Monday, August 31, 2009

Jean Blues

Jeans of this breed are so rare I am almost afraid to wear them because they are so precious. I'll explain why: They neither bare your anal cleft when you stoop (jeans of today), nor make your ass look like an empty sack (jeans of the 80s/ early 90s). They don't grab you around the middle and squish your organs, like Calvin Kleins did in the age of designer jeans, and they don't have that dumbass acid wash so popular later on.

I'm going into nostalgic old lady mode now. Back in my day, one formed a relationship with jeans. You bought them just before the new school year, when they were of darkest midnight blue and they fit you with a stiff and uptight formality. As you wore them and your relationship deepened, they softened and became more comfortable. Fidelity in the relationship was easy because it was acceptable to wear them to everything except court and funerals. They were rugged enough for a camping weekend, but still okay to wear on a date.

Fashion trends make it really hard to find good jeans. I got these at Goodwill several years ago, so I have no idea how old they are. I just know they're the only ones I can depend on to fit and to represent themselves honestly. They don't have a fake fade that limits commitment to them to the short term because they'll soon be too faded. They don't have a trendy cut that will bare my ass or get caught in my bike chain. They're not too clingy because of Spandex. They're just dependable, sensible pants. Over the years I've searched in vain to find just plain jeans like this, only to find acid washed ones or baggity assed ones or bell-bottomed ones or ones that would leave me with carpenter crack.

But alas, they have a hole in the ass, ripped there during a home remodeling project. As you can see, it's in a place that's tough to repair. Next to the pocket, where it will be tough to sew a patch. Especially for me. My sewing skills are quite basic. But I need to do something so people won't be able to tell what color my underwear is, and to keep the hole from growing.

I'm so disgusted by how the jean genre has been warped by impractical fashion that I'm considering giving them up. All except for this pair. Carhartts are an option, though the women's varieties are made of less sturdy fabric and tend to sport boot cuts (I'm a straight leg fan). And the Carhartt dungaree cut does about as much for my ass as Mom jeans. But at least Carhartts aren't selling out (yet) to capricious fashion like jeans did.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Alien Planet Needs Bands

If aliens beamed me aboard their ship and said look, we want to clone some musicians so we can bring good music to our home planet, and we need you to recommend some, I'd start with this one:

That's Nick Gilder of Hot Child In The City fame. So many of his songs were good, but he's pretty much considered a one-hit wonder. He's still performing in Canada with the band he left right before he hit it big. Of course he's done some ageing but he's still in okay shape. I don't understand why he wasn't more successful.

So from girly glam we go to Texas jam. This is Joe Ely. I saw him in the mid-90s. It was the best show I've ever seen.

This was the first band I saw live, and they're definitely the most fun.

And to round things out with some moody gloomy I'd have to suggest this dramatic fellow:

Can't leave these guys out. They're my new favorite local band.

Once the aliens' culture becomes transformed by exposure to these musicians, music historians across the galaxy will be outraged that I excluded the Beatles, Elvis, Tupac Shakur and Johnny Cash. And I'll be like, "What? You can't clone the dead, assholes. And Ringo and Paul suck!" I may stowaway on a flying saucer to travel to the planet where these cloned bands rule a just society, because it might be a lot cooler than here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Old People

When I was a kid, I remember hearing adults talk about who'd been in the obituaries lately. Especially my grandmother - she'd ask me "You remember so and so?" and I'd shake my head, and she'd get exasperated and tell me things about that person to jog my memory, to no avail. I'd be thinking, all you adults look alike to me. Then she'd go on and tell me all the details of that person's untimely demise as if I cared. She'd be so surprised about this person's death. He/She was so young, she'd say on the phone to her friends. It was as if a new and mysterious force were at work in our town, like a serial killer but formless and random, and all the adults were amazed. Meanwhile, I'd be thinking that 40, 50, and 60 years of age does not qualify one to be described as young any longer. "What do they expect?" I wondered silently. "Old people die."

But now my contemporaries are dying and I'm shocked too. Last week DeJuan died at 40. We were chummy in 5th grade but drifted apart in middle school, so it's not like we were close. But he was from my hometown and was in my graduating class and was still close to people I'm still close to, so I still felt like I knew him. He started feeling bad one day last week and was dead by Thursday. A rare and whoopass form of Disease X got him. Doctors estimated that he'd had it about three weeks before he died. What was so surprising about this was not his death at an unusually young age; it was the fact that he was such a low-risk individual and many of our contemporaries have led such high-risk lives (drugs, alcohol, general volatility and impulsiveness.) It hardly seemed fair. DeJuan quit the hard living a good 10-15 years ahead of everybody else, belonged to civic organizations, and worked in a helping profession. He was a pleasant and easygoing guy in a family known for some of its, well, not easygoing and pleasant members.

So a couple of days after the funeral home visitation for DeJuan, where we all stood around and marvelled at how old we're getting, I saw this hearse. If you can't read the signs, they say "Prepare To Meet Thy God" and "After Death, The Judgement" and "The Wages of Sin Is Death, But The Gift Of God Is Eternal Life Through Jesus Christ." It puts off kind of a hostile vibe, but its owners may sincerely be trying to help people be more aware of how fragile life is and encourage them not to take it for granted. At the same time, you don't want to ruin your quality of life by quaking in fear of death at every moment. In a way, death is already here. Those children we were in school are dead; we've morphed into adults and those old lives are gone. At some point in the future, we're already dead. The trick is to use that knowledge to enrich your life now, instead of waste valuable time feeling fearful.

It's hard to be aware of death and its inevitability without getting down and afraid about something you can't change. We need to develop better lessons for how to do that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sado-Masochistic Violinist

So: To set the scene, I need to explain that I'd just gotten out of graduate school and had a crummy, hateful job that involved talking to demanding people on the phone all day for very little money. But I lived in a fashionably dumpy cheap apartment house with some good female friends for neighbors. We liked to make the scene in halter tops with short skirts and combat boots and drink malt liquor. We lived on the free cheese, crackers, and wine offered up at art openings.

Sometimes I saw one of our rednecky-looking (overalls and a mullet) male neighbors out in the yard playing with his young son. Both seemed kind of shy and I imagined that Mr. Mullet/Overalls was trying to live under the radar because he had kidnapped the son from his alcoholic ex wife, who had been awarded custody because she got a good lawyer. And that was cool with me.

One Sunday morning I got up feeling like I had a knife stuck in my head. I hadn't yet given up on Olde English 800 as a good cheap way to enjoy Saturday night and was suffering as a result. I took a shower thinking that would help, but it didn't. I was so knackered I couldn't even get dressed. So I reclined on the love seat in a towel with the back of my hand on my forehead like somebody in a swoon.

Then I heard footsteps on the porch and saw a shadow cross the window. There was a knock on the door and I thought, Thank God, Cosima's bringing me some coffee, and I said come in. The door opened and I heard more shuffling footsteps, then silence. Usually Cosima makes her entrances with a lot of noise. So I looked up, to see an Asian man, a stranger, standing in my living room. He wore a huge black suit that hot summer morn and there was so much gel in his hair you could still see the furrows his comb had left in it. He had what looked like a huge hickey on the front of his neck. There followed an awkward silence.

"Is this one-two-one McNever Street?" He asked when I sat up. "Yes, it is," I said. He didn't seem freaked out about my outfit, so I pretended I wasn't freaked out that he was seeing me in it. "Does Frederico DuVall live here?" he asked. "No," I said. Then followed several minutes of dead-end conversation - he'd repeat "Is this one-two-one McNever Street?" and I'd go "Yes" and he'd go "Are you sure Frederico DuVall doesn't live here?" and I'd go "I don't think so." When I finally learned that this Frederico character was a famous classical musician, I said "There's no way somebody like that lives here. Do you have a number for him? Why don't you call him? The phone's right behind you."

