Wednesday, December 07, 2005

More chorus practice

Word to the wise: Don't try to hold an E-flat note in bass baritone after two beers in a smoky bar.

Two kids wanted to know if I'd been running a marathon. Director told me to stop crying, be a man, and bring it up to falsetto level. The room was spinning and my palms were sweating, but I managed to blurt out the words in a singing voice that makes a torture victim sound like Maria Callas: "He's just an ordinary not so very nary wary!"

"That's two beats on the last syllable," called the chorus director. "No passing out until then. Get up and get ready to sing the square dancing number."

I may be in over my head.

Play Practice: Day 2

Yesterday, I got to get up on an empty stage, surrounded by fellow faculty, and block lines. Tremendous experience, blocking lines. It's a lot like acting out your favorite scene in a movie, as long as you substitute "acting out" with "taking directions" and "your favorite scene" with "some play you never heard of and already can't stand."

We're doing Dogpatch County. (Actually, we're not, but I'm superstitous about putting in the play name.) My part is The Colonel. I've got all of two lines, and I can spare everyone yea suspsense and give them right now:
"Hey everyone, this is a matter of top security!"
"Gentlemen, there's debriefing right down the road." (exit)
God, that's all so far. That may even be the entire corpus of my performance. My Nana Vrabel could pull it off, and she's been dead for seven years.

Since I hadn't (and haven't yet) read the play, I decided to picture my colonel interpretation along the lines of R. Lee Emery in Full Metal Jacket, or maybe Sam Eliot in The Hulk. Curses, I found out belatedly, are not allowed in a high school production, so I had to throw out improvisations like "Hey numbnuts, this is major security" and "If God had wanted your ass down the road for debriefing, he'd have miracled it there."

The Director (a personal friend of mine, and if she ever read this, she will perhaps forgive my acerbic take on the evening) did her best to settle down everyone to get to work. Fat chance. If you've ever seen a bunch of teachers hanging around in street clothes on a stage with the opportunity to act like the adolescents they all discipline day in and day out yet are secretly jealous of for being young with opportunities, then you've seen the world's oldest, most rebellious and logorrheic street gang ever.

I was no exception. After twenty minutes on stage, I could already feel improvised lines ready to vomit themselves up and waste everybody's time.

"Okay, Colonel," she finally called out to me after twenty minutes arranging for the Town Wives' entrance on stage to offer their husbands up for some sort of chemical concoction that would turn them into Ultra Hunks. "You're going to enter here."

"I want to be an Ultra Hunk," I whined.

"No, we're stressing mimesis in this production. Stand here and act like you have a backbone."

I stood, and did my best to comply. "What's my motivation?"

Director looked at me austerely, and I could almost read her mind: For Christ's sake, you've got two lousy lines and you're asking me for motivation? I've got about all I can handle keeping Jackie from hitting on every male teacher in the room, and three parents have their toddlers running amok in my scene shop. I've got your motivation right here...Fortunately, with one-third of the cast still paying attention to her, she had to clip her response. "You're a colonel. You're in the military. Sound arrogant and officious. You know. Just be you."

Good comeback, I had to admit.

"Now you're going to walk over to Nancy and tell the men behind her, humbly, about the debriefing."

No way. G.L. is not humble.

"Then you step back and let her take the scene over."

Uh-uh, baby. G.L. does not step back to relinquish control.

"Now, okay?" Director barked at me, pulling a face that probably had her freshmen scurrying for their books and homework.

Well, maybe in a pinch I can fake humility and submission. I scooted over and meekly did as I was told.

We went through the scene, and I did my best to sound officious, military, in control, domineering. Director, meanwhile, was fixated on the more vexing task of getting one of the castmembers to simulate choking to death on a bottle of moonshine.

"Iraq was our greatest effort yet," I boasted, trying to establish character. "We've actually won the war already, but most of the left-wing just hasn't allowed us to tell you yet."

A chorus of catcalls and curses followed me. I swallowed, flipping pages of the script I'd stolen from the lead frantically. "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew." I managed to ad-lib a clenched fist at the end of my statement.

"Just do the fucking line," snarled a recent Divorcee (playing Southern Belle #3, no less). "My babysitter charges $5.50 an hour."

I stepped back up to the plate and tried to arrange metric regularity in my line: "Gentlemen, there's debriefing right down the road."

Director removed her pince nez and massaged her eyebrows wearily. "Why do I feel," she asked quietly, "like you're counting your lines?"

"Sixteen words; 78 letters. Come on, I can totally play the Ultra Hunk."

"What if I throw in a six pack? Would that be enough to get you back on track?"

I frowned, insulted. Who the hell did she think she was, thinking she could buy me off so cheap?

"I'll let you drink it opening night."

Oh. In that case...

We finished ten minutes later. I am now an Employed Stage Performer. And with that six pack on the way, I'll be a Functioning Alcoholic Stage Performer. Steppenwolf entourage, eat your collective hearts out.

Of course, next step is memorizing those lines. But first things first.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Play Practice: Day 1

Back in 1986 or so, I was in a musical called "Off the Wall." Or "Up the Wall" or "On the Wall" or some damn thing, I really don't remember. It was a conglomerate of skits and songs designed to clue the modern audience into the perils and perks of being a young adult in the eighties. The extent of my involvement, to be honest, went little farther than background chorus and two lines:
"But really, what's with kids today?"
"I think I hear him coming!"
Who he was, I have no idea any more. I don't think I ever did. Actually, I have no idea what the play was about. I spent most of the time staring out the window and daydreaming about being Batman.

