Friday, September 29, 2006

Diana's Ankles Were Nothing Like Those of the Greyhound She Held in Leash

"Dame Nature didn't exactly CHEAT Diana on ankles. The fact is she was far too generous. Diana measured almost as much at the ankle line as the modern stocking does at the calf. And so, if Diana's fabled charms were weighed in the balance today and judged by 1926 standards of beauty, they would be found more wanting than wanted--UNLESS--unless she wore "Onyx Pointex"!"

The New Yorker, November 6, 1926, p.41.
Yup, while other hosiery retailers of the day were content just to pick on regular human beings, these "Onyx Hosiery" folks consistenly picked on STATUES. They kept saying that specific statues have fat ankles. Well, did they consider that those statues NEEDED to have thick ankles in order to keep them from falling over?

Might as well complain of a skyscraper's "fat waist" or something.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bye, Tokyo Rose

You might have already heard that Iva Toguri, aka "Orphan Anne" and "Tokyo Rose," died yesterday in Chicago. Ever since I listened to the few surviving recordings of her show and read up about her tragic life, I've felt a certain affection for her.

If you want to hear a short clip of Iva saying goodbye back in 1945, click here.

On next week's episode of Repeater I'm going to try to play one of her shows (if I can find any that are audible enough). Yes I know the schedule is out-of-date...I'm not maintaining the site anymore, but it does tell you how to listen to the program.

See ya, Orphan deserved better.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Couldn't Sleep Then...

Last night at 1:00am I was still reading Vladimir Nabokov's "Speak, Memory." A typical night of insomnia, for a lot of reasons.

Reading Nabokov's vivid memories of his childhood, I couldn't help falling into my own memories and reflections. Before I knew it I was composing my own "Speak, Muffy" blog entry about sleeplessness and dreams and exhausting mental exercises. I was too afraid to start writing it then -- for reasons that I'll get into eventually -- and even now I'm a little worried about starting it, partly because "Speak, Muffy" can't be one tenth as good as "Speak, Memory," partly because I didn't have any colourful governesses to make fun of. But I'll write it down anyway.

First blog entry: childhood sleeping. I don't remember many childhood details but I DO remember my first nightmare, which probably came after I saw a Disney movie: elephants were dancing in a circle and they were boiling me in a pot. I also remember a recurring dream about falling down a groundhog hole which would jerk me suddenly awake.

I don't remember being afraid of the dark but I must have been because I couldn't sleep without a nightlight burning. This nightlight was a fake brass lantern -- made out of some cheap gold-coloured metal -- that hung over my bed.

I was always convinced that a monster would crawl onto my bed while I slept so I developed an early-warning system: lying flat on my back I'd spread my stuffed animals in a line just below my neck, with their tails tightly gripped in my hand. When the monster came, I figured, the stuffed animals would see it first...then I could quickly push myself under the covers and drag the stuffed animals after me. I was most worried that my plush vanguard would fall victim to the monster meant for me, hence the grip on their tails.

I was sympathetic towards inanimate objects. I believed they were lonely. At night sometimes I'd notice an object -- a pencil maybe -- left lying unprotected and exposed on the bedside table. Too afraid to save it (which would mean letting go of all the tails and leaving my upper body vulnerable), I'd shut my eyes and imagine a secret door that would open up and swallow the pencil, dropping it down to some safe place under the covers with me.

The monster would no doubt come out of an attic trap door in the hallway ceiling, just outside my bedroom door, though when we moved to New Hamburg the monster was definitely in the closet, very tall and folded up.

My basic problem, though, was a constant stream of mental words that never seemed to stop. Sentences would pop into my head and repeat themselves, gradually evolving into curious phrases and ideas that I could never quite get a grasp on. I'd worry endlessly about anything that might happen tomorrow: maybe some kid would get angry at me and hit me, or I might get hit by a car. Likewise I might find lots of money, and what would I buy with that money? I'd imagine every branching possibility, I'd make sentences out of the things I imagined, I'd think about the letters in the sentences and what sort of punctuation they'd end with. I'd repeat the letters to myself and make new sentences out of them. Two hours later I'd still be awake, thinking nonsense.

I went through a terrible phase when I was convinced that fungus would grow on me while I slept. It seems like a weird phobia to have, but show "Creepshow" to a small child, then follow it up with "The Seeds of Doom," and you'll end up with a very scared kid. Anyway, I'd lie awake imagining how I'd feel as I was slowly transformed into some kind of child-sized walking fungus. My sleeping problem became so bad that my parents finally noticed it, and my father -- who I bet has the same difficulty sleeping -- told me that the human mind is like a monkey, sometimes it needs to be caged up to keep it from wandering around and destroying things.

