alive;
IV. I think the panda(s) should be given a great deal of bamboo for the trip;
V. I realize that "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" was not a very good motion picture, and therefore I am not suggesting that a recreation of said motion picture be staged with an omnipotent space panda standing in for the omnipotent bald space woman;
VI. I realize that "2001: A Space Odyssey" was a very good space odyssey, and though it is not central to my position, I would like to suggest that replacing all of the astronauts in said space odyssey with pandas might be kind of funny;
VII. "What the fuck? All he ever talks about are animals, outer space and homeless guys."
VIII. Pandas have a lot of fur, and therefore the rocket should be fired away from the sun, not toward it, lest the panda get too warm;
IX. Have any experiments been done involving penguins in zero gravity, and the whole thing where they watch airplanes overhead and fall over? If not, why not? It's not as though there is a fucking penguin shortage;
X. Penguin, penguin, penguin, penguin, moose. Penguin;
XI. Certain motherfucking motherfuckers have motherfuckingly been fucking mothers, such as fathers;
XII. "Yes, but what ba-a-ands do you listen to?"
XIII. Pandas are big and strong, and though they are genial, if an alien should decide to fuck with the panda, I think the panda will be able to handle it;
XIV. Steps should be taken to ensure that no one from "Ranma" is sent up by mistake;
XV. Pandas can play basketball, I seen it on the teevee;
XVI. (news) A Beijing film director has asked Jenna Bush, daughter of US President George W. Bush, to star in an anti-terrorism movie, a Hong Kong newspaper reported. Director Long Zanxu has sent Jenna a letter offering her the part of heroine Nancy Lee in a 100-million-yuan (12.06-million-dollar) production called "Hero Defending Country", the South China Morning Post reported. Jenna, who is a university student in the US, has not yet replied. In the movie, Lee battles with terrorists on planes and trains in a bid to beat the bad guys and improve Sino-US relations. Long said the small budget restricted him from hiring Hollywood stars like action movie hero Harrison Ford. However, he believed the political nature of the film would suit Jenna Bush and hoped that she would accept a low-paid contract as she was not a movie star. "I intend to console the victims of this terrorist accident with my film," the Post quoted the letter to Bush as reading in English. "And if you, Jenna, the daughter of the USA President, could play the role in this film developed by China and America, how much would it set the hearts of the people aflame. "In the near future, billions of film fans will praise you for your excellent playing in our film after they speak highly of your father's heroic struggle," the letter added. Filming was due to begin in the spring of 2002 and would be done mainly in China, the report said. This is Long's second invitation for Jenna to star in one of his productions. Last year, he invited her to take part in a love drama;
XVII. My computer is pretty old. I need a new one. I was thinking I might get a desktop, because they are cheaper, and hang on to the laptop, which I'd just use for writing. But is it obscene to own and employ two computers? I don't mean to be obscene;
XVIII. What I am saying is, there could be some fantastic slapstick involving Jenna Bush getting the panda drunk. That wouldn't fly in Hollywood, but the Hong Kong film industry is much better at that sort of thing, e.g. "Drunken Master 2";
XIX. I don't have any money, anyway;
XX. Bears 46, Patriots 10;
XXI. My New Year's resolution this year, now drawing to a close, was to earn power-ups and dodge spinning blades. I am not sure that I succeeded;
XXII. One of my friends in New York recognized me on "Judge Mathis"! Great;
XXIII. Is it sexy that I know Roman numerals so well? Love me;
XXIV. Wednesday nights are pretty good for bowling. Let me know if you want to come. I'm not positive if we're going this week, though, because a bunch of people are going to "Lord of the Rings";
XXV. Quoth the Burger King announcer: "Arrrrwen, the elf!"
XXVI. (news) Gordon Watson, a 50-year-old library employee in Vancouver, British Columbia, is among those fans who feel that Peter Jackson's movie - the first in a trilogy - has commercialized the story and betrayed Tolkien's spirit. "I believe Tolkien's text is as good a story as has ever been told,'' said Watson. "I agree that it's necessary to remove sections from it, but I don't think it's necessary to change some of the underlying themes.'' Tolkien devotees - even those like Watson who haven't seen the movie - can reel off a list of differences between the books and the film, from changes in the story's structure to the elimination of scenes and characters. Purists are most vocal about changes to the character Arwen, who in the first book does little more than sit at her father's side during a banquet. She is absent in the second book, returning only in the third book and appendices.
In the movie, Arwen helps protect protagonist Frodo Baggins from spirit-warriors who are searching for him and the magical ring he carries. That's too much for Watson, who accuses Jackson of creating a "warrior princess" to appeal to female moviegoers at the expense of the story. "I'm very uncomfortable with the idea that she should be rescuing Frodo at the ford,'' Watson said. "It removes Frodo's heroic stature in the film where he's essentially facing down the Black Riders single-handed. It distracts from Frodo's evolution as a character";

