Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Just A Thought

There's a headline on right now: "Aretha Franklin alive"

Baby, as long as recorded sound is able to be played, Aretha Franklin will be alive, moreso than most anybody.

Tweaking The Eagles

Sometimes even the measliest ambitions get somewhat thwarted.

I drive an old car. The CD player is non-existent and the cassette player doesn't work. I listen to the radio. More often than not (sports talk radio in Cleveland is rather depressing, as you can guess) I'm tuned into WMJI, Majic 105.7, the oldies station. And a fine oldies station it is, especially during afternoon drive-time when the inestimable Don "Action" Jackson is spinning the platters. Anyway, a few months ago, when I heard "Already Gone" by the Eagles for like the millionth time, I was struck by a really lame line in the song. I thought to myself that someday I could blog about it, preferably (and appropriately) when the inspiration was wanting. Well, I believe the week between Christmas and New Year's is International Inspiration Wanting week, so what the hell.

Unfortunately, I've hit a few snags this morning. For one thing, the new gizmo I've been using to allow you readers the pleasure of listening to my musical selections at the click of a mouse is Super Cop when it comes to copyright issues. It won't even let me upload a tune if there's a question. Why I can't simply play a song, not enable downloading, is beyond me, but if you're intelligent enough to be reading spitoutyourgum, I'm sure you can hum the tune yourself (if not, turn on any oldies station; "Already Gone" is bound to be played within fifteen minutes).

More depressing, in my assiduous research I discovered that "Already Gone" (a #32 hit in 1974) was not written by either of the two Eagle/egos (Glenn Frey's or Don Henley's) I had counted on delighting in pricking these past few months. No, the song in question was written by Jack Tempchin and Robert Arnold Strandlund (clue number one: if you had a middle name like Arnold would you be one of those people who insist on including it for official business?). Tempchin, who merits his own Wiki page (and you'll have to google it all by yourself) also wrote (solo) the Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Slow Dancin' (Swayin' to the Music)" which became a hit for ubiquitous Oldies chameleon Johnny Rivers.

But to my beef: The song begins

     Well, I heard some people talkin' just the other day
     And they said you were gonna put me on a shelf
     But let me tell you I got some news for you
     And you'll soon find out it's true
     And then you'll have to eat your lunch all by yourself
I actually kind of like the "put me on a shelf" image, cliched though it may be. In this nasty, "parting of the ways" song, the image of somebody with a shelf full of exes is a nice touch. But My God, "and then you'll have to eat your lunch all by yourself"? Come on. The Top 40 is always littered with insipid lines, but this has got to be the worst line in any hit song (and, I will admit, not a half bad song overall: for once an Eagles' song semi-rocks, the vengeful breaking up song is always ripe for revisiting, and as much as I kind of detest Glenn Frey, I'm a bit of a sucker for his "woo hoo hoo, my my, woo hoo hoo"). First of all, what's so bad about eating your lunch all by yourself? Millions of people do it daily, Big Whoop, as we liked to say on the playground in 1974. Is this the extent of the now ex-lovers' amorous doings, eating lunch together? What is this, a fourth grader's song? I'm sure we've all heard this lament from a recently jilted lover: "How are you doing since that bastard broke up with you?" "Lousy, I have to eat my lunch all by myself, every day." I don't know, maybe I'm missing something. Maybe "eating lunch together" is some sort of romantic code phrase for something kinkier. Who knows? In 1974 I was a wee midwestern boy on the outside barely peeking into puberty; who was I to know what exotic delights those SoCal glitterati could make out of "eating lunch together"? "Hey, dude, how are things going with you and that hot chick?" "Excellent, man, we're, you know, 'eating lunch together' like, five times a day."  
The trouble is, Mssrs. Tempchin and Arnold Strandlund kind of painted themselves into a corner with that shelf word. Believe me, in my original conception of this post, I envisioned re-writing the line a few dozen better ways (fully cognizant of the fact that to offer a lyrical tweak to a thirty-six-year-old hit song would be kind of pointless, but "kind of pointless" is the raison d'etre of blogging, so I might as well drop some raisons), but upon further reflection this morning, I realized that if you want to rhyme "shelf," you're pretty much committed to some variant of -self. Although I think the substitute line "and then you'll have to call somebody else your little elf" could be sung, and really opens up some connotative possibilities for the song (and, duh, is light years better than the lunch line). But fine, stick with the idea of "and then you'll have to ______ all by yourself" motif. Anything, floss your teeth, do the crossword, find a third for a threesome, clean the grout, make breakfast, wait in line at the BMV, return your Christmas presents, lift the toilet seat, turn the dial when the Eagles come on--anystupidthing would be more evocative, more vengeful, more, well, better, than "eat your lunch." 
There, I've got it off my chest, months of angst. Now maybe a few other people will cringe along with me whenever they hear that lousy line in "Already Gone." Victory, though somewhat thwarted, at last. Tune in next week when I'll tell Bob Dylan how to clean up a few of the weaker lines in "Like A Rolling Stone."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?

[With apologies to Jagger-Richards (and, for you poetic trainspotters, William Carlos Williams), sometimes you can and do get what you want.]

In an under-publicized (and, ironically, rather sleepy) ceremony several years ago in Sleepy Hollow, New York, I was officially recognized by a star-studded consortium of industry wags (including Cleveland's own Ron Trzcinski of the Original Mattress Factory) as The National Nabob of Napping (it would have been/should have been International, but for one intractable Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali and those PC-holics of Al Jazeera). Basically, what my National Nabob of Napping status grants me is the final word on all nap-related issues and donnybrooks. I don't mean to toot my own horn here, but I do want the following testimony to carry all its considerable weight.

I just awoke from a nap that was the deepest, soundest, most refreshing nap ever. Ever. I mean, if Nixon had napped a few similar naps in late '72, early '73, Watergate would have been swatted away worse than McGovern, and the man himself would have been able to serve out completely the second term he was duly elected to. I'm not kidding you, during this nap not only did I dream I was kind of overseeing a Joyce Carol Oates reading, but in the dream, literary marm Ms. Oates came across like Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski. If that isn't a dream that boldy went to places in La La Land no napper has ever dared tread, I don't know what is.

And I am here to declare unequivocally that the prime reason I napped so incredibly well was the Cleveland Indians snuggie blanket throw I received for Christmas two days ago (the one above, sans the blonde). Yes, I now own and proudly don a snuggie, a gaudy Chief Wahoo Tribe snuggie. The universe could burn for all I care now. Though, as I admitted (uttered/muttered, really, for I was very nearly struck dumb) seconds after unwrapping my snuggie (the last gift of the night, appropriately), I have always coveted a snuggie, but never publicly admitted it, out of fear of unlearned criticism. Well, I fear no more, readers.

The thing is truly epic. I might be large and contain multitudes, but I'm not that large. When I put the thing on I feel like a wiccan overlord, the pope of the national pastime, and Brian Wilson circa 1976 all at the same time. The sleeves alone are big enough to house comfortably a family of six in the left and a keg of beer to be snuck into an early season Tribe game in the right, with room for a bucket of BP balls to boot. And warm? Let's just say I go from a Lake Erie ice floe to an equatorial atoll in ten seconds flat. If the thing could pump Guinness and provide me with a daily sudoku, I might never interact with the human species again. And it's the Cleveland Indians! Covet away, neighbors. While all you peons huddle away your winter in layers upon layers of clothes trying to stave off hypothermia, this nabob will be roasty, toasty, and boasty. A The happy genius indeed.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

Nothing quite says get in the Christmas spirit on December 23 like helping two separate customers, within about ten minutes of each other, look for these titles: Mein Kampf (in hardcover only; "You know some people say he didn't even write it himself." Well fa la la la la, dude) and Das Kapital. No lie.

Despite all that, Christmas spirits are running high. Thanks to you all for reading my goofiness. I'll leave you for a few days with a real treasure, a quasi-Christmas song by the ineffable Bob Neuwirth, getting help from Butch Hancock on a song he wrote with Peter Case. It's on his criminally overlooked 1996 album Look Up.

