Thursday, September 30, 2004

2 Million Navel Gazers Can’t Be Wrong

This from Mathew Klam’s snarky article on political bloggers in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine:

In a recent national survey, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that more than two million Americans have their own blog. Most of them nobody reads.

Ah, but those of us with roughly half a dozen readers (that’s if I include my wife) can take solace! Look into my navel and behold!
Shake Dog Shake

Cathy doesn’t get any vacation days her first year on the job. As a dedicated civil servant she also spent her first 6 months in an office without windows. She’d call me from time to time toward the end of the day and ask, “What’s the weather look like?”

I don’t get any vacation days for the first 6 months. Amazingly enough, that landmark is rapidly approaching. Until then I’ve accumulated a healthy amount of sick days and it’s into that pool that I’ve dipped this morning. I’m not physically ill unless you count being a little on the tired side. It’s more that I was in dire need of some free time.

In Sebastian De Grazia’s Of Time, Work and Leisure, he writes:

There are 168 hours to the week. If a man holds down a job of 40 hours a week, how much free time does he have- 128 hours? He would answer no. First of all he sleeps and eats, and these activities subtract a large sum from the total. Nor are they all he would subtract from the total before he arrived at free time. An early slogan of the shorter-hours movement in the United States proclaimed “8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for all the rest.” The eight-hour remainder is not all free time, however. Instead it covers, as the pat phrase puts it, “all the rest”- shopping, grooming, chores, transportation, voting, making love, helping children with homework, reading the newspaper, getting the roof repaired, trying to locate the doctor, going to church, visiting relatives, and so on. Do all these activities rightly belong to free time?

No way, man!

He later compiles a list, a fascinating one at that, taken from surveys that asked people what they did with their free time. (Keep in mind that the book was first published in 1962.)

We can then say that at present the American’s use of free time includes watching television; listening to the radio, listening to records; reading newspapers, magazines, books; working around yard or in garden; pleasure diving; going to meetings or organizational activities; attending lectures or adult school; visiting; going out to dinner; going to the theater, concerts, opera, movies; participating in sports (bowling riding, skating, fishing, swimming, golf); sight-seeing; singing; playing musical instruments; dancing; going to government parks and amusement parks; attending sports events; playing cards; engaging in special hobbies (photography, stamp collecting); keeping pets; and playing slot machines.

I find this book interesting, but isn’t it curious that I’ve never committed the kind of free time to reading it in its entirety? I’ve been meaning to for almost 10 years now. For now I just take little dips.

How much free time is spent in consideration?

So far today I’ve watered the lawn, ripped dozens of CD’s to feed my hungry iPod and read enough pre-debate coverage and spin to leave me convinced that tonight’s showdown will indeed play like two separate press conferences. I’d like very much to have magical powers right now, a way to cast a spell on Dubya just as he took his place behind his podium (carefully placed in relation to Kerry’s so as to not highlight his competitors 4 inch height advantage). In this sorcerous scenario Jim Lehrer would be introducing the candidates and as those Fox camera’s zoomed in on Dubya I’d wave my wand and have him stick his tongue out as the camera. It would be subtle at first, an action that that would cause the pundits to sit bolt upright in their chairs by the thousands and take amused and horrified notice. They’d wonder, “Is he doing that thing he does, that winking to folks in the audience, giving the thumbs up to a friend- didn’t Jenna do this a few months ago?” But their questions would be set aside by what would happen next. Dubya would bark. He’d undeniably bark. It would begin with something throaty- guttural- a growl suddenly eclipsed by a sharp, crisp yap. Lehrer would stumble over his introduction and pause to regain his congenial footing. At this pause, just after the bark, Dubya would offer by way of explanation, “My apologies Jim, but I’m so excited ‘bout debatin’ this squirrelly buck here that I’m goin all First Scottish Terrier on ya!”

The cogs in Kerry’s head would undeniably be churning, neuronal paths in an ember glow of action as he boldly took hold of the edges of his podium, leaned ever so slightly into his microphone and said, “Jim, should my opponent need to relieve himself at any time during the next 90 minutes I respectfully ask that he wait and use the hydrant located just outside the theater.”

