Tuesday, June 21, 2005

If, like me, you've come upon this concoction of a word, autohaigiogrpahy, and immediately concocted a vision of
1) A Car
2) An older woman blessed with minimal personal beauty
3) A story of sadness involving #1 & #2,
then, it must have been a surprise for you as well when you found out the true meaning of the word. As per World Wide Words, Autohagiography
"has the same relationship to autobiography as a publicist’s puffery has to objective truth. So far as I know it hasn’t yet reached the pages of any major dictionary, being one of those words that lurks unnoticed in the linguistic undergrowth, only occasionally emerging to startle the unwary reader. The first use of it I can trace is in the title of the book The Confessions of Aleister Crowley; An Autohagiography, which was published in 1970. I’ve also seen the adjective autohagiographical, but it seems to be rare to the point where it is reinvented each time it’s used. The root word hagiography comes from the Greek agios, “holy”, and was at first applied to books which described the lives of the saints. Such books had a marked tendency towards uncritical descriptions. So sometime about the end of last century hagiography broadened its sense to that of any biographical work that flatters or idolises its subject."

Why am I even bringing up autohagiography? At Outer Life's self description, his "One-Line Bio" starts with

"Outer Life is an autohagiography and a history of today, custom-crafted in the form of decorative word arrangements delivered directly to your screen. And best of all, it's free!"

Why was I pursuing this? Well, Mr. Outer Life's entry for today screams for additional information, so off I scooted in his other info areas. No clues, but a new word and a slew of new worries. Hope all is going well over there in the land of the Orchid Eaters.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Just one more.. Q & A from Nick Hornby’s Philly Free Library appearance. This inquiry came back to me after Whisky Prajer had noted his take on reviews of books.
Q: How do you deal with this talk (that you’re giving here) and all the other interviews and book reviews that you have to cope with whenever you have a new book come out?
A: No offense to this distinguished group (Loud self-referential applause and hoots by the audience at this remark), but the book reviews, the radio and telephone interviews, and the appearances like this one (at the Free Library of Philadelphia) are all of the same grouping. I think of the whole novel (as in book) event as a swim in the Mediterranean. You look out from the beach and the water looks spectacular. You wade in and find yourself pushing and swimming through rubbish, condoms, hypodermics, and even body waste. If you persist, you swim past these impasses and you’re in clear blue waters and all you see is your feet, maybe some fish, and the sea bottom. You float and you sigh, your face looking up into the cloudless blue sky. The condoms and hypodermics? That’s the book reviews and interviews. The clear sea. That’s the readers of my books. They’ve made it past the condoms and hypodermics as well.

For a ”Fresh Air” interview with Terry Gross with Mr. Hornby, go to Fresh Air.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

(N.B.:For those souls blessed with patience and curiosity, making it through this entry will most certainly require that you use this guide. If ya live on Pashunk, fughettabotit. Yanowadamsayin'? Fidollaz to Chazzy G for takin 'n showin' me how the spellin' of the words iz)

Tidday, I was sittin' passin' my hand threw my receiving hairline and readin' Mr. Outa Laugh Problee kuz my readin' is not so quick and it results in a hedic on occassion, I wazn't capishin' too good wot he'z writin' 'bout. Then it hits me.
No, not da ogida; da noive of dis guy. 'Nd I waz thinkin' he waz a mamaluke. Tsk, Tsk.
He's like friggin' Christopher Columbus explorin' da New Landz. Ain't happy wid hiz lot in blog life; so now he'z encrouchin' on our turf. Wazn't happy coversatin wid his learned friendz? Wazn't thrilled wid bein' de mare of introspective gabbin'? He's servin up da pastafazool 'nd doesn't think we smell it. Makes me wanna ask him, "Wuzupwitdat??".
Sez he, in his blog, "I enjoy reading breezy updates and chatty asides on other sites, so why aren't I more breezy and chatty on my site? Maybe I can't do it. Maybe I'm just not the breezy chatty type." Well, howz dat ? 'Nd peel me an apple. Da atteetood of dis guy … and from California, to boot. Dis Breezy and Chatty stuff is our wicked bailly!