Everybody's Got A Job To Do--Bob Neuwirth and Butch Hancock by spitoutyourgumblog

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best Of: Two Pure Moments

Any blogger worth his salt (six pounds of industrial-strength, car-rusting, boot-discoloring, ice-pulverizing road salt, in my case) simply must provide his dozens of readers with an ultra-authoritative best of list this time of year. I thought of taking the easy way out and culling 100 best album lists and cherry-picking the most obscure title off each and calling the result my uber hip list. But bah.

In a year filled with cluttering stress of gargantuan proportions (unemployment, The Decision [and the nadir of Cleveland sports suckitude], the deaths of J.D. Salinger and Alex Chilton, Oprah's pending retirement, etc.) I have never valued the zen moment, that briefest brush with purity, as much as I have this past year. Outside of the last three songs on Bob Dylan's Witmark Demos CD, the musical zens were few and far between. Literature provided a couple more: laughing riotously at some dense passage in Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, weeping at the end of David Mitchell's amazing Black Swan Green, being stopped cold by one sentence in Philip Roth's wonderful Nemesis.

But art, ultimately, is too pretentious. When I re-live the past year's great mini-moments, I am struck by the purity, the total self-possession, the sheer be-here-nowness of two utterances by two of my nephews. The first occurred on a golf course, a rather idyllic place for such nirvana. I was watching two of my nephews for a weekend, and ended up taking the eleven-year-old out for a game of golf on Saturday. As we waited on the eighth tee, I asked him about the next day-and-a-half, a question that came down to whether he wanted to go to church Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning (totally non-zen disclosure here: I was angling for him to say Sunday, so we could go watch the OSU-Miami football game). He pondered his options for a minute then reasoned: "If we go to mass today, I can take a shower today and one tomorrow after my soccer game. If we go to mass tomorrow, I'll have to take a shower before mass and then one after my soccer game. I don't want to have to take two showers in one day. So let's go to church today." Decision made. God, what a fortunate and wise soul! To be able to boil your life down to the need for (and the avoidance of) showers. I'm still in awe.

Another scene: two other nephews, one 18 the other 15. The fifteen-year-old has grown all year like a stalk of corn in a hot and wet Iowan summer. And he's skinnier than that stalk. Perhaps the only healthy being ever to possess negative body fat. He stands in the kitchen after a hard day's work caddying, clad in nothing but boxers. His older brother confronts him in the perfect older brother menacing way: "Either eat something or take a shower." Good God, what insight. To capture the essence of the moment, let alone the essence of teenage boyhood, in one concise, algebraic, imperative sentence. Send the young man up to the guru's perch high in the mountains immediately.

Simply the best. Two better moments in the spitoutyourgum world cannot be found. Wit, wisdom, clear language. The only thing missing is a soundtrack.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Hang, Mysteriously

Usually open to suggestion, I checked my horoscope the other day, and it's parting bit of advice was: Tonight: Hang with mystery. Hmmm. So I immediately donned my trench coat and fedora, grabbed my Zippo and a new pack of unfiltered Chesterfields, and trekked down to Silly's, my favorite watering hole. I hung out in a dark corner for a couple hours eyeing the skirts and sussing the mooks, but nothing happened other than Silly himself, passing me with an armful of empties, saying, "Hey, Spade, it's Christmas, not Halloween." So I shrugged my shoulders knowingly and headed back home. Once there I grabbed a dog-eared John D. MacDonald mass market, jumped up and grabbed the chandelier, and hung while reading a few chapters. I'm pretty sure the redhead did it, but my arms got tired and I had to drop the whole enterprise. I shrugged my shoulders knowingly and took up my well-used copy of the I Ching. I threw it, but lost it in a pile of dirty clothes. I shrugged my shoulders knowingly and realized that if you solve the mystery, it's no longer a mystery (chalk one up for the wise fool), so I chose to let the mystery be

Let The Mystery Be--Iris Dement by spitoutyourgumblog

and headed for the supremely unmysterious milieu of my Favorites bar on the Internet. There I soon discovered that the glorious Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart had died.

I allowed myself to cry because I know I'm a man.

You Know You're a Man--Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band by spitoutyourgumblog

No mystery there. Simply the rockingest, most feral sound man (or woman this side of childbirth) has ever created.

But why now, Don? You've been pretty much a recluse for nearly thirty years. Why choose this particular moment in history to boogie off this mortal coil? Before I could even slap myself for pondering such a deep mystery moments after swearing to let the mystery be, it hit me. Captain Beefheart succumbs (finally?) to mortality just days after Neil Diamond is elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ain't no mystery in that to hang with.

I shrug my shoulders knowingly.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Greetings From The McLarity Family

Ho ho how do you like our "family tree" card this year? Of course it was the brainchild of our own "brain child" Michelle ("Gosh," says, Mick [who got his first pimple this year, but thankfully hasn't fallen into that awful adolescent habit of beginning each of his utterances sentences with "God" like those heinous Goldstein twins across our street], "I wonder if anybody can guess whose idea it was. I mean, duh, look who gets to hold the star?" Michelline, whose own `09 "issues" [cf. last year's card's teary insert] have continued into '10 but who seems to be responding very well thank you to a new medication regimin and having a great time in Ms. Holly's fourth grade homeroom [shout out aside to both Mary Beth and Mary Elizabeth--thanks for the "411" on how to avoid Mrs. Ruden's class! Presents enough, girls!] just said, "I'll take the dumb bell"). She's 17! already! Plump little baba Michelle! Can you believe Mike and Mickie have a child headed off to college in '11?!! Oh, excuse me, Michelle, university! Yes, Michelle is asking for some wisdom (as if her brain has any more room for the stuff!) this Christmas as she must decide from among the thirteen early acceptance acceptances she has already received. Of course, as she's pointed out to her proud forebears, the scholarship offers won't stop rolling in for at least a few weeks. Mike's getting a little antsy with the whole thing because you all know how he MUST MapQuest his destination several months in advance, and God knows where the Michelle-stuff-laden family van will be "truckin'" come late August. Hope August '11 won't be as "fun-filled" as August '10 was. Yes, the McLarity Summer Excursion 2010 was Mike's idea (Mickie's pleas for a return trek to Branson fell on deaf ears from the clan)--a "week in the wilderness." Wild indeed! Mike had to make the trip back to civilization to procure a pound bag of dark chocolate M&M's to coax Michelline out of her two-day wouldn't-budge-from-the-rented-kayak sulk, and how Mick contracted poison ivy you know where, you don't want to know, and Michelle wouldn't talk to Mickie for three days after Mickie ACCIDENTALLY dropped Michelle's new (thanks Dick for the insurance tip) iPhone down a gorge, preventing Michelle from posting our "roughing it" photos on the new McLarity Facebook page (tho kudos indeed to Michelle for setting up the page and maintaining it so religiously with the help of her new "cyber friend" misterfriend68; check out other year 'round family "snaps" here). In the end the nasty family of bears cut short our vacation by a day, but thankfully Michelline was somehow able to communicate with them and they left our "base camp" relatively unscathed (tho a big thanks to the U.S. Park Rangers and Campbell Chevrolet for getting us the new set of keys so quickly). On the "labor" front, Mike's 10,000th driving school student earned her license; no safety brakes on his career! Joyous to leave her job at the county (just in time!), Mickie embarked on a career change (thank you Oprah and Anthony Robbins!). The basket-weaving tutorial business was slow going at first, but things have picked up (I know all of your families will just treasure their new picnic baskets!). Oops, I think I smell the peppermint bark logs burning! I've rambled too much already and know I've just taken up too much of your precious holiday time. Get back to your own baking. Much love and Christmas Cheer from all of us in the McLarity Clan: Mike (48), Mickie (29+ :)), Michelle (17 going on 30!), Mick (13 going on shaving!), and Michelline (9, or as she likes to claim, 63 in dog years!)!    

