Sunday, March 26, 2006

From the attic

August 1996.
One of the great American public beaches is at Manchester-by-the-sea, MA. Not because of its Coney Island-style amusement park, casino strip, t-shirt stands and wax museums, but because it has none of those things.

It is because for $7 round trip on the train , you can leave Boston, beach bag and magazine in hand, and arrive in manchester 45 minutes later. Stop at the grocery store right on the train platform and buy a sandwich, a quart of water, some fresh fruit, and hike up Beach St to the water. Don’t stop at Capt Dusty’s homemade ice cream just yet – that is for the trip back , just reward for enduring the day in the sun. Change at the beachhouse after giving up a dollar for the privilege of beaching. On weekdays it is free, and the local library will lend you a fat paperback. Then stake your spot and enjoy: families to the right, singles to the left.

Clean, quiet, calm seas and soft sand. Sometimes in the evenings there will be a concert on the town green. This may interfere with your train schedule, but can also become a spontaneous evening out. If you can get there by car, you can set out even earlier in the day, take beach chairs, and umbrella, a full cooler. No dogs in the summer, and ball playing restricted, but that is all for the common good. You’ll wish you lived there. I know I do.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


How can such a short story, with so few plot points, be so confusing? The more I read about it, the more confused I become.

Jonah the reluctant prophet flees rather than do what God asks. At first, we don’t know why he flees, but later we learn it is because he knew his prophecy would not be true. Would he rather than be right than save the Ninevites? One sermon suggests he didn’t want them to know mercy; in fact, he wanted them destroyed. Another commentary asks why he should give pagans advanced warning, when his own people never get one – not from their own God, not from his prophets. So he runs, and doesn’t feel bad about it. Even when a storm threatens, he admits it is God looking for him.

The fish either devours or rescues him, depending on who you read. Scripture is clear that God sent the fish, but since this is a story about God’s fickleness, we can’t be sure what his intention was. But Jonah prays inside the fish and acknowledges that God can both cast out and deliver. Both of which Jonah knows.

So Jonah preaches repentance to the pagans and they do repent and God does spare them, and Jonah says, “See?! Why couldn’t you just do that in the first place?”

And why couldn’t he? Why harden Pharaoh’s heart, when Pharaoh might have freed the slaves on the first request?

And Jonah asks to die. One source says he is too humiliated to live. I think he is tired of trying to figure out what God wants. Worldly life is hard and the messages are conflicting. And God changes his mind, and tricks us with prophecy to make us do what he could have just asked us to do in the first place. Why harden our hearts?

Take me now, says Jonah. I give up.

God grows a shade plant that gives Jonah some comfort, then takes it away the next day. And here we hear God’s frustration with us, his creations. You are sad you lost your plant, he says to Jonah, and you didn’t even work to create it. You barely got to know it, but you are sad all the same. So what’s that like….. Jonah?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Famous Girls

hello gentle readers. I don't know where this story is going. years ago it was part of "Susan Sontag goes to the gym," but I later realized there were 2 ideas going on, and this should be it's own animal. Please comment with your ideas.

In the fifth grade, she discovered a series of "girls' biographies" in the branch library. Sun-faded covers with a red band on the spine of each one, they recounted the lives of Famous Girls, while the companion series, about patriots, presidents, and men who cured diseases, was called Famous Americans. Most of them were missing from the shelf, but the girls were always lined up straight, ready to be put to use.

She had originally been drawn by the orderliness of their numbered spines, and the way their red bands bled together into one stripe down the long shelf. They were written in an arch 1950's style ("Young Clara's raven black hair...") of challenging verbs like "pondered" and "retorted."

Squatting on her heels, she planted my hands on my knees and whispered their names between the shelves. she ritualized how she would read them all: in the end she created fifty lots inside a box, which she would draw by closing her eyes. But that first day it was No. 1, Abigail Adams. They got more exotic as the series went on, no doubt desparate for 50 girls worth discussing. Susan B Anthony. Sacagawea. Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind. Later, in college, her women's studies professor would call that same series "The Usual Suspects."

50 things about Cheez-its that will not change your life...

