Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Double-SLICE..Double-SIDE..Double-QUICK TOASTER

As of June 15, 1929, Edicraft has discovered how to keep marriages intact!
MR. HORACE SNOOPY PEEK, late of the Prohibition Enforcement Squad has been doing a bit of research.

According to Mr. Peek's charts and graphs, most marriages are wrecked at the breakfast table. "Cold, burned or slow-to-make toast causes young husbands to look up telephone numbers," reads his report. "Only in homes equipped with the Edicraft Speed Automatic Toaster does marriage remain stable."

And can you wonder? Even the most inexperienced of brides can turn out crisp, golden, hot on both sides toast with an Edicraft while making snappy conversation that will keep hubby's morning paper unopened--yes, unnoticed.

Slip two slices of bread in the Edicraft, turn on the switch, and a few moments later you are gently interrupted with two temptingly browned toast nuggets, done to a turn on both sides. No watching, no chance of burning, all you have to do is reach for them in a bored, well-bred manner.
There's no word on how the "inexperienced" brides could keep their husbands distracted for the REST of the day -- toast for dinner? toast in bed? -- but I suppose this was a good start.

PS: If the pages of The New Yorker are any indication, the Edicraft and the Toastmaster were battling for supremacy in 1929. Who will finally win? I'll keep reading, and when I find out I'll let you know.

Monday, March 30, 2009

From Moses to Wicker Furniture

From the June 15, 1929 New Yorker, we get the most desperate advertisement ever.

Little did Pharoah's daughter know, on finding Moses in his basket in the bulrushes, that she had seen wicker furniture in its earliest form.
Pardon me, W.& J. Sloane, but that's probably the worst segue I've ever seen. From Moses to "colorful, cool, comfortable" wicker chairs...all because of that little basket. Wow!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I'd Buy Anything By...The Pain Teens

Somehow, during the early '90s, serial killers became cool. American Psycho, Natural Born Killers, Kalifornia, Silence of the Lambs...suddenly us nice wannabe alternative college kids were buying serial killer trading cards and -- for some inexplicable reason -- becoming slightly obsessed with the whole scene.

I was no exception. When I was in university I pretty much wallowed in morbidity, drinking great big gulps of all the world's nastiness. I certainly didn't want to perpetrate wicked deeds, but I DID want to KNOW about them, and I avidly bought Lydia Lunch CDs and followed every scrap of Karla Homolka news. Sad post-adolescent revolution? Maybe, but I like to think I was just exploring...learning about the ugly stuff that -- previously -- people didn't like to talk about.

The Pain Teens were part of this obsession. Essentially a duo of Austin-based Scott Ayers and Bliss Blood, they released lo-fi, sludgy albums with an emphasis on serial killers, child abuse, and violent sexuality. The music sounded like a slower, sloppier, more experimental Butthole Surfers mixed with samples and bizarre effects, with Bliss warbling over the top in her deadpan (and not entirely in tune) way.

Typical of their music is "The Basement," about the torture and murder of Sylvia Likens. Here's the video, but it's extremely unpleasant and definitely NOT work friendly.

Looking back on it now I can't believe that I ever thought this was "cool." I suppose that at the time it was popular to be nihilistic and to view the world in as dark a way as possible. Bands like The Pain Teens exemplified that aesthetic in its most cheap and humourless form, right up there with the "Faces of Death" videos and the bootleg recordings of the Jonestown massacre, the fake-snuff of Genesis P. Orridge and the dead-animal-robot battles of Survival Research Laboratories. It was done without irony or introspection or analysis. It was, at its root, childish and sensationalistic and dumb...but still an expression of what needed to be said, a reaction against the idea that smalltown America's working stiffs were a bunch of jolly folks who brought up their kids in the best way possible.


But I still love The Pain Teens. They still sound great! Put "Shallow Hole" in your CD player and play it loud. They made some of the sludgiest and most ecclectic music ever. Even if I can no longer relate to their torture-porn image I can still appreciate their music, and I can also appreciate their position at the time they were making that music. It was sensible then. Now this type of music is made by people in silly costumes...it's something different now.

Also very different these days is Bliss Blood, who now sings and plays ukulele in a trio that specializes in '20s and '30s jazz standards. A more abrupt change of direction cannot be imagined.

Most albums by The Pain Teens are pretty obscure these days. I highly recommend "Stimulation Festival" as the most focused and varied album; you might also enjoy the more primitive two-in-one CD "Born in Blood/Case Histories." Less wonderful is the much more commercial "Destroy Me Lover," which suffers from slick production but DOES have a heartrending version of Leonard Cohen's "The Story of Isaac." For fans only: I suppose all those tapes they released in the '80s...the ones I'd love to hear someday.

Eyeing the Intestines

A few nights ago I was amazed to discover a pile of viscera in the middle of my carpet. There were intestines, and a miniature liver, and other little bits and pieces all tucked inside that I couldn't really see.

My first thought was that Zsa Zsa had finally started vomiting up her own entrails, but these were far too small to have come from a cat. They were...mouse size.

As far as I know this is the sixth mouse that Zsa Zsa has caught. As though to express the changeability of her moods, every mouse is devoured in a totally different way; the first was left totally uneaten, the second was swallowed in a single gulp, the third was chewed and savoured in a leisurely way, the fourth was bitten into two pieces with only the top half eaten, the fifth was entirely devoured except for a tiny back foot...

...but this is the first time she's eaten everything BUT the entrails, which seems strange to me; why would she favour the fur and bones and tail, but leave the "choice bits" behind?

I wonder if there isn't some truth to that half-baked idea that cats sometimes treat humans as really useless kittens. Maybe Zsa Zsa left a pile of juicy mouse-organs for me because she thought I'd appreciate them, and she knows I could never catch a mouse if my life depended on it.

Even stranger, however, was how CLEAN and SELF-CONTAINED the viscera was. I've always assumed that such things were sticky and messy and gelatinous, but not THESE mouse guts; they were damp but coherent, a whole entity unto themselves, almost as though they could pull themselves back together and saunter off into the night.

I think it's wonderful that Zsa Zsa -- who now resembles Death's Own Pussycat -- still has the vigour to stalk, capture, and eat the resident mice.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Now that my shoulder pain has momentarily ebbed to a dull throb (more on that in a bit), here's an overview of "Ten Days of Fear," also known as "Two Days In Guelph."

March 20th was the Guelph Queer Equality Drag Show. Performing at this event meant driving to the University of Guelph Campus Centre, in the dark, in the co-op car which I have only previously driven in once. Besides being a well-attended and well-promoted show during which I dare not screw up, it was also an experiment in car operation AND my first drag show since my shoulder injury...a "test" of my recovery so far.

There are so many wonderful -- WONDERFUL! -- things about the car co-op, but you do pay a small price. Besides the money you expend for actually taking the car out, you also need to go through a "ritual" before and after using it, which involves a complex series of key-and-passcode stuff, and a bit of paperwork, and then figuring out the state that the LAST person left the car in.

Whoever used the car before me had left the parking brake on, and I was delayed for ten minutes pulling various levers trying to find it, until realizing it was exactly where it was when I used to drive in the early '90s: between the front seats. By the time I'd disengaged it and closed all the hatches that had opened during my exploration, I then needed to back the car out onto busy Park Street, and I've never been particularly good at backing up.

So needless to say I was already frazzled by the time I left the city...and then I realized that, contrary to co-op protocol, the car DIDN'T have at least half a tank of gas in it, so I'd need to stop at a gas station on the way home.

