torsdag, august 31, 2006

The Danish Dog

The Hotel Bethel, where I'll be staying through September 5.

I have a vision of one day opening a pub called The Danish Dog. This comes from a line in Hamlet.

Now, I depart this morning for Denmark. Two weeks of severe insomnia are enough. Here’s hoping the Copenhagen Cure still applies: two Danish beers = one long afternoon nap after which life is greatly altered in favor of the dour van Winkle who went under.

Exhibit A

Last August on my first night in Copenhagen, I couldn’t sleep. My brother and sister seemed to fall asleep at a decent time, but I found myself standing at the window all night looking out at the canal in Nyhavn. I watched the café and pub crowd thin. I watched the employees clear aside the tables and chairs at 1 a.m. so the street crew could come through at 3 to clean the place. I watched a young Danish man and American woman strip, climb over the railing on the low bridge—It’s low enough that one cannot stand on the canal tour boats when passing beneath many of the bridges—and leap into the waters. Twice. They may have continued or just kept on swimming and laughing had it not been for the four British louts with camera phones who came rollicking along and chased them into a public restroom.

(If there was anything to break the evening’s romance for them, it was the fact they were standing naked, and more importantly barefoot, in a public men’s room. Gross. Urban canals are themselves suspicious, but a restroom is never romantic.)

I saw the street sweepers. I saw the garbage crew. I saw men scavenging in the garbage cans for valuables. A man below my hotel window pillaged a boat-restaurant’s bin for cardboard. A sighing / yawning man on the boat across the way appeared on deck (with his erection, hello) as the sun radiated just beneath the horizon. His arc of urine twittered in the canal as the silhouettes of birds chased one another between rooftops and masts.

From time to time I put my head to the pillow and pretended sleep, but I went nowhere. The weight continued to build in me. I was in a fog. I was delirious with this new city.

I went out walking. I thought long of my great-grandfather walking these streets as a teenager while his family sailed to America. I thought of Knut Hamsun’s writing in Hunger : “It was in those days when I wandered about hungry in Kristiania, that strange city which no one leaves until it has set its mark upon him.”

I was in love with the city center’s cobblestones and closely packed six-story buildings. I loved the early day commuters, the endless stream of bicycles, the way walkers and cyclists observed traffic signals and designated crossing points.

I watched the sun rise from the waterfront along the Amalienborg Palace.

A gorgeous jogger appeared like a face in dream. She ran to where I sat on the wall with my notebook, smiled with the near-spiritual electric joy that only morning people know, tapped the stone lightly, and ran back the way she’d come.

Later, with the world starting to fracture in my tired eyes, with shapes being born in my peripheral and the meaning of conversation escaping me, I had two beers (Tuborg brand), and felt instantly sleepy. Back to the hotel. I slept heavily for two hours. I woke up feeling grand. The rest of the stay was golden and lucid…though I still managed to get lost. Repeatedly.

But how else does one really see a place?

Methods of Escape (set to Mogwai’s “Auto Rock”)

All these fitful nights must end. Beer or no beer. It does not matter. This year I’m going to learn Copenhagen’s subway. This knowledge will come in handy next June when I return for the Lights. Via the trains, I may visit Klampenborg. I may visit Helsingor (aka Elsinor for my fellow Hamlet fans). I’ll see more of the city, or at least see it more sensibly…though I’m determined to find the café my siblings and I stopped at when I was getting us lost between Nyhavn and Nørrebro. Must replicate that walk.

God, that was good coffee. And that cute bit of chocolate it was served with? Awesome.

Dear Denmark, I have missed you terribly. I wander your streets in my dreams. I wander them as my own doppelgänger. I hug the souls of strangers and draw claws to threaten the soil and stone. You will show me the face of a 100 years before. You will.

Thinking of you today, your energy, your gorgeous faces, and the love songs that my emigrant great-grandfather sang but which have been lost to this world as his language to the family, my heart hurts so much I border tears.

Hot Dish

Last night I stole a spot at the table at the home of the Carlson family for a hot dish gathering. Christopher cooked up a rockin’ bean dish that included a sauce made of…ah, buckets. I can’t recall. It was complex, like a polyjuice potion in Harry Potter. (Used first in Chamber of Secrets, hey.) The bean sauce contained coffee, some sort of liquor, brown sugar, garlic, and like 14 other ingredients. Really good stuff. And it was topped with five or six slices of bacon, which created an entertaining exchange of everyone denying they wanted bacon when it was spooned out. This was really our way of saying “Yes, I want that bacon, but taking a slice when there is so little would make me feel shamefully greedy. As such, I’ll deny the bacon humbly in hope that you’ll recognize it is actually a polite if not desperate way of saying, ‘Give me that goddamn bacon, bub.’” I got a slice. Awesome.

I wish I’d taken time to gauge more of the eats’ precise ingredients. Honestly, I ate too quickly. (Sarah, you claim the spinach salad was soggy, but I thought it was quite good, thanks. Although, maybe you’re going to say that was supposed to be iceberg lettuce, in which case it must have been soggy!) In layman’s terms, it was really good grub. I ate without grace. And I laughed too much for a guest, but the family chatter cracked me up. Hey, Carlsons: I love you bunches.

(Patti: Please don’t test your “I can fly” theory. I worry about you now. And Mips: the banana cream pie that I took home didn’t survive the night. I ate it as soon as I walked through the door. In my defense, I did use a fork, though that was only after I caught myself piggishly reaching a hand into the bag in which I’d transported that divine wedge. Screw America. God bless the BCP!)

Tomorrow I think I’ll post a thing about the Carlson girls’ contest of strength and fight choreography. It was like a violent version of patty cake.

onsdag, august 30, 2006

City of Lost Children

One of 1976's many cowboy fashions. And that's a Winnie the Pooh sleeper beneath the vest...which seems to be 75% tassel.

When I was 16 I worked at one of the three McDonald's in town. I worked at the "Train Car" McDonald's, so named because it had a train car attached as its dining space.

Next door was a hotel of the sort I now associate with hard luck and murder (the latter of which is really just a grim subset of hard luck, I suppose). It was a two-story affair, at least in my memory.

As with many low-end hotels, there were always residents, some temporary, some having decided that was just the way their life was to be. And this included, invariably, a few children, though I do not recall there ever being more than a couple children at any one time in the hotel.

When they were present, they were often sent to the McDonald's, unaccompanied, of course, to occupy their time. The teenagers working there didn't much mind because we felt sorry for them. We probably felt like them. The supervisors, though--those people responsible for making sure we at least had the appearance of observing health codes--were put in fits over their presence. These children would hang around for hours at a time. The supervisors kept asking the kids to leave. The children would return.

Many of us began coaching these kids on how and when to behave. Sometimes we'd send them into the bathroom or ask them to hide up in the train car, whatever it was we thought would keep them out of trouble when the supervisor was near.

One girl began to spend a rather severe amount of time in the restaurant. She chatted constantly. When the supervisors would tell her she needed to go home, she'd either freeze for a moment, never looking at them, then act as if nothing had occurred and resume talking, or she'd say "Okay," motion as if to leave, and as soon as the supervisor's back was turned would duck down in front of the counter and hold her knees. When people would walk in, she might put a finger to her lips. They'd look towards her, puzzled. Then at those of us behind the counter.

