Friday, November 12, 2010

Defib 102

Holy Christing Fuck, but it's been a while, hasn't it?  I have may excuses, most of them very good, for not posting, but what it really boils down to is that being in a year-long funk robs one of the desire to write (unless you're Charles Bukowski, or something).

Thing is, as I lie here in the living room on a Friday night, with cats running up and down and everywhere, I realize that all of the writing muscle that I built up over the Rambler's peak years has turned to flab.  My chops are gone!  Math moved into my brain, worry by its side, and wit and opinion fled for the hills.

In other words, my brain did a trade-off: toss aside the things that you're good at, and maybe you'll be able to learn some new skills.  Just so long as I didn't have to face Darth Vader under a tree, it seemed like a fair trade.

But, I dunno.  I've figured out that the thing that's harder than Chinese Algebra is Korean Calculus, and it owns me like few things have before.  And I feel a little like Albert Finney in Shoot the Moon, having tossed aside familiarity and comfort for a little fling, realizing perhaps too late the idiot bargain I've made with myself.

The one thing I didn't think would happen with all of this new information crowding into my brain is that it would render me intellectually sterile, but somehow, I was smarter when I knew less.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

______, Trains & Automobiles, Part II

Continued from 9.12.10

As noted, I arrived at Pete (Parduba's) and Wowie's at around 11 PM, and the two were settled in the living room for what I imagined is their usual nighttime activity - Pete playing a really stunning online war simulator on his 350" plasma screen and Playstation 3, blowing away Afghanis and Wowie curled up next to him under an afghan.  

An aside: I've always been much more of a video game watcher than player, with the exception of driving games, which I really do love.  I still have some vestige of the hand/eye coordination and general puzzle-solving skills that a six or seven year period of my teenage years playing video games of all sorts (from the Star Wars arcade game to having my virtual mouth washed out with soap on the Apple ]['s Sherwood Forest.), so if someone hands me the controls I generally don't die and can get through a level, but I have no real stake in the things.  Their repetitive nature and hazy value is sort of lost on me.  So it's odd that I can spend hours and hours watching someone else play a video game and be perfectly entertained, but maybe it's a particular type of game, being an environmental game, that I can really just space out in.  If nothing else, it's a really good way to wind down from the road.

Part of my goal on the trip was to make the whole thing without car on my part.  In practical terms, this meant that I needed other people to shuttle my ass around for me.  I'd always intended for one leg of the trip - either down or back - to be by train.  Flipping a mental coin, I decided that would be the return trip.  The Dalto's drove me down, but since they were staying with family in Baltimore (Pete and Wowie live about fifteen minutes north), I decided also to take the train to the convention.

The convention was in Bethesda, and it turns out, there are no trains that go directly from Baltimore to Bethesda.  My plan was to take Maryland commuter rail (MARC) down to DC, then take the Metro out to Bethesda.  Great plan, except for the fact that MARC doesn't run on the weekends.  So it was going to be Amtrak from Baltimore to DC.  Pete and Wowie got me down to Baltimore Penn just in time to catch the 11:45, although it actually turned out to be just enough time to find that it was sold out, and that I had an hour to kill until the next train. 

I have to say: there are far worse places to have to kill time than a great old city main rail station.  I love the high ceilings, the tall windows, the wooden benches built for giants.  The sense of fleetness and activity, heavy machinery moving constantly by below with purpose and direction, all steam and electricity.  You can file this under the list of things people are supposed to hate that I rather perversely enjoy, such as the smell of gasoline and a trip to the dentist's for a good cleaning.

Plus: hey, free wi-fi.  I didn't end up using the wi-fi, since I couldn't be bothered to get up and ask what the password was, so I instead just used our little USB modem (what we call 'the dongle'), checked my mail, updated my Facebook with what I hoped was a facile enough status on the situation ('waiting in Baltimore for the next train.'), then dug in for an hour of Photoshop work.

My next status update was about 90 minutes later, commenting on my encounter with a DC Metro ticket machine: "the DC Metro ticket machine is the single most complicated thing I've ever seen."


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Squeaky Wheel Does Not, In Fact, Get the Grease

This semester, I'm taking Calculus.  Well, I'm trying to take Calculus.  About five classes into the semester, I realized that there was no way in hell I was going to learn anything from the teacher of the class, for various reasons - a language barrier primary among them. But I realized too late, and there's literally nothing I can do about it.  Today was the deadline to drop if I wanted even a quarter of the tuition back, it's too late to switch horses and take Physics 102 and hope for better luck with a different Calculus teacher in the Spring.

Actually, that last bit wouldn't make a bit of difference, since a somewhat lengthy phone conversation with the head of the department - who not only didn't seem to hear my concerns about the teacher in question but essentially told me to go stuff it - indicated that the same teacher would be teaching the only evening Calculus class in the Spring as well.  And, seeing as I can only take an evening class, no matter what, the only way I can take a Calculus class is with this woman teaching it.  Note that I didn't say 'the only way I can learn Calculus,' since, as stated above, learning from her will be a mathematical improbability of the highest order.

The options are limited.  No distance learning classes, only one night class offered, and the same teacher each time.  This is starting to feel vaguely like the dullest ever Douglas Adams Infocom game - Calculus! - wherein your goal of actually learning the titular discipline is constantly thwarted by bungling, cruel bureaucrats, scheduling conflicts, lack of any kind of clear direction and, presumably, a fleet of Vogon ships.

Lord knows, I could use a babel fish about now.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Where is my mind?

Good Lord, but it has become difficult of late to make a priority of the Rambler.  Seems unfair to it, as it's always and ever the one completely undemanding, pleasant and rewarding part of my life.  By definition, it's impossible to fuck it up, since I'm the one who defines the terms of its existence.  But, sheesh.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

______, Trains & Automobiles, Part I

Headcold or no headcold, I took a weekend jaunt down to Bethesda for the 2010 S(mall)P(ress)(e)X(po).  The idea was to support Kalliope Dalto, who got herself a table there and prepared a bunch of materials to sell (if she ever gets around to selling stuff online, I'll post a link, and you will buy).  The reality was that I did a better job of supporting by not being at the table.  Kalliope's entourage this trip consisted of her father Peter, brother Phoenix and boyfriend Spencer - along with a couple of friends of the family, so that anyone who approached the (small) table would have been intimidated away by the throng of homunculi milling about behind the artist.  As it turned out, more people approached and bought material when it was just Kalliope than with the gang, so the rest of us set about wandering or just sitting elsewhere.

I did one full round of the floor, bought a couple of items, felt badly about not doing more to support the artists there, then plopped myself down in a corner of the hall near an outlet and proceeded to do some Photoshop retouching.

The trip down was with the above mentioned Peter, Kalliope, Phoenix and Spencer, with Peter driving and the other three in the back seat.  The conversation was largely centered on the semantic differences in approach to film, literature and music between myself, Peter and Kalliope, with the soft-spoken Spencer chiming in now and then on the middle road, with Peter and Kalliope staking out one extreme end and myself at the other.  The main source of contention turned out to be the Easton Ellis novel Lunar Park,  which the Dalto's regard as being a novel unique in the history of letters, unparalleled in depth and feeling, and myself feeling that it was diverting but derivative and clumsy.  Probably the truth is somewhere in the middle.  It was a heated enough debate that Peter actually ignored his GPS and drove around the block to give himself extra time to deliver his final point, which is exactly what I would have done.

Where I was being dropped off was the house of another Peter, in this case Parduba and wife Wowie, who were kind enough to host me even though Wowie is seven months pregnant.  I thought that I'd crash as soon as I arrived, since I was under the weather but had still been to work all day and then taken the ride down to Baltimore - Pete and Wowie live about 20 minutes north of the city - but I managed to not fall asleep until around 2 AM.



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

While I Was Sleeping

I experienced a very odd phenomenon earlier today - one I think unique in my life.  I sat down at the piano to work out a little bit.  I haven't really played in a few months and my piano chops - we can call them that just for the sake of argument - were pretty flaccid.  But I've been trying to build back to functionality as a musician, and you've got to start somewhere.

