Thursday, February 22, 2007

From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capital

I have many friends who work in the advertising industry. Individually, these are bright, funny, engaging and thoughtful people -- they'd have to be; they wouldn't be my friends otherwise.

That's individually. Collectively, they (and, it must be said, the journalists who cover them) are stupider than a fucking box of hair.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Double-Edged Sword of Hipster Eyewear

I have a pair of hipster glasses that I nearly never wear. They're tiny little wireframe things, the lenses a very rounded-off octagonal shape, not much bigger than my eyes themselves.

I bought them in the early Aughts, when my hair was longish, and I tended toward laziness in the shaving department. I labored under the apprehension that they gave me something of a Benjamin Franklin aura, suggesting an aging eighteenth-century rakehell with an eye for a well-turned calf, a nose for scientific discovery, and well-honed skill for putting the latter in service to the former. I pictured myself in a Paris salon circa 1780, fascinating the throngs with "To Anacreon in Heav'n" on the Glass Armonica and setting the ladies a-twitter with my Leyden Jar, administering mild electric shocks to the naughty bits.

Funny, what a pair of glasses can do.

The Ben Franklin delusion was shattered when I submitted to a haircut a few months later. I tend to go all-in on haircuts, never trusting a mere trim to preserve the spirit of the coiffure. Far too many times have I allowed some black-clad fashionista to have his or her way with my locks, only to cringe at the asymmetrical horror that glared balefully at me from the mirror upon scissors-down. No, far better to crop the whole thing down to the scalp, leaving a bit of fun on top, and then let the mess grow out to shoulder length again. Thus is happiness preserved -- and, haircuts reduced to one or (at most) two a year, the savings are substantial. A penny saved being, after all, as my patron saint of eyewear once observed, a penny earned.

But donning my hipster glasses after one such shearing was an awful revelation. My eighteenth-century lothario was gone. In his place there sat instead a policy wonk, the second-string Washington figure that haunts the periphery of the Sunday gabfests waiting to fill in for an ailing Charles Krauthammer or Fred Barnes. I looked like the sort of bowtied academic twat who sits in a well-appointed office at the American Enterprise Institute and comes up with justifications for disgustingly amoral policies, for the failure of which neither he nor anyone in his miserable profession will never be held accountable: Numbers supporting an Iraq Surge? Possible deaths of five hundred US troops and uncounted thousands of Iraqi civilians? For the purpose of quelling virtually universal home-front dissatisfaction with the miserable progress of your war of choice against the wrong enemy? Coming right up, sir! Next Tuesday sound about right?

The glasses, needless to say, came off immediately. On went the contact lenses I keep in reserve.

This morning, however, on a whim, I put them on again. A certain satisfying post-operative shagginess has set in, hair beginning to tickle the collar, salt-and-pepper beard filling in. Given a few more weeks of hirsuteness, it begins to seem possible that Monsieur Franklin just might make a comeback at the salon. Attendez-bien, mesdames!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Does Sarcasm Belong in Music?

I've heard some artists speak of of the act of creation as a compulsion. "I had this thing inside me, and I had to let it out!" you'll hear them say, as if making a piece of art were an impulse of a degree of urgency similar to that of taking a good, but deferred, growler.

It matters not whether the art be good or bad. I imagine a similar impulse moved the authors of both Rodin's Gates of Hell and any random Hummel figurine. Inspiration strikes, the materials are produced, and woe betide any man who stands in Art's way.

In my case, I nearly never feel this compulsion. To me, the act of reaching over for my guitar and strumming a few chords is almost always motivated from something far closer to boredom than to hunger. Perhaps this is what stands between me and true artistry, I don't know.

This piece isn't so much as compulsion as an exorcism. "Somethin' Stupid" (the Frank and Nancy Sinatra version) came on an episode of "The Simpsons" one evening. I guarantee I hadn't heard the song since approximately 1974 (it superseded The Turtles "Happy Together" at the Number One spot in 1967, if you can believe that), but all it took was that one verse of it on "The Simpsons" to burrow the sleazy motherfucker deep, deep, deep into my brain. When I came out from under general anesthesia after my hip-replacement operation, guess what was there waiting for me...? That's how badly the miserable thing was dug in there.

