Sunday, November 30, 2003

OK Soul-Man 

So you say you have soul, Carmody?

Is it clenchable?
Could you palm it like
a glass of orange juice?

Do you need it to sing?
Does it burn
like hot sauce?

You present your soul
as the family pet,
sniffing under tables, in need of a wash.

I'll scrub your soul, Carmody,
with lemon juice and detox,
gospel and folk music.

Do you parade it on stage?
Do writers ride it
with awed tones and adverbs?

Did you find it in Europe,
on holiday? Or on the back of
an expiring coupon?

Are you worried it will desert you,
a misplaced rabbit's foot?
Batteries in the back of the drawer?

"My soul is a garden," you say.
"It needs watering and care,
attention and love."

Oh, shut up, Carmody.
Your flowers are cheap and
you've spilled your orange juice.

On Ethics and Listening 

I have this friend. And I won't name him. Because that's about the only thing I have to be careful about when doing this.

There is a beauty to something like this, in which I can say what I want, when I want, and -- when asked about it -- deny any involvement. "Web log? What web log? I wonder why someone would create something with MY name on it?" This is a nice pat response for those who ask about, "Why did you put THAT on there?" I even had one person ask once, "Would you like feedback on your website?" Feedback? On a web log? Yeah, then you could offer feedback on my cellular makeup as well. Why would the traffic officer of a one-way street make his life more difficult by petitioning the city to make it a two-way?

Nevertheless, there is an ethical responsibility when I post anything beyond published quotations or my own amateur poetry. So I won't name this friend that I'm going to write about. But, see, that bothers me -- not naming this person. Because what I'm writing about happens. It's real. It's an example of what I'm sure happens to others. Well, most of the time what I write is real. Eh, partially. I guess there is a certain level of fiction that comes into play at many levels. But the gist of what I want to write is what is key here, not the power of naming anyone. But, damnit, I need a name to write about. So, OK, I'll give him a fake name. How about "Raleigh"? Now you're wondering, why name anyone, why not make it all fiction? Am I trying to send someone a message? Nah. It's because you, reader, may take this a little more seriously than if it was just another of Will's ramblings or poems.

So this Raleigh. I don't see him too often. I see him. It's one of those friendships in which you'll probably always be friends, based on what you've gone through before, but it'll probably never be the same. Yeah, I got about a dozen of those friendships. You know what we do when we see each other -- everyone does it -- we catch up. "How are things going?"

I've discussed the hollow nature of this question before (see Archives), so I won't repeat myself here (not too much anyway). When I try to answer this question-- see, it really depends on my mood. If I think the person is really interested, and I do have something to say, I'll give 'em the whole non-weather, lite-on-the-job-BS spiel. I'll try and give 'em a good barometer of me. If I'm impatient, or sense they are, I give 'em the quick version. I still dodge the weather, I stick more with the job and the house, as these are easy talking points.

But this Raleigh. No matter what mood I'm in, no matter what we're talking about, there's just no flow to the conversation. See, he'll ask me a question. Great. Good. We all like questions, even if they're boring. So I answer. And while I'm talking -- maybe I'm explaining a situation with our neighbor or the status of a poem I've submitted somewhere -- every time, every fucking time, he cuts me off. I've gotten so used to this happening that I watch for it now. I watch his eyes. Here I am, talking, talking, blah, blah, blah, and there go his eyes -- like something over my shoulder is suddenly really, really interesting.

And now I should note -- no, I don't take everything I say very seriously or important. Hey! You! Yeah, you, reader -- read that last sentence again, so I don't have to hear about how I think I'm such a self-assured dick. Got that? I realize I'm not a stand-up comedian, nor am I that interesting prof everyone stayed after class to talk to. Hell, I don't even know why all three of my readers keep coming here. But with this guy -- Raleigh -- I make an effort to move things along. Keep it fast, interesting. I recognize it's a two-way street, and I try to keep my side moving. It still never works. Still -- every time -- he ends up interrupting me every single time we speak.

It wouldn't be so annoying, if I didn't have other friends who did listen. Other friends who offered a conversational flow so easy that you could talk until . . . oh, 3:30 in the morning and not realize it.