By tinnite, hiz atteetude will be changed. Tawked to some of my gabados buffalone on da "I" line. They were in one thought wid me on dis, "Who's this chooch?". We're the "Breezy 'n Chatty" blogs; none of dat deep thinkin' type thoughts here. If he wants in on our manneguts, he'll open up hiz pockabook 'nd throw some bozenegol our way . Udderwise, fughettabotit! See yaz, gottago.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


The ever estimable Whisky Prajer pointed out this article which subsequently directed me to Maud Newton. What's the point of all this pointing?!?
"Blood of the Lamb" by Peter DeVries is being re-issued!!
(Going to that amazon.com site listed, it's interesting to see the pairing that they've come up with for their usual "Buy this!...and..This!" matchings. It's Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead". The connection between the two, I'm assuming besides the exquisite writing, is the crisis of faith the characters struggle through.)

It's just fabulous that Mr. DeVries has been brought back from the dusty Bin of Past Masters. His incisive wit makes one giddy while reading. He has an empathy for his characters and does not stoop to ridicule unless forced to; sometimes a fool, even a fool of one's own creation, needs to be placed into their proper life's station. His stories do not deal with good and evil in a black/white dichotomy, except for perhaps (my personal favorite)"Blood of the Lamb". The grey areas of love, goodness, temptation, and ego's folly are his bailliwicks. You'll keep a pen and paper handy when reading any of his novels, to record the turns of phrases, the new words, and the pithy remarks that you'll be sure to use at one point or another when dealing with the vast diversity of humans amongst us. To me, his writing style fits in that hidden pool of writers/poets; poets who have taken to writing a novel or two. Nabokov, Pasternak, Ondaatje. There is evident a love and a care for words. No slight to the other three mentioned, but DeVries is the only one guaranteed to have you laughing. Loudly.
Being a lapsed Catholic (way before all the Boston nonsense and the new pope derby), shelter in a storm brought me to DeVries about 20 years ago. If someone were to ask me what religion I practiced, I'd say the closest I could claim a membership to would be DeVriesianism. It's a positive & affirmative view of life's lunacies. In these jaundiced times, that's all I can hope for.

For those blog readers who want to get an idea of DeVries without putting in any reading, check out Reuben, Reuben , with Tom Conti in the lead role. If this whets your appetite, grab a book for Christ's sake!

Thanks, again, for the great news, WP.

Friday, June 10, 2005

More Q.'s thrown @ Mr. Hornby
Addendum to the previous post re. Nick Hornby's evening in Philadelphia. And, in response to my ever-loving wife's question to me, "No. I'm not stalking him. If I were, wouldn't I have purchased a Virgin Air one way ticket to London already."

Q: Desert island question. (LOUD groans from audience). What five books would you take along? (I have to note here that I was not the one who asked this question. Just so you know)
A: (Mr. Hornby stares at the person. Seems to be caught on that thin edge between ridicule and restraint. He sips a bit of water, probably pondering whether he should throw the empty bottle at the question poser. Takes a deep breath and says...)

Great Expectations. Absolutely the top pick.

Michael Chabon. Almost anything but especially The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Richard Russo. Most probably Empire Falls.

Elizabeth McCraken. Niagara Falls all Over Again. Actually, my new novel starts out with a quote from one of her books.

Philip Roth.

(He then starts rattling off a series of authors, obviously having his fill of self-control). Enough for now? (He looks a bit peeved and is waiting, just waiting, for another idiotic question like that. No q. is asked for a long 10-15 seconds. He may be short but he looks like he can be a nasty customer when it comes to fisticuffs.)

Q: In Polysyllabic Spree, you talk about working with someone else on a screenplay. What movie was that?
A: Well, it's a movie that won't be made shortly. I worked with David Eggars on A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I wouldn't say it's been shelved. Let's just say the movie company is not as interested.

