Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Stand Corrected

It has come to my attention that my post of a couple days ago about hats (see below) is in need of a slight revision. The aspersions that I cast on the wearing of a beret, while in general quite called for, and for which I stand by wholeheartedly, should not, and from henceforth do not, naturally, encompass or include any beret-wearing member of the United States military (i.e. anyone who could kill me with his or her bare hands while being polite about it and calling me "sir" repeatedly). If ever a beret had a rightful, righteous place on somebody's head, it is on the head of a member of the armed services. It says might with elan, which if that isn't a solid definition of America, find me a better one (now if that doesn't get the specters of Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler and Marion Mitchell Morrison aka John Wayne out of the waking and sleeping nightmares I've been enduring all week, maybe I'll consider the French Foreign Legion). A beret on a civilian head, meanwhile, says twee with self-consciousness, which if that isn't the definition of sartorial carnage, find me a better one (of course, speaking of standing corrected, any pretty woman wearing a raspberry beret and coming in through the out door is granted a lifetime cool pass).

But enough about berets. While I'm doing so, and this being Lent and all, I might as well correct a few other slight mistakes with regard to what I've said and/or written over the years. Yes, when I was a teenager back in the glorious late 70s, when fashions had run amok and designer jeans were all the rage, I declared (and thankfully, technology being what it was back then, there is no video of said declaration to haunt me) that no one over the age of 25 should be allowed to wear jeans. Ah, youth. Brash, self-righteous, finger-pointing youth. Nevertheless, I'm still adamantly against any jeans that cost more than a half-tank (well, I guess I better go a full tank, these days) of gas. Side thought: Do you think that with the proliferation of "business casual" and the heedless march of evolution, one day, maybe thousands of years from now, human babies will be born wearing jeans?

Another faux pas, not so much spoken/written as committed: As a little kid, I once shovelled the snow off of the front yard and onto the driveway so that I could enjoy another game of solo football, complete with simultaneous play-by-play and color commentary. Every shovelful of the white stuff I've hoisted ever since (and here in Cleveland on April Eve we're not out of the snowy woods yet, as yesterday's Old Man Winter's dying wheeze showed) I believe has been payback for such a winter transgression (sorry mom and dad).

To Terry Montague, my former English student: I apologize for taking a point off one of your essays for misspelling the word traveler. Yes, traveller is an accepted variant spelling. I stand corrected of my mis-correction. I believe the additional point would have bumped you from a B+ to the A- you so fervently craved. I apologize for any wrath you might have endured in your home for the grade, privileges that might have been withheld, and any remuneration you lost out on. The damage to your GPA is regrettable; if you missed out on any college admission or career advancement opportunity as a result, I'll wear my hairshirt in your honor throughout April.

Similarly, I apologize to my sixth period class that day when, in the middle of pontificating about something or other, I answered "yes" when asked, "Are we going to be quizzed on this?" You see, I had it on solid intelligence that the Head of School was going to be prowling the halls that afternoon with a Major Donor in tow, and I wanted to make sure my classroom looked properly academic to passing eyes. Any carpal tunnel damage and useless destruction of the environment caused by all of your scribbling note-taking is regretted. That said, I do not now, nor will I ever, take back anything I ever said, or will say, about Mr. Darcy. The man's a freakish fop and would probably wear a beret if he were strutting around today.

Finally, as an addendum to another recent post (see below, further), yesterday I mistakenly placed a book about bonsais on the plant shelf. Later I looked down and saw a bevy of bonsai books on the trees and shrubbery shelf. Although I did re-shelve the book, I still regret my flora/fauna ignorance.

There, that feels great. Weights and weights off my shoulders and conscience. Gee, if I had to stand corrected every day and actually did make the corrections, I would feel like The Plain Dealer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What's In A Name? Cruel Irony: Alfredo "Al" Fresco Dead At 56

Alfredo "Al" Fresco, the man who time and again famously, and infamously, proved that he was the world's most horribly mis-named man, died at his home in Cleveland yesterday. He was 56.

A virtual shut-in since the tragic events that occurred at his 12th birthday party, Fresco leaves behind a smattering of acquaintances, two cacti, an 8" x 10" glossy autographed by Terry Gross, a collection of Fresca soda bottles the guy down the hall estimates could fetch "mid-three figures" on eBay, several large-scale unfinished pieces of art, an apartment the EPA is looking into immediately, and, of course, the sad legacy of his name, which Fresco long-maintained cursed his life.

For his 12th birthday party on July 17th, 1966, "my first grown-up party," as Fresco described it in an interview he did with Interview in 1996, the pre-pubescent Alfredo was able to plan the details himself, "within reason," he later ruefully chuckled, alluding to the iron hand wielded by his nanny at the time, Sojourner Hoyden. Having been given a set of encyclopedias the previous Christmas, Fresco was well-stocked with ideas to celebrate his birthday in style. He wanted a dinner of fettucini alfredo served outside at the backyard picnic table, to be washed down by bottles of the at-the-time new soda sensation, Fresca.