About five or ten minutes in, I had the weirdest sensation - as if I were waking up.  And not just from a brief nap, but from a months- or years-long slumber.  A feeling like a veil being lifted.  Nothing so simple as just remembering how to play, but something deep inside was sparked that obviously had felt neglected or abandoned, and was stretching outside of its cave, blinking in the light.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Don't Mess Around Much, Anymore

Looking through old archive discs for some lyrics - not sure if it's more efficient to comb the files or just retype the damn things from scratch - and I stumbled across this oddity, the proposed homepage for a site for my dad:

There was a period when I really loved just fucking around in Photoshop.  I wonder at which point it became a tedious bore for me?


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hot Stuff

Our big activity today was preparing lunch for ourselves and my mother.  Yesenia suggested Chile Rellenos (stuffed peppers, that is), which are usually filed with ground beef or cheese.  Since Yesenia can't eat cheese and we no longer eat meat, she proposed a rice and beans filling, to which I counter-proposed seitan, if we could get our hands on any.

Yesenia said she could, at the local health food store.  She then proposed thawing out an Ancho Chile sauce she'd made a while back, and I in turn suggested a tomatillo sauce, which I would make.  It's a deal, she said (or words to that effect).

Yesenia is a great cook and is confident improvising, so she just went with her instincts and prepped the Chiles each in ceramic bowls, washed, roasted cut and stuffed.  I'm very fumbly in the kitchen and only feel comfortable with a recipe to follow if I'm trying something new.  In this case, I went with the Rick Bayless salsa verde recipe, which called for six tomatillos, some spicy chile (we went with jalapeno), cilantro and onion. Well, I thought it called for onion - the onion turned out to be optional.  The preparation was simplicity itself - husk, wash and broil the tomatillos (and the chile), cool, then puree with cilantro.  And you're done.  Yesenia drizzled the sauce on the now stuffed poblano peppers - also topped with cheese (fake in her case, fresh mozzarella for me and my mother), and threw them in the oven.

And they were goddamn perfect.  Only drawback was that the salsa verde was a little hotter than expected, so next time around, I'll take the extra time to seed the jalapeno, or try serrano peppers.  I also made my usual refried beans, learned years ago.

Definitely one I want to make again.  And while Yesenia is never quite thrilled with sharing the kitchen, I think we both enjoyed a nice Sunday cooking together.  More, please.


Driving With Sand

Took a semi-planned trip down to Point Pleasant today - I'm sure pictures from the trip will turn up on Yesenia's Facebook page at some point in the next couple of days.  The day was overcast but warm and bright, and the beach was just crowded enough to feel like summer without overdoing it.

The only shame in the trip just being the two of us was that we couldn't go into the water to play at the same time.  As it was, we each took turns, with Yesenia taking a short dip while I struggled with leveling up my math skills in advance of Calculus (next week!), and then I went in for about half an hour, where I got my ass handed to me by the surf over and over.  Really took a pounding - largely because the beach there drops of quickly and the surf breaks high and fast right at the sand.  Also because I'm a big galloot who falls down hard.

By the end of my Atlantic sojourn, I'd drifted about 50 yards down the beach from where I'd first gotten in.

Of course, I did get my Kohr Bros. mint/chocolate frozen custard, a near-perfect expression of the flavors - the mint is spot-on (if a little sweet), but the chocolate is a little too quiet.

And the rest was the usual; boardwalk, skee ball, photo booth, etc.  One sign of change: we had veggie burgers at the big food pavilion, and they were actually extremely good.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

The 7 AM Rambler

I actually just logged in to deal with the spam that's built up in my comment fields - seemingly with deep irony, since a friend who I set a site up for using WordPress had recently complained that he was starting to get a fairly overwhelming amount of comment spam, and I commented something along the lines of, 'oh, shame we switched to WP from Blogger, since I almost never get spam on the Rambler.'

Cue floodgates opening wide.

Maybe not floodgates, but after next to no spam for three years, the spam comment or two I get each day is a little disheartening.  Not because I can't deal with deleting it (although it is sort of annoying that I can only delete one comment at a time, despite the fact that the spam seems to build up on specific entries and could easily be deleted as a batch), but because I don't know whether it's going to stay the same, trickle off, or just suddenly go-a-gusher.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Spam Diaries

Although Blogger is pretty good at filtering out spam in the comments, there's been a small flurry of comments across a seemingly random selection of Ramblers.  Since the blog has been going for three years and has nearly 800 entries, it's a good thing I have it email comments to me as they come in.
Mostly, the spam comments are pretty standard - lengthy bits of non-english peppered liberally with porn links,  Every once in a while, they seem so benign that it makes me even more paranoid.  Like this one:

Amiable brief and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you on your information.
That appeared on one of my old Floyd reviews. No links, no nothing.  Just broken english and an insane grin.  I especially like being thanked on my information.
This one was a little more 'on': "You need debt elimination."  (Did include link to a site that promised to do just that).  Of course, I do need debt elimination.  How did they know?


Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Semi-Bummer Weekend

This weekend decided for itself in advance that both Yesenia and I would be in a mood.  Work related, seasonal mood affective disorder, we both got our period, you name it.  For whatever reason, we went into the weekend unenthusiastically and the weekend delivered as promised, as far as mood.

Which is odd, since a) we got a lot done around the house on Saturday, which always brings good vibes, and b) Ansley and Mariangela came over and hung out for hours, which was something I'd been looking forward to all week.

On (a): while Yesenia cleaned, mopped and vacuumed around the first floor, I gave my car the cleaning it's been needing for about two years.  I cleared out all the crap, dragged the vacuum outside and gave it the once over, shined the dash, and took the trunk cover out of the shed and put it back in for the first time in years.  I even went so far as to order new mats for it (although I drew the line at installing the new rosewood dash), meaning that it's going to look nicer than it has in about a decade.  Mats should be here end of next week, meaning I have something to look forward to.

After that, I took it to be washed at the extra-deluxe mondo cleaners, and realized that a car wash is really only about as good as the age of the paint job, so the car looked pretty much the same with the 'Ultra-Works' package as it would if I spat on it and then rubbed it down with my elbow.

Then it was a flurry of random stuff; took the deposits in and got $5 for my troubles, dragged about 200 pounds of fallen tree from the backyard curbside, blew the $5 on Carvel with chocolate dip.  The only thing I was stymied in was in trying to find a replacement power supply for my car CD player.  I realize I'm hopelessly behind the times, but we have one iPod and it's Yesenia's, and I really dig my pre-roadtrip routine of digging through the CD rack to find the albums I think I'm going to want to listen to for the trip.  Always a lot of Byrds, Patton Oswalt and David Cross, although hope springs eternal that I'll suddenly get a bug up my ass to listen to that Wilco album that I own but just sits in my spinner rack.

Yesenia then made an amazing Mediterranean dinner; hummus and babaganoush from scratch, salad with mint, etc.  Chilled bottles of Vinho Verde and the breeze out on the porch, with the music coming through the big screens.  Ansley & Mariangela then came over and we finished off the dinner, and Ansley and I had an epic heart-to-heart (more like spleen-to-spleen) and then all day today, Yesenia and I hung out on the couch with the windows open (again!) and watched hour after hour of Enterprise and then had Chinese Fooooood, and...

...actually, when the whole thing is written out like that, it sounds like a really great weekend.  Note-to-future-self: remember that this was a weekend when you were in a bad mood.  You're a weird guy, Dave.


Note: credit to Harvey Pekar for the perfect title for this one.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Stalking the WIld Derivative

Now that my father has returned from his month-long math excursion (in Poland, of all places), I'm now back on my Calculus tutoring in advance of Calculus at RCC in the fall.  At which point, I will likely need more Calculus tutoring.  The number of people who I would consider to be far more mathematically inclined than me who mentioned that they failed Calculus their first time is giving me pause.