As regards "A Long Way Down", Mr. Hornby's latest novel, reviews are mixed. Here's one from July/August's issue of The Atlantic , written by Jon Zobenica.

"You Might as Well Live
Nick Hornby's characters could care less

Hornby's zippy novels High Fidelity and About a Boy plumbed the depths of humankind's would-be shallows. In each a character clinging absurdly to a sense of his own emotional insignificance is finally moved, despite himself, to embrace life's complex if at times mortifying drama. In his latest Hornby has almost perfectly reversed the formula, and to the extent that he succeeds, he fails. A Long Way Down opens with high drama—literally, as four suicidal strangers chance on one another atop a London tower block from which they mean to throw themselves. The mood broken by the encounter, they agree to a temporary non-suicide pact, strike up a grudging and dysfunctional friendship, and find themselves in a series of misadventures over the course of which they learn to embrace absurd emotional insignificance as an answer to life's mortifying drama.

It's a worthy notion typical of the good-hearted Hornby. Also typical is a thoroughgoing pop-culture sensibility, which gets the better of him this time around. The four lead characters do "meet cute," after a fashion, and are little more than types: there's a cad with a totaled career and a twitching conscience, a middle-aged mom as straight man, a foul-mouthed pixie, and, because this is Hornby, a frustrated musician-cum-pizza delivery guy who's depressed that his life isn't the power ballad he thought it would be. And as they go through their various challenges together, and give their alternating and unreliable accounts of themselves and the events at hand (in direct, often irritating testimonials), the whole thing starts to suggest the work of the reality-TV impresario Mark Burnett—a sort of Survivor: London, in which no one is eliminated. The main problem, however, is more basic than that: as the characters noisily learn to care less, the reader quietly does the same. "

I like to read book reviews and use them quite a bit to decide if I want to read a work by an author I'm not familiar with. If there's a reviewer that reads and judges in a manner similar to myself or a reviewer that you consistently diagree with but whose writing style is addictive I find that their reviews serve to save me a lot of time, money, and frustration. And if you don't care for their skewering of a book, they're like an acquaintance that you won't insult or whose feelings you can't hurt.
Reading reviews of authors I'm familiar with and whose books I've liked is a mixed reaction.
If the review is unfavorable, I'll still read the book. Unfortunately, the read review is now perched in my head, duly noting passages it's criticized to me so that I will not miss the faults. It ruins the book for me, through no fault of the reviewer.
If the review is favorable, the review is still perched in my head, perhaps on a higher branch. This review will also be sure to point out to me those absolutely divine passages it had gone on and on about in it's positive view of the book. It ruins the book for me, through no fault of the reviewer.

So, you'd think I should not bother reading reviews of books by authors I like. That would be sound advice. Advice that would leave my head empty of perching reviews. Free to form my own thoughts and interpretations of a favorite author's works. At the very least, I should read the reviews only after reading the book first.
Can't do it. Can't explain why. I'll throw blame onto Slavic heritage and masochism. Their sagging shoulders are still strong enough to bear another excuse.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I received a meme invite from the delightful Cowtown Pattie. Belatedly, I discovered that my memettiquette needs some polishing; I'd forgotten to forward the meme on to its next resting place.

Whisky Prajer, being the gentleman & Canadian that he is(that's redundant, right?), has already pitched in. A big swipe of my sweating brow to you, Mr. WP.

The other invitations were mailed to:
The Glory of Carnolia

Hopefully, they will do that meme thing on their blogs and then link through the comment section here. My clicking finger can't wait!

And Pattie, sorry for the delay. This immigrant still has a slight problem with hte English comprehension thing.

Mr. Nick Hornby was in Philly last night giving a presentation as part of the Philadelphia Free Library Author Series. He read from his new book, Long Way Down and fielded questions from an adoring audience. Here are a few that were memorable.

