Thursday, December 28, 2006

I Have Lost the Remote

Somewhere between December 22 and Christmas Eve, an anomaly in the Space-Time Continuum caused the remote control for our family's TiVo unit to disappear from the face of the earth. We have ransacked the house, torn apart the den, rifled the laundry-baskets, scoured the kitchen, combed the bedrooms, trashed the closets... Nothing.

Anomaly in the Space-Time Continuum. It's the only possible conclusion. I imagine our poor little TiVo remote now orbiting some desolate moon of a sunblasted planet billions of light-years away, its infrared signal emitting pathetic little bursts, perhaps changing channels in alien households below, their many-tentacled inhabitants wondering why the hell their slimy, fanged version of David Letterman keeps spontaneously changing to their slimy, fanged version of Geraldo Rivera. They write angry slime-mails to their cable providers, complaining about the poor service; the cowed cable companies, using the most hypersophisticated tracking gear, trace the offending infrared emissions to my poor little TiVo remote in orbit. Dammit, they think with their slimy brains, That's the third time this week!

I worry about anomalies in the Space-Time Continuum that cause common household items to disappear without a trace to orbit around desolate planets. What's next? The toaster? The coffee-grinder? If these anomalies in the Space-Time Continuum keep popping into peoples' homes and making off with our remotes, toasters and coffee-grinders, I think our vaunted American quality of life might suffer. An angry Letter to the Editor is in order. I'm composing one now:
The Editors:

Somewhere between December 22 and Christmas Eve, an anomaly in the Space-Time Continuum caused the remote control for our family's TiVo unit to disappear from the face of the earth. This trend must be stopped, or our vaunted American quality of life will suffer....
I think I have hit upon a fiendishly clever way to get our remote back, though. After I finish composing this missive, I will pop out to Best Buy and purchase a new remote, at hideous expense. The instant I crack the plastic shell packaging on it, there our old remote will be, in some spot I've ransacked four times before. Hello, Remotey, I will say. Welcome home! Did you enjoy your trip to Grabulon-Zeta? Did you happen to see our toaster there?

Later Edit: MegaLOLs!
Went to Best Buy, as threatened. Bought a replacement Universal Remote that the pimple-bearded youth thought would work with our TiVo. Twenty-five clams, not too bad. On the way home, the cellie rang. Wonder Woman. Freddie had that instant found the remote on a shelf in the back of the den where we store our video collection. I am so convinced that the purchase of the replacement remote had exactly the anomaly-reversing effect that I predicted that I'm writing off to the Amazing Randi as we speak.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Olden Times and Ancient Rhymes

Well, I think I've learned something about myself over the last 24 hours -- namely, that I should stay the hell away from John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" this year. It came on the radio while we were driving into Leesburg to pick out a coffin and make funeral arrangements for Chase, and I blubbered like a baby:
And so this is Christmas (war is over)
And what have we done (if you want it)
Another year over (war is over)
A new one just begun (if you want it)
And so happy Christmas (war is over)
We hope you have fun (if you want it)
The near and the dear ones (war is over)
The old and the young (now)
As some of you know, I've been working with Glue Birl on a little Secret Xmas Project of our own:

Does that Birl have some pipes on her, or what?

(Yes, examine her closely -- there she is, festooned with pipes covering ever inch of her body: tobacco, plumbing (PVC and copper), organ, |||||...)

At any rate, I hope you enjoy the tune, and the spirit in which it's offered.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

(Glue Birl! Next year: "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Whaddya say? We'll dig up a choir somewhere!)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Charles Chase Porter, 1922-2006

My father-in-law, Charles Chase Porter, died this afternoon of complications from Alzheimer's Disease. His death was as comfortable as these things can be. My wife, who attended him daily during his long decline, held his hand as he passed.

I remember very clearly a family gathering that took place not long after that awful disease began to take its hold on him. He always insisted that we say Grace before holiday meals, and always took it upon himself to lead the family in prayer. He always began it, "Our Heavenly Father," and then delivered some sweet little homiletic sentiment. This time, he said, "I hope we all lead lives as wonderful as mine has been, and that we always remember them."

