Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Scrutable Poetry Corner: "Ceres"

Here's "Ceres" by Harrison Dowd, from the April 20, 1929 issue of The New Yorker.

I have honestly never seen these "pigeon people," but they appear so often in fiction of all eras that I can only assume they're out there...probably in larger cities.
Little gray woman
Mad as a loon,
Feeding all morning,
All afternoon,

Grain to your pigeons
In your old blue cloak,
How long is it
Since your whole brain broke?

How long ago
Did you first go mad?
Was it drink, or a lover
That you never had?

What day did your mind
In a whir of soft words
Split and scatter
Like scared gray birds?
Harrison Dowd himself -- like many poets from The New Yorker -- has been largely forgotten, but he did write a book that's still remembered: "The Night Air," a "homosexual novel" from the 1950s that sounds pretty interesting. He was apparently a Broadway character actor from the late '20s to the mid '60s.

I guess poetry wasn't his thing.

Today's Pepys Entry

January 1st, 1660:
To-day the King dined at a lord's two doors down from us. Mr. Moore and I went to Mr. Pierce's; in our way seeing the Duke of York bring his Lady to-day to wait upon the Queen, the first time that ever she did since that business; and the Queen is said to receive her now with much respect and love; and there he cast up the fees, and I told the money, by the same token the £100 bag, after I had told it, fell all about the room, and I fear I have lost some of it. Supped with them and Mr. Pierce, the purser, and his wife and mine, where we had a calf's head carboned, but it was raw--we could not eat it--and a good hen. But she is such a slut that I do not love her victualls.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Torchwood Season 2

Yes, okay, my loyalty to Torchwood is mostly because I'm a Doctor Who nerd. SUE ME!

But I also watch the show because its POTENTIAL is so huge. You've got a diverse, quirky cast -- most of whom are amazing actors -- under the guidance of one of the most wonderfully-conceived action heroes in history. Their mandate is open-ended and they have a dedicated pool of creative writers. Their fan base is such that they can hardly do wrong, allowing the show to experiment without fear of losing popularity.

So why did the first season mostly suck? And why did the second season suck even WORSE?

You don't have to be Tosh to figure out the reasons. There are three of them.

First, the budget is simply too low, so when they attempt to pull off Doctor Who-style scenes of mayhem they end up looking like a CGI version of...well, the '80s Doctor Who. I'm thinking mainly of the "space whale" and the "exploding Cardiff" scene, which left me wondering if I'd developed an astigmatism or if it really DID look like crap.

Second, John Barrowman can only play one role well, that of the sexy, flippant, mostly-likeable hero. When forced to branch out -- particularly in the presence of more capable actors like Eve Myles, Burn Gorman, and Naoko Mori -- he's a space whale out of water. When he was forced to cry in the first series he looked like he was taking a dump. I'm pleased to report that he's a better crier in the second series, where instead he looks like a small child about to blubber. I expect this is how Barrowman really cries.

All this would be fine, however, if it weren't for the third and most heinous problem with the series: the producers seem unaware of Barrowman's limitations -- and the obvious strengths of the Torchwood premise -- and therefore constantly shoehorn emotionally over-the-top moments into plots that don't NEED them.

This is (mostly) fine in the new Doctor Who, where the characters and mythology provide plenty of fodder for emotional blowouts. But in Torchwood, putting a requisite ten-minute weepy scene into every episode is like adding emotional depth to a Flash Gordon serial: unnecessary, distracting, and obvious.

So season two's Mostly Random Arc involving Jack's lost brother ("GRAY!!! GRAY!!!") is ridiculous, and just gives the characters yet another opportunity to say "I'm sorry...I'm so sorry."

Try contrasting "Something Borrowed," the only really good episode in the series, with one of the crappy ones like "Meat." In "Something Borrowed," the Torchwood team runs around battling a sexy alien in a ridiculous setting, cracking witty jokes and being self-referential and basically having a good time. Captain Jack gets to strut around and be tough, Gwen gets to be funny, and even Rhys is a welcome (and essential) part of the episode, instead of just saying "Darn it, Gwen, YER NEVER HOOOME!"

But in "Meat" you have an overly-ambitious, budget-free bunch of crap effects, and a pointless subplot about Rhys perhaps being evil (though we know he's not), and a heavy-handed message about...cruelty to animals, or something. You even have the conscious-stricken younger brother shouting "I DIDN'T AGREE TO THIS!" and Rhys complaining that Gwen is (yes) never home, and Jack's first opportunity this season to say (snicker) "I'm sorry..." and then (yes) "...I'm SO SORRY."

"Something Borrowed" knows that Torchwood can just be FUN. "Meat" wants to be relevant and complicated and heart-rending. One passes, one fails. WAKE UP, PRODUCTION TEAM!

Add to this yet another limping climax full of random obstacles (for which each member has a relevant skill) and the main character saying "I forgive you" to the evil mastermind (where have we heard that before, a year ago, in the climax to a show which is an anagram of "Torchwood"?) and you have, essentially, a load of whatever Barrowman was trying to crap out in the first series.

It's not ALL bad. I loved the "Owen's dead" subplot, and the cast reductions in the final episode were brilliantly performed (and tear-jerking, not least because those actors represented 66% of the team's acting talent). And whenever the show DECIDED to be funny, I laughed. And I thought "Maybe they've figured it out...maybe they understand that they should titillate me, and scare me, and make me laugh?"

Then, seconds later, Gwen would start mooning about how Torchwood had hardened her, and Owen was covering up his soft interior by being a brash jerk, and somehow Ianto still had security clearance after sneaking his cyberwoman girlfriend into the Hub. Oh, give me a break.