I went to my first chorus practice in almost twenty years tonight, with many more to come. We're doing a production of a musical where both faculty and students get to match vocal and acting talents in an effort to draw butts into the seats and raise money for charity. At least, that's what Jenny told me--it could be very well that she was lying and just wanted to get me in the chorus to make a jerk of myself.

I can't speak for the wide suburban audience we're currently pandering to, but I know of at least three friends and a few family members who will show up just to ensure themselves that I wasn't feeding them a load of shit about not being able to make the bar that night. "Nope, going to be busy singing 'She's Gonna Be the Bride'" must not have sounded like a realistic excuse. Go figure.

I'm not going to mention the title of the production--figure it out yourself--except to mention that my character is "The Colonel." With speaking parts. So I expect that will be my new cool nickname, replacing the embarassing "Puddles" nickname that's haunted me since summer camp, seventh grade.

Side note: Mick is married. Just found out. God help us all.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Secret to a Good Monday Night... sorely needed when you're facing potential b.s. from an article in your sodding school newspaper the next morning. When kids stand up and start making sense, that's bad enough, but early in the week, it's death for me. So how to take the mind off the ensuing headache?

1) Drink to excess. (Well, duh.)
2) Exercise. (Can't. My back. You know.)
3) Therapy. (The last one jumped out the window.)
4) Immersion. (In drink? I'm there.)

I recommend (4). I took an hour and a half off and watched David Cronenberg's Spider. I'd just blown sixteen bucks on the double-disc edition of The Fly (outstanding, by the way), and figured, since I was on a role, I'd stay with it. And man, am I glad I did.

Brief blurb: "Spider" Cleg is recently released from a mental institution, and makes his way back to London to make sense of his childhood with his friends. The adult Spider, in extended flashbacks, finds himself a bystander to what happened twenty years before, watching his younger self deal with his surly father, powerless mother and his father's "fat tart" Yvonne horning in on the family. There's enough visual symbolism and semiotics to keep a geek English teacher happy, and there's enough feeling packed in Ralph Fiennes' (Spider) mumbling to out-Lenny Lenny Small. A smarter man than myself might have seen the ending coming--not that that's saying much--but according to Cronenberg, there are greater questions abounding once you realize Spider's therapy isn't finished.

I was so impressed, I immediately ran out and picked up the book from the library. I'm thirty pages into it now, and once I finish off The Economist, I plan to finish it before collecting a set of papers on Wednesday.

So, as for stress busting, a good story does it almost every time.

Oh yeah, and I haven't had any trick-or-treaters. Maybe I can turn the lights on now.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Warning: WASP complaints about to follow

What with my new frenzied reading schedule (news magazines, newspapers, BBC), I don't know how media-saavy people can manage to eat three squares a day, let alone hold down jobs. I had a conversation today with a co-worker that was right out of West Wing:

Him: Did you finish grading those papers?
Me: No, I have to get through these reports on the oil deal for Russia. You know, it's only a few million more than the most conservative estimates?
Him: I think you're shirking your duties...
Me: That's crap.
Him: you can act like a guy who has a clue.
Me: I'm waiting for the guys with clues to act that way. I'm waiting for the president to act that way.
Him: You know about Russian oil, do you? What about your lesson plan for next hour?
Me: Ha. That's a trick. I don't have one. Sucker.

So my reading schedule is thrown completely off whack. But how can I discard it all? It's just so damned entertaining:
Item: President Bush appoints Harriet Miers to be the Supreme Court justice replacing Sandra Day O'Connor, in the wake of Rehnquist's death and Roberts' appointment. I guess Billy, the cool kid down the street with the nifty Tonka truck, wasn't around, and he was running out of other cronies to appoint, so his own pet lawyer was a good move?

Item: House Representative Tom DeLay got slapped with another charge yesterday: on Fox News Sunday, he referred to a "left wing political machine" driving him out of office, and assured viewers he'd be back on his job. Funny. President Clinton had a conspiracy against him too. He just finished writing an 800-page book about it.

Item: President Bush is facing the worst political numbers he's ever seen, and only after a botched hurricane response, a prolonged war with no end in sight, a shelved Social Security renovation plan, an economy that looks like a deep-sea fish brought up to the surface only to explode, and a bad guitar solo in September. Pretty radical of the public, wouldn't you say? I would have waited until he did another victory lap around Ground Zero, once it's been rebuilt.

Item: Some dumbass public figure (Dr.Bennett, wasn't it?) made some dumbass comment about aborting black babies to cut down crime. Seems to me, spreading condoms throughout the Republican Party would be a better first step.

Item: The whole religion-in-the-science-class debacle is being tackled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. If the court case goes smoothly, it should settle that nagging question: did God create the earth, or was it evolution, or was it evolution masked by the hand of God, called "intelligent design"? Hey, why stop there? I think there's room for "semi-intelligent design," "quasi-intelligent design," "dumbass design," "hung over on Monday morning-design" and "I forgot my homework but I came up with a sort of design-design."
All this peace and quiet in my new place is great. I waste even more time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The amount of things that are annoying me these days is an amount that seems to increase with age. You can add crappy horror movies to the list.

Scratch that: crappy horror movies that could have been good.

I give you, for example, The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

The plot: a young girl is found dead, horribly emaciated, teeth missing. The local priest is taken into custody when allegations of an untreated epilepsy condition arise. The lawyer, a young, ambitious, determined agnostic, pits wits against the determined, Catholic DA and, ultimately, the Devil Himself. Ooooh.

