Monday, December 29, 2008


It appears now that I have spent five dazs alreadz in Bavaria in the medieval or Romanische town of Regensburg where the dazs are as cold as the people are white and mz experience is so private it is unknowable even to me. Which is to saz, I am having some difficultz with languages, and what the fuck am I doing here. I spent Christmas daz waiting for Harrz to meet me in the evening after his familz time and I went to the concentration camp in Dachau which is not 16km from the Munich Hauptbahnhof right in the dead center of that citz in this cold ass countrz. The curation was terrble so one was not sure what exactlz happened at Dachau except that the living conditions were less than ideal for the summer campers living in bunks until zou got to the part where there were videos of piles of corpses then zou saz, OH thatäs what happened here. Never trust the perpetrators to tell their historz of oppression to zou. Then I sat in a chapel at the far end of the camp and listened to some penguins sing Fröhliche Weihnachten carols to an audience of me and another person in the dark in the cold in Dachau and wondered what exactlz was wrong with the world. But I am just in a mood right now, I donät mean to saz hello bz talking first and foremost about the murders of 13 million people sixtz zears ago. It has not been bad here. It has been good but unfathomable. What the f am I doing. Iäm stazing in Harrz's house. We are having an affair in a vaccuum where one partz does not understand what the other means bz "let's find something to munch on." The kultur vaccuum surrounding the vaccuum of the relationship is a countrz all-weiß and thez love to stare at oneäs slantz ezes and then look awaz verz quicklz when zou look at them with zour slantz ezes. Harrz does not like to have his picture taken. There are hammers and walnuts in shells all over his small twobedroom. One bedroom is a chaotic storage space for appliance boxes and hiking boots of various weatherproofings and the other bedroom is a chaotic storage space for vhs tapes dvds cds and piles of flannel shirts and unwarm bedding. Germans are cheap and economical or at least this environmentalist is and the house is kept at near freeying. There is a coffee table he has been cleaning one broken lightbulb and pile of paper and one unfunctioning analog alarm clock at a time for the last four dazs without seeming to make anz improvement on it. We went to Salyburg zesterdaz in Austria where Moyart was filmed and the Sound of Music composed tempestuous classical music and where Harrz and i filled the daz walking from sunnz sitting spot to sunnz sitting spot and glühwein drinking spot to glühwein drinking spot. Glühwein is hot mulled wine one drinks when one's tits are in a twist over the tit-twisting cold wind over the Austrian alps. I am trzing not to break anyones Herz but we have conceded that on Januarz 2nd the parties will be falling into deep dark holes, post-partum. I am both eager to leave and unhappz to return to Chicago and somewhat sad about the approaching end of this most biyarre and unfathomable time in mz life. At least Harry is not Jeffrz Dahmer like mz mom said he would be. Do I saz "ich liebe dich mein liebling" or do I saz "whz can we find nothing to talk about during the daztime?" Sometimes I look at his face and think mz Herz is going to blow up and sometimes I look at it and think that I have gone crayz. Sorrz this blog post is as expressionistic and jagged as Weimar art but mz brain is full of pfefferminze tee from "Boston Coffee Community" and i am finding no time to write or even think, and itäs all so sehr, sehr strange. Write me emails, für ich habe vergessen wer ich bin, und it would be sehr nice to be reminded that I am an American and I use and love American Englisch and can expect more out of mein leben than waiting quietlz on a frostz residential Bavarian road at 6:50am for bus 2A at Justizgäubestraße with someone who doesnät understand "what's cookin good lookin?". Ist dist alles? Nein nein nein. OMFGWTF am I doing?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

the first day of winter

It seems unbelieveable because I've spent the last six weeks shivering, but today was the first day of winter.  This was the morning's weather report: -4°F Feels Like -30 °F."

It was a strange night for me. I chatted with the Bavarian between 2 and 4 a.m., and then fell asleep and had this dream, which I recalled to Harry by email:
After we got off the phone last night, I fell asleep and had a very vivid dream about coming to your flat to see you. We were ecstatic to see each other. You showed me around your house. You had gauzy shades drawn across your windows so that the light looked muted. You were in the kitchen; covering the kitchen floor was loose dog food and a box of cat litter. You said you didn't own a cat, but that you just kept the floor covered like this. There was a soggy mattress under your kitchen sink that you used to catch water falling from the pipes. I went to use the bathroom and accidentally peed in your bidet, because I'm American. And then I found the toilet proper, and noticed that you used all American ("Desert Essence") toiletries. I knocked over a box of cinnamon-flavored toothpicks by accident and then had to sweep up the mess I made. But the bathroom floor was covered in grains, nuts, and seeds, like a birdhouse, so it took a very long time to clean; I had to sweep around the grains, nuts, and seeds. When I came out of the bathroom, you directed me to a hidden room, a huge ballroom, where there was a convention of students of foreign languages and I was forced to sit at a table with very irritating girls learning French and then required to write the word "Nitzan" in Hebrew. I left the convention and found your flat through a series of corridors, and you in the bedroom. I just wanted to speak with you, but you said you had a room to clean first. You opened a door in your bedroom to an adjoining room that was enclosed but had no roof. The sides of it were covered in what looked like dried strawberry marmalade. You started scraping the marmalade off the walls with an ice scraper and I noticed that there were dead rodents stuck to the walls as well. They were bats, and the marmalade was actually dried blood and fruit. You said, "Many Europeans would consider having bats very lucrative." You had trapped a bat the size of a cat in a tube-shaped cage, but it looked like a white ferret. You had also trapped five baby bat/ferrets in a smaller cage, and you chased me around with it and I told you I was going to cry unless you stopped. You stopped, and then we went back in your bedroom, and we took off our clothes, and you told me you hated the polizei.
I woke up with a bloody nose and saw that there were gobs of snot/blood all around the collar of my hoodie. Then I decided it was time to leave. The thermometer outside read:

I wanted to go outside because (1) it was sunny, and sunny and freezing is better than indoors and freezing, and (2) I don't know how many opportunities I'll have in my life to experience what -30 °F feels like, so why not seize the opportunity? 

When I was preparing to move to Chicago, I was very concerned with the abstract idea of Chicago Cold. It was abstract because people I spoke to about the weather spoke in indeterminate and relative phrases, like, "It's so fucking cold." What does that mean? I mean, I've lived in Boston and New York and spent several months in northern Vermont. None of those places are particularly warm. So I figured people who talked about Chicago cold were just pussies or tall tale tellers. 

Not so. Chicago is so fucking cold. How cold is Chicago relative to New York or Boston? New York does not get colder than 20°F except on rare occasions, when people cry and hide indoors. When I bought my little blue Jamis, I told myself I would bike commute every weekday that the air temperature was over 20°F at 8 a.m. and the atmosphere was free of precipitation. I haven't ridden my bike a day since November 20, because my unambitious criteria have not been met, even once. 20°F is a whole helluva lot colder than 38°F, which is average winter daytime temperature in New York. Say eighteen degrees is the difference between seasons. Summer at 74, spring and fall at 56, winter at 38; then a Chicago winter is the fifth season: post-winter, Satan-chewing-on-your-head HELL. In hell, one must wear silk longjohns at all times.

So today I got a taste of  -30°F. And how cold is -30°F? Turns out -30°F is not too much colder than zero! Getting stabbed in the face still feels like getting stabbed in the face. Above a certain size of blade, it's all the same pain. I think this is why it's so hard to describe really cold weather.  -30°F feels like eating raw onions, or watching slow-motion footage of the Tacoma-Narrows bridge collapse. When the wind gusted hard by the lake today, a feeling of melancholy overwhelmed me, and I thought about my family. But later I felt triumphant, euphoric, and panicked, so I'm not sure that real-feel temperature is in any way correlated with emotions.  -30°F sounds like the English horn solo from the New World Symphony, maybe because it's fucking lonesome out in the world when it's that cold, and you feel like a pioneer. The guy in "To Build A Fire" dies at -50°F with amber icicles of chewing tobacky spittle coming down his beard. 

I wanted to know how one dresses for -30°F. This is what I wore:

Top to bottom: 
  1. neoprene balaclava (ski mask)
  2. sleeveless spandex thermal shirt
  3. silk long-sleeved thermal shirt
  4. thick wool turtleneck sweater
  5. down ski jacket with hood pulled up
  6. regular old undies
  7. silk long johns
  8. yoga pants
  9. regular old jeans
  10. padded wool ski socks pulled up to knees
  11. wool hiking socks bunched at ankles
  12. hiking boots
  13. lobster (split-finger) mittens
I was toasty warm except for (1) my ass, which I should've covered with something windproof, because it was red for a few hours after I got in from the cold, and (2) the space around my eyes that the balaclava didn't cover. I put on two layers of sunscreen, hoping the chemicals would provide some protection from the wind, but it didn't help. I was worried my contacts were going to freeze. At points I had to pull the hood entirely over my face and just walk blind for a bit. 

