Thursday, September 30, 2004


For those of you scoring at home, it's now George and Amy 4, Rats 0. This one looked smaller, so I'm trying not to think he was Junior or anything.

They're not cute, they're not cute, they're not cute.

And actually, with their necks nearly sliced in the trap, they aren't particularly charming. But I guess you could say that about anyone.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A Big Nay from the Neighbors

These folks, you'd think, might know a bit about him and be predisposed to think kindly. Then again, even in Texas the media are darn liberals, no doubt.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Tripping the Trap Rat-tastic

You don't want to hear rustling about in your kitchen cabinets. You really don't want to open a kitchen drawer to find rat scat amongst the cloth napkins--so much for earning style points at that next dinner party. But my wife and I have recently had this very problem, and so now it's Us vs. Rats--This Time It's War.

I can deal with a world of micro-organisms on my eyelids and dust mites amok (not that our house is dusty or anything), but I don't relish the notion of larger vermin moving about unseen. But the rats have been busy in our detached garage, eating through the plastic airtight container for the extra dog food, and doing what rats seem to do best--defecate everywhere. I figure a rat's thoughts go like this, "There's nothing to do, so I better leave a trail of poop. " That thought is quickly followed by this second one, "Oh, look there's food! That makes me so happy I have to poop!"

We did a semi-nuclear cleaning of the garage, after buying a Shop-Vac (consumerism is next to cleanliness), and after donning plastic gloves and masks, and thought we were all set. Especially after nailing two rats in traps. Of course, it's my nature to fret the kill, even of these foul home invaders, and even more my nature to be covinced the rat will want to leave me some ugly disease as a legacy, so each time I jam my hand into a rubber glove (like hell one size fits all) to pick up the trap with deceased rat attached and bag it and dump into the garbage. (The first time Amy said, "Do you want two gloves?" and I almost replied, "Do you think I need two layers to be safe?" before realizing she meant one for each hand.)

But despite our fierce insistence that our problem is the rat, we've now killed three--two in the garage and one under the house. I still like to think of them one at a time, like gunfighters pulling into our dusty western town that we can dispatch as long as our aim holds steady, rather than an out-and-out invasion, with the once cute and actually black Michael Jackson singing the soundtrack as rodents swarm over us with tiny-pawed, gnawing glee.

I don't obsess about this, really I don't. But here I am a mortgage-owner, and the rats don't pump up my pride of ownership. If they could just get over transmitting disease and I could just get over my squeamishness, perhaps I could warm up to their almost cuteness. But they've peered out at me from the dark when I didn't know, and who knows what I was doing then, what other traps I might have been setting, maybe just the things I've allowed to let myself be caught up in. Rats know too much for their own good.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Midnight Oil, or Paranoia Burning

Say what you will about the Republicans, but if they've accomplished nothing else, they've helped us blur the line between satire and straight reporting. That's why The Daily Show is tv's best news; that's why a post that makes this suggestion makes you laugh and then nod your head in fearful agreement.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Everybody Gets a Car!

If you didn't actually see the footage, you really missed something. Oprah this week gave everyone in her studio audience a car--that's 276 if you're counting. The event has been reported widely, but watching the tape, as I got to do today (blown up on a big screen in a classroom to help point out Aristotle's ideas about tragedy, actually, but trying to explain this viewing situation is more than I want to do), is something else. I'm usually not too much of a sap, and find cheap sentiment deplorable (why I love Pauline Kael's bitter denunciation of The Sound of Music so much, for example), but it made me well up. These people were so darn happy. It was stunning tv, elemental, as if it were wired directly to our medullas, since evolution by now has made tv watching one of our primary functions.

You see, the audience thought only one of them was getting a car. Oprah had all these models dressed the same as if they were Robert Palmer babes (and who is the cheesecake for in Oprah's demographic?) deliver little boxes to all the audience, and Oprah chided them not to shake the boxes or open them until she gave the word. Whoever had a set of keys in her box would get the car. Then she says go, they open the boxes, and the screaming, better than for the Beatles in '64, commences. And crying. And jumping, a kind of levitating. Oprah starts screaming, pointing her hand mic as if it's a holy water wand, granting a Pontiac benediction, "You get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car," and then a big leap towards auto heaven for, "Everybody gets a car!"