So I got the idea of visualizing things...imagining a literal monkey and building a cage around it. Sometimes I'd count sheep, straining to visualize them as vividly as possible. I came up with the idea of writing numbers on a mental chalkboard, from 99 to 1, imagining each action of picking up the chalk, drawing a loop and a tail for one nine, doing the same for the other, putting the chalk down, picking up the eraser. Then I started constructing hotels, beaches, underground sanctuaries in my head, forcing myself to dwell on every tiny detail. My idea was to discipline the constant flow of words that went through my head, and also to exhaust myself by spending an hour on mental gymnastics.

Usually it worked, but as I've gotten older I've tried to look more closely at how these mental games work and why I have so much trouble sleeping in the first place...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Stalking the Advertisements of H. Jaeckel & Sons

Thanks to Vanilla I am working my way through "The Complete New Yorker." Since it was a "smug bon mot" magazine in its early days, I generally find the advertisements more interesting than the latest snuffy gag about prohibition and debutantes and Yale football.

I've started to become aware of these CREEPY ads from H. Jaeckel & Sons, furriers. Besides having the lighting and mood of a 1920s Tod Browning film, they also tell the ongoing cheerful story of a woman (in a fur coat) who is being stalked by a man (who is also in a fur coat). What's even more strange is that the write-ups are only tangentially related to the disturbing images, as though the IMAGES were the real point and the ADVERTISEMENTS only an after-thought.

This one (October 16, 1926), shows a woman being chased up a flight of stairs:
If we inclined to "punning" we might say furs are going up. The situation however is this: Really rare furs are found in two or three shops in the entire world. We are included in this rather limited circle.
Then there's this one from October 23, 1926, in which two young ladies are being followed by American Psycho:
Boyhood's game of Follow-the-Master is carried into manhood with no dimunition of the spirit of pursuit. Masculine eyes will eternally follow the fur coat that contains and expresses beauty.
It's a no-brainer to say that "following women" had different social connotations eighty years ago. Even so, the first advert made me think "hmmm, that's strange." The second advert made me think that H. Jaeckel & Sons had an unsavoury fetish.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Special Request!

A few days ago I put out an "open call" for requests in the Daily Muffy. I was thinking about "shackles," but it seems VanillaJ wanted something different. She asked for a picture of me tap-dancing while holding a spatula.

I know only enough tap to be dangerous, so I quickly turned off all the lights, cleared the apartment, and took this shot. I hope you're satisfied now, Vanilla!

Rare Perfect Albums

Once in a while I find another "rare perfect album," a CD that is perfect in every way (songwriting, musicianship, production), wonderful from beginning to end (no songs that must be skipped), and timeless (I can listen to it over and over again without it ever losing its magic).