XXVII. Quoth the Burger King announcer: "Fro-do, the hobbit!"
XXVIII. It sounds like a certain 50 year-old librarian and fantasy novel enthusiast is a little sensitive on the topic of warrior princesses;
XXIX. Quoth the Burger King announcer: "Gor-don Wat-son, the librarian!"
XXX. Comic book fans will want to check out the recent entry in Neil Gaiman's journal, wherein the normally polite and reserved genius lets loose and takes Todd McFarlane's punk ass to the house;
XXXI. Pandas are generally given good names, such as Ling-Ling, which compares favorably to Al Bean and Buzz Aldrin, I think;
XXXII. J.G. Ballard once wrote that it is entirely possible the only man from the twentieth century who will still be remembered 1000 years from now is Neil Armstrong;
XXXIII. Well, why not a panda;
XXXIV. The Chinese need something to keep them occupied and not making more babies. They'd be the first ones to tell you that;
XXXV. We were standing around in the lobby of a Hawaiian bar, critiquing the internal design of pandas (seriously flawed), but the bar was very crowded, so we left;
XXXVI. Bears 27, Steelers 24;
XXXVII. Space panda or astro panda? I'm not sure;
XXXVIII. Enough with these fucking communications satellites, and to hell with Anytime Minutes. The astro panda poops on communication satellites. Mischievous astro panda! Bamboo for you;
XXXIX. Quoth the Burger King announcer: "Ling-Ling, the astro panda!"

I hope that clarifies my position.

October 31, 2001

Reading this month:

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?
Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Avon Oeming

My friend came over and looked at my bookshelves; upon seeing that I'd never read this, he pissed all over my graphic novels and beat the crap out me when I asked him to stop. I don't know why I have such mean friends. This is a good book that fills the void left by Kurt Busiek's Astro City rather nicely, with art that falls between Bruce Timm's Batman and a manga flavor.

William Shakespeare

Obviously, Shakespeare is a friend of mine. I am a fan of his much-maligned later plays; even at the very end of his career, he never stopped pushing himself to try new things. Cymbeline's plot may have more ins and outs than anything he ever wrote. It's sort of a history play, about a king of ancient Britain who defied the Romans, but it also works as a fantasy, like The Tempest, and there are a couple of lines when the inevitably parted lovers are united that are jaw-droppingly beautiful. The god Jupiter makes a surprise appearance, unannounced in the cast list, and Doctor Cornelius will make you stand up and cheer when he slyly double-crosses the double-crosser. Scholars place it either before or after The Winter's Tale, but it reminds me more of a dry run for the magical aura that was perfectly realized in The Tempest than The Winter's Tale, which I'd place alongside Pericles in terms of raw, unpolished emotional impact (showing the author's advanced age and undeniable soul). Though Cymbeline is static at times on the page, it's easy to imagine it rocking the house in performance. Anyhow, the guy can fucking write, so get off his back.

Irvine Welsh

Ah. The man's back on top form. He's one of my favorite writers, so I lack even more perspective than usual, but I liked this one a lot. His last book, Filth, was a virtuoso performance, almost physically affecting in its brutality, but also something I'd never read again; only the last third of Ecstasy rated great. You can tell from the start of this one, though, that Welsh is back in the zone. Being one of his books, the title serves as assurance that the bonds of friendship will be revealed to be as strong as glue and glue itself will probably be sniffed. Nice. The characters are fully inhabited, and his narrative voice remains committed to them and the strong choices he makes; stories criss-cross over decades, and the principals of Trainspotting even make brief and welcome reappearances. The ultimate impact doesn't rate with the aforementioned, but there's still something genuine about it that's all its own.

Buppies, B-Boys, Baps & Bohos: Notes on Post-Soul Black Culture
Nelson George

A laser-smart series of essays tracing black culture, both on the art itself and its interplay with mainstream America, originally written for The Village Voice and a few other NYC outlets. Some are about pop culture subjects that are now dated beyond irrelevance, but most are well-written enough to be interesting as historical objects if nothing else. There also a few exceptional ones drawn directly from the author's life. The vast majority of the essays are from 1992 or earlier, though, with a handful of new ones (which also happen to be the best in the book) to mark the revised 2001 edition.

Motherless Brooklyn
Jonathan Lethem

For a time, while working as a museum security guard, what I read was determined primarily by the size of the book. If it fit into the blazer's inside pocket and could therefore be smuggled into the gallery during my shift, it received consideration. One day during winter break, I worked a nine hour shift all by myself in basement, in the pre-Colombian and Egyptian galleries. Being a museum in a college town while the students were away, I think there were literally no visitors for the entire day, so I wound up reading an entire book from start to finish: Jonathan Lethem's As She Climbed Across The Table, a wacky yet tender story of love among grad student physicists. My last decent relationship was with a biochemist grad student who had dumped me a couple weeks prior, so I kept nodding my head as I read and saying, yep, it's like that, science girls are crazy. I hadn't heard anything about the book before reading it, but it fit in the coat, so I bought it and wound up liking it a lot, the randomness of the discovery casting a glow around the entire thing.

Now Lethem is part of the McSweeney's posse, and he has this book out. The main character has Tourette's syndrome, and it is creating a problem for me in that I have only known one guy with Tourette's, a sensitive feminist metalhead, and he is a spectacularly poor match with the character that I think I am supposed to be envisioning, yet as my primary reference point for Tourette's, he's all I've got. I've found that if I make an active effort to visualize a guy in a fedora, I can think of the character as him instead of the metalhead, but then the character has to be wearing a fedora at all times.

Anyway, I like Lethem's writing, and this book. It's not of the towering monumental brilliance variety, but it reminds me of something that the nicest guy you know might have written and poured his heart into, with deserved props awarded for inventiveness and character (more than, say, story).