Today's Pepys Quote

October 13th, 1660:
I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition. He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy. It is said, that he said that he was sure to come shortly at the right hand of Christ to judge them that now had judged him, and that his wife do expect his coming again. Thus it was my chance to see the King beheaded at White Hall, and to see the first blood shed in revenge for the King at Charing Cross. Setting up shelves in my study.
From "The Diary of Samuel Pepys," Everyman's Library.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

And This Day


Up, packed, and away to Toronto by 9:30am. Not only have they changed the Greyhound ticket procedure -- requiring you to go outside and buy them from a surly woman wearing wrap-around shades -- but the bus also stops at a giant inflatable bus station near Sportsworld Drive. It's a "Commuter Connection," but it looks like a bouncy castle. Only bus-shaped.

I got the type of seatmate that I usually end up with: the guy who doesn't brush his teeth.

Arrived at Jason & Craig's to gain access to their apartment. The two of them are in the middle of an intensive campaign, and they also have new kittens. Somehow they manage to maintain their composure. I am thrilled that one of the kittens is named "Barrowman," and I bet he's a better actor than his namesake.

In order to let J&C prepare for their first show (of three that day) without the distraction of a visitor, I went for a short downtown Toronto wander. I thrilled myself, walking diagonally across the Yonge/Dundas intersection with the rest of the liberated pedestrians. I bought another book about Objective-C.

Leisurely preparations to attend the last half of the show at Gladaman's; small crowd but fun, and great to see Lady Butterfly with her big pregnant belly. Then a walk back to Zelda's, whose stage and dining room invite a wonderful cabaret atmosphere that I wish I could enjoy more often. In the change room -- which was also the women's bathroom -- a constant stream of mothers came in to change their baby's diapers. "I apologize for what I'm about to unleash," said one as I was touching up my makeup. This was a first.

My numbers went over well, and the crowd was totally into the diversity of the performers. Annie Drogyny showed up, the first time I've seen her in months, and fortunately I was wearing the outfit she made for me. A professional puppeteer gave me tips on how to better handle Schnaaps the Seal: in short, treat him like he's an actual animal, not like he's a mitten on the end of my arm. I thought the mitten-thing was funny, but apparently the animal-thing is even funnier.

A mad-dash rush with Craig back to J&C's house for de-dragging, then a rush to catch the 9:30 bus back home...and the line up was HUGE. Even with a second "backup" bus called to transport the overflow, I still was one of the last ten inside.

But before that, while waiting to get on the bus inside the terminal, an extremely disturbed man put something in his mouth and tried to wash it down with Mountain Dew. After choking it back up again and examining his teeth in the reflective glass, he wandered slowly down the line, bobbing and weaving, and when he passed me I was amazed to see huge gashes on both of his cheeks from his mouth to his ears...like, gashes so wide you could see partway into them. He was removed by security guards shortly afterward.

When I got onto the bus, the guy I sat beside was the guy before whom the disturbed man had staged his performance. This guy in the seat was enormous and daunting, talking on the phone with his girlfriend, saying that the disturbed man had "razors" in his mouth, which he was apparently trying to swallow. We talked a bit and he said that he was absolutely terrified...that after the recent stabbings in Greyhound buses he figured that he'd be the first person to stop the attacks...but when this disturbed man came up to him he just froze.

He wanted to know what was going on in the world. This obviously upset him, and I agree, it was absolutely surreal. I put off giving myself an insulin injection until he'd calmed down a bit. I was afraid he'd take it as an incipient attack and break my neck.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Brief Update

What have I done during my Blogging Holiday?

Well, I've been watching an awful lot of those olde-time English movies I've been curious about. Laurence Olivier's "Richard III" was fun for its hunchbacky-evilness and strange jello walls, whereas "Elizabeth" was most notable for the alien beauty of Cate Blanchett.

I also found that "Elizabeth" had strange Bollywood overtones, which is hardly surprising considering it was Shekhar Kapur's Big Western Hit. But some of us still remember him as the director of one of the greatest movies of all time: "Mr. India." (Click that link to read my review from long ago)

I've been preparing for tomorrow's trip to Toronto so I can perform on the same stage as Morgan James (and wish her well in her campaign for Empress of Toronto, for which she is even better qualified than Dame Sarah Palin). The bus ride will give me plenty of opportunity to read The Diary of Samuel Pepys, which is fascinating in so many ways. He sure liked his blue stockings and his nine pins!

I've been working my butt off. After our washing machine broke because of the uprush of raw sewage, I've been handwashing my clothing in the bathtub.

So yeah, mundane stuff that is too boring to tell anybody about. Which is why I decided not to mention any of it here.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Upcoming Show at Zelda's!

I'll be in Toronto for Morgan James' "Pink Flamingo Party" this Sunday at Zelda's, and I'll even get to do a number or two! You should come and say "hi," and also cheer Morgan on in her quest for major Empress-ossity!

It's early too -- 6 to 8pm -- so you can still get to bed on time.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans...

I've developed a sudden interest in medieval England.

It started with a musty old book about mazes and labyrinths. I didn't care for most of it, but when the author started exploring the strange mysteries of the "Troy Town" turf mazes, I found myself strangely intrigued...but my total lack of knowledge about English monarchs, political development, and county locations made me eager to learn more.

I once had a University professor who told us that we should all read the Bible...not for religious reasons necessarily, but so we'd understand the countless references to it in literature.