I can't think of a more fitting tribute to the battle he fought during his declining years, a battle no one can win. He knew that his identity, his very self, was slipping away from him, becoming erased by this horrifying disease, and he had the presence of mind to tell us he hoped it didn't happen to us.

My wife called me at work this morning. She had taken our daughter with her for a quick visit to see Chase before finishing up some Christmas shopping. Wonder Woman has spent enough time with Alzheimer's patients in Chase's ward in the last three years that she knows perhaps better than many doctors the signs of the Final Days. Chase had, a day or two before, suddenly sat upright from his bed and attempted to walk. The staff were encouraging, thinking this was a sign of improvement. Wonder Woman knew better: That was just what Mrs. X had done a day before she died last September, just what Mr. Y had done on his penultimate day in March.

It was clear to her and to the medical staff that he was going to die soon. She asked me to arrange to get our daughter out of there; she didn't need to watch her grandfather die. My mother obligingly agreed to pick her up and take her to her house. I had a consultation about a root canal scheduled in an hour; when that was done, I was going to get to her side. But as I was making my way to the dental surgeon's, the phone call came. He was gone.

I went to the home. His door was closed. I knocked. Wonder Woman opened the door to me. It was just her and Chase's body. We hugged, said I love you. We sat, waiting for the Hospice-care people to come and tell us what to do next. She held his hand. She stroked his hair. She tried to get him to close his eye. She spoke to him as is he were still in there: "See? My husband's here. Somebody's going to take care of me. It's OK, Daddy. It's OK."

I sat there, loving her. Just...loving her.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Folks: Don't mean to go all Lenny-Bruce-Cranky, but I do have a (small, but loyal) local readership, and this thing has really pissed me off. Local folks: Both of you should write similar letters -- or, hell, just copy-and-paste this one. You've probably either gotten a ticket or been killed by now anyway.

Sent this off this afternoon. I think it speaks for itself.

20 December 2006

The Hon. Pierce Homer
Secretary of Transportation, Commonwealth of Virginia
202 North Ninth St. - 5th Floor
Richmond, VA 23219

Dear Sir;

This morning at approximately 10 AM I was issued a citation by an officer of the Virginia State Police. The citation was for “failure to observe a highway sign,” specifically a “Do Not Enter” sign that had been posted the day previous at the corner of Broad Street and Route 287 in Lovettsville in Loudoun County.

This would be unremarkable but for the fact that while the officer was issuing my ticket I noticed that three other motorists were being cited for the same offense, and a fourth committed the same error a few seconds after I did.

In my professional life I am a designer of computer interfaces. This discipline has taught me the humility to know a simple truth: If five well-intentioned people commit the same error within the space of ten minutes, the fault is not with the people but with the design.

Sir, I put it to you that the design of the traffic triangle in Lovettsville, which opened yesterday, is bizarre, hopelessly unintuitive and – please mark my words well – potentially lethal.

Your department has taken a simple four-way road crossing and for reasons I cannot fathom turned it into a difficult and dangerous mess. The new “Do Not Enter” signs that five people in the space of ten minutes failed to obey this morning are vanishingly small — extremely difficult to see from the other side of the highway. I also point out that this morning was clear and sunny; West Broad Street looks directly into the morning sun, making the signs not merely difficult but actually impossible to read from an hour after dawn until mid-morning on a sunny day. (Please see the enclosed photographs, which I took a short time after I was ticketed.)

The “Do Not Enter” signs are meant to prevent motorists coming from a two-way road from entering what has newly been declared a one-way road — in essence a T-junction that did not exist before yesterday. I must protest in the strongest possible terms: These signs are woefully — not to say criminally — insufficient warning to prevent a potentially lethal error by an inattentive driver who is not intimately familiar with the traffic patterns.

