Friday, February 29, 2008

Richard Dawson, The Pig

I've rented a collection of "All Star Family Feud" episodes. I'm not exactly sure why I've done this, but I've had a number of revelations while watching it this afternoon.

First, Richard Dawson was a f*cking pig. It might not have seemed that way to the general public at the time -- I certainly don't remember anybody talking about it in the '80s -- but his attitude toward his female guests went beyond "chivalry" or "1984 machismo" into aggressive lechery.

I might dismiss his constant stroking, grabbing, and kissing as "of the time," but the women he's doing it to certainly don't seem to think so; just watch as they shrink from his touch, and watch as he gleefully comes back to do it again and again. It comes across as a form of physical intimidation that you don't see from TV superstars anymore (I hope).

Granted, some of the women seem quite happy with this, but most of them are obviously disgusted. Here's Dawson trying to grab the hand that Maureen McCormick is trying to make discreetly unavailable. She's probably in a tizzy about the cold sores she got from him last week. Christopher Knight, barely sentient, is smiling because of gas.

Second, the country hoe-down atmosphere had always escaped me. Our family watched this show a lot and I never noticed its rural theme: fiddle music, needlepoint set decoration, Dawson's plantation-owner outfit, the entire IDEA of a "family feud." It's only now that I hear the weird way that the announcer says "Family Fyeee-youd!"

An American "yokel show," and by no means the only one...we've had them in Canada as well.

Third, people get nastier as shows go on. It's interesting how the competition -- both between and within teams -- gets less friendly over time. The camera loves to linger on the glares and sneers, and there is something PARTICULARLY scary about a sneering woman who has feathered hair and professionally-applied raccoon eyeliner.

Fourth, the Petticoat Junction people were the coolest. I've never seen Petticoat Junction, but they BY FAR outranked the other teams in terms of personality, graciousness, and intelligence. Since I love "Leave It To Beaver" and at one time enjoyed "The Brady Bunch" this is a hard thing to admit.

Sherlock Holmes in "The Lost Pencil Case"

Chapter 1 - A Most Unusual Discovery

During my journies I happened across the widow McClure, a sweet Irish lass, long beyond her years and now terminally ill. Suffering from demetia, each time we met it was most similar to the first, and I found myself once again amazing her with my feats of deduction.

"On Thursday nights," I said to her, "you watch 'The Price is Right,' and you always cheer for the fat ones."

She was amazed. "Mr. Holmes, how do you know such things?"

"These mental stretching-exercises are like morning calisthenics to the student of crime. I am aware, of course, that your grandchildren always visit on Thursdays, and you have said in the past that they are uncommonly fond of television."

"I said that?"

"Indeed you did, but let's return to my monologue. In my curious daily business I am required to read all the latest periodicals, in order to keep abreast of current events which may impact my work. One such magazine which I devour from cover to cover is...'The T.V. Guide.'"

"I love that book," said the esteemed widow, the rosy blush of long-lost youth returning briefly to her aged cheeks.

I made fast my explanation, before her oncoming fit should stop it in its inevitable tracks. "It was short work to decipher the guide's Thursday night schedule, from which -- bracketed by your regular mealtime of five o'clock and your bedtime at six -- I deduced you would be watching 'The Price Is Right' on your video-telegraph machine on regular Thursday evenings." I paused for effect. "Now let me tell you about the Cottingley Fairies..."

Mrs. McClure, as always, was uncommonly amazed, and she shook my hand as best her palsy would allow. Whilst in the perpendicular position that was required to grasp her hand I noticed a most intriguing object lying atop the snow.

I did nothing to betray my knowledge at the time -- wishing not to entangle the widow in the nefarious schemes of the criminal underworld -- but after seeing her off to her daily sponge bath I returned to the sidewalk. Stooping to retrieve the singular object which I had spied, I saw immediately that it was a pencil case.

Chapter 2 - A Crime of Passion

From its position I deduced that it had been carelessly dropped, and not so recently as it was finely dusted with snow. The footprints around it had been hopelessly muddled by pedestrian traffic and by Mrs. McClure's tripedal walker, obscuring any clues as to the owner of the pencil case, or -- if they were not the same -- to the individual who had dropped it.

I turned my attention to the case itself. It contained numerous geometric tools and writing utensils, most telling of which was a gum eraser which proclaimed that somebody with the initials "P.M." had once loved somebody else "4ever," but the initials of the paramour had been cruelly defaced by what I soon determined to be a young girl's fingernail.

This discovery shone new light on the development. At first glance I had assume the pencil case to have been accidentally dropped, but the obscure gum eraser with its gouged-out initials suggested a more sinister motive: an affair of the heart, a lover spurned.

"This puts me in mind of a similar case which you may remember," I said to the stuffed and mounted figure of Dr. Watson which I carry for such purposes. "The unrequited love which John Hinkley, Jr. felt for Jodie Foster, which inspired him to steal her pencil case one night out of sheer pique, only to lose it on the day that he attempted to take the life of Ronald Reagan in a most inelegant way. I fear that the unknown figure involved in this case is similar to that of the case long past; merciless, passionate, and far beyond the bounds of common rationality. Mark my words, we face the most vicious criminal we have ever known."

Watson, choosing not to interrupt my investigation at such a crucial stage, maintained his silence and leaned increasingly a-tilt in the growing wind.

Further analysis of the pencil case presented more evidence of the seriousness of the crime, not least in the form of a passionate scribbling on the inner lid: "Jessica you are a jalous bitch :)" I also deduced, from various obscure and sundry notes contained therein that the owner of the case was a Miss P___ M___, enrolled in form eight of M_____ Public School, located as I knew on C_____ Street.

I rushed immediately to the telegraph office but was dismayed to find it inoperative. My next step -- the telephone book -- revealed many more individuals with the surname M____ than I had anticipated. Having decided to attend to the school of M_______ in person, I briefly considered the hiring of a hansom or dogcart to fetch me there, but the hired lackeys in this town refuse to admit Dr. Watson in his current condition and the only other carriage drivers -- those singularly curious members of the Mennonite religious order -- have been reticent since the disastrous resolution of "The Case of the Poisoned Strudel."

Chapter 3 - The Visit

The following morning I hied myself to M_____ Public School with the wayward pencil case in my possession. Inspector Lestrade being long since lost in his ill-fated battle with the Fiery Moria Balrog, I brought instead a collection of Street Arabs in various disguise, these "Baker Street Irregulars" serving to lighten my spirits and affirm my superiority. Having delayed for so long any explanation of my methods or purpose, however, they soon dispersed to the nearest Tim Horton's, tongues a-poke and fingers raised.

Finally, after many minutes of solitary walking, I was on my own at the school, ready to spring the net that I had been carefully weaving since the discovery of the pencil case but a day previous.

Aware that a man in possession of cocaine should not linger at the gates of a public school, I entered the singular halls of the once-great institution. I was greeted by an uncommonly beautiful matron, so pale as to be nearly luminous in the dim fluorescent lighting, a figure at once so winsome and concupiscent that I felt Watson growing singularly stiff at my side.