Well, I tried to read the Bible once and I never made it past Genesis, but I still appreciate his point. For the same reason I'll never really "get" Shakespeare, or Dickens, or even the development of my own beloved language unless I do a bit of research.

So I bought some Middle English literature. I got a few pages into "Pearl" and two chapters into "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" before I realized that 14th century alliterative poetry annoys me. It SOUNDS nice, but damned if I'm going to spend more time deciphering it.

Next I bought a Francis Pryor book about Anglo-Saxon archeology, which is terribly written and largely tangential to my interests, but has at least given me insight into the joys of pot shards and sheep rearing.

While I was buying these books I was also picking the brains of various booksellers, asking them for the best introductory sources they had in stock. Mandy at Words Worth Books said "Why don't you rent a movie?" and I was like, "Hey, that's BRILLIANT!"

Now I'm working my way through Monarchy, which raced too quickly through the early kings but has settled down nicely around Henry VIII. I know who Oliver Cromwell was! I understand why the Protestants and Catholics hated each other so much! I know that Normandy was in FRANCE, and not in Norway as I'd always suspected!

Then I re-read "Murder in the Cathedral," which actually makes sense to me now, and re-watched "Becket" just to hammer home the plot. Beautiful movie, really, and a gripping story all around. They don't make them like that anymore, and they certainly don't ACT like that anymore, at least not offstage.

I'm filled with a desire to actually TOUCH one of those ancient buildings, to actually WALK THROUGH something that was built 1300 years ago! Lacking travel funds, however, I'm resorting to "Plan B": watching adaptations of Shakespear's plays, and then reading them to find out if now -- after all this research -- I'll finally be able to finish one.

Anybody have any film recommendations? No modern interpretations please...I don't want to see Macbeth on rollerskates or anything.

Daily Muffy: "Maid of the Mist"


Season six, episode three of The Daily Muffy -- "Maid of the Mist"-- begins tomorrow! A new picture in the journey will appear every day...click here to watch the drama unfold!

Special thanks to Jenn Wilson, not just for taking the pictures but also for driving hours through a torrential downpour. A trouper!

PS: Ever since I started using a new computer -- and a new version of iPhoto -- my Flickr pictures have appeared strangely pixellated. Fortunately, by adding an extra step to the uploading process, this issue appears to be licked. Whew!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Oh, Klaatu!

I've been on a "Klaatu" kick recently. There are certainly worse bands to be obsessed with, but this one is particularly alienating; if you get into them because of the "They're really The Beatles" myth, you'll be disappointed by all the songs that DON'T sound like The Beatles. If you like their debut album you're unlikely to enjoy the follow up, let alone the third.

I grew up with the band so maybe my genre-ideas hadn't hardened yet, but still I really DO love it when a band does something different every time. And I honestly don't understand what ISN'T to love about Klaatu, from their humble beginnings as Toronto session musicians to their quiet, pathetic collapse.

I wanted to post "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft," but of course the only video version available of the cover by The Carpenters. I love The Carpenters, and I particularly love their spot-on cover of such a bizarre song, but looking at Karen Carpenter makes me feel queasy.

The only REAL Klaatu video that I know of is for "Routine Day," which was incidentally the first song by them I ever heard. Up until now, YouTube's copy of "Routine Day" was terrible, but somebody has finally posted a high-quality version...from The Netherlands.

So here it is in all its glory. Listen to the lyrics. Learn them in Dutch. Pay attention to the many moods the song goes through. Dig that bass. And yes, it really DOES sound like The Beatles.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"They" Want Me To Be Ugly

They discontinued every lipstick I ever loved. They discontinued my eyelash glue. They even discontinued my FOUNDATION, all in an attempt to break my spirit and soul.

But this time they've gone too far. Apparently they have discontinued my 3M adhesive tape.

Have you ever wondered how I construct my cleavage? I use adhesive tape from 3M, which in my world stands for "marvelous man-made mammaries." It's cheap, it's gentle, and it grips like a tetanus-afflicted ferret. You can sweat like a pig -- and I do -- without ever loosening the loving stranglehold of properly-applied 3M. I've spent years developing the perfect way to construct the perfect cleavage. Let's just say I DEPEND on this tape.

After ten years of unflagging service, however, it appears that my miracle tape is being discontinued. PANIC! Vanilla and I managed to find a five-roll stash at Zellers today, which will last me a few more months at least. Long after other queens have resorted to turtleneck-gowns I will be doing my best to remain proudly on display. Because that's just what I do.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Flickr Pics!

Showtime Showdown

For those who want a "taster" of my last two months, some new pictures are up on Flickr. Most importantly you'll see my tribute to both ringworms and my flaming car, as well as some shots of Schnapps and I warming up before the debut of our duet last week.

Incidentally, when I was leaving Club Renaissance after the show I asked a woman what she thought of the human/seal duet. "I hated it," she said bluntly, which introduced a shocked silence into her group of friends.

The only rational response to that sort of criticism is to do MORE duets with Schnapps!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Crash in Tin Pan Alley

Lest anyone assume that today's pop songs are any more contrived than those of yesteryear, here are some excerpts from John Ogden Whedon's fictional story "A Crash in Tin Pan Alley," which appeared in the April 6, 1929 issue of The New Yorker.

It makes some comments about popular songs that still apply today, but it does contain some interesting specifics about songwriting in that era.
"We'll write a song for the summer trade," Louis said. "Something soft and dreamy that bands can play in the park under the moonlight."

Sid caught fire at once. "'Dream's' good," he said. "'Dreamy's' just the thing. We'll put it in the title."