So this guy, who introduced himself as Robin, edges over to the phone and picks up the reciever. I guess it looked a little grungy because I'd spilled some coffee on it the day before and hadn't cleaned it off. "I don't use other people's phones," he said as he put it down. Okay well fine, nerdy germophobe. I told him it was time for me to get dressed and it was nice to meet him and I hope he found his friend. At the same time I was removing a towel from my head, and when my hair fell down in lank, tangled strands, Robin's eyes went wide and he sighed "Oh, your hair is beautiful." I laughed uncomfortably, wished him a good day, and locked the door behind him. Then I went back to bed.

When I got up again I wasn't so sure the whole scene hadn't been a dream. I told the neighborgirls about it and they acted like it was too wierd to be true. So I was almost shocked when I started seeing him walking down the sidewalk on my drive to work every morning. I can't remember how it started, but pretty soon it was like I had a boyfriend. A short, effeminate, overdressed, stalking and platonic boyfriend. Thirty seconds after I got home from work, I'd hear mincing footsteps on the porch and a knock on the door. We'd make some dinner, eat it, and he'd play violin while I read on the couch. He'd stick around until I told him I was going to bed.

I was fascintated with him because he was so old fashionedly polite, gracious, and weird. He wore oversized suits every day. One was black, and one was red. Later he got a purple one. I'd never had live classical music performed in my living room before. One day Robin brought me a classical CD. I was shocked to see Mr. Mullet/Overalls from upstairs wearing a tuxedo on the cover. He and the famous Frederico DuVall were one in the same. All of this was so novel I couldn't bring myself to put a stop to it, even after Robin started showing up in the lobby at work and getting the secretary call me to say he was downstairs waiting for a ride. He needed a ride to a performance. He needed a ride to the dry cleaners. He needed to go to the all-you-can-eat buffet at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Let me tell you, Robin could lay waste to a buffet. He had to sit at a table all by himself to make room for the wreckage of mashed potatoes, green beans, and cherry cobbler samplings he created. He made people stare.

Let me put this in perspective. While my friends and I often complained about how strapped for cash we were, Robin always gloated that he'd made a lot of money working on Wall Street in the past and that he was currently making a lot of money working for a bank. He sneered at my shopping trips to TJ Maxx because as a store, "it's just not that hot," he said. So why the fuck did he need me to give him rides?

Over time, Robin started to wear out his welcome in other ways. He became overpoweringly smitten with my neighbor Delta Dawn, and while she was a tolerant sort, he really freaked her out. Robin hovered around her, positively hungry to squeeze her hands and stroke her arms. Though he appeared to be the biggest and most delicate virgin in the world, somebody she could beat down with no effort, it was still creepy. She told me not to bring him around her place anymore.

At about the same time, he started making curious offhand comments. Once he was bragging about how much money he was making and Cosima said "Let's take him out and beat him," and he answered with "But if you do that, I might really enjoy it." Another time we were looking at furniture through a shop window. There was a wrought-iron four-poster bed in there that appeared to be crafted in the Gothic Dungeon style, and Cosima started singing some lines from a song popular at the time: "S and M! Bring your Mamma and her friends!" Robin, who had been watching traffic, whipped around at the mention of S&M and said "Really? Where?" And the ever-present hickey on his neck came from the way he handled his violin. One night as I watched him playing, it occured to me that he was at once making tender love to the instrument and trying to decapitate himself with it. I was starting to realize that there was some wierd, dark stuff going on in Robin.

One evening I decided I needed a break from him and I went to see a movie at Fergus'. It was a great Hong Kong historical action flick called "Peking Opera House Blues." One of the heroines was costumed in a black suit the whole time, even though her contemporaries were dressed in the traditional frou-frou outfits of the age. At one point in the plot she's tied up and tortured. The way the scene is shot eroticizes the violence - it's done in slow motion and soft focus, with close ups of her face as she's getting whipped bloody and afterwards as the torturer takes a handful of sand and rubs it into her wounds. That's when an epiphany hit me: "This is the kind of thing Robin thinks about all the time." The words arrived unbidden in my consciousness as if they'd beamed in from the planet GetAClue. But I dismissed the thought.

Afterwards, as I walked back to my house in the dark, I could hear violin music drift down the street on the cool fall air. Robin stopped playing and stood when I came up the steps. We exchanged pleasantries and he asked what I'd been doing. "I went to watch a movie called 'Peking Opera House Blues,'" I said. "Is there a scene in it where a lady gets whipped?" he asked eagerly.

Our friendship ended when he asked me for $150 so he could take a bus to Winston-Salem and get his bow re-haired. First off, I was still getting my ass chewed out all day for a meager living, and it hadn't been too long since he'd been bragging about how well-off he was. Second, he laid out the reasons he needed the money so meticulously that it sounded like he'd been up all night making up bullshit reasons so he could soak me for $150. So it was awkward, but I said no. Instead I gave him a buckeye for good luck. He didn't seem to appreciate the gesture.

From then on, whenever I ran into Robin he'd show me the back of his head. He turned mean in a big way and started being obnoxious to people in general - everybody who worked at businesses in the neighborhood hated to see him walk in the door. The change was so abrupt, I thought maybe he'd stopped taking Prozac or Lithium or something. But maybe it was just sudden poverty that made him cranky.

I think he probably came from a really bad situation. One time when I was cheauffering for him, I explained that it was unreasonable to expect to be driven to a dry cleaners a half hour away and still make it to the performance that was to start in 20 minutes. I added that he seemed to have a poor idea in general of how time works and how much activity you can fit in allotments of it. That's when he explained how when he was growing up, he was punished for things like wearing clothes and being on time.

That was such a ridiculous idea to me, I assumed I misunderstood what he was saying. "What? Punished for being on time? I'm confused," I said. "You're confused," he answered ironically, with an emphasis on the you're. I guess Robin had a lot of trouble living in the mainstream world because it wasn't as weird and crazy as what he was used to.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Third Grade Jail Trip

Wyatt and I went to see Public Enemies on Sunday. It was okay. Has a lot of jailbreaks and so forth. At dinner we were talking about the movie, and he said he'd seen something on TV once about how prisoners can make weapons out of toothbrushes. "Oh yeah," I said. "They grind them to an edge on the floor to make it sharp. And you can melt them with a lighter too to get the edge started."

"How do you know so much about this?" He asked.

That's when I remembered how my third grade class toured the county jail on a field trip. Upon reflection, I surmised that maybe it was not an age-appropriate activity for us. It was downright fucked up. On the other hand, it was so freaky that it's the only field trip I remember in any detail.

Our elementary school classes took the trips everybody takes - To the History Museum in Greensboro, for example. All I remember about that is Dolly Madison's dress. All I remember about about Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill is that the seats were comfortable and it was rumored that B.S. kissed R.S. in the dark there. The jail trip was a whole 'nother memorable matter. The drawings of naked women on the wall of one of the big cells definitely made a big impression. It confused me, because if somebody wrote a swear word on the bathroom wall at school, there was always big fuss. The offending graffitti was removed immediately and there was a large scale interrogation conducted into Who Did It. Surely full frontal female nudity, poorly done at that, is worse. How come you get away with more in jail? I thought. And how come that wasn't cleaned up before we got here? Didn't they know company was coming? Along with the confusion, I felt uneasy about seeing nude women's body parts in the company of boys my age. It's rude to subject a guest to that, I thought. What kind of place is this?

There were some scruffy guys in their late teens and early twenties in the cell with the drawing. I compared them to other scary males I knew - the eighth graders who rode my bus. To me it seemed that once they hit middle school, guys must get more obnoxious and frightening with age until a certain point when they just get old and turn into Dads, and become too tired to be a problem anymore.

Roggie A. was ahead of me in line and right in front of the cell. He asked the fat uniformed man leading the tour if he could ask the prisoners questions. One of the prisoners said "Sure, we'll talk if you give us some peanuts." Then they all laughed, and it was like they were laughing at us, and it was unpleasant. But looking back on it, that was an appropriate comment to make. This was being presented like a trip to the zoo.

