Sunday, September 30, 2007

Vintage Muffy Part Two: Guelph Pride 2005

Aha, before I forget about this, here's something totally bizarre that I stumbled upon a few months ago:

Click here to see the entire set, which I like to call "Muffy with Child." During my first number, this little girl decided she simply HAD to dance with me, and she emulated my silly choreography from beginning to end (right down to the rocket-powered hands and -- as you can see -- my pigeon-toes). She was the unselfconscious star!

And check out the other photos by Vaneramos...he has quite an eye.

Silent Films with Crazed Animal Commentary

I'm watching "More Treasures from American Film Archives Volume One," a collection which features more muttonchops/minute than a documentary about Canadian Confederation.

Sometimes I find silent films to be tiresome, but this time I'm blessed with running commentary by Jackson, my neighbour's dog.

Jackson's silent film commentary is insightful, especially since he can't actually SEE what I'm watching...all he can HEAR is the torturous ragtime piano they always dub over these things. When the bronco knocks the cowboy off his horse, Jackson lets loose with a machine-gun staccato of sharp, horse-hating barks. When the furniture falls off the back of the carriage, Jackson makes a terrible wet gargling noise, as though he were trying to eat a stinging jellyfish. In the end, when the hero gets the girl, Jackson's only comment is a mournful, ear-piercing howl, as if to say "when will *I* have a girl to love?" Or perhaps he's just saying "HELP!"

The Barthathon: "Sabbatical"

Having passed the axis mundi and entered the second half of his literary output (so far), John Barth puts aside his "love it or lump it" style of conceptual fiction and eases us into "Sabbatical's" (1982) gentle estuaries.

Subtitled "A Romance," it is certainly that. This is the first time that Barth focuses on mundane human problems, midlife crises, and ennui, as opposed to unusual or historically-significant plot complications. In less skillful hands these topics could be dull, but BARTH KNOWS PEOPLE, at least certain TYPES of people. He deeply understands the angst of his characters, and "Sabbatical" is, at its heart, a dialog of angst.

Fenwick and Susan are married. They've embarked on an extended sailing trip to try to come to terms with their problems, and to make some crucial decisions about their future. At the beginning we're unsure of what their problems actually are, and their marriage seems pretty much perfect...but as the book's OTHER subtitle promises us ("A wry, mysterious tale about love, the sea, and storytelling") there is much going on below the surface, and I'm not just talking about Chessie.

The C.I.A. is involved. Relatives have disappeared mysteriously. Fenwick and Susan find themselves on an impossibly uncharted island, where Fenn loses his beloved boina and gets fired upon. Susan's family is a strange mess of authors, revolutionaries, and subnormal children, and Fenwick worries that the government may have designs on his heart. Huge, beautifully-described storms at sea bracket the equally awesome emotional blowouts on the boat, which crash towards a conclusion that SHOULDN'T have a happy ending...

...but does. I can't tell you about Fenwick's final revelation, but I WILL say that it's one of the most satisfying and surprising resolutions I've ever come across. It's the sort of "click" that should have come at the end of "Giles Goat-Boy." It's perfect and makes some of the more annoying elements of the book worthwhile.

Because, yes, "Sabbatical" is about "storytelling," so it is actually the story that Fenwick and Susan have written about their own adventure. You get the co-authors squabbling within the text itself. You get footnotes that are supposed to help introduce characters (but instead are just misplaced and confusing). You get the usual Barth practice of each character having multiple nicknames, and the need to describe in great detail how each name came about. You also get the intelligent, cute, sexually explicit and pun-filled "man and wife" dialog that we first read in "Chimera" and which finds its full expression here.

Also, for the first time, Barth REALLY lets loose with the sailing. Todd Andrews had an extended bit of sailing at the end of "LETTERS," but here we get an anatomical description of boats, procedures, and Maryland geography. I personally don't know the first thing about fact, the only boating information I've ever read has come from books by John Barth. But even so, he describes everything with such vivid joy that you can't help but appreciate the journey, even if you don't know what it means to "roller-furl" a "genoa."

This is Barth's most concise and beautiful book. I've never read it before and it's been a real delight, especially during the last fifty pages when things began to gel. If I were to recommend an introductory John Barth novel to a curious reader, this would be the one. Hint hint!

Barthy themes we read in "Sabbatical" for the first time: "on with the story" and references to Cervantes. Themes that continue from "LETTERS": Francis Scott Key, Edgar Allen Poe, the C.I.A., characters who have been somehow involved in literary history, and "Barataria." Themes that we've been coming across for a long time: water-messages, sea-nettles, twins, impotency, night-sea-journeys, the heroic pattern, Scheherazade, personified eggs and sperm.

The World

Sometimes, in "the world" (which we are all in), we need to decide what WE can do. We need to meet our own needs, obviously, and the needs of those who depend on us. But after that, what have we accomplished? Have we made somebody happy? Have we left something, contributed something? Have we left a positive mark, or a negative one?

I feel that, suddenly, I'm confronted with the positive/negative issue. Since I am single and somewhat selfish, this is especially difficult because I can't just say "I have children" and pretend that that -- alone -- makes a positive contribution. I need to wonder about art, society, "The World." What have I done?

All of us, I think, should take stock occasionally. Do the inventory. Do it realistically. John Barth -- who I'm reading an awful lot of -- thinks that our STORIES are important...the things we do, accomplish, and be. I agree to an extent but I wonder about MY story...what does it tell? How does it end? What sort of "character" am I?

You know what? I think I shape up pretty good. I could exit with a more-or-less clear conscience right at this moment, thinking that I wasn't too lazy, too selfish, too stupid. But if I have more time allotted to me, I suppose I want to become a less FRAGILE person, a person who can stand up not just to the easy and stupid stuff, but to the moderately annoying stuff, and to the REALLY BAD STUFF.

I can look at myself and say that I've reached a good first step. I'm setting goals and trying to reach them. I'm trying to live effectively, happily, productively, without getting stuck in a rut.

Eric -- who, if you've been following this blog, you might remember -- would respond with "what?" I'd say in return that people who are in the middle of something don't necessarily understand what they are in the middle of. I don't know. I feel the need to express it. This is what I'm thinking about right now, and if a blog isn't a bin for important thoughts and feelings, what is it for?

I guess what I'm saying -- part of it -- is that I treasure you, good people. I really do. Knowing that you are "there" is something that keeps me going almost as much as my parents or my cat or my basic need to continue. I might not say it enough, but I'm working on that. We are all trying to get along in "the world," and if you can spare just a moment to wonder how you are accomplishing that goal, then I think you're doing just fine. Most people don't stop to think.

And now, something more beautiful and meaningful than I could EVER post: Book of Love's "Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls."

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Yeast Makes Enemies

It's not unusual for the New Yorker cartoonists to make fun of their own sponsors, but here's my personal favourite:

If you're too lethargic and constipated to click on the picture for a larger view, he's saying "Yeast eater!" This an unquestionable reference to the advertisements for Fleischmann's Yeast, a ridiculous 1920's cure-all that I've been posting about occasionally.

You might be amazed to learn that Fleischmann's Yeast is still being sold, though no longer as a curative...people just bake bread with it nowadays.

You might also be interested to hear that Peter Arno -- originator of the "Whoops Sisters," who flounced through The New Yorker from 1925 to 1927 -- was also married to Lois Long, and somehow I think they both deserved each other.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Break Out the Snappy Cheese

The John Barth Sailing Game!

Next time you're reading a John Barth novel, play "The John Barth Sailing Game!" Or, next time you're playing "The John Barth Sailing Game," why not go for a final sail up the Chesapeake? And next time you're sailing up the Chesapeake, why not read a novel by John Barth?

On with the game!
  • Every time you see a loblolly pine, keep sailing until you see the next loblolly pine.
  • If a character has multiple names that are used interchangeably, attempt to drown yourself with insufficient ballast.
  • Is there a "Baratarian" in the book? Shiver within your foul-weather gear.
  • If Edgar Allan Poe or Miguel de Cervantes are referenced, go back and brush up on your classics, otherwise you'll get lost.
  • Sail quietly past any plotlines involving the C.I.A.
  • When a pair of intelligent, literate, married adults enjoy a pun-filled confessional dialogue that is liberally sprinkled with explicit sex-talk, stop the boat and wash your hands.
  • When somebody goes sailing, sail on! Once upon a time / there was a boat trip that began / once upon a time...
  • Impotency? Twins? Thank your lucky stars.
  • Be simultaneously chivalrous and enlightened when Scheherazade drops by.
  • A character subverts the illusion of dialog by ending the reiteration of a previously-described idea with "et cetera"? Skip an estuary!
  • Hey, is that a message in a bottle off to starboard? You'd better stop, read it, and then LIVE it.
  • Don't eat the Maryland Beaten Biscuits.
  • If a sperm or an egg is anthropomorphized, decide whether you should head upstream or downstream. Then decide which fork to take.
  • Proceed directly to Fort McHenry whenever Francis Scott Key is mentioned.
  • Proceed directly to Key Island whenever Fort McHenry et cetera.
  • Keep your eyes peeled during the Night Sea Journey.
  • Is the key to the treasure actually the treasure? Have some adventures and find out!
If you decide to turn this into a drinking game, I take no responsibility for your pathetic drunkenness.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Big Film Meme

I don't know what the purpose of this meme is exactly, but I'm adopting it from The Mind Wobbles. You're supposed to simply count the number of these films that you've actually seen; if you score more than 85 then you are declared "lacking in life."