But will give you something to think about as you eat handfuls of them

1) Serving size = 27 crackers
2) My personal handful, which precipitated this stream of consciousness: 29. (I am very pleased with my precision)
3) 8 gm Fat, 250 mg sodium
4) I don’t count calories, because if they were real, they would not be whole numbers [not a fact about cheez-its. But something to think about]
5) Sunshine Bakers estimate 405 Cheez-its in my 1 lb box
6) This means one Cheez-it weighs .035 (repeating) ounce. This equals something metric.
7) I have named the cracker residue that builds up on your molars and must be extracted digitally…. Chipmunk Cheese
8) Sunshine Baker makes other products no one loves as much as Cheez-its: {oo, we’re going to get letters}
a.Hydrox (the vegetarian Oreo)
b.I got nuthin’
9) Lost Sunshine product : Lemon Cooler. So sad.
10) Sunshine: Keebler as Desani: Coca-cola. Both are owned by Opus Dei.
{not true – I just wanted more Google hits}
11) Cheez Nips: Cheez-its as Wrangler: Levis
12) There are 15 flavor varieties of ‘it
13) “’it” will never catch on, and I already regret it
14) Cheez-it flavors are unnecessary
15) There are 5 sizes, including SpongeBob shapes
16) I reject the large Cheez-it. What you are looking for it Triscuit or Ritz. Cheez-it requires no topping
17) Mini-cheezits are reconstituted Chipmunk Cheese. Do not eat them
18) The Cheez-it was invented in 1921
19) Keebler has buried all other fun facts about the Sunshine Biscuit Co.
20) Pound for pound, Cheez-its cost about $.00397 each. But you can not buy them in loosies.
21) Cheez-its gots Vitamins! 2% of your reccomended A! They do not work like One a Day.
22) Cheez-its are, sadly, not Atkins friendly.
23) Better Cheddar: Cheez-it as Host: Wonder
24) Cheez-its are not kosher! Kelloggs, how could you?
25) It seems like there used to be better odds of getting the slightly burnt, extra sharp, ones than there are today
26) Sidebar on snacks I remember fondly but no longer enjoy as much as I did in “them days”
27) I keep Wheatables at work instead because I somehow think it is more professional. Discuss.
28) I left the Cheez-its box next to the TV. This was a judgement error and had to be remedied
29) I original thought there would be a “100 Things” list (kickin it Blog-style) but I am already tired
30) Cheez-its don’t need to advertise.
31) Sam’s Club’s price on Cheez-it’s 3 lb box: None ya beeswax. You have to be a member. And they don’t deliver the Cheez-its.
32) I originally looked up BJ’s. Never google the word “BJ”
33) I wrote this list on company time
34) I researched it on my own
35) I researched Cheez-its. But at least I am not part of the military-industrial complex
36) MREs should include Cheez-its
37) The 1 oz. Vending size contains 10 Cheez-its
38) AnySoldier post mail will accept your gift of food
39) You can not, however, use a Cheez-it as a postage stamp
40) Cheez-its should be on a postage stamp!
41) “Cheese it,” of course, means to “amskray,” but all of us together, not just you, ya pest
42) Would I t’row deese Cheez-its in the oven, if my friend Rocky was in dere? Uh… ye moight, Rabbit. Ye moight.
43) Hyperlinking is technology’s way of saying there is nothing wrong with attention deficit
44) Fiesta corn cheez-it is not a cheez-it
45) 137 eBay items match Cheez-it
46) Best one
47) Buyer beware: “box is empty”
48) Apparently, NASCAR:Cheez-it as white:rice
49) I do not know who Larry Pearson is
50) thinks there are only 3 FAQs. They have not tried.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


(abridged... more thoughts on gorillas)

The zoo keepers had not expected so many would come early to see Winter Haven’s gorilla. He had been sent over by a zoo in Tallahassee that was overcrowded with gorillas. He was old, and gray in the face, and known for hi friendly manner with the other apes he lived with. It had only been mentioned once, on page 10 of the Bulletin, yet here was every family in town, and the Grove Avenue Baptist Church Royal Ambassadors, to see what they hoped would be a ferocious African beat. His name was Hobo. He knew nothing of Africa.

A crowd stood outside the door of the monkey house. Bob wanted to cry thinking of all those people who would get to see Hobo the gorilla before he would. He tugged Aunt Sarah’s hand and tried to pull her along, but she kept to her pace. She finally told him to run ahead, but not on the grass and not to push anyone especially someone smaller than himself. She would catch up, she said. Bob squirmed through legs and baby carts to get to the doors.

When he got to the front, a man was saying, “…grass roots, berries, sometimes fish.” Beside the man was a gray and black doll, like a stuffed animal. When Bob looked more closely, he saw it was the gorilla, slumped down with its knees up near its chin. Bob gasped, and jumped back, then moved forward again when he saw it wasn’t going to attack him. In fact, it had its finger in its mouth. It looked bored.

As the keeper went on talking about the life of gorillas in the wild, Bob watched Hobo’s face. The animal didn’t even blink. Bob wasn’t sure if the thing was real. Maybe they’d found out the gorilla was so fierce they couldn’t let regular people look at it, so they’d brought this stuffed one instead. Then it yawned. Its pink lips stretched back around yellow teeth, and out rolled a long ;pink tongue. The crowd ooohed like it was 4th of July, and some of them clapped. Bob put his hands on his hips and frowned.

By now, Aunt Sarah had found a spot around the side, but near the front, where not too many people had begun to stand yet. She called to Bob to come where she was so she could keep a better eye on him. He stomped over to her, his hands in his pockets and his cap pulled over his eyes. Sarah bent over him and murmured things in his ear – wasn’t it exciting? Didn’t it have the most expressive face? He would remember this for a long time, she said.

The keeper gave Hobo a piece of fruit, which Hobo took, but didn’t want to eat. He dropped it on the ground between his feet and reached with both hands for Bob’s bare legs. The keeper cried, “Hobo!” and Aunt Sarah did the first thing she could think of, which was to snatch Bob under the arms and pull in the other direction. When Hobo’s nails broke Bob’s skin, and the blood started coming, people screamed and pushed backward into each other. Hobo immediately let go and stood up, waving his arms above his head and howling. The keeper put a choker around the gorilla’s neck, and he seemed glad for it. Bob was crying, not because it hurt so much as shocked him. The next thing Bob noticed was that Hobo had been taken away, and someone was taking off his shoe and sock so they could wash him with a red medicine that burned.

