Sunday, December 31, 2006

Online, with new monitor.

Sitting down with my new 19" flat screen that I got for Christmas, one of the first stops I made was to the Times home page where I watched Saddam being walked to the gallows. Imagine my horror when I found myself watching the man's confused, terrified expression and feeling sympathy for the doomed sadist. Amazing, truly amazing. I mean, I know exactly how blood soaked his coat tails were--if anyone was a candidate for court ordered hanging, it was Saddam.

But watching that video is still emotional. Even with him, a state-sanctioned killing for something other than self-defense is still murder. It's depraved. I mean, either human life is sacred or it isn't, and just because a person has lived as though life is anything but sacred, I don't see how that gives us the right to abandon our principles. And I don't think it is "soft on crime" to think that--it's more a question of having higher, nobler expectations for man.

I'm sure my opinion would be different if I had more of a direct human connection to the suffering Saddam caused in his life, but this is how I felt watching the video. I'm rather relieved the Times site didn't show the actual hanging itself, and I hope I resist the urge to find it on Youtube.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Anxiety of Influence, cont.

I don't recall thinking of William Christenberry when I took this:But the resemblance is there. Except his is much cooler, of course: I know next to nothing about Christenberry, though I suppose I could take the time to read the introduction to his latest monograph, but his pictures are enough. He's one of the people who, when I saw their photographs for the first time, made me think "Oh, so that's what I've been trying to do." I felt the same way when I first saw Harry Callahan, The Americans, and Anne Geddes. Just kidding about that last one.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Just made a connection . . .

Something about this picture from Halloween looked familiar when I first saw it. I think I just put it together:Diane Arbus is not my favorite, but you can't always choose your influences, I suppose.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday morning

Looking at this picture of today's breakfast, I realized how satisfyingly empty my Sunday mornings can be. Waffles, heavily sweetened coffee, and the worst sections of the Sunday new york times, represented here by the Style section, featuring Dita Von Teese no less. It's the most worthless section, but for some reason, this is inevitably my sunday times roster:

1. Style section, especially the Bob Morris column and "A Night Out With" and usually a few wedding announcements. Always look to see what the brides do, then the men. Trying to think of a way to turn it into an orange-juice drinking game.
2. Arts & Leisure, skipping past the theater stuff to get to "Playlist." Today's was a little obscure for me so I browsed and skipped it until later.
3. Skim the Book Review to see if any authors I like are featured. (The Architecture of Happiness is reviewed today, so that was nice)
4. The Magazine, in this order: letters, Deborah Solomon interview, Ethicist, and then I peter out half the time. Today, though, is the year in ideas issue, which makes for some great reading.
5. Week in Review
6. Front Page, section A.

Now that I look at it this way, it's clear that my priorities are a little on the frivolous side.

My delivery person actually delivered me (a) the entire paper, and (b) the correct day's issue, so things look up. Now back to the ideas article; it always makes me feel like all the world's problems will be solved in the first few months of the next year.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Monkeysquirrel Awards 2006, Music Edition, Part II

5. Grizzly Bear--Yellow House

I picked this up just because so many people on the Animal Collective message boards seem to like it, so I'm far from being an early adopter. It's kind of a little less-morose Iron & Wine maybe, and maybe a little part of the whole freak folk scene that the NYT wrote about a couple of months ago.

4. Cat Power--The Greatest

I wasn't in with Cat Power from the very beginning, but I have been crazy about her ever since What Would the Community Think?, and, I dunno, she's just incredible. The music keeps getting better, and keeps changing, unlike what some friends were saying about Pernice Bros. the other day. Moon Pix may still be my favorite, but not by much. One thing that has to be impressive about Chan is that there has been so little, if any, backlash against her--usually, when you have some alternative-like act achieve some popular success you will have a small school of folks making a name for themselves by dissing 'em, but it's just not happening with her that I can tell.

I think my wife might be the only person who doesn't like her, but it's for personal reasons that trace back the humiliating show we saw at Second Story in Bloomington a while back. She was sitting behind us during the opening act and when it was her turn she starts whining "I don't wanna go!!!" Very sad set, but somehow it charmed me; I probably thought it was cool to see an artistic breakdown in person. I've always wanted to have some kind of artistic meltdown, but don't have any art, no way to express my tortured soul.

3. Boards of Canada--Music Has the Right to Children

I know it's an old record, but this is a list of my favorites for 2006, and I didn't hear it until this year. It was one of those "where have you been all my life?" moments and a "this is the kind of music I would make" moment all put together. It's so good that I think my favorite moment, the moment that I remember most vividly, from the Belle & Sebastian show I saw this summer with C, Joseph, and Kimberle was when "ROYGBIV" was played from the cd before any band had even taken the stage. It was loud, the front of the stage was packed with the tallest crowd I had ever seen a show with (my natural advantage as a tall person eliminated!), and everyone up there just stopped their pre-show milling about and talking to listen and bob their heads to the song.

2. Fiery Furnaces--Bitter Tea

This one took me awhile, and I admit that there are a couple of tracks that I have to skip every time I listen, but part of that is because I can't wait to get to the really great songs. The album first clicked for me on a drive from the Petoskey area of northern Michigan over to the Leelenau peninsula, which is a fairly pretty drive, so that may have helped.