So every time he does this to me, I get to thinking, "Why do I even bother speaking?" He doesn't give a damn. He's just waiting for me to say something that he can recognize, and then respond to. He's like a computer program. I say X, so he responds with Y. If I offer V, that means he says W. But if I get creative and try to say XK, he cuts me off at X with his Y response. He's already recognized what I was going to say, and even if I was going to add to it or surprise him with something else-- that doesn't matter: I said X, he recognized, he said Y. Please standby while the computer shuts down.

It might just be me, but I'm interested in what my friends are doing. Yeah, I wish they'd shut up with the weather-talk and the old stories we all know. But I generally wonder about what's going on with a lot of people -- even those people I never really keep in touch with. I guess Raleigh's drawn this neat line for how far a post-peak friendship can go. What he doesn't realize is: that line, especially after distance and marriage, is already there.

None of this is to say I'm much better. But every time I catch myself ready to jump in the middle of conversation and say something, I think of Raleigh. And because of him, I try to hold back a bit, and to listen.

I can imagine Raleigh finding out about this site. And maybe in his spare time, he would make it over here. Funny thing is, I probably could have used his real name because he never would have made it this far through the post.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Carmody, Named 


You are one of them.
Named: associate.
Billed: violent.

Every line of your pore
is caught culture on tape:
cut, delete; edit: repeat.

You danced with bears
on stage at world's fair,
a picture for bumpers everywhere.

Every song oversung,
a mook as a hack,
chrome-mag attack.

I saw you on the bar that night:
you yanked long brown hair
while all the patrons stared.

Nab & I took notes in the back,
we gave looks and spoke tones;
they didn't drown out her moans.

Thom and Andy 

The battle today is . . . Annoying Celebrities vs. Celebrities' Awful Plastice Surgery

Apparently Thom Yorke led the demonstrators in London last week. And he writes songs, too!

Andy Serkis is proud of his anti-war poster he brought to the Oscar's. Rumor has it he acts!

I love the outrage these folks exhibit when mid-America levels them. But . . . but . . . it's our JOB as actors and artists. We NEED to look at life and report back to the people on what we've seen. We tell it like it is!

When asked to make a distinction between the two history teachers she had in her sophomore and junior years at Middleton High, Janet said, "Well everyone liked Mr. Turner because he gave his lesson and then let you have a say. You could talk back and give your opinion. With Ms. Susan, it was just lecture. She only cared about what she had to say."

And now, time for a poem:

Superfluous Advice

"Should they whisper false of you,
Never trouble to deny;
Should the words they say be true,
Weep and storm and swear they lie."

- Dorothy Parker

Friday, November 21, 2003

Small Crevasse 

They played 8 Mile today, and they were wrong. Even though I wasn't registering or getting a physical, it took just as long as Wednesday. And I even arrived a little earlier.

The waiting room was cold. Brisk-cold. Pull-down-your-sleeves-cold. After a round, short guy walked in, none of us could hear the movie anymore because he kept laughing about, "Love never made a man do good! Love only make a man do bad!" Someone disagreed with this wisdom as Rabbit threw down the challenge.

When called, we had to wait outside the waiting room.

"You know why we out here t'day, don't you?" she asked me. "Nope," I said. "Because some stupid woman stole someone social security number in here yesterday and stole they twenty-five dollars. Twenty-five dollars. Can you believe that? Now we standin' here like fools."

After they called us in, we continued a conversation about Michael Jackson. "Oh, he guilty! Damn that never-never land and that monkey and the zoos and the rides! Tha's for kids! What the hell Michael Jackson doin' with all them kids? Turnin' black to white, nose fallin' off. Shit!"

"Yeah," I answered. "What the hell happened to that monkey that was in his videos?"

"Shit, he probably sexually 'ssaulted the monkey."

Sister Jean didn't go along with all this Michael-bashing. "Any time we get someone any success, we go 'n tear 'em down."

It was three-fourths of the way through Saving Private Ryan now, getting to that scene that everyone hates . . . the German with the knife . . . Eliot from E.T. too frightened to help. And the new tech comes over after his boss realizes my machine has finished. This new tech, who just got finished describing the use of the word "teabag" as a verb to the woman next to me, was cutting off the blood in the tubes while he removed the needle. I could tell he was new because he didn't just rip off the tape from my arms -- he tore it slowly, conscious of my arm hair, yet seemingly unaware that this action actually prolonged the pain. When he pulled the needle out, his face clenched a bit from concentration, I felt a little rip in my arm.