All this was on my mind when I arrived -- mostly uneventfully -- in freezing cold Guelph. Fortunately the hospitality was top-notch and there was even a paid bar, so I got through my numbers quite well, thank-you-very-much. Here's a picture from "They Don't Know," taken by M.S.:

The show in general was AMAZING. Somehow, whenever Guelph organizers put together a show, they always manage to find top-notch performers in a wide variety of idioms. So we saw a fantastic (and spunky) drag juggler, and a full-on performance by Green Go, and Alberta folk singer Amy Bronson -- who you should DEFINITELY see next time she performs -- and...

The Nigel Gough dance troupe. Just about every time a do a drag show in Guelph, Gough has prepared a hilarious routine that sends the crowd absolutely wild. I have managed through the years to avoid needing to follow him -- NOBODY wants to go on after Nigel -- but more on that soon.

Anyway, the GQE drag show was a huge success, and I even got a little mention in the campus newspaper:
Popular drag queen Muffy St. Bernard graced the audience with her presence, travelling from Kitchener to perform at the show. Muffy put on a fun and sexy performance, teasing the crowd with her playful yet classically conservative antics.
"Classically conservative?" I'm still wondering what that means -- it sounds euphemistic -- but it may mean that my "antics" aren't of the over-the-top-sexy type, but they still have a playful "coyness" that evokes '40s musicals. Or maybe that's just what I WANT it to mean.

Anyway, as much fun as I was having, I was unable to forget that I needed to drive back to Kitchener...and I was absolutely white-knuckled all the way. Besides pumping gas in a crinoline at 1am -- YOU try to make sure the gasoline doesn't drip on you in such a situation -- I spent the whole time thinking "I'm a terrible driver, I'm going to get in an accident, I suck." By the time I'd reached Kitchener I was a nervous wreck, and actually pulled into TWO DIFFERENT DRIVEWAYS before discovering the one I was supposed to use.

In short, my show was good but my driving was awful.

So I spent all week flirting with driving schools, and grilling co-workers about their driving techniques. Workmate Dave -- who put up with the worst of my whining -- walked me through the typical back-up steps, and in doing so he put his arm across the imaginary passenger seat and turned his head around.

"Why are you doing that?" I asked.

"Because that's the only way to back up," he said...and it was a REVELATION. I don't think I was ever taught to actually LOOK BEHIND ME while backing up...I've always just looked in the rearview mirrors. Dave revealed that if he was driving behind me he'd probably want to shoot me in the head.

In the meantime I was getting ready for the NEXT show: the Gender Martini on March 25th, ALSO in Guelph. I would be ending both sets...and in the second set I was FOLLOWING NIGEL GOUGH.

First off, you can't end a set with a whimper; the song must bring people to some sort of closure. It cannot communicate that somebody is coming up next, it must say "That's it, you're satisfied, now go get a drink!"

What's more, if you're following a fantastic slam-bang performance like Nigel Gough and his troupe, you should not try to "one-up" them by doing anything even remotely like they did. If you don't think you can BEAT the previous performer, your best bet is to do a complete 180 and subvert their expectations.

I was still mulling over these things when the night finally arrived, warm but rainy. I got into the co-op car and did the paperwork without feeling any stress whatsoever. I immediately located the parking brake and disengaged it. I put my arm across the back of the passenger seat, shifted into Reverse...

...and backed effortlessly out onto Park Street! It was perfect! Now that I had discovered the secret of backing up, nothing could stop me!

To further allay my driving fears I was also taking drag stand-up artist D. to the show (I'm not protecting her identity, that's actually "D.," as in "D. Licious"), and she served as my navigator and company. We arrived at the eBar and were once again enveloped in sweet hospitality, and I found myself back in the same "green room" that I'd been in the last time I perfromed at the eBar.

This was me at the eBar in 2004:

...and me in exactly the same place five years later:

In other words, if you've got a good joke, keep using it.

The show was PACKED. We actually needed to be escorted onto the stage to get around the clustered crowd of event-hungry people. Again, Amy Bronson was amazing, and so were the other performers I managed to see (but whose names I've forgotten): the hula-hooping burlesque queen, the trio of dancers from Toronto, Mr. Gough and his dancers on a significantly smaller stage, Victoria Park triumphant as always.

Since it was a "Gender Martini" I decided to end the first set with "Love is the Darndest Thing," a bizarre reflection of love and resentment by Betty Hutton ("...what every young girl wants is wedded bliss.") This number requires Schnapps the Seal, and it always either succeeds brilliantly or flops terribly.

Thanks to a professional puppeteer who coached me after the last time I did this song (at Zelda's), I tried holding Schnapps as though he were a real animal -- as opposed to "a thing on the end of my arm" -- and I took her advice to let him behave independently of my own actions...and it worked! It was gratifying to hear the crowd laugh not just at the absurd lyrics, but also at the upstaging antics of Schnapps.

In order to shift gears and try to "blow out" after Nigel Gough in the second set, I resurrected Dalbello's "Gonna Get Close To You," which I think worked passably well as a way of closing things down.

Unfortunately both of these numbers require shoulder-destroying outfits. I was lucky to have lots of help in the back room getting them on and off, but by the time it came to drive home my shoulder was already aching in a "now you've done it" sort of way. When D. and I found ourselves totally lost on the way home -- due to an attempt to be clever about our route -- I learned what workmate Dave has subsequently said so wisely: "You cannot fight Guelph."

So for the last few days my shoulder has been in agony, keeping me awake all night and requiring constant icing; getting in and out of those outfits, plus waving my arms around on stage, plus driving 60km, have set my rehabilitation back a bit. Fortunately my MRI has finally been scheduled for May, and guess where I have to go to get it? GUELPH.

But there's fun stuff to look forward to. The entire Gender Martini show was recorded and eventually I'll be able to relive it...the best way to evaluate and improve your performance is to watch yourself on stage (so said Miss Drew eight years ago, and it's true). I was also mysteriously interviewed outside the eBar's theatre by a man who promises to post it to YouTube...one of the benefits of driving a car is the inability to drink more than a token amount, so I expect my conduct was better than usual (perhaps "classically conservative" even)?

In summary, the shows in Guelph were even better than expected -- and the bar is really high for these shows to begin with -- and I had a wonderful time, and I met wonderful people. But judging by my shoulder's outrage I don't think I'll be doing any drag shows at Club Renaissance any time soon...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jack Donahue's Tap Dancing Jokes

I know what you're craving...you want to hear some tap-dancing jokes from 1929! Fortunately I just ran across this advertisement for the Jack Donahue / John Boyle school.

Jack -- the guy in the picture -- was known as an eccentric...a tap dancing comedian! He was so convinced that tap dancing was fun that he packed his advertisement full of stinky jokes! He even wrote them himself! No ghost-writer!
MRS. C. CLARK, of Park Avenue, has formed a new beginners' class with some friends. She and a couple of gentlemen were running over the class work while dressed for the street. One of our teachers said, "You can't enjoy that work with high heels." "They're not heels," sez she, "they're nice young fellers."
Really! Mrs. Clark actually sez that! Here's another.
MARILYN MILLER, Warner Bros.' star in coming production of "Sally," who has been working two and three hours a day on step creations by Johnny Boyle, stops a minute and asks, "If, when I get to California, I forget one of these steps, what'll I do?" "Call me up," sez Boyle. "I'll put the phone on the floor and do the taps for you." "Won't we be pinched for tapping the wires?" asks Marilyn?
A joke so good they went all the way to California to get the punch line!