I say "Ooooh" because, let's face it, the whole religion vs. science debate never did well in a courtroom. It's even worse in an hour-and-fifty-minutes' worth of "What really happened to Emily Rose?"

Possession scenes are lame and halfhearted. There are some creepy portions where Emily is wandering through her college campus and sees demon faces leering at her; every time she contorts her body, the part of my brain that registers what's natural in the world and recognizes what's unnatural was suitably fooled. But all of this combined, multiplied three ways from Sunday, can't make up for crappy lines like, "The forces of darkness are watching this trial." Puh-leeze. It didn't work in Book of Shadows when the witch figured out how to program a VCR. Since when is Satan up on Blackstone's Commentaries?

So in a fit of dissapointed pique, I picked up a copy of Angel Heart. Now there's a devil movie you can sink your teeth into. I'm taking it for granted that the underlying premise of the film is known: New York gumshoe picks up a Missing Persons case and gets enmeshed in an underground voodoo cult, with a surprising, satisfyingly creepy conclusion. And yes, this is that movie where Denise Huxtable from The Cosby Show takes her shirt off.

But then I picked up the book and read it in a four-hour binge Monday night (when I should have been reading my new subscription-copy of The Economist). If the film version is a mixture of Chinatown and The Exorcist, the book is a mixture of Who Censored Roger Rabbit and Ira Levin. The writing is fast-paced, snappy, engrossing. The story grabs a hold of you; there aren't too few names for it to get long-winded, and there aren't enough names to confuse you. And the ending is more or less consistent with the film (I should say it the other way around, since the book, Falling Angel, came out first), but with this cavalier private dick tone it takes, a lot of the horror and devil-noir is taken away, leaving a book more pulp fiction than horror. Which is okay, I guess.

So as far as Sunday/Monday reading, I've definitely done worse. But if there's one thing that's annoying me now that wasn't annoying me forty-eight hours ago, it's the pile of papers sitting on my desk that could have gotten graded by now if I hadn't enmeshed myself in devil worship and seedy detective yarns this long. Ugh. Somebody owes me a time refund.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

To the man who made me want to study English...I mean really study...

To the man who told us Emerson asked not "What shall I do" but "How shall I live..."

To a teacher, mentor, scholar who will be missed...

RIP Gustaaf Van Cromphout (1938-2005)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

"Hell is full of musical amateurs."

--George Bernard Shaw

"...and idiots with laptops and Napster."

URBANA-CHAMPAGNE--The little woman has a wireless connection. This is sweet.

That means fast jukebox downloads. That's even sweeter.

So if I was listening to Verdi and Puccini at home during a stressful work week, and if I've got fast access to the best classics on the face of the earth at the touch of a button right now, what's the logical choice for immediate downloads? Tosca? Otello? Maybe some Listz, just to let my hair down?

Not even close:

Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast. True story. A long time ago, my brother and I traded all of my John Mellencamp for all of his Iron Maiden. I know what you're thinking: "What a sucker." You're damn right. What the hell could he have been thinking? And how could I take advantage of a poor, misguided soul like that? Money spent: $9.99

Skid Row, Slave to the Grind. Don't laugh. Seriously. The album stinks, but four tracks on it make me feel like I'm sixteen years old, washing buses and wading through the camp's pond. Oh, and I'm twenty pounds lighter with long hair, too. Money spent: $3.96

Sinead O'Connor, some Celtic music. I love it. But love it. Money spent: &.99

Weird Al Yankovic, "Headline News." Just the part where we hear the kid from Singapore holler in pain is enough justification for the buck fee, if you ask me. Money spent: $.99

The Black Keys, Rubber Factory. Admittedly, I don't know this album. But I loved Thickfreakness, and I figure, what the hell, my brother's tastes haven't led me astray just yet. Money spent: $9.99

Natalie Merchant, "Gun Shy" (live). Admittedly, I'm not the biggest 10,000 Maniacs fan, but Kim has some stuff of hers, and I figure, what the hell, her tastes ahven't led me astray (much) just yet. Money spent: $.99

REO Speedwagon, the usual pop singles. Admittedly, I didn't go to see these guys live last year when Styx opened up for them, but I figure what the hell...what the hell. Money spent: $2.97

Two things tend to happen when I have access to fast wireless service: 1) I waste time, $30.88 and brain cells finding just the right picture of an Iron Maiden album cover; 2) I imagine myself contributing valuable music, art and current events commentary, only to do the online version of spewing, muttering, and scratching my head.

Pay no attention. Back at home I'll be back on a cellular connection, forcing me to slow down and think.

But then, when I do that, I wind up turning the computer off anyway.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The First Day

Warning: The following words are an accurate and verbatim transcript of today's senior classes. Complaints may be lodged with the NEA, the Board of Education, NCTE and PETA, if necessary.
Hello, class, now settle down now. Don't be shy, come on in, there's seats aplenty and learning afoot! Come on in, now take your seats, okay, that's good. All right. Welcome to English. I'm your teacher, and I want to be the first to welcome you all to what will be, for some of you, your final year in high school. For some of you, that is. Others will not be so lucky, either because you snoozed through nine months of higher learning and bombed every test, or because you're just naturally slow. But don't worry kids, there's no shame in being slow. The world needs drive through managers too.