The films are a bit of a mix, but they are overwhelmingly American, popular, major-release, and made in the last 30 years. So while I consider myself to have seen an awful lot of films, all those Bergman and Gilliam and Waters movies -- not to mention the musicals, silent films, experimental films -- aren't part of this list, and my score is a measly 69.

Wait...that means I DO have a life! Hurray!

(x) Rocky Horror Picture Show - I love it! Exuberance, strangeness, great songs, Magenta. I would ESPECIALLY love to see it in a theater, but I bet I'd want to strangle people.
(x) Grease - It's all about Jan. Brusha-brusha-brusha...
( ) Pirates of the Caribbean - In our QA department this is one of the movies we test our products over. I saw it at least 100 times while working in that department, but I've never seen it with it doesn't count.
( ) Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest
( ) Boondock Saints
( ) Fight Club
(x) Starsky and Hutch - Another of our QA films. I loved the TV series when I was a kid. The movie was rotten. Somebody please remove Juliette Lewis.
(x) Neverending Story - Yes, but I was very small and I don't remember much.
(x) Blazing Saddles - Funny in parts, but does make me cringe.
(x) Airplane - Must have watched this a dozen times as a kid, and I still enjoy it, though the formula has been a bit diluted by similar movies.
( ) The Princess Bride
( ) AnchorMan
( ) Napoleon Dynamite
(x) Labyrinth - A bit too fantasy-muppety for my taste, but hey, David Bowie.
(x) Saw - Oooo, oooo, look how EDGY we are. Ignore the plotholes, look at the scary puppet!
( ) Saw II
( ) White Noise - If it ain't Don Delillo, I ain't watchin'. And it ain't Don Delillo.
( ) White Oleander
( ) Anger Management
( ) 50 First Dates
( ) The Princess Diaries
( ) The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
(x) Scream - I liked it, though it was obviously inspired by an earlier independent film called "There's Something Out There."
( ) Scream 2
( ) Scream 3
(x) Scary Movie - Mindless and occasionally fun.
(x) Scary Movie 2 - Ditto.
( ) Scary Movie 3
( ) Scary Movie 4
(x) American Pie - Also mindless and occasionally fun. I did enjoy the "Band Camp" girl though, and also the odd Bollywood remake (Dil Chahta Hai).
( ) American Pie 2
( ) American Wedding
( ) American Pie Band Camp Even I know when to quit.
(x) Harry Potter 1 - It was obviously made for people who have read the book, which doesn't include me.
( ) Harry Potter 2
( ) Harry Potter 3
( ) Harry Potter 4
(x) Resident Evil 1
(x) Resident Evil 2 - I'm always in the mood for a good mutation gross-out. The first was better, but the second prominently features the Toronto City Hall.
( ) The Wedding Singer
( ) Little Black Book
( ) The Village
( ) Lilo & Stitch
( ) Finding Nemo
( ) Finding Neverland
( ) Signs
( ) The Grinch
(x) Texas Chainsaw Massacre - I seriously think this is one of the greatest movies of all time. It captures a subtle alternate reality (as imposed by the absolute will of "The Family") and is really, really unpleasant.
(x) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning - Crappy.
( ) White Chicks
( ) Butterfly Effect
( ) 13 Going on 30
( ) I, Robot
( ) Robots
( ) Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
( ) Universal Soldier
( ) Lemony Snicket: A Series Of Unfortunate Events
( ) Along Came Polly
( ) Deep Impact
( ) KingPin
( ) Never Been Kissed
( ) Meet The Parents
( ) Meet the Fockers
( ) Eight Crazy Nights
( ) Joe Dirt
( ) King Kong
( ) A Cinderella Story
( ) The Terminal
( ) The Lizzie McGuire Movie
( ) Passport to Paris
( ) Dumb & Dumber
( ) Dumber & Dumberer
( ) Final Destination
( ) Final Destination 2
( ) Final Destination 3
(x) Halloween - Oh, absolutely. Brilliant. Once again, a cohesive alternate reality due to the sheer force of one person's evil.
(x) The Ring - Scarier than the Japanese version (except for the ending, which was so shocking and unexpected in the original).
( ) The Ring 2
( ) Surviving X-MAS
( ) Flubber
( ) Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
( ) Practical Magic
( ) Chicago - I'm afraid to see it, lest I turn out to be really good.
(x) Ghost Ship - Yup, not very good. My nephew was in love with it so we got to re-watch all the "good parts" together.
( ) From Hell
( ) Hellboy
( ) Secret Window
( ) I Am Sam
( ) The Whole Nine Yards
( ) The Whole Ten Yards
( ) The Day After Tomorrow
( ) Child's Play
( ) Seed of Chucky
( ) Bride of Chucky
( ) Ten Things I Hate About You
( ) Just Married
( ) Gothika
(x) Nightmare on Elm Street - Ditto "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Halloween," above.
(x) Sixteen Candles - My childhood, but so UNLIKE my childhood.
( ) Remember the Titans
( ) Coach Carter
(x) The Grudge - I did see the Japanese version. Didn't make a lick of sense.
( ) The Grudge 2
( ) The Mask
( ) Son Of The Mask
( ) Bad Boys
( ) Bad Boys 2
( ) Joy Ride
( ) Lucky Number Slevin
(x) Ocean's Eleven - You know those movies that are so bland that you don't remember a thing about them? This is one.
( ) Ocean's Twelve
( ) Bourne Identity
( ) Bourne Supremacy
( ) Lone Star
( ) Bedazzled
(x) Predator I - It was okay, but I've never understood the almost fetishy fanbase.
( ) Predator II
(x) The Fog - Very scary original. Very lame remake.
( ) Ice Age
( ) Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
( ) Curious George
(x) Independence Day - Another movie so bland that I've forgotten most of it.
(x) Cujo - Scared the heck out of me, but hey, not ALL St. Bernards are bad!
( ) A Bronx Tale
( ) Darkness Falls
(x) Christine - Not as good as the book, but still credible. Love the John Carpenter music. And there's a Bollywood version of this one as well: "Taarzan the Wonder Car."
(x) ET - I was very, very young when I saw it. I think it scared me.
(x) Children of the Corn - bleck.
( ) My Boss's Daughter
( ) Maid in Manhattan
(x) War of the Worlds - I must be the only person who loves the Spielberg remake. I think it's all due to the horrifying sound the tripods make.
( ) Rush Hour
( ) Rush Hour 2
( ) Best Bet
( ) How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
( ) She's All That
( ) Calendar Girls - Awesome
( ) Sideways
(x) Mars Attacks - Cute. Funny. Lisa-Marie.
(x) Event Horizon - Hellraiser in Space?
( ) Ever After
(x) Wizard of Oz - All those years ago.
(x) Forrest Gump - I saw it with my mom. I much prefer "Gumped Again" in "Cecil B. Demented."
(x) Big Trouble in Little China - I love it. I can't believe it when a person DOESN'T love it.
(x) The Terminator - Yawn.
( ) The Terminator 2
( ) The Terminator 3
(x) X-Men - Yep, it's another movie we did QA over.
(x) X-2 - Ditto.
( ) X-3
(x) Spider-Man - DITTO!
( ) Spider-Man 2
( ) Sky High
( ) Jeepers Creepers
( ) Jeepers Creepers 2
( ) Catch Me If You Can
( ) The Little Mermaid
(x) Freaky Friday - The original, yes, with the amazing (and underrated) Barbara Harris.
( ) Reign of Fire
( ) The Skulls
( ) Cruel Intentions
( ) Cruel Intentions 2
( ) The Hot Chick
(x) Shrek - Yet ANOTHER movie we did QA over. When will "The Mummy" and "Ronin" show up in this list, I wonder?
( ) Shrek 2
( ) Swimfan
(x) Miracle on 34th street - The original, I barely remember it.
( ) Old School
( ) The Notebook
( ) K-Pax
( ) Krippendorf's Tribe
( ) A Walk to Remember
( ) Ice Castles
( ) Boogeyman
( ) The 40-year-old Virgin
(x) Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring
(x) Lord of the Rings The Two Towers
(x) Lord of the Rings Return Of the King - Just fine, but nothing more than that.
(x) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark - I really should watch it again, because all I remember is the Nazi-face-melt.
( ) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
( ) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
( ) Basketball
( ) Hostel
(x) Waiting for Guffman - Oh, just brilliant!
(x) House of 1000 Corpses - Homages only work if they don't star Rob Zombie's dizzy wife.
( ) Devils Rejects
( ) Elf
( ) Highlander
( ) Mothman Prophecies
( ) American History X
( ) Three
( ) The Jacket
( ) Kung Fu Hustle
( ) Shaolin Soccer
( ) Nightwatch
( ) Monsters Inc.
( ) Titanic
(x) Monty Python and the Holy Grail - Funny, funny, funny.
(x) Shaun Of the Dead - I just love their "walk like a zombie" scene.
( ) Willard
( ) High Tension
( ) Club Dread
( ) Hulk
(x) Dawn Of the Dead - The original was a grotesque and mesmerizing epic. The remake was...well, fun at least.
( ) Hook
(x) Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe - Saw it because "Aeon Flux" was no longer playing. As much as I dislike manipulative religious evangelicalism, it was still better than "Aeon Flux" turned out to be.
(x) 28 days later - Good stuff.
( ) Orgazmo
(x) Phantasm - When you're a gorehound little kid, this is the film you love. As an adult it makes you a tad embarrassed.
( ) Waterworld
( ) Kill Bill vol 1
( ) Kill Bill vol 2
( ) Mortal Kombat
( ) Wolf Creek
( ) Kingdom of Heaven
(x) The Hills Have Eyes - The original, yes. And even the sequel with all the dirtbikes.
(x) I Spit on Your Grave aka the Day of the Woman - Nasty, nasty film.
(x) The Last House on the Left - Another nasty, nasty, NASTY film.
(x) Re-Animator - Oh yes, give me that mutant gore!
(x) Army of Darkness - The weakest link of the trilogy, too nerdy by half, but still fun.
( ) Star Wars Ep. I The Phantom Menace
( ) Star Wars Ep. II Attack of the Clones
( ) Star Wars Ep. III Revenge of the Sith
(x) Star Wars Ep. IV A New Hope - Saw it as a child, rewatched it as an adult, still seems like a kid's movie to me.
(x) Star Wars Ep. V The Empire Strikes Back
(x) Star Wars Ep. VI Return of the Jedi
( ) Ewoks Caravan Of Courage
( ) Ewoks The Battle For Endor
(x) The Matrix - Fun enough for me to NOT want to see the sequels.
( ) The Matrix Reloaded
( ) The Matrix Revolutions
( ) Animatrix
(x) Evil Dead
(x) Evil Dead 2 - Joyous mayhem!
( ) Team America: World Police
(x) Red Dragon - Does "Manhunter" count?
(x) Silence of the Lambs - Goodness, have to watch this again.
( ) Hannibal


