Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Odyssey of Ehram Spickor

In a quiet place

Two weeks until Daylight Savings Time and I finally caught the cold. Feverish and stuffed up, sweaty and snotty, I pushed through. When the sickness broke I felt so good. Tonight marks one full year free from all chemicals, substances and pot. A sober and determined human being. Ten days ago I stopped eating animals and products made from animals. A tentative truce between the animal kingdom and the basement. The rainy, elongating days.

To enshrine the change of season and diet, I made a mix tape called No Meat Spring. The second song is from the sixties group, Lamb, the title of which graces this blog post. Since the lyrics are almost impossible to find on the internet, I will republish them here: “If silver fishes grew on trees / And the sky was filled with ocean / Oh where in the world could I find the sun / If I ever had the notion / Could I create the signs of change / That could guard your body / Guide your aging mind / Along the path forever sighing, remarking / About the hours passing you / If a golden age were upon the earth / And on the moon grew flowers / Oh, how in the world could there be wars / If there were no evil powers / Could I create a life to lead / That would flow as water / Grow with passing time / Along the path forever, living, remarking / About the hours changing you”

Carnivore

Roly Poly is a midnight foot attacker.

The Dream Stela of Thutmosis IV

What rough beast

What is the story written on Thutmosis IV’s stela?

The Dream Stela describes a time when he was just newly king. [Scholars put his reign at 1401–1391 B.C.] According to the stela, Thutmosis IV was strolling here one day, all alone. Around midday, he got very hot and decided to rest in the shadow of the Great Sphinx. And at the moment when the sun hit the zenith—was at the top of the sky—the god Horem-Akhet-Khepri-Re-Atum came to him in a dream and basically told him that if he cleared away the sands that had been building up around [the Sphinx], the god would make sure that Thutmosis IV was the ruler of upper and lower Egypt, unified.

In my dream I wandered the desert, until I came to Roly Poly, buried up to his head in sand. The creature spoke, “Whoever cleans my litter box shall rule over the land of the dollar bill.” This is what happens when I fall asleep on the couch watching Nova.

The crab emoticon said go for it

My friend Amanda often finds trouble on the MBTA. She bought me a tape of a young Jerry Seinfeld discussing the craft of comedy, and this is one of the best parts:

Larry Wilde: Why is the art of comedy so difficult to master?

Jerry Seinfeld: Because you’re completely alone. There’s no where to hide and every aspect of the work has to be done by you, the comedian. So any failing in your character, in your work, in your mood, any weakness is readily visible to the audience because you can’t hide behind… there’s no script, there’s no story. You’re a guy facing the audience directly and everything shows. It calls upon every facility you have as a human being; creativity, and also sometimes just pure toughness, the ability to get up on stage and deliver a show, energy, taking care of yourself properly, the day-in day-out. It calls upon a lot of different abilities all at the same time. When you have a failing, unfortunately, it can be fatal. Its like you could tell the greatest joke but if you just trip over one word on the punchline, nothing. Why? Why? Its the same thought. Its the same joke. I just said, “the the” instead of “the” and there’s zero laugh. These are the rules of comedy. Nobody knows why, but its a very exacting thing.

LW: When professionals discuss comedy, they tend to do it in a very scientific, analytical manner. Why is that?

JS: It takes so little… its like this little house of cards… a joke is this souffle. Its created from nothing and it only lasts for a second. Its almost like a smoke ring. You just have to see it now. A joke exists in space and time, and time never stops moving. Its like a train going by and there is one car with the door open and you’re on the platform. When that car comes by you have to jump. Sometimes you’ll get thrown off a joke and an audience will say, well, finish it anyway, and you go, I can’t, the train went by. That was it. It existed in that moment only, and you can’t bring it back.

Lophiiformes

Angler fishes

The big wave competition Mavericks was held last weekend. The waves at this break near Half Moon Bay in Northern California are absurdly large, 25 to 50 feet. This year it wasn’t just the surfers taking them on: “bone-crushing” rogue waves washed over the seawalls and swamped spectators. “It just came out of nowhere and wiped us all out,” said Pamela Massette of Corte Madera.

