Wednesday, December 29, 2010


No amount of rereading can make this sentence better. Or even make it make sense.

"One day, the writer would recognize the near simultaneity of connected but dissimilar momentous events - these are what move a story forward - but at the moment Danny lost consciousness in Carmella's sweet-smelling arms, the exhausted boy had merely been thinking: How coincidental is this? (He was too young to know that, in any novel with a reasonable amount of forethought, there were no coincidences.)" - from Last Night in Twisted River

John Irving wrote that, a writer who once wrote my favorite book (A Prayer for Owen Meany). A writer who has said something to the effect of, I don't write well, but I rewrite well. Makes me wonder what the first draft looked like.

Other flinch-worthy moments include writing Italian accents like they were written for 60's pizza commercials: "Say-a no more, Dominic - we don't-a need to know why, or who you're running from!"  and awkward race distinctions like this (contrasting an Italian with a Native American): "Her olive-brown skin was not unlike Jane's reddish-brown coloring; her slightly flattened nose and broad cheekbones were the same, as were her dark-brown eyes - like Jane's, Carmella's eyes were almost as black as her hair."  Reddish-brown coloring? Really? 'Cause she's an injun?

Really? Really, John Irving? I'm still going to finish it. It's still John Irving.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Confessions of a Leftist Elitist, Part MCVIII

Next time I get my hair cut, I'm going to ask my stylist, "Do they teach you how to cut hair for developmentally challenged girls who can, at best, comb their hair in various directions after they wash it? Because if they did, give me that."

I have had, like, thirty years to learn how to work a hair dryer and I still cannot seem to wield one in a way that makes my hair look better after I use it than before. Part of the problem is my hair, which is full of cowlicks and half-full of curls. It won't do curly well, and it won't for the life of me do straight. However, most of the problem may be my impatience. Even though my hair is so fine it can dry before I get the hair dryer plugged in, I often lose interest before I get halfway done.

Last week, I scrunched some mousse in my hair, got sidetracked by something shiny, didn't even so much as comb it before I picked out my outfit, slathered on my half-bottle of lotion, got dressed, and picked up my towel and dog-walking clothes before remembering my hair was as I left it, crumpled like a bad essay on the Peloponnesian War. I tried to save it, but it was too late. I went through the rest of the day like that. The sad part was, it was so close to my usual hair disaster that nobody said, "What the hell is that on your head?"

This morning, I was tippy-toeing around in the bathroom, trying not to wake up The Captain, asleep after a long night at the fire station, wondering whether to attempt hair dryer success today after the 10,950th failures that came before. Then I laughed and walked out.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Best Worst Movie You Missed In 1988

So Jason Schwartzman was on Fresh Air this week and he mentioned sitting at home as a kid watching his cousin, Nicholas Cage, in Vampire's Kiss. He was so blown away that he watched it over and over again until he could do all Cage's scenes.

I was intrigued. Drew and I don't have a "Song" like other couples do, but we have a Movie. Well, a couple of movies. Neither of them are what you would call, you know, good, but they are, for reasons shrouded in history, ours.

One is Valley Girl.  Nick Cage's performance in what could have been a forgettable confection based on an even more confectionary pop song is a tour de force of scenery chewing above and beyond the call of duty or logic. It's thrilling to watch the budding crazy.

Since Valley Girl, he has shown some signs of the old wild-eyed hammery (Moonstruck, Wild at Heart, Con Air), but after that 1983 break-out performance, he seemed to reel in the crazy and just give the audience enough goofiness to remind them how much they enjoyed a glazed ham.

But all this time, there was this...THING that he did after Moonstruck and before Wild at Heart, where he let his freak flag fly at the tippy top of the mast.

If you are at all interested in seeing Nicholas Cage shrieking the entire alphabet at his psychologist, this is the film for you.  If you are at all curious at how Cage could get the most out of the line, "Am I getting THROUGH TO YOU, ALVA?" and if you just want to hear Cage speak in the silliest foppily psuedo-English put-on delivery (except when the character "forgets" to put it on), then Dude. You need to experience Vampire's Kiss. It's all there.

What's it all about? In spite of the title, there are no real vampires in the movie.  Cage's character, with the help of a few coincidences and a lot of crazy, convinces himself he's a vampire and the illest of illnesses ensues.

It's on Netflix instant view. I highly recommend it if you have a couple of hours and maybe a bottle of wine to kill.  If not, try the ten-minute YouTube greatest hits version.

You're welcome and I'm sorry.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I was doing great on my secret diet. Hunger didn't bother me. Salads were my friend. I was losing two pounds a week for three weeks straight.

Then hormones struck and I gained three pounds overnight.

My diet mojo was lost.

That was a week ago.

All I have to say is that Monday better watch its back. Because Monday, the Double Secret Fat Killer Diet is back on.

You might remark that it is Friday, and I could get quite a leg up on Monday if I just started back on the DSFKD right now.

You might want to shut the fuck up.

Friday, October 01, 2010

In Which I Wish I Were There

Dean is in LA, competing at the USA Cycling Elite Track National Championships.

Every year, Dean goes down, freaks mostly out, pulls out a win in the team sprint on the last day, and everyone moves on to training for next year.

Every year that I travel down to watch, I freak totally out, try to tamp down my Gordian-knotted stomach with whatever Valium or Xanax I can scrounge, feel worse for it, and vow to stay home next year for the sake of us all.

The last two years, I have taken my own advice and have stayed away. It helps me cope and it allows Dean to relax and concentrate on his job.

Somehow, my stomach did not get the memo and is acting up regardless of the 962 miles between it and LA.

Despite my stomach's whining, I am still missing seeing Dean with his inscrutable game face wheel his bike onto the track, get in position, give a last minute tug to his toe clips, and then play some genetically modified hybrid of pro wrestling and drag racing.

Tonight, he has escaped disaster again by making it into the match sprint finals, but he was matched with one of the fastest in the business for the next round.

Damn. Wish I were there. I'm sure my stomach wouldn't sustain permanent damage.

Next year for sure. Maybe.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

You Need Cute Pet Pictures

And I need a new, easy blog post. Everybody wins.

