Friday, September 28, 2007

Sidewaddle

I'll be waddling through the Sidewalk Film Festival this weekend. I'd talk about it on Sidewalk's message board, except they refuse to bot-proof it, so bots have swamped it with spam. Before the board was unreadable I kept hassling the staff to put up elementary bot-blocking ice, but they acted like I was asking for a pony. I bot-proofed my blog. Trust me, if it involves computers and I can do it, then anyone can do it.

Anyhow, most of the films I wanna see are playing at the same time, so I'll probably focus on locally produced films. Expect cranky reviews Monday.

I'm in suspense because sometimes someone I know who's well connected gives me a pass to the after-party, or just takes my arm and claims I'm a date who lost his pass. I dunno if I'll want to lug my bloated tired self into a late loud party this time, but it's always interesting to see what serendipity washes ashore.
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Quote O' the day: "You trade what you had as a child for what you have as a grown-
up. Or if you don't, you lose it anyway, and get nothing in return."- Little, Big by John Crowley.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Everybody Burns

Carpet Cleaning in Alabama, Part 2:

Z and I went on another cleaning trip out in... I believe it was Helena, but don't quote me. Anyway, it was a house as full of junky clutter as my apartment. The clutter extended out into the yard. There was a little girl standing in the bed of a truck, roughly five years old, pretty as a postcard, but wearing nothing but a saggy diaper. Big bonfire in the front yard; they were burning trash. Cleaning carpet involved carrying a bunch of equipment into the house and hooking it up to our truck, so we had to go in and out of the house making the connections, walking back and forth past the fire, inhaling plenty of smoke. The man of the house threw huge sheets of plastic on the fire, and the poisonous reek of burning plastic filled the air, clogging our lungs, filling the air around this trashy Dogpatch domicile. The actual cleaning went pretty quick because they didn't want us to move anything; just clean the carpet we could see. Since almost no floor was visible it was a quick job. Afterward we presented the receipt and the little old pink-eyed lady of the house explained (no one had asked) that it may be illegal to burn trash, but it costs too much to afford trash service. "Everybody around here burns," she said. "Everybody burns."
For the next few work days I expect to be doing my posts late in the afternoon rather than around lunchtime. Just a heads-up for those of you who schedule your day around my blogposts. I hope no one actually does that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cleaning

I spent a year working for a well-known carpet cleaning company, a job for which I was completely unsuited. I'm glad I did it because it broke me out of my comfy suburban boy bubble. Anyway, many odd things happened. Here's one of them.

My coworker for the day (let's call him Z.) and I were called to a house in Ensley. The customer was a big friendly guy who answered the door in a T-Shirt advertising a gang ministry. He offered to share his dinner with us ("I'm not weird or anything, I'm just offering you dinner") which we declined. Then he led us to his bedroom, which we were to clean. By his bed was a pile of magazines; Christian magazines. Z., the customer and I started moving stuff out of the room, starting with the mags. We soon found that beneath the Christian mags were porno mags, though. Really creepy ones; the cheezy kind that look like they were shot in a garage. And the pinup girl is the editor's Mom. Special bonus: swinger newsletters, the kind with classified ads for "Polyamourous activity partners" that turned me off the human body when I was in grade school and found an issue in the road on my walk home from school. Ewww. Z. and I instantly fled from the mags and started moving the furniture. We figured we'd let the customer move his own strokebooks, but no dice. He hung back and let us move his mags. Then we cleaned, collected payment, and left.

Was the guy hoping we'd confront him on the contrast between the Christian stuff and the smutty stuff? Was he genuinely unaware of the incongruity? I've always wondered. People balancing faith and filth is no surprise, but the fact that he'd let us discover what looked like a guilty little secret seems like a cry for help that we didn't want to answer.

Speaking of which, there's a lot of lonely people out there. Some of them turn to carpet cleaners for human contact. We had women answer the door in nothing but towels, obviously considering a seduction, then changing their minds when they got a load of the fat smelly goofballs the company sent. We've had people dish all their grandkids' drug problems as we cleaned the grandkids' rooms. I suspect I'll do a few posts on my carpet cleaning misadventures.