Another home truth I have learned in my life as a designer is this: If you design a saucer that looks like a cup, people will use it as a cup, and not as a saucer. It is useless to put a sign on your saucer. People don’t read signs. To transfer this truth to the matter at hand, the junction of West Broad Way and Route 287 is still visually indistinguishable from a four-way junction when approached from the west. That is why I, and four other motorists in ten minutes, erroneously used it as such this morning. The potential tragedy in this case, of course, is that misuse of a saucer is a trivial mistake. Plowing into a one-way street against traffic is anything but trivial.

While I was remonstrating with the officer this morning, he pointed out that warnings of a new traffic pattern had been posted for some time. I suggest to you and to whoever designs VDOT’s warning signage that there is a world of difference between the hopelessly vague “New Traffic Pattern Ahead” that was posted and the less concise but infinitely more informative “Warning: On Dec. 19 This Street Will Become a One-Way Street.”

To prevent others from making the innocent but possibly life-threatening error that I and at least four other motorists made this morning, and to rescue others from the personal embarrassment, expense and inconvenience of a traffic citation engendered not by malfeasance but by the dreadfully poorly executed reconfiguration of that intersection, I submit the following proposed changes:
  1. An orange, diamond-shaped sign (see Photo 1) with a hopelessly vague warning on it (“New Traffic Pattern Ahead”) is absolutely unacceptable as the sole warning of an oncoming T-junction that continues to look exactly like a four-way junction. I suggest a reworded sign – much larger, with blinking lights and whatever other attention-grabbing devices can be appended to it: “Warning: Broad Street Ahead Is No Longer a Two-Way Street. Be Prepared to Turn Either Left or Right, But Do Not Proceed Straight.” This sign should be permanent.
  2. Two large arrows that point left and right should be painted on the pavement of West Broad Street in light-reflecting paint.
  3. The arrows should be reinforced with appropriate text on the road.
  4. The “Do Not Enter” signs on the east side of Route 287 (shown in Photo 2) must be made much larger, must be illuminated, and must be reinforced with blinking lights. If a sign can be suspended over the road rather than posted by its side, so as to resemble a barrier, so much the better. I repeat in the most urgent terms I can muster: The near-invisibility of these signs will get someone killed.
Your prompt attention to this matter is greatly appreciated.


Nedward L. Jingo

Cc: Elaine Walker, Lovettsville Mayor
Scott York, Chairman, Loudoun Country Board of Supervisors
Sally R. Kurtz, Catoctin District Representative, Loudoun BOS
Editors, Loudoun Times-Mirror
Editors, Leesburg2Day

Supporting photos (click to enlarge):

Photo 1:
Does this sign even hint that you're about to come to an extremely dangerous T-junction that only yesterday was a four-way junction? I think not, sir!

Photo 2: Can you read those "Do No Enter" signs? Can you even see them?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Did I Mention We're Chumps? Of Choice?

Will Divide, proprietor and chief bottle-washer at Huck and Jim, has posted a mindbendingly great summary of the second portion of Against the Day that we're group-reading over at The Chumps of Choice.

Chumps who may have forgotten about our Monday-to-Monday schedule, hop on over.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, we're group-reading Thomas Pynchon's latest doorstop, Against the Day. In a group. We're The Chumps. Of Choice. We're only up to page 50. You'll have no problem catching up. At The Chumps. Of Choice.

Head on over! Apply directly to the forehead!

Those Pesky Editors!

Wolcott's already had his fun with it, but I really really really hope that's an actual shot of the cover.

Because there's nothing -- that's nothing -- funnier in the graphic-design biz than getting a full shipment of books back from the printer, opening the box with trembling anticipation, and only then seeing the howling typo in the book's subtitle.

(It's published-on-demand, so the cover's probably a PDF file that can be instantly corrected. In the spirit of Historical Accuracy, though, I'll just grab the live version and reproduce below. Let the Schadenfreude begin!)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pinochet Passes By

June, 1975: Santiago de Chile

Your Ned, the son af an American diplomat, is a sophomore at an international school at the farthest edge of town, in the Andean foothills. His anti-authoritarian teenaged years in their fullest pimply bloom, he insists, despite his parents' entreaties (or, who knows, perhaps because of them) on affecting the uniform of the Pissed-Off 1975 Teen: the long, ratty hair, jeans worn through at the knee, the general surliness.