Sorry, I didn't hear that. Yes, you in the back, with the pierced...everything? Oh yes, the course content. Well, we'll be studying the old masters, the sages, the ones our current language was built upon. You can't call yourself educated unless you know this stuff. Our first assignment? We'll be reading Beowulf. No, I don't know who wrote it. No, I don't know why it's so important. Why are you bothering me with these stupid questions? Do you want an office referral, smart guy?

What's that, precious? Yes, you in the front doing your nails. What kind of a class do I run? So glad you asked, sir. The rules are simple. Most things you guys find enjoyable are things I hate, so you can obey the rules best by not having any fun. Things like annoying cell phone jingles, loud, incoherent bands who purport social messages, talking and enjoying one another's company, crying during tests and field trips to fun and exciting places are all things I frown upon. Here, you're going to get the entire corpus of English lit crammed down your collective throats. And you're going to go through it with a smile on your face. Page 22 of your packet lists the do's and don'ts. Pay particular attention to the "no gum popping rule," especially on mornings after the pub has two-for-one Amstel Lite specials.

Now, here's your textbook. As you can see, it's not for sissies. The first half should be read by next week. And here's our syllabus. Note that your first assignment is an essay, due next week. You can save me a lot of time by crossing out your introduction after completing the draft, since they'll all be crap mostly anyway. Oh, and no persuasive papers about Brad and Angelina, or Tom and Katie. I don't know about all that. I don't care about all that. Neither should you.

Okay, now for the bad news. If you pass this class, you'll graduate, go on with your lives, and I'll get paid. If you fail this class, you'll be stuck with me another year, have a miserable summer, and I'll get paid. Hey, come to think of it, I make out like a bandit either way, don't I?

Well, that's about it. The short version of this class: The Brits ruled the world, both militarily and literature-wise, for the better part of a millenium, before we Americans wrested control. Game over. Now, our entire future depends on a bunch of semi-literate xenophobes who like to blast libraries and hospitals for fun, not to mention a president who couldn't find Afghanistan on a map until it was time to throw a bomb at it.

I'm mad. I'm bad. I'm dangerous. And I don't remember what class this is, so don't screw with me.The long version of the class begins tomorrow. We'll be going over the rise and fall of Roman occupation in the British isles, the basic functions of the gerund phrase, and twenty ways to not piss your friendly neighborhood English teacher off on a Monday morning.

Any questions?


Good. Then close your collective mouths and begin on page 12 for tomorrow's reading: 'When Books Used to Not Stink So Much.' Finish it for tomorrow. I'm off to the pub. If anyone asks, I'm in the can.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

How to anesthesize turning 30

I'm about one week into being thirty. It has the damndest way of sneaking up on me: I could be at a shopping mall looking for a good Wagner CD (or Vanilla Ice, whatever), and I see myself through some kind of objective third eyeball: "There's a thirty-year-old homeowner in ragged jean shorts, needs a haircut, glasses are dirty, and he's hanging out at a mall. Ugh." Or "Look at that thirty-year-old homeowner pausing to glance at new Batman Begins action figures. How old does he think he is?"

Then, there's also, "Look at that thirty-year-old homeowner lurching down the back alley. You'd think he'd be able to tell that diluting whiskey with vodka isn't really dilution at all." Okay, that one I'm more comfortable with.

So, summer is dwindling, and as always, I'm clutching on to it like a drowning man onto a floating plank of wood. And one of the things I swore to accomplish: some kind of memorandum on July 16.

The party was awesome. Originally, I had a more comprehensive, column-type story to tell about it, but truth be told, some of my memories of that evening are a bit hazy, so this will have to do. I remember I drank nothing but Black and Tans.

I remember someone commenting, "It's his party--it's been ten years since the last one and it'll probably be twenty until the next one, so he can do what he wants." Cool! I thought, a total excuse for anarchic debauchery! but I don't remember if that led to anything illegal.

I remember finishing my first cigar in years with my brother. I remember a lot of old friends showing up. I remember a lot of people calling my name in a way that suggested comraderie ("Hey! Hey get over here!") instead of how they usually call it at work ("Hey you! Get the fuck over here! You messed up again").

I remember that, for an Irish pub, they played a lot of eighties rock. I wonder if that was by request.

I remember getting a floating candle in a pitcher of beer. (Kim would later complain that the staff treated her request akin to one for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow--apparently, at this pub, they don't do pitchers, and it's uncouth to ask.)

I remember I had a speech (of sorts) planned, which would have entailed digging up a list of things an old health teacher told us to write down that we'd want accomplished by the age of 30. My list ran like this:
Be a full-time novelist. (Nope.)
Be well-adjusted and stable. (Nope.)
Be surrounded by people who love me. (I guess...)
Be healthy. (Oy, my back is killing me.)
Be confident. (Hey, we're having some time now...aren't we?)
Be athletic. (Oy, my beer gut is killing me.)
I remember signing an outrageous bar tab, having trouble keeping the pen steady in my hand, thinking, I'm lovin' this.

I remember getting back to my place, and eventually seeing five or six complete strangers in my living room. I remember one of them (and he must have been a stranger--no friend would do this) suggesting that they all apply makeup while I was passed out. I remember the other strangers (again--no way they were friends) laughing and looking for lipstick and mascara. I remember staggering to the second bedroom and pulling a blanket over my head.