Then the cop took us downstairs to an office and talked while he showed us his framed collection of shivs. Modified toothbrushes, bedsprings, and similar items. It was basicly a lesson on how to make weapons out of everyday stuff. All they same, they didn't look very dangerous to me. And they were ugly, so it didn't make sense to me why they were framed in a box. And maybe I was a dumbass but I couldn't figure out why anybody would need weapons in jail.

On the way downstairs to the kitchen, the cop told us about the trustees in the jail, good prisoners who they could trust to have more freedom and do jobs. In the kitchen we saw a scrawny hippie mechanically take plates out of a sinkful of steaming, soapy water. He held them pinched between the thumb and forefinger of each of his raw red hands. Then he dipped them each a single time into rinse water before he put them in a drainer. He moved like he was handling bomb components and his watery blue eyes stared ahead blankly. He never looked at us. Clearly, there was something wrong with that guy. And he's one of the trusted ones? I thought. If I'd thought in profanity at that age it would have been more like What the Hell? Those clowns in the cage upstairs seemed more like normal people.

Yesterday I asked Mike if he remembered that field trip. He did, and he thought it was a lot of fun. Maybe he enjoyed looking at those breasts drawn on the wall. All I remembered getting out of it was a feeling of unease and wondering why we were there. Maybe it was discussed in class, but if so I don't remember it. I can't imagine that any third graders would be taking any trips like that these days without a lot of parents raising all grades of Hell.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Recent Awkward Guy Events

On Friday the daughter of a good friend of mine died. I was a little shell-shocked by the news, even though she's been sick for a long time and everybody knew it was coming. I wasn't sure what to do - in those situations you want to be helpful, but you also don't want to intrude during a time when somebody might need some peace and quiet. Nadine, the surviving mother, has plenty of local family and a large circle of friends. Maybe she shouldn't have to entertain guests like me at a time like this, I thought.

But what I thought I should do was go by and tell Ben what had happened. Ben's known their family for 30 years or so. He doesn't answer the phone, and he doesn't have e-mail, so I thought I'd go by and tell him. Ben's also hard of hearing, doesn't have a doorbell, and sleeps irregular hours, so I usually get his attention by shouting for him in the kitchen.

So I was strolling into the dark house shouting. I saw movement near the back of the room. Then Ben turns to face me and he's stark fucking naked. You'd think in such a situation a man might cover his parts with his hands, or stand sideways. But Ben gripped the hair on the sides of his head, his eyes squinted up and his teeth clenched, and he made this growly noise that communicated great frustration. I guess he figured he'd already been seen so it made no sense to hide.

"Oh, you're nekkid," I said. "Put some clothes on and come out here. I got something to tell you."

"Oh, OK."

So a few mintues later he comes out and I tell him that Celine died a few hours before. When I saw the look on his face, I wished I'd stayed home. And it reminded me how upset I was about it myself. The news was so heavy there was no temptation to get sucked into an eddy of awkwardness over what had just happened, thankfully.
Last week I mentioned how I conspired to make friends with my neighbors because they put up a pool in their back yard. I finally got to reap the benefits of my hard work this past Saturday.

They put a table next to the pool and covered it with chicken wings, cheese bread, and a vegetable tray. You could just hang over the edge of the pool and chow like a pig from a trough. It was divinely decadent.

Sr. Toledo, the pool owner, was the only man in the water. Me and three other neighborgirls were in there with him, and he started talking about the difficulties of maintaining healthy pool chemistry. "We don't want to be causing any vaginal infections," he said. "And if any of you ladies get one, let me know as soon as possible so we can correct the situation in here."

Sure thing!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer Stuff

We've had enough rain for a change this year, and that must be what's spurred the boom in local four-leaf-clover populations. Before this spring, it'd been years since I'd found one. Now I'm finding them all the time. I sat on a park bench a few weeks ago and counted nine in a nearby patch.

There are a lot more things blooming later this year than in recent years, which is cool. And the Orange Ozone days have been noticeably absent. On the whole, I'd rate this past Spring as Excellent, and I'm looking forward to this summer. My new neighbors put up a bigass inflatable pool this weekend, so I hurried right out to meet them and make friends. I'm looking forward to soaking in 150 gallons of Wal-Mart bargain pool in the coming weeks.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

An Exception For The C Word

Normally I'm against the C word, as many women are. But it's the centerpiece of the following story, which is the funniest I've heard in months, so I'll make allowances for it this time:

Derrick from downstairs said he used to work in an Atlantic City casino. He did various things in there, but he said one of the worst tasks the job had to offer was that of cashing out people's chips. Derrick and his co-workers dealt with a lot of pissed-off and abusive people at this particular duty. People would either come up to complain that they hadn't won when they thought they should have, and others would complain that they should have won more. They took out their frustrations on the staff, and the staff in turn learned to hate customers.

Derrick said Atlantic City is one of the places in the country where it's not uncommon for business transactions between opposite sexes to conclude with one party saying "Thanks, hon." In practice, it sounds like "ThanksHun." So Wade, Derrick's co-worker, started substituting "ThanksCunt" for "ThanksHun" with female customers. The difference was so subtle they almost never picked up on it, and when they did, they just looked a little puzzled and failed to catch on to the full message. Thus, he was able to vent spleen on customers in a way that seemed polite and everybody was happy.

A dapper Lithuanian was also part of this work crew. This Lithuanian spoke fluent English and was very intelligent, but he was still at risk for missing the subtleties and nuances of our culture and language. He was very taken with Wade's "ThanksCunt" habit and decided to try it himself.

So when the Lithuanian finished waiting on a woman and delivered a crisply enunciated "Thank You, Cunt," the woman's jaw dropped in shock and horror and she looked like Edvard Munch's The Scream. Derrick said he sustained internal injuries from laughing so hard.

ON THE FORBIDDENESS OF THE C WORD AND THE UNFORTUNATE NATURE OF HUMOR: Cunt is the last swear word that still has any real shock value. Twisty Faster over at I Blame The Patriarchy recently used a version of it and got into trouble with some of her readers - her blog examines feminist issues and her readers tend to be feminists. Some of them took offense to the use of such a demeaning term targeting females. Apparantly the outcry at her use of "cunt" was so bad, she developed Multiple Personality Disorder to deal with it.

Personally, I am repulsed by the use of "cunt" in coversation, but I have encountered females deserving of the term and was really glad it was available for me to use at those times. Much like Derrick, a gay man, once said when describing another man he didn't like: "I hate this term, but there's no other way to put it. He is a faggot." If a word's not forbidden and coated in nastiness, it's lost its efficacy as a swear word. Even motherfucker has lost a lot of its punch in this day and age. In 10-15 years, cunt won't sound so bad either and we'll have to make up new swear words or do without.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Five-Alarm Tick Warning

If you haven't been camping yet this year, take heed if you have plans to go. You may need to keep some plasma in a cooler just in case the ticks you will encounter bleed you almost dry. For some reason, this year there are enough hungry ticks out there to create a rioting stampede the minute a warm-blooded animal such as yourself sets foot in the grass or the woods.

During my recent camping trip, I found countless bloodsuckers crawling on me before they managed to attach, and had to remove five who did. Most of them were tiny seed ticks, and they are the worst. So small they're hard to grip with tweezers. Every time I returned to my tent, a member of the larger variety was waiting for me on the door. Somehow they got inside - I guess on me, and I started boycotting the woods and slept in my car. I started finding fewer of them, but I still found them on a daily basis.

I put my camping mattress in the dumpster before I left because I didn't want to ride home with a raft for ticks in the back seat. After I took down my camp site, I took a shower and did a thorough tick check. The next morning I found one stuck right above my ear.

When I got home I put all my dirty laundry in the basement. The camping stuff is still in the trunk of my car, which I am afraid to open. A day and half and two showers after I got home, I found another tick. Word to the ladies: the seed ticks like to attach under the breasts, where you will be less likely to see them. I'm afraid one has taken up residence at the bottom of my navel, but I don't know what I can do about that.