As the ineffable Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) said during House debate on the Iraq Surge, quoting Robert Frost, "The best way out is always through." With this wise thought in mind, I set about expunging the mildly sleazy "Somethin' Stupid" by absolutely slathering on the sleaziest possible of musical touches. The cha-cha-cha beat has always struck me as sleazy to the point of risibility, and so on it came. What more Muzak move can there be than to follow a sung phrase with the same phrase played in octaves on a piano? Throw it in! A Nelson Riddle orchestral passage to break up the monotony? Check! Herb-Alpert glissando trumpets? Check! Passing tones relegated to the Mighty Marimba? Where else?

So brilliantine up your hair, throw a rose between your teeth, swallow those icky thoughts about a father-daughter singing duo belting out,
The time is right
Your perfume fills my head
The stars get red
And oh the nights so blue
And then I go and spoil it all
By saying something stupid
Like "I love you"
and let's dance!

Play "Somethin' Stupid" (pops).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Got Your Back, Amanda

I haven't felt the need to comment on l'affair Marcotte as yet; Blogwars are not my usual beat, and usually the whole thing looks from this lofty angle like a massive jocks-versus-nerds namecalling contest. Something best avoided.

However, it now appears that the Pandagon blog has been brought down, whether by DNS attacks or something less nefarious I don't know, and Amanda has seen the need to publish a redirect page (hard link here) on which she reproduces and comments on some of the lovely, lovely mail she's been getting since Bill Donohoe, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, set her in his sights.

For bigotry, I'll remind you. Donohoe accused Amanda of bigotry. Please bear that in mind as you read what Donohoe's flying monkeys hurl at her.

Here, then, is the main body of Amanda's redirect page. I'd urge my bloggy friends to show your support for her right to speech -- and, for that matter, for John Edwards' right to employ her -- by reproducing this. They can't shut us all down.

[Amanda's words full measure; her interloctors are indented.]

Granted, I don't think criticizing the church for policies that hurt families and even get people killed is a "sin", but my letter writers do. But I thought I'd bring up this story for two reasons. One, I've always been impressed by the subtext of the story. I suspect, strongly, that this story is part of the reason that Christianity was so attractive to women in its early days, because this sort of random misogynist scapegoating is all too real in a patriarchy, and this story must have touched a lot of women at the time, who would be impressed with Jesus' unwillingness to play into such misogyny. In fact, from everything I understand, much of the history of Christian misogyny is one 2,000 year long backlash against early female power in the church.

I'm also impressed by how so many people who claim to follow Jesus have basic reading comprehension problems when they regard this story. (Not all---for instance, some fellow Pandagonians take their faith seriously enough to read the Bible and try to follow its precepts.) From my mailbag:

I pray that I had some small part to play in your "resigning" from the Edwards campaign you libelous fraud!

That's from a Vivian Thomas, who also wants me to know that I'm a worthless hag.

Catholics are concerned about killing unborn children, you stupid bitch. Chop away if it suits you, but we don't have to accept that as moral. That's why it's called a religion. Look into it.

Frankly, if I were a churchy person, this "Look into it" thing would insult me, since R.R. from Tallahassee, FL is all but saying that religion is his excuse to declare his misogyny "moral" so he doesn't actually have to think and decide what his morality is for himself.

after reading your vile screed against Catholics and the Holy Spirit, I just had to see what you looked like. (I envisioned you eyebrow-less, with no visible pupils, and a blank, dead stare.) I see I was correct about the blank, dead stare, but other than that you're not too bad. I then thought maybe you were mad at God (and by proxy Catholics) for making you ugly, but now I'm figuring you're just mad at him for making you a woman.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Never Too Late

Blue Girl and the Skimmer put a lot of work into this video, but owing to some tragic last-minute sna-foo-age, it didn't get posted during her Grammy Live-Blog last night. But, dammit, it's a mighty fine vid, and you should watch it now. Twice.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I Hate the Fuckin' Grammys...

...More than you could possibly know.

