Thursday, December 31, 2009

Snow Day

The snow today came as a complete surprise to me. Not because I'm a weather watcher - I'm not - but because Yesenia is, and she usually notes me about any possible inclemency days in advance. This time, however, not a word from her, and I suspect she was as surprised by this morning's snow as me. More so, since it started to come down during her commute.

Not sure what this does to our New Year's plans, but we will see, we will see. Looks as though it's actually stopped as of 11:30 am, and accumulations for the entire day aren't supposed to go over 3 inches.

At any rate, here's hoping you all have a good night, and a great year to come.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Oddly Sad

Just rewatched The Beast With a Billion Backs, the second Futurama film. Among the voice cast is Brittany Murphy. Her character arc ends with her leaving the universe to live in heaven alone with God. Weird and sad, like a dream.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

That Was Nice

Of all the possible ways I could spend my weekend, I can't think of a better reality than what actually transpired: me and Yesenia, on the couch, under the blanket, Christmas lights on, watching DVD after DVD while snacking on leftovers.

Hope your pre- and post-Christmas were as lovely as ours.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Covers is Bad for Business

Your Weekend Listening • 12.26.09
I Won't Back Down • May, 2008

Here's something strange and vaguely pointless - my multi-tracked solo acoustic version of Tom Petty's mid-career hit. A song I don't particularly even like, although I do have a begrudging respect for Petty's ability to build songs out of thin air and not much else.

The backstory, as far as it goes, is that a childhood friend of Yesenia's (José) was learning how to play guitar. To that end, he was taking classes at some New York guitar school (on 30th Street). At the end of the semester, the students would give a solo performance, and José asked me to join him on a couple of numbers. The Petty was one of them, and I think Desperado was another, so you can see the general area of material.

At any rate, when we played, it turned out that the original key was a little out of Jose's vocal range, so I transposed it and very quickly threw together a Garageband version - literally sitting on the porch in about the time it takes to listen (not, of course, counting the overdubs).

The cover itself is pretty disposable as well, but when I stumbled upon it in my iTunes the other day, I found that I liked the way my low-energy playing and nearly tremulous vocals give the song an air of desperation that the original never had - Petty doesn't sound much like backing down is even an option, but the above version sounds like I'm bleeding on the mat, weakly waving off the referee.

I make no claim for greatness with this, but sometimes, I like the sound of confident half-assedness that comes with experience, and I'm pleased that I have enough ability at this point to convey that.


PS: Apologies for the return to the embedded QT MP3 player instead of the SWF. For some reason, the SWF decided to stop working - indeed, all previous Ramblers with the SWF MP3 player now feature nothing, so I'm using this temporarily until that gets back up and running. I'd be tempted to blame Blogger, but it always seems to be some weird thing with my host, so we'll see.

Friday, December 25, 2009

So This is Christmas

Had the family over today, and it really was a very nice, fun day. Rather than do a big sit down meal, we did more of a buffet style eat-what-you-want-when-you-want-where-you-want, with a Puerto Rican vibe (in addition to the turkey, Yesenia made empanadas, fried plantains, rice with pigeon peas, etc.

Really nice day, what can I say? Hope yours was just as enriching.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pretty Lights

Bout of insomnia and I'm down on the living room couch - trying to allow Yesenia her beauty rest. It's a slight problem and always will be, but she's a morning person and I'm a night person. Hopefully, that will change somewhat when I start teaching, since I'd have to be up and out at the same time. Whether or not that means I'd go to bed earlier is another story; in past experiments with getting up early, I still stayed up to the same late hours, pretty much against my will. I can easily see myself rotting my brain on long weeks of four hours of sleep a night. Just the way I'm wired.

Anyway, the living room is super nice, now, since Yesenia got all of her decorating moxie up on it. If I have to be awake now, no reason I can't be awake in style.


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Rambler Just Got Roomier

Believe it or not, after two straight years of posting seasonal threats that Copper Man - the site which hosts the Subway Rambler - was finally going to be getting a complete overhaul... well, Copper Man has gotten a (mostly) complete overhaul. In what I'm tiresomely calling the 'beta' version, if you go HERE, you'll see a complete layout, admittedly with some holes when it comes to actual content, like an Entenmann's box with only one plain donut left.

The Rambler itself will be folded into the larger site, although the address won't change. What will change is the look, however - it's probably going to get a lot more stripped-down looking, which may be kind of a drag to look at. On the other hand, I've had this billiard room look going for almost two years (after I changed from the original hunter orange), so it's time for a graphic clean-up no matter what. I'll try to strike a balance between what will look nice on the main site (where the Rambler will appear in an iframe in the site layout) and what won't be distressingly bland when viewed away from the site, the way I expect most regular readers will continue to do.

Actually, I'm fairly certain that a batch of you follow me on RSS feeds, which are the most dispiritingly dry-looking way of viewing content on the web imaginable, like reducing everything under the sun to the status of a stock ticker. So there won't be much of a change for you, either way.

As far as the revamp to the main site, rather than run the risk of repeating what I've written over there about its current state and future implementation, I direct you there and, as always, invite you to make feedback.

And Christine: that graphic on the home page is an animated gif, about as old-school as such things get. Let me take this moment to say that although I still kind of miss ImageReady, the animation menu in Photoshop is nicely done - straightforward and intuitive, which is something that Adobe has been having a harder and harder time with as their applications grow more massive and unwieldy.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

The 700 Club

Your Weekend Listening, 12.19.09
Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Pt. I-X / Us Not Them, Live @ the Bruckner Bar, May 2008

Although "Echoes" is my favorite song (both by Pink Floyd and in general), "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" seems to be appropriate for me this weekend. Flashback to the day that my childhood cat (Janet) was buried back in 1998, Edz and I were jamming with a guitar player, and when I came back down from burying her in the side yard - my parents were there, too - we launched into an impropmtu but heartfelt version of the song.

This is not that version, which probably wasn't recorded. For the bulk of 2008, I played keys in a Pink Floyd cover band named "Us Not Them," before I made the decision to return to school and realized I wouldn't have the time to continue it. While it's true that the band's focus on later material was not mine and their approach to the earlier material (which I love) wasn't quite the feel I thought it should be, the band was full of talented and dedicated musicians. I felt badly about leaving, but as it turns out, my financial circumstances in 2009 would have warranted it inevitably.

This particular set featured all of the Wish You Were Here album, but I've just edited together the two halves of "Shine." I'm not 100% thrilled with some of the keyboard work, here - I didn't have quite as much time as I would have liked to get my parts together - but what the heck. It was my first real experiment with playing three keyboards at a time, in the progressive rock fashion, a fetish of mine ever since I first saw the inner sleeve image of Rick Wakeman from The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth. It's stressful and fun to add that layer of bouncing around from setting to setting and from keyboard to keyboard, suddenly adding the Y-axis to what's normally the straight line of keyboard playing. Like the equivalent of Spock's 3D chess, only I was a novice, rather than a grandmaster.

At any rate, with yesterday's death and subsequent burial of Kiko, this came to mind. Enjoy.


Friday, December 18, 2009

The Longest Day

I'm not even going to pretend I have the strength for this afternoon. At 4 pm, I'm taking beloved cat Kiko to the vet to be euthanized. As it turns out, it's not the kind of thing you can prepare for - it's just the type of thing you have to go and do. In a way, I've either been blessed or led a sheltered life thus far, because this is the first time I've ever had to do anything like this - both make the decision to end her life and be the one to take her for it.

It is a kindness, I know, but the problem with animals is that they never see it that way. Kiko has always been a stress-case when it comes to visits to the vet, more so than any other cat we've ever had, and the thing I most hate to think of is that she's going to spend her last moments deeply stressed and anxious on the car ride and in the office itself. But her condition now is such that yesterday, I even wished that the vet could take her earlier. Not for my sake, for Kiko's.

The one relief from the feeling of guilt is knowing that Kiko - like a lot of animals - is (was) an eternal optimist. Sure, bad stuff has happened to her; trips to the vet, having a paw stepped on, having to deal with large crowds in her house, having to share space with other cats. But she never failed to forgive, and she always had faith that if she was fed once under a certain circumstance, then she could always be fed again when those circumstances recurred. But more, she always seemed to have faith in Yesenia and me, and the trusting faith of an animal is just a wonderful thing.

Whenever the vet would send cards to remind us to call for an appointment, the message at the top read 'Kiko loves you,' with the 'loves you' printed in and the name handwritten over a line (________________), making for a silly and insincere looking statement. But the thing is, I always believed it - the only people Kiko ever really bonded herself to were me and Yesenia, with all others viewed either at best as inconveniences who would occasionally feed her, or at worst objects of disdain.

Thankfully, it turns out that Yesenia is going to join me for this. Thankfully for me, at least. I guess the sight of two adults weeping in a veterinarians office says something about who we are as people, but the truth is that the core of ourselves as a couple - our favorite, most relaxed moments - were lying in bed, watching a movie, with Kiko there curled up next to one or the other of us (or smack between us). If I write as if we were losing a member of our very small family, it's because we are.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Zeno's Paradise

According to Blogger's Dashboard stats, this is Subway Rambler number 698. The number is probably a little off, since there are a few Ramblers sitting in the draft phase, and I did finally go ahead and delete the entry with the ultra-cheesecake photo of the pneumatic woman. It was a silly struggle with myself to do so, because I really do believe in standing by what I write - and keeping it in the 'public' record even after I've been proven wrong, either factually or morally. Of course, that was the most popular entry, months and months after it had been posted, and I finally decided - thanks to the continued contentious replies - that it went against one of my core blogging principles, which is not to write negatively about people. Maybe the tone of my original post wasn't 'negative' per se, but it certainly wasn't a Nobel Prize moment on my part, either.