Me Talk Pretty One Day
David Sedaris

I like to keep track of the books that I see being read on the train, and this one has definitely been a favorite over the last couple months, rating behind only the perennial Ayn Rand / Harry Potter / "Poisonwood Bible" crowd. It's been on my list of books to read for a while. My friend James speaks only in David Sedaris quotes and Eminem lyrics, so I felt like I'd read it already. (There is absolutely nothing true in that last sentence, but I enjoyed typing it.) I was afraid that the glut of glowing reviews from everyoneeverywhere was going to turn me off to it, but any apprehension I had was completely disarmed once I started reading. It's a collection of essays about the author's life, with the first half forming an autobiography of sorts (though the stories were originally written for different publications) and the second half describing the author's current life as an expatriate in France. Breezy, quite funny, a total pleasure to read. I liked it a lot. It has a lot of badly translated language material, which always cracks me up. I rarely make a noise while laughing unless I tell myself to, but I made noise without thinking while laughing at many bits of this book, for whatever that's worth.

Hieronymous Bosch
Walter S. Gibson

Kind of a sucky book on the fantastic Mr Bosch. Most of the reproductions are in black and white and either cropped or miniscule (or both), so it's basically worthless from a visual standpoint. The central argument in Bosch scholarship is over the source for the artist's imagery, which can draw the phrase "whoa, that's fucked up" from the lips of the most stoic and sober of men. Some treat Bosch as a surrealist 400 years ahead of his time; others attempt to link the images to corners of obscure Christian cults from the Middle Ages, always a good time; and others, like Gibson, play it straight and try to get what they need from the mainstream Church and artistic contemporaries. This author rejects Freudian analysis of Bosch with the hilariously flawed reasoning that since Freud's theory of the unconscious hadn't yet been articulated, it cannot be applied to people of the era. (Because humanity didn't have an unconscious until Freud decided they did?) I don't rate the unconscious as a primary source either, but when you've got a piece of flawed reasoning like that in the first few pages, the rest of the essay is probably a lost cause. (Stodgy academics get nervous about having to diversify and demand that the subject conform to their area of expertise.) I'm still waiting for one of these so-called experts to explain the shrouded tiny duck-bill nosed demon monk who pops up in Bosch's larger works, anyway. Scariest damn thing I've ever seen on a canvas.

Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast
Patrick McGilligan

A giant book about the director of Metropolis and M, among many others; his first American film, Fury, is also a favorite of mine, and you can't beat that Dr. Mabuse, the original sinister web guy. The central thesis of this book is that Lang was bat-shit crazy. This is one of those books (like Donald Spoto's book on Hitchcock, The Dark Side of Genius) that makes such a strong case for its subject's lunacy that you're left wondering how the guy ever got a film made in the first place without getting thrown off a building. Ah! But such good films. This is a brick-sized book with mountains of research, probably the best single book if you're interested in the director but overload for a casual reader. The story of Lang's deadly game of cat and mouse with Goebbels and subsequent flight from Nazi Germany does make for some brilliant drama, even if the author suspects it was mostly invented. I'd like to write a Shadow of the Vampire type film based on it. Oh! And Fritz Lang had a wooden monkey named Peter that he kept with him for the last fifty years of his life, from Vienna to Berlin to Paris to Hollywood, and he liked to talk to the monkey and give the monkey a book to read whenever he was reading something. I knew there was some subtle emotional connection that I was making to his films. That explains it!

September 30, 2001

Reading this month:

Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast
Patrick McGilligan

A giant book about the director of Metropolis and M, among many others.

The Real Inspector Hound and Other Plays
Tom Stoppard

All of Tom Stoppard's plays - at least, those of which I am aware - are great or very good plays for theatrical purposes, but some are significantly better on the page than others. Travesties and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead can be fully embraced in any form; Arcadia and The Real Inspector Hound are very good on the page, but tangibly lack a vital something that they are capable of possessing onstage; and some, like Dirty Linen and Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth, aren't much fun when read and really need the stage to be appreciated. That's not a fault with his writing, by any means; more of a compliment to his trickiness with language patterns and crafty staging, and anyway plays exist to be played, first and foremost. But it should be noted. This collection features two good-on-pagers (Inspector Hound and After Magritte) and a back half that I liked well enough to want to see onstage but which fall into that last category. Of course, maybe I was just scatter minded when I read them and that entire half-assed thesis above is bullshit. I'm completely willing to accept the possibility.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon

Pretty good. I never managed to fully embrace this book, but I did enjoy it. It's quite schizophrenic, quality-wise. Wonderfully bold plot and character choices sit alongside startlingly banal ones, and the feel is alternately lush and brittle. Given that the author comes from the You Should Take Writing Classes In College mob, the narrative voice was surprisingly clumsy and inconsistent (sometimes omniscient, sometimes limiting itself to "sources"). The author certainly has the comic book milieu down, and treats it with the kind of respect for the medium that comic book kids like myself love; he knows the period inside and out, conveys it vividly and weaves his characters into reality extremely well, and the superheroes that his characters create are perfectly suited to the period. (Naming the main hero The Escapist daringly treads a fine line between painfully obvious metaphor and, well, exactly the sort of comic book hero that might have existed then.) I loved that, stricken by grief, the main character winds up precisely where I'd wind up in the same situation. I also loved the use of magic and Houdini, both of which are very central to the book, and I feel rather pleased with myself for having read a Houdini bio by coincidence a few weeks ago. And I'm always up for giving Dr Wertham and Seduction of the Innocent a good kicking. Still, I wasn't satisfied at the end of the book, and I do feel I should be hesitant about recommending a 600+ page book if I wasn't feeling it at the end.