Cut to the outside of Harpo studios, and there they all are parked, bows atop them just like in the commercials, and a huge banner drops from the far wall: "Your Wildest Dreams." That's evidently the theme for Oprah this season, and she certainly couldn't have had dreamers more wild than that audience. Still, you can't help but wonder why a car is so much happiness, even in the U.S. where personal mobility is nearly a part of the Bill of Rights, why, even if purely for personal gain, one's most outlandish hope might not be for more. Why not want to be Oprah, say, with her $50 million home. Why not want the looks of a Emmanuel Beart or a Jude Law. Why not want the smarts of a Stephen Hawking and none of the disability.

But, of course, it wasn't just one person getting a car. The collective craziness of the moment just ratcheted up the zany joy. But of course it was on television, and forget about wildest dreams, it seems that you aren't quite a person until tv has validated you as the survivor, the apprentice, the American idol, the last comic standing, the date no one dare eliminate. Even "stars" need reality shows to prove their stardom, now, so how could we not want the CBS eye to elevate us regular guys?

And of course there's the kindness of Oprah, who in many ways seemed happiest of all. Sure, she did good. She surely got to bask in a wild lovefest, too, the sweet center of so much giving. Could she have ever dreamt of this moment, at the dawning of her career, back in the early 1980s before The Color Purple and a talk show empire and a Bob Hope Humanitarian Emmy Award, when as an anchor for the Six O'Clock News on WJZ in Baltimore, she crossed a picket line to deliver the news.

Big Brother Is Mookie, Watching

For Dog Blog Friday: No Flying Squirrel is a match for Nigel, especially if he can stand on the couch while chewing. Posted by Hello

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Doogie The Right Thing

Now, maybe the rest of you don't blink when you read the line: "On this day in 1991, TV’s Doogie Howser lost his virginity." Me, I'm wondering exactly how a fictional character loses his virginity. Sure, I understand the idea of acting, and I understand the physics of losing one's virginity, so no wise cracks, but if just pretending really means something, I must have lost my virginity at 13 or so. The episode was called "The Summer of '91" (who spends their time filling up the internet with the names of every episode of Doogie Howser? perhaps my life has more meaning than I thought), which isn't as good as titles like "Doogstruck" and "Doogiesomething," that I can only hope were parody episodes.

And what of Neil Patrick Harris? Once a fresh-faced, virginal (for two seasons, at least) absurdly young doc, and now he's playing Lee Harvey Oswald in Stephen Sondheim's tribute to America's presidential killers, the all-singing, all-dancing Assassins. Would he prefer a roll on the grassy knoll or a shot from the Book Depository Building? Perhaps the inarticulate grunts of his first fictional love sounded much like Czolgosz-Czolgosz.

P.S. Didn't they teach you nothing in History?! Anarchist Leon Czolgosz murdered McKinley. Sondheim posits he did it for the love of Emma Goldman, cause you got to have a love story in a Broadway show, even if it's about killing presidents.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Typing in Stereo

The neighbors across the street, who have a little girl who the other evening sang the first two lines of "The Star Spangled Banner" over and over until it went from cute to creepy, now have a lawn sign up for the Republican candidate for state assembly. And I thought only Left Leaning Liberals would sport an "I Love Lucifer" bumper sticker on their car.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Turkey with the Troops

Trying to stay upbeat about November 2, like Michael Moore and Tom Tomorrow and Josh Marshall tell me. It's not over till it's over, and all that. Although after hearing on Air America this morning about a Fox News affiliate telling Univ. of Arizona students that they were committing felonies registering to vote at school, I did have this ugly three-part realization of the Repugnicans strategy:
1) Lie to those who do vote, so they are scared and confused and vote for Bush;
2) If people might not vote for him, try to stop them by purging voter rolls or out-and-out intimidation;
3) If all else fails, there's always Diebold (can't get away with that Supreme Court thing twice).

Then I remembered this tune I got a few months back. Carmaig DeForest is an incredibly cool musician no one knows, who plays the uke, writes great, often politically informed tunes, and will even play a great show when only 11 people show up (I'm thinking back to an Iowa City gig in 1988 or so during an exam week). His song is funny and clear. Go listen to "George Bush Lies." You'll be glad you did.

