15 September 2008

Oh, now, what the hell?: David Foster Wallace dead at 46

From the That Really Sucks department here at Surethings comes news that David Foster Wallace (I never got around to listing him as Living Genius) is dead at the age of 46, apparently having taken his own life on Friday. Aside from the fact the I haven't finished his colossal kaleidoscopic novel Infinite Jest, this is just bad news all around. I'm of the belief that most people who kill themselves are not in their right mind--that if they could just get over that one black moment or point of view, things would look different. I haven't heard news of any note he might have left, or otherwise. With the understanding that he was out of his mind with some depression or other, I am still pissed and saddened for his wife, his students and for all of us. We've lost an intelligent and thoughtful commentator on the American scene.

The most intriguing remembrance I've heard so far comes courtesy of Public Radio International's The World: here. The German translator of Infinite Jest is interviewed.

There's also a number of YouTube videos, the best of which I've seen is the Charlie Rose segment. It used to be split out as its own vid, but the version currently up has another segment first. Wallace's interview starts around 23:15.

28 August 2008

Levi's commercial features Mark Lanegan

I was a little startled to see this new(ish) Levi's commercial features the inimitable vocal stylings of Mark Lanegan (a track from his album with Isobel Campbell, Ballad of the Broken Seas). Lanegan is an icon of the indie music scene, and Levi's is known for pushing the envelope of television ads but it was still a bit jarring to see/hear the combination.

As a parent, I'm of two minds about edgy commercials. It's easy to appreciate them when they're shown at an appropriate hour but a bit difficult to explain them to your sub-adolescent children when they air in prime-time. Particularly funny about this commercial is the fact that, while the song lyrics mesh well with the video content (two strangers tearing each other's clothes off while admitting they've lied to each other is accompanied by Lanegan's guttural "I won't say that I love you, I won't say I'll be true...") the evocative line that ends the stanza is left out: "there's a crimson bird flying when I go down on you". When a commercial is so explicitly about sex, why not just leave that line in? Perhaps a few people will hear and understand the line but they'll probably be laughing too hard to be offended.

06 August 2008

bitch, bitch, bitch....

Hey! More than a week has passed with no entry: imagine the disappointment of the masses. This general interest blogging is harder than it looks, which I guess is why there are so many themed blogs. I mean, all I've done in the last week or so is read, watch television, drink Fat Tire Ale and Yellow Tail Shiraz, stretch my useless lower back, feed my neighbors' pets while they vacationed, looked around for a job, watched my kids, made dinner (the pan-roasted chicken with tarragon and white wine sauce last night won raves), did about 15 loads of laundry and surfed the blogs, eBay and Amazon. I pondered the purchase of the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Oxford English Dictionary. I read Slaughterhouse 5 for the first time, but now am stuck with a table full of current reading that it will be hard to muddle through with any sort of retention. Check it out:


Pattern Recognition
Will in the World
Writing After Dark
Leaves of Grass
Infinite Jest
The Music of Chance
Rising Up and Rising Down
The Conquest of Cool

I don't know about you, but to me that spells "listlessness". After being employed continuously since early adolescence, my recent unemployment has dealt me a psychic blow of sorts. But I am even now embarking on a project which, though it won't bring fame or (insert snigger) fortune, will at least give me something positive to do. The project is classified, however, so you will have to read about it elsewhere.

25 July 2008

You're kidding....you're not kidding

As I type this I am looking out on my backyard, where some laundry hangs from our patio cover. Fortunately, I live in a suburb built about 1951, so Homeowner's Associations are non-existent. Not only can I hang out laundry without fear of reprisal, I installed galvanized hooks specifically for the purpose! Vivre la libertaire! I find that dryers beat the crap out of my clothes and shorten their usable lifespan by approximately two-thirds (especially my boxers). Of course I use a dryer for towels, jeans, socks, etc, but a good portion of the clothes are hung to dry. In the winter it can get crowded in the galley-sized bathroom, but such is life. This story on examiner.com (San Francisco) resonated.

Actually, mine has been hanging out there two days. I'd better bring it in now.