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I Dream Of Bad Coffee

A quasi- chicken-and-egg quandry has reared its head early this morning. Are dreams the reaction to the mind's wanderings or the foreshadowing of events to come? I'm sure the answer is both, but this morning's dream really has me thinking about what comes first. The dream in question actually woke me up for good this morning. I was in some dumpy diner or service station somewhere, and I poured myself a big cup of coffee from the pot that was sitting there. Well, good God almighty, that was some bad bad coffee. We're talking coughing, retching, spit it out coffee. The thing is, not only did I see myself reacting this way in the dream, I could actually taste that bad bad coffee in my dream (and what an aftertaste--I swear I tasted it after I woke up). The curious thing is that just a couple days ago, for what reason I have no clue, I was wondering about whether the senses of smell and taste "work" in dreams. When I was thinking this stray thought, I couldn't recall any dreams of mine where I could actually smell or taste anything. Makes me kind of wonder about the cosmic shenaningans going on behind all of our backs when I can think about tasting in dreams and sure enough, soon after I'm tasting wretched coffee in my slumber. Thanks for the info, Mr. Sandman, but you could have been a little kinder in your lesson: Guinness, Canada Dry Ginger Ale, or Tropicana freshly squeezed orange juice straight from the carton--next time.

But then I realized, shortly after shaking the bad taste upon waking, that this morning would be one of the few mornings where I'd be making my own coffee instead of buying it somewhere. You have to understand my culinary ineptitude and insecurity: I'd much rather chance a cup of Joe from a coffee pot like the one in my dream than one brewed by my own hands. So maybe my dream was all about forewarning me of the misery to come and getting me up early enough so I could endure and recover from the experience of drinking my own coffee in time for me to get to work this afternoon.

Who knows? Certainly not the on-line community of dream experts. Yes, I even indulged in a little oneirology this morning, which is the scientific study of dreams, though if I had had to guess, I would have said the word means the study of self-administered x-rays. Anyway, the half-dozen or so sites I checked out didn't have much to say about the sense of taste in dreams: a "secondary" sense that infrequently occurs in dreams.

All I know is I've never tasted worse coffee in my life (awake or dreaming) than that coffee I dreamt of this morning. But maybe that's a good thing. This real, "homemade" java I'm presently sipping doesn't taste that bad at all, though I suspect it's the stuff of most people's nightmares.

Monday, December 13, 2010

No, But Thanks For Asking (And Other Weird Utterances)

So I've been on the new job for two weeks now. It's always fun to meet new people and discover personalities and the politics of a new work place. It's another bookstore job, but there are many differences, some I like, others I don't. I belong now, though, because the other day I had my first experience in the new place of the age-old dumbest question. As I was kneeling on the floor, clutching a stack of books and trying to squeeze one of them onto a bottom shelf, a customer asked me, un-rhetorically it always seems, "Do you work here?" The day I snap and fire off a "What do I look like, buddy, Rosie O'Donnell's hair stylist?" retort, I'll know it'll be time to retire. Until then, I'll silently endure.

But you get that one all the time. There have been two recent sentences spoken to me, though, one a question, one a statement, that have got me scratching my head a bit. A friendly new co-worker generously offered me one of her Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. As I thanked her and dug my hand into the tiny cookie pouch, she said, "I love cookies." Hunh? Think about that simple sentence for a second. I love cookies. Isn't that really a universal euphemism for "I'm alive"? I asked her, "Does anybody hate cookies?" If someone does exist who actually hates cookies, is that not the saddest sack of humanity alive? One simple declarative sentence. Three words, one used dozens of times a day (I), one used probably a few times a day, if not always aloud (hate), and one that if not spoken must be thought of at least two hundred times a day (cookies). And yet I'd be willing to wager that in the conversation with my co-worker I was the first person in human history to put those three very common words together in a sentence: I hate cookies (just as I'd be willing to wager this paragraph is the first written expression, in any language--dead or alive--of that sentence, I hate cookies). You're living history as you read, folks.

But it was the question posed to me last night, in all sincerity, mind you, that perplexes me more than any other sentence directed at me this past week or over the past several decades, when I think about it. The question put to me roughly twenty-four hours ago was this: "Are you in a bowling league?" Now let's be clear right up front. I have nothing against bowling. I enjoy the game every time I bowl, which is about once every five years. It's like golf (a sport [yes, bowling is a game, golf a sport; start the boycotts and protests and letters of condemnation to the U.N. now] I am passionate about) for unimaginative people--you basically are playing against yourself, which really lends a great existentialist edge to the sport (game). I likewise have nothing against bowlers, (keglers, I believe is the technical term). Some of my best friends are bowlers (or would be, if my best friends indeed bowled). And if bowling leagues are good enough for Donny and Walter and Lebowski, they're fine by me. I can safely say I never see myself joining a Dungeons and Dragons _______--what, club, organization, cabal? or a quilters' circle or a parents of mimes booster club, but I would not, categorically, rule out the possiblity of joining a bowling league sometime in the future (the future of flying cars and holographic sex, ideally). Got it? Bowling, bowlers, and bowling leagues are all fine by me.

But what, pray God, what does it tell me about me that a nice young woman asked me, in all sincerity (fine, two nice young woman, totally separately, within about five minutes) if I bowl in a bowling league? Now I realize that context is 90% of Compos mentis; I was bowling at the time (the company Christmas Holiday party), and as Donny says, I was "throwing rocks" last night, but still. Can't a guy throw a couple strikes and pick up a couple spares without reeking of "Bowling League Guy"? These people have gotten to know me for two weeks, isn't that enough time to cross Bowling League Guy off the list of possible personality traits? Now it's probably obvious that I am neither a frequent shopper club card holder at GNC nor a Civil War reenactor, but the thought that I might be a Bowling League Guy makes me question more than I want to question about my outward demeanor. Do I need a (literal or metaphoric) wardrobe make-over? Or, God forbid, a total aura overhaul? All I know is I haven't slept, and I think I'm hearing automatic pinsetters in the gutters of my mind.

I know, I know, it's not so bad. The two nice young women didn't ask me if I was a member of the Hair Club For Men. They didn't ask if I had a metal detector they could borrow. They didn't ask me if I had any old issues of O The Oprah Magazine lying around. They didn't say, "With that form, I bet you're an expert curler, too." But then again, they didn't ask me if my Ferrari was in storage all winter. They didn't ask me how much I can bench press. They didn't ask me if Mensa Club meetings were as wild as they sound. And they didn't say to me, "Haven't I seen your bust in some Hall of Fame or other?" (I've long harbored a secret wish to be asked about my bust.) As Dirty Harry said to Briggs, "A man's got to know his limitations," I guess. I'm a guy who two weeks after meeting him you could plausibly see in a bowling league.

Truth is, in fifth grade, 1973-74, I not only bowled in the Huckleberry Hounds Bowling League at Severance Center Lanes, I will have you know I took home the hardware for best average in the league (a robust 100, as I recall; hmmm, another would-be career path I should have considered more seriously). No man should go to his grave without having won a bowling trophy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Propinquity, Or What's With This Guy And Vending Machines?

I was wrong.

The rare occasion occurred nearly six months ago; it's taken me this long to process. At a family gathering the word "propinquity" came up (not that our family sits around with brandy snifters and snuff boxes discussing Kierkegaard's more obtuse points or comparing each other's neurasthenia, but somehow the word came up). Anyway, the discussion devolved into my mother and I disagreeing on the meaning of the word. To make the painful story short, she was correct; the word means proximity or nearness. Despite my English degree, four+ years of Latin, and years toiling in the trenches with such Rabelaisian tomes as The Joy of Vocabulary and Enriching One's Vocabulary, I had contended that the word meant an inclination. I see now how I made the (I would contend) easily made mistake of confusing propinquity with propensity and proclivity; nevertheless, that does not excuse me. Mother, once again, knew best and for nearly six months I've stood chastised.

But though I stand chastised, I recline mulling, musing upon the various forces exerted by propinquity in our lives, or at least my life. All the so near and yet so far away moments and experiences, the "Sliding Door"/"Road Not Taken" oh so close moments that might have completely or minutely changed my life in some significant way. The intriguing stranger never engaged, the opportunity or offer never taken up, the words the occasion called for never expressed. Of course there is the opposite, the things done or said that might not have been, but it's always the actions not performed that tantalize the most. Propinquity, that nearness or proximity, doesn't always mean realization or fruition. For years I went to a dumpy concert venue, but when I ended up moving literally just down the street, within walking distance of the place, I went exactly once in six years (great Ass Ponys show, by the way; R.I.P. Ass Ponys). I think of the people I worked with or among for years, people who were a regular part of my daily existence, who then were never seen or heard from again and I realize I never really got to know them. Propinquity, so close and yet so far away. Just another humdrum conundrum of life. And yet.