Everybody in the family came to the Polk County Hospital to visit. No one had ever been in a hospital before, not counting Uncle Henry in France; but even Aunt Sarah was positive about that and he wasn’t alive to speak for himself.

The preacher came on the third day, bringing a bag of sugared date bars his wife had made. He said the church was praying for him and then he told a story about Daniel who faced down the lions when the Lord stilled their jaws. Bob couldn’t see the point of it; except for there being a wild animal in the story, it wasn’t anything like what had happened to him. But he supposed there weren’t any gorilla stories in the Scripture.

Bob came home to a turkey dinner and a cake his mother had made. He cut a corner piece for Sarah and said, to make everyone laugh, that he expected to go back to the zoo next Saturday. When he finally did go back, it was nearly fall. The baby was sitting up on its own, and the boys were in Sunday School. Bob wore long pants and a jacket with a pin the Grove Avenue RAs had given him. He stood with his mother on the walkway far from Hobo’s cage, where a sign now hung: “No Closer Than This Point.” Bob had wanted his mother to make his picture under the sign, but he forgot when he saw Hobo bouncing against his cage, his fingers and toes curled around the bars.

Bob felt people looking at him as if he had a chain rope, warning them how close they could stand. Like aging gunfighters living out their years in a ghost town, Bob and the ape paced in front of each other, and pretended the other was lucky those bars were solid.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Please stop the Yoga Booty Ballet

1. Either do yoga, or do ballet. These are not the same people.

2. Stop saying “booty.” You jive turkey.

3. Why do yoga fast? This is aerobics.

4. You are cutting into my time slot for The Bullet.

5. Why isn’t there TV on TV anymore?

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Emma places her chin at the base of the violin and takes a deep breath. The the smell of the resin close to her face is like a narcotic. This off again/on again relationship with her instrument is a marriage now celebrating its 10th anniversary, and one that has required cultivation and long periods of give and take. It is something, she will say, that she genuinely loves.

She knows this instrument by a name she has never spoken aloud, not even when alone. Part of a teacher’s attempt to help a child think of her violin as a partner in her music – a living thing – as one might equate a horse and rider. The teacher had suggested she give it a name, speak to it, thank it when it performed well, and offer constructive criticism when it didn’t. Emma considers herself fortunate to have been too young and inexperienced to think it was strange. As she got older, and studied more formally, she noticed that no one ever mentioned such a method, or made casual references to their own instruments’ names, so she had kept it silent.

But what she felt when she was near it belonged singularly to that violin, and the rhythm of their partnership was still so surprising in its perfection that to this day, after each session with it, she did indeed say, as if in silent prayer, “Thank you very much.”

Saturday, March 18, 2006

...but I know what I like

Take a look at Aaron's artwork on
It is a little amateurish -- not skilled enough to be representational, or expressive enough to be impressionist or abstract -- and there are some paintings by Koko the gorilla that I like better. But then, Aaron is a robot, created by Harold Cohen, who learned its craft from an artist turned computer programmer.

Aaron's trouble with perspective in life drawing is similar to my own, and he seems to have only a vague understanding of thumbs. He may not have any of his own. Koko does, but doesn't seem interested in painting human being.

It made me wonder whether Koko, the painting/sign language speaking gorilla, could team up with the Kurzweil think tank, to consult on artificial intelligence. She might advise that computers are better learners than humans are teachers, and the shortcomings of our thinking machines have been imposed upon them on us.

Koko and Michael were not "taught" to paint; they picked it up on their own. But they were taught to communicate, and one sees a similar imitation, but lack of perspective and context as in Aaron's paintings. When you see Koko interviewed, her signs interpreted by her handler Dr. "Penny" Patterson, you wonder how much is conjecture on Patterson's part... and then not very good conjecture at that.

A Turing test asks human subjects to determine whether the producer of a certain output ( say, music, poetry, art, etc) is human or artificial. This is one of the touchstones for evaluating the success of a machine to duplicate human thought.

In 1998, Koko conducted a live internet chat (interpreted, as always, by Penny Patterson). The website has kindly captured the transcription for us, in which Koko demonstrates the wit of a Magic 8 Ball. Or Marlon Brando.

Question: Do you like to chat with other people?
LiveKOKO: fine nipple

Patterson tries to explain:
DrPPatrsn: Nipple rhymes with people, she doesn't sign people per se, she was trying to do a "sounds like..."

Penny -- maybe she was telling you to kiss it.

There is a story in the Koko canon that she asked for a journal, presumably to imitate her handlers, who always seemed to be scribbling something.

"March 18th - They have no idea what they are doing. 20 years of 'Koko want fruit?' 'Koko love Penny?' Is this all you have? How about some ideas? How about some discourse?"

Koko - drop a line. I'd like to talk art. Come alone.