22 July 2008

My favorite mad dead genius

Glenn Gould, apparently prior to his debut recording, at his parents' cottage in Canada. Resplendent in what seems to be a bathrobe and with his dog looking on. Gould left most of his rather large estate to the SPCA. There are at least two biographies, Glenn Gould, A Life and Variations and Glenn Gould, Music and Mind. There is also the masterful 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould, one of my Top Ten Movies About Mad, Dead Geniuses. Last I checked the DVD was still criminally out of print and going for USD$139.00 on Amazon. I have a VHS copy.

21 July 2008

Two Letters (yes: fiction)

Letter #1


It should come as no surprise to you that we find ourselves in this situation. Your disorderly, drunk, despicable behavior has brought all of it--us--to a disgusting, pus-filled head. And I'm just writing to say it is, finally, over. Please don't say you had no idea it would end this way, sir; you had ample warnings from both myself and from others. All of our few remaining friends let you know at one time or another just what a wastrel you had become and indeed just how short our time together was looking. I am through (for the last time!) dealing with your pathetic acquisitiveness and insecurities. BMW indeed! You are not only small-minded, you are small-souled and I believe you are having a corrosive effect upon my spirit as well. You will certainly agree with the truth: that things must end with a bang rather than a whimper (though certainly a whimper would be your wont, you simp). I have used up all of my patience; my well of understanding has run completely dry and you can only remain there, prostrate, useless as always. I should have had some clue of your flaccid temperament the day we met. Do you remember? You were laid out on that bare, filthy, rotting mattress in the alley behind Vico's. I don't believe you were even conscious at first, but as the stench from the mattress (or was it from you?) began to coalesce in the air it became too much even for your blottered olfactory sense and you arose as if from an opium haze. It was the first time you ever looked at me and it should have been a warning.

Good day and good bye, sir.


Letter #2


Honestly, my dear; what am I to make of your last, cruel missive? I don't believe I've ever been addressed with such venom and vitriol in all of my days. From anyone else it would be only putrid and meaningless babble but coming from you, dearest, it is naught but daggers in my flesh and soul (which I believe you imply has begun rather to stagnate, of late, and perhaps mutate into something that I, for one, do not recognize). It seems--correct me if I'm wrong--as though you believe there is no reciprocal fault or defect on your side of this unwholesome scenario? And I can understand how you would like that to be the case, dear, but have you become such a practiced liar that you've actually convinced yourself? If so, you are rather farther removed from reality than even I had feared. I can see you fooling Margaret and John. They are not stupid but they do grant one a lot of...oh, let's call it leeway. And Peter, now that would be easy. He is stupid.

So you have come to the conclusion that we are, or at least should be, "over". I can't say I am disappointed, Jane. Your progressive and startlingly rapid psychic deterioration over the past few weeks and months has been at the least depressive and at worst mildly horrifying to watch. Perhaps moderately soul-blistering would be a more apt phrase. It has been rather like watching a born-again Christian explore the mysteries of the Kabbalah or a devout Satanist celebrate Easter Sunday. In short, no.

It strikes me as something approaching an iron bar between the eyes that you fail to mention your own shortcomings in this "matter" as you say, but I have no problem bringing them up myself. Chiefly I would suppose to include your, shall we say, prodigious use of mind-altering narcotics. I mean really, dear, the accident was 6 years ago. Would these massively effective opiate-derived cocktails possibly have had some effect on your behavior and thus, our "relationship"? I'm thinking, YES. Particularly as they seem to have led you to be "unfaithful". That's the recognized term, though I'm not wild about it's religious implications. Still and all, that was rather a large spanner in the works, yes?

So excuse me if your self-righteous little homily doesn't move me to tears or anything other than a celebratory nightcap.

It's over? C'est la vie, darling, c'est la vie!

(No longer) yours,


18 July 2008

Almost a typecast!

This Hermes Rocket portable manual typewriter (I suppose it's of the late 1950s: the serial number is 5603454) arrived today. Appears to be 10-pitch Pica. So far, everything is functioning perfectly save for the typist. It is painfully apparent that computer composition has degraded my skillz, such as they are/were. I was very happy the Rocket was properly packaged and the carriage locked for transport. A+++ for the seller! Aside from a new ribbon and a light CLA, I think she is good to go.

