Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The DJ Nightmare Detailed

I have mentioned the "soundboard nightmare" a few times here, and the accompanying "DJ nightmare" as well. For some unknown reason I had it again this morning. It was typical and serves as a description of how they tend to go:

I am auditioning to be the DJ at a huge roller-rink which has been converted to a nightclub. They want me to do a "Retro 80s Goth Night," and I am confident that I can do this, especially because most of the patrons are my friends.

Unfortunately the CD players aren't working so I am forced to use vinyl...this is a slower process and I don't have a lot of vinyl with me. To start off with a bang -- and prove my credibility -- I play an obscure and well-loved song that everybody dances to usually, but instead, the crowd just stares at me and goes back to talking to each other. They are not drunk enough for this particular song. It was a bad choice.

In the booth with me is an acquaintance who is trying to help me, but instead of doing so he is simply a witness to all my mistakes, and a more immediate and professional judge than the invisible bar owner. When I cue up the next song he whispers that it's actually being auditioned on the program channel, and he shows me how to cue the record properly, even though it's something I should have known long ago.

Scrambling to unpack my records, the only other vinyl I have on hand so far is Belinda Carlisle, and I am forced to play's either that or dead air while I find something else. A few people dance sarcastically, and others begin to request songs.

I try to listen to their requests while unpacking the records, mindful that the Belinda Carlisle song is coming to an end, but all the records I'm pulling out are the "long-shot" ones that I shouldn't even bother carrying around: totally obscure choices that nobody ever wants to hear. They're on the top of the pile, apparently. Meanwhile a girl is trying to describe a song she wants to hear, but she doesn't know the name or artist so instead she's talking about the artist's lifestyle. I know that she's describing a newer song -- not one from the '80s -- but I have to let her finish before I can tell her I can't play it.

Just before the Belinda Carlisle song ends I find The Cure's "The Walk" single, and frantically get it set up and played...but it's a B-side flamenco guitar version. Some diehard Cure fans dance, but they don't really want to be doing so.

I believe I have the perfect follow-up, which will also serve as my redemption: the live version of Depeche Mode's "Everything Counts." But I can't find the album. I keep finding OTHER editions of their live album, but never the one with "Everything Counts" on it. Finally the previous song ends and there is a moment of dead air as I slap a different Depeche Mode album down and play something randomly...and it's an "unplugged" version with extended acoustic guitar solos.

A drunken friend jumps onto the dancefloor and starts acting obnoxious, dancing ridiculously and invading everybody's personal spaces. The few people who WERE dancing have left because of him. Meanwhile, up in the booth, I've managed to play ANOTHER incorrect version of a song, and this one is only seventy-one seconds long...even though I now have everything unpacked I'm unable to find a follow-up song which matches it. I'm fumbling with records, all of which have unwieldy gatefold covers and oddly-shaped record sleeves which cannot be swapped between them.

I keep on thinking that I will do better soon -- finally get organized and "in the groove" -- but it just never happens...I have ruined the night for everybody.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"The Substitute" ("Vikaren")

When I rent a movie that has been somehow handled by Lionsgate Entertainment, I am pretty much assured that I'll regret doing so. It won't be TERRIBLE, necessarily, just based on a derivative, quick-sell idea that has been bungled by fools during every step of the movie-making process. I mean jeez, they don't even know how to punctuate their company's name properly.

Yesterday I watched "Chill," which was leagues worse than even the WORST Lionsgate crap, so when I realized that the movie I rented TODAY was ALSO handled by Lionsgate I thought I was going to have to chop my own hands off, to prevent myself from doing such a thing ever again.

But no! It was "The Substitute" (or "Vikaren"), a beautifully-produced Danish film more fairy tale than horror flick, and it had more charm and invention than every other Lionsgate production combined. It's about an alien who poses as a substitute teacher in order to abduct a group of precocious pre-teens, and...well, that's it, really. The film is all about the children trying to resist her designs while their parents -- under the most ridiculously cheerful mind control you've ever seen -- literally drag their screaming kids back to class.

At the center of it all is actress Paprika Steen. As the alien teacher she is by turns sweet, bizarre, and absolutely evil, cruelly taunting the doomed children one moment and then sucking up to their parents the next. Steen deserves an award, but she probably doesn't need one because I suspect she relished the role.

On the downside, "The Substitute" tends to drag a bit and the ending effects are both jarring and unnecessary. What's more, the "love conquers all" theme is laid on pretty thick, ruining what should otherwise have been a relatively gritty story.

I wonder, though, if I'm the only person who has noticed that the story was ripped off from a piece of short fiction from the '80s. I'm afraid I can't remember the story's title or author -- I'll go hunting through my collection to find it later -- but it was about an alien who needs fresh recruits for her army, so she comes to earth as a substitute teacher in order to abduct children. She arrives in class and tries to teach the children about the politics and geography of her planet, and just when she's in the process of teleporting them all away, one of the kids manages to "pop" her like a balloon.

Sound familiar? To clinch it, the teacher in the story was (I think) named "Oona," and the teacher in the movie was "Ulla." Hmmmm.

Blatant plagiarism aside, "The Substitute" is far more interesting than the original short story was, and if you like a dark fairytale with a lot of humour, a few frights, and hundreds of chickens, this film is perfect. But take my advice: switch the audio to the original Danish, and turn on the English subtitles instead. The dubbing is terrible, and probably the only thing Lionsgate had a paw in.

PS: Here's a trailer...without subtitles I'm afraid.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Life in No-Time

I am not an efficient person if I don't have some sort of schedule. The very act of going to work five days a week is enough to keep me on track...buying groceries, cleaning the litterbox, actually getting dressed. Without that schedule, though, I'm jelly.

Right now I'm in the middle of a two week enforced vacation. For the most part I've been living a dreary half-life of sleeping, eating, and shuffling around aimlessly. Part of this time has been sent making sure my Sims graduate from university, but I'm proud to say that I AM in the process of accomplishing a few tasks, and I did in fact clean the litterbox this afternoon.

First, I've been reading Boswell's "Life of Johnson," which is by turns interesting and tedious. Samuel Johnson is still remembered as a man of language and wit, but it's apparent that his celebrated dinner-table ramblings were deliberately contrary and too often half-baked. What's more, they were usually little more than nasty gossip about OTHER 18th century men of wit, which means I can rarely care much about his subject matter.

Every page of "Life of Johnson" is pretty much like this:
The following night I was priveleged to dine with Samuel Johnson and his guests [Notable Reverend], [Famous Playwrite], [Respected Politician], and [Silly Annoying Person]. [Silly Annoying Person] was unfortunate in espousing his respect for [Much-Admired Scottish Poet]. Johnson wasted no time in cutting the poor man to shreds, calling any who so much as READ [Much-Admired Scottish Poet] a "blockhead," and then, turning on [Silly Annoying Person], making the pointed remark that "those who go so far as to read and then ADMIRE [Much-Admired Scottish Poet] are twice-over blockheads, who see in poetry little more than a reflection of their own inadequacies, and who are no better than the Scottish people themselves," which I felt a pretty cruel statement from so great a man.
Anyway, when I'm not wishing I could poke Samuel Johnson in his single remaining good eye, I am learning to play the bass.

Surprise! I borrowed a bass and an amp from my father, and I'm pleased to say I'm picking it up pretty well. I haven't even reached the "beginner" stage yet, but since I started last week with no knowledge of what a fret even WAS, I'm to the point where I can at least play the C Major scale and make my way through a two-octave tetrachord, which probably sounds harder than it is.

Pictures coming eventually (because it's all about the image of course).

Plan for a Holiday Blackout

1. The blue flashlight is in the second drawer of the hallway closet. There is also a yellow flashlight there which you bought when you forgot that you already had one.

2. Using either the blue or the yellow flashlight, find your way downstairs to the kitchen cupboards and locate the matches and candles you bought during the last blackout. Since that happened several years ago, you are not entirely sure which cupboard to look in, but you have faith that the matches and candles are still there. Unless you moved them, in which case you're in trouble.

3. Which to light: the tea lights or the tall, thin candles from the variety store? The tall candles need to be anchored to saucers with wax and you do not trust them; they totter and could start a fire. And you have very few clean saucers. But the tall, thin candles are much brighter than the more stable tea lights.

4. Once the candles are lit, turn the flashlight off. You may need it again and it's easier to manage in an emergency. What if you need to shine light into a corner? What if you need to run? Play it safe and use candles whenever you can.

5. When you enter a room, flick the light switch and be surprised when nothing happens. Realize that you've never noticed which of your switches were installed upside down.