Vending machines. My uber vending machine experience has been exhaustively chronicled elsewhere, but there's another vending machine moment (or fifteen minutes) that's a bit thornier in my history, one that very nearly plagues me, and when I contemplate the notion of propinquity, as I've been doing in my chastisement of the last nearly six months, it sits like a hefty totem on my consciousness. It is the metaphor for me for all the perplexities of propinquity in my life.

Nearly twenty-five years ago I backpacked around the U.K. for a month with my good friend Mike. Mike had been valedictorian, so he was the Baedeker for our excursion. He assiduously consulted a more-dog-eared-by-the-hour Let's Go United Kingdom and would periodically map out our next couple of days. "Sounds good to me," I'd say, hunker down with my clutch of the British tabloids, and ride the bus to our next stop (Mike got sick reading while in motion, so he'd just sleep or tolerate me when I read aloud the latest antics of our British cousins). (Curious thought-provoking aside here: Where do you stand on this issue? We literally had nothing but a backpack for four weeks of summer travel. Thus we had about three or four changes of clothes. Without thinking about it, I fell into the pattern of changing clothes every day, even thought they weren't clean [I think we did one load of laundry in Liverpool; it was a Ringo tribute thing I can't quite recall]. Still, though, the thought of putting on a different set of clothes, though unclean, every morning, somehow felt right. Mike, on the other hand, and a more seasoned world traveler than I, used to wear the same clothes for four days straight then change into something else. Which method has its merits, I guess, but nearly twenty-five years later, I still side on the put different clothes on each day strategy. You?)

Anyway, after a delightful few days in Edinburgh (and what a charming place that is, truly) we had to catch an overnight train back to Cardiff, Wales. Now of course you're thinking, wait a minute, your first trip to the U.K., a mere four weeks, and you went to Cardiff not once but twice? Well, it was the summer of 1987, the summer of U2's Joshua Tree, and we had managed to scalp some tickets for the Cardiff show somewhere along our travels after the intitial day or two in Dylan Thomas propinquity ("Swansea, why would anyone want to go to Swansea?" our half-crazy B&B proprietor in Cardiff had asked us. The same lady who didn't "get" pop music and wondered about the likes of, I swear, Dick Jagger and that Boner guy). So, back in Edinburgh: in order to kill the time until our midnight train from Edinburgh, Mike and I put in a hard day's night work chipping away at our goal--100 pints of Guinness in four weeks' time. Needless to say we were well-oiled for the overnight train ride. We had mostly taken buses, but we had arrived in Edinburgh via a wonderfully modern train (with our own separate comfy compartment) from Glasgow. So as we giddily picked up our backpacks from the hostel, made our way to the train station, and picked up a Pizza Hut (all over the U.K. back then) pizza, we had visions of a luxurious night's sleep in a rolling train. Well, let's just say, Charles Dickens might have found the train we embarked on luxurious, because he had probably ridden on it, but to us it was rickety, hot, filled to capacity, and cramped. I managed to get the middle of three wooden seats, right next to a comatose nonagenarian who snored. Suffice it to say, conditions were not ideal for a twenty-four-year-old with a belly full of Guinness and sausage and onion pizza. Throw in a conductor whose through-the-night announcements of stations sounded like the voice of Charon's, and you have the most uncomfortable night of my life.

But propinquity, yes. We're nearing the end of this ramble. So about 4 a.m., deep in that part of the Guinness-drinking cycle when one should be asleep, I was awake, parched, suffering. The train was stopped somewhere and I appeared to be the only one alive on the train. I cursed Mike for being asleep, wiggled my way out of my seat and aisle, and made for the open doors of the train, realizing that fresh air only could keep me alive. And the air was nice, no doubt. But directly outside the train, no more than four steps onto the platform, stood a brightly lit juice vending machine. My God, no nomadic Bedouin in history ever looked upon an oasis with more life-affirming glee than I regarded that juice machine. But.

But what if the moment I stepped off the train to fetch a can of concentrated British juice the train were to close its doors and pull away? Just my luck, I figured. I'd be stranded somewhere in Great Britain without a Let's Go, without my backpack stuffed with gnarly but different clothes, and without a clue as to how to re-connect with my tour guide friend (1987 mind you, long before cell phones). Would the ancient conductor rasp out an "all aboard" giving me warning? Would the train start to chug away with its doors open for just a few seconds (after all, with my one pound coin at the ready in my parched but still sweaty palm, the entire act of leaving the train, buying the juice and getting back on the train couldn't have taken more than ten or fifteen seconds)? And yet I dithered. Agonizingly so, because that train must have sat there for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of staring nirvana in the form of a juice vending machine in the face, but fifteen minutes of failing to risk abandonment to transform propinquity into (score!) reality. A lifetime in those fifteen minutes. A lifetime since pondering the meaning of those fifteen minutes. And eventually (don't/don't want to remember if there was any warning), the doors shut, the train chugged, and I was left standing dry. A nasty slurp or two from the tap in the bathroom hardly satisfied me the way that can of British juice would have. Damned proximity. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but sometimes propinquity makes the mind go loco. Get off the train, young man.

By the way, I've stopped posting music here because 1. I got sick of warning messages from the powers that be and 2. because I'd hate to pass along any virus that's been plaguing my computer. If I were still posting music, though, today it would be Dr. John's wonderful rendering of the hoary "The Nearness of You." Seek it out.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

12 Days of Heavy Metal Xmas

I wrote this a couple years ago for some tawdry reason. Never thought much of it, but it has its fans, and they've spoken.

The Twelve Days of Heavy Metal Xmas

On the first day of Heavy Metal Xmas my trü love gave to me:
A bad dose of the clap.

On the second day of Heavy Metal Xmas my trü love gave to me:
Two black eyes.

On the third day of Heavy Metal Xmas my trü love gave to me:
Three pierced nipples.

On the fourth day of Heavy Metal xmas my trü love gave to me:
Four kicks to the shin.

On the fifth day of Heavy Metal Xmas my trü love gave to me:
Five hits of speed.

On the sixth day of Heavy Metal Xmas my trü love gave to me:
Six six six.

On the seventh day of Heavy Metal Xmas my trü love gave to me:
Seven sleazy groupies.

On the eighth day of Heavy Metal Xmas my trü love gave to me:
Eight drum solos.

On the ninth day of Heavy Metal Xmas my trü love gave to me:
Nine pounds of leather.

On the tenth day of Heavy Metal Xmas my trü love gave to me:
Ten Sabbath discs.

On the eleventh day of Heavy Metal Xmas my trü love gave to me:
Eleven on my amp.

On the twelfth day of Heavy Metal Xmas my trü love gave to me:
Twelve ümlaüts.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Is there anything more temporarily gratifying than shoveling the driveway after (during?) winter's first real snowfall? I pity the poor saps in San Diego, El Paso, Paradise Valley, et al. who never experience the out and out joy of an honest snow shoveling. What could be more life affirming than pushing away death's (i.e. nature's) constant onslaught, if only for a few hours (and thank God the snow tonight, though considerable, was rather light--more pushing than wrestling/lifting/flinging)? Sure, eventually, death/nature will get its way, but what a tangible sign of one's own endurance in the face of mortality a freshly shoveled driveway is. You see exactly what you have accomplished and the boundaries of what you have not. You have cleared a negotiable path for yourself and any intrepid visitors. There is no more glorious middle finger to winter's encompassing doom gloom despair than a house that screams in the midst of darkness desolation hibernation, "Yes sir, we're open for business."

