Wednesday, October 31, 2007

iTunes Word Search: "Ghost"

Boo, and Happy Hallowe'en! I'm hoping that no children come to weasel candy out of me; I've lived in controlled-access buildings or student slums for so long that I don't know if they'll come to this area or not, let alone to my grotty little side door, and I didn't want to buy a lot of candy and have it sit around, so...

While wearing my Hallowe'en costume at work (pictures soon) I tried to find a good iTunes Word Search theme. I couldn't think of a good word to represent "Nobody Ever Recognizes My Costume" (other than maybe "darn"), but I DID hit on a good Hallowe'en-ish word that generated results: "Ghost!"
  1. City Ghosts (The Legendary Pink Dots)
  2. Farm Show Ghost (Joey Wright)
  3. Ghost (Headcase)
  4. Ghost (The Legendary Pink Dots)
  5. Ghost in the Gaps (Electroluminescent)
  6. Ghost of a Texas Ladies' Man (Concrete Blonde)
  7. The Ghost of Liberace (Sparks)
  8. Ghost Pirates (P:Ano)
  9. Ghost Talk (Cabaret Voltaire)
  10. Ghost Train Out (The Vincent Black Shadow)
  11. Ghost World (Aimee Mann)
  12. Ghost Writer (Daniel Ash)
  13. Ghosts of Unborn Children (The Legendary Pink Dots)
  14. Our Kitten Sees Ghosts (Califone)
  15. There's a Ghost in My House (The Fall)
  16. Walking the Ghost (James)
Themes? Lost & forlorn, otherworldly, different, spooky, and remnant.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Barthathon: "The Tidewater Tales"

"Sabbatical" was the “twin” of "The Tidewater Tales" (1987). This isn't unusual, since all of Barth’s books have been twinned, but these two were closer than all the others before them. The situations, settings, time-frames, and issues were almost identical. Was that a cop-out? After Barth wrote “Sabbatical” as a sort of post-Letters cost-recoup for his publishers (as he mentioned in “The Friday Book”), did he then say “to hell with it,” throw away his unimpeachable literary integrity, and publish the same old book a second time, greatly expanded?

I thought so at first. Suffering from a certain Barth-fatigue -- I've been reading ONLY his books since July, remember -- I limped through the first hundred pages with an unhealthy skepticism, sustained only by my memory of loving the book the last time I read it (in 1994, my first Barth novel). As Sabbatical was about a couple in crisis, sailing around the Chesapeake bay to resolve the worries of childbirth, adulthood, mortality, story-craft, family, and world affairs…well, “Tidewater Tales” brought us Peter and Katherine. A couple in crisis. Sailing around the Chesapeake. Trying to resolve those exact same worries. Again.

To make matters worse, the couple – typical witty, in-love, sexually open-minded Barth-style adults – discovered installments of a “Sex Education” television play, which they proceeded to read to the reader…and which was, in a word, dippy.

Barth got miffed when a journalist said that the poem in “Sabbatical” was dippy – that is, sort of bad and flakey – to which Barth replied that the poem was written by characters who were not poets, so of COURSE it wasn’t very good. Since “Sex Education” was not written by a well-heeled playwright, it was also bad and flakey...but unlike the "Sabbatical" poem it was also quite long and integral to the "Tidewater Tales" plot. And while “Tidewater Tales” was, among other things, about people striving to hone their writing and storytelling skills, “Sex Education” was SO dippy that it’s bound to annoy many readers, especially if they’ve previously read his short story “Night Sea Journey," of which this is sort of a goofy, poorly-conceived sequel.

But there’s a funny thing about Barth: his best books tend to contain annoying elements...which are later consciously redeemed. As you approach the end of the book you realize that the bad stuff is – as Barth’s characters would put it – dramaturgically required. In the same way that a character must be bad before she can ultimately achieve redemption, so do the Barthian elements need to be bad before they can become good.

And when they’re good…oh, man.

You see, “Tidewater Tales” reached a point – after all the C.I.A. dribble and family conflicts and dippy stories – when the tone CHANGED. Things began to come together and reveal themselves as far more complex and rich than I'd ever imagined. Tangential issues became prominent and – most amazingly – INEVITABLE.

When all the characters finally anchored behind ordinary point, amidst the warm summer night parties of hundreds of other boats, and when they all gathered together for the first time after having revealed their histories and problems and personal quirks during the preceeding bulk of the book…the story revved up. The clouds gathered. The final, long stretches of storytelling -- punctuated by the sudden and tragic storms of grief, anger, loss, anguish, yearning -- brought everything and everybody together, and IT WORKED. I celebrated with the fictional characters. The book was redeemed, its several points exquisitely made, the end.

And yes, I cried at the conclusion of “Sex Education,” I admit it. And I’ll also say, as part of this “redemption” theme, that there are very good (“dramaturgically relevant”) reasons why “Sabbatical” was so similar to “Tidewater Tales.” They are linked in a way that is nothing short of brilliant. Long live Barth, and his characters, and his tales!

Having said that, however, I have a personal message for Mr. Barth himself: lay off Sheherazade, will you? I understand that you have an outright obsession with the character – and that’s fine – but have you ever noticed that OTHER PEOPLE don’t share your enthusiasm? It’s one thing for one or two of your characters to reveal themselves as long-time fans of "1001 Arabian Nights," but when EVERY literate character in "The Tidewater Tales" turned out to gushingly consider her to be the end-all be-all of literary creation, your enthusiasm went beyond “barely-in-control” and into “outright masturbation.” When I realized that I’d have to sit through a 20-page analysis of her menstrual cycle (as ALREADY explored by you in “The Friday Book”), I decided it was time for you to enter Sheherazade detox.

So stop it. Please. I have more of your books to get through and I don't want to deal with Sheherazade again.

“The Tidewater Tales” did inspire me, once upon a time, to read “The Odyssey,” “Don Quixote,” and the first half of “1001 Arabian Nights." You don’t need to read them before tackling this particular book – because unlike “Chimera,” Barth gives an excellent gloss here for those uninitiated – but the characters of Ted, Diana, Donald Quicksoat and – errr – Sheherazade are much richer if you’ve read their respective books.

And that recurring theme about "the key to the treasure is the treasure?" I suspect this is something that Barth reinterprets from time to time, because now it's specifically about WORDS: Stories often feature magic words, which are the keys to fabulous treasures; but the treasures, as represented in fiction, are also words themselves ("a mountain of jewels," for instance), so the key (magic words) to the treasure is also the treasure itself. So there.

If you can explain his new mantra to me ("what you've done is what you'll do"), I'll give you a cookie.

The traditional list of traditional John Barth themes (not including those necessarily pulled over from the plot of "Sabbatical"): anthropomorphized egg and sperm, water messages, keys, Bloodsworth Island, Huckleberry Finn, "once upon a time \ there was a story that began...", the war of 1812, the myth of the wandering hero, 1001 Arabian Nights, The Odyssey, Don Quixote, twins (both babies and doppelgangers), impotence, and leeway in categorization.

Ruth Miller, Sweet-Smelling Scheherazade

I'll have more to say about Scheherazade in a day or two -- once I've finished "Tidewater Tales" -- but for now here's a modern-day, totally sniffable incarnation: Ruth Miller, writing a nested frame-tale for Odorono Deodorant in the May 12, 1928 New Yorker:
Women constantly ask me how they can be free from the danger of underarm odor and ruinous stains on dresses.