Tuned V. 1, No. 2: "Big Day," Yung Wu

found on Yung Wu's Shore Leave (1987)
Tuned In:
A cover version recorded by what is essentially The Feelies with help from John Baumgartner of Speed the Plough on keyboards and with Dave Weckerman, who is usually The Feelies' percussionist, as lead singer, but we sort of have to use the term "singer" loosely, as the Weckerman Warble isn't the thing of beauty the masses of Enos on the original achieve. Not close. It's fan-boy enthusiastic, but that makes it more lovable, but I'll get to that when I Tune Out. Otherwise, the song is parsed down to essential pulses (this is, after all, basically The Feelies)--the guitars ring, but don't echo, skip, but don't fly. And Stan Demeski on drums makes martial over it all, as is his wont.

Tuned Out:
I risk you having tuned out already, I know. Trying to grasp this entry is like playing a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but now the degrees are infinite and Bacon is being understudied by an unknown. But I like that. Not just to be obscure, mind you--I really do like what I like, and not just to not like what too many yous like. For me pop culture has always seemed a treasure hunt, and we all know that the best treasure gets buried. So it's necessary to dig. And to follow leads, gaze down all the dark alleys that might turn out to be one ways to the secret good, and to use all those years of academic research for something actually enjoyable.

The Feelies are a band people should know, as many bands you do know knew them and got better because of it, not the least of which was REM. Hobokenites who played and recorded infrequently from 1980 to '92 or so, the group pointed us to something we didn't think about enough till they did something with it--the Velvet Underground was at least in part about two guitars doing things two guitar bands hadn't done before. (Early on that second guitar was John Cale's viola sometimes, I know, I know. This is a blog, not a dissertation.)

I like the Feelies. That they chose, in an obscure reconfiguration, to cover another song I've always liked, well, that's peachy. Such a moment takes all my obscurities and make them an insular blanket of taste. And I treasure my copy of Shore Leave, not just because I like the music, but because I have one. Now out of print, in the first five years of release it sold 4,040 vinyl copies and 824 cassettes. It was never released on CD, so even seems archaic, like 78s must feel to another generation.

I know I might put too much value in the wink and the nod, the need for those I like to like the same things. Still, it's like in Hornby's High Fidelity, when the argument is about whether one should judge people by what they like or who they are. In a world where most of our measly choices are commercial, I'd argue good taste is virtue, at least as long as hunger is real and deep.
Yung Wu "Big Day" soundclip

Monday, September 20, 2004

The "Daisy" Ad to Get Bush?

People argue one of the key moments of the 1964 election was the so-called Daisy ad that featured a young girl plucking the petals of a daisy that then segued into a nuclear bomb's explosion. It made the Republican Goldwater look perilous and LBJ sane and stable.

This ad, pulls no punches yet reamins steadfastly slugging above the belt. Here's hoping it airs often, and thereby clears the air.

If only Kerry could stay on message like this.

One More for the Bumper Crop


Life is a bitch. And then you die.
--a bumper sticker

I hated bumper stickers, hated
the notion of wanting to be known
by one glib or earnest thing.
But this time I sped up to see
a woman in her forties, cigarette,
no way to tell how serious
she was, to what degree she felt
the joke, or what she wanted from us
who'd see it, philosophers all.
If I'd had my own public answer--
"New Hope For The Dead,"
the only sticker I almost stuck--
I would have driven in front of her
and slowed down. How could we not
have become friends
or the kind of enemies
who must talk into the night,
just one mistake away from love?
I rode parallel to her,
glancing over, as one does
on an airplane at someone's book.
Short, straight hair. No make-up.
A face that had been a few places
and only come back from some.
At the stop light I smiled
at her, then made my turn
toward the half-life of work
past the placebo shops
and the beautiful park, white
like a smokescreen with snow.
She didn't follow, not in this
bitch of a life.
And I had so much to tell her
before we die
about what I've done all these years
in between, under, and around
truth like hers. Who knows
where we would have stopped?

(Stephen Dunn, from Between Angels, Norton & Co., 1989)

Friday, September 17, 2004

Blogger Has No Cash, He's Virtual

Don't you hate some bumper stickers?