This is their most melodic record, which should make it the most appealing to the general public, but I don't get the feeling that it broke them out at all. One problem may have been their releasing the wackier Rehearsing My Choir before this one--people might have heard that one and assumed they'd lost it.

1. The Liars--Drum's Not Dead

I don't even know what to say. I want my music to come in album sized chunks--forget this new age of "the playlist" (one more bad trend the iPod is starting)--and this album is one great chunk of awesome. What a gift for description I have. It feels like something new, that's all. It's actually reminding me of when Loveless came out, seriously. I know, it's too soon to say that; I'm still in the honeymoon phase with this record. I should settle down, but really. This was #1 for me this year by a long margin.

*Conspicuous in their absence from this list awards:

3. Gulag Orkestar--Beirut. Quite a fun record and what's his name has this amazing voice, but there are only 3 songs at most that I keep coming back to.

2. Joanna Newsom--YS. I don't get it yet, though everyone else in the music world seems to. I thought her last one was super, so it's not like I don't get harp music played by women who look and dress like cute little elves. Maybe I'm not trying hard enough.

1. Yo La Tengo--I am not afraid of you . . . . How could Yo La Tengo not be on this list? Probably because this album sounds too much like a playlist for me, jumping around in style and up and down in quality. What I like is records like Painful and President Yo La Tengo, these records where you would turn it on and just be in one mental place for an hour or whatever. First time I heard President YLT was with my friend Christian and we were outside on his patio on a cold December night because his gf didn't like loud music and didn't want him smoking inside but the record was so awesome that I didn't even care when I discovered later that my car had been towed. Well, that's probably not true, but I like to remember it that way. I wish they could make records like that again.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Winter Light

Personally, I think it's worth the cold to live in that low winter light for a few months--it feels like you're standing on the edge of the earth all day or something. In the winter, the sun is this low punt, tumbling at you, right at you, all day long.

Winter Light is also the name of one of my favorite Bergman films. As a kid, I used to imagine making a movie where nothing really happened, where it was all silence and and light and people not talking, and then I grew up and found out the Bergman had already done it.

This winter light in the picture up top is at the St. Joseph Tree Farm, the best of both Christmas tree worlds. You can wander the fields looking for a cutter, and then you can go back and pick out a tree they have cut for you already and plop it into your (or your friends') truck. Pure, sweet anticipation is what days like this are for me. That's the truck of our pals Mike and Michelle there, with Michelle in one of her frequent poses as she explains something interesting to her hubby.

And here's Mike with B.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Monkeysquirrel Awards 2006, Music Edition, Part I

It's December 1 as I start this, the date that marks the end of my musical year. I sat down to do my musical accounting for the past year, and here is how it broke down for me. Not a bad year, better than 2005, I think, which is funny because it's rather poppy in places, which usually means they have a short shelf life for me. However, I think I will still be listening to of lot of this list a year from now. Here are the first five of my favorites for this past year.

10. Peter, Bjorn, and John--Writer's Block
This is one of the poppy ones, but it has a quirky Scandinavian sensibility, and I'm getting this feeling now that there are all kinds of Swedish and other Nordic kinds of bands out there that are really good. Is "Nordic" the same thing as "Scandinavian"? I always lose track of what all countries are up there. Anyway, it feels like a new musical frontier for me or something. I think the Concretes are one of these bands that I would like if I heard them, for example. I have a sense for these things. And I have an even better sense for what bands I like when I actually hear their music. This is one of those, kind of rousing introvert-anthem kinds of things.

9. Rose Melberg--Cast Away the Clouds
I feel like such a wimp for liking Rose, but I can't help it. I mean, this is the most fey kind of "I'm so sad" girly singer songwriter stuff . . . but it feels so right. It helps that she plays most of her songs with chords I can figure out. She writes these songs with melodies that sound so obvious that you can't figure out why you haven't ever thought of them yourself even though you never think about writing music though you always think it would be nice to be able to say that you have written a song--but how do you know if it is any good? You don't. You're filled with doubt. Maybe it's your parents' fault. Maybe they should have encouraged you more, but it's too late for that; you're of the age when you are supposed to be able to encourage yourself, and you do, but it's for little things like getting out of bed and flossing and not wasting time on the internets.

8. Belle and Sebastian--The Life Pursuit
Any year they produce, the album pretty much has to go on the list somewheres. Liking this album so much bothers me a little though because even though it's so good, great even, and restores a faith in B&B that had started to wane, it at the same time is not the same Belle that put out those first two records or so. They're too confident and slick and capable to make that record now, which is a little sad. But still, what an awesome bunch of songs this is.

7. J Dilla--Donuts
This is the only record of it's kind that I've ever even heard, though I think it's its own little genre: samples with beats. So, I really should try to find more discs like this out there because it just rocks, if that's the right term. Too bad he died. Cancer, I think.

6. Bonnie "Prince" Billy--The Letting Go
Like Belle, this had to be on here somewhere, but what's surprising is that it's not in the top five. This might be his nicest set of songs since I See a Darkness . . . have I told you I met Will Oldham . . Twice!! Yeah, I probably I have. I always tell that story (those two stories!!). Will always finds some great obscure (to me) chick back up singer on all his records, and the woman on this one is one of my favorites. She has an ancient, ballad-like sound to her voice. It's wonderful.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Flying stories

One place it is nice not to "wear" your iPod is the airport because you just miss out on too many little stories. On the way out of town on Wednesday, I'm waiting in the tiny cafe of our tiny airport and watching the cafe employees hold silent, lip reading conversations with the bar employees through the window that separated them (the bar is on the other side of the security checkpoint). They are obviously pretty good at communicating this way because after one mute, excited exchange a cafe worker turned to her colleagues and said out loud "Sinbad is coming! He's on the next plane!"