I started walking at 12:50 p.m. and finished at 5:15.  In between, I walked about seven miles.

Steam rising off the Chicago River at Goose Island. The grain elevator you see in the background is actually the salt lift for the Morton Salt Factory. I started off my walking tour with a stroll through Chicago's industrial corridor near the Cabrini-Green projects. 

I spent a bit of time on this bridge kicking snow blocks into the river and watching them float away. Over the course of the day, I stopped in a outdoors store and a bagel store and a music store and a bakery, to warm my frostbitten ass up. 
Lincoln Park near the lakefront. I saw one other person in the entire park, a crazy jogger shuffling down an unplowed path. There was no one at all on the Lakefront Path, a bit of a contrast from the summertime crowds.

The beach area was all fenced off but not with any gusto, and it was easy to slip by. I walked along what I thought was a sandbar, but it turned out to be a pier.

Then I looked down and realized I had walked to the edge of the pier, and what I thought was beach to the sides of the path was in fact the shallows, frozen over. The ice transitioned abruptly back into water.

That black dot on the left part of the screen is a crazy duck bobbing for apples. Off to my right, I could see that I had walked out to the posts that demarcate the end of the swimming area. Big mesas of ice had formed around them, but I couldn't figure out why they would be pushed out of the water like that. They looked like slices of cake.

More cake slices to the left. It also kind of looked like waves had been frozen in midair.

The snow was deep on the path. The coldest part of my day occurred on the pedestrian bridge over Lakeshore Drive, where nothing was protecting me from the wind blowing straight off the lake. I walked backward so that the air wouldn't fill up the space around my hood and blow down my jacket.

Two hundred feet from the shore, I tripped over this plaque in the middle of a snow field.

And then I continued toward home along Armitage Street. 

Chicago has not done a very good job of plowing this year because the snows have been cold and plentiful and the city budget did not account for such an early winter. All day long I watched people scraping and digging out their cars. It seemed like torture. They all did this last week too, when it snowed, and they'll do it again on Tuesday when it's supposed to snow another 6". Why do people have cars here?

I walked back across Goose Island and down Paulina Street to get to my gym. At the Ark Thrift Shop, I saw a beautiful old friend in the window:

I had completely forgotten about it, but this stuffed dog played a very prominent role in my childhood. I owned one just like it. It was extra light and huge. I straddled it and held it by the ears and galloped around my living room in Milpitas, California. I never named it but I pretended it was my dog, before my family adopted Coach. Just then I closed my eyes and prayed for my Mannequin moment, but the stuffed dog in the window did not miraculously come to life and tell he was indeed owned by a Chinese girl in California in the early 1980s. Nonetheless I felt happier having seen the dog. 

I went to the gym and spent fifteen minutes stripping wet layer after wet layer off my bright red ass, and I ellipticalled for six miles while watching a dog long jump contest on ESPN 2.  I ate an organic apple and walked the quarter mile home.

I found that my Naglene bottle had turned into a solid block of ice. I put on my United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois lounging robe, heated water for chai and ate some ginger snaps while scrolling through the days non-news. I called OZ, who was on his way to lose money to NG in poker, and then I called SL, and we talked through some down moments and about Chen Shui-Bian's physician's son and ferrets and Love Actually. SL said she was appalled by the power relationships in the movie's romances but I could tell from her inflection that she was actually intrigued by the gender normativity, or maybe I'm just projecting. I ate a dinner of rice and tofu, and then I edited my cousin's MPH application essays, using the word "cacophonous" where a smaller, better word would do. Now I am going to take a bath and read my popular history book about cadavers. It has not been a bad Sunday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

jerry springer

BM and I went to a taping of the Jerry Springer show yesterday night. It was not hard to get tickets. They are free and all you have to do is leave your phone number on the website, and a very excitable PA will give you a call the next day. We attempted to go to a taping a month ago, but were turned away because they overbook shows and seats are available first come first serve. But because we had attempted and failed to see a taping, we were given "VIP" tickets to the December 15 taping.

All VIP meant was that we got to bypass the ticket line outside and fast-track to the metal detector. I arrived at 6:30 pm and waited half an hour for BM to show up. I killed time by trying on the thumbcuffs (upon which "CHICAGO AL CAPONE 'There are no gangsters in this city'" is printed) in the NBC souvenir shop and cycling through all the quips programmed into the "The Office" talking pens. Outside the non-VIP audience hopefuls were queuing up. Average age looked to be 19 or 20; the minimum age is 18, and security checks IDs.

Even though Chicago hit a low of windchill -3 degrees yesterday, many of these kids were dressed for spring break. The PA who booked my ticket reminded me twice, once by phone and once by voicemail, to dress "super cute" for the show, since it was going to be a "special." The tickets also came with an instructional half-sheet on what "super cute" meant. I saved it and will recreate it in its entirety below:


MEN: Nice jeans, khakis, dockers or dress pants with a collared shirt (polo or button down) or sweaters only. 
WOMEN: Nice jeans, dress pants or skirts with a pretty shirt, blouse sweaters only.

Unfortunately we are unable to admit you if the following attire is worn:

Jerseys, t-shirts of any kind, oversized clothing, logos, decals, sweatpants, sweatshirts, sports attire or any other attire we feel is inappropriate for our studio audience. 

We could have been at an all-ages bridge and tunnel disco. The boys dressed like boys and the girls dressed like girls. There were overdressed boys in collared shirts and jeans; they grouped together and talked to each other and eyed the girls nervously because they were probably 5-10 years shy of maturing into full-on, loud-talking confident pricks. The girls' makeup erred on the side of pancake. Everybody had straightened hair with bangs that fell at an angle across the forehead. There was lots of cleavage, and lots of GLH.

BM and I opted to blend in rather than stand out as "super cute." I am a member of the California bar, after all. Best not to attract attention on the Jerry Springer show. I wore jeans and a discrete, neutral-toned sweater, and glasses, and would have worn a schnozz to hide behind if I had thought to bring one. BM wore a flesh-colored sweater (she worried that the camera would make her look naked) and jeans. I had to stuff my royal blue bathrobe with the N.D. Ill. District Court seal into my backpack and check the backpack. The other checked items in the security area were about fifteen cigarette boxes and a skateboard.

A PA led us to the VIP waiting room, where I ate a dinner of Maruchan instant noodles using three toothpicks and BM sipped a diet cherry Coke. Apparently the non-VIPs were corralled into a caged waiting area to "sober up" during the hourlong wait between the security check and the actual taping. BM and I killed this hour by discussing in detail our plans to write and sell a Thanksgiving-themed song to a Nashville star (see previous entry - I found the perfect theme!). We were handed release forms, which we read thoroughly before signing. There were some pretty funny clauses in that form, not just the usual submit to arbitration, release us and our assigns from all claims that you and your assigns may have, but also (1) indemnify us for any damage you cause, and (2) you can't be offended by our nudity, the nudity of our guests, or your own nudity. I'm paraphrasing the last...I can't remember the exact words...but it was along the lines of NBC getting the rights to use the studio audience's nudity?

I haven't watched the Jerry Springer show since 1994, so I really didn't know what to expect. The release forms were the first clue. The second clue came when a PA came in to announce that our slated show was not an ordinary taping but a "special," for Pay-Per-View, and there was going to be extra nudity, violence and vulgarity, and if we couldn't handle it we should leave then. A little later on I went to the bathroom and saw several women trotting around in their underwear. I am still not really sure what they were doing but I think they were extras.

Around 9pm, the PAs led the VIPs to the studio. Jerry Springer's decorative scheme is Night Court gothic, same as it was in 1994, with brick walls and fake industrial equipment churning in the background. Jerry Springer's name/logo was stamped in stencil font around the studio, and someone had superimposed "UNCENSORED" placards on top, for the special Pay-Per-View show. The studio was very aggressively air conditioned, as I learned from the twenty-eight nipples that erected onstage in the next two hours.

The aisle seat of the row in which we were seated was propped up funny, as were some other aisle seats around the room. We learned later that these seats were designated for the "plants" in the audience, actors and actresses hired to dress and act like audience members but who would spring into action when called upon. Our aisle seat remained empty until just before the taping started, when a woman wearing so much foundation that her face looked like the top layer of a tiramisu slipped into it. She wore a spaghetti-strap tank top that revealed the bright blue outline of a cherry blossom branch tattooed on her right shoulder. I never learned her name, but she kept leaning over to BM and whispering conspiratorially and cattily about the people on stage: (about an obviously fake set of tits) "Ew, her boobs are fucking disgusting. They're making me sick"; (about the personality attached to those tits) "I hate dipshits"; (about two ugly women pulling each others' hair) "The brunette is waaaay prettier, but they're both...ugh." She magnanimously praised the pole dancer - I'll get to that - as being "really good." She knew the pole dancer was good because she was herself a dancer, in Arkansas, and she knew how hard it could be. Later she mocked BM for not knowing who Steve Wilkos was: "Uh, hello? Steve Wilkos is Jerry Springer's former head bodyguard who got his own show on NBC??"