The Human Comedy
William Saroyan

Completely pleasant, run through with some beautiful idiosyncracies and observations. This would be a good book for high school English classes: like most of the standard reading list, there are some awkwardly obvious sections that teachers would inevitably seize upon - thereby alienating most of the class - and the parts that make the book worth reading lie between, as ever unmentioned in the syllabus, graceful like an accident.

Staging in Shakespeare's Theaters
Andrew Gurr and Mariko Ichikawa

The topic makes me giggle and clap my hands like a baby monkey with a brand new red balloon, but, sadly, this particular book runs a dead heat with my VCR owner's manual for passion and compelling prose. There is some very interesting and insightful material - most importantly, the very direct effect that the specific stages used had upon Shakespeare's writing - but there are also some lengthy sections wherein narrative head is lodged firmly up textual arse. A shame.

American Gods
Neil Gaiman

Ah, I don't have the heart to get into it. There is so much here that's truly wonderful, gorgeous, written like no author other than Neil Gaiman could possibly have written, that I felt honestly crushed when it turned into double-crosses, surprise revelations and who tricked who. It genuinely managed to be about belief and gods for a while, in the truest sense of the word "about", and it finished by being about warmed-over Hollywood spy plots. Maybe I'd have liked it more if I hadn't read Sandman (where, incidentally, the main theme of this book was first introduced). There were double-crosses and tricks at the end of that, too, but the marvel was how, revealed as ultimately inconsequential, they described perfectly the inevitability of the series' conclusion and suggested something transcendent; here, they just ring as hollow intrigue and add up to something sadly underwhelming. I love Neil Gaiman's writing so much, but this one broke my heart.

August 29, 2001

Reading this month:

American Gods
Neil Gaiman

My copy is autographed with the message "Sweet dreams". Thanks, Neil!

Houdini!!! : The Career of Ehrich Weiss
Kenneth Silverman

A mammoth biography with impossibly deep research. I'm a two exclamation point guy, myself, feeling that it gives the perfect air of mistranslated excitement to one's endeavors, but the author makes a good case for Houdini's own love of exclamation points and I won't begrudge him that. There's something undeniably compelling about a biography written following the rules of The Magician's Code - don't tell how another magician's trick is done. The code, though it technically only applies to tricks, comes to inform the book as a whole. You get a nearly day-by-day (the literary equivalent of no montage sequences) account of Houdini's life and times without the stabs at "what it was like inside his mind" that are standard to biographies. Essentially, you see the performance in prismatic detail but you don't see what happens inside the locked chest, because nobody knows. (And, really, is it any of your business?) There's a lot to be said for ongoing relevance of the cultural transition that happened during Houdini's life, from the evolution of the role of the entertainer (and dawn of modern "celebrity") to the public fervor moving from Spiritualism (ghosts, mediums) to mechanical progress (planes 'n trains). And, of course, there's Houdini himself. I'm always interested in reading about people in history who were the best, knew it and used that knowledge to take it up even further.

There is a picture of a medium generating ectoplasm from her ear that is among the grossest shit ever.

My only complaint about the book is that the bit of the Houdini legend that's always fascinated me most was only treated in passing: that he vowed to his wife that he, the ultimate escape artist, would find a way to contact her from the afterlife. I don't know. There's something about that that really gets me.

The Tesseract
Alex Garland

The second novel by the author of The Beach, which was an absolutely great book. I've watched the film a couple times with the specific intent of trying to formulate why it was so utterly mediocre. What went wrong? No budget concerns, great locations, great book, great director, great screenwriter. Leo wasn't right for the lead, but he wasn't the problem. The mediocrity of the film defies easy explanation, as though when the individually sound pieces were assembled, they formed a mediocrity beyond human comprehension, as if the mediocrity were a fourth dimension. (I have made a brilliant segue, as you will soon see.) Anyway, that book was fucking great, and so is this one. The cover design does it a disservice, making it look as though a "tesseract" is some sort of gritty military treaty when in reality the book uses it to apply hypercube theory (segue!) to interlocking short stories about Filipino street kids, gangsters and others. Completely human, thoroughly enjoyable to read. The author has the standard second-book impulse to show off the different narrative voices that he can inhabit, but he actually can inhabit those voices quite effectively, so there's no problem at all.

Sin City: To Hell and Back
Frank Miller

Another yarn from the land where one is either well-versed in the art of murder or about to die. There are subsets, of course: eight year-old girls are generally not well-versed in the art of murder, but they are also generally safe, as big muscular guys who are well-versed in the art of murder tend to consider them sacred. Women who are well-versed in the art of murder and the art of getting one's freak on can expect to pick a little from column A, a little from column B, and then die, unless they are on speaking terms with a ninja or are themselves a ninja, in which case they will probably be okay. The aforementioned big muscular guys are well-versed in the art of murder, but they are distinct from big muscular chubby guys, who learn the art of being murdered. Never, ever hook back up with your old girlfriend. I mean never. Those are the lessons of Sin City. The first entry in the series remains the towering best, for art more than story, but they're all enjoyable if you're into the brutal noir style; this one started out second only to the first, but faded a little at the end. Still, not bad. Oh! And be wary of people who are in color in a black and white world. Hoo, boy.