Who knows what kind of environmental allergen perfect storm got whipped up that hot afternoon, but the combination of nasty smog, a high pollen count, a rather lumpy, sitting-out-in-the-sun-too-long alfredo sauce, and, well, just plain Fresca, proved to be a too-potent mix for the young man and his admittedly sensitive constitution. To make a too-often told, rather gruesome, and only intermittently entertaining long story short, after the ensuing commotion in the Fresco backyard, fumbling-in-the-dark medical treatment to find out what had happened and why and how to fix it, which included, among other stabs, an iron lung and leeches, on his 18th birthday Al Fresco was presented with his ultimately correct, and ultimately ultimate, diagnosis: he was severely allergic to fresh air and fatally allergic to alfredo sauce. Unbelievably, he was by then also addicted to Fresca. Unbelievably but also cruelly: not only couldn't Fresco stop drinking the stuff, whose taste he despised (about the only normal thing about Al Fresco, by the way, his distaste for the taste of Fresca), but his coterie of doctors realized that the daily drownings of Fresca actually helped alleviate the noxious effects of any fresh air that seeped into Al's now carefully controlled environment. For not only was a trip outdoors right out, but an open window, a draught through a crack in the floor, a John Denver song, a guest appearance by Carol Channing on the Dinah Shore show, a Boys Life article on the money raising efforts of scouts in Topeka to help out the poor people of Bangladesh--any and all literal or figurative gusts, or even breaths, of fresh air could wreak such havoc on poor Al Fresco's health that ravenous gulps of Fresca could only band-aid, at best.

So Al was left to a life indoors, watching helplessy as his younger brother Michael took over the family's import business empire. Sensing he needed a hobby to stave off insanity, Al naturally took to painting frescoes, but his insular life had made him even more of a neurotic and he became a perfectionist with his art work. He never completed a fresco. All of them reached the point where they were "just two or three dabs" away from completion before they were abandoned. As time wore on, Al felt the need for staler air, so (not being able to smoke the things himself) he hired a chain-smoker he knew, Wes, to come to his apartment and smoke cigars and cigarettes for four hours a day. Any hopes of true companionship were scotched, though, when Wes, one week into the job, tripped over an unfinished fresco. The resultant blow to the head rendered Wes a deaf mute, but eventually he recovered enough to reclaim his job, showing up daily to smoke in silence as Al talked incessantly (Wes never bothered to learn how to read lips).

With much cajoling from his rapidly dwindling circle of friends, Al decided to take a trip for his 35th birthday (figuring that he would live until the median mortality age of 70, he thought a mid-life trip would be best). Of course for Al there was only one destination: San Francisco, Frisco. Logistical problems re fresh air exposure pushed the date of departure a few months past his actual birthday, but by late October, 1989, after having reserved a room in a most desirous musty motel room, Al made the journey from his apartment to Cleveland's airport with a paper bag over his head. After a rather uneventful flight to Oakland's airport (cheaper than flying to Frisco's) Al unfortunately was riding in a fetid cab crossing the Bay Bridge when the earthquake hit. It would be three years before Al could even look out a window again.

Since by then even scenes of fresh air made Al itch and gasp for breath, he had unplugged his TV and become dependent on the radio for his sole contact with the outside world. One evening, while fiddling up and down the dial, he came across the greatest sound he had ever heard: the voice of radio host Terry Gross. Al was instantly smitten. So unprepared in his reverie of true bliss was Al that when Terry signed off for the night with her signature, "This is Fresh Air," Al nearly died. Intrepid he proved to be, though. Braving the mine fields of Terry's siren-like "This is Fresh Air!" Al listened religiously with his hands at the ready on the sides of his head to block his ears whenever Terry wound up and started to purr, "This is--" got it in time, thank God.

In recent years, Al took to running the website and subsisting on Girl Scout cookies, which he bought by the truckload, froze for three years, thawed, and consumed, washing them down with the requisite flagons of Fresca he despised. The coroner has ruled his death accidental, the result of his having gone to sleep with his iPod on random shuffle and the device cruelly skipping incessantly on the phrase, "Breathe deep," from the crazy poem at the end of "Nights In White Satin" by the Moody Blues. "After five or six straight hours of subconsciously hearing that phrase," coroner Stan Pype declared, "the poor man's body just shut down." At a private service last night, Wes smoked a Cuban he had been hoarding since 1959.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

If I Had A Hat To Hang, Maybe I'd Feel More At Home In This World

I saw a guy in a beret today, and I instantly had one of those thoughts you have every once in a great while, one you've never consciously thought before but that you know is a lifetime thought--always been there, always will be. The thought today was, I will never wear a beret in my lifetime. Now I suppose I could say something nasty like, some guys can pull off the beret look; the rest of us are men, but it's Sunday in Lent, and I don't mean to be nasty. The truth is, some men can pull off the beret look without looking like a fool. I, and most other men, I would argue, are not in that club.

The further, more personal, truth is, as I've written somewhere before, I have searched my life for the appropriate hat. Now those who know me know I don't sweat the details of fashion all that much. I love words like sartorial and haberdasher, but the idea of "personal style" is not one I mull too much. Still, though, the idea of the appropriate hat is one that somehow has always appealed to me. But just what kind of hat? Certainly not a beret. Stetson? Fedora? Bowler? Derby? Pork pie? On and on, hats have some great names, and, worn on the right person, they simply but profoundly complete that whole person's aura. Jimmy Durante was naked without his hat--that's what I'm talking about. A hat so me that without it people would say, is that really you, Mr. spitoutyourgum? I'm not talking functional, everyday hats like a baseball one for the summer or a knit cap for the winter, but a hat to wear, to inhabit, not just use.

In the fantasy game, what would I say to Bob if I ever met him, the one all Dylan fanatics play, I have a set, unchanging answer/question: Bob, how important is the appropriate hat? I'd ask this because Dylan is one of the few people who can pull off putting on any kind of a hat and still look great, like the particular style of hat was made just for him. I'd hate to see it, but I'm sure Bob would look great in a beret. To my eyes, the only hat that didn't look right on Bob was that black cap he sported in his early New York days and on the cover of his first album (the cap writers are seemingly legally-bound to describe as a "Huck Finn" cap, which makes no sense to me as I could never picture the heroic Huck Finn wearing one of those caps, a Greek fisherman's cap, in my way of explaining [which reminds me of the great Arlo Guthrie line about songwriting being a lot like fishing, and too bad for the songwriter fishing downstream from Bob, he catches them all--somebody should write a song using that line]).