Of course, those may have been people taking Calculus II or III, even, which is the point at which you get into proofs, which no doubt renders the whole thing just that much more difficult.  Math, as it turns out, is one of those things where you're better off not knowing the why or how, so much as the what.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Better Judgment

Back to the gym for the first time in many months, this evening, on the same day that I started my diet.  So, of course, tonight was pizza night at the gym.  Yesenia could avoid it easily, and I found myself idiotically envying her her dairy allergy.  I knew willpower was not enough for me, and only the threat of the food actually making me ill would keep me away from it.

Yes, I ate a slice.  But I didn't eat a second one, and that's got to count for something.

The goal here is to lose - oh, let's say fifteen pounds - by my birthday.  And if the gym won't play along, well... is it my fault that there's no part of 'free pizza' that I disagree with?

Sometime later this week, I'll post an official start weight, and do my best to keep track of my progress here.  Exciting, no?  If nothing else, it should make for some entertainingly terse and cranky Ramblers.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day by the River, 2010

Presented mostly without comment, a sketch of Yesenia made earlier today, during our perhaps annual outing to Haverstraw Bay Park, right along the Hudson.  She was doing a watercolor of the river, while I drew her.  Maybe someone over on the Westchester side had a pair of binoculars and was drawing me at the same time.

I've been making an effort to have the majority of the drawings in this particular sketchbook be stronger work - which means, of course, that I'm moving more slowly through the pages.  It was inaugurated with the preparatory sketch of Bettina Richmond back in March, and this drawing is only on page four, so I clearly either need to draw more or care less about quality.

This particular drawing was made with my Pitt brush pens, a set of six, with three warm grey tones and three cool grey tones.  I'm still working out how to use them, trying to see if I can get both fine detail and also soft blended textures out of a single (and here's the important bit), clean drawing tool.  Probably not - the best tool for that job will likely always be graphite.  But I can hope.


Monday, July 26, 2010

That Kind of Night

Fairly sizable pile of freelance stuff to work through over the next couple of days - after which, my schedule will be much freer.  At which point, my attentions will turn to the much overdue cleaning of the basement and general cleaning of the house.  Stand by.


Like an Arrow

The weekend moved fairly quickly, even though not much of real consequence happened.  This is a good thing, no?  Yesenia and I went up to our favorite* mexican place, Café Fiesta, way up in Highland Mills.  We've been eating there since the earliest days of our relationship, after she moved out of her dad's house and up to stay at her mom's vacant condo.  When we were first looking for places to eat nearby, I suggested it but Yesenia was doubtful, repeating that her mom had thought it was mediocre.

Her mom was wrong.  It was great, and is still great.  It's probably a good thing that we don't live closer, or I'd eat there twice a week.

As it is, it's always a nice drive and I love the whole adventure routine of piling in the car, driving out the end of the Palisades and continuing on north into the mountains, hunting for the mexican.

When we got back, we set about removing the branch that had fallen in the back yard after last Monday's big storm.  I say 'branch,' here, but it was in all truthfulness the entire top half of a tree, which took down other massive branches on its way down, embedding itself it the ground and completely covering our shed - multiple heavy branches intertwined, impossible to move.  

Out came the ax.  I chopped it off at the trunk (well, the thickest part that had impacted about a foot into the soil) and then two of the larger branches higher up.  Shirtless, sweaty and with Guess sunglasses on as safety goggles.  I'll bet I was a sight, but I'm not sure if Yesenia got a picture, so you may be spared.

Thing is, the sheer volume of tree that had come down was far too much to fit on our curb, so I now need to see if the town will take away two consecutive loads - otherwise, it's back to several hours of chopping and carting off trees.  Perhaps this time, I'll man up and rent the chainsaw.  Chopping trees in August swelter is strictly unfun.


*Well, at least it's my favorite.  But Yesenia does like it a lot.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

So far out of left field, they had to build a new park

Third film by Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame).  Not sure what I was expecting, going in - I knew most of the gist of it, the general expansions on Richard Mattheson's original story - which I'd already seen adapted on Twilight Zone, The Next Generation, or whatever it's called.  The basic setup of the original short story and the Twilight Zone version: a couple facing money problems is given a box by a mysterious stranger.  The box is small, with the only feature being a done covering a big red button on top.  If they press the button, they will be given a large sum of money and a total stranger will die.  The wife presses the button.  In the short story, the husband dies and the stranger explains that she never really knew he husband (groan).  The original adaptation ends with the mysterious stranger collecting the box and assuring the couple that it will be reprogrammed and given to someone they don't know.

Kelly's film version takes the Twilight Zone idea and runs with it.  Runs really, really, really far with it, since the button is pushed in the first half hour of the film, and all sorts of crazy - but surprisingly linear, considering the source - stuff happens after that.  Kelly has completely matured as a filmmaker, and he's probably going to have the career that M. Night Shaymalan keeps trying to lose.  Sure, The Box is full of a lot of the same goofy touches that made Donnie Darko kind of insufferable - in particular, the water imagery - and has one of the most over-the-top scores I've heard in a long time.  But the world it presents is interesting and textured (if not a 100% believable version of the 1976 when the story is set), the cosmology is tight and compelling, played out slowly and with building intensity.  Kelly manages to walk the fine line between the total obscurity of the plot in Darko and giving away so much that he spoils the spell that he's trying to weave (as in the director's cut of Darko, or so I've heard).  The film ends with many of the central questions only partly answered, and none of the answers are particularly heartening.

As a side note, this film is the most Twilight Zone-y film I think I've ever seen, right down to the morality tale aspect.

I completely get why this film failed to find an audience.  It builds with a vintage touch, paced like a 70's era slow burn, and the payoff is a small-scaled downer.  But if Kelly continues to display the gift for writing, pacing and structure that he shows here, I suspect his next film (if they give him another one, that is, as this only made $15 million at the box office on a $30 million budget) will find him putting it all together in a way that stays true to who he is as a filmmaker while actually being able to connect with a mass audience.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Politics as Usual

I think that every time Obama signs a bill into law from now on: the house lights should go down, a single spot comes up on Biden, standing alone off to one side.  He looks up and whispers sotto voce (with a single tear sliding down one cheek), 'This is a big fucking deal.'

There is a pause of several, silent seconds, then the house lights come back up and everybody gets a pen.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

All Summer in Two Days

With just a few weeks remaining in the summer, I'm doubling-down on as much freelance work as I can, before school starts in the fall.  Consequently, I haven't really been able to do much of anything 'summery,' which is a drag, but as far as drags go, having too much work as opposed to not enough is the preferable drag by far.

Over the weekend, however, I was able to squeeze in a lot of summer activity into a very short time - as houseguest/day laborer, over the course of about 30 hours, I removed all the wiring from a 60-year-old garage, along with a partial plywood ceiling (storage area above the main floor), then put in a new ceiling frame, then went biking and swimming and collecting donations for a local arts group outdoor performance of As You Like It.*  And it's a testament to how tight my life is that spending eight hours sweating in a garage with a nailgun actually felt like a vacation.

The best part of the weekend was discovering that the mystery wire that came in through the concrete floor coupled with the feedline actually went down to a forgotten fallout shelter below the garage.  The shelter itself (accessed through a very small wooden hatch behind the garage) was a pretty sketchy place; a 5' diameter piece of corrugated piping, completely in darkness, with about 6" of ground water in the bottom.  The mystery wire was there as suspected as suspected, coming into the shelter over in the corner, coiled slackly around a metal rod, with some kind of nut locking off the end, waiting to be hooked into whatever sad little light was brought down there right after the apocalypse.

Bear in mind that the space (and the wire) had been unused and untouched for almost 60 years, and that the wire was live the entire time, until I finally cut it off at the source.

Yesenia missed all this fun, opting to stay at home with bronchitis.  She's crazy.