Before all this happened, though, we had to wait a little longer. It took a little while for the kids to settle in their seats. The kids sitting to my right were not like the Spring Break Cancun-types in the rest of the audience. They were hipster punks wearing ill-fitting "super cute" clothes, and I was very grateful when the doublewide male punk switched seats with the slender girl punk with the faded pink fauxhawk; though she still smelled like a dumpster, she was only half the dumpster he was. While the audience filled in the rows, PAs taped canvas sheets to the stage and brought out squirt bottles filled with white liquid. A best-of reel played on flatscreens overhead. They included clips from such winning episodes like "I'm Pregnant By Your Man" and "I'm Pregnant By A Transsexual" and "I Have a Secret...I'm a Woman." The clips were just ten seconds of dialogue so that you got the drift, followed by thirty seconds of pummeling.

A guy in a headset led off the taping by giving us the ground rules. Applaud when I raise my hands, chant "Jer-RY! Jer-RY!" when I pump my fist, and never look into the camera. Make big faces, because your reaction might be used not only on this show but on others. (I kept a poker face and didn't applaud or cheer, hoping to minimize the chances that a camera would fix on me.) Cheer when girls get naked. Sorry if guys get naked. (At this, everyone in the audience went "EWWWW!!" lest the taint of homosexuality fall upon our heterosexual taints.) Now it's time to chant: "JER-RY! JER-RY!" We chanted.

Then Jerry Springer came out and gave us five minutes of the most uninspired stand-up I've ever seen. He wore a poorly fitting gray box-stripe suit and brown Merrell low hikers. He was making Osama bin Laden jokes, for god's sake! Apparently no one cares enough to write new material for him! It was a mixture of stupid adolescent jokes meant to elicit homophobic disgust, which the crowd indulged, and just corny shit: "I signed a new cable contract today!" [We applauded.] "Yeah, the guy's coming over to install it next Thursday." [Crickets.] "Aw man, how much did you pay for these tickets?" [Weak self-conscious laughter.] He paced the aisles, flirting with girls. "I'm ugly but I'm rich as shit!" he told one. The crowd roared.

The standup act ended and it was time for the taping to start. There was nothing by the way of introduction. We just chanted for a bit, Jerry Springer came out, and immediately started reading off the teleprompter. The theme of the show was "Naughty Secrets Revealed," he announced. But first: "A pole-dancing stripper!" And out came Carolyn, who shucked her clothes off (except for a red thong) and suspended herself horizontally on the pole by the crook of her elbow. I don't think I've ever seen real pole dancing in person! The bored boys of Sugarland don't count as pole dancers. Carolyn was pretty impressive, even swinging herself upside down at several points, like a pole vaulter. BM and I muttered to each other about her athleticism and talent, while the kids around us hooted at the sight of her bazooms.

Just as suddenly, the next guest appeared. She was a buxom blonde with knotty white dreadlocks, like the Matrix twins, who said, "Jerry, my naughty secret is that I want to be with a woman!" Jerry asked for a "volunteer" from the crowd. One of the plants ran up to the stage. Without any further ado, both women disrobed until one was buck naked (EVEN HER HOOHOO WAS TANNED) and the other was in her undies and began squirting each other with the white liquid from the squeeze bottles. The lights cut out and a black light was shone upon them. The liquid appeared fluorescent, and soon the women were both so covered in it that you could see every body part in stark, glowing relief against the black set. They began to "wrestle," which was half rolling around, half sucking each other's tits. "We'll be right back, folks!" Jerry Springer shouted, and the lights came back on. The women temporarily stopped writhing around, the PAs moved the canvas sheets to a corner of the stage, and there the women continued their writhing for the next two hours, even as other guests came on. Likewise, the stripper kept dancing up and down the pole, pausing during the "commercial breaks" to wipe it off with a shammy.

The commercial breaks were not commercials, of course. The taping would cut to a "break" and then more or less immediately resume. The next "guest" was a woman whose "naughty secret revealed" was that she was sleeping with a married man. As she told her story (very poorly, forgetting details, needing to be prompted by the Cindy McCain-looking PA off by the camera), the PA with the headset goaded the audience into a chant of "Take off your clothes!" The woman shrugged and giggled, said "Okay!" and took her clothes off. Then Jerry Springer said, "Would you all like me to bring out her man's wife?!" and the audience roared. An ectomorph emerged from stage right, shouted some epithets at the naked woman, and then launched into a "fight." I have to say the first fight was the most realistic-looking one of all of them, since the ecto led it off with a good headbutt that actually might have connected with a cheekbone or something. After that moment, though, it was all long hair lashing out across the stage. Strangely enough, after their first "fight," the ecto was also naked!

So Jerry Springer is entirely faked! The people on stage were clearly actors, or maybe just desperate people who need money, but whatever they were, they were coached. One set of women (the "You're Sleeping With My Army Fiance" one) stage-fought so badly that they looked like they were just leaning into each other, like saplings in a breeze. A boxing bell sound effect would sound when it was time for the fighting to begin - maybe they edit this out during production. PAs kept running around the stage slinging microphones on lanyards over the necks of the naked women, because there were no collars to clip the mikes to. The "security staff" stood at the side of the stage, allowed the play-fighting to go on until both women had each other's hair in harpy-grips, and then rushed to pry them apart. It was like WWF. BM looked over at me at some point and said, "I know this is fake, but there are still clumps of hair on the ground." We speculated that they were either weaves or that the PAs had thrown the hair down when we weren't looking.

This only took us to about twenty minutes. Then, for the next hour and forty minutes, the show alternated between two girls making out under a variety of pretenses ("I'm a college student, and I'm in love with my roommate," followed by disrobing and faking cunnilingus, then "My naughty secret is I want to be dominated by a dominatrix," followed by disrobing, the licking of boots, a ball gag, a leash), and staged fights about adultery. The Army sketch turned into a "You're Sleeping With My Army Fiance...But So Is An African-American Little Person!" and then the whole show turned into an opportunity for the audience to mock the disabled. You can probably predict the dialogue (Little person: "I can suck your man's dick standing up!" Audience: "OHHHHHHH!!!!"). The audience also shouted impromptu slurs, like "NASTY!" and "MIDGET!" and "WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOUR FACE!" and had to be shushed by PAs several times. Even though by the end of the show there were 28 tits on stage - I knew because a boy in the row behind me counted aloud and miscounted several times: "One, two, three, four, five, six...oh, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine...oh..."), I was ready to die of boredom by the end of the first half hour. There's only so much of tits and fake violence one can see before one longs to go home and finish up The Omnivore's Dilemma. I am, in fact, even bored of writing about it. Tits, tits, tits.

I understand why Jerry Springer does this. I saw his seventy year-old face lit up under those hot lights and I saw his disinterest in reading the teleprompter. I saw him half-heartedly delivering seven year-old standup jokes. There's practically no investment for him, only reward. He seemed like a smart, greedy sleazebag, which I guess is what he is. And once I learned that the fights and scenarios are all faked, it made watching the taping somewhat less appalling. It's just a spectacle, like WWF. The profit motive for Jerry Springer and the actors makes this whole thing understandable to me.

What was truly frightening was what was happening in the audience, not on the stage. At some point the line separating silliness and cruelty was crossed, and it seemed like people were taking the show seriously. Jerry Springer took "questions" from the audience at the end of the show. We were told at the start of the taping to think of witty, cutting one-liners about the show's guests, for which we would be rewarded with screen time on Pay-Per-View. Some girls just raised their hands to ask, "Can I have my Jerry beads now?" and flash their tits, at which a PA would throw some New Orleans-style beads. Many more audience members raised their hands to say aggressive, conservative, crass, and cruel shit. The Little Person clearly had some sort of neurological disorder that made the left half of her face droop, and she'd combed her bangs over this half of her face. "Hey Smeagol, did you ever get that ring?" one audience member shouted. ("I don't take questions from homos," the woman shouted back.) "Why don't you show us what's wrong with the left side of your ugly face, Leprechaun in the hood? What's behind your hair?" shouted another audience member. That line was clearly so offensive that even Jerry Springer cut it off, and the cameras moved to a different audience member. The woman to whom that comment was directed didn't even try to think of something to say back to him, and instead just glowered in her chair. Maybe it wasn't in the contract to be derided by three hundred rabid assholes.