Sunday night I was hanging with friends, watching the NBA Allstar game, when an offer was made. A woman arrived at halftime to have fun with my friend. He offered to pay for me to have fun with her first. On the television Shakira was performing “She Wolf” at Cowboys Stadium, in Dallas. A highlight of Cowboys Stadium is its gigantic center-hung high-definition television screen, the largest in the world, sometimes referred to as “Jerry-Tron,” a 160-by-72-foot (49 by 22 m), 175-foot (53.34m) diagonal, 11,520-square-foot (1,070 m2), scoreboard. The young woman arrived and I introduced myself, and made polite, if uncomfortable, conversation. My friend pushed her towards me saying, “This guy hasn’t had fun in five years, do you think you can get him hot?” She said yes, definitely. “Whoa whoa whoa,” I said, “I didn’t wait five years to have sex with a HOOKER!”

Wednesday night is Fry-Day at Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale. Despite my best intentions, I ordered a half dozen oysters, a cheeseburger, and the all-you-can-eat fried catfish. The couple at the next table over were elderly and obese, the woman a pile of mashed potatoes with gray hair and spectacles. Her husband looked like an off-duty Santa Claus with wooly mutton chops, a big belly, and suspenders. The waitress doted on them. “When you get the time hun, some more lemon and another piece of catfish,” said Santa. “Another piece of catfish. More tartar. More lemon. More catfish please. Lemon. Tartar. Catfish. Catfish. Catfish…” By the time I finished my dinner and the waitress stopped by to see if I wanted seconds, I said no thanks. In the parking lot, waiting for the car to warm up, I asked my aunt the difference between her and I and that couple. “Four hundred pounds?” my aunt asked. No, I said, the difference is they have someone to sleep with at night.

Noodle Slurping

Egg yolk snowball

“They say when you die you see something like a movie. A life kaleidoscoped into a few seconds. I look forward to that movie. A man’s last movie. I don’t want it interrupted. ‘Darling don’t die!’ and tears… I can do without that. Hey, our movie’s starting.” The man who speaks these words is seated in a movie house with his partner and a luxurious cart of goodies is wheeled before them. He wears a white suit. In later scenes, they are shown as lovers. He salts her nipple, squeezes out a lemon. Licks honey from her lips. She dips her breast in whipped cream. He presses a bowl of thrashing shrimp against her stomach. She takes an oyster out of its shell, into her hand, and up to his mouth. Famously, they snowball egg yolk. Tampopo, the first film in the “noodle western” genre, is about a stoic truck driver who helps transform a young woman into a ramen master.

Melts in your mouth

As good as that story is, the best part of the film may be the multifarious subplots. Food is the topic at hand, and each minor act contributes to the mythos. Cross cultural miscommunication is contextualized nonverbally, through noodle slurping. A group of women are learning to eat pasta, the Western fork and spoon method, with twirling, in quiet bites, while well within earshot an American businessman noisily defies this lesson. Five out of six Japanese businessmen place the same order, for sole, consume, and a Heineken, while the sixth, a foodie, does not bow to social deference. A father rushes home to his sick wife, lying on the floor, struggling to stay awake, surrounded by their children. He urges her to focus on cooking the family dinner, and she does, collapses at the table and dies. The father urges the hysterical children to eat up while its hot, to remember it as the last meal their mother made for them.

What are Ghosts

Randy of the Residents telling stories

“Now we have invited all of you people to come into our little living room here so we can play a few songs and tell you a few stories. Now some of these stories are kinda spooky!” Randy of The Residents, in an old man mask, intoned through a Vocoder. Boy, he wasn’t kidding. A day ago, I noticed that my friend Austin had become a fan of The Residents on Facebook, and then I saw that they were playing the Middle East tonight. Back in Chicago, Austin turned me on to so many good bands, I trust his inclinations. Anyway, I needed to get out of the house and escape the accumulation-less snowstorm blues; the faux-storm. Jess and I walked to Central Square and watched The Residents play.

Flurried sundown

I don’t have words to describe the performance. Going in, I knew nothing. Now at least I know that there are lots people who enjoy The Residents; the show sold out the Middle East Downstairs. The guitarist played these heavy, droning riffs that sounded similar to the soundtrack of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. That or maybe a Decepticon’s death screams. The keyboardist alternated between a child’s xylophone, a drum machine, samples of commercials for obscure products, and a manically giggling baby doll. Both instrumentalists sported welder’s masks over dread lock wigs. The lead singer, Randy, told stories on the microphone; he augmented his tales with video clips shot onto round screens with a hand-held projector.

For example, Randy would shoot onto the screen a talking hot dog man who describes owning two pets, a boa constrictor named Leonard Cohen and a rabbit named Ralph. The rabbit gets eaten, but chews his way out of the Leonard Cohen’s stomach, killing the snake. The boa constrictor comes back to haunt the talking hot dog man, who admits he’s nervous, because even though its a ghost snake, it is wrapping itself around and around him… In between each vignette Randy rambled incoherently into the microphone, the volume turned up to eleven, or chanted such gems as “Love is just a little lamb, lookin’ for a hunk of ham.” The talking hot dog man admits to eating fourteen hot dogs in a single sitting to calm his nerves, the story ends.