*Longtime passengers of the Rambler may recall an earlier vacation with the same play in similar circumstances.  Something about my summer vacations always seem to end up with outdoor performances of As You Like It.  Is there something about this play in particular that lends itself to lawns at sunset?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Subway Rambler Presents: Medical Mysteries

My week?  My week was fairly ordinary, if you discount the 48-hour dual birthday party* that ate up the entire weekend.  The week of someone I love very much, on the other hand, was profoundly... I'm going to go with the word 'hardcore,' since 'Extreme' makes it sound more like it was on purpose, and likely sponsored by Mountain Dew, or Doritos.  Or Mountain Dew flavored Doritos, which actually do exist, in the face of all logic or good taste.

Anyway, pretty much almost everybody who reads this blog already knows that Karl - also in the face of all logic and good taste - was hit by a stroke Tuesday around noon.  The one thing he did display was good timing, as it happened right in the middle of a workday, while he was talking to a customer at the Apple Store in Stamford.  Which is, I have to say, about the best possible scenario you can find yourself in when the medical emergency demon comes gunning for you, short of actually already being at the hospital.  I plan to spend a lot more of my time hanging out at malls, being the hypochondriac that I am, just as a precaution.

 After a brief life-saving dalliance in Stamford, Karl was brought to Columbia-Presbyterian.  There, apparently to suffer not just the drawn-out shock of what had happened, but also everyone's attempted jokes about why it happened. (My own entry: there are easier ways to avoid having me yell at you).

As I mentioned to Karl when I visited on Wednesday night, this was my fourth official trip to this hospital. The first was my birth (which also included my circumcision, so it probably wasn't all fun and games); the second was to visit my high-school friend during his somewhat lengthy psoriasis treatments; the third was when my step-sister was being treated for melanoma, and now Karl with a decades-early stroke.  At this rate, I'm not looking forward to my next visit, you know?

I'll leave the bulk of the story for Karl to fill you in on when he returns to blogging - apparently, typing and all sorts of things like that will be therapeutic.  And, for once, so will masturbation.

Karl has found himself in the unlucky position over the last few years of being my primary artistic collaborator - so I'll confess to some selfishness when I wish him a speedy recovery.  But he has the benefit of an army of friends and loved ones wishing the same for far more altruistic reasons, so hopefully he'll forgive me my own lapse in logic and good taste.


*Not one, but TWO parties for Jim's 40th.  Long story.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Biff! Pow! Sigh!

Harvey Pekar.

There goes another one, and it's a big one, to boot.  I think at this point that Pekar needs no introduction - although he certainly deserves a rich eulogy.  Pekar, through sheer willpower, made himself one of the pivotal figures of American comics.  Without him, the explosion of prurient 'adult' comics of the late 1960's would never have matured into comics with truly adult content.  And by 'adult,' here, I don't mean tits and ass, the centerpieces of underground mainstays like Crumb, Wilson and others.  I mean deep, thoughtful and refreshingly inconclusive character studies and meditations on modern American life at the lower end of the economic ladder and the outer fringes of the culture.

It would be impossible, really, to imagine modern 'literary' comics coming to be without his example. No one gave greater proof that comics are as much a writers' medium as an artists' - perhaps even more so, because a poorly drawn comic that's well-written is infinitely more compelling than a well-drawn one that's poorly written - and art comics in the age of the auteur offer example after example of pretty, stylish things without a thought in their head.  Crumb himself was never better than when paired with Pekar, and I grateful for the work that they did together, however slim the volume.

There was so much to the man and his body of work that it would take days to sit down and just give a general outline.  He was as strong a critic and essayist as he was a storyteller, and the breadth of his knowledge (like that of many autodidacts) was impressive to behold.

That's also the death of a small dream of mine, to have one day illustrated a Pekar story - and given his fealty to young and ambitious cartoonists, not such an outrageous one.

I can honestly say that Pekar is a large an influence on me as any of the other, perhaps more obvious examples (Dave Sim comes to mind, I'll bet).  But while drawing pretty pictures and even the more subtle skill of visual storytelling are disciplines that can be mastered with enough patience, the human soul, insight, wit and grace that Pekar gave to his perfectly-observed and structured stories is something that can't be learned, only earned.

It's sort of interesting to view a film that Pekar-portrayer Paul Giamatti made after he starred in the (really stellar) adaptation of American Splendor - Cold Souls where Giamatti - playing himself - trades his soul in for that of a Russian factory worker so that he can bring truth to his portrayal of Uncle Vanya.  Of course, the film draws the same conclusion - you can't just borrow soul.  It's the one thing as an artist that you've either got or you don't, and Pekar had a lifetimes worth, and more.

Man, I'm going to miss him.


The web is full of eulogies to the man today, and you probably won't do better than the one over at the Zeitgeisty Report, which also features a great interview.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Things Fix Themselves, Sometimes

Nothing major, of course, but I find it promising that the Blogger search function in the bar at the top of the screen is now working again.  Meaning that you (or, more likely, me) can search the entire Rambler archives for a particular entry/entries.  Even if you don't use it, it still benefits you, since I use it to review previous entries on a particular topic so that I don't repeat myself when I revisit it.

Oddly, the search widget in the sidebar still doesn't function, so I'm removing it.  Hopefully, that won't make the top one cease to function.  It seems highly unlikely, but is it really any less likely than one working all of a sudden after failing to work for weeks while the other still doesn't work?  Ah, Google.

However, me big impressed by the new Blogger Template Editor Function, with a whole host of really nice templates and a seriously flexible set of variables.  So I'm dropping in a new tweaked template to replace the eyesore that I adopted when I first went with the CNAME version of the Rambler.  And I'm glad to see that the changeover is really starting to pay off - it was a hassle, but there turn out to be a number of plusses and the minuses (such as the non-functioning search widget) are slowly diminishing.

I've also taken the opportunity to move the Followers tab down to the bottom of the page.  This is not me discouraging you from following - merely an acknowledgement that no-one has signed on since I added it back in April, and it's sort of embarrassing to have it sitting there in plain sight as a reminder.

I think I'll take this as a sign/opportunity to add back in the tag function, for things like the Floyd reviews, Your Weekend Listening and Vomit Comics.  You're welcome.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Stretch Legstrong

In an ideal world, that title would be an announcement that I'd gotten myself back to the gym, or something, but - no, it's the middle of summer and my exercise regime consists of moving the lawnmower in and out of my car.  As it stands, I'm not in any better or worse shape than usual, but somehow when I'm working full time, I become hyperaware of how sedentary the life of a graphic designer is.  Until Wacom makes a treadmill interface for Photoshop, it looks like I'll have to take the extra effort to get my ass to the gym and then promptly work it.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Across The Tappan Sea

I haven't spoken much about the band with no name recently, partly because of my long-standing 'Don't Blog About PCMA' superstition but mostly because there hasn't really been anything to blog about.  It's a band full of busy men with shifting lives, and sometimes those lives shift right out of the picture frame for several weeks at a time.

Or sometimes altogether and permanently, as with the case of our singer Christine, who found working in a band (or at least this band) was just not to her taste, and gracefully bowed out back in March thereabouts.

Her departure solved one outstanding problem, being that the band with no name suddenly found itself with a name - Christine being the lone holdout against The Tappan Sea, fearing that it would be confused for the crumbling bridge.  She's right, but the remaining members still liked it and we adopted it immediately upon her retirement - maybe not so much a reflection of the genius of the name than the fact that it was the only name that the rest of us had ever agreed on in the four years of our existence, and we were plumb tired of being 'the band with no name.'

I've always been fairly easygoing about names.  Given that almost any band name is pretty stupid until the band starts to invest it with iconic meaning, my only requirements are that it not be too leading, not be a pun, and not be too topical.

Beyond that, go for it.

I've also used as a warning sign Ansley; a firm believer in the power of finding a perfect name who obsessively searches for, passionately embraces and then disgustedly rejects names cyclically.  Ansley is in general much more of a romantic than I am - he carries with him the scarred cynicism of the eternally faithful.  It's a gift I envy.  I lack the faith that there is a perfect name, perfect mate, perfect chair, perfect shadows cast upon a cavern wall in flickering candle light.