6. Stand at the window and watch the savage snow and wind. Remark at the lack of streetlights and the cars that creep uncertainly. When you remark on these things you are speaking to an empty, dark apartment, except for the shadow which creaks in other rooms and which used to be your cat.

7. Fetch sweaters for warmth. The furnace is off. Do not sit too close to the candles. Put on slippers.

8. Give up all attempts to read during candlelight. This is why people went to bed so early in the 18th century. You cannot think of a single productive, solitary, modern thing to do by candlelight. Our ancestors had different eyes than we do.

9. Pile the extra blankets on the bed and try to sleep. Your nose is cold and you can barely breathe from the pressure of so many coverlets. The cat is desperate to join you. Listen to gusting wind, rattling the windows and ringing the chimes. Drift off to each lull and wake each time your apartment shakes.

10. Hours later, jump up in shock when the lights come on.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

There is an evil air which surrounds the holidays. A partridge, exposed to it, would die.

My day is finished, I am rushing under a weight of dark clouds and snow. There isn't enough work to do now and I find it painfully difficult to pass the time. The questions I ask go unanswered because the world is losing its people; only the old and sick are left behind to mingle with the busy, and none of them have time to gather together. They've closed the doors to their homes and offices. They have no plans.

My own plans have changed to include foresight; I must find my way home, I must eat, I must wake up again tomorrow. In my dreams I see a wind-blurred deadline which refuses to be observed, but just as stubbornly refuses to be moved. When it arrives it will catch me standing there, exhausted, mouth hanging open. It will knock the tree over.

At home I can't bear to do the cleaning. Instead I stand at the glass and watch hills around me blow apart and become smoking-white planes. This vacation is a time for losing things: a friendship, a soul, a pair of beautifully-knitted mittens. These things are replaced by a freeze which comes through the bottom and sides of the kitchen door.

There is an evil air to the holidays, a pressure, a losing. I'll say something nice to the mailman when he comes back.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Knife

Workmate Mr. App occasionally turns me on to some fantastic music. This week he exposed me to The Knife, and loaned me their most recent album, "Silent Shout."

They're certainly not perfect -- they have a distinctive "recorded in our home studio" sound -- but there is something so unpleasant and honest about them that I can't help being charmed. The Swedish accents help, as do the vocalists who sound like detuned pixies who have been locked up in an abandoned asylum for far too long.

If it were more straight-forward it would be insufferably angsty. Fortunately it is not straight-forward.

Here's my favourite so far: "We Share Our Mothers' Health."

We and Kyle

We travel north to study the newly discovered insects. Kyle Borrowman is assigned to us, and we respect him because the dossier says that he can survive. He's not an entomologist, of course -- there's enough of us here already! -- but he understands how to climb hilltops, and how to find fresh water on the top of the hilltops he climbs, and he can also make a special kind of dirt-food that is edible if not always tasty. Kyle Borrowman has ensured the survival some very important people, says the dossier that we pass around, disinterested. OUR survival is not the first thing on our minds.

We have never learned to preserve anything larger than a bug. We're accustomed to sterile conditions where food and water are always available, sometimes fed to us automatically when we're busy. Apparently, for this journey, we NEED somebody like Kyle Borrowman, and since most creatures are in some way dependent on others we like to imagine that he needs us too.

We're not sure of that, we've done no studies.

The north is a difficult environment and our research skills are not very useful. As we travel, Kyle Borrowman saves each of us in turn from a rock slide, a flood, and an infection which spreads from foot to shin. Doctor Feeler almost dies from a snake that she tries to investigate with a stick. Borrowman sucks the venom out and says crude things about her leg.

In light of this we recognize our collective debt to him, and we decide unanimously that Kyle Borrowman is the only member of our party who actually deserves a name. He disagrees, brandishing his handmade axe, and says we're being darn foolish. If we don't stop doing this stuff, he says, he'll go back south and leave us here alone, damnit.

We reclaim our names and we acknowledge that there are certain things we do not understand. Kyle Borrowman approves and offers us tobacco, which we decline because it hurts our lungs. He says "What a bunch of pussies!" and spits.


Researchers are too weak and impractical to survive in the wilderness. Even amongst peers we have trouble with things like public transportation and grocery stores. Some of us have gotten lost in hallways while trying to locate the researchers from other facilities, and even stairways of more than one storey give us trouble.

Kyle Borrowman tends us with a down-home type of tough love; he's dependable but sometimes frightening. The songs he sings have uncouth lyrics and he uses the fat of still-living mammals to waterproof his canoe. Every time we set up our campsite he stores our food high up in a tree, and then he hollers that he's not coming back down to give us any until one of us manages to hit him with a rock. He's the only one who's really good at throwing rocks. Maybe this is his way of encouraging us to try new things. We are never sure when Kyle Borrowman is joking or when he is trying to tough-love us.

He has a sensitive side that is not always apparent. During restful times he listens to waves sloshing against the shore, and he says they remind him of his home by the Lake Of No Name. We, by comparison, listen to the quiet buzzing of microscopic wings in our specimen jars. Kyle says that small things like that are not worth listening to, he is more interested in The Large.

Our camp is scattered with jars made of crystal, and each jar holds something that's very, very small. In a rare mood, far north of the timberline, Kyle Borrowman asks us what all of our junk is for and we don't really know what to say, but after a bit of discussion we try to explain it to him.

"Studying the insects is exciting," one of us says, and the rest of us applaud him. When Kyle Borrowman looks unimpressed, Doctor Feeler reads him some untranslated excerpts from her research notes. "This is what we do," she says. "We study."

Kyle Borrowman doesn't care. "That's fine," he says, "but can any of you do this?" He takes off his shirt and flexes his biceps, which are so massive and hairy that we can't believe we have similar biceps of our own. He turns around and flexes again so we can see him from the back. Doctor Feeler says that she doesn't think she could do such things personally, but she can't speak for anybody else. We agree.

His laugh is meaty, like his smell and like his hands. We can only keep his attention for a short time and we worry that he'll grow bored of us, forget the contract he signed, and leave us in the north to die.

He goes hunting with his axe and brings back rabbits, otters, and bears, all dead. He can drag a monster home by its antlers without sweating more than he usually does. We appreciate the effort but we insist on eating dry rations out of ziplocked bags, and he grunts, annoyed. He has begun brewing his own beer with cheesecloth, tinfoil, and tiny pieces of moss. Sometimes he looks at us and we wonder what he's thinking about.


It becomes terribly hot and the trees are poor shelter. Our little crystal jars reflect light-beams. Our tents steam, the beer ferments with a rich dungy odour, Kyle Borrowman sits drunk and naked on the rock which he calls his throne.

His torso is covered with mosquitoes but this doesn't seem to bother him. When he stares at Doctor Feeler like a lascivious killer, her sunburned face turns perceptively redder and she devotes extra study to her insects.

Our anxiety increases as the heat gets worse. Unable to look directly at our bright thermometers, we estimate the temperature from the oscillations of midges. The radio transmitter no longer works, but on cloudless nights we can hear German opera, and Doctor Pop sings along.

We run out of dry rations but we are afraid to ask Kyle Borrowman to bring some down from the tree-top, which for days has been surrounded by eagerly-fighting crows. We have heard about hunger before, but we have never known it personally. This is not within our realm of research and it is experienced without first setting down a proposal.

"So," says Kyle Borrowman one morning, addressing Doctor Feeler as usual, "you ever DONE IT with a mountain man?"

Nobody answers. It's terribly hot and we stare at our ragged shoes.

He points to the mound of mosquitoes on his crotch. "We gotta get it on."

That night we gather in Doctor Feeler's tent and hold a vote: we will no longer answer any questions which make us feel uncomfortable. We pack the delirious Doctor Pop in formaldehyde put him to bed, and in the morning he dies.

Our weaknesses infuriate Kyle Borrowman, who rarely stirs from his mosquito blanket. He says that Doctor Pop was a useless man who should have drank more fluids to prevent dehydration. He threatens us in a fuzzy voice and his threats, as always, are effective. By simply sitting on his throne and waving his axe around, Kyle Borrowman is more powerful than the rest of us combined.

That afternoon the heat breaks and a downpour floods our tents. We run to Kyle Borrowman for help and we discover that he is gone, and so is Doctor Feeler. She left her notes behind.


One day our savage children see an equally wild old woman stalking our burrow. The woman's lab coat is patched with fur and she is holding a knife in her hands, something tough and made of bone. Instead of fighting, our children jump and holler, and eventually the old woman goes away.