I've decided to post my list of "rare perfect albums," partly so I can look back at it eventually in shock and horror, but also as my small part of promoting brilliance. Please note: compilations, singles, and live albums do not count!
  • Natacha Atlas, "Halim" (1997) - Natacha can be pretty much hit or miss, but this album is more focussed than the rest. Dark, with fewer western influences, covering moments of ecstacy and agony, always somewhat ambiguous and distant.
  • Adrian Belew, "Mr. Music Head" (1989) - He's a brilliant musician but he needs to relax and enjoy life more. When he does, he writes songs like the ones on this album: all different, all unique, most of them joyous. He still gets a bit goofy now and then, but never enough to screw it all up.
  • Kate Bush, "The Dreaming" (1982) - An evil album, Kate's first moment of total control over the production desk. Every song is about longing and loss, many of them are about violence and death. She screams, grunts, and impersonates a donkey. A commercial flop (surprise!) but definitely a fan favourite.
  • Dana International, "Maganona" (1996) - Oh, you've just GOT to hear it! Dana is at her absolute wackiest, and Ofer Nissim's programming and production sound as good as they'll ever sound: complex, surprising, soaring. An album that could best be described as "frolicsome," but with some sharper songs as well ("Yesh bo Esh," "Cinquemilla").
  • Thomas Dolby, "The Golden Age of Wireless" (1982) - An album that little kids in farm schools can cry to. Full of hooks from the sublime ("Airwaves") to the spooky ("Windpower") to the ridiculous ("She Blinded Me With Science"), this is solid. The perfect marriage of fat analog synths and acoustic instruments.
  • Elton John, "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy" (1975) - Before the days of his thoughtless pop schlock, Elton John and Bernie Taupin made really challenging albums. This is a particularly weird one, lots of high-falutin' concept stuff, with that great '70s "big drum" sound.
  • Electric Light Orchestra, "Time" (1981) - Maligned by fans as the point when ELO ditched their orchestra and embraced their keyboards (and one of Jeff Lynn's least favourites as well), I just love love LOVE it! The buzzy keyboards, power drums, vocoders, overpowering production, catchy songs!
  • The Fall, "The Infotainment Scan" (1993) - A concept album about the "look-back bores," full of "techno shit" and the sound of "machines falling apart," this is a solid, dense, perfectly-crafted that totally shambolic Fall way. "A Past Gone Mad" is the highlight and brings it all to conclusion.
  • Klaatu, "Hope" (1977) - Another concept album, this one by Torontonians "we are not actually the Beatles" Klaatu. Prog rock meets George Harrison, a civilization is destroyed, finishing with the title track, one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard.
  • Jane Siberry, "The Walking" (1987) - A strange woman gets famous and embarks on a VERY strange album, using state-of-the-art digital editing to create long songs that always threaten to fall apart...but never do. The album doesn't sell and the record label is angry. This is similar to Kate Bush's "The Dreaming," a very personal vision that is recorded in an uncompromising way. Sad and angry. Beautiful. Forgotten.
  • Talk Talk, "The Colour of Spring" (1986) - Their transitional album as they began to eschew pop music and move more into jazzy improvisation. So you've got the best of both worlds here: catchy hooks AND wild instrumentals. Tim Friese-Greene's production is deep and crisp and even. Vocalist Mark Hollis sounds like he really means it.
  • Pink Floyd, "Wish You Were Here" (1975) - First off: great cover art. Secondly: long, noodly, plaintive songs showcasing the talents of all four members, not to mention the rocker "Have a Cigar" and the analog synth wet dream of "Welcome to the Machine." I used to stare at this one and listen for hours and hours.
  • Mike Oldfield, "Ommadawn" (1975) - Oldfield's third album, combining the "rock" of the first with the "orchestra" of the second, then adding an African drum influence. Everything gels together perfectly in two long songs, ending with the beautifully hippy-dippy "On Horseback" ("Big brown beastie, big brown face / I'd rather be with you than flying through space") that, instead of bringing the whole album down, elevates it to final greatness.
  • Stan Ridgway, "The Big Heat" (1986) - Ridgway left Wall of Voodoo and came out with this ecclecitc monster, full of film noir stylings and quirky instrumentation. A collection of producers help, not hinder, the songs.
  • Poe, "Haunted" (2000) - Without a doubt my favourite one on this list. A collection of meticulously recorded and produced pop songs, with an added layer of tribute to her father, and ANOTHER layer of references to her brother's book "House of Leaves." So you've got a lot of influences here, but that can't disguise her impeccable taste in melody and her willingness to do something totally unexpected. She is the perfect songwriter.
  • Whale, "We Care" (1995) - They DIDN'T care -- they were already famous and they were just fooling around -- and that's what makes his album so GOOD. They're just having fun, and it doesn't hurt that the musicianship is top-notch and that Cia Soro has a "certain something" to her voice. Try "That's Where It's At" for an example of a song that should have been huge...but wasn't.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Childhood Trauma: Soft Hands

It's amazing how an offhand comment can affect you for the rest of your life, especially when you're a neurotic and paranoid child. I obsessed for years about my butt after my mother compared it to my grandfather's, which was notoriously wide. My parents also used to tell me that I had "sowbug feet," which I continue to half-believe even though I'm pretty sure my feet are just as sowbuggy as everybody else's.

But here's an odd one. When I was 11 I saw the movie "Trading Places." There's a scene where Jamie Lee Curtis -- a prostitute with a heart of gold -- tells Dan Aykroyd -- a pathetic, childish, pampered businessman -- that he has baby-soft hands, meaning he has never done a hard day's work in his life.

As a kid I wasn't worried about being masculine (surprise!) but I WAS worried about being lazy. And since I spent most of my time reading, typing, and crying my hands were -- predictably -- baby-soft.

After this I worried about my soft hands for many years. I felt they identified me as a person who never did any work. During my summer jobs I revelled in every blister and callous I could get, but my traitorous hands always healed again. Nowadays, of course, I'm THRILLED that my hands are soft, but that comment by Jamie Lee Curtis haunted me for a long, long time.