"Dreamy what?" I asked. "You can't just--"

"Dreamy Moon."

"That's lousy," said Louis. "Too many 'moon' songs lately. But 'moon' is a good rhyme--easy to sing. What rhymes with 'moon'?"

"'Prune,'" I suggested, "'loon,' 'balloon,' 'saloon.' 'Dreamy Saloon'--how's that?"

Louis looked disgusted. "'Lagoon' is the word," he said. Sid jumped to his feet.''
Having decided to call the song "Dreamy Lagoon," they next need to decide what the song's about. That's the easiest part.
"What'll we write it about? What does anybody write a song about, you sap? Love, of course. All about how some girl is the cream in your coffee and the salt in your stew, and jeest, she's driving you nutty, and what the hell are you going to do. That stuff."
The veteran songwriter in the story also declares that "You've got to have your title at the end of the first and last lines, and somewhere in the middle too, if possible." He says "You got to rub their noses in it, otherwise the music publishers won't touch it."

Gradually the song was written.
There were a great many important considerations I had never thought of. We had to find words of one syllable; words with open vowels that were easy to sing. We could not introduce any notes outside the limited range of an ordinary voice, nor thoughts outside the range of an ordinary intellect.
And the result? "Dreamy Lagoon."
I met my love beside a dreamy lagoon
We pledged our love beneath the gleam of the moon
The memory of her voice enthralls me,
Calls me homeward
I left my heart beside that dreamy lagoon
But in her heart she knows I'm coming back soon
There we'll live and love forever
Beside that dreamy lago-o-on!
So there you go! Now you know how to write a popular song. Your own mileage may vary in 2008, however, when lagoons are somewhat out-of-style.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Curse of the Recurring Canine

I live in a duplex, and over the past few years I have had three sets of neighbours: the girls who exercised, the family of wrestlers, and the smooth-playing horn-man.

These neighbours have NOTHING in common except for one bizarre trait: they all decide to adopt dogs halfway through their tenancy.

Why? I don't know. If I were to use my neighbours as a representative sample I'd have to assume that everybody in the world owns a dog.

The Gross Next Door

I have several reasons to be glad that I moved out of my old apartment two years ago, but one of the biggest reasons is the SEWAGE.

In that old apartment the basement is a long room full of storage closets, laundry facilities, and electrical equipment. Down the middle of the room runs a rusty pipe which always transported our feces safely away, until one hot summer day...

...I came home and heard a bunch of people working in the basement. I went down and saw that some men were standing in the external door at the far end, and in between them the floor was flooded with brown liquid an inch deep.

Wondering what was going on, I walked halfway through the basement towards the guys before I realized that I was skimming through raw sewage, so fresh that stuff was still floating in it. The men were city workers who had come to fix a sudden back-up in our drains, and they found it amusing that I'd decided to come downstairs and stand in shit, right in front of them. Like, they they thought it was both funny AND sad, particularly since all of our storage lockers were flooded as well.

Needless to say I was happy to move away from that mess (and to throw out that pair of shoes), but I still do my laundry down there...

...and today I went over and left my clothes in the washer, and when I came back there was poop everywhere. What a stink! Right back into the storage lockers. I suspect I'm the first person to notice this situation. It felt kind of nice to just pack up my clean clothes and sneak away.

After all, it's not MY poop any more. I've got worries of my own!

Too Late - - I Wonder If She Called?

Long before even the CONCEPTION of the cel phone (in April 6, 1929 to be exact), the Telephone Message Bureau produced a lot of advertisements about men answering phones in public places. Curiously they always depict the "candlestick" style as opposed to the Bell 102 (or "French phone"), maybe to make the image more striking.

This advertisement states "you can't phone on the subway. It's too noisy." But either subways have gotten quieter or it's no longer "too noisy" to answer your phone there, because everybody's doing it.

Note the expressions on the faces of the passengers: the man on the left is rightfully annoyed to be listening to the details of Mr. Telephone's house party ("Dude, she was totally DRUNK, like totally GONE, like twenty-three SKIDOO!"), but the guy on the right thinks it's all very funny, and the woman at the far end is just afraid her fox-fur stole is coming back to life.

RIP Richard Wright, Too

What a weekend. We lost Richard Wright as well. Now that's REALLY sad.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Parading Your Legs in Front of Your Father

No wonder this story was suppressed!

McCallum was a company that made stockings, and their advertisements were a series of "suppressed stories," usually involving misunderstandings due to the sheerness of their stockings. In 1929 a leg was somewhat indecent unless it was stocking-clad, as these advertisements point out.

In this case, however, we might get a bit squeamish witnessing a father who is staring at his daughter's legs, for some reason "taking a hand" in the girl's masquerade costume.

All is explained in the text.
Of course she's fully dressed. The old darling just doesn't see well with his reading glasses. But after all, how can you blame him? Fujia 51's are scarcely visible even to younger eyes.
Which begs the question why people wore them at all, but anyway.

David Foster Wallace...

...apparently killed himself on Friday. This is awful.

I admit that I haven't much cared for his later work, and I was getting the sense that he was a one trick pony, but I figured he was working on some new novel that would blow us all away again. I guess not.

Bye, DFW.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

New Facebook, Old Facebook...

(This is an "old lady rant" and only reflects my love of simplicity and brevity; if you're the kind of person who LOVES comet cursors and mile-long webpages, this post is not for you).

Wow! If you're concerned with the American and Canadian elections, forget that stuff! You SHOULD care about the new Facebook layout. Oh wow, what a tiny tizzy, and the amusing online activism of clicking "Join" in order to commit yourself to...err..."protest."