Monday, December 22, 2008

"According to Queeney" by Beryl Bainbridge

Typically, I'm falling in love with Beryl Bainbridge during a time when most of her books are out of print. It seems strange that this woman with a knighthood could be so unknown and so often passed over for awards, but that's probably part of her charm; if Oprah promoted her she'd seem a little less radical.

I read "Harriet Said" on a total whim, and immediately scooped up the few used copies of her books that I could find. I'm treating them like rich delicacies that I don't want to eat all at once, only reading them when I need to rekindle my enthusiasm for books.

After a maddening attempt at reading John McPhee's "Annals of the Former World" (which was like digging through a mile of shifting sand in order to find a few pieces of loose change and a rubber band) I desperately retreated to my Bainbridge stash: "According to Queeney," a 2001 novel about Samuel Johnson's relationship with Hester Thrale and her daughter Queeney.

I know very little about Johnson -- "The Life of Samuel Johnson" is next on my list -- but it seems like Bainbridge has taken various accounts of his life, mashed them up a bit, introduced the inconsistencies you'd expect to find in a wide selection of primary sources -- Queeney's after-the-fact recollections both clarify and obscure the events in the narrative itself -- and then hung a pall of doom over all of it. In the book, Johnson and his friends are obsessed with death, the macabre, and the grotesque, all the more disturbing in the otherwise pastoral setting. None of the characters seem able to get any pleasure out of life unless the events are tainted by bizarre tragedy.

I don't know if this is an established aspect of Johnson's life, but it certainly seems to be part of Bainbridge's general style. From the first "flash-forward" pages, with Johnson's corpse being dissected under a flayed dog which is hung from the ceiling, to the repeated motif of deformity, passive cruelty, injury, and missing buttons, you feel like you're facing 18th century fears as they really were, not as the glossy stereotypes that producers of historical dramas would present.

Visiting France in 1775, Bainbridge's version of Hester Thrale has these main impressions:
She watched the scarlet streaks flooding the darkening sky and thought of other things: of the Queen's gown made of gauze adorned with flowers and of the pearl bracelets on her wrists; of the French way of cruelly whipping their horses over the face; of the infants in the Foundling Hospital pining away to perfect skeletons and expiring in neat cribs with a bottle hung to its neck containing a milk mess , which if they could suck on they might live, and if not, would die; of the anniversary of her wedding day some two days past and of Henry presenting her wifh flowers and stammering she had been a good wife to him. That she had never been in love was not a great deprivation, for what one had never known was scarcely to be fretted over.
The darkness of Anna Kavan, but readable and superbly written. It doesn't make me happy to read "According to Queeney" but it sure makes me swooney.


On the final day of shooting, the director notices me and he has a revelation: my eyes are perfect, he says, and so is my bearing, as one who has served proudly and remained below the status she has deserved. I will be elevated, he tells me. I will play the part.

A headdress is prepared. Against my wishes I am placed before a mirror to practice my lines. My own replacement, a new servant, whispers to me what I already know: this is blasphemous, it is against the rules and the customs. I must not do this thing, even in jest. I must not appear without makeup. I must not speak in my own voice.

The director is busy with his other duties. During rehearsals the actors look at me with a mixture of hostility and pity. They know I can't be allowed to do this. So do I.

The next morning I lie in bed, listening. The headdress has been quietly removed from my room. Somebody else is saying my lines in the courtyard.

The Muffyoglb

There comes a time, with any endeavor, when I feel that I've said everything I want to say within certain parameters. Having set myself a goal of tone and style, and having laid down rules for my own behaviour, I have a blast for two or three years and then -- slowly -- my enthusiasm wanes. That's how I felt with the Bollybob reviews and with the old She-Devils radio show.

Unfortunately that's also how I've begun to feel about "The Muffyblog."

When I started the blog I unconsciously chose the approach of writing first-person, experience-based posts in an almost "essay" style. I'd just started my technical writing job and, perhaps influenced by it, I tried to stay away from fanciful things, unfinished ideas, or just plain fantasy.

When I DID write inscrutable posts I fell afoul of my OTHER rule, one more consciously-decided: to respond to EVERY SINGLE COMMENT that anybody left for me. I wanted to be warm and friendly and welcoming. But whenever somebody asked me "what did you MEAN by that?" I felt the need to answer their question, even though I feel that inscrutable posts should NOT be explained.

In addition, I felt that I couldn't just respond to a comment by saying simply "Thanks!" or "I agree," I needed to write MEANINGFUL responses, which became increasingly difficult the more informal the comments were. In short, I felt I needed to write mini-essays to comments that the person probably didn't even expect a RESPONSE to, let alone one that was interesting or entertaining or meaningful.

As my mailbox filled with notifications of comments posted I grew increasingly avoidant. If I didn't meet a quota of at least one post for every day of the month, I felt like I was failing. And I had that nagging, familiar feeling that there were no more posts left in my head because I'd already said everything I'd wanted to.


The idea of "The Muffyoglb" is a liberation from this. It's a subtle change of philosophy. Rather than needing to write sociological studies of every experience in my life -- and not posting them until I've thought them through to some extent -- "The Muffyoglb" will be a spot for me to post what I feel like posting. I'm sure there will be unconscious rules for what I've posted -- that's inevitable -- but at least they'll be different rules, and hopefully more inspiring to me.

As for the comments, that's where the CONSCIOUS change is: I have promised myself that I no longer need to respond to them. I still crave them, and I'll read every single one of them, and if there are some that I want to answer then I definitely will...but I'll no longer NEED to. Comments will foremost be reader-created addendums to posts, if any are made.


Thank you for reading "The Muffyblog" and "The Muffyglob" over the last few years! Maybe "The Muffyoglb" will be exactly the same, or maybe it will go totally stagnant, but either way I feel like a weight has been removed from my back...and that's a good thing for me. It's probably a good thing for the blog as well!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

As an Extension of the Below Post

Two come-on lines I heard tonight:
MAN: Do you know how hot you two girls are?


MAN: Do your boyfriends know?
That's a clever way of determining a person's level of attachment. And then, said to me:
MAN: Were you on "So You Think You Can Dance?"
What the hell? Who responds positively to that? It's so totally out of this world that the speaker must be both drunk and stupid.

Unless I really WAS on "So You Think You Can Dance" and I just don't remember it.

The Fetish

Friday nights at Club Abstract teach me a lot about human behaviour...I mean, the behaviour of humans that I don't deal with in every day life, at least not in an intimate, pseudo-sexual way.

These Friday nights are very heterosexual: young men go there to find women to have sex with, and young women are in the privileged position of being able to pick and choose among the men at the bar. This is not an unusual situation...

...until I arrive, because I genuinely enjoy the music and because I trust the staff. My very presence in the bar is a case study in gender, because suddenly the focus changes.

(I don't want to say that I am the ONLY person who could disrupt the bar's focus in such a way, because obviously I only know what happens there when I'm actually THERE. Still, I assume that when I'm there the men get somewhat distracted by the creature that is Muffy, and...well, I'm not really sure what the average girl does when I'm there).

I'm VERY curious about the men who are attracted to me...and I mean, the men who really know that I'm a man, which is increasingly obvious as I get older. I want to know WHY they like me, and my incessant questions are probably the ultimate turn-off for guys that I'm already determined NOT to be involved with: who do you NORMALLY date? What do you LIKE about me? What do you EXPECT?

After a brief interaction with Spanish men who had obnoxious stories to tell about "traps" they'd met in the past, I was extensively fumbled by a "straight identified" guy who simply wanted sex...and this was the sort of situation that could simply go on and on and on.

Who are these guys? These men who have virulently heterosexual friends and who go out looking for women, but perhaps never pick them up because they don't REALLY LIKE the women. What do they WANT? When I show up in their ecosystem -- the fish they truly desire to catch but never expect to actually find -- how do they ultimately RELATE to me?

That's the really interesting question. Sometimes they get disturbed and scared. Sometimes they express a deep hostility, quietly, under their breath. Usually they just tell stupid jokes. Tonight was the first time I was approached by a man who really tried to make me feel GUILTY: "I don't ever get chances like this and you're REFUSING my advances? You're ruining my LIFE!"

I suspect that this is a technique used by bar-men frequently, to get women to sleep with them anyway, so this is surely nothing new. In this situation it was particularly nasty because I honestly DO want such men to find comfort...I want them to be able to explore their sexuality without their jerkoff friends taking covert pictures of me, which they were, oddly.

But -- as I explained -- we're all adults, and we're all responsible for our sexuality...and if you want to keep your sexuality HIDDEN it's best not to do it around the aforementioned jerkoff friends. Especially not when you're way too drink and are about to be kicked out for two dozen different reasons, one of which is your treatment of me.