Over the next five minutes, I sat at a wobbly table sipping bitter coffee, half watching for Sinbad, half watching the airport employees gather at the arrival gate to watch for Sinbad. The next plane was small and only a few people trickled through and a few minutes after the trickle stopped a bar worker came back to the window and mouthed a message to us all that even I could read: "He's not on the plane. He missed the flight." The cafe workers went back to their counter; I returned to my old Whatzup! newspaper, and I think we were all wondering if he had really missed the plane or if he just decided he did not want to come to our town. To heck with you, Sinbad.

Even more riveting was the tragic tale I heard on the flight home. I'm crammed into the back seat of a tiny regional jet and this dude in front of me is returning from Iraq. Up until they made everyone turn off their phones, I got to listen to him grill someone about some kind of infidelity: "Just tell me . . . what did you know and when did you know it? [pause] No, F*** that, just tell me. I need to know." I could tell he was a talker and I wanted to read, so I was just praying he'd find someone else to talk to, and he did, but the story was so awful that I had to put my book down for awhile. Long story short is that he was in Iraq, his wife got killed when a semi drove through her car, and then he found out that she had been cheating on him with some other soldier for quite awhile. I couldn't tell how recent all this was, but the emotion of it all was still pretty much on his mind, so it probably didn't happen that long ago. "If you could kill her twice, I'd be driving the truck," he said. Turns out that the other soldier is going to be spending 1 1/2 years in "the brig" because they prosecute adultery in the Marine Corps.

So, anyway, flying can be interesting.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Best of Best of

It's almost December, which means that it is time to look back and evaluate your year in consumption of pop culture. It will be a couple of weeks before I'm ready to venture my own, but it's never too early to start looking at the lists of others to get ideas. Here is a great page where some guy organizes all of the "best of" lists he can find. Games, music, books, cars--if it's on a list, he compiles it.

It gets silly, but stilly, it's hard to look away. Like I said, it's early days yet, so there is not much there yet, but he had over 700 lists on their last year, he says, so it will fill up quickly.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Please nobody tell me that this player is full of spyware or some other kind of nefarious-ware. I just grabbed it tonight and it's pretty slick (for someone who doesn't have cable). Right now, it's enabling me to see just how mediocre, or maybe even bad, IU is going to be in basketball this year. How convenient.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thank you, Wikipedia

As someone doing their best to eke out a life without the benefit of (a) cable, or (b) a game system, I am at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to keeping up with the zeitgeist. I've been catching up lately, though, with the benefit of Wikipedia and also these other funny sites that I won't link to. But anyway one of the funnier pop culture references I've learned about recently is this meme: "I'm in UR base killing ur d00dz." Apparently, the phrase was originally coined in some online game where one guy was pwning some other guy who asks where are you? And he responds "I am in ur base, killing ur d00dz." That cracked me up, reading that. Dunno why. It's just . . funny. What's also somewhat funny is how I don't game but avidly read all the articles about gaming technology on Slate or in the NYT and laugh at gamer jokes. Poseur gamer.

And I just can't stop listening to this new Liars record. It's completely killing my d00dz right now. It's got some Velvet Underground & Nico going on in there and almost some Animal Collective too. I always avoided them because their name made me think they were just another Strokes-like something, but they're not.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Half Nelson is so good.

For a movie about a crack-addicted teacher falling apart while trying to keep a favorite student from falling under the influence of a suave crack dealer, Half Nelson is remarkably cheery and satisfying all the way through. Having taught in some similar classrooms, I don't think the portrayal of the school scenes is entirely true to life--I mean, he has what, like 12 students in his class? C'mon. Plus, they sit there and listen to him as he rambles on abstractly about history non stop. But still, all the kids act pretty naturally and, well, I don't know how to put it into words yet; it's just a great film.

At points, I wonder if it isn't almost romanticizing the bottomed-out life the teacher is living. He's a crack head, but he's a tortured artist, sleeping on a bare mattress with his little drawings scattered about and it almost comes across as a viable, hip, lifestyle. He wears cool sunglasses. You almost think that if his cat didn't die (not really a spoiler), he might have been able to keep things together. But again, despite this reservation, one of the best movies of the year for me.
The soundtrack is spiffy, too. I'd always wondered about Broken Social Scene, and now I know they're worth looking into.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Kind of a bummer, this one, because I was so ready for it to be good. Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation are so good, such great mood pieces, that I had high hopes. In part, I blame A.O. Scott, who wrote a positive review in the NYT. I should have waited to see in Anthony Lane had any opinions on it.

Sofia Coppola's known of course for how well she uses happenin' sound tracks in her movies, and she goes out of her way to live up to that promise here; for the first time, it's even sold as a double album, in fact.