I also remember the furtive wakeup the next morning. That, for those of you with livers healthier than mine, is when you come to consciousness, afraid to move for fear of discovering a hangover, afraid to get up for fear of learning of bad behavior. I came outside, looked around cautiously. Kim was at the breakfast table, eating cereal, looking a little haggard herself but not exactly brimming over with wrath. Little by little, I relaxed. Everything's fine, I got away clean, is more or less what I'm thinking, when the trash is dropped off outside. Trash cans clang, engines grind, brakes squeal, and all I can think of is, Oh shit, my head is about to explode. I regained poise a minute later, to see Kim regarding me with a look that was three parts concern mixed with two parts weary exasperation. "Do you even know how many you had last night?"

"It was worth it," I said. "I regret nothing." And then we were off to breakfast.

So that's that, another milestone in the life of yours truly. The rest of my time has been more or less spent straightening out this place, catching up on my reading, watching crappy movies, seeing more friends and family, and mourning Bush's appointment to the Supreme Court (as are we all). You wouldn't think picking up a new bed, grilling material, nightstands, bathroom necessities and what not would occupy so much time, but listen, when you make a trip to even Bed Bath & Beyond, it takes a minimum of ten minutes just to find a parking space, let alone purchasing anything. So while I can't complain for lack of relaxation, it's still good to be done with all that crap.

Friday, July 15, 2005

It's official: I'm in my thirties. My twenties are far behind me, and from now on, when someone asks me, "What did you do in your twenties," I'll actually have to answer. Damnation. The following things are older than me (nothing new, but entering a new decade gives one pause):

Seventies music
the term "mojo"
transformational grammar and syntax

The following things are younger than me:

grunge rock
GWBasic programming and DOS operating systems
cellular phones
Dallas' surprise series finale
Remedial level secondary classroom Socratic seminars

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh.

And yet, it doesn't feel that bad. My aunt and uncle told me: "Being thirty doesn't hurt." Dewey tells me, "It gets easier. Or so I've heard. Because we'll be dead soon."

Still, when you reach a milestone like this, the answer to the question "Who's the man" becomes even more evident, does it not?

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Settling in...

This must be a first in the annals of geek history: blogging from my balcony. It's a sunny, breezy day, and the Janesville, WI trip is a few hours away. Last night, while what few friends I have were out partying, attending the Tom Petty concert or lighting fireworks in their front yards, yours truly was grunting and swearing while filling a cheap waterbed so I wouldn't have to sleep on the floor for a record-breaking third night in a row. Of course, now that I'm about to go camping, the whole task seems sort of pointless, unless, if for no other reason, I'll now have a bed to actually come home to.

I can feel elements of every nagging parent, grandparent, friend's parent(s), aunt and uncle struggling to break free. Certain waspish accents are creeping into remonstrations towards any company I've had lately: "Don't carry that over the carpet!" "Wipe the counter down!" "Wipe your feet on the mat, asswipe!" and "It's a six pack and a twenty dollar cover to get in the door." Amazing what home ownership can do to you in a scant seventy-two hours. Like turning to the dark side, I would imagine. Years ago, we made fun of people who felt tne need to clean up during a party. Years ago, we swore we'd never be so anal as to try and make vaccuum marks symmetrical on the carpet. Now, look at me. I made my bed right when I got up thie morning. Ugh.

Then again, there are still boxes and crap all over the place. A responsible homeowner wouldn't blow it all off for a day to camp, fish and drink in Wisconsin, right? Damn right. Just call me Peter Pan.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

S'WOOD--In my life, there have been about four or five instances where everyone in the world but me felt that congratulations were in order. My high school graduation. Getting my first job. Buying my first car. Making sure my girlfriend didn't run screaming when she saw me with my shirt off. And now buying a home.

I suppose congratulations are in some sort of order. I mean, maybe a trained monkey could have done half as well as I did signing my life away during closing yesterday, but I doubt it. What I heard and what was said didn't always add up to the same thing:
My attorney: Now this is your tax increment form. It means you'll have an eschrow account to the tune of x dollars a year, which will cushion you from any windfalls the government throws your way.
My head: Tax...dollars...goverment.
Attorney: Understand?
Me: Taxes bad. Equity good. Where I sign?
Then, of course, there's packing up the old place (already a subject upon which I've touched to yea length). There's also the matter of the previous owner coming and going to get her riding mower, potted plant collection and various kinds of facial soap out of what's supposed to be my place. Then there's the nasty carpet stains left over, about which I had to call in professionals:
Carpet cleaner: So this stain here is either cat urine or a hairball. Been sitting a while. Nasty. You've got to get these stains cleaned immediately, not months later.
Me: (Bristling) It's not my cat. I just moved in.
Cleaner: Yeah, okay. Now over here, it looks like somebody never wiped their feet. Really dirty. This is what we call the Slob-With-Kids carpet job.
Me: I told you, I just moved in.
Cleaner: Okay, okay. Now here, looks like the previous owner tried to mix a Bloody Mary while lying down in bed.
Me: (pause) How much is this going to cost me?
All of these were obstacles I overcome--turns out the paperwork was the easy part. Tomorrow is the final move, but for the past twenty hours or so, I've been residing in my new digs. Cleaned carpets, space, central air and a balcony big enough to camp out on. Mission, as they say, all but accomplished.

So what's to be proudest about?

I'm blogging on my kitchen floor.

Tomorrow I'll try blogging in my guest bedroom. Then the balcony. Then the roof, and then my garage (where I can now keep my toolbox, where it belongs, rather than next to a pile of dirty laundry). Take it from me, folks: you can't get it any better than this.