I don't know what all this means, just that I confess to craving the appropriate hat to complete my personal non-style and that today I have consciously, definitively, crossed the beret off my list. That isn't really progress, I know, but at least it saves me from ever following some ill-conceived notion and trying one on. Bob, if you're out there reading this, please advise.


                                                                   hell yes


                                          even in a makeshift hat, Bob wears it great

                                      not many can make this headwear look this cool

                                             no one does the Jewish-cowboy                                              imitating an Amish farmer better

                                                             yes, somehow

                                                                yes, eternally

Friday, March 25, 2011

An American Nightmare

I had a dream.

It was a dream firmly rooted in the twin American nightmares of being called to testify before a Congressional Hearing and being subjected to the power of suggestion by the media elites (I've been spooked for days by this Onion blurb about Microsoft putting a blue squiggly line underneath every word that might be too difficult for the average reader to comprehend understand get). In the McCarthyesque dream the ten most literate bloggers were subpoenaed to appear before a Senate Select Commerce Committee Hearing looking into the perceived pedantism problem on the Internet. I was the sixth blogger to testify. Here is my recollection of a good portion of my testimony (subject to correction once the Congressional Dream Record is published):

Senator A: Why do you blog. sir?

Me: You look at things that are, and say, "Why?" I look at things that are completely random and say, "Why not?"

Senator A: Why did you name your blog spitoutyourgum?

Me: Because, much to my chagrin, expectorateyourgum had already been trademarked by Major League Baseball.

Senator B: What do you make from your writings?

Me: Make, sir?

Senator B: Get, what do you get from your writing efforts?

Me: Same as any writer, I guess. Headaches, paranoia, guilt, a profound yen to chuck it all and move to Zaire. And viruses, a lot of them.

Senator A: Do you know the definition of the word "arcane"?

Me (chuckling): Yeah, the family has a lot of "buffers."

Senator A: I'm sorry, I didn't catch that.

Me: My point, exactly.

Senator B: Moving along, sir. Is it not true that at your place of employment, your so-called "day job," you have unlimited access to dictionaries of obscure and obsolete words?

Me: Not anymore, sir. See my previous post.

Senator A (gavel gavel): We'll have none of your shameless plugs here, sir. Have you no sense of decency?

Me: I'm a blogger, Senator. Nothing shameless about me. I have oodles of shame.

Senator B: What is the aim of your blog?

Me: Somewhere between the middle brow and the slapped knee, sir. On a good day, I'm 50-50.

Senator A (looking through a stack of papers): Am I correct that you once took an entire blog post--and the resultant precious cyber-bodily bandwidth it takes to archive it--to expound on the word desuetude?

Me: That's pronounced des-wi-tood, Senator. Sue's not involved in that word at all, and she resents the insinuation. Anyway, yes, but I don't use that word anymore; in my lexicon it's fallen into desue-- ah, I no longer employ that word. Budget cutbacks and all.

Senator B: What in the hell are you talking about?

Me: Oh, I'm sorry, Senator. Aren't you familiar with that term, "budget cutbacks"? Would you like me to define it for you?

Senator B: Who do you think you are?

Me: Pertaining to that specific question, the counsel in my head advises me that I should respectfully invoke my Constitutional right to take the fifth.

Here the dream suddenly shifted to a liquor store setting where I was buying a bottle of Absolut from a bikini-clad Sigourney Weaver and discussing the word putsch with the ghost of Charlie Weaver. I'll keep the rest of the details to myself. I guess I should stop eating a box of Girl Scout cookies before my mid-morning naps.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I Know My Oxy From My Moron, But Not My Parsley From My Shrubbery

I learn by going where I have to go.
         --Theodore Reothke

The boss today said it was either good news or neutral news. I'm not discounting the possibility that in time it will be good news, but neutral it is definitely not. There is nothing neutral about panic. The news is that I'm being moved from running the reference section at the bookstore to the cooking/gardening section (those who know me can stop laughing any hour now).

Reference felt like home: dictionaries, thesauri, trivia books, literary criticism, writing manuals, educational texts. Basically my bread and butter (jeez, less than one day into it and I can't stop with the food references). Now I'm headed into the two-nook shelves of Rachel Ray, paella, perennials, and landscape design. Things couldn't be more confusing for me right now if I (colorblind as I am) were put in charge of blending at a Sherwin-Williams store. I've said it before: my culinary expertise extends to clearly enunciating my order into the drive-thru squawk-box so that I don't have to repeat it, and no further. The only cooking reading I do or have done is reading the fine print to determine if I take the burrito out of the plastic bag or not before nuking it. Sure I cut a decent lawn, but colorblindness or not, I know my thumb is not close to being green. But what the hell; I can do this. If George W. Bush could go from whatever it was he did pre-2001 to being President of the United States and the Union held, I believe I can do this (sans my own personal Karl Rove, I might add). It's going to be rough at first, though. When the boss pointed out the shelf labeled "whole grains" I had to ask what the hell are those; is there such a thing as a half-grain? Upon further inspection of my new domain, I discovered that under my aegis I now also have responsibility for the Weddings and Etiquette shelves (friends, insert your own paragraphs of hilarity here). So long, Roget, hello Emily Post.

So, stay tuned. I'm sure some new insights re Martha Stewart and bonsai maintenance will be coming your way soon. All I know is I have a new-found respect for the word neutral.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Do You Say?