Nonetheless, I'll take Blogger's count as the official one - unless someone out there has been keeping score at home? - which means that even with the depressingly sporadic posting this year, I've still racked up almost 160 entries. Not quite the equivalent of one Rambler every other day, and certainly far off the intended original mark of a daily Rambler, but, still: like everyone else, I've had the impression of the Rambler as being pretty much not even existing this year, and the idea that I've gotten it together enough even through the haze in my head to crank out 160 entries makes me feel a little better.

It's perhaps too soon for a postmortem on 2009 - I'll save that for the end of December or early 2010 - but it's safe to say that I've pretty much been in a funk so deep and drawn out this year that it has, at times, been indistinguishable from a state of shock. I've long struggled with anxiety and depression in my life - not to mention the maternal gift of an acerbic and pissy outlook and demeanor - so I've been taking a lot of extra energy just to maintain focus through this year, which has pwned me like no other. That energy first comes out of extraneous things, of which I considered the Rambler to be one.

Silly me, I forgot that writing the Rambler is actually an energizing exercise, so to not do it is to just feel that much lamer. That's not a promise to anyone that I will henceforth bring back the standards of quality and quantity that the Rambler set back in its halcyon days of 2007 and largely maintained through early 2009 - I've made such promises before and never seem to maintain them. But I can promise that there will continue to be... something here on a more than semi-regular basis, and that until you hear a statement otherwise, the Rambler shall sustain.

It should be noted that it was an email exchange with Walrus editor Ansley yesterday that spurred the theme of today's Rambler, to wit: "and if you're not rambling anymore... you can do a blog on walrus.. maybe
you can focus it to one theme.. like music or something.. specific to you."
My initial reaction was, of course, the usual mix of Kopperman guilt, denial, and offense, but then my brain started cycling and I wondered just what types of things I would write if I knew I had a larger audience. Turns out, pretty much the same kinds of things I write here, only (hopefully) more polished. Over the course of 700 entries, there's a few dozen that are essentially articles that are masquerading as journal entries. Or not - sometimes editing a piece for readability is far more difficult than just blurting it out in the first place. But it's nice to think that the Rambler has been good enough to have generated something like a 'best of,' so whatever Ansley and I both agree is worth reviving and revising, I'll let you know.

"Keep you posted," as it were.

The first resurrected piece - a ReRambler? - is already over at Walrus Comix, in their much nicer brand-new Wordpress relaunch. Through a comedy of errors, the piece went up unedited - Ansley thought I was saying "HERE! Publish THIS!," and I thought I was just saying, "Hey, this one might work if I polished it up." Anyway, it's such a minor entry that it's fine as is. Oh, what is it? A semi-review of Jack Kirby's comic adaptation of Kubrick's 2001. You'll find it HERE.

Also, a brand-new article - well, an unpublished and heavily revised 18-month old article - on the fairly recent phenomenon of comics being sold in bookstores and generally having a much higher and more positive cultural cache, which I proceed to find the grey cloud behind. (Excuse me, did I say 'comics?' Surely I meant graphic novels.) It's long and dry and essentially written as commentary on a situation that I'm presuming most readers would already be familiar with. But it does contain the phrase "nerdier than Bill Gates getting a handjob from a Honda Asimo while watching a Powerpoint presentation on 3D Hentai porn at SIGGRAPH," so there's a little something in it for everyone. Go HERE.

Also don't forget to visit the main page for lots of great content by people who are not me. I recommend Ansley's (Walrus and/or Hermit) Top 100 Songs of the 2000's and Bran's (Zeitgeisty) takedowns of pop-culture 'icons' (the Fame Hype articles, also on The Faster Times). Chances are good I'll keep that going for awhile, and I hope hope pray hope that I'll get the kroompst together to revive the Vomit Comics over there as well.

Curiously, I also wrote an expanded version of my brief Christmas Carol review from a couple of weeks back for the local paper (the one I provide layout for), and it's in this week's issue. Walrus did repost the original tossed-off version, so I'll see if they want to put up the extended remix.

At any rate, here we are, two Ramblers away from the semi-mystical number 700, and that seems like a nice milestone to reflect on, especially as it dwindles in the rearview mirror.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Okay - my last class was originally supposed to be this coming Monday, the 14th. Which means that the final exam - the big megillah - was going to be on that day. It was certainly going to be tight, and the professor crammed a lot of stuff in to the last three classes. But I was prepared to be prepared.

But last night, we found out that RCC had added another Monday to the schedule. Meaning that each student in class now has the option of either taking the test on the 14th (after an hour's review), or taking it on the 21st.

I'm honestly not sure what course of action I should take. I throw it to the room, then: opinions?


Friday, December 4, 2009

As if you cared...

...I'm just gonna say it: I think that Bing is the superior search engine to Google. It returns more on-topic searches, has a more intuitive refinement process, and it just looks better. In fact (and bear in mind that I write this using Google's "Blogger" tool), I generally think most of Google's products are kind of half-assed, that just barely do what they're designed to do, just to keep the Google brand alive to keep their core business running, which is in developing a monopoly on web advertising.

This is the failing of the economy of free - things look like shit and have minimal - one might say 'begrudging' - functionality. Welcome to the age of cloud computing. Fuckin' hooray.


Smooth-Talking Afghan

"There was order, yes, but there is order in a graveyard." - Said Jawad, Afghan Ambassador to the U.S., on NPR's Morning Edition, responding to a question about the Taliban's ability to keep domestic peace vs. the chaos under the Karzai administration.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Blocking Bernanke

Interesting - I note that Bernanke's second term is meeting some resistance in the Senate. While I don't necessarily have all the tools to judge his performance one way or the other, I have to say that this is largely and obviously just a symbolic gesture. (Really, aren't they all?) This has much more to do with assuaging populist rage (a rage which I admittedly share) against the excesses of Wall Streeet than whether or not the man has done the correct things to sustain the type of Capitalist marketplace we supposedly favor in this country.

And while much has been made of the hypocritical behavior of the large financial institutions both wanting and needing Federal funds to stay afloat - 'Socialism!' scream the pundits - very little has been made of the similarly non-Capitalist idea among the general population that People. Need. To. Be. Punished.

Look. I have less than no love for the people in charge of these investment banks and the bloodthirsty culture they embody. In fact, I have no idea why anyone was surprised this has happened - if you've ever met an investment banker of this type, you know that the idea of jamming a room full of them could only result in and endless series of stupid and short-sighted decisions. But greed and idiocy aren't crimes in and of themselves. And it doesn't appear as if anything in the way of actual law-breaking occurred here. In fact, what was really proven to us yet again was that the idea of a marketplace as free as possible from 'Government Interference and Regulations! (scream the pundits)' is a danger to these institutions and to the economy as a whole.

So: this need for divine retribution is - while understandable - counterproductive and entirely misfocused. Much in the same way that the anger, fear and patriotic fervor post 9/11 was used to push the Iraq War through a Congress afraid of losing their seats on the populist tide, the anger and essential mistrust of 'Wall Street' that Americans feel is once again driving Congress to act rashly in response. And rather than looking inward for the strength to impose the strong regulations that our economic system needs to survive and thrive, they're instead once again burning a straw man in effigy. I guess, if I were to continue the Iraq analogy here, that Bernanke would be Hussein, and AIG would be Al-Qaeda, except in this case, Bernanke and AIG actually were working together after all.

Why I find all of it hypocritical on the part of the American people is in the weird application of morality to Capitalism. Look, it's pretty simple: Capitalism in it's rawest form is about as amoral as things get. You cannot hold those who operate within its structures accountable for doing things wrong that were not, in fact, 'wrong.' My friend Jim, when losing at Risk, has been known to declare a "nuclear strike!" and drop a heavy object on the board from a few feet above, scattering all the pieces and effectively ending the game. That's what the Bernanke confirmation kerfuffle is, really: the American people are a bunch of sore losers at the game of Capitalism and we want to completely ignore the rules and just have our satisfaction of watching other people squirm. Thing is, we're largely sore for the same reason Jim was when he was losing: we're lousy players.

As for Bernanke himself: very lucky for you that Bank of America announced early repayment of their stimulus funds today, sir. Yes, very lucky.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Know Thyself

Noah had his NYC premiere of his autobiolytical jazz suite (which I keep typing as 'jazz sweet,' for some reason) Thursday night, and Yesenia and I caught the first of two performances that evening. Odd, the way language fails a little here - normally, when a band plays for an hour, takes a break, and plays another hour, I'd call those 'sets.' But since it's a single large piece they're playing, it seems more appropriate to use the term 'performance.'