But this kind of magic could backfire during post-debate debate- I’m perfectly aware. This is when the pundits and spinners (are they even distinguishable?) begin their conversations agnostically and make claims of never having seen anything quite like it in the 40 odd some years of televised debates. The Dems enjoy a couple post-debate days of unencumbered offense with Kerry and Edwards wondering aloud at numerous campaign stops if there wasn’t a certain “dog” in the White House that shouldn’t be taken to the pound come the second of November. There would be wild applause. T-shirts of Kerry taking Bush for a walk would appear.

But something happens on the third day. The Republicans would regain the advantage. It would begin with the right-wing TV and radio pundits hammering on about the profound disrespect Kerry showed to our nation’s firemen by encouraging public urination on fire hydrants. Imagine, the very firemen who lost their life on 9/11 and Kerry is desecrating their memory in a discharge of waste- why, it’s in shockingly bad taste, isn’t it? And was that really a dog bark. Please! It was a “barbaric YAWP”- a powerful sign of vigorous leadership. Certainly our men in uniform do just this sort of thing before going into battle and that’s really what this is, a battle for the very heart of this country, a safer and more secure country guarded by a President who is positively ferocious about maintaining our freedom!

Kerry would be back on the defensive, making claims that Dubya had actually made cuts to national hydrant allocations in each of his previous budgets, so that the safety of our nations cities was gravely imperiled. He’d be a President who, the first day in office, would sign a bill guaranteeing 500,000 new hydrants to those areas where our nation needs them most. Swing voters would pause to consider such bold initiatives and accusations.

And so it would go.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Whimsy As Ritual

After spending the afternoon out on one of those river boat architecture tours of the city (where a narrator turns your attention repeatedly to the left and right and to the many buildings and their histories, his comments laced with polished anecdotes generously laced with Catskills humor) Cathy, my Mom (Lou Lou visiting from the shores of Lake Erie) and I headed over to Millennium Park where we hastily made our way through chicken skewers and chips accompanied by a couple salsa’s and guacamole at the Park’s outdoor restaurant. There was music too. A large man saccharinely wafting his soprano sax along to prerecorded adult contemporary slow-jamz. When the audience applauded I imagined their clapping was really for an end to his playing then a continuation. But I was baffled, my mouth full of roasted mushroom, too turn in my seat and watch two men approach the large mans table of merchandise and contemplate his CD’s between thumb and forefinger, clearly athirst for more of his aloe soothing slow-jamz. The large man even walked over to them, taking his lips off his mouthpiece to offer a nod and, I imagined, a word of encouragement to those lured by his glassy-eyed melodies. I was baffled, but I wasn’t surprised.

We took a cab to Ping Tom Memorial Park in China Town to check out Redmoon Theater’s Sink. Sank. Sunk…


Like a lot of people I’m really fond of Redmoon Theater and what they’re about. They represent a kind of public art (and a belief in the transformative powers of such art) that always seems to cure me of wayward cynicism. I’ve yet to be anything but completely smitten by each of the productions (or as they more aptly call them, “Spectacles”) I’ve seen of theirs. The Winter Solstice shows, which I’ve been to 3 of, are especially magical- a kind of dream theater that manages to be silly, haunting, often times stunningly original and is almost always graced with endings that veer awfully close to the transcendent through the very force of their beauty. According to Redmoon’s press release, “Sink. Sank. Sunk…marks the first in a new Redmoon Theater series of annual site-specific Spectacles created to introduce audiences to undiscovered, often-overlooked Chicago locations, at no cost.” Given that kind of ambition, Sink. Sank. Sunk… was madly successful.

Sink.Sank.Sunk... is a Spectacle in the best sense of the word- an extravaganza, a pageant, a gala and a ceremony so that you’re never any less then wide eyed and captivated even if you have “no idea what’s going on.” Their Spectacle develops rhythms and motifs. Each time the El went by (and it passes very near to the park along with Amtrak and Metro trains) each performer would wave to it, their faces both inviting and quizzical as though it were something alive and sadly unable to stop and visit. A young girl who releases first one small white balloon and later, yet another, this time even larger, so that there’s actually an audible gasp of astonishment throughout the audience as we all crane our necks and marvel at the incandescence of the balloon framed against the last traces of twilight. The elegiac procession of candle lit boats along the South Branch of the Chicago River beginning with sirens (thanks to Chicago Police boats assisting on the river) and the magnificent rising of the 18th Street Bridge. It's more about atmosphere then anything explicit, conjuring moods rather then articulating anything specific.