The Power and the Glory
Graham Greene

I find that if I read Graham Greene's prose at a normal pace, it's a slog; but if I go at breakneck speed, barely catching each word, it's great. No idea how that works. Reading this book means that, after six years, I have finally completed my high school AP English summer reading list, except for the play about the lion, whose title I have forgotten.

Robert Radford

Another Phaedon Press brick-book. A decent essay that traces the creation of Dali's celebrity persona rather nicely, with unusually generous space allotted for reproductions. I was actually kind of disappointed to discover how much of Dali's early-to-mid period work was just straight, vanilla Freud. Still, there's fun to be had, especially in the later (regarded by the author as uneven) pieces.

Another Roadside Attraction
Tom Robbins

I brought this book to read while on a film shoot, figuring that this was the sort of book that film people would like. Sure enough, I was effusively praised for my good taste. It's okay. Funny and smart, of course, but I grew pretty tired of the characters sitting around and being unbearably clever at each other, and it takes a very long time for anything else to happen. I'm not bourgeoise enough to demand jam-packed plots from the books I read - I have no problem with character studies and the like, where very little happens - but this book spends a couple hundred pages insisting that things are going to happen imminently, and if the fact that things don't happen is intended for effect, the effect is kind of annoying. When things do happen, the events are brilliant and inspired, but also over awfully quick, given the lengthy lead-in.

Roy Lichtenstein
Lawrence Alloway

A survey of the artist's career, starting from about a decade in with his first widely known pieces (the comic strip panels) and covering through the early 1980s (when the book was written). Insightful essay that eschews biographical content; well-chosen samples from RL's work. I have a big print of his hanging in my apartment: I Can See The Whole Room. His work cracks me up: reducing signifiers of shallow modern culture to their most obvious form but doing it with such overwhelming sincerity to as not to appear irritatingly ironically detached, well, it's good.

Cannery Row
John Steinbeck

A very funny book of intertwined short stories; they're set in the same area, with an ensemble cast, and they slowly come together as the book progresses. Brilliant characters, beautifully intuitive structure, ace from top to bottom. Steinbeck keeps the extended metaphors that got out of control in The Grapes of Wrath in check here, and though he hangs on to the "every other chapter" diversion tactic that drove many a high school student mad while reading Grapes, it works much better this time around.

Dark Knights, Holy Fools: The Art and Films of Terry Gilliam
Bob McCabe

Good, but something of a missed opportunity. Too much of the book is dedicated to garden variety "what was it like making this movie" conversation that's available in any number of other sources; it'd be interesting to have a book that was solely dedicated to a visual analysis of the art itself rather than Hollywood errata surrounding it. The design is fab, though too many pieces are unlabeled. Still, Terry Gilliam is a great interviewee, and it's as good as any other book for a look at his career in sum.

Dada and Surrealism
Matthew Gale

I picked this one up again, inspired by a recent trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, where they have several items from this book on display. Phaedon Press does some very nice brick-sized books on major (and minor) artists and art movements. They feature a good selection of full-color reproductions. As I said before, the Dada half of this book isn't terribly good - most of the art itself isn't much to look at without a vibrant narrative to recreate the excitement and passion surrounding its creation. It gets the history down, but this is a case where straight factual recounting can't tell the full story. The Surrealism half is better. The author does a nice job of tracing the evolution of the ethos and the interesting, now-forgotten political dimension of the original surrealism.

Slow Learner : Early Stories
Thomas Pynchon

Five early (pre-Lot 49) short stories by Mr Pynchon. I had an odd reaction to the first four: I found each one mildly irritating while I was reading it, and was then surprised to find myself feeling that I'd quite liked the story when I was done. Take that however you will. (The fifth story unreservedly kicks mountainous ass.) It's probably a good idea to skip the introduction until you're done with the rest - in it, Pynchon tears each story to pieces in brutal fashion while bemoaning his own incompetence as a writer. It's funny but unflinching and pretty fierce.

Martin Scorsese: Interviews
Martin Scorsese, et al

Interviews, with Martin Scorsese. Not as comprehensive as Scorsese on Scorsese, but more personal: the interviews (from various sources) were all conducted at the time of the individual film's release, so there's a nice evolution in Scorsese's perspective, and his speech patterns aren't cleaned up and reconstructed as they are in S on S.

Dream Story
Arthur Schnitzler

The novel upon which Eyes Wide Shut is based, though with transposed setting (from 1920 Vienna). The author studied under Freud, according to biographical capsules, and the psychological profiles of the characters are drawn in a precise way that makes you nod and say, yep, I bet he's taken some psych classes. It's an enjoyable and compelling book; though shorter than the film, it's no less explicit. The tone carries over nicely.

July 30, 2001

Reading this month:

Michael Herr

In terms of size, this is more or less a hardcover pamphlet; if I had to pay for books, I'd probably never buy it, but since I don't, I'm all over it. This is the sort of book I love reading about artists I admire. Not much more than a personal account from a friend of the man, it's composed entirely of the fun bits usually scattered in mammoth biographies (without the detail and accounting usually found between): what it was like talking to Stanley Kubrick, what he read, what he watched on TV (Kubrick was "crazy" about The Simpsons), his sly conversation tactics, etc. Nothing radical, but a total pleasure nonetheless.