This is Scotty in drag. His first groomer put a bow in his hair. I didn't go back. Not because of the bow, but because the bow seemed to be the only clean thing in the place.

This is Scotty after a walk in the rain. He doesn't care about the rain. Annie cares A LOT.

This is what Scotty looks like at his most relaxed.

This is how Annie makes sure she has control over the ball during rest periods.

This is Coco wishing this stupid roasted chicken carrier was more like a box.

This is Coco watching Jaws with me.  She likes fish.

Check back later for more lazy blogging.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Batten Down the Hatches

You've heard the joke that getting old is not for wimps. If you're in your twenties, that might sound like an excuse for saggy arms and spare tires. But believe me, with age comes not just wisdom, but some surprising rounds of pain and mind games you never see coming. 

Unless you listen to me.

You know about wrinkles. You know about gray hair. You may even know that women around menopause age need two hundred to three hundred calories less per day, which means eating the same way you have all your life will now make you fat. But do you know that menopause can make you crazy?

Most of the literature written by doctors lists "mood swings" along with hot flashes and increased abdominal fat (I know!) as symptom of menopause, but later in their narrative dismiss the same mood swings as those darn ladies worrying about their fat gut, thinning hair and wrinkles. 

Being a woman and all, I have come to recognize a monthly hormone storm and distinguish it from emotions that have an origin outside my own neurotransmitters. However, recognizing a hormone storm does not give me much power over the emotional havoc it wreaks. Now with the added bonus of the Creeping Menopause, the storms are getting stronger.

Yesterday morning, I had a category 5 hurricane in my head, and nothing I tried could calm the storm.  This one came in the form of a black-hole size depression, and made me (as usual) feel empathetic towards those of us with more chronic forms. 

As I walked the dogs, my own evil black cloud hovering over my head and a lump in my throat, I tried to force myself to be happy by reminding myself that I have a nice house, funny dogs, a wonderful husband and family. The painful sadness remained unfazed. I tried to shake myself out of it by telling myself that I should just be damn thankful that I am not one of the 1.2 billion humans on the planet without access to a flush toilet. The throat lump was only getting bigger. I tried to run it out, but I stepped off the treadmill feeling worse than before. It all ended soggily in a crying jag in the tub that continued unabated through drying and dressing and finally in a puddle on The Captain's shoulder.

Within a half-hour of the shoulder-puddle, it was over (luckily, since my next task was balancing the checking account, nothing you want to attempt while in a vulnerable state).

Why am I oversharing? Because somebody needs to. I would like to know that somebody else is crying while shaving their armpits because there's nothing to do but get on with the day, even if it requires duct taping a box of Kleenex to their face. So if you get any comfort in knowing this, then you're welcome.

And if you don't, start running before I have one of those anger hormone storms.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nixonland, Page 341 and Counting

I'm a slow reader, which is embarrassing for a member of the Leftist Elite, but I do great on reading comprehension tests.

After a summer of struggle (and a few sidetracks, such as reading Little Women and Werewolves, listening to several Audible books and a half of a Kindle-for-iPhone book - hey, it's a weighty subject) I am up to page 341 in the 748-page (not counting footnotes) opus Nixonland by Rick Perlstein. I probably would have not made it to the cash register with it, but once Patton Oswalt quoted from it on a podcast, I was determined to not let a very busy comedian trump me in the Leftist Elite department.

The reason I bring it up now and not 406 pages from now is that every page seems to resonate with the current political climate - you know, the crazy Vietnam war, the dumbass Iraq war, the massaging of the media, the left against the right, etc.

The page in question recounts how the public's reaction to the severe beating meted out by cops and National Guardsmen on teenagers and journalists alike at the 1968 Chicago Convention was not anger at the cops, but overwhelming anger at the hippies and blacks in general (by then, there had been a rash of inner-city riots with a myriad of causes, lack of fair housing opportunities being only one). The Average American saw cops pummeling kids, and assumed, no, imagined scenarios in which, the kids had driven them to it, and got what they deserved.

Perlstein points out that at that time, there had been more damage done by terrorism (in the form of bombing and arson) on the right, by groups such as the Cuban right and conservative militia groups, then by the hippy-dippy left. However, the images of the leaders of the Black Panthers making threats against the police were so powerful that the majority of the country were convinced that the hippies and the blacks were the sole architects of the lawless state of the cities. And they certainly did their part. Both sides resorted to random acts of violence (i.e. terrorism) to promote their cause.

I saw a tweet today with a quote from a right-wing wingnut conflating some of the more fear-mongering names from the sixties with the mosque contemplated to be completed some two large blocks from the north side of the gaping hole that is still ground zero.

First, if I had not been in the middle of reading this book, I, a forty-eight-year-old, would not have recognized any of those names, as I was six in 1968, so who is the audience for this sort of scare? (Answer: your grandma and grandpa. They still vote.)

Second, who were the terrorists in the 60s? That's right. Us. Us meaning We Christians and We Hippy Hindus. Islamic terrorism was not a thing. Yet, we were just as scared. More, if you realize that our fear elected Nixon.

It doesn't matter what you're scared of. Somebody is going to find a way to push your buttons with your own fear. Don't let them. The founding fathers didn't.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Please Don't Tap On The Glass

Joking while texting is very unsatisfying - especially now, in the post-LOL days (and the pre-HHHH days*).

A text message conversation I had with Dean while he and Jenny were touring the Newport Aquarium last Wednesday. I'll be here all week. Enjoy the veal.

Dean sent me a text message consisting of this photo.

Me:  The 2nd part of the sentence doesn't make me not want to do the 1st part.

Dean:  Turns out it's somewhat difficult to agitate an otter.

Me:  Try calling them weasels.

*I'm starting a new LOL. It stands for ha-ha-ha-ha!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rest In Peace (Eventually), Charles Lee Tracy

The Captain's dad died. He was a Good Man: honorable, loyal, slow to anger, and quick to laugh. It was pretty sudden - after fighting cancer for something like six months and surviving in remission for six years, the damn cancer swooped back, and within a week of feeling poorly, he was gone. It was a hard blow for The Captain and his family.