I don't pretend that my own sexuality something easy to deal with. I like to think that I'll help others to explore theirs as well. But I suppose my message to the world is that being somebody's "fetish" is not necessarily a complimentary thing, and -- most importantly -- that "no means no."

Still, however, I find myself wondering: what do these men want from me? Is this just a fantasy? Or, more unlikely, something more significant? What do they LIKE? Who am *I* to them? Everybody probably asks these questions, at least in their heads.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cat with Mother's Eyes

Suitcase packed! Cat-sitter booked! Plans made! All ready to have a blow-out weekend in, socializing, schmoozing!

And then the storm came. Then it continued to come. Then it REALLY came, and threatened to come for many hours hence. In my mind's eye I saw myself stuck in a stranded bus on the 401, surrounded by emotional misfits and knife-wielding executioners. Then I saw myself actually IN Toronto, trudging through snow and wind to both arrive at and depart from J&C's apartment sanctuary.

My cat looked at me with the eyes of my mother. When I was a young adult, my mother would look at me and say "You CAN'T go out in this sort of weather." Unconcerned with my mortality and resenting any form of control I would go out anyway, and get stuck in ditches and mowed down by ravaging snowplows.

But now I'm an adult. My mother didn't dare say "You CAN'T go out in this sort of weather," but my CAT seemed to. And as frail and senile as she seems to be getting I can't disregard the wisdom that best-laid plans SHOULD be aborted when the situation calls for it. I'm not a quitter or a loser, I'm just being SENSIBLE.

Thanks, ma. Thanks, Zsa. I'm staying home today. Sigh!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Cowboy Junkies Musical Moment

Tomorrow night's another Club Renaissance "Glamourspunk Night," and in a quest to find new songs to perform I've finally tackled the holy grail: "'Cause Cheap Is How I Feel" by Cowboy Junkies.

It's already a risky song because it's slow and sad, but it's also eloquent and poignant and awfully fitting for a "bar performance around Christmas." The only problem is the extended instrumental portion in the middle, which consists of a steel guitar solo followed by an accordion solo, during which the key and the mood changes from "I'm game" to "I've found temporary happiness" to "I'm simply resigned."

Cutting instrumentals out of songs is easy enough to do, and I do it frequently to prevent me from prancing about on stage with nothing to do. But this instrumental is one of the most important parts of the tells a story in a way the words never could. And the solos are so individual and complete that you simply cannot chop pieces out of them. Believe me, I've tried.

After all this editing frustration I can only conclude one thing: this song is a perfect construction which cannot be dismantled. You can't take a single thing out of it without throwing the whole thing out of balance. That's annoying, but it's also evidence of a really special piece of music. This is one of the world's most under appreciated "musical moments."

I guess I'll just have to come up with some "business" in the middle.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Coalition Crisis, Yarrgh

I have to admit I'm getting a real kick out of Canada's sudden "coalition crisis." It's not just that I'm hoping to see Stephen Harper get trounced, or that I believe it really IS time for Liberals and NDPs to join up and stop splitting the vote...I'm mainly excited because stuff like this doesn't HAPPEN very often in Canadian politics.

First off you've got Harper's lackey presenting a preliminary budget and an economic statement that is both ridiculous AND a punch in the progressive nose. Rather than nurse their sore noses and let Harper get away with it, the three opposition parties ganged up and utilized a totally bizarre -- but also totally legal -- parliamentary move which allows them to simply kick Harper out of power and replace him...with themselves!

As if that weren't fun enough, everybody's screaming at everybody else because this tricky maneuver requires the cooperation of the Bloc Québécois, the stinkiest party in Ottawa. Every few years it is necessary for somebody to cozy up with the Bloc, which prompts a firestorm of insults from everybody else: "Your party is in bed with the SEPARATISTS, and therefore you HATE CANADA!" What's amusing is that few people outside of the parliamentary chamber actually believe this rhetoric, especially since the people yelling those insults had no doubt cozied up to the Bloc just a year or two before. That's the case now, and it was also the case the last three times this happened.

It's hard not to view Canadian parliament as childish. They're no more cynical and immature than other governments, I'm sure, but they also tend to secretly WANT TO GET ALONG. So even when they scream and shout at each other, you know that deep down inside they hope it'll all blow over and they can all be friends.

But this time, it's like one of the babies in Parliament pushed the other babies down...and then they all pulled out GUNS! It's like, wow, you guys MEAN it this time! You really HATE each other! This is SO COOL!

I can say this with an air of amused detachment because I have no doubt that things will work out just fine. It's easy to get outraged about the microscopic elements of Canadian politics, but when I view it from a two- or three-year distance it all looks pretty much the same. That's good for unity, but bad for engagement.

I like it the way it is.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Dr. Seuss and Flit: "Mosquitoville"

Just look at this estranged couple, he in his baggy, ill-fitting clothing and she with a figure so broken down that her breasts almost reach her waistline. This, apparently, is what happens when you waste away in Mosquitoville, lookin' for your lost sprayer of Flit.

This episode of "Dr. Seuss and Flit" brought to you by the May 11, 1929 issue of The New Yorker magazine.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fred and Portland

I hear a lot of great comedy duos while listening to old time radio, but one of my favourites is Fred Allen and Portland Hoffa. There's something about his deadpan sarcasm and her earnest stupidity -- and strangely clipped delivery -- that makes me happy. Not to mention they have a decidedly bizarre and almost scary style of humour.

After years of hearing them guest-star on other people's programs, I've finally gotten started on the Fred Allen Show proper. Here I am, listening to the first existent episode (from Christmas day 1932) and I'm already in love.
FRED: Who's first on your list?

PORTLAND: Grandpa. I wanna buy him some liver tonic.

FRED: "Doctor Groan's" is the best.

PORTLAND: Yes, that's very good. The man upstairs used that for twenty years. It cured HIM!

FRED: That's fine.

PORTLAND: He died last week.

FRED: Well, if he died cured, that's something.

PORTLAND: You can't blame the liver tonic.


PORTLAND: No! After the old man died they had to beat his liver with a stick for three days to kill it.
If I had a daughter, I would seriously consider naming her Portland.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Beefcake in Irish Poplin

And the award for LEAST sexy male apparel goes to...

Reis' jimpants of Burton's Irish poplin!

I'm not sure what that entire sentence means exactly, but according to the write-up these jimpants are as "Masculine as a Dunhill pipe" and are "For the man who is really particular about his nether apparel."

What's interesting is that in phys ed we always talked about our "GYM pants," since we wore them in the gymnasium. And even though our pants didn't look like KGB torture devices and we didn't smoke while wearing them, I suppose we never guessed that they were once called "JIMpants." I assume that this was an American-ized version of the term, before they just gave up and used "gym" instead.

Just think, kids...gym could have been worse!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Doctor Who Season Four

For the last few months, friends on Facebook had been dropping hints at how wonderful season four of the new Doctor Who was. With each episode broadcast, they'd update their status: "This is AMAZING!" and "I can't BELIEVE it!" and "Better and BETTER!"

In the meantime I have been totally in the dark, waiting for the DVDs to arrive. Now that I've watched the complete season -- and the commentaries -- I can only say...

...well, yeah. It's pretty incredible.

For some reason these new Doctor Who seasons always fail to grab me for the first five episodes. During the process of introducing the new companion, and "seeding" the story arc, and exposing us to gobs of Russell T. Davies' envelope-pushing wonkiness, the initial stories always seem a bit DESPERATE. And coming on the heels of the previous year's Christmas special -- in which we learned oppressively heavy-handed truths about the Great and Wonderful Goodness of People Who Will Sacrifice Themselves For The Greater Good -- well, I found it hard to swallow the season four setups.

Part of the problem was that I couldn't watch Catherine Tate without thinking of the "Go On, Just GUESS!" woman.

So even though I had a tough time taking Tate seriously as Donna -- not just her, but also the season's somewhat desperate theme that she is the Most Important Person In All The Universe -- and even though the first "two parter" was pretty rotten (as usual), suddenly there was...

..."The Unicorn and the Wasp." The Doctor and companion find themselves in the middle of an elaborate murder mystery which involves Agatha Christie and a giant wasp, and the wasp is actually an illegitimate love-child who tends to "buzz" his esses when he gets very angry...