I bring this up because I'm reading "A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution" by Orlando Figes. While eating breakfast this morning (all that Russian famine can sure make you hungry!) I ran across this sentence regarding the revolutionary People's Court:
Judgements were reached according to the social status of the accused and their victims. In one People's Court the jurors made it a practice to inspect the hands of the defendant and, if they were clean and soft, to find him guilty.
Startled, I dropped my bacon. I rubbed my hands together...yes, still soft.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Psyche's Ankles Wouldn't Pass Inspection TODAY

"The most mythological thing about Psyche was the fabled charm of her ankle lines. Psyche's beauty may have excited Venus to green-eyed flights of jealousy, but, when one considers her ankle-girth, she'd never cause the modern girl to miss a heart-beat--UNLESS Psyche wore "Onyx Pointex". For, Psyche's ankles were FAT! They would be as much out of place on a country club porch today as a bustle or a leg o' mutton sleeve.

"This is, as remarked before--UNLESS she wore "Onyx Pointex".

"For, "Pointex" is that little wonder-working slenderizer at the back of the heel that accentuates every graceful charm that Nature places in ankles. "Pointex" allows ankles to look their best--stockings to wear their best. You will find this little worker of ankle miracles ONLY in "Onyx"."
The New Yorker, October 9, 1926
Reading these old New Yorker magazines, I'm getting increasingly interested in the "age of scary advertising" ushered in during the '20s. Before that, advertisements made grand claims...but they didn't often try to make you feel insecure. In the '20s, advertising agencies discovered the power of scaring the hell out of you, a power that we're very much in thrall to today.

So ladies...have you thought about your FAT ANKLES lately?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ouch, My Hand!

Went to the doctor and the doctor said:
"It looks like carpal tunnel syndrome,
and get those damn monkeys off the bed!"

I really, really, really don't want to have carpal tunnel syndrome. REALLY.

The Kingdom Hospital: Watching Stephen King Masturbate

In 2004 Stephen King -- "the master of horror" -- took it upon himself to hijack a classic piece of Danish TV and in his own words "Americanize it." If that just meant sending it to a secret detention center and binding it in stress position for five years I'd reluctantly approve. It would at least be scary. But no, he didn't "Americanize" the show, he "Stephen-Kinganized" it. And you already know what that means. He made it suck.

I spent over ten hours watching "Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital" this weekend. That makes me angry. What makes me angrier is that it started out relatively promising and then slid into the most inept, ridiculous piece of crap I've ever seen on television, and that includes any given episode of "Perfect Strangers." So I NEED to rant about it, and in the meantime I'm going to spoil it for you to prevent you from ever seeing it yourself. You'll thank me later.

The original TV series ("Riget") wasn't perfect by any was sloppy, directionless, and featured at least one hour of Udo Kier pretending to be a fifteen-foot-tall baby. But even so it was wonderfully original, had a sense of integrity, and was never, ever boring. Except for that baby stuff, of course.

The Stephen King remake takes the basic elements of the original -- hospital drama, supernatural phenomenon, loopy absurdity -- and manages to use them pretty well for the first few episodes. Bruce Davison is perfect as the selfish, driven, barely-sane Doctor Stegman, psychic Diane Ladd refuses to take herself too seriously, and even Andrew McCarthy is charming to watch, which is good because you see him being all tough-love sensitive throughout most of the show.

But then Stephen King asserts himself. He simply MUST add his "touches." King apparently hasn't noticed that the world of "scary stuff" -- a world he helped define -- has moved beyond his stylistic obsessions: dead children with black lipstick aren't frightening any more, especially not when they're floating in a tank of yellow water and singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (over and over and over again). In fact, King's technique of juxtaposing commonplace, quaint elements (nursery rhymes, sweet old people, classic music) with some kind of evil force just isn't effective in a post-Jacob's Ladder world. The talking animals, doctors with vampire teeth, and showering corpses in "Kingdom Hospital" are throw-backs to an early-'80s style of horror that just looks silly now. Silly enough to really, really get on your nerves, and even the nerves of your cat.

That wouldn't all make me so mad. What infuriates me is the way that a moderately-interesting series went totally off the tracks during the last three episodes. There's an oh-so-scary 45-minute story about...a baseball player who missed the ball! Scream! Then another episode is dedicated to the apparent (and totally off-topic) return of Jesus Christ, which seemed to mean a lot to people at the time but was completely unremarked by anybody in the following episodes. No kidding. Jesus came back, healed a bunch of people, performed miracles, and then it was like that whole script got thrown into the garbage (after it was filmed, unfortunately).