Normally, I think of a movie's sound track as almost irrelevant because too much reliance on non-diegetic sound is a cheat, if you ask me. It's manipulative, or something. There are exceptions. The Leonard Cohen in McCabe and Mrs. Miller. The Simon and Garfunkel in The Graduate. But consider Desperate Housewives as an example. It's just a smutty soap opera, as thinly written as anything shown during the day time. But people who wouldn't allow themselves to watch a daytime soap flock to this one in part because, I think, of it's kind of dippy background music. Listen to it: it's light, almost circus music, and is used as something of an ironic comment on the loopy shenanigans going on on screen. "What a silly show this is" is the message: "we can't possibly take this show seriously; we're making fun of it, in fact." It's this ironic distancing that allows people to think that they're still superior to the soap opera they've become hooked on; it's how they rationalize watching something that is as worthless as it is (not that I never watch worthless tv of course; I'm not saying, that is, that I'm "better" than people who do watch the show).

Coppola's first two feature films are different in how they use music, though. In those movies, the incredible sound tracks really feel like a marriage with the tone and emotions behind the acting and the movies as a whole. But in Marie Antoinette, the music instead feels like a substitute for those things. Take away the sound track and there's nothing there. It's basically an expensive, rote, march through her tragic (?) life--a period piece Behind the Music. The fact that the sound track is a double album just underscores how much the movie is dependent upon hipster music for it to have any worth at all.

When I re-read this, I realize that I'm coming across harsher than I probably mean to. "Nothing there" is overstating it, probably. But still.

And another thing: I am getting grumpy as a movie-goer these days. A couple is talking through the first five minutes so I have to let them know how irritating they are and then move over a couple of seats. Then, there's this lady in front of me who's checking her phone through the entire film. It's not making any noise, but the screen on those things is so bright that it shines right in my eye--it's totally distracting. If there weren't a woman in between us, I would have leaned forward and chewed her out. There's actually a part of me that enjoys yelling at people for being rude at movies, I think. It's like a road rage where you can actually do something about it, maybe. Or maybe I just have issues.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

New Acres Quarterly column

I have a new guest column published in this fall's Acres newsletter. It's kind of silly homage to an artist named Andy Goldsworthy, who's this amazing guy who goes out an manipulates nature into these beautiful oddball sculptures and then watches them get destroyed. That's a terrible description of his work, I know, but you have to see the stuff to appreciate it. If you're at all curious, have a look. It's here; just go to the Back Page column.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Forum addiction

I am more of a lurker when it comes to the bulletin boards I follow, but I threw my hat into the ring by starting a thread (called "The Father's Signals"--spoilers) at the forum run by the Cormac McCarthy Society a few days ago, and it has been a real trip, an emotional rollercoaster, even.

It starts with an idea that you have that you think is novel. You scan prior posts to make sure no one else has come up with it. Convinced your idea has some novelty and insight, you craft your post as economically as possible to make sure that people will (a) read it, and (b) understand it. Then, you post it and sit back and hope people post.

That was a fun stretch of time there, the waiting. I soon realized that what I really wanted to have happen was for people to say "great point; I agree completely." At first, in other words, I wasn't interested in having a dialogue at all. It's funny how angry I found myself getting when people would start taking "my" thread in directions I didn't intend. You know, when they start saying things like "that reminds me of something else I was thinking about . . .." I hate that.

They started to come in, the replies, and there were actually a few "I agrees" in there, but what really got me were the "no ways." That irked me. That got me writing follow ups and started the arguments in my head as I tried to craft the perfect responses that both met them head on but did so in as short a post as possible.

The thread's up to 43 replies now. I need it to die so I can start thinking about other things.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Road

That new Cormac McCarthy just about killed me. Man. I don't even know what to say. Talk about your tragic heroes.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tough Grader

The Arts section in today's Times has an article about this guy, Piero Scaruffi, one of those smart kind of people who has made his money in software somehow, lives in California, and now spends his time doing whatever he wants. And what he wants to do, it seems, is write harsh reviews of my favorite music.

When getting feel for new music, I usually triangulate the reviews I read on AMG, Pitchfork, and some third place. I might have to start adding his site now,, which is loaded with the kinds of short, mean, and smart music assessments that I hate to love/ love to hate.

He's like a less obtuse Greil Marcus in his ability to explain a group or an album by pulling out references that seem from left field but make perfect sense in context. I don't agree with all of his rankings, but for some reason, the people who rank things low, who are stingy with high scores, come across as more credible. At first I was upset that Cat Power's The Greatest only earned a 5/10 from him, but then I couldn't disagree much with his actual review, and I also noticed that none of his reviews from 2006 have received more than a 7 (if memory serves).

Some of the things he likes are a little odd, like the Beirut album, which is fun, but not better than lots of other stuff he has ranked lower.

I think what got me the most was his harsh review of the newest Belle & Sebastian, which I love, but, again, I could not disagree with his written assessment. Fun site.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Late night read

This one is going to keep me up late, I can tell. I'm only about a third of the way into McCarthy's new one, but it's just the gosh, dang bleakest read of his yet. Words with two syllables stand out in start contrast from the forests of single syllable fragments of sentences that you find on most pages. It's totally creeping me out, really. In Blood Meridian and Outer Dark at least there is some kind of energizing quality to the nihilism, but here it's just draining. In a good way, of course.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

First Snow

I think one way that I know that I live at the ideal latitude for my temperment is that I always seem to be ready--emotionally and philosophically--when it is time for the next season to arrive. In May, I'm tired of the mud and those too-happy spring flowers and ready for summer perennials to start growin. Then, by September I'm worn out by heat and relentless lawn mowing and I welcome coats and knit hats. By November, I'm dreaming about snow. I don't even do much in the snow except cross country ski when I can--I just like it.