...and it's just about the funniest thing I've ever seen. Next comes the "Silence of the Library / Forest of the Dead" two-parter, surely one of the SCARIEST Doctor Who episodes ever...until the NEXT episode, "Midnight," which is not just terrifying but also an enormously risky dramatic venture which Davies refers to as "The Goblin in the Corner." I'm amazed that "Midnight" ever got made, and I'm even more amazed that it worked so perfectly.

After that the totally bleak "Turn Left" -- complete with nuclear destruction, refugees, and concentration camps -- and the season finale that brings past companions and spin-off characters together for an amazing punch-out with Davros, and Sarah Jane looking her worst nightmare right in the face...

...and then, to finish it all off, the most tragic and depressing companion farewell in the history of the series, as she is sentenced to forget all of her triumphs and once again become the shallow, pathetic, doomed and blinkered person she started off as...

Wow. Brilliant. Far too often it's wanky and ridiculous and WAAAY too confusing -- the final episode in particular -- but at its best, season four is some of the most amazing television I've ever seen. If you don't feel I've spoiled everything for you, you really should check it out.

PS: Want some great fun? Listen to the commentary for "The Doctor's Daughter." It features Catherine Tate and Georgia Moffett, who have an absolute blast remembering the filming of the episode...but sitting on the same couch with them is the poor guy who conducts the orchestra for the musical score. Tate and Moffett totally exclude him in a way that could be interpreted as deliberately the end he goes completely silent, steamrollered by the overpowering girl-party "no boys allowed" estrogen bond. It makes you want to cry.

Tolkien III: The Lord of the Rings et al

I am finally near the end of "The Lord of the Rings," though I'm realizing that being "near the end" of this book is like being "near the end" of a cross-border flight; you still have to wait for the plane to taxi to the gate, and the people to get off, and you have to wait for your luggage, and Éowyn needs to fall in love with Faramir.

I MUST have read this book once before. I vividly remember most of "The Fellowship of the Ring," and I certainly enjoyed the dead marshes in "The Two Towers." But other than the deep creases in the spines of my twenty-year-old copies I have little other evidence of previous reading, and I REALLY doubt that I would have survived the pacing when I was sixteen years old. Just the fact that the fellowship split into different groups must have driven me crazy; Denethor's low-key insanity in Minas Tirith would have been the last straw.

So based on whatever skimpy, skimming exposure I'd had to the books when I was a teenager, I have for years parroted the conventional wisdom that Tolkien was a terrible writer and that he didn't know how to keep the action going. And though now -- having carefully read the novel with an adult viewpoint -- I am still frustrated by his use of the word "fell" and his obsessive inability to skip any segment of a four-day journey, I have to admit that I was wrong all that time and I was talking out of my butt; "The Lord of the Rings" is VERY well-written, given its difficult task of weaving together so many different plot steams, and that when Frodo and Sam woke up to a laughing Gandalf after having dragged themselves through Mordor...yes, I cried openly into my bacon and eggs. Sob!

Given that we now have an amazing film version courtesy of Peter Jackson Fanboy And Company, the book also serves as a perfect illustration of the differences between book and script. I don't just mean in the sense of needing to cut material to fit a tidy eleven hour running time, I mean the sorts of plotting and emotional revelation that work in one medium but not the other.

To take an obvious example, Tolkien is sometimes berated for a lack of "growth" in his characters, and that's certainly true; any character changes which occur throughout the book -- Mary and Pippin's bravery, Legolas and Gimli's friendship, Aragorn's kingliness -- are due to either third-party intervention or the activation of racial traits that are in no way individualistic.

But that sort of character development is DEATH on screen. A movie adventure must swell and thump and blare, it can't just PLOD. Which is what much of Tolkien's writing does, in a good way.

There's one element in which I think the movie overreached, however, and that's the relationship between Sam and Gollum. In an attempt to turn Gollum into a more tragic figure, the movie made Sam a slightly more cruel and intolerant character, and this turned their clashes into a bit of a farce. But in the book, Sam and Gollum tended more to SIMMER, and this suits the mood beautifully. And so when Gollum sarcastically whispers that he really HAS been "slinking," it's both funny AND reveals so much about their respective characters that has previously been unspoken. In the movie, this scene just makes Gollum look nasty and petulant.

In summary, the book is long and complicated and diverse, but it's totally readable to anybody willing to put in the effort. You have to be able to love ALL the quest elements, whether they be Tom Bombadil's otherworldly aloofness or the "me Tarzan, you Jane" English of a bunch of púkel-men.

Take my advice, though...find better maps than the tiny, ink-blotched ones in the back of the '80s editions. It took me forever to figure out that the Black Gates were, in fact, to the northwest.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Night with the Arts: Food Diva

One reason I decided to do the technical production for "Monday Night with the Arts" was so I could learn a bit more about the local arts community. For the first few weeks I was too busy learning the ropes to actually LISTEN to the interviews, but now I can finally pay attention (when I'm not preparing for the odious "Focus On The Family" which -- yes -- follows our show).

Now that my mind is on track, I'm setting myself a task: to do some quick promotion for the cool people who drop by the show. Tonight I got to meet cook Maribel Linfield AND eat her double chocolate and black pepper cookies. Amazing.

Maribel is the Food Diva. Besides giving actual face-to-face cooking classes, she also offers online videos that describe ALL aspects of the cooking experience. What intrigued me most was her sympathetic understanding that for some people -- like me -- learning to cook is a strangely scary undertaking. And don't even get me started on hostessing. Apparently an important part of her courses is teaching you how not to worry about it all..."You shouldn't be thinking about what people will be saying to each other in the driveway after the meal," she says.

I have yet to take a Food Diva course and I don't know if I ever will -- the few cooking habits I ever had have now sunk to an embarrassing low -- so I can't endorse anything but those amazing cookies. I CAN, however, say that if you ARE intimidated by the prospect of learning to cook or entertain, and you DO want to learn to cook competently, I suspect that Linfield is the teacher you need.

And I'm not just saying that because I'm on a chocolate high.

Happyhuman Report: The Good Mom

During most of my adult years I have had a low-level loathing for children. I understand that they're "little people" and therefore essential, but they're also loud and manipulative and other words, small adults with poor impulse control.

Part of my bias is due to never spending much time with children, so all I'm aware of are their most obnoxious qualities. I still haven't spent enough time with them to grow to ADORE them, but I have found myself paying attention to GOOD children -- not the blatantly spoiled ones that tend to draw the most attention -- and I've got to say that I have fallen totally in love with a few kids. Very few.

But nothing makes me happier than seeing good children whose PARENTS are good as well; the parent-child bond is something sweet and heartening to behold. During lunch today I sat next to a mother and her two sons, and even though they were rambunctious and emitted a constant spray of crumbs and powdered sugar, their mother was possibly one of the most wonderful mothers I've ever eavesdropped on.

The boys were probably aged three and four, and while the mother ordered lunch they came and sat at the table next to me. The older one was tormenting his younger sibling in this ingenious way.
OLDER: You're a baby-stick.

YOUNGER: Stop saying that!

OLDER: You're a baaaaby-stick. You're a baaaaaaby-stick. You're a monnnsssster. You're a draaaaagon.

YOUNGER: Stop it! Stop it!
The mother arrived and gradually calmed the children down using misdirection -- "Look, it's snowing!" and "Did you see your friend Ryan at school today?" They became so quiet that I managed to get back to my book, but just when Gimli was threatening to chop Saruman's head off I heard this:
MOTHER: Did you know that some people are colour blind?

OLDER: What's that?

MOTHER: Hmmm. Let's say they're looking at something that's blue -- like your cup -- they might think it's actually brown!

YOUNGER: But it's blue!

MOTHER: They see it as brown.


MOTHER: Maybe, if a boy with that kind of colour-blindness put on brown pants and blue socks...he'd think that both his pants AND his socks were BROWN!

OLDER: Why does he think that blue is brown?

MOTHER: He just sees it that way.

YOUNGER: How do we see?

MOTHER: Well...your eyes see things, and then they tell your brain what they see.

YOUNGER: How does that work?

MOTHER: I don't really know. When we get home we can look it up in a book.

Wow. Not only is this mother describing colour blindness in a way that her children can somewhat understand, but she's also telling them that they can learn more information about a book!

It's nice to know that those kids will grow up to be curious, smart, and capable. Even if one of them is a baby-stick.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The ZsaZsaBlog V

I'm pleased to report that Zsa Zsa -- currently known as "Zsa Zsa the Tan," or "Pinquevarnimeoi" in the Elvish tongue -- seems to be doing well. She's eating and drinking and has even started "talking" again, narrating her comings and goings with a squawk and a chirp.

I can't point to any one thing that's helped her, because I wasn't willing to do a controlled-study of her health. I just tried half a dozen potential fixes all at once.