I felt very uncomfortable and I wanted to leave. But even leaving didn't make me feel more comfortable, because BM and I had to mill among the throng as we waited for the single elevator to make roundtrips between the first and second floors of the NBC building, carrying the audience out twenty people at a time. I think when people are stirred into a hate-filled frenzy, even when they think they're just being silly or hyperbolic, they actually absorb those feelings and behave violently to the people around them. I don't think you can make people listen to hate speech for two hours and not expect consequences. There was pushing and shoving as we waited for the elevators, and some muttered insults. Maybe this is the closest I'll get to attending a Sarah Palin rally. When we were finally packed into the dimly-lit, freight-sized elevator, and the steel door slid shut, BM turned to me and said, "This is how people got gassed."

I suppose it was a good experience, in that all experiences you've survived are good, even if they are bad, undignified, putrescent, or dangerous. I don't think I would do it again and I wouldn't recommend that anyone else do it. I didn't get home until midnight. I drank chai and ate ginger snaps until I warmed up and calmed down. Then I took a very, very long, and very, very hot shower, and then I went to sleep.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I spent a significant chunk of Saturday sitting in a bookstore at Randolph and State Streets flipping through how-to books about music production and the music industry, and finally bought this one:
I liked it the best because it focuses on the music theory of hit country, rock, R&B, and pop songs rather than on how to security a copyright in the digital age. Not quite ready for the latter. I read through about half the book and learned how infrequently diminished chords are used in country music (except the Edim in the second line of the verse in "Friends in Low Places (under, inter alia, "I showed up in boots")). Did you know that "prosody" in music theory means singing a word like it's spoken? So "TEST-icles," not "tes-TICKLES." I'm very excited to get to the subchapter entitled "Variations on Secondary Dominants"! Abm6/Cb, I'm coming for you!!

Anyway, I decided to abandon my former get-rich schemes - write a screenplay for the Rock (my 2002-2005 plan) and winning the Illinois MegaMillions lottery (my December 12, 2008* plan) - for a better one: write and sell a crossover Nashville/pop song for Luke Bryan that will feature prominently on the soundtrack of a rom com set in the cornfields of east Iowa. This plan will secure me royalties for the rest of my life. Luke Bryan is the up-and-coming Nashville star I saw at the Chicago Country Music Festival a few months back; he was the one with the alarmingly powerful thighs who kept flinging picks into the crowd like they were compressed t-shirts at a minor league baseball game. (* I played MegaMillions on Friday because after half an hour of wrangling with WordPerfect, the worst goddamn program ever created, trying to insert page numbers on a set of jury instructions, I ended up with page numbers only on pages 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 26, 27, 28, and 29, which I took to be a sign from God that it was my time to leave the legal profession via a $207m jackpot. I did not win, and I still have to use WordPerfect.)

I turn to you, reader, for suggestions for themes. I am not joking! Long ago my parodic interest in country music turned into a real interest!  The songs with the best potential for royalties, other than the generic smashers like "Livin' on a Prayer" and "I Will Always Love You," are songs with very, very specific themes. "Wake Me Up When September Ends" has the market cornered for sad songs about September. Ditto "Last Christmas" and '80s romantic holiday triumphs. "Friday I'm In Love": TGIF. "Umbrella": umbrellas. So the key is to find some universal event (everyone experiences a Friday once a week, good job Robert Smith) that hasn't been written to death.

What topics are left unsung? Arbor Day? Trampling a worker on Black Friday? Daydreaming about stuffing a University of Chicago doctoral student's face with cottonballs while he monopolizes conversation with his research on alternative German social movements, 1871-1933? Your dad bringing you a plate of peeled clementines accidentally catching you watching porn when you're 22 years old and home from Harvard for the holidays? Give me your suggestions, and I'll give you .0000001% of whatever proceeds come from your idea.

Incidentally, I just jabbed myself in the throat with my toothbrush. My dad is always warning me not to jab myself in the throat with my toothbrush, but I've never paid attention because it's too abstract of a panicked warning to comprehend without some triggering event. But now I known not to jab myself in the throat with my toothbrush again. Or look through peepholes because I might get stabbed in the eye with a chopstick. Or run while eating tapioca balls. Or break a thermometer and pour the mercury into a scalp wound. Etc. All very real dangers to avoid, apparently.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

i'm gonna walk myself to town

Nurturing bad sleeping habits through music production again. This song is a true story about being drenched and pathetic in Doolin, Ireland. Here, you can read my fake country lyrics:

I'm Gonna Walk Myself to Town

I got stuck with my pony
Ninety-five miles away
From a city I don't care too much for
But I can't make go away

I'll take a boat off the shore
I'm going on an island tour
But a storm washed all my plans away
I don't got a boat no more

It's Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
Lost in the Burren on a slow-moving news day
If I don't get out by Friday,
I'm gonna walk myself to town

Hey, oh, well all right
I'm gonna walk myself to town

I got a twenty in my pocket
But it won't pay the bill
I drink a cup of coffee
But I'm hungry still

I got just enough to catch a bus
At half past one if I'm in luck
But I've been waiting out all day
And no one's picked me up

One o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock, four
Though I love you, I can't take no more
If I don't get a ride by five o'clock,
I'm gonna walk myself to town


I've been down by the water
Filling my bags with rocks
Head to the bar a filthy mess
I'm gonna drink my glass of mud

We're strangers and we're talking
Underneath a tap
We can't understand each other
So we look at a map

One mile, twenty mile, fifty mile, so
I like you plenty but I gotta go
When I'm five thousand miles from the people I know,
I'm gonna walk myself to town


Knew a woman once from Georgia state
A Fulton County license plate
But she won't take my phone calls
I guess I called too late

But who needs that when I got this
A lonely town with a seaside mist
There's an ocean in between us
But you got me in a twist

California, Connemara, Galway Bay
I'm sick of running from a runaway
If I can't get you off my mind,
I'm gonna walk myself to town


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

rod blagojevich

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested this morning and charged with few counts of corruption. It's in the news now, no need to go into much detail, but basically he was caught attempting to sell the Senate seat Obama vacated. Everyone in Illinois already knew that Blagojevich was a crook, and he was under investigation, so it makes this particular allegation especially galling. You know you're under investigation, and you don't even bother to ask euphemistically for a bribe? Instead you say, "I've got this thing and it's fucking golden?" What a chump.

Blagojevich was arraigned fifteen minutes ago in the next courtroom over from mine, so I stood in the back with a gaggle of other clerks and courtroom staff and watched the whole thing. The room was packed. There were three illustrators plus nine reporters in the jury box, five U.S. Marshals in blue turtlenecks and handgun holsters by the front entrance, about eight attorneys for both sides, and spectators filling every seat in the pews. Blagojevich came out wearing the most bizarre outfit: a Nike zip-neck powder blue fleece with reflective piping, black running tights, and running shoes. Apparently he'd been arrested around 5 or 6 a.m. this morning, so maybe they picked him up while he was jogging? John Harris, Blagojevich's chief of staff, was also arrested early this morning, but he was wearing a suit and tie, so it makes you wonder what the hell was wrong with Blagojevich's attorney that he didn't bring the governor a suit. Blagojevich stood in the middle of a phalanx of attorneys and mostly kept his head down. One of the illustrators moved to a vantage point directly in front of me (she turned around and asked, "Which one is Harris?" We pointed.) and started drawing the governor's face and so I got to watch her capturing the solemnity of his expression but not the clownishness of his outfit. The whole thing was ridiculous. With the illustrator wielding her clutch of colored pencils before me, I was a cotton candy puff short of feeling like the whole thing was a street performance in Pier 39 or Times Square.

Some very interesting things are happening in Chicago! Glass factory workers at a plant half a mile from my house have taken the factory over and are refusing to leave until they get severance pay. In 2008 - amazing! I don't think I am allowed to go over and show support for them because of canon of judicial ethics #5, but still . . . good for them.

Back to work.

very happy and envy you , that you always have friends visiting you.. enjoy , very happy to know, Re: FW: check

Poetry from dad:

From: Dad
Date: Tue, Dec 9, 2008 at 11:54 AM
To: Mom, [Bananarchist]

dear my dears,
love you all,
dear my dear daughter..

uncle victor phone 650 123 1234 ( currently staying at home, under EDD, looking for a new job, consume one pineapple can per day
i told him to reduce to one per week... too much sugar... very bad....)
i'm still defreezing my fingers every night.....

take care ....

love you all,

Monday, December 08, 2008


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

the rest of the year

Put a new song up on my MySpace.

I wrote this song during my last winter in Boston, after the space shuttle Columbia exploded on Chinese New Year's Day. I brought my acoustic guitar back with me from California so you get to hear something other than Fender Fat Strat for a change. The mic picked up my neighbors thumping around upstairs at the end of the song. It's a sincere and maybe sentimental song, so be nice, and tell me that you like it.