Heck, it seems more appropriate to use the term 'ensemble' instead of 'band.' That's how authorial intent on the part of the artist colors the way the audience approaches a work. I'm also told that jazz musicians don't refer to cover versions as 'cover versions,' and that there probably isn't a term to use when Coltrane and company ripped up 'My Favorite Things.' Clearly, terminology is important in these areas, and one of the ways in which the merely interested are separated from the passionately involved. So Heaven help me as I try to write an analysis of the set/performance/suite/band/ensemble/septet - I promise that if I mess up a term that I'll make a donation to the Dizzy Gillespie Cancer Institute.*

Since authorial intent in this case was to present a suite of interlocking themes that (in his words), "...explores a journey through suffering, fear, determination, faith and, ultimately, transcendence and wholeness," a good part of listening was split left/right brain, trying to follow a narrative through wordless music while also trying to drink in the music in the moment. On the narrative front, the movements were titled in allegorical fashion, such as 'Warrior,' 'The Garden,' and 'The Path,' but in a piece this long and complex, it becomes difficult to keep track of just what movement you're in as a listener, so the overall journey becomes mostly emotional, untied from any specific meaning or image. Which meant that - with my emotions tied up in the composition, my intellect chose to be engaged by the act of performance, following the different musicians around and thinking about their choices and how they fit in with the overall piece.

The suite - named, as above, Know Thyself - ran about an hour, so I'm sure I misheard or misremembered some things. Plus, bear in mind that sometimes when you're listening in an abstract fashion, your brain will go where it wants. For starters, the stage at the club (the Jazz Gallery, located way downtown) was surrounded on three sides by crimson curtains, so half the time I expected to see Agent Cooper getting cryptic advice by a backwards-talking dwarf. So, anyway, that in mind, some...


- The suite began in a pleasantly random way - Noah had barely finished thanking the grant providers when the tenor sax player began to play some rolling lines. It segued so seamlessly out of the musicians little pre-show warming up gestures that for a few seconds, I thought it hadn't started officially. Like something caught out of the corner of the eye that you suddenly realize is what you'd been looking for.

- The septet was used as I'd hoped, effectively exploring the possibilities of smaller combos within the larger unit, and also allowing for instruments with varying coloration (such as the bowed section on the bass) to really give a very broad palette of sound with which to paint.

- Although the core band was Noah's trio, he didn't really treat it as a showcase for his own playing, with his one major piano solo (not counting section intros) coming fairly late in the suite but also not being the climactic moment. In fact, he took the risk of allowing himself to play parts on his melodica that deliberately clashed with the rest of the band, breaking up a lovely slow section (shades of Dolphy, complete with bowed bass, flute lead and the drummer moving over to xylophone) with harsh slashing lines in different tempo and key in unison with the vibes, to a pretty impressive effect. It takes a solid ego to be able to be the bandleader and be the one willing to make 'the bad sound' for the sake of the integrity of the piece.

- In fact, most of my favorite moments were the bits where things began to (deliberately) wobble off the axis. The first drum solo was one such case, where the drummer played awkward, stripped down patterns that pretty much found a new signature with each measure. Being the prog fool that I am, my other favorite moment was the movement that alternated measures of 7 and 8, which (I think) may have been the bed for the second vibe solo.

- A minor quibble with the Jazz Gallery's piano, which had a beautiful warm tone but less attack than I usually like - perhaps not 'attack,' but something that left a lot of Noah's playing sonically obscured behind the vibes and guitar, even where parts diverged. I definitely look forward to the album so I can dig apart the arrangement a little more.

- Speaking of unison playing: there's no denying that the tenor sax player was a great soloist, but a good part of the battle in acoustic music (any music) is the physical sound of the instrument, and tenor sax is the one that excites me the least among the assembled sounds on stage. I really appreciated its presence for the themes, however, as the classic tone of the tenor and alto playing lines in unison is hard to beat as a real 'signature' jazz sound. Thankfully, he swapped out for a soprano sax for a couple of movements, and I love the soprano.

- And speaking of instrumentation: as someone who deals largely with electric instruments, I'm drawn more to the way an instrument sounds than what the musician does with it. So the vibes player pretty much by default won the 'favorite soloist' award. By the same reckoning, the flautist (she was also an excellent sax player) 'brought it.' Not to take anything away from either of them as musicians - since both were excellent - but you've won a large part of the battle with me if you've got the sound. Apparently, I like vibes and flute. Who knew?

- Favorite moment: the drum fake out solo and big crowd-pleaser solo not a minute later. For contrast and context and blah, blah, blah, but let's face it: when the drummer is thundering out furious tom rolls so intense that the sticks rise over his head between each 64th note strike, well, that's my jazz equivalent of the money shot. ("John Bonham! John Henry Bonham!") All that was left out was rolling his stick down the ride, demonic face paint and magnesium flares. Maybe that's the point where the phrase 'Jazz Sweet' came into my head, because, you know, it was pretty sweet.

- I'm always a studier of the faces of musicians while they play - particularly drummers (although a great lead guitarist pucker - Dave Gilmour, for example:

also makes me happy). But those drummers' faces? That range that goes from something that looks like complete boredom to intense, murderous rage? Man, I can't get enough of that. Someone needs to make a coffee table book (or a future Rambler entry). Vinnie the Drummer (man, how great a name is that?) wore a look of what I can only describe as 'doing involved linear equations with multiple variables in his head'** for the entire show, tongue pressed firmly between his lips and brow furrowed for the full hour as he looked from chart to kit to Noah and back again, clearly still mapping out the devious stops and starts in the piece but never (at least to my ear) missing a cue.

- The celebratory 6/8 (3/4?) major key finale ('Back to the Garden,' I believe), with the full band picking up a phrase that had appeared in sketchy elegiac form on solo instruments earlier in the piece - usually at a hinge between movements (my favorite of which was a mournful reading on guitar). The motif - a straightforward VII-IV-I (I think) change in (I think) Bb - as played by the full band really brought it all home nicely, sounding a bit like Alan Silvestri's theme for Back to the Future as fed through the Ben Folds Five... although it's possible Noah was referencing 'With a Little Help From My Friends,' which would have made more sense thematically, now that I think about it.

Anyway, all of the above should be taken as not remotely an educated view of the piece - my knowledge of extended thematic works in jazz pretty much begins and ends with A Love Supreme.*** It's more of a view of an outsider looking in, carrying with him the baggage of a million concept albums. Like the saying goes: when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. I guess in this case, the nail is Know Thyself, and the hammer is Thick as a Brick.

Still, even given my limited context for hearing such a piece, I was completely knocked over by it. I'm normally not a sucker for technique, but all the musicians in the band (particularly the core trio and the vibraphonist) had exactly the kind of humanity in their playing that gives the technique a reason to exist - which is to say, the ability to say what you mean. And Noah gave them something worth discussing.


*Seriously, I owe them, since they did treat my mother.

**This is a look I'm pretty familiar with, these days.

***And Mel Tormé's California Suite, if you're feeling charitable.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lying in Bed with the Laptop but Thinking about the Weekend

Literally the most meta Rambler title you'll ever read, no doubt. Yesenia is in the tub and I'm warming my loins with the MacBook, lying back at an odd angle and typing without even moving my wrists. This is as low impact as it gets (well, almost as low impact as that one time I spoke the Rambler using that dictation software, and it ended up reading like a phrasebook from a Chinese mental hospital).

Have a fairly work-packed two days in front of me - and then the decks will be clear for me to actually spend a full weekend alone with my wife. Time for just her and me has been too short, of late. Every weekend since September there's been a wedding or a party or a house-assist, or something.

Occurs to me that I've seen enough movies in the last few days that I can give some capsule reviews, so let's on to that.

Disney's A Christmas Carol
Undeniably big and flashy, but I'll have to admit there are some sequences that worked really, really well for me. Zemeckis chose to amp up the scares, which I appreciated. Particularly in IMAX 3D, not one to bring kids to. Even a fairly innocuous moment is made that much more intense when it's a mile high and simultaneously an inch from your nose.

The story is such that I don't believe you can ever wring any real drama out of it in terms of a character piece - all the flaws are there in Dickens' original, and the closer you choose to hew to his structure, the less likely modern audiences are to buy into it. Zemeckis doesn't help by adding a couple of his patented silly whiz-bang Rube Goldberg kinetic setpieces. But what's odd is that the quietest moments are the ones that really have an impact - I'll go on record here as stating that the Christmas Past sequences (minus the dance) were deeply affecting. Carrey's portrayal of the ghost as an Irish flame spirit - all whispers, hisses and gentle sputters - is both deeply cool and weirdly moving, almost the exact opposite of his by-the-book Scrooge. In fact, all of his ghost acting (he did all three Christmas Spirits) was really excellent, even though Christmas Yet to Come really just stood and pointed a lot.

Anyway, like all of Zemeckis' CGI extravaganzas, I'm pretty sure this one also won't hold up on DVD, but for pure cinema, I don't think you'll find a more amazing moment this year than the 3D opening credits fly-through of 19th century London. Holy shit.

Synecdoche, New York
A film that I found paired thematically rather well with A Christmas Carol, for somewhat elusive reasons. It's a meditation on a lot of things - the nature of obsession, the fear of death, the unclosed wound of rejection, the elasticity of time and memory, etc. But the overarching theme is the impossibility of art, which Charlie Kaufmann treats as zeno's paradox, here, as Philip Seymour Hoffman, given unlimited funds, an entire lifetime and an army of willing participants finds himself moving further and further away from actually saying a single thing.