The Captain's mom and dad, Marlene and Chuck, in 2007 at Dean and Jenny's wedding

But there is no better cure for grief than a big family funeral. And no, not because it's cleansing and closuring, but because there is no time to think about the sad passing of a beloved when you are negotiating your way around twenty of your closest and craziest relatives.

Oh, come on. I can talk about The Captain's relatives, because they are no crazier than mine or yours. Every family just has a slightly different brand of crazy.

Chuck and Marlene, putting up with some of Dean and Jenny's crazy.

The craziest thing about The Captain's family is that they live in Ridgecrest, California. Ridgecrest is in the uninhabitable expanse of the Mojave desert, within spitting distance of Death Valley (unfortunately, after twenty minutes exposed to the super-heated air, it is impossible to produce spit, so this cliche is unhelpful).

They live there, and the town exists, not on some dare gone horribly wrong, but because it is the home of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center. The China Lake Naval Weapons Center is in Ridgecrest because China Lake is actually a large dry lake bed, so far from anything important that the Navy can practice blowing things up there and no one will be inconvenienced. You know, because of the uninhabitable desert thing.

Chuck Tracy worked at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center for twenty years, so it makes sense that they lived there. However, it must be noted that they did not move away after Chuck's retirement, so it has to be deduced that they enjoy living there. Indeed, The Captain's sisters choose to live there, as do other family members, even though they have experienced life elsewhere. There's something powerful about familiarity. That's all I can figure. Well, that, and steady employment.

We drove down, because in addition to baggage fees, legroom fees, blanket rentals, and food fees, the airlines have quietly done away with the emergency bereavement fare that once reduced the price of a last-minute ticket by up to fifty percent. Now, if it exists, it's a wopping five percent discount. So we made arrangements for the dogs and hopped into the Prius for the two-day trip down.

Travel tip #1: do not stay at the Motel 6 in Carson City. Just trust me on this.

Something about driving into Ridgecrest, which we have done many times over the past twenty-eight years, always makes me want to eat York Peppermint Patties.

After some (understandably) distressingly tense voices on the phone over the last week, we didn't know what to expect at The Captain's mom's house, but everyone was on their best behavior. Plans were made for the funeral the next day. The pallbearers, in honor of Chuck's favorite piece of haberdashery, were to all wear Hawaiian shirts. Flowery shirts were distributed to those who were undershirted, and The Captain's mom warned those known to be promptness-challenged to be there on time.

Travel tip #2: No matter what Motel you stay in, get yourself a white noise machine. I don't know if they work, but they couldn't hurt. Air conditioners cycle on and off. Dumbasses talk outside your room. Cars gun their engines and honk their horns. Neighbors play their TVs too loud. Motels are just not designed for sleep.

The funeral was lovely, although I couldn't help but notice that the front wall of the church held a strong resemblance to the Laugh In set, if it were decorated by a 70-year-old Victorian Bed and Breakfast proprietor.

The next stop was Bakersfield National Cemetery, an hour's drive away. If you've never seen a hearse lead a funeral procession at somewhere over 80 miles an hour, then I win, because I have.

Bakersfield National Cemetery is brand spanking new, with a temporary headquarters in a mobile unit, and bulldozers going nonstop. It makes for less than a restful place of rest, but I'm confident that eventually, it will be nice. Right now, it's a dusty, loud construction site.

The highlight of the interment ceremony (if there can be a highlight) was the military rites performed by the Blue Eagles Honor Guard from Edwards Air Force Base (Chuck retired from the Air Force before he moved his family to Vernonia, allowed his son, Captain America, to get involved with a local hussy, then hightailed it out of there to save the rest of his family and take a job at China Lake.) They were beyond sharp, in ninety-plus-degree heat, in dark blue dress uniforms. I've never seen a flag folded with that kind of aggressive perfection. It was beauty in blue.

Stock photo of the Air Force Honor Guard. You get the idea.

We ate at Del Taco on the way home from the funeral. I don't know. It just seemed right.

We stayed a couple of days after the funeral to visit with The Captain's mom. The temperature topped out at around 105 most days, so there were no pickup games of touch football on the lawn. We mostly stayed inside and watched the kids take short forays into the back yard and back in for needed rehydration. Luckily, Mom will continue to have plenty of kids and grandkids around to keep her busy.

Travel tip #3: Do NOT stay at the Mt. Shasta City Inn & Suites. Beds past their dump date. Bathrooms that smell like an old mop. "Continental breakfast" that consists of Cheerios and an empty coffee pot. Broken air conditioner. All for twice the price of the awful Carson City Motel 6.

Now we are glad to be home but still sad about losing Chuck. Chuck was a wonderful man who touched a lot of lives in nothing but a positive way. But maybe, with the help of crazy relatives in a crazy place, we're a little less sad than before.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Born To Run For A Little While Then Stop

So I read Born to Run. Well, I put it into my brain through my ears via audiobook.

If you aren't hip to the trend, in Born to Run, Christopher MacDougall advocates for barefoot and minimally-shod running while telling the story of the sandal-wearing Tarahumara Indians and their running exploits, both in the U.S. and in their own Copper Canyon.  It's a hell of a tale, ending in a corker of a foot race through the hot, treacherous canyon with a Seven Samurai-worthy cast of characters.

MacDougall has a persuasive argument for (a) the anthropological evidence that our bodies were molded into running machines by a high-mileage lifestyle in the hundred thousand years we spent growing big, meat-eating brains and yet were not quite smart enough to make spears, and (b) the fact that our intricately arched feet are more damaged by the heel-strike running style that the modern running shoe enforces than by running in nothing at all.

MacDougall and several other like-minded barefoot-running or minimal-running enthusiasts and advocates urge that to go barefoot means to relearn to run, focusing on landing on either the lateral side of the midfoot or the ball of the foot, shortening your stride, and straightening your posture. He believes with these changes, runners (like himself) will be able to run longer with fewer injuries.

I bought it. It's worth a try. I've never been able to run longer distances over a long term without injury, pain or whining, and running shoe stores always outfit me with the "beast" style shoes for the problem pronators, something that MacDougall says only makes you more prone to injuries. What the hell? I have nothing to lose, since I wore out my last pair of running shoes by doing nothing but walking. I will give barefoot running a try, but with a skeptical eye, and a slow-and-steady approach.