I bowed respectfully under her gaze. "M'lady, I bring to you a pencil case which may or may not belong to one P____ M____, a student of your singular institution. The circumstances are unparalleled in their circumstance, but I deduce that the case was lost as she found her way home across C____ street. The soft cushion of the new-fallen snow no-doubt muffled the rattle of the falling protractors and pencils, with the result that--"

"I'll make sure she gets it," said the matron, removing the object from my hands and retreating instantly down the corridor. My interview, it would seem, was over.

Chapter 4 - The Scarlet Mormon of East Pushtan

You may wonder at the resolution of this astonishing tale, so unlike any that I or my imitators have told before. I too am uncertain as to the fate of the pencil case, and the fate of the mysterious P____ M_____, whose form and circumstance remain vague in my understanding.

Surely, if Watson were still an active and mobile young man of 35, he would have stumbled upon a postscript worthy of all that preceded, a final few chapters to explain the terrible curse of the M_____ family and their ancestry in another country, another time.

But Watson is no longer the man he was, and I confess the same regarding myself. 'Tis just me and my cat at Baker Street, waiting here, wondering what next will fall from the grasp of this world's singular criminals.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Adventure of the Behaviourist

During my first years as a Psychology student at the University of Waterloo, I was a dedicated behaviourist. There was something comforting about its endless chains of predictable cause and effect. Next to the more "subconscious" disciplines it was downright simple: you reward or punish a person for doing something, and eventually you can "condition" them to do what you want.

Behaviourists got results...and they could QUANTIFY them! They used a mixture of hard-nosed determination, patience, and metrics to -- say -- turn a kleptomaniac into an upstanding citizen. And I quickly discovered how useful the behaviourist approach was when dealing with pets; thanks to B.F. Skinner and his operant conditioning I had the family cat rolling over for chicken in a pretty much consistent way.

But courses in child development threw me for a loop, with their revelations of hard-wired mechanisms for things like language and knowledge of "self." Suddenly there were parts of human behaviour UNRELATED to conditioning. The REAL blow was the study of Symbolic Interactionism, which shows that we humans relate to our environment in a symbolic way, and therefore a "stimulus" is what we believe and perceive it to be, not something pure that always means the same thing, all the time, to all people.

So I've been forced to let go of much of my love of "billiard ball determinism" and hard-nosed behaviourism, partly because so many other forces seem to be at work, but mainly because all the factors involved -- people, problems, stimuli, responses -- get tangled up with other forces in the real world, making the "laboratory" approach to therapy just as difficult as any other.

So while I skip most of the New Yorker profile pieces, it was interesting to read Kenneth MacGowan's profile of Dr. John B. Watson in the October 6, 1928 issue. Despite the weird synchronicity moment in the first paragraph (Watson was annoyed by the character of "Dr. Watson" in the Sherlock Holmes stories, and here I am reading those stories right now), it's interesting to read a relatively muck-raking article about his academic problems.

By the time of the article Watson had long left academic life. The article claims that this was due to his intransigence and controversial studies, and it inexplicably ignores the entire scandal that surrounded his leaving: his adulterous affair with graduate student Rosalie Rayner. This is my first indication that the New Yorker profiles may have been a BIT of a whitewash.

(Incidentally, for fans of Thomas Pynchon, Watson and Rayner have the dubious honour of conducting the infamous "Little Albert" experiment which gets pride of place in Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow.")

Anyway, Watson was hard at work in the advertising business during 1928, helping with campaigns such as -- more synchronicity here -- Odorono. He made a lot of money perfecting the advertising agency's ability to frighten and titillate us. Maybe that's the way we should remember him; behaviourism was always best at curing phobias, and now we know it was good for causing them as well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I'd Buy Anything By...Lisa Germano

Yes, it's true, I WOULD buy anything by Lisa Germano...

...but the funny thing is that I don't like her albums very much. I think that she is incredibly cool, and I love the whole idea of her music...but I rarely ever enjoy more than a few songs on each album (though the songs I DO enjoy are ones that I love).

She's a genius. I really get a sense that she's a genius. She can't sing particularly well. Her music is deliberately shoddy and always sounds as though it's about to fall apart. Her songwriting is personal and sometimes painfully fragile. Her enunciation sometimes has a distinctive and endearing "-yawh" sound at the end of sentences that I can't quite place. Her cover art is dreamy in that "4AD" way and she has worked with one of my favourite producers (Malcolm Burn), and whenever I pull out one of her albums to give it another listen...

...I find myself getting slightly bored and annoyed. I don't know what it is. I can't explain this loyalty.

Despite her prominence as fiddle-sawer for John Cougar Mellencamp, her real breakthrough was with this typically Germano-ish -- but slightly more produced than usual -- song called "You Make Me Want to Wear Dresses."

She didn't last long on a major label and I don't think she makes videos anymore, but she seems to tour relentlessly with very minimalistic shows in small venues. I don't seek out Germano information, but whenever I see another CD I snap it up...and there we go again.

So she belongs in the "I'd Buy Anything" category but I don't really know why, and I'm not sure why anybody should or shouldn't explore her music. But I DO recommend her "Geek the Girl" and "Excerpts from a Love Circus" albums as unusually attention-grabbing. I also hear that her collaboration with Giant Sand (under the name "OP8") was very good, but I've never found a copy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Guide to Lineups

There's this stereotype that, second only to Swedes, Canadians are the most used to standing in line (except for people who live in countries with chronic shortages, of course).

I don't think this is strictly true -- I've stood in plenty of lines in the USA as well -- but there's no doubt we have a form of "line etiquette" that many hold sacred.

These tips are for those who don't seem to understand lines.

First, observe what others are doing. Maybe the venue has a standardized lineup ritual, or maybe something has formed spontaneously, but in either case you can get a sense of the situation by watching others.

Is there a sign that says "line starts here?" That's a good indication that the line starts where indicated. Are a line of people standing at the sign? If so, go to the end of the line and -- when in doubt -- ask if that particular line is the one you're looking for.

If nobody is lined up behind the sign then you can feel free to start the line yourself. Patiently.

Never step in front of others. In some situations it may be okay to join friends in the line, but usually only if the line is incredibly long or if the line is moving quickly. If the line is short then you should go to the end, otherwise everybody will call you "butter, butter, peanut butter," if only in their heads.

Never take the express line unless you meet the line's conditions. I don't care how old and tired you are.

If everybody is frustrated with the line's slowness, it's okay to make disgruntled comments. But know when to quit. It's bad enough waiting forever in a line without having to listen to somebody huffing about it.

When you are at the front of a line which leads to personal service with more than one wicket, wait until you are called. Never just pick a wicket and walk to it. The person at the wicket may not be ready for you, or there may be a system involved.

If you walk directly to a wicket without being called then you are setting yourself up for a disappointment; what if the wicket closes on you? What if the person isn't ready for you, and meanwhile the people who were in line behind you are filtering over to other wickets which have suddenly become available?

Greed and haste is usually punished in this situation.

When you are at the front of a line and waiting to be called, pay attention. Do not get lost in a conversation with your friends. Do no use your cel phone. Beside the probability that you will not notice when you are being called, it is also very inconsiderate for a service person to have to compete for your attention. Remember, you don't like it when THEY chat behind the counter, do you?