I pressed the cottonball against the hole, and he took everything away, throwing out the used tubes and tape. I sat pressing the cotton, holding my arm up above my chest. After a while I noticed a woman who finished ahead of me walk forward and wash her arm. I moved to where she was to get a band-aid, and my head became glassy and dense. The sounds of the room projected toward me, as though through a megaphone. I shook my head quickly, but that didn't help. So I focused on a spot on the floor; my vision didn't blur further. But I was sweating now, and cold again. And after taking a step forward, decided I should sit down. So I turned around and sat. The grunting guy from Wednesday saw me shaking my head, and then everyone was looking at me. There was an ice pack and a doctor and a cup of Gatorade and lots of questions.

Today I learned: coffee dehydrates.

When I was sitting up again the doctor looked at me very suspiciously, but it was fine. I looked down at my arm, and instead of the tiny hole like on my other arm from Wednesday, there was this small crevice of split skin from the needle. After a couple band-aids were applied, I walked to the lobby to get my cash card. A man still waiting offered me his water bottle. Apparently they had all noticed. And I thought, "How nice." I am, at times, the only white guy in there, so everyone tends to leave me alone, but it turns out they didn't ignore me.

I'm drinking a lot of water right now, but my mouth is still dry. I know that, when running, if I get into a groove, I spit a lot. I still have to run today.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

My Wife's Dinner -- draft 2 

Staring a thin land away,
the day rolling in on me
like encroaching grass,
water in the lungs,
or pressure against
a sinking car
with wheels still turning,

I think of her, sitting
in the quiet kitchen,
counting the ticks
of the clock as her bird
flutters with its clipped wings
perch to perch,
caught by a claw,
clumsy and coordinated at once,
above, aloft, alone,
in time.

Here's what I'm sure of. 

Looking back upon my last few posts, I can see that my mood of late has been a bit . . . pensive. I guess about all I have to say about that is . . . yeah.

You see, ladies and gentlemen, when you come to these times in your life when you've reached the edge of that plateau in front of you . . . it's times like these when you need to solidify things a bit. Make it clear in your head, just what you're sure of. So what is it that I am sure of right now?

I'm glad you asked.

I like to eat. Oh. Sounds so simple to you, does it? Well decry me for my simplicity, but you're the one still reading. See, I'm guessing, based on all the "running" remarks I have in here, that you thought I'd say I was sure of running.


You see, ladies and gentlemen, I like to have something over on my friends now and then. I like to be capable of surprise. Yesterday I read some test results that said I wasn't a big risk taker. Big news . . . YET I can point to several instances of risk-taking in my life. The evidence is there, no need to bring it up. Just swim with me, and accept it as a given. It is in this limited yet fully-acknowledged spirit of risk that I enjoy surprise.

With that given in mind, if my friends knew how many miles I was running, weekly, or how long I've been running, consecutively, they'd imagine the Will from several years ago. The Will they knew. They called him Bill. But the surprise would be on me now, as I would disappoint them. Ah, yes "Bill" is no longer, and even with miles and consistency he won't come back. That's right -- I'm still slow. Sure, I've lost weight. I look normal again. But put me in a race, and I'd still run with the high school girls. I'm no faster than when I was loosening the belt buckle and eating eggs and salsa at 11:00 at night.

So, no, running's not on the list. But eating is. Running, I suppose, is attached to the list, because it allows me to eat without guilt. And that, as Martha Stewart says, is a good thing.

So what is the extent of this love for consumption? Glad you asked.

I make no boasts, no false leaps of faith. I could not win a contest. For example, and I think many would agree with me, that if I were to attempt to eat as much pizza as possible in a sitting that I would only manage, at best, a measly six plates (which comprises four pieces of pizza per plate, and includes a bowl of canned peaches, a pickle, and some fluff). Six plates -- stunningly average at best, by the standard.

Yet I do not measure my love for eating by such a standard. My qualm with such inane contests rests with three words in that last paragraph: "in a sitting". You see, ladies and gentlemen, great love does not require mass consumption. Rather, I find the two contradictory. After such consumption, the aftereffects are so unsettling, so discomforting, that the love that spurred the mass consumption is dimmed. Oh yes.