I can answer no better than by telling what women who use Odorono regularly tell me.

"My doctor told me about Odorono first years ago; it's marvelous, I use it all the time."

Another, "One day my dress shield slipped and I ruined a new dress. A friend told me about Odorono and now I don't bother with anything else. I use it often enough to keep the underarm dry all the time."

A business woman says, "Perspiration odor turns men in an office against a woman quicker than anything else and Odorono is the only way I know to keep dainty through the strain of a long busy office day!"

"It makes me feel so much more exquisite, and self-confident," says one woman. "I use Odorono twice a week and never have a particle of moisture under the arm."
Four better tales have never been told! I bet Ruth Miller kept her husband awake every night, telling him stories about smelly women in office buildings, always breaking off at dawn before he got a good whiff of her armpits. Notice that there are THREE levels of story here: Ruth Miller says that a lady told her that her friend/doctor told her... She finishes by saying that "women of breeding" use over four million bottles of Odorono.

Before you ask who Ruth Miller was, I have no idea. I guess shilling for a deodorant company didn't bring lasting fame.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gukanjima, Another Place You're Not Allowed to Visit

One of the seven wonders of forbidden exploration is the island of Gukanjima, which was abandoned suddenly in 1974 and has remained virtually untouched since, except by the elements. Wind, rain, and rot have given the place an apocalyptic beauty, most famously captured by photographer Saiga Yuji here.

Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday! Happy...err...Hallowe'en!

Gotcha, '80s Zombie Girl!
I'm typing like a gimp because I actually managed to bruise a finger on somebody's can of gray hairspray. I might look like a fearless zombie killer in this picture but I'm actually a pussycat with sensitive skin.

First off, a few pictures from Hallowe'en at Club Abstract. As much fun as it was, I really must relocate MY birthday night because I don't think Hallowe'en is budging. There are too many people out and about and the lines for the bathrooms are too long; I literally left early because I didn't want to cross my legs for half an hour. But the girl dressed as Marie Antoinette was one of my favourites, as was Jodi Brown (above), who actually does my hair.

Besides all that, here's the surprise I've been dropping hints about: an extremely rushed and way-too-sober "mini drag show" recorded just before I left the apartment:

I'm still experimenting with so many elements in this process -- lighting, location, camera settings, frame rates, codecs, conversion, editing -- so I can only say that they'll get better. I hope. In this case the show is DEFINITELY stolen by Zsa Zsa, who decided to sit in and watch me make a fool out of myself.

My birthday present to myself was a new digital camera, a tiny little thing with a million settings. During my experiments I have digitized some old Canadiana off of quarter-century-old videotapes, and I've turned up some real gems (with more to come).

By far the brightest, most sparkly gem is this footage from "As You Like It," a mid-'80s Rogers community cable program starring Wilf and Donna, consummate Mennonites. Every week they'd take telephone requests, and EVERYBODY wanted to hear them do this signature tune. Wilf and Donna are a real treat and I'm proud to bring their brilliance to the world.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Evolving Human/Feline Morning Ritual

When the alarm goes off, Zsa Zsa is already waiting at my bedside, sitting down and staring at me. If I get up, she will run to the top of the stairs in anticipation of being fed; otherwise she will alternate between “yowling” and “running away/coming back” behaviour until I finally get up.

Next, when I leave the bedroom to go into the bathroom, Zsa Zsa is waiting at the top of the stairs. When I subsequently walk out of the bathroom, she runs excitedly down the stairs with what can only be described as a “prance” or a “trot.”

Downstairs, in the kitchen, she meows until I put fresh food and water in her dishes. She sniffs the dishes to make sure all is well, then walks into the living room without actually eating anything, as though all along she just wanted to be reassured that I wouldn’t FORGET to feed her this morning.

With my own breakfast prepared I walk past her and go upstairs into the computer room. I sit and eat my breakfast while reading The New Yorker. At some point she joins me and sits at a respectful distance, snooping around and keeping an eye on me. She is feigning nonchalance.

When my spoon hits the bottom of the bowl, she begins to approach. Sometimes she meows, but not usually. I put the bowl on the floor and tilt it so the last spoonful of sweet milk is puddled up, and she gingerly tests its quality before lapping it up. This is her second favourite time of the morning.

I return to the bathroom and bedroom to groom and dress. Meanwhile Zsa Zsa descends the stairs again, this time in a calm and leisurely way. She is preparing herself for the Morning Petting Ritual.

At last ready to leave, I turn off the upstairs lights and go down into the living room. As soon as I turn the corner and enter the room, Zsa Zsa collapses onto the carpet and lets out an outrageous squeak, the sound of a meow expelled by a forcible flop to the floor. I have to put my stuff down and get onto the carpet to pet her as she kicks her feet wildly, rolling, squeaking, occasionally drooling. If I pat her bum she gets REALLY excited. Needless to say this is the morning's REAL highlight for her.

After a few minutes I stand up, and that’s her cue to stop being cute. We both go into the kitchen, where I put on my shoes and whatever outerwear is necessary. She wanders to her food dish and begins to eat, though sometimes she’ll politely request a treat, which I’ll refuse unless she opens the cupboard and gets the treats out herself, which she occasionally does.

When I’m walking out the door she’ll stand in the middle of the kitchen and watch me. I’ll say “bye!” and she’ll just stare. I never know if she’s sad to see me go or if she’s planning a huge cat party once I’m gone.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

iTunes Word Search: "Sex"

With all that talk about sex and me puking -- and all the interesting points you readers have made in the comments -- I had to consult my iPod and find out what SHE thinks about sex in general.
  1. All You Ever Think About is Sex (Sparks)
  2. Am I Sexy? (Lords of Acid)
  3. Are You Read for the Sex Girls? (Gleaming Spires)
  4. Deep Sexy Space (Lords of Acid)
  5. Do You Think I'm Sexy? (Revolting Cocks)
  6. Feels Like Sex (Geri Halliwell)
  7. Generation Sex (The Divine Comedy)
  8. Goddess of Sexxx (Goddess of Destruction)
  9. I Want Your Sex (George Michaels)
  10. Leathersex (My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult)
  11. My Exclusive Sex Club (Drywall)
  12. Prison Sex (Tool)
  13. Rough Sex (Lords of Acid)
  14. Savage Sexteen (My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult)
  15. Sex (The Pipettes)
  16. Sex (I'm A...) (Berlin)
  17. Sex Bomb (Lords of Acid)
  18. Sex Dwarf (Soft Cell)
  19. Sex Nerve (Adrian Belew)
  20. Sex Object (Kraftwerk)
  21. Sex on the Flag (K.M.F.D.M.)
  22. Sex Whip (My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult)
  23. Sexual Revolution (Roger Waters)
  24. Sexy M.F. (Prince)
  25. Sexy M.M. (Whale)
  26. Sexy Rhino (Adrian Belew)
  27. Sexy Sadie (The Beatles)
  28. Tired of Sex (Moroboshi Industries)
  29. Too Much Sex, Not Enough Affection (Timbuk 3)
  30. You Sexy Thing (Hot Chocolate)
So the themes are generally about actual sexiness (in either a serious or a campy way), political observations about sex & gender, poking fun at kinkiness, and then the lone case of Tool.

