I hope everyone reading this is safe, healthy, and strong. In Yiddish, that’s zayt (safe), gezunt (healthy), and shtark (strong). You know gezunt from “Gezuntheit!” You may also know shtark from Starker, the KAOS flunkie in Get Smart! A shtarker is the guy who moves your furniture, not the guy who tutors you in math. My Dad always said, whenever I tried to lift anything heavier than a stack of New Yorkers, “Stevie! You’re not a shtarker!”

A shtarker would not have read the profile of the English novelist Anna Kavan that I recently plowed through. In 1967, Kavan published a book called Ice, which is beloved by Patti Smith, J.G. Ballard, Doris Lessing, Christopher Priest, Jonatham Lethem, and Brian Aldiss (who called Kavan “Kafka’s sister”). That is a literary lineup that can hurt you in a lot of ways.

“Kavan’s fiction features icy heroines, dystopian quests, and gothic flourishes,” the profile’s author, Leo Robson, writes. The last word of this piece is “doomed.” “Yeah!” I said to myself, mentally pumping my fist. There’s no telling how this global crisis is going to end. It’s definitely time to read something that’s icy, dystopian, gothic, and doomed.

I didn’t.

I’m fortunate that I still have a job. I work from my basement. Because I am of a certain age, and rapidly aging, I wrote to a friend to say that I wanted to retire from an office, not from a basement. He wrote back and said I should retire from the basement: “You know you were going to end up there anyway.”

I’ve started running. I’m still writing. I’m rebuilding my house [citation needed]. The inside doorknob pulled out of the front door like I was in a horror movie. The lockset was only installed in 1942. It’s already broken? Fortunately, the good men at Atlasta Lock & Safe told me I could bring in the knob and its attached spindle and they’d tell me how to fix it. I was masked, they were masked. They told me how to fix it. I fixed it. Now I love 1940s technology. Doorknobs, doorbells, steam irons with buttons. The battleship Iowa.

Our garden (and pizza) is helping everyone get by here at Run-DMSteve World HQ. My wife has a project. Our dog has a project. I have a project: shade composting. The one spot in the yard where I could create a compost pile never gets any sun, but through sophisticated methods I cannot reveal and against the advice of Anthony Fauci I have transformed an enormous quantity of dead dirt into loamy dark soil, well-aerated and suffused with yummy worms. The shade-composting season is short (by the end of May, my compost will have the consistency of concrete) but intense.

I’ll share my success in the manuscript I’m preparing: Shade Composting: The Secret Process That Spells Doom for Your Spin Bin. This is the sequel to my first gardening book, The Daylily Solution: Stick ’Em in the Ground, You’re Done.

We’re all watching more screens for more hours than ever before, so let’s look at something we watched here at the Bureau while sitting 6’ apart.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
This retelling of The Taming of the Shrew has a serious moral flaw at its center, and it’s not Shakespeare’s ideas on how to manage women. The film is set in Seattle (it’s filmed mostly in Tacoma), but it doesn’t include a single band from Seattle. The soundtrack is an undifferentiated mass of bands from such Pacific Northwesty places as California, Florida, Minnesota, Sweden, and the U.K. Even the band that performs live in the film, Letters to Cleo, is from Boston; they play covers by not-Seattle artists Cheap Trick and Nick Lowe.

There’s a scene in a lesbian club where someone mentions Bikini Kill. That’s the lone Northwest music reference in this film from the Seattle music renaissance. (Cultural note: In 1999, all lesbians wore spaghetti-strap black tops and weighed 90 pounds.)

None of this crap is memorable, except for the George Clinton classic “Atomic Dog,” and he ain’t from Seattle, either. The 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack is the opposite of the Singles soundtrack: both movies take place in Seattle, but only Singles sounds like it.

Oh right, the movie: Though the script manages to be both underwritten and a mess, 10 Things I Hate About You is sufficient to keep you occupied during a pandemic. It stars the teenaged Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. We also get the annoying David Krumholtz (fans of Firefly will recognize him as Mr. Universe), Joe Isuzu as the clueless gym teacher, Daryl Mitchell (Tommy Webber of Galaxy Quest) as the angry English teacher who can rap in Shakespeare, and Allison Janney as the porn-writing guidance counselor.

I enjoyed this film, but I would’ve enjoyed it much more if it had been about the English teacher and the guidance counselor and the music was by nerds in flannel shirts and maybe Sir Mix-a-Lot. (But not Kenny G.) As we said in Seattle in 1999, let’s call for pizza.

Hello, fellow pandemicians. I know you were all stunned by the decision on March 26 to stop the Candidates Tournament for the Men’s World Chess Championship. I certainly was. The games were exciting and one of the Russians got so cranky and insulted so many people that he was briefly trending on Twitter.