"It's all right," we'd say quietly. We wore uniforms. We had authority.

One particular day didn't feel right at all. The girl seemed desperate to stay. She was around all day. She was around as we headed towards close. I was working a double shift that day--Idiot; What did I think I'd get for my time? A Cadillac?--I saw the whole thing, whatever it was I witnessed.

In the breakroom, we talked about it. A single mother who worked as a manager, and who wore, it seemed, a cardigan even in mid-August, asked if any of us had noticed any bruises on the girl. We did not remember any. Could we recall her wearing shorts or short sleeves that summer? We couldn't...but we'd never thought to look for such things. We just didn't know how to be properly concerned, how to be observant. Also, we didn't know how to balance the competing feelings that one should distrust hotel residents and that one should not judge them just because they live, at least for the moment, in a low-end hotel.

Finally, things came to a head. The girl kept wandering behind the counter. The supervisor flipped. He walked her outside. He told her not to come back again without a parent. This was perhaps 10 o'clock, an hour before close.

She walked away towards the darkened lot of the hotel. We never saw her again.

tirsdag, august 29, 2006

Live and Let Dine on $31.42...PER WEEK

The government has apparently determined that one must spend a minimum of $31.42 per week on food to acquire proper nutrition. This is, in a way, a nutritional poverty line.

The Pioner Press' Nancy Ngo brought this $31.42 idea to some of Saint Paul's most noted chefs. Two of them, Alexander Dixon of Zander Cafe and Margaret Doran of Margaux, took up the gauntlet. Ngo's article is supported by the chefs' menus. Good eats on a budget, but it just isn't that easy (as one might assume).

Please read before the link goes dead!

(Big thanks to the beautiful bastards at Bloated Belly for spotting this in the paper.)


My hotel is off to the right of the 109 Building in the center background. This is just across from Shibuya Station's northwest exit (I think). My hotel is apparently at the base of Love Hotel Hill. Uh-huh.

What shocked me most last night?

It took me 33 minutes to find a credit card. That says a great deal about how I’ve changed my spending habits this year. I actually lost within my little apartment an active card.

The sad part: I have only two drawers in which I place things like this. Yet, it took me 33 minutes to find the card.

Sadder: As it turned out, I didn’t need it.

A Love Story

I am so totally in love with Japan!! I’m going to make a t-shirt that reads, “I LOVE ALL OF YOU. REALLY.” And I’m including the periods.

I just made my reservation at the Shibuya City Hotel for September 14, 15, and 16 in Tokyo (the days leading up to the Yokohama jaunt). The woman at the desk was sweet as pie. She spoke limited English, and my Japanese was hilarious. Seriously funny stuff. She even laughed a bit at first when I said “Konichiwa”; it was just so clear we were in trouble. One word was enough for her to break convention and outright laugh at my attempt to speak her language! I’m guessing it was because for phone chatter “konichiwa” is really an out of place comment, especially when the other speaker has said something like, “How may I direct your call?” and here I am hitting the reset button on conversation as if we’re face to face.

It screamed trouble.

It reminds me of the Simpsons episode in which Mr. Burns and Homer are meeting to negotiate. And Homer’s thinking, “Reject the first offer, reject the first offer,” and Burns says, “May I offer you a drink?” to which Homer replies, “No deal, Burns!”

“Konichiwa” seems innocuous, yes, if we live and die by direct translation guides that care not a jot for usage, but more than likely it makes little sense in Japanese conversation in the way I used it.

Further fun: she was even polite enough to ignore the fact that when I’d first asked, in Japanese, if she spoke English, and she made an “Oh, I don’t know about this” hem-and-haw sound but said “reservation?” in English, I responded, in Japanese, with, “Does anyone speak English?”


I’d totally decided upon my script before the phone was answered. So she repeated, “Um, maybe reservation?” with a decidedly rising French accent.

“Yes,” I said. “A reservation. Please,” in what has become for me my foreign speaking pattern. And I do speak differently to those whose native language is not English, adding variations in inflection and word choice for Europeans and Asians, because different language tricks seem to help with these audiences. It’s a good thing. I’ve been in this situation plenty. It may be silly in the ears of native speakers, and one really shouldn’t try to speak “broken English” (That is, don’t explode grammar on the assumption that the other speaker will), but slower, simpler speech is appreciated. In short, avoid crackerbarrel witticisms. Idiom is not of use. Also, while one should not generally quash one’s accent, it helps to thin it out. With me, doubly so.

In the end, it was a lovely exchange, at least for me. Both of us sounded mildly but not critically embarrassed by our communication difficulty. What needed to be done was done. And it ended with this sweet woman saying, “Um, maybe you have a question?” and I said “No, no questions today.” And she said. “Yes. Goodbye.”

I actually waved. I was so happy with reserving a hotel room in Japan that I waved to someone through the phone. I waved and said, “Yes, goodbye!”

English isn’t just my first language, it’s my second. Awesome.

So I’m excited to meet everyone in Japan. Here’s hoping I don’t come across as the next Pauly Shore.

Note to self: Do NOT end speech with “age” endings. For example, there are many clubs near the hotel. Do not inquire about the “tunage,” Weasel.

ps: I miss MST3K right about now.

mandag, august 28, 2006

Rejection Monday: Awesome

I’m feeling chatty today, so I’ll divide this into bold-headed sections. Please zero-in on the subjects you prefer. If I see you on the street, say, “I read all of it. Ravenously.” I won’t question that. I won’t.

Life without Pluto

By now we’ve all had a chance to assess our place in a solar system without Pluto. The old girl is still whirling dervishly way the hell out there, of course, but she’s no longer to be classified as a planet. It’s funny, really. I feel I should feel lighter with our solar system suddenly less planet-heavy. But I don’t. Not a bit. I’m guessing I’ll suffer pangs of loss many already have.

At times like these, I can’t help but think of Pat Benatar playing the rebellious teen who’s kicked out of her home in the video for “Love is a Battlefied.”

“We are young! Heartache to heartache we stand!”

A Writing Life

Now, the weekend was welcomed and allowed me to finish my initial 2000-word draft of a story for Christopher and Betsy, who graciously accepted my 1500-word story challenge. We write the prompts for one another. We have two weeks to kick back a 1500-word draft. I, of course, violated our simple rules immediately, very much in that sitcom way of doing the exact opposite of what one has just established is not to be done. Example: “No one answer the phone!” The phone rings. Indelicate pause. Everyone lunges for it.

But I had to do it. Because I’d come up with the rules. So now it is a 2000-word challenge. And the story is horribly incomplete.

After I bite the bullet with the B and C on the incompleteness of the manuscript, I’m adding 800 words and sending the story, “Theresienstraβe,” to the Zoetrope All-Story contest. (Thanks for the prompt, B!) I figure I’ll be the only writer with a German alphabet esset (β) in a story, let alone in a title. Of real note: the deadline is in October, the results in early December. That’s killer turnaround time. I’ll pay the $15 entry fee just to get a rejection that quickly. Seriously.