In a fascist dictatorship -- gun emplacements on the public thoroughfare, DINA agents prowling the streets in unmarked cars ready to pounce and "disappear" you to torture chambers on Dawson Island, itchy-trigger-fingered Carabineros on street corners stopping any random passerby who looked vaguely "socialist" -- the Pissed-Off 1975 Teen look is the sort of thing that the Authorities lick their chops at. It's utterly impossible to understand, in a cosmopolitan democracy, the raw, adrenaline-pumping fear that can gnaw at your vitals when you can be hauled off the street at any instant for the way you dress. I'm sorry, punk rockers and Disaffected Victims of the Man: you can't know. There is no comparison. I came to dread with a sickly nausea those knee-trembling moments when a machine-gun-wielding cop would pick me out of a crowded sidewalk, step in front of me, and accost me for my ID: "A ver, joven..."

And I was safe! I was untouchable! I had Diplomatic Immunity! I had a diplomatic carnet de identidad that rendered me literally untouchable! Most of my friends were theoretically untouchable, too -- but try explaining that to my pal Joe, son of the Bolivian chargé d' affaires, who got his knee broken in just such an encounter. He'd forgotten his wallet. Boom. Rifle butt to the patella. Don't forget, punk.

The trip to school that year was a bouncy, uncomfortable ride with several other kids in the back of a covered pickup truck. A few families had banded together, hired a driver for the duty. Our outbound trip wound its way through Santiago's fashionable districts, picking up kids, then out to Calle Las Condes for the drive to the beautiful foothills.

One morning, we were going down a one-way street on our usual route. Minding our own business. Obeying the speed limit. Being good citizens. Out of nowhere, coming directly at us, came two motorcyle cops, gesticulating wildly -- get out of the way! Get out of the way!

On a one-way street. Going the wrong way.

Directly into oncoming traffic.

The motorcycles were followed by several police cars, Carabineros leaning out the windows, also waving their arms. One of the cars slowed momentarily, and a particularly vehement cop shouted directly into our drivers' face; apparently the rather deft dive the driver had made onto a spare patch of sidewalk hadn't been fast enough to please him.

Then a Mercedes limousine passed imperiously by, oblivious to the strewn traffic on either side of the quiet city street. A profile in an ornate military peaked cap, distinctive brush moustache clearly visible, adorned the opened back window. Generál Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, Presidente de la República de Chile.

It's a good thing those Carabineros were so preoccupied ahead, clearing the way for the Great Man. I'm not sure they would have taken kindly to the Pissed-Off 1975 Teen Neddie's upraised middle finger that extended from the back of the truck.

I hope dying hurt a whole lot, you rat-faced son of a bitch. I hope you suffered the tortures of the damned. I hope no one wiped your brow or comforted you while you suffered and died. I hope you died alone.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

What the Thinking Man Is Thinking

The Buzzcocks were the thinking man's Clash. The Clash were the thinking man's Sex Pistols, and the Pistols were the thinking man's New York Dolls. The Dolls were the thinking man's Gary Glitter, and Gary Glitter was the thinking man's brother-in-law -- a fact that he's still trying to live down.

Audi is the thinking man's Volvo; however, unexpectedly, Volvo is also the thinking man's Audi. The Committee is working on that one. Airstream is the thinking man's Winnebago, when he can afford the gas. The alto saxophone is the thinking man's Stratocaster, but only when wielded by Ornette Coleman; in the hands of Charlie Parker, it becomes the thinking man's Les Paul.

Ontogeny recapitulates the thinking man's phylogeny, existence precedes the thinking man's essence, the personal is the thinking man's political, the Medium is the thinking man's Message, and a mighty fortress is the thinking man's Lord.

Women are the thinking man's chicks. The delectable skin of the throat is the thinking man's bodacious ta-ta, the graceful thigh the thinking man's Brazilian wax, the demure cleavage the thinking man's low-rider love-handles. Asses are the thinking man's tits.