To address her dehydration, I lowered the thermostat a bit to prevent the amount of dry air blowing around. More significantly, I stopped running my bedside fan during the night...I normally keep it going so I won't hear her snore (or the squirrels running around in the attic, which they do at all hours). Instead I just wear earplugs and I think both of us wake up with slightly moister throats.

I also did an intensive study of her water-mania. By setting up a collection of home-made contraptions in the tub I was able to figure out what she likes and dislikes about various forms of water. If your cat is obsessed with water, maybe this information will help you:
  1. She must SEE the water arriving in a rivulet; if you just bring it to her in a bowl she doesn't believe it's fresh.
  2. She doesn't, however, want to drink RUNNING water, which explains why her cat-fountain leaves her so unimpressed. No, she only wants to drink it once it's STOPPED moving.
  3. She doesn't like LARGE pools of water; they must be small and shallow.
  4. She doesn't want to actually get wet.
Therefore the BEST way to entice her is to let her see a big splash of water falling from the overhead shower. Then the water must stop running. It quickly forms into small, stationary droplets in the tub -- each about the size of a quarter -- and she'll happily jump in and drink two or three of them.

But after that the process must be repeated, maybe because by then she's forgotten that she saw the water arrive.

Incidentally, she WILL drink out of a deep pot or basin, but ONLY if she sees it arrive and ONLY if it isn't put near her food or directly in front of her. After a short period of time she'll sneak over and drink out of it.

I don't know what all this says about cat psychology, except that cats are mental.

So once I got her drinking it was time to get her EATING again, and as I mentioned before I did this by mixing a bit of cat food gravy and chicken in with her "proper" food and heating it for three seconds. After she ate it for a few days I stopped adding the gravy, which probably annoys her but she has continued eating anyway. She's even started eating her dry food again.

It's probably significant that her antibiotics (for her urine infection) have kicked in; she is no longer doing her "pee scream" and probably feels better in general. Finally, I'm spending lots of time petting her and chatting with her, which might improve her joie de vivre.

So even though she's still alarmingly thin (and she's developed an explosive sneeze), I think she's in the clear for a little while longer. I won't consider her out of the woods until she gains some weight -- and even then I think we're living on borrowed time -- but I hope we'll at least be able to spend one more Christmas together.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One-Track Zsa Zsa Blog

Most things in my life are being crowded out by Zsa Zsa's health at the moment, so I do apologize for my absenteeism and obsession.

The vet said that Zsa Zsa's urine showed signs of infection, so she gave me antibiotics, but she was most concerned that Zsa Zsa had started losing her appetite and had lost about two pounds; really, she's skinnier than ever, and she's spending more and more time just curled up and sleeping. I didn't want to be alarmist in my last post because I didn't want to sound like a hysterial mom -- and I was trying to be positive about it instead of doing my usual "SHE'S DYING!" drama -- but unless things improve this week I think that her time is coming.

She's always been weird about water -- preferring oil-slicked mud puddles and toilets to any source of fresh water -- but her pickiness seems to have turned into dehydration. I'm watching her like a hawk to find out what I can do to get her to drink more, and I'm breaking all the taboos: repeatedly flushing the toilet, running water in the bathtub, leaving bowls of water around. She's drinking a bit but only if I constantly refresh the source, and even then she'll only drink for a few seconds before turning up her nose. Her kitty water-fountain doesn't seem to interest her much.

Far more frightening is her aversion to her low-protein food. Maybe she decided after thirty cans that she just didn't like it anymore. Last night, in total desperation, I emptied a can of her old forbidden Purina brand onto the plate with her new food, and she gobbled up the Purina...then finished off the new stuff too.

That was last night and I tried it again today, but it didn't seem to work as well; I gave her a few pieces of chicken and she ate them with gusto, then curled up and buried her head in the pillows. So I wonder if she's simply getting sick when she eats, and slowly deciding not to eat anymore, even the stuff she loves. I bought a can of tuna as a last resort, but I haven't decided to try it yet.

She's still bright-eyed and alert, but she mostly just sleeps, usually on top of me. She isn't showing any outward signs of pain but her strange posture awkward way of sitting that first started three months ago when these troubles began.

I've looked online and there are other pet owners who have reported similar things -- urinary infections, loss of appetite, weird posture, no more drinking -- and they always seem to involve kidney problems, potential strokes, and vets with no answers. Some cats seem to recover...I'm hoping that once Zsa Zsa's antibiotics kick in she'll show some improvement.

I'm in that awful spot between hoping she'll recover and not wanting to prolong any potential suffering. How do you know when enough is enough? In the past I'd decided that if she stopped eating I'd take that as "a sign," but we've reached that point and she still seems...well, "happy," in a really sleepy sort of way. She lies in my lap and purrs (like she's doing right now), she wakes me up in the morning to meow for food she never eats, she isn't crying or collapsing.

But I'm constantly wondering: does she hurt? I don't know! I want to spare her unnecessary pain but I don't want to "write her off" either.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Return of the "Pee Scream"

There's something very sad about watching your cat meow, squat, scream, and then stare at you like you should be able to pee FOR her. But this is the second time we've gone through this and I have to admit that I'm a bit more relaxed: there's nothing I can do for Zsa Zsa -- known currently as "Catwise Gamgee" -- until we get her to the vet this morning, and then she'll probably be fine after another bunch of antibiotics.

Apparently, when cats get bladder infections they think their bladders are constantly full, so they wander around trying to pee all the time. When Zsa Zsa does this she never actually MANAGES to pee -- she just squats and flicks her tail around like she's really angry -- and that's fortunate, because she's usually squatting over something like a pair of shoes or a feather headdress.

But when she actually DOES manage to pee it's usually just outside her litterbox, which brings us back to the old "scrub the basement floor" routine. I'd almost forgotten the joy of coming home to the smell of cat urine!

PS: The old receptionist at the vet office pronounced her name "Say-Say." The new receptionist pronounces it "Yah-Yah." Baffling!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quaint Humour For a Rainy Day

On a cold, rainy day, a little backwards-looking vaudeville-style humour from the '50s is just what you need:
LEFTY: (Entering a prison cell) Well, I've got company. What's your name, punk?

BLACKY: Blacky.

LEFTY: Yeah?


LEFTY: Why do they call you "Blacky?"

BLACKY: I never take a bath.
(From the May 20th, 1953 episode of the Bob Hope Show, with Richard Widmark)

Tolkien II: The Fell Rock Which Lived in Shadow

As part of my "Tolkien-athon" -- hardly an Elvish word but I'm no Eldar -- I just finished reading "The Silmarillion," a task for which I was both encouraged and discouraged by opposing Tolkien fans.

Mr. Old Goat told me it would give me a rich mythic background for my next excursion -- re-reading "The Lord of The Rings" -- and he poo-poo'd conventional wisdom that the book is obscure or difficult to read (though maybe he was taking into account my general love of difficult fiction). He thinks "The Silmarillion" is beautiful and he reads it regularly.

MadKevin apparently has an equal love for the book, but he also had this to say:
...telling somebody to read The Silmarillion before reading The Lord Of The Rings is like telling somebody to read a bunch of Bible commentary before reading the New Testament.
Having finished the book, I agree with both points of view. "The Silmarillion" HAS given me a deep foundation -- and appreciation -- of the LOTR mythology, but it is certainly NOT for the casual reader, and it could have gone through a few more drafts before publication (I know why it didn't get those revisions, and I know that it was never intended to be published in this form, etc.)

Tolkien had wonderful ideas. His foremost strength was his deep passion for his subject matter; it seems like he pretty much lived and breathed Middle-Earth.

He was also extremely creative, though not endlessly so. There's only so many ways to describe the political wrangling of a bunch of flawed, overreaching, and greedy kings, and it's not surprising that many of the stories in "The Silmarillion" follow the same general theme: King Fröeekinthräff, son of Fröeekonthräff and brother of gloomy Fröeekonithräff, desires something because of some mix of nobility and greed. He is misled by the servants of Morgoth or his methods become twisted by an ancient curse or vow. He achieves great things but -- in the process -- brings about the doom of a loved one. He almost dies but is healed by somebody he had wronged. This healing causes him to finally see things clearly, and his guilt causes him to retreat from the world, "and the tales speak of him naught from that point onward."