I started, as many suggest, by slipping my shoes off once I got to the park, and running around the perimeter of the grass soccer fields for a mile or so.  It felt SPECTACULAR. And Scotty liked it too. I kinda felt like a kid, and not a little silly, but I kept it up for a week, and at the end of the week, I was ready to take the next step.

Although Nike has a bad rep in the barefoot running community by singlehandedly inventing the running shoe industry, I know a nice person who works at Nike, and I was able to get a screaming deal on a pair of Nike Frees, their entry into the barefoot running trend - a light slipper with a flexy sole - just enough to protect the foot, seemingly without messing with one's natural barefoot stylings.

I have worn them twice since I bought them, and I have to say, I am cautiously optimistic. My runs felt, if a little self-conscious about my new mid-foot strike style, quite easy and less tiring than usual, and my feet and legs feel no scary consequences other than a little (expected) tightness in the Achilles area (minimal shoes have minimal heels, unlike my usual stability runners).

I will report back if this fad sticks to me. I do tend to go whole hog on things. For a little while. Then I stop.

However, whether you buy the barefoot running thing or no, I do recommend the book. The story woven throughout is a page turner, and there is a lot of knowledge worth knowing in there.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Annie Keeps Staring At Me

Annie is having one of her Alzheimer moments. If you know Annie, you would expect her to have the quiet kind of Alzheimer's, where she just lies around and thinks she's on a cruise ship. But no, she is developing a more combative strain, where the last scene will be Annie in her housecoat in a standoff with the cops, getting gunned down on the front porch for threatening them with a blunderbuss.

This evening, she ran out the door in a panic when I opened it for some political door-to-doorers.  I had to catch her by the butt and pull her back in.  She continued to try to get out the door even when I was shutting it on her face. She wouldn't come when I called. She ran away when I told her to sit down for a moment and chill so she could eat dinner without hurling.

So I put her outside to "reset." Sometimes her brain gets fried on overdoses of sleep and she gets paranoid. Now she is outside, alternately pacing and trying to lie quietly on the grass. She keeps looking over at me, either hoping that I will decide she has calmed down enough for dinner, or possibly because she is wondering whether her stay of execution has arrived from the governor.

Oops, now she's barking at the kids next door.  (Annie doesn't bark.)

It's going to be a long, crazy night.

Update:  Annie seems back to "normal" this morning. She was able to eat and hobble around the block on her wrecked shoulders. (What are "shoulders" in dog anatomy? Withers? Dubloons? Loonies? Wait, that's Canadian money. "Shoulders" will do.) I swear, she will outlive us all.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sweet Dreams

I wrote a screenplay in my sleep last night.

I had this dream where The Captain and I had to move to Texas or something. The Captain had bought a house, sight unseen, online. You know, amazing deal, couldn't pass it up.

The house looks just like the stuff we like: Frank Lloyd Wright meets The Anchorman's Pad.  Heavy dark doors, low light, atrium-like back yard. And goes for miles on one floor.  The catch? It's a duplex! And there is no partition between the two halves! It's like a yuppy hippy commune house! And the lady of the other house is a queen beyotch!

And hijinks ensue, including great big stuffed hams in OUR refrigerator, and a party on OUR side of the house. Oh, the money trains starts HERE.

Friday, July 16, 2010

In Which The MaxFunCan Summer Gets Under Way

As we still have to work for a living (I know! Right?), the MaxFunCan has been limited to long weekends this summer. We have taken it, along with the two collies, on short jaunts to Central Oregon and the Oregon Coast.

The Can seemed so much more spacious without the two land sharks milling about and bumping into things. At night (well, all the time), most of the floor space is taken up by large mounds of dog. But man, does Scotty love camping! He gets so excited, he forgets all the Dog Whisperer manners I drilled into him, and cannot stop pulling on the leash. 

I wonder if he can smell bears and cougars. At the campground on the coast where we stayed July 9th through 11th, there was a sign that said, "Last bear sighting: _____________" and the blank was filled in in wax marker with 7/8/10. Dammit! Missed it by THAT MUCH! I kept my head on a swivel, but failed to catch sight of any bears. Cougars had been sighted there too, but not since May.

Annie seems to enjoy the sniffing part of camping, but has been limping quite theatrically lately, so we had to take short, slow walks with her, and then take her back to the trailer before letting Scotty pull us like a sleigh for a mile or two. And she wasn't able to pull herself up the two metal steps into the camper, so I got a lot of Collie Lifting in. She was mostly happy to lie still, as she does at home. We call her our Little Wet Blanket.

Tumalo State Park outside of Bend was a big hit with families. So much so that there seemed to be bicycle gangs forming amongst the camp urchins. The noise level was of an overcrowded-playground nature throughout our stay. Next time we head to Bend, we will be heading for more remote Forest Service campgrounds.

Annie, looking like she is enduring this little walk along Tumalo Creek.

Drew took me for a mountain bike ride that skirted along the edges of my abilities.

This is how I look on a mountain bike. The captain kept taking pictures of me while I rode. I must have looked funny.

This is what The Captain looks like on a mountain bike. Like Sven, your mountain biking guide and masseur. 

Washburne State Park on the Oregon Coast, north of Florence, was much quieter, and the campers' ages trended much higher, like 60 years higher. And the trail to the beach did not involve any rock climbing, which can be a reality on the "ruggedly beautiful" Oregon coast.

I took Drew for a hike that skirted along the edges of his abilities.

Here is The Captain looking like he's running short on patience and knee cartilage in the mile-square temperate rain forest that is Heceta Head.  It was in the high 70s with blue sky everywhere else and we were being rained on. We're almost there. (Then we hiked back.)

Yes, we hiked UP onto Heceta Head and then DOWN off of it to get to the lighthouse. 

Now Scotty's an itchy mess and needs another trip to the groomer. I've gained all my New Year's Resolution weight back, in no small part due to s'mores. The yard has been neglected. And the same half-completed canvas has sat on my easel for a month.