The idea of forcing myself to watch the spectacle of an entire industry as worm-eaten, mold-encrusted and pus-riddled as Big Music sucking its own vile, boil-strewn cock fills me with an unimaginable nausea. To even add one two-zillionth of a Nielsen point to such an exercise in rank, naked cynicism is a moral failing of Rumsfeldian proportion.

So, naturally, I'll be kibitzing along with Blue Girl's live-blog of this disgusting, death-affirming Nuremberg Rally for everything that is wrong with humanity -- that's tomorrow evening at NewCritics, starting at 7:30.

Plus, there's the Police Reunion. That should be amusing. Oh -- and the traditional segment in the third hour when they throw an actual, live human baby into a cage full of starved pit-bulls. I always enjoy that.

I just hope BlueGirl and the gang don't mind a brief quote or two from the Book of Revelation -- just to keep their feet on the ground, y'unnerstan'....

Friday, February 09, 2007

Get a Message to Trieste!

I'm trying to get down last night's dream -- easily the most spectacular, detailed, realistic opium-dream I've ever experienced -- before the Person from Porlock (in the form of my Physical Therapy nurse) gets here...

I knew I was in for a wild night when, turning off the bedside light, I closed my eyes and began to watch a series of pictures that appeared in my mind, images that I could manipulate and morph in any way I pleased. Velazquez' Las Meninas as drawn by Ralph Steadman. In the style of Goya's Los Caprichos. As imagined by Roz Chast.... No, I don't mind the occasional Vicodin at all, thanks very much...

A visitor to my house shows me a device, made possible by a new branch of information science called Telluric Information Analysis (can I get a giggle, Chumps?). It has now become possible to map the real-time flow of information, from person to person, over a geographical area. The device resembles a notebook computer. On the screen is a grid, five units high by nine wide. He centers the grid over my part of Virginia. He maneuvers the map so that my house is at 0,0. The map extends past the Potomac, just into Maryland. Then he explains that he's going to enter concept x at my house, and equal-and-opposite concept z at coordinates 5,9. Opposite ideas at opposite corners of the map. He clicks "Start."

Concept y spreads from my house outward toward Maryland. Concept z spreads in the opposite direction, toward my house. "Now watch, as they meet..."

Swirling colors show the opposite ideas flowing from person to person, meeting, conflicting, conjoining, swirling into anarchy, becoming new ideas, canceling each other out, new wrinkles raiding into the map and changing the whole landscape... But then finally, after a wonderful light-show, stasis. The whole map is a uniform blue.

"My God..."

"Yes. It never changes again after that."

"But this means --"

"Yes. That's when it ends."

Cut to the the campus of Kenyon College, summer of 2007. It's the 25th Reunion of the Class of '82. A music festival is in progress, many colorfully dressed musical acts are performing on many small stages. The atmosphere is closer to Burning Man than some stodgy Establishment college reunion -- arty, self-indulgent, decidedly highbrow. I'm watching the Orchestra of the College (which, parenthetically, doesn't exist), dressed in fanciful Victorian military uniforms, playing pieces by Hindemith, Schoenberg, Webern. I'm plotting with the Musical Director to borrow a couple of clarinets, an oboe, a bass, some brass, to play an arrangement of "Sgt. Pepper" that I've worked up but never heard live musicians play. I've commandeered an empty stage for the purpose, made signs, passed out flyers...

Someone runs by in a panic, holding a Telluric Information Analysis device. It is glowing bright blue. Everyone understands exactly what it means. I turn to a friend: "Keep a weather eye out for squalls, amigo. See you in Trieste."

(Here's the Person from Porlock. Dammit. Woof -- she put me through the wringer... Ouch!)

The weather report is dire. Epic electrical storms, unlike any human has ever seen -- although perhaps a familiar sight during the Cretaceous Period -- are expected in the next 24 hours. Word goes out: The desperate object of survival is to get to Trieste, where the New Human Race will hunker down and eventually emerge, blinking, into the new sunlight. Anyone who doesn't make it to Trieste, is, well, a goner.

(Why Trieste? Search me. But Trieste it is...)