This is how I spent the last twenty-four hours. I could not sleep, so I watched Rachel Maddow until 2 a.m., then lay awake until 5 a.m. kicking my legs on my bed. I'm convinced now that it's physiology not psychology keeping me awake, and that it's time to buy the Beautyrest that RK sleeps on. Then I became unconscious, and then apparently snoozed for 95 unconscious minutes between 9 and 10:30 a.m. I went to work, where I finished up a motion to dismiss in a weird employment discrimination case (my FIFTH in three months!), and then chatted over lunch for two hours with my co-clerks about what was the matter with their significant others' families. I am single and older than them, so I contributed to the conversation by advising them that by the time they turned 28 they would reach a point of serenity about all other people, and then I managed to forget almost every key word in the serenity prayer as I tried to recite it to them. After lunch I futzed around some more on CM/ECF, used a typewriter, and sent off two gifts to two loved ones by U.S. Post. The day expired. I rode the el home reading every fourth line of the Economist, and when I got home I changed in to my gym clothes immediately, with the intent to improve my cardiovascular health. But I was paralyzed by the thought of the after-work horde, so instead I puttered around my room for two hours, recording and rerecording the vocals to the new song. At 9:25 p.m., I left to go to the gym. I jogged my fat gut at a leisurely pace and tried to watch The Office through my fogged eyeglasses. At 10:30 p.m., I went down the treacherous icewalks of Paulina Street to get to my 24 hour neighborhood supermarket, where I then wasted away forty minutes reading the labels attached to various gourmet cheeses and farinaceous processed products trying to see if I could avoid corn derivatives. (I am currently reading NG's copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma, so I tried to spend a little more effort and money on my purchases tonight.) At my supermarket, you can scan your own groceries, so you can avoid all human contact. I did that, and stacked my fragile cage-free eggs and cherry tomatoes carefully in the reusable grocery bag my mom packed my sushi for the flight to Chicago in. At 11:11 p.m., I walked the frigid five blocks back to my house singing along loudly to a Bob Marley song - one nice thing about the early Chicago winter is that people flee indoors so when you walk outside you're alone and you can sing as loudly as you want to - and prepared a meal for one of instant mac and cheese (so much for effort and money spent on food purchases), spinach, and vegetarian Italian "sausage," and then ate this with my right hand while putting the keyboard track under the new song with my left hand. I've spent the last three hours fiddling with knobs and testing out and nixing a "Sweet Trumpet" track for the new song.

I recall this here even though it is excrementally boring because I was struck by the contrast between the high lonesomeness of my 24 hours in Chicago and the oceanic love I felt when I was in California. I won't recall California here; you can see the pics on my Facebook. I didn't blog over Thanksgiving because I was having too much fun to spend any time in front of a computer, contra this.

I guess the point is WAH WAH WAH WHY ME Chicago is cold and scary! I don't want to go on any more blind one-time dates with Internet men! I want BH to pretend to eat things for me! I want OZ to have jiaozi with my grandma! I want to sing with WD! I want to play Rock Band at Google until midnight! WAHHHHHHH!!!

Okay so maybe I'll say a little about California, just the part about my dad. He was very much himself this weekend. In the news over Thanksgiving was a story about a crazed man who stalked some random woman who talked to him in a nightclub. This week he broke into her house in San Mateo and killed her. My dad read an article about it while waiting with me in Urgent Care on Thanksgiving (for my corneal abrasion, see previous post) and shook his head, saying over and over, "Fatal attraction. Fatal attraction. This is why I never look at women. You don't know how you act if you get attracted. Fatal attraction." He seemed to really like the way the words "fatal attraction" sounded, because over the next four days he must have repeated the phrase at least twenty times in my presence, pronouncing all the syllables separately. My mom is overweight, so my dad is always talking about his love for fat ladies. We drove by a plump young couple walking down El Camino: "Oooh...fatal attraction." A bottom-weighted lady huffing up Cow Hill: "Fatal attraction!" An ad on TV for Rosie O'Donnell's show: "Wah, fatal attraction!" My dad also continued in his tradition of attempting to read Korean words wherever he saw them, at one time slowing to a near stop on a busy street in Sunnyvale to read: "Ha...ha...ho...hon...han...HAN! Goo...gook...kook...KOOK! Myoo...mya...zoo...shoo...shooka...sooba...soopa ma...maa," etc. The words "HAN
KOOK SUPER MARKET" were printed directly below the Korean he was attempting, at 15 mph, to read. He also said he loved Korean cuisine, referring to it as "Pong Pong Pyang Pyang," and suggested we stop at every restaurant we saw. Then he complained loudly about how a store in San Francisco that advertised its sandwiches as the "best turkey sandwiches in the world" had recently cut its portions, so that it was now "half the best turkey sandwich in the world - same price!" He suggested that when he gets rich and retires he and my mother would drive together to Chicago to visit me, and driving was better than flying because one could keep lobster in a bucket by the driver's seat and eat it all the way across the country.

Oh, the stories don't capture the near-constant stream of weirdness that comes from my dad! I miss my parents! They're so weird! It's late! I'm tired. BLARRHHGHH goodbye!

Monday, December 01, 2008


was perfect. I am ready to move to Palo Alto. Saw lots of wonderful friends. Scratched my cornea on Thanksgiving and lay in bed for hours listening to Dvorak. Had 10th high school reunion. Re-met people. We're all older, wiser, larger, kinder. It was lovely. Came back to Chicago to snow and got the worst haircut ever given and have giant pimple on face and miss California immensely. Very tired. Need new bed. More later. Love California.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


OMFG in less than 24 hours I will be HOLDING BOO!!!!!

BOO!!!!!! Doesn't he look like a cat?

These were some of the first photos I ever took of him!

Doesn't he look so skinny and stupid and cute??

What a guy!


miracle at st. anna

I met up with MJTW the IV this week for a movie. Like I said, he's on the SAG Awards nominating committee so he gets to attend free screenings of the awardiest films. I sat with him for half an hour before the screening and we exchanged some small talk. "Do you have brothers or sisters?" or, in this case, "Do you have a 23 year-old son?"  (Yes, and yes.) I feel weird about all the feigning of interest required for my new utilitarian approach to social possibilities. Blogs are for discretion, so let's meet for a drink and I'll tell you the extremely unsordid details. 

We saw Miracle at St. Anna, Spike Lee's newest. The more I think about it, the less I like it. The story (spoiler alert): In 1944, a band of four black WWII soldiers get stranded in an Italian village while bringing a sick Italian orphan to help. The sick orphan is the only survivor from a gruesome massacre of civilians by Nazis in the town of St. Anna. Nazis and a backstabbing Italian Nazi-collaborator eventually bring three of the four soldiers and almost the entire village to their deaths, but not before the soldiers have stayed in the village a few days and reflected upon how well they have been treated in a place that is not the racist American South. In 1984, the Italian backstabber is murdered by the surviving soldier. Police, who don't know the backstory, are perplexed, and an enterprising young (and extremely poorly cast) journalist extracts the 1944 story from the soldier. It's told in extended flashback. Then there's an arraignment for the murder conviction, a ridiculous courtroom scene, and then the soldier is bailed out, and presumably spirited away to a country that has no extradition agreement with America, by the same orphan whom the soldiers rescued in 1944, who has since grown up to be a billionaire inventor of safety belts. 

The 1944 story is touching, and is primarily about how a few personalities mix together under intense circumstances for a few days that culminate in tragedy - the Spike Lee of Do the Right Thing is at work here. But almost every one of the multiple frames he puts on top of this story fails. The journalist is a gimmick to tell the story in flashback. John Leguizamo appears half-naked for one scene in which his lover mounts him and launches the morning newspaper he is reading out the window in the throes of passion. That paper lands on the orphan's cafe table and informs him that the soldier has killed the backstabber - really, that's John Leguizamo's only function in the movie, and you never see him again. The courtroom scene at the end is comically fake. There's a last-second substitution of the soldier's fuddy-duddy attorney with a bosomy no-nonsense dealmaker who announces to the courtroom that the $2m bail will be paid "in cash," to gasps. And there's a recurring statue head that the soldiers carry around and rub occasionally for luck, and it seems to have supernatural powers, as does the orphan boy - but the movie is not quite in touch with its own weirdness to explore either of these things.

Opening credits is a field of white crucifixes that turn red one by one. A nice, harrowing effect. Closing credits are written with crucifixes in lieu of "T"s. God, churches, prayer, crucifixes, and coincidences are everywhere. But you get the feeling watching the movie that Spike Lee isn't a religious person at all, and that the movie is about secular humanism. The titular "miracle" is ironic; what happens at St. Anna is a massacre, not a miracle. The orphan survives it not because of a divine intervention, but because of the goodhearted acts of a few people - that's the real miracle. There are American, Italian, and even Nazi heroes and villains. Nazi heroes in an American movie! I love your generosity, Spike Lee. 