When you are being served, remember how it felt while you were waiting back in line. That's how the people behind you feel now. Do not chit-chat with the service person. Do not make a scene. Do not make outrageous demands. You wouldn't want to wait while somebody else does that stuff. Get your stuff and move along.

If the server made a mistake, you are allowed to come back and go directly to the server without waiting in line, but only if you are in a hurry or if the problem can be quickly resolved. When servers make mistakes, rules can be bent. If, however, you just want to take out your anger about having stood forever in line and then gotten the wrong stuff, save it for a time when you won't make other people suffer. Believe me, people don't respect you when you hold up the line. They think you're stupid.

Small Random Things I Know

  • Toronto magazine Popshifter is a fabulous analysis of pop culture, without trendy bloviating.
  • It's easy for me to criticize people who go on Facebook update sprees. It is also easy for me to go on such sprees myself.
  • No matter how poorly I eat, I am still eating better than the 19th century polar explorers.
  • We hiccup because of our evolutionary connection with tadpoles. No kidding.
  • I simply cannot conceive of the planet Jupiter. I can't imagine it. I don't understand the concept of an enormous planet that doesn't really have a surface.
  • If I was independently wealthy and had a maid I would probably be depressed.
  • Too much snow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sir John Franklin, Unforgettable, Dead

William T. Vollmann's novel "The Rifles" is about John Franklin's northwest passage expedition. Except that John Franklin is really the time-traveling twin of Captain Subzero, who is also sort of William T. Vollmann himself, and all of them are in love with a crazy Inuk woman named Reepah, who was part of the greater tragedy of the much-maligned 1950s relocation of Inuit families to Resolute, and everybody has been impacted by the properties of lead, you see.

The book is best when it is describing Vollmann's impressions of the far north; the shambolic yet warm settlements, the sparse beauty of endless tundra, and the sheer superpower of wind, ice, and cold.

It's also good when Vollmann writes about Reepah, a hearing-impaired, gasoline-sniffing, poverty stricken, utterly damaged woman who cheerfully ping-pongs between Subzero and Franklin, past and present, chopping blubber in the kitchen and screaming drunkenly in New York City. Her affairs with her Caucasian lovers are typically Vollmann: lopsided, crazy, impossible, doomed.

But what does all this have to do with "rifles?" I missed it the first time I read the book, but this time I took note of the introduction, in which the author tries to find the source of a river on Cornwallis Island...he keeps following it, trying to find its source, only to realize -- after an exhausting journey -- that
...these lakes were from permafrost melt; the whole island was permafrost; when you were on the island you were in a world of rivers that came from everywhere.
In his "Seven Dreams" series (of which "The Rifles" is book six) he is following tenuous paths through history, following his inspirations in directions that are symbolic and meaningful. "The Rifles" is about starvation and lead, which killed the Franklin expedition (partially through lead-contaminated food), which is killing Reepah (who sniffs gasoline), and impacted the entire north when rifles and European contact turned the ecosystem from one of sheer survival to one of fur-for-profit.

But Vollmann knows that this is a messy river to follow, and he acknowledges that this is too simplistic. The book sinks into necessarily long descriptions of starvation which make the reader understand both the protracted nature of Arctic death and the sheer emptiness of the landscape. As difficult as it is to read, and as spongy as its "permafrost" can occasionally be, "The Rifles" gives a personal glimpse of the far north as experienced by Vollmann himself.

It makes you want to go there and go very far away, all at the same time.

Immediately after this, I finally roused myself to read one of Vollmann's sources: "Frozen In Time" by Owen Beattie and John Geiger, about Beattie's own trips north to exhume the bodies of Franklin's crew.

The book is dry and clunkily sentimental, and it is so repetitive that you wonder if you aren't reading the same chapters over and over again. It's written, in fact, as though it were the awkward offspring of a research paper and a journal, which is exactly what it is.

Beattie was the man who developed and (it would seem) supported the theory that Franklin's expedition was debilitated early on by lead poisoning, mainly due to hastily-manufactured tinned food. Most of the bodies and relics from the 1840s are long gone -- scattered by the elements, lost under the ice, acquired by the Inuit -- but the bodies of three crewmen have remained buried on isolated, inhospitable Beechey Island.

So Beattie and his team went there with a portable laboratory and dug up the corpses. They were amazed to find that the 140-year-old bodies of John Torrington, John Hartnell, and William Braine were almost perfectly preserved...and it's the gruesome pictures of the men that are the real stars of the book. Bulging hands, rubbery lips, gritted teeth, staring eyes, emaciated bodies, all dressed in period clothing and looking barely dead. The bodies are downright eerie...if you want nightmares, here are a few online shots.

That's it for me. No more Arctic stories for a while. I'm plunging into Sherlock Holmes because I much prefer reading about that smug bastard than spending another week perpetually icebound.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Exo Hair Postmortem

Last month Vanilla sent me a link to Exoskeleton Cabaret and told me that I absolutely MUST buy some of their hair extensions. I said that such things require elaborate makeup and clothing that doesn't suit me, and she pointed out that the models were quite understated and I should stop being a wuss. She was right!

So I bought two of their pieces: a ponytail fall made out of wool and plastic, and a pair of enormous "tubular crin" extensions.

Saturday was the big night and I gave myself half an hour to get them "installed." But you see, I've always had this problem with hair...

First off, I don't like the incredible PICKINESS of hairstyling, where everything must be meticulous or it looks stupid. Separating my head into REGULAR pigtails is arduous in itself, but building up HIGH pigtails has always been my worst nightmare. My hair is incredibly heavy and my arm-strength is marginal; after half an hour of building, demolishing, and rebuilding my high pigtails I was ready for the sanitarium, and also losing hair.

Then the extensions themselves, attached to thin strips of elastic fabric that are obviously intended to be attached to something -- like a barret -- instead of just being tied up and pinned to death. Then just imagine the joy of arranging these things; it was like herding cats, albeit sixty of them made out of extremely light, long, bouncy plastic.

Truly Exo Hair

It took an hour, and by the end of it I was hardly feeling glamorous. All I wanted to do was come back home and make a drunken video with a hand-puppet (see below).

But here's the thing: I think I can do better next time. Maybe I'll try putting them closer together, and attaching bobby pins to the extensions BEFORE I put them on. I can't recommend these extensions highly enough: they're sturdy, they look amazing, and people can't stop touching them.

The latest few pictures are up on Flickr, but I'd like to leave you with this enigmatic shot of Victoria and I which you can try scrounging up a rationale for:

Glamorous and Spunky

Nightclubbing with Schnapps the Seal

I've taken a bit of a break from the lip-syncing domestic drag shows -- storyboarding them is a pain -- so on Saturday night I decided to do a relatively unplanned experiment: to make a "talkie" with multiple camera angles, starring Schnapps the seal who works for scale (fish).

Unfortunately my insane hair extensions took so long to apply (more on that later) that I didn't get a chance to film anything until I got back home at 1am, considerably inebriated and on the verge of drop-dead exhaustion.

That's my way of explaining what you're about to see...if you dare.

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Our Past Present" Reviewed by Heathen Harvest!