This is the Lighthouse Keeper's house at Heceta Head. It's rumored to be haunted, so I was disappointed not to find any ghostly images in the windows.

I would buckle down, but this weekend is the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge weekend, so we'll be planted out at the track, watching Dean race and eating booth food. 

Everything gets put off but the fun. I guess those are okay priorities.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Summer My Skin Tried To Kill Me

My skin and I have never seen eye to, um, eye on how best to behave. I like wearing it and all; in fact, I wouldn't go out without it, but I've always wished it wouldn't get so mad when I stayed out in the sun for more than twenty minutes without protection, or put on trendy cosmetics that may have been tested on animals, but not on humans of the Celtic persuasion.

I grew up in the 70s when suntans were compulsory, and came, not from a spray or lamp, but from hours spent slathered in baby oil, sizzling under the sun. And since (a) the sun was the only source of aesthetic acceptance, and (b) we lived in the Pacific Northwest, we dove out under it every chance we got, and at the first opportunity in the spring. This made for days that looked like some sort of bikini mass suicide, where on every spot of sunny grass, there were wads of inert white flesh, lying like beached belugas, turning to face the sun every ten minutes like shiny, flaccid sundials. Whoa. Simile overload. Sorry.

But years before that, when I was too young to care about suntans, I was also too young to care about sunburns. I would stay outdoors and play all day in the sun, and come back inside at night and peel dead, third-degree-sunburn skin off my shoulders. No big whoop.

The summer I graduated from high school, my skin had already had more than it could take and lashed back hard. My doctor (bless his soul) decided that the ugly mole on my left forearm looked a little, well, evil, so he convinced me to let him take it off. Whatever. It didn't bother me any. It was like a beauty mark. If a beauty mark was supposed to be brown, lumpy, black, waxy, maybe a little purple, and ambitious.

Okay, so we went to a lousy school with a lousy prom photographer. It was 1980. In Vernonia, Oregon. Look it up. It's a real place. Or watch that logger show on the Discovery Channel. I digress.  But it's the only picture of the Death Mole. You can see it my left arm. Yes, that's The Captain. Yes, I could write another entire post about this picture alone.

Turns out my sweet little doctor saved my life. It was melanoma. The super killy kind.

I was scheduled, like the next day, to go in and have as much of my arm flesh as I could spare taken out from around the mole area. They took a skin graft from my ass to cover the strip mine that was left of my arm.

So I had two wounds. The arm one and the ass one. As you can tell from the picture, I didn't have a lot of ass flesh to spare at the time, and they had a hard time getting the skin harvester machine (yes, there apparently is such a thing) to follow the bony curves of my hip, so the ass wound was bigger, area-wise, than the arm. I remember, ever too vividly, the nurses positioning me with my ass up in the air and some sort of ultraviolet light trained on the wound as a healing aid, and some nincompoop coming into my semi-private room, opening MY curtain, and staring a while before realizing he was looking for my roommate.  If it happened today, I might have laughed. Or yelled. At eighteen, a seriously traumatic event.

The ass wound healed, although the accidental flashing episode still smarts a little. The arm took some time, and a lot of dressing changes. At first, the dressing changes made me woozy and sick. Well, I guess they always made me woozy and sick. Touching it still feels like I'm touching my spleen or something - unnatural.

Since then, I've visited the dermatologist on a somewhat annual basis, and they usually find something they don't like the looks of. I've had so many moles removed, I cannot tell you how many, but if, as a conservative estimate, I have had one mole taken out every two years since I was eighteen, that would be  fifteen moles. That sounds low. It's probably more. I have learned to take out my own stitches to save myself a trip back to the office. But they have always come back clean.

I got three moles taken off this last time, and one came back iffy. Not necessarily cancery, but not NOT cancery either, so my dermatologist, with my dire history in front of her, decided to cut wide and deep. There was no cancer in the wider cut, but it's been two weeks of pain with this one, and a 2 and 1/2 inch long scar on the back of my arm to add to the others.

I'm wondering whether, in the Shakespearean tradition, once my dermatologists have taken a cumulative pound of flesh from me whether my debts shall be then forgiven. I hope so, because I'm racking up quite a lot of dermatologist bills.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

$3 Music Review: Minus the Bear - Omni

The most important thing I learned about Minus the Bear while poking about the internet was that their name stems from an inside joke regarding a date review of a friend of the band that was something like, "You know that 70s show, BJ and the Bear? It was like that minus the bear."

The next important thing I learned was that they are a PNW band - specifically from Seattle. That earns them some (unearned) points.

The least important thing was what the music critics thought of this album. I started researching how I was supposed to feel about this band and their latest album a while ago after enjoying it during a treadmill session, and got a bit too much snark in the face to listen objectively to the music for a while. So I set it aside for a week and came back to it.

For the record, the critics are singing, in tune, that this album is like the sonic version of Lieutenant Dangle putting the moves on you - a completely limp, over-blowdried attempt to be supersexy.

What I hear are very listenable tunes that work well as workout tunes and work tunes, as long as you don't listen too closely to the lyrics, which are, at times Dangle-worthy.

For instance (real lyrics):

Summer Angel

And when her kisses came they rain down
And when by body moved she made sound
(chorus) My summer angel keeps me on the run

My Time (a great summer song in spite of lyrics like these:)

And you're holding on to me like an old love 
That you know every inch of 
When I feel you start to go
Take it slow, 'til your body's saying!

Hold Me Down (another pretty song, in spite of:)

And I'm in the wind.
I am going to let it take me where it may.
Maybe it lifts me to New Orleans, 
Or the dark streets of L.A.

The dark streets of L.A.! I love that! And if you order now, you get gems like, "Running out of excuses/When we know what the truth is," and "I will surely chase you down/Lure you in with a lonely sound!"

No, seriously, this is a keeper for both me and The Captain, despite (and maybe, just a little bit because of) the incredibly awkwardly corny lyrics. If nothing else, check out a summer stand-out song in this video for My Time, with Extra Sparkle Motion!. (YouTube, you better work for me this time.)

On the cold/lukewarm/hot scale, I'm giving it an enthusiastic lukewarm.