But the movie is uncomfortable with its secularism, and I think all the frames exist around the 1944 story because of this discomfort. The frames are a second stab at the "miracle." The second "miracle" of the movie is the series of freak coincidences that occur in 1984 that bring the backstabber to the soldier, the soldier to the newspapers, the newspapers to the orphan, the orphan to the rescue, and eventually, the soldier to the orphan. Maybe all of these coincidences are meant to suggest God's presence, but the movie treats this not as a solemn divine intervention but as a jaunty caper. There is actually dancing pizzicato caper music under some of these scenes. Spike Lee, WHAT THE FUCK? Half of your story is about a MASSACRE and RACISM and BETRAYAL and DEATH and the other half is a tiptoeing caper about funny coincidences? Spike Lee, WHAT THE FUCK? 

And if the whole story was engineereed by God to be a miracle, what is the point? God's justice is a bloodthirsty vengeance, and the purpose of the miracle is to allow the soldier who murdered the Italian backstabber forty years after the war to flee criminal persecution?  Is the message xenophobia? Because the you don’t see the Italian backstabber in the intervening forty years but can imagine: he left Italy in shame; moved to America to start a new life free from a shameful personal history, like so many immigrants have done; lived quietly for forty years; became American? Is there no hope for redemption in the unlikely story that is America?*

I mentioned some of these things to MJTW the IV. He responded, “I liked it! Was that a true story?” It was one of those moments where I really, really missed my clever ex-girlfriend, that fucking bitch.

* Although it is true there is no room in the unlikely story that is America for the Radovan Karadžićs of the world, there is room for the Pavels, right?

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I discovered the reason my room is freezing fucking cold every single day. The window well is improperly sealed. There is a 20 degree gust blowing on my hands right now. I am freezing. I'll chaulk it tomorrow.

This evening I went to my gym for only the second time. It's a quick four block walk in the 20 degree wind to a brand new gym where they hand out apples. The treadmills are brand new and have television screens, so I schlupped my buns for thirty enjoyable minutes while enjoying an episode of 30 Rock. I love the year 2008.

After coming home from the gym, I turned on my keyboard. I've been paralyzed with this one big band-y song that I have in my head but not within my musical skills, so I haven't tried recording anything recently. "New York in Springtime" is my Chinese Democracy. To develop my skills, I pulled out my Scott Joplin piano rags book. That shit is fucking impossible but so fun to attempt. 

And to understand. Joplin wrote a primer called "School of Ragtime" that has seven very basic etudes that a beginning ragtime piano player can practice with. They're each four measures long. They are syncopation exercises, but I was more interested in the chord progressions than in the rhythm. Ragtime is distinctive for those two reasons: (1) rhythm, where you essentially play only eighth notes with the left hand (hopping between the tonic note and the rest of the chord) and play syncopated eighth note dissonant chords with the right hand, and (2) chord progressions, because you get all sorts of weird diminished chords and minor sevenths and stepwise chord movements that sound really pleasing but are sort of hard to understand musically. 

I got hung up for about twenty minutes just trying to figure out the chords for one of those four measure etudes. The chords are:
F / F#dim7 / C / A7 / F#dim7(b5) or Am6 / G6 with a passing tone or G7(13) / G7 / C
Let's just look at one small example of why ragtime is such complex and appealing music to listen to. Now, I don't know if you know any music theory. I don't know too much myself. You don't really need to know music theory to know that F#dim7 is a ridiculous chord as written out. But it is not a ridiculous chord to play, because it's just four minor thirds stacked on top of one another! It has three dissonant notes and two tritones - but get this - they all resolve on the C chord. The F# resolves up to G, the A resolves down to G, and the D# resolves to E. What this means is you have incredible tension (a feeling that two notes really should not be played together, like the first notes of "Chopsticks") followed by a perfect resolution to the root C chord. Maybe this means nothing to you in writing, but if you listen to it, you'll feel as WOWZA as I do. It's very relieving, like sneezing or coming. 

And for crying out loud, this is only one chord change! This four-measure turnaround has seven distinct chords, each of which build or resolve tension in a unique way! Your average rock song has three or four chords, and those chords are probably A, E, and D. All the rock songs I write end in with boring-as-shit perfect cadences, which is the musical equivalent of eating gruel every single day of the week. It is boring-as-shit and fails to move your bowels. A more challenging form of music, like ragtime, is the musical equivalent of Song of Solomon 5:4:
My beloved put his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.
I will take a photo of the etude I'm talking about because I want to share it with all of you. I hope this post was not horribly boring to read, or that you stopped reading at "apples." But isn't it awesome that humans have the capacity to make and understand such unlikely things? Tomorrow: an exploration of epoxy. Night.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Let me just point out that this is the subway exit (featured in the Times today) that empties out right in front of my office building. The corner of the building you can see halfway up on the lefthand side is the Dirksen federal courthouse! And this is the view I have when I lock up my bike in the mornings! And that's my subway line!

Chicago! Chicago!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


The precatory theme of this blogpost is Pleasures.  Not the small-p of little delights, but the big-P of Estée Lauder's sheer, spirited, and shimmering scent.  NK has worn this it least since we were sixteen, and I love nostalgia almost as much as I love NK, so no matter how objectively unpleasant the smell may be, I love it nonetheless. 

That's the theme, and let's go with it.

First, I worked until 10 p.m.  I also did not arrive at work until 10 a.m. because I took an Ambien last night and lay like a gutted fish in my bed for eight unconscious hours.  I like my job though I stayed for twelve hours today to finish up an incomprehensible motion for summary judgment on the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  No matter how objectively unpleasant the smell may be, I love it nonetheless. 

Second, I biked home at 10 p.m. The windchill brought the temperature down to 24 degrees, but I've devised a layering system - sticky t-shirt, doublethick wool sweater, polyproplene sleeves, windbreaker, balaclava that is so encrusted in my dried spittle that it smells like a vagina when I pull it over my face, ski gloves, ski socks that go up to my knees, sneakers and a newish pair of thickish jeans - that seems to cut out the cold okay. If it's 24 degrees in November, what happens in January? But I like the commute home. I like to bike in cities. I commuted less when I lived in New York because I thought it more pleasant to hold hands with my lover on the L train than to schlep up the Williamsburg Bridge by bike. Here in Chicago, no such threat. I exit the Dirksen building onto a stunning view of a forty-foot Alexander Calder sculpture set in front of a dizzying skyline. 

That's really what it looks like when I leave my workplace.  When I leave late I get this entire scene to myself. Obama's offices are just to the left of the Flamingo so the whole post office (the big glass box in the picture above) is barricaded off now. And then I get a chilly bike ride through mostly quiet streets, and my nose runs and I get home sweaty and thirsty and in fifteen minutes and I make my balaclava even more vagina-smelling in the process. No matter how objectively unpleasant the smell may be, I love it nonetheless.

Third, I have a profile up on an online dating site and I am making plans to "date" some people - all men; remember, the thought of some hairy foreign clam roils my bowels, even more so than the thought of smegma-stuffed sausages; let's just stop there, shall we? - and in fact I am going on what may be a date (let us pray it is not) with the seven thousand-year old con artist I mentioned a few posts back. He's the one who cornered me at Kafka on the Shore and told me he was a voice actor? I am going to see Spike Lee's newest movie with him tomorrow because (1) why not, I'm straight and single and who cares if he's fifty-five million unattractive years old? (2) he said he was on the SAG Awards nominating committee and was going to see the movie as part of the nominations series, so it would be a new experience for me and why not?  Dating when you're crushed with loneliness is pretty much awesome, because you have no standards. No matter how objectively unpleasant the smell may be, I love it nonetheless.

Fourth, Shaw had a dinner party last night. You will recall that Shaw is my roommate the professional chef. She was just promoted and will be the managing chef of Rick Bayless' forthcoming third restaurant, name TBD. So she's pretty handy around the kitchen. The other day she suggested that I make black bean gruel instead of the chili-based gruel I usually make, and she suggested a recipe, and then as I haplessly butchered the unbutcherable boiled black beans recipe on the stove, she swooped in, stirred things, added a fistful of salt and whole cumin seeds, and made my week's gruel delicious! On the menu last night was bacon-wrapped pork loins (family reunion!) with a cherry-based sauce, green beans roasted with crushed almonds, and fingerling potatoes chopped up into the size of chopped-up babies' fingers, and dessert was a 10000% chocolate that Shaw had made with cacao beans she roasted herself with pecan wood. OMFG. She invited some friends of friends, whom I instinctively despised because they were all over 5'10" but who were generally nice enough, and I invited my co-clerks who did not come because they are (1) observant Muslim, not into the pig-wrapped-pig entree, and (2) observant pescatarian, not into the pig-wrapped-pig entree, and CJ's awesome friends BM and RI, who did come over and outlasted the Amazons and stayed until late drinking wine and talking about San Miguel's fantasyland architecture and incestuous community of ex-pats, and Dolores Olmedo Patiño, Diego Rivera's nasty old patroness. RI did his impression of Mike Ditka, which involved him saying, "You're just such a good kid. I can tell you're such a good kid. You're a good kid" with his chin tucked down against his chest. We talked about Chicago pride and the blue-collary, down-to-earthy, sports-loving, not-too-vain attitude that so many people here seem to have. It's a nice place to spend some time! No matter how objectively unpleasant the smell may be, I love it nonetheless. 