So here's a big thank you to all the people who made this possible. They are:

1) Me.
2) Lowlife neighbors who drove me out of my low-rent lifestyle.
3) My realtor and attorney.
4) Me again.
5) Dad and DVM, who doublechecked the place and remembered to look for loose floorboards and other lemon-esque details that tend to escape my notice.

Now then, if someone can figure out how this new lifestyle is possible without having to go to work every day, come get me. I'll be the guy on the kitchen floor, with no furniture.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

If I were a poet, I'd write an ode to this stinking hellhole I'm leaving behind. If I were an artist, I'd draw a picture of me hauling ass out the parking lot. If I had friends, I'd invite them all over to tear it up one last time in a completely gutted living room. If I were a musician, I'd hook up the most obnoxious guitar I could find to the loudest amp in the city and blast out all the windows. If I were tough, I'd knock on the doors of the people who've irritated me the most and shove them in the chest, driving them back into their apartments and reminding them of their drab and useless lives.

I am, however, none of those things.

I am a blogger. A mild-mannered, kept-to-himself-kind-of-guy blogger. And we bloggers are long on outrage, but short on physical voice.

So this is how I get my comeuppance:

"So long, buttwipes."

Give the local reprobates time. Years from now they'll stumble onto it while doing online research over how to consolidate welfare accounts and find the nearest AA meeting. My scorn will do nothing but eat away at what little self respect they've managed to convince themselves that they have.

Closing in 65 minutes. Oh yeah.

Friday, June 03, 2005

School's out, sucka...

I bounded out the door today like a glob of oil out of my frying pan. First day of summer, dig it. What to do? How to celebrate first and foremost? A trip to the Lake? A volleyball game? A cocktail party and in-depth discussion of Sartre's principals in an increasingly meritocratic society?

Library. Get book. Read book.

God, how pathetic. No life. Not until 7 p.m. or so, when I can get properly pissed. But I wasn't going to let this lack of social activity get me down. Never have. Never will.

So as I left the building, I saw some of my old fogey colleagues milling about. Poor saps, I thought, they probably have to go back to their families, be responsible adults. Their lives are over. How pathetic.

So I figured I'd throw some of my gleaning health and bright disposition in their collective faces. I rollicked past them, putting a spring in my step, throwing back my shoulders, doing a bit of the John Travolta hustle from Saturday Night Fever, taking the trouble to leap ahead a few times, if only to revel in my agile, powerful physique.

Then I slipped and plummeted, badly scraping my knees, uttering a "Fuuuuuckinhell! as I fell, like, I might add, the Mighty Oak. Whatever savoir faire I'd been exhibiting was now running out of me in so many open wounds.

They were all about me right away. "Hey, son, are you okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, fine." I started limping towards the security of my car and the flask I'd stashed away.

"You got to be careful. I always am. Last week, during my tennis game, I really threw my knee out..." The middle-aged father of four with no hair and rippling calves brushed the gravel off my shoulders and wiped the tears from my eyes. "It's played hell with my bench pressing, too."

"I had a bout with a stretched hamspring during my judo tournament," a fifty-something librarian responded. "But then I started a new yoga method, and it really seemed to help."

"No, I'm fine. Really." I kept protesting, shoving the concerned hands away and avoiding invitations to a game of squash behind the football field that afternoon.

Karma, it seems, is not without a sense of humor.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Some journalism instructor I am. Today's top story all over the Fourth Estate: Deep Throat is finally revealed, and I tell everyone not to think about it right now, we've got a really important test to take. Hearst would throttle me alive.

Don't bother looking to me for links and what not: just pick up any newspaper in the country. The news is out: FBI Agent Mark Felt, who denied numerous times that he was Deep Throat (once even in his memoirs, published in 1978), was the cigarette-smoking guy in the underground parking garage.

The Tribune's lead: The world's most famous anonymous news source outed himself Tuesday.

The New York Times: Deep Throat, the mystery man who reigned as Washington's best-kept secret source for more than 30 years, was not just any shadowy, cigarette-smoking tipster in a raincoat. He was the No. 2 official of the F.B.I., W. Mark Felt, who helped The Washington Post unravel the Watergate scandal and the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, a feat that he lived to see disclosed on Tuesday, frail but smiling at 91.

From the Washington Post: For three decades, former FBI official W. Mark Felt lived with one of the greatest secrets in journalism history.

And from my afternoon class: "Everyone put away those newspapers and take out a Number Two pencil. These scan trons aren't going to finish themselves, people."

Just great. Now, when Felt does die (Woodward's stipulation for giving up his identity), he'll haunt me but good.

Ben Bradlee on the Post's confirmation of DT's identity

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Go West, young man, Go West...

The search is over. I made an offer on a place and they were dumb enough to take it.

The address is 123 Noneofyourbusiness Street, but it's not far from my present neighborhood. It's spacious, clean, quiet, with a balcony, domestic applicances, room for a minibar, and two lovely working toilets. So what more could a guy want?

Maybe someone to come once a week and clean the working toilets, I don't know. Screw it, who cares. By the end of the month, I'll be out of this hellhole and into a new one where the only complaints raised will be the ones I create.

On a lighter note, one week left of school. Done teaching. Just giving finals, looking stern, policing graduation. No sweat. You could prop up a dummy made of cardboard and latex, put it in my desk and the kids would be none the wiser. Shit, you probably could have done that six months ago.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996)

A half an hour a day for the past two weeks or so and I finally made it through the only complete version of Hamlet on screen. It now occurs to me, after umpteen years, that I've seen three or four film versions of the masterpiece, and of course read it a dozen times or so, but I've never actually seen a dramatical performance. I can hear chants of "Philistine!" "Wannabe!" and "Go back to Stephen King, you hack!" filling cyberspace as I make my confession. "Make thy insults bloody, or nothing worth."