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Shakin' the Blues Away!

Last year, Lydia of Delirium Clothing made me a FABULOUS replica of Ann Miller's "Shakin' the Blues Away" outfit (from "Easter Parade"). I've never been able to get a picture of it that does it justice, but last night...
With Every Shake...
Click to see the dress that we affectionately call "The Bumblebee." And I'm the lucky person in it!

Because It's Saturday: Dalbello

Since I'm on a "Morgan James kick," I'm remembering all those things she recommended to me. She was fond of Dalbello's album "Whore," and while I love Dalbello's earlier work I never got around to picking it up.

Now I've got it, and it's incredible. This here is my personal favourite song: "Eleven."

When I was a kid, I remember my uncle complaining that "Dalbello used to be so PRETTY, and now she's SCARY!" Well, yes, and good for her. "Gonna Get Close To You" (her "I'm scary, so deal with it" song) is one I love to perform, but you've got to have the right sort of crowd. It's one of the most brilliant musical moments of the '80s...and she's from TORONTO, for goodness' sake.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

iTunes Word Search: "War"

Golly, we just can't get away from war these days, can we? War here, war there...even war in our iPods!
  1. Cold War (Devo)
  2. Ditty Diegy - War Chant (The Monkees)
  3. The Dogs of War (Pink Floyd)
  4. Drink Before the War (Sinead O'Connor)
  5. A Drug Against War (K.M.F.D.M.)
  6. The Electric Spanking of War Babies (Funkadelic)
  7. The Eve of the War (Jeff Wayne)
  8. The Key Shop - War and Peace (Nits)
  9. Life During Wartime (Talking Heads)
  10. The Old Soldier: Safety Sells, But War Always Wins (The Residents)
  11. The Post War Dream (Pink Floyd)
  12. Private War (Foetus)
  13. War (Siobhan Fahey)
  14. War (Tones on Tail)
  15. War (The Art of Noise)
  16. War (The Fall)
  17. War of Man (Neil Young)
  18. The War of Silence (The Legendary Pink Dots)
  19. Wargasm 2005 (Drywall)
  20. Wars of Armageddon (Funkadelic)
  21. World War Six (The Legendary Pink Dots
Unlike many of the previous word searches, songs with "war" in the title seem to actually BE about war, at least tangentially, though some are metaphors for human relations. And I'm happy to see a list that includes both "Foetus" and "The Monkees."


I've finally gotten around to adding a blogroll to the right-hand column. These are blogs that I read for inspiration and entertainment, and hopefully you'll check them out.

I'd like to draw attention to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Interrobang, whose author is ALSO embarking on a structured walking tour of Kitchener/Waterloo!

More will be added when I discover (or remember them). And if you think I'll enjoy your blog, drop me a line.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Vintage Muffy

I almost forgot about these! The lovely Morgan James posted some pictures from a 2004 Open Drag Night at Club Renaissance. I'll never forget that night, because the DJ didn't show up and I was nominated to fill in for him. Stripping down to your underwear in a glass booth is not something I'd recommend.

Also in the pics is Annie Drogyny, and Morgan James herself. Ahh, the memories!

Vain observations: I look gimpy, but young! I hate those silver platforms. My eyebrows were good. And why the hell am I dressed as a nurse?

The Barthathon: "LETTERS"

Did you notice? The Barthathon has expanded to include "The Friday Book" and "Where Three Roads Meet." Once "Further Fridays" arrives, they'll be one impenetrable (and complete) happy family!

Okay. "LETTERS."

Where do I begin?

Somewhere in this massive book, one of the Barth-surrogate characters (Ambrose Mensch AKA "Arthur Morton King") ponders people who love and enjoy life. Then he ponders people who enjoy writing about life, and people who love the WORDS they write with, and then -- finally -- the people who are absolutely, painfully, totally in love with the structure BEHIND the words, the writing, the "LETTERS" (1979).

This novel marks the high-point of Barth's letter-love, his massive statement about structure, formalism, words, meanings. His later books also explore these themes, but always in a much more gentle way, as though the author were gently prodding the reader through the story's funhouse. In this book (and "Chimera" (1972), its predecessor and soulmate), the author just kicks you roughly through the funhouse doors, switches off the lights, and leaves you to your own fumbling incomprehension.

Unlike "Chimera," however, "LETTERS" is massive. It took me two weeks to read it but I feel like I've been lost in it for years. Now that I've stumbled out the other end, I think I can say a few words about what it is and how it works, but NO review could even GLOSS the details, so I won't even try. This will be a confused review, because "LETTERS" is a confused book.

This novel is much maligned (as Barth himself says in the foreword), described as notoriously "unreadable." I disagree; "LETTERS" is AT TIMES difficult to read, but it has enough mystery and beauty to keep a competent (and not-too-jaded) reader going.

First off, a word about the structure: "LETTERS" is Barth's seventh novel, with a title of seven words, consisting of seven months of letters written by (and for) seven different different characters, each of whom writes on a particular day of the know there are seven of those, right? And you also know what you're in for.

Five of the letter-writers are characters from his first six novels, now in the "second half" of their lives (ala the heroes in "Chimera"). The sixth character is "The Author," who solicits the other characters for permission to use their subsequent lives as part of an upcoming book (guess which one). In addition, he plans to combine the properties of all of their plots and themes into this book...which he certainly does, creating a mish-mash of styles that only Barth could try to hold together.

These are not throw-away characters, invented just to serve a wanky point; each is fully realized and is given enough "letter-time" to establish a book's-worth of plot. Writing on Fridays, Todd Andrews (the once-suicidal lawyer from "The Floating Opera") is elderly, sweet, and increasingly obsessed with what appears to be a repetition of his first story...he causes himself no end of grief (Bellerophon-style) trying to fit current events into a nebulous pattern that doesn't QUITE work. With him, we receive the themes of repetition, sailing, and old age. He also gives us "the tragic view of history."

Jacob Horner (anti-hero of "The End of the Road") is the Thursday writer. He has, since the tragic death of his mistress, become increasingly immobile. He spends his days in a southern Ontario "remobilization farm," soon joined by his dead mistress' tripped-out husband, who wants to "resurrect" the dead by reenacting the past. Horner's thematic contribution is "the anniversary view of history," an obsession with dates that is annoying at the beginning of the book and EXTREMELY annoying by the end (when EVERYBODY'S doing it). The writers tend to digress into half-page lists of date-specific birthdays, deaths, and events, none of which are related to the plot (and when they are, they aren't important).

This sort of device would have been awe-inspiring in the pre-Wikipedia days, but now we can get that information with a simple search query. If anything has aged poorly in "LETTERS," it's this obsession with dates...but since each letter IS written on a specific date, and since the plots DO hinge on anniversaries, the technique is an important one...just underwhelming nowadays.

Wednesday's authors are a selection of ancestral Burlingames and Cooks (from "The Sot-Weed Factor"), who alternate their surnames -- and their potency -- with each generation. The Cook letters take up the bulk of the novel, and they are of such dense historical material that you need a machete and a bottle of Tylenol to get through them. The Cooks have two main goals: bringing about a "second revolution" (vaguely associated with restoring the rights of slaves and Native Indians), and either thwarting the aims of their fathers (in the first half of their lives) or advancing those same aims (when they realize that the aims were not what they seemed...maybe).