Rejection is not always a bad thing. It can be quite enlightening. (Seriously.) It invigorates one's creative energy by proving to them they've been using it...even if no one apparently cares. [Eh-hem.] So writers are well-tanned by the positive heat of rejection. We know this in the same way we know we’ll stick lit cigarettes in the eyes of the editors who have rejected us. We know it in the way we know that while immolating the vapid sockets of our oppressors we’ll beat those editors with copies of the tripe they actually chose to publish. It’s just the way we are.

True: Knowing my bumbling manner and total Northern Midwestern reluctance to display displeasure, I’d probably jab their orbs with the filter end and in the process burn my palm.

After that defeat, the story’s going to the Cream City Review, perhaps in time for the December siblings-theme issue deadline. I like the CCR bunches. Also, years ago during the AWP Writer’s Conference in Kansas City I fell hopelessly in love for the 823rd time. That time, it was with Kyoko Yoshida, a writer I’d published while working at Crab Orchard Review. She was there to represent the CCR. I was terribly flustered trying to talk to her. I was probably one of 824 nerds who’d passed her just that day and failed to impress, as we should in those situations.

Academics Falling to Their Deaths

I reread Yoshida's short story “The Eastern Studies Institute” last night and still like it. It’s sweet, if a story about scholars repeatedly falling to their deaths in a library can be sweet. I think it can.

Unintended connection: I’m reading Banana Yoshimoto’s NP right now after staring at its shelved spine for two years. It took me this long to open it because Yoshimoto’s Lizard collection was so terrible, so very very terrible. Only the blind could love Lizard—and that only if they were handed a non-Braille, non-audio version.


1. After a summer hiatus, the folks at my favorite Scandinavian culture ‘zine have new content. Check out the latest at Noisedfisk. And if you live in the Twin Cities and like the Marimeko designs at Noisedfisk (The correct answer is, “Yes! I do!”), visit FinnStyle on Washington in Minneapolis.

2. My friend Bill Dankert and his former band (or is this an indefinite hiatus?) the Real Austinaires have posted online the tracks of their last album, The Past is Not Complete, for free mp3 download. Billy and the boys play solid Minnesota river rock with some sharp inland narratives. It’s easy to just let pleasant tracks like “Fishing with Wayne” play without fully grasping what’s going on in the lyrics. But if you stop and listen further in, you say, “Oh. Wait.” A good deal of the Dankert catalog operates this way. The songs carry some subtle weapons, and I don’t mean derringers in their garters.

At the site, if you left click on a song, it will play in a Quicktime window. But to download, right click on the song and select save.

And all that leads me to the…

Question of the Day

Should I try to find the club at which Britta Persson is playing in Mälmo on September 1? Despite the fact I don’t know the train schedule back to Copenhagen that night? Or the city of Mälmo?

The correct answer here is YES. Please be supportive. I’m hopelessly in love with Britta, my weak-chinned bettie.

My Poor Poor Eyes, Your Poor Poor Eyes, Finally I'm Finished

I really wish I was hanging on in Copenhagen an extra two days, or maybe even an extra life. Why is my vision so poor? My folks land in Norway the day I come back to the US. I should visit them in Oslo. I should visit them in Bergen. Must fix the eyes in this mind. All this distance must be resolved.

Finally, any of you who might ever want to trash a short story (and I mean mine), please let me know. Your feedback would be appreciated.

fredag, august 25, 2006

Shaking Off the Dust

Everything is backwards, but only underfoot. I bought a white rug and white covers for the couch. I bought blue glass for tea candles. I rearranged pictures on the walls, returning, for example, Alice to her rightful place lording over the living room. I moved the European city photos out of the hallway and placed them above my black desk alongside the windows that look out on Western Avenue and the trees already taking autumn's colors.

The bookshelves have been dusted, the books straightened, the non-fitting books removed. The room is far less noisy now...visually speaking. (Visually speaking?)

A white couch, white rugs, white walls with colorful pieces put up, clean shelves with tea candles and color-arranged books. Maybe it was the gray weather that got me thinking about winter, but I've thought about winter. I am changing my space to accommodate it.

The reorganization was needed, sorely. I started with the vision of the white rug and white-covered couch. And now those elements are dusty from all the moving of furniture and unpacking and repacking of boxes, the way bare feet have picked up dust bunnies from the other neglected zones of the apartment. One by one I'm tackling each space, destroying them in order to fix them. But my carpets. My pristine (well, IKEA-cheap) carpets. It's so sad, really.

This is probably the source of Swedish ennui. It isn't the six-month winter; it's the way one's finally-clean home seems no longer clean seconds after one sits down, sighs, and looks hopefully at the achievement.

Is this the same angst Mediterranean men feel after shaving?

It's a wonder all home are not designed like the Black Maria.

I am suspicious of highly functional products that bill themselves as advances upon technologies none of us have called into question, campaigns that contend a ceaseless cycle of reinvention has delivered yet again and we are to greet the previous offerings with scorn. That offering a new variation on the product is not enough. (Then why do it?) That Schick and Victoria's Secret might suggest they outpace microprocessors.

Last night, sitting in the candle-lit, freshly cleaned and rearranged living room, with the black-eye dust marks of its sad white rug hidden in the shadows and The Bounty playing without notice on the television, I worked on a mix for next week's hot dish extravaganza. I was tweaking the mix for something like the 84th time, fine-tuning it to the point of (one hopes) being entirely forgettable background music, which I think is the only thing one should play at a party...unless of course it's a listening party, in which case guests have a responsibility for knowing about and feigning care for what's occurring.

A spider descended into view, dropping, it seems, from the ceiling fan towards the white light of my computer screen.

I shuddered and swatted fearfully at it, which caused it to sway, coming closer to me ultimately. (Damn this pendulum effect!) I swatted it downward now and hopped up, turned on the light, and stared at the floor. Nothing.

My heart rate was up. Nothing.

I got on my hands and knees and inspected each tiny piece of flotsam. Nubbles of fabric from clothes or the couch. Could this be pocket lint? A small, shiny half-shell of a lady bug.

I shuddered again. I felt bugs all over me. Every knot in my hair was a bug. Every itch and every stray thread that brushed my skin was a bug.

At the end of the early morning dream, just prior to awakening at 6:02, knowing it was 6:02, I had been put into a bet about god with someone whose face was indistinct. I had for years had dreams involving only faceless people (This is true, not part of the dream), dreams which scared me but which I loved, and which I'd lost when I started blogging. Suddenly the faces became distinct. I started dreaming of people I knew.

Then an indistinct face returned last night. We discussed god. We hatched some bet involving powers of god, though not omniscience or omnipotence. Those aren't interesting powers. We debated something like flight and telekinesis. I think I was on the flight side. I went home to plan my proof. My house lacked furniture but had many small rooms. Suddenly I realized a spider's strand had hooked my hand and I shook it but could not shake the spider. It hopped before me like a yo-yo. I was afraid, terribly.

torsdag, august 24, 2006

Wish Lists

From the Department of This is Who We Are...Really: One sweet post at Lorie Stories regarding the Freecycle scene. Recommended reading.

Here's hoping we get what we want.