If all of this seems to you like too much to contemplate on a Saturday morning, think how I feel.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Inside the cavernous reading room, where the smell of fresh paint overpowers the mold, dust, and pigeon droppings from the courtyard otuside, you are not allowed to sleep. No eating, drinking, no audible music. The books must be brought to you, unless you prefer what's in easy reach: telephone books from foreign cities or the dock reports from colonial merchant ships. And you must have a library card in order to request the book brought to you, even though you can’t take it with you, so most of the patrons in the free hall of learning are merely sitting. Not eating, or drinking, and certainly not sleeping, because they poke you awake if you do. And security guards don’t like being badged hall monitors, so if they have to poke you too often, they invent a reason to show you out. We don’t have library cards because we don’t have addresses. We can’t prove we live here, though we live here more than anywhere. It’s too hot outside. Too busy, too loud. Too much a reminder that there is nowhere else to go. So we are here.

There is a movie at 1:30 – a musical with Judy Garland. They don’t notice if you sleep there.

Until then, we sketch on the backs of fliers and listen to the hum of an oscillating floor fan that murmers squeakily as it turns its head. The yellow lighting, the sound of gummy sneaker soles against the polished floor… like in that dim Quonset hut outside town, where they bussed the kids one summer afternoon, just after the fourth of July. They stood us up and told us to wait quietly and shot us in the arms with Buck Rogers guns. Next! Next! Next!

The kids don’t have smallpox scars anymore. When the Revolution comes, they’ll herd us into camps, make us wear transparent sleeves so they can weed us out. Then no sleeves at all until we turn blue in some courtyard behind a chainlink fence. Patrolled by badged hall monitors with gummy-soled shoes. And we’ll pass the hours not eating, or drinking, or sleeping.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Operation Swarmer

Naming military operations is a tricky business, as proven by "Swarmer." A squadron of choppers may suggest that, one supposes.

Rejected names:
Operation Warmer: oh, it's heatin' up now, bow-wee!
Operation Shawarma: it's Middle Eastern!
Operation Karma: what goes around, comes around
Operation Klezmer: I love the sound of clarinets in the morning...

I have decided to begin naming all the key strategic initiatives in my personal life, using the Military Code Generator . Now, even the most poetic dove can stride hawkishly forward toward lofty sounding goals.

For example, I am spending the weekend in Newburyport, antique shopping and attending a new locally-produced musical.

This will hence forward be known as Operation Decisive Response.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Denise Austin understands that I'm a busy Mom...

..and she is so compassionate about it, I just don't have the heart to tell her. Denise, it's all "me" time. But you're sweet to be encouraging.

As long as your heart is open, I am also a housewife who doesn't get any help. And a corporate stooge who has to single-handedly support this family. Dinner is never on the table when I get home, and no one has changed that lightbulb since it burned out. There is a pair of shoes on the floor in every room, but you can never find a pen. I forgot to take the trash out and how can it always be my turn to do the oil change?

But thanks to you, Denise, and your enthusiasm for seeing me "sit up nice and tall" with a smiling face (she's a personal trainer and a kindergarten teacher!) I can get in my 20 minutes of Me Time before not getting the kids off to school.

And since I'm confessing, I tape your show, workout at night, and have a beer when I'm done. But, girl, we both look damn good.

Night at the Improv

I want to give all the readers in the Eastern MA area this advance notice to support our friend's 2nd performance at Improv Boston in Inman Square Cambridge.Deana is bringing on the funny once again after all these years in a performance called "Say Cheese," presented by the graduating class of Improv Boston's Level 5 workshops.

And here's why you can't lose:
- guaranteed funny, unscripted theatre, long-form improv, 45 minutes of non-stop seat o' the pants characters, references, and funny accents (most of which seem to be Southern. hmm. must blog more about that another time)

- they come on first. So you can leave if you want to, but I recommend staying for the 2nd act, especially if they are "C&C Improv Factory," because they were great. (almost Mary C great)

- the third act is Open Jam, which means you can try your hand at it if you want. But there is a break before that, so if you want to make a break for it, you can.

- $5. Come on! Only The Strand offers more fun for that price, and you have to come to Clinton to get that.

- Free parking on Sundays

- a whole street of great restaurants, and Christina's ice cream afta.

- You're home by 10, even with the ice cream.

So here's the deal: 7pm at the Improv. Sunday, March 19. Reserve your tickets ahead of time, because the theatre only seats 80 people.
Tell them I sent you.

And say hi to Deana afterwards. You'll recognize her as the most talented one.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Know your similes (Deep South edition)

Feeling like you'd like to liven up the level of discourse in your circle with down-home folksy phrases, but just not sure where to begin?
Here is a guide to 10 classics you can use with confidence once you know how.

"It was like...."
...Grant took Richmond - swift, harsh, and downright cruel. You didn't see it coming and you haven't recovered yet.

...a duck on a junebug - can be used in the same context, but with a different connotation. The duck is just a-doing what comes natural.

...white on rice - one in the same; inseparable. Used to describe 2 things that oughta be seperate, but ain't no more.
This is not a racial slur, despite how it sounds. You're thinking of "free, white, and 21." Don't use that.