Monday, May 31, 2010

$3 Music Review: The National - High Violet

I had this review completely written, pasted something into it, went to delete the last pasted thing, got a little handsy with the touch pad on my Macbook and mistakenly deleted the whole thing, and Blogger helpfully auto-saved it at that moment.


And it was so important!

If not important, than at least an hour of my life.


Should I start over?

Here's a shortened version, because I've thrown the earbuds out of my ears in frustration and made a pouty noise, so I'm not in the same place, musically.

I've been cueing up The National's new release, High Violet, in the car, listening for a few songs, and then itchily switching the iPhone to Passion Pit or Two Door Cinema Club for a happiness break. My mood has been hormonally blackened over the past few days, and The National is not safe under severely stormy conditions. However, like Volcano Choir, the sound, the layers of sound, and even the mood of the sound, were heightened exponentially once played through my earbuds.

And what is the mood of the music? Um, brooding without being whiny. Deep without being dark. Thoughtful without being navel-gazing. It's best when the drums are anchored firmly to the bass to match that deep voice.  It's the stuff on your iPod that gives your walk around the city that extra gravitas.

Critics aren't sure whether this album stands up to the (what was that word they used? divinity? excellenceness? superlove?) esteem in which they hold their earlier release, Boxer, but they mostly like it. And after a chat with my music therapist, Dean, and some YouTube time, I found that Boxer (which had gone unnoticed by me on account of my nerdism) does hold some divine songs, including "All the Wine," which is a cocktail hour playlist MUST.  However, this one has some outstanding cuts as well, such as "Bloodbuzz Ohio," "Terrible Love," "Sorrow," "England," you know, I'm starting to like the whole thing.

Now a word about The Voice. The National's lead, Matt Berninger, has a distinctive buttery sleepy baritone that, once you see the box that the voice comes wrapped in, gives you one of those Rick Astley moments (THAT voice comes out of THAT face?). However, absorbing the two helps give the songs more of a whimsical vibe then if the words and that voice had come out of the large, bearlike fellow you might have originally imagined. You can experience the voice+quirkiness best in this video.

My Final Opinion re The National's High Violet on the cold/lukewarm/hot scale: Hot.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

$3 Music Review: The Hold Steady

Okay, the last time we met, I was griping about aging while new young bands keep popping up with newer, better versions of the music I used to listen to.  Now we are going to talk about a band that has been around for a while, aging along with me (although on a parallel track started somewhat later).

Craig Finn, the front man for the Hold Steady will turn 40 next year, and his lyrics, if not his music, is showing signs of someone starting to look behind him at the damn kids and their destructive behavior, which he realizes is not unlike his own at their age. Now he's writing lyrics like, "You ask me not to do it, but you can't control the kids...We used to want it all, now we just want a little bit." If the lyrics have become more wistful, the volume knob is still at eleven.

The Hold Steady's latest album, Heaven is Whenever, is more of the same Springsteen-heavy club rock, even more so without the more playfully inventive stylings of their former keyboardist, Franz Nicolay (for instance, there are no harpsichord solos, such as in "One for the Cutters" from the Stay Positive album).

Reasons to avoid The Hold Steady's Heaven is Whenever:

  1. Through three full listens, I have yet to find a "sing-a-long" song (Call back! from the song "Constructive Summer"! Get it?), such as "Sequestered in Memphis," from Stay Positive.
  2. These songs have very few hooks or memorable melodies - they have all been wrapped around Finn's lyrics almost as a second thought, so that the music seems to have been forced to fit.  Not that that is not the case with all Hold Steady songs to a degree. There are a lot of words there. But here it seems like these lyrics were fitted a little uncomfortably to these club rock anthems.
  3. The lack of hooky songs puts Craig Finn's voice front and center. The Village Voice's Rob Harvilla euphemistically notes that Finn's vocal efforts convey a "melodic disregard." At other times Harvilla likens his style to a carnival barker. Both are accurate.
Reasons to listen to The Hold Steady's Heaven is Whenever multiple times:

Those words. Craig Finn's lyrics are always a highlight.  What a gift of poetry. Here are some snippets from Heaven is Whenever:
There were a couple pretty crass propositions 
There were some bugs in the bars, there was a kid camped out by the coat check
She said the theme of this party's the industrial age
And you came in dressed like a train wreck

I know, right? Or how about this: 

There was that whole weird thing with the horses
I think they know exactly what happened, I don't think it needs any explaining
I'm pretty sure I wasn't your first choice
I think I was the last one remaining

or this: 

Don't it suck about the succubi, the bloodsuckers and the parasites?
They're never funny and they're all so scared to die
All the small talk seems like suicide, the spiderwebs with the legs and eggs and eyes
They creep up from behind

or, finally, this:

That one girl got me cornered in the kitchen, I said I'll do anything but clean
She wants to know what I like being better, a trash bin or an ice machine
Some writer's by the fridge, said he didn't make the gig, wants to know if I was drunk
He said some kids that he knows from the net said the sound kinda sucks

Yes. They play bar band music around these lyrics. That's the beauty and the sadness of it. Sometimes I feel like I should just bind the lyrics in a book, and then read them while listening to Philip Glass.

I'll listen some more, and I suspect that The Captain (although he is out rescuing citizens from themselves today as I am playing these songs on repeat) will enjoy it as well. It is welcome in the Driving With The Captain Playlist. But I don't think it will attain the playlist status of my other Mother's Day Music, or even of their former album, Stay Positive.

Of my new rating system of hot/lukewarm/cold, I'm giving this a Lukewarm.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

$3 Music Review: Two Door Cinema Club

To the basement, people! To the basement!

Oh, I really like this. Witty. Crisp. Fast moving. Pretty tunes and harmonies.

This is Two Door Cinema Club's debut album, "Tourist History," released in March of 2010.  According to Wiki, they are from Northern Ireland and their band name was born when one of the band members mispronounced the local cinema, Tudor Cinema.

These fellows sound young. So many members of my favorite bands are so not of my generation. I know I should still be listening to Elton John, or occasionally singing along to a Shakira song in the car (well, my hips don't lie), but I refuse to be age-appropriate when it comes to music.