The other day at work there was a young kid hanging around the cash register admiring a Homer Simpson key chain; he knew a lot about Homer, as he was spouting scores of lines from The Simpsons while his parents idly shopped nearby. Finally, like one would think Marge Simpson would do one of these days, the kid got tired of Homer and propped his little elbows up on the counter and looked at me. "What'dya say?" I asked. The kid looked at me and said, "Thank you," with a hint of a questioning inflection. "That's a good one," I replied. "Please?" "Another ace in the hole." "You're welcome?" Now for some reason, mainly because the kid seemed so Simpson-literate, I hadn't expected him, who was seven or eight, I'd guess, to take so literally in the adult-to-child prompt manner my question about what he had to say. "How about, 'Okay, I'll eat my spinach now'?" I offered. The kid thought for a second. "I don't say that too much." As if any self-respecting person under the age of fifty does.

It got me thinking about those conversational calisthenics we utilize all the time to recognize another human being's presence and open the door to possible conversation. How's it goin'? Howya doin'? What's up? Hey. Usually these are nothing more than empty calisthenics, verbal stretches, with no intended further activity; the common response is yet another one--"What do you say?" "Hey, how's it goin'"--as the two people go their separate ways, like the proverbial ships passing in the night (as opposed to stopping and actually having a conversation, a gam, as Melville so majestically digressed about in Moby-Dick, where the ships would drop anchor side-by-side, exchange captains and first mates, and spill beans for a couple hours; imagine the response if, after exchanging hollow Howya doin's and What's up's you grabbed the other person and said, "Hey, not so fast, let's gam awhile"--a slap in the face, probably). Which is all fine, merely exchanging a verbal stretch or two--who doesn't appreciate his or her presence to be acknowledged? What throws you for a loop, though, is when the person actually takes seriously your hollow, merely stretching here, question. I mean isn't the question, "Howya doin'?" meant to be a simple either/or question--fine or crappy--and not some higher degree's oral exam? I once worked with somebody who invariably reacted to my rather hollow, but still humane, "Howya doin'?" question with a hesitation and actual thought that was physically apparent. "Well," she'd begin, twisting her head this way and that way and rubbing her chin, obviously assessing her eventual reply as if I had asked her her opinion on the current situation in the Middle East--all the while as I was trying to charge full speed ahead toward the horizon and leave her in my wake--"actually, I'm not doing all that well." Drop anchor, Dan, damn.

Worse than the literalists, when it comes to responding to conversational calisthenics, are the fey ironic-literalists, the people who quickly reply to your meaningless "What's up?" with, "the sky," or "the rent." Those people need to be slapped.

My two favorite conversational calisthenics partners were two unique guys. One was a stocky, perpetually cheerful, though not cloyingly so, co-worker who used to greet you with a jovial "Howdy howdy" all the time. You couldn't help but smile and feel worthy to be in his presence. The other was an old Jesuit Brother who always answered anyone's "How are you doin', Brother?" with a wizened but happy, "Breathing in and breathing out" (until one day he breathed out and never breathed in again; which reminds of his antithesis, a tiny, wiry Brother who was always muttering and angry about something; the story goes that one day, curious like the rest of us, someone asked the cantankerous man of the cloth why he had joined his religious order; as elevator doors closed upon him, the old cuss looked at his inquisitor and stated bluntly, "to save my fucking soul"; calisthenics be damned, this guy was perpetually fighting a championship bout).

Despite the irksome fey ironic-literalists, my only real pet peeve with all of this empty conversational nonsense is what I call the Misanthropic Mute. The person who, when obviously spoken to, completely ignores you. We've all known them. You pass by them and, already intimidated by their dour aura, you usually dispense with the warm-up Howya utterances and move straight to the more formal, "Hello." Nothing. More often than not the person actually looks right at you as you hit the O of hello and nothing registers on their sad face and they just keep on walking. "Hey, twit," you want to scamper after them, nipping at their heels, "I just recognized the fact that in outward appearances at least you seem to be a fellow human being and I offered you an aural, nay, a humanly verbal acknowledgement of your human existence, and all I'm asking in return is a little human reciprocation, a grunted "Hey" will suffice to assure me that I, too, am human, still breathing in and breathing out, just trying to get through another ten seconds here without worrying about the fate of my effing soul, what'dya say?" But instead I usually just mutter silently, trying to send telepathic waves their way, "trip, trip, trip," until another person comes along muttering to me, "What's up?" I think from now on I'll accost all the known Misanthropic Mutes I encounter with a gregarious "Howdy howdy." That should shake 'em up good.

Okey-dokey, bye bye now.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Great Day To Be Uncle Fester

So what kind of solace do I receive after a rather long, loony week? I wake up this morning to my radio telling me today/tonight is not only a full moon, but the closest the moon will be to the Earth in 18 years. Unfortunately I have to go to work today, so I can't take refuge underneath my covers all day from the lunar assault. I guess it's going to be a long day dodging craters (aka potholes) on my way to and fro work, calmly helping off-kilter customers look for things like a Pop-Up version of Naked Lunch, the graphic novel of Helen Keller's life, an audio book version of the Marcel Marceau coffee table tome, and a box set of Richard Carpenter's complete solo recordings, and idly wondering if the Moonies are all happily mass-married and when they're planning their big media comeback.

It all makes me wish I could be Uncle Fester for a day and a night. With his electricity-conducting capabilities, his faithful blunderbuss ("I'll shoot him in the back"), and his fool-proof scheme for fishing--use dynamite--the guy had it all together. In addition, according to wiki's entry, in the original sitcom where he really came to life, Uncle Fester was Morticia's maternal uncle, making his full name Fester Frump. Does it get any better than that? But of course the members of the Addams Family were known for their love of moon-bathing, so I dedicate whatever goofy, lunar-related trials I encounter today/tonight to their enjoyment of the moon's closeness, especially Fester's, just because.