Over at Heathen Harvest there is a wonderful review of "Our Past Present," the split CD of material by Jim DeJong (Infant Cycle) and myself.

Like other reviews of the CDs it points out the "distinct yet complimentary" nature of the two styles, and again the UPhold segments are referred to as "cinematic." I particularly like this description:
All the tracks on here are suffused with an eerily expectant atmosphere coupled with a velvety and suffocatory claustrophobia, as if presaging some unforeseen disaster just about to spring itself onto the unfortunate victims.
I like to think I have a velvet approach to suffocation, so this is a great compliment. I really DO care about my musical victims.

The review is very positive, and coming from such a great webzine it's a particularly nice boost for my state of mind!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The 1920s Technology Update

It's certainly true that we live in a time of fast-moving technology, but those folks in 1928 were no slouches either. They were so busy coming up with new inventions that they barely had time to apply Odorono twice a week!

By September 29, 1928, the "talking pictures" had finally arrived. A lot of technological work still needed to happen -- sound syncing, improvements in sound recording and amplification, mixing techniques, soundproofing of studios -- but by that time people were pretty much ready to accept what the studio scientists were cooking up.

In a short article called "Black Magic," though, The New Yorker describes several other inventions that were establishing themselves.

I can't find any information about the main topic of the article -- "Photograms" --but it seems as though this technology had existed for some time (I recall articles much earlier in the magazine about the low quality of telegraphed photos).
Photograms are pictures, or documents, sent by wire the same as telegrams.

Newspapers use photograms for news pictures, in cases like the Florida hurricane. Lawyers send photograms of legal documents, making error impossible.

Musical scores are often sent--song hits of Tin Pan Alley are released in San Francisco within twelve hours. Fashions are sent from Paris.
The editors then make a keen distinction (keep in mind this is 1928).
Don't confuse all this with television. Television (are we boring you?) is very, very different. At the Radio World's Fair last week, which was terribly dull, we took a look at television. A man with a scrubby mustache let himself be televised. He showed his teeth and winked and leered, which is about as far as television has gone at present. The pictures didn't do justice even to that. His mustache was vague, and his chin finally faded out altogether. What we could see of him looked pretty grim. Nobody is using television yet and we can well understand why.
I can't find any substantial online references to this early television experiment, but it may have been one of John Logie Baird's 1928 transmissions between London and New York. If so, Baird's prototype had only thirty scanlines, a far cry from the 486 we're used to in NTSC-world. You can see one of those early facial images at the link; Picasso would have appreciated it.

Anyway, radio was still to be king for another fifteen years or so, and The New Yorker concludes with the latest advances (which would not have been news to anybody -- like me -- who'd been reading the advertising copy for the previous few months).
The only thing to report about the newest in radio sets is that they now mostly plug into the electric-light circuit--no batteries. They are also disguised artfully in period furniture. Some of them have liquor cabinets.
All true...during Prohibition no less! What has been confusing me is that these sets were advertised as plugging into LIGHT SOCKETS. Like, you twisted them into the socket of a lamp where you'd normally place the bulb. I'm wondering if this was a novelty idea or if electrical outlets were really scarce at the time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kill Your Husband, Smell Good

The folks at Odorono certainly have their moral code all worked out, here in the September 22, 1928 issue of The New Yorker:
You may have more of a past than a future, but you are personally irreproachable.

Have you shop-lifted, smuggled, poisoned your husband, broken good men's hearts in your dark past?

Don't let conscience worry you! Use Odorono!
This is right up there with the Murad cigarette ads, which imply that being "calm and collected" is more important than -- say -- accidental vehicular homicide.

Anyway, for those who use Odorono in the recommended dosage (twice a week), here are the benefits:
Fastidious women frankly depend on Odorono for freedom from perspiration embarrassments. Its sure protection gives them poise, keeps their skin immaculate, free from moisture (in spite of exercise, humidity, heat). They wear good clothes--and do not ruin them by ugly under-arm stains.

Odorono is harmless. Delightful to use. Instantly effectual.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Okay. I've spent a few weeks on Facebook and I think I have a good sense of its pros and cons.

First of all, it IS a wonderful way to keep casually in touch with people, usually in a cute and noncommittal way. You can find out what people are up to, remind them about upcoming events, share pictures with them, and basically take care of all the stuff that you'd never bother calling or emailing about.

The thing is, some people are VERY ACTIVE within Facebook. They're constantly posting updates, adding applications, and joining groups, and every time this happens you are notified about it. Not coincidentally, the people who do this frequently tend to be the people I am only tangentially friendly with, so I spend my Facebook sessions being bombarded by crap from people who I care little about.

And I'm automatically distrustful of these applications I'm always prompted to install. I doubt there's any security risk involved, but in my opinion they're just useless clutter that I'll never use anyway. Why do I need a special application in order to get a pleasant message from somebody? Why don't people just send me a nice email, instead of forcing me to install a "good karma" application?

I suspect the answer is because the applications are one step further removed from regular human interaction. If somebody sends me an email saying "you're hot," I am generally creeped out. But if they prompt me to install a "you're hot" application -- and I know that all of THEIR friends are being prompted to install it as well -- it stops being a REAL message and becomes something else, like a happy wave or a drunken "cheers."

Obviously there are many different ways of looking at Facebook; some people see it as a vibrant community, some as a lifestyle, some as a networking tool, and some -- like me -- as a way to maintain casual contact. And since I'm bad at keeping in contact this is a good thing, but I REALLY don't want to be reminded every time somebody I barely know is washing their hair.

I'd Buy Anything By...Foetus

While I was in university the campus radio station was an endless source of musical discovery for me. They had a huge selection of vinyl spanning the past twenty years of the station and most of it was very strange indeed.

Still, when I did my radio show I tended to stick to the bands that I already knew, occasionally dipping into the new releases to broaden my horizons. Left to my own devices I might never have fallen in love with Foetus.

But during every show I found myself entertaining the night janitor from the House of Friendship, and he was a musically adventurous guy. He'd call up and challenge me to, for instance, play punk bands from Quebec or find some random song on an old David Bowie album. That guy introduced me to Roxy Music...and one fateful morning he asked me to play some Foetus.

I was familiar with IDEA of the band -- crazy solo project by rude guy with multiple names -- but I'd never heard any of the music. There are some bands that you avoid getting into because you know you'll need to listen to most of their catalog in order to understand their "mythology," and Foetus was one of those. A cult band, diverse, mysterious, difficult.

I played "Bedrock," and after I got over the fears of losing the CKMS broadcasting license I was instantly in love.

J. G. Thirlwell -- the man behind the band -- is a strange sort of genius. He makes music using an alter ego that is so unpleasant you can barely tolerate him -- his song "The Fudge Punch" was one of the few songs we were forbidden to play on CKMS -- and his style is meticulous and lock-step. He pioneered the idea of "industrial big-band" and he has been the only person to pull it off successfully, thanks to his sampledelic brilliance. Mixed in with his often filthy lyrics are strings of disarming, hyper-intelligent wordplay. Thirlwell is not a guy you'd like to eat dinner with, but you'd sure want him remixing your album, and you might want to co-author a book with him.