No matter. I'll just wait until the Hanover Park community theater breaks out the performance. Or, barring that, I'm sure the YMCA will have a stunning adaptation in their summer youth group theater performance.

(Sarcasm, people. You ever hear of it? "How absolute the knave is...")

In the meantime, I've got Branagh's adaptation to chew over. What can I say? It's got as many pluses as minuses, and when you're dealing with both a Shakespearian actor (I hate to be snotty, but when you tour with the RSC, your experience is self evident) and Shakespeare himself, not to mention an all-star cast, the finished product is bound to be worth the four hours of your life you spend watching it. Besides, I'm just enough of a DWM worshipper to believe that any minus you come across in a Hamlet production is minimal, compared to the crap you find in contemporary film. ("Speak the speech, I pray you.")

Branagh plays the Olivier Hamlet: brooding, slight in frame, not a little bit whiny. But it works. Not all the lines are as how I would envision them: when Branagh confronts Gertrude (Julie Christie) over her dalliance with his uncle, he looks more like he's going to stomp on the floor and hold his breath than attack her. But then he does attack her, and, bereft of all the psychological luggage Ziffereli dumped on Mel Gibson in the corresponding scene in his 1990 production, we are free to experience Hamlet's justified rage instead of wondering whether he's working out an Oedipal fixation.

Kate Winslet (Ophelia) works well, too. When she needs to be smitten, she's smitten. When she needs to be sexy, she's sexy. And when she needs to be crazy, she looks crazy, demented, physically ill and even conniving. In short, she's great. Ditto Jacobi (Claudius), Michael Maloney (Laertes), Nicholas Farrell(Horatio), and Brian Blessed (the ghost). The bit parts are hard for me to appreciate, mostly because I'm getting too much of a kick out of American actors putting in their two cents on the Bard (Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, especially), but overall I sucked up their performances like a Danish prince sucks up self-pity.

I can't necessarily say I was overawed with the filmic representations, but then, they were original. Branagh delivers his "to be or not to be" in front of a series of mirrors, casting infinite reflections as he ruminates on the death he wishes for. The swordfight at the end is more believable than any other I've seen--you almost expect them to break out lightsabers and jump ten feet in the air. And the tensions between the characters work as smooth as an oil slick. Gertrude looks like she wants to wash her eyes when she sees Claudius in the last two acts, and Polonius, so often played as a doddering do-gooder, comes off as the crafty manipulator many critics have defined him as.

So, while I'm no Shakespeare critic (just a humble Shakespeare teacher and reader), I know what I hate in a Shakespeare film. I hate it when what I see jars with what I've read. This version does anything but. Mr. Branagh, a divinity has indeed shaped your end: genius.

--Some Misc. Links

Hamlet to come out on DVD in 2006. Now I have to watch it again. This likes me well.

A Hamlet cheat sheet. I have no other reason to link this page except the fact that I stole their picture above. But if thou ever held literature in thy heart, absent thee from assholery a while and write thine own term paper, thou rump-fed runyon.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Here's what happens when you're home on a Saturday night: I found my old elementary school notebook. I've culled a typical week's worth of writing, the kind of pre-blogger fourth grade nothings that make you wince even as you grin. Textual scholars need not read any further:

The Flannel Diaries 1984

September, 1984

Monday, September 2

Today was the first day of school. My teacher is Mrs. Strand. She kept looking at me when she called all our names. I don’t know why. The book I read during class was A Wrinkle in Time. I liked it. Mrs. Strand said not to read during class, so I got in trouble. At lunch, Dave dared me to snort milk up my nose. I dared him back and he did it, but then he choked and almost died. It was funny. Then Mr. Kelley came over and said something mean that we didn’t hear, so we all got in trouble. Then Dave said I was a pussy because I didn’t snort the milk, and he was crying a little, so I left to go read my book.

Tuesday, September 3
Today Mrs. Strand took my book away and said I was supposed to be working on math. I didn’t get the math, so I started to write weird sentences because I was bored. I came up with “My very educated mother just served us nine pimples,” and I showed it to Matt and he started laughing really loud. Then Mrs. Strand yelled at us and we both got in trouble for not doing our math. When I got home, I told my mom what happened, and she said I needed to do math better if I wanted to get full bright, whatever that means.

Wednesday, September 4
Today was my brother’s birthday. He got a bunch of cool GI Joes. He let me play with them while the cheerleaders for his football team came over. They went into his room and played while I got to play with the GI Joes. I can’t believe he just let me keep them like that. What a loser. Matt came over later and we went exploring out in the woods. Mom said not to get our shoes muddy, but we did, so she got mad. Matt swears a lot.

Thursday, September 5
Mrs. Strand got mad at me again today because I was reading another book during Social Studies. She sent me to the back corner of the room for me to cool off, but I said I wasn’t angry and she said, No, not you. I don’t get it. She came back and said, Are you going to start paying attention? I said, Okay. She said, are you even listening to me right now? and I said okay. Then she said, have you been sniffing glue from the art supplies when you were back here, and I said Okay. Mrs. Strand looks red when she gets mad.

