Saturday, May 28, 2005

Born a Ramblin' Man

Hey folks -- yeah, I've been slackin' on the postings. Sorry. Been in and out of town, was sick for awhile, etc. And now I'm going to Europe for a 2 week vacation, first thing tomorrow morning. I'll post all about it when I get back -- I promise -- but I won't be near any computers while I'm gone. Why? Because my computer is one of the things I need a vacation from.

Got a friend watching my place and my cat -- and she's a kung-fu expert with a PCP habit so I wouldn't mess with her if I were you. Just in case there are any unfriendlies -- burglars or terrorists or whatever -- reading this.



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Friday, May 13, 2005


Hey I'm back, back in the New York groove. Did y'all miss me? Hey I've been busy; cut me some slack. It ain't easy being so popular.

OK, so it's friday the 13th. Big deal, right? I don't normally believe in that superstitious crap. But the way my day went, I'm starting to believe.

Woke up to a parking ticket on my car. This being San Francisco, that isn't unusual. Parking tickets provide this city's main source of revenue besides Alcatraz sweatshirts. But the problem is this: the ticket was for not having a parking permit sticker, which I in fact have, as prominently displayed on my bumper as it has always been. Apparently I was targeted by a blind or retarded meter maid. Now I have to go downtown and explain to the idiots at the Department of Parking that one of their idiotic employees made a mistake. Chances are, after standing in line for several hours, they will take a look at my paperwork and decide that I am right. Or maybe they won't. You never know with those morons. Either way, I get to waste some of my precious time dealing with this shit.

But if it ended there, it would not be anything unusual; just annoying. So as you might suspect, it doesn't end there.

I couldn't get my laser printer to work all freekin' day. It just wouldn't print anything. Kept getting an error message, 'printer not responding.' I tried everything: shut it down, restarted it; pulled all the cables and reconnected them; opened up all the doors and checked for jams; etc. Nothing. It worked fine yesterday, and it suddenly started to work again a few minutes ago. But during my critical get-shit-done hours, it seems to have been on strike for better working conditions or something. Who knows? Musta been gremlins or something.

Then my DSL decided to go down halfway through the day. This is not helpful. I do a lot of my work online. So I called my ISP, sat on the phone for awhile, only to be informed that there appeared to be nothing wrong with the line. The oh-so-useful tech support grunt suggested I reboot my system, which of course I had already done about ten times before making the call. A 'trouble ticket' was established, meaning that some time within the next week or two I would get a call from someone to discuss my problem. Nice. The line didn't work for a few hours, and then it magically began working, out of the blue. Gremlins again. I'm sure I'll hear from someone at the ISP someday, and perhaps they'll have an explanation. Most likely they'll say "What did you expect? It was friday the 13th."

Had a dinner date set up with someone I like a lot. The plan was to make some of my world-famous Chinese stir-fry. Yeah, I really mean world-famous. Sometimes I get a knock at the door and it's people from China wanting to come up for dinner. I think I'm in the guidebooks or something. Anyway, I went to the corner store to buy all the ingredients, one of which is of course white rice. Now, white rice wouldn't seem like a difficult item to procure, right? Except that for some reason, the corner store was completely out of it. Why? I don't know. Asian gremlins? Perhaps. So, OK, no big deal -- I head to another local grocery store, where they have shelves and shelves of brown rice -- but no white. Now, I happen to like brown rice, but I knew (from paying attention) that my soon-to-arrive dinner guest does not.

"You've got to be fucking kidding," I said out loud to nobody. And then I went home, deposted the items I had bought, and promptly climbed aboard the light rail to the big Safeway store a few stops up the line. Sure enough, Safeway had plenty of white rice, so I grabbed a package, went swiftly through the express checkout line, and got back on the train, confident that I could at last begin to prepare a proper Chinese dinner.