...Cox's army - anything large. Used with an adjective, any multitude can be as hungry as, dirty as, tired as, strong as... Cox's army. Originally "Coxey's army," the term is usually used to define a quantity of food as being enough to feed them.
If you had to click that link, you have never identified with a Jeff Foxworthy reference, nor do you have a single picture of a relative in their coffin.

...tall dog at a short table - unbelievably good luck. Easy access to enough food to feed Cox's army.

...long walk off a short pier - unbelievably stupid luck. This is also something you can "invite" someone to do, like "play in traffic," or "pound sand."

...long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs - you really have to be 107 and have a name like Rufus to use this in its entirety (as presented here). "Like a long-tailed cat" will usually suffice. It means nervous or jumpy, of course.

...the Queen of Sheba - someone all dolled up and lording it over others, like a freshman come home from that fancy girls' college

...Miss Astor's horse - [ sometimes pet horse, sometime Mrs Van Astor] similar, but with the added sad element of thinking you look dolled up, but you ain't. Wearing a fancy millinery hat, but still a horse. Some Yankees say "lipstick on a pig."

...butter wouldn't melt - cool and unflappable. "in her mouth" is the end of that phrase, but rarely needs to be said.

Now get out there and start a-verbalizin.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

In Search of Grizzly Adams

The guide book described the headstone as "flamboyant," which it is not. Flamboyant is the Washington Monument, or the column commemorating the discovery of ether (click that just to enjoy a site called Aspirin Adventures). One hundred years after Adams' headstone was erected, the town of Charlton, MA had to erect a 2nd headstone to point visitors to the first one, which is not flamboyant at all, mostly weather-worn, but does contain a rendering of Adams with his bear called Ben.

Sources agree on the year he died and where he is buried, and after that, it all dissolves into legend.

If the TV Land people get wind of this under-visited location, Dan Haggarty will soon be unveiling his likeness in the town square, except the Charlton Town Square is hard to recognize if you don't live there. Past Town Hall on Rt 31, turn left at the stone wall and enter the Bay Path burial ground.

The tombstone reads John Adams. Except for the worn carving, which now looks like a boy with an English sheepdog (as it was likely carved by someone who had never seen a bear and couldn't imagine how large one was. click here to navigate to an image.) no mention of the "grizzly" part of his history is mentioned, no doubt necessitating the 2nd marker in 1976, just before the legend hit television.

The guide book also claims that P.T. Barnum paid for the original tombstone to be erected, which raised more questions than answers. There are never enough hyperlinks in 19th Century burial grounds.

According to the TV show fan site, "He was a gentle man who was forced to leave civilization behind ..." (incorrectly accused of murder, Fugitive style, in the acript), and claims, "...It’s one of the most unusual and heartwarming wildlife stories ever documented." Other sources record that his name was James and that what "forced" him to "leave civilization behind" was in fact the California Gold Rush, and that by Civilization, we mean his wife and children. Not so unusual a story, sad to say.

And yes he did live among the animals and raise the bear cub orphan Ben. Ben may have been orphaned by Adams himself, who collected animals for his Mountaineer Museum in San Francisco. Capitalism not being part of the civilization he abandoned, apparently.

He either took the show on tour with Barnum, or sold the show to him, the proceeds either going to Mrs. Adams back home... or he never saw her again.

Ben either died on tour, or in a zoo, "of an illness for which Adams could find no cure" (biologists now know it was ursine ennui). There is a quoted obituary for the bear from the San Franciso Evening Bulletin, which I would like to see for myself, but which no doubt conveniently burned in the earthquake. The best Grizzly Adams story I found was this one. It drops the Barnum angle, but provides a whopper of a demise for poor James.

I leave Charlton unsatisfied. Next time I will simply go to the Flea Market like everyone else.

Crabbin down Bal'mer

Baltimore named their new football team The Ravens, in honor of Poe -- an alcoholic depressive pedophile who died incoherent in a gutter. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The Zoo is still more animal prison than zoo, but the inmates are active. The prairie dogs were highly entertaining, as was the polar bear. But the small mammal house is enough to make you join PETA.

We ate lunch at city cafe, near the symphony and allegedly the site of the city's first gay dance club. Original marble floor desparately in need of repair, but holds some sentimental and/or historic value.

The city that invented urban blight and shoebox housing now boasts, "Reading by Nine!" and they don't mean "in the morning." The narrow streets of windowless buildings look like a breath of air could blow them away. Gaping holes in particle board walls, and greasy screenless windows.

But, damn, those crabs. The blazing red crabs, smothered in Old Bay, so hot you can't touch them, and the meat falls off, so it really is better to wait, but you just can't stand it. You should order a salad, but you don't -- just the pitcher of beer, a wooden mallet, a plastic knife. Fork? Why bother.

You work up a sweat getting to them, and wonder how Native Americans chose this creature to keep instead of throw back. The second one is the best because it's cooled enough, your technique is better, and you're not full yet ("foo," sat the locals). The sun finally set and the flies went to bed, the breeze dried the sweat on our foreheads and we sailed through #3, deep in conversation and not even noticing.

Thursday, March 9, 2006


Thank you, dear Readers, for your commentary.