After fifteen years of independent obscurity he was signed to Sony and released "Gash," which I now consider his best album: a tidal wave of guitars, distortion, horns, relentless drums, and undistilled Thirlwell hatred. While by no means the best song on the album, the video for "Verklemmt" sums up Thirlwell nicely, and it seems designed to make video compression algorithms cry.

The Sony thing didn't work out and Thirlwell has gone back to the independents, producing albums under various names, composing respectable songs for high-brow outfits, and remixing the bands that he helped to inspire in the first place.

Thirlwell and his live band are fantastic, but all of the live Foetus clips on YouTube have terrible sound quality. In fact, despite the huge number of video projects he's been involved in, there is precious little Thirlwell material on YouTube at all. So rather than present something inferior and unrepresentative, I encourage you to explore the Foetus-world all on your own.

Must-have albums: "Gash" is just wonderful, but you should REALLY pick up the "Male" double-CD live album...power, power, power! I also highly recommend the "Pedal to the Metal" EP he made with Roli Mosimann under the name "Wiseblood." Albums to avoid: "Deaf" and "Ache" -- his first two full-length releases -- are pretty obnoxious, all clinky and screechy. For fans only: "Sink," the CD of assorted singles, compilation appearances, and experimental pieces, and the dedicated fan should also check out the percussion-crazy Lydia Lunch collaboration called "Stinkfist." Smelly.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Quick Thoughts About Two "Up North" Books

I'm not even going to TRY to come up with a coherent thought, but somehow I can't leave these two books unreviewed. So here you go:

"Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade" by John Hawkes

My university PoMo teacher included John Hawkes in his "required postmodern reading" list, so I picked up a few of his books...but at the time I didn't understand how he fit into the category; his writing was far too straightforward for my rough little mind to accept.

I can't speak for Hawkes' other books (yet), but I can certainly understand his pomo chops now. "Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade" is partly a wild adventure story, but it is mainly a love-letter to language, in particular the telling of stories.

The book's characters often break into long, detailed, fascinating monologues about their adventures...but they don't do this to impart information or to soothe others...they do it to BLUDGEON their listeners. In this book, stories are weapons; they help to maintain the status quo. When two new characters meet each other for the first time, they attack each other with stories, and the loser is permanently scarred.

What's amazing about Hawkes is his ability to get this across in a subtle, ambiguous way, and to combine it with stories that are more gripping and unusual than you'd find in the best "boy's adventure" book. For that reason, "Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade" could be seen as a lot of different things (and that's also why, the first time I read it, I had no idea what the point was). But now I see it as an evil, uncomfortable, vicious tale about the passive ways that people abuse each other, presented through the metaphor of storytelling.

"Hunting with the Eskimos" by Harry Whitney

It's difficult to read an autobiography written by a man you don't like, and such is this book by Harry Whitney. He wasn't EVIL or anything, he was just a selfish, egocentric, dim-witted rich guy who decided on a whim that he'd like to kill musk ox, and then wrote a book about his year sponging off the Inuit.

His writing style is atrocious. The book is a long string of pseudo-facts that barely rise above the level of a point-form journal: somebody sees a walrus, everybody sets out to kill the walrus, the weather turns bad, they return home with only one walrus. It's all like that except when Whitney sees something beautiful, in which case he'll describe it to us as being "indescribable." Thanks, Harry.

What's more, Whitney spent the entire Arctic winter amongst the Inuit, who were forced to babysit him. What the Inuit got out of this exchange is never stated, though they did seem to like his biscuits.

Even before he got off the boat Whitney had begun to hurt himself. It seems like every week he was suffering some new injury and that some new part of his body was frozen, swollen, or both. He kept wandering off, getting stuck in storms, and coming home again with frozen feet, which the Inuit women would stick between their breasts and rub back to life.

Whenever they went hunting, Whitney insisted on getting his trophies. To hell with the fact that the Inuit needed to, like, EAT, Whitney would hold them off so that he could take the first shot, or so that they could find the musk ox with the biggest horns, and meanwhile the Inuit hunting dogs were getting slaughtered and the game was escaping. Whenever he did this the Inuit hunters would become, in Whitney's words, "sulky and disagreeable."

You understand why I didn't like him.

On the positive side, however, he provided many comical accounts of the Inuit "going problokto," which he described as a form of insanity that the "Highland Eskimos" were prone to. Right in the middle of cooking a meal or spearing a walrus, somebody or other would run screaming around the ice floes, tearing off their clothes. This happened more often even that Whitney's frequent injuries, and I suspect that the Inuit did this to amuse Whitney, or more likely to distract him while they stole his biscuits.

The book does manage to shed some light on Inuit culture, but moreso it exposes the strange mindset of the turn-of-the-century "professional sportsman," men who travelled the world in order to kill the biggest animals they could find, usually with the invaluable assistance of "sulky, disagreeable" natives, just so they could nail something to their wall and bludgeon their children with adventure stories.

Sicko II

How are YOU spending "Family Day?" I'll be spending it with the seven million members of my own personal family: the bacteria that are currently running rampant through my body.

Yes, I know, I was sick only last month. Once again somebody has leaned directly into my face and shouted "I'm sick!" at me, therefore instantly passing on their infection. As much as I'd like to lay such people low with a swift backhand swipe, I'm afraid that doing so would just expose me to additional (and nastier) infections.

So far I've mostly just been lying under blankets to keep me and my family warm. Things haven't been so bad, but I notice now that one relative has just discovered my lungs. There goes the neighbourhood! You know what they say: you can't pick your family.

Having written this, I feel like I've just run a marathon.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Because It's Friday: Kate Bush

Sometimes, when I come home after a long night and I'm unable to sleep, I try to find the most beautiful song imaginable. Tonight I've decided that it's Kate Bush's "Moments of Pleasure."

In some ways it's a tribute to the people she'd known who had died, in particular the people she worked with.

I've got to agree that her mother DID have a great saying: "Every old sock meets an old shoe." Beautiful.

Glamourspunk #1 Postmortem

I had a bad feeling about the Valentine's Day Glamourspunk show.

Why? Because at the best of times a drag show is a complicated event with lots of different performers and a totally random crowd. And while I do have patience for inter-performer conflicts -- as long as I only need to get involved once a month -- my patience eventually runs out. I don't want to worry about who goes first, who gets cut from the set, who gets to do what...I really just want to perform.

So why did I accept the offer to be a "feature?" Because "feature" is an undefined term; it could mean anything from getting "top exposure" to "running the night." And I sure don't want to run a night!

Fortunately Victoria is good at making lists and laying down the law, giving me the chance to socialize a bit and enjoy the night, and Drew took care of the some of the announcing and the obligatory crowd-inspiring contest. And it WAS a wonderful night; we had a FANTASTIC group of performers with no difficulties that I needed to worry about, and the audience was about the best I've ever seen: diverse, curious, but totally patient and enthusiastic.

I DID actually get up the nerve to bring "Schnapps the Seal" up on stage with me. I think the audience was as confused as I was.

The show didn't end until 2:30, so I trudged outside into the snow to wait for a cab. The only vehicles on the road were snow removal machines, busily scooping away the accumulation to make room for the next big storm. It was interesting to watch the strangely-articulated machines in action, but after fifteen minutes of waiting I was getting desperate.