Could the key line ("something in the moonlight still hounds him") in Bob Dylan's vastly underrated song "Handy Dandy" be actually about Uncle Fester, rather than Prince, as has been claimed? I wonder if the rate of college kids exposing their buttocks will rise exponentially today? Enough, the palms are starting to itch and I suddenly need a shave really bad.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Lazy Irishman Battles With Technology To Celebrate St. Patrick's Day

Having problems this morning. After writing the paragraph below, I discovered I really pushed the wrong button: the link is dead. Luckily, I have another St. Patrick's Day appropriate post ready to recycle. Here. Begorrah! (Maybe just try finding the post from Nov. 7, 2009 via the archive at the right. It's a good one.)

Talk about re-writing history. Feeling lazy and with a few things on my mind this morning, I thought I'd take the easy way out and re-post an entry from November 7, 2009, entitled "Bar One" as it seems appropriate for St. Patrick's Day. Well, as usual, not knowing exactly what I was doing, I pushed a few buttons anyway, and the upshot is that the updated "new" post showed up back in its original 11/09 spot and not here, retitled yet, so anyone who stumbles across it not via this link will wonder what I was doing celebrating St. Patrick's Day in early November, 2009 (as if anyone needs an excuse to celebrate the good saint's day any day of the year). So anyway, please take the time to click here and re-visit (and read) a fine post that should make you laugh and help you celebrate St. Patrick that much more. It's the least you could do for all the time I spent trying to save myself some time. Cheers.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Rock Alcove Induction Ceremony

Today is the annual Slap Cleveland In The Face Day (yes, Cleveland gets slapped in the face roughly weekly [squinting modifier deliberate], but this is an institutionalized slapping, hence the CAPS): The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, proudly located in Cleveland, Ohio, holds its annual induction ceremonies tonight in New York City, logically. Now there are about twenty things wrong with that last sentence, and ain't one of 'em grammatical. Yes, sure I was excited when, about 25 years ago, it was announced that Cleveland would be the home of the Rock Hall, but I thought even then, and 25 years of reading about rock's history only strengthens my belief, that a few other cities deserve the honor more, Memphis pre-eminently. But that argument is pretty moot, seeing that the most un-Rock looking building has been gracing Cleveland's shoreline for nearly 20 years. The ongoing farce, though, is that the induction ceremonies have been held in Cleveland only two times--once back in the mid-90s, and again two or three years ago. Now, supposedly, Cleveland will get the ceremonies every third year; we Clevelanders are supposed to be excited about this. For some reason I think of the kid who shows up to the gym with a brand new Christmas present basketball, which is then appropriated for a game he is not picked to play in. Now I really don't give a Murry Wilson glass eye for induction ceremonies in my hometown, but the insult of housing the Rock Hall but not holding the inductions is quite stupefying (by the way, yesterday I saw a pretty good movie, Kill The Irishman, about legendary Cleveland mobster Danny Greene, who was even more legendarily blown up in 1977, after going to the dentist [Danny, not me]--talk about adding insult to injury; the movie probably won't be seen too much nationally, which will spare a lot of people from thinking Detroit, which is where the movie was shot, is actually Cleveland; Cleveland, not good enough to host its own Rock Hall induction ceremonies, is apparently not good enough to represent itself on the silver screen: Slap Slap).

Then again, the question of whether Rock needs fancy museums and halls of fame and dress up induction ceremonies is another matter, one that's been argued about for decades now. I still like the line I heard directly from Grant Hart, drummer/singer from Husker Du, who, after a solo show in Cleveland years ago when someone asked him about the Rock Hall, said, "The only hall of fame rock needs is everybody's individual record collection."

So in that spirit, instead of arguing the merits and demerits of this year's inductees (but kudos to Dr. John on his long overdue induction) or ranting about all the deserving candidates not presently or probably ever enshrined, I think I'll just plunge into the depths of my own record collection and pull out a gem to induct into my personal Rock Alcove. The honoree today is Pretty Green. Who? Well, thanks to the long-gone and still dearly missed music magazine Option, nearly 25 years ago I read about an album entitled Pretty Green by a band named Pretty Green. And sure enough, in those glory days of record stores I was able to find a copy pretty easily. It's been a favorite of mine ever since, a favorite I've never heard anyone else mention, so it really is a personal enshrinee. There isn't much on the web about Pretty Green, who seem to have released just the one album in 1987. Although a band, and a Canadian one at that, Pretty Green seems to be mainly the work of one Ed Blocki (long before solo artists took to using obscure "band" names; Blocki plays a variety of instruments, including a "jetstick" and "Dave Jackson's bicycle"). Where have you gone, Ed Blocki? In addition to a great cover of (fellow Canadian) Loudon Wainwright III's chestnut, "Swimming Song," the album contains 11 Blocki-written songs, my favorite of which has always been "Wreckage," a slithery atmospheric tune sadly appropriate these days for the destruction in Japan. To me, Blocki sounds like Roger McGuinn trying really hard to sound like Bob Dylan, which I'm sure sounds like carnage to some people, or Tom Petty's rasion d'etre to others, but to me sounds like heaven.