Stanley Kubrick, Director: A Visual Analysis
Alexander Walker

This is one of those books that would be well-suited for use as a weapon. Pow! It's pleasant but light (in content, not weight); most of it reads like a pretty good essay from an English 273 (Film: Directors, Genres) class at some midwestern university. Has gobs of well-chosen stills, and the maddeningly infrequent glimpses of Kubrick's working methods are really interesting. There's probably a better book for those purposes, though.

Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel Garcia-Marquez

Garcia-Marquez's books are so absorbing. The period of time that I spent reading One Hundred Years of Solitude is completely defined in my memory by that book; in retrospect, the same will probably be true with this one. I don't know a thing about powerful love affairs and I certainly don't know anything about the emotional passage of an entire lifetime, but this book just feels so true. I've been meaning to read Love in the Time of Cholera ever since Justice League International #22 or so, in 1989, when Fire (formerly the Green Flame from Brazil, one of the most gorgeous comic book characters ever) and Oberon (the wily midget who worked with Mister Miracle) talked about it. She was in a hospital bed recovering from INVASION!, wherein evil aliens dropped a metagene bomb on the Earth and invaded (whereupon Earth's superheroes beat them senseless), and he came by to visit, and she was reading it, and they got to talking about the book; she said that he should read it in the original Spanish, and he said that he did, and they went on to have a brilliant, understated romance through the rest of the series.

Developing Bioinformatics Computer Skills
Cynthia Gibas, Per Jambeck

This is a very good book. Although the word 'wily' is not specifically used in the text, the underlying focus of this book is wiliness; not only teaching readers about a rapidly evolving and important scientific discipline, but also how to be wily practicioners of that discipline. Nice.

Days and Nights at The Second City
Bernard Sahlins

A book in two parts: the first half is a breezy memoir of Second City's history that trails off somewhere in the mid-70s. The author was one of the three original partners who founded it, and wound up directing SC for many years. He's too polite and reserved for the memoir to be especially interesting, and the book doesn't try to incorporate anything other than his experience, so it doesn't really have any information that any of the other SC books don't (aside from a funny bit about the mob trying to extract protection money). It's not bad, just light.

The second half is more interesting, although still fairly light. The author talks about the process of creating and staging shows at the Second City, the first book to my knowledge to do so - last year's coffee table crapfest, like most books on the topic, only talked about what the Famous Actors did after leaving Second City. It's alright, but not indispensable. (The PBS documentary a couple years ago was much better.) I definitely don't agree with his idea that comedy is the theater without heroes, but there are some sterling passages - especially the section on parody - and the basic thesis, that truth should be at the heart of comedy, is right on.

Time Flies and Other Short Plays
David Ives

A new collection - and it's been a while - from the author of All in the Timing. Like a writer said about Ken Nordine and Word Jazz, mentioning David Ives gets a knowing smile in all the right places. He writes great big swooning goofy intellectual love stories in a style all his own. Seeing a collection of his work back in the day really impressed me with what short plays can achieve, that sketch comedy can be as well-written as any other form of literature and still rock an audience.

There's nothing on a par with The Trotsky Variations in here yet, but it's really not fair to hold him to that standard. (If I didn't say that, though, people would ask.) The ideas are just as rich, though they don't have the sense of absolute precision that, say, Sure Thing did. An unfortunate slight streak of self-awareness holds the best one, about two construction workers trying to build the Tower of Babel, back from perfection. In the introduction, David Ives says that the original actors are "as audible in these plays as I am", and as a writer, I'm always willing to blame things like that on actors heading in awkward moments for the cheap laughs that self-aware theater usually gets at the cost of sincerity. Dang actors. Still! Very good.

Smoke and Mirrors
Neil Gaiman

A collection of short stories (and 'illusions', insists the subtitle, which probably doesn't make things any clearer for you, dear reader, so I will focus on 'stories') by Mr Gaiman, a top fellow. My friend and I acquired copies during a recent stop on Neil's book tour. (That doesn't make things any clearer either, does it? Curses. O, damned elusive clarity! If you come to my house and bring me a cookie or a milkshake or some cake that doesn't have strawberries, I will show you my copy, and then things will be as clear as can be. I will even read you a story from it. But not one of the long ones, because I have to go to the post office later.)

Boy, what a great book! Neil is on top form throughout. I was an especially big fan of The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories, Shoggoth's Old Peculiar, Queen of Knives and Murder Mysteries.

Complete Works: 1
Harold Pinter

I read The Birthday Party in Seamus's class, but had to return it to the bookstore as soon as I was done. I never had enough money to buy books in college; I'd buy them, read and take them back for a refund within the seven day return period. I will say little else about Seamus's class, because I trust your imagination to envision a great time that was had, reading plays and living it up with Seamus.

Anyway, Harold Pinter is a lot of fun. The plays herein teach a healthy distrust of mysterious figures who show up all of a sudden, which is a good value. They are probably a fair amount better in performance, given the quick dialogue exchanges, notable for what the characters don't say, etc, but they're still fun to read.

Simulacra and Simulation (The Body, in Theory : Histories of Cultural Materialism)
Jean Baudrillard

I have no qualms about admitting that I just don't get about a third of this. My soc thesis advisor in college used to shake his head about books like this, steeped so heavily in jargon as to be nearly incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't actually sat down with the author and defined terms with him beforehand. (This kind of philosophy is characterized by questionable use of adjectives as nouns, such as 'the social'.) It's worth slogging through, though, because it does feature a dead-accurate description of the construction of history and media today (having been written in 1982), all sorts of things that you know in your gut but don't want to admit, though stated a bit more stridently.

