Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Mortgage Cat"

We arrive at our house and we celebrate: it is our own piece of land and sky. We are worried about debt but we remain hopeful, my wife more than I because she has always been optimistic.

Because the house has many nooks and crannies it takes two weeks to find the previous owner's cat, which we'd hoped had died. This creature, a tabby with glossy fur and no name, is the legal embodiment of debts which we are required to assume. It is easy to love a cat, but one cannot become attached to the physical manifestation of debt, so we feed it but refuse to play with it. It is not allowed to sleep with us.

We acquire knick-knacks and furniture and we are pleased with our purchases, but every night the cat howls at something we can't see. Lack of sleep and the complaints of the neighbours force us to buy a smaller house for the cat. Our lawyer assures us that this is our best option, but he is also the lawyer for the cat, so we don't entirely trust him. We cannot afford a lawyer of our own. Our money goes toward tending the houses and buying a lot of kibble.

The cat is young and could live twenty years, long enough to outlast the university careers of our newly-born children. They are not allowed to visit the cat lest our legal situation become complicated: if the children ever feed it, they are required to share a portion of the debt which the cat represents, saddling them with responsibilities they are too young to handle.

The lawyer had given us a paper which certified the cat was sterile, but when kittens begin urinating on our front porch we realize the uncertainty of chemical sterilization. We are not allowed to touch the kittens without permission, which our lawyer refuses to grant, even after our own children die overseas in the Infant Wars. The kittens become our heirs. We must provide for them and their offspring, and rather than look at them every day we send them to subsequent and much smaller houses that we buy for them in the suburbs.

Our first home, the most beautiful one, we bequeath to the kittens. We move into the smallest home. It smells like urine and its furniture is scratched, and there are scraps of fur everywhere. It is hard to stand up because the rooms are so tiny.

Shortly afterward, and with no explanation, the houses burn down and our tragedy ends. We rent a bachelor apartment because we are too old to start over again. At night we are haunted by small burning kittens and their smoldering toys, which they jangle into and out of our one and only closet.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Three Young Men Address the Complexities of Power Over Lunch

ALAN: You should've seen that hippie guy last night at Phil's!

BRAD: What a pussy!

ALAN: He was all "Wah, wah, wah," we kicked his ASS.

JOE: I wish I'd gone to Phil's.

BRAD: Remember that dude with the beer?

JOE: Yeah, we're like, "You wanna fight?" BAM!

BRAD: That was great.

JOE: And this morning, that guy yelling at me about his shirt.

BRAD: What a pussy!

JOE: I was like "Yeah, you want your shirt?" BAM!

{Cel phone rings}

JOE: That's my landlord again.

ALAN: Put it on speakerphone.

LANDLORD: Hello, Joe?

JOE: Dude! What's up!

LANDLORD: I've been trying to get ahold of you, Joe.

JOE: Hey! I'm a dude, I don' up dudes and just say "Howya doin'?"

LANDLORD: You're in big trouble unless you come over here today and give me the money you owe me.

JOE: Don't make me hate you, buddy. We'll talk on Monday or something.

LANDLORD: Hate you? Joe, we're coming AFTER you.

JOE: Ha! You'll have to find me first!

LANDLORD: That won't be any problem. We'll find you, we'll take you to court, we'll f*ck you up for damages, we'll f*ck up your credit's easy stuff, Joe. We do it all the time.

JOE: You don't have my signature on NOTHIN', bro.

LANDLORD: We've got the lease.

JOE: You ain't got NOTHIN', bro! See ya!

{Hangs up}

ALAN: Dude, you're f*cked.

JOE: Really?

ALAN: You signed a f*ckin' LEASE.

JOE: Yeah...

ALAN: He takes you to court, you're SCREWED.

BRAD: You better go over there right now and pay him.

JOE: Yeah.


JOE: I wish I could just BEAT HIM UP.

"The Dancehall"

After Lou paid off his debts he went to the cheaper bars, the ones without pretty girls. He got into a drunken fight over a game of pool but nobody cared because he didn't hurt anybody, he just pushed and yelled a lot. In another place, however, he tried to steal a bottle of whiskey and got hit in the face by a bouncer. He spent the weekend in jail, nursing his eye and playing checkers with the two fat cops who were sometimes nice to him.

He was sober when he got out. His monthly cheque was waiting in his mailbox and he knew he couldn't handle the really cheap bars, at least not right now, so he cashed the cheque and went to the dancehall.

The girl with the orange dress was on the floor, easy to spot. This was the woman who Lou liked. She was an exaggerated pin-up, just this side of ridiculous, a starved man's fantasy after years in barracks, hospital wards, and drunk tanks. His buddy Corman had said "Nobody looks like that for real," but he and Corman weren't friends anymore.

Smiling in the toothy, inappropriate way she did when she danced with somebody, the woman was clutching the back of a thug who swayed awkwardly beside the stage. She deserved better than the veterans and dock workers, Lou had decided. Better than the customers who were barely more respectable than him with his scuffed shoes and his frayed suit jacket.