Fortunately, Donahue is aware of his own failings:
That's old, but so is dancing which gets better all the time and that's more than you can say for fish...
WHAT? Jackie-boy, you tap dancing eccentric...WHAT?

Anyway, the jokes are terrible, but the REAL punchline for the advertisement is the picture of Donahue's partner John Boyle, who looks like he's about to murder somebody...probably somebody who always tells stupid jokes and grins like a loon.

(From the June 15, 1929 New Yorker)

Spring 2009?

In the past few years, my method of determining the TRUE arrival of spring was to observe the melting of Mount Hussey. When it melted, spring was OFFICIALLY here, with no fear of a cold snap or another dumping of snow.

This worked well in 2007 and 2008 (spring arrived on April 20th and April 14th respectively), but the bizarre thaws of the last few weeks have totally blown my predictions for this year: Mount Hussey has already melted but we're still getting wintry weather.

I'm sad about the weather, but I'm also sad that my much-touted, pseudo-scientific approach will not become enshrined in the Farmer's Almanac. We must return to our more logical and empirical methods of predicting spring.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stereotypes Come True

Jesus Christ. Just LOOK at them.

(From the July, 1985 issue of Antic Magazine)

"The Beothucks or Red Indians"

As children, we Canadians are taught a bizarre and shameful footnote to our history: immediately after settling in Newfoundland, our ancestors began a three-century project of informal extermination. And I'm not talking about the auks, I'm talking about the Beothuks.

Their story is a sad one of brutality, stupidity, missed opportunities, and belated reparations. The Beothuks (called "red Indians" because they covered themselves with red ocher) were the dominant tribe on the island, living mainly in the interior but coming to the coasts during the summer in order to fish.

European settlers began to arrive in the 15th century, and though there are some stories of goodwill between the cultures, the Beothuks and the settlers REALLY got off on the wrong foot. The Beothuks, probably angry about incursions into their fishing grounds, stole the possessions of the settlers, and the settlers -- meanwhile -- were shooting Beothuks out of some combination of fear, hatred, and sport.

In addition, the French were giving guns to the Mi'kmaq in Labrador, resulting in a serious military imbalance with the Beothuks. Attacked on two fronts, the Beothuks became increasingly evasive, retreating almost entirely to the interior by the 19th century.

It was around this time that philanthropic groups were organized to try to make belated peace with the Beothuks, but the European powers-that-be had a bit of a credibility gap, especially since settlers were still quietly killing Indians. Ultimately the plan of the philanthropists was to find out where the Beothuk were hiding, give them presents, convince one of them to return to town with them, and show the Indian all the joys of civilization. It was thought that when the Indian returned to his tribe, he'd gush about how wonderful the settlers were, and everybody would smoke a peace pipe and get down to some serious fur-trading.

Twenty years later and all the Beothuck had quietly disappeared. Forever.

Right now I'm reading "The Beothucks or Red Indians" by James P. Howley, originally published in 1915. It was Howley's attempt to gather all the information about the Beothuck as possible, and it's basically a reprint of the letters, journals, and proclamations he found.

This format isn't entirely successful. Decades go by without a single update, and then a hundred pages are devoted to material from just a year or two. If an expedition to the Newfoundland interior involved more than one person, he prints ALL their journals about the trip...and then he prints the recollections of people who HEARD about the trip...and then he prints newspaper articles written about the trip a few years later.

It's annoying to read the same thing over and over again, but it does illustrate the unreliability of memory and biography. Everybody describes the situations differently, and as time goes by the stories get more and more inflated. Howley sidesteps this aspect of his book -- simply pointing out in a footnote when somebody is "unclear about" or "misunderstood" the history -- but it's one of the many ironies that a modern reader is able to pick up on.

Another odd thing about the book is how absolutely bungled the whole philanthropic enterprise was. The do-gooders would march into the woods, scare the heck out of some Beothuck by sneaking up on them, accidentally kill one or two, and then kidnap one or more women. They'd spend a year showering the women with gifts. Then, just before returning them to their tribes, the women would die of consumption.

Hey fellas, A+ for effort, but WHAT THE HECK DO YOU IMAGINE THE BEOTHUCK THOUGHT ABOUT THIS? And while acknowledging that the tribe was in danger of complete extinction, did it not occur to anybody that STEALING WOMEN OF CHILDBEARING AGE was the worst thing they could do?

To be fair it seems they really WANTED to kidnap a man, but the women were just easier to catch.

I'd feel more charitably about these heartfelt schemes if the people involved -- even at their most idealistic -- didn't qualify their "reconciliation" plan with the need to "bring the poor brutes to civilization." In the first meeting of the surprisingly liberal 1827 Beothuck Institution, the participants speak highly of the Indian's right to life and land...but they always slip in the verb "to civilize," as though the Beothuck were unable to decide for themselves.

But none of that mattered anyway because the tribe was already dying (if not dead).

Some of the most interesting parts of the book are the vivid accounts of Shanawdithit and Demasduit, two of the captured females who responded to European life in a somewhat delightful way (before dropping dead).

MOST fascinating, however, is the apparently complete narrative of William E. Cormack's east-west journey across Newfoundland. Over several hellish months he pushed through parts of the island that even the Indians wouldn't stray into, and his descriptions are engrossing: every detail about the geography, botany, wildlife, weather, and inhabitants during a trip that nobody had ever taken before, and no sane person would ever do again.

I don't have romantic ideas about Indians OR Europeans, and in this case especially their relationship seemed doomed from the start. Reading this book, though, I'm getting a strangely haunting impression of the situation as seen by both peoples. To the European settlers, living precarious lives in an enormous unmapped wilderness, the Beothuck must have seemed almost devilish, the way they disappeared into the interior, leaving behind deserted wigwams and tumble-down storehouses, coming back only to steal things silently in the night.

And imagine what the Beothuck thought, hiding in the interior that they knew so well, always aware that more and more settlers were living on the fringe. Occasionally the settlers would intrude down the rivers, and the Beothuck would quietly slip away, leaving their villages deserted and starting up elsewhere, further and further from the resources they required.

Eventually, undetected, the last Beothuck died in the middle of all that uncharted forest, and nobody else ever knew.

PS: As I said, this is a romantic impression based on a book written in 1915. Reality suggests that some of the Beothuck DID survive, mainly by mingling with settlers and other tribles.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I'd Buy Anything By...OMD

For many years I was a fan of the more popular songs by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and I even owned (and cherished) their "Pacific Age" album. When I bought their "best of" as part of my 80s-DJ fodder I certainly enjoyed it all, but I still thought of them as just another '80s band.

What finally pushed them into "I'd Buy Anything" territory was when I bought "Dazzle Ships" on a whim, and I understood that their early albums contained thematically-linked hit songs AND experimental weirdness. This was enough to pique my curiosity, and I have continued to enjoy (and puzzle over) every subsequent album I've found.

But all this only adds depth to their parade of hits. Lush and odd, a combination of Moody Blues melodies and Depeche Mode staccato, with two lead singers whose voices melt the heart, OMD has a distinct sound that has never been replicated.

The song which sums this up perfectly is "Tesla Girls." It never fails to make me happy, but in the video you have the added bonus of "how preppy women were supposed to present themselves (and dance) in 1984," with parachute pants and inappropriate high heels. It's all so Bryan Ferry. I absolutely, positively love this song.

And here's one of the most beautiful songs ever written -- "Forever Live and Die" -- recorded during their 2007 tour and proving that they've still got it.