Suzie reports... BK does serve chili. I stand corrected. She has also provided the nutrition information. 1 order is 8g of fat and 1040 mg of sodium. We'll talk more about this in a future post I am calling "Death by Trader Joe's."

Another reader who wishes to mother... points out that Dana Reeves did not die of breast cancer, and that is correct. Are we happy or sad that you can't squash a lung in that machine? At one point last year I knew 4 people fighting cancer. 2 of them didn't make it. There seems no end to it. When the lab report and the news report arrive on the same day with the same topic, one makes connections.

Patrick expresses an appreciation for making lists of lists -- more evidence we were separated at birth. And KF wonders how I can keep up with project Runway, what with all the blogging. I must count on truer fans to do that for me.

My blog mentor at Suburbia at Large left the very first comment, which now seems lost to time. Please know that I did not remove this comment, S@L! I would never remove a comment unless it was spam, obscene, or just mean. So I apologize for whatever glitch occured.

Shout-out to all the lurkers, closet bloggers, passersby, and my homeys who ain't here.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

In Which....

Some stories sound promising when you put them on a napkin. Here are a few ideas that have gone nowhere. Please don't steal them; they may materialize someday:

- Charlotte Gilman wallpapers Virginia Woolf's room
- Jack Black and Jack White have a rock-off
- patient learns her psychiatrist has committed suicide
- Messina and Oates play the Boston City Plaza
- What if all 5 Dionnes had been Celine?

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Letter from the Lab

The mammogram you received on February 24 was Normal.

And isn't that a blessing. But let's be clear: you did not "receive" that mammogram. It was imposed upon you. And you paid for the pleasure of having it -- please come back next year.

They tell me this smashing sandwich-plate used to be made of metal, but thankfully (like the other metal implements they assault us with) it is now Lucite.

Even if your technician is perfectly nice -- introducing herself and shaking your hand, telling you everything she is about to do in coded language (little pressure = don't try this at home!) and warms her hands, and speaks in soothing tones (but not so soothing that they start to be creepy), and tells you you're doing great (but again, not too often) -- even if all of that is in-line with standards and practices... you will at some point call out the location of the secret plans.

They also tell me they used to give you results in hand before you left, but now they mail them to you. Perhaps because they are mailed to a faraway land for evaluation.

The mammogram you received on February 24 was Lost.

I could not figure out how to put on the little shawl. Somewhere in the past 40 years the "Johnnie" became front-loading. We are supposed to be grateful for this, because our backsides no longer hang out, but when my gown fell open in the waiting area (thank you, magazine!) I thought... this would not have happened if I had been sitting on it.

The mammogram you received on February 24 was Hilarious.

And afterward, you feel a little shaken -- kind of nervous, like you might cry, or just need to sit down. But maybe it was holding your breath in such short bursts, or maybe you just missed your lunch. Maybe you are just so pleased that it is over -- this thing you dread, that you had to postpone once already for a blizzard, and which you have to drive to the city for. And for which you must reward yourself with a big lunch out and perhaps a midday wee spot. And while not the most uncomfortable medical exam you must endure (because the bar is set pretty high), it does require a lot of sensations you don't encounter in your ordinary day.

The mammogram you received on February 24 was Completely Annoying.

Dana Reeve just died of cancer.
The mammogram you received on February 24 was Lifesaving.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Have it Your Way

One of the ladies at the front of the Burger King line leans across the counter with a nutrition guide open in front of her. Her companion holds hers into the light, squinting at the 6 pt type and the rows and rows of tabled information on fat, salt, calories.... that's the end of that list.

The chart should really be color-coded: Bad For You, Very Bad For You, Only Order Once in Your Life. But they are very small numbers instead, and these are women in their reading glasses years, and the lighting is bad, and anyway, "I can't find chili," one of them says.

The next customer cheerily moves to the next register and says, "You ladies don't mind if I go ahead while you're looking," with only the slightest inflection because she is already at the counter. And the cashier at their register stands and waits, gazing the unfocused stare of the counter help, blissfully unoccupied for a few moments, and therefore turned "OFF" from the constant stimulation.

More people enter: people with children, who scatter in and around the brass-bar feeder line like free-range chickens, and start sentences with "I want" that they never finish. The ladies keep looking, muttering to themselves, occasionally calling out numbers to each other, the value of which always surprises them and is worth commenting on, but never with anything more than "OOOooo.... yaaah..."

Their cashier must spring to life to help the chicken ranchers, and must stand on her toes to see them. An exhausted manager offers to help the ladies, but when one snaps, "It's very impor'ant, dee-aah," the manager walks away without response. "Where is chili?" says the other one.

Two things that don't occur to anyone to tell them:
1 - have a seat until you find it
2 - Burger King doesn't serve chili

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Another Day at the ICA

I shouldn't stop off anywhere on a morning I have a performance, but I had a feeling. I believe in that stuff -- not seeing angels or hearing voices, but hunches. And my hunch was right, because I scored a Frosty and a Rudolph made out of melted plastic chips. I have an Easter Bunny and a lavender egg already; these will go along perfectly. Only I'm so late now, I won't have time to add them to the installation today.