Lou felt like he was spinning and his mouth was dry. He wobbled to the bar, timing it so he could cross paths with her -- Suzette, her name was -- and she put her hand over her eye and said "elegant shiner!" while swaying into the restroom. He touched his face and looked sideways into the bar mirror, where he could see the thug lighting a cigarette and watching him.

Later, after a few drinks, Lou had stopped thinking about his eye and the thug and he was looking straight into the mirror, watching the girl in the bursting orange dress dance in a haze behind the bottles.

"Everybody loves Suzette," said the bartender. He leaned close and Lou could smell his toothpaste. "She's a kook, though."

"How so?"

"Says she's from Mars and came here by accident. Says she's going home on the next flight out of here." The bartender shrugged. "Everybody knows she's a kook."

"Nothing surprises me," said Lou, "I just got out of jail."

"You should have taken a shower first." Apparently this was the last drink Lou would get here.

He managed to grab the girl's arm on his way out. "I hear you're from outer space," he said, and the thug punched him right below the ear, professional. After that, in the drunk tank, the two fat cops held his hat just out of reach while Lou jumped up and tried to grab for it.

Monday, September 05, 2011

"The Pick-Up"

I didn't see anything interesting in the stores and I didn't have any money. When I talked to the boy at the shoe store he kept rearranging his shoes and he said, "Shouldn't you go home and have dinner?"

I sat in the coffee shop. I held my textbook open just like I was reading it and watched businessmen coming in out, their suits with little creases in them, pants sweaty around their crotches because of the heat. I sat in the black shadow of the investment bank that was visibly moving across my table, feeling my own sweat drying between my shoulder blades and between my breasts

I read for a while. My legs were stiff and tingling and my neck was getting sore, and there was a man standing at my table who said, "Good book?"

I nodded. "It's just regular biology. I forgot my highlighter."

His suit was like the others, but so fresh it looked like it had just come off the hanger. "You can have some of this if you want it," he said, gesturing with his coffee cup. "I only bought it so I could talk to you." As if for inspection he lifted his hands so I could see his clean fingernails, the little pink cuticles. He smelled like the seats in an orange Volkswagon car.

My own fingernails needed clipping, I remembered.

We crept outward in his car, the windows rolled up and the AC blasting. He played '60s rock too loud on the radio and his knuckles were tense, his hand jerking the gearshift.

"What do you do for a living?" I asked. He hadn't looked at me since I'd gotten into the car. He was an excellent driver. He was scrupulous about the right-of-way. "I'm an Biology major," I said. "Third year."

He nodded. "I do financing. Financial stuff. Banking." He didn't answer any other questions.

By the time we'd pulled into his driveway my face was hot and my jaw had a tough knot in it. It was hard to recognize anything without my glasses on, but I thought I knew where I was. I tripped over one of the shrubs beside his porch. "Careful," he said. "Jesus, don't worry."

Everything was orderly in the front hallway. He walked through every room of the ground floor, yelling "Dora? Dora?" while I waited by the door. There was no answer.

"Go upstairs," he said, and walked around the rooms again. He hadn't loosened his tie or taken off his dress shoes.

All the carpets on the second floor showed the runners of a vacuum. I found an office and a nursery and then the master bedroom, a place like a museum. A woman's silky nightgown was over the back of a chair in front of a mirror, a table with hairbrushes and some pictures.

I took off my running shoes and belt and jeans, my awful tank top with the dolphin on it, my underwear. The room was cold with central air conditioning and I lay on top of the plush quilt, mostly naked. When I began to shiver I moved down under the covers and pulled my socks off and held them in my hands.

The traffic was going quiet outside. I looked up at the white whirls of plaster that nobody ever noticed, and my body began to warm up under the covers.

Keyboard Expressiveness

I enjoyed this "Brooklyn Organ Synth Orchestra" clip of "Tubular Bells" so much that I eventually bought the song. Have a look:

As interesting as it is to see all these organs and synths at work, I'm always struck by how RELIEVED I am when the good old straightforward piano comes in at the end, bringing with it a warmth and depth that the rest of the song lacks. It gives me goosebumps! Even compared to the organs, the piano somehow sounds more EXPRESSIVE.

This has started me wondering: is the piano REALLY more expressive than a Hammond organ or an Omnichord? Is it more capable of conveying emotion than any other keyboard instrument?

That really does seem to be the case in THIS song, but that may have something to do with the relative skill of the player (Natasha Bartolf has obviously spent a lot of time with the piano so she may have more of a "connection" to it than -- perhaps -- Natalie Weiss with the Stylophone). Also, some of the instruments in the video ARE notably limited...that's part of their charm.

So I started thinking about synth virtuosos, the men and women who have spent their lives dickering with synthesizers. Manfred Mann has certainly bemoaned the lack of expressiveness in modern keyboards, but it's hard to compare his synth performances with virtuoso piano because he tends to use monophonic instruments. Bernie Worrell's more extravagant keyboard solos sound a bit farty these days. Thomas Dolby's synths are warmer than most, but still revel in a certain "coldness." Richard Tandy relies more on novelty than anything else.

I haven't looked into this enough. Is there something unique about the piano's ability to "express" the music that comes out of it, far beyond a pitch bend and a mod wheel?