I won't do the usual "albums to buy and avoid" conclusion because I've never BOUGHT all their albums. I pick them up whenever I find them used. So until the day when I HAVE bought everything, perhaps YOU can make some recommendations?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Song from UPhold: "Foosebox"

"Foosebox" is another long-dormant song "rescued" from the old eMac. I've spent the last four years working on it, adding things, removing tracks, trying to find the right direction...until I finally realized that the drum sequence I was so proud of actually sort of sucked.

Pulling the drums out (and pretty much everything else) turned this into a multi-part composition in line with the "box" tracks on "Damage." In other words abrupt and obnoxious.

The typewriter is from an old sound effects CD that Eli left lying around CKMS. The single-note bass is from Jeff Wayne's "War of the Worlds" (in the "Spirit of Man" just before the "No, Nathanial" section). The cut up, distorted, four-note blast is a segment from "Drive" by The Cars. I forget where I got the guillotine.

Let Us Be Tan

I adore these advertisements that managed to fit at least one word of slang into every paragraph.
Fashion dictates that sports shall rule the day...and milady must needs get her a snappy coat of tan. But not--oh, heavens not--by exposing her delicate skin to the cruel rays of a burning sun!

Tangee Tan, the fascinating new shade of Tangee Face Powder, is what everyone (that is, everyone who knows what's what) is using to acquire that charming summer complexion.

No oils...no creams...no bother. A mere pat of the puff transforms you into the bewitchingest water sprite who ever flounced a fin at Newport!
Incidentally, look at that picture. It's from 1929, but that, my friends, is a gorgeous '30s hairstyle. It's fascinating to see styles, slang, and even typefaces mutate from 1925 to 1929!

PS: 1929 seems to have been the year of the fake tan and the fake hosiery, always involving either a powder or an oil. It seems that bare legs were suddenly fashionable because they were risque (and cheap), but women still had to make them look not-bare.


It's been a long time since I've offered a drag-queenery tip. This one is for queens, girls, and unhappily hirsute men who occasionally use Nair.

I used to just goop it on my hands, then rub it on the area I wanted to depilitate. This wasn't so bad but it quickly got messy, especially when the bottle itself got covered in Nair and would start slipping around.

Now that my shoulder has a limited range of motion I've had to be inventive, and tonight -- for the first time -- I tried using an "extender," namely, a wooden spoon. I put the Nair on the back (convex) side of the spoon, then extended it to the area I wanted to depilitate, and besides being an easy way to reach out-of-the-way places it also proved to be more clean and accurate than my hands ever were.

So give it a try!

PS: If you're getting a chemical burn from the strong stuff, maybe try the mild next time, it might be all you need. Ouch!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sound Pictures!

This "great new art" used by Paramount, Warner Brothers, Hal Roach, Columbia Pictures, Christie, Universal, United Artists, Harold Lloyd, Fox Movietone, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer, as pioneered by the world's leading makers of telephones, switchboards, cable, trans-Atlantic telephone equipment, telephoto machines, and public address systems?

Yes, it's "Sound Pictures" ("The Voice of Action") provided by Bell Telephone Laboratories and Western Electric. They were responsible for the Vitaphone and the Movietone, and they practically shove the reader into a cinema seat with their final paragraph.
The success of Sound Pictures is history now. Continuing progress is certain. Make sure of enjoying it. Go to the theatres showing these great producers' pictures with the sound equipment recognized as the world's standard.
(The New Yorker, June 8, 1929...a particularly good issue, by the way).

In the Old Towns Long Ago

Unless you're Natasha Richardson, a Quebec vacation is probably just what the doctor ordered, especially if you're an American in 1929 and are tired of visiting speakeasies.

The New Yorker had been advertising Quebec vacations since its inception, but I notice that as of 1929 they've really starting ramping it up. References to Lower Canada are showing up in both articles and advertising. It must have been the Hot New Destination for the Idle Rich.

What's interesting to the modern reader, however, is that Quebec in the 1920s appears to be the ONLY place to go. Toronto is merely a transfer point for visitors who decide to go by land. It takes a real stretch of the imagination to remember that Toronto used to be a relatively insignificant place and that MONTREAL was considered to be Canada's metropolis.

Why did this change? I don't know. Montreal is still the place for travelers who love scenery, old buildings, and a European attitude. I'm ashamed to say that I've never been there, and haven't even been to Quebec since I was fifteen.

Anybody up for a road trip? I want to wear a sundress and bask in the blowing leaves of the Gaspé.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Doing the Rotator-Cuff Rumble

I've had some real ups and downs regarding my shoulder injury. My physiotherapist (Liz) has pretty much decided that there's some torn cartilage in there, but we can't know for sure until my MRI is scheduled (which, apparently, can take about eighty-five years).

But in the meantime we've been doing some pretty crazy things. The first step was simply to gain strength in my arm, which had atrophied from several months of coddling. I started by lifting a small bottle of water at work, over and over again, and eventually I graduated to an antique tape-dispensing machine. Do you know how hard it is to find objects which weigh about four pounds, but are easy to grasp and don't wobble around?

Anyway, now my arm is strong enough that I no longer shake while lifting a spoon to my mouth. In the meantime I've been doing daily exercises simply to get my shoulder loosened up again, and in the process we've learned two things.

First, my shoulder simply won't rotate outwards. If I hold out both my arms and turn my palms up, my right palm will only go 3/4 of the way and -- even more disconcerting -- my elbow tilts crazily inwards. If I try to rotate my palm any further it simply doesn't work, because the problem isn't with my wrist or with my elbow, it's with my shoulder.

Second, I sweat a lot, which is weird because my exercises are not particularly strenuous (though they do hurt). As a result my deodorant wears off halfway through the day and I've had a sudden rash of acne across my forehead. I've been trying to narrow this problem down by gradually removing environmental stimuli -- Advil, peanut butter, rolled-down toque, coffee, etc. -- but I'm forced to conclude that this "social problem" is due to either exercise, stress, or pain-wracked interrupted sleep.

So I've upgraded my deodorant and I've started using an acne face wash. Sigh.

This brings me to the most recent development. Last week, Liz got a wild hair and decided to stop pussyfooting around. She belted my arm to her waist again -- which last time caused such agony -- and just started pulling at it. I yelped, she waited, and then she pulled again...and my arm went a little bit further.

We continued this for ten minutes or so -- she'd pull, I'd yelp, she'd tell me to push back, then she'd pull further -- and by the end of that time my arm had moved two inches in a direction that previously had proved impossible...AND some of the non-stop pain and stiffness was gone! She said something about the pain reaction of tendons but all I could think was: time to push into the pain.

So that's what I've been doing. I put my arm into a position that hurts, then I push it a bit, sweat, moan, and wait for the pain to stop. Then I push further. I have become intimately familiar with my walls, because I can push against them and they don't move away. Doors are even better because I can hold them still with my leg and sort of curl around them. It hurts something terrible but I gain a centimeter of pain-free movement each day...and it continues to work the following day!

The downside of this is the intense, shooting agony in my bicep and forearm, which really comes into its own when I try to sleep at night. But obviously I'm making some sort of progress and that can only be a good thing.

PS: If you have an injury, I AM NOT SUGGESTING YOU TRY THIS.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Forbidden Welding

The June 8, 1929 New Yorker tells us that when engineer Gilbert D. Fish gave a lecture on welding for architects and builders, only eight people showed up.

This wasn't because welding was boring and commonplace...far from it! Amazingly enough, welding was considered a radical idea at the time, and it wasn't until the mid-'30s that it became a respectable way to hold a building together. What did they use beforehand?

Yes, that's right, rivets. Stories about New York in the '20s often mention the horrendous noise of construction, and a lot of that was due to the process of riveting.