Fortunately Miss Kamara's driver was willing to go my way, so he rescued me from the cold and took me back to my place. Kamara came in to my apartment to negotiate an exchange of alcohol and -- guess what? -- she managed to step on the one piece of glass that I missed when I broke my mirror last month.

You know when they say that God looks after drunk people? Kamara stood there wobbling on my stairway, bleeding and saying "ow," coming within a hair's breath of bashing her head or falling over...and she pulled that piece of glass right out of her foot without any difficulty whatsoever. A sober person would have either cut their fingers or jammed the shard further in, but no...she removed it as I stood there, mortified, thinking that I must be the world's worst hostess.

I don't think I'll ever forget that. I felt like I'd just run over somebody's child.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Moment's Pause

Sometimes, when this blog goes silent for a day or two, it's because I'm stupid and brain dead and I just want to take a seventy-two hour nap.

But at other times -- like this -- it's because I'm working on so many things that I simply don't have the time or brainpower left to explore heavy blog topics (such as the potential fetish appeal of 1920s cruise-line fruit).

What am I doing? I'm glad you asked! Besides the physical/mental logjam that occurs the week before any approaching drag show (it's tomorrow night!) I am also swamped at work (wading into the treacherous waters of DITA), continuously shoveling the sidewalk, finishing off a song that's been in the pipe for more than a year, experimenting with my new hair extensions, and...

...putting together a silly online project that I will link to in a day or two, but which will be of interest only to die-hard devotees of a certain obscure musical group. I mention this not to get you excited -- because I don't think anybody who reads this would be interested in the final product -- but only to explain why I'm so quiet right now.

PS: I'm also watching a DVD collection of pioneering films from the turn of the century, back before anybody realized that a camera could move (unless it was mounted on a train) or that chase scenes didn't HAVE to show every single participant arrive at one edge of the film, cross laboriously across the middle, and exit completely off the opposite edge.

Oh, those simple, child-like directors with their top hats and mustaches! Oh, those sickly-looking infants dressed in oversized doilies! Oh, those insatiable, oat-eating horses! And let's not forget the eight-year-old children working in factories to help buy heroin-laced medicines for their consumptive, coal-mining fathers.

It's no wonder they didn't have time to discover "the close-up."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Miss Burke's Expressive Hands

Melon fetishists like their ellipses, but HAND fetishists go for double-barrel adjectives:
How do these gay, clever women keep their busy capable hands exquisite and pretty when they use them for so much interesting active work?
Those gay, clever, busy, capable, exquisite, pretty, interesting, and active women rely on Cutex Liquid Polish, of course...and this includes Billie Burke!
"I love the stage," says Billie Burke, "but I also love simple country things--gardens, woods, tramps--dogs. What terrible things it does to my hands!"
I sure know that simple country tramps can get you awfully dirty, but let's assume that Burke is using the word "tramp" in the pre-'60s American sense of the word, that is, "to hike." Although "tramp" could also mean "hobo" at that time, for some reason it was an acceptable word for "hiking" as well. I have an old Ann Miller advertisement where she brags about her ability to go "cross-country tramping."

In any case, if you can get your busy, capable hands on a box of this stuff, your friends might admire you in the way that they admired Burke:
"My friends say, 'What lovely half-moons you have!'"

Monday, February 11, 2008

Cosmetics for the Inept

My life with CoverFX foundation began over a year ago, but I'm still learning how to deal with it; essentially, how to put it on, make sure it stays, and fix it when it goes wrong.

The issue with CoverFX over panstick-and-powder (my old technique) is that it's so delicately natural. Rather than a thick, greasy goop, it is...well, a thin greasy goop. Though the greasiness is mostly disguised with their setting powder.

I have spent a year feeling borderline-ugly, and it is only now that I've managed to solve a few problems that have been plaguing me.
  1. My nose has been an absolute train-wreck. I realize that this is because it is a phenomenally oily portion of my face. I can't stop my nose from "greasing up" during the night, but I CAN keep it dry long enough to put foundation and powder on, which is three-quarters of the battle. I have to wash my face several times in the hour preceding application, then -- with makeup sponge ready -- I manically scrub my nose with a dry washcloth. When only a tiny spot of oiliness remains, I dab some powder on with a brush, then immediately apply the cream foundation, and then powder again. If a bird lands on me during the night it will still leave marks with its feet, but at least my nasal shell won't go sliding off on its own volition (perhaps in search of a drink).
  2. With the above technique I can also cover up my large pores without everything becoming a mess. I tried Base Watier pore minimizer -- and initially swore by it -- but it simply adds oiliness to an area that I can't afford to be oily. Instead, once my nose is dry and powdered, I smear the cream foundation around and it covers the pores up. Voila.
  3. I'm no longer a spring chicken, I'm more of an autumn pheasant, so the lines under my eyes are bound to be visible. But my Mac concealer was making them even MORE visible, turning them into crinkly mummy-pouches before the night had even begun. Now I put a bit of prep lotion under my eyes and then apply the works!
  4. I'd given up using the outrageously expensive "goat-hair brush" for applying foundation -- using a sponge instead -- but now I see that there are parts of my face where the goat-hair brush is essential. You basically need it wherever you have -- ahem -- growth. After using the brush on those areas you can go over them a second time with the sponge.
So there you have it! May your first year with CoverFX be prettier than mine has been.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sit With the Seal!

After waiting more than ninety minutes for my co-host and wine-date to show up, I sat down with Schnapps the Seal to make this abrasive promo for our "Glamourspunk" night. I'm experimenting with the idea that I might be a better hostess if I have a puppet on my arm. This will only work if I can develop a less obnoxious voice.

PS: The audio drops out mysteriously the first time I mention the date because I got it totally wrong. I simply cannot remember details.

Busybody or Samaritan?

There is only one thing about winter that I enjoy: the opportunity to push cars out of snowbanks. As a pedestrian I am often in the position to help people get their vehicles unstuck, and this winter has been particularly fruitful.

Why do I enjoy doing this? Because I like the way social barriers fall down when the weather gets bad. Have you noticed? Strangers smile and say hello to you on the street, because everybody is united in a common struggle, and it makes us realize how much we depend on each other. Just the fact that we have a common difficulty is enough to make us worthwhile in other people's eyes.

So I'm thrilled when I see a few people trying to get their car out of a snowbank. It's a chance to have a quick, easy social interaction with strangers that I'll never see again. It makes me happy to help and it seems to make them happy in return.

But on Saturday I began to wonder if I've stopped being "helpful" and started being "a busybody."

On the way home from Conestoga Mall the bus broke down, because the middle door had gotten jammed with snow and it wouldn't close. The bus driver -- obviously not a very handy guy -- just kept coming back and kicking the snow around, basically packing it all in tighter until the door was permanently stuck.

Meanwhile, us passengers sat there and watched him. I felt I could do a better job of fixing the door, and I could see that a few others felt that way as well. But did any of us have a RIGHT to step up and offer assistance?