The various Cooks tell us mainly about the war of 1812, and subsequent attempts to rescue Napoleon. Each family member has become deeply involved in both subverting and advancing historical events in North America...but their efforts cancel each other out so often (and tend to produce such negligable and unverifiable results) that none of them ever seem to ACHIEVE anything...and this is MADDENING. It's one thing to read fifty-page chunks of tangled historical conniving as long as there is a CONCLUSION, but all the Cooks can say in the end is "eh, maybe it worked, I dunno, but I'll keep trying."

The Cooks bring us "the tragic view of history," revolution, political intrigue, and multiple viewpoints. They also bring the OVERRIDING theme of multiple identities and disguises...and this, coupled with the endless historical data, FRUSTRATED ME.

You've got Andrew Cook VI, who may also be André Castine, or Monsieur Casteene (one of whom may also be "Lord Baltimore.") You've also got extremely complicated love septagons consisting of people who have multiple names; Jeannine Mack is "Bea Golden," "Bibi," "Peggy Rankin," and "Regina de Nominatrix." Marsha Blank is "Pocahontas" and other people that I forget. Merope Bernstein is "Rennie Morgan" and "Margana y Fael." Add to this a bunch of maiden names and you'll understand why the characters tend to blur together.

Anyway, Jerome Bray writes on Fridays. A descendent of Harold Bray (false Grand Tutor of "Giles Goat-Boy"), Bray is even more disturbing than his ancestor. He's building a biomechanical novel-writing machine called "LILYVAC II," meanwhile "seeding" the novel's seven primary females. Bray, with his half-revealed motivations and impossible history is John Barth's first and only foray into outright horror, and it's a shock to read such perverse and awful sidetracks in his fiction. Naturally, I wish he'd given Bray a bit more time.

LILYVAC II is being programmed to write a revolutionary novel, and it is apparently writing Bray's letters as well. If you've read "Chimera," you'll finally understand those disconnected bottled-messages that Bellerophon received, full of ominous accusations and RESETs. They come directly from "LETTERS"...which was published seven years AFTER "Chimera."

This is because Monday's writer is Ambrose Mensch, protagonist (and "author") of the more readable stories in "Lost in the Funhouse." Ambrose is the obsessive structuralist side of John Barth, who helps Barth himself (Sunday's letter-writer) develop the crazy, nit-picky, mathematical backbone of..."Chimera." This is possible because "LETTERS" is set in 1969. Even though "Chimera" came out in 1972, the plot of "LETTERS" occurs before "Chimera" was released. If you think that's confusing, try dealing with Mensch's thematic contribution: mathematics, spirals, the alphabet, writing, and letters's Mensch who is so hung up on those bottled "water messages" that are such a Barth staple.

Here's a particularly fun brain-teaser bonus: Mensch is writing the screenplay for a film adaptatio of all of John Barth's novels. The director (Reg Prinz) starts by filming recreations of familiar scenes from Barth's books, but soon becomes totally focussed on the war of 1812. Lady Amherst (Saturday's author and the only new primary character) is confused, because none of Barth's books have ever DEALT with the war of 1812.

Are you with me here? "LETTERS" IS about the war of 1812, so it makes perfect sense for Prinz to focus on it. But the film is adapting material from the book that the film is in. This would make no sense to characters who are actually in the book (like Lady Amherst), but to the rest of us, fortunately outside the hell that is "LETTERS," this gradual revelation is simultaneously wonderful and sort of nauseating.

It is that sort of book. Cryptic computer print-outs. The struggle between film and pen. The sources of inspiration. The structure of the story. Each month's letters read in "author order" instead of "by date" (because of the tilted-calendar formula, which must be seen to be believed).

What else is there, though? I'll tell you what: deep, archetypal characters struggling to get through life, discover themselves, and understand the crazy world around them. The Mensch/Amherst plot is a gorgeous and bittersweet family drama which expands upon the tantalizing details of "Lost in the Funhouse." There are ACTUAL STORIES in here, and you can CARE about them.

Most significant and heart-rending, however, is the tale of Todd Andrews, the solitary lawyer who sets out on his last sailing trip, saying goodbye to the land and the people that he loves. Andrews is the book's stand-out character. His letters should have been the last ones, but the "calendar" structure would not have allowed it. "Ambrose Mensch" trumps "John Barth" again.

I liked "LETTERS." I think I "understood" a bit chunk of it, but if any book needed a companion volume (especially one that outlines events in chronological order), this is one. I think it suffers a bit too much digression, and the Cook sections are horribly tedious, but somehow it all fits together, and somehow it's wonderful.

And no, you don't need to read his first six novels before reading this one, just in case you're looking for an autumn hobby.

Rather than list the Barth themes in "LETTERS," you'd do better to say which ones AREN'T here: none. But it does introduce the first really anatomical description of Maryland sailing, and I suspect that some of these events are echoed in the much maligned "Coming Soon!!!", a review of which is...coming soon.

How to Destroy Your Child's Natural Digestive Processes

From The New Yorker, August 14, 1928:
Yeast triumphs again!
"MY DOCTOR had prescribed Fleischmann's Yeast for my brother-in-law. So when my daughter Margaret became bothered with constipation it was the first thing I thought of giving her. At first she took it dissolved in milk, but later she ate it just like candy. In a month she was perfectly normal again. Now, whenever she goes into a store with me she says, 'Don't forget the Yeast cakes, mother.' They have been nuggets of gold to me."
The kid still looks constipated to me, and she's strangling a doll.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Atari Olympics, an Ugly Thing

There's no point in actually playing "Atari Olympics," but you could stare for hours at the opening screen:

Why are the woman and the baby in "Zippy the Pinhead" stances? If that's a "womanly figure" then I need to do things differently. Why are the old man and the robot staring at the bow-legged aryan giant? Did he say something rude? Are these people related to each other? Is this the ideal Atari family, and if so, what happened to grandma? Is she the robot? Do they allow people to use orthopedic canes in the Olympics? Is that little girl's skirt just a tad too short?

The real tragedy is that this is a sports simulation, but everybody has rickets.

If Bathtub Wishes Were Bathtub Fishes...

Oh, for a long, deep, brand-new bathtub. With a place to put my head, and another place to put my feet. Sloping down at just the right angle so I can lie back and not get an awful crick in my neck. A bathtub for reading in, relaxing in, and -- oh yes -- bathing in.

At "The Grey Yonder" (my first home away from home), the bathtub was chipped and scoured. One of my roommates ("The Bunnykiller") decided to spruce it up by painting it with regular wall paint. Within days the paint began to peel in long strips, clogging up the drain. Eventually the tub floor became slimy. It was not a good bathtub.

At "Amrita-ta-ta" (my second-last home), the bathtub had a small, dime-sized chip in the enamel. Twice, over the seven years I lived there, I'd wake up to a sudden shattering noise in the night, and discover in the morning that the hole had gotten bigger, spraying enamel shards all over the bathroom. I think that the metal underneath was slowly rusting, and when the pressure of the rust hit a certain level the enamel around the hole would explode.

Here (in "Little Lemuria"), the bathtub is in awful shape. When I first moved in it was thickly grimed with a mixture of dirt and water-mineral residue. Every morning I'd spray CLR over some particularly grody spot. When I returned from work I'd get a sponge and scrub and scrub and scrub. It's better now -- the dirt is gone at least -- but I have little motivation to clean the "ring around the tub" when the whole thing looks like something you'd find in a junkyard.

Oh, for a nice bathtub...just once!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Basement Carnage

Big Daddy Sly lives behind my mop bucket, and he catches bugs.

A crumbling 1920s foundation is bound to have insects in the basement, and I really don’t mind them being there (sans rent) as long as they don’t get in my way. Insects are apparently a vital part of the ecosystem, and that ecosystem includes drainpipes, furnace ducts, and whatever goes on underneath the water heater when I'm not around.

Since my cat isn’t much of a bug-eater, Big Daddy Sly is at the top of the food chain down there. Over the past year he has spun elaborate webs between the bookshelf, wall, and sump pump, and from those webs dangle the desiccated bodies of sowbugs. When he gets tired of the current arrangement of cocoons, Sly drops the bodies to the floor where I’m unable to fetch them without disrupting his habitat. Some of the bodies appear to be strung together like bunches of sticky grapes. The reduced lighting makes the corpses twinkle and sparkle.

I see this gruesome display as a sort of warning to basement buggery: "go elsewhere or you will die." It’s like having a natural “beware of dog” sign, decorated with the skeletons of all the past burglars. But I do wish that Big Daddy Sly had a more humane method of feeding – free-range sowbugs, for example, dispatched with a quick blow to the head – and he could learn lessons from my Mennonite ancestors about wastage…Sly would look great with a hat and coat made out of fly wings. But he lacks that sort of initiative.

How long do spiders live? I don’t know, but I hope he sticks around. Sly and I are a good team and I’m happy to give him shelter.

I'd Buy Anything By...Kate Bush

I grew up listening to my parent's record collection, which wasn't exactly conventional by the time of the early '80s -- Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Harry Nilsson -- but, since my parents owned those albums, was not any form of outright rebellion on my part.