Once they got the welding process refined it became the preferred method for keeping most pieces of metal together, but The New Yorker mentions some potential drawbacks.
One, which impressed us more than it does Mr. Fish, is the disappearance of the romantic game of throwing and catching rivets--more fun to watch even than excavating. It would be replaced, however, by a sort of fireworks display.
Even more surprising:
Another handicap is that the present building code in New York City doesn't allow welded buildings.
I like to learn new things. Here I thought that welding was the 20th century's preferred method of building everything except boats and bridges...but New York City didn't even ALLOW you to weld a skyscraper in the '20s. Neat!

Lili Elbe

I've always assumed that sex-reassignment surgery was first performed in 1952 -- on Christine Jorgensen -- but this little tidbit in the June 8, 1929 New Yorker got me thinking.
Scientists have changed the sex of birds and insects. They have converted female fleas into male fleas, and funny stunts like that; and they are working around toward doing the same thing with people. We predict an avalanche of plays on this theme next season.
The proposed play isn't worth getting too far into (two men love one woman; man tricks other man to change sex, then falls in love with the transgendered woman) but it made me wonder: what was going on in 1929 to prompt The New Yorker to write about this subject?

As far as I can tell, some scientists in 1929 were having a lot of fun scrambling up chicken embryos, transplanting skin and glands to see what would happen. And what happened, according to M. M. Zawadowsky and E. M. Zubina, was that you could change the secondary sex characteristics of the hapless animal...giving a chicken the plumage of a rooster, for example.

Obviously this has very little to do with sex-reassignment surgery as we know it, and it appears that Christine Jorgensen was the first transsexual to be treated with hormones. But in 1931 the FIRST publically-declared sex change was given to Lili Elbe.

Curiously this had nothing to do with the chicken experiments referenced in the New Yorker article; Elbe's transition was entirely surgical. They actually tried to give her overies and a uterus, and it was complications from the uterus transplant that killed her. The wacky doctors actually thought she could be made fertile, rather than dead.

A Gruesome General Electric Mystery

It's difficult, when viewing this advertisement for the General Electric All-Steel Refrigerator, to avoid noticing what the mother and child have yet to see: their youngest daughter is lying dead on the floor. She obviously got trapped inside the fridge over night, and was only released when they removed the tiny red coat from storage.

A gruesome mystery from the June 1, 1929 New Yorker.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

As an Aside...

...watching Jim Cramer get PUMMELED on the Daily Show is simply too painful. Like, I can't finish. Once his voice starts shaking I get embarrassed and I turn it off.

If I ever lie and Jon Stewart catches me, I think I'd rather run away to Antarctica than appear on his show.

Friday, March 13, 2009

From the Dot Matrix Digitizer to the Thunderscan: '80s Technological Kludge

Hey kids! Put down your DNA-sampling iPhones and listen up. This is how it used to be.

During the mid-80s, scanner technology was just entering our consumer consciousness. We knew that lucky businessmen had something called "Fax Machines," but those of us at home were totally unable to get photographs of lingerie models into our 8-bit computers (without tracing them on a transparency, sticking the transparency to the television set, and then drawing under it with a joystick-driven "fun with art" program).

But all this changed during April 1985, when Antic Magazine published instructions for..."The Dot Matrix Digitizer."

Here's the basic (and totally ass-backward) idea: you remove the printhead from your dot matrix printer and replace it with a homemade light pen. Instead of putting blank paper in your printer, you roll in the picture you want to digitize...say, this picture of handsome devil Sam Tramiel.

Then you ran a program which fooled your printer into thinking it was actually printing something, meanwhile retrieving the information from the light pen which was now creeping back and forth over the picture in your printer. Sixty minutes later you got this!

That's right! Not only could you cheaply digitize pictures of Sam Tramiel in the comfort of your own home, but you could ALSO make him look like Gene Shalit!

When I first read this article I thought "Wow, what a ridiculous Kludge...I bet nobody ever did it except the staff at Antic Magazine!" Then I learned about the "Thunderscan," a product for the first generation Macintosh which did exactly the same thing.

We truly live in a world full of inventive and crazy people. It's a good thing the inventors of this technique never decided to "Go Galt!"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"An Awfully Big Adventure" by Beryl Bainbridge

First "Harriet Said," then "According to Queeny," and now "An Awfully Big Adventure." Beryl Bainbridge has a real facility for troubled, unreliable, inscrutable, dangerous, and somewhat sociopathic pubescent girls.

Since I discovered her writing last year I have been slowly collecting her work...a used book here, a reprint there. Something has kept me from devouring them all in one sitting, as though each one must be read at exactly the right time and long after the previous one. Each of the three novels I've read have left me totally satisfied and a little stuffed; they're delicious dinners, the kind you don't want to eat every night.

"An Awfully Big Adventure" is amazing. Bainbridge has a touch of Vladimir Nabokov to her, an art of setting up a logical sequence of characters and props, and then allowing them to operate quietly behind the main action of the book. The perceptive reader catches glimpses of these background objects and tries to guess their trajectories, and it seems that when everything comes together in a Bainbridge novel it must be a tragedy, but a PERFECT tragedy; something that the victims, two hundred pages ago, should have seen coming.

Let me try to describe this better: these books are beautiful, witty, vicious, and true. They're about the unreliable memories of others and ourselves. They're about the disconnect between what people say and what they actually feel, and the effect this disconnect has on other characters (and the reader).

But on top of all that the stories are GOOD stories, they're well-formed and satisfying. Like, "An Awfully Big Adventure" may be unconventional under the surface, containing layer upon layer of translucent meaning, but on top of it all it's about second-rate actors in a scruffy British reperatory theater, coping with postwar shellshock and unrequited love and...well, I won't say anything more. You should just read it.

I notice that the local video store just got the movie adaptation in, starring Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman. I have a feeling I'll hate it, but I'll watch it anyway.

Dr. Seuss and Flit: Suddenly I Must Reevaltuate My Childhood

Well Dr. Seuss, I've learned a lot of interesting things by viewing your Flit advertisements, but this one from the June 1, 1929 New Yorker has thrown me for a loop.

Errr, thanks Doc. Yikes

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Unspeakable! The Talkies Are Here To Stay

Throughout the run of The New Yorker magazine, starting in February 1925, I've been following the transition from silent films to talkies. At first the articles about "talking pictures" highlighted the unsuccessful technological advances, while movie reviewers continued to mention the title cards and orchestras of the still-popular silent films.

Then along came "The Jazz Singer," and The New Yorker started really adjusting to the idea that talking pictures were here to stay. Now, in June 1, 1929, the tone is one of complete resignation. This week's "A Reporter at Large" column, written by "Jean-Jacques," starts this way:
There persists a quaint notion amongst no small number of the populace that the talkies will soon pass. "I've never seen anybody yet who liked them," the expression goes, and with it the vague hope this will confute producers and bring back silent pictures. The hope is futile. That noble animal, the horse, is no more dead than silent pictures. Unspeakable as most of the talkies are, they are able to speak and they are here to stay. There's nothing left to do but make the best of it, no matter how unpalatable the superlative may seem in such connection.
The rest of the column describes the problems inherent with making a talking picture -- the placement of recording equipment, the construction of soundproof stages, the actors who need to actually learn their lines. It ends by suggesting that the people most disturbed by talking pictures were the producers, who suddenly found it VERY difficult to use editing and re-takes to totally change the film in post production; when film married sound it suddenly became much harder to edit it.

Poor producers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

You're Going to "Go Galt?" Oh yes PLEASE!