How weird is it that the last sporting event on earth was chess? See, I’ve been right all my life.

I hope you’re doing OK, and that you’re getting your facts from the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and not from uncredentialed idiots. Tying garlic around your neck or balloons to your ankles or eating 44 tons of plankton a day will not protect you.

Here in Oregon, I’m working from home, which I don’t like – work is work and home is home, and I prefer that they not meet – but at least I still have work. I have my wife and my dog. I’m learning how to talk to them and not just walk absently past them. I’m planning my July retirement party – we’ll be on Zoom or GoToMeeting, each with our own cake. This is not my idea of a good time, but I do like the idea of my own cake. Assuming anyone will be baking cakes.

It’s my task to distract you and help you find alternatives to chess, so here’s a movie I made starring a bird. Here’s the DJ whose live stream is boosting my morale. If he’s not on the air – his hours are unpredictable – here’s a recording of his show at the Slam! Quarantine Festival. This is whom I want to be when I grow up. That is the correct use of “whom.”

Let’s return to 1989, a year when the only things we had to worry about were invading Panama and finishing the World Series following the Loma Prieta earthquake, and listen to some music you older teenagers paid good money for.

Depeche Mode, Depeche Mode 101 (1989)

This double-record set gives us Depeche Mode on the night they ruled the universe, their 1988 concert at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena before 60,000 mesmerized DeModers. It took the Seattle Mariners 12 years to pull 60,000 fans into the Kingdome – and that was the day in 1989 when they promoted the teenaged Ken Griffey, Jr., from the minors.

It took me a long time to engage Depeche Mode in a committed relationship, which seems counterintuitive given my status as a synth-pop artifact. In fact, I panned Depeche Mode 101 in this blog in 2016: “…the songs don’t budge a centimeter from the studio versions. Sorry, boys, but a concert is more than a crowd screaming with joy because you blew up a firecracker. AC/DC would’ve fired a cannon out of a bagpipe.”

But I wrote that after enduring the third Star Trek reboot, which made me angrier than the Hulk trying to play toilet paper bride during a pandemic. Further spins of 101 gave me a different perspective. Sure, Depeche Mode (a former co-worker innocently called them Pesh de Mode) take few chances on these tracks, but overall the drumming is much more muscular and the songs generate far more revolutions per minute.

The audience eats this stuff up – this is the concert where the show ends with the fans still singing the chorus to “Everything Counts” 30 seconds after the band stopped playing. The effect is electrifying, but to give anti-Depeche Mode voices some space here, I’ll quote another former co-worker: “If I went to a show and the band stopped playing and they expected me to sing, I’d want my money back.”

I give Depeche Mode credit for including in their set list one of their earliest hits, “I Just Can’t Get Enough,” from their salad days playing bright poppity pop-pop-pop. That was when the band still had Vince Clarke, who left early on rather than be vacuumed into the gloom machine envisioned by Martin Gore. Clarke did pretty well for himself, founding Yaz (“Situation”) and Erasure (“Chains of Love,” “Who Needs Love Like That?”). By 1988, “I Just Can’t Get Enough” didn’t sound anything like Depeche Mode, but on their big night they played it, and they played it well.

Yaz Fact! The band was called Yazoo in Clarke’s native England, but in the U.S. they were Yaz in honor of former Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski.

I also give Depeche Mode credit for transforming “Pleasure Little Treasure” – a song with a subtle message: If you’re looking for a reason to live, I’ve got one right here for ya – from filler into a dark, howling rocker.

I love this disc now, but there’s an odd moment when someone in the band asks the audience, “Are you having a good time?” This strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of what they’re selling and why people are buying it. Listening to Depeche Mode, you can have an epiphany. You can have an emotional release. You can have a nervous breakdown. But to have something as light-hearted as a good time, what you have to have is Yaz or Erasure.

Greetings! I hope you are well, well-washed, and well-stocked with the essentials of life: shelter, food, water, toilet paper, coffee, music, pets, family, friends, and access to Chessbase.com, which is covering the candidates’ matches for the men’s world chess championship in Yekaterinburg, Russia. (The eight candidates are playing face to face, but without spectators.)

Here in Portland, Oregon, the supermarkets are full of stuff no one wants. The only frozen vegetables I can find are cauliflower and gefilte fish. My neighborhood center has stopped:


6 p.m., Tuesday, March 17. I stood on the center line for almost two minutes.

But I found the silver lining!

Here’s a list of all the things for which we can thank Covid-19:

  1. Renewed attention to the study of corvids, especially crows, ravens, rooks, jays, magpies, and nutcrackers.
  2. Donald Trump has a bad case of Sudden-Reality Shock Syndrome.
  3. Young people are asking old people if they need help. What I don’t like is that they keep asking me.
  4. I haven’t received a rejection from an editor since March 13.
  5. My commute to work is a breeze.
  6. The next chessboxing championship is still scheduled for April 18 in Paris.