Okay, let me speak as though I were talking to the entire world. Give me my tiny, outdated blog soapbox: folks, Facebook has to change because you put too much CRAP on your page.


When you install a thousand applications on your page it takes forever to load...and when it DOES load it's an ugly mess. If you didn't put 1001 things on your page, I wouldn't need to spend an hour trying to find your "wall."

When Facebook was developed, I'm sure that nobody expected the taste-slaying appetite for more and more applications. You put that stuff on your page and then you totally forget about it. It loads quickly on YOUR computer because it's already cached...but when I need to load it it takes forever.

So suck up the new Facebook, sweetheart. If you REALLY want to know what kind of vampyre your friend is, click the "applications" button. The rest of us are only concerned with your email and your mini-feed...if that.

Sunday Morning, For Those Who Are Dating

I can't help it.

I've waited almost a week to see if this would go "viral," but it still remains relatively unseen. And I think it's really damn funny.

Please pardon my YouTube spam.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Then The Little Truck Goes Under The Big Truck, And Then The Big Truck...

I just got the weirdest telephone survey.

Most of it was normal and seemed to center around my usage of Interac ("Also called Debit") and my recognition of the Interac brand. She wanted a detailed description of any Interac-related logos that I could remember, and she typed in every single word of my long description.

The logo I tried to describe was this one, though I'd completely forgotten that the word "Interac" was on it, and that the entire hand was illustrated instead of just the thumb. And I seemed to remember that the logo was brown.

Funny how these logos penetrate our heads halfway.

Then she asked me if I'd seen any advertisements for Interac during the past month, so I told her that I don't have cable so I don't see any television advertisements at all. Like the marketing-research drone she was, she next described a television commercial to me in great detail. It went something like this, written in terms simple enough for a child to understand, devoid of all energy, and spoken with a rapid-fire and somewhat cute Quebecois accent:
Have you ever seen or have you been told about a commercial about a man in an office who gets up from his desk and walks to the door, and then the camera moves down to show a small truck under his desk, which moves to follow him out of his office. Down in the street we see a big truck, and the little truck goes under the big truck, scraping its paint. The little truck almost collides with a second big truck. A street cleaning truck drives down the street, and the little truck becomes caught in its brushes and is thrown back out into the street. The man enters a store, and the little truck follows him into the store. Have you ever seen or have you been told about this commercial?
Errrr...no, like I said, but it sounds like a sort of crappy commercial.

I personally like being in these surveys because I consider myself the outlier, the result that needs to be discarded because I'm not exposed to the advertising that their focus groups are. It doesn't matter what I think about their commercial, because even if they make a better commercial I'll probably never see it. My "loyalty" to Interac is entirely due it being the most convenient way to pay for things.

Incidental Peeves

I think it's really inconsiderate when people drive up to somebody's house and -- instead of getting out and knocking on the door -- honk their horn repeatedly. Car horns are loud and they signify warning or danger, and it's not like it's difficult or unhealthy to go for a little walk now and then...like, a walk to the front door.

You wouldn't drive up to somebody's house, roll down the car window, and scream "HAAAAARYYYY! I'M HEEEEEERE!" Would you? Say you wouldn't.

I am willing to accept horn-honking when it's raining terribly, but not under any other circumstances.

Somewhat related: it's also annoying when people program their cars to honk when they lock the doors. Again, car horns are very loud, and when you hear them that means something bad is happening. When I walk past a car that suddenly honks I pretty much jump out of my skin.

Respect for others, people! A little less noise!

Humans, We Are As Though Cancer Cells

Another wonderful thing I read this morning was a quote by Ed Abbey:
Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.
I think he's one-hundred percent right. As humans, one of our biggest failings is a belief that everything MUST grow. I'm not sure if this is a societal thing or just part of our evolution, but we seem incapable of equilibrium, even in the face of real emergency. Whether it's a government or a business or a family or a single person, we too often ignore long-term consequences or the needs of others because we have a single bottom line: growth for the sake of growth. It's like we're hardwired for it.

I don't believe that capitalism has a corner on this, not by any means. And I'm not saying that I have a solution, or that I'm in any way less growth-centered than anybody else. All I'm saying is that Abbey's quote speaks volumes to me, and it should be painted in huge black letters on the walls all around us.

Today's Wonderful Old Lady Rant

I read a wonderful forum posting on the CBC News website this morning, so I'm posting it here. I don't disagree with this lady's sentiments, I just think it's the most hilariously stereotyped "old lady rant" I've ever read.
i'm an old lady and when i was young we didn't have gift cards or vouchers or whatever you call them. we had paper cards with a greeting on the front and some writing inside. now people need money on their cards! give me money, i want money. happy money birthday. happy money christmas. spend and be happy and spend and get more stuff. i'm glad i live in the country outside the city where life is simple and not full of bag-a-bean lumps who think they can spread joy with money.
You go, angry old lady!

If you wanted to invent a character called "angry old lady" and then have her write a letter to the editor, it would be exactly like this, and then people would get angry at you for making fun of their grandparents.

What the HELL is a "bag-a-bean lump?"

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I'd Buy Anything By...The Moody Blues

The Moody Blues. Brilliant songs meet ace musicians. High concept and innovative production techniques, plus a mellotron and lots of reverb. What's NOT to love?

Well, like many bands of their age they went in and out of favour. They were psychedelic darlings until such things became unfashionable...then they were clean-cut pop-rockers for the baby boomer generation. When THAT became unfashionable as well they just started touring around and making tons of money off their aging fans, which is NEVER fashionable.