I've heard from friends who've been camping at various places in the Southeast and the story is much the same. Supposedly they detest Neem oil and it's said to be a good deterrent, but it's also hard to find. Deet works really well at keeping them away, but that's supposed to be bad for people too.

This situation has reminded me why I prefer to camp in the winter.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Holiday Roundup

Had a fabulous time in Charleston over Memorial Day weekend. Rode through a lot of flat, green country on the way there. Ate, drank, and lounged by a pool to excess. Walked on a beach in the rain. A change of scenery can be very liberating.

Wyatt and I stayed with Claudine and her husband. It's become an annual event. We again sat on their back porch and drank Bombay Dry gin and ginger ale (we didn't get Blenheim ginger ale this time unfortunately, a serious oversight.) I warned them that when and if the fall of civilization arrives, bad guys after their canned goods might hide in the pool and they'll be difficult to shoot in there. But it's hard to worry too much about stuff like that when it's warm and you're on vacation with a drink in your hand.

Claudine has sattelite TV too, and Wyatt and I got sucked in to that more than once. We don't have cable and even when we did, we just had the basic package, so we are utterly defenseless when it comes to the distracting power of such a large number of channels. We watched part of Star Wars The Phantom Menace, for Chrissakes, and remarked out loud the whole time that we can't believe how bad it is.

Which turned out to be a synchronistic event in a way, because when we got home, we had the film Fanboys waiting in our mailbox. The story takes place about six months before the release of The Phantom Menace, and it's about a bunch of Star Wars fans and their plot to break into George Lucas' house to watch the rough cut of the film. It's ironic that such a good movie was made about such a shitty one.

We also watched Choke at Claudine's. I liked this movie a lot too, though I've read a lot of online bitching about how the movie's not as good as the book. So my advice is to see this disturbing, quirky, funny movie unless you have read the book. Warning: It is not family viewing or first date material. It has bounteous booty scenes.

Claudine gets something called Free Speech TV and on it I saw part of a documentary about Islam in Bali called Promised Paradise. This was the most interesting thing I've watched in a long time. It's got Muslims from opposite ends of the extremist spectrum arguing about Islam in much the same way you'd see Pat Robertson and (gee I wish I could think of a famous moderate or liberal Christian I could compare him to) talking about Christianity. It made me realize that in all the fuss since 9/11, all I've heard is Muslims explaining Islam to Christians or Christians explaining Islam to Christians. Hearing Muslims talk to each other opens the door to a whole nother realm of understanding about the religion. It's got your hardcore Holy Book literalists, and it's got your more laid back Let's Use Our Common Sense To Interpret the Holy Book folks. At one point the subject of the documentary is talking to a guy in jail about why said guy in jail is a terrorist. Guy in jail says something like "I follow the Koran blindly and disregard my own common sense because I don't see the big picture, and I trust that the author of the Koran does/did."

His words rang quite a bell. They took me back to Vacation Bible School in my tender youth, where I heard that same argument for following the Bible blindly.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Graduation Gall

I went to a recent graduation ceremony that really pissed me off. There was a time in my life when I went to four or five of them every year. While boring, they were all inoffensive. But this one - at a college - really took the shit cake.

It was because of the main speaker. We'll call him Fathead O'Douche. First, the guy who introduced O'Douche almost brought himself to the point of climax carrying on about O'Douche's accomplishments. That was all fine and good, but it wasn't making anybody else hot. The audience was full of fussy babies and parents trying to settle said babies. And uncomfortable, possibly incontinent old people patiently waiting for all the bullshit to end so they could see their loved one walk across the stage. These family members had made a considerable journey to get from the parking lot to their seats, and they deserved more respect than they got for the effort they'd made.

Then O'Douche gets up, and it's as if he thinks the introduction for him was just to get the crowd fluffed for his orgy of his self aggrandizement. I'll paraphrase his speech: "Congratulations you all, I know you've worked hard to get to this place. But I've worked harder and done more, and without the advantages you've had. Blah blah blah, me me me, I I I, get down on your knees and worship me as a god."

All that's plenty bad enough, but then he capped it off with "You all are graduating at a difficult time, and you're probably worried. Well, you've got reason to be. You're going to have to go to work earlier and stay later than everybody else to be successful."

It was as if nobody had told him that many of the graduates in front of him had returned to school after 10, 20 or 30 years of working for companies that laid them off (and maybe screwed them out of some pension money) despite all their overtime and neglected family life. Or that most of them were already familiar with the concept of giving %110 percent because they've been juggling a job, school, and/or a family. It was as if this supposedly brilliant man was too dumb to understand that people graduating in this economy might appreciate a little inspiration and encouragement instead of yet another reminder that the job market is a scary place right now.

Somebody let go with an air horn during this self-absorptionfest. The crowd seemed to appreciate the distraction.

Schools need to readjust their ideas about who graduation is for. In my mind, it's supposed to be for the graduates. Why do schools feel like they have to get people who have never attended classes there to do the commencement speech? They always look for somebody with a recognizable name, or somebody with money, a stranger to provide yet another mind-numbing exercise to complete before graduates can get what they worked so hard and went into debt for: A goddamn diploma.

When I graduated from college, our commencement speaker couldn't make it. What a fucking relief. The gods surely smiled upon us that day, because one of our own gave the commencement speech. He was a familiar face, he was in our shoes, and he did a great job. And he probably didn't cost anything.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


To a certain degree, Wyatt and I are luddites. Me maybe more so. Before I married him, I hadn't lived in the same house with a TV for 10 years. Even now, we don't have cable. And I hate cell phones. Shit on video games. Fuck a Wii. Don't like power windows or door locks either - that's just more I might have to pay to get fixed later.

But yesterday, a tsunami of new technology hit this household. Since business requires that it be easy for people to contact me, I bought a Tracfone. And we got tired of the clutter of CDs, so Wyatt purchased an I-Pod.

It's not that I'm stupid, but I do have a pathological lack of patience. I'm depressed because we've purchased all this new shit that I now have to learn how to use. And today is not a good day for that. I don't remember consuming any live rodents yesterday, but now it feels like one is trying to claw its way out of my abdomen. My head is sore and every few minutes I get stuck with the dilemma of whether or not to fight the urge to barf. I'd be nice to get it over with, but at the same time that's my least favorite activity in life so far.

There's a lot to be done today. If I could sneak off and hide in a quiet, warm, dark place, I would. Usually I'm down on opiates but right now I'd be all about some.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

If God Said Boris Had To Turn Gay

Boris O'Dan is a good friend all of the time but he's at his entertaining best on no sleep and too much Little Debbie and cold caffeine:

"Now, I'm a straight guy," he said Thursday. "But if God came down and said, 'Boris, I've decided you've got to have a homosexual relationship,' I'd have to choose Hugh Jackman for that."

"Don't blame you," I said.

"Or maybe Patrick Stewart" - already I was starting recoil - "But that would be just to hear him talk dirty in that English accent" - His next words were done in a dead on impression of the Next Generation captain: "Who's a dirty boy? Who's going to make it so?"

It took me until lunch to recover from both the horror and the giggle factor on that one. What made it extra funny is that Boris is usually a very polite, slightly introverted fanboy type. But he was up all night on Wednesday working to meet a deadline for a freelance writing gig, and he kept himself fueled with Little Debbie Swiss Rolls and Mountain Dew to stay awake. Then he had to go to work Thursday morning, and when I saw him during break, he was still at it with the Swiss Rolls and Dew. I said I'd read that critics are ripping up the new Wolverine movie. He concurred, but said he still wants to see it anyway, adding that he's excited about positive reviews for the new Trek film. I said I'd heard good things about Trek too, but that I'll probably wind up going to see Wolverine because it's got Hugh Jackman in it. Imagine hearts floating around that last clause in the previous sentence.

That's when the conversation took the weird ass turn it did. It made me wonder, what would Boris be like on Jaegermeister and Red Bull?

