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.