That sentence has nothing to do with the dinner party or Chicago or anything else, but this post uses epistrophe so it had to be said. That's also the title of the first jazz song I ever thought worth listening to.  Thelonious Monk had it right - jazz songs are epistrophes, because they always return to the head at the end of the solos! (Why don't you click through the link and have a listen? He plays it solo piano in this clip, with a charming ragtimey hop on the left hand.) Jazz is a Pleasure too.  No matter how objectively unpleasant the smell may be, I love it nonetheless.

Ok, nevermind the theme, it doesn't make sense. RC asked me to watch Obama's 60 Minutes interview and write some thoughts about it, and because I love RC (maybe) even more than I love Obama, here goes: I WANT TO BE THE WHITE HOUSE DOG I CAN SHIT ON THE LAWN PICK ME PICK ME PICK ME. I generally have nothing intelligent to say about Obama. Policies? Sure moderate whatever! Politics? Do whatever it's all shrewd! My response to him is purely visceral. He makes my viscera feel calm and protected and perfectly pitched to. I LOLed and LOLed when Michele talked about the hole in young Obama's car, and I nodded attentively when Obama mentioned some unpleasant realities about Detroit's future. RI said last night that when Obama campaigned in Green Bay, he opened his speech by telling all those cheddarheads "I'm a Bears fan," to rounds of boos, as part of his theme of telling the great industrial north things that were true but that they probably didn't want to hear. Effing genius. So sorry RC if you were expecting measured commentary, but I'm still a rabid fanboy two weeks after the end of the damn election, and all I can think is I WANT TO BE THE WHITE HOUSE DOG PICK ME PICK ME.

And finally, my band had its first show on Saturday. Guess what? We rocked that shit.  I was being all euphemistic pessimisty in my last post about it, but I was just being a crazy neurotic bicht. Before the show, I was worried that we weren't learning the songs quickly enough or well enough, but in the end it didn't matter. First, the sound at the Mutiny was godawful anyway - it wasn't the engineer's fault, something was wrong with the bass amp so that it sounded like there was an airplane engine in the room - so it's not like practice would have changed that. Second, it didn't matter because we had awesome attitudes and we rocked that shit. The other three acts were great in their own right, especially Kim's husband's energetic band of lunatics, but they were also all brooding punk/indie boys, so it was easy to be bubbly, upbeat, poppy girls in contrast. It also did not hurt, for better or worse, that there were six gazongas onstage. 

Anyway, I think the crowd liked us. Which was to be expected, since we invited the crowd. I played lead and sang on my songs, and Steph played lead and sang on her songs, and Kim rocked steady on the drums.  Our first song, which we will open every gig with, is called "Sally Crumb" - our band is called Salacious Crumb, although we were billed as "Falacious Crumb" and then called out as "Fallacious Cum" - and is a screamcore metal song with Kim on the guitar, Steph on the drums, and me very calmly, very unscreamcorily laying down the low end.  Steph's songs sound like Breeders songs and are very catchy.  Girls in the audience shouted at us to take our clothes off, and we shouted back "You first!" During the part of one of my songs where I sing "Giddyup!" eighteen times in a row, one young thing started slapping his thighs and holding imaginary reins out in front of him. The stage was set up funny so that whoever was playing bass was across an aisle from the rest of the band, so when I played bass, I tried not to be noticed but hopped up and down a little bit in the corner. My cranberry juice (teetotaling because flu, sleepy, nervous, Chinese) spilled on my setlist and then BM brought up some napkins up which got scattered around and stuck to my shoes, so during the last song I looked very cool and rocknroll trying to play bass while unsuccessfully attempting to remove Kleenex from my heels.  My feet looked like piñatas and I saw the same girl who had shouted at me to "Take it off!" pointing and laughing in an not-mean way at/with me. 

When I sang I tried to stop my habit of tilting my head to the left, but, according to the photos that Kim posted on Facebook, did not succeed in that effort.  I did not fuck up too badly on my guitar solos! It was very, very fun. 

Here's Kim and Steph. We weren't paid but we got free drinks, so Kim had two of these huge Amaretto stone sours before our set. She's an awesome drummer though, and didn't miss a beat. She's also a fantastic person, as is Steph - I got lucky with this band. 

The club looked just like this: dingy, dark, full of holes. The first band played in almost complete darkness. I don't know how Neil could even see his fretboard. They turned the lights on for the other bands, but two of them blew out during the show. When we arrived to set up, no one was in the bar except for single old men and the bartendress.  I saved money and took the subway up with my heavy guitar case and then walked half a mile from the stop to the bar, which was a terrible idea because my forearm cramped up from lugging the case and I couldn't unfurl my fist for about half an hour - not good for playing guitar! Also, I used the men's room and found a coffin-sized urinal inside. Honestly, why did someone design a urinal to be this large

Possibly the best part of the night was meeting people before and after the show. It's a rare time in Chicago when I'm not feeling like an unclever, uncharming alien. But people were being so friendly and I was so high on performing that I felt relaxed and happy and like my clever self. Kim's husband and his bandmates were effusive and complimentary. People were so decent! I shouted loudly for their band because they were technically flawless and also had a great act - their lead singer was a nerdy pudgy guy who wore glasses and a hoodless sweatshirt and worked his Telecaster like Yo-Yo F'ing Ma and screamed "I'm gonna fucking kill you!" at his hecklers/fans in the crowd, not in a violent way, but in a funny way. They were worried about going last (at 1 a.m.) but a big crowd of their UIC friends came out to support them after all. 

Before we went onstage, Steph told me and Kim a story about a horrid bitchy ex-friend who bitched her out at a party for seemingly no reason, refused to apologize afterward, then tried to apologize, then flipped 180 again and bitched her out again. We shook our heads and said, No more, no more, no more people who are bitchy and mean for no reason. It was a theme that night for me. It was a night for decency and friendliness and supportiveness and music. I smiled a lot and clapped a lot and tried to flirt with everyone. Not for purposes of sexiness, but to make people feel loved. You know those nights? I had one of those. 

Now I have gone and written too much. I also have some stuff to say about heartbreak, loneliness blah blah, not mine but other people's, but it's late and I have jury instructions to write tomorrow morning. Good night!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I saw that a Facebook friend had posted a new picture of herself with her new tattoo, and it got me to thinking again about whether I should get an American flag tattoo. (The answer is still NO NO NO NO.) So I Googled "should I get a tattoo?" and one of the first hits was this, a website from the Jehovah's Witnesses advising youth that "If you are a Christian, you would certainly not want to make markings on your body—even temporarily—that smack of paganism or false worship." Teehee.

I think I've mentioned it before but I'll just say it again. So I used to be pretty devoutly Jehovah's Witness, when I was much, much younger. They roped my parents when they first moved to America, and I got stuck attending weekly Kingdom Hall sessions and having a Japanese-American woman named Bernice come to my house every Wednesday after school to eat strawberry-flavored snack wafers and teach me and a dull girl named April Lopez lessons out of the New World Translation of the Bible. That's the Jehovah's Witness version of the Bible, though I haven't paid close enough attention to figure out how that's different from the NRSV. I didn't like our sessions because all we did was read passages aloud, and April read very slowly, and I was impatient. April was a very girly little nine year-old. When Bernice said things like, "What's a different word for 'mankind' that doesn't talk only about men?" April would blanch, and then a minute later say, "Ummmm...'peoplekind'?" with an upturning inflection. And I would sigh heavily and say, "Humankind." I was a little tomboy bitch.

The Jehovah's Witnesses produce books for teens and preteens, since the New World Translation is a little opaque. My house was filled with these embossed hardcovers, and I was a hungry young reader so I read all of them. My favorite was a palm-sized sky blue book called "Young People Ask," which was designed for a teen audience. It introduced me to such concepts as homosexuality (illustrated by two topless men wearing Chippendales bowties embracing) and masturbation (illustrated by a teen boy kneeling at his bedside in prayer, asking Jehovah for the strength to resist the solitary vice). The chapter on the latter was so euphemistic that I could not divine what the vice entailed and for years afterward thought that "masturbation" was just a Jehovah's Witness's way of saying "selfishness." Resist selfishness: who could argue with that?