Scoring a Ticket

In 1920s New York, you were an absolute NOBODY unless you could score theatre tickets. Opening nights were all the rage, and even though writers for The New Yorker consistently make fun of the people who go to opening nights -- portraying them as brash and obnoxious social climbers or star-gawkers -- those writers seem to go to an awful lot of opening nights themselves.

It was difficult to get tickets because, quite often, "speculators" (who we now call "scalpers") would buy huge numbers of opening night tickets and then re-sell them at a profit.

Curiously, theatre owners had a sort of clout that they don't have today, and they took the position that only THEIR box office should be allowed to sell tickets, and anybody else who did was breaking the law. After some legal wrangling around 1925 it seems the theatre owners lost that privelege, and though police were prosecuting the speculators they couldn't quite keep it under control.

Then came the "Theatre Service" companies, which were basically regulated scalpers. They operated out of actual stores and sold their tickets at only a modest markup.

The Bascom theatre service advertises consistently in The New Yorker, usually featuring the same selection of cartoons, with slightly re-written captions. This particular cartoon always makes me happy; that woman looks SO angry, and she actually resembles my cat in her worst moods. All she needs is a pair of ears lying flat back.
--And the movies hurt my eyes and you said we'd go to any play I picked and you have no business saying there aren't any seats left until you've gone to Bascom--
The gist of these advertisements are always not so much that people will suffer if they don't get tickets to a play, but that people will suffer embarrassment for not knowing that Bascom exists, which is a strange approach to take...but probably effective for the guy who was being pressured at the last minute to find a theatre service with tickets to a particular show.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

National Velvet and the Muffy Online Heelprint

I was obsessed by the Canadian band "National Velvet." I loved them to death. I recorded every interview and little bitty scrap I could onto VHS tapes that I still (happily) have with me today.

Long after they'd faded from the Canadian music scene, somebody started up an online National Velvet fanclub. I was unable to visit their one-off reunion concert, but I DID manage to contribute to the group by recording a "National Velvet Care Package"...a VHS collection of videos, interviews, and other oddities that I sent to five (or maybe four) people. One of them had promised to record the videos onto a DVD and send it back to me, which (as is so often the case) never happened. Oh well.

Why do I mention this now? Because I was just doing my annual YouTube check of National Velvet videos, and suddenly there are four of them online...all from the VHS I sent out! There's something strange and sort of exciting about this, seeing something that I put together appear elsewhere as though I had nothing to do with it. It means the videos are getting around. It means that people still like the band. I admit that I don't like the fact that I'm not credited for compiling these rarities, but I'm still glad that they're "out there."

So here's "Change My Mind," probably my favourite National Velvet song. Maria Del Mar kicks butt (as always). At the time I remember that there were two contenders for "coolest Canadian female vocalist." When Margo Timmins (from Cowboy Junkies) won, us fans were outraged. But Margo was pretty cool too.

UPDATE: It actually appears that these videos WEREN'T digitized from my original "care package." The guy just taped the same Much Music spotlight that I did, many years ago.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I Am Here in Oolite

No, I haven't mysteriously vanished. I'm afraid that my mind has been grabbed by the iron fist of Oolite, and for the moment I can't escape.

I've always been fascinated by space travel in its most mundane sense: getting from here to there. I just can't grasp the distances between planets, let alone solar systems, let alone GALAXIES. It amazes me that it's all unexplored, in the way that people must have been amazed by (and attracted to) "darkest Africa" and the poles, before we found out it was all pretty much normal, just harder to get to.

So give me a game where I can explore a "universe," and I'm happy. Make it a game where the travel is mind-numbingly dull -- watching your destination approach over half an hour while your fellow ships travel around you -- and I'm THRILLED. Give me the ability to ADD to the universe with custom MODs, and I widow my blog (and my cat) so I can study the modding language and create mysterious ghost ships and space-age Voyageurs.

As if this wasn't enough, Oolite's universe is also procedurally generated, a process that has obsessed my slightly-autistic mind since I was a child, watching computer-landscapes blossom from the union of a number seed and an algorithm. You needed to think about these things when you had only 64K to play with.

Once I've explored its boundaries and gotten frustrated by the scripting languages, I'll probably put aside Oolite and never play it again. I already can't believe that I'm willing to sit for ages watching a planet get slightly bigger, while my cat cries "love me!" from the floor. But sometimes I get hooked on these things, and since this weekend was a scheduled "no-bar" interval this is the perfect time to indulge myself.

So I'm sorry that the blog hasn't been updated. I'll make it up to you soon with ANOTHER new obsession, which is a surprise and infinitely more social.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fatty Arbuckle

A few months ago I was forced to admit that Benny Hill -- at least, the '60s Benny Hill -- was funny. Now I'm going one further and admitting that Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton were funny as well.

I rented "The Best Arbuckle/Keaton Collection" because I was curious about life in the "teens," in this case 1917 and 1918. A collection of 20-minute short films seemed like a good way to step into the past, even if I'd need to watch a lot of people get hit with pies.

Well yes, there have been some pies, and there are also some amazing scenes of New York during that time period -- Coney Island, incredible swimsuits, anti-Kaiser moments -- but more than that...well, I'm laughing. A lot. And I'm totally amazed at Arbuckle and Keaton's physical abilities. Arbuckle can really move (and is best at actually THROWING things), but Keaton? Something was awfully strange about that man's skeleton, and I bet he was STRONG. Not to mention he's the most handsome man I've ever seen from that time period; those lanky suits and rounded hats really fit him, in a funny sort of way.

Also fascinating is Arbuckle's penchant for drag, which he seems to take a peculiar joy in (and whose sexual possibilities go surprisingly far in these films, but I suppose it WAS pre-code). "The Bell Boy" also has a blatant treatment of the mincing homosexual, similar to pretty much every other stereotypically mincing homosexual that you've ever seen on film. Black people also don't fare particularly well, as you can imagine.

By the way, watching Fatty Arbuckle mince is a very strange thing. Watching him SKIP is even stranger.

I have more to watch -- and I'll need to check out Keaton's post-Arbuckle material -- but I leave you with the "common silent comedy themes" that I jotted down while watching the first eight films.
  • Something is sticky!
  • Poor table manners.
  • Drag.
  • People fall down suddenly.
  • Broom as a weapon.
  • Pastry in face.
  • Matron gets punched.
  • Hit with crockery.
  • The troublemakers foil the more dangerous troublemakers, and are rewarded.
  • Employee in love with boss' daughter.
  • Rivals for young woman's affections.
  • Hit with food.
  • Sprayed with water.
  • Accidentally injure an authority figure.
  • Three slapstick kooks on a mission.
  • Kidnapped girl.
  • Gunshot makes villain fall down, but he is unhurt.
Arbuckle's character in "Oh Doctor" is named "Dr. Fatty Holepoke." Considering the scandalous allegations that he eventually came under, that name is particularly creepy.

Your Sexual Antics Make Me Puke

Warning! Rash generalizations and social stereotypes ahead!

For years I have been trying to put my finger on something: why do horny people in nightclubs tend to annoy me? On Saturday night, as occasionally happens, Club Abstract was invaded early by a sextet of hootchie girls who spun around me on the otherwise empty dancefloor, hooting, grinding together, attempting a line-dance choreography that simply wasn't working out.