Sure, there are the usual Kaufmann cute-for-the-sake-of-cute bits of surrealism - a woman who buys a house that is on fire, and lives in it for decades until she dies from smoke inhalation; the usual complete fear and distrust of women (particularly the fear and mistrust of Catherine Keener, who I think I'm now afraid of in real life) - but there's definitely something of value being said here, a real example of form and content working together to create a deeper meaning.

Do I recommend it? Yes. Would I ever see it again? Hell, no. Bummed me out for two solid days.

Whatever Works
Mostly pointless. The type of film that probably would have worked from Allen's run in the late 70's and early 80's, when he had the proper lightness of touch to pull it off. Allen's big problem is that he thinks he's much smarter than he really is, so whenever he tries to write a character that's supposed to be brilliant, I'm increasingly reminded of a classically trained singer trying to sing torch songs (if you get my meaning). Allen is brilliant at comedy of all kinds, but actual intellectualism and book-learnin' is clearly well beyond him. So his dialogue for Larry David as a former Columbia professor of quantum physics whose penetrating intellect has driven him into suicidal fits of despair just doesn't work at all, largely because the dialogue is the same that he wrote for Max von Sydow's curmudgeon in Hannah and Her Sisters, and Jose Ferrer's curmudgeon in A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, and the umpteen curmudgeons of ever other film he's ever made.

My father said it best, years ago (not about the 'intellectuals' of the Woody Allen canon, but it holds true): just because you're depressed doesn't mean you're smart. Seriously, if Allen wants to keep making films where someone is supposedly brilliant in a rarified field, maybe he should have them actually display brilliance in that field. It's not that fucking hard; hire a consultant.

Aside from that, I didn't really mind Whatever Works, but it felt as antiquated as anything Allen has ever done - more like a throwback to the 60's than even the 70's.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nattering Nabobs

The Approach, Pt. 3

It's amazing how difficult it is to separate positive action from anxious frenzy, when you're in the middle of things. Particularly tough (for me, as always) to set a goal that's years off and try to keep your head down and focused through it. Maybe it seems like now is always the enemy of the future, but I know in my heart that it isn't really that way.

Stephen King wrote a quite excellent non-fiction piece - a piece of sports journalism, of all things - about the season when his son's Little League team made it all the way to the national playoffs. And the title (and theme) has always resonated with me: "Head Down." As in 'keep your...' The idea is that the best way to work through problems towards a larger goal is - to a degree - ignore them. Not really feasible, true, but...


...well, let's just close with the old meditation: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

It seems like that's what I'm trying to say.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scissor Cells

The Approach, Pt. 2

Shit, what time is it?

This is usually the first question that pops in my mind on Thursday mornings, these days. The newspaper keeps me solidly occupied from Monday afternoon to Wednesday deadline (anywhere from 2 to 6 PM), and obviously with class on Monday night and deadline work for agency clients, Tuesdays are especially long. So Thursdays are kind of like my Saturday, although they're generally fat packed with agency work, house work, and anything else that's been left out to marinate while I'm otherwise occupied.

Thursdays, in other words, are pretty good for me. A day that I get to spend on my own, slowly trying to get shit together. I try not to waste them, although the temptation is there. Over the last two weeks, I've done a fairly good job of staying on top of work stuff - one particularly large and stressful work project kept me very tied up. Where I got lazy was the raking, so the leaves just sat all over the lawn, mocking me, while everyone else got all raked clean.

Seems like we're the only people on the street who clear our own yard, these days. Everyone else has the land crew come by and with the magic of a small army armed with industrial leaf blowers, they get the whole thing spotless in about 20 minutes. We, on the other hand, have me and my dinky, underpowered electric blower and a tarp. And I have a pretty bad attitude about the whole thing - yard work will be low on my list of preferred activities until the day I die (probably while doing yard work).

Thing is, there's a scheduling tightrope that has to be walked with getting rid of those leaves. You have to wait until the tress have lost enough leaves to justify spending real time out there raking - regardless of the leaf count, the amount of time spent raking a section of the lawn is always the same - but you also have to get what's out there piled on the curb before the town trucks show up to clean the street. And you never know exactly when those trucks are going to show up. You can always hear them off in the background somewhere, the sound of their massive vacuum sucking up piles on a street somewhere unseen but nearby, somewhere in the neighborhood. Always coming closer. And if you miss it, they're not going to be around again for another two months, at which point you're stuck with the leaves.

I always ride this deadline - like I ride all deadlines - really, really tight. Although I don't like yard work, I don't mind doing it. Provided, that is, that I only have to do it once.* If you rake too soon, you just have to rake it all over again in another week. But tempt fate too long and deny all of the nice, clear and sunny days when you can really enjoy being outside, and you're in danger of having the rains come and make raking both messy and also eating away at precious pre-truck time. In previous years, I would take a half-day towards the end of leaf season and rush home to clear up, sometimes just finishing up as the truck pulls around the top of Cedar Street.

This year, I'd already raked the front yard three or four times. I may be lazy, but I still want the house to look somewhat nice, you know? And on Monday, the day I was sure, sure, sure that the trucks were finally going to come - I'd seen them on Lester Drive the week before last, and I think they did Summit Avenue last Wednesday - I spent an hour before trooping off to the paper clearing a big part of the back yard which was about three inches deep in leaves. But that still left the side yards, the other half of the back yard and all of the bushes and stuff (I consider clearing the bushes the bonus round).

Shit, what time is it?

Today was Thursday morning. I awoke around 8 AM, hearing the ever-present sound of trucks and leaf blowers quietly off somewhere. And I knew: it's now or never. I humped out of bed, headed out into the cool gray morning and broke out the gear. This year, I've even given up on the blower. Frankly, more trouble than it's worth. Just the rake and the tarp. Rake, pile, put on tarp, drag to the curb, repeat. By 10:30, everything was clear and the truck was thankfully nowhere in sight.

But you can still hear it. Come on, take my leaves. I piled them just for you.


*I only like doing work once in any area. If I do it, it's done, all right? I'll never be able to make clients understand that my original ideas are genius. Lord knows why they always need revisions...

11.13.09, 9 am - Edited to Add:I woke up to the sound of the phone ringing today, at around 8:45. As soon as I got off, I walked downstairs to let the cat out - and the leaves were gone. Lord knows how the trucks can wake me from several blocks away but running a giant fan right outside of my house doesn't stir me at all. Speaks volumes about the nature of the sleeping brain, no?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fully Packed with the Devil

The Approach, Pt. 1

Not that it's such an original observation, but the '9' years - you know, 29, 39 and, presumably, 49 - are probably even a bigger drag than the huge milestone years they precede. Because the '9' year is the point where you simply can't beat around the temporal bush anymore: no longer 'getting old,' now you're just 'old.'

Which wouldn't be such a bad thing in and of itself - youth is wasted on the young, and I was no exception, except that I hated all of the things that came with being young and just wanted to get into the comfortable routines of middle age. But the problem for people of my generation with aging is the cognitive dissonance that sets up between our chronological age and our emotional age. I'll put it this way, readers of my generation: do you picture your father logging in to a few hours of World of Warcraft after a day at the office?

What faustian bargain was collectively struck back in 1970 that allowed us to keep our sense of play as we aged? And what did we promise in return?


Tick Tick Tick

They've made digital doorbells that 'sound' 'like' actual doorbells, cell phones with ring tones that ring like the phone in a 1940's detective thriller, etc. Has anyone yet thought to make a digital clock that ticks like the real thing? Surely there are few more soothing sounds than the regular ticking of a clock. Veterinarians recommend wrapping one in a small blanket for kittens to help them sleep (reminds them of mommy's heartbeat, I guess).

Thing is, like all the other senses, sound is one of those things that's very difficult to fool - we pick up on ersatz sounds very easily. Even if you don't pay attention to such things, you might hear a digital piano in a song - no matter how well done - and think to yourself that it sounds a little off. I can just imagine that what we think of as a regular, unchanging sound - the clock's inflexible up/down ticking rhythm - is actually made up of a million tiny variants in tone. Each tick and every tock as individual as snowflakes. The digital version would just be one tick, and one tock, cycled over and over and over again, and we'd know it's wrong, because it would never change - whereas the real world is constantly stumbling over itself.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Not Yet, But Soon

Sorry for the total lack of rambling for most of the last month. Still under the gun and not feeling write-y (my correspondence has also crawled to a stop), but in the meantime, something nice to look at: The website for jazz musician (and much more) Noah Baerman, which I've been working on in fits and starts over the last few months, and then did a big push on in the last two weeks to get something up there. Still a few pages need to be done, but he disliked his old site so much that he preferred to put up an incomplete new site to it.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Calendar Boy

Suddenly, everything is due at the same time - including the big calendar for the Jamaican patty company. Meaning that I've been working since 9 AM at the paper, then home at 7 PM and working on the calendar, and it's midnight now and I have another hour or so on this, then back to the paper at 8 AM tomorrow (today, as you read this), then back to the calendar to wrap up the complete first draft tomorrow afternoon.

Drumroll, please...


Tuesday, October 6, 2009


The algebra teacher tonight decided to delay the test for another week. I'm on the fence as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Oddly, for me, the most difficult material in the entire course is one the first test, being word problems in general and mixture and interest problems in specific.

Here's a mixture problem, from the text:

"A jeweler mixes 15g of a 60% silver alloy with 45g of a 20% silver alloy. What is the percent concentration of silver in the resulting alloy?"