Woody Allen
Eric Lax

Not too good. The book has no actual research; almost all of the material comes from interviews with Woody, which would be fine if it weren't presented in the form of an objective biographical document. As such, it's awkward to read. The author had full access to Woody but squanders it with obsequiousness; the only criticism of Woody's work in this book comes from Woody himself. The account of his pre-film career is fairly good, but it covers an inexplicably large part of the book; for the films, certainly the most important part of a Woody Allen bio, the author drops chronological narrative and wanders off into a rambling essay of praise that reads like a defense against invisible critics real and imagined. There are some good fly-on-the-wall moments, but the book is mostly useless. If you're interested in a Woody Allen book, get the Allen on Allen (w Stig Bjorkman) book.

It's almost worth reading, though, for the epilogue added for the updated edition. Most of the book was written in 1989, and has some painfully bad sections about why Woody and Mia Farrow are absolutely perfect for each other and how well their lives fit together; in view of the events a couple years later, of course, the epilogue has no choice but to open with an "Um, I guess I was wrong".

March 26, 1998 I really have to go somewhere one of these spring breaks. low (read: complete lack of) income or not. since the "have your parents pay for marc's vacation too!" fund never really worked out, I remain Illinois-bound for the 20th straight year. how unfestive and generally uncool of me to be without a financial support network. alright. enough class-based whining. I had been planning on doing something irrational like driving to South Dakota, but the Cradle moves no more. next year. so it goes, so it goes.

as far as my spring breaks go, it's been just fine though. I went to Chicago for the weekend and came back with a cat. Thunder is an 8 year old male tabby. he likes long walks down the hall, licking plates by candlelight, and aspires to rid the world of bugs. he also likes to wrestle with me and usually wins. we both lived at my mother's apartment, he having been my little brother's cat, and we both developed a general sense of dissatisfaction there and since my mother is moving into a condo of gold this summer he seized the opportunity to leave and move in with me. (I'm not sure if he knows yet that I need him to pay this month's rent.)

out of fairness to Chuck, though, since Chuck takes a lot of crap from me, here is a list of reasons why Chuck was a better roommate:
- Chuck did not take baths in public.
- Chuck did not lick the inside of the container of Cheez Wiz/Eazy Cheeze without eating it.
- Chuck slept on top of his bed, not underneath it.
- Chuck preferred to use his head for material science homework instead of bumping my head.
- Chuck did not jump up onto furniture. he didn't make many sudden movements in general.

as I write this, Thunder is contemplating a leap unto the final frontier: the microwave, atop the refrigeraor. and he just backed off, headed for some more cheez wiz (why haven't I put that away yet?).

watched a bit of the Oscars. they turned out alright, I suppose. I added a quick summary to the end of the Oscars rant, now in the Archives. (since they went so utterly unpublicized, I figured you'd need my page to find out the results.)

these local church TV commercials are unfair. it is impossible to express in writing exactly how funny they are. I just saw one that began like an anti-drunk driving ad (guy on a respirator), but at the last second veered off with a flashback to the guy telling his friend that he "didn't have time for all of that Jesus stuff". then, in the present, he dies! then he wakes up and it turns out it was all a dream! wowza! I almost rushed out of the door to the Harvest Church, but then I continued to sit on the couch and things turned out the same.

new Busta Rhymes video is pretty cool.

hey Katy, don't read past this line until after you've written your review of "Girlfriend in a Coma".
ok. so, I bought Douglas Coupland's above-mentioned book, his latest. purchases like this are why I do not eat much or go anywhere. I did wait a week, though, which is something. anyway, here is a quick capsule of my feelings on it:
I was blown away by it. due to work and diverted focus, I hadn't finished an entire novel since last summer. I read the first 20 pages of this on the day I bought it and stayed up the entire night reading the next 280 some pages. I couldn't put it down. the characters were drawn with an emotional depth deeper than anything he's ever achieved before, and the novel simultaneously rooted itself strikingly vividly in a period of time but also did so relying upon less ephemeral pop culture references than any of his other work to date. this was not an easy book to read in an emotional sense. it hurts. it's genuinely heartbreaking. it's also marvelously unpredictable (especially when taking his other books into account). the second half of the book comes from far out in nowhere. and it's brilliant.
it has the soul searching depth of "Life After God" and the character interplay of "Microserfs". Katy (Hi!) quoted me once as saying that "it feels as though every page has some grand idea behind it." I always came away from his books with a sense that something profound had been said but I couldn't quite articulate it. with this book, the philosophy is at once deeper and clearer. I know exactly what this book was saying. it's my favorite kind of book, the kind of thing that I try to write too, the kind of book that was written to remind the lost mad children of the world that they are not alone. so-called friends walk away when the vision gets uncomfortable, but books like this are there to keep you on your feet and take your hand for a little bit of the way.

so that's all. cheers.

