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.