And oh the sensual delights. The yin yang of cold air blowing on your sweaty brow. The repetitive heft and release of each shovelful. The sound of the shovel's scraping on pavement confirming that you're doing your job very well indeed. The smell of envy coming from neighbors' houses as they watch you and know full well that while they presently think you're nuts (while mentally remembering how to dial 911 just in case you keel), in the morning when they trudge to their cars and gun them to try to get out of their driveways somehow, you'll be backing out like it's the 4th of July. The overwhelming relief spasms throughout your musculature when you retire/prop that snow-caked shovel against the garage wall. The insane ecstasy of kicking off wet boots and shuffling into warm slippers oblivious to your soggy socks. The proud blog-boasting after all (in the absence of a Swiss Miss masseuse to rub me deeply the right way) is said and done.

Eat your hearts out tropical bums.

But now, damnit, stop snowing before my landlord gets home so he can see I actually pull my weight around here. And where the hell is Ben Gay when I need him?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Situation Wanted: Waterboy

Lingerie Football League
West Hollywood, CA

To Whom It May Concern:

I note with great interest that just today the storied Lingerie Football League announced the formation of a new franchise, the Cleveland Crush, which will begin play next autumn in my hometown. As a lifelong Cleveland sports fan and a nearly lifelong fan of lingerie, I am thrilled. Allow me to be among the first to welcome the team with open arms.

Alas, in addition to football and slinky undergarments, my interest in the LFL's newest harem team extends to more mundane matters: employment. As a recent "graduate" of the unemployment line, I know too well the pains of not working. Although I am newly, and happily and gratefully, employed, I would be remiss to take such employment for granted and self-negligent not to continue to strive for career advancement. Hence, my present application to fill the job of waterboy for the Crush's inaugural season.

Now I realize I might be a little premature here, what with the franchise's existence just being announced today; obviously the days of sweaty, two-a-day drills with perspiration-besotted ends and backs craving liquid refreshment and replenishment are months away, but having closely observed the ins and outs of various local gridiron coaching/front office legends like Phil Savage, Butch Davis, and Romeo Crennel, I know that the groundwork for a successful football team is laid months in advance. My services to help lay that groundwork are yours. A well-hydrated football team is a winning one.

What, you may ask, are my qualifications for such work? Well, I know that a couple hydrogen atoms mixed with a stray oxygen one make water. Qualified to make water? Check. I know people who are bent over and panting usually need water. Qualified to accurately assess the situation? Check. I know people drink water, not snort it. Qualified to deliver product effectively? Check. Ergo, look no further than moi. (I might add here that ultimately I consider myself perhaps best suited for the equipment/uniform manager position, but although I am confident, I am not cocky; I am willing to work my way up the ladder. Where the Lingerie Football League is concerned, I am definitely a team player.)

In closing, I wish you all the best success in Cleveland, and I hope you will consider my qualifications for waterboy. If the position has already been filled, or if, possibly, there are better qualified applicants, I understand and would like you to know that I am definitely willing to volunteer my time as a scrimmage player.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

10 Footnotes In Search Of A Context

  1. I bid.
  2. Nietzsche, one supposes, would disagree.
  3. See Dwight, Reginald. Couture In Retrogade, Norton, 1974, for a fuller, and more fulsome, survey of the problems to be encountered in such a contretemps. Better yet, throw caution to the wind and hike up your own skirt while sailing the Ruhr in October.
  4. Curious (sic) enough, this particular cat was done in not once, but nine times by indifference.
  5. One could argue to the contrary re the applesauce, but really, why? As for the bouillabaisse, it's pretty apparently moot, isn't it?
  6. "Opie, sit."
  7. cf. David Foster Wallace's oeuvre.
  8. Actually, it was in one of Holmes' less successful cases, involving a recalcitrant bootblack, when the great sleuth thought the whole case hinged on a globule of shinola only to have Watson correct him while pointing: "No, shit Sherlock." Alas, the comma seems to have drifted a tad coming down through the years.
  9. An iamb is unstressed stressed, a dactyl is stressed unstressed unstressed, an ill-placed wart is stress stress stress!
  10. Noboody proofs these these things.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kerfuffle, No More, No Less

As I write this, tipoff of the Big Game is about half an hour away. You know the Big Game, LeBron's return to Cleveland, the game we've been instructed to "circle on our calendars" for five months now. The one that "everyone's been talking about," the one that's brought "media from all over the globe" to Cleveland, the one where we'll supposedly see "how LeBron handles it," and whether or not the fans of Northeastern Ohio will "embarrass themselves on national TV" by "doing something bad." Piddle, all of it. Personally, as much as I hate to say it and depressed as I am by the mere micro-dusting of snow on the ground and temperatures holding steady in the windy 20-35 degrees range (and knowing full well in two months I'll be sacrificing small animals for such moderate climes), I wish a good old blizzard would be blasting these parts right now to really show all the far-flung media descending on our humble town what life is like here, with or without the Chosen One. Moreover, if I had my way, at the tipoff, all 20,000+ fans would silently file out of Quicken Loans Arena to show how much we really give a rat's ass about spoiled sports and the parasitic gawking media. But I suspect there'll be an ugly moment or three, LeBron will wind up with his usual stats-heavy game, and the Heat will win going away. Ho hum.

In the long run, this whole game will merely be a kerfuffle. And I don't use that word lightly because I hate the word. Now I have nothing against the Scots (they're responsible in one way or another for much of the music I love, Edinburgh is one of the greatest cities I've experienced, and their accents are killer), but I'm told that this despised word comes from Scotland where, with the accent and personality of the Scots, I can almost see the word working. But beyond the parameters of Scotland, the word stinks and should be eliminated from everybody's dialect. Why? Why such vitriol over a kind of fun-sounding word? Mainly because it is a fun-sounding word only employed by people who consciously want to use a fun-sounding word when they're usually talking about something not so fun--a disturbance or fuss--and because it seems to be used more and more often these days. All I'll say is that to me it's a Holly Hobby word; if you know what I'm talking about, nothing more needs to be said. If you don't, believe me, it's not worth the kerfuffle of looking up Holly Hobby. I hereby decree, the only time any non-Scots person anywhere, or any Scots person outside of Scotland, may use the word kerfuffle is when one is having trouble extracting one's handkerchief from one's ass pocket. That's it. You've all been warned.

Now excuse me, I have to turn my attention to a certain basketball game to see if I'll should be embarrassed or feel proud of myself come tomorrow morning. Though, with the usual qualifications of nobody getting hurt, something in me wants something truly asinine to occur tonight at the Q. Kerfuffle me not.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I'm not a bad speller, but I'm a horrible typist. So, in my effort to do a little research into the wiki-leaks scandal in order to impart on the matter some of the wisdom my readers depend on so fervently, I inadvertently misspelled leaks. My what a can of worms that little faux pas opened. Who knew the world of leek farming was so riddled with iniquity? From the farmer outside of Davenport, Iowa, who brings his wares to market with a should-be criminal leer and the come hither rasp, "Anybody wanna squeeze my leeks?" to the Topeka lady who chronically shoplifts leeks from the local Whole Foods Market (suffice it to say she's an A-cup coming in through the out door and a Double D going out through the in), the leek subculture here in America is revolting. But where are the media's priorities? We're the world's Super Power--no shit we should be spying on UN flaks and telling tales out of school about European dandies. If we're charged with constantly saving the world and smacking down all the two-bit tyrants around the globe nobody else is gutsy enough to deal with, why shouldn't we have the right to talk behind all their backs? Big whoop, should be our government's one and only response to the world's outrage, I say. But when the Baxter Brothers (all four and a half of them, plus the sister-in-law who's well on her way to becoming a brother-in-law) of Pierre, South Dakota, are well-nigh on their way to cornering the market on leeks so that they can gouge us all dry post-Rapture, something must be done. Somebody haul Anderson Cooper out from under Lady Gaga's table ('tis true, read it here) and put him on the case. One little typo has made me appreciate all over again what I thought was the untainted goodness of leeks, and to put this scandal-ridden world in the proper perspective. There's nothing as overrated as a global diplomatic fracas and as underrated as a good leek.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Harmonic Convergence Of Manliness

Well, what better way to spend my last day of nearly two months of unemployment (yes, I've been hired!; start tomorrow) than reclaiming my manhood and getting to work? After nearly fifty years of experiencing it, about all I can say concerning what it means to be a man is that I stand up (for the time being) to pee and have to shave my face every thirty-six hours or so. But something tells me the periodic fits of whimpering, "What am I gonna do?" that I've endured the past several weeks do not make a man a man. And so I'm grateful that to get me back into the swing of this manhood thing, I undertook and successfully completed two very macho endeavors today: mowing the lawn and putting up Christmas lights.