A mad automobile ride across a panicked American suburban landscape. I am in a Mercedes with two Egyptians, agents on God-knows-what recondite mission. They are headed for Washington, there to join with the unseen, unknowable forces arranging, sub rosa, passages to Trieste. We careen down suburban roads, where families are milling on their lawns, in a state of complete panic. One of the agents screams at the other, who's behind the wheel: "Do not slow down! For anything, do you understand?"

A child wanders into the road. Goes under our wheels. I look back out the rear window: Dead. Smashed. Parents, already in a state of madness, shriek their rage at us as they recede into the distance. I think, Yes. That's what it's come to. There's no going back now. In the far distance, enormous storm clouds, purple, flashing with lightning, bigger than anything anyone has ever seen, gather and begin their march toward civilization.

The Egyptians are now in Fairfax, VA, still careening madly through snarled and angry traffic, still leaving the broken bodies of incautious pedestrians in their wake. Panic is general. Gunfire. Arson. Looting. We take a cloverleaf turn too fast (Route 50 at Gallows Road, if you're keeping score) and the car smashes through a guardrail and plunges...

(I watch the concrete wall approach. I see the cruelly hard imperfections in the concrete.)


(The road has yellow stripes painted on it. Why?)


Two hundred feet to the highway below. The impact throws me from the vehicle, safely onto a grass embankment. I inspect the car. The Egyptians are nothing but charred bone. Too bad, you leadfooted bastards. I'll try to get your message through, but I'm making no guarantees.

A short walk from the accident scene, I come across a stationery store. I recognize arcane signifiers in the signage: It's a safe-house. I go in, and find many of the same Kenyon crowd, along with some people from my current life, co-workers, friends, are milling around. The leadership is trying to get though to those same forces arranging passages to Trieste, but current conditions make it impossible. Some of the folks in the room are embracing, saying their goodbyes. Hopelessness pervades. It's too late.

I leave the shop, to scout conditions. I look into the distance. The storm clouds are upon us, it's an utterly spellbinding sight: Buildings are exploding, entire roads are being ripped to shreds by lightning, debris is flying everywhere, human body parts are beginning to land at my feet.

I go back into the shop: "Did anybody make it to Trieste?"

"I don't know. God, I hope so..."

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Home Again, I Can Groan, Scratch, and Talk to Myself

Wounded animals crawl away to find a comfortable place to die. When confronted with a deteriorating hip-joint (a condition that would have no doubt meant a slow and painful death in hunter-gatherer days, and a fractious and drunken premature senescence in the days of unscientific medicine), I too crawled into something of a protective shell.

Chores that I used to approach with something approaching joy, or at least enthusiasm -- walking to the mailbox, fetching the morning paper, mowing the lawn, walking the dogs -- became something to be avoided, or, worse, left undone completely. This avoidance-of-enjoyable-things has a terrible psychological effect; one can easily see other, even more vital tasks, like bathing or eating, dropping off the list. The inevitable outcome of this process is death. I'm terribly grateful that I live when I do, where I do, under the economic circumstances I enjoy, and with the people who love me and help me and protect me. In another time and another place, this bad hip could easily have killed me, slowly and painfully.

Monday I entered the hospital in a state of terrible emotional turmoil. I was terrified, frankly, by the thought of what was going to be done to my body. (It was a grave mistake, of course, visiting that Edheads site and watching the process of the surgery. I should, in retrospect, have never looked it up at all; it only added to my terror -- those stupid Flash cartoons haunted my dreams, they did -- without giving me any useful information.)

The operation was, as many of you who've experienced it assured me, quite unremarkable. I was completely unaware of anything being done to me -- all my Jacob's Ladder nightmares had been unnecessary. They put you out, zip, zam, zowie, you're awake again. Only now you're in quite a lot of pain.