Got home. Started chopping things. Opened the bag of rice, ready to measure out a cup or two into the rice cooker. Opened the cabinet overhead, to get out the measuring cup. Only it would seem that items in the cabinet had mysteriously shifted during flight, and a torrent of glass bowls immediately toppled out onto my head and the countertop. You can probably guess what happened next, right?

Now I had a relatively painful, walnut-sized lump on the right side of my head, but this was not in fact the problem. Because, you see, one of the bowls had shattered into a thousand tiny glass shards all over the counter and the floor, and another had knocked the bag of rice over, dumping every last grain onto the glass-laden linoleum. Yes, there was not one teaspoon of white rice left in the bag. it was all on the floor, intermingled with glistening crystalline fragments of glass. Not good. I began to laugh -- or maybe cry, or maybe both.

After carefully sweeping up the now-deadly rice/glass/dirt mixture and tossing it uselessly into the garbage pail, I contemplated my next move. My guest was due in half an hour. Should I just make a Chinese dinner sans rice? Is that even legal?

No, I decided, this would not do.

So I heaved a large sigh -- the kind that is usually reserved for getting stuck in traffic on the way to a blind date with a dead cellphone battery -- and re-boarded the train to Safeway. The express checker gave me a strange look as I bought my second bag of plain white rice, and I gave her a look that said "don't ask."

Dinner went well.
Dessert was even better. ;)

But next time I make a date for friday the 13th, we're going to a goddamned restaurant.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Intergalactose Intolerant

Well, tuesday night I did something I swore I would never do again.

Yes, I sat through another kindergarten masturbation session by George Lucas. A friend of mine is well-connected enough to have gotten me a free pass to a sneak preview of the latest 'Star Wars' episode, and since I am particularly fond of this friend, and since I am rarely known to turn down anything with the word FREE in it, I decided to go.

Besides, technically what I had said was that George Lucas would never get any more of my money -- and technically he didn't. So I guess I slide by on this one, yes?

Anyway, so I went. And I saw it. And it was about what I had expected. More of the same. Better than the worst of them -- well, I refused to see Episode II after Ep I made me pine away over the hours lost and money spent. It's the hours, mostly. I mean, that's a couple of hours of my life that I will NEVER get back. Lucas stole them from me, like a succubus. But I guess I must maintain SOME responsibility, since I continued to see them of my own free will up through that point.

The original 'Star Wars' was cool, if only because I was only 15 and not so sophisticated (or, as some would say, jaded), and besides, the special-effects were better than anything before it, with the exception (in MY opinion) of the work of Ray Harryhausen. Now THERE was a genius before his time who went largely unappreciated, though prolifically employed at least.

Yeah I still love stop-motion animation, especially when it's done so well. There's a quality, an energy to the work that gets diluted by the sometimes too-slick, too-smooth, intricate but sterile ethic of computer graphics. Maybe it's just the knowledge that someone so carefully hand-crafted the sculpted models and carefully bent them into position over thousands of frames of camera work, taking hundreds of hours of precise labor and shaping something inanimate into a living, organic experience for the viewer. I can certainly appreciate beautiful, complex and realistic computer-generated imagery, especially given the amazing things one can create with such powerful tools -- but I appreciate it in a different way.

OK, so enough blabbering about that. 'Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,' as 'Star Wars' flicks go, isn't horrid. That is to say: considering the syrupy, cliche-ridden Happy Meal and Action Figure commercials that have passed for 'films' in the series, this one is decidedly less annoying. The buzz on the street has been that it's too 'dark' for kids, which is rather ridiculous if you ask me. It's dark in a campy, 'Space Ghost' kinda way, rather than, say, a 'Silence of the Lambs' way. Anyway, if you want to know just exactly what's too 'dark' for kids, just turn on the news. What's going on in the world is way scarier than ANY movie, even the ones with that 'Jason' dude in them.

But I digress.