Q: What are you listening to these days?
A: Really like the Magic Numbers. They'll be releasing their first American cd next week. Folky-Rock sort of group composed of 2 sets of brother-sister combo. Critics have described them as sort of like The Mamas and the Papas....Bollocks on that. There are some fat people in the group, so the critics think..."Hmmm, they sing in harmonies...they're fat..Hey! They sound like Meatloaf/Mamas & Papas." Regardless of the critics, I highly recommend them.
Q: Do you still smoke?
A: Yes, unfortunately that's the price of being a writer. I take smoking breaks late at night outside in my yard and think deep thoughts. Deep thoughts, that's what we writers have. So, for any budding young writers out there, I would strongly recommend taking up smoking if you already aren't deep into the fags already.

Q: It's hard to finish your books becauses you know you won't see those characters again? Any chance you'd consider doing a follow-up or sequel?
A: Some of my books are complete; I don't think the characters have anywhere else interesting to go to. Or, the point that I was trying to make with the story, with the characters has been made and it's tiem to move on. High Fidelity is a possibility. I'd like to see where the couple would go. We'll see.

Q: This new book is about some folks that are pretty depressed. Is that how you find yourself most of the time?
A: Well, maybe not depressed. How about miserable? Sounds a bit more optimistic than depressed. Yeah, I'm a quarter full glass kind of guy. I find humor in being miserable, well, I mean, I get myself out of misery by trying to find the gag in it. It's tough on the folks around me, my wife, my kids, my friens, my agent while I'm down ther, deep in misery. It must seem to them at times it's not worth the wait for me to come up. Sort of like a deep-sea diver. I'm down there in the deep while my support crew are up top wondering if I'll make it. I always do. And it's two thing that do it for me. Humor and Music. If one doesn't do the trick, the other will. As far as being depressed, I think that if I were depressed I'd think about suicide, like the 4 characters in this book. But I never did as a teenager and I never have as an adult, even when I went through decades where I coudn't get anything published.

He spoke and answered questions for about an hour and was his usual denigrating humble self. The audience was in absolute adoration mode; while he was reading, some folks were laughing nervously at parts of his readings that wer not meant to be funny. This is Nick Hornby! We should all be laughing. There was an intensity of attention paid to every word or motion. If he had said "Boo" at any point, I'm sure someone would have had a heart attack. I bought a copy of the book before the reading. When the Q & A was finsihed, I mosied over to the line for Hornby's autograph. It wound itself back twice, easily over an hour of waiting. A quick roundabout and I left the building, book unsigned, savoring another chance to have heard him speak.

The Sounding
We last left our hero upside down, head under a Camry steering wheel, legs draped over the driver's seat, blood rushing from toes to skull.
A yoga exercise promoted by Car & Driver? Hardly.
A demented Hide 'n Seek game with the neighborhood kids gone awry? Most Unlikely.

No, he, as in I (warning to readers! A treacherous hair-pin turn here from observing third person narration to self-involved first person trance), was assuming the necessary position to complete the second part of Ster eeh! Yiye! Eeh! Yiye! Yo!

In tight quarters, power drills are to be avoided, especially if the power driller is laying on his back, head resting on the brake pedal, and a mini nimbus cloud of flies coming to rest on his face. As most instruction manuals state, a person using a power drill should be standing, feet 2 feet apart, safety glasses firmly sitting on one’s face, temperature in the 65-75 degree range, with winds, at maximum, 5-8 mph NNE. This covers the manufacturer of the power drill from 99.5% of any liability claims. It also means the drill will last a lifetime if the instructions are followed to the letter. So, installing a car stereo using a power drill is asking for an incident or two beyond the scope of the instruction manual. To minimize the visibility of the incident(s), I make sure I have gum available, pre-chewed of course, which almost matches the car’s interior color. The gum should be kept in the mouth to maintain its flexibility. Plugging up mis-alligned screw holes with hardened Juicy Fruit is fairly difficult. Plus, chewing gum and drilling simultaneously should prove once and for all that you are capable of doing two things at once.