October 5, 1997 I am dangerously close to becoming a casualty in the war against Psychic Talk USA. "I don't wanna be a soldier mama I don't wanna die", etc. how much more of this can I be expected to take? I just wanna watch some videos. even the sound of car horns is lovely. there's a point between energy and exhaustion, you probably know it well, and I'm doing time.

the Vonnegut signing on Friday night was extremely ace. in reward for being a daredevil, I acquired a pre-signed copy of his latest book and towered over those who bought it before the signing in fear. life on the literary edge, I tell you. Second City doesn't do improvisation on friday nights - remember that and you will avoid making a mistake that others already have.

what's up this week? pledge drive time at WEFT. I'll be on phones tuesday night, give us a call eh? support the arts and all that. play your cards right and you may find yourself with a free tshirt. next monday is the grand columbus day anti-chief illiniwek rally, come on out and let it shine.

when, oh when, will it ever get cold?

ramen (surprise), animation, butterknives as antennae, navy blue, late night mashed potatoes.
overweight white males in their mid-thirties, giving up after three rings, wind shear, commercials from local churches especially the one where the little jerk runs away and leaves his teddy bear out in the rain when he comes back home, neither of which I would never have done.

October 2, 1997 today I successfully rid myself of some of that nasty excess blood at the red cross. I really vastly prefer the community blood service people, though. the red cross people are too friendly and they seem genuinely hurt if you get your own food at the food table. it's all very creepy. still, at least the blood's gone. also today I spontaneously combusted. or at least I thought I did. I later discovered that it was a guy on TV who did it, not me.

my debut on WEFT went great. we overcame an early technical problem and extended supervision to eventually find something of a demented rhythm and produce what we were told was some pretty durned decent radio. further seizures of the fm band to come? stay tuned! the fcc has not yet ruled it out.

hey, go update/create your own home page, whoever you are. come on. it's not that hard. I need entertainment. bad shit could happen. so do it.

ach. I sort of want ice cream. I may never get enough sleep. cookies are good. the "pure moods" commercial is on and it makes me feel like powdered sugar. so much time left until the release of a life less ordinary. I tell you, having lots of small, minor reasons to live is just as effective as one big one. I'll be out of C-U this weekend for hijinks with Rory and Kurt Vonnegut. aww, yeah. go buy Timequake. but pick up Cat's Cradle if you haven't already. and Hocus Pocus, too. and...

black olives, Brujeria, cold, "movies that no one else wants to make", truth in tea leaves.
the surreal mess that passes as hick morality, indie cred, research busywork.

September 27, 1997 yesterday I didn't feel well. today, however, I'm at peak performance. so far. although I just yawned, so I don't know. I had a bowl of Lucky Charms this morning. they have apparently introduced a new innovation: "swirled" colours on the marshmallows. man, the things those wacky underpaid starving malaysian factory workers come up with! neverending fonts of inspiration. I think I'll probably have something else next time, though.

words from Kurt Vonnegut, courtesy of Svetlana:
(excerpt from an NPR interview) "You remember the mathematician who said that a group of monkeys locked in a room with typewriters would eventually write the works of Shakespeare?" (at this point all of the cognoscenti who listen to NPR nod sagely) "Well the World Wide Web proves that to be false."

this web page alone is incontrovertible proof, I think.

this morning I awoke early (well, before noon) and purchased David Bowie tickets for october 17th in chicago. rah! I played in a vampire live-action game last night. strangely enough, my entire recollection of the event is indistinguishable from an episode of "Jim's Journal", from the art to the words. so if you're wondering exactly what I did last night, look it up in your local bookstore under "Jim". today, I'm not sure. if I can find the armanents, something definitely needs to be done about the currently rampaging greek system down here. several thousand cave men and women in mating season is not a pretty sight.

q-tips, John Cusack, movies with a 90-minute running time, inexpensive chinese vegetable dishes.
people who refuse to evolve, the short shelf life of the average banana.

September 23, 1997 have you ever tried to imagine an actual conversation occuring with answers and questions from Jeopardy?

Terrence: What is a bikini?
Phillip: Well, the United States conducted their first atomic detonation in that atoll.
Terrence: Oh, okay. Let's go get wasted.

I don't know why every single time I write a new page it ends up being finished some time after 2 am and I do a hasty job polishing it off and uploading it. antipathy from a certain deity, perhaps. a few minor things have been fixed and added here and on the feature and link pages. no one notices these things except me, I think. you know, every single teenager/young adult ever featured on MTV is a blithering idiot. the link-adventurous are advised that a handful of other web types updated their pages today. the entertainment doesn't end here, folks!

not much was done today. a violent debate between two ends of my schizophrenia over rain and the value of grad school led to me skipping class and going back to sleep. Henry and Tom surveyed the security points of various campus locales for anti-Chief protests to come at a later date while I stalked trustees around the Union and gave them the evil eye. as for the rest of the night, who knows? who cares? temperature decline ("pressure drop, oh pressure...") continues, which is good. what to do, what to do?

important notes: firstly, the new and possibly final Kurt Vonnegut novel was released yesterday. the man remains the best writer alive and you would do well to pick up a copy unless he is coming to a bookstore within a 300 mile radius of you, in which case you are expected to go meet him. October 3rd in Chicago he will be as will Rory and I. secondly, Chuck is not well. please do not email him with provocative thoughts and comments because he has been alerted that his spleen may, in fact, burst. so please be careful.

sunflower seeds, sodium, midnight sales with pizza from Bjork and Stereolab, Matt Pinfield.
petty attempts by academia to get me out of bed before 9 am, unadorned salads from Blimpie.

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.