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Last Tuesday the guy who sits next to me at my temp job backed over his cat. Totally ran over it, so that it made his car lurch. The cat, a beloved pet of nine years, then ran down a storm drain and refused to come out so he could take it to the vet, and he assumed it would die in there. He was a wreck. On Wednesday I saw him with his head in his hands a lot, but I just assumed his eyes were bothering him, because I didn't know the whole story yet. On Thursday he was absent. On Friday he told me all about what happened and said the day before, he'd been too much of a weepy mess to come work. He said at one point he was standing in his kitchen crying, glanced out the door, and his cat was on the front stoop looking in at him. The vet told him the cat was going to be fine with a little medical care.

When he started telling me this story, the flashing yellow light and the obnoxious alarm went off in the original Star Trek bridge located in the emotional center of my brain. Kirk yelled at Scotty for maximum power to shields. I feared this confession was going to make me have to go home a weepy mess. About a year ago, I lost Lyle, my pet of 16 years, and I could relate a little too well. If I'd lost Lyle by backing over him with my own car, I'd probably need electroshock therapy. My relief when I heard the happy ending was akin to a hit of nitrous oxide.

As it turns out, last week was also a cat-based high-drama week around here. There's a lot of demolition going on in the unit upstairs, which sat empty with trash in it for several months last year. Now that new owners are tearing out walls and plaster, some mice have found themselves displaced and been scoping our unit as potential new real estate. Niall, our newest cat, snagged one of them while we were out Thursday evening. In the past we've been home when this happened, and Niall allowed us take the mice from him, put them in a jar, and take them to the park down the street for release. But since we were gone, he pulled a Lenny from Of Mice and Men on this one. When we got home I was taking my jacket off when I heard Wyatt yell "Baby, don't come back here" from the office. He disposed of the mouse carcass but I walked in before he finished cleaning up and saw Niall lapping at a small pool of blood left on the floor. I say small, but I tell you it's amazing how much blood is in a tiny little mouse. Later we were loving Niall up on the couch and I recoiled when I saw he still had traces of red on his white paws.

I thought: What if the mouse had been my beloved pet, and Niall had been an unwelcome intruder living in the walls? One who emerged in our absence to dine on a creature we consider a family member? Chills. I also wondered if mice experience grief when family/friends disappear on their way to the cat food bowl. What a downer of a perspective.

Friday, April 10, 2009

If Only We Could Have Musicals At Work

Once again I've found myself at a temp job where mental focus is imperitive, and my mind becomes nomadic in response.

Today I was dying for a musical to break out. The room was dead silent with about 70 people in it working. I scanned the scene, looking for the person who I thought most likely to jump onto a table and start singing this song:

I never came to a sure conclusion about who that should be, but felt that I should be part of the dance troupe performing around him. Then I spent a few minutes thinking about Breakfast on Pluto, a movie which has this song on its soundtrack. I decided that in this film, Cillian Murphy does drag better than anybody since Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Much of the time at work I have mental music playing in the background. I confess this in hopes it's not a symptom of severe mental illness. Surely it's just the earworm syndrome. I don't generally hear the whole song, maybe just the hook and a few other of the lines I remember, but I hear it over and over. A few minutes later I notice some other old song will be in the rotation.

Here's a sampling of songs from today:

object width="425" height="344">

How these could be related, why one leads into another, is beyond me.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Dad The Republican Communist

Called home last night and got my Dad on the phone, something which often leads to a surreal conversation like the one I had. He's a devout Democrat-hating Republican; a man in a bi-party marriage who scornfully refers to Democrats as "Your Mama's people." Somehow though, his political sympathies have morphed until he's more an admirer of Che Guevara than Rush Limbaugh. He seems to have no clue how weird this is.

Comrade Botsford on the Iraq War and the current financial crisis: "Instead of sending the Marines to Iraq, we should have sent them to Wall Street." I laughed at the image of camo-clad warriors raiding Starbucks coffee shops, putting cuffed and suited white guys in the backs of trucks, and interrogating them at Guantanamo Bay .

"Ain't no Arab ever hurt me," he went on to say. "We don't have no business over there. Now this, all this financial stuff, this has hurt us more than 9/11 ever did." He said nobody's going to keep a body count for how many die as a result of not having jobs and health insurance, but that number could rival our casualties of war.

His views on immigration are more typical of Republicans. He lamented that the hometown school is awash in Spanish-speaking immigrants, or "Mexicans" as he calls them, and he believes it's too expensive to educate them like our own. I sidestepped arguing with him on that point because I've wasted so much time on it in the past. But I noted that there's been recent speculation the Mexican government could fall sometime soon, and if that happens there's going to be a lot more people wanting to come over the border. "I don't doubt it," he said of the potential uprising. "They need to take over and redistribute the wealth. So few people down there have all the resources." He sighed. "I guess we should do that here."

Breathe easy, folks, please don't send jack-booted thugs to the homeplace to arrest my old man. He's not talking bloody insurrection. He's just convinced that the sleeping horde of "good folks" in this nation will rise up and put a stop to all this foolishness in some kind of peacefull, sensible manner.

I wish I was.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring Stuff

Love it when the violets appear. When I have a yard, I want it to be full of nothing but violets, clover, and some other low-growing weeds/wildflowers. Hell with mowing.

Yesterday morning I heard a Bullbat for the first time this year. That's what my father calls them anyway, but I guess most people call them Nighthawks. I love the sound they make (You can hear that in the link), the way they fly circuits in the sky, and the dramatic dives they perform.

I don't know where they go in the winter but I'm glad they're back.

One thing I miss this spring is the sound of spring peepers. There are places in town where I've heard what sounds like hundreds of them in years past, but this year I've only heard one. It was a lonely sound. Hopefully he's a prolific breeder and there will be more next year. I've heard that frog species are in decline worldwide. Maybe the drought we've been entertaining on and off for several years has taken its toll on their numbers here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Serendiptious Epicurean Bonanza

I put cilantro on our grocery list last week, and Wyatt came home with a big bundle of kale instead. I cook with cilantro all the time, but if he had to identify it out of a lineup of vegatable suspects, an innocent one would likely go to the chair. Or into the food processor, as was the case here.

No worries - I found this great recipe for kale pesto. It's incredible. As a consummate tomato hater, I've found that I like tomatoes just fine if they're smothered on a sandwich with this pesto instead of mayonnaise. Mayonnaise might be the reason I hate tomatoes in the first place. The sight of raw tomatoes slathered in yuckass Duke's mayonnaise oozing out from between two slices of white bread - I'm gagging right now. As a child I always suspected I was adopted because all of my relatives wallow in tomato & mayonnaise sandwiches all growing season long. Then my brother came along and he hates them too, so I guess we just got double doses of a recessive tomato-mayonnaise hating gene. Maybe we're mutants.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Went To A Dance

When's the last time you went to a dance? In high school maybe, where you hit a bottle of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill in the parking lot outside the gym and then went in to sway under crepe paper streamers taped to the basketball goal? Or maybe it was at the Spring/Winter Formal in college, when you wore new dress shoes that blistered your feet.

Well, I went to one Saturday. There was no cover charge, no proffessional DJ, and nobody got totally fucking wasted. It was the best Saturday night out I've spent in a long while. The host swooped around in a cape part of the time and I wore a cardboard top hat until I started to sweat under it.

The thrower of this party has a business downtown which contains a room large enough to hold maybe 15 people getting their groove on. Somebody let him borrow a professional PA system and his wife hooked her laptop up to it. She had a lot of choice music on there and other people brought some in too. We heard a random selection of songs from the 1960s to now, but not at ear-crushing volume. We were't confined to whatever music is popular currently, and we got to hear our favorite songs like we like them, not chopped up in mixes.

I have been known to have similar events at home, but I'm the only one who attends. It was very refreshing to dance with others for a change. It's nice to do it in a setting where it's all about movement and enjoying yourself, not about hooking up with somebody or avoiding somebody or impressing somebody or getting trashed, which is what it was like for me at the school dances and clubs of my youth.