Graduate

Quick, before NPR takes it offline, check out this comment (From Fresh Air) on The Graduate. I need to rewatch it, because I suspect commentor John Power's point is on target: today Mrs. Robinson is the real rebel and the most interesting character.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Belief

I was looking for a famous G. K. Chesterton quote about belief when I found this article which demonstrates that the famous quote was actually someone else's paraphrase of a recurring idea in Chesterton's work. Anyway, the idea is that if you cease to believe in God you will believe in anything.
I recently took a class on sortilege, a divination process that's a bit like reading goat entrails, except instead of cutting into a goat and spilling its innards you take little items (stones, bones, coins) out of a bag, scatter them, and read the ley lines between them. Do I believe that we can tap into some kind of supernatural truth-teller-ma-tron this way? No. Do I believe that intuitive people can use this to construct a reasonable, resonant and surprising narrative about our lives? Sure. I guess I regard my investigation into this as an extention of my interest in improv.

Sortilege may not tell the future, but by putting a sortilege bag together I've gotten into the habit of really looking at pebbles and such, trying to glean what I can from them. It's opening up a new angle on the poetry of life. Once I held divination-stuff in contempt as obvious superstition, but now I get it; it's about new-minted narratives and finding meanings where we might never have looked.

Plus the lady who taught the class is HOTT. But married.

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M. John Harrison has a blog and I've added it to my links. Everybody needs a hobby, and mine is adding links.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cubicle Potluck + I Am A Nerd

OMG, today the Sub Rosa Desktop Lunch Bunch actually brought big steaming casserole dishes to share. At their desks, not in the break room or cafeteria. It would smell good if there were some for me, but there isn't so it smells bad.

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Last night I idly switched on NPR and heard a bit of one of those new age ambient music shows they play on Sunday night. They were interviewing Roger freakin' Dean, the cover artist for a bunch of the Yes and Asia albums I loved as a student. I dug his paintings as much as the music (His Asia covers hold up much better than the cheesy pop music inside) and bought two books compiling his art: Views, with crude early efforts along all the groovy Seventies stuff, and Magnetic Storm, which focused on his publishing companies: Paper Tiger and Dragon's Dream. I would loll in bed, listening to old Yes albums and flipping to my favorite images in these books, floating through an idealized land of green grass, improbable icebergs and bombastic Limey prog rock.

Magnetic Storm had a few thumbnail images of art by Ian Miller, a much edgier artist who fascinated and repelled me in equal measure. Now I wish I'd bought some of that dude's books; he worked in a photo realistic fantasy vein similar to that of Dean, but Miller had a scary edge and a formal playfulness not present in Dean's bucolic visions of floating islands bearing idealized British countryside. Dean's stuff is mostly the same stuff over and over, but if you must have kitch art he's preferable to Thomas Kinkaide in my book.

Dean's Paper Tiger books published a book titled Realms of Fantasy which included Miller's illustrations of my beloved Gormenghast. It's long out of print, but it sounds like one to sniff out.

Anyway, here's a link to a link, with some astute comments, regarding J. R. R. Tolkien's own art. Like Dean he had a gentler approach to fantasy illustration. I think Alan Lee (you know, the guy with the awful teeth in those LotR Making Of featurettes) is the Tolkien illustrator who comes closest to matching Tolkien's gentle view of his imaginary world.


I'm more of a Gormenghast fan myself, so I'm enjoying In Viriconium by M. John Harrison. It's a slender volume set in a fantastic but gloomy city not unlike the decaying city-fortress of Gormenghast. Like Mervyn Peake, Harrison's prose is demanding but rich, and goes for hard-won beauty over easy prettiness.

P. S. Roger Dean's website

And Ian Miller's.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Here's To The Ladies Who Lunch

At work we're not supposed to eat at our desks, but they've moved a few Bad Influence types into my sector of the Cube Farm, and these Southern Belles/Insurance Clerks have got to put away the food, rule or no rule. At first it would be every now and then... someone would tiptoe in with her head down as if this sneaky stance would compensate for the odor billowing out of her barbeque sack. Now they're much more blatant. It's a non-stop gastronomic orgy around here, and the clashing odors of hot nasty southern fast food is overpowering. The constant chewing, slurping and gobbling isn't stopping the ongoing chatter, though; just punctuating it.

I'm the kind of tightlipped, sphincter-clenching Puritan who thinks everyone should do it like he does it; cautiously sneak a bit of bread and water on an as-needed basis. Bread and water vs. barbecue. If I had any sense I'd join the fun instead of hatin'.

Of course we're not really supposed to update blogs on the job either.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Keep Me Healthy

I gotta admit I'm relieved that all the Presidential Nominee health plan proposals involve a Socialist wedding of government and existing health plans like my employers. For a long time I've been conflicted about what the future of health care should be, since I believe everyone should have good coverage, and it's soothed my moral nerves to have various doctor and patient friends assure me that my employers are far better than the average health insurance company. I thought as much; I've temped at other insurance companies, and this is the one with a culture of really providing for the customer. I think it's possible for the government to get involved in insuring everyone has access to coverage which our company provides. Of course sometimes government action is a ginormous conflagration of expensive failure on all levels. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Vice Versus Vice

Lately I'm eating too much. As a result I'm so full that when I consider drinking a beer or something I decide not to because I'm too stuffed. By getting fat I'm staving off the vice of drunkeness.