Eventually we subscribed to "Superchannel" (the Pay TV service). In between the movies, Superchannel would "pad" the schedule to convenient half-hour blocks by playing promos, oddball animations, and music videos. For some reason the only videos they ever seemed to play were "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits, "Airwaves" by Thomas Dolby...and Kate Bush's "Wow."

My parents HATED Kate Bush, with her shrill voice and her arty-farty weirdness, but I fell instantly in love. I embarked on massive Kate-buying sprees that included posters, books, interview disks, and bootleg vinyl (which are now worth nothing at all to anyone). Kate Bush was my first act of musical rebellion, and things only went downhill for my parents from there.

It's easy to forget how innovative she was in those pre-Tori Amos days: a young, pretty piano player singing unorthodox songs about literature, dreams, sex, nuclear war...even during her brief return to fame (thanks to "Running Up That Hill") Bush was an oddity, an individual, a recluse. Along came Lene Lovich and a whole whack of nutty female performers, but beside them all Bush appeared to be smarter, less eager, and -- most importantly -- down to earth in her interviews.

Here she is performing her first song that I ever heard -- "Wow" -- during her first (and only) tour back in 1979. Only she could work a reference to sodomy into a hit song.

The intervals between her albums began to telescope. She stopped performing. The press loves to come up with reasons why Kate Bush disappears for so long -- agoraphobia, secret lovers, dramatic weight gain -- but it all seems to come down to one thing: she's never relished "stardom" and would much prefer to keep her private life private, and to have lots of breathing room for creating music. LOTS of breathing room.

Rather than play one of her more recent videos -- which I think are a bit too goofy -- here's an unappreciated song and video, in which she has never seemed more vibrant, unconcerned, and beautiful: "The Big Sky." No high-falutin' choreography, just a big load of fun. Let's hear it for '80s hair, giraffes, and that incredible bassline.

Albums to buy? Bracket her career with "The Kick Inside" (her first) and "Aerial" (her latest). Albums to avoid? Even her worst efforts are good, but if you must avoid ONE, let it be "The Red Shoes" (it's a bit of a mess and the Prince collaboration is her most embarassing moment). For fans only: "The Dreaming," my personal favourite, but definitely inaccessible...she ran wild in the studio production booth and made ten dark songs full of screams, grunts, and backwards vocals. In a fair world this would be up there with "Sgt. Pepper's."

(No Kate Bush retrospective would be complete without this dead-on spoof by Pamela Stevenson...BRILLIANT!)

Making Whoopee with the Intelligentzia

By April 7, 1928, Dorothy Parker (as "Constant Reader") had written about a dozen "Reading and Writing" columns for The New Yorker. In all of them she'd managed to work her world-weariness into what was supposed to be a "book column." Parker had a way of making her own ennui sound interesting, and if you're going to read about somebody's ennui, that's a good thing.

In this column ("Mr. Lewis Lays it On with a Trowel") she gives us a glimpse into the ubiquitous party games of the late '20s. After the sudden decline of mahjong circa 1924, it seems the social fads were coming and going awfully fast. The New Yorker columnists -- who tended to go to Those Sorts of Parties -- constantly bemoaned the latest party diversion, but Dorothy Parker gives us an excellent (and "fun to read") list:
I have listened to poets rendering their own odes. I have had the plots of yet unwritten plays given me in tiniest detail, I have assisted in charades, I have been politely mystified by card tricks, I have even been sent out of the room and been forced, on my return, to ask the assembled company such questions as I hoped might reveal to me what Famous Character in Fiction they represented. I have spent entire evenings knee-deep in derry-down-derries, listening to quaint old English ballads done without accompaniment; I have been backed into cold corners by pianos while composers showed me how that thing they wrote three years before Gershwin did "The Man I Love" went; I know a young man who has an inlaid ukelele. You see these gray hairs? Well, making whoopee with the intelligentzia was the way I earned them.
I don't personally know anybody with an inlaid ukelele, and I don't tend to go to parties (let alone ones where they play games)...but if I WAS stuck someplace watching card tricks I'd probably feel the need to vent as well.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

iTunes Word Search: "John"

My life, right now, is largely the digestion of John Barth's novel "LETTERS," and the self-imposed task of reading all his subsequent books. I'm worried that I might get sick of Mr. Barth. I do not want this to become "work" as opposed to "pleasure."

To divert myself, I wondered what songwriters think about "John." An iTunes word-search did the trick:
  1. Angry Johnny (Poe)
  2. Dear John (Aimee Mann)
  3. Dear Johnny (Poe)
  4. John Cope (Talk Talk)
  5. John E. Smoke (Butthole Surfers)
  6. John the Revelator (Depeche Mode)
  7. Johnny B. Carcass (Gogh Van Go)
  8. Johnny Come Home (Fine Young Cannibals)
  9. Johnny Said: Silver (Nits)
  10. Johnny Yen (James)
  11. Little Johnny Jewel (Chrome Cranks)
  12. No Xmas for John Quays (The Fall)
  13. Not Now John (Pink Floyd)
  14. Stories of Johnny (Marc Almond)
  15. Surabaya Johnny (Maat)
Not surprisingly, "John" is an all-purpose name...but is there a trend here anyway? We've got morally ambiguous boyfriends named Johnny, we have a mystical John E., we have potential references to the Biblical John, we have lots of of working-class Johns, a junkie "John Quay," and a soldier John.

To answer my own question: nope, probably no trend, John just sounds good and doesn't disrupt the rhyme.

Jobs: Childhood Chores

Most parents probably justify a child's allowance by allocating household chores. Then, as now, I found unadulterated cleaning to be a form of torture, a silly punishment that didn't need to be imposed. *I* had better things to do, I'd tell myself, while my PARENTS just worked and decorated and cooked and cleaned all day, and afterwards read the paper or made macramé giraffes...what was a bit more cleaning and working to those who were already accustomed, who could hardly know what they were missing?

Washing dishes wasn't so bad because there was a definite end to it. Vacuuming was more could always do a more thorough job, there was always one more dog hair or piece of fluff that could be sucked up from some corner, under something. Vacuuming was also silly because you never saw the results of NOT vacuuming, the pile-up of dust and hair and paper-scraps that most parents don't tolerate but those who live alone sometimes do, me included.

Leaf-raking was similar to vacuuming in that there was always one more leaf; you had to pick a threshold beyond which you didn't need to rake anymore. I liked (and still prefer) ABSOLUTE jobs, where you start with a pile on one side and end up with a pile on the other; nothing in between, no arbitrary ending, a crashing finale instead of an indecisive fade out.

The winter was about shovelling snow, and the endless argument about why the ENTIRE sidewalk needed to be cleared rather than just a shovel-width path down the middle. Summer was about mowing the lawn, the junkyard smell of oil and gasoline in a rusty old lawn mower that barely started but was still too functional to replace, the random and endless yanking of the mower's cord, hearing the engine sputter, yanking again, hearing it die. And when you finally got it started you had to plot a course around all the ridiculous yard obstacles -- bird baths, telephone poles, trees, things YOU would never choose to put there -- without forcing yourself to backtrack or waste your energy by overlapping sections you'd already finished.

Sometimes you'd find the hidden rock; the mower would scrape and thrash, you'd remember stories of kids who'd lost fingers and heads from a broken, spinning, mower-blade missile. You wanted your fingers, you needed your head, you could easily imagine the pain and the stumps. But still you'd dare yourself to get closer and closer to that rock, and you'd always eventually hit it. Deathwish, solitaire chicken, the invincibility of youth?

I also mowed the lawn for Ida, the old lady down the street. She'd stagger across the yard with a pair of limp, hopeless stockings pooled around her ankles, the same stockings she'd tie her garbage bags weekly shopping bag half-filled with the bird-like pickings of a woman who no longer enjoyed eating. She made me feel awkward, tongue-tied, I was taking money for something I should really have been doing for free. I accepted the cookies from her musky pantry full of spiders but I managed to avoid eating them. When I looked at those cookies I saw her bruised and gristled legs, her wooly hair, her teeth, her veins. It doesn't seem strange that Ida is dead now; it is most surprising that she lived so long, alone, barely mobile, with me mowing her lawn and hating every second.

Monday, September 17, 2007

BusWalk Aftershock

Over at Footprint they have picked up on the "BusWalk blip," and included a disturbing queen picture that is not in fact me (in case you wondered).

People keep yelling at me on the street, "hey, are you on a tour right now?" and I have to tell them that I'm only on my lunch break. Lots of Uptown folk who I see all the time but never actually "meet" are breaking the ice, which is nice, except when they're kooks (none so far!). Some are just saying hi, others seem quite enthusiastic about the idea of wandering around and seeing mundane things, which makes me feel much less abnormal than usual. And also makes me feel extremely visible.

It's always nice to meet new people, and I hope the recent arrivals enjoy the blog!

Today's Etymology: Gimcrack

A person who collects "gimcracks" is NOT a person who collects the bones of 18th century race horses. Nope, that person has an affection for "cheap" and "showy" objects of "little or no use." The word is pronounced "Jim-crack" and is similar to another great forgotten word: "gewgaw."