The Epson Stylus CX5800F Inkjet Printer, Copier, Scanner, and Fax: Inkjet Printer (20 ppm Black, 19 ppm Color, 5760 x 1440 optimized dpi, 4" x 6" Photo in 48 seconds) -- $119.99 -- is the thinking man's Epson Stylus CX4200 Inkjet Printer, Copier, and Scanner: Inkjet Printer (20 ppm Black, 19 ppm Color, 4" x 6" Photo in 48 seconds, 5760 x 1440 optimized dpi) -- $125.99 with rebate.

George Clooney is the thinking man's puking little bitch.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Staple and the Stage Hand

Rock and roll doesn't know it (I mean, what the fuck does rock and roll know?), but its finest and most emotionally acute writer is Bobby Lightfoot.

Jesus Christ. Please read this essay. Everything you need to know about the Rock-n-Roll Life is in here. The raging egos, the blistering idiocy, the desperation of the Thinking Person in the World of Unthinking People -- it's all in here.

I want to just hug him, hold his hand, mumble comforting words. It's OK, bro. I understand. I'm with you, and always will be. All You Need Is Love.

Why It's Called the Orchestra of Sweet Regret.

(By the way, every fuckin' word of this is true. He told me at the time. It's true.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Launch the Good Ship Inconvenient!

Now, Everybody!
the Chum of Chance is a pluc-ky soul
Who shall neither whine nor ejac-u-late,
For his blood's as red and his mind's as pure
As the stripes on his bla-a-zer immaculate!
And we're off!

Our Against the Day reading group, The Chumps of Choice (one of Will's, one of Will's!), has a spanking-new blog, and we're ready to begin the festivities!

Everyone who expressed interest in our little Online Pynchonian Experiment is invited to pop over to the Chumps of Choice blog and prepare for devilment and spifflication!

Your Humble and Ob't Servant will kick off proceedings next Monday, Dec. 11, sharp. Our first week we will be examining pp. 1-25 of Pynchon's latest doorstop, moderated by li'l old moi. The second week, with the sure hand of Will Divide on the tiller, we'll delve into pp. 26-56.

At this rate, we'll steam into the Aerodrome at the annual convention of the Garçons de '71 at approximately this time next year -- bloodied but unbowed, and replete with knowledge won and friendships solidified.

Will and I do have one major-ish concern: We need folks to step up and take over moderator roles. The duties will be as light as they can possibly be: You'll be asked to introduce a small (20-30 pages, max.) section of the novel, elucidate what you can, and throw out discussion questions to the group. You will not be asked to lead any discussions, mediate in any disputes, answer any imponderable questions, or pose nude for overhead balloonists' delectation. If you'd like to help with these tasks, please email me at neddiejingo at aol dot com -- or, for that matter, just indicate your interest in Comments either here or at the Chums of Chance blog, which you could do worse than bookmark right now.

I've begun a calendar for moderator duties (best viewed in "Month" mode); if you see an opening you'd like to volunteer for, please let us know through the methods outlined above.

We will do two weeks before the holiday break. We'll go dark from Dec. 24-Jan. 7, and pick up again after we've all thanked God for the delivery of Baby Jesus.

Later Edit: QRED poses an interesting question -- one that is quite revelatory about attitudes toward Pynchon:
Speaking as someone entirely unfamiliar with this author beyond the first 5 pages of this book, which I do not yet own, I have this one innocent question: Am I likely to relysh Pynchon if I could not finysh Myst?
Fascynatingly, the answer in Yes. Pynchon is not a puzzle to be solved. He quite deftly refuses to be solved. He is a novelist, not a game-maker. What he does, rather than set puzzles, is to ask questions that have no answer. In the words of Pynchon for Newbies:
Against the Day is a large and complex work. But one must be reminded that beneath the wide-ranging erudition and complexity there beats a rock 'n' roll heart, and the daunting mystery and "high seriousness" is counterbalanced by flights of zany (and often quite dark) humor. And, of course, there is simply the sheer beauty and breathtaking power of the writing, the subtly interwoven plots and themes, the rich detail and, as Penny Padgett (who helps maintain the Thomas Pynchon Home Page) put it, "the way you can find something amazing on just about every page, the way these amazing things have a way of connecting to each other, giving you that 'aha!' experience every time you look closer."
Yes, Myst, but so, so, so much more than Myst.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Join the Chumps of Choice!