It reminds me of a weight loss scheme a guy once shared with me; spend all your food money on stuff that isn't edible. Some of us can't do right across the board, so we have to pit our vices against one another and hope the lesser evil wins.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Warren Jeffs and such

I don't have any useful comment on the Warren Jeffs case-you know, the cult leader (there I go again with the cult leaders!) who allegedly forced a 14 year old girl to marry her first cousin. I heard a bit of her tearful testimony on the radio, saw Jeffs' smug "I'm-the-Prophet-of-God-so-bite-me" smirk, and decided this was way more interesting than O.J. bum-rushing a sporting-goods auction.

2 things: in theory I have no problem with polygamy, but it always seems to lead to old patriarchs pushing girls around. Maybe if it were legalized and regulated polygamous abuses would be as rare as monogamous abuses. Uh, never mind, then.

Second thing. FLT3 is the Warren Jeffs of Birmingham Theatre. On The Christmas Carol he gave me a teenage wife and ordered me to hug and kiss on her. I reluctantly-so reluctantly-complied. It would be funny (in a not-funny way) to see Becca weeping in the witness box and pointing an accusing finger at Birmingham favorite Frank Thompson, but I don't think it'll happen because she was actually pretty cool about it. I gave her the whole "let me know if I do anything that makes you uncomfortable" rap and she looked at me like I was nuts. What could possibly be upsetting about having a balding tubby old creep slobbering on her? Phew. But it's the principle that counts, so I hope that in the sad event that Frank makes me hug and kiss more pretty young women, we will face justice for our crimes. The Law is proving slow to take action, so we must force their hand. Frank, I call on you to give me more roles in which I get frisky with teenage girls! Only thus can we bring this matter to a fair and just resolution.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A brief glimpse of a doomed face

A couple years ago an adjunct professor from my alma mater (who started teaching there a few years after I graduated) was shot and killed by a teen guy on the street. According to the boy the prof had driven up, waved the boy over, and solicited sex. So the boy (teenaged, but legal-ish) shot the prof, took his car and used his credit card to buy a bunch of junk. He got a couple decades in prison, but it was a relatively light sentence because apparently some Alabama judges think the gay panic defense doesn't seem like a crap excuse for murdering someone.

A friend of mine was really upset about the case because she knew the late prof; his death was bad enough, but she had known him as a clean-living straight guy, so the assertion that he was on the down low being splattered over the news really distressed her. I never knew the guy, but I did a Google search for his picture. I found a nice headshot, and I instantly thought "Oh, it's that guy!"

One night I was on my way to my car from a laundromat that's in a cruisy part of town, and a guy who looked like the late Prof pulled his sports car up by me and said "Hello." I didn't shoot him; I don't approve of cruising, but I don't approve of lots of stuff I do, so it's not like I'm gonna play judge, jury and executioner. Either he could tell I wasn't interested or he decided my tubby balding self wasn't up to snuff, so he said "Sorry" and drove away.

Maybe it's on my mind because last night I saw a movie (Teorema, or Theorem) which includes a character who cruises, and was directed by a guy (Pasolini) who was apparently killed by a guy he picked up while cruising. It's haunting to me that I may have caught a glimpse of someone's not-so-secret life shortly before it ended in stupid, pointless death.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Masks of God

I stumbled across this article on an unrelated Google search, and although I haven't read it all (that would require an attention span) it got me ponderin'. It distinguishes between the God Concept (what we intellectually believe about God) and the God Image (how we feel about and perhaps what we picture when we imaginatively envision God), and how both our God Concepts and our God Images tend to be patchworks made up from various things from various sources, and sometimes the parts don't fit together very well, leading to cognitive dissonance. I never really thought about it, but I guess that between all the different ideas and images in the Bible, the different ideas I picked up from various preachers, Sunday School teachers and books, and just plain stuff I made up, my God Concept and God Image are Frankenstein monsters. A Medieval mystic wrote that God dwells behind a Cloud of Unknowing; seems we've put a lot of graffiti on that Cloud.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Continuing a Week of Morbid Fixations