I guess I lack faith in the concept of perfection, which is one reason why a popular debate between myself, Ansley and Bran is on the possibility of the objectively 'good' in art.  I obviously don't believe it exists - you like what you like, and even the stuff that you might regard as being entirely without value is beloved - or at the very least deeply beliked - by somebody.  Ansley and Bran maintain that there are empirical criteria by which art can be labelled good or bad.  You can imagine the fun when they launch into an assault on the validity of Susan Boyle, which they have to attack on principle and I have to defend on principle.  The punchline is, of course, that there never was an artist that we all couldn't have cared less about.  The argument is the thing.

Anyway, having chosen our not-perfect-but-close-enough name, we stagnated for a few months while real life moved us around.  We are now blessed with a period of relative calm, so we've finally started the tiny little ball rolling on finding a singer to replace Christine.  We don't have much to offer beyond good songs and a creative atmosphere.

Oh, yes - and a name.  One lesson learned in the wake of Christine is to choose the name before a new member arrives.  It will save a lot of trouble.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

It Thinks it Can

Yesenia had to get up at 4:30 this morning, to be out of the house by five, to be at the office by 7:15.  Then she didn't get home until after 7 PM.  In spite of all of this, she seemed to be in a pretty good mood, but was pretty beat down by the heat.  So I suggested that we head off to Lowe's after dinner to pick up an air conditioner for the bedroom.  Neither she or I really liking sleeping in AC, but she couldn't sleep much last night and I'm sure tonight would be worse.

Picked up a very small Frigidaire that's supposed to work for rooms about 150 square feet (our bedroom is probably closer to 200), and with it on high, it's managing to make the room comfortable, if not chilly.  Which is exactly what I like air conditioning for.

Why so small?  Well, apart from being pretty damn cheap ($99), we figured that when the heatwave passes, we'll have no use for it, but when we have guests it would be good to offer them the option of not sweltering for the night - and the guest room actually is about 150 square feet, so there you are.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rant's a Brewin'

Over the last few weeks, I've annoyed everyone I know with the basic outlines of a pretty major position paper that I've been unconsciously composing for the better part of the last two years.  The basic gist: my observations on Apple and Google, their business practices and their approach to the new media age - and how it's pretty much the most important thing going on right now in terms of the future of art and entertainment - and the audience for them.

In other words: all those stories about Avatar representing the wave of the future?  Maybe, but that's a mere niche (and who thinks that the current raft of HD-TVs with glasses-required 3D is going to last more than a few months?).  The real story is in the answer to the two following questions, and how the folks in Cupertino and Mountain View answer them:

1) Is art information?
2) Is information free?


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pad of I

Turns out Fiona is now also the proud owner of an iPad, courtesy of Bubba for her birthday. This is, in fact, what I am Rambling on at this very moment. Not what I would consider a typists' dream - if you type at any speed at all, chances are you do so by touch, and the iPad eliminates that entirely. Instead, they bring in the word-completion feature from the iPhone, which isn't all that useful if you're used to using your thumbs as part of your method.

Back to hunt and peck, and given the lack of any tactile response, it's doubtful that typing on the iPad could ever be as accurate or as fast as a traditional keyboard. For all I know, this may be part of Apple's master plan to wean people off of using keyboards altogether. Given how generally unpleasant it is to type on one of the newer iMac keyboards, I'm thinking that typing as a computer interface is the next bit of basic hardware that Steve Jobs has on the chopping block.

I think what's going on is that Apple is nearing the completion of the move from the most powerful machine for creative professionals to vanguard of the media delivery device era - and I'm still lagging behind in category 1. This entry is a perfect example - between accidentally triggering the number keypad, brushing the spacebar with my thumb, and backing up to replace what the iPad thought I meant to type with what I actually meant to, it took me roughly three times as long to make this Rambler as usual.

The clear argument is that this is not the device for this activity. And I'd have to agree. But of what real use is a lifestyle device that only encourages passive participation? Unless there's some major advancements in speech (or handwriting, in a pinch) recognition, the iPad has no more real creative potential than a really boss Wonderful Waterfull.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

False Alarm

Turns out that all that yelping and squealing coming from the cage all night was a raccoon.  Which doesn't necessarily mean we haven't caught the nighttime pooper.  I just assumed that because Wally was the one under the shed, he was the maker of the movements.  But if it's the raccoon, well, the raccoon is now gone and the trap has been reset.

Next up: a skunk, no doubt.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

En la Noche

We've had a groundhog/woodchuck/hedgehog thing living under the shed in the back yard for the last couple of years, and although I can't say I've ben happy it's been there (it ate pretty much all of our flower and vegetable garden back in 2008), I've generally just let it be, which is pretty much my policy with all animals.  Until they cross a line.  As with the squirrels that took up residency in the roof over our bedroom back in December and therefore signed their own eviction notice, the furry little fucker in the backyard has also apparently (and unwittingly) decided that he no longer wants to be our guest.

So what did the groundhog (henceforth known as Wally) do that finally made me decide that he had to go?  He started to use the area near the shed as his own personal bathroom.  Over the course of the Spring, he gradually turned a four-foot long crevice in the back yard into a canyon of shit.  Literally packed with soggy, seed-filled shit.  One of the most annoying and nauseating things I've ever had to deal with, and it made me slightly crazy.  To the point where, on a day where my temper had already been completely frayed by the sudden, explosive death of my not-that-old lawnmower (which made my tight schedule much, much tighter when I had to drive across the county to pick up my dad's mower) right after I spent ten minutes shoveling out groundhog shit in preparation for mowing - and, well, as I pulled back into the driveway, there was Wally just sitting in the side yard, and I gunned the engine, fully prepared to run down the hairy little shit machine.

Thankfully, I came to my senses (mental and moral) right away and slammed on the brakes at the end of the driveway.  But the incident made it crystal clear to me that Wally needed to be humanely removed by trained professionals, because I had become Carl Spackler from Caddyshack, and my next step was going to be Semtex.

So the Bug Runner - the same group that dealt with my squirrels - came by this morning with a trap, baited with whatever it is you would bait a trap for a groundhog, and suggested that Wally would get in there in the next day or so.  Good for Wally, and good for me.

At around 10 PM, I heard what I at first took to be the mewing of our new kittens, but then I realized that they were calmly asleep in the bedroom, and the sound wasn't so much of a mewling as a loud, panicked shrieking, and it was only quieter because it was coming from the back yard.  And it just kept on and on and on.  If it is Wally in the trap, he's not in pain (thank God), but he's sure not happy about it.

But I sure am.  Wally's going to get picked up tomorrow and taken to be released in style, up in Harriman Park.  Allow me the small (unbelievably small, petty to a nearly quantum degree) pleasure of listening to Wally sing his song of impotent fury for one night before retiring to do his shitting elsewhere.


Thursday, June 17, 2010


A call to our former (and presumably, future) vet paid off, in that they a) have many cats and kittens to adopt, and b) have no position on whether they go outside or not, provided they get their leukemia vaccination.  You may be wondering why we didn't call the vet in the first place - well, we did, a few weeks back, but they were fresh out at that point.

But that's all in the past, and now is the future of the cats.  We'll be heading over Saturday morning to (literally) get our pick of the litter.  Fans of cute things should watch this space, because pictures will be posted.  Don't worry, I'll have them sign a release.


Sleepless in the Saddle

For some reason, this week has been a succession of nights with less than four hours of sleep each.  Begins to wear you down, after a couple of nights.  One night was working late on a freelance web job.  One night was a lower back spasm.  One night was just plain anxiety.

Tonight, I actually managed to get into bed earlier than I'd feared, and as soon as I wrap the Rambler, I'm going to try to get to sleep.  Note that I say 'try,' since I'm one of those unfortunate people who doesn't easily slide into slumber. In fact, the more bone-tired I am, the more difficult it can be for me to easily sleep.