Friday, September 6
Fridays are fun because you don’t have to go to bed on time. My brother and I stayed up late watching World Wrestling Federation. My brother said all the wrestling was fake, but it’s cool anyway because all the wrestlers are all buff and can throw eachother around a lot and that’s cool. My brother says he’s going to start lifting weights so he can look as big as a wrestler. I said I wasn’t going to do that because I want to be a ninja and ninjas aren’t that big or they can’t sneak into fortresses and stuff like that. My brother said girls like it when guys are big like that, and I said, but then I couldn’t be a ninja. Then my brother rolled his eyes. I’ve seen him doing that a lot lately.

Sunday, September 8
My mom and my dad made me do homework today. My brother started at ten in the morning and finished before noon, and then he went to go watch the football game. I started at noon and finished at twelve fifteen. I told them I was really smart and that was why I finished it so quick, and then they wanted to see it. My dad said, what’s a fifth of twelve, and I got confused because I thought a fifth was a bottle of bourbon. I said so, and my dad said, don’t get smart with me, mister, I pay the bills around here. Then I said I thought the Bills were a football team, and everyone rolled their eyes like my brother does. Mom made me finish my math homework, and then we all watched King Kong on TV. I don’t think they made any more King Kong movies after that, and I think I want to write one of my own. I want to make King Kong come to our town and trash my school. That would be cool.

Monday, September 9
Mrs. Strand said we were going to be making an insect collection for science class. We have to find twenty different insects, kill them and mount them on a piece of cardboard. Mom made me start when I got home from school, so I went out in the field with a butterfly net and caught insects. Then I killed them. Then I left them on the kitchen table and forgot to put them on the cardboard, so I got in trouble. Matt said he’s going to get his insects from the windowsill. Today, Andy Richter said if I gave him my milk money he wouldn’t punch me in the face. Matt said for me to punch him first, but I gave him the money. I don’t like milk anyway. Mrs. Strand took my glue away from me.

Tuesday, September 10
I got four more dead bugs today and put them in an envelope because I forgot my cardboard. It was gross. Andy told me to give him my money again today, but he didn’t say he wouldn’t hit me, so I didn’t. Then he hit me. Mrs. Strand yelled at him and pulled his ear and made him apologize to me. Then Chris Freeman said Mrs. Strand beat him up and I didn’t, and everybody laughed. So I took my dead bugs and threw them in Chris’s lunch and he cried. That made me feel better. But then I didn’t have any more dead bugs after school so I had to go out and get more.

Thursday, September 12
I got my last dead bugs today. I put them on the cardboard and wrote names underneath them all. My dad saw the project and asked me if I was supposed to put their scientific names under them. I said I thought I was supposed to name them, and that I named them all after the dumb kids at school like Dave, Andy and Chris. My dad said he liked that better. My mom said, don’t encourage him. My brother did seventy pushups today, and I drank three Cokes.

Friday, September 13
Mrs. Strand gave me a D on my insect project. She said I didn’t label them according to kingdom, phylum and class, and I wasn’t supposed to give them people names. I said I didn’t use people names, I used Chris Freeman’s and Andy Richter’s names, and she smiled a little and changed my grade to a C. My mom said it was a dumb project anyway, and that John Steinbeck probably never had to do one either but he turned out okay. We went out to dinner at Port Barrington and my brother and I got a bunch of quarters to play Donkey Kong Junior with while Mom and Dad stayed at the table with the neighbors. I went to go eat the chips on the table, but they turned out to be cigarette butts. It was gross. My brother laughed and I hit him, but I didn’t get in trouble because he didn’t notice.
Except for Matt, who is shameless anyway, all proper names have been changed. Weird how I never refer to my brother by name, isn't it?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Fare thee well, Arthur Miller. You were a voice we (or I, if you prefer) took for granted as immortal. All too late, I regret it.

New York Times' obituary

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

From Cisco:

A Year of Lies. The chronicles of a PI with three slugs in him. One is lead and the rest are bourbon. Hysterical. Makes me jealous. Get off this pathetic excuse for a blog and go read his instead.

Friday, January 28, 2005

More Marriage Mayhem

Todd called me up out of the blue to ask if I would stand at his wedding. Open bar? I asked. Bachelor party? Reception? Good looking tuxedo? Open bar? Sure, I'll show up. Open bar, right?

It's my third standing thus far; I thought about compiling some kind of Groomsman Resume, only I'm somewhat reluctant. It doesn't look good:
1993: My cousin's wedding. Face broke out. Hid in the bathroom all afternoon, too embarassed to come out and dance with her friends. Grey tuxedo made me look like a parking lot attendee. Lost the room key. Brother sarcastic.

1997: Stood at Dale's wedding. Late to ceremony. Got lost on the way to the reception. Hated the bride. Sunday night, and no open bar.

2002: Dale's second wedding. On time, but hung over. Holes in socks. Ate two pounds of deep fried calamari; lousy stomach ache.

2003: Brother's wedding. Stood and made a kickass toast. Too pale compared to everyone else. Open bar. Good food. Good ceremony.

2005: Todd's wedding. Will get lost. Will rip tuxedo. Will forget to buy a gift. Will enjoy open bar. Will make a speech whether or not anyone wants to hear it.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

A memorable moment:

I'm out for drinks with a couple friends (no, I'm not naming them by name, but careful readers will be able to discern any likely candidates), and we're going over past New Year's Eve nights:
Me: One year we went drinking in DeKalb. Another night we were in Florida.
Tso: Hey, didn't we go ballroom dancing one year?
Tso: Wait...I meant...
Me: I remember that night. You didn't hold my hand.
Okay, I blew the anonymity. God, it was funny.