As always in these situations I go through my "anti-mysanthropy thought exercise," to try to see through whatever's bothering me and recognize the antagonist's human traits. But it wasn't working. Plus I was standing next to a friend who expressed great attraction for the hootchies, and who viewed my rising gorge as a sign of my personal bitterness and/or unfounded elitism.

Maybe he's right! Or maybe that's part of it. But over the last few days I've done my best to pick apart what annoys me about the hootchie girls, and what annoys me about bar-sexuality in general, and I think I've finally figured it out.

* * *

First, I have a personal beef about people who are disconnected from their environments; people who see the world as catering entirely to their own social group, no matter where they happen to be at the time; people who think they're projecting a certain impression while they're really projecting a different one; people who are, in a word, clueless about others.

What bothers me about the hootchies is not that they're trying to be SEXY (though I'll get to that angle shortly). What bothers me is that they are being blatantly self-centered -- "This is our dancefloor and everybody is here to see US!" -- while expressing sexual antics (the grinding, the choreography) that THEY think of as "edgy, transgressive, alternative" but are in fact perceived as "typical, desperate, sleazy." Sure, my friend was TURNED ON by their behaviour, but not because they were in any way "edgy." He was turned on because they were exactly what he likes: slutty and attention-seeking. There's a difference.

This "lesbo routine" that girls do in bars is always presented by them as a form of extreme sexuality, when it's actually the most white-bread, overexposed form of dancefloor sexuality around. That's what bothers me: not that they're slutty or average, but because they think they're NOT slutty or average.

Before you accuse me of PICKING ON some concept of "mainstream culture," let me say that I am equally annoyed by counter-culture people whose perceptions are out-of-sync with the rest of the world. There's a gothy-girl at Abstract, for instance, who we call "Stompy Flamingo." She and her way-too-serious boyfriend do an exceptionally uncoordinated tango around the dancefloor, and then she'll break into a random collection of loud foot-stomps that could only be an attempt at "flamenco." It's probably the funniest thing you'll ever see.

But it's not funny because of her dance itself...if somebody wants to do a clumsy flamenco imitation, that alone is not silly. What's silly is that she SERIOUSLY BELIEVES THAT SHE APPEARS TO BE AN ACCOMPLISHED DANCER, but she's not, and nobody thinks she is. And while it's always dangerous to ascribe motivations for people's behaviour, you can usually tell by body language or facial expression when somebody is self-serious.

(As an aside, people like Stompy Flamingo are "Boodles." I keep promising to define the Boodles, and I eventually will. Curiously, the "hootchies" are generally NOT Boodles).

So what bugs me about the hootchies is their belief that they are being "extreme," while the rest of the world sees them as "average." They're the "look at my extreme tongue piercing" people. They're similar to people who actually think that publically displaying their cel phone puts them into a higher social class. They're disconnected in so many ways.

* * *

My second point is that sex is, generally, a pretty boring thing to be around. There's a reason why pornos rarely have a higher concept: when people are horny -- or when they're actually HAVING sex -- they almost always regress to a bundle of need-gratifying cliches. Likewise, when people have sex in movies and books, they either say the same old boring, time-worn phrases, or they talk in a way that nobody EVER talks.

So when people are horny, the part of them that makes them interesting -- their personality -- becomes thinner, because the sex-crazed, primitive animal is rising to the surface and displacing their distinguishing characteristics. That's perfectly natural, but it makes a person a dull boy or girl.

To make the situation worse, however, we tend to replace our REAL personalities with a "sexy routine," one we've learned over the years or -- if we have more than one -- whichever seems to be the most appropriate or advantageous in the current situation. If we pick a totally dull and average routine -- which the hootchies do -- we'll not only be suffering from the lack of personality that sex ALREADY tends to bring, but we'll be REPLACING that personality with something that we saw on Jerry Springer.

The final blow comes when the hootchies, as I said, THINK their Springer routine is something, but it's actually something totally different. Three strikes, you're out, I puke.

Some people certainly DO maintain their personalities when they're horny, which most others probably consider to be confusing and off-putting.

I'd like to point out that people tend to homogenize when they dance, as well. As a final example, on Saturday night there was a guy on the edge of the dancefloor who danced like a tree: his feet were firmly rooted in one spot, he moved his torso back and forth, he waved his arms, and he kept his eyes closed. But unlike Stompy Flamingo or the hootchies, he didn't seem to care about the rest of the world, which precludes him suffering the aforementioned disconnected impression (that he's super-cool but everybody else thinks he looks silly).

The Tree-Dancer actually made me HAPPY, because I believed he was dancing FOR HIMSELF, and that while he was aware enough of his surroundings to not be inconsiderate to others, he was not particularly concerned about how others viewed him...AND he had a pretty good idea of how they really DO view him, as illustrated by the two jocky guys who stood next to him and obnoxiously mocked him.

This gives me a final segue. I realize in my earlier description of my Saturday confrontation that it might sound like my attack of track-suit guy was unprovoked. Nope: he was one of the guys making aggressive fun of the tree dancer, so I automatically assumed he was moving on to making fun of me, which he probably was until I called him on it (at which time he brilliantly switched to victim-mode). Just so you know.

Murad Cigarettes

In between the more well-known cigarette ads (Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, and...errr, "Spud"), the 1928 New Yorker reader will constantly come across this campaign by Murad:
Emotional Moments in the Life of a Flapper

When your father comes in suddenly after you have come home from a dance, and finds you in a tight clutch with a young man, just...Offer Dad a Murad.
These advertisements are all short, punchy stories about people who commit faux pas and then -- to show their coolness and to perhaps delay a punch in the nose -- light a Murad. This one (from May 5, 1928) is the first I've seen specifically targeting "flappers" in a "tight clutch," however. Illustrated by a fish, no less.

A Wildlife Update

Folks will be happy to hear that Big Daddy Sly is doing a brisk business behind the sump pump, and that he greets me each morning by standing perfectly still and pretending that I can't see him. He agrees that pupal parasites are horrible and he says that "something should be done," though he himself doesn't pupate so he's not just being selfish.

Lately, Big Daddy has been hectoring me to help him start a tattoo parlour, which he wants to call "Glob." I refuse to loan him any money until he can prove that "Glob" is a catchy word among spiders.

The Horrorbug is motionless. I'm torn between throwing him out and chaining him to the wall.

Moving on to the mammals, you'll be sad to hear that Rudolph died a few weeks ago. He was hit by a car, which among urban squirrels is pretty much "natural causes." His biggest legacy came during the Oktoberfest parade, when hundreds of children walked halfway past his resting place before noticing him and then recoiling in disgust.

Rudolph is sadly missed by Randolph and Scamp, the other members of the "Nut-Killah Three," who no longer gather together on the opposite balcony to shriek at me. Rudolph was their leader and their inspiration, but at least the competition for eaves trough chestnuts has decreased.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Queens, Fog, and Foggy Queens

A Passell o' Performers

More pictures! Drag night back rooms, foggy nights, and more "Ilsa on Ice" than you can shake a beer stein at!

In this picture with me is Noir (the "Asian Sensation") and Gina (reigning Miss Renaissance). I'm the one in the dirndl.

Uncertain Wisdom of a Saturday Night

Yes, so I often come home after a Saturday night and spout my alcohol-tinged thoughts. This may not be an admirable thing to do, but at least I don't delete these blog entries afterwards -- which would be worse, I think. As though I were ashamed that I drink booze, I come home, I think, and I crash.