Despite a few intrusive mid-80s production effects, the album still sounds great, a quirky kind of Americana (Canadiana?) years before the term became ubiquitous. Overall, you might say it sort of sounds like what would have resulted if Tom Petty, instead of heading for the middle of the road via Jeff Lynne, had taken a turn for the Neil Young-approved ditch when making his first solo album. Though on songs like "Hand and the Hammer" and the gorgeous "This House Is Leaking," you might think the album is some long-lost artifact of Uncle Tupelo playing outtakes from R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction. Or, on "Run With You," like the II-era Meat Puppets re-writing Dylan's "All I Really Wanna Do." "Lorning Green" is a catchy instrumental that would sound right at home on a good ole Love Tractor album. Those references aside, Pretty Green is a singular achievement. The opener, "Kick The Bike," is a great introduction to the sounds and sensibilities of the entire album: infectiously strange and familiar at the same time (The Nettwerk label's insert calls Blocki "a rather odd Torontonian"; what little info there is on the band can be found at the label's site here). The, duh, percussion-heavy "Drum" is a lovely off-kilter love song--"Just wanna be your drum." And the album's closer, "Cold Town," should be an anthem for anyone anywhere sick of winter (though, since nobody ever mentions this song or album or artist/band, I'll claim it for Cleveland, where with today's highs in the low thirties, but forties and fifties starting tomorrow, one can hope today will be the coldest day we see/feel until next December, and where the line "Every Judas knows it's a cold town" seems especially apt today as Cleveland once again defers to New York).

So there you go, a little gem fully deserving a place in the spitoutyourgum Rock Alcove, and maybe yours too--I think iTunes has it and Amazon even advertises it.

Pretty Green--Wreckage

And as a bonus (to celebrate Neil Diamond's induction tonight [what the hell, why not?] and Robert Wyatt's god-status in the spitoutyourgum Rock Alcove), a re-post of a video I posted in one of my first posts, Wyatt, along with Nick Mason, belting out "I'm a Believer" on British TV in 1974 (and what would be the American network TV equivalent of a wheelchair-bound ex-Soft Machine Wyatt and a hirsute Pink Floyd drummer performing a Neil Diamond-penned Monkees' hit?).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dog Days

Well, I guess it's only fair that I write about dogs after a post about cats. Dogs are on my mind for a couple of reasons this morning. The "dog days of summer" get all the publicity, but to me the dog days of winter are much more problematic, and this season's dog days are not only upon us, but with the fervor of a pit bull, I'm afraid (and is it possible for me to utter or write the words "pit bull" without adding "I'm afraid"?).

March weather in Cleveland is famously schizophrenic: anybody over the age of two has stories about t-shirt wearing days followed by blizzard nights. You get teases of spring/summer here and there only to be slapped down by six inches of wet heavy snow within the hour. A blizzard in January is par for the course; you take the beating and survive. But one in March, though hardly unexpected, smacks of true cruelty on Mother Nature's part. To show you just how bats Cleveland's March weather can be, and to show the power of my suggestion, take yesterday for example. The added burden of a late Ash Wednesday in March only made yesterday nastier: cold windy rain all day. I even found myself telling people I'd prefer snow--which utterance, with any pondering, I would admit is insane, but it was nasty and hyperbole's my sidekick. But I didn't mean it, I swear. Today I woke up to the radio telling me two to four inches of snow tonight and another six to ten (very wet, very heavy snow--true Saint Bernard dog days of winter stuff) tomorrow. Believe me, after all the snow removing (honestly I don't know if it's shoveling or shovelling and I'm too weather-beaten at the moment to look it up or even click spell-check) I've done this year, the forty-plus years of hard-earned wisdom that tell me it'll all be gone with a fifty degree day probably next Monday does nothing for me right now other than add to the out and out bi-polarness that's blowing in the wind these days.

Okay, I just interrupted my scribbling here to go outside and cleanse myself by flipping double birds at the skies for five minutes. Cleanse indeed: it's still raining, and believe me, I apologized profusely to the rains and sang paeans to their goodness, but I think to no avail (one thing I can't stand, especially now because the change is on its way, is people in winter who say about the rain, "Good thing it's not snow. If it were, we'd be getting three feet of the stuff!").

The other reason I'm thinking about dogs today is that it's the 37th birthday of my beloved boyhood dog, Amie. I point you to last year's birthday post about the lovable mutt. So, this now being Lent, and the true dog days of winter, I dedicate my great efforts at survival/sanity these next few snowy days to the memories of the late Amie and Otis Lloyd Floyd, (the truly legendary pooch from my college days), and to the still-kicking-though-God-knows-how Fitz, my sister's family's little canine--three more neurotic, physically and emotionally-addled dogs you'll never pet; the holy triumvirate of dogs in my lifetime. Bark and act crazy on me, lady and gentlemen--I'll be doing so vicariously through you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Paw's On The Other Foot

So yesterday I was fascinated by sounds that are going extinct. Today I heard a sound I can't recall ever hearing before: a cat sneezing. Now I've long been fascinated by human sneezes, but, truth be told, a cat's sneeze doesn't come close to measuring up. It sounds like a distant whisk broom delicately whisking away hairs from a man's collar at the barber shop. It doesn't even warrant a "God bless you." Maybe a "third-tier angel bless you" or a "priest in Peoria bless you." But anyway, as I think I've mentioned before, due to circumstances beyond my control, for a few years now I've had to share living space with a cat. And I'm long on record as hating cats (in fact, unless it's served warm and tender, with a side of either ketchup or mayo, I really can't stand any animal; nothing personal, mind you, and the fault is all mine: if I'm not allergic to them [cats and dogs, mainly], I'm scared to death of animals; chipmunks give me heart attacks), but, I will admit, the cat in question (his name is Boo, go figure) and I have developed a mutual respect, and dare I say it, almost a (non-tactile) relationship over the years.