Apparently this has nothing to do with the creepy minstrel song "Blue Tail Fly" ("Jimmy crack corn, and I don't care!") and also has nothing to do with your friend Jim's bum.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Halloween III, Corporate Towns, Magic Science

This is another post about something that scared the hell out of me when I was a child: "Halloween III."

I vividly remember watching this in my aunt's "rumpus room," a subterranean den with shag carpeting, a "forest scene" wall-mural, all drenched with the cloying smell of cigarette smoke. I was watching it with a group of other children and we kept on getting distracted by things, so the surreal visuals seemed even more nightmarish than they would have been if I'd been paying attention to the plot.

"Halloween III" exploits two common themes in early-80s horror: paranoid "corporate towns" dominated by a spooky factory (see also "The Stuff," which also features a similar motel scene), and the queer merging of science and mysticism: microchips with pieces of Stonehenge embedded in them. To us kids in the '80s, huge North American corporations were supposedly manipulating us with subliminal messages and doing research on us that went far beyond "The Pepsi Challenge." It didn't surprise us to find out that a crazy Irish CEO wanted to melt our heads on Halloween.

What's wonderful about this type of movie is the hackneyed combination of big budget and directorial freedom. Everybody involved seemed to have a good idea, so they just stuck all those ideas into the plot, creating a wonderfully disjointed crazy quilt of scary: witchcraft, slasher-killers who poke out your eyes and drill you to death, identical corporate robots, and creepy-crawlies that bite your dad. These films of the period have aged well, thanks to their low-key set design and their memorable secondary "quirky characters," usually played by TV actors (the Kupfer family subplot is particularly fun). The movies made at this time seem somehow grittier than the wannabe cult films made today (though I'm probably just crotchety...some people really LOVE "Saw").

You can't mention "Halloween III" without giving the music a nod...not just the memorable "Silver Shamrock" theme (which quite LITERALLY builds a nest inside your head), but the bass-heavy analog synth menace as well. These soundtracks make me feel like I'm drowning in mud. John Carpenter pioneered "the sound" but I think Howard Shore perfected it in 1983's "Videodrome" (more of that high-tech, focus-group manipulation and mutation).

Finally, I've got to say it: I love Tom Atkins. I shouldn't but I do.

Bonus Feature: "Too Gross for Muffy"
  • David Cronenberg's "The Fly." I saw it once and I'll never watch it again. It's simply too much.
  • "Sleepaway Camp." The slasher film's final frontier turned out to be unabashed torture. No thanks.
  • "Dead and Buried," fetishizes pain and does too good a job of it.

Buying the Best (or at Least the Better)

When I first moved away from home I survived on a small income; I lived in student housing, ate where I worked, and was unaware (sometimes knee-jerk dismissive) that the items in Maslow's hierarchy of needs could differ noticeably in quality. Isn't food just food, a car just a car? Aren't all clothes essentially the same? Does spending more for something mean you're getting something BETTER, as opposed to just putting yourself in a hoity-toity category of elites?

I have more money now, and some things that people put in a cost-hierarchy -- expensive restaurants, food, wines, and cars -- are still beyond my understanding. But friend Vanilla will sometimes hand me a piece of high-quality wool and I'll hold it and, this feels incredible! Years of buying cheap clothing in chain stores -- and having to donate it or throw it out after five or six washings -- has taught me something about...well, the life-span cheap clothing. Friend Pete bought me a shot of Grey Goose vodka a few months ago and I was forced to admit that expensive alcohol really IS better. Now I spend a lot of time in liquor stores holding my stomach and crying.

Last week I bought an expensive pen. The initial idea was that paying good money for a pen would force me to USE it, but now I find myself holding the pen and thinking, "wow, this feels really's like the Grey Goose of pens!" And when my last pair of cheap boots wore out after nine months, I found myself paying a bundle for a new moderately "good pair," and when I slip them on I know they're going to last. Or they'd better.

I have a reactionary response to what I consider "gentrification," that is, the ostentatious display of "wealth" with no regard for taste, appropriateness, or functionality. But here I am with my pen and my boots and my $50 hair-care products, not to mention all the money I've spent on CoverFX foundation (right down to the $40 "goat-hair brush"), and I wonder: why the change? Am I spending more money on these things simply because I CAN (or because I want to imagine myself as the sort of person who can) or because I'm appreciating "quality" more than I used to (or because I want to be a person who appreciates "quality?") There's a big distinction between those categories.

In short, I don't know. But if the biggest problem in my life is that I can now afford a beautiful pen, I suppose I'm doing pretty good for myself.

Blog Formulae

Slander against people who may someday read the blog? No.

Nasty things said about people who may someday read the blog and therefore be sad or vindictive? Probably not.

Comments which may be stupidly misconstrued and therefore put me on a "no fly" list? No.

Personal details about friends, relatives, and neighbours? Probably not.

Esoteria about myself that nobody else can possibly relate to? Of course! Except for dreams which are notoriously dull to read about.

Reviews of music, films, or books that portray me as a passive pop-culture sponge? Only one per page, hopefully.

Whining? Depression? Sympathy? Only when necessary.

Attempts at putting the world into logical order? Yes, but only when I feel like I either know what I'm talking about and/or can be entertaining about the subject.

Politics? Rarely.

True love? Bah!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The BusWalk Tour Gets a Boost!

This weekend's Kitchener-Waterloo Record has a nice article about the BusWalk Tour. It makes me sound a little goofy, but I suppose that I really do sound that way, and kudos to Colin Hunter for working in the "drag" variable without being too sensationalistic OR serious.

I was a bit nervous because I know how easy it is to be misquoted (through the power of editing, selective listening, selective memory, and "sexing up"), and I was afraid I'd see something out-of-context that would make me cringe. Nope! I feel no need to write an annotated version of the article.

For visitors who are curious about the tour itself (and not my vain worries about appearance and representation), click here to read all references to the tour in this blog, and rest assured that more are coming. My walkin' shoes have actually disintegrated and I hope to get some more today; maybe there'll be another trip tomorrow?

You can stay tuned and read other things, though...I think this blog is an interesting enough place to hold your attention, and it's also "work friendly." Please feel free to comment, critique, and suggest.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Because It's Thursday: "The Drill"

I don't give a darn about the's the video that I love. I saw this tonight on Club Renaissance's video screen and I simply couldn't believe it. Just wow.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eric Little Died Last Month

For the last month I've been waiting to see a comment from Eric Little in my inbox, wondering how his busy school term was shaping up, and it wasn't until today that I found out he died. I had to go searching because I never knew anything about his family, and he didn't use his real name, but he died late August on his way to the hospital, a month ago.

Eric wrote emails that I rarely answered, shamefully, and selfishly. I knew how to yank his chain. I declined the one opportunity to actually meet him in May. I won't lie, I could get annoyed how everything became an obscure cultural reference somehow. He knew his Vladimir Nabokov and his '60s pop. The Dos Passos novels he convinced me to read just arrived yesterday. I cared for him. I think he was incredibly smart, very sad, trying to make contact. I think he was also a "good man."

I can't decide what to do for him, but I'll think of something. I can't accept that he won't be writing to me anymore.

I know Eric loved to trawl YouTube. I think he'd enjoy this clip of Pete Townsend and John Entwistle performing "Face the Face." He would know all the trivia and he'd be bursting to share it. Enjoy the video, Eric, and please write a long comment about what it means! Really, please, tell me what you think.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Life at the Moment

A quick catch-up:
  • Avidly reading John Barth's "LETTERS," trying always to find the most comfortable spot to read it in: porch, balcony, couch, chair, bed, coffee shop, park.
  • Meanwhile proofreading a friend's satirical self-help book.
  • Also reading a book on composing white papers, since I need to produce one at work.
  • And promising, at some point, to read the graphic novels that Ash loaned me last week.
  • Editing down certain songs ("Pretend to be Nice," "Terrible Thought," "Heart be Still") for this Thursday's open drag night, and making scattershot plans for the night itself.
  • Watching the rain, the wind, and the gradual cooling of each day.
  • Tending my hand, which has gotten worse due to all this activity. Acting upon the realization that POSTURE has a lot to do with the pain, and alternating cold-and-hot soaking seems to help it.
  • Getting back, eventually, to working on UPhold's "Road to Avondale" project, and writing on Octavia-the-Neo (once my hand has improved and I start reading a lighter book), and taking the next BusWalk Tour.
  • Watching the second season of "Twin Peaks" and enjoying it.
  • Praying that I don't need to walk in the rain until I can buy new boots on the weekend.
  • Pimping for my neighbour's dog. Waiting for the right time to approach the resident squirrels.
  • Saving money with a vague hope of buying a car next spring.
  • Anticipating next month's Pridetoberfest, BBGG DJ gig, hallowe'en, birthday, and "Mother Mother" live show.
  • Jus' relaxin'.

Creepy Pedro Reviews Some Movies

Fans of "der Creepy" will be pleased to know that, regardless of the limbo-state of his latest radio play, Mr. Pedro will be appearing in Genxine on a regular basis (in issue #7 you'll find his reviews of "Performance" and "Michael Palin's Himalaya.")