The music that is being produced (although not played on the radio) today is so superior to what I listened to as a kid, I have no problem in moving on. I know I am not alone (hi, Chauncey), but I realize I may be in the minority among forty-somethings. (forty-something - not baby boomer. You may refer to   this earlier post that proves I am NOT a baby boomer.

Those of the Sound Opinions ilk, I give this an enthusiastic "buy it."

Monday, May 24, 2010

$3 Music Review: Volcano Choir

I'm listening to Volcano Choir. The Captain is enduring Volcano Choir.

Volcano Choir is everything The Captain cannot abide: repetition, unfamiliar chords, dissonance, unintelligible lyrics, and no catchy hooks.

None of those things disqualifies it for goodness in my opinion. However, it still has to be good.

Volcano Choir is a collaboration between Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and the Milwaukee-based instrumental band Collections of Colonies of Bees (which is not a bad attempt at Best Band Name Ever, and positively affects my opinion of their music).

Most of the music on their 2009 album "Unmap" is an interesting juxtaposition of soothing drones, harmonies, choppy bits of words and phrases, as well as dissonances, unconventional percussion, and experimental instrumentation - at times ethereal, divine and chantlike, at others, clanky and demanding. I would give four stars (out of the five-star iTunes system) to at least four out of the nine cuts on the album, but I'm not sure what I would DO with them.  For instance, the opening cut, "Husks and Shells," is a beautiful blend of voices, save for the fact that I swear that's my Polar heart rate monitor beeping in the background throughout, as if I had exceeded my target heart rate during my workout. It is not, for the most part, relaxing music, nor would it fit in a party or workout mix. So when do you pull out the experimental, drone-intensive, attention-sustaining prog-alt?

What's great about it, however, is that it does not get in the way of my words as I write this, as there are very few full sentences to vie for my attention. In fact, it may be a nice change of pace at work, when I have the office to myself (The Captain and my boss share many of the same musical tastes). And now that I've moved it from the stereo to my earphones (The Captain was getting tense), I'm enjoying it more, especially "Still." And now that I am re-listening to "Seeplymouth" (not a misspelling), I may put some of these on a few playlists after all.

Just not the ones that I play for The Captain.


(Awkward sentence alert:) Although I blame him for the worst pub quiz defeat of my life, he WAS the only thing I would stop fast forwarding through commercials for.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Welcome To Your Animal Rating Service. Today: The Five Cutest Deadliest Animals

I know you know which is number one in terms of cutest/deadliest.  But can you name Numbers 2 through 5? I can! Let's!

Number 5: The Hippopotamus.

These guys are probably deadlier than some of the higher-placed animals, but their lack of furriness affects their score.  No, really. These pink blobbies, for all their Disney-friendly tubby tummies and wiggly ears, are cranky and surprisingly fast and ferocious. And it doesn't take much to set them off.  But man, in a zoo, they are aahh-dorable.  Blink-blink. Wiggle-wiggle.

Number 4:  The Chimpanzee.

Cute in a little hat. Darling when they are small, maybe sporting a little diaper. But just like humans, when they hit adolescence, they turn into reckless, unthinking sex and rage machines. DO NOT adopt a cute little chimp baby. It will tear your friend's face off.

Number 3:  Cheetahs.

For the purposes of my very important list, the cheetah is representing all big cats.  They are all cute when they are lolling about the savanna, yawning and licking their babies, but cheetahs are the most cutest of all the big cat faces.  Look at the puss on that puss!  Makes you just want to smoosh it, which would be unwise if you want to keep your blood inside your skin.

Number 2:  Elephants.

Here's another animal that can kill us (however, unlike the others on this list, not by eating, or even biting, but by stomping us with their enormous, adorable feet - 'cause they are vegetarians - they probably think we taste terrible), but yet we insist on making them dress in tutus and dance for us. It's hard to resist their cuteness, even though it comes in such a jumbo size. (Fun fact: did you know the word "jumbo" came from the name of an elephant captured in the Sudan and brought to Europe in the 1860s and later sold to P.T. Barnum? Sadly, Jumbo was killed by a locomotive. Okay, that fact was not that fun.) The more I learn about elephants, the more I don't want to see them in circuses, or even small zoos.  These wonderful, intelligent animals are not meant to be squished into trucks and other small spaces and made to do tricks.  I wouldn't want to either.

Number 1: BEARS!

This is not a surprise to anyone with eyes and a brain.  In fact, this whole list would be just a list of different types of bears (polar, grizzly, black, Kodiak, sunbear, panda, Fozzy) if I hadn't given the other animals a break by consolidating all of them here under one heading. Bears have it all:  fluffy fur, big forehead with little round ears, expressive eyes, kind of pigeon-toed feet, round tummy, a little black nose, deadly teeth, and long, slashing claws.  Bears have it.

Oh, and you're welcome.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Get Me a Goddam Goat.

I'm crying from laughing. This is my personal tickle button. Play it and I will laugh. Oh, and don't tickle me. I hate it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Report from MaxFunCon 2010

We were told to park the trailer at the tennis courts, but we weren’t sure, so we kept driving up into the complex (the complex being the UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference Center). 

We were sure that there would be a place to turn our truck-and-trailer train around at the check-in parking lot. There isn’t. And it’s a busy day. Cars, delivery trucks, garbage trucks. And in the middle, a pick-up and trailer straddling the road with not enough room to turn around. And sweat. Quite a bit of sweat.  How stuck were we? Stuck enough to require unhitching the truck, turning it around, and rehitching it, facing out.  And sweat. More sweat.
And so MaxFunCon begins. 
The first meet-and-greet is awkward. Loud and crowded with returning campers from last year meeting old friends. We sat at a corner table and were glad when someone took pity on us and sat down at our table, or just got tired of standing and sat down.
The room became more crowded and hot until I had to escape outside, where I, oddly and uncharacteristically, took a seat by Maria Bamford, told Marc Maron I was a big fan since Morning Sedition, and told Neal Pollack that I was looking forward to taking a yoga class from him in the morning. (Huh? A minute ago I wasn’t able to talk to my fellow Maxfunsters. Who am I?)
John Hodgman’s benediction was perfectly Hodgmanesque, although blurry because (a) we were sitting in the very back row, and (b) I had temporarily misplaced my glasses. A swig from a bottle of Jeppson's Malort Liqueur is required of all campers. Malort is everything the label says it is. ("Jeppson's Malort Liquoer has the aroma and full-bodied flavor of an unusual botanical. Its bitter taste is favored by two-fisted drinkers." Really.) I shared a swig with Al Madrigal. He seemed nice.