How come people don't grow more cheap, organic fun like this?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Self Reliance Training

Have been working too much to write and post regularly these days, so blogging has become one more thing for me to feel bad about not doing, filed alphabetically in the Guilt cabinet ahead of Cooking, Dishes and Laundry.

Fortunately, somebody forwarded me the following e-mail about a cool upcoming event in Chapel Hill. Supposedly, similar events are coming to Greensboro in May.
I think this will serve well for this week's entry.

Here goes -

In these tough times we all benefit from building skills that make our communities more self reliant. Many of us have never learned the skills that got our parents, grandparents and/or great grandparents through hard times. Knowledge around these skills and others still exists in our communities. We all have valuable skills, let's come together and share them with our community. Join us for a skill share hosted by Spence's Community Educational Farm on Saturday April 11.

Tentative Schedule:
10am-12pm Skill Sharing workshops\
12pm-1pm Lunch (BYO Bag lunch)
1pm-3pm Skill Sharing workshops

5pm-7pm Potluck dinner
7-late Bonfire, drumming, dancing

Potential topics include:
Partnership with Horses
Seed Saving
Poultry Processing
Basket Weaving
Small Engine Repair
Building Raised Beds
Foraging for wild edibles

Have a skill? If you are skilled in one or more of these areas or have another skill you'd be willing to share email me You don't need to be an expert, just willing to share.

If you'd like to attend Please RSVP to me at let me know if there is a particular skill you'd like to learn and we'll try our best to make sure it's represented.

The address for Spence's farm is: 6407 Millhouse RD Chapel Hill, NC 27516 googlemaps or mapquest will get you here.

Feel free to bring friends and forward this email to people you think might be interested.

I look forward to learning with you,
-Rob Jones

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What A Difference A Week Makes

Can't believe last week we were throwing snowballs, and this week we're breaking out the shorts. Have a great week everybody - go out and soak up some vitamin D. I hear the wintry weather isn't done with us. Hope that butterfly hasn't packed away the snow boots yet.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow Photos

Thanks to whatever weather gods read my blog yesterday. This snow was just the thing to get everybody excited and make the neighborhood beautiful.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Banish February

Citizens of this hemisphere should take to the streets, bang pots and pans, shout and speak in tongues to banish the spirit of February from our lives. Maybe it sounds mean, but February is the month I truly hate. Every year I stock up on fish oil and SAM-E supplements in January because I think, this time, I'm going to beat February. It's the shortest month; this'll be a breeze.

But every year I get sucked in to the spirit-killing vortex of February. I wake up one morning a few days in and find that overnight, my head somehow got wedged up my ass. Gloom and lethargy prevail. A tractor beam in the house comes on and it won't let me go to the gym or anywhere else, really. I even get too lazy to drown my sorrows in gin.

Sometimes it snows in February, and that can provide some sorely needed novelty. But most of the time it seems to wait until sometime in March to do that, when you're over winter and ready to get on with spring. It becomes sickening to see the daffodils blooming in the snow. It's like getting the Etch-A-Sketch you wanted for you sixth birthday on your sixteenth instead, when you were really hoping for a car.

And sometimes the spirit of February oversteps its bounds and lasts until about March 15.

So those who can, participate in some revelry today, and be loud about it. Drive this wet blanket of a month from our midst!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Comparison Of Fun Things

This weekend Wyatt and I had occasion to take in some musical events, and today I will compare them.

Saturday night we went to see Willie Nelson at War Memorial Auditorium. He was backed by a superb band, Asleep At The Wheel, which had a smokin' horn section and was just all-around world class.

Loved the music, but alas, big shows like that are such a pain in the ass. We got there a half hour before the show but we still got caught in a traffic clusterfuck on High Point Road. Having to part with $10 to park was a real downer, too. And we realized that we'd have the leave the show early in order to escape the nightmare the parking lot would become at the end of the show.

Inside we had seats on the first row of the balcony, which was nice enough. Wyatt was happy because he could stretch his legs out over the railing. But it was still like being penned up like a veal calf. After a while it became downright uncomfortable. It's not a situation where you can stand up and stretch because the people behind you will complain, and you can't just get up and stand in the aisle for a break because the people between you and the end of the row all have to stand to let you by.

It's ironic that you pay big money to see a musician you enjoy, but you have to sit still and behave yourself during the performance, let your legs go to sleep and feel your back start to hurt, until you get the point where you're looking forward to it being over. Hell no, dancing is out of the question. What the hell kind of culture do we live in that puts people in this kind of position?

Sunday afternoon we went to see the Raving Knaves at Rider's in the Country in Randleman. That is a nice place - plenty of room to allow people to enjoy themselves. It has a dance floor, tables and chairs, a side room with video games and pool tables, and an enclosed porch. There was a hot dog buffet complete with chili, sauerkraut, and slaw. We had great seats, the kind that aren't attached to the floor. I would have gotten on the dance floor, but couldn't talk anybody into going with me. They put on a great show - I really like their new drummer, who played the harmonica too and stood on his seat to hit the cymbals for dramatic effect. They play rockin' blue collar theme song music, have great original tunes, and I know them.

I have to say I liked the Raving Knaves show more.

A couple of notable things related to dancing happened after the Knaves show. You know how between bands at a performance there will sometimes be filler music from the radio or a mix CD. During a break while the Knaves were taking their stuff down, some women got up to line dance to a Nelly song. Now, as far as I know, Rider's is normally a country bar, very sort of Urban Cowboy, lots of pointy-toed boots and cowboy hats. But hip hop seemed to get these folks rolling. A few minutes after the Nelly song I noticed a fat man dressed in a studded biker jacket and leather cowboy hat grinding his hips to another hip hop song. He just stood up from the table where he was sitting with his friends and started shakin' that thang, and he was very good at it. Hypnotic, it was. I salute that.

After we left Rider's, Wyatt and I stopped at a gas station on Wendover. He was filling up the Blazer and squeegeeing the windows when a dirty white pickup stopped nearby and the 50-something guys inside started yelling at me. Oh shit, they're going to ask me for directions, I thought, and I was filled with dread - I can't tell left from right without holding up the thumb and forefingers on my hands to see which one makes an L (that one's left). On top of that the driver looked like he was likely a recent transplant from one of the nations south of here, and I prepared to open the door to the dusty Spanish files in my brain.

But when I approached the passenger said "Lissenna this song here - less daince!" They were both grinning and bobbing madly in their seats to Irene Cara singing "Flashdance (What A Feeling)" so I spent a minute or so dancing too. "Whooo!" they shouted.

That was the most fun thing of the weekend.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Robins, Real Estate, and Jared Diamond's Collapse

Here lately in the park it's been kind of like Hitchcock's The Birds only with just robins. They're all angling for nesting real estate, I guess. Last year a robin nested in a Crepe Myrtle here next to the rear fire escape, so you could look down into it from the upper floor. That was kind of fun, but then a hellacious hailstorm blew in and smashed the eggs and toppled the nest. That was a real downer - we'd all grown emotionally attached to that little family. I hope Mrs. Robin finds a safer home this year.

I've been reading about real estate in a roundabout way in Collapse. It's about how civilizations rise and fall, and how some of them have risen and sustained themselves. I'm not finished with the book, but so far it looks to me like civilizations which lasted a long time in a relatively stable fashion practiced abortion and/or infanticide. Jared Diamon cites the New Guinea Highlands and Tikopia, cultures which hadn't developed effective birth control methods, and thus had to come up with more brutal methods of population control to keep from depleting resources on the islands where they lived. Oh, that's fucking awful, I thought at first. But then I thought, how is abortion/infanticide really any different from warfare? All of the soldiers killed in battle on both sides are somebody's babies, though they no longer have the cute and cuddly factor working for them. And warfare is the inevitable result of populations outstripping the resources that support them.
Either the overgrown population has to go conquer somebody else's civilization for the raw materials to sustain itself, or it has a civil war/ethnic cleansing episode to thin itself out. (Daimond cites Rwanda as a good example of that.) Both of these things have long-term effects on the quality of life within a society, and it seems like there should be more skillful ways to manage population.