My measure, then, is not mass consumption. Nor is it quality. How could I, mere data entry slug, perpetual student, amateur putter-together-of-words-guy define how much I love something? Foolish! No, friends, my standard is frequency.

Strike that.

My standard is desired frequency.

Have you ever had anyone ask you, "Are you hungry?" Have you always wanted to respond, "Yes," even if you were not hungry? Have you ever finished a meal and thought, "I'm good for another! Yep! Right now!" Have you ever entertained disgruntled thoughts at the small sizes of plates these days? Have you scoffed at criticism of eating midnight snacks? Have you ever had someone say to you, "But we just ATE!" Have you ever told the person dishing you up from the entree that's too hot to pass, "Keep it comin'?" Have you ever responded to the question, "Chocolate or vanilla?" with "Both please!"? Have you ever been accused of "grazing"?

If you answered yes to all of the above questions . . . chances are, we'd get along pretty darn well, you and I. (Unless of course there was some sort of food shortage striking the area and we were the last two people standing in the grocery store.)

I graze proudly. And folks, there's certain food I can graze on ANY TIME, ALL THE TIME:

1.) Cheeseburgers. And by the way. Who the hell, when faced with a choice between hamburger and cheeseburger, turns down the cheese? Huh. Now that I don't get. Did mom ever say to you, perhaps as the car was passing McDonald's, "If you had to eat burgers every day, you'd get sick of it!"? That's OK -- I believe my mom said this too. Well, ma: you lied. Because for me that statement holds no more truth than, "Johnny, mom says if you be the Chinese man for too long that you stay that way!" It just isn't true. Not for me, anyway. I could eat cheeseburgers every day of the week, twice daily (and maybe even for breakfast a few of those days). Moreover: I would look forward to that cheeseburger every day.

2.) Fries. American, cottage, French, seasoned, curly, I don't give a damn. If they're done right, I'll eat fries with every meal. They ran out of burgers, hot dogs, water, oxygen, I don't care. I'm fine with the fries.

3.) Mashed potatoes. I posted a while ago after a large intake of potatoes I had on a Sunday night. Like a junkie with crack, I cannot stay away from the soft, mashed glory that this dish holds for me. Hot, cold, plain, gravy, seasoned, onioned, twice baked, cheesed, wow. Even as my stomach was filling that night -- I could feel the top layer of potato press apprehensively against the bottom of my esophagus -- I just kept 'em coming.

4.) Fish fry. In this category I merely stand in evidence of the Friday night tradition. Stomachs should be larger. Obesity statistics be damned.

5.) Pizza. What? Did you expect lima beans? Sometimes I cut the pie into squares to prolong the pleasure. Smaller pieces. But sometimes, if the pizza's big enough, I'll cut it like a pie, and rip through. In my pure world -- some call it heaven, some Nirvana -- there would be pizza placed all throughout my house. When finished and full from my meal, I would simply walk past the nightstand and have another slice when the mood struck me. Grab a piece sitting on the dining room table. Extra pepperoni hidden behind the television.

6.) TOTS. The motherload. The food that I only stop eating if there are no more left to eat in the house. TOTS best represent my grazing lifestyle preferences: when I am full, if they are still there to tempt me, I no longer operate by the standard three meals, sleep, repeat. Oh no. That meal that contained the TOTS? That (assuming there was an unending supply of TOTS available) just gets extended into one, monstrous, non-stop meal. My mouth sucks in the spit as I type this. Dear God. Some Lawry's, maybe some shredded cheese, full canisters of ketchup and ranch dressing for ample dipping pleasure: life does not get better than that.

When people get all "philosophical" they talk about the meaning of life. Talk soon turns to Eastern religion, the mystics, Buddha. Well I don't know Eastern philosophy, I'm a Nietzsche-Postmodernist guy. But if Buddha had all the answers, and he was not exactly a guy to miss many meals . . . don't you think he was onto something?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"Giving Plasma" OR "How Willy found alternate income." 

I walk in at 7:20. I wait behind the man in front of the counter who is stooped over, writing. I step up, I write. The kind, vague woman tells me to sit down to my left. I wait.