I'm loving the way a bunch of right-wing pundits have been threatening lately to "Go Galt." At first I was worried that they were planning to move to the CITY of Galt -- which is just a few kilometers away -- but when I found out they were getting all Rand-happy I could only laugh with glee.

I read "Atlas Shrugged" while I was in University, sometime around 1992. I can't remember every detail of the book but I DO remember that it tried to build simple archetypes around complex human traits.

In Rand's world you were either a creator or a parasite. The creators were brilliant, inventive capitalists who forged their own way through the business world, sort of like Paul Bunyan with a briefcase. The parasites were dim-witted, simpering socialists who used government intervention in order to latch on to the creators, growing fat off the work of others.

When the creators in "Atlas Shrugged" decided to go on strike -- by disappearing to a secret compound -- they removed all the best minds from society and left the parasites to die.

One thousand libertarians reached the last page and ejaculated. The End.

One of the problems with Rand's outlook is that she equates self-interest with both brilliance and social health, as though the wealthiest capitalists were somehow both intelligent AND unreservedly good-for-all-of-us. She seemed to think that successful businesspeople must automatically be super-intelligent AND have an automatic benefit to society as a whole (and be gosh-darn handsome to boot).

Another of her oversights is the hilarious idea that businesspeople and industry tycoons are both "inventors" and "capable of existing all on their own."

Now, imagine all the corporate CEO's of all the banks decide to withdraw all their money and then start their own society. In Rand's world, these CEO's would suddenly be inventing amazing new gadgets and curing some REALLY cool tobacco, meanwhile magically providing each other with electricity and plumbing and food.

What's amusing about the rightwing bloggers threatening to "Go Galt" is that they actually seem to think that THEY are innovators TOO, and they don't seem to be aware of where their word processors, clothing, and panini bread actually comes from, let alone who carries their clubs at the automatically landscaped golf course.

So it's laughable enough to think that the richest people on earth could actually survive (let alone thrive) in total isolation, but it's downright HYSTERICAL to imagine these armchair pundits doing so.

I can't help wondering what these people will do when they reach Galt's Gulch, particularly until a brilliant investment banker invents the "static electricity motor." Who's going to cut Michelle Malkin's hair? What services can she offer to their little society, and what happens if Ann Coulter proves herself BETTER at offering those services? Who's going to build their church? Will we REALLY get to imagine Instapundit doing his weekly stint purifying sewage, and...hey, doesn't it all sound a bit like communism anyway?

Oh please! PLEASE go to Galt so we'll all realize how much we miss you while you're gone! Search engines will weep when they run out of "Islamofascist" hits, and CNN anchors will have to talk to blank video feeds. Would society fall apart? Would you bring about hell on earth? Perhaps heaven.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Luis Buñuel's "The Exterminating Angel"

Twenty guests arrive at a posh dinner party, from which the servants have mysteriously vacated. After eating, they retire to the music room, and they remain there long after they have outstayed their welcome. Instead of leaving, they lie down around the room and spend the night, and it doesn't take long for them to realize that they're trapped; they cannot leave the room.

What makes "The Exterminating Angel" so chilling is that the barrier PREVENTING them from leaving is not a physical one; it's an extremely human PSYCHOLOGICAL barrier composed of rationalization, convention, and lack of initiative. When somebody tries to enter or leave the music room, they do not bump up against some sort of invisible force field. They simply come up with reasons to NOT cross the barrier, or with reasons to prevent others from doing so, even though they realize on various levels that none of it makes any sense.

We've all seen variations of "The Lord of the Flies," wherein a small band of people tries to survive -- physically and psychologically -- in an inhospitable environment. In "The Exterminating Angel" you get rich women in expensive gowns forgetting how to comb their hair, and rational people falling back on religion and masonry. As the days go by the situation becomes increasingly hopeless, desperate, and -- since this is a Luis Buñuel picture -- surreal.

I'd previously watched "The Exterminating Angel" about ten years ago on a grainy multi-generation video cassette. The fact that I could barely see what was going on added to the movie's terror. But now that it's been lovingly restored on a Criterion Collection DVD I can safely say that it's even MORE disturbing when you can see every aspect of their deteriorating room, and every blemish on their wasted faces...

...and then the camera pulls back to show you that they're simply standing on the other side of an open doorway, and you get an even bigger chill up your spine.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I'd Buy (Almost) Anything By...Mike Oldfield

"Tubular Bells" was an album that I literally grew up with, one of those records that my mother played over and over again from my infanthood into childhood (at which time I was capable of playing it myself). My parents only had the first three "classic" Mike Oldfield records, but I listened to them endlessly (especially "Ommadawn," with a bit less emphasis on "Hergest Ridge").

In highschool I discovered that Oldfield had released a lot of OTHER albums as well, and I was surprised by his subsequent pop direction.

Urban myth has it that a very young Oldfield signed a terrible record contract with Virgin Records, requiring him to release twenty albums in twenty years. This may not be strictly true -- I'm too lazy to look it up right now -- but there is no doubt that Virgin controlled and directed Oldfield's career in a counterproductive way that he really hated.

They allowed him to release his "single song" concept albums for a few years, but when they began to decline in popularity they insisted on a pop song compromise: one traditional "long" composition on the first side, and five or six top 40 singles on the other.

Mike Oldfield cannot write a typical pop song, and any "exceptional" singles he produced during this period owe more to instrumentation and the performance of Maggie Reilly than his own songwriting ability. One of the best was 1984's "To France." This is a shamelessly lip-synced performance but it's actually more interesting than the real video clip. You can imagine that Oldfield is simultaneously saying "I HATE THIS!" and "I HATE VIRGIN" in his angry little head.

It's true, Oldfield DID hate Virgin, and he also grew into a real son of a bitch. Perhaps thanks to the primal therapy he underwent in the early '80s, Oldfield changed from a shy hippie into a sarcastic, bitter pop icon seemingly overnight. Accompanying this change was an increasing embrace of keyboards and sequencers (an Atari ST!) as opposed to virtuoso performance, making his music sound generic and dated.

After "Tubular Bells III" -- his "house music" album -- I stopped my knee-jerk buying of Oldfield's records. This was partly because I got annoyed by him recycling old themes and successes, but also because subsequent albums looked REALLY wanky and unpromising.

But even so, his LIVE productions continue to thrill me like nothing else, because no matter how uninspired the studio versions are it is still amazing to see two dozen brilliant performers reinterpreting (and often improving on) his songs.

Here's an example from the premiere of "Tubular Bells III" in 1999. It's the concluding two tracks off the album ("Secrets/Far Above the Clouds") and demonstrates his multiple-orgasm style of composing. As an added bonus, the brilliant "tribal drumming" section near the end (which was not part of the original song) is a nod to the iconic drumming segment I described last month in regards to "Ommadawn."

Oldfield's albums are a mixed bag and I can't vouch for the later ones, but if you want to hear his "classic" sound you need to get "Tubular Bells" (the ORIGINAL version, not the sequels or the remakes or the remasters or the orchestral one), "Hergest Ridge," and "Ommadawn." If you can find it you also need "Amarok," a sixty-minute "back to roots" song that Oldfield released as an unsubtle f*ck you to Virgin.

If you want some Oldfield pop, I recommend "Five Miles Out" and "Discovery."

Albums to avoid: the piss-poor stabs at chart success ("Heavens Open," "Islands," and "Earth Moving") and you should also stay away from "Songs of Distant Earth," which is Oldfield at his plinky-keyboard, new age worst.