For the uninitiated, you can explore an entire blogging subculture in which quaint, seemingly misguided people engage in "typecasting" or "papercasting": uploading facsimiles of typewritten or handwritten pages to express their affection for bygone technologies such as the typewriter, fountain pens, notebooks and other ephemera. Funny word, that, "ephemera". Some might argue that all of the words (to use novelist Mark Helprin's phrase) "written on water"; that is, on the internet, are ephemeral. Whereas those words transcribed to the page via pen, pencil or typewriter, are real the instant they are put to paper.

Unfortunately I do not own a scanner, so a typecast is out for the time being. I tried to photograph the (woefully error-strewn) typewritten page but that didn't turn out so well.

I do promise to keep you posted, and I've promised the kids each a typewriter of their own. When I get around to getting a scanner and when I relearn to type (or at least strengthen my weak pinkie) I'll take a shot at a typecast. BTW, what is it with that word? Could one of you people think up a better one, please? It retains its original meaning in my head and I can't quite think of the word as a positive thing. Please report back ASAP!

16 July 2008


They walk by my window every morning.

They are perhaps mid-sixties to early seventies, would be my guess. He: looks like a Bizzaro character. Shorts hemmed about 4 inches above the knee, heavy black shoes. Socks that are neither black nor white. He has never taken off his black sunglasses in any weather. They are as opaque, as thick as welding goggles. I assume they are prescription. He uses a cane and shuffles along with a cigar clamped in his jaws, billowing smoke. Every few moments he stops and removes the cigar and gets a few extra puffs in while holding it between his index and middle fingers like a cigarette.

She: not only does not use a cane, but pumps her arms in powerwalking fashion. Appears determined and, oddly, robust. Her clothing is nondescript: active old-person synthetic. She walks much faster than him and goes past him every few moments, overshooting by about 15-20 feet, then looping back, circling his rear. She doesn't usually acknowledge him in word or deed, but keeps up her strange circular pace.

I imagine they begin and end this strange ballet in roughly the same place, and I wonder which will outlive the other. That is the goal, isn't it?

It shouldn't be difficult for me to see this in my future. But the problem is envisioning any sort of future at all. My present looks so much like my past that the future happens in slow motion; happens as tomorrow or maybe the coming weekend, not 10 or 15 years from now, when I may well require a cane. And an understanding spouse.

14 July 2008

My summer of the cargo-short

Since being laid off in April by the massive corporation that formerly employed me, I have been in the ranks of the nominally unemployed. Which is not to say literally "unemployed"--I have plenty to do, dammit, and I find it amazing how short the days have become, not to mention how little I accomplish in any given one.

At any rate, I now have no work-imposed dress code and am free to wear whatever I choose (within self-imposed bounds). I've spent the entirety of a few days wearing what is called "loungewear" (the word conjures visions of John Lurie garb, but it is meant to denote a pajama-type clothing). My kids can't seem to distinguish between my "loungewear" and my underwear, however, and for some reason I seem to accomplish even less than normal when I'm wearing it so I've dropped the long boxer-short-with-drawstring look from the daylight rotation and have been wearing a variation of the cargo short almost every day.

Certainly this ubiquitous article of clothing need not be described: a cotton or ripstop material, (sometimes with an adjustable waist) that is cut approximately at the knees and sports generously-sized pockets on the side of the leg. They can be seen in great numbers anywhere tourists frequent--waterfronts, National Parks, malls, etc.

I'm not really a sartorial rebel, understand; never have been. That's not to say I normally join the lemming-like hordes in my fashion choices, either. I'm happy with khakis (no pleats, please) or Levis. Not much for hats, sandals, epaulets or scarves. Same for ironic t-shirts, large logos or the skinny, striped leather sneaker. Too old (read: fat) for stovepipe pants or fitted shirts. But for me, as so many others, the cargo short is the perfect summer trouser. As you might expect, there are a few rules. Most important is probably the length (the hem should just cover the patella). Too much longer and you look like a 40-something white wanna-be gang banger. Too short and you look either like Lt. Dingle on RENO-911 or one of those annoyingly-fit guys who read Outside magazine and backpack the Grand Canyon. They should also not be made of blue-denim, for similar bad-connotation reasons (Joe Dirt, Kid-Rock--these kinds of things).