Finally, the last episode: ninety minutes long, with only 45 minutes of footage. I simply cannot BELIEVE the audacity of a director who devotes half of the finale to meaningless flashbacks. And these aren't flashbacks that advance the plot in any way, they're randomly-inserted replays from earlier episodes, exactly as they appeared the first time, in exactly the same edit, for four or five minutes at a stretch. Things become TOTALLY unbelievable when the director flashes back to events which occurred earlier in the same episode.

I've honestly never seen anything like it, not even in the worst B-movie. I will scream next time a dye vat explodes in front of my eyes or I hear that damn anteater (sorry, that damn apparently scary anteater) say something is "ant-soloutly" delicious.

This shoddy, desperate, time-filling repetition might be forgivable if the ending had an actual payoff...but no, and I'll give the big secret away for you. Were you wondering why the Peter Rickman character was specially chosen by the Forces of Good? What unique ability he possessed, which he used to save everybody in the end? What could he do that nobody else could do?

HE COULD DRAW A FIRE EXTINGUISHER ON A WALL. That's it. That's your big climax. I'll tell you a secret: in reality, the only reason Peter Rickman was in the movie was so Stephen King could -- once again -- relive his car accident. During that accident, Stephen King's brain was's the only way to explain his conviction that DRAWING A FIRE EXTINGUISHER ON A WALL is an effective ending to a mini-series.

Oh yeah, and everybody lived happily ever after, because the fire extinguisher changed the entire course of history. You go through ten hours -- and 45 minutes of long, drawn-out flashbacks -- to experience Stephen King taking a shit on your head and saying "THE END!"

In short: don't rent it. Don't watch it. Don't even THINK about it. Because I already told you how it ends, and that's the best favour I can do you.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Diabetic's Sad Cry For Understanding

Being a type-I diabetic I feel qualified to explain something. And I WANT to do it because I am always being asked the same questions, in bars, at work, in airports, in dog kennels: "How can you eat sweet things when you're diabetic?"

There is a misconception about sugar and diabetes. If you already know this, skip over it. If not, though, read will make the next diabetic you meet very, very happy:

Diabetes is not about avoiding sugar, it's about REGULATING food intake. When other people eat food, they break down the food into sugars that circulate in their blood. They then NATURALLY produce insulin to remove the sugars from the blood and turn it into energy, or fat, or whatever. It's all taken care of in that well-balanced, finely-tuned, slightly gross thing we call a "body."

Type-I diabetics cannot produce that insulin, so the sugars -- derived from the food they've eaten -- just stay in the blood, floating around and making us feel awful. This isn't a good thing because your blood isn't supposed to be THAT full of sugar, and because your cells need the sugar. So diabetics INJECT insulin to remove that sugar. If diabetics inject TOO MUCH insulin, the amount of sugar in the blood gets too low and the cells -- particularly in the brain -- begin to starve. This is an "insulin reaction." It's why, when diabetics collapse, you're supposed to force-feed them sweet things.

It's also why, occasionally, I say really stupid things.

My point is: EVERYBODY needs sugar, carbohydrates, food. Diabetics too. But diabetics need to keep track of the amount of carbohydrates they've eaten, and inject an appropriate amount of insulin to get the resulting sugar out of the blood. I can eat a whole box of sugar if I want to, and everything will be fine as long as I inject enough insulin to take care of it. So next time you see me eating a candy bar, don't say "diabetics aren't supposed to eat sugar," or I'll grab you by the ear and yank really hard.

NOTE: Anybody who eats a whole box of sugar needs help, diabetic or no.

The Smelly Girl Next Door

Anybody who's ever lived in an apartment knows how hard it is to get good, compatible neighbours. Somebody's always having sex above you, or yelling at their dumb friends in the parking lot, or using the hot water when you absolutely NEED to take a shower. Maybe they even sit out in your backyard and smoke dope and play bad guitar with their shirts off, which I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Even so I've managed to survive for a long time without any serious problems with my neighbours. Until now. It's an odour issue.

The woman who lives across the hall from me makes really stinky food. It's pickled cabbage or something, an oriental meal that permeates the whole building and makes me ill. What's more, she eats it three times a day: morning, noon, and night. I want to leave a box of Kraft Dinner at her door, but maybe my food smells just as bad to her?

Maybe she's a healthy girl. Maybe her food -- which smells like sauerkraut, but ten times worse -- is really good for her digestive system. And maybe it partially masks the smell of my cat's litterbox, which I don't clean out as often as I should.

But holy cow. It's like smelling another person's intestines. It's a living hell. It stinks.