Wrinkles in Time

This old tarot card looks like a French advertisement for Skittles.

How is it already Thursday? Dear witch women and forest-faced wizards, what did you do with my week?

For the third straight day upon awakening I have guessed the time exactly, right down to the odd minute. I don't use an alarm. I wake with the light. I guess the time. I check my phone's clock. I'm right. Repeatedly. Still, the Powerball eludes me, as does the purchase of a Powerball ticket. These things are connected.

Is it that the mind runs off with time and makes weird, melting babies? Clocks perhaps? I like the sound of the words "dime" and "disco." Once upon a time, those two words had meaning and value, but never to me. Where does the time go?

I recall the Diet Pepsi jingle from 1984, yet I do not recall a single element of Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time. I recall a mock presidential vote in first grade, 1980. I recall three candidate photos: Reagan, Carter and...Gary Hart? Can Gary Hart be correct? I voted for number three because of his hair. I recall that distinctly.

(A quick Google check tells me that I probably voted for John C. Anderson, a scorned Illinois Republican who ran independently for the "National Unity Party." But he didn't have the Ted Danson dome of hair I remember. And I'm sure it wasn't Reagan I voted for.)

That same year Mount St. Helen's erupted in Washington State. Mrs. Cantwell--greatest name for a teacher, ever--asked us if we'd heard about it. I raised my hand and cited some fact about the ash cleanup, something I'd taken from the caption beneath the photo in the local Herald. She asked, "Why Chris, do you read the newspaper?" Shyly, totally fibbing, I said, "Yes."

My mouth has always been middle-aged.

Either that year or the one before, the Herald carried a photo of people shoveling. The caption was the most brilliant they ever ran, if only because someone was asleep (or quite drunk) at the switch: "Last night, a shitload of snow fell." That's a fact, jack.

I do not remember a single bit of the Narnia books, save for the title of the first, a few names and Turkish Delight, and those memories are tied almost exclusively to the film.

My mother used to make Danish Delight until the red food dye was banned. I think you can purchase it again, but I haven't had Danish Delight in years. I miss it.

Perhaps Mrs. Cantwell, if she is still with us, would be eyeing the news from Indonesia. I encourage you to visit this story. This proves yet again why it's time to clear that island of anyone. Just leave it for the dinosaurs and god knows what's roaming about the jungle there.

I don't know Lost, I confess--sorry Lol, I know this has dearly disappointed you and Ray-Ray--but I suspect it's set in Indonesia: earthquakes, tsunamis, mud slides, guerilla warfare, radical clerics, suicide bombers, volcanoes, and roving gangs of produce-armed jailbirds.

onsdag, august 23, 2006

Treats, Sans Tango

On Sunday we had a dessert party at Jess and Jennifer's, though the tango venture that was to have followed at the Loring was cancelled. Without the tango band, the bar apparently feels at a loss for what to do. How about a tango CD? Problem: Solved.

Fearing--FEARING!!--the joint would teem with chocolates and cakes, I brought yogurt and fruit "par fates." All in all, a good mix of eats. (Excellent sorbet, Jenni. Quite refreshing.)

For those thinking, "cK? Doing the tango?" Not yet, friends. I need to learn the steps. The closest I've come is watching Robert Duvall on 20/20 (or was that a Dateline "Tango Survivor" story?) and in the film Assassination: Tango. But I'd like to learn. I had intended to make the trek to Loring for the photo and writing opp.


Speaking of desserts, check out this simple grilled dessert from E's awesome Iceland blog, Reykjavik Harbor Watch:

"...but after trying this Icelandic camping delicacy, I have no further questions. ...Take one banana per camper, lay on its side, and slice along the curve (no peeling!)almost through the other side- leave the skin on the bottom intact. Break up chunks of Mars bar, or peppermint-filled chocolate (Pipp works well), or Sírius Konsum bittersweet. Set on the grill, cover, and let sit until the bananas have gone soft and the chocolate is melted. Eat with a spoon. I'm historically not a banana fan but this is TOO good- hot, melty, and almost too sweet. Try it. For extra credit, I'm told a shot of Grand Marnier or other liqueur adds a certain something."

Full episode here with more thoughts in the comments section.

Hours of sleep I completed last night: 1.5.

Something I'm happy about: Carolyn now works at Saint Paul's Chatterbox Pub location. Two cheers for the Paul! Must write about that joint soon.

Most alarming (yet funny) link Johnny G. has passed along in quite some time: Specifically, a link to a photo...essay?...of the urinals at my alma mater, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. I'd no idea I'd seen so little of the campus in my eight years there.

tirsdag, august 22, 2006

Take On Me

Today's song: "Take On Me" by A-friggin'-Ha. Woo! I started listening to this tune again just yesterday. It's delightful. Listen to it on headphones and you'll pick up all the cute little layers, like the "BUHP buh-buh-buh-buhp" the lead singer bubbles during the intro (at 0:26 on the timer, to be exact). And the transition in the middle moves from this creepy staccato synth work into a crisp highlighting of the central synth arrangement as all the other sounds drop away. It reminds me strongly of the entrance of the nerd band at the end of Revenge of the Nerds.

That transition is creepy, too.

If you can't tell by the fubar 'graph above, I can't (effectively) write about music. Transitions? Arrangements? I was going to write the words "soaring falsetto," but it occurred to me that I don't know really what a falsetto is. I always think of it as an impersonation of the Castrati.

Mips: Perhaps you will one day enlighten me about all this singing? I was reminded of how little I know when I visited karaoke for the first time. The songs were prefaced with info about measures and keys. (Guh?)

Has James Bond ever had to karaoke?

Most recent heart-wrenching Scandinavian film I've seen: The Other Side of Sunday (1996). Not bad. I haven't watched many Norwegian films, but perhaps after this one I will. I tend to give the Swedes and Danes too much of a lead in this area. Time to give Norway a chance.

Developing Song List of the morning, one which I may burn onto a disc for the impending Hot Dish Party:
1. Jane of the Jungle - The's
2. Take on Me - A-Ha
3. Collasio - Banquet
4. Love Hurts - Sinead O'Connor
13. Romantica - Apparat Organ Quartet
14. New Mooon on Monday - Duran Duran
15. Lazy Line Painter Jane - Belle & Sebastian

"On the last bus out of town ..."

mandag, august 21, 2006

Soap Star? or an Oscar Walk?

Would you rather appear on a soap opera (and, if so, which one)? or walk down the red carpet at the Oscars?

I'm thinking of this because of this brilliant article. It reminded me of a day when my sister and I were heading to a mall. On the radio, they said a US survey found that roughly 70 percent of women preferred shoe shopping to sex. I started laughing, even added a single "cha-ching" gesture, not for commerce but for the total burn on us dudes. (Don't act surprised, brothers.) My sister said, "Actually, that number seems a little low."

I love that article, but I need a day to acquire some statistics in support of the theory it's birthed in my already cracked brain.

But the article includes note of a strange question from the South African survey: Soap opera actor? or red-carpet walker?

I'm choosing soap, but, admittedly, the red carpet is really more for women. They get to display the real fashion (and fashion flops, hello Miss Thang). So I'm going the soap opera route. And I'm choosing Passions. I'd want to be an elf, or an overtaxed psychic.


