Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

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.

A long life and lots of love

Posted: October 27, 2019 in Miscellaneous
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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.

I am now within 18 months of retiring. I know how to go to work every day. But how do you go to work every day when you know there aren’t many more days?

“The only dedication for us is art and life. And this office has nothing to do with either of them.”
Friend, co-worker, Beat poet, and musician Andy in 1978 at the Boston Garden.

As the days dwindle down to a precious few and the Boomers become an answer blowing in the wind (of the 68 people I currently work with, only six of us were born between 1946 and 1964, and at least one of us is in the closet), I intend to share my irreplaceable worklore with you rookies who are still figuring out how to commute/in a three-button suit/with that weary executive smile.

My favorite things about working

  1. Getting paid
  2. Free food
  3. Sleeping under my desk
  4. All those color copiers
  5. Three-day weekends

(My favorite thing about working at the Boston Garden was skating on the rink at lunchtime if they were set up for a hockey game that evening.)

My least favorite things about working

  1. Arriving, sitting for eight hours, leaving
  2. Meetings
  3. Emergencies caused by morons
  4. Corporate America’s love affair with jargon
  5. Knife fights

More bulletins to come from this undiscovered country. Here’s an old bulletin from a job I don’t even have anymore.

“Don’t count the days. Make the days count.” (Muhammad Ali)

And now:

Index to Year 8 of Run-DMSteve!

Farewells

Ursula K. Le Guin

Aretha Franklin

Donald Hall

Uncle Eddie

Antique Parent Land

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Money (that’s what I want)

Heads

Tails

The annual gift card

Music

Singing drummers

CDs they dumped on me

What I don’t listen to

Why I don’t listen to what I don’t listen to

Lounge against the machine (chapter 1)

Record store rampage

Chess

The most boring world chess championship ever begins

The most boring world chess championship ever ends

Misc.

I want to be a Supreme

 

Random Pick of the Day
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Fellow liberals! It’s our duty to go to Washington, D.C., and dance outside AOC’s office!

Random Pan of the Day
Pirate Radio (2009)
An above-average cast walks the plank in a below-average movie. In 1966, unlicensed radio stations aboard hulks in the North Sea provided citizens of Great Britain with their regular daily dose of rock ’and’ roll. Aboard the good ship Radio Rock, there are 10 men (and one woman) who live and breathe their music. They play rock 24 hours a day. But they never talk about it. They never mention a band or a song or a quote from a song. There are no disagreements about music. There aren’t even any agreements.

Richard Curtis, who wrote Pirate Radio, forgot that his characters are living in the middle of the most tumultuous decade in the history of pop. In 1966, every song these DJs played was a small miracle, but to Curtis, the music is just background noise. It’s Classic Rock.

If the cast had not been so appealing, I never would’ve stayed till the end when the ship sank and the DJs were rescued but the crew disappeared and no one thought to ask about them. How stupid do these moviemakers think we are? Really stupid – after all, we elected Trump.

With Sir Kenneth Branagh as the Monty Python bureaucrat, Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the character he played in Almost Famous, Bill Nighy as something, Gemma Arterton as The Girl, January Jones as The Girl, a boatload of girls as The Girls, Emma Thompson as The Girl of a Certain Age, and Ike Hamilton as the Black Man Who Is Not Permitted to Speak. Two hours. Not subtitled, but should be.

Welcome to the sparkling fresh world of 2019, colleagues. I survived the floodplains of December thanks to a diet rich in readily available carbohydrates:

  • Bread
  • Variations on bread
  • Sugar, flour, cinnamon, chocolate
  • Stuffing (bread)
  • Jams, jellies, butters
  • More bread
  • Rice Krispies golf balls paved with peanut butter and frosted with chocolate
  • Probably bread again
  • Fruitcake (fruit safely entombed in bread)

As you can guess, counteracting my month on this diet is one of my New Year’s resolutions.

All right, already. How do you succeed with your resolutions?