Some parts of "The Silmarillion" are sketchy, and others are fully-fleshed. Oddly enough it's the sketchiest tales that resonate most for the first-time reader, because they don't burden the narrative with endlessly-branching family trees. Tolkien LOVED complicated kinship tales -- the book is one long meditation about bloodlines which either stick together or betray each other -- but not even the genealogical tables can help you keep the characters straight, especially not when you're also expected to remember about a hundred locations in Beleriand, each with a different name according to the time period and language used, and then the geography is constantly being rearranged by warfare, and THEN you realize that none of these places are in The Lord of The Rings anyway!

For giggles, I present the line of Túrin and Nienor. Having carefully followed the Valar and Elvin names I simply gave up on the men. It didn't help that the men had shorter lifespans and bred like rats.

I think it's really sad that none of Bëor's children were named "Borax."

So yeah, it was wonderful and maddening, but it's not like you can blame Tolkien (except for his overuse of the word "fell," and the way caves were carved out of the "living rock" and shadows behaved like floating mist). I think it's wonderful that we get to read the book at all, and I'm actually glad I decided to read it before going on to the Great Big Trilogy.

But like MadKevin has said, unless you're a "Tolkien nerd" (like him) or an obsessive completest (like me) you should just stick to the summaries posted on Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nostalgia for Long-Forgotten Canadian Bands

Wherever you live there are bound to be half a dozen regional bands that YOU feel strongly about, but which nobody else remembers. The musicians ended up doing wedding parties and the singers became real estate agents. It happens.

In Canada during the '80s and early '90s, we had a thriving (and very popular) music channel with strict Canadian Content a result, many regional acts gained national status and had their week of fame before fading out again. You won't hear these bands in nightclubs and their CDs are long out of print. But some of them are much beloved.

Here's a sampling of the long-forgotten Canadian bands that have fond memories of. Not all of them were good, necessarily, but they all had at least ONE hit song.

National Velvet

They were Canada's hard-rockin', somewhat gloomy, altogether sexy answer to...well, nobody really, because they had a unique set of strengths and flaws.

All the musicians were top-notch, but they tended to suffer from tinny overproduction. Maria Del Mar's voice was unique and perfect, but her lyrics were sometimes embarrassingly bad. She was the sexiest woman alive, but her persona was a tad TOO aggressive.

The few videos they had on YouTube appear to be gone, but here's a "tribute" with pictures and soundclips:

Unable to find more than fleeting fame and suffering from a REALLY bad final album ("Wildseed"), they disbanded. Maria Del Mar still performs occasionally in Toronto (but never when I can find out in advance). Bassist Mark Storm suffered a truly bizarre and unexplained death.

Strange Advance

Cheesy wanna-be pop stars who just might have made it...but didn't. Their songs were slick and radio friendly. I can't imagine what held them back.

Andrew Cash

One of those guys who was always lurking around the music circles but you rarely ever noticed...but I absolutely LOVED his "Lot of Talk" video which, sadly, is not on YouTube. Sorry

Malcolm Burn

Producer wonderkind with only one album to his name...but what an album! Ditto the lack of YouTube exposure for his great "Walk Don't Run" song and video. Someday I'll have to properly digitize all those videos...

Sons of Freedom

They were alternative radio darlings with a brilliantly sharp, twangy, wall of sound approach. Guitarist Don Harrison later worked with Skinny Puppy and Lee Aaron. Apparently the lead singer was a jerk, but he had an endearing speech defect.


We didn't do gimmick-groups very well this side of the border, but Tu were a definite exception: identical twin sisters with velcro-style hair, so much sugar in their bubblegum pop that it almost made you sick. Almost.

Their wikipedia page still says that their names were Amanda and Cassandra, but my aunt attended their wedding many years ago, so let me give you the inside scoop: their REAL names were Rena and Pena.

Sometimes, changing your name is a GOOD idea.

Perfume Tree

Ethereal vocals, minimalist dub-style loops, beautiful ambiance...their show was one of the best I've ever seen: just three people on stage gently rocking forwards and backwards.

I don't think they ever actually MADE a video.


Long-gone Curve-style gothers. They only ever released two EPs, but we were CONSTANTLY being teased about a full-length album called "The Hanged Man." It never happened. They made at least one video (for "Revenge") but it's obscure and probably long gone.

According to a somewhat reliable source, lead singer "Madame Quattorze" went loopy.


Sort of electronic/psychedelic/goth-rock, they'd pop up as openers or headliners now and then but never struck it big. Their sound was erratic and never seemed to fit very well together, but when they clicked ("Crush") they were sublime.

I still cherish a cassette of instrumentals that I bought from band member Steve Faris...if only they'd kept going in that direction!

Acid Test

Achieved fleeting fame after their music was in Highway 61 (the wonderful "Mr. Skin"), they released only an EP and a quite-good record, neither of which was even remotely promoted. Big on college radio but they just dropped out of sight.

Sara Craig

Her debut "Bike" was an odd hit but she never managed to follow it up. I suspect that she suffered "lack of direction" syndrome, maybe exacerbated by producers who didn't know if she was Tracy Chapman or Jane Siberry.


Three women from Vancouver, only semi-competent at playing their instruments, took the punk DIY attitude and mixed it with tons of cute...creating a genre of music dubbed "cuddlecore," which is apparently now known as "twee-pop."

They were perfectly marketed by their label and it seemed like they were constantly touring. Of all these bands they are perhaps the most affectionately remembered, and here's their video for "My Chinchilla."


They rode the Chili Peppers "funky wave" but made it their own, mixing in live samples and a goofy sense of humour. Despite their silliness, however, they were almost preachy with social consciousness, but that's sort of what you expected in the early '90s.

I saw them live at The Volcano and they were amazingly tight, complete with Devo-esque uniforms and an En Vogue breakdown.

Gogh Van Go

The band members sadly decided that their FAMILY was more important than their MUSIC (silly!), but they still managed to put out two albums of perfect pop/electronic/rock. It wasn't ALL good...but most of it was.

I'm pleased to be able to present a video for my favourite Gogh Van Go song, "Call It Romance." I LOVE these lyrics.

Sucking Chest Wound

Obviously they win the award for "best band name," they were a bizarre collective of Negativland-ish sample mashers...and they're still in action!

Their song "Mary Dear" was a college DJ staple. While you watch them perform live, I'm going to see if their CDs are still on sale...

Kathleen Yearwood

Reclusive, bizarre, wonderful. Her albums were a strange mix of conventional folk and yodel-screaming fury, a style that was personal and all her own. NOT to be confused with TRISHA Yearwood, of course.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Weird Ceremonies of Real Indians

Oh wow!

Unfortunately we're almost eighty years too late to take a Santa Fe-Harvey Company "Xcursion," but I think we can imagine what they were like.

Essential Mac Software

Buying a new computer teaches you a lot about essential software: if you REALLY need it, and you've REALLY enjoyed using it in the past, you'll shell out some money to buy ANOTHER copy.

Two pieces of software that I can't live without -- and that I've been happy to buy a second time -- are Audio Hijack Pro and iDrum.

Audio Hijack Pro does exactly what it says: it hijacks audio from your Mac applications. So when I'm listening to an old time radio program with Quicktime and I decide I want to record one of the program's songs, I simply hijack the Quicktime output and save an MP3 file. If I want to quickly record input through my iMac's line in source, I hijack that instead and save an AIFF.

I have never met an application that Audio Hijack Pro couldn't handle. It has never crashed on me or corrupted a file. It even allows me to insert Audio Unit effects into the recording process if I like, which allows me to clean up cassette input while recording it. Very cool and convenient.

iDrum is a nifty drum machine that can operate as either a plug-in or a stand-alone application. Its drum samples are simply audio files, so if you don't like their drum sounds you can add your own. It's totally stable, computationally inexpensive, and VERY friendly to use.

It may not be "Ultrabeat," but you don't always NEED Ultrabeat. Sometimes you want to make a quick drum pattern, and that's what iDrum does perfectly.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Adventures of M'Lady Muffie Bernardington

A new episode of The Daily Muffy has just started over at Flickr!

Muffie Title

'Tis season six, episode four! Known in full as:

"The Diverse and Most Singular ADVENTURES of M'Lady MUFFIE BERNARDINGTON, Displayed for Future Edification, Her Life Betwixt and Oftimes Bestraddle the Vast Borders of STRATFORD ON AVON, Year 1666."

Photographic Majesty by Jenn Wilson, Duchess of Mystifying Lenses. Muffie's resplendent raiment designed by master craftswoman Lydia Bellini, seamstress to worthie queenes.

Lest ye forget: A new picture every weekday!

As usual y'all get the full scoop. We took these pictures on a chilly Saturday, October 18th, in Stratford Ontario. It wasn't so bad in the sunlight but it was eleven degrees in the shade. And though the wind was perfect for my medieval-type skirt it was very, very cold.