So, we got our first snow today. I think that's what it was, anyway. I the spring they'd have called it sleet, but I'm ready enough for winter that I'm calling it snow, and it made me happy.

Somehow that makes me remember how, on our honeymoon up in Jasper, Alberta, this old guy was driving C and me to the drop off point where we were going to start hiking and I asked him how he handled the long Canadian Rockies winters and he, this guy who must have been about 70, said "Every year, I love it more." That guy was cool.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

End of the Festival Season, I Think

Went to the Renaissance Fair and Metea Park for the first time yesterday and boy is that a different kind of crowd. I get the feeling that for a fair number of the people there it's the only sunlight they get all year because they spend the rest of their time playing Dungeons & Dragons or WoW. It's fun to visit that freaky little world, though. I mean, hey, I bought D&D when it first came out back when it was a slim, light blue 40 page rule book. It was just a phase for me, though. You could tell they were all going to great trouble to try to "act the part" but couldn't go much further than sprinkling old old timey phrases like "Good day to you" and "Huzzah!" into their conversations. They were still charming, though.

I'm not convinced the people who were part of this event were into the Renaissance period so much as the medieval one, the one with the most violent looking weapons. That was probably my favorite part to see: this group of enthusiasts with ad-hoc chain mail and swords padded with duct tape and socks going after each other in short, intense bouts of hand to hand combat. Before each one, the emcee would remind us all that "back in the 14th century, this is exactly what you would see on the battlefield," and then the guys would start flailing until one scored a hit in some vital area. The loser would make a grimace and then enact a romanticized slow-motion fall to the ground.

Even more dramatic were the two jousters who drove their horses here from Texas. Check out the guy's flowing locks--there was some real ego dueling going on between him and his adversary. They were great horsemen (I think so, at least--I really don't know anything about it) and performed a few really neat feats of skill before engaging in an actual joust: no padded, balsa-wood lances, no helmets; just their hair to protect them. After that, they dismounted and starting swinging real swords at each other (The local padded-sword team had to be eating their hearts out at this) and that was cool too. Then B had a good enough sun burn that we decided to go home.

Of everything, my favorite event was the Punch and Judy Show. The origin of slapstick, it was, Punch and Judy. The puppeteer was funny, too, making repeated self-deprecating jokes pointing out what a bad puppeteer he was (though I thought he was pretty funny). He would break out of character to say things like "Hey folks, I know it's a terrible accent, but I'm doing the best I can" or to admonish the kids "no, when you see the alligator behind Punch, yell 'There he is!'" Still, I laughed pretty hard--at the play, not him--and was glad I got to see it. The picture of J shows that she did too.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Doctor Wins

For about a week, I've been hoping that I could make it through tonight without watching Lost. For a few weeks, of course, when I saw an ad or some teaser about the new season, a part of me, just like in everyone, probably, would say "Oh, Lost? I wonder what's going to happen," and I would get excited.

But I don't want to get into it. It's just an addiction with no real payoff, isn't it? I mean, they raise your curiosity with a small twist and it kills you not to know, for example, what is in the damn hatch. Then, when you find out what is in the hatch, you don't really care anymore because (a) it's just a tv show, and (b) they have thrown some new plot twist at you that has you again anticipating next week's show.

That's the problem for mel with serial dramas; you're rarely enjoying the moment, but instead anticipating the next one.
Still, I knew there was good chance that if I saw tonight's episode, I would fall into that narrative trap and have effectively forked over my Wednesday nights for the winter.

But something else happened. Instead, I had a dvd of the new Doctor Who series, a nerdy series, but one that takes me back to the old Tom Baker days that I used to watch with my old grandma. She was my BBC friend. We'd stay up late on Friday nights and watch all the BBC
lineup they had, and she had no idea what was going on, but she thought it was all funny, and it was great to be there with her. So I put this new Doctor Who dvd in, a show I hadn't watched since I was old enough to get my driver's license and have "better" things to do with my Friday nights. I watched the show, and it was okay, but more importantly, I started it, unthinkingly, before Lost came on, and didn't even realize it until The Doctor was done saving people in space an hour later.

So I made it through Lost premiere night without getting hooked is what I'm saying, and that's a small victory. Richard Brautigan says that you have to keep track of the small victories, so I do.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

When you first break your kid.

This is one of the last pictures taken of J when she still had a full set of teeth. Oy. It's okay to let your kids be more than 20 feet away sometimes, right? It's gotta be. I had to be that far away to get the Burley trailer on the bike while they were playing happily near the house, and it only took the usual 3-4 minutes, and then when I was literally within two steps of grabbing them to go for a bike ride, J falls, gets up bloody, and has lost one of her upper front teeth.

I was alone at the time, so I had her crying and B crying because his sister was upset and me trying to find a tooth in a sidewalk made of pea gravel. Never found it before I decided we had to get to the dentist where we were told she'd be fine but toothless for three years until the adult tooth comes in.