Hold on to your Foghat, I’m about to tell you.

Men’s Journal has a cover headline about “Crushable New Year’s Resolutions.” Men’s Journal has to say ridiculous stuff like that because it’s a magazine for drama queens. Personal growth isn’t a contest, it’s about enjoying your life by acquiring new skills and meeting new goals. It’s about imagining a new you and making at least some of your imaginings real. You don’t spike the ball in the end zone just because you learned ballroom dancing or built a boat in your basement.

The whole secret to achieving what you resolve is slow and steady growth. Here are the steps:

  1. Pick something you want to do.
  2. Make sure you pick something that humans can do.
  3. Break it into small pieces, then decide how you’ll do each piece.
  4. Do the first piece. Then the second piece. Then the third piece.
  5. That’s all there is, unless you want me to say bread again.

You might get to February 1st and despair because you’ve accomplished nothing or not much. Don’t despair – rejoice. You’re trying. I guarantee that as disappointed as you may be that you haven’t lost 50 pounds or gone on a dream date with Elon Musk in near-Earth orbit, you’ll be much happier than the people who never tried at all.

(Goals chosen for illustrative purposes only. Run-DMSteve assumes no responsibility if you actually try to lose 50 pounds in January or go on a dream date with Elon Musk in near-Earth orbit.)

Figure out where you went off the rails. Correct your mistakes. Refine your resolutions. Then try again.

I can’t waste my time with New Year’s resolutions. I’ve got problems!

Who doesn’t? Have you spent 31 days living on the All-Carbs Carbogenic Diet?

My parents are so old, they’re on the National Register of Historic Places. All of my pen pals have kicked the bucket. The two fiction magazines I most respect are about to disappear (Glimmer Train) or abandon paper (Tin House.) My novel is a balloon with leaks. My dog refuses to become a cash cow. But I have some plans, and I’ve broken them into small pieces.

It’s 365 days to 2020, it’s dark, and I’m wearing sunglasses.

Hit it!

Random Pick of the Day 1
Cassandra Wilson, Glamoured (2003)
This sneaky album is best played after your guests have gone home and you’re wandering the back yard, collecting the empty wine glasses. Wilson is smooth, sexy, and in control of the blues, folk, jazz, and R&B. She sounds like a polished-glass version of Phoebe Snow, except when she sounds like she’s falling asleep. I especially like “Honey Bee” and her cover of “Lay Lady Lay.”

Random Pick of the Day 2
Gioacchino Rossini, Overtures (1994)
Conducted by Yoel Levi & His Soggy Bottom Atlanta Symphony Boys
Awhile back I said that early Hollywood owes a debt to Mendelsohn. Early Hollywood does, but it owes the farm to Rossini. Overtures proves it. The magnificent seven tracks on this disc include Guglielmo Tell and the one about a barber.

The advantage to owning these overtures is that you don’t have to listen to the operas.

This week’s “Letter of the Week” award goes to Loyal Reader Accused of Lurking, commenting on last week’s very exciting post, “The roads less traveled.”

(You did know there’s a “Letter of the Week” competition, didn’t you? It’s a fierce ideological food fight featuring plenty of that groupie-on-groupie violence you readers love. Past winners thought they were going to receive college scholarships, Ducati touring bikes, a fistful of dollars and a handful of God particles, but come on, it’s the thought that counts.)

Accused of Lurking writes:

Had I known that you can’t help but listen to CDs that enter your home, I would have sent you dozens of oddities over the years: one-hit wonders that peaked no higher than 35 in the Top 40, mournful ballads by heavy metal bands, Earth Wind & Fire plays Pachelbel’s Canon, the Deliverance soundtrack, the Grease soundtrack, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings Fiddler on the Roof, etc.

It will come as no great shock that I disagree with your assessment of Tunnel of Love. I return to that album on a regular basis. It’s dark. Relationships fail much more often than they succeed. There is plenty of infidelity, mourning, doubt, and just plain agony. But the music and the lyrics carry an incredible power. My favorite songs are “Tougher Than The Rest,” “Two Faces,” “Brilliant Disguise,” and “One Step Up.”