Both of my parents are lousy sleepers, so that's where that comes from.  Not an inherited trait I would have requested if genetics were one of those grill places where you pick your own ingredients and then hand it over to the cook, but you get what you get and you have to make the most of it.

My computer says it's 12:59 AM, which seems like it's trying to tell me to call it a night.  Thankfully, it's just started to rain, and that's definitely prime sleeping conditions.  See youse in 24.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Three Minutes to Midnight

Just doing some last minute downloading before I sack it for the night - so, since I've been thinking about returning the Rambler to the days of more frequent posting, this seems like an ideal opportunity to start back in with the strategy that used to be the site's bread and butter.  To wit: just start typing and hope that something comes out the other side.

The big thing going on in my life right now is just having a lot going on.  I've literally been going since 7:30 this morning, and haven't had more than an hour of what you would consider 'down time' in there.  And this is a good thing, yes?  In recent years, I've had too much work and I've had not enough work, and too much work absolutely is preferable.

One thing about this is that I suddenly recognize a strong need for organization.  I've always been pretty good at keeping things going in my head, but with the sheer amount of disparate work coming in from all angles, I owe it to myself and my clients to start keeping a database of some sort so that I can best keep track of the progress of each job.  It seems like such a simple thing (and I've kept The Tappan Sea doing that with the recording progress), but for me it's a pretty big realization that tools of that sort are there to help.

Oddly, it has a lot in common with the realization back in February/March that I could add tools like tracing vellum and computers to my process in the two math portraits and it would only improve the work - that it wasn't about challenging myself to meet some ideal, it was about what's best for the work and how to take the pressure of little things off the mind so that I can better focus my energies where they need to be.

Gah - this is starting to sound like some kind of weird self-help Rambler, isn't it?  How awful.  I'll pack it full of scatology next time...


Sunday, June 13, 2010


Yesenia and I drove down to the middle of New Jersey today to attend a pet-adoption superfair at a mall somewhere down there.  Don't ask me for an exact town - it's late and I've been coding for hours and mid-Jersey is essentially a complete gray void full of malls and jughandles, to me.

Anyway, this was all part of our decision to get a new cat (preferably two).  We're still surprisingly sad over Kiko, but we also know we'd like to have a furry pain in the ass running around the house, again.

There were dozens of cats there today, any of which I would have loved to have adopted.  But the new thing is that adoption agencies are opposed to having the cats in their care be adopted to homes where they will be allowed outdoors.  And both Yesenia and I simply feel that the cat should do what the cat wants to do.  And we can't in good conscience just lie to these agencies when we adopt, so we've reached a catless impasse.

Thing is this.  While I appreciate that cats statistically live longer, healthier lives if they are never let outdoors (easily half of the Kopperman family cats over the years have met early retirement due to safari misadventure), well, people could live longer, healthier lives if they, too, stayed inside 24/7.

Cats are predators, they are explorers, they are a part of the world.  If they find a threshold they can't pass, that door becomes the center of their being.  Those first warm days of Spring, when the snow was finally off the ground and the concrete was soaked in the sun; when Kiko would run outside, down the steps, and drop and roll over and over, scraping and warming and living. The exquisite joy that she radiated on those days is nothing I've ever seen an indoor cat display.

The choice the adoption agencies are mandating reflects who we are as a society, now: a longer, sadder, shadowed life at all costs is now preferable to a shorter, happier and sunlit one.

I don't have it in me to deny a cat the simple freedom of this choice.  Neither does Yesenia.  Maybe we're behind the times.  But I don't want to have the only day our cat goes outside to be the day we carry them out, lifeless and unseeing, to finally bury them near the rose bush by the side of the house.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Some Kind of First

A drawing done with Karl's new iPad.  This was the free drawing app, formatted for the iPhone, so nothing spectacular.  And until there's a pressure sensitive stylus and program to match, it won't really be much use as an artist's field tool (really, how many adult artists do you know that use their finger as their primary drawing tool?  Still, fun.


Friday, June 4, 2010


I suddenly find myself on a huge Monty Python kick, although it's an odd kick in that I haven't watched any of the shows or movies yet.  But I'm dying to, for some reason.  It's probably been about twenty years since I really saw the series, and easily as long since I've seen both Life of Brian and Meaning of Life.  Holy Grail is the only thing I don't feel an overwhelming need to watch, because like most nerds of my generation, I just ran that one into the ground in my teens - seriously, probably as many viewings of that as of Star Wars for me, back in the day.

So I guess it would be more accurate to say I'm on the verge of a huge Python kick, which is a strange thing to say, but what the hell.

It's not even that big retrospective from Bravo that aired a few months back that did it, since I didn't even see that (although I'd very much like to - note to self: Blockbuster Queue). It's more my habit of grabbing a book off the shelves of my library at random - whatever looks like it would pass for good 'me time' reading.  If you get my euphemism.  And this week's edition is that giant Python book that came out about a decade ago - sort of their version of the Beatles Anthology book, same quotes and format and overdesign and everything.

And reading it made me remember why I loved Python so much in the first place, and probably why wimpy nerds like me all were drawn to them: the Pythons were - to a man - brilliant.  I don't mean in just the comedic sense, which they obviously were.  I mean in the sense that they were all smart, articulate, highly-educated men who would have been successful in any field they chose. In this book, they operate in that rarefied air of people who can explain what it is that they're doing and not in any way ruin your enjoyment of it - sort of like the Penn & Teller of comedy, I guess.

Certainly, there's no shortage of comedians who like to pick apart and cerebralize what they do - it's practically a genre unto itself, comedians talking comedy (witness the vast number who appeared in The Aristocrats).  But mostly they just come off as wonks talking shop.  Which can be entertaining and even enlightening, but never transcendent.  Python did something so unique and (apparently) unrepeatable that reading about the process and personalities becomes a part of it, much like the story of the Beatles is very much a part of what the Beatles were about.

No doubt my viewing and appreciation of Dr. Parnassus fed into this revival of interest for me, and I'll therefore be adding Gilliam's ages of man trilogy to the pile to watch - like an after diner mint. Although I really couldn't eat another bite.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Stocking the Pride Songbook

Sitting in a microbrewery in Old San Juan last night (long story, I'll get to it), and after the band finished their set, a group of drunken patrons gathered around the piano and began to sing familiar songs while their friend - a pretty facile player - accompanied them.

They started out with a Spanish-language version of Hey Jude.  Yesenia turned to me and said (slightly drunkenly), "Baby, you should show them how it's done!"  Which was pretty much what I'd already been thinking, but then it occurred to me that the pack of piano songs I carry around in my head really aren't ideal for public singalongs.  Sure, I can play through all of Shine On, You Crazy Diamond by heart if you have twenty minutes to kill, but, let's face it - ARP solos and blues guitar riffing lose something in translation to solo piano.

Also, the guy currently playing was better than me, so if I were to sit down and play, I'd better bring the material to mask my shortcomings.  More artists have built their success on such a dodge, so I'd be in good company.

The piano songs I do carry around with me aren't much more worthy as crowd pleasers.  The minute I lay down the first 16 bars of Miami 2017 is pretty much the point at which I expect the room to be empty.

So the solution would seem to be either a) commit to memory songs that people actually want to hear, or b) put my ego away and dismiss such thoughts as the silly things they are.  Obviously, I'm too emotionally stunted for 'b,' so it falls to me to select a few songs and then learn how to play them.

I reached that conclusion sitting at the bar, nursing our sampler round, but I just couldn't think of what songs those would be, and no-one else could, either.  Yesenia's friend Anthony, staying on the Billy Joel tip, suggested You May Be Right, but I pointed out that he may be crazy, since the song is mostly a guitar driven new wave pastiche, right from the opening riff.