It almost doesn't need to be said that when C got home she found the tooth immediately. Then, at school this morning, a former student dropped by to stay hi and I told him the story and he said that if I had put the tooth in milk it would have been fine. So, I guess I'm feeling guilty from my accumulation of three shoulda's:

1. I shoulda a found the tooth.
2. I shoulda known about the milk trick.
3. Upon my first examination of her mouth, I shoulda not have yelled in J's face "Oh my God!! Your tooth is totally gone!!!"

I could live with two, but anytime you rack up three in a five minute period, it's going to eat at you. Especially that third one. That's one I'd advise you to avoid if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Look at this Cool Spider

Took the family on a hike to a great nursery today that has a hundred acres or so of wildflowers out back and you can walk around in it and let the tall weeds blow around you like, you know, waves or whatever. I love it there. On the hike we saw this spider that in real life stretched, and I'm not kidding, at least--really, I'm not making this up--three inches from, like, front left leg to back right leg, if that makes sense. I've called spiders "huge" many times in my life, but I've never seen a spider this big, ever. I think it had a baby rabbit wrapped up in a far corner of its web.

Even more amazing were its markings. This picture shows its bottom side, but on its top side, its thorax (whatever the back/bottom part is) had bright green and gold streaks all over it. Again, never seen anthing like it. If spider markings are meant as a warning, this one was saying that, if we messed with it, it would electrocute us.

At least three inches, I'm saying. Easily. I don't know how to google spiders, but I need to think about that. Maybe a search like "three inch spider indiana electric kill" would get it.

Such a great nursery. This is the same place where, last summer, I parked next to a small pickup with a nice dog in it and with a cab on which someone had written in permanent marker "stop talking sh** about other people, b****." I have a photo of it somewhere. I should look for that again.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Science of Sleep

Wow. Sometimes you hear about movies that you think you are going to like and they fill you with anticipation and you finally see them and are disappointed. I am thinking of American History X (sorry Ryan!) and March of the Penguins, The Matrix Reloaded and countless others.

And then other times, the opposite happens, like today: out of nowhere, I read a review and see a trailer for Michael Gondry's new one, The Science of Sleep, which I just know is going to be awesome. He directed the last Charlie Kaufman movie Eternal Sunshine . . .. I'm ready.

Sometimes I think it pays to not even worry about what movies are coming out in the future or follow it in the press because the good ones, like this one, will find you on their own when they come out. I used to read Aint it Cool News all the time, for example, but got tired of living in that state of anticipation. Gotta live in the moment.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

My big idea

Man, all you really need is PBS, I think. And a dog to sit next to you. And a good bicycle or two and a copy of In Our Time. That's really it. [and of course the health and love of your family]

Tonight, I did the usual sit down with a book but had to see if I was missing anything good on tv and got caught up in this two hour Nova story about Einstein. What was so great about it is how they humanized the science behind it all by making it narrative--they go back and tell the stories about Farrady, Lavoisier, and Emilie du Chatelet, the folks to came up with the ideas that had to happen before Einstein. Narrative is where it's at. We humans can't put it down; it's simply not possible.

Why don't we do this in science and math class in school? I bet if I learned a little bit about the personalities and adventures of the minds behind the theories, I would have been riveted to the hard science of chemistry and whatever other science I took in school. Math, too. Mathemeticians are freaks. Why didn't my math teachers sell me on the freakiness of the people who came up with these ideas? Instead, it was all thrown at us as though math text books were these bibles of numbers that had been around since the beginning of time. If we'd been caught up in the drama of their creation, I bet we would have taken math more seriously, we kids.

I'm all into this idea now. A revolution in education. I will call it "narrative science." "Narrative math. " Ok, I'm tired now. I'll go sleep on this.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


The wife is off in Ohio riding in a 24 hour mountain bike race (she has got to be hurting right about now), so I spent a quiet day at home being dad. It was nice. The kids like each other this week. We went to the ol' Johnny Appleseed Festival and I got to talk clawhammer banjo with a guy and buy apples and walk a lot.

The folks came over tonight so's I could head to the FWMoA for the latest Art Attack event, John's latest movie Valentine. I love these things. People come out. We see Fort Wayne in a movie, places we hang out at, people we see around town and in the audience. And, since John is the one making the movie, we can also count on being disturbed and having a guilty dark laugh or two. Valentine fits that bill. It felt more confident and patient than his last one, or something. One interesting thing about this piece is that it features a young gal that I got to teach a few years ago. That's Michelle's shoulder in the photo above. It's kind of an edgy role, and when I spoke to her after the show, I think she was a little, I don't know, unnerved at the idea of me seeing it. Not that she cares what I think or anything, just--I don't even know what I'm trying to say. Point is, she looked great up there on the big screen and it was cool to see.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hey Sarah--we got a mouse.

Second in a few days. Old-school spring trap + peanut butter. I am trying to make you jealous as revenge for telling me "I'm glad you have mice" yesterday.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

It's about time.

Pet Sounds happened to me today. I'm a little slow, I know.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

First Comedy Gig

We had a journal prompt in one of my classes today that asked you to write about a childhood dream. I usually like to write to the prompt, so I go to thinking about it and remembered a story about my youth that I hadn't thought about for years. It's kind of funny, so here it is.