My name is called. I walk up. I receive a binder and a form to sign. I read. I sign. I read. I return. She thanks me and asks me to have a seat. I have.

They call my name. I sit in a little room and watch a video of a bald doctor that blurs and skips occasionally. I fill out the form. I stop and rewind the tape. I return the form. I have a seat.

They call my name. It's a mistake. Have a seat again. I sit.

They call my name. OK, I have a seat in a new room. They prick my finger, take my blood pressure, take my picture. Oh, no, there's been a problem. This lady tells me I'll have to wait as they sort it out. I go back to the room.

The man next to me has begun talking.

"Damn $20 a day in Milwaukee. You know, in Minnesota, they pay less, but there're JOBS in Minnesota. They help a MAN over there. They don't help no one on their feet here. They help a MAN in Minnesota. They help -- women with kids -- they try to keep folks together. Not this damn $20."

They call my name. I return to the room. I lift my tongue over a plastic piece while my blood is taken. We finish the interview. I am asked to sit again. I sit.

The waiting room is quieter now, and less filled.

They call my name. I walk to a new room. I answer many questions, sign many more papers. I urinate in a cup and leave it at the back of the toilet. I remove my shoes and socks and lie flat on the papered table. She listens to my heart. She prods her cold hands against my stomach and asks if this tickles. When she briefly touches a toe, I tell her they're only that bad because I'm a distance runner. She tells me I should see some of the other feet she has to touch. She asks if I have any more questions. She directs me to a new hallway. I sit.

I wait next to the cash machine that whirs and spits. I am called up. They need a new copy of my social security number. They'll need me to bring in a new letter that's postmarked. I sit.

They call my name, and I walk into the room. It is very clean, white, and sterile. There are two wide aisles of couches placed next to machines with stovetop-like tops to them. A Martin Lawrence movie is playing on five televisions. I wait a long time.

A man I can't understand gives me instructions. I lay back and extend my arm. He drops a blob of black liquid on my outstretched arm. The liquid turns orange when he swishes it into the skin. I feel a plunge, and he tells me to make a fist as the pressure around my bicep continues.

A woman called Sister Jean ambles up and down the aisles, talking to everyone. I watch several of the televisions, I look at the wall, I turn my head. People leave. More enter. Sister Jean and I agree that turkey bacon is rough and flavorless, but disagree on the value of baked beans. A new movie comes on. Thirteen Ghosts. I wait and wait.

The grunting man returns, takes the needle out, and I press the cottonball into my arm. Sister Jean places two band-aids on the slight, red hole with the care of a grandmother. I stand up and walk out of the room to the desk. They hand me my card. I walk to the machine and press the screen. I press 13 buttons. My cash arrives, firm and new.

I turn and walk out the door that says "Donor Exit, No Reentry". The clock above the door says 11:17. I push open the door. The midday sun meets me full in the face, and I pause for a moment, blinking, before I turn left . . . .

Sunday, November 16, 2003

"And suddenly it is evening." 

I remember math classes where I imagined myself swinging a baseball bat at the cold brick walls, the neat vertical lines of the numbers crunching forward, the back of the chalk board exposing itself.

I read the death notices today. Two 87-year-old men died. One had merely a line: his name and an obscure funeral home. No family, no friends, no beloved. A 21-year-old student died, circumstances not given. A two-day-old boy died; "but he gave us so much," was written.

There are still days -- even Sunday nights -- when I wish I could drink myself numb.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Didn't you . . . . "Make life beautiful! Make life beautiful!" 

- He knows that on iffy days, he should underdress, but he never follows through.

- When he's having a good day, he drives differently, often with one hand over the top of the steering wheel.

- Some days he forgets all the attention, walking through campus, how it affects his face.

- He doesn't understand those who label their web logs "Deep Thoughts" or "Random Thoughts".

- Some days it's an AM day, some days it's an FM day.

- He remembers a time of melting snow and a thick leather jacket, walking from class and avoiding eyes he once knew.

- Even though he needs his work ID every day, he almost always has to run back in the house to fetch it.

- He recognizes a deep divide between those who just rinse after number 1 and those who walk right out after number 2.

- Some winter days, the sun is so bright off the snow, reflecting back against his contacts, that he squints downward.