Reading the Samuel Pepys diaries had inspired me, and coupled with the fact that my "Ilsa On Ice" Oktoberfest outfit could double for something from a Renaissance Faire, this "Stratford 1666" theme was a shoe-in. I even dressed Schnapps as a 17th century dandy but you won't be seeing him...he didn't REALLY fit in and I didn't feel like lugging him around.

We took some of the pictures at a crazy, burned-out warehouse that Jenn and I have long been fascinated with. You can walk right up to this catastrophe-waiting-to-happen. We were unable to resist its charms and it was considerate enough not to fall over on us.

All-in-all the Stratford crowd was pleasant -- somebody shouted "HERE COMES THE BRIDE!" when we were hanging around a church -- and we were unmolested by the somewhat skiddy inhabitants around the edges of the downtown. Through sheer shivery perseverance we managed to get scads of good pictures, and I'm quite proud of the fake-o storyline I've written so far.

Check in often!

Sunday, November 09, 2008


A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to watch a spectacular movie, and all I could think of was Peter Jackson's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings." I'd watched them all a few years ago and was pretty much unimpressed, but I remembered that it was at least colourful and fast-paced. And that's what I cared about.

So after about eleven hours of movie I was left with pretty much the same impression I'd had the first time: Frodo is a schlump, Sean Astin is a surprisingly weak actor (with a surprisingly bad accent), and the movie is REALLY about Aragorn, Theodin, Faramir, and Gollum. And it simply doesn't end. None of this piqued my interest much...

...but my opinion of the movies shot into the stratosphere when I watched the special features. The passion and agony of the filmmakers adds a new dimension of the movie itself, and I find myself wanting to see it all again. Someday. If just to get another glimpse of The Mouth of Saruon.

Watching venerable actors gush about the source material was enough to get me thinking: maybe I should revisit THE BOOKS? Again, I was never impressed by "The Hobbit" or "The Lord of the Rings" when I was a teenager, but at the time I was more into "Xanth" than "Beowulf." Maybe my matured and more finely-tuned aesthetics will find the same joy in Tolkien's world that Ian McKellen does?

The jury's still out. I breezed through "The Hobbit" and found it...well, breezy, though it was nifty to know more about "The Necromancer" this time around.

Mr. Old Goat himself (of Old Goat Books) is a self-confessed Tolkien obsessive, and he insisted that I read "The Silmarillion" before revisiting "The Lord of the Rings." It sure ain't no "Hobbit!" Digging through its antiquated language and almost point-form notation is like reading the books that inspired it -- the Anglo-Saxon and Norse legends -- and about as fun as The Bible. But I'm in awe of the breadth of his creation, and I hope that if I stick with it I will be rewarded.

PS: I vividly remember seeing Ralph Bakshi's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" in a movie theatre, and thinking that it was really damn ugly. Having since caught up with Bakshi's other work I can only marvel that his Tolkien riff was so, no pneumatic short-skirted elves being spanked.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Zaza Fournier

Jetsetter (that's "J" to you!) sent me this wonderful clip by Zaza Fournier, a new and relatively obscure French artist. Jetsetter thought Zaza's style was reminiscent of mine, and it is such an outrageously cute song!

Of course I fell instantly in love and I agree that there's a stylistic connection in terms of performance -- a deadpan, sad-sack, deluded, self-depreciating jokiness that I think I got from the French in the first place.

In any case, this video is simply too cute not to share!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Good Morning

We've gotten so used to instant-gratification that, when following a news story, we often expect a New Explosive Revelation at every click of the mouse. That's how I felt last night while pursuing the American election returns.

I'd click on CNN to see their somewhat unadventurous statistics, then I'd jump to MSNBC and FOX for the "out on a limb" predictions (which turned out to be correct). I'd then immediately go to Daily Kos and see which predictions they'd decided to pick up, and also get results about the house and senate races. Then I'd go to Townhall's blog and derive a certain glee from their glazed incomprehension and prophesies of conspiracy and doom...

...and by then enough time had passed for me to go back to CNN for the latest update. Repeat ad nauseum.

Sadly, after Pennsylvania was called there just weren't any big revelations until a few hours later. So I took a gravol and went to bed, and woke up this morning to a landslide Obama victory (and the defeat of most of the noxious ballot propositions). So nice to see Florida blue. In fact, every state I've ever visited ended up siding with Obama. He can thank me later for my inadvertent campaigning!

I followed this race much closer than I did the Canadian elections. Why? Because none of the leaders had a really good OR bad spark to them. I mistrust Stephen Harper, but I could only judge his opponents in varying degrees of amorphous apathy. You didn't have an Obama out there rallying the troops, and you also didn't have a Sarah Palin making a mockery of the whole situation.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Vote, Vote, Vote That Election!

Hey you American readers. I don't care who you vote for today as long as you DO vote, and you vote with your conscience, and the person you vote for has a last name which starts with "O."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Armstrong Shoes and the Servitor

Every issue of the '20s New Yorker is bound to have a disturbing racial stereotype or two. I don't generally post them because they aren't usually very interesting, and also because I don't want to provide fodder for obnoxious preteen racists ("preteen" in either body OR mind).

More specifically, though...well, I often post New Yorker clips here in order to simultaneously draw attention to interesting finds, and to poke fun at them. The ham-fisted, surreal racist advertisements from the '20s ARE funny in a disturbing, groan-inducing, "I can't believe anybody would have CREATED this" way...but not to everybody.

Well, here's one that isn't particularly funny, but is so sustained that I can't help posting it. Why isn't it funny? Because its roots aren't in some vaudeville strain of ethnic humour. It is, rather, far too serious.

At first I thought I could make fun of the "What're YOU looking at?" aspect of this "Armstrong Shoes" advertisement, but then I read the description.
Sambo, or is it Mose, craves to carry the luggage of the lady of yon descending foot. For Sambo, or Mose, has identified by its shoe a person of quality, generous to her servitors.

"Body may be by Fisher," ruminates our hero, "but dem shoes am suttinly by Armstrong"...

...Sambo's perspicacity did not go unrewarded, you may be sure. That night he went home to Harlem richer by four bits.
See what I mean? This ad isn't about a cheap "black bellhop" gag. It's trying to be realistic. And that's ugly stuff.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Weasel Compilations

You know all those budget-priced "Best of the [Insert Era Here]" compilation CDs you often see in point-of-purchase bins at Chapters? The ones chock-full of classic songs at a price that's simply too good to be true?

Sometimes CDs are cheap because of a low advertising overhead or a high production run, but at other times they're cheap for a very simple reason: because the people who made the CDs found a sneaky way to avoid licensing fees. Hence "weasel compilations," for lack of a better phrase.

When I started DJ'ing retro nights I fell prey to several of these CDs before I finally learned my lesson. They always START OUT with three or four of the classic recordings that you're expecting to hear, but then they slip in the FAKE songs.

How are they fake? They either use a live performance by a few original band members -- always recorded at some highschool dance or small-town festival, with stadium reverb added for odd effect -- or they get the elderly, coke-addled lead singer to come into the studio and record a new version with karaoke session musicians. These ones are the worst, because the instrumentation is terrible Casio keyboard stuff and the production is bottom of the barrel. Even if you don't know the song, you know it's a fake version because no record company would EVER release it as a single.

Hence the cheapness of the CDs. By only including a few of the classic songs -- which cost a bundle to license -- they then find the surviving members who own the music themselves, convince them to do a budget recording session or a live soundboard recording, and then mix those "updated" versions into the bulk of the CD...without ever revealing this in the song titles. If you're lucky they'll include a weasel notice on the back, in tiny letters, somewhere down near the corner:
"To achieve the best sound quality possible, some of these songs have been updated or re-recorded with one or more of the original band members."
YOU JERKS! It's no wonder we're cynical nowadays, and also no wonder that most of us probably have two or three of these compilations in our own collections, in which Marvin Gaye or "(Two-Fifths of) The Temptations" sleepwalk through their hit song in the backroom of some Legion building in Iowa, cheered on by the one man drunk enough to have a good time.

My point? Just a cautionary tale, that's all. Look for that weaselly notification before you buy a box-set of classic songs from a bargain bin...and even so, expect to get ripped off.

PS: Strangely enough, if the CD company is from Eastern Europe or Russia, you'll probably get all the classic songs intact, albeit with humorous spelling-mistakes in the titles. THEY get around licensing laws because nobody can untangle the international copyright issues in order to actually prosecute (that is, if the company's address is real in the first place).