CK3K is fast approaching! The Drama Mater looks forward to its 3000th hit. If it's someone I know, I think I'll make you a t-shirt. (I meant to do this for number 2000, but I didn't get my act together. Sorry, Lynchburg, Virginia. That was you, I think.)

Too much to do today, but time to tell you this:

1. Katie Curac will soon begin hosting the CBS Evening News. National news personalities (save for Jim Lehrer) make me less-likely to watch the news. I really would prefer Max Headroom to a lead news figure. I love that I don't know who's going to host a news hour during the day on CNN. I'm sure there's a schedule, but it feels random to me. And the BBC at night. Seems like different people daily, as if at the BBC they draw straws.

2. The Othello board in this coffee shop makes me want to eat Oreos.

3. The cable network TNT has started showing every Wednesday four consecutive episodes of Without a Trace. You may know drama, TNT, but you don’t know scheduling.

4. Confession: In college I saw the entire run of the series WINGS during daily back-to-back episodes (4 - 5 pm on Fox, of course) while B-Marquee smoked his bong. It was our bonding hour.

5. The Pepsi Jazz commercials are hideous.

lørdag, august 19, 2006

Weekend Fire

Too much work recently and too little will in the few free hours kept me from eating well or running. Most days I was content to eat 10 ounces of yogurt and maybe a banana. That got me through the day. In the evening, I sometimes had two beers and some kidney beans. Maybe French fries. Maybe asparagus. It didn't really matter.

I neglected to watch the movies I'd received in the mail. (Two Bergman films and Night of the Living Dead. That's how I roll.)

Today, though, I looked about the paper-strewn living room (made worse by the winds last night that upset the feeble attempt at order on my desk). I decided I needed to make the blood move again. After a four-day absence, I hit the hills. I huffed and felt a lightness expanding in what feels like a space between one's muscles and one's skin. (This makes two entries in a row that reference musculature and epidermis. A new obsession?)

A wedding was to happen in Irvine Park. I walked around the square while the groomsmen and various family members eyed me. The wedding was a long ways off, I think, not a single guest was seated or had even arrived, yet I was an interloper. Or perhaps I was simply a subject for discussion, a way to take their minds off the fact they knew of nothing else they might talk about other than the wedding.

I feel that way too, sans wedding. I feel not so much sore now as just stupid. My eyes feel singed. It wasn't hot, yet I found a way to bake my brain simply through the repetitive act of accelerated ambulation.

I cannot focus. I don't want to focus.

This on the heels of a restless night. I'd snapped awake after a thin hour of sleep with my head in a storm. I was desperately calculating the taxes I'll need to pay in mid-September and mid-January.

I was thinking about a pinball review Web site I'd passed one day. I don't play pinball, but we apparently have some very serious players in the Twin Cities.

I spent two hours on a poem called "From a Sculptor's Son." (Not good, but acceptable for now. Gave it another crack this morning and won't mind working with it.) I spent another hour outlining essays I hope to write. I looked into places I might send writing in exchange for $100 or maybe $75, even just $10.

I could write about spiritual revelation. I could write about scientific discovery. I could read the minds of dogs if given the chance. Everything in that hour or two hours or however long my head was alight was possible. I wrote the words "Z is for xylophone." I wrote, "Atarashi kudema des!" having channeled, it seems, a Japanese version of Price is Right. I'd tapped into some sort of fever that, like the internet, was in tune with all things and just as unconcerned with their origin or execution or reality.

Two and two really could be five, of course, if we simply established a rule that all addition simply overshoots by one. If you want three bananas, you ask for four, you're given three. Do you see where I'm going with this?

I believe they used a similar code for choosing CB channels to speak safely on in Smokey in the Bandit. It wasn't a complex code, yet no one in law enforcement seemed able to crack it. That's what you get for making a former bus driver and pool hustler your ace sheriff.

I read my work aloud. Repeatedly. I didn't understand it but I was happy to have spent the time with it.

That one day their work might rise up and run into the forest in search of a mother.

Prepositions have always been my downfall.

I fell asleep thinking of emigration. In a dream I can't be sure was the product of my unconscious, I took a bullet in the belly in a public place. I survived.

fredag, august 18, 2006

A Little Black Dress

If you are having drunk reading this, you might be trouble.

Last week at the Sportman’s Pub, just prior to witnessing my first karaoke performances, I sat writing at the bar. A group moved to my end of the bar, god knows why, for now they had fewer seats to divide among them. They were loud, some of them quite drunk. Yet, they’d just arrived and, almost immediately, they went outside to smoke.

Only one member of their party remained: a young woman in a tight-fitting little black dress. It seemed like an awkward get up for her, like maybe she’d be happier in a t-shirt like everyone else she’d arrived with.

Her hair had been drawn back in something of a bun but by this point a number of wisps and strands had defected for freedom. She blinked lazily when she talked. It seemed she was trying to stay awake. The effort made her sigh.

I could feel that she was watching me write.

“It’s pretty,” she said. She added quickly, “I can’t read it, don’t worry.”

“No worries,” I said. She kept staring. I said, “I think it’s nearly illegible anyway, even to me.”

She took a confessional sip of her drink. “I don’t read cursive too well,” she said. “But it’s pretty, your writing. It has nice angles.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I swear I’m not reading it.”

“It’s all right,” I told her. “I didn’t think you were.”

“I’m just waiting for my friends.”

I should analyze this exchange a bit more one day because it strikes me that this point is just about the exact point at which I decide to seek a larger conversation, just to see where it’s going to go, or totally shut the door. Often the eyes of a stranger clue you in to the choice you should make (though I suspect I nearly always choose the opposite answer, again just to see where it will take things—which has not always been a safe choice).

In this instance, though her eyes were swimming with drink that had rendered them as sweet and motive-less as a baby’s, I decided to follow, if only a bit longer.

“They’re out smoking?” I asked.

“I can’t breathe that anymore,” she said. She made one of those crinkled faces only drunks can make, as if a certain portion of our epidermis and musculature is activated only through the introduction of alcohol.

(Indeed, some of you are thinking: DUH, the hips.)

I smiled. I went back to writing.

“I wish I wrote better,” she said.

“Often I wish I did,” I said.

“But it’s pretty.”

torsdag, august 17, 2006

Thursday is Thor's Day

What, might you ask, should you do with your Thursday? the name of which descends from the Nordic god Thor?

1. Even if you are among the anti-MySpace crowd, or you just feel an underwhelming indifference towards it and all conversations about it, you should visit the page for the Montreal-based band Banquet.

I don't quite like the name they've settled on, but I have to admit that there is something of a...decadent richness to their sound. Gene Shallot might call it an auditory feast. Eh-hem.

ATTN: They need a singer! They need vocals, really, even just one word uttered in their tunes. If you have aspirations of becoming a hip French-Canadian band leader, or if you'd like to hear what Bach might uncork if given access to a 2006 synth harpsicord (Was George Carlin right about Bill and Ted's guidance of future music and world peace in the wake of their excellent adventure?), give Banquet a listen. "Not Title Yet" "No Yet Again" and "Collasio" are available (finally) for free download via their page. NOTE: the two "No" tracks may require you to add ".mp3" to their name if you download them.