I can't even begin to put "tonight's thoughts" into a convenient package. Suffice it to say that it was the last weekend of Oktoberfest, shortly before Hallowe'en, and me expecting -- at any moment -- the yearly "explosion" that tends to happen when somebody doesn't like me. An aggressive attack. Something nasty. The last one happened a year ago and I find myself waiting for the next occurrence.

So there I am in my "Ilsa on Ice" outfit, playing into the Oktoberfest-ish-ness which I outwardly disdain but inwardly understand. Drunken boys are picking up drunken girls. I'm at Club Abstract, MY safe place, MY dancing place, and as always a part of me is wondering: why do you people have to come HERE? Aren't there OTHER places you'd rather slum? I end up yelling insults at a guy in a tracksuit who is quite gracious, and who turns out to be PERHAPS a nice person (or a very good actor) as other people (not me) yell "NICE TRACKSUIT!"

The point is not the tracksuit. The point is the desire to have a GOOD place to drink and relax and have fun, without some jerk being...well, a JERK. This, I think, is the theme of my life: trying to find a place, some place, any place. And I can be nasty if I feel my place is invaded.

But anyway, fast-forward the hours through many WONDERFUL experiences to me coming home, and discovering that my suspicions were true: with windows closed and vents open, my neighbour's cigarette smoking is very much obvious. The first floor of my apartment smells like her f*cking ashtray.

So what do I do? The SECOND floor smells okay (in fact, better than it used to), and since I SLEEP on the second floor -- and she tends to smoke at night -- that's not such a bad situation. But again, I want the "good place," a place where I don't need to worry, a "nest," a happy spot.

Then it occurs to me: a person can CHOOSE not to be upset about a situation, right? I can DECIDE not to let this bother me. I mean, that may be unrealistic, but MAYBE I can sit here and DECIDE that my neighbour's inconsiderate behaviour is just...human, right? And that *I* bother her in other ways -- by listening to Electric Light Orchestra while getting ready to go out -- and that SHE might be tolerating ME, right? Because this is my pseudo-resolution: to acknowledge that all people (including me) are thoughtless, and to RESIGN myself to that fact, and just get on with my life...right?

Oh, it's so sad. Now I can smell the smoke upstairs too. I'm breathing her second-hand smoke and there's no way to get around it. I dunno. I need Out. I need Thomas Dolby. And for that reason, I'm posting one of the most beautiful songs ever written: "Airwaves."

Friday, October 12, 2007


I was leaving my apartment the other morning when I noticed something grey on my wall. It was about a centimeter long, somewhat diamond-shaped...and it was MOVING. I had accidentally discovered The Horrorbug.

Reader, put down that hotdog before you continue, because this is just awful.

When I got closer I saw that the back-end of the creature -- the big, bulky part of it -- appeared to be a mutant housefly: partially-formed, covered with little grey hairs, the wings small and stubby. Poking out of the fly's neck -- where its head should be -- was the front half of a long, worm-like, six-legged insect. This insect was inching its way up the wall, alternately stretching out, then humping up the carcass behind it.

I ran to get my camera, which is unfortunately not suited to close-up entomological study. Here is The Horrorbug, on my wall, rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise:
The protruding black smudge on the left is the head of the insect, partially withdrawn because I'm scaring it. The rest of it is the mutant fly-carcass that it's dragging along.

Using the tools of a seasoned insect researcher, I trapped it inside an empty cassette case and left for work. When I came home it was still alive, crawling around in its strange inchworm way. It seemed to want to hang off of the ceiling of the cassette case: it would climb up, secrete some sort of sticky substance, and then retreat back inside the carcass, leaving me staring down into the little hole where the fly's head used to be. So I'd knock it down and watch it crawl around some more.
I've done a lot of Googling to try to figure out what I've found, and I think it's what's called a "pupal parasitoid." These ghastly little parasites are injected inside the pupae of other insects, where they leisurely eat and grow.

More specifically I think that The Horrorbug is pachycrepoideus vindemiae, a wasp that actually parasitizes DEAD pupae, which would explain why the fly carcass it's pulling around looks so old and stunted; the pupae is probably an also-ran from that brief fly infestation that I had a few months ago.

I can't find any more information, however. These pupal parasitoids don't generally REMAIN in the pupae (as far as I can tell), so why is The Horrorbug still carrying this one around, treating it like a shell or a cocoon? How does it poop? Why does it want to hang off the ceiling? WHAT DOES IT PLAN ON DOING NEXT?!?

The Horrorbug hasn't moved for two days. I wonder if it's dead, or if it's just being crafty.

The Cold is Here

I've opened the pipe baffles and the vents, I've closed all the windows, I've set the thermostat to the legal 21 degrees...suddenly it's cold outside, and since I'm feeling a bit sick I want to lie on my couch and be warm, warm, warm. The grogginess of snuggly exhaustion. A movie or two. Snooze.

Last year it snowed on my birthday. No snow yet, but it can't be far off. It's time for winter, I've had enough of those sweaty nights (and that sweaty makeup), I've earned these chilly fall winds and overcast skies. Beautiful! Let me bundle up with a cat and a book and a gently blowing furnace vent.

Yeah, by February I'll be sick of it, but not now.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another Book "Muh-leem"

I don't like the term "meme." Besides being overused, it also seems a bit too high-falutin' for what are equivalent to pre-internet "get to know ya" party games.

So from now on I'm going to call them "muh-leems" (a cross between "memes" and "puh-leez!"). That's not to say they aren't fun to do, just that I hate the term itself. This particular one comes from The Mind Wobbles.

Hardcover or paperback, and why? Hardcover, because I like to think I'm rewarding the author (and publisher) for putting out the books that I like. Plus they look nice on a shelf and they last longer. But when I actually carry around a book, I'm thankful for softcovers.

If I were to own a book shop I would call it: Mountain o' Books!!! (With the exclamation points)

My favorite quote from a book (mention the title) is: I'm paraphrasing because I don't have it in front of me, but I've always liked this one from Robert Coover's "Night at the Movies": "In such a maze of probable improbability, there is alway's the hero's faith, as real as it is burlesque: there must always be a secret door."

If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except from the SAS survival guide, it would be: Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow," plus companion, plus illustrations.

I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that: Props the book up and holds it open while I'm eating breakfast. But I wouldn't need that on the desert island, I guess.

The smell of an old book reminds me of - The Mennonite Relief Sale in New Hamburg, where the used books were stored in crumbly cardboard boxes in people's barns. They didn't smell like hay or manure, but they DID smell like dust and old furniture and bookworms.

If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be: Any protagonist in a Tama Janowitz novel. Scratch that, I already feel like I AM a protagonist in a Tama Janowitz novel.

The most over-rated book of all times is: The Bible. They should just re-publish the relevant parts.

I hate it when a book: falls apart while I'm reading it.

Hart Island

Ah, those mysterious places that we aren't allowed to visit...

In the May 5th, 1928 issue of The New Yorker I've come across a brief description of Hart Island. Known variously as a barracks, missile base, prison, and potter's field, this small New York City island is now off-limits to the public, except for occasional tours granted to historians and other really nosy people.