And so I face a kind of moral dilemma at the moment: the cat has a bad cold and is sneezing rather constantly--do I sympathize or gloat? The amount of sniffles, runny noses, bone-rattling sneezes, itchy skin and eyes (to the point of temporary blindness from not being able to open them) that cats have caused me over the years dwarfs this cat's tiny little eh-choos. So I feel justified in following him around the house and laughing at his sneezes and hectoring things along the lines of "Ha ha, feline. How does it feel now?" But I'm also a Gemini with a bit of compassion. The cat is obviously miserable, as anyone suffering from a cold is, and part of me wants to hold a hankie in front of him and let him blow his little nostrils out. I've even contemplated parting with my last (it's been a long winter) zesty orange Airborne tablet and dissolving it in his water dish (though that would help, what really does the job, and is almost even worth suffering the onset of a cold, is a nice shot glass of NyQuil--gulp, monitor your failing consciousness for a half hour, sleep the sleep of the Righteous for 8 hours, and wake up a new and improved human being). What do I do? Sympathize or aggravate? It's just a cat, after all.

Solution: Tonight I revel. Tomorrow I pity. Fat Tuesday/Ash Wednesday. Sin today, repent tomorrow. Hey, Boo, sneeze a million more times and we'll call it even. Ha ha ha.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Aural Nostalgia

Sorry, I've been busy.

And speaking of busy, I tried calling a friend the other day. He's a notorious talker, so I wasn't surprised when I got a busy signal. I rolled the dice, thinking it might be one of those times when you immediately re-dial and get through. No dice. An hour later I tried calling again, and this time, to my amusement, it was still/again busy. The guy sure can talk. But after I hung up, when I was still chuckling about the guy's staying power when it comes to conversation, I realized that it's been a long time since I've heard a busy signal. You know, that urgent, kind of electronic siren noise, very immediate and rather irritating, as if telling you to hang up right now, the other guy's got a lot more important things to be doing than talking to your sorry ass right now. To be able to describe it more accurately right now for you all I guess I could call the guy up, figuring his line is busy again, but with my luck he'd answer, we'd talk for three hours, and I'd be too tired (once again) to blog. But that's kind of my point--you can't really get a busy signal at your whim these days. Everybody seems to have call waiting or voice mail that automatically comes on when you can't get through. And any kind of commercial entity has some elaborate voice-operated directory. Seriously, when was the last time you heard a busy signal? I think it's become nearly extinct. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not pining for the days when you'd dial and re-dial obsessively, only to get that rude busy signal (and didn't it seem to somehow sound ruder and ruder the more you called?) meanwhile cursing more intensely the person you needed to talk to who was so inconsiderately blabbing away with someone else. But I guess I'm just a little sad that a sound that used to be pretty prevalent--a standard life sound--seems to be joining a growing list of sounds you just don't hear too much or at all anymore. Call me aurally nostalgic tonight.

When was the last time you heard the crisp thwack (as opposed to the pretty anemic plink) of a golf ball being hit by a wood, a real wood? Chances are, unless you play golf regularly with my otherwise very hip but when it comes to golf total Luddite brother-in-law, it's been decades now. Trust me, it's a great sound now all but gone from our world. How about the last time you heard the clunk clunk psssshhhccchhhh of a good old-fashioned cash register being worked by a real artist at the grocery store whose name is probably something like Sandy or Doris? Now it's just soporific, Orwellian binks adding up your foodstuffs (am I nuts with nostalgia, or did food seem to taste better back when it was rung up via a real cash register? [at least, for now, the conveyor belt thing is still around at grocery stores--the day they replace that, scan the horizon for four horsemen]). Along the same lines, isn't the mad, rodent-like plastic tapping on keyboards an insult of sound compared to the heavy, yes-this-is-a-human-at-work-here-dammit chitch chitch chitch bing! arias of a manual typewriter?

Not that it's ever to be mourned, but with dry erase boards and quote unquote smart boards, the instant wake-up call of chalk on a blackboard seems to be another nearly all but lost sound. The tick tick tick sound coming round the bend of a Vintage VW van? The thin peeling metal sound (always the sound of a brain cell being scraped away, to my ears) of the old pop tops on aluminum cans? When was the last time you heard the cheery sound of the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson theme song coming from down the hall or through a wall? How about the last time you heard somebody say, "We named our kids Ralph and Irene"? Or somebody say, "Did you get my letter?" There should be a museum of sounds.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Just some fun with familiar phrases and terms, homonyms and homophones. I'm not claiming total originality; some of these are just too obvious to me.
  • hew and cry: what happens when you accidentally ax yourself instead of the tree
  • deep friar: the most profound monk in the monastery
  • queue shot: a photograph of the long lines outside of somewhere
  • hart and sole: surf and turf for the venison-loving crowd
  • bitchin' mown: an ultra-cool grass cutting job; "You see his frontyard? It's a bitchin' mown."
  • pore boy: a guy who sweats profusively
  • gallop Pole: a horseman from Cracow
  • pane in the ass: what results when your mule doesn't see the sliding glass doors
  • soar loser: any also-ran in either a hot air balloon race or pole vault meet
  • Czech book: e.g., The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  • no harm no fowl: if you can't kill the chicken, you can't eat the chicken
  • peek performance: a voyeur at work
  • begs for Moor: curtain calls for the actor portraying Othello
  • scoreless Thai: a native of Bangkok who's a luckless virgin
  • Styx and Stones: an unlikely concert billing
  • stolen bass: another thing that pissed Charles Mingus off
  • lift waits: what a British elevator does when you press the hold button
  • beached wail: "You idiot, you forgot the sunscreen!"
  • bake sail: a regatta for stoners
  • residoodoo: months-old remnants of dog crap found on your lawn after the spring thaw
  • route beer: the road with all the late-nite convenience stores
  • lug nut: a bellhop who's crazy about his job
  • embraceable yew: a tree-hugger's delight
  • humble pi: 3.14159265 rounded off to 3
  • counter fit: finding a seat at the bar in a crowded restaurant
  • log in: feeding the fire
  • the kneady: one who receives a massage
  • ferry tail: the stern
  • alter boy: to circumcise
  • Diet Coax: Weight Watchers
  • pal ail: an empathetic friend
  • wreckless driver: an insurance company's dream
  • gale pale: a white tornado
  • Gaul stones: rocks found in France
  • high lie: "My eyes are red from rubbing them, that's all."
  • beer any burden: to seek refuge in the hops and barley whenever the going gets rough
  • youth hostile: any adolescent
  • sects education: instruction on the differences between the Shia and the Sunni
  • loo lieu: in a pinch, any clump of trees will do
  • Hyde and Sikh: strange bedfellows indeed
  • sigh'o'nora: the usual response from James Joyce's wife to one of his multi-language puns