Well, I did. I dug around in the snow and slush and grease while people just sat and stared at me, and as I was doing this -- and as it became more apparent that the door was simply busted -- I saw myself through the eyes of those bored, anxious passengers: they thought I was a nosy busybody, somebody who gets involved just to feel important and to get into the public spotlight, hoping to be the hero who fixes the bus and gets everybody home on time.

I couldn't deny this entirely, and coupled with the fact that I was sticking my fingers into places where they could suddenly be chopped off, I gathered up my bags and decided to walk home instead. I began to wonder what my motivations are for pushing cars out of ditches, and rescuing animals at work, and helping out in the Club Abstract coatroom when I'm not really needed.

Like every motivation, I don't think my -- or anybody's -- samaritan impulses are cut-and-dried, but the subconscious stuff is unimportant anyway. By the time I reached my home on Saturday I'd realized that people will ascribe motivations for your actions according to their own prejudices, regardless of why you think you're doing it.

There used to be a guy in New Hamburg who may parents called "Ranger Rick." He was an elderly man who spent all day walking around town, watching everything that was going on and asking everybody about their lives. My family made fun of this because we were private people who didn't want attention from others, but now -- for the first time -- I realize that Rick might not have been simply nosy...maybe he cared about people? Maybe he loved the town and was interested in what was happening in it?

I think that Rick's behaviour was due to a mix of things, and some of them weren't noble (boredom, nosiness, social difficulties). But now I realize that I looked at him the same way the people on the bus were looking at me.

No dramatic conclusion, just a thought, and something I need to keep in mind...both when I'm thinking about helping others, and when others help me.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Unofficial "Torchwood Declassified" Drinking Game

If you find yourself watching the bonus "Torchwood Declassified" DVD in the season one box set, set up the booze and follow these rules. You'll only survive if you're very, very drunk.
  • When somebody uses a string of one-word adjectives to describe an episode, take a sip for EVERY adjective.
  • If the episode is described as "dark," take two additional sips. If it's "SO dark," finish your drink. If somebody says "it's SO dark," and then laughs, polish off the liquor cabinet.
  • When Russel T. Davies, Julie Gardener, or one of the executives tries to explain why the sex and violence is "important to the plot," nod your head knowingly and drink a shot. When this explanation is followed by an extended, exploitative montage of sexy clips from the series, simply admit that you knew it all along.
  • Whenever it sounds like a cast member is in a "watch Torchwood" commercial, throw your shot glass at the screen. This doesn't count if the cast member is John Barrowman because he ALWAYS sounds that way.
  • When a cast member talks about their character in the third person, take only a tiny sip, or you'll quickly lose your eyesight.
  • Drink a glass of wine every time somebody is described as "lonely."
  • Whenever somebody describes Captain Jack in a way that could equally apply to Doctor Who, drink the entire bottle of wine. Destroy your wine cellar if this is within five minutes of somebody saying that the series premise is totally different from Doctor Who.
  • When Russel T. Davies "gushes" about a plot twist, that's okay. When the plot twist is horrible and should never have been conceived, let alone filmed, drink your brandy and write him a nasty, fannish email.
  • When John Barrowman is slick, Eve Myles is goofy, Burn Gorman is deadly serious, or Naoko Mori is wide-eyed sincere, take a sip of whatever you're drinking and then ask Gareth David-Lloyd for another, please. When Gareth David-Lloyd appears on the screen and you wonder why you never noticed his teeth before, clasp him tightly like John Barrowman would and say "I'm SO SORRY" in a broken-voiced way.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Blasted Barmy Poozy

Somebody pooped on my workplace. Literally, he or she pooped on the SIDE of the building, two feet from the door that few people other than myself ever use.

Since Monday I have seen this poop twice each lunch hour, and it has done nothing for my appetite. I'm increasingly fascinated by its longevity: nobody seems to have noticed, and it is impervious to the weather, looking exactly the same now as it did three days ago.

This is a strange secret that I'm keeping, especially because the poop is right underneath my manager's window. I see her several times a day and I keep wanting to tell her about it, but I know she wouldn't appreciate the news. She'd either have to clean it up herself or just sit there by her window, thinking about it, the way I do.

Vanilla has never seen the poop but I keep her appraised. I pretend that it's Allison Goldfrapp's poop. I pretend that she'd call it her "blasted barmy poozy." This makes the situation more bearable.

Every night I wonder if it will go away, and every day I return to find it still there. There's nothing I can comfortably do about it. I can only see which one of us gives up first.

Cartoon Confusion Due to Creepy Ending

Otto Soglow is confusing us again, this time in the September 8, 1928 issue of The New Yorker (click for a full-size image).

I'm not stupid; I assume the joke is that the diver left his suit to join the mermaid underwater. But does it make sense that my first thought was that she'd EATEN him? And does it seem strange that I still halfway believe that this was Soglow's intention?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

For the Love of Melons

The people who write the best advertising copy are probably fetishists. From the September 1, 1928 issue of The New Yorker, here's an...oddly breathless...story about...melons...
"I WANT melon...cold melon...with some taste to it"...growled the Temperamental Musician...He has played too many concerts in one season...He hates everything from Bach to steamships...He eyes the steward balefully...He wants to complain...The melon comes...He can' is cool and beautiful..."Why, it's juicy...and what a flavour"...His smile is as sweet as a Beethoven melody..."Quite, Sir," said the steward..."that is English hothouse can tell it by the bright canary colour of the outside, under a net of white...It's considered a very fine product, sir, one of the best..."
Who wrote this crazy story with its ellipses and Canadian spelling? I bet the writer has got more than a few melons stored in his fridge, and that he spends every day anticipating...the moment...when he can be alone with them.

PS: In case you're wondering, it's an advertisement for the Cunard Line, which is still operating today.

Monday, February 04, 2008

"I Married the Klondike"

For the last few months I've been on a Klondike kick. I've read all about the social, political, and historical significance of the event. I've learned intimate details about all the gold rush archetypes: prostitutes, dance-hall girls, con men, Mounties, miners, and opportunistic businessmen. I've followed the history of Dawson from the first pan of gold to the start of the town's decline.

What more was there to learn? Obviously something, because Laura Beatrice Berton's autobiographical "I Married the Klondike" has been an eye-opener even to this jaded reader.

Berton, a school teacher, went alone to Dawson in 1907. The town was already in mid-decline but the unique social life of dances, teas, recitals, and endless gossip was still entrenched. Berton's book is a unique perspective of a 29-year-old woman's adventures in a dying mining town, including her marriage and the upbringing of her two children (one of whom, of course, was author and historian Pierre Berton).

The first half of the book consists of her detailed memories about the town's social stratification.
The social level began, of course, with the commissioner and his wife, and worked its way down through the judges and officers of the police, the high civil servants, the heads of the large companies, the bishops and church people, the bankers and bank clerks, lawyers and nurses until it stopped with us teachers, who clung to the charmed group by our finger-nails... The Mounted Police, noncoms and constables, were not admitted to Dawson's social set... Below the first social level came the merchants, who were known as "the downtown crowd", and below them the labourers, policemen and so on, who were, in turn, several steps above the dance-hall girls and the prostitutes of Klondike City and the half-breeds and Indians.
We also learn something about what it was like to be a single, unescorted woman living in the Yukon at the turn of the century. She describes riding an open sleigh from Whitehorse to Dawson, a week-long trip in the middle of winter, crammed in with thirteen other passengers, two of them amorous.
I sat in the rear seat, squeezed between a Swede on one side and a French-Canadian miner on the other... For five days I parried their advances, which followed much the same line.