When I was a little kid, digging through my parent's record collection, I was most attracted to their "On a Threshold of a Dream" album. The opening track was a nightmare of spooky keyboards and an evil-sounding robot, and the gatefold sleeve is still one of the creepiest covers I've ever seen, but the actual album...wow. The Moodies could take a concept, milk it just enough to get eight good songs out of it, and still leave enough time for an overwrought poem by Graeme Edge.

Unlike many other bands of that era their adult contemporary reinvention was a complete success. I was listening to "The Voice" at work today and was reminded of how damn GOOD it sounds, and also totally unconventional: a chorus that takes second-place to a soaring bridge, immediately followed by one of my favourite "musical moments"...a farty keyboard sound that breaks the song into separate segments. Other bands would have used a drum fill or a shouted "oh yeah," but this was MUCH more effective. In lesser hands it would have been terrible.

You can't hear the keyboard breaks in this 2005 live version, but you can at least tell that they're still an amazing band.

I feel stupid writing about The Moody Blues because it's sort of like writing about oxygen: some things have so permeated our musical culture that we no longer notice them. But sometimes you need to be reminded that breathing fresh air feels great, so therefore I encourage you to buy a cheap Moody Blues CD and listen to it like it was the first time.

Albums to buy: "On the Threshold of a Dream" feels like a juicy steak, slow-roasted over a hashish fire, full of contradictions, mismatched ideas, and all-out "wow" moments...not a single bad song on it. For something from their later period try "Long Distance Voyager," a perfect blend of rock and synthpop.

Albums to avoid: somebody's going to shoot me for saying this, but I have NEVER liked "Days of Future Passed." It's all twill and no hook, with the obvious exception of "Nights In White Satin."

A Portrait of the 1920s New Yorker Reader

The New Yorker magazine has always had an exclusive reputation, but during its first five years it was PARTICULARLY exclusive, geared to people who are simply not like you and me. New Yorker readers may have spent countless nights playing Mahjong, bridge, and annoying trivia games, but you somehow can't see them ever playing dominoes or -- God forbid -- ROCK BAND (which, in the '20s, would have required eighteen friends with various types of horns, and perhaps a guy with an electronic washboard when doing the down-home stuff).

Whenever the magazine gets too stuffy for words, I need to remind myself of its readership. And sometimes the disconnect is spelled out so beautifully that it's worth mentioning.

Here's a Rolls-Royce advertisement in the April 6, 1929 issue. While I'm sure that Rolls-Royce was advertised in less exclusive magazines at the time, I somehow doubt that the other magazines got THIS version:
Yes, you can get along without a Rolls-Royce. You can get along without trips to Europe, or a fine piano in your home, or sterling silver on the table. But you don't.
Judging by all the tittery articles about steamship trips abroad, you can be reasonably sure that the average New Yorker reader DIDN'T get along without all those things...or at the very least they WANTED to be the sort of person who didn't.

I also get a kick out of this sentence:
America's foremost bankers -- 163 of them -- endorse Rolls-Royce as an investment by owning Rolls-Royces themselves!
Was this line REALLY intended to show the "investment" value of the car...or was it simply there to remind you that rich and prominent people drove Rolls-Royces, so you should too?

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Puissant, Spatulate, and Anything-But Incohate Stephen R. Donaldson

I'm currently reading the second book in Stephen R. Donaldson's "Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" series. It's called "Fatal Revenant," and the two words in the title tell you more about the Thomas Covenant books than my review ever could.

Fatal indeed. The series -- from beginning to end -- is a Kafka-esque meditation on self-hate, doubt, despair, and general unworthiness. The heroes in the books -- Thomas Covenant especially -- are all flawed, bitter, depressed people who would simply lay down and die if they weren't constantly being hounded by those more flawed and bitter than themselves. And whenever a hero IS optimistic and confident, that's because he or she is being set up to cause a Great Calamity, somehow greater than all previous Great Calamities...by the time of this third and final series of books, all of the Greatest of the Great Calamities have been created by thousands of years of idealistic folk who TRIED to do good...but f*cked it all up terribly.

Donaldson -- at least in the "Thomas Covenant" series -- is an expert at making his characters suffer, and somehow managing to make hopeless situations even MORE hopeless, usually by putting innocent people through plot-heavy meat-grinders that produce finely-distilled guilt. All of the reluctant, self-hating heroes in the books are followed around by sweet people who happily sacrifice themselves so the heroes can live...which just makes the heroes even MORE bitter and hateful.

You might wonder how such a series could be FUN. Well, it isn't. But it's fascinating, because over the eight books published so far, Donaldson has built one of the most complex and finely-honed plots you've ever seen. Everything that happens hinges on everything that's come before, and in between the gruesome battles and long stretches of travel, Donaldson delights in demonstrating how his amazing plot fits together.

That's a strength, but it's also a weakness. Each time Donaldson cranks the lever of his Amazingly Complicated Plot Machine, something absolutely amazing DOES happen...but then he spends the next fifty pages explaining WHY it happened. Through exposition, introspection, and verbal flashbacks, he pokes into the darkest corners of his construction, absolutely REVELING in the way he set everything up without giving it away. Then, through similar methods, he explains why certain things DIDN'T happen. You can almost hear him chuckling to himself, "Look at this INCREDIBLE scene I've pulled off...it was all part of my plan!", and even though the scene WAS incredible...well, nobody likes a smug author.