The movie continues telling the backstory to the first movie, as if George Lucas had this burning need to wax etymological about the supposed origins of all his characters. It's as if he picked up Tolkein one day and said "Holy Christ! I wanna be like this guy!" and decided to retroactively create a history to explain how a complex series of events shaped the rather trite, simplistic universe of his first movies. Kinda putting the Falcon before the Millenium, if you ask me. I mean, Tolkein was a creative genius; Lucas is, um, not. A marketing genius with lots more money than me? Certainly. But wealth doesn't make Donald Trump anybody's hair model, and neither does it make George Lucas talented. It just allows him the luxury of THINKING he is. Tolkein came up with a whole world, developing it more and more and growing branches of complexity further and further outward, using well-chosen words and intricate hand drawings of maps and such. Lucas is obsessed with legitimizing his pop mythology by giving it a history that we're supposed to believe was in his mind when he got (extremely) lucky with the original movie. He seems to consider himself a brilliant artist, and instead of hiring screenwriters and directors with actual skill, he uses his considerable following as proof to himself that his inane, stilted dialog, weak-ass plots, contrived character names and just plain bad directing are in fact pure brilliance. But everybody over twelve knows it's the special effects that separate all his films from being as intolerable as infomercials.

The original 'Star Wars' was no great piece of cinematic art. The dialog, the script, the acting were all mediocre at best; one step up from the old-time serials the film was meant to emulate. But it was an achievement in its use of realistic special effects, and it visually combined a futuristic world with the grit of rust and entropy in a believable way, unlike the sterile, clean futurism depicted in previous 'space' movies like '2001: A Space Odyssey' (which, this being 2005, feels a little weird to mention). 'Star Wars' was a cross between 'Buck Rogers' and "Roy Rogers' -- a western shoot-'em-up in space. And, at 15 years old, that appealed to me. I don't know if it would have if I'd been twice that age, but maybe it just might have. I know it was the right kind of flick at the right time, at least for my generation. It sure beat crap like 'Logan's Run' -- try watching that one sometime.

But just because Lucas managed to create an icon in spite of himself with the first movie didn't mean his shit didn't stink. And in my humble opinion, we've been smelling it ever since. The man with the Bob's BigBoy haircut and the even bigger bankroll is the cinematic equivalent of George Bush (with his 'political capital' to spend even though half the country wants his head on a TV tray). When will this man stop? Well, when we stop paying for his delusions. And I could be talking about either George here.

Speaking of which, about the only redeeming quality of 'Episode III' was the inclusion of some almost charmingly innocent jabs at our political system in its current incarnation. The jabs are gentle, though from a certain perspective, quite pointed -- It's almost as if Lucas didn't even mean them to be timely, but universal -- and yet they are very, very timely.

The Chancellor Palpatine, in the earlier-but-set-later films more of an evil, all-pervading, almost spiritual presence, here is a manipulative politician, with powers he hides until the right moment, and then springs a rather nebulously-explained trap on the 'Council' that represents 'democracy' (a word uttered much more in this one than in past episodes). The Council, made up of Jedi masters, is supposed to be a balancing force to ensure the FREEDOM of the galaxy, which was once apparently ruled by ruthless Sith overlords until the Jedi overthrew them. Palpatine, however, is secretly a Sith Lord himself, and is able, through his trickery and the ridiculously effortless manipulation of his highly-trained-yet-still-retarded apprentice Hayden Christiansen (as the young Anakin Skywaker AKA Darth Vader), to seize control of the entire galaxy and turn it into a Sith empire. He does this single-handedly, with Vader as his main hit man, and with thousands of formerly loyal-to-the-Council soldiers who suddenly become unquestioningly loyal to the Chancellor-turned-Emperor.