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Photos: Squirrels, Authors, and Sad Old Queens

On a Jet Plane!

Looking for pictures? There are some new ones at Flickr, including some hard-won shots of Rudolph the terrifying squirrel. Enjoy!

An iTunes Word Search: "Star"

When a song contains the word "star," what is the songwriter talking about?
  1. All Star Funk (Bootsy Collins)
  2. All the Stars are Falling (The Tear Garden)
  3. Beloved Movie Star (Stan Ridgway)
  4. Biggest Star (The Elected)
  5. Brightest Star (The Legendary Pink Dots)
  6. Catch a Fallen Star (Marc and the Mambas)
  7. Child Star (Marc Almond)
  8. The Darkest Star (Depeche Mode)
  9. Dog Star (Klaatu)
  10. Dogstar Man (Meat Beat Manifesto)
  11. Filmstar (Suede)
  12. Flesh Star (My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult)
  13. I've Told Every Little Star (Linda Scott)
  14. Manic Star (Conjure One)
  15. Moon and Stars (Nits)
  16. Mothership Connection -- Star Child (Parliament)
  17. She's a Star (James)
  18. Soul Mate Rock 'n' Roll Star (Mary 5e)
  19. Star (Curve)
  20. Star (Erasure)
  21. Star Spangled Banner (Red House Painters)
  22. Starchild (Level 42)
  23. Starless and Bible Black (King Crimson)
  24. Starlight (Stars of Stage and Screen)
  25. Starmartyr (My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult)
  26. Stars (The Weepies)
  27. Stars Ablaze (Red Ram)
  28. The Stars on 11 (Yoko Casionos)
  29. Stars on Sunday (The Legendary Pink Dots)
  30. The Stars That Surround You (Monster Movie)
  31. The Stars We Are (Marc Almond)
  32. Starstation Earth (Banco de Gaia)
  33. Stereostar (Madrid)
  34. Superstar (Daybehavior)
  35. Til the Stars Fall (Strange Advance)
  36. Top Star (Komeda)
  37. Vein of Stars (The Flaming Lips)
  38. Wannabe Superstar (Ivana F.)
  39. We Are All Made of Stars (Moby)
  40. You're a Star (Josie and the Pussycats)
  41. Ziggy Stardust (Bauhaus)
Holy cow, that's a lot of stars! And go figure that Marc Almond would be in there twice (with a "tragic" view of stars: superstars that are also falling stars, bright and distant) as well as My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult (sexy/'70s/pop-porn-film stars).

Otherwise, what do these songs say about star metaphors? Fame, prestige, apocalypse, fairy tales, ambition, specialness, spooky universal mystery, tragedy, and wishing.

John Barth in My City

I am deep in the thick of John Barth's "LETTERS," a novel that requires every inch of attention in order to digest. I am completely drawn into its elaborate conceits and the extraordinarily vivid world of its characters...almost TOO vivid. It is, after all, about the delicate line between fiction and reality, inspiration and fabrication. I constantly need to ask myself (much as the characters do): did this really happen? Is this a real place?

Presumably because it's (partially) related to the war of 1812, southern Ontario figures frequently in the book (in particular Ottawa, Niagara Falls, and Toronto), but usually in a sketchy way which implies that Barth didn't really visit during his research. When, on page 200, Lady Amherst writes about travelling to Stratford for the Shakespeare Festival, I got a creeping sensation...this book is getting awfully close to my stomping grounds. My mother and I were in Stratford just three weeks ago.

Then, suddenly:
...I was handed a sealed envelope with my name on it by one of the ushers. I was obliged to sit before I could open it. The note inside, in a handwriting I knew, read: "My darling: Dinner 8 P.M., Wolpert Hotel, Kitchener."
Yes, I LIVE in that city which Barth describes as "in the middle of nowhere." What's more, the "very European old hotel" is no doubt the WALPER Hotel, built in 1893 after a fire destroyed the original 1820's structure. The Walper is a grand old landmark where drag queens such as yours truly have, at various times, performed in "the improbably elegant German dining room on the second floor."

Given the way the book is going, I'm waiting to come across the character of Muffy St. Bernard IV, bastard offspring of Napoleon and Mary Shelley.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I'd Buy Anything By...Bootsy Collins

You need a lot of ingredients to make a genuinely funky stew, and Bootsy Collins provides two of the major ones: a cute/mischievous sense of humour, and a low end that sounds like vicious soul food defecation.

Bootsy's a brilliantly unconventional slap/wow bass player, and over the years he has developed a complex mythology to rival George Clinton's "Star Child" stuff...and at the same time he's managed to be surprisingly down-to-earth and make songs you actually want to LISTEN to. Clowns, aliens, werewolves, Casper, Bootzilla, platforms, star-glasses, and underneath it all a really sweet and approachable guy (so they say).

You can hear Bootsy on the mid-period Parliament and Funkadelic albums -- and he's even lurking around on some of James Browns' classic tracks -- but he's best discovered as a solo artist, particularly on his first two releases. He took the Parliament sound, boosted the Horny Horns, added a snappy "rubber band" quality, made it "friendlier," and even did some memorable ballads. Bootsy, I love you, baby-baba.

Here he is with the classic Rubber Band, coming out of his sheet to do a memorable space-bass solo:

Bootsy's put out some stinkers, that's for sure, but even the BAD stuff is redeemed by his enthusiasm and his eccentricity. Like the rest of the funkateers he manages to pull it all together every few years, update his sound, and release another gem. Case in point: "Play with Bootsy," a terrific song (and video) featuring Kelli Ali (also brilliant, also worth checking out). It's not "Bootsy's Rubber Band" anymore, but it's still Bootsy.

Albums to buy: "Stretchin' Out" and "The Name is Bootsy, Baby!" (his first two releases, both a combination of wild fun and sweet ballads). Albums to avoid: "What's Bootsy Doin'?" (has some good moments but is far too silly). For fans only: "Lord of the Harvest" by Zillatron (Bootsy becomes a sort of werewolf monster, teams up with Buckethead, and takes samples from "The Howling"...very strange but captivating if you stick with it).

Shamus 2

Ah yes, give me a game I can map and I'll be happy for hours. I didn't care much for William Mataga's "Shamus: Case II" back in 1983, but thanks to the joy of emulation -- and the instructions here -- I can finally enjoy the game. And win it. On the Novice level. By saving it an awful lot.

I couldn't find any online maps or spoilers for Shamus 2, so here are mine. I'm sorry the map isn't very pretty (click for a larger version).
And here are the spoilers: there are 38 rooms, the devilish "sliding ladders" start to appear in room 27, and the only way across room 20 is to fall down into the ingenious "hidden room" (17).

Room 38 contains a "detonator." After you've armed it you need to get back to room zero (which you can do in ten moves), at which time you're told that "The Shadow is dead on this level" and you start at the Intermediate level. The instructions say that you actually DO BATTLE with The Shadow, so I assume that eventually you do get to meet him.

It's a nifty game with neat cross-genre appeal, but the real joy for me is the joy of mapping. The higher levels are probably the same, maybe with different obstacles...YOU can find out!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Rudolph, Randolph, and Scamp

I'm sitting on my balcony and reading, waiting for my laundry to dry. Rudolph, the resident black squirrel, climbs down his tree and on to the grass below. He tolerates a bit of yelling from the grey squirrel who lives in a nearby oak, then runs across the lawn and around the corner. Autumn's coming and he's looking for food.

A few minutes later I see an identical black squirrel follow the exact same path. Either Rudolph is a magic squirrel or he's got a friend, who I decide must be Randolph. The names are easily confused but so are the squirrels; they're impossible to tell apart.

Eventually I hear a squeaking noise, the sound of claws on metal, and I see that Rudolph is foraging in the neighbouring building's eavestroughs. I see his tail rushing along, leaves flying out of the tough, and then he looks out. He might be accustomed to finding seeds or insects there. Randolph is on the ground, looking up. He effortlessly scales the brickwork, jumps onto the neighbour's balcony, jumps twice more to a window ledge and then a power line, and takes the powerline highway into the tree. Seconds later he's on the roof with Rudolph. I expect a fight but they work collectively, both of them scraping through the eavestroughs, leaves flying. It's hot outside and Randolph occasionally lies down for a quick rest, but Rudolph keeps him on his toes. I suspect there's some flirting going on here. One of them might be a Dolphina.

A third black squirrel, smaller than the others, jumps out of the tree. They push through the eavestroughs together. This is getting complicated; one will rest, the others will rush forward and backward, they'll look at each other, click sharply in the hot air, run back to search some more. Eventually the three run back to the tree and I decide that the little one is "Scamp."

Back to my reading. All is quiet until I see Rudolph and Randolph jump down onto the powerline again. This line is in a "V" shape, joining my balcony, the tree, and the neighbour's balcony. This time they're coming towards me, closer and closer, looking for the stale bread or crackers I sometimes leave here.

Rudolph makes a terrifying leap and lands on the railing beside me, then -- realizing that I'm there -- jumps OVER MY HEAD and on to the opposite railing where he climbs down and out of sight.