- He likes to think about a mythical town in Ohio, and that he is the old man in the town, with a bed he wishes was taller.

- He selects shoes without laces.

- He wonders why there are so few options to define important characteristics on online dating services.

- More than five years later, he still thinks of the morning after, in pain, driving home, a 7-11, but he couldn't get out.

- Natural light is important, but he does not need it to tell when he's been lied to.

- He swears more around his friends, but not out of anger.

- Sometimes he wishes he could just relax his shoulders and shout, "Goddamn!"

- There are limits he avoids thinking about.

- He feels he is slowing down in ways time does not touch.

- He wonders if enough people send money to the newspaper Thanksgiving ads for the poor.

- There are incidents he will only write about and share with no one.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Tender Is 

I ran late again tonight. So, as always when it is dark, I took Howard east. It was quiet, and I watched the sky to the left of me, three new stars appearing.

My downstairs tenant awoke to her car being burglarized this morning. I heard the screams. I spoke to her after it was all over, the quiver still in her voice: "Eighteen, Latino or dark white; curly, dark hair." He hid behind the steering wheel. And I could imagine that moment when they saw each other. How she must have backed away after yelling. The blood pulsing in her shoulders and wrists.

I had never seen these three -- no, four -- new lights in the sky. They were so perfectly distanced from each other as I approached the lake that they could only have been streetlights.

And I remember wanting to talk to her longer, as if there was anything I could do, an hour after the fact. So much bluster, my imploring to bang on our door if it were to happen again echoed. And in this small way I could relate to her helplessness.

At some point, though, because life is never as extraordinary as we hope it to be, the streetlights or stars moved, the middle helicopter shifting the most, moving closer, angling. I ran back, west, to see if it was all just my movement, if I could see them again as they had been lined up before. But it was beyond me. They had forever broken ranks.

This was the helplessness of the mother, upon seeing her child crying because of how all children cry when they learn life can hurt. The mother who can only stare, and brush her hand against a chin, and wring palms. And cry alone.

I reached the land at the end of the road, and peered further, unable to tell if it was the top of the hill or the water's dark, distant horizon, now fully frustrated with the emptiness of possibility and the infinity of persistence.

I woke up late last night, shocked, panting, thinking they had all discovered me, saw me for all I lacked.

And the chorus still sings to me: Come on, come on, come on, get through it.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Your words are better than mine. 

Got a new person in the desk next to me at GE. Etta. Picture a person named Etta . . . go ahead, don't worry if you think it's stereotypical, no one's going to be ashamed of you . . . got it? That's her. Exactly what you imagined. Older, gentle, real sweet lady.

And she talks to herself.

"Now let's see if we can . . ." I almost turned around when I heard this -- to say, "What's that? Something I can help with?" Because she's new and confused like any new employee. Hell, I've been there 11+ months and I'M still confused. But I didn't turn around. I didn't say anything. Her voice had turned into a whisper, so I let it go.

"Where was that ticket for the . . ." I frowned. At this point I remembered sitting in the parking lot outside of the Kohl's on Port Washington Road as a kid as my dad went to the Tyme machine that's no longer there. My mom noticed a woman driving through the parking lot, in her car by herself, singing away like she was at Carnegie Hall. That Tyme machine hasn't been there for years. The Minnesota Fabrics that used to be next to the Kohl's always had a light out on its sign and was replaced by another store a while back. The Kohl's is now out of business and will be demolished for the expansion of the nearby mall. Funny side note to the side note: Years later I was in this parking lot, about to go into the Kohl's when I saw someone, alone, walking from the store, singing away.

"I don't see an airline ticket attached. I don't like that. I'm getting a headache," Etta said, waking me from my reverie, speaking the first word of each of her sentences a little bit louder than the rest of the sentence. I grinned and remembered a Rolling Stone article I once read on Brad Pitt. The interview occurred while Pitt was filming that movie set in Tibet, I think. At some point in the interview, a Soundgarden song came on. It was their big hit off of their last album before they broke up. "Follow me," I think the chorus begins. Well, this song came on mid-interview, and Pitt just went nuts, dancing around. The writer thought to himself (as printed in the article), "What do you do when someone you're talking with decides to rock out?"

Good question.