Our neighborhood is a lovely place. Houses are, as a French-Canadian might say of his bacon, side by each. Coziness verging on intrusiveness. Neighbors soon become friends and spectators. The only sore point is the parking, or really lack thereof, on the street. Homes are located on both sides of our short street, while parking is limited to only one side. There’s a minimum of 2 cars per house. No matter how tightly we park nose to rear of each other, physics comes into play and some of us end up leaving our cars a bus ride away. Like a snake detecting movement through ground vibrations or through the heat dissipating from a moving object, a resident of our street quickly learns to notice minute movements of cars as they try to remove themselves from a parking spot on our block. Extrication can involve multiple shifting from forward to reverse and back again. A tell to a resident of our street is the red brake light repeatedly going on and off.
A ha! A space is opening. The cars start queuing up.
When one is in one of the stereo installation positions that involves being upside down with one’s noggin placed on the brake pedal of a car, inevitably one will be resting one’s head on the pedal, isometric exercising be damned.
Head on pedal = brake light going on.
Head off pedal = brake light off.
Aside from the broken sentences being weaved by the stereo installer as he is sweating and groaning, other sounds are now joining in the cacophony. The brake light has lured cars wanting to park. The drivers see the light going on and off, but no movement. They tap the horn.
Again with the tapping.
Finally a long blare, an indication of ear-steaming impatience and one nerve ending away from bodily harm intentions.
The stereo installer slithers out from beneath the wheel, glares at the driver, and holds his Phillips screwdriver with malicious intent.
Words attached to deeply furrowed glares are mouthed. A crisis is averted when the driver peeks inside the installer’s car and notices the deconstructed interior. Empathy saves the day; the driver continues his search.

The cavity has been set up. One final step before the installation.
Suffice it to note that if, after soldering 200 wires together, one is not dribbling from the mouth and leaning to one side due to the mixing of heat, lead, and poor ventilation, then one has not soldered for a sufficiently long space of time. Frequent showers during this process is encouraged, unless you want that lisp to be permanent.

Once you’ve fully recovered your faculties from the soldering fumes, installation simply means attaching the stereo to some part of the automobile that will easily accept its insertion. Usually, as in this case, you’re simply taking out the old unit and replacing it with the new one. Sometimes, there was no unit there and you will need to be-friend Mr. Sawzall. Mr. Sawzall is a rather violent kind of guy. Personally, I’d never invite him inside my car as he has a complete lack of control when showing off his prowess. I will, therefore, not go into any further tales of those travails.
To complete your installation, you’ll need some screws, Phillips screws to be totally anal-retentive about it.
Phillips screws, when properly used, start out with heads that have a cross on them. These screws, named after St. Phillip patron saint of quickly boiling cursing, should be installed such that they are transformed, by the knitted sweat of your brow, into Torx head screws. Torx screws are not named after St. Torx.
Please! Let's be serious here. Torx is a word in Esperanto that combines five words from various languages, all usually spelled as ?*!@%#%$@. From Philips to Torx should take no more than 5-10 minutes of power drilling per screw. For the professional installer, transforming the Torx screw to a completely stripped screw is simply another 2-3 minutes of hard pressing on the power drill. When a high pitched whining noise is heard, the job is finished. The less knowledgable reader will certainly write a comment here as to the perceived lack of skill of the installer.
"Strip the screw? ", they ask.
"How are you going to take it out? ", they tsk-tsk.
(A pause here for that last question to find a safe mooring in that wide ocean sloshing inside the reader's head.)
Not taking the stereo out is the point that the expert installer is after. When you're out on the town, regaling all pedestrians with the high volume quality of your newly installed stereo, one thing that you don't want to worry about is taking your receiver out. After coming back to your parked car from a night of festiveness and frivolity, you may notice that your automobile's tires are gone, that a window is smashed, that your coat is gone, that your steering wheel has been savaged, and that the driver's air bag is missing.
You look inside.
Hammer blows have added a topographical touch to your previously smooth dashboard. Your stereo? Still there, thanks to the expertise of the installation evidenced by the stripped screws. Even the young hooligan who had been intent on procuring a stereo receiver that night must have taken a moment or two to loudly promote the inscrutability of those screws. As you dial for a cop and a tow on your cell, you turn on your radio and settle in for the wait. Ah, sweet music to take you through another of life’s moments.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Banging the Box... Slowly