Now stop, think about that for a second, all of you who live in climates where winter is truly winter. On the same day I mowed the lawn (for the last time in at least four months, I assume), I also put up Christmas lights (in season, mind you, not like some foolish people I know who light up their premises from December until, well, the next December). How many times in a man's life in a city like Cleveland is this ever possible? A post-Thanksgiving light putting up and grass mowing? I daresay it's a first for me and quite probably the last. What a day for manliness! I agree wholeheartedly with Henry Rollins who said, albeit sarcastically, but then he's from California and doesn't know about such things, "You're such a man when you're putting up the Christmas lights." And for a colorblind man who had a scary encounter with electricity when just a wee lad (plugging in a Christmas wreath, I'll have you know) so that every plugging and unplugging of cords ever since has been a seemingly near-death experience, putting up Christmas lights doesn't come easy.

But I did it all: lawn neatly trimmed and ready for four months of snow, bushes festooned with colorful (non-blinking, the only kind) lights. I feel so proud and good I'm going to go out and celebrate by doing some spitting and looking for some things to nail together. Then I can sleep like a man and wake up and (finally) go out and earn some bacon.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Elbowing Point

I voted for Barack Obama. I make no apologies for doing so and I have no regrets. But like many Obama supporters, I suspect, I wish the guy showed a little more fire at times. I want him to be more passionate (not fly-off-the-handle loco, but to exert some kind of blood-racing intensity) in being a leader, not just a manager (for a great spoof of Obama's too-measured approach to all things, see the ever-funny Onion's take on Obama's pardon of the Thanksgiving turkey).

I'm thinking not, but here's hoping the media digs up some dirt on yesterday's pick-up basketball game in which the President suffered an elbow to his upper lip requiring 12 stitches. I'd love to find out that immediately after being "accidentally" elbowed by one Rey Decerega, director of programs for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, Obama grabbed Decerega's t-shirt at the neck and hissed, "Hey Rey, I'm the President of the damn United States. No two-bit congressional toady messes with me on my home court, and it's all my home court, homey." For once I want to hear of the Secret Service having to intervene in order to save someone's life from the President. Hey hey, we could all rejoice, the man's got some passion, some fightback. Instead, sadly, we'll probably learn that Obama, while clutching his bloodied mouth, said, "No harm, no foul. My lip shouldn't have gotten in the way of your elbow. I owe you a beer, Rey." Another missed opportunity.

I'm sure I'm hardly the only one at this time to be dragging in that old "stiff upper lip" cliche in regard to Obama. As defines it, to have a stiff upper lip means "to remain resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity, or even tragedy." Well, after the results of the recent election, and a continued drop in his approval ratings, if anyone needs to have his stiff upper lip elbowed a bit, or, medically speaking, bled, it's Obama. If not in the heat of the moment (are there any moments for Obama that are more than tepid?) on the basketball court, I'm hoping that the man, supposedly no intellectual slouch, recognizes the metaphoric import of this incident, and comes out with stitched-upped upper lip snarled and showing some teeth now that the Tea Partiers and at-the-half rejuvenated Republicans are taking the court.

For no other reason, if indeed we can look back on Obama's presidency and say, you know, it was right after those 12 stitches that the man started to be more passionate and turn things around, then maybe we can replace or least augment that already worn out phrase, "the tipping point." Sure, some things need to be tipped, but other things need to be elbowed. In a world of TSA gropings, North Korean artillery strikes, continued unemployment, and Sarah Palin's "serious consideration" of running for President, some elbowing is required. I'm hoping that Rey Decerega truly schooled Obama, figuratively if not so literally; that Friday, November 26, 2010, will indeed be Obama's Elbowing Point. Because I'm afraid that if Obama does go the way of Jimmy Carter, the picture-worth-a-million-words defining image of his historic presidency will be this one:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kill A Tree, Save An Aging Rock Star

Time was, all a rock star had to do to avoid an untimely death and live to old age was to stay away from suspect heroin and chartered planes and to make sure he/she was conscious while throwing up. But now, with so many iconic rock stars pulling social security checks and imbibing Grecian Formula like so many whiskey bottles of yore, new menaces threaten the health of our beloved wild rockers. And before we're faced with seeing Chuck Berry scootching across the stage with the aid of a walker or Mick Jagger strutting his stuff with a four-pronged cane, it's time we all recognize, and do something about, the biggest current threat to the well being of our favorite Johnny B. Goode's: trees. Kill a tree before it kills your idol.

Did you see this story the other day? Seems that Joan Baez fell out of a tree and sustained--thankfully--only minor injuries. Coupled with Keith Richards's more celebrated, and injurious, fall from a coconut tree a few years ago, Baez's arboreal mishap signals a dangerous trend: trees are out to get rock'n'rollers. So, while you're trimming the turkey during these upcoming holidays, think of your once sexy rocker now battling the forces of nature and do your part to save this embattled species by not only trimming, but completely eradicating, a few trees.

Of course, bad things happen in threes, so it's only a matter of time before some other musical god suffers the wrath of a tree. And let's face it, we've been lucky so far: Keef and Joanie are still with us. Unless all trees are felled soon, we might not be so lucky next time. In addition to axing a few dozen trees myself lately, I've also put more sophisticated technology to use in my attempt to save rock stars from a tragic "death by flora." Employing computer programming skills much too esoteric and advanced for most of my audience's sensibilities (trust me) and housing my computer's "works" in a specially-designed cabinet made out of melted down K-Tel tecords, I was able to create an AI/Prognostication tool that came up with the most probable scenarios for various rock stars to meet injury and/or death via a tree in the near future. But technology is not perfect, as we know. So while we should all continue the arduous task of ridding the Earth of trees, we might pay closer attention to the rockers who made the list below and be sure to warn them away from trees. Thanks for doing your part.

  • By way of triangulating Keith Richards and Joan Baez, the computer says that Bob Dylan is the most natural would-be next rock star/tree victim. It foresees a scene eerily echoing, to me at least, Don Vito Corleone's last minutes in The Godfather. Romping with a grandchild on a hot summer's day on a farm in Minnesota, Bob's Frisbee gets stuck in a tree. With the kid boosting him up, Bob creakily climbs the tree, but then, what else, either a gust of wind or some hard rain causes Bob to lose his balance and fall from the tree. His first (last?) words to the grandchild: "See, I told you gravity fails."
  • Lemmy's fall from a tree elicits this mysterious remark: "Everybody knows the best tasting bark is near the top."
  • Tom Waits voluntarily falls from a tree so his son can tape the resultant sound of him hitting the ground so that they can then loop it into a "killer" percussion track.
  • John Lydon ventures too far out on a flimsy limb to reach another one with a buzzing chainsaw. While falling, the chainsaw's whining evisceration of him is drowned out by Johnny's cackling, "Oh, bloody perfect, this."
  • Aretha Franklin, sitting upright amid a mini-forest of branches and brambles, chuckles, "But that peach looked so tasty. Mmmmm."
  • Brian Wilson's last words before ascending the tree: "The sound those leaves make is love. I'm going to get me some."
  • Neil Young, tired of the barn and recording during the full moon, conceives an entire trilogy of albums not only about, but recorded in, a huge redwood. Alas, the chunk of the tree he had earlier carved out to construct the guitar to be used througout the venture weakens the tree to the point that it, the tree (dubbed Old Red by Neil himself), cannot support Neil, Crazy Horse, the Stray Gators, the Shocking Pinks, the Bluenotes, the International Harvesters, Pearl Jam, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the ghost of Rick James, two vocoders, a '58 hearse, a 100+ member church choir, the Canadian Parliament, and three film crews. Not to be outdone, though, Neil really digs the sound of the tree splintering to pieces, mixed in with the yelps of all the assorted band members and crew, and decides to recreate the whole "sonic experience" in Nashville for a "garage opera" which will be available only on diamond-encrusted vinyl, to be released sometime between now and 2143.
  • Michael Stipe falls out of a catalpa tree but "it's nobody's business unless I make it their business."
  • Sting falls out of a tree (one of the last, mind you) in the Rain Forest while basking in a twenty-eight day tantric navel-gazing exercise. The carnivores seem delighted.
  • Pat Benatar falls out of her backyard tree while exercising, bounces right up, perky as ever, and continues doing whatever she's been doing since MTV stopped showing videos.
  • All the computer foresaw concerning Ozzy Osbourne and trees was an image of Ozzy hobbling over a hazy, flora-devoid landscape with a smoking flame-thrower. Ah, that's the spirit.
Death to Trees, Long Live Rock.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

As I Was Saying....Or, Only Pirates Have Treasure Maps

Last thing I remember it was July and hot. And I was employed, too. Computer problems (we're ambulatory, but limping), four months, one store closing resulting in unemployment, and about a fifty degree downward change in the temperature, and here we go again. My apologies for the hiatus and my thanks to those of you who've expressed your utter at-sea-ness without your regular gum spitting fix. I hope things return to normal--in more ways than one. Unemployment is horrible, of which more on that in the posts to come, I'm sure.