Which I at first kept getting really funky and non-sensical answers for. And it turns out, as always, that the problem was one of the simplest arithmetic. Because, you know, 45 and 15 do not, in fact, equal 65. Once I realized that, it fell into place - like so:

Let X = the percentage of silver alloy in the final mix.
.6(15) + .2(45) = 60x
9 + 9 = 60x
18 = 60x
x = 18/60
x = .3 or 30%

30% was much better than the answer I was getting the first two times around with the 65g mix - 27.65%. Thankfully, the textbook authors know that the end users are likely to be idiots, so the correct answers are generally nice, round numbers, so my sloppy percentage was a tip-off that I'd fucked it up somewhere.

The issue I have with these problems is two-fold; I trip over my feet in my inability to abstract from language into math, and then that general unsureness tends to obscure whatever computational mistakes I make. Big car wreck, really.


Friday, October 2, 2009

True to Lifeish

A strong recommendation for the new NBC sitcom Community, pairing contemporary professional snark Joel McHale with vintage professional snark Chevy Chase. The second episode use of Aimee Mann is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time.

The setting is a community college, and, boy, is it funny. Please do yourself a favor and ignore the Dave Factor on this one and start watching. You can catch the first three episodes on Hulu, but for those of you who might know a Nielsen family, I'd suggest crashing their entertainment center Thursdays at 8, to help drive up ratings.

KARL: You have been put on notice. Trust me.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009


My office smells like it's just had a shave. Which is because there was a large spill of a gooey aftershave lotion on the rug that I was only partly able to clean up. The reason for the spill is that I rolled my chair over a full container of Gillette Series After-Shave Gel. The reason that was on the floor in the first place is that my office is a huge mess, and every damn thing that I have no need for ends up in here, taking up space. The reason I had the stuff in the first place is that someone (I'm thinking my stepmother) bought if more me as a stocking stuffer last Christmas. I didn't want it, but I didn't toss it or deliberately take it with me on a trip and leave it in a hotel somewhere.

And now I'm paying the price for both my chronic indecision and my inbred slovenliness. See, if I'd just thrown it away - knowing full well I'd never be using it - OR if I'd put it in the bathroom closet where it could be more appropriately ignored, then I wouldn't be where I am now. Which is with tingling nostrils and slightly stinging eyes, as well as an ironic three-day growth on my chin that needs shaving.

Seriously, this stuff smells awful. Is this supposed to be attractive to women in some way? Perhaps it's aimed as an aphrodisiac at female lab-workers who have had their olfactory glands burned out by too many chemical interactions, and can only feel at the outer extremes of scent.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Noah's Top Ten Weblinks, Inc.

Spending the day with friend Noah working on his site - this Rambler entry is actually being composed as an illustration of how to work in Blogger, which is something he may use to update content on his site. In other words: move along, nothing to see here.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Slower than Light

I've mentioned in the past my admiration of Richard Linklater, a director who seems to swing between smaller independent projects and larger crowd-pleasing fare with impressive ease; making strong personal artistic statements with the former and not seeming to slump through his Hollywood projects.

Steven Soderbergh is Linklater's twin, but he's the boring one (not to be confused with the slow one, Gus Van Sant). I've gotten nothing out of any of his films that I've seen, small-scale or large, and even when the concepts sound intriguing (as The Girlfriend Experience does), I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be like all other Sooderbergh films - claustrophobic, slow, and completely obsessed with its own self-importance.

His remake of Tarkovsky's Solaris (being closer to that film than the original novel) is more of this. Where Tarkovsky uses extended cuts and slow pacing to build an air of sentimental existentialism (you'd have to see it to know what I mean), Soderbergh's film is just turgid. I could probably go on about the issues with Soderbergh's take, but I'll just say that the man perhaps needs to do a few projects where he serves as D.P. for a real storytelling director, and then bring those chops back to his own work. Much as Nigel Tufnel points out that there's a fine line between clever and stupid, there also is a line between artful and fucking dull, and Soderbergh seems to slide over it every time out of the gate.


Friday, September 25, 2009

International Car of the Asshole

There's an episode of the 1980's Twilight Zone revival where Death personified comes to town riding in a souped up white Mercedes. The writers only missed the make and model, but everything else, they nailed.

I've long suspected that when my premature death arrives, it will be at night on the Tappan Zee Bridge, and will involve another driver (or two) in either an Audi, or, more likely, a BMW. I'll never know what possesses people to drive like complete and insane maniacs in the first place, but at least in this instance there's some kind of correlation between raving A-type personalities and the cars they drive. And it almost never fails, either. If you're on Route 287 and you see a German sports sedan coming up behind you, unless you accelerate to 85 MPH, be prepared to have them less than three feet behind your bumper for the drive across Westchester County.

Too, if you're in a lane adjacent to them and a slice of space any wider than a vinyl record on edge opens up in front of or behind you, expect them to dodge into it with the suddenness of a Florida downpour. Lord knows what this is - if I were charitable, I'd say that they have utter faith in your mettle and driving skills and know that you will not momentarily lose control of your own vehicle. I suspect that the truth is that they believe that a) they are immortal, and b) you only exist in the most rudimentary sense, like a game-generated vehicle in an especially detailed version of 'Pole Position' that they're playing. No wonder they want to risk their own life, yours and many others around you - they know that when they go out in a speeding tangle of steel, rubber and black smoke, they'll just reincarnate at their last save point.

The function you serve in their lives is as an impediment to get wherever it is they're going (my guess? Scarsdale) fifteen seconds earlier. There is no higher crime than driving only five-to-ten miles per hour above the speed limit. Punishable by death, which in New York is no longer administered by electric chair or lethal injection. The chair is now actually leather, heated and the thing being injected is fuel - they are judge, jury and executioner riding not on the traditional four horses of the apocalypse, but a Car and Driver rated 250 horses.*

It is also not a trait limited to the male gender. One female driver this afternoon, in a blindingly-white BMW, was driving over seventy and dodging in and out of lanes while simultaneously texting on her red-cased iPhone. It's pleasant to think that I might eat it in a flaming wreck because Denise couldn't wait twenty minutes to tell her other friend Denise that Scott was doing that thing with his nose, again. Also, it made me think that somewhere, Jack White was happy that I'd at least go out in the proper color coordination.

It is for these situations that defensive driving was invented. Start your engines.


*That's sixty-two and a half horses each for death, plague, conquest and war!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Return of Television

I guess the fall season has started. I wonder what show it is I'm going to miss this time around that everyone else will say is the best show ever?


Monday, September 21, 2009

Brain Drain

The only dispiriting thing about the current math class is that some of the stuff I learned only a few months ago seems to have disappeared out of my head. On the other hand, what's nice is how much stuff I remember with no effort, and how quickly the stuff that was gone comes back. In my defense, the stuff that had evaporated was the more esoteric stuff that I hadn't really focused on - like coin and interest problems. Word problems in general, because they try to get both sides of my brain working in sync, and I'm pretty sure that my left and right side aren't even on speaking terms.

Anyway, the schedule is spotty - started two weeks into the semester, and now next week off because of Yom Kippur. So let's hope I keep remembering these things I already learned, because I strongly doubt there will be enough time to cover what this class is supposed to cover in the truncated semester we're having.


Friday, September 18, 2009

The Owl is Back

Owls don't migrate, do they? Because we have an owl in our neighborhood that seems to only be seasonal. It's really a wonderful thing when it's around - very comforting to hear the quiet hooting, off in some unspecified distance. Well, comforting if Kiko isn't outside; if she is, then I start to worry that she'll end up as owl chow.

Between the owl and my obsession with the mysterious mandarin* that appeared in Tappan Memorial Park last year, I'm starting to wonder if I might be an undiscovered birdwatcher? Undiscovered to myself, that is. It could also be that the local avian population has expanded in the last decade, so I'm simply responding to a change in my environment. Bear in mind that I grew up in this house, so I have close to forty years worth of observation on the types of bird life that you find around here. And I can tell you - it's changed. We didn't used to have cardinals or blue jays, and now they're all over the place. Ditto the owl - never one of those when I was a kid.

What did we have back in the 70's? Pigeons. That was pretty much the beginning and end of the variety. I remember visiting the zoo at Bear Mountain and seeing what they considered to be local birds, and being surprised because I'd never seen one (nor would I ever). Maybe that's because I didn't spend enough time in marshes?

Anyway, I'm loving the owl, the hoot of which - even if it's not a migratory bird - signals the arrival of autumn. He'll keep calling until winter settles in.


*Maybe I've never blogged about the mandarin: for some reason, a lone member of an extravagant-looking duck species turned up in the park. Thankfully, the park is behind the library, so I was able to run in and look it up. Damn thing wasn't listed in five out of the six 'Birds of North America" books they had. But one small, unexplained illustration matched in, in a section called 'exotics.' Apparently, the thing is native to Asia, and there's a population of only about 20,000 of them. The best explanation I could come up with is that someone had brought it as a pet and it escaped. It tries to both befriend and dominate the local duck population, but it seems like they don't want anything to do with it.

Beautiful, no?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dog of the Bear that Hit You

I'm in no way a student of Jung, so forgive me if I misrepresent his thinking or debase it to fit into my own cheapjack spontaneous philosophizing, but from what little I know, I'd have to say that his idea about the 'collective unconscious' is a pretty impressive prediction of the internet. People can talk about Vannevar Bush and his ilk, but the philosophical underpinnings of the human need for a grand repository of knowledge date back to pre-historic times, and it's only in the 20th Century that someone thought to ask 'why.'