The Panasonic 27 incher is on its last legs. Funny, it’s not that old. Seven years.
Should I be paranoid about the planned obsolescence theory of manufacturing?
Is the electric current on the third floor insufficiently powerful enough to jolt the television into its optimal power consumption grid? Not sure what I said there; I’m a little light in the electrical engineering shoes. I remember that electrical current was always compared to water current. It would stand to (convoluted) reason, that current going vertical would lose its power; what started out as 120 volts coming out of the circuit box would stagger through the wizen maze of wiring of our old house eventually ending up 3 flights in the outlet box where the tv’s plugged in as a token 30 volts.
Whichever. The sound’s fine. Channels can be surfed. Just no picture. Well, actually an intermittent picture. First the top right corner starts to turn green as in gillish green. Then, the picture turns from an expansive full screen to a thin horizontal line. Shortly afterwards, like an imploding star, the horizontal line becomes a fiery dot. Then a black void settles in, sucking all the groans in the room with it. Consulting with my son, whose college experiences includes the requisite exploding (insert item here) experience, I was informed that the green tint was significant. If it was grassy green, it was a camera problem at the studio’s end. Gillish green, however, was an indication of the onset of our set’s death throes.
“Our set soon went dark and there was smoke. We unplugged the set. Sparks flew, more smoke, and then a sound like ennui.”
“Absolutely, though I couldn’t tell if it was a Sartrian (?) or a Camusian (?) ennui.”
Hmm, college’s been very very good for my son; he’ll be the first Existential tv repairman in Ohio.

With this learned observation, I contemplated the next home entertainment move. Need for purchase or ride out the downward plunge in viewing quality.

And trust?!? Who can I trust to make my long-term capital purchases? This was a Consumer’s Report Best Buy appliance. Am I incorrectly equating “Best Buy” to “Lifetime”. Is 7 years of tv life the same as 15 years of dog life, which is 105 years in human life? Is the codger set ready for the grave?
Not without a fight, I say. And the fight begins with “The Technique”. Passed on from father to son from when there was just black & white and 4 channels. “The Technique” is different from family to family. It’s like baseball’s batting stance and swing. The aim is to solidly connect bat with ball. The style you adapt is immaterial; only results are judged. My preference is the “DA dum” method. Standing facing the screen, I stretch out my arms with my hands tilted 90 degrees on either side of the tv. A sharp rap of the open palm of my left hand is followed by that of the right. Like a sharp jolt to the heart. No reaction from the tv? Repeat as necessary.
This TV CPR thing has been going on for about 2 months now. What started as a once-a-week love tap has now become a daily ritual. At the beginning of our death watch, other members of the family, when faced with a blank screen, have called in The Master to do the deed. After careful observation, the always impressive daughter has deduced the basic Cro-Magnon tapping technique. She’s perfected it beyond The Master; the Panasonic seems to sense her approach and flicks the picture back on without even a nudge.
The Master is impressed and envious. But isn’t this what each new generation is supposed to do anyway? Ever improving the clan’s pre-historic swing.

ps. While doing a bit of research on the Planned Obsolescence theory, this site came up. Interesting reading by an Economics textbook author. Here’s an excerpt:

" Planning for Obsolescence
Not everything should last forever.
When I wrote my first textbook, the publisher wanted to
combat the second-semester used book market by sewing a
$100 bill into the binding of every 100th book. Every student
would tear his book apart to see if he'd won. Printing with
disappearing ink that lasts exactly one semester would also
discourage the used book market. But instead of running
lotteries or using disappearing ink, most publishers make used
textbooks obsolete by periodically releasing revised editions.
Did I mention that the fifth edition of my textbook is forthcoming
next year?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Reading Meme(ory)
Sassy Sarah Vaughan sang a rendition of “Whatever Lola Wants” (that’s been re-mixed @ here ), that always has me doing the stenography thing so that you can make sure you’re writing it all down. Don’t want to disappoint Lola…or Miss Vaughan.
Cowtown Pattie @ Texas Trifles has kindly meme-requested me for a book inquiry. How could I refuse her invitation? Here’s my modest contribution to her meme invite. Hope I didn't disappoint.