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Living The Life On A Drug Called Norman Fell

Never being a trendy sort, I've eschewed the allure of the drug d'jour, the Drug Called Charlie Sheen, in search of more subtle pharmacological wonders. I've found it, thanks to a tip from my therapist and a guy named Bobo who frequents a dim bus stop a few blocks away. This new drug, this new wonder in my life, is called Norman Fell. I may not be a media magnet; I may not wake up days from now in a trashed hotel with hookers; I may not have foggy memories of Denise Richards in fishnets; but what I do have, thanks to my twice daily ingestion of the little brown pill that is Norman Fell, is a profoundly resigned contentment with a world gone mad, the forbearance to laugh with the rest of the world at my existential plight, an ability to snap off a tired wisecrack at my own expense every once in a while, and an enigmatic, world-weary smile that Leonardo da Vinci is dying to come back to life just to sketch. Yes, the Drug Called Norman Fell is all of that--a Calgon bath peppered with Prozac (if not Viagra) pellets. Four dollars for a gallon of gas? A dangerously unstable Middle East? No football? No problem--I'm Felled in the best possible way. Nothing bothers me because everything is meant to bother me and now I'm at peace with that fact. I don't even feel the need to break a sweat shrugging my shoulders anymore. Bliss, baby, bliss. Thank you, Norman Fell.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How Can I Blog In Such An Environment?

Okay, fine. I'm sick of the overloaded e-mail in-box. I'm tired of the media trucks outside my abode. I hear the cries of all you sophisticates out there. I acquiesce: Here's another post for you all. You'd think in this day and age two posts over the last eight days or so would be enough, but I guess not. Let me explain.

By "in this day and age" I am referring to the national, and perhaps quite international, zeitgeist that is raging as March roars in and winter clings nastily to our psyches, refusing, it seems, to yield to spring's inevitable thaw out (emotional/psychological in addition to literal)--let's not work. Yes, Let's Not Work (L'sNW) is the dominant mood of the country right now, and as usual, the world seems ready to follow America's lead. Most of the news, that I pay attention to anyway, is about people (who actually have jobs) either choosing not to work or being threatened with work stoppages (only in America, it seems, where 10% of the people can't find work, are many of the 90% employed being told that just because they have a job doesn't mean you get to actually do it, or are bluntly saying, we aren't going to work). Just look at arguably the two most influential entities in most Americans' lives: the government and the NFL. State legislators have left their states because they don't want to do their jobs and legislate, while thousands of people who have jobs that might be tweaked by legislation are obviously not doing their jobs so they can show up at the legislators' vacated places of work to protest either the pending legislation or the fact that the legislators aren't there to do their jobs (oh where have you gone Joseph Heller, Jonathan Swift, and Samuel Gompers when we need you most?). Not to be outdone, the federal legislators are playing footsie with one another over the budget, a game that might result in the federal government shutting down later this week. And not to be out-outdone, the NFL is quickly closing in on its March 3 deadline to reach a new collective bargaining agreement; if the owners and players don't reach an agreement by then, there will be a "lockout" and the NFL--aka pro football, aka America's raison d'etre--will cease to function. Across the world, people in various countries, obviously sniffing the winds coming from the good old USA as always, have seemingly stopped working altogether and are spending their time shouting in the streets for the removal of decades-long dictators.

Ergo, why the hell should I sweat out a few hundred insightful/inspiring/insipid words every other day when everyone else is breaking a sweat over not working? Well, I realize that if the U.S. government does cease to function (and with just about everybody in the world fed up with government is that such a bad thing?) and if the NFL does go on hiatus (correctly define and spell that word, Mr. Football Player) and people continue not working in protest over everything (and just look at the extent of that protest--Justin Bieber cuts his hair to avoid the 24/7 labor of keeping his helmet hair coif looking just so alluring and the poor lad loses 100,000 Twitter fans overnight) the world will have nothing better to do than to turn to my blog for sustenance and meaning. And so, in addition to getting all of you off my back and out of my e-mail in-box and the media hordes away from my doorstep, for the world's sake, I will steadfastly refuse the global tide of L'sNW and continue to scribble away here every other day after every other day. Not because in this L'sNW climate I like to, mind you, but because (owing to years of Catholic education instilling me with a strange martyr fetish) I feel an obligation to be a lone beacon of industriousness, which might be nothing more than serving as the world's scapegoat ("See, he's working, ain't that enough for the rest of us?"). So go ahead world, flee your state, your office, whatever; hang up your cleats; spend your time making pithy posters advertising your unwillingness to do your job--I've got your back. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go work my day job so that I can afford some football tickets and so that my taxes can support all those hard-working legislators and other government employees.

PS: Song I'd post if I weren't too lazy to do so--Superchunk's Slack M$#^&*$^&*$#^