Dinner was slightly less awkward with just a few strangers to deal with. Neal Pollack noticed our plates piled with beef and jokingly (we hoped) banned us from yoga in the morning if we ate all that meat.
After dinner there was sketch comedy by Elephant Larry. Silly, fun, and cookie intensive. And bat. There was some bat eating.

Then San Francisco-based sketch group Kasper Hauser kicked the crap out of us with their seminar on awesomeness. If you get a chance to see them, don’t even fuck around. Just go.
Pretty Amazing Photo of Kasper Hauser by Noe Montes
The awkwardness melted away for a moment as we, as a group of nerds, sang “Skullcrusher Mountain” with Jonathan Coulton. I didn't know that I knew the words. (You Tube it, people.) Then we sat back as a newly love-bonded group and allowed Coulton’s “Fancy Pants” song to knock the shoes right off our collective feet.

Jonathon Coulton. Photo by Noe Montes
The evening ended at the pretend frontierland at the top of the hill with s’mores, beer, and sitting cross legged in a fake prairie schooner, chatting with people whom I hoped would wear their name tags again tomorrow.

Photo by Noe Montes

Day 2 - Saturday

The problem with a breakfast buffet is that there is a pile of bacon. When bacon comes in a pile, there is nothing that you can do but try to eat your way down to the bottom of the steam tray. 
We met nice people at breakfast. I would tell you all about them, but I spent all of my attention on failing to keep the conversation going. They were nice, though, because everybody is nice here. It’s what MaxFunCon is known for.
Full of even more meat, we headed up the hill to the “Zen Deck.” On our yoga mats, we listened to Neal Pollack read parts of his new book (August 2010) about his journey to yogihood and then we did some basic yoga poses. The weather was warm and sunny. The view was spectacular, down the wooded hill to Lake Arrowhead and beyond. Neal Pollack was both sincere and funny about his practice, still curious and eager to learn more, as all good yogis should be. There were no meat-related digestive mishaps. As far as Pollack knows.
Neal Pollack and me. Yoga nerds on the Zen Deck.

Back down the hill for Andrew W.K. Perfectly rambling, twitchy and sincere.
From You Look Nice Today, we learned what “doing a number three” is. Um, and a new meaning for the nickname "Lonely Sandwich." From Jordan, Jesse, Go! we learned that Spiderman costumes can be quite comfy, and we got a look at Chompers 2. A fine pig.
After lunch, Jad Abumrad from WNYC's Radiolab gave a presentation on his use of music and sounds to help make the stories on the show more accessible and fun to listen to. As so many humans are, he is the perfect person to be doing what he is doing.
After Jad’s presentation, we moseyed over to get our asses kicked in pub trivia. The trivia game was lead by John Hodgman and the questions (and subject matter) were picked by the members of the sketch group Elephant Larry. The subjects could not have been further from our areas of expertise, to borrow a Hodgmanian phrase: Disneyland, comic books, the New York Yankees, and apples. Really, Elephant Larry? Those are the things that turn you on? Really? I’m afraid none of them can be my friends. We lost so hard, we won dirt. No, really. Dirt.
THE John Hodgman. I don't think he liked us. We were losers.

At dinner (taco night!) we met more awesome people, including Dr. Cocktail, who worked as hard or harder this weekend than anyone. This may be a fun and positive group, but they are a hard drinking crew. Hard. Drinking.
After dinner, it was time for shit to get real. I’m talking Jimmy Pardo. Killed. I’m talking Al Madrigal. Charmed us all. I’m talking Maria Bamford. So good. And Then. Marc Maron brought it. And then he dropped it on us. Saturday’s entertainment was worth the entire price of the weekend. 

I would have happily climbed our little hill to our condolet and crawled into bed, but for many, that’s when the real partying started. It was time for the Country Estate party. 

Maxfunsters had been alternately buzzing and harrumphing about dressing up in their best (or most recently scavenged) tweeds and tattersals to wear to the Country Estate party for weeks, but in the end, most seemed to enjoy the challenge. And it would have been an awesome idea in a room twice as big with twice as many bartenders. As it was, it was too much for my ADD/social anxiety-addled brain, even with a heavy dose of Xanax on board. I sat outside in my consignment-shop tweed riding cape and drank my drink, then Drew’s, then we got cold and went back to our condolet. This was not a failure of MaxFunCon, but my own intense inability to mingle in loud, crowded, party-like settings. I am aware of this and try not to beat myself up about failing to act like a more social human.

My tweed riding cape. And my name tag.
We were in bed by 11:30 or midnight maybe. Others partied past 3:00 a.m. We are too old for that. Or we know that it’s not worth whatever fun you think you are having in the wee hours. Because whatever fun it is will reveal itself to be less fun in the morning.
Day 3 - Sunday

Sunday morning. Due to our relatively early night last night (but no thanks to a nose that has just HAD it with the juniper pollen and went on strike for the duration of the night), we made it down to breakfast in time. And who sat down with us but the wonder that is Maria Bamford. We talked about Drew being a firefighter and Captain America, and my bear paintings, which we all agreed I should put on Etsy. I’m going to have to get on that. I swear.
Jimmy Pardo, Matt Bellknap and Pat Francis of Never Not Funny introduced us to a new way to terrorize our spouses (“SMELL THE GARBAGE!”), and Pat Francis helped us to understand E-Bay correspondence.
And then we ate lunch, met even more people at the very final meal, packed up and left. 

Jesse Thorn, founder of MaxFunCon and Benevolent Colonel of the Nerd Plantation (as dubbed by Marc Maron).
Photo by Noe Montes

Did I say that we had breakfast with Maria Bamford?