1. Total Number of Books You Have Owned: If the ever-loving wife reads this and actually sees a number, my occupancy of my current residence may be revoked. So, punking out, I’ll note that it’s a number greater than the Aniak, Alaska Public Library , but less than the Nutley, New Jersey Public Library .

2. Last Book I Bought (but still waiting to be shipped): After the list of books below is finished, this is coming off of my Amazon Wish List.
No Mercy: A Journey into the Heart of the Congo by Redmond O’Hanlen

3. Last Book I Read: Like Pattie, the Trail Boss, various books are strewn around my bed, sofa, and desk in mid-read. So, here’s a partial list; the first book listed is the closest to being finished.
Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith
The Road Home by Jim Harrison
Guns, Germs, & Steel by Jared Diamond
Collapse by Jared Diamond
Rough Guide to Croatia by Rough Guide Press
The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs by Alexander McCall Smith

4. Five (or so) Books That Mean a Lot To Me: (no particular order)
The Life & Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin by Vladimir Voinovich Along with “Soldier Schweik”, these Slavic takes on the idiocy of war and governments and how a sense of the absurd lets one cooly step through the muck are timely reading. If there's a war, there's always a Chonkin around.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller First “adult” book I ever read. I read this one hazy summer between 8th grade and high school, thinking it was only a war story. As close to perfection, in my limited reading opinion, as I’ve encountered. I go back and re-read this book or at least parts of it every 5 years or so. (Heller’s Something Happened is another addiction)

Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo Older man comes to grips with his place in his town and in his family’s life. All done with humor and a gorgeously worded style. One of the few books I’ve ever read that translated well to film.

Blood of the Lamb by Peter De Vries Father dealing with the effects of a daughter who died too young. God doesn’t come out too well here.

Spinky Sulks by William Steig Never has simpering and sulking been cured in a more humorous way. Long after the kids stopped reading this book, I find myself picking it up when I’m in the throes of self-indulgent kwetching. Sets me straight each time. Plus, Steig’s illustrations are a hoot.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

go. Go. GO!!!!
Reading this Multitudes, multitudes post from Mr. Terry Teachout's "About Last Night" served as a Last Call to anyone, including myself, within 3 hours driving time of Philly, to get to the Barnes Museum immediately, while it's still located at North Latch's Lane in Lower Merion.

Is it a pain to make reservations? Yes.
Are the guards a bit persnickety? Yes.
Are the parking rules and the specific attendance time rules a bit much? Yes.

Will you have an art museum experience that will leave you open-mouthed & paaaaf? Yes.

The Barnes collection is to be moved to downtown Philadelphia sometime in the near future. No final date has been defined. If you have any experience with the way things are done...well...not done in Philly, you know the move won't take place when it's supposed to and the place or building where the collection is to be moved to will never be what the Barnes Museum is today. I've only been once, but will be going there at least once more to catch the collection before its quirky vision has been institutionalized. I plead that any of you within driving time do the same. It'll be a long term memory for you. Guaranteed.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Designated Morose Guy
In one of Mr. Whisky Prajer's blog posts, he refers to a linking dance that ends with a list of questions.
Specifically, these:

"1) What regularly (or most) tempts you to second-guess/abandon the principles/worldview you hold dearest, regardless of your belief system?

2) What makes you want to "give up?"

3) What's the most hope-less situation you can imagine finding yourself in?

4) What have you failed at so much that you've either quit trying or you go into that situation knowing you're going to fail?