In writing it doesn't really translate, but in the film there are several moments that feel eerily like the Republican/Fascist takeover that is happening all around us in this country. There are several pieces of dialog -- not GREAT pieces, as I don't thing Lucas could write a great piece of dialog to save his life -- but pieces, nonetheless, that seem to be decrying our loss of checks and balances, and the threats to our freedom that are being touted as necessary due to the greater threats of war. In the film, the war is essentially of the Emperor's making, so that he could exploit the situation and acquire absolute power. Hmmm...sounds familiar. Not new, certainly; it happens all the time, and has for millenia. But since it's happening again, here, now, and in a manner that is very close to the heart of the story of the film, one wonders if Lucas is starting to take a stand against the excesses of the other George. We can only hope. Because if a guy is going to have all that money, all those resources, and all that effortless box office draw, the least he can do is have a worthwhile message -- even if that message is written and acted like a fourth-grade Thanksgiving play. It's better than just blowing stuff up -- BOTH Georges desperately need to learn the futility of that.

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Straight up in a dirty glass.

OK, so I'm a big fan of the Pulp Fiction literary genre (you know -- the one that spawned Film Noir), and sometimes I have a lot of fun waxing over-the-top quasi-poetic in the style of a Chandler or a Hammett in my writing. Yeah, I'm a dork. Kiss my ass. Anyway, awhile back I posted a personal ad in this style, and started a back-and-forth correspondence with a woman who got my drift. It was ultimately doomed, because she turned out to be about five times my size -- but it was fun while it lasted. So I thought I'd share. Here's the ad and the correspondence it generated:

He was lean, tender, and clean-cut like a New York steak with blue eyes and he was tired. Tired of games. Tired of lonely nights. And tired of low-class dames with a chip on their shoulder. Where could she be? You know the one. Whip-smart. Pretty as a Christmas dinner. With eyes that burned her initials through the well-worn dirty cotton of his button-down dress shirt and into his soul. Was she a blonde? Brunette? Redhead? He couldn't remember. All he knew was that somehow she had stolen the air from his lungs until every breath was a longing sigh and every thought consumed by a face he had seen only in his dreams...

Who was this mystery man? She wondered as her fingers tapped away and the words floated out into the ether like an SOS from a ship's last known radio signal. And would she be able to get his attention? Her eyes could burn, alright; they were burning now, as she stared through this electric window and imagined him watching her from the other side. Who was he? What did he look like? She pictured him with leathery skin and smoker's rough hands and dark eyes. She thought of him sitting in some dive bar, offering her a drink as he looked up and down the length of her Liz Claiborne stretch pants.

He was the guy wearing his heart on his sleeve, right over there, across the bar. The one with the big soulful steel blue eyes, grimacing at the crap they're playing on the jukebox and wishing somebody hadn't broken the only pool cue in the joint. The eyes narrowed and reddened like a couple of streetlights just before another drunken dawn in the Big Easy, and he casually scratched at his nine-o'clock shadow with hands that trembled ever so slightly at the momentary thought of gently touching her with them...

He was watching the swirling black and blue where she sat, but it was too dark to see her and the smoke made him dizzy. He'd never been a smoker, and he wondered why she'd insisted on meeting him in the only smoky bar left on the whole Barbary Coast. For a bullet train second, the cheshire cat sat on his shoulder, a ghostly barracuda grin spreading whitewall-wide -- maybe she was hiding something, over there in the shadows and the smoke. Clever dame, he thought, waving a poorly self-manicured hand across his collarbone like a fly swatter. But she couldn't fluster him; his own killer instinct was too finely honed from all the years of female-inspired nail-biting to break on the waves of any mermaid's wake. No dame had yet to jump through his allegorical hula hoops before surrendering, spent, in his arms. He grinned, squinted, and waited for her to emerge from the dark like a polaroid so he could get a good look at that drop-dead moviestar mug of hers...

He knew how to write; she gave him that. But she was too shy to be the first to show her face. He was probably way too old for her, from the sound of his experience; after all, she was only thirty just last week. He was a stranger to her, and a lady didn't just show all her cards to a stranger without good reason.