I never want to go through those first 24 hours again. The hospital pre-op support staff make a great buzz over a device they give you to "control your pain": Essentially, you are given a handheld device that allows you to administer yourself a minuscule dose of morphine every six minutes. I can understand how the idea of this device gives comfort to someone about to undergo major surgery, but now with the experience on the rearview mirror, I call it a fraud. The device gives you no immediate feedback whether the dose was administered or not; you click the button, and something goes buzz. Nothing else happens. It gives you no timer, no visual confirmation that you've waited the proper six minutes. In a state of narcotic alteration, time is extremely subjective, and unless one watches a clock for six minutes -- a ridiculous task to ask of a narcotized person -- one has no idea when a dose has actually been successfully given. If you fall asleep and can't push the button (family members are prohibited from pushing it for you), you're SOL. When you wake up again, predictably in agony, as the morphine has worn off, you have to accurately self-administer three times -- over 18 minutes, during which you can't fall asleep again or pay the same penalty -- to get yourself back to painlessness. I lay for hours, drifting in and out of sleep, grinding my teeth at the knowledge that I was caught in a trap of user-hostile design. (Designers of medical devices, call me. You'll find my consultancy fees amazingly low for your industry.)

During this time, I came to heartily detest another device, this one attached to my feet. It is supposed to massage your feet to prevent blood-clots -- an entirely laudable task, I suppose, but in practice an inflating bladder squeezes one foot and then the other, each time emitting a thunderous popping noise. After a few hours, this became profoundly irritating; it's like being poked at with a stick every time you begin to find health-restoring sleep.

Narcotics being what they are, another problem went quickly from mild irritation to deep agony: I lost the ability to control my urinating muscles. I didn't become incontinent; quite the opposite. I lost the ability to pull the trigger, if you follow. I strained and strained, concentrating as hard as I could, bathroom taps going full autosuggestive blast, and produced -- nothing. I first pointed this out to the nurse on duty at about 4PM on the day of surgery; by midnight I was in exquisite agony. I had the temerity to ask this officious nurse -- a person I will not remember in my will -- for a urinary catheter; you'd have thought I'd asked for a tracheotomy kit to play with. I was informed that a catheter was quite out of the question -- imagine that! A patient trying to direct his own medical care! Who does he think he is, Ben Casey? When finally the dam broke somewhere deep in the lobster shift, I filled one and a half 1000-cc. urinal bottles. The relief was indescribably delicious. Sexual doesn't even come close.

About 24 hours into the stay, my physical capabilities began to improve drastically. During the morning physical-therapy session, if the PT nurse asked for 10 reps of thigh-lifts, I gave her 20. Asked to walk 150 feet, I did 300.

You see, two bits of information had made themselves known to me. First, I'd cottoned on to the hospital's criteria for the release of patients from the Total Joint Center: Once you can do so many reps of the exercises and have walked so many feet (and you aren't running a death-fever from some flesh-eating streptococcal infection and haven't ripped your own sutures out), you are free to go.

The second piece of intelligence became abundantly clear when the first tray of food was set in front of me. It consisted of a dreadfully watery "soup" with some disintegrating gray vegetable matter sloshing about in it; some deeply nauseating tuna-and-diet-mayo lolling about on a bed of wilted lettuce, and a chunk of bread with the consistency of a well chewed piece of Juicy Fruit but with none of the flavorful appeal, accompanied with approximately three molecules of generic margarine. No salt. One package of three-year-old ground pepper. I'll freely grant that my appetite was pretty well shot by the dope, but even if I'd just come in out of the snow after chopping a cord of wood and raising a new barn for the Clodfelters, this grub would have had me throwing my plastic spork across the room and looking up the Suicide Hotline.

Clearly, they were trying to starve me out. So with each painful leg-lift, each abduction/adduction stretch, each heel-slide, I whispered to myself, Chicken Korma. T-bone steak. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. And with each ten yards I managed to hobble on the walker (Jesus Christ, was there ever a more humiliating device?) I essayed images of Afghan flat-bread straight from the Tandoori oven, of basil-rich lasagna with a rough Chianti, a loaf of San Francisco sourdough bread... So crusty.... Soooo crusty....

My stratagem seems to have worked. I got out 24 hours early.