The Residents website / blog describes the Talking Light show in the following manner: “‘What are ghosts’ ask The Residents – spirits of those no longer inhabiting the flesh, but unable to leave their lives behind? Or could ghosts be a manifestation of something even less tangible, like loneliness, unfulfilled desire or isolation? In a world where nearly everything has become defined and categorized, how do we fill our obvious, purely human need for the fuzzy, vague and supernatural – with TV commercials?”

A Cup of Sand

A cup of sand from the seafloor

[transcript from the NOVA episode, Killer Subs in Pearl Harbor]

KAZUO UEDA: Mr. Kamita, here is your brother. Here is Mr. Dewa who accompanied you to Pearl Harbor.

NARRATOR: A cup full of sand is carefully removed from the seafloor, beneath the sealed control room of the midget sub, and given to Admiral Ueda to take home.

AKIRA IRIYE: The remains or the spirits of the dead, ah, from the submarine would now be reunited with the sand.

NARRATOR: Admiral Ueda presents the sand to Petty Officer Dewa.

He brings it to a memorial service for Japanese sailors who lost their lives in midget submarines.

AKIRA IRIYE: The sand that was brought back from Hawaii is purified now, becomes Japanese soil, so to speak.

NARRATOR: For Kichiji Dewa, the mission is at last over. For Parks Stephenson, it’s always been about bringing the facts to light.

PARKS STEPHENSON: I want their accomplishment known, so that their sacrifice will have meaning.

Stoplight Sunday morning

December 7, 1941 has been compared to September 11, 2001. On both days, America suffered a surprise attack and entered a war. Sixty nine years after the 2,402 American servicemen and women were killed in Hawaii, a publicly funded science television program (NOVA) in conjunction with the U.S. Navy, accompanied the senior surviving Japanese midget submariner, Admiral Kazuo Ueda, 1,000 feet under the sea to the wreckage of a Japanese midget sub used in the attack. The Admiral paid respects to Sadamu Kamita and commander Masaji Yokoyama, holding up photos of their families to the porthole. A robot arm scooped a cup of sand from underneath the wrecked mini-sub, to be brought back to Japan. The program explains how this midget submarine may have torpedoed the USS West Virginia and USS Oklahoma, killing hundreds of Americans.

This is a remarkable and quiet reconciliation. For now, 9/11 is too loud and contentious for any similar mediation. The Obama Administration saw harmony in the move to try 9/11 mastermind K.S.M. in lower Manhattan. Attorney General Eric Holder famously stated, “After eight years of delay, those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September 11th will finally face justice. They will be brought to New York—to New York—to answer for their alleged crimes in a courthouse just blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood.” Many Americans were displeased with this plan, a story well told by Jane Meyer’s article in the New Yorker, “The Trial: Eric Holder and the battle over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed”

“On December 5th, several hundred people gathered in Foley Square, in lower Manhattan, and withstood a drenching rainstorm for two hours in order to send a message to Attorney General Eric Holder. A JumboTron, set up by the protesters, played clips of Holder’s recent testimony before Congress, in which he explained his decision to hold the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—the self-proclaimed planner of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—and four co-conspirators in the colonnaded federal courthouse flanking the square, rather than in a military commission at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Members of the crowd shouted at the screen: “Holder’s gotta go!”; “Arrogant bastard!”; “Communist!” “Traitor!” “Lynch Holder!”

Who knows where or how this trial will play out. I hope that someday a cup of sand will find its way to the right hands.

New Songs

Continental Gardens

In 1973, during the Chilean coup, the folk artist Victor Jara was taken prisoner, and along with thousands of others, brought to the Chilean stadium where the military tortured and killed a large number of people. The guards shattered the bones in Victor’s hands with blunt instruments, then asked him to play them some songs. One year later, in 1974, the Top of the Pops refused to allow Robert Wyatt to perform his cover of the Monkees hit “I’m A Believer,” while seated in his wheelchair. The producer felt the wheelchair was “not suitable for family viewing.” These two events happened within the span of a single year.