I've got to get into my singlet, which is what I wear for the piece. I thought a red one would suggest a Soviet/Olympic image, which has nothing to do with the piece really, except at Simon of Cyrene, where I talk about donating Bibles to Russia. I also settled on a singlet because it shows off the body I bought from Bally for $40/month over the past year and a half. Not that that has anything to do with the piece either, but it is my life, and I'm entitled to use it in my art.

The yarmulke I wear is one of the, quote, controversial elements of the performance. It's only controversial because I am not myself Jewish, but I met with an ADL guy who determined that since I don't desecrate the yarmulke, or Judaism in any way, they wouldn't denounce the piece. He even wrote a column about it in a local newsletter, saying the confrontation of yarmulke and cross was perhaps the heart of the piece.

It's called, "The Truth Will Set You Free, but First It Will Make You Miserable." What I do, in this very limited space, is a series of monologes while walking the stations of the cross. While chained to the floor. I had to make some alterations, because the ICA's space is rectangular, and the chain effect works better in a circle.

My stations are made from stuff I got at Christmas Tree Shoppes. I decided to leave the tags on where I could. It was October when I bought them; that's why there's sort of an orange-and-black theme to them. I thought that would be controversial too, because I am not Catholic either. Fact is, I was raised Quaker, but that doesn't make for good art.

Not that we don't have our spiritual moments. I once saw a rainbow while coming out of a curve on Storrow Drive. For a second I actually thought it was a special effects the Pops had arranged for a concert. When I remembered that rainbows are real, I burst into tears. But you write a story like that to your Nana. It doesn't exactly "challenge."

"The Truth..." is more complicated than that, and it's far more performance than art. The complete piece takes 90 minutes, so most people have never seen it all. I had a friend do some time studies to determine the average length of viewing. Five minutes. He said the average time at paintings was 50 seconds. So I shouldn't complain.

Norman Deeks, whose show got closed down in Providence, used to say you have to let the art tell you what it wants. When we were in the Visual & Performing Arts program, he used to get a lot of grief for not representing African-American influences in his work. But what was the guy going to do -- he was a Black man in Vermont. He was grateful people came to his shows at all.

For the Providence show, he put out all the traditional imagery -- Kente, Egyptian, Harlem Renaissance. A giant photography collage of Black faces came with a palette of skin tones and a sign that read "How Black Are You?" By my own reckoning, I am the shade of Julian Bond.

What started the commotion was his Comments book, which took a turn for the bizarre just a few days into the show, but went unnoticed for over a week. Someone had written something hateful, then someone wrote back. Before too long, there was the Dialogue on Race going on right there in the Bannister Gallery, and Deeks went wild over it. He built a stand for it. had it lit. Added 20 felt-tip pens and called it, "You Know What THEY'RE Like."

One picket line, 10 editorials, and a rock-throwing incident later, and an RIC spokesman declared live on the channel Four News that he "didn't need this shit."

Maybe the art can't always get what it wants.

I ran into Deeks about a month ago, at the dry cleaning counter. That is, he was behind the counter, in a knit shirt embroidered with a Sarni Cleaners "S," and I was on the other side with an armload of shirts. There's no pretending not to recognize him, so I tried, "How's it goin'?" And he pointed to a toothpaste smudge on one of the sleeves and asked, "And what's the nature of this stain?"

At VAPA we used to say, in situations like that, "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din."

Given the circumstances, I didn't try it on Norman Deeks.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Nearer My God to Thee

The Armenian Library & Museum of America boasts the largest collection of Armenian artifacts in the United States. The collection fits within a 3-story building next to the Police Station, but is no less impressive for it. Coins thousands of years old, ancient weapons, re-created churches, and a memorial to the 1.5 million exterminated during WWI. Above the articles from nay-sayers claiming the genocide never happened, is a quote from Hitler, "After all, who remembers the extermination of Armenians anymore?"

What visitors have come to see today is the Jack Kervorkian art. It is hard to know whether people expected the vivid Frida Kahlo-style expressions of pain or pathology, or the striking indignities inflicted on God while trying to take His side. The gallery notes are written by Kervorkian himself, in a blithering manifesto that shows off his vocabulary more than his ethics or passion. No one speaks.

Being raised the child of genocide survivors, immigrants, and a lifelong pathologist, one comes to the end of each day with a different attitude about life and death than the rest of us do. He may have done more for visually expressing physical pain than any artist in the 20th Century, besides perhaps Kahlo herself. It is a shame his reputation as a legal gadfly will eclipse his reputation as an artist.

Friday, March 3, 2006

Advanced List Mangement

"Habit is just a disciplined obsession," ~~ me
"Moses, write this down." ~~ Him

To Dos: whatever paper can be reached without moving
Brainstorm list in the order that things come to mind. Re-order according to a reasonable map that avoids backtracking.
If a weekend list, divide by day.

Groceries: right hand kitchen drawer
Write it down when it runs out. Food on the left; non-food on the right.

Netflix: saved in favorites
Whatever the load will bear. Rearrange as often as suits the mood.Occasionally scroll the list and reorder 1-12 from the lower end of the list without heed to what is picked.
Read Friends' lists and repress urge to do same.