I also like Final Flash, but they go through periods of immense arrogance and I'm a little cheesed they've removed the rather sweet "White Tiger in My Heart" track from their page. I guess I'll just have to find the EP.

2. Ignore the first-round PGA scores. (Most of you are like, "Check.")

3. This is cute...but sort of creepy.

4. Wonder how much more of an ass Luis can make of himself as he lords over Fancy's police academy training. His repeated, wide-eyed, sarcastic "Is it too hard for you?" lines make me want to brain the Passions writing staff with a loose chunk of wood. They did rescue an episode recently by switching quickly to a montage. What song was that?

5. Stay out of the current nerd debate on whether Pluto is a planet and, if so, why not some other little space rocks too. (Again, you're like: CHECK.)


onsdag, august 16, 2006

Eternal Sunshine

While dining on a midday avocado with a pinch of salt, olive oil and Thai hot sauce, I checked the Web site of the Chicago Cubs and was elated--ELATED--to see them just 12.5 games out of first.

Gehnsburger, I know you're snickering, but I assure you 12.5 is striking distance.

DAYS alert: The City of Salem seems to be suffering from a clothing shortage this week.

7 Randoms Unwinding Towards Unity

My earliest memory is of skipping in the basement of the house in Wonder Lake, a place I lived until just after my fourth birthday. Other memories from there: a girl named Robin; a neighbor who had a pop-up trailer; the water tower out back; and pissing on a rock in the farm field. I recall wanting to hit every inch of surface on that rock.


Yesterday my sister Erin wrote and asked if I wanted to meet up with her and Jim after work. I did. We did. While sitting in the beer garden and having a grand time, especially after what has been a stressful work period, the phone rang. A friend asked, "Aren't you coming?"

This was, I believe, the second time, perhaps the third, I'd neglected to show up at something I should have and which this friend did attend. Jess, my apologies...thin as I'm sure they seem now. (Please know I feel, quite deservedly, like an incredible ass.) My ability for this proves to be something I'm getting better at with age, actually. That's not endearing, I know.


For three years I taught two courses per semester at a university in what was, I think, in comparison to my adopted state, another country. Most of the students have left my mind, and probably did the moment the last bell rang each semester--Did we have bells?--but a number of them live on vividly in my head. I regret, I think, one grade assigned. Maybe. But I feel I didn't teach a few of them well enough. I should have recognized the right ways to reach some of them. I didn't.

Mostly, I remember their personalities and their "memoir" writing, which probably speaks a great deal as to why I left teaching. It was just too personal of an endeavor. Does this make one socially near- or far-sighted?

One student wrote a cute piece about her repeated tardiness to films, classes, parties, weddings, etc., and all the tension and heartache that added to the various degrees of relationships in her life. I should have photocopied that one and filed it. I'd like to reread it now.

Carrie J_________ was a good student, by the way; but, yes, often late. And barefoot. It probably violated some official policy, but no one ever complained and I thought the bare-footedness was almost required given all the jangly bracelets she wore on her wrists and ankles; all the thin, swooping skirts; all the bandana headgear. She was a gypsy, but more in the Luna Lovegood mode. (Sorry. That's a Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix reference that I'm sure bolted over a number of you.)


Big thanks due to Heather for taking time out of her rather adventurous day off to chat with me last night while she and Ty wandered the aisles of a Vegas Target simply for the joy of looking at things. You two are gems.


It is my mother's birthday today. The one good thing I got accomplished yesterday was verification that her gifts will arrive on time in Illinois. But still a little shell-shocked from so many little setbacks yesterday, to think of my mother today is to think of Delmore Schwartz's poem "Baudelaire." It crushes me.


I've been feeling much more like a Minnesotan these days, and have for much of the year, I guess. I feel it right down to the certain doom that awaits the Vikings this season. Nearing the six-year mark here, the deep connection has firmly set in.

Still, many things affect me in ways they can never affect one who is from here (unless that person has been gone a long spell). This morning the girl behind the coffeeshop counter, just prior to burning the soles and toe points of her flip-flop-clad feet with an entire urn of freshly brewed coffee, said the words "oat scone." You have to be from another place but in love with this place to understand how musical and beautiful this accent sounds.

I wish more northerners did not try to bury their voices.


So. Yes. As if anticipating becoming a rather disasterous flake yet again and disappointing people--I'm really not seeking validation, sorry to seem so dour--I've been reading again from Hugo's Triggering Town, a book on writing that I often flee to when feeling a bit knocked about in the head. Specifically, I've been reading the opening two pages of Chapter 8, "Ci Vediamo." Hugo recounts how he was a terrible bomber pilot in WWII, how he missed his targets by as much as 13 miles, and, more importantly, how he returned to Italy 20 years or so after the war in hopes of visiting the starved Italy he remembered, for he'd fallen somewhat in love with it as a ravished land. He writes, "...there is something in me that feeds on the now of things. Of course I want it all better, want poverty gone forever from the world. But I also have the urge to say, 'Stay destitute three more days, just until I finish my poem.'"

Why do some points in life feel like conclusive points? not the end of everything, which year by year seems easier to accept, but the end of some things, which themselves, small as they might be, terrify the heart to let loose? In times like these, it is the end lines I run to.

Today: Carver's story "Fat": "It is August. My life is going to change. I feet it."

tirsdag, august 15, 2006

An Unfortunate Sign of Success

If the Bush Administration is going to call the construction of a corporate pond an "expansion to our nation's wetlands," we might as well call this progress too. To be sure, that starving kid in China line just doesn't fly anymore.


mandag, august 14, 2006

Face Time

The bathroom door in my room at Seoul’s Savoy Hotel made me look like a giant.

Writing at the cabana bar in Frost’s garden early on a recent evening, a waiter named approached, introduced himself, and asked if he could photograph me...with the impression that this would be outside of the environment in which he was asking me. He had something of a Wayne Coyne look (the lead of the Flaming Lips). “If you’re comfortable with it,” he added. I said I didn’t think I was.

“You’ve a great face,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of character.”

I know what that comment means, by the way, but I don’t find it offensive. I suppose (which is to say I know that) at one point in life, which is to say probably the first 26 of my 32 years—not surprisingly, I relaxed a great deal after graduate school—this character issue made me uncomfortable. But it really ain’t so bad.

(Some of you are like, "First 26 years? Don't you mean first 32?" In favor of that argument: I'm writing about this. I know, I know. I am my own best hagiographer.)

I remember seeing a wonderful Australian writer, Peter Carey, read from his novel True History of the Kelley Gang at the now-well-defunct, grossly misrun independent Ruminator Books. (Macalester College, the block’s real estate pimp, has put a Patagonia in that location.) Carey is quite a charming man. Really gracious with his readers, and really dedicated to his craft. (He tries something new on every book, which makes his work pretty hit or miss, but he hits most of the time.) He’s thin in a way that makes him look taller than I think he is. He has a rather weak chin and his front teeth stand out (though don’t stick out). His face is long and nerdish. And he has a really strong energy about him. (I would not write "But he has a really strong energy about him.") He seems like someone who laughs a tremendous amount, probably often to himself about things he doesn’t know if he should share.