I'm back at home, "resting comfortably," as the kids say nowadays. I spent all day today luxuriating on my bed, desultorily answering emails, catching up on the blogs, deliriously lifting my leg and letting it fall again. I have a home-care nurse who comes in and checks for those death-fevers and unripped sutures, and another who gently leads me through PT exercises meant for someone twenty-five years my senior. I am, in short, a pig in shit.

I've weathered it, baby! Officious nurses, burst bladders, being poked at with a stick when I try to sleep, and food that would have been scorned on an eighteenth-century whaler two years from port.

And most gloriously of all, I have a future. I can contemplate anything again. I'm planning this summer's garden. I'm talking up a ski vacation next spring, a walking tour of Europe, a bicycle trip across the Andes, kite-surfing from Jedda to Calcutta and back again. No, most of these won't happen, here's the important part: I can pretend that they will!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

In My Room

It's the waiting that's the hard part, isn't it...

The time before my hip-replacement surgery has been passing with a weird combination of glacial slowness and the inexorability of a supertanker. Just a week ago, I had a whole week to wait, and now I have a whole thirteen hours to kill. It feels like both an eternity and an instant.

Narcotics add immeasurably to the strangeness. Yesterday I was reading in bed, and closed my eyes for a few minutes, and began to have incredibly vivid and bizarre imaginings, dreamlike but not a dream. Since I was completely awake, I could control the images that were roiling in my head: Now think about sex, I told myself, and zoom up came these hyper-real pornographic eyelid movies. Now think about flying. Now think about going to work but forgetting to get dressed.

I really understand junkies.

In order to make the time pass this weekend, I whipped up this little number in the studio. I think it sums up my emotional state pretty nicely.

Play "In My Room" (pops).

For no particularly good reason, I wanted to use every electric guitar I own in this piece. Maybe I just wanted to feel them all in my hands one last time, I don't know. I'm playing the lead part on my beautiful blonde Epiphone Sheraton (my favorite guitar, I think, when all is said and done -- it looks a lot like the guitar John Lennon played during the rooftop concert in "Let It Be"). The second lead (the Carl Wilson voice, if you like) is my Epiphone Les Paul, a sunburst-finish beast. I don't know why I don't use this axe more often; it's just that the Sheraton is such a playable, seductive thing that I always reach for it when starting a recording. The tremelo doo-wop arpeggios are supplied by my Japanese Stratocaster, which I've given Fender Noiseless pickups and a much better pickup switch than the piece of junk it came with. I don't play this one much because the Floyd Rose whammy bar it came with makes it a major pain in the ass to tune, and my picking style often pulls it sharp.

I'm particularly fond of the double-stop bends in the second phrase of each verse ("I can go and..."). That's one guitar, no overdubs, man. I bend the A string a whole step, and the D string only a half-step. Your astonished applause humbles me. Thank you. Thank you very much.

All right. Twelve hours, now, before I depart for the hospital. Needless to say, no bloggage will be forthcoming until at least Wednesday, but I'll be taking copious notes when I'm not being flensed or hammered at or stretched or lectured to. Morphine drip. Morphine drip. Morphine drip....

Now think about walking without a cane...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Kodak in the Autoclave

Hey, here's a little suggestion...

Are you bored at work? Feeling underutilized, not contributing your fair share down at the ol' Jay Oh Bee? Feel the need to take on a little extra labor, put in a few more hours, firmly affix the old schnozz to the grindstone?

Here's what to do:

Tell your employer you're planning to go on short-term disability for a month.

You know all that work that won't get done in your absence? Hey! I, your employer, have got a corking good idea! Do it all now, instead!

The only reason I haven't climbed a water-tower with an RPG launcher this week is that I'm so hammered on Percocet that I couldn't find a water-tower. I wonder -- entirely as a goofball exercise, and not with any actual concern for accuracy -- just what a quality expert would say about the Passion for Excellence my output has exhibited this week.

In other news, I've decided I'm going to bring my camera along to the operating theater Monday. I'm gonna slip it to a nurse or the anesthesiologist or somebody : Psst! When they get the femur dislocated, mind taking a few snapshots for the old Flickr page? Come on! It's reasonably sterile!

Not because I particularly want the photos, mind you. I just want to see what they say.