The 'why do we need this library' question is a good one, because it seems like the idea of such a place is as large and enduring a cultural myth as Atlantis or the flood. The loss of Library at Alexandria forever cemented it as an elusive dream, an impossible haul of knowledge that we still haven't equalled, the lost secrets of the ancient world. I'd argue that the insane, sudden humanity-altering popularity of the internet owes as much to our weird longing for this dream than any kind of technical or practical drive.

And I'm not just talking about the ability to access the sum total of man's knowledge and achievement with the roll of a cursor. Where Jung gets it right even more than any other predictive models of the web is in thinking that the human subconscious is connected with something larger - namely, a symbolic structure that predates language and governs behavior without ever really revealing itself. The 'dream space' of humanity that has some convinced that symbolism is universal, a mystical and eternal thing that we can access but is not of us.

I don't know that I'd go that far, but much like the little denser pockets of matter that eventually became galactic superclusters as the universe formed and expanded, there are some fundamental aspects of mind-above-mind that surmount all national and linguistic divides that are probably furniture that was in place long before man evolved intelligence. The mind evolved over long epochs, and much like our suppressed impulse to hurl ourselves off of top of tall buildings is a holdover from some lizard or early mammal that was awfully good at gliding, our dream of what life is has formed around clumps of nonsensical matter that doesn't have anything to do with what humanity evolved in to.

All of the things that define us as a civilization - the need for trade, for money to facilitate trade, for roads to carry goods, governance to oversee their construction, religion, music, art, etc. We don't question these things because they simply are and always have been. But how much of that is really a necessity for our survival and success as a species? Ultimately, so much of these basic columns of society don't bear up under scrutiny. It's likely why things like recessions are more deeply terrifying than the loss of security and fear of what tomorrow will bring. It's because these are the moments that we realize as a group that no-one is driving the bus.

And I don't mean that in a prosaic way; not the 'oh, the President and Congress have no idea what they're doing' blahdeblah that makes up so much of the noise that we're surrounded by daily. I mean in the 'Holy shit, all of human endeavor is a sham and there is no reason or purpose to our pursuits' kind of way, a sort of mass gazing into the ever-present abyss and the abyss not actually gazing back, because it's, y'know, an abyss.

The internet is not that abyss. The internet is our shared gazing, if that makes any sense. Being not just a repository for our knowledge and achievements but also a full-fledged representation of our shared unconscious, it captures the cultural zeitgeist of unease and despair in strange but truthful ways. These are, of course, the kind of trends we won't really be able to see clearly until we've got some distance on them. In other words, I can't point you to them, but you and I know they're there. At some point in the coming decades, someone will draw a direct line between 'I can haz Cheezburger?' and credit default swaps. I am not that someone.

The internet, really, is a bid to create a godhead - the point at which we merge with the universe and live and communicate as pure thought. And maybe that's where the need to have such a place comes from - us as little bits of cosmic flotsam that gathered together and started to think, the universe having a need for a way of thinking about itself but not the capacity for thought. And so here we are, doing the universe's thinking about itself for it. But we've never lost that longing for a perfect place, a perfect peace and harmony, a thing without a name or face that we can't live without, the desire to shed our selves and just go back to our home in the hearts of solar furnaces.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Do I Not Have One Upbeat Song?

I know that I've sort of staked out territory for myself in mopeland when it comes to songwriting, but I'll admit to being a little annoyed that I can't seem to think of a single number from my fifteen-year catalog that I would be able to sit down and play as a solo performance with acoustic guitar that I would truly call 'uptempo.'

It's not to say that I haven't written fast, major key songs. I even have songs with happy lyrics and bright, poppy melodies. But all of those songs seem (at least to my ear) to require the presence of a full band to work properly. So maybe the problem here isn't with my writing, it's with my guitar playing.



Monday, September 14, 2009

First Night

Sorry for the break in service - busier than usual over the last week, trying to catch up on various small and large jobs before my class begins. Said class - Intermediate Algebra - begins tonight, a full two weeks after the semester started. The class is Monday evenings, and the first day of the RCC semester was September 1st - a Tuesday - and last Monday was Labor Day.

Looking at the schedule, I think that means there are only fourteen actual classes - although I'm sure that the High Holy Days, Columbus Day or something else will lower even that tally. I wouldn't be surprised if they move Thanksgiving this year to Monday, killing two birds with one stone: canceling my class and getting the holiday off on my birthday, where it falls this year (the 26th) for maybe only the fourth time since my birth.

Night classes are a little problematic for me to begin with. My first year at RISD, I took a history elective that met at 7 PM, and I just could not remember to go. It pissed me off no end, because I really, really liked the class (about the late Middle Ages). But RISD Freshman Foundation classes were all-day studio affairs, 9-6 with an hour for lunch, and I would completely lose focus by the end of the day. Hit the cafeteria and then go back to the dorm to crash, only to awake in a panic to find I'd missed my history class. At some point - presumably before the cut-off - I ran into class just as it had ended and the professor officially dropped me from the class.

So why go with an evening class at RCC, when I actually have to remember to drive across county for it - and during rush hour at that? The early morning classes just weren't cutting it. In addition to finding it a huge drag getting across county at 6:30 in the morning (poor me) - and finding it more of a drag as the mornings grew progressively colder and darker through the semester - I also found that being in a class of 18-year-olds was really starting to wear on me. I'm hoping that there will be at least one or two other 'adults' in the evening class, although if they, like me are taking Intermediate Algebra at 40, I'm wondering if they're going to make me feel better or worse about class in their presence.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Punless & Bible Black

Feeling oddly under the weather the last few days, like I haven't been able to wake up fully. Which means either I haven't gotten enough sleep, or something as yet unnamed and potentially far worse. And I have been getting enough sleep, so I guess that means we're looking out for the nameless illness that stalks in the night, leaving your throat sore and crusting your nostrils.


Sunday, September 6, 2009


As the saying goes, this one got in under my radar. Not sure what I was expecting - probably something more along the lines of Superbad, which I seem to recall them marketing as having some connection to.* But I didn't much like Superbad, and I liked Adventureland quite a bit. It was small and quiet, with enough funny moments to keep it buoyant but never sacrificing an inherent believability. Well, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader did their usual over the top and ungrounded bit, but they were a small part of the film and never actually interacted with the rest of the plot, so it was almost like they were vignettes from a different movie.

Not to oversell it, but if you like decent post-college change-of-life films, I recommend it. It avoids cliché, is briskly paced, well acted and nicely shot. Even the period stylings (it's set in 1987) are well done.


*Turns out the connection is the director, Greg Mottola.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Weird Treasures

As part of the attic clean-out project, I stumbled across some old newsletters from the Texas Instruments users' group that my father was a member of in the mid-80's. There's nothing so remarkable about the newsletters themselves - essentially, since their dates of issue are '85-'87, pretty much every edition is a non-stop litany of misery, the sound of people who have backed the wrong horse but refuse to give in to the inevitable.

The thing that holds my interest is that in pretty much every issue, there's a one- or two-page comic from me, solicited by my father (who paid me, but I don't recall the amount). The comics starred a character called 'T.I. Man.' The strip itself was called The Adventures of T.I. Man, and even the comic is only of interest as a way of tracking my growth as a draftsman over a relatively brief period. (I hesitate to say 'artistic growth,' given that it's a comic about a superhero who happens to be a T.I. home computer, but there's definitely some ambition on display in these strips.) Even though it is only two years, the period turned out to be the big hinge for me as an artist, the point at which you can see the pieces falling in to place and genuine skill taking root.

Which isn't to say the strips are any good - honestly, they're lousy - but to this day, the serialized story that makes up the bulk of the strips remains my longest completed single comics narrative to date, and that's both impressive and a little depressing. Probably around 24 pages, so it's the length of an average single comic book, in all. But what especially strikes me about them is the density of the narrative, in which a literal shitload of things happen. Seriously, the thing is packed, being created before the twin influences of Cerebus and Making Comics convinced me that extended pacing was important in comic storytelling. Maybe that wasn't such a good thing for me, after all...

Unfortunately, some of the comic is missing - the earliest pages - since the person who was responsible for assembling the newsletters never returned my art and some of my father's cache of TI-NNJUG newsletters were lost over the years (or possibly tossed during the attic clean-up), they're irretrievably lost, but I'm not particularly broken up about it. But what's there will hit the scanner and I'll put up some select stuff when I get a chance.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bewarehouse 13

The new series from SyFy (I'm getting to the point where I can let the channel name go by without comment, but not quite yet), Warehouse 13, is one of the most fascinating cases of 'almost good' I've seen in a while. I've watched the first five episodes, now, and the promise and interest that the pilot had has slowly given way to deep cheesiness and a sinking sense of potential being squandered.

While the pilot managed to mix cool sci-fi bits with pathos and humor and keep them all balanced, it's pretty clear that the freaky object of the month - a common theme in syndicated sci-fi shows - is going to hamstring the operation. Five episodes in and they've got Fred Trump donning a feathered Lenape robe and walking through walls to steal sculptures that when collected, will show some kind of mystic map to a lost cave in NYC where the elements of ultimate power are to be found. And while the idea of it isn't so bad - really, that could make even a decent Ghostbusters film with the right script - the writers can't seem to work out how to fit the characters they've created in with the spooky objects. They'd be better off trusting the actors and scenario and playing down the freak out of the week.