Here's what it was like in 1928, when people still lived and worked there.
New York's pauper dead are buried in a sandy hill on the north end of Hart's Island in Long Island Sound, a mile from Execution Light. They lie in big graves, tier on tier, unclaimed. It was blowy the day we went out there to see the field, and the low storm-swept island looked particularly weatherbeaten. Michael Breen, warden of the island prison, met us, smiling broadly, glad of a visitor.

Twice a week the boat comes up from Bellevue. The prisoners bury the dead, solemnly and without ceremony, one hundred and fifty to a grave, one white headstone for the lot. It is a beautiful spot--the sweep of the Sound, the restless clang of the bell buoy at the point. An incongruous spot, too, for directly across the water are the homes of the millionaires, Hearst's place on Sands Point, the broad lawns and grandeur of Great Neck.

On the cemetery hill are the frame houses which served as barracks in the Civil War. Now they house ancient prisoners who are too feeble to require iron bars for their detention: old beggars, cripples, panhandlers, old men who hang magazine pictures of beautiful girls above their iron cots. In the centre of the island are the dog-eared brick buildings where the regular prisoners live and work, making clothes, making brooms and shoes, snatching a little sleep on the sea-wall in the sun, between jobs. At the extreme southern end is a house formerly owned by a negro, who ran a negro resort there until a year ago when the City acquired the property.

But nothing much interested us except the field for the dead. Even the statistics seemed important--two hundred and sixty-six thousand persons in that small hill. Mr. Breen allowed us to look at the record books, and we glanced at a few entries: a baby found in the parcel room of the Penn Station, a man picked up in the Fifth Avenue sewer, page after page, six thousand a year. There is a single monument to honor them--a small cross bearing the inscription: "And He shall call His own by name."

As we stood there a gull wheeled and circled above our head. From the far side of the island the wind brought the smell of tide flats, the incessant sounding of the bell. And rather vaguely we heard the fine Irish voice of Michael Breen: "Thim horsechissnut trees will be all full o' blossoms soon--pretty as a picture!"
You want pictures? I do too, and here are some, taken on a 2000 history tour.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

iTunes Word Search: "Tree"

In honour of all the saplings that have been destroyed recently -- and of all those trees I saw over the weekend, and of all those leaves people will be raking up soon -- here are the "Tree" songs that showed up on my iPod yesterday:
  1. Above the Treeline (Jane Siberry)
  2. Birds in the Trees (The Residents)
  3. Boy in a Tree (Nits)
  4. Gazebo Tree (Kristin Hersch)
  5. Hairy Trees (Goldfrapp)
  6. Living in a Tree (Adrian Belew)
  7. Marble Tulip Juicy Tree (Ween)
  8. Red Maple Tree (Field Trip)
  9. Shimmy Tree (Deerfoot)
  10. Sitting in the Palmtree (ABBA)
  11. Sitting Under a Tree (Wild Carnation)
  12. Tree is Falling (Nits)
  13. The Treehouse (The Cheebacabra)
  14. Treehugger (Edward Ka-Spel)
  15. Underneath the Big Green Tree (Stan Ridgway)
  16. With Used Furniture We Make a Tree (Nits)
These songs tend to use trees as markers, containers, and supporters. There's the usual absurdist stuff, but also some ecology and -- from Jane Siberry -- a glorious song about the North.

I'm also noticing that The Residents ALWAYS show up in these lists, as do Nits. They must have song titles with a wide variety of nouns in them. And I think that I'm showing a great ABBA-loyalty by having "Sitting in the Palmtree" on my iPod.

Spud Menthol-Cooled Cigarettes

It's obvious that the best way to sell a cigarette is to call it "Spud." Here's a new advertiser in "The New Yorker" as of April 28, 1928:
Is your first puff a moist-cool surprise? Does the coolness then taper off, resolving into solid tobacco enjoyment? Does your throat get moister and smoother with each succeeding Spud...instead of dryer and raspier?

Again, is Spud your tonic when you're all smoked out...your life-saver, when you come down with a cold?
Reading this copy is actually making my throat HURT. But if there were a cigarette called "Spud" on the market, I might just take up smoking.

Sadly, I doubt that Spud Cigarettes ever took off. The other brands had such DIGNIFIED names.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Pridetoberfest 2007, Plus Hiking, Plus a Bonus Cat!

I had four days off work during the long weekend, but somehow it only felt like six hours.

First: the lead-up to "Pridetoberfest," during which I prepped and worried and messed with my hair. Jodi (super-stylist) had revealed the secrets of hat-defeating hairdos, and I spent all week trying to replicate her instructions. I bought hairclips and practiced segmentation, I rigged up an extra bathroom mirror so I could see the back of my head, I experimented with gel and pomade and the fake-hair braids she'd made me...

Well, I certainly learned a lot about hair, but only enough to develop a style that I call "Ugly Squirrel's Nest Mess (with Braids)." And even after four days of fiddling I couldn't remove those evil stylist-elastics without losing hair. After all that worrying and experimenting I settled on two pigtails, wrapped them in dirndl scraps, and considered myself to be suitably German (but still "hat-able").

The actual "Ilsa on Ice" outfit worked BEAUTIFULLY. You can really jump around in an organza skirt if you're willing to grab it and flip it over your head. I probably only broke two toes in my new silver shoes, and the run in my fishnets appeared only thirty seconds into the night, a new record for me.
Ilsa on Ice
Click here for a few more pictures from the event, including shots of the fabulous B-Girlz (who were spunky, professional, and hilarious, as expected).

Early the next morning -- nursing a hangover and a set of hamburger-toes -- I went on a 5km hike to Spencer Gorge with Jon & Vanilla. The place was drenched with an impossible fog which made the experience even more here for the trip in pictures. Consider it a "Bus/Walk Tour" without the "bus."
Foggy Dundas Peak
(You can also find a new collector's photo of Zsa Zsa called "Zsa Zsa A-curl.")

I wimped out of Monday's Oktoberfest Parade, but I did enjoy a super-heated patio lunch with my mother. Breakfast and booze and easy chatter, always nice!

Now, suddenly, I'm back to work again. Did I do a Rip Van Winkle on this weekend or something? Where the heck did it GO? I want to do it all again!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Because It's Saturday: Ann Miller

Many people have idols, drag queens especially. There's a lot to be said about the type of idols we choose, but mine is a natural fit: Ann Miller, queen of taps and all-around wonderful person.

If I can be half as sweet, tolerant, and tight-lipped as Ann was, I think I can probably die and go to heaven. She died a few years ago -- still sweet, still down-to-earth, still tight-lipped -- and it's my GREAT regret that I never got to meet her.

Here's Ann in "On the Town." Her life was full of tragedies, one of which that she was paired with lunkheads like Jules Munshin. Ignore that, get a kick out of her "kicking and spinning," and reflect a moment on a B-starlet who never kissed butt or talked sh*t. Ann, some of us cared deeply for you.

Some of us still do the "Ann Miller Hand Gesture," which I'll demonstrate again soon.

PS: Re-reading this, I realize it sounds funny. What I meant was that I ASPIRE to Ann Miller-hood, and I respect her immensely, but I do not think I come close to reaching her Ann-ness. Yet.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Barthathon: "The Friday Book"

My first problem is that I'm not a huge fan of essay collections. I'm not much interested in theory, so long essays about postmodernism versus modernism are going to leave me pretty cold. Even when they AREN'T desperate and wanky.