Anyway, happening upon the Jehovah's Witness's tattoo advice brought me back to those simpler days. I particularly liked the photographs accompanying the article.

This photograph says: if you get a tattoo, you not only have terrifyingly bad style (and a future filled with muscle shirts, eyeliner, crumpled felt trilbies) but you are also a gaywad and you like feeling a man's bristles against the sensitive part of your flabby shoulder.

This photograph says: "[Bananarchist], your cruel thin mother and Margaret Cho will revile you for the black blob you injudiciously decided to tattoo on the back of your hand. And then you will soak your shoulder pads with tears."

This article moved me closer to getting an American flag tattoo on my hand.

Friday, November 14, 2008

my afternoon

My judge walked into the room just as I was scrolling through a Google image search for "bodybuilder bodies."  I could not minimize the screen because my pincers were lightly dusted in bright red "Flamin' Hot Cheetos" cheese powder. My judge said nothing. I stammered, "I...I...I'm sorry!" then attempted to initiate a conversation about bodybuilding. The judge looked bemused. "You know, there's a big difference between weightlifting and bodybuilding?" he said.  "Wowza!" I said, showing off my bright red gums with a smile.

Worst. Federal. Employee. Ever.

[hangs head in shame]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

kafka on the shore

I ushered at a performance of Kafka on the Shore, adapted for the stage, at the Steppenwolf Theater last night. In 2005, I read and jumbled its plot up in the swampy area of my brain reserved for Haruki Murakami's whimsies, complicated ice cream-based desserts, and early twentieth century Russian music - i.e. the place where nonsense goes to die - so my memory provided no guidance for me as I watched. There's a fifteen year-old runaway, a library, a cat-killing Johnny Walker, an old dunce, a trucker, and lots of faked sex. The stage was spare and almost all deep blue. I haven't seen this many Asian actors on a stage since David Henry Hwang's Yellowface. I'm not sure I got anything out of the play except for a sense of Murakami's weirdness. The alternating story lines made almost no sense together in the adaptation. But I don't care, I still liked it because my reaction to theater is usually just visceral: I like seeing makeup on your face!

I met some characters too. Not characters in the play, but characters in the Beverly Cleary "Gosh, he's such a character!" sense of the word. I stuffed programs sitting next to a funny young man with an angular face who wore a suit. He told me he worked in a spy store. I said, What the hell is a spy store? He said, Think of something a spy would have, and we sell it there. I said, Shoes with daggers that come out of them. He said, Well no, we're a kid-friendly store. Turns out he was talking about the "Boring Store," which is a place about a five-minute walk from my house. It's the storefront for 826 Valencia's Chicago off-shoot. This young man, Patrick, said he tutored kids in creative writing and was applying to graduate programs in creative writing himself. He also said he moved to Chicago from Indiana to try to be an improv actor. He wasn't obnoxious like the improv actor who subletted a room from AS - that guy just got stoned and drunk with his 22 year-old friends every night to prepare for "psychadelic improv" and would do things like fall asleep sitting upright on the couch with his mouth wide open, cradling a two-thirds empty jug of Western Beef brand whole milk. Patrick was friendly and funny, and he tore tickets while I passed out programs and said, "Watch your step! Enjoy the show." over and over again. He had funny mannerisms that endeared him to people. I studied them. He said, "Howdy!" really loudly when taking their tickets and gesticulated in slapstick ways (e.g. he flicked the ticket with an exaggerated motion of his index finger when telling patrons where their seats were located)and most people walked away from him with a smile. We sat together during the show, and then I left during the post-show Q&A and I'll never see him again, but it was nice to have made his acquaintance.

Throughout the show, a man seated in the aisle seat of the back row - therefore, the seat closest to the position from which I was handing out programs - kept making eye contact with me and smiling. I smiled the smile of a diligent usher back at him. At intermission, he stopped me and said, "Do I know you?" I said I didn't think so. He said, "Are you an actor?" I said, "No, I'm a lawyer, which is pretty close." (I am repeating it on my blog because I thought I was pretty clever for saying that.) He said, "You have such a nice voice!" I said, "Well, I'm sick," and then returned to my seat. (I am sick. I have a flu or a cold or something. My voice is hoarse and low(er) right now.) The man was probably fifty and was trying to con me. After the show we chatted some more. He demanded to know my occupation and my educational pedigree. Eyebrows were raised at the latter. Then he handed me his business card, said he was a voiceover and stage actor, and invited me to a screening of an MFA thesis short in which he played the starring role. I demurred. When I got home, I looked at his website. He is indeed a voiceover and stage actor. I'll never see him again, but it was nice to have made his acquaintance.

Ah, more of the same. These days I have been thinking lots and lots and lots about my crushing loneliness. And this is not a call for compassion, since I don't feel too terrible about the crushing loneliness. I am treating it as an experience, which is how I get through everything, because experiences are always good to have. Also, I am not alone in my crushing loneliness, as almost all of my close law school friends have scattered themselves far away from one another and feel, I think, as bereft as I do, except for RA who could not give a toot because she is warm and happy in sunny Chiang Mai, God bless her. One side effect of the crushing loneliness I've already written plenty about: feeling happy about making even passing connections with people. I met Patrick and Mike, and then I biked home in a rainstorm somewhat happy to have some more weird people to think about to fill my night.

Another side effect of my crushing loneliness is my renewed readiness for adventure. It seems to me that if I have the opportunity (and the funds) to have an adventure, I would have only regret if I did not seize that opportunity. So I had the opportunity to visit my Bavarian man this winter, and I just bought myself an extremely, extremely expensive ticket from Chicago to Munich that lands on Christmas day at 9:40 a.m. He is spending Christmas day with his sister's family, which means I will be wandering around Munich by myself on Christmas from 9:40 a.m. until 8 p.m. after not sleeping on a ten-hour flight. It's either going to be a nadir or an epiphany, or just really boring. As an angry preteen, I fantasized about spending Christmas alone - Home Alone really resonated with me for this reason. In this fantasy, I would sit on a bus bench in a drizzle and would watch the shapes of lonely people emerge and recede into the fog. And then one of those shapes would become Eddie Vedder, and he would be mysteriously stuck waiting for the same suburban bus as me, on Christmas, and we would fall in love, and it would be passionate and epic and obscured by sheets of rain. You think I'm joking, but this was my actual fantasy. Anyway, I get to live it in about six weeks in Munich, except with Harry instead of Eddie. Which is a little petrifying, but it's not like I can think of anything better to do. Harry, the Bavarian, is 36, a civil engineer in the medieval town of Regensburg, a post-hippie, a Jimi Hendrix fan, an avid bike-commuter/-tourer, and a Luddite in the extreme. He smelled so bad after his bike rides that I could not stand to be near him when we traveled together in Ireland. On my last full day in Ireland, in Letterfrack, it rained most of the day but cleared up for a sunset that was a majestic sweep of purple and pink across the western sky. Harry paused us where we were and stared at the sun - straight at the orange sliver of the sun - five long minutes until it dropped below the trees. I chastised him for the sake of his retinas, but that's just what he liked to do. I am excited to be going to Germany.

A third side effect of my crushing loneliness is that I am taking more pleasure at the economy of being alone. For example, I like to make a pot of gruel at the beginning of each week and store it in individual serving containers and slowly spoon my way through the gruel throughout the week. My co-workers make fun of me ("Gruel again?" they say, as they head out to pick up Potbelly sandwiches for lunch), but I like knowing that each meal costs me about $1.20, and I have plenty of patience for eating the same thing every single day. Gruel, by the way, is usually chili or pea soup or lentils or some other healthy legume boiled to mush. I am absolutely certain that the eight-pack of paper towels I bought in September will last me until next September. My things are compact and tidy. I know the image of an old single granny pushing around her cart filled with single-serving meals is just about the most pathetic thing one can conjure, but I am not that old yet, and it's not that pathetic yet. Check in next year.

Other news: I got an Ambien prescription and, despite my distrust of psychotropic medications, am taking the first one tonight. My band is playing its first show on Saturday at a punk club in Logan Square and I have been practicing all week for it. I have some misgivings, but I have learned that it is best to keep negativity off this blog; so I will rant to you next time I see you about the disconnect between appearance and reality vis-a-vis Salacious Crumb. A case I am assigned to is on trial right now, and it is making me think that employment discrimination law is just about the dumbest, fakest shit ever. Was he fired because he was white? Or was he fired because all his employees didn't trust him [because he was white]? One is permitted if what is in the parentheses is silently understood, the other is not. Is one outcome any better than the other? The weather was up last week, then way way down, and has stabilized this week at cold and wet. A black man is president, I bought a space heater, and my mother writes to say that my dog is too stupid to move from the lawn when it rains.