For fans only: "Boxed," a boxed 4-album (vinyl) set full of quadraphonic mixes and rarities, including the infamous original ending to "Tubular Bells": Viv Stanshall lurching drunkenly around Oldfield's house, improvising a slurred monologue, with "The Sailor's Hornpipe" played in the background. Wow.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Mysterious Mitzi: Internet Sleuthing in Realtime

Early New Yorker magazines are absolutely AWASH with advertisements for Lux Toilet Soap. You can't turn a page without running across an enormous Lux centerfold spread, in which some famous Broadway actress describes how Lux manages to keep both her complexion AND her stockings clean. It's a miracle!

I read all the Lux advertisements because I'm hoping to spot early photos of up-and-coming actresses, but in the issue from May 25, 1929 my attention was caught by...Mitzi.

There's nothing particularly fascinating about her appearance or her run-of-the-mill testimonial, but I'm a sucker for women named "Mitzi," and yet I'd never heard of one who was known ONLY as "Mitzi."

Sure there was Mitzi Gaynor, and Mitzi Green, and Mitzi DuBois, but they all came later and I'm beginning to wonder if they were named AFTER this woman. I'd like to prove this hypothesis but the strange thing is...

...there's virtually nothing about her on the internet at all. How strange is that?

Part of the problem is that she shares the same first (and only) name with a bunch of more famous Mitzis. Another problem is that she apparently never made a movie, so the Internet Movie Database is unusually useless. In addition, the "Lovely Lady" play has been totally forgotten, closing on Broadway after only five months and then relegated to the sticks.

The only handle I've managed to get on the mysterious Mitzi is through a piece of sheet music that was released from "Lovely Lady," a song called "One Step To Heaven" (with ukulele accompaniment, natch). Through this I stumbled on "Scientific Commons" (of all places) and a list of four pieces of sheet music that Mitzi was credited with.

Along with a brief contemporary review of "Lovely Lady" from another magazine, I have been able to piece together that Mitzi was a comedienne who was performing at least by 1918, singing "Every Bee Has a Bud."

When I looked at another of her songs ("Ha-za-zaa" from an operetta called "Sari") I had my final breakthrough. A few more searches along those lines brought me to a 2005 master's thesis by Jessie Wright Martin, in which Mitzi's true identity is finally revealed:
The show's title role on Broadway was assumed by Hungarian soubrette, Mizzi Hajos, who won instant fame; so much so that she changed her name to simply Mitzi, claiming that American audiences wouldn't know how to pronounce either of her Hungarian names.
I don't know about the claim that she changed her name AFTER "Sari" -- considering she was apparently billed as "Mitzi" as far back as 1918 -- but otherwise the mystery has been solved. And if you plug "Mizzi Hajos" into Google you get a respectable amount of information, and even a link to her only known recordings.

Now I can stop caring.

Transcript of a Night of Pain

Ten o'clock. Good puss. Yeah, she's a good puss. Goodnight, puss.

Groan. Try the left side. Oh, that's pretty good, if I bend my elbow and put my right hand up near my chin. Hmmm. Still okay.

OH! Ouch, no, try the right side. That's not working. Ouch! Maybe if I...OUCH! Okay no. If I put my hand on the pillow...okay...whew! That's a bit better. Not hurting. Hmmm. Still okay. Hmmm. Zzzzzzzz...

Ouch! Ow, what is it? Ow. Eleven-thirty. That really sucks. If I lie here on my back and just put my right hand in my left hand that feels...okay, that's better.

I must have pulled a muscle. YEAH! GREAT! Aw jeez, yeah, hello puss. How're you? How's my puss? Pretty girl! Goodnight, puss!

Maybe if I...OW! All locked up. Just to the right a bit...a bit more...sigh. Doesn't hurt much. I should be able to...zzzzzzzz...

OUCH! Ouch, my shoulder. What time is it? Two o'clock. Oooh, I'll just lie here, ow. K-9 and Princess Astra. Princess Strella. "Just to break-a-my fah...ah-ah-ah, ah-ah." Astra. "People tell me it's gonna get bet-tah, gonna get bet-tah." Hmm. Left side maybe. OW! Oh, that's better. Zzzzzzz.

OW-OW-OW! This is the bad--OW! Gotta get...OW! Four o'clock. Oooo, get lost puss, need an ice pack, why don't I put all this crap away...ahh, that's better. Ice ice ice. I wonder if Zsa Zsa will get sick from licking the ice pack. I wonder if she'll wreck it. Rough tongue. Ahhh. High blood sugar. Gotta sleep, this is a really awful sleep tonight. Hmmm. Princess Strella. No, Astra. "Just to break-a-my fah...ah-ah-ah..." Maybe if I... "I've never loved nobody fully..." Hmmm.

OW! Roll over. OW! Okay, if I really push my shoulder down. If I grab my shoulder and push it DOWN. Aha. Can I sleep like this? Hmmm. K-9. "Yes, master." Good puss. Zzzzzzz.

Wha...huh...five o'clock, what? Low blood sugar, eat some...OW! Jeez. Eat some candy. Ice pack is warm. Maybe if I lie here. That's okay. Don't look at the clock. Don't think about it. Hmmm. Zzzzzzz...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"The Man Who Will Come"

I didn't know at the time that the hotel clerk was Rob's messenger. If I'd realized I would have paid more attention to him, gotten a better look at him, but when he gave me the letter I thought he was just doing his job. I was living a different life back then.

In my room I took out the letter and read it. It was a short thing, written on stationary from a more expensive hotel than I had been placed in. "Dear Laurie," it said, "I have to talk to you about something important. Meet me at the cafe at six o'clock."

I went to the cafe and he didn't show up, so the next day I went back to the convention hall where we'd met and I drank water in the foyer and expected to see him walk past. Maybe the crowd was too large. I missed both of my seminars and I was angry.

I didn't understand what had happened until I saw the police cars outside his hotel. I thought he'd been arrested, but there was nothing about him in the paper the next day. If they'd caught him they would have reported it. I knew then that he was still alive.

The conference was over and my return flight was booked, so I left a message with the maid and rode the shuttle bus to the airport. I hoped to see Rob on the street or hear about him on the radio. Rob wasn't at the airport; I didn't know if he lived in the city or if he was just there for the conference, or if the conference itself was just a secret way for him to meet people in an unlikely setting.

At home I unpacked my bags and I couldn't find his letter. Either I'd forgotten to pack it or the airport security had removed it.

I pretended to live my old life because there was nothing to do but wait. I had the children on the weekends and they'd either sit in front of the TV or go out with their friends. When Chad wrestled Dino and Dino's wrist got broken I knew for sure that my old life had been a mistake.

The nurse at the hospital said I had pretty fingernails.

Rob was unable to contact me again. He'd taken a chance by telling me about his secret life in the convention hall. Obviously he'd found no other way to meet me since then. I didn't feel angry anymore, I understood his problem.

I pieced together his travels by reading the newspaper. He'd escaped a house fire. He'd witnessed a miraculous rescue, though in the article he claimed to have no CPR training, which must have been a lie. He may have been in the crowd at the opening of a highway. His pictures were blurry and his last name always changed, but Rob was still doing his secret job. I was thrilled.

Now, in my new life, I sit on the apartment steps and look out at the world that Rob still lives in. I don't do anything else because I don't know what to do. I know he'll come eventually, when he's able.

GQE Drag Show!

Also coming up, also in Guelph, also in March, another wonderful event from Guelph Queer Equality! Here's their promo material:
Guelph Queer Equality is throwing its annual drag show! There will be drag performances and other musical acts, including:

-The all-too-fabulous Muffy St. Bernard, drag queen extraordinaire! She's performed with us before, and now she's back again! Don't miss a chance to see her in action.