My second problem is that I'm not a huge fan of "The Thousand and One Nights." I read the first volume in preparation for tackling "The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor" a few years ago, and I found the stories to be repetitive and colourless: cardboard characters, rudimentary motivation, and every woman described as somehow rivaling the moon in beauty...which is sort of hard to picture. I have no doubt, however, that my two fat "Penguin" volumes were heavily edited. Maybe I missed something.

Since I don't share Barth's love of (or rather, somewhat creepy obsession about) Scheherazade, I'm not absorbed by speculation about her menstrual cycle. Since I'm not very concerned with Barth's definition of "postmodernism," I'm not absorbed by his essays and lectures about the subject. In short, though it contains many wonderful insights, I wasn't awed by "The Friday Book" (1984) in general.

My basic stumbling block was the constant repetition of Barth's personal interests. These pieces were written and performed for diverse audiences, and therefore they tended to come back to the same themes and plunder each other (right down to individual quotations and the same set of phrases) without fear of being boring. This is to be expected, but it's obnoxious when you know what's coming next..."ah, it's that Khakheperesenb quote again." His quips and quotes were apt and brilliant the first time, but they get old the second time around.

Also (to continue my issues with the basic structure of the book) I got tired of his oft-repeated reference points: Virgil, Homer, Kafka, Borges, Gass, Borges, Joyce, Nabokov, Borges, Hawkes, Gardner, Marquez, Cervantes, Flaubert, Chaucer, Dickens, Borges, and Borges. These are important figures, and Barth obviously thinks about them an awful lot, but after a while his ruminations got tiresome.

In short: do not sit down and just read "The Friday Book" from cover-to-cover, especially not during a single week, with the almost Barthian desire to actually FINISH it on Friday. Which I did, because I'm on a mission.

If you pick and choose essays, however, I think you'll enjoy the book an awful lot. Barth has a unique, intelligent, and witty insight into the literature that he reads, teaches, and writes. His comparison of crab-art with historical novels is fascinating, and his many comments about "Chimera" have made me want to go back and re-read it...there's obviously more to that book than I'd thought.

He also has a strikingly individualistic approach to society, politics, and art; far from a knee-jerk leftist or reactionary, he seems to have charted his own path (much the way the heroes in his fiction do). Instead of either deriding or triumphing any particular point of view, he explains how the viewpoints work, how they don't work, and then he suggests methods of their improvement. I particularly like his comments about innocence:
One should be no great admirer of innocence, in either narratives, individuals, or cultures. Where it's genuine, after a certain age it's unbecoming, off-putting, even freakish and dangerous. Where it's false, it's false. To admire it much is patronizing and sentimental; to aspire to it is self-defeating. Let us admire--in cultures, narratives, and people--not innocence, but experience and grace.
I bet he was a great professor.

Another of Barth's virtues is his ability to clarify his points after the fact, and to admit when he's changed his point of view. Since these essays were written over a twenty-year period, it's unsurprising that he'd change his mind about a few things. Barth DOES have experience and grace, and both traits come through in this rich (but clunky) book. Skim it, carefully read the selections that interest you, and then go and explore those amazing authors he so desperately loves.

All the traditional Barth themes are here, and expounded upon, and repeated, and then analyzed...multiple times. His autobiographical memories of twinhood -- he was named "Jack" and his twin sister was "Jill" -- shed light on a number of his literary obsessions and foreshadow (if I remember correctly) parts of "On With the Story." He also exploits a theme that was only first explicitly mentioned in "Sabbatical," that is, the occasional need to go back in order to go forward.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I was ALMOST Elected Governor of Massachusetts!

Jon Whitney just told me that people in Massachusetts are driving around with a "Don't blame me, I voted for Muffy" bumper sticker on their cars.

Apparently I got 44% of the vote in last year's gubernatorial race...and I didn't even know the issues! I didn't attend a single debate, I didn't raise funds, and I need to look back-and-forth several times between open web browsers before I can figure out how to spell "Massachusetts."

I'm going to re-ignite my campaign right now, and I'll start by giving the people exactly what they want: a recording of Joan Davis singing -- you guessed it -- "Massachusetts." You'll love it! You'll love me! You'll even build me a Governor's mansion!

PS: I now consider Jon to be my personal campaign advisor, as he's already getting me up to speed with the American political process. He just taught me that it's not a "Governor's race" (as I posted yesterday) but is, in fact, a "gubernatorial race," which sounds like a joke but it isn't!

Next up: Fahrenheit-to-Celsius conversion.

To Those Who Destroy Saplings

Ever since I've started walking (instead of driving), I have come to appreciate trees. I used to climb them as a child but I don't remember THINKING about them...if there were no more trees to climb, I would have done something else instead (like read the books that the trees were cut down for).

But now I see them differently. During these increasingly hot summers, a tree-lined road is a blessing. They also serve as windbreaks, and homes for birds and squirrels, and they're beautiful things: they make a sound, they have a complexity, they have a visual softness. The big ones are older than you and I, and they're still going strong...strong enough to rip up our sidewalks and tear down our phone lines when they die and fall.

And yet, every major construction project in Waterloo has involved what appears to be a blithe disregard for trees. Many of the old trees on the west side of King street have been removed to make way for Uptown development, the Bauer Lofts destroyed some really beautiful foliage, and Waterloo's upgrading of the sewage system around the University resulted in the destruction of (probably) hundreds of trees. These places are bare now; the wind blows too strongly, the sun is too bright, and the animals...?

Maybe those trees were dying or something. Maybe, if construction companies were required to somehow protect the trees, they would just refuse to do these worthwhile projects. Or maybe it's laziness, short-sightedness, and indifference...I think it's the latter.

Whenever ten trees are cut down, developers see it in their hearts to plant a single sapling. That's at least SOMETHING, and it's heartening to see these little trees grow every year. But then...

...some drunken yahoo comes along and kicks them down. There is a special place in hell for these scumbags, and I imagine that place is full of nubile saplings, and full of girls who they want to impress, but when they kick the saplings they accidentally vomit instead. Sadly, life is not hell, and over the past month many of the saplings along King Street -- ones that had been growing for five years or so and were ALMOST strong enough to withstand a kick -- have been broken in two and their corpses removed.

Every day now, I walk past half a dozen little piles of sawdust where the saplings used to be. The City probably won't bother planting more. Strong, living things were killed for no reason whatsoever, and the future will be very hot indeed. This is sad. I HATE people who kick down saplings.

I'd Buy Anything By...Butthole Surfers

They were my guilty young-adult pleasure, a mixture of virtuosity, insanity, incompetence, and drugs. I remember many a night spent with like-minded friends, laughing hysterically to "Kuntz" and gazing at that baby on the back of "Locust Abortion Technician." I almost got into a car accident while listening to "Lonesome Bulldog," and I once punished a hung-over acquaintance by playing "Jimi" while driving him home.

The Butthole Surfers were my party soundtrack, my "altered state" soundtrack, and my late-night drive soundtrack. They scared me with "Cherub" and amazed me with "John E. Smoke." I just couldn't believe that human beings could behave the way they did...and I'm still baffled. I can't listen to them without wondering "why?" and then, seconds later, "how?"

I can't say I'm as in love with them now as I was then -- we've all gotten older, of course -- but they still make me happy, and I'll still pick up their music unconditionally.

And now their cover of "Hurdy Gurdy Man." When I watch this I imagine that the entire band smelled, and not just because they shared a stage with "Ta-da the Sh*t Lady."