Well, I guess Rolling Stone's good for something, yet, if I'm remembering that. Maybe not.

On an unrelated note, because not everything's related, I've started reading various new poetry in my English class, which is all fine and good. I've also begun the latest Harry Potter, and I don't care if she's labeled a children's writer: Rowling can flat-out write. As a burgeoning amateur (by the by, Glimmer Train hasn't turned me down yet!), it's easy to tell where she's going. I can tell she began a little nervously, though still completely in voice. And I can see the punches coming a little bit before I should . . . but they still hit just as hard. In a literary landscape dominated, obsessed even, by character, Rowling's not afraid to work a plot, to lean on it, and then take her characters from there, rather than vice-versa. Brave stuff.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

. . . it's just a shot away 

Rain came down hard at work today, pounding the roof, it became a foreground static. And everyone looked up from their computers. Everyone mentioned how nice it was at lunch.

Last night Jess and I went to Denny's where this guy behind us talked really loudly about how much he got paid and how cool his new phone was and all the great reasons for being him, and we just wanted to turn around and say to him, "Christ, man, is it that small that you find yourself overcompensating for it at 10:30 at night over a Grand Slam?"

There's this guy on the local rock station who does their late afternoon shift. You probably know who he is, even if you're not from Milwaukee -- every major market has one of these obnoxious guys on at some point. The thing with this guy is that when you listen to him . . . there are times when you want to like him. His fake buddy-vibe is so strong, you wish it to be genuine. He'll do these late afternoon prank calls and it can be pretty funny for a while, especially if he gets someone who plays along with him. But every time -- every time -- he's gotta go and ruin it by ripping the person. See, there are some people he calls who are just complete jerks, and maybe they deserve a prank call. But the people who play along are the regular joes. They don't get upset, they have a good time with it. It works. But then this boor has to go and rip them, as if they were no different from anyone else. He doesn't get it. I don't know, maybe I don't get it.

Last night I dreamed of a bathtub, a paint can, and two people talking; they had the same fingerprints.

No you didn't.

They talked around and around until they faded into the shadows of the static pounding down over them. But the only thing I could make out was a question: "What's that from?"

You are full of lies and vigor.

All that was left in between the sheets of noise raining down upon them was the sadness of a little boy who had had his round cheek slapped by the stranger, and was trying bravely -- so bravely -- to hold the tears and clench his throat as his cheek turned red and his lips tremored.

You are either dangerous, or very, very boring.

Monday, November 03, 2003

From a guy who thinks a pretty cool date is Sam's Club. 

With the Packer game at night, yesterday was shopping day. Jessica and I hit up this grocery store where we ran into two of the coolest shoppers on the planet. The whole thing began a little erroneously.

It was a new Pick 'n Save, and I was thinking to myself, "Why do they only put one apostrophe by the 'n'? That stands for the missing 'a', but what about the 'd'?" And as I pondered this frustrating grammatical dilemna, we turned left . . . essentially taking the store on backwards -- dairy/frozen first, produce last. And it was as we strolled through the TV dinners that we heard it:

"Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me . . ."

Over and over again, the Styx chorus chanted, blasting through the store. Jess and I were looking up at the ceiling like other customers, thinking, "Damn, someone's jamming out to some Styx." And no matter where we walked . . . the music seemed just as loud. I knew this was a new store, but surround sound? Just then I saw a guilty smile on the face of a shopper ahead of me.

Two guys -- late 20s, early 30s -- were piling Hungry Mans into their cart . . . on top of of a boom box that was hidden only from sight. I spent the rest of the trip wondering what motivates someone to love Styx -- I mean, Styx -- so much that he has to bring them into the store with him and rock out.

Pretty cool.

I'm finding myself participating in activities I would have avoided in my former life. For instance, earlier that day at Sam's Club. We just went to get a couple things and sample all the free food. But when we finished, Jessica had the supreme idea of sitting down for some Sam's Club pizza: Yep -- we're those people that eat inside the store. And I fuckin' love it. $5.00 for two slices of pepperoni and a large soda after a hard day of shopping . . . it doesn't get any better than that.

On the best football game of the year . . . 

It's a shame that such a talented, hardworking, driven, well-coached team like the Vikings has such obnoxious fans.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

This is what's wrong with U2. 