-The equally all-too-fabulous Nigel Gough, who wowed the crowd with a scandalously spiritual interpretation of Katy Perry's I Kissed A Girl at last semester's Queer Antics.

-You can also catch the musical stylings of Amy Bronson, folky Lethbridge-native and current temporary Guelphite.

-And you can be witness to the musical stylishness (and also stylings) of the charming Kay Pettigrew, who can lately be found being awesome at venues all over.

Aaaaaand more! Check back here often as the facebook event will be updated with more performers!

If you yourself are a performer who would like to participate or know of one, feel free to contact us at gqe@uoguelph.ca!

Five dollars or pay what you can. Proceeds from the show will be going to support Out on the Shelf and Our Place

Coming Up: Gender Martini Party!

One of the upcoming spate of Guelph shows I'll be performing at, come to the "Gender Martini Party" at Guelph's eBar on Wednesday, March 25. From their advert:


A thrilling performance night celebrating a variety of gender expressions

Join us for an evening of dancing, observing and interacting.

Performances include:

We'll make you lick your lips for the gender bending stylings of our local artists, including the delicious Muffy St. Bernard

Prepare to have your appetite whetted with controversial topics accompanied by hip popping beats

You will have your taste buds tantalized with choreographed routines by some KW boys that will leave you shaken AND stirred

Finally, quench your thirst with Violet Wand and her sinful troop who will add that twist to your night that you've been craving. You know you love it.

Including the tasty beats of Junglecat

Proceeds to Out on The Shelf

I performed at the eBar many years ago and it's a WONDERFUL space, though one of us managed to lock the keys in the dressingroom. This time they'll probably make us change behind a table in the corner.

I was asked to provide and name a representative martini, so I gave them the recipe for "The Hopped-Up Dustymuff," basically a dry light vodka martini with a live seal in it.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Appreciating the Chorus Girl

The New Yorker, May 12, 1929.

The artist was John Reynolds. He created a real flurry of cartoons for the magazine between 1928 and 1930, but appears to have been subsequently forgotten.

Facebook Faux Pas

I have mellowed with a lot of my earlier criticisms of Facebook use, but I still consider these four commandments to be self-evident and inviolate:

Thou Shalt Not Post a Dozen Items Each Day

If you've found an interesting news article or you'd like everyone to read your latest blog post, go ahead and post it! But please don't spam me with your ideology by posting several of them a day. This amounts to advertising and becomes no better than a usenet newsgroup, and is one of the main reasons why I don't go to usenet newsgroups anymore.

Thou Shalt Not Write Obnoxious Status Updates

There's nothing more off-putting than getting a bunch of status updates written for the sole purpose of offending you or shocking you.

Thou Shalt Not Invite Others To Join Fanclubs Devoted to Thyself

If you actually have an organization, business, or band that you think people might be interested in, that's fine. But it's SO cheesy to receive an invitation from Mr. X to join the "We Love Mr. X Fanclub," and I think such invitations say a lot of unflattering things about the senders.

Thou Shalt Not Send Dramatic Emails About The Level of Drama in Facebook

It's PARTICULARLY annoying when the emails say "...and I'm LEAVING, and my REAL friends will know where to find me," and then two months later the person has started a new account and is asking everybody to be friends again.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Beautiful Clarissa

Here's a cautionary tale from the pages of The New Yorker (March 18, 1929). It doesn't go in quite the direction I thought it would...

Mais non--Egbert didn't want Percy and Percy didn't want Egbert but the beautiful Clarissa got her dates mixed! Wisely she suggested a ride to cool off the two Lotharios!

But on the way home--

Nobody sang "Just a Kiss in the Dark"--nobody sang at all! Out in the cold the lonely but beautiful Clarissa realized the futility of pinning one's faith to a temporary deodorant!

Yup, it's good old Odorono again, telling flippant flappers everywhere that if they use the wrong deodorant, they might end up in the rumble seat.

Oglb: War of the Worlds

When I was six years old, a family friend gave me Jeff Wayne's double-album "War of the Worlds" for my birthday. It was a bizarre gift totally out of left field, but I must have listened to that album a hundred times.

Scary as hell. I'll never forget Richard Burton describing a Martian's mouth as "quivering and slavering like wet liver." It contained gruesome airbrushed artwork in a huge booklet. But most importantly, the music was dense, brilliant, driving, beautiful...though I was too young to recognize that it was essentially disco.

So yes, a DISCO version of "War of the Worlds," which left a lasting impression on children all over the world. It's hardly surprising that in 2006 they actually took the album ON TOUR, performing a note-by-note recreation complete with a virtual Richard Burton. Whenever I hear these drums, those keyboards, that fuzz guitar, that voice...well, I literally MELT as though I were exposed to a heat-ray...the same way that sides two and three of the album melted when I put a meatpie on them.*

Much to my chagrin I have never seen the 2006 tour DVD, so I'm forced to experience it through YouTube. Here's the first section ("The Eve of the War") with Justin Hayward reprising his original role, and Richard Burton saying the words which I chose for this blog's tagline.

Ulllllaaaah! Ulllllaaaaaah!

PS: That's Julia Thornton on percussion, who I absolutely love to death.

* Sometimes, vinyl double albums came with sides one and four on one disc, and sides two and three on a second. This was meant to make it easier to play the records on machines with auto-drop mechanisms; you could put record one on top of record two, with sides one and two cued respectively, and then -- afterwards -- put records two and one back up there with sides three and four cued.

The "War of the Worlds" double-album was like that, allowing you to listen all the way through with a minimum of record-changing. But people stopped doing this when they realized that auto-drop mechanisms wrecked your vinyl.

The Boys Who Follow

I have previously mentioned the boys who explode, but I find that I'm increasingly needing to deal with The Boys Who Follow.

These are the guys who sort of latch onto me in a straight setting, and then insist on following me around all night. Sometimes they'll try to grab me on the way to or from the bathroom, or they'll just keep asking me for my phone number. Tonight was the first night that a boy ran after me and tried to follow me home, no matter how many times I told him it was awful and creepy. "I'm not trying to pick you up!" he kept shouting, grabbing my shoulder until I finally ran back and had to wait for an eventual cab. "Why are you acting like this?" was his (hopefully) final comment.

I don't believe that most men behave this way. Whenever I decide to walk home from Club Abstract, I always check carefully to make sure I'm not being stalked by some little possie with baseball bats. But tonight was the first time that I've been grabbed repeatedly and followed even while I protested, and I wondered why this is happening now and not ten years ago.

Maybe it's because I'm better and more confident at drag than I used to, but I really think that it's a double-edged sword of acceptance; once upon a time that sort of man would be too frightened to be a nuisance, but now that it's sort of "okay" for him to be attracted to me, he feels more confident about treating me (perhaps) like he'd treat some other girl. Which makes me, as always, appreciate in some small way what women deal with in bars.

What I find most interesting was his shout of "Why are you being like this?" I'm trying to decode what he was thinking when he said it. He obviously was accusing me of being suspicious and of over-reacting, and yet the guy was aggressively grabbing my shoulder and trying to pull me away. I wonder: would he REALLY do this to a girl? Or is it only okay because it's me? And if that's the case, is it okay because he can pretend he's just "a guy walking with a guy," or because my sexuality is largely unimportant, or because he was so repressed that he believed that he honestly, really, TRULY wouldn't do anything awful once we turned the corner?

It's a weird situation: cut-and-dried for me ("Get lost!") but muddy in its motivation.