Booklist: spiral notebook, nightstand drawer
Any of several rituals may be followed, depending on the library, and other books on the nightstand. Since the nightstand is usually non-fiction, fiction gets priority on the booklist. Non-fiction marked with a +, fiction not marked.
Sample options for picking the next book:
Open notebook to any page and start at the top...
Actually start at the beginning...
Start at the end...
Pick one row in the fiction section and confine choices to list items which fall in this area... [How Sons & Lovers got the call just yesterday]
Note the first number you see when you walk into the library and use that to determine page, line, or combination of the same...
When the book is completed, write the mm/yy next to the title. If the book was not worth finishing, strike it out. (Begone, disappointing book!)

Amazon Wishlist: they keep it
This is not a serious list. This is a true wish list, like circling horses in the paper. But people can shop from it, and that's nice.

Letter Basket: bookshelf
There is the regular rotation... and the response rotation. Pour a drink; this one is not for the normal.The rotation is a list of recipients, followed in order. One per day, generally, but not exclusively. That is to say... there must be one, but there need not be only one.
Letters received are in the response rotation, which supercedes a recipient's place in the regular rotation. BUT... responses can not fully displace the regular rotation, or people will fall woefully behind. So, the "next" letter is from the regular rotation, unless the last one was, in which case, go the the response rotation. (In other words, "every other one," a pleasing enough pattern when you don't specify it like a computer command.)

This List: appeared in my head driving home.

My sister keeps all of her spices in a cardboard box under her sink. But we love each other anyway.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Reading is FundaMENTAL

It takes parents some time to get used to Mark, the children’s librarian, before they trust his recommendations, or even his approach, to their children. Spindly, thick-spectacled, like a Jerry Lewis character, with a highpitched ebullient voice (“Hiii, Nicky!”) and a librarian’s social awkwardness that comes across as over-excited in him, downright curt in Cindy, the head librarian. But he remembers the kids, and the books they like. He helps them as full-fledged patrons, and since they are bookish kids themselves, they say, “Can you help me find something, Mark?” And he says, “Suurre!

Nicky’s mom asks if he has enough books for the weekend. “Because I don’t want you sitting around doing nothing,” she says.

Mark says, with a gasp, as if he is nine himself, “Ooo, did I tell you about the Legends of Ballard?”

“That’s not the one with the animals, is it?” Mom says impatiently, as her smaller children wrestle for the stroller seat.

“It’s not the animal one,” Mark says, in a tone that suggests Mom might be his Language Arts teacher.

But Nicky jumps in:
“I know that one. The kids play dirty tricks.” Mom hums her disapproval.

“Ohhh..” says contrite Mark, quietly, “…we don’t want any dirty tricks.” His face puckers up around his nose. “Encyclopedia Brown. Did you like those?” Nicky has wandered into the shelves. When he returns with a selection, his mother says,

“He needs something more challenging. For his vocabulary.” The toddlers are both tipping back the stroller. “Stop it.” She says. “Nicky, go with Mark and pick out some things. Four books.” She shows him the number. She passes in front of the circulation desk, avoiding Cindy’s piercing stare. Cindy does not think children who can not read belong in a library.

At the “New and Recommended” shelf, Nicky’s Mom sizes up the collection. “When are you going to recommend something again?” she says in Cindy’s direction.

The stout librarian, who loves romance books series as much as her embroidered sweaters, joins Nicky’s mom in front of the thick potboilers. She knows all these authors, and which books are “her newest one,” and what order to read them in. She begins handing them over, declaring this one “so funny,” and this one “real good.” And “her, I just love. I’ve read them all.”

“What’s that one where she’s looking for a husband?”

“They’re always looking for a husband.”

In the end, Nicky chose Vols. 1, 2, and 3 of a kid’s version of Robinson Crusoe. His mother chose nothing.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Susan Sontag Goes to the Gym

This occurs to me as I glance up over the Vanity Fair on the handles of the stationary bike and glimpse my reflection in the mirror. The gray streak is new, and not as cool as hers was. With my hair in a ponytail, my face looks square, my ears tacked on as an afterthought, much too large for my head. Susan Sontag's ponytail would have looked marvelous, her white stripe a badge of courage, linking her mind to her body.

She wouldn't read, I decide, and let the fat magazine fall to the floor. She would work her mind as well, stimulated by the whirr of pedals and the wail of Deborah Harry. Sontag studies human nature from the seat of her bike, smirking at who wipes down the equipment and who does not.

When she squeezes her legs together in the thigh press, she does not distract herself from the unfortuante stirrup image. She stares herself down in the mirror and tries out turns of phrase.

She would make much of the men who straddle the bench of the shoulder press and pump up a red-faced grunting lather, then hurl themselves from their machines between reps, leaving them stagnant, sweat-stained in the wet spot. They strut a few feet away, snapping their necks from side to side, always keeping a watchful eye on the apparatus -- still, for the time being, their territory.

I like to think of a feminist coffeehouse in heaven, where Sontag was pouring 2 glasses of wine when Betty Friedan walked in. Betty flops into a chair and says, "Oh, things just got crazier after you left." And Sontag says, "It expands... it fill the space available." They touch glasses and stay there all night, and nobody misses the gym.