When I was a kid, like from the ages of six to nine or so, I used to say that I wanted to be a comedian when I grew up. I don't know where I got the idea, but I think it might have been early glimpses of Steve Martin on the telly. I was serious about this, which is weird because I was always kind of shy and quiet as a kid.

I liked to check out joke books so that I could work on my "craft," right, but I thought that kid jokes were beneath me. To get more sophisticated material, I started checking out joke books from the grown up section of the library. Most of the time, I had no idea what these jokes were about, but I thought that the less they made sense, the funnier and more mature they must be.

So third grade rolls around and I'm seven and we have show and tell day and I decide that my show and tell will be a short comedy act. I adored my third grade teacher, Mrs. Haymaker, and wanted to imress her, so I opened my grown up joke book and chose a joke that made absolutely no sense to me, thinking it must be an impressive, extremely mature joke indeed. I don't remember the joke, but I do remember it was about two drunks in a bar and the punchline was "Where in the hell is the cat?" Perfect for third grade.

So I get up there and do my little bit, and am in the middle of my big finale joke, in front of third graders and a teacher, telling this joke about two drunks, and I remember that I wasn't "feeling it" from the crowd. I decided that I would have to give some extra punch to the punchline and so I did: "Where in the Hell is the Cat?!!!?" I almost yelled it at them.

And I still had no idea what the joke was about, and the room was silent because of course none of the seven year olds did either and the teacher had no idea what to say. Finally, a kid who didn't like me raises his hand. Mrs. Haymaker calls on him and he simply says "You shouldn't swear in school." "Yes, Joe, that's right. Thank you. Thank you, Scott." I sit down. And that was my last show at that venue.

Is that funny? I think it's a little funny, anyway.

BTW, to illustrate this post, I was going to use a picture of a really fat cat, but instead have decided to use a picture of Chan Marshall, who records great music under the name of Cat Power. I hope that's not too confusing.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Skateboarding is hard

We finally got to Rise this weekend to pick up C's new skateboard. In the picture, as you can see, is J, though, who quickly adopted it as her own. C used to skate a lot when she was a kid and had been wanting a new one ever since the new skate park opened here a year ago or so, so I grabbed her a gift certificate at Rise for her Birthday and now she's set. It's funny to see your wife skateboard. She's good, for a wife-skateboarder. Personally, I have always wanted to try it too--but it wasn't something people in my town did when I grew up and I have no history with it, and so I suck at it. It's hard, skateboarding. I think I'm going to stick to mountain biking for my thrill sport.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Funny or Sad

So on my way to school every day I pass this seedy night club and for about two weeks now, it has had a simple message on its tiny marquee: "Midget Dancers August 23-25." Every day I would drive by the sign, look up, and be just a little bit sadder for having read it, and look forward to the 25th of August when they would take it down.

Then August 23rd came and the sign had been changed. Now it read "Little Sisters August 23-25." And I thought for a second about how that change must have happened and I imagined the scene that must have taken place when the "Little Sisters" drove into town and looked at the sign that had been billing them as "Midget Dancers" for two weeks and they were probably upset, I figure, and had a few words with the management. It's still a sad story, but at least it's a story, and a sad story is always better than a sad nightclub sign.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dream band

I can't believe I've never seen Animal Collective live yet. It hurts to know that. Some days I have trouble getting out of bed just because I know that I have missed that experience in my life so far. Seeing video like this convinces me that, given a choice, it's the one band I'd like to be a part of. It's just sublime. B, my two year old, goes crazy when their song "Purple Bottle" comes on and he starts egging me on to yell along to the "Whoa! Get that!" part toward the end. You have to be born with great taste like that, I think.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Last of the Summer Wine

I think that's the name of an awful BBC comedy that they run on PBS here, but it fits. Here's a snap of one of my favorite summer rituals: eatin' outside. We finally dragged the picnic table out of this low kind of holler in the back yard and put it somewheres where we could actually use it, so we did. I made lots of fish tacos this summer, for example, to varying degrees of success. It always hurts the flavor of the fish for me when, right before I take my first bite, C always says "are you sure this fish is still good? I thought it smelled funny." Oh, but I exaggerate.

Anyway, if I am picking ultimate summer moments, this has got to be one of them. That's J yakking to Papaw about going to the dentist or something. I think we're eating some homemade spaghetti that he brought over. It's the simple things, right?

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Wire

When you're out of town for three weeks in a summer and you are in places that don't have television, you get out of the habit of watching television. Then, when you come back home, you try not to watch television to see how long you can hold out. You don't have cable, so that helps. You don't work at a job where you need to watch television so that you have something to talk about with your co-workers. So you are doing okay and you don't miss television. You see your teevee-free future spread out in front of you and you can see that it is going to be okay. You will eat better. You will sit down at a table and write a letter to an old friend. You will learn the names of trees.

And then they release the third season of The Wire on DVD.

Oh, I was so close to living life of value. But it's worth it really. I mean, c'mon. The Wire is the best thing on television and if it isn't please don't tell me because I don't need to know about it. And, if you know, please don't tell me what happens in this season because I have no idea. The first two episodes are just so good, though.