"I mak' you present ermine skin, hey?" murmured the Quebecker, affectionately pressing my arm. "Two, t'ree, yes, enough for nice collar. How you like dat, hey?" Another squeeze.

Then from the other side--this time pressure against my leg and the Swedish voice: "In Dawson you go mit me to show, yah? Ve haf a good time, yah?" To all of which I smiled demurely and maintained a discreet silence.
Reading this in the midst of my furnace breakdown, I was particularly thankful that I wasn't currently Up North.
We could never quite keep the cold or frost out of the house. It seemed an animate thing, creeping insidiously under the crack of the door in a long white streak. Each nailhead in the strapping around the kitchen door was covered by a little coat of ice... A thick line of frost marked the lower edge of the door, and we could judge the temperature by gauging the distance this white line crept up along the door's edge from the floor to ceiling.
The environment kills many of her friends. They succumb to cold, incompetent medicine, animals, and drowning. Some go crazy, some just disappear. But most of them gradually trickled away as the city emptied, and eventually she left as well.

It's not all sad, though; far from it. She describes scenes of incredible bliss, spending summers floating around on the Yukon, picking an uninhabited island and living there for a month. She talks about the necessary acts of charity and kindness in a city where the smallest weakness could lead to death. She eloquently, breezily, and matter-of-factly describes the love that many people feel for small towns and the people in them, and the fact that Dawson was such an impossible place makes it all more fascinating.

The Love Show!

On Thursday the 14th -- that's Valentine's Day in case you needed a reminder -- Drew, Victoria, and I will be hosting a special "LOVE" show at Club Renaissance. It probably won't be ENTIRELY about love...but really, how easy is it to find a song that ISN'T about love in some way? Us humans sure have one-track, euphemistic minds.

So come to the club and cheer us on! And not just on the 14th, but on the second Thursday of EVERY month, because...

...Victoria and I are starting a stint as "featured entertainers," with our own special night that we like to call "Glamourspunk." More news (and a poster) coming soon!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I'd Buy Anything By...Bryan Ferry (and then I'd SMOOCH him)

Does he deserve an entry apart from Roxy Music, considering he was their frontman and primary songwriter? Well, yes, but for no rational reason. I just like him so much.

Bryan Ferry really only has two vocal techniques -- "slinky" or "shouty" -- but they are both sublime. He has managed to be a sort of "lounge lizard" without ever being sleezy; he filled his videos with fashion models and never seemed exploitative; he has recently survived a scandal wherein he was misquoted as saying he "praised the Nazi regime." Has anybody else done that stuff, and with such style? I don't think so. It's the little things that count.

You may say his eyes are small and too close together; I say he's devilishly handsome. You may say he slips into adult contemporary pop too often, and I say "so what?" My very own mother might complain that she can never understand what he is saying, but I call that "creative articulation." Bryan Ferry, in my world, is somewhat beyond criticism, so hush.

First, in shouty-mode, here's a largely overlooked Ferry song that I consider to be one of his best: "The Price of Love." It's so bombastic! The primary female in the video, of course, is Jerry Hall.

In '80s pop slinky-mode, "Don't Stop the Dance." I don't know who the models are in this one, but one of them is certainly NOT a professional sax player. Still, she's probably more attention-grabbing than David Sanborn. Note the Mark Knopfler guitar.

The best thing about Bryan Ferry is that he isn't dead yet! He just released a CD of Bob Dylan covers, and while I wouldn't swear by it I can happily say he "still has it." Sex appeal, smarts, talent, and good taste: that's my Bryan.

Albums to buy: try "Bête Noir" for its mix of catchiness and Brian Eno odd-production. Albums to avoid? Quite frankly, Ferry's albums are a mixed bag which are rarely good all the way through, and I can't think of any that are "less good" than any others. For fans only? The smell of his morning breath, because I bet that EVEN HE stinks sometimes.

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures!

Originally I thought it would be fun to reenact my "fixing the furnace" experience to the tune of Meat Beat Manifesto's "Plexus." I spent my sacred "Saturday Breakfast Time" coming up with an elaborate shooting schedule. It was to have been a monumental experimental video to rival Luis Buñuel's "L'Âge d'Or."

Then I came to my senses. Screw that, I wanted to have FUN on Saturday, not to hop around shooting some crazy video with barely a moment's notice.

So instead I took a bunch of pictures.

The Old Filter

These encompass tonight, mostly, but also go back to New Year's Eve. Enjoy!

Friday, February 01, 2008


When I was getting ready for work this morning I noticed that my kitchen floor was awfully cold, but I had so many other things on my mind that I forgot about it. After lunchtime I came home to a freezing apartment and the crashing realization that it was happening again: the furnace had stopped working.

I spent two hellish weeks in November 2006 without heat, in a different building but with the same landlords. I have vivid memories of sleeping under a suffocating mound of blankets, and spending evenings trying to watch television in front of two howling space-heaters. My life ground to a halt back then -- there's just no way to be productive when it's only 12 degrees in your building -- and I DO NOT WANT THAT TO HAPPEN AGAIN.

Fortunately, this recurrence was ridiculous enough to get immediate action from landlord D, who brought me space-heaters and invited me to call him if things got unbearable.

But the problem is, what is REALLY unbearable for me is NOT KNOWING WHAT'S GOING ON. If somebody had told me "we've got a service person coming tomorrow at 10am," I could just moan and deal with it. What I CAN'T deal with is sitting by the telephone waiting for an update.

And landlord B -- who does the repairs -- is not a guy who gives updates. I spent hours, wearing a sweater and a robe and an afghan and a cat, waiting for the telephone to ring...and it didn't. This situation is absolute hell for me, the feeling of powerlessness, at the whim of somebody who doesn't communicate the situation to me.

Something had to be done.

I went down to the basement and stared at the furnace. It was humming quietly. I flicked a switch on the wall and it stopped humming. I opened the furnace up and found an instruction manual, which told me to turn the furnace off for thirty seconds and then turn it on again.

I did this. The furnace buzzed back to life and proceeded to make four feeble popping sounds before going quiet again.

One part of the manual told me to turn off the natural gas and go through a bunch of complicated BTU calculations. I decided not to blow myself up; if it was a natural gas problem, somebody else would have to fix it.

Another part of the manual said that the furnace wouldn't start if its filter was clogged. So I found the filter and pulled it out, and it looked like Frankenstein's table napkin. Since there were no clean filters in the basement I scraped the black gunk off as best I could and put it back into the furnace (upside down, for luck).

I flicked the switch on...and the furnace began to hum like a warming-up kitty. It's been running now for an hour (constantly, because it has a lot of rooms to heat). I'm scared that it'll suddenly stop working again and I'll be back to square one, but maybe...

...just maybe...

...did I fix a furnace? If I didn't have the black gunk on my sweater to prove it I wouldn't believe it myself.