My friend Betsy made one of the sharpest observations I’ve heard about a face. She said, “I like his face. It looks like the sort he’s aged into.”


I think these things are as much about becoming comfortable with oneself as they have to do with aging. A distinguished influx of grey hair can be rather helpful, though…at least for people with dark hair. For those of us who descend from the fair --and often ruddy--branch of Scandis, I think we’re better off just staying healthy, for every ounce of extra weight, every blood-sped drop of alcohol we drink, every moment of warmth from the sun or even tepid embarrassment shows dearly on our faces.

It's probably what makes us terrible liars. It's probably what makes us openly love simple things because it's so clear we (like nearly everyone) do. It's all there on the surface.

Example: I greatly enjoyed AMC's "DVD TV" presentation of Back to the Future last night. If you were to pass those films while flipping channels, I'd smile. I can't help it. I might burst into tears of joy if you pass Amelie.

Indeed, I hope I am someone aging into a face. I really like that idea.

As for the photographer / waiter, I politely shook the idea aside but made sure to say goodnight to him when I left. He asked me just to consider it. He turned away, then back briefly. He added, “I was thinking a 1940s' bowler hat.”

With This Ring

So late on Saturday I lit candles and plopped down to answer some e-mail (as well as send out some really bizarre notes even for me). The candles burned. The room smelled pleasantly of wax. Then a frightening White Castle commercial came on. Perhaps I was hallucinating? The French table wine before me was rather gross. (Plan Pegau, 2004. Avoid it as you would Joe Piscopo.) It is, I think, red tap water. And it's hard water. Very hard. It's been squeezed from ore-rich, rusting stones in the waters of northern Minnesota, I think. Then it's shipped to France in a barnacle-laced iron cask. And then it's bottled and shipped right back to me.

White Castle is worse. I invite your defense of this beastly chain that stalks our cities 24 - 7, but I'm not going to be persuaded to give it warm fuzzies.

I’ve no love for the Castle, and have never had any. I’ve tried to love it. Seriously. But maybe one needs to be exposed to it in youth, like chicken pox, for it to settle into one's body and for immunities to develop. Alas, I didn't taste White Castle until I'd moved to southern Illinois for college. By then, it must have been too late. I found those burgers disgusting every time we stopped for them on the midnight drives home from Saint Louis. And that route was driven frequently. For eight years.

Even in states of tremendous insobriety I could detect the abnormal growth hormones to which the Castle subjects its cattle, or synthetic cattle, whatever it is they make their meats of. And those onion flecks are hideous. Don’t kid about that. I imagine they are created in a factory through a method resembling hydroseeding.

In this commercial, a woman is obsessed with White Castle and, apparently, the ‘60s. Or ‘70s. I can’t tell. She’s creepily outdated, to say the least. There's a fine line between funny out-of-date and scary out-of-date. And she falls on the scary side. Big time. She has a giant freezer in her bedroom. The freezer is full of White Castle products, including the new Chicken Rings.

Now put those words together: Chicken. Rings.

It isn’t that I want meat to look like where it’s from. I don’t. Save for Thanksgiving turkey, I rarely accept meat that holds its completely intact original musculature. I want a little distance. In part because of this, I eat very little meat. I haven’t cooked any in my apartment in something like two years. I haven’t even brought home pre-cooked meat. I order it in restaurants, will eat it at a barbecue or another's home, but I never have it in my place. I won't. I don’t miss it.

So. Yes. Chicken Rings.

This is taking my disbelief a little further than I’m willing to suspend it. Are they going to tell me these rings are natural portions within a chicken? Have I missed the ring zone on the 2-D chuck-marked chicken drawing? Or are they positing that, say, chicken nuggets come from the hole punched in what become chicken rings? And we’re just now figuring out we can also eat the ring?

This is an alarming turn in popular meat products. How are these rings held together (other than their spray-on bread-crumb epidermis)? Are we actually eating a chicken slurry that’s congealed into marketable shapes via a gelatin injection?

If Alphabets: Chicken debuts, I’m not buying.

fredag, august 11, 2006

My First Karaoke

I’m going to write more than any of you will read. No worries:

On most days when I poll the librarians in my head and come away with my two favorite openings to novels, I arrive unfailingly at one from Knut Hamsun and one from Thomas Pynchon. Hamsun’s comes from Hunger (1888): “It was in those days when I wandered about hungry in Kristiania, that strange city which no one leaves before it has set its mark upon him. …” Pynchon’s comes from Mason & Dixon (1997): “Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starr’d the Sides of Outbuildings, as of cousins, carried Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware …” I had occasion to think on both opening paragraphs tonight: the night of my first karaoke.

This is not to suggest I sang. Let’s not be foolish. I sing or hum or mumble all the time, but save for more than a few torturous renditions of the Good Times theme I’d goad Jen to sing with me in the office years ago, I’m not one to sing publicly. The public is happy about this, believe me. (Jen, you were such a good sport. Thanks for that.)

Early in the eve, I watched Hamsun, a film about Knut Hamsun, the extremely dead man who has been over the past five years the most influential writer in my life.

Hamsun left me conflicted but gave me a sense of vindication, which is exactly, I suppose, the film’s intent and Hamsun’s own intent with his final work, On Overgrown Paths. He was Norway’s most important writer from the 1890s through the 1920s. He won the Nobel Prize. But then he supported Hitler and Nazi Germany in WWII. As an old old man, in the post-war era, the Norwegians sentenced Hamsun’s wife to prison and put Hamsun on trial for treason.

How do we rectify such a brilliant writer’s work with such a terrible choice?

The film opens with Hamsun and his wife verbally sparring. Clearly, it’s a failed marriage, and not just because of their age gap. They’re screaming at one another. This has such a disjointed feel for the film because we don’t understand them yet. Then the Hamsuns make their horrible alignment with National Socialism. And then things begin to dawn on them and we have their transformations, Knut’s struggle to make his positions make sense without apologizing, and, finally, the failures and disputes at the end of his life that actually bring him and his wife back together and make sense of all the animosity we'd witnessed early on.

In one heart-wrenching sequence, Marie Hamsun, realizing she won’t be allowed to see her husband, cries out at the psychiatrist who has made this happen (or not happen, it seems), “You know nothing about human relationships!”

It’s a crushing scene.

So all this turmoil was in me as I voyaged to the Sportsman’s Pub for the first time. I’ve been curious about this joint for a good spell due to Jana’s postings. (Please give her blog a visit. She’s quite good.) On Thursday nights, she hosts the karaoke. I thought I’d give it a chance, finally.

I’ve never been to karaoke. Seriously. The closest I’ve been are (a) Jana’s writings and (b) a writer friend in graduate school who went off one evening on the proper Japanese pronunciation of the word karaoke.

The pub itself is worth it, though. Good fun. Strange crowd. Lots of tales. I'll be interested in seeing it in different moments, I think, but perhaps will steer mainly toward the karaoke scene. The main bar taught me that I hadn’t realized high-fives were still that in order. Alas, they are. As was public hooting and shouting and singing on the scale I cannot recall taking part in since, oh, since I was in college…as many of the patrons of the pub are. So the place had a weird déjà vu feeling for me.