Randolph, however, is more curious. He stands on the railing only a few feet away, shifting east and west, stopping, lifting one paw up in a weight-lifter's stance, oscillating his vocal chords with the shiver of his tail. He is thin but incredibly muscular. I am amazed at the size of his claws, the breadth of his forehead, the strength in his coiled-up body. He isn't built like a rat at all. He is a compact spring, strong, intelligent. I had no idea that squirrels were so powerful; I know that sounds funny but it's true.

He is about three feet away from me, close to where my feet are propped up on the railing. He knows I'm there, even though I'm not moving. I wonder what he wants; he obviously hasn't been trained to beg for food, but does he have an innate understanding of human generosity? Or is he angry? Rabid? His eyes aren't friendly...I realize that squirrels only look cute because they want something or they're far away. I don't know what Randolph wants but his proximity and attention is nerve-wracking.

Then I notice that the other squirrel, Rudolph, is on the opposite railing a few feet to my right. I can't see both of them at once. They are both making that oscillating noise, staring directly at me from either side. This is like a coordinated attack. Scamp is on the powerline too but he isn't coming closer, he's fearful.

I have an overpowering urge to speak to Randolph, but I don't want to scare him. So I go "mmmmmm," without moving my lips. He stops fidgeting and stares. I go "mmmmmm" again. He stares, motionless. Huge eyes and ugly nose.

Rudolph runs away, and Scamp follows the powerline back to the tree they obviously live in. Randolph turns east, turns west, takes one more look into my eyes, and then he's gone too. Down the sheer vertical cliff of my balcony and into the tree.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Barthathon: "Giles Goat-Boy"

The first time I read John Barth's "Giles Goat-Boy" (1966) I was totally baffled. It seemed like a giant mess of confusing, cyclic plots and satirical references, spelling out a grand and almost transcendent philosophy that I was just too stupid to grasp. The second time -- a few years ago -- I was impatient to "get the point," and I skimmed the dull parts in order to achieve that elusive transcendence. I failed again...but was even MORE intrigued. All of Barth's other books were digestible, after all...why should this one be any different? And if the theme was so complex as to be almost impossible to understand, it must be a REAL piece of wisdom!

Now that I've read the book for the third time -- and very carefully too -- I can say with authority that there's a very good reason why I never understood its philosophical point before: the book is way too long, way too complicated, terribly organized, and an almost complete failure in so many ways. To use one of its own terms -- which makes me a little nauseous to see one more time -- "Giles Goat-Boy" is flunkéd.

I warn you now that I'm going to give it all away. The book's central (hidden, poorly realized) theme is that of paradoxical opposites living together in sort-of-harmony, and the paradox of "Giles Goat-Boy" is that the IDEAS are interesting, but they are too complicated to be interesting to read. So I'll spell them out here (as best as I think I understand them), to at least save you the 800 pages of the book itself.

Oh, the superficial ideas are clever. They're BRILLIANT, in fact. "Giles Goat-Boy" is presented as a computer-generated biographical reconstruction, given to a professor/author whose initials happen to be "J.B.," and then published by a reluctant publishing company. Already we have the traditional Barthian conceit of an unreliable manuscript, pieced together from multiple sources, handed down through a long line of anonymous people, and ending with a suspicious final chapter which may or may not be fraudulent.

So "Giles Goat-Boy" is a sort of New Testament (actually subtitled "The Revised New Syllabus") which tells the story of a hero-to-be, a goat-boy whose life fits the pattern of mythical heroes and prophets...yes, it's that "heroic pattern" that John Barth later explores in "Chimera."

Like Bellerophon from "Chimera," the goat-boy (George) is convinced that he is a prophet, and he tries his best to fit the archetype of the hero/prophet. Also like Bellerophon, this goes poorly, because George himself is no heroic stereotype; he's a flawed human who was raised as a goat, he is just as confused and uncertain as the people around him, and his attempts to "fit the pattern" go horribly awry: how can a REAL person ever fit into an IDEAL?

Besides the "heroic pattern" element, this book's other conceit is that George lives in a world based around a "University" idiom. The countries are all "colleges," the prophets are "tutors," the newspaper reporters are "journalism majors," the wars are "riots." Written in 1966, the major conflict -- the "Quiet Riot" -- is between New Tammany College (America) and the Nikolayan College (the "Student Unionist" USSR). George -- self-styled "Grand Tutor" -- wants to end the Quiet Riot by disarming the technological/war/political machine embodied by a computer called "WESCAC" (and the Nikolayan "EASCAC" counterpart). Then he wants to lead everybody to "Commencement Gate" (enlightenment) by showing them how to "pass" (an uncertain term, sort of "do the correct thing" or "live properly").

The people that he meets -- and tries to "pass" -- are all representations of human ideas and stereotypes: Max, his mentor, a disaffected Jewish ex-Student Unionist obsessed with his own unworthiness; Leonid, a Nikolayan spy who so desires to be selfless that he is potentially selfish; Croaker, a Frumentian (African) savage who is essentially "the body" to Dr. Eirkopf's withered and emotionless "mind"; Stoker, the crass, tempting, and misleading "dean o' flunks" (devil); Peter Greene, the necessarily blind embodiment of all American vice and virtue; Ira Hector, the selfish industrialist; Chancellor Rexford, the man who leads the "campus" with charisma but accomplishes nothing; Dr. Sear, the jaded upper-class professional; and Anastasia...errr, sort of a compendium of female traits, I suppose.

George tries to tutor these people while fending off the threat of Jerome Bray -- a mysterious, inhuman, and truly disturbing co-claimant to Grand Tutorhood -- and carrying out a set of cryptic but typically heroic tasks assigned to him by WESCAC.

The first four hundred pages of the book are LOTS of fun. You get an excellent gloss of world conflict, relgion, and sociology as satirized within the "University" idiom. As an added bonus you also get a lesson in heroic tragedy with "The Tragedy of Taliped Decanus," a hilarious seventy page retelling of "Oedipus Rex" (in rhyming heroic couplets and '60s slang).

Then, having gone through his preliminary obstacles, George begins to tutor. He believes that, to pass, everybody must learn to create firm categories and distinctions: passing is different from failing, good is different from bad, east is different from west, selfishness is different from selflessness, etc. He discusses this idea with each of the people mentioned above, and solves all of his tasks using this method: boundaries must be moved apart, people must remain unyielding in their principles. He is 100% convinced that this is the correct way to "pass"...but he has some tiny doubts now and then that he can't nail down.

We read hundreds of pages of philosophical debate. George debates everybody. He discusses all the ramifications of his theory. He manages to convince everybody (and the reader) that rigid categorization is the way to "pass"...

...and then his solutions fail. Things get worse. His "tutees" are more flunkéd than ever. Barth is, I suppose, criticizing dogmatism.

After an extended period of moping, George realizes that he was wrong: people must FORSAKE all categories: boundaries must CEASE to exist, people must accept ALL principles. Passing IS failing, and vice versa! For another hundred pages he tutors all of the above people again, teaching them this new way to "pass"...despite his tiny doubts. And once again, while sitting through these seemingly endless debates, the reader is convinced that George has finally got it figured out...

...and then his solutions fail. Things get even WORSE. George winds up getting lynched, with a goathorn stuck up his butt, the fate (Barth is telling us) of those who see EVERYTHING in shades of gray, refusing to recognize extremes.

After an extended period of moping, George realizes that he was wrong once again: people must...errr, he knows EXACTLY what they must do! For a third time he tutors everybody, but gives them contradictory advice that doesn't seem to have a purpose.He still has lots of doubts, but those doubts no longer bother him. He engages in a series of very '60s sex/conception/womb moments with Anastasia, briefly short-circuits WESCAC, and finally drives the nightmarish Jerome Bray off campus (maybe).

And what is George's grand philosophy, the one you've read 800 pages to learn? Oh jeez, you better have read close, because Barth does a piss-poor job of explaining it. The best I can understand, George has realized that the world is full of necessary contradictions and paradoxes; fighting against paradoxes is failure, but bringing yourself close enough to the paradoxes so that you can see them clearly -- and yet accept them as unsolvable or irrelevant -- is the only way to pass...which is simultaneously failure, but that's just one of life's paradoxes, that nobody really passes or fails, because we're full of contradictions, and so is the world, etc.

As you can imagine, this is NOT the resolution of a self-help book. The thing is, when you're reading "Giles Goat-Boy," you are anticipating SOME sort of return, but what you get is a concept so complicated, recursive, and difficult to live with that not even the AUTHOR can explain it properly. Since George (and Barth) seem to believe that the concept is impossible to really grasp...well, he literally seems to give up trying. The book falls flat on its face.

Infuriating. Fatally flawed. Passéd and flunkéd...but maybe THAT is the point? ARGH!

Anyway, I'm so exhausted by this book that I can't talk about it anymore, but since this is "The Barthathon," how does it fit into his body of work? This is the first time he really tries (and fails) to understand male-female relationships. The heroic pattern is also explored for the first time (intentionally at least). You've also got twins, agonized impotence, and Zeno's paradoxes (which will come up again in "On With the Story," I believe). Nobody goes to Maryland or sails a ship, and in many ways this is the most "un-Barth" of all the Barth novels, but "Chimera" later gives us both a mythology-distilling computer and "Jerome Bray" (J.B. again?)