Thirty, eh? Almost brand-new. He had a grizzled decade over her, and maybe that was too much. She moved closer, into the red light of the grimy bar lamp, and laughed at him. The girl had 'tease' written all over her. And the word hung like thick velvet drapes in the empty air, clinging to her invisible curves like a Porsche on the Autobahn in the fog. He could feel himself starting to sweat jacketed .44 slugs from his forehead and reached for a cool drink. But everything in the room had heated up as she whisked past him in the pitch black, and the last vapors of steam swirled out of the dirty tumbler as he vainly picked it up. Had he been intrigued? Sure. She could be a bombshell, but he'd been hit by his share of duds -- always gussied-up like high-society pinups, looking like Betty Grable but leaving him face down in a pile of Betty Rubble. But she had him at a disadvantage, and that didn't sit well. Would she fly straight, or wait til the bombay doors were open and -- blammo -- blow the whole flying fortress to Kingdom Come?

He sent his mugshot and waited for the air raid siren...

She stared at his picture for a long time. Handsome, she thought. And younger than she'd suspected. This intrigued her; how could such a young face seem so worldly-wise? Nothing made any sense anymore; what was he looking for, anyway? She didn't know what to tell him; where to start. Maybe he was just out for a good time, and that wasn't what she wanted. She could have that at any gin joint in any town...

She'd called him handsome; she knew that would do the trick. Yeah, looking like a baby-faced kid was a double-edged sword. It meant he could get away with a lot of things, and yet it also meant he got away with nothing. Like a Pilgrim's gift of pox on a savage baby's blanket. Pass the cranberries. He'd seen forty-one Januaries so far, each one different like snowflakes or bone fragments, some leaving their imprint like icebergs in a riveted steel hull. He'd surprised her, he guessed; she wasn't expecting to see his face so soon. She wasn't prepared with her own; she kept it in a sealed envelope marked 'confidential', like a young black-veiled virgin waiting to show her new Afghan husband what he'd bought. He watched the ice melt in the tumbler and wondered aloud when the veil would glide spiraling to the dusty concrete floor like the first pitch of baseball season. For now, he'd assume she was worth the wait. After all, he'd been waiting forever already...

He'd been knocked around, put through the ringer, wore his best suit to a wedding that turned out to be a funeral. Made a fixer-upper-sized fortune and lost it to a bunch of ritalin-addled prospectors who'd forgotten their pans; built a skyscraper out of playing cards that fluttered to the floor when somebody dialed 911. But the game wasn't up yet -- that would have been too easy. Moved up and down the left-hand coast 'til the highway signs blurred into blue snakes spitting road rage reflectors at his halogen high beams -- and asked the dashboard a hundred times why he'd been asleep at the wheel when he wasn't even tired yet, not expecting an answer because after all, it was a rhetorical question.

He'd had it all and seen the empty underbelly of what 'all' meant. Now he just wanted somebody with sparkling eyes who'd kiss his hands when he brought her flowers in butcher paper soaked with rain.

She blushed at his words; they stirred something within her. She'd never done anything like this before -- writing to a stranger. She mostly kept to herself, staying out of trouble like a good girl. Sure, in her old short skirt days she'd been to the bars looking for that kind of trouble, but not anymore. She came from old-fashioned values. Lassie movies. Apple pie. Everybody had their rebel moment, but now she was back to her roots, and he could prove to be bad news. And yet she couldn't deny the trembling of her fingers as she searched the air for the right words to say to impress him, and she wondered if that was even a wise thing to try and do. So she took the chance; she sent the picture. It was a couple of years old and a couple of pounds lighter than she was now, but a man like him would see through all that, wouldn't he?

The blush gave her away, but she wore it like Coco Chanel in a Turkish bath. A little dollop of demure could be the icing on the layer cake now and then, but this wasn't the time for cake. Too easily sliced up and spread around. Besides, she was barely thirty. Still shiny, like a dime in the laundry. And yet her faraway misty-eyed reverie spoke like a gravelly-voiced veteran recalling the good old days on Canal Street. So she'd chased a lot of Trouble and she didn't want any more, eh? He'd bet dollars to donut holes she'd found more than a corner-pocketful of it. Short skirts are Trouble magnets; just ask any young girl's mama and see if you don't get sucker-punched for even thinking