But did you see this storyabout the British tyke who, after manning (boying?) his father's metal detector for about two minutes, found centuries-old gold worth about $4 million? I love it, especially his claim that he wasn't using a map, because "only pirates have treasure maps." Now if I had some distance on the whole unemployment thing I'm sure I could wax poetic (nostalgic?) about how finding a job that pays 1/100 of the boy's find is like hunting treasure with a metal detector (and for that much, how maybe one needs to assume a pirate's mentalityto endure it all; unanswered e-mails, phone calls, and resume dumps--arrrgghhh!). But we'll save all that verbosity for a more reflective time. As I'm forced to live completely in the here and now these days, let's cut to the chase--what is the deal with metal detectors?

Like owning a fire truck, being a garbage man (nice work if you can get it, I assume), or being a staff photographer for Playboy, possessing a metal detector is every boy's dream. But is there anything more pathetic than the sight of a grown man trawling some park expanse with a metal detector? What are you thinking, sir? If nothing more, the Brit kid's find is the exception that proves the rule that outside of loose change, a stray earring (alas, Marcie's, not a long ago, burying-treasure-nearby pirate's), and a pull can top from 1972, you're not going to find treasure in these parts. I realize that angering the vast metal detector aficionado constituency is not the best move for business as I plunge back into the world of blogging, but somebody has to forcefully tap these guys on the shoulder and say, un-unh, try collecting Star Wars trinkets.

My one and only experience with metal detectors is, thankfully, second hand. In the glorious aftermath of the Cleveland Browns' cathartic double overtime playoff victory over the New York Jets after the 1986 season (yes, kid, there was a time when the idea of playoff football in Cleveland made more sense than buying, and actually using, a metal detector) my buddies and I ran outside into January's cold to jubilantly release about five hours of tension by having a snowball fight in our friend's front yard. Well, after the elation subsided, said friend realized that his beloved college ring was missing. Victory celebration soon turned into what-the-hell-am-I-doing kicking over patches of snow looking for a ring (I love my friends, but really, turning the ultimate male-bonding experience of football glee into a cold exercise in jewelry hunting was not my idea of fun; more like my idea of Cleveland's ingrained bi-polarness, emphasis on the polar, that day). There are certainly some youthful experiences I missed out on, but at least I can go to my grave satisfied that I've experienced the empathetic rush of telling another guy, "It's just a ring, dude, a symbol; you'll always have the memories of your time in college. No one can, um, fling that away from you."

Well, my friend was not to be swayed by such wisdom. Over the next few wintry weeks we received regular updates on his continued search for the ring, from a counter-intuitive shoveling of his front yard, to, yes, an early spring renting and utilizing of a metal detector. At least my friends are charitable, if somewhat nerdish: I have no doubt that if we were ten, he would have invited us all over for the metal detector party and we would have all regarded it as the single most exciting day in our lives, but as we were 23, he kindly told no one of his metal detection pursuits until well after the fact, and--memory is hazy--a couple beers, I assume. Of course we all could have told him that the metal detector strategy was doomed from inception, but we're good friends and we let the "duh, dude," moment lapse. Of course, had it been in the era of cell phones with easily accessed cameras, and had one of us been fortunate enough to be driving by just as our friend was metal detecting his front yard, well then, the picture would still be infamous and the source of years of extortion revenue.

Come the real thaw a few weeks later, neighbors four doors down and across the street found the ring in their yard and returned it, so the story ends happily ever after. Or as happily as it can for a man who I'm sure still lives in fear that his friends are just waiting for the appropriate time (right now that time for me would be making a speech at his daughter's wedding) to say, "You're a man who once rented a metal detector. How do you sleep at night?"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


It's nothing day as far as major league baseball goes. The one day in the season where nothing official occurs. I've always thought of today as the exact middle of summer. The middle of nothing. So, nothing much to say, except to add my two cents for the greatest summer song of all time. There are plenty of summer songs and mixes around the blogosphere these days, but nobody ever posts or mentions this song. It's one of my all-time favorites. Enjoy it and bask in the nothingness of mid-summer.

Pretty Things-Summer Time

Monday, July 12, 2010

God's Gettin' An Earful: R.I.P. Harvey Pekar

Only now, four days later, has Cleveland actually lost a true icon. Harvey Pekar, creator of the American Splendor comic book series, died this morning. I had what turned out to be my last of several encounters with Harvey less than two weeks ago. He came into the store all excited (it was a treat to see the usually curmudgeonly Harvey excited) because a friend had told him he was mentioned in Playboy magazine. He wasn't sure if it was the current July issue or next month's. Being polite, as he always was, Harvey asked if it were possible for me to remove the shrink wrap on a copy of the magazine so we could look for his name. Seeing that most people feel no qualms about ripping open a Playboy to look for anything but their own name, I had no problem doing the honors for him. Harvey was a little unclear as to where and in what context his name was mentioned, so I diligently paged through the issue, looking for any article that might mention him (at one point, as I turned the glossy pages, I told Harvey to shield his innocent eyes--those incredibly expressive eyes that looked as paranoid and suspicious as a trapped rat's, but also always seemed to be shyly looking for a hug; he looked at me like I was nuts; I wish I had thought to open the centerfold and check out the playmate's list of turn-ons, to see if that was where his name was mentioned--God only knows what gem of expression--verbal and physical--Harvey would have come up with then). I couldn't find his name, and Harvey said he'd go call his friend and find out more. I told him if he gave me his phone number, I'd call him when next month's issue came out, if it turned out to be that issue. "I'm in the phone book," he said casually. Well, a half hour later I answered the phone and it was Harvey, saying he had found out it was this month's issue in the Advisor column. I found the opened copy, found the Advisor column, and read him the bit where his name was mentioned. "I'm coming right back up," he said, almost sounding gleeful, of all things. So I put an unopened copy on hold for him with a post-it telling him what page, 28. I guess he complimented me to the cashier for the post-it note when he came in to buy it.

Over the years I had several of these little Harvey encounters, and I never got the feeling that he remembered me from one to the next, and alas, as much I tried to say something witty each time, I never did turn up in one of his strips. Oh well.

I first encountered him in 1987 in the lobby of the Hanna Theatre in downtown Cleveland before a Tom Waits concert. At the time Harvey was famous for his epic appearances on the Letterman show. I walked up to him and asked for his autograph. "You want mine?" he whined. Yes, I said. A true hipster piece of memorabilia: Harvey's autograph on a Tom Waits ticket stub.

A few years later I got to edit an article or two Harvey wrote for a magazine I was working on. I remember Harvey showing up in the office, looking hangdog as always, and going on forever about whatever obscure jazz figure he was writing about. I also remember trying to smooth things out with him over the phone a couple months later when he was still waiting for his check. Disembodied via the phone, his voice was even whinier but somehow more endearing. Even when angry, Harvey was oddly charming and engaging.