"Don't believe what They tell you. Don't believe what you've heard, and here's what you've probably heard: Thomas Pynchon's novels are brilliant but difficult; the multiple plots twist and turn and rarely resolve; there are a gazillion characters; you'll need a dictionary and an encyclopedia to understand all the scientific metaphors and obscure words. This is the rap, and there is some truth to it. But it's not the whole truth, not nearly. As one seasoned reader of Pynchon put it, 'difficult, schmifficult!'"
-- "Advice for Newbies" at

Look carefully at that cover shot. See how, under the type announcing the title & author, some ghostly images appear? Its the title & author again, twice more, in different typefaces, straining to break the surface of the paper and be seen, but suppressed by the black gothic letters of the topmost words.

Isn't that intriguing? Don't you just want to grab Pynchon by the lapels and demand an explanation?

The cryptic (ho, ho) image on the front cover is only the first of hundreds of delicious -- and oh, so often unfathomable -- conundrums that lie in wait for the intrepid reader of Pynchon's latest. It clocks in at a mere 1,100 pages of dense type -- a mighty, mighty daunting prospect indeed.

And yet...and yet...

From the jaunty boys'-adventure-story parody -- The Chums of Chance! -- of the opening pages, I'm absolutely sucked in. I resist the urge to plow forward into it, enticed by the utter wonder of Pynchon's effortlessly mesmerizing virtuosity. I want to savor; Pynchon's no spring chicken, and at an average of 12-15 years between his books, we may not get too many more of them. I can't tell you the number of times I've had to set one of his volumes down after a careful reading and parsing of one of his knotty paragraphs and whistle in wonder: How the hell did he just do that?

And he's funny! Is there any other "serious" novelist who's as funny as Pynchon? I think not, sir! But the jokes are deeply embroidered in; often constructed so you don't get them until a second, third or fourth reading. In Gravity's Rainbow, we are informed that one Brigadier Pudding, a secret coprophile, has published a book on current events titled What Can Happen in Europe. Not until my third or fourth time through the book did Pudding's true title hit me: Shit Happens in Europe! O-or there's a long and ornately filigreed paragraph in Mason & Dixon, invoking the Greek gods of Love, the Air, and the Forest -- but when you parse it out and reduce it to its simplest expression, it becomes "Ass, Gas or Grass -- Nobody Rides for Free." Then there's the lovely scene, again in Mason & Dixon, of the collier Mary & Meg feeling its way out of port on a foggy morning, following the clanging bell of a Tagareen Man -- a ship-to-ship vendor -- and you wonder why you suddenly find yourself humming:
Hey, Mister Tagareen Man,
Play a song for me
In your jingle-jangle morning
I'll come following you...
I've been jawing with Will Divide over at Huck and Jim, as enthusiastic a Pynchonian as I am -- ask him about his M&D ampersand tattoo! -- and we got to thinking: How about a group read?

So that's what I'm proposing, here. Anyone within the Jingosphere is hereby invited to kick off your shoes, read a chapter or two, and follow along in the company of friends. I know at least some of you are serious fans -- show yourselves!

The way I think it'll work is, we "assign" a few pages, say 30-40, each week, and at the end of the week we pop in and discuss. Will and I are willing to provide our blogs for the forum, and any other participants who have their own blogs are encouraged to volunteer to host for a given week.

Come on! Any takers? It'll be fun!

I note that Against the Day already has a pretty ornate page at Wikipedia, and the intrepid scholars at HyperArts have started an Against the Day wiki that looks like a really great source of information.

During the composition of this post, it occurred to me that a nice reply to that awful lecturing-nanny grammar book
Eats, Shoots and Leaves might be Eat, Shit and Die...