So let's consider this Rambler a call for song suggestions. And it may be your own sanity you save, since chances are good you'll be at a public place with me, a piano and some alcohol at some point in the future, so you'd better pick wisely.  Consider this the jukebox of the misty future, and put your virtual quarters in now.  Songs should be well known, catchy, with piano prominently featured (or an adaptable guitar arrangement), and it wouldn't hurt if there were a nice little tinkly bit so I can show off my mad skills.  Or lack thereof.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Return to Form

Here's a director I'd pretty much given up on - Terry Gilliam.  I admittedly haven't seen Tideland, but he's worked so sporadically in the last twenty years, and the only film I had seen - The Brothers Grimm - was a disappointing misfire, muddled and small, like an episode of Shelly Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre that never quite ended.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, while certainly not quite possessing the otherworldly feel of his near-perfect 80's trilogy of Time Bandits, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, does manage to get at something of what made Gilliam great in the first place.  That feeling of slipping, multilayered reality; the curious moral choices; the buffeting by larger forces; all done so well, here.  I'm still on the fence as to whether or not he's adapted to CGI well - seeing as how his in-camera aesthetic was what made his original films so unique - but the worlds envisioned are so wonderful that I may have to just give in.  Plus, they did some extensive model-work for some very brief shots, which was probably a far more expensive way to go about it, so, call me mollified.

The script is nicely oblique, leaving out chunks of exposition in favor of dream-like logic.  It's probably going to alienate some, but I like a film that just jumps ahead and hopes that you're adept enough to fill in the blanks.

Plus, the cast: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, Jude Law & Colin Farrell all deliver the goods, and Lily Cole was surprisingly good.

Let's call that an 8 out of 10, all right?  Maybe I'm just feeling generous since it exceeded my diminished expectations, and it was preceded on our DVD player by It's Complicated, but I did like it quite a bit.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Seven Minutes in Rockland

I have to get rolling by 11 am or so - seven minutes from now - to get ready for a dental appointment at 12: 30.  A normal human being wouldn't need ninety minutes to get to an appointment only fifteen minutes away, but I'm very slow at these things and I've been conditioning myself to add more lead time to appointments, lest I now always be 5-10 minutes late.  Which is the norm.

First nice day since the weekend, so today became a towel-washing day.  You might think I waited because our dryer is broken.  You'd be mostly wrong - we've predominantly used the clothesline during the summer for most of our married life, and I normally wait for a nice day to do laundry anyway.  No doubt, the string of non-drying weather might have made me reconsider if the dryer were an option, but, frankly, those clothesline towels dry fast and are the absolute in water-absorption when used.

The big thing that I need to do to get the backyard fully functional is to strip back all of the branches overhanging the yard.  I went up last summer with one of those extended cutters and was able to get most of the lower branches - particularly the ones over the roof.  But the device is a huge pain in the ass and not remotely designed for use one-handed on a ladder while leaning back to the right at a weird angle.  So a couple of the main culprits hung tantalizingly out of reach, and now they're too thick to get at with anything other than a saw.

Trees along the rear property line grow fast.  I've heard it's because there's an underground stream running there, but whatever the case, saplings left alone for even a season are already full-on trees and difficult to deal with.  Things that had been mere twigs last year now were over twenty feet tall, casting major shade. I spent a couple of hours over the last couple of weeks axing down all of the smaller trees, and they now rest in my driveway, awaiting sectioning and a trip to the landfill.

I had planned to chainsaw them up, and even reserved a rental, but thought better of it.  A chainsaw is not something you use for the first time without any instruction or supervision.  So even thought it's going to take me about ten times as long, I'm going to get rid of them the old-fashioned way: glaring at them and wishing them into the cornfield.

Nope.  Guess it's the handsaw and sore elbows.  Tomorrow.

For the record, the above took about 20 minutes.  Off to the shower, now.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The First Day of the Rest of the Week

We've reached another point where everything that had previously occupied my time has come to a close.  This is good, and bad (maybe), but mostly good.  It seems like the arc of change that began with Kiko's death back in December has drawn to a close, with all former players off the stage and a new troupe off in the wings rehearsing their lines.

I'm reflective about this.  I can't pretend to be feeling no sadness and a shade of worry, but the future looks far brighter at this point than I'd hoped and it's not the brightness of blind faith.  It's the shine of something genuinely better.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Epistolary Appendix 1995 (Repost)

Note: This was originally posted on 5/11/08, and reappears here unedited.  Not because I thought the original post was so great, but because the original post became spam central in the comments section, and a small handful of them simply couldn't be deleted.  Presumably, they were the reason why the post still receives spam comments on a weekly basis a good two years after the original posting.  Those of you who have already read this, apologies for the reposting, but it was the only thing I could think of to do, in the end.
I've also included the original comments section (minus the spam), although now as part of the post.
As part of the gradual archival of the various music projects I've been involved with over the years, I want to include memories and opinions of those who shared that particular part of the journey with me. It's even more interesting to me if these run counter to my own. And the real gold will be if people just come out and call me an idiot or an asshole - heck, a guy can dream!

As if to illustrate this, Ansley Lancourt posted responses to Friday's listening entry, which spurred a much deeper and fuller reflection from me over the weekend. A little context - Ansley and his brother Bran were (as mentioned on Friday and occasionally at other points during this past year's Ramblers) a guiding force for me in the development of both musical and songwriting ability. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that it was their influence at an impressionable age that steered me into music in the first place. I know that I'm something of a closed system, and am mostly autodidactic in my approach to learning a skill, but at the core of most of my musical knowledge is a Lancourt seed.

During the period discussed, their band (Johnny Bravo) were signed first to Madonna's Maverick records, and then switching over to Arista records with their producer/benefactor Ric Ocaseck. The record was called Then Again, Maybe I Won't, and perhaps Ansley will be so kind to write a full history of Johnny Bravo at his site so I don't have to - especially wise, since there was very little of it (the tour with Kiss and opening for Soul Asylum and the Conan appearance and radio promotion and all) that I was direct witness to.

Anyhow, here's what Ansley wrote in response to the entry, for those who don't want to wade into Friday's comments section:

"I remember the discussions about how any song that uses a major 7th chord heavily in it could never be a hit.. ha..


but, at the time it was true..

but in the end our argument proved to be extremely myopic..."

Note to other readers: since my response was originally intended as a brief post in the comments section, it's addressed to Ansley. But then it ballooned to encompass a much broader topic, so I think it's good for a general audience

I don't think your argument was myopic at all. You were focused on having a career in music here and now - or, rather, there and then, ‘then’ being the mid-90's. Not only was your argument based on cold, hard reason (even if it was usually delivered in the patented Lancourt mix of overwhelming exasperation and enthusiasm), it had a strong element of long-term strategy at its core. You weren’t intending to ‘sell-out’ – a term that many view as pejorative but is to me merely a statement of intent – on a permanent basis. You proposed that by getting your foot in the door with a successful record that the record company, media outlets and audiences would be open to a more personal (read: ‘artistic’) vision the second time around. That seemed, and seems, pretty sensible to me.

A lot of the arguments and theories that you disseminated through the ranks - not just to me, but Tammy and Erik and anyone else that you had late-night conversations with - were simply based on the premise that people who weren't at least attempting to find a way to get radio play in the music climate at the time were doing so at the peril of their own continuing poverty and obscurity.

Thing is, I agreed with both sides of the argument. I think that you were right that a music career is a career, so what was the point of making music that no audience would hear, simply because the guardians of the limited media avenues available in those days would generally only play what was safe and popular? But the counter-argument was that music that by design is meant to appeal to popular trends is generally too generic for its own good, and even a popular hit could disappear into obscurity – whereas music made according to a unique and distinct voice could (with a lot of luck, true) make itself heard above the crowd and have greater staying power.