Though an astute soul said it felt a bit too much like a frat house on this particular night (It did), that’s still worth it for an unexpected Thursday amble. I really hadn't wandered on this night of the week for a long time.

Jana is an excellent host, by the way. (Well done, J.) It was strange, I thought, to hear something like Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” for if that came on the radio I’d turn it immediately; but to hear it sung by someone in a karaoke setting, I find myself thinking, “All right. Let’s hear it.” I listen. I enjoy the time. I enjoy how people challenge one another to do this, ostensibly to embarrass them, but eventually because they want to be part of it. I hear new things (to me) in the structure of these songs. I don’t like them more, not a bit, but I feel like I’m glad I’ve heard them.

A whole mess of karaoke strikes me this way (though that terrible Rob Bass attempt deserved a definite raspberry...especially after ol' boy started with so much energy! He fell apart within three lines).

As I listened to the tunes crooned and as Jana took the slow early hours upon her shoulders (and, again, did quite well), I reread poems in Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters collection, which includes many skull-busters about his botched life with Sylvia Plath.

From time to time I’d look up and watch how young people would enter, seem to scoff at the karaoke, but stay close. Eventually, they moved in and began rifling through the song book.

And that’s when I thought of Pynchon’s opening to Mason & Dixon. In that paragraph, he describes a cat entering a room and inspecting everything as a possible source of food. And it occurred to me among all those college students and recent graduates that they all had that hunger for evaluating one another. Everyone who entered, everyone who was seated. If you crossed a line of vision, there was a pause, a moment in which two people wondered whether either of them held interest for the other. The ease of finding a crush, however temporary, and of calibrating one’s own crushworthiness.

Things progressed. I wrote. I listened.

A young man was doing his best Dylan impression to “Like a Rolling Stone.” I looked up from my book, which I’d held aloft a bit as if reading a choir book, in order to nab a bit of reading light. A young red-head had wandered in and paused. She was watching me and now I was watching her. Someone asked her for a cigarette and she seemed flustered and fumbled in her purse. Then, as the group she was with went out to smoke, she went with them. She looked back, even waited and lit her cigarette on the stoop just outside the door, in my line of vision, even though her friends had moved off to the side.

Later, our eyes met again. But that was all they'd do.

In those early hours, waiting for the place to lose its inhibitions, Jana sang “Crazy” as the room cleared for a moment. Everyone had gone out to smoke and she filled the time with what she said was smoking music. It was.

I recalled a widow at the country club back when I was a busboy. It was rumored her husband had been a mobster who died in a car bomb explosion. She always played “Crazy” on the bar jukebox.

One night as I wiped the tables in the dining room to kill time while waiting for her to leave, and while the bartender went on serving her new drinks, she played Patsy Cline thirteen times in a row. Thirteen.

“You know nothing about human relationships …”

torsdag, august 10, 2006


I've never watched The 4400 (though suspect I might like the series) nor the film Murder at 1600 (having been rightfully disinterested by Passenger 57). I did see Peter Greenaway's Drowning By Numbers, which is interesting...but only in that Greenaway's Universe way. Why watch any of his films but The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover?

Today, at least I think today, a few of us will begin a 1500-word experiment in writing, designing story prompts for one another. We'll each have two weeks to produce a 1500-or-less-word story. No fussing. The object is not absolute completion; more at, to see how we attack telling a story in what we know is a serious lack of space. With a standard 12-pt font, such as Times New Roman, 1500 words is about 7 double-spaced pages.

What this should do is propel us straight into action and perhaps cut down a touch on dialogue--unless, of course, the story is one character telling another or others a story. There's just no room to dedicate pages to set up. Good.

There's no room for phatic dialogue: all the hello-hellos, how are yous, and such.

One never knows. This little experiment might reveal scenes we want to work with further, either as short stories or incorporated into novels. It does not matter what we do, if anything, with them after the two-week window.

So there I sat writing story prompts, all the while assailed by postcard memories. It's common when setting out in search of a story to search one's own life, but I think that's where I've stumbled into too many tales that avoid definition. It's a defense mechanism, I suppose.

I remembered a circle of gutted, stinking and fly-swarmed fish along a beautiful path overlooking the St Croix River. I remembered daring a kid to kick me in the stomach, and he did, and it hurt. A lot. I remembered a neighbor who'd shot a robin with his bb gun, and who then felt he'd get in trouble for it. So he put the bird in a shoebox and ran across to my house. We got a trowel from the garage and dug a hole beneath the bushes on the side of the house, but we decided that was too conspicuous. So we went into the field out back and buried the bird, without the box, near an old, moaning oak beside the creek. We covered the grave with pebbles.

The next day, we found the bird dug up and picked at but not really torn. My neighbor's cat watched us. We reburied the bird. But the next day the corpse had been exhumed.

onsdag, august 09, 2006

I Shall Return

Doing my best in Sweden to look like an outsider.

I shall return to some blogging shortly (i.e., Thursday). I shall return to Sweden on September 2 too. Woo! Will get a new photo in that hat, so long as Philip hasn't burned it after my modeling.

torsdag, august 03, 2006


Nothing scandalous, sorry. But I did eat ice cream for dinner last night. Blackberry and chocolate. Hagen Das. It was worth it, but it happened upon me like the passion on, say, Passions.

(Luis Lopez Fitzgerald! How can you not sense Fancy's interest!? Were you brained by a loose chunk of wood? Just forget about that lame Sheridan character, man. She's perfect for that dullard she married. Sheesh.)

One minute I was just treating myself to a few spoonfuls, the sort of snack I hadn't allowed in a spell. The next minute, I was wearing the carton like a feed bag o' brain freeze.

Again: Worth it, but the bad nutrition burned quickly during this morning's run. Leg cramps are imminent. Still, I'll clap myself on the back. After the ice cream dinner, I treated myself to a late night snack of asparagus.

Slept only three hours, but, alas, did not use the time productively, save for a few frivolous e-mails. I wrote today's blog entry yesterday evening but have yet to type it up. Will do that at lunch. (I know, I know: The anticipation is killing you. You can feel the pressure building in your bladder.)

In the meantime, please get caught up to speed on the five things our Skyylark would like to swim in and eat at the same time.

tirsdag, august 01, 2006

What a Wonderful World

5 Things I Am Happy to Restore to My Life, Now that the Heatwave Has Broken

1. Food
2. Sleep
3. Running
4. Moving without Sweating (Running Excluded)
5. Resisting the Urge to Kill the Idiots

This town was like 28 Days Later. At least, it was like that in my head.

If I'm to wake up in a sweat again this year, I hope it is a cold sweat. Maybe a malaria sweat. Or the sweat that comes from the subconscious and conscious minds wrestling in one's sleep, bringing forth one's deeply buried espionage past and the revelation that an old flame with whom things just were never going to work out no matter how deeply one, or two, wanted them to is in danger and that that danger is connected to one's espionage past. The old self is reborn, dressed in black.

A quest begins.
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