 

Year 9 (2019) of Run-DMSteve was a bumpy ride

Here’s an index to what I managed to post:

Retirement

RIP Run-DMIrving

RIP Peter Tork

More tilting at windmills

Forgotten bands:

Attention must be paid

The Beau Brummels

Gene Clark

The Flamin’ Groovies

Ashford and Simpson

The Beat

Bonnie Hayes

Take care of yourselves. Wave from a distance at everyone you love. Special D just made curtains for my new home in the garage.

Random Pan of the Day
Empire Records (1995)
This unremarkable film is set in a record store in the 1990s. No one is tattooed, no one has phones, and the black customers have been locked outdoors. The 15 songs on the soundtrack are mostly easy-listening alt rock, with a few heart-pounders by obscure acts: “Here It Comes Again” by Please, “Sugarhigh” by Coyote Shivers, “Circle of Friends” by Better Than Ezra, and “Ready, Steady, Go” by The Meices. They’ve got an edge, though all of these bands have dumb names.

The only truly memorable song is “This Is the Day” by ’80s romantic synth stalwarts The The. (Their cousins are And And And.) “This Is the Day” plays over the final scene. It’s the only song from Empire Records that gets any airplay today. Naturally, it’s not on the soundtrack.

The pretty, interchangeable young people who work at Empire Records spend most of their time hurting each other’s feelings. I don’t know how I got through the whole thing. Because I was waiting for something better? With Renée Zellweger, an 18-year-old Liv Tyler, a bald Robin Tunney (a year before The Craft and 11 years before The Mentalist), and Tobey Maguire (whose scenes were deleted). Avoid. But don’t avoid The The’s album Soul Mining (1983).

A long life and lots of love

Posted: October 27, 2019 in Miscellaneous
Tags:

After a series of emergencies, my father died earlier this month. He was 92. He outlived Hitler by 74 years.

At the nursing home, before he stopped speaking, he would shout from his wheelchair, “Get me out of here!” and “Don’t leave me here!” I thought he was shouting at the staff or at me or my sister. Later I realized he was shouting at God.

At the temple, in my eulogy, I spoke about a homerun he once hit. That’s what a father wants to do in front of his young children.

At the cemetery, we had a bugler, a flag, family, and sunshine.

Here’s the obituary. Once again, I’m asking for donations to a hard-working animal shelter in a little town in Massachusetts. Remember, animal shelters don’t just save animals. They save people, too.

Goodbye, Dad.

Greetings, loyal readers I’ve abandoned. All three of you. In the months since I last infiltrated your lives with my misinformed opinions, my own life has begun shipping water. I developed a list to port, and when I corrected by flooding some compartments to starboard, I started going down by the bow. My keel has been befouled by barnacles. Too bad I’m not a vegetarian. And now the wind has freshened from dead nor’east to 2 points abaft the mizzen foc’sle and the seas have risen in 100-foot swells that reveal all the plastic we’ve thrown into the ocean. Also, sharks.

Yes, I’ve been dealing with some shit over here, but BFD. That’s life and if anyone is reading this – you are, aren’t you? – I’m sure you’re coping with your own aquatic metaphors. And I’m sure that, like me, you agree with Paul Simon: “Breakdowns come and breakdowns go. So what are you going to do about it, that’s what I’d like to know.”

What I’m going to do, as I prepare to enter the final year of my so-called working life, is to finish my novel, which has been in process so long and gone through so many changes that I can hardly believe I began it in 1960 as a musical about minor-league ping-pong. In the past eight years I’ve written three short stories based on the characters, wrote four obituaries (a good way to get to know someone you made out of nothing), and I even started a magazine profile before I yanked the mental reins and cried “Whoa!” Finish the book! Type “The End”!

To hit this goal, I’m igniting or possibly immolating myself by plunging into this year’s edition of the Clarion West Write-a-thon, starting Sunday, June 23, and running through Saturday, August 3.

I’ve done this before (that death march began here), and it was extremely helpful. However, writing every day no matter who was in town, what was happening at work, or which bureaucracy was chomping my ass was a challenge. At least this year I know what I’m in for. And just to add to the fun, I’ll be writing every day while I’m dieting every day. Follow the carnage on my writing blog, which I reanimated in April after a refreshing two-year stay in a submersible at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

Browse all the people who will be writing while the Clarion West Class of 2019 is in session. There are 90 of us as I type this. I’m the only Steven.

Does this experience sound like it’s going to be painful? I don’t have time for pain. Frankly, the only pain I have time for is the pain I put on fools who don’t know what time it is.

See you Sunday night. Thanks for your patience, support, and/or polite indifference.