My only criticism, and it’s a minor one, has to do with the sound system, particularly the speakers that were unequally disseminated and could have easily been distributed in a more effective way. I can only trust that a theater troop as adventurous and successful as Redmoon will quickly find a way to use and distribute sound at these outdoor events in a way more conducive to its objectives.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Slave To The Rhythm

The Mac Super Store on Michigan Avenue is like so many of the Big Brand establishments lining that mile of consuming magnificence- it wants to wow you with a kind of World Fair/Epcot Center exhibitionism and, more importantly, to cause each visitor to feel the tech-spirit coursing through the temple of its brand experience. (Parting with your money is your ritualistic offering.) And so it was that I walked through its doors this past Saturday afternoon, made my way through the crowded buzz of its showroom floors and bought myself a new iPod. I felt a great lightness upon exiting.

There’s a narrative I don’t feel like plugging in here, and it’s about how this is one of the most exciting things to happen to my music habits since the CD player and how it's redefining the way I listen to music.

There’s another one, too, where I imagine myself starring in some infomercial for Apple and where I look into the camera and say something like, “Imagine, a 10,000 song jukebox is finally at my fingertips and I find myself without arms!”

We’re slaphappy about…

Hot shuffle play action
Not having to haul CD’s to work every day
Ridiculous 10,000 songs portability
The Thelonious Monk CD we just now fed the sleek and delicious little white block of sonic generosity lying before us
Marathon Holiday Mixes (copyright pending) with a particular fondness for songs about and/or inspired by Santa Claus and Sky Gods.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Brilliant Mesh of New Order and First Love

Wow, huge thanks to Joe for stumbling over this link and sending it my way! MP3’s of the entire New Order concert from July 5, 1989 at Blossom Music Center- a concert we both attended just weeks after graduating from high school. The sound quality is wonderful, too, quite possibly taken from the boards, and it’s both incredibly bizarre and moving to hear it again. This show meant a lot to me. How strange and astonishing it is to hear it again.

We had a friend who had gotten front row seats for this show. He and his girlfriend left about 4 or 5 songs into New Order’s set (his girlfriend had really just wanted to see Public Image Limited who had just played, and besides, they had her mom’s new car so best to get out before things got crazy in the parking lot) and they gave us their tickets. I can still remember with great clarity the giddy rush as Joe and I ran from the lawn into the pavilion, flashing various ushers our tickets until we entered the cordoned area directly in front of the stage-which had been entirely cleared of chairs so as to allow for manic dancing. And shit, I danced my ass off. I was just a few feet away from the band whose music was the soundtrack to my teenage years and I barely had time to look up on stage to see what they were up to (not that they were then, as now, revered for their stage presence, but at least Hook had at that point abandoned performing with his back to the crowd). I had to make the most of it, too, you know- ‘cause for roughly an hour, the soundtrack was live and loud and I was practically levitating.

This show also came at a time when I was breaking up with the first love of my life, something I went about with all the trademarked dumb histrionics of an 18 year old. The day before this show I was to have spent the 4th of July with her and her Dad on their boat, cruising Lake Erie and enjoying the fireworks, the very boat (Spindrift was its name) that we had spent the previous summer sailing for almost 3 weeks up North to the Georgian Bay in. I had arrived that morning of the 4th, we had gotten in an argument and I just up and left, the boat still tethered to the dock and a light rain falling. There’s still an undertow there, even now, this event, those that unfolded over the next few months, and I distinctly remember dancing to New Order that night and letting it all unravel- the joy of dancing and of feeling unbound and without burden. Hearing these songs (and I’ve been reading some of my old diaries of late) conjures up so many memories of that particular summer. If I could go back, with just a hint more sensibility, I would have let that first love down with far more tenderness and with a lot more affection. As it was, we were at odds, as most uncouplings are, with how to successfully navigate the transition from lovers to friends.

Still, I’m happy to change nothing and hearing this New Order concert again has definitely made my day!