Soon after the movie American Splendor came out, Harvey was in the store one night. I asked him if he had gotten a writing credit, because I thought the movie was great and had hoped he'd be up for an Oscar. "Nah," he shooed me away with his arm. I wonder how many millions of times Harvey uttered that Job-like "nah" of his during his life.

My favorite Harvey encounter came a few years ago, right before Christmas. He came in the store early one morning, just after we opened, and asked where the knitting books were. Our manager had a field day with him in the section, helping him pick out a few Christmas presents for his wife. My God, what a real artist could have done with that tableau--Harvey Pekar shopping for knitting books. Later I was privileged to wrap the two or three books for him. As usual, he seemed suspicious, as if the offer of free gift-wrapping had to come with some awful catch. I asked Harvey which of the festive wraps he wanted for the books. "It doesn't matter," he said, like a death row inmate being asked whether he wants to be shot or hanged. I couldn't resist saying, when he politely if gruffly refused my offer of colorful bows, "She'll appreciate them even more if there are bows on them." "Nah." Now that he's gone, sadly, I can tell you he was the customer I wrote about who this past Christmas went the easy route--gift cards (read about that encounter here).

I am hardly a comic book or graphic novel fan, but I always liked American Splendor. Harvey's masterful depictions of the qoutidian, all-loose-ends nature of his life, our lives, have a genuine, almost mystical quality to them--not always getting what you're programmed to expect to "get," you keep turning the pages nonetheless and end up somehow happier and even wiser about life and living it. Art, I think it's called. The movie's great, but read the comics--they're the true Harvey legacy.

Fittingly, my co-worker Emily broke the news to me today about Harvey's passing. Emily in many ways is the anti-Harvey: positively bubbly and always enthusiastically happy. So I was surprised a couple years ago when Emily said that Harvey had written about her in one of his strips (surprised and even more jealous; for more than twenty years I had been desperately trying in my infrequent encounters with Harvey to say something profound or absurd enough to get me in his strip). Emily used to be a bank teller at Harvey's bank, where she quickly became his favorite and only teller. The eyes don't lie: I always thought there was something lovable and optimistic deep in Harvey's suspicious, pessimistic eyes. It just took someone like Emily and her natural good cheer to draw it out a little.

And fittingly, Harvey wound up in this month's (thank God it wasn't next month's) Playboy because a young college graduate had written the Advisor wanting a list of books he should read to make him a well-educated man. And there, at the very end of the list, included with some of the giants of all-time, was American Splendor, by Harvey Pekar.

Hey Cleveland, we've got some empty mural space on our hands. How about honoring a real Cleveland icon? This town could use a sixty-foot image of Harvey watching over us. But would it ever happen? Nah.

Jay McShann-T'ain't Nobody's Bizness (If I Do)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Workin' On Danny's Farm

No, I wasn't out plowing the back 40 (square feet) today. And yes I swore I was finished with the whole LeBron thing, but silly me, I neglected to take into account that Jesse Jackson hadn't yet chimed in on the whole unfortunate episode. Until now, that is. Read here Jackson's comments about Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert's owner-slave mentality regarding James. As if this whole thing couldn't get more absurd. But I must say, Gilbert's comments made me wince, and I have to admit Jackson's got a point when he talks about Gilbert having to back up his claims about LeBron quitting in those playoff games. I guess LeBron's been too busy dancing in Miami and getting booed at Melo's wedding in NYC to respond to Gilbert's assertions. Infantile, all of it. Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to offer you this killer cover of Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" by Solomon Burke.

Solomon Burke-Maggie's Farm

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Last Two Words On LeBron: Feng Shui

After all the blather (and my God, it's worse than I thought--how can people actually think they're owed something by a professional athlete or that they are in any kind of a position to be betrayed by him?) including my own (see below), the only sensible thing I've heard about the whole LeBron James thing came from a German truck driver who, still reeling from his nation's defeat to Spain in the World Cup, offered this to me concerning Cleveland's loss of LeBron: "Cleveland needs better Feng Shui. You all should start planting some plants." Amen, over and out. Anybody got some seeds and some hoes?

The Kinks-This Is Where I Belong

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Doesn't He Like Us?

Every teacher knows them, the students who hang around after class to tell you something inane but important to them. The kids who after you mention some obscure movie or CD in class one day will tell you a couple days later they bought the movie or CD and really like it. The ones who give you some obscure candy bar, like a Zagnut, because you said it was your favorite. Nice kids, all of them, just looking for a little affirmation and kindness and respect that they usually aren't getting too much of from the other students. They're a little insecure and they want to be liked, want to know they're okay, not some freak. They all grow out of it. The kid who hung around you every day after class as a sophomore passes you in the hall as a senior with barely any recognition.

As I write this it's three hours until LeBron James finally ends all the suspense and announces where he's going--or staying. The vibes are definitely in the going column right now--probably to Miami. To pay any attention to the media in Cleveland right now or just the chatter on the streets, things seem pretty glum. The refrain I keep hearing, which really ticks me off, is the "how could he do this to us?" one. "He's going to go on national TV and kick us in the teeth." The sense seems to be if LeBron doesn't "do the right thing" and re-sign with the Cavaliers, the city of Cleveland will implode, never be the same.

Enough. Cleveland seems to me to be that needy kid, one who's never grown up and out of it, though. Since when is this DECISION really about us? It's almost as if Clevelanders hate Cleveland and are too insecure to admit it. They need big-time people like LeBron to affirm their choice/fate of living in Cleveland. As if they're saying, I hate Cleveland, but as long as the world's greatest basketball player is here, and now chooses to be here, it's okay with me.

Name me a twenty-five-year-old who's been given the ultimate choices of moving anywhere in the country, especially to a place like Miami, to work with good friends and have an excellent chance at succeeding like he or she's never succeeded before, who wouldn't seriously consider moving, let alone probably doing it. Is it a slap in the face to the community if the person does? Hell no. LeBron doesn't owe us Clevelanders anything, except maybe our lives back, which would be a good start for all of us to move on and grow up.

Besides, if he does leave, we'll only be left with a much bigger chip on our collective shoulder to flaunt (and boy do we love that). Also, no longer will we be the favorites. In my lifetime, the few times Cleveland has been the favorite, we've failed (choked?) miserably. Underdogs with massive chips on our shoulders, that's who we are. Maybe it's time to return to our roots. LeBron's been a very accommodating, friendly teacher for us for seven long years now. It's time we let him go and deal with our own insecurities.

Of course, if he stuns us all and does re-sign, I'm sure I'll be jumping for joy and thinking about a championship parade down Euclid Avenue in less than twelve months.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ichabod's iPod, Part 3: Huck Finn

Who's more American than Huck Finn? Nobody. What's on Huck's iPod these days? Well, let's take a look.

Watching the River Flow-Bob Dylan: Most played and most loved. "What's the matter with me...?"

Goin' Out West-Tom Waits: The ultimate lightin' out for the territories anthem.

Goin' Fishin'-Bobby Charles: Raison d'etre.

Slipping & Drinking-Tom House: One for Pap.

Up Around the Bend-Creedence Clearwater Revival: A great rave-up for a picaresque, adventurous boy.

Any World (That I'm Welcome To)-Steely Dan: For those bodies disgusted with the whole human race.

Something I Learned Today-Husker Du: Angst howls for the lessons one doesn't want to learn.

Fishin' Blues-Taj Mahal: For when Jim's not around.

Watch Me Fall-Uncle Tupelo: Empathy for the insecure.

Guilty By Association-Vic Chesnutt: For all the boy's tortured, twisted guilt.

Shake Sugaree-Elizabeth Cotten: A great raft-drifting song.

Promised Land-Chuck Berry: One day.

Everybody's Talkin'-Fred Neil: Joe Buck's got nothing on Huck. Here's to Miss Watson, the "tolerable slim old maid."

I'm No Angel-The Gregg Allman Band: The song to sing when one makes up one's mind to consciously go to hell.

The Weight-The Band: Huck might not understand it (who does?) but it sounds just right.

Reach Out (I'll Be There)-The Four Tops: Jim in full throttle, calming Huck.

Old Friend-Lyle Lovett: Jim.

The Boys Are Back In Town-Thin Lizzy: Tom & Huck am-buscading everything in sight.