Albums to buy? That's a hard one, but I'd single out "Hairway to Steven" as instantly accessible though still very much "Buttholes." Albums to avoid? "Electriclarryland," which sounds a bit tired and desperate. For fans only? Anything live.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Soundproof Your Floor and Your Head

I see from my blog stats that lots of people are looking for soundproofing tips. They come here because I've whined about living in a duplex with wooden floors, holes in the walls, and a barking dog.

I've already explained the importance of stuffing "tundra foam" (or some other foamy substance) into baseboard-cracks, and filling up smaller cracks with "DAP Quik Seal" (or some other sealant). This stops higher-frequency noises (like chatter) and cigarette smoke from drifting in. If you find that your wooden floors have small cracks in them, you might considering putting down a thick rug...I know that the holes from my neighbour's apartment travel underneath my hall and bedroom floors.

But what about the thumps and the barking? I can't block that stuff out of the ENTIRE apartment -- we share a huge common wall that seems to actually TRANSMIT sound -- but I have two techniques for getting to sleep.

First, a box-fan. Get one that's a little bit noisy (but doesn't rattle) and put it outside your bedroom door, in between you and "the noise." If low-frequency bumps are traveling through the floor (as they often do), the fan will not only block atmospheric noise but will also help jam the "floor-signals." If your bed is transmitting those frequencies from the floor and into your mattress, try putting over-stuffed pillows under the bed's legs.

Second, earplugs. If earplugs have never worked for you before, I bet it's because you either didn't buy the right ones or you didn't insert them properly. I'm using "Rexall" foam plugs. I twist them into little cone-shaped corkscrews, pull on the top of my ears (to open the ear canals), push them inside (in the direction of my nose, which seems to work best), then hold the plugs until they untwist and expand. They aren't exactly comfortable -- and hearing your own heartbeat can be disconcerting -- but I've gotten used to them.

And hey, throw out the earplugs when they start to get gross. Fresh ones work the best.

Pridetoberfest II!

All my energy these days is devoted to preparing for "Pridetoberfest II!" You simply have to come: I'm DJ'ing again, along with the fabulous J.P. And I hope you're as thrilled as I am that the B-Girlz are signed up!

And when I say I'm "preparing" for it, I mean I'm working on the "no-hats" hairdo, getting the music together, and learning to iron organza without melting it (much). The outfit is finished and is still awaiting a name...when you see it, let me know if it should be called "Ilsa on Ice" or "Cinderellastein."

This Saturday, 7pm at the Karlsberghaus. Let's have FUN!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Taxi Dancers

Lawrence Morris Markey joined The New Yorker at the very beginning, and as of 1928 he was still writing his weekly "Reporter at Large" column. His reportage would be stopped in 1950 by a rifle bullet, long after he'd left the magazine and started writing novels.

I look forward to his articles because -- as I've said before -- they're often the only serious note in an otherwise flippant magazine. As part of his "New York Interiors" series, Markey explored the places that New Yorker readers rarely went: flophouses, tugboat cabins, construction sites, phrenologist's offices, choir practice. On April 21, 1928, he investigated a dance hall and -- in particular -- the lives of taxi dancers.

I'm fascinated with this by-gone profession, and I'm happy to hear that it still exists in so-called "Hostess Clubs." I hope they make more money these days; the women that Markey interviewed were making three cents a dance. By the 1930s, Anita O'Day was singing about "Ten Cents a Dance," so I suppose they'd gotten raises.

Markey really brings "The Happiness Hall" to life, along with its customs:
Lack of ventilation and the activity of so many bodies made the heat grow in the room. The saxophone player removed his coat. The faces of the girls were flushed. The odors of bay rum and cheap perfume became thick and unpleasant. In the short interval between dances, the girls talked idly with their partners or, deserted by their partners in the middle of the floor, roamed about in search of others. It was not rude, apparently, to complete your dance with a girl and promptly walk away from her. The girls accepted the custom with good grace.
And what about the men?
They did not seem like people out for a gay lark. There was no romance in their presence. The procedure was altogether businesslike, and well-ordered. Perhaps the men were, for the most part, the lonely inhabitants of hall bedrooms. Perhaps they came to "Happiness Hall" for no more sinister purpose than to find, for a little while, an acceptable semblance of that pleasant society which all men desire. They did not look upon the girls with greedy eyes.
After having stilted conversations with some busy (and suspicious) taxi dancers -- it's "all about business," they say -- Markey gives a nod to the "working girl" of 1928:
The music was blaring again--the drummer and the pianist had their coats off now. The men standing around the walls were mopping their foreheads. The girls were dancing--they would dance until one o'clock. I suppose only a few of them were able to forget that tomorrow they would be at their counters in Bloomingdale's, or Macy's, or Gimbel's.
These women were paid so little that they pretty much HAD to have a secondary source of income, whether it be gift-giving boyfriends or a "night job."

iTunes Word Search: "Cat"

In honour of all those who do NOT have noisy pets (and while my OWN pet waits eagerly for the last drop of milk in my cereal bowl), here are the "cat" songs that showed up on my iPod yesterday:
  1. Alley Cat Song (Holly Cole)
  2. Big Electric Cat (Adrian Belew)
  3. Boss Cat (Marc and the Mambas)
  4. Burn the Cat (James)
  5. Catnip Dream (Shonen Knife)
  6. Cat's Eyes (Guillemots)
  7. Catwalk (The Art of Noise)
  8. Cool for Cats (Squeeze)
  9. Facts About Cats (Timbuk 3)
  10. Faster Pussycat (The Cramps)
  11. Fat Cat (Bootsy Collins)
  12. I Call My Baby Pussycat (Parliament)
  13. Josie and the Pussycats (Josie & the Pussycats)
  14. Long Way Down -- Look What the Cat Drug In (Michael Penn)
  15. Macavity the Mystery Cat (Sarah Brightman)
  16. Pink Pussy Cat (Devo)
  17. Psychic Cat (Kelli Ali)
  18. The Pussy Cat Song (Connie Vannett)
  19. Pussycat Meow (Deee-Lite)
  20. Six Cats on a Dead Man's Chest (Edward Ka-Spel)
  21. Tommy the Cat (Primus)
  22. Top Cat (Ramasutra)
  23. What's New, Pussycat? (Tom Jones)
  24. Wildcat Days (Bryan Ferry)
As is to be expected, most of these songs are not about actual felines. They're about sexy women, scrappy people, sly people, cool people, and rich people. So I guess I'm keeping good company, and I'd really better give her the milk she's asking for.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Underworld Slang: "The Lamster"

No, it's not a story about a cuddly rodent, it's another excerpt from The New Yorker's series about "underworld slang." Once again I leave the translation up to you.
A shaum I knew came over one day and told me the beef was in. My partner figured the rumble was too hot and to square himself he fingered me. I tried to connect for a roscoe but missed. Anyway, I went out to tamp up this partner of mine. I found him in a gin-mill playing Santa Claus for a couple of blondes. The dive was crowded but that was no hold-back for me. I declared my weight to the guy and called him a fink and then asked him to step out. He had to go then and right hands was trumps. I got this shiner for my end but I put him out of the picture. Somebody hollered "Jiggers!" and I lammed out the hammer and tack.
(This is from the April 21, 1928 edition).