The term “crash blossoms” was discussed in last week’s On Language column, by Ben Zimmer. The term, coined by writer Dan Bloom, refers to headlines whose meaning changes when the words therein are read as nouns or verbs, or vice versa. This is a function of headlines brevity, and lack of prepositions. “Ambiguous words often lead to ludicrous and puzzling headline statements,” Grant Milnor Hyde wrote in his 1915 manual, “Newspaper Editing.” Read the article for funny examples. This notion of miscommunication in headlines is humorous and behind the curve.

Two girls recognized me coming out of the gym, in the adjacent parking garage. One I knew, the other was her roommate, and as I went to introduce myself with an outstretched hand, the girl who knows me screeched, “Don’t touch him, he’s been on the elliptical machine for hours!” A day or two later, I was walking to my car behind a gaggle of middle school girls, each hauling a pile of bricks in their backpacks. They would stop at each parked car and write a silly message in the dust on the window, and giggle. “Hi :-)” for example. They did this to three cars, taking turns with the message, and then came to mine. I sneaked around the back of the gaggle, out into the street, like I was going to cross, and as they started to write on my window I popped up beaming and boomed, “Hello ladies!” They screamed and fled.

Trees beyond

The reason I say crash blossoms are behind the curve is because headlines have existed for hundreds of years. The quote from 1915 proves that crash blossoms have as well. What interests me are the crash blossoms that happen in everyday life in our current abbreviated culture. A text message, blog post, Facebook status update, tweet, or spoken word with alternate meanings. Faced with the web, human beings are becoming ever more analytical. The eyeballs constant tether to technology trades ponderance for expedition.

Artist Andy Goldsworthy studies how rivers and tides interact with his naturally sourced creations to gain a sense of time and place. A similar process occurs when the impermanent sea of information washes over a man made point, or a chain of thought navigates the heady currents of commentary. What is lost and what remains, sure, but moreover what happens to us in the happening. A transmutation from mere passenger to navigator, maybe even captain, on the intercoursing waves of ephemera.

Victor Jaras Robert Wyatt

“What I now see, I have never seen
What I feel and what I have felt
Will make the moment spring again.”

Victor Jara could not play his guitar with broken hands. He composed this poem (smuggled out of the stadium in the sole of a friend’s shoe) and defiantly sang the song, “Venceremos” (We Will Win), before the guards tortured, beat and electrocuted him, and then shot him in the head. Two months ago, December 3, 2009, thirty six years after his death, there was finally a proper funeral for Victor Jaras. Thousands of Chileans, including his widow, the President of Chile, artists, fans, and militants, gathered for an enormous procession. They carried his body and sang his songs.

Robert Wyatt won the right to appear on Top of the Pops playing “I’m A Believer”, in his wheelchair. Decades later, he recorded the song, “Lips Service,” as a kind of reply to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”: “‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ worried me, I thought, Oh you smug git – yes you fucking did! If you’re talking about ‘we’ I can talk about ‘you’. I don’t often listen to words, but he was saying, Listen to me, I’ve got something serious to say, and I thought – you’d better have!”

Xylem and Phloem

electric landscape

My hands are in rough shape. Not dishwasher-era bad, when the endless water, soap, chemicals, hot plates, and metal edges tenderized my phalanges into chuck eye. I’m talking middle class hand scrabble on winter skin. Blisters, three of them, from the elliptical machine. Scratches and toothmarks from playing with Roly Poly. A jagged red wound down my middle finger caused by boiling hot tea water. Almost ten year old scars from my fist fight with a chandelier. To reach in the dark.

Door 1 door 2

My Black Toenail

My black toenail

…finally fell off. The toenail from my left big toe turned black after I shakily descended Mt. Washington in crampons. Apparently there had been some friction. For more than a month its been black. I did my best not to talk or blog about it; didn’t want people grossed out. I did tell my Uncle Johnny. This is the man who talked me out of fear of public urination (“walk into the bathroom like you own the place, pee directly into the center of the urinal / toilet, make as much noise as possible”) and is a life coach to me. He suggested I keep quiet about the black toenail. Uncle Johnny said that if I went to the emergency room they would pry it off prematurely, and that would hurt like hell. I have been waiting and waiting. Last night, while typing an email to my friend Austin, I rubbed my feet together and it fell off. Roly Poly’s interest was piqued by the dead thing. With my big nude toe bleeding on the floor, I launched into a half hour long photo shoot with the black toenail, feeling a little like Ed Gein. I am almost ashamed to say I have yet to throw it out.

Faces

While I have been eating, sleeping and going to the bathroom, my computer has been organizing all the people from my photos into a 9,733 (and counting) face mosaic.

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