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Hurtleberries, Huckleberries, Bilberries- It’s All Blueberry Shenanigans to Me

Alan Davidson’s big book of Food (The Penguin Companion to Food) is a dinner table favorite of ours. Just the other night we found ourselves reading aloud the entry on Cheese and this in turn led us to the entry on Rennet, a substance found in the stomach lining (the fourth stomach of a calf, for example) of numerous animals and used in the milk curdling phase of the cheese making process.

The stomach lining of human beings, like that of calves and other animals, contains rennin, which exerts its curdling effect on milk which has been ingested. Thus, although we swallow milk as liquid, we quickly turn it into a solid, like junket.


The entry on Blueberries doesn’t offer anything quite so rich and strange. One of Davidson’s strengths as an author is his liberal quoting of other food specialists. In the preface he writes: “The fact that there are many quotations in the book and that the bibliography is so long, reflects my wish to give readers as much information as possible about where I found the information which I am passing on to them- and where they might look for more.” Which is another way of saying he loves food in all its multitude way too much to not share with his readers the wisdom others have yielded from their years studying the likes of Arabic cookery or the toothsome arts of confectionary. Still, the entry on Blueberries does offer an alluring nugget on the Blue Ridge blueberry and its status “of being superior to all other blueberries.”

The book is crammed with scrumptious looking entries like Buddhism and food, Elizabeth Raffald (“author of one of the finest 18th-century cooker books, 'The Experienced English Housekeeper'"), Hallucinogenic mushrooms, Éclairs, Poppadom and Squirrel (“The slight gamy taste present in most game meats is not so pronounced in squirrel”).

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Blue Yodeler

I like Jimmie Rodgers quite a bit, but I love him most when he yodels.

Discreet Music

There aren’t many ambient sounds more evocative of a highly particular kind of nostalgia for me then that of children playing. It excites a distinct set of associations to place. My parents, for example, have lived for over 30 years in a house that sits roughly 100 yards from an elementary school playground (separated by a thin layer of woods, itself an influential part of my early landscape) and the ambient wash of children playing on its gravel playground is intimately intertwined with my ideas of home. Along with my siblings, I also attended this school.

On John Cale’s new one, HoboSapiens, he drops some whimsy into the final track, Set Me Free. It’s just for a moment, about two thirds of the way into the song- a nice instrumental stretch where Cale’s pining cello and a complimentarily winsome guitar seem to drop by the corner of a school playground. My own particular reaction to this often-used contrivance (and in Cale’s song, it’s both discreet and sensitive rather then some gooey sentimentalized good) taps into something substantially rooted in my own experience and oh,man- how it endures and resonates!
They Say House is a Feeling

For those interested, I've posted some more pictures here.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Our People Deal In Absolutes

Part of what makes reading Lewis H. Lapham so much fun is the way he combines his fierce intelligence with a such a rich prose style. Lapham uses two sticks of butter where lesser prose stylists stuggle with one. Here's an excerpt from his long piece in this month's Harper's on the modern history of the Repuplican propaganda machine:

During the course of the 1990's I did my best to keep up with the various lines of grievance developing within the several sects of the conservative remonstrance, but although I probably read as many as 2,000 presumably holy texts (Peggy Noonan's newpaper editorials and David Gelernter's magazine articles as well as the soliloquies of Rush Limbaugh and the sermons of Robert Bork), I never learned how to make sense of the weird and too numerous inward contradictions. How does one reconcile the demand for small government with the desire for an imperial army, apply the phrases "personal initiative" and "self-reliance" to corporation presidents utterly dependent on the federal subsidies to the banking, communicaitons, and weapons industries, square the talk of "civility" with the strong-arm methods of Kenneth Starr and Tom DeLay, match the warmhearted currencies of "conservative compassion" with the cold cruelty of the "unfettered free market," know that human life must be saved from abortionists in Boston but not from cruise missiles in Baghad? In the glut of paper I could find no unifying or fundamental principle except a certain belief that money was good for rich people and bad for poor people. It was the only point on which all authorities agreed, and no matter where the words were coming from (a report on federal housing, an essay on the payment of Social Security, articles on the sorrow of the slums or the wonder of the U.S. Navy) the authors invariably found the same abiding lesson in the tale- money enobles rich people, making them strong as well as wise; money corrupts poor people, making them stupid as well as weak.

I also like the guy 'cause he espouses a point of view fairly parallel to my own, albeit with far more rhetorical finesse.