5) What points of comparison do you use to make you feel better about yourself?

6) What are the things in your life that feel pointless, like a waste of time?

7) Do people really distrust preachers with facial hair?"

A daily visit to whiskyprajer is always interesting and usually thought-provoking. The posting of this Seven Questions link resulted in a knee-jerk reaction on my part. A kick to the section of the memory files that, I'd thought, had been rusted closed. Never know when an incident or a set of words will hit like a ball pean hammer and loosen experiences that were long forgotten or filed away.

Within the confines of gangdom that I moved in and out of in my youth, an understood but never talked about structure was in place. From a parents’ front porch perch, our activities were viewed as a disorganized rudderless physical-to-almost-violent ramminess that was threatening the survival on that one last nerve of theirs that we were eternally on. We weren’t thugs or mugs; lugs maybe. We loved hanging out on our street, playing at a park nearby, or going on scoping trips to the other side of town. It wasn’t a Jets/Sharks sort of thing. We were too clumsy to be handling knives or such; we would have cut ourselves, poked our eyes out, or gotten mixed up with groups that were a bit more into the melodrama of teenagedom than we were.

Lunks that we were, we were organized lunks, nonetheless. The core of 6 kids with 3-4 doing Haley’s orbits around us every month or two had defined characters and roles. One gangly kid with perpetually grayish greasy hands was “Wheels”, because he was a whiz with fixing our bikes (as in bicycles). Since we were continually smashing our bikes into curbs, trees, and the rears of moving cars, Wheels was a prized member of the gang. Another kid, hands perpetually in his pockets, was “Marbles”. Suffice it to say that his hands were quick and eternally busy, whether they were in his pockets or out, easing the weight of coins, cakes, or toys. I was in the core of 6 along with Marbles, Wheels, Fatman, Tuba, and Spazzie. My nom-de-guerre was Eeyore. Since I seemed to be the only acknowledged reader in the bunch, my talent lay therein; reading bred thinking bred brooding bred depressive observations. I found out much later that Tuba had out-read me each summer by 3 to 1. He just didn’t want to give up his acknowledged talent, loud cursing, so he hid all his books under his bed. His younger brother ratted him out one long hazy summer when he wanted to break into the group.

What were my duties within this fine organization of young men? The short of it was that I was the designated morose guy. The fact that I read over the summer when other kids welcomed the respite seemed to be the only qualification needed qualify for this non-physical job. My opinion would be sought if one especially stupid or egregious deed had been completed. As expected, I’d opine that while removing the grate from a street sewer was a socially unacceptable act, the possibility that one of us would end up in the sewer as we attempted a lame bike trick would land me a smack on the head as I’d just ruined an evil deed. As the grate was being pulled back over the open hole, 5 pairs of eyes would shame me into a dark corner, where my powers of jaundiced perception would recharge.

Our character within the gang was unique only within the gang. When we met other groups of like-minded half-assed truants, it was always interesting to compare notes with that group’s designated Eeyore. Socialization of this sort worked well to prepare me for high school, college, and professional association conventions. The only thing that seemed to change was the price of the cloth I wore.

As we got older and as we branched out from our group’s designated specialty, we found we missed the sanctuary of our group designated talent. Some of us honed that talent to our future profession. Marbles transferred his fingers’ magic to his mouth and is a stockbroker. Wheels uncomfortably let his talent for bicycle mechanics take him into Mechanical Eng. I kept on reading, but have consciously tried to tone down the “Oh me, Oh mys.” I found that Eeyoring one’s way through life doesn’t get you invited to too many parties.

I’ve realized that statements or questions such as the ones referred to by Mr. Whisky Prajer are fine as long as they’re singular or, at the very least, sandwiched between statements or questions of hope or humor. Even if posed from the safety and grandeur of a pulpit, a stream of such verbiage will only drive away the curiosity of the listeners. What will be staring up at the speaker will be a wall of blank faces, beseeching some hint of joy.

Eeeyore has left the building. And he’s now clean shaven

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