The Sidewalk Film Festival is coming up, and as usual all the films I really want to see are showing at the exact same time. The documentary "Join Us" is one I really wanna catch; it's about a family that realizes the church they just left was a cult. I recently read a book titled Rogue Messiahs by Colin Wilson; it's all about cult leaders, and it's pretty intriguing, not least because seemingly intelligent people seem awfully slow to realize the preacher who's sodomizing their children as part of the Sunday worship service is a derange-o cult leader. Here's a health tip from the book:

If you go to a church and the preacher says the whole congregation has to move onto a compound and sever ties with friends and family, and you do it, and then he announces that he's the Second Coming of Christ and the end times are about to begin, and all the women and girls of the congregation have to have sex with him, and you try to leave but they stop you, then you sneak away in the dead of night, then they call you up a few months later and say "Hi! We're having a barbeque, and thought it would be fun to see you there. Hey, bygones, no worries about old conflicts. Just drop by. It'll be fun!" then (here's the health tip part) DON'T GO TO THE BARBECUE. THEY'RE GONNA KILL YOU.

This might seem pretty obvious to you, but it didn't seem obvious to a lot of people who wound up buried in barns.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Horror

Some folks-like my Mom-remain mystified by my love for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I'm grateful that I've watched it and other films of its ilk, though, because when I read about this (warning: horrible) I have a sort of myth that helps me make sense of it. A curdled hillbilly family pointlessly torments an innocent young woman. Slasher flicks tell us that humans are capable of doing such things to one another, but also that humans are capable of dealing with it-sometimes.

Speaking of horror, Osama's still alive. What can one say? If Dems had won the elections in 2000 and 2004, and Osama were still alive (which I doubt) Repubs would ceaselessly harp on Osama's alive-and-well status as proof of the yellow-bellied gutlessness of Democratic Presidents.

(BTW I'm in a fine mood personally, despite focusing on awful stuff today. It's odd how my mood can be so out of sync with the subject matter I'm considering. I dunno if that's indicative of excellent mental health or lousy mental health.)

Edit: In the Associated Press account of that first story the mother of the victim says that she "didn't know there were people like that out there." How does one not know that? Anyway, it occurs to me that while my TCM fixation may help me deal with stories like this, it also draws me to stories like this. There is a bit of a self-sustaining feedback loop about morbid fixations.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Second post of the day: random blather

Would comprehensive health and dental coverage for all US citizens cost more than the bazillion bucks a day we're spending in Iraq? If not, then it's dopey to pretend there's anything left to debate except how, exactly, to implement universal health care.

Much news coverage about a recent study asked single (and apparently straight) people to list what they looked for in a mate, then followed them through speed dating. According to reports on this study it turns out guys really choose potential mates on the basis of looks, while women choose mates who seem attractive but not... TOO attractive, since supercute guys tend to cheat and/or leave.

Well, I'm not one to argue that guys aren't shallow, but it's important to note this was determined on the basis of speed dating. In speed dating only first impressions matter. But in my experience the more time I spend with a woman the more the superficial elements of her appearance recede as her personality, conversation, values, opinions and general behavior come into focus. So maybe guys really do pick mates on the basis of deeper values... if they have the chance to get to know someone. As the old saw goes, good looks get attention, but don't hold it.

Over the Weekend

It was a bit on the busy side. I waddled around Artwalk, the big yearly downtown art festival, and enjoyed bumping into a bunch of folks I knew, as well as looking at cool art. Since there's a spending moratorium on me I couldn't buy any tempting art-treats, but I got a lot of business cards and will be placing some orders soon.

Also I attended the Virginia-Samford Gala; not the deluxe ticket that would get me into the reception so I could tell all the performers how awesome they were, but hey. The orchestration was probably the lushest and most singer-supportive I've ever heard on that stage; amazing, considering it was 22 musicians sawing away. Coordinating all that behind the performers is quite a task. It was a treasure trove of Birmingham's music theatre talent. Very little hoofin' but fantastic singing, enough for three musicals. (Take a bow, Frank!) I do wish they'd do something like this with some lesser-known treasures of the music theatre repertoire, though; if Leigh Sherer Seirafi (whom I don't believe I've heard before the Gala) had broken into Cole Porter's "Where, oh Where" (my favorite song, period) I would have ascended bodily into Heaven.

Sunday I cleaned. I have a walk-in closet which is full of piles of books. Now I'm taking the books out with the intention of ordering them... somehow. Buying bookshelves will no doubt be a necessity, but now I just have to get that musty closet empty and scrub it down. I think I may have my apartment in acceptable condition by February and the one-year anniversary of The Virginia Sister's intervention.