Swift Dogs for Kerry

Here's Mookie happy to be part of Dog Blog Friday! Posted by Hello

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Tuned V. 1, No. 1: "Big Day," Eno/Manzanera

found on Phil Manzanera's Diamond Head (1975)
Tuned In:
Really a simple pop song that was never popular, like most of the stuff I like. Verse-chorus-break-verse-chorus. But it really isn't simple, or it fakes its simplicity. That bass line brilliantly bops about, you might think, and sure enough if you check the album credits (you better be the sort of person who checks the credits if you're reading this) it's two different bassists (Bill MacCormick and John "Egads He's Responsible for Asia" Wetton). Those doubled basses are a hint everything is layered, including Manzanera's guitars, featuring a tiple, which is Andean, and therefore maybe Peruvian, which is where the song is set. ("In Peru we've lengthened the day...") It's one of those songs that skates out of your speakers, but I'll get to that when I tune out. It's also one of my favorite vocals, not so much for Eno's lead, but for his background choruses of "wee-bop-bop-bop" on the chorus, bright and bracing as your mouth biting into a Meyer lemon.

As for the lyrics, they want to have Peru both ways, offering Chamber of Commerce (assuming Peru has one) platitudes--"There are mountains piercing our skies / And the ocean's at our shores"--and some less flattering notions, too--"I will save up all of my wages / Even retail crummy cosmetics"--in an effort to escape. Is the singer of two minds? The delicious way he rolls the "r" in crummy makes the negative seem so playful. Or, given the bouncy tune, are we all of two minds? There's the official version that let's us live the lie; there's the place where "they can't pronounce my name here," which means they forgot the big Welcome mat outside the door to happiness. The song can be read both ways--people even do just that if you read the web writing on "Big Day"--and that just makes the song stronger. The sadness is undercut with joy, the joy undercut with life.

Tuned Out:
Songs, of course, are never just about the music and lyrics. They mesh with our lives, so I've never quite recovered from the notion that The Doors are horrible since every time I heard them something bad happened in my freshman year of college. (Post hoc, ergo Lizard King hoc, I know, I know.) But we all have such associations, and for me "Big Day" is a soundtrack for spring turning summer, the moment of the world's tumescence. It's the last tune to listen to before leaving the apartment to sell sodas at Spring Fair to raise money for the college literary magazine, and it was finally over 70 degrees in Baltimore and you could see coatless bodies and they'd be warm and needed Coke and words writ well.

Or several years later the tune of the night in Iowa when the yard came alive, as if all the worms simultaneously broke hibernation and turned the earth like a mighty spade. This really happened. Just once. But we didn't want to get too close to the groaning ground, both because it was kind of spooky and because we needed to give this oddness the space it deserved. Which is what a good song does, and Eno and Manzanera do. Oo-oo-Peru.
"Big Day" audio clip

The Pure Happy Hours of America Go Crazy

On Friday September 17 we celebrate the birthday of two great Williamses--William Carlos Williams, who would be 121, and Hank Williams (the real one), who would be 81 (that sounds almost possible, till you think about Hank). In their honor, I will butcher some of their words:

so much depends

a dry cold

glazed with noilly

don't drink it if you're


This is just to say

I have drunk
the beers
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so hoppy
and so cold.


Hey, Hey, let's get stinkin', whatcha got drinkin'
How's about drinkin' somethin' up with me
Hey, sweet baby, don't you think maybe
We could find an hour to get hap-py

Shout on high like a Lee named Geddy
How's about savin' six to seven o'clock for me
No more lookin', I know I've been tooken*
Before the DTs I keep steady company.

I'm not gonna throw my wallet over the fence
Cause even on special nothin' costs five or ten cents.
There's no way I get carded at my age
'Cause I was drinkin' when the bouncer was in spermatozoa stage.

Say Hey, the weekend's peakin', whatcha got drinkin'
How's about drinkin' somethin' down with me.

* No way I'm messing with a line that ends with the great word tooken. I'm not that sacrilegious.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

I'm Not One Not to Lie, Either

Here it is, the ignoble thing. But in order to put the spurs to the pony that is my dwindling imagination, it seems necessary to see if I can keep one of these going.

Thanks for coming along for the giddyap.

This is just the "hi, hello" portion of today's program. The hope is that I will, if nothing else, work on this idea I have called "Tuned" for which I will, daily, I hope, write about some song, or, I should say, let a song lead my writing. Oh well, you'll get it when you see it. Once I've written it. If you get it before, either get down to the track right now or let me know I'm that obvious.
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