In the meantime he overuses exotic, flowery words in a way that becomes totally annoying. Hence "Revenant." I remember that in the second series he tended to use "spatulate" a lot. In the first book of the final series his word of choice was "incohate." This time around it's "puissant." Seriously, you can't get through a single chapter without somebody saying "puissant," and it stands out so glaringly that you wonder how he got it past the editor. "Theurgy" is a close second.

The most important question is: is "Fatal Revenant" any good? It's preachy, talky, oddly-paced and in love with itself...but I am personally beginning to enjoy it. The first book of the final series ("The Runes of the Earth," AKA "incohate") spent much of its time setting the scene, as does the first half of "Fatal Revenant," but once it gets started -- once all the characters are poised for action -- it totally kicks ass. Donaldson has lost none of his gifts for horrific revelation, and his mythology gets richer and more wondrous all the time.

As has been said by others, "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" would be a movie series to end all fantasy-based epics...but I'm afraid that Covenant himself would be the first stumbling block, especially since he spends much of his time being a hateful bastard, and during his first few minutes in the magical fantasy world he commits a vicious act that he pays for for the rest of his life...but the consequences are not ones which audiences in a theater would stick around for.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Rock Band

How could I have POSSIBLY deserved such a wonderful time last night? At Melissa's party, all sorts of good people relaxed and chatted and frolicked in a mosquito-free environment, and then some of us played "Rock Band."

I'm new to this phenomenon. I understand how popular it is -- and I even understand why -- but it DOES seem to take more coordination than I can possibly muster at 2am after a night of drinking. I admit it, I was the weakest link, a drummer who failed by always ANTICIPATING the beats. I can't think of a comparable drummer in real life. Few rock bands take the stage without thoroughly vetting their drummer first, which I'd recommend my friends do in the future.

Fun and cute, yes. And absolutely shocking that a monster didn't explode every time I hit the kick-drum. In fact, there were no monsters AT ALL. I can only hope there's a Mod somewhere...

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Skinny on the Skinny Cat

Thanks to everybody for your advice and encouragement regarding Zsa Zsa's troubles. After many trips to the vet -- including one enforced "cat daycare" in order to get a fresh urine sample -- the diagnosis is...

...inconclusive. Instead of knowing what she's suffering from, we at least have a better idea of what she ISN'T suffering from.

She doesn't have worms, for instance, which is particularly weird considering what I pulled out of her butt last week. It must have been a piece of string...or maybe a bit of undigested mouse.

She also doesn't have diabetes, and nothing is wrong with her thyroid. That's the good news.

The bad news is that her urine shows signs of approaching kidney problems...or maybe liver problems, they're not sure which. Fortunately these problems can be managed through proper diet, so we're now doing the three-day "New Cat Food Taste Test," which is kind of fun and which she absolutely LOVES.

I am instructed to keep watching her for further deterioration, and to buy a bathroom scale so I can monitor her weight. I had previously refused to get a scale because I suspect it would lead to compulsive weighing of MYSELF, but there are certain sacrifices one must make for one's unfailing companion.

As for Zsa Zsa herself, she's back to her normal behaviour, though alarmingly thin. She's just as social, active, curious, and thirsty as she always was. Her "bad spell" during the weekend may have been due to a number of things -- like the terrible heat and the worm medication I gave her -- but she SEEMED to get bad whenever I fed her Purina soft food, which I kept doing in order to comfort her. She may have developed an intolerance for something in that food. Very, very strange.

Anyway, Zsa Zsa no longer appears to be on death's door and is instead scratching back at mine. Thank goodness!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hell Is a Dark and Predictable Place

Last week, feeling that I was climbing out of my money-pit at last, I ordered "Doom 3" in order to treat myself. Money-wise that was a mistake but I'm still having lots of fun with it.

MadKevin told me that the game was derisively referred to as "The Monster-In-A-Closet Game," as in, "I wonder what's behind this door? ARRGH, SOMETHING HORRIBLE!" And he's certainly right...you don't get a feeling that the monsters are in any way intelligent. They just pop out at you when you step into certain areas, like bloody, gruesome jack-in-the-boxes.

But what MadKevin perhaps doesn't appreciate is that bloody, gruesome jack-in-the-boxes can be REALLY DAMN SCARY, especially when coupled by a fully-immersive environment. That's why we go into carnival fun-houses after all. The added bonus is that when a creepy thing jumps out at you in "Doom 3" you can shoot it in the head and watch its brain fly out.

"Doom 3" is ALL about the environment, right down to the far-off screams and the scraps of paper in the corners. It uses all the horror movie cliches because, when done effectively, they actually WORK. When I hear something moaning deep inside a maze of busted machinery, and when I have to relinquish my gun in order to pierce the shadows with my vulnerable flashlight, I get spooked something awful.

My favourite part of the game so far? The severed arm in the toilet. When game designers demonstrate that they have no class I REALLY start to worry.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Dr. Seuss and Flit: "Cupid"

From the March 30, 1929 issue of The New Yorker:

I don't blame the confirmed bachelor's anger because I have seen Erasure's video for "Heavenly Action," and nobody wants to be forced to fall in love with a dog.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The ZsaZsaBlog III

After I wrote this morning's blog post, Zsa Zsa got even worse. It seemed to happen after I fed her; she nibbled at her food a bit, then climbed under the couch and twitched and rocked and purred. It seemed like she could barely walk. I immediately started canvassing friends for rides to the emergency vet clinic.