The key to the appeal of the cargo is the side pocket: a voluminous one is best, with space for wallet, notepad, pen, cell phone, even prescription bottles, if you don't mind the rattling sounds they make. It's a bit puzzling why the pockets should be the primary appeal; I could never imagine myself wearing full-on cargo pants. Too para-military, I guess.

I could go on to enumerate the virtues of the best pair (last-year's Red-Sand, of which I stupidly bought only one khaki pair), the runner-up (Polo Jeans Co.) and the cheap also-rans (Union Bay) but I guess I've gone on long enough. Soon enough the c-short will land on the scrap heap of fashion history and become a specialty item. Like something your father would wear.

12 July 2008

Do you call it accidental...

...when you give your seven-year old a camera and they start taking interesting photos? Granted, this was one keeper out of a lot of dross, but that's about my own average ratio, too.

Since my kids are woefully underexposed to television they tend to actually "play" a great deal. For the past few weeks, however, they have been largely confined to the indoors due to the poor air quality in Northern California. This has meant a lot of dress-up type activity, and bridal play is one of their favorites. This is only mildly distressing to me since it has been made clear to them that "college" comes before "marriage". I do find myself asking them "what did you take your degree in?" To which my 9-year old replies, "Reading," bless her little heart...

09 July 2008

"Old" World?

I didn't get a chance to ride this beauty as I only had a few moments, but it appears to be a reconstructed Italian carousel. Just happened upon on California 152, near Hollister. Nor-Cal residents will know the Casa de Fruta--a sort of fruit stand on steroids. In general it's much too glossy (and pricey) to be called a "fruit stand". It must have started out as one thirty or forty years ago but has now grown into a compound with restaurant and permanent store (though cleverly designed to retain the feel of a glitzy farmer's market). From the smell of things there is a petting zoo or pony rides nearby but I did not investigate that far. There is a mini-train ride for kids, and, as you see, this carousel.

05 July 2008

The Patriotic Segway

I'm not sure what this group of Segway riders had to do with anything, but they were a part of possibly the smallest parade I have ever witnessed. My family continues to attend our local Independence Day parade out of stubbornness and a fatalistic commitment to local affairs but it is getting more and more difficult to justify not packing up and sneaking off to the bigger and much better parade a few miles away.

03 July 2008

Mechanical Watches and the Tamagotchi Gesture

The allure of the mechanical watch came surging to the forefront of my consciousness over the past year or so. It has proven to be an expensive compulsion, too. Each watch is (er, seems) more desirable than the last, and the grand sum even exceeds the "grail watch" you wanted most to begin with. As it stands, I still don't own a 70s era Rolex Submariner, but I do have a bunch of other handwind and automatic watches.

Like all mechanical and analog devices, the watches require a certain amount of care. At the most basic level it consists of winding the mainspring or at least wearing an automatic watch, which will wind itself from your normal wrist/arm movements. At the higher level, mechanical watches require a certain degree of maintenance: perhaps a cleaning, lubrication and adjustment ("CLA" to the cognoscenti) every few years. The living genius William Gibson addressed the issues of watch collecting and maintenance in an essay for Wired magazine.

I do own one quartz watch which I plan on selling soon. Quartz watches were the rage in the late 1970s, and still have the lion's share of the consumer market. They are cheaper to manufacture, more accurate and less demanding of service, needing only a new battery every few years. But as evidenced by a trip to virtually any thrift store, most people just use them as costume jewelry and toss them out when the batteries go dead, particularly if they actually look like costume jewelry.

I suppose it is an inevitable result of aging that you pine for those things that seemed to be the bee's knees in your adolescence. In my case these are typewriters, Rolex watches and a few other things. It is sad to reflect that even these relatively harmless objects of desire were originally inserted into my brain by advertising. I distinctly recall perusing the Rolex ads in whatever magazine I was reading back then (maybe Outdoor Life or Field & Stream or later, Playboy). Unfortunately such ads also helped cement the Camel guy as a cool dude. This and an already smoking friend helped lead to a decades-long nicotine addiction (though now it's sated with 2mg gum).

Still, dubious origin and all, mechanical watches are another link to the past and another way of slowing down the warp speed of daily life. You must choose which one suits the occasion and your attire, wind it and set the time. And no longer can you dial P-O-P-C-O-R-N on your telephone! Ma Bell in her infinite wisdom has done away with that time-telling service.