When you look at human history from such a broad perspective and see what an issue birth control has been for almost the entire time, it makes you wonder why religion tends to preach against it. Even though we've got hundreds if not thousands of years of evidence that abstinence doesn't work, we still get pissed off about birth control being discussed as part of sex education. And the Catholic Church is still against the most effective forms of birth control. I think that means they don't care about the bloodshed and cannibalism that can come about as a result of overpopulation; as long as those left standing are practicing Catholics, they've won. That, in my mind, is promoting a natural selection process that favors bloodthirsty assholes.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Best V-Day Song Ever

This is TV On The Radio's "Lover's Day".

Lyrics here.

Have a happy one everybody!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

(Pre) Spring Cleaning

I've been reading a lot online lately about people who said Fuck It All, sold their big houses in the cities where they had good jobs, and moved out to the country to live in a tent while they constructed a 300 or 400 or 500 square foot home, where they proceeded to live a low-stress, off-grid life. As a result, I've decided to take stock of all my stuff. What stuff could I get rid of and not miss? What stuff is essential?

One thing I have to admit to myself right away is that I have a big book problem. Up until I got married, I still had books that were my favorites in middle school. I've moved a lot, and I have to take the time out now to say Thank You and I'm sorry to those who've at any time helped me move. Not much sucks worse than hauling around boxes of books (or LP records) in endless succession. You don't really appreciate how many books you have until you take them off the shelf. Once you do, it's like the books expand, and you think "Holy Shit how can I possibly own so much stuff?"

I did a big book purge when I moved in with Wyatt, and I'm in the middle of another one. The other day I racked up $90 in credit with what I turned in at the used book store. I was so pleased with that it dissolved the earlier fury I'd worked up when I asked a RUDEASS employee a question and got an absolutely TWATTY response.

Enough of that. I like trading in books for credit because even if you use the credit for more book purchases, it translates into fewer books. About $30 of my credit went to the purchase of Collapse, Feast of the Goat, and When You Are Engulfed In Flames. Now I've got plenty to read for a few days and won't be tempted to watch TV. Or go to the library. The library's great, but I don't always feel like getting books back in on time, mostly because library parking is such a pain in the ass. Those bastards turned me over to a collection agency for $30 in overdue fees a couple of years ago. And I hate it when you check out a book and you realize you're going to want to keep for years and refer back to key passages. Because it's a library book, you're not supposed to underline in it, and you have to give it back. It puts you in a bad position because now you're going to have to buy the book from somewhere, probably a different edition, and re-read it to underline those passages. Um, how 'bout hell no?

I like to try things before I commit to keeping them. That's why I shop at Goodwill. You can never tell in the store if a piece of clothing is going to wear well or not, but if it only costs $3.75 you don't mind spending that to try it out. New clothes, on the other hand, are a bigger commitment. If you spend $50 on something, you'll feel bad about getting rid of it even if over time you find it makes you look like a bag lady or gives you blisters.

I also took a big load of stuff to Goodwill this week. I bought a linen jacket while I was there.

I wish I could put all my belongings in one pile so I could judge its size and get a true idea of how much stuff I own. Some of the stuff in the pile might start to look a lot less attractive.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Things You Miss

I miss Verona Disco Hour. I haven't observed this weekly holiday in several years. It was something that might last 20 minutes or it might last 90, but I called it an hour so it'd sound snappier. I'd get out the songs on all the 45s, LPs, and CDs I wanted to dance to that week and pile them up for easy access. This was important preparation if I planned to drink beer or do shots in observance of Disco Hour.

Disco Hour usually only included me, and I'd dance to some songs or pretend to be the singers of others, sometimes singing along. Disco Hour was my Zoloft or Prozac. It allowed me to punch holes in the jar lid of my life and love it, despite whatever else might be going on that was less than fun or glamorous.

I celebrated Disco Hour regularly up until a few years ago. I'm not sure why I stopped. I guess it's like Bob Seger sings about in Rock and Roll Never Forgets: "Say you used to shake 'em down but now you stop to worry about your dignity." Mainly I worry I'll disturb the neighbors, but I've always had neighbors. I gave away my disco globe a couple of years ago.

During my brief career as a barmaid in London, I had access to a stage for Verona Disco Hour. It cost money to play the jukebox but that was okay, it was worth it. One of our regulars, on his way home from the store, was astounded to look in and see me onstage during Verona Disco Hour one afternoon. "You were just carrying on and there was no one else in there," he said. Today that might embarrass me but back then I was proud. I didn't need an audience to support my rockstar lifestyle.

Clubs are too smoky and full of people trying to dance on you instead of with you, and they open too late, and they don't necessarily play what you want to hear. You might not be able to find anybody else who wants to go. And clubs cost money. Why not simplify things and just party in your living room?

I might try Verona Disco Hour again soon. Here's a sample of things that will be on the playlist: Old School, Dark and Nasty, Nina Simone retooled,two good things at once,and fairly recent poppy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Community Gardens

I was glad to see this story about community gardens in the paper today. The whole reason I'm obsessed with moving out of this condo is because I want a yard to garden in. At the same time, this is one of the best places in town to live and I'd hate to give it up. There's a big empty lot a few blocks away that would make a sweet community garden, though right now it's full of dog shit. That's a big problem with growing things in the city that I've written about before.

A couple of years ago my neighbor helped me build a planter I put on my balcony, and Wyatt and I grew salad greens and herbs in it. It was a pain in the ass to keep watered - we had to lug watering cans from the kitchen and drip all the way through the house to get to it, and in the peak summer it needs water twice a day. But it was nice being able to just step out with some scissors and clip a salad for dinner. However the following season some exterior work was done on the building, pressure washing and whatnot, and the planter got inundated with bleach and chips of old paint. I'm not sure about the concentration of bleach but I saw several empty gallon jugs of it out in the yard near the pressure washer, and decided maybe we shouldn't eat greens out of the planter anymore.

My friend Sr. Bedford has an allotment in that community garden in Glenwood, and he grows Kale that's probably genetically modified with DNA from Godzilla. I swear one year it's going to uproot itself and start knocking over buildings downtown.

This is my favorite place to buy seeds from, though with my limited gardening options I haven't done much shopping from them. I'm going to try elderberry in the planter this year.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Straw Bale Homes And Other Alternatives

Straw bale housing is hundreds of years old, sort of an old school housbuilding method actually, but it's considered alternative housing now. I was interested to see this article about planned public housing projects with straw bale construction in the UK.

I've long been fascinated with dome homes. I like these because they're not covered in shingles. This company sells kits for attractive dome homes that aren't gloomily shingle covered, and they also make kits for 10-sided round homes with a more conventional roof. I like that better because it seems less likely to leak. The company's based in Illinois, but someone has built one of their "Decahomes" in Virginia. Sometime this spring I'd like to go up and take a look at it.

This company is building a dome subdivision in the mountains of N.C., and they have a dome rental cabin up there too. I'd like to go spend a weekend in it sometime soon.

So, if I had a house and garden, I'd definitely plant some of these this year. I'd most likely buy the seeds from here. And I'd want to get some fruit trees and native bushes from here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

More Solargon/Urban Homesteading Thoughts

The cat was sick on Wednesday, and it made me glad we aren't living in just 700 square feet of alternative housing. Were that the case, the entire dwelling would likely have been polluted with cat shit.

Tessa, our 11-year-old ginger cat, has been more affectionate and needy lately so I suspected she wasn't feeling well. I went out for about 20 minutes Wednesday morning and when I returned, my suspicions were confirmed.

She jumped onto a bar stool in the kitchen to be petted. When I did so my hand came away cold and wet, and when I looked I saw splotches of shit all over her back.