Said scenario: a humungous warehouse way out in the middle of nowhere, off the grid, where the government has been storing dangerous supernatural artifacts since the late 1800's. A pair of rogue Secret Service agents are recruited to work for the nebbishy know-it-all who single-handedly heads up the operation. Sure, the premise is cobbled together from a million different obvious sources, but all genre films are when you break it down. The most obvious high-concept version would be, "Scully and Mulder set loose in the Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse." And I can personally see lots of fun to be had from that.

Problem is, they almost immediately started fucking with the formula. Rather than leave the nebbishy guy alone and with a sketchy back story, the fill it in and then bring on board an unbelievably annoying college-age girl to fight with him/seek his approval (it's a long story). I thought she would be a one-off character, seeing as how they brought her in on episode four, well after the show's vibe had been established, but it looks as though she's going to be a regular. What?

Anyway, you can't watch the pilot anymore online, but six of the later episodes are online at both and (where else?) Hulu. Just in time to watch the series start to teeter and fall.

I'm still going to watch - interspersed with episodes of Spaced (which gets weaker in its second series, it turns out), but I'm starting to get that sinking feeling that the thing has hit an iceberg and is going down, right on the maiden voyage. This must feel like being a fan of Kolchack when it first aired. Why is it so hard to take great sci-fi premises and bring them intact to an ongoing series? And why doesn't someone make the obvious Back to the Future series, already?


Web Mood = Black

Meh. Just got into a completely out-of-the-blue argument with someone on a message board - an argument that I apparently instigated without even being aware I was doing so. And it reminded me again of what I need to be reminded of once every few month: I don't like message boards, for just that reason. I don't understand the need to have an argument with a total stranger - it's one of the reasons that I post under my real name, to prevent myself from making statements in a supposedly anonymous forum that are from a place of nastiness and disrespect.

It always seems to backfire, though, in that no matter how carefully I measure my phrasing, there's a miscommunication. And then a total stranger starts to say things that really, genuinely, make me feel lousy. And then I end up carrying that around with me for much longer than I should.

The thing that's always surprising to me, though, is the vitriol of the response. Am I the only one who feels this way? I've long known that I can rub people the wrong way. Again, it's one of the reasons I try to measure my responses in online forums.

Pointless, really.


Monday, August 31, 2009

The Rambler of the Beast

That's right, folks - tonight's entry is Rambler number 666, so you've probably forfeited your soul just for reading this. It's gone from being 'the rambling guy on the subway' to 'the Hell-Bound Train,' with stops in New Rochelle, Tarrytown and Rye.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Morning Wood

I usually make it a point to 'do' the Rambler as my last official act of the day. The only drawback with this plan, sometimes, is when I reach that point and it turns out I'd rather make my last official act something else. Last night, for example, it was reading the umpteenth story about the Beatles' dissolution, this one written by Mikal Gilmore in Rolling Stone. I'm guessing reading new stories rehashing history I can already recite chapter and verse is my adult version of watching Star Wars 37 times.

Beatles aside, tonight will also be a bad candidate for Rambling, since we're having a party and it's usually about 3 AM before the last stragglers leave, so I guess if we want any Rambling done this week, it's going to have to be during daylight hours. Which these are - Yesenia and I slept in this morning, and though now she's gone off to the store, I'm still in bed, aimlessly surfing.

Last night, we saw Taking Woodstock, Ang Lee's new film about the festival as seen by a young local who helped make it happen. Lee has yet to make a bad film, placing him in my dark horse race for favorite director, along with Richard Linklater. Linklater probably has a leg up, since he's made one of my favorites (Waking Life), but Lee always does deliver and gets points for being more of a traditional 'big' Hollywood filmmaker, his films always having the sheen of old-school craft. And, like Linklater, Lee sort of snuck up on me, as I realized that I'd seen several of his films and not only didn't think any of them were bad, but also liked many of them quite a lot. Here's the list of Lee I've seen (in chronological order):

Eat Drink Man Woman
The Ice Storm
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Brokeback Mountain
Taking Woodstock

That's only about half of his CV, and those films cover a pretty wide range of subjects. He has clarity of story and vision, and has a sure hand with his actors, a plus in his character-driven approach. A sign for me that I'm on his wavelength is that even the two films on that list that were not critical successes - Hulk and last night's Woodstock - were films I really appreciated, even while being able to see their flaws.

Speaking of Taking Woodstock specifically, I've read the reviews and find I don't really disagree with any of the criticisms - there's a lot of cutesy stuff in the margins that probably harms the central story, if you're so inclined - but I find that Lee's humanist streak, attention to period detail (seriously, almost every film he's made is a period piece), meditative spaces and strong technical skills* always win me over. Besides, the details are a large part of the film's raison d'etre, and as jokey as they are, they give the film a needed sense of benign chaos that I imagine feels like the original festival.

It is a little disappointing that we never get to see any of the acts or hear much of the music, but that's part of the point of the film. In a way, I get the feeling that Lee intends his film as a companion piece to the original documentary, going so far as to borrow that classic's use of split screen for simultaneous storytelling. Others could use that reliance on the original as a knock against Lee's film, but I've always liked the idea of one work of art that illuminates small corners of other, larger ones. Grendel and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead are both excellent, deep and meaningful works that rely on the reader's familiarity with the classics that they expand upon for their effect. It's probably a cheap postmodern trick, but given my love of a medium - comics - that's almost entirely built on a wink-wink-nudge-nudge series of callbacks, it's one I appreciate whole-heartedly.

Anyway, for most of you, I imagine Taking Woodstock would function better as a rental, but I'm glad I saw it in the theater. Ang Lee, I've got my eye on you.


*The ever-lovely cinematography and strong, clear editing are his hallmarks, so obviously he knows how to use his team well. Woodstock's editor is a longtime collaborator, but it's Lee's first film with this particular cinematographer, and it still looks like a Lee film, complete with desaturated palette, soft contrast and high-grain stock.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dark Night of the Pool

Just took an unbelievably relaxing swim, at 10 PM. Pretty much a moonless night, too; last time I did this was in college, in Narragansett Bay. The venue has shrunken, but my girth has grown.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunken California

Your Weekend Listening • 8.23.09
Monterey • 1999

The sound of a band not quite gelling, while at the same time not knowing what it was that they had. Edz, Rick and I played together for roughly two full years, and there wasn't ever a point where the three of us were on the same page as to what it was that we wanted to do together. This fractured identity wasn't helped by the fact that when the band started, I wasn't even sure what instrument I was going to be playing. When Rick joined, I was jumping back and forth between bass, keys and guitar, little realizing both how that would look to this new player and also not recognizing that this was evidence of my own inability to settle on a 'sound' for the band.

When I first met Rick at a party in South Orange - via mutual friend John Nora - Edz and I were deep in the thick of two simultaneous projects - doing multi-track demos of the material we'd been working on together (a full album example of which can be found here) and trying to find a guitar player so that we could have a real, functioning band. The handful of auditions we'd had up to that point were - to say the least - dispiriting. Little did I know that the search for a guitar player would be the ultimate hallmark of the band that became Copper Man.

At any rate, the above is one reason why I was not tied to any one instrument when Rick joined. I'd come out of Lizard Music being seriously tired of playing keys, and (as noted in the above linked entry), I was really enjoying playing guitar at that point. Curiously, this is happening now as well, which may be a result of me putting together these Weekend Listening entries. Although an all-Zeppelin jam I had just yesterday with me struggling on Page's guitar and Plant's vocals may have me putting the guitar down and backing away, again.*

So, back in 1999, Rick basically said it'd be best if I didn't play guitar, and it made sense, so we cut my available musical options down to two. And for the sake of live shows - of which we played very, very few in the course of our two years as a band - I ultimately decided that the keys weren't worth it, so I mostly just stuck to bass. And if you think it's torture reading about my indecision, I'm sure it was that much worse actually playing in the band with my musical dithering.

The new Copper Man trio - then known as 'Analogue'** - fairly quickly generated an album's worth of material. The last real group of songs that my old Tascam really saw service for. Those songs were mostly of a kind, with about 70% of them written by myself, but with Rick's much more advanced arrangement ideas fleshing everything out in a way I'd never thought about before.

We also started to write as a unit, and that's where this week's entry came in - as an image of a band that had great potential and never found a way to realize it. 'Monterey' was based around a riff and pre-chorus change of mine, a verse change from Edz, and a chorus change from Rick (with myself writing the lyric and melody). The genius idea of turning the rhythm around in the verse was, of course, Rick's.

This is actually my preferred way of working these days - turning a set of band ideas into a workable song - but at the time, it was very new to me. It also started the practice of picking the title for the new jam from something at hand and then writing the lyric from there. In this case, a sweatshirt that Edz was wearing, advertising Monterey Beach.

In a sign of how much at cross-purposes we frequently were, I thought the song sounded Southern California-ish, and Rick thought it totally didn't sound Southern California-ish at all. Since we'd both spent time in Southern California - he in San Diego and myself in Diamond Bar - that may have just been a matter of perspective. But my take on the feel did deeply color my lyric and made me think of the song as a Beach Boys via Weezer number, as covered by King Crimson. To this day, Rick and I can disagree deeply about approaches to music, and we're at this point almost a decade removed from having played together. Curiously, it's Rick's beautifully anthemic guitar solo that really makes the thing sound SoCal to me - Weezer at their finest.