Out of curiosity, I googled “Bruce Springsteen’s best albums.” Tunnel of Love’s ranking within the Springsteen oeuvre is mostly in the #7 to #9 range with a couple of #5s and a #1. Based on my own listening patterns, I put it at #6.

I do, however, agree that The Joshua Tree is a better album than Tunnel of Love.

Thank you as always, Lurk, for jump-starting my brain and making me reexamine my assumptions. So first, here’s a handy flow chart explaining what happens to CDs after they enter my home:

CDs that enter my home always get a listen: True.
All CDs enter my home: False.

Second, here’s what I think of you trying to scare me with all the crud you mentioned: documentation from an estate sale I went to last July.

Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher, The Twin Piano Magic of Ferrante & Teicher (1964); Dominic Caruso, World’s Greatest Accordion Hits (1968); 101 Strings, Million Seller Hit Songs of the 50’s (1964). Not shown: Various artists, Percussion for Playboys (1959) and Ann Corio, Sonny Lester & His Orchestra, How to Strip for Your Husband (1963). This was the worst record collection in the Western Hemisphere. (NONE OF IT came home with me.)

Sending me the Grease soundtrack or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Fiddler on the Roof would not make me feel all sunny and wild inside, but at least I know it’s not the worst musical thing that could happen to me.

I would like to hear Earth Wind & Fire play Pachelbel’s Canon.

Bruce Springsteen revisited

I’m not just a simple backwoods music critic, you know. Some people say I’m a handsome Dan; others, a good-lookin’ Joe. Well, it ain’t no secret. I’ve been around a time or two. I admit I walk funny – one step up and two steps back – but that’s because I left my wallet back home in my workin’ pants. I don’t know what I’m wearing now. Jeggings, I guess. Anyway, I went to a gypsy and she swore that a) my future was right, and b) I’m tougher than the rest.

(I actually am tougher than the rest. I survived concerts by The Melvins, The Roches, the undiscovered Nirvana, the underdone David Cassidy, The Rolling Stones being four hours late to a concert in Boston when I was in high school, too many New Year’s Eve bands that forgot the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne,” and Cher.)

Why do I discount Tunnel of Love? Until Tunnel of Love, Springsteen was writing fiction and occasionally journalism. On this album he dives into memoir. He wrote “Brilliant Disguise” when he was 37. It’s the most painful, personal song he’d written until that time. When I look in your eyes, he asks his wife, who do I see? Who do you see in mine? The words are devastating. Mick Jagger or Keith Richards hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time would never have produced “Brilliant Disguise.”

But to my ears, the music doesn’t fit. It’s not devastating; it’s exuberant. It reminds me of Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life.” The lyrics on this disc stick (they’re all over this post), but for me, for intangible reasons, most of the music doesn’t.

Look at this new thing I’ve found

When I read what you’d discovered about fans ranking the Springsteen oeuvre, I immediately made my own list. I figured Tunnel of Love would be way down there. Wrong!

  1. Born to Run
  2. Darkness on the Edge of Town
  3. Nebraska
  4. Born in the USA
  5. The River
  6. TUNNEL OF LOVE

I can’t rank Springsteen’s first two albums ahead of Tunnel of Love because they were, at best, promising. I can’t rank anything from the ’90s ahead of Tunnel of Love because that’s his lost decade. I can’t rank any of his work here in the 21st century, even The Rising, ahead of Tunnel of Love because it’s been years since Springsteen sounded like Springsteen. Despite my best efforts to stop it, Tunnel of Love almost cracks my personal Top 5.

Could it be, Lurk, that you are one face and I am the other, and neither of us can ever make that other man go away? We’re the same sad story, and that’s a fact.

About that pound of caviar you got sitting home on ice: Let’s spread it on some bagels.