Tessa is growing out a lion cut, which means when her long fur was cut the groomer left a puffball at the end of her tail. That puffball looked like a paintbrush freshly dipped in brown paint. Tessa likes to walk around and switch her tail about, so she'd splattered herself and gone Jackson Pollock on some walls. I found smears and spotches here and there all over the house. If this had happened in a Solargon, the density of the catshit contamination would have rendered the home uninhabitable. As is was in 1,300 square feet with both doors open I gagged twice in the process of cleaning up.

Sick cats aside, I know a clutter counselor/organization coach who could probably show us how to live in 700 square feet of alternative housing without resorting to murder-suicide. But when I think about it, I realize we've been in this situation before.

Before we were married, Wyatt lived in separate dwellings and had a mortgage each. It was like the universe knew we were about to get ahead, because Wyatt got laid off right after we got married and a couple of months after that I was hazed into quitting my job. I managed to sell my place despite the crashing real estate market, but since then sharing a residence and mortgage has not made things as easy as I'd hoped. We both went back to school, which required some cash outflow, and the economy tanked, which sucks because both our current jobs depend on people having disposable income they want to part with.

I'm not sure what kind of devilish feedback mechanism is at work here. Perhaps it's the Law Of Conservation Of Shit To Worry About, which I wrote about here and here.

Still, when I read articles like this, I am once again prompted to obsess about alternative housing.

Theoretical Urban Homesteading

Was talking to a friend about my obsession with round alternative houses. She lives in one of those Glenwood bungalows I mentioned here. It's a great house, but like many houses built in the 1920s and 1930s in Glenwood, it needs a lot of work. I told her the larger Solargon house kits cost around $36,000. "It would almost make more sense to tear my house down and put up one of those," she said. But that's exaggerating, first because she estimates it would only cost around $20,000 to fix up her house, and also because her house has more than twice the square footage of the Solargon.

Plus there are a lot of other Solargon costs, because you'd have to factor in the price of the lot for a building site, and cost of pouring a foundation, and costs of getting somebody to put the Solargon together and wire and plumb it, new appliances, etc.

Then again the Solargon is likely to be more energy efficient and save money over time, partly because it is small. And rehabbing an old house is always more expensive and complicated than you thought it would be.

I have a large husband and two cats. I don't know how well we'd all fit into about 700 square feet laid out like this. It's not terribly different from what we have now, just smaller, but we'd certainly have to get rid of a lot of stuff. But we got rid of a lot of stuff when we got married and moved in together, and it was painful at the time but in retrospect not such a big deal. If it meant being able to jump off the hamster wheel of bills and debt, well I don't think we'd notice the lack of stuff so much.

When I think about it, the biggest space problems we'd have are related to books, kitchen stuff, clothes, and cat litter boxes. Not that cat litter boxes are all that big, but you can't put them just anywhere. Built-in storage might solve the book, kitchen stuff and clothing problem, but living in a small space with litter boxes is still going to be tricky.

I went on vacation to Mongolia one year, and spent some nights in a ger (otherwise known as a yurt). From the outside they don't look very big at all. But something about the roundness and openess of them makes them seem pretty big and comfortable on the inside. They're covered in felt. It was astonishing how cool they were in the scorching-ass heat of the Gobi desert, and how warm they were in the cold Hinti Mountains once somebody lit a horse dung fire in the stove. I love round living spaces.

That's one thing I'd want in my Solargon that might be hard to engineer and would take up valuable space: a wood stove. Though I would probably try to burn horse or cow shit in it. To hell with chopping wood. Cow or horse shit is probably one of the most renewable resources on the planet. We could sneak into pastures, or hell, maybe even get permission, and bag up free heating fuel every winter.

Our biggest obstacle is that we're already pinned down by mortgage payments, don't have enough cash handy to outright pay for land and a new Solargon, don't want to have two sets of mortgage payments, and the housing market sucks so it might take a while to sell our place. Renting makes a lot more sense in some regards. When you want to move you just give notice and leave regardless of how the real estate market looks.

More Dreamhouse Thoughts

Have been thinking a lot about the Solargon house issues mentioned in my last post, and have decided that daydreaming of the ultimate homestead site is a safe alternative to alcoholism or crack addiction, so I'm going to indulge in it.

As long as I'm dreaming, I want a geodesic greenhouse too.

And I want to put one of these freshwater fish farm and salad kits in it. The greens and herbs in the long tray are fed by fish poop, and in subsisting on fish poop they keep the water healthy for the fish in the big tank. I think it's intended for tilapia farming, but I'd probably try native bluegill in there.

It would be nice if we could live in an Eco-Village of LEED-certified houses like Solargons, maybe 20-30 of them, either in the city or somewhere within 15-20 minutes of it. I want my friend W.M. to live there. Hear that, W.M.?

More about this topic later.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Internal Dialog about Solargons

Love this - it's a house made from a kit.

Problem is, once you pay for a foundation and land, it's cheaper to just buy a good old bungalow in Glenwood.

But this Solargon is probably much more energy efficient and low maintenance. It looks so cool.

But so what, they'd never give you a permit to build this in the city anyway, even if you could find and buy a lot to put it on.

Well then, to hell with the city, I'll move out to Rockingham or Stokes or Randolph County and live in a Solargon.

You better invest in a primo TV and a satellite dish then, 'cause there won't be anyplace nearby to hang out, and any neighbors you have will probably hate your hippie ass. And you should build a still because you'll likely be living in a dry county. And buy lots of CDs 'cause you'll be spending a lot of commuting time in the car going back and forth to work, and oh by the way you'd better buy a newer car without so many miles and get a job you'll hate so you can make your new car payments and buy gas. And if you're going to do all that you might as well live in a tent because you won't actually be spending much time at home. And figure out how to make your own tofu because grocery stores where you will be living won't have stuff like that, or wheat-free bread.

This sucks.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Side Effects of Love

Been feeling goth lately, craving to hear dark and gloomy/angry music. I guess it's the time of year. It makes me want to wear black and smoke cigarettes and be all existential. Was trawling YouTube for the music of my youth yesterday and found the ultimate combination of Country heartwrench and goth gloom - Sisters of Mercy meets Dolly Parton!

Another thing that's casting a pall over my frame of mind is memories of court earlier this week. A good friend of mine is going through custody hearings with her ex-husband over their two children. It really put things in perspective for me. I remember back in the day when they first got together, and how it seemed like such a great relationship. It wasn't perfect but it looked to me like they got through their differences in a mature and loving way. I was moved by how calm and sure and supportive he was during her labor with their first child. She cried when the pains came and he held her hand and said "Just think baby, when this is over you won't be pregnant any more." They both seemed to groove on family life.

Fast forward a number of years, and they're both sitting in court with stress visible on their faces. They've got new loves sitting behind them in the benches, and two kids waiting outside the courtroom. All that's a lot to manage. It's been a harrowing time for them. It's possible that if they'd gotten regular marriage counseling early on, and if they'd each gotten some individual counseling too, maybe all this could have been avoided. But parents in young families become so isolated - there's never the money or the time for that kind of thing, and it's not culturally supported. It's easier to pick up a cocaine or prescription drug habit to cope. And to numb yourself to the fact that your life is losing its juice and spiraling out of control. Family life is a lot more difficult than anyone appreciates.

I've seen a lot of court cases, have witnessed how rattled some people get when they take the stand, so you'd think I'd be able to stop that from happening to me. But you take that oath and sit in that chair next to the judge and the mean-faced attorney cross-examines you and you quickly develop a case of Alzheimer's with a touch of straight-up brain damage, stumbling over questions like how often have you seen so and so since such and such. It sucks.

I felt almost physical pain in listening to testimony from both sides. How did it come to this? When you first fall in love, you feel so lucky. You have total faith that the luck will not abandon you, that this love is sanctioned by fate. You have children, and feel determination that you will provide the completely safe and solid environment it will take to give them the childhood you didn't have. You see the wreckage of broken hearts and families all around you, in your own childhood, in your friends and on the news, but you think you can stop it from happening to you. And when it starts to, you become something far, far from your best self.

Thoughts about this subject create the conditions for internal/spiritual gloom. I just wish the best for all the parties involved.