Erik wrapped up all of his counter-arguments against the strategic pursuit of commerciality in music with the hilariously dismissive quip, “Quest! For the Single!” - intoned in the narrative voice-of-doom from many a 1950’s B-movie. Which, now that I bring it up, is a great name for a band…

Of course, Erik indulged his unconventionality to a perverse degree, often dismissing brilliant, heartfelt pop songs that he wrote in favor of meandering studio constructions with deliberately obscure lyrics that lacked any emotional jumping-on point for the listener. I could never be sure if he did this in a canny way to attract a small but loyal following, or if it was just for the sake of it.

And for me, it was easy to sit and listen, in my usual capacity as a bystander. While mostly everyone else in the circle (that I was only tangentially a part of) was determined to become a rock star – the mind-set that’s probably necessary to keep the energy up in the first stage of building a music career – I would have to admit to eternal dilettante status.

I very much like the formal play involved in music, and I like the dedication involved in developing a craft, and I enjoy brainstorming theories about what it all means and all that (as this conversation shows). But you can tell just by the language I use to discuss it that these are the equivalent of parlor room diversions for me – or, rather, basement playing, which was the 1995 equivalent of the parlor game for musicians. I never wanted to be a rock star. I could never even be sure that I wanted to leave that basement in the first place, and the succeeding years have borne that out.

Of course, history is the judge of everything. If I define ‘history’ as ‘my opinion now,’ Tammy’s work - which I’d argue hewed most closely to your music philosophy - is catchy but instantly disposable. Your own Then Again, Maybe I Won’t drummed out all of the subtleties (yes, like major seventh chords!) in your music and lyrics, which – as it turns out – was probably an underestimation of the sophistication of the listening audience. My recordings were – as shown on Friday - laughably amateurish, with me lacking the skills necessary to polish any of the few good ideas into anything anyone would want to hear, but also failing to recognize that, much like giving Hitler a shave and a Toni Wave, rectifying my lack of studio polish would do nothing to correct my core issues.* Lizard Music’sDear Champ… is so singularly a product of Erik’s internal vision that I suspect the only way to enjoy it fully is to be Erik – and I say that as both a fan of the man and a then member of his band.

What do I think has held up?

Lobster T, Lizard Music’s first EP, home recorded and engineered and showing an almost perfect balance between Erik’s pop-surrealist tendencies and chief foil Mike Jorgensen’s streamlined studio work and genetically inbred college jingle-jangle/drone… not to dismiss the presence of Chris and Craig – early Lizard Music was a fucking great band. Aggravating to me that it’s been relegated to a footnote in all of their musical careers. Lizard Music isn’t even on Mike’s Wikipedia page!

- The untold hours of recordings you did at Kevin’s immediately before and after Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, with endless great, great songs of charm and character and melody and you name it. The Lancourts that recorded something as winning as “The Christmas Monster” while balancing it with powerful emotional songs like “Don’t Say it’s not the End of the World” were the band I’ve always been the biggest fan of. It was probably the only time in your entire involvement with music that you weren’t engaged in the Quest! For the Single!, and I bet you look back at it as well as the best music you’ve ever made – and probably as the happiest you ever were during your twenty years in the game.

At the time, your focus on what would make you and your music a commercial success was exactly correct to achieve that goal. At no point should you second-guess yourself on that. You got quite far on that scale, and should be proud of what you did accomplish.

I guess what I’m saying is that pursuit of something that will supposedly make you happy is only sensible until you’ve become too unhappy in the process of pursuing it. At which point you have to separate the thing you love – making music – from the thing that made you unhappy – selling music.

Curiously, in the long-term derby between you and Erik, it ultimately was Erik who ‘sold-out’ (again, not a pejorative), by following the career path of sideman (currently with Cat Power, for those not familiar with the dramatis personae). But I have a hard time picturing you giving up the right to use whatever musical project that you’re currently involved in as a laboratory to experiment with your current theory on what will grab the attention of an audience.

You’re not cut out to be a sideman, and you should wear that with pride – because true art is following your own vision, regardless of if that vision is to find a way to make platinum-selling records.


*Not to say I have no ego regarding my music – I definitely submit my lyrics as the best among the extended circle. Let’s argue that one for a while!

bran said...
I totally don't want to take credit for anyone getting involved with music on any level!!...

Still, I always enjoyed everything you ever did - with a few exceptions.. It's funny, I was listening to Terrapin Station the other day, and ironically for someone who's always disliked the Grateful Dead, one of your songs, I think it's called 'We want too much?' sounds very similar to a section of the main Terrapin theme.. When I heard this, I thought a couple of things 

A) It could be Craig's influence as he drummed on it, and was a Dead lover and B) No matter what we liked or disliked, we still LISTENED to everything.. and WHY did we listen to everything? Because we were constantly showing eachother shit, and learning from eachother... When I thought about that, it made me realize that that was by far the best part of my whole musical life.. being able to share all those hours, and ideas, and enthusiasm, with others, and mostly with YOU and of course ans.. At this point, with the recording industry in ruins, I like to think we broke even...

bran said...
I was always a Dave fan!

Curiously, We Want Too Much came to mind pretty much unbidden the other day, as I was driving across the TZ. 

I'm not sure if it was Craig's influence, but that's a not bad theory for why and how the feel ended up as it did. The riff as written didn't exactly swing, but Craig was able to find a cool New Orleans shuffle feel that made it work. Or maybe he was just 'doing' Bonzo from Fool in the Rain.

So, yeah, the Dead feel was probably him, since I've never been a Dead fan and have only listened to Terrapin a handful of times (although it is an enjoyable listen). 

For my influence, I'd guess Genesis. In fact, even though I was more into the Gabriel era stuff, I can see a direct line from Keep it Dark to We Want Too Much - both in 3/4-6/4 and based around a repeated figure. Which makes the final recording an interesting blend of influences.

I'd have to say, of anyone over the years, you have been the most likely to specifically point out something that I did that you liked - and even more impressively, do so by name and cite a specific reason, sometimes months - or, in this case, years - after the original work had been sealed in the time capsule.

In this life, where people rarely even offer a shrug when you force stuff right in their face, it's a good feeling to know that someone actually listened! Thanks.
I meant to say '3/2-6/4 time.' That's what made it somewhat unique.


bran said...
Like I said, I was always a fan of your stuff..

Interesting side note about 'We want too much'.. It has a rare guitar solo by me on it.. Unfortunately, it probably could have been pulled off better by someone else - still it was fun to do!
Yes - that's actually the part I was specifically reflecting on the other night. I was saving that for mention when We Want Too Much is up for the Weekend Listening. Let a girl keep some of her secrets...


Ansley said...
I wouldnt argue against you being the best lyricist on the whole.. I wrote some good ones when I wasnt trying.. but after a while I just didnt have anything to say and tried to keep it simple to the nth degree.. 

You actually write lyrics about things you feel so in that sense you are probably the best of the bunch... 

Like Bran said, I've always been a Dave fan.. 

post more songs from your first two albums!

I cant add anything to your post, you pretty much said it all perfectly..

The drawback to the 'give a shit' method of writing lyrics is that it becomes incredibly difficult to write about anything when you've got nothing to cheer/complain about. An emotional no-fly zone is a hard place to write about, Watching The Wheels Go 'Round aside.

I think I've finally managed to get through that barrier on the current in-progress album (with the band with no name that goes by the provisional sobriquets "DeSk" or "P.C.M.A.") - and the 'discipline' of maintaining the Rambler has been useful in that. But even now, my best lyrics are the ones that resulted from me dredging something unpleasant up and poking at it to listen to it rhyme.


Ansley said...
Yesh, thats been exactly my problem lyric-wise for the last 11 years... and also am hypercritical of my lyrics to the point where Im frozen.. I find every word I come up with completely cliched and hackneyed.. 

" becomes incredibly difficult to write about anything when you've got nothing to cheer/complain about. An emotional no-fly zone is a hard place to write about"

Speaking of clichés, a good sign that you're on the right (write?) track is if you find yourself crying because of something you wrote. Smiling and nodding comes in a close second.


Ansley said...
I don't think I've EVER had that experience..

Oh, I'll give you something to cry about...

...well, not really...