A funny thing happened to me while watching the first episode, though. One scene takes place at a Baltimore Orioles baseball game and I'm sitting there watching it and I think to myself "it would be nice to go to a baseball game." Where did that come from? Sure, I used to go to Detroit Tigers games all the time when I was a kid, but I kind of fell out of baseball when I stopped being any good at it and I haven't followed it for years. And now this? We'll have to see where the urge takes me. The last baseball game I attended was in Evansville at the minor league stadium where they filmed the Madonna movie A League of Their Own. It was such bad baseball that we left after three hours and it was only the fifth inning. Maybe I need to try a real baseball game. We'll see.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Yeah More of the Garden

Can't help it. It's these high summer flowers I like best, the ones that are happiest when the sun is beating the rest of the world back into the cool air conditioning of their homes and offices. These flowers are even from the same part of the garden as the last picture below, but the light is better, so I had to put them up.

It was one of those rare mornings when I was awake before both kids. I put some of the blueberries we picked last weekend on my Grape Nuts and went outside to the picnic table and, for once, ate my breakfast without hearing Clifford or Dragon Tales in the background. It was a lot of nice for a mere ten minutes of time.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

While I was out

The above picture is what happens when you leave the moles in charge of your lawn when you go on vacation. I think you can see four or five traps sitting there, poised and useless. I have not caught a mole in a long time, though I've had some very exciting close calls. Is this any way to spend a summer? Well, it's one way. It's not bad. The secret is to learn how to look beyond the scarred tatters of your lawn to see the colors of your high summer perennials (which were lovingly looked after by Michelle--thanks!!). It's about perspective.

You can't see it in the top picture, but there is a bird bath in this corner of the garden that gives me all kinds of perspective. It's just this simple concrete design, very Japanese or something, and I rarely even see birds in it, but I find myself thinking about it. Some nights right after I brush my teeth I will turn off the bathroom light and then look out the window at my bird bath in the moon (well, and street) light and I know that nothing bad is going to happen while I'm sleeping. Just one of the lies we tell ourselves so that we can stop thinking and fall asleep, of course.

In other news, I can't stop listening to the Fiery Furnaces latest, Bitter Tea.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sturgeon Bay, Michigan

J on the beach, this stretch of beach I'd been wanting to get back to for a few summers now but never took the time. We remembered this hidden part of the beach that you could only find if you followed a hidden two-track and we drove slowly along seven miles of the loneliest road in Michigan trying to find it, but gave up and drove to the public part. This part of the state is so hard to get to, though, that we had it to ourselves almost. Really, one of the prettiest stretches of sand and water and dune I've ever seen.

The next time you are on a sandy beach, make sure you take the time to take a small plastic shovel and dig as deep a hole as you can. Dig to the wet sand and keep digging until you make a small underground lake. I felt five years old when I did this. I took the wet sand and built tiny castles and my children immediately stomped them back into the sand every time. How did they know that's what you're supposed to do? It's something we're born with, I suppose.

Live Strong

Here's kind of a funny snap I took during the Indian River, Michigan 4th of July parade last week. I wish the punch line showed up better. I just like the irony of a guy with a LiveStrong bracelet combined with a skull tattoo and cigarette with a long ash hanging sticking out from his knuckles. Cracks me up. It's the ash that I should have caught against a darker background, I think. At the time, I was just trying not to get caught by him.

Small town parades are the best. You forget that 1/2 of every parade is taken up by local merchants driving cars with the names of their businesses on them--it's just a rolling commercial where you have to sit in the sun and listen to the firetrucks blast their horns in your ears for 30 minutes. But still, they're the best.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Best Festival is Today's

Oh, look at that little kid there on me shoulders. Fresh from bopping his head to the live Greek Fest band. My new favorite festival, Greek Fest. It's more ethnic, you know. More people that don't look like me, compared to German Fest at least. Dances that I only see once a year and make me wonder when the kids dancing them learn them, and even more why my family doesn't have any dances. I don't know what we'd do with it if we had a dance, my family, but it might be nice to know that there is one that we could do if we ever saw an ad in the paper that there was going to be a Hill Fest that weekend. Maybe it would be to dance in whatever way you do when you are playing a great song at home and think no one is watching. Everyone would hit the floor and just let it go, just let it go like they should every day but we'd do that once a year and maybe that would be enough, or a start at least.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Festival season

German Fest might be my favorite summer festival here. Greek Fest has slightly better food, but it's dang expensive, I think, and something about it feels exclusive for some reason. Like it's for Greeks only almost. That's probably in my head, though. German Fest is pretty laid back in comparison. If you're from the midwest, you're already half German just from being raised to eat all that meat and boiled vegetables. So, it's comfortable.

This is from last night. The always fun Melissa saying hi to me as I surreptitiously snap her photo and Brian's great, really great, girlfriend Leslee smiles on. She always smiles, Leslie. It's almost her natural state--it makes you smile too and wonder why you don't smile more and so you resolve to try, and then the next time you see her you remember your pledge and realize that you haven't been working on it enough.

Monday, May 29, 2006

For the birds

This here is a birch tree that has grown near the beach at our family lake place for the past forever and now I need to accept that it is probably pretty much dead. It's the flocks of wood peckers perching on what looks like its bullet-ridden hide that clued me in. The birds are pretty, and funny to watch as they bash their heads into the bark over and over, but still, this is a special tree to me. It frames the lake view in every cheesey sunset picture ever taken by our family. At least we'll have pictures.