By the time Jenn W. arrived, Zsa Zsa was considerably better and had shown a real desire to go outside, where she chowed down on grass. We took her to the vet -- who turned out to be the same lady who'd squeezed the gunk out of her head last year -- and after examining Zsa Zsa and checking her reflexes she suggested three possible diagnoses: kidney failure, liver failure, or diabetes. Whatever it is, it has caused her to lose muscle tone -- she's skinny as a bone but her stomach is round -- and is putting her strangely off-balance. I'm to get her to my regular vet as soon as possible -- like NOW, because she's having a real crisis -- and have her blood and fluids checked.

Throughout the day Zsa Zsa has mostly been sitting in two "distress areas," either under my couch or beside my drag suitcase. She sits in an extremely odd way; this morning she was only squatting, but now she plops her butt down in an abrupt way that frightens me. I managed to coax her out onto the balcony, where she conked out for an hour or so. In the afternoon I finally got a few more hours of sleep and in the meantime she peed on the basement floor again.

Tonight she roused herself and started meowing at the front door, so I took her outside prepared for the usual "sit and watch the cat" routine...but instead she wanted to EXPLORE. She has NEVER wanted to explore before. We walked all the way down to the end of the block -- FAR beyond the front yard where she's spent most of her life -- and only came home because I finally picked her up and carried her back. You know how fun it is to walk a cat? But it wasn't like I was going to refuse her, and she seemed more lively than she's been all week.

I imagine that SOME of her strange behaviour is due to my increased surveillance and solicitude...maybe her urge to explore was prompted in a change in ME. But I think she's become sort of dozy at the same time, and therefore more liable to do things she wouldn't otherwise consider.

Hopefully I can get her to the vet tomorrow for a full checkup. What an incredibly crappy day. Endless thanks to Jenn, who responded instantly to my plea for help!

The ZsaZsaBlog Continues...

I noticed last night when I came home that Zsa Zsa wasn't sleeping on my bed, like she normally does. Instead she sat halfway under the couch. When I went to bed she didn't follow me...totally abnormal.

After two hours of sleep she finally came into my bedroom and woke me up. For the past year her balance has been getting increasingly "off," but this morning she's downright wobbly, and when she sits down she keeps swaying gently from side to side as though about to fall over. Plus she doesn't seem to sit down totally, just sort of squats on her haunches.

I think she's exhausted and dim-witted, and since I am as well -- afraid to go to sleep and afraid even to look too much at her -- we're a circling team of weirdness, possibly feeding off each other's distress. This is the first time that I've seen her engage in strange behaviour. She doesn't seem to be upset and she's not reclusive, but she IS purring at odd times, which I've heard can be a sign of anxiety or pain.

I want to sit with her and observe her actions, but doing that is so upsetting because she's so obviously "not her." And I just want one more hour of sleep, pleeeeeease.

This simply HAD to happen during a long weekend, you know? Her previous crisis -- the "pee scream" -- happened on a long weekend as well. I'm so tired that I'm feeling an absolute FURY that I can't call the vet, and also kicking myself for not calling last week when it was apparent something was wrong.

24 Hours

A warning to the sensitive...this is a little gross. And I do apologize that so many of these posts are about my cat; I'm considering calling this "The ZsaZsaBlog."

5:00am: I wake up to a terrible smashing sound. I go into the bathroom and see that the cat has knocked a bottle of shaving cream off the edge of the tub. Nonplussed, I go back to sleep.

7:00am: I wake up again, this time to an overpowering smell of feces. Zsa Zsa is on my bed and she's troubled, because...well, there's a huge clump of (unmentionable) hanging out of her (unmentionable).

Fortunately I have a kleenex box beside my bed, so I protect my hands and pull several inches of yellow string out of her butt. Assuming that it's a piece of partially-digested mouse tail, I take it downstairs and throw it out...then I realize, holy cow, that was a DEAD ROUNDWORM.

9:00am: I make the rounds of the house and discover several places where Zsa Zsa had tried to relieve herself of the offending worm. Soap, water, sponge, gross.

1:00pm: I take the bus to Conestoga Mall and buy roundworm medication from the pet store. These are little powdery capsules that you're supposed to mix with her food. Since I don't want to pull another worm out of her butt tomorrow morning, I feed her a second time, mixing the medication in with her food.

2:00pm: In the bathroom, I discover why Zsa Zsa had knocked the shaving cream over: there's an enormous moth huddled up in the corner of the room. Since I am a seasoned moth-rescuer, I manage to get it outside without destroying it. This is good.

4:00pm: I take a nap.

5:00pm: I wake up to the strong odour of liver-and-chicken cat food; Zsa Zsa has vomited up and down the stairs in several artfully-arranged puddles. Soap, water, sponge, gross. I don't think she has digested any of the medication I gave her, but I don't want to give her more in case that's what's causing her to throw up.

7:00pm: I begin getting ready for the night. I wear my cyberlox hair extensions for the occasion, since they look a bit like roundworms. Zsa Zsa sits under the computer chair, incredibly thin, somewhat warm but responsive. I decide that she's only warm because my apartment is extremely hot, but maybe she's sick and has a fever.

10:00pm: Club Abstract. I have trained myself to love the inevitable bridesmaids. Sweet people everywhere and a general love of my cyberlox. Some folks tell me that cats ALWAYS vomit when you give them such medication, others say that cats should NEVER vomit under those conditions. I am reminded that everybody has an opinion about cat health but nobody really knows for sure. At least other people have pulled worms out of their cats' butts too.

2:30am: I return home, half expecting to find Zsa Zsa dead or dying. Instead she trots up to the door like she always does, expecting treats. I sit her down and explain that she has a parasitic infection and that we'll need to go to the vet. She paws gently at my cyberlox and then goes looking for mice.