Check out strange world botanicals and bradbrad to see some groovy art by my former classmates.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Don't Worry

I heard that song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" the other day. It brought back confusing memories. I attended a lot of church-related youth group events in my teens, and when that song was popular it seemed like everyone who spoke to youth felt like they had to address the theological implications of Bobby McFerrin's cheerful little song. An awful lot of them were deeply disturbed by it for reasons that I can't remember. Boy, they didn't like that song, and not just because it was unavoidable. OTOH Freddie Langston, a musician who was all over the Southeastern Presbyterian youth scene, loved the song and performed it regularly. I hadn't quite figured out this whole Protestant thing wherein one is really supposed to make up one's own mind, so the mixed messages I was getting from theological authority figures had my head spinning.

Listening to it again I think Freddie got it right; this song isn't meant to be taken with such furrowed-brow seriousness. How could anyone listen to this thing and take it too seriously? Do you think Bobby McFerrin really wants you ringing up at all hours and beg him to cheer you up? Or that he'd really advise anyone facing eviction to simply not worry and be happy? Added to which, once we found out the Bobby didn't really have a Caribbean accent, and collaborated with ironic performance artists like Laurie Anderson, the penny should have dropped.

It may seem like I've spent way too much text explaining that Don't Worry, Be Happy was not a Satanic meme designed to lull Christians into a false sense of security, but when I was a baffled teen it seemed pretty ambiguous. Around the same time I was confused because plenty of church folk were picketing Last Temptation of Christ, while my Dad, a devout Christian and proud Elder of the church, was singing Last Temptation's praises.

Probably the best advice I ever heard on these matters came from a lady I worked with on a temp job. She was fond of going to casinos and gambling. She related how her nephew asked her "Don't you listen to what the preacher says?" Her reply: "Yes I do. I also listen to what I say." That's the power of Protestantism.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Second Post of the Day: George's plea

I'm listening to an old Frank Zappa live album on which keyboardist George Duke tells an improvised story about boogerbears. He closes by saying "A booger to one is not a booger to all." Indeed. I often feel that when I'm clearly a booger to someone, I am a booger, and I have a hard time understanding how others can tolerate those whom I regard as overt boogers, but I need to remember George's wisdom.

Got My Grille Gleaming

Today I got some teeth capped. I've had perfect teeth for years, until now. My reupholstered fangs look fine, although I was tempted to request gold instead of ceramics and get an MC-worthy grille going.

It amazes me that I could so easily screw up something as intimately important as my teeth. The problem was that I brushed too hard. The reason I brushed too hard was, let's face it, sexual frustration. Abstainance is bad for your teeth.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

My issues aren't collectors' items.

September is shaping up to be a complicated month. I've overextended myself in a lot of directions. I won't bore you with details, but I got some serious juggling to do. Lots of people want lots of things from me, and I want lots of things from lots of people. I might have to puzzle some things out, behave erratically, and holler.

So it's the perfect time for Not Blog X, my new link. It's a guy reviewing his childhood favorite X-Men comics. I never got the X-Men bug, but I enjoy it when people thoughtfully reexamine the stuff they dug as kids, and I feel a bit like a '90s era X-character: consider me a poorly-drawn lumpy hollerin' guy who's suffering from unclear problems but bearing up by striking poses and acting sullen.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Nonologue

Saturday J'mel's group The Feminist Debutante Guild did a monologue show. All the monologues were written by J'mel, with a slew of performers. I was pleased to be one of the performers, and although I'm not entirely happy with my work (I could give you a list of things I did wrong, but David Mamet pointed out that it's rude to the audience for actors to do so) it went quite well!

One problem: one performer, whom I've worked with before and knew to be a talented actor, didn't show up at call time. The director called this actor-whom we'll call Box for reasons which shall remain obscure- and Box explained that he was drunk, in a bar, having a panic attack. So the director did a perfectly fine staged reading of the monologue. All was well.

Later that night we sat on the deck of a popular late-night bar and grill, scarfing down burgers, when who should come shambling by, with a girl on his arm, but Box. He turned on his panty-removing charm and apologized to us all, but it was a cloying "Pwease wuv me" apology, the kind sleazy boyfriends use to bamboozle their girlfriends into forgiving their infidelities. "Don't hate me" was his refrain. I don't hate him, but I've lost respect for him, and I'm worried for him.

There was a time when I did similar no-shows for little local films in which I didn't really want to take part, and while the films turned out badly or not at all I'm sorry I handled it that way. Now I understand that one should simply keep one's promises or not make promises. Show up or sod off.