The lyric, I'll admit, I like a lot. It's pretty deeply encoded, so I'll try to unpack it for you as best I can.

Hangin' out.
Check out the Jet Moto
Parking down by the movies.
Stick around -
You're gonna pay for it.
They don't like you around here.1

Listen every word I say -
Lord knows, there's nothing wrong with you.2

I bring water from the mountains.
I bring flowers to the desert.
I bring sun and no accounting.
No accounting.
Noah counting.3

Monterey standing at the ocean.
Many streets open to the sea.
I will pray - I will do the talking.
I will say all that I have seen of this terrible life.

Drive around.
Such a nice day for it.
Take her out with the top down.
Never clouds.
Clear for the sun setting over the bay for the last time.4

Listen every word I say -
Lord knows, there's nothing wrong with you.

I bring fire from the mountain.
I bring power to the desert.
I bring war and an accounting.
An accounting.
Ana counting.5

Monterey falls into the ocean.
Every wave dissolves into the sea.
I will save - offer sanctuary.
On that day.
And I will pray for the ones who survive.

Listen every word I say.
Lord knows, there's nothing more to do.

I see strangers all around me.6

1) I lived in California for most of my tenth year, and it was pretty much an extended period of misery for me. It's the point in my life where I first gained weight, a physical manifestation of my allergic reaction to the California way of life. I felt deeply, deeply unlocked there by the majority of my peers, and school was just not a place where I fit in. Mostly, I felt that everyone my age was really trying to be much older, and I constantly felt like an out of place little kid. This was also coming from a period where I was always academically advanced in New York schools, and I still was placed in G&T programs in California, but my inability to get with it socially made me fall way behind in math and just come to hate school in general. Sadly, I never did catch up in math again, and even back in New York I carried both my new weight problem and loathing of school with me.

On the plus side, California was where I discovered video games big time, and they had arcades the likes of which we'll never see again. The Showboat was a particular favorite, three stories high of now-vintage, then-new classics. California was the first time in my life I'd been at liberty, and Showboat and Chuck 'E' Cheese were the places Iibertied to, in addition to movie theaters.

The 'Jet Moto' referred to here is a video game that wasn't introduced until the late 90's, so I've retroactively added it to the 1980 arcade scene. It seemed to fit better than 'Lunar Lander' or 'Battle Zone,' two of the actual games I wasted quarters on.

2) As you can gather from the above, California was where I really started to hate myself. This is the voice of either my greater self or an imagined God, telling the younger me not to judge myself by the standards of those around me, especially when those around me were so different from what I'd previously been accustomed to. This is meant both straight and with heavy sarcasm.

3) This is where the song gets interesting for me; moving away from abstracted remembrance to a hint of biblical imagery. All of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas were carved from the desert by aqueducts and power plants. Man labors to create a sunny paradise, with green grass and all - literally altering God's creation. There will be repayment, as 'Noah' - the narrator starts to think of himself as a literal prophet - sees a new flood coming, ironically also bringing water to the desert.

4) No longer our narrator, now an average (upper middle class) Californian, image from a Beach Boys song of a convertible with a girl and the beach. But the sun setting 'over the bay for the last time' can't be good. This image in particular is lifted from Carl Sagan's Cosmos, with a reference to the end of the sun's main life cycle, and 'one last perfect day' before the sun swells into a red giant and destroys all life on Earth. The song's apocalypse isn't quite so global.

5) The Santa Ana winds. I had to throw that in. Most likely a lift from Steely Dan, here.

6) This last image is meant both ways - the crowd of survivors meeting the future together, and getting back out of the narrator's imagined disaster and into the real world, where we find again just a socially awkward boy who can't connect in any way with his peers. I'm not sure why, but I've always found this closing refrain to be weirdly optimistic, perhaps acknowledging that the boy has found a way to let down his guard and meet the world at least halfway.


*Maybe people are wondering here why I inflict others with my guitar playing when I think it's the weakest of my musical skills? Three reasons: 1) sitting behind the Rhodes is physically and occasionally musically isolating yourself from the rest of the band, a feeling I've always felt and is in no way what it's like to be behind a drum kit, which is frequently the center of the musical action; 2) I started to write on guitar in college to deliberately get away from the twinkly crap I came up with on piano, and guitar is my preferred writing tool to this day. It's much more pleasurable to bounce ideas around in a band context on guitar than on keys - even if my musical vocabulary is more limited on the former than the latter; and 3) I can't really sing that well while playing keys. I don't know if it's because I'm physically constricted while sitting or because the added musical complexity of my keyboard parts takes away from concentrating on my vocals, I can actually sort of sing on guitar, but on keys I sound lame, pitchy and strained.

**Both names, btw, coined by Rick. We probably would have stuck with 'Analogue' were it not for the booker at (the now defunct) Brownies, who asked us if we were the 'Analogue,' and was not just disappointed but outright pissy that we weren't.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

We're Havin' a Heatwave

Well, we were - the heat seemed to break this afternoon with a series of intermittent rainstorms that pretty much continued throughout a mid-afternoon jam I had with friends. Yesenia took advantage of it and threw the living room's french windows open and by the time I came back upstairs it was blissfully cool. Compared to earlier in the day, when me and my father worked on wiring in the attic while simultaneously showering in our own sweat. The second day in a row of that, actually. As a perfect illustration of just how much nastier it is in the attic than the rest of the house: we also worked up there yesterday, and my father stopped by this morning on his way into the city to drop off his junk clothes so that he could come straight here after work and right back to the attic.

His clothes from yesterday were still soaked through.

Honestly, the guy is sixty-seven years old. I was up in the attic for only about a third of the time he was and I thought I was going to have a stroke. If I ever needed proof that my dad is made of sterner stuff than I am, today was it.

As far as the jam: less Zeppelin than the last time (visiting bassist Emmy is planning on auditioning for all-female Zep tribute act Fem Zeppelin when she gets back to California next month, so I've burned her some songs and accommodated her by learning a few myself so that she could try playing them. As it turns out, she nailed the bass, and with Sean on drums the rhythm section sounded really good. The problem was me; since I was both playing guitar and singing and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are so far out of my range of abilities that I singlehandedly make our versions of the Zep chestnuts into inadvertent parodies.

This week, I tried to get a few more tunes in my range without the more demanding guitar parts - we threw 'No Quarter' and 'All My Love' (probably the band's most famous keyboard numbers) at the wall, and they certainly stuck better than 'Over The Hills and Far Away,' 'Good Times, Bad Times,' 'Ramble On' and 'Immigrant Song,' the four of which were last week's offerings. Frankly, I can't even count out the opening measures of 'Hills' properly, which is kind of depressing since odd time signatures and stuff are my 'thing.'

But the keyboard songs were decent. In fact, one or two more runs through the two keyboard numbers and they'd have been what I'd call 'pretty good.' We may get a chance to play once more this summer, so I hope to commit that to 'tape.' Emmy has a Zoom H2 digital all-in-one recorder, and I was pretty impressed with the sound from the one thing we did record.

If I do, I promise to put either best or the absolute worst up here. My Robert Plant impression is something else...

Anyway, I'll be posting the unfinished Weekend Listening sometime in the next day or so, and it's not that. Sorry, or you're welcome, depending on how you feel about it.


Friday, August 21, 2009

The Biggest One

The New Trailer for James Cameron's Avatar. I'd embed it, but there's no YouTube version, yet.

Anyway, I think it looks kind of cartoony, and I don't really have any anticipation for it - not really 'getting' the greatness of Cameron, whose films I've always found bloated, mean-spirited and inauthentic. This looks like it could be all three of those things. But maybe that's just me. At any rate, I'm sure I'll end up seeing it in 3D Imax, just for the experience of it. Lord knows that Imax 3D has made me love films that I would have hated under any other circumstance, so at least I'm willing to meet Cameron halfway. The man does know what to do with technology...


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Advance Warning

I'm feeling some political content creeping up on me - surprisingly, not about the current ha-ha fun that is the closing act of the decades-long public health care debate. Instead, I'm thinking odd thoughts about public funding for the arts. I will share them with you soon, provided I can tease them into a cogent order.

Cogency is not on my plate this evening, though; I've been essentially 'going' since Monday morning, and as soon as the paper went to press this week, I came home and crashed in front of the television, absorbing the underwhelming squandering of talent that is the recent film version of Get Smart. Actually, that puts me at 0-2 with recent comedies since we just rented Paul Blart, Mall Cop the other night, and I was pretty literally blown back by the pandering stink of it - the flop-sweat of crowd-pleasing moments that pissed away any hope the film had of being really good. It just had to settle for enormously successful.

Get Smart was definitely the better of the two films. Still not worth your time, but Anne Hathaway is at her peak hotness, so that's where you'll have to go and find her in later years when you want to reminisce. It could be worse: for Lea Thompson's peak hotness, you have to sit through Howard the Duck.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lump of Dave

All right - again, I have to apologize. I've been working straight since 8 AM, and I think I can't think any more, especially about thinking. This would be a good time to transcribe and annotate another old diary entry, but that takes a surprisingly long time (I'm a fast typist and a fast reader, but apparently not at the same time). So the Rambler tonight is just me scratching my virtual sack and staring off into space.