A.) Bono.

Bono is such a significant cause for what is wrong with U2, that he has his own subpoints to iterate what is indeed wrong with him:

1.) The sunglasses. Way back when they did that Batman video, it was cool. Two words in the sentence bear repeating: "way back".

OK, that's maybe a cheap shot at the frontman's sense of style. Here's what the sunglasses represent: U2's preoccupation with image. U2 can never just go on tour. They have to have AN EVENT. And even though it must get as hot as Venus onstage, underneath that heavy, leather coat Bono wears . . . he'll never take it off. See, if he took it off, people might actually get a feel for what he really looked like. People would see that this is no longer the up-and-coming Bono. No. This is an aging Bono, complete with signs of wear and tear. And while normal people see this as the natual process of life . . . U2 knows that old rockers don't sell records. So it's all about image for U2.

2.) AIDS relief. OK. Great. He's got a cause. But isn't AIDS fairly under control at this point? Aren't we FAR BEYOND -- in terms of research and progress on containment of the disease -- than anyone thought we would be ten years ago? Did anyone really expect Magic Johnson to live this long? In short: aren't there other causes -- especially considering all the other Hollywood types like Liz Taylor who promote AIDS money -- Bono could support?

Counterpoint -- yes, I know Bono has petitioned for African debt relief, and I'm aware that AIDS is rampant in Africa. My position is that organizations like the Bill Gates Foundation do FAR more (they actually get medicine to people in Africa who need it) than politicking by a rock star. Furthermore, on the debt issue, while Bono may represent a position on the issue, I argue he's ill-informed.

"OH!" you say, "But Bono's studied up on all these issues! He knows what he's talking about."

Yes, and he's made an ass of himself learning on the job. It's like the know-it-all in any high school history class who thinks he can challenge the teacher on politics, but ends up learning about the issue rather than furthering his point. Yes, not one nation has forgiven any significant debt yet.

3.) Holding the expectation that the crowd that comes to see his band play holds his same ideological views. What a Goddamned fool. This is like Robert Donat in The 39 Steps, when he tells the professor that he's desperately looking to stop a man, a spy, from leaving England with secrets that will compromise national security. Will he (the professor) help him find this man? All he knows is that this man has a joint missing from his small finger. "Is it this finger?" the professor answers, holding up his mutilated hand.

Now, many artists are guilty of assumption. But Bono's smart. You'd think he'd know better.

B.) The computerized music. They've done it. They've given up the ship. Any time a musician steps away from the controls and lets the producer put some synthesized crap in the middle of a song, it's over: this band is old and over-the-musicianship-hill. I can hear the shrieking already: "But the last album, the last album was wonderful and it had computerized effects."

Counterpoint: The last album was AVERAGE. Sure the first couple songs kicked out the jams, and there were a few ditties in between . . . in between . . . DEAD WEIGHT. Also: I'm not so closed-minded as to say all computerized music is crap. Blur is playing behind me right now. What's the difference between a band like Blur (or Radiohead or Richard Ashcroft) and U2? Those bands can do it live. U2? They just play a record. On the song "New York", you think that's Larry playing drums for the whole first half of the song? Uh-uh. That's what we call a taped recording. Larry only comes in on the chorus. Let me emphasize: Britney Spears and her ilk do this at live shows.

C.) The Unchanging Setlists. Yes, all this time you thought I was just throwing softballs. Well here's the heat. Any time a band goes to a "set" setlist -- a setlist that does not change significantly and infuses ZERO spontaneity -- that band is dead. This is the difference between Neil Young and CSNY. This is why Pearl Jam is still viable. This is why people went to see the Dead, a band that could play an entire summer of shows, only repeating two or three songs one time over the summer. U2 has entire albums that they -- outside of the radio hits -- ignore. One has to wonder after a while -- "Why do they even go into the studio to create an album of material when only three of the songs will get major radio play?" They'll only play 70-80% of the album in concert anyway -- and it'll only be on the tour for THAT album (Discotech, anyone?).

D.) They really think . . . and my problem is not so much that they think they're great (oh, they do) . . . but that they think they're important. Oh, this is the killer. "I'm important." Self-importance, the kiss of death.

Smell ya later, U2! Smell ya later, forever!

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