Which makes me wonder about rotary dial telephones. Do the telcos still support pulse dialing? If so, I'll be looking for one of those wall-mount rotary dialers soon.

02 July 2008

The Strangely Persistent Appeal of the Drive-In Movie

Granted, it helps if you are able to get your hands on some first class medication, which, thanks to my crotchety lower back, I am. Percocet and Valium can give you a feeling of serenity and focus that is necessary to tune out the distractions. There are any number of these: passing freeway traffic, the idiot in the car in front of you who repeatedly turns on his rear truck-bed lights, the couple who have brought what seem to be fourteen kids and two vehicles (they will make approximately 17 trips to the bathroom and engage in a spirited debate about something without actually coming to blows), the seven or so vehicles that will pack up and leave mid-film with their headlights on high and raising clouds of dust, the hilarious pranksters with laser pointers...

I could go on but as I said, my medication enabled me to achieve an almost mystical focus. And I needed every bit of serenity to concentrate on the mystery of Wall-E. I can't really fault the film much (though it is a bit preachy) but it definitely is not going to hold a child's focus for very long--at least not at a drive in. Part of the problem is the dearth of actual dialog--lots of robot cooing, beeping and squeaking but lacking in the lower-elementary grade attention-getting-and-holding communication. This as opposed to Kung Fu Panda, which kept interest to the very end.

The theater is actually hamstrung in having to delay the start of the film until it is dark enough to actually project it onto a screen--this would be about 9:00 pm where we are. Unfortunately, they are also (being a drive-in) hidebound by the code of their guild to start the previews at least 20-30 minutes late, which I surmise allows them to pack as many vehicles as possible onto the lot. All of this means the actual start time of the film is close to 10:00 pm--not ideal for a parking lot full of small children.

I found it amusing that both Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda were the first legs of double features. Following Wall-E was supposed to be the second Narnia film, which I gather clocks in somewhere near the three-hour mark and would have started around midnight. As for me and mine, we weren't waiting around to find out.

At any rate, I enjoyed the show and plan on going again. There is just something about dumping the kids in the back of the truck with sleeping bags and pillows and a buttload of glow-sticks, whipping out a folding chair and a beer and relaxing in the relative cool of the evening.

(photo by Chris Seufert Photography:


01 July 2008

Sudoku vs the NYT Crossword

I have to say it is heartening to see the Sudoku craze continue to sweep across our great land. It is reassuring to know there are so many addicted to these "logic" puzzles because it means there is an entire population segment that is "logical". It is my sincere hope that these are the people who will design thoughtful computer operating systems, refastenable diaper tabs, digital camera sub-menus and other conveniences of the modern life. I say this only because I once tried to complete one of these puzzles (probably one from Sudoku for the Brain-Dead or Sudoku for Toddlers) and I very nearly got it solved only to find an error that meant the entire thing was ruined. This in contrast to my spouse, who regularly completes these things whilst preparing dinner and possibly completes them in her head, Einstein-like, while we're making love.

If you haven't guessed from the title, I'm more of a crossword man. Sure, I end up working hard by Wednesday, struggling by Thursday and actually making audible teeth-gnashing on Friday and Saturday but I find it infinitely more rewarding. For one thing, there is a simple pleasure just in solving some ingeniously twisted clues. For example (20 Across) Emergency food of Operation Overlord? Answer: ddaykration. Now that is just the kind of thing that presses my dopamine receptor buttons, and it's not something you can du in Sudo-ku. The "logic" puzzle requires that your gratification be delayed (in classic Tantric fashion) until the entire puzzle is complete, whereas crossword people get to enjoy multiple puzzle-gasms (11. Down: Compact's lack. Answer: legroom).

I'm not being facetious in my gratitude, I'm just surprised there are so many people who can wrap their minds around number puzzles in all their permutations. Perhaps I never recovered from failing 4th grade mathematics, but that many numbers in a grid, with no clues--no words-- just turns my brain to jelly. I salute those of you out there who are keeping our astronauts safe and developing material that keeps garden hoses from kinking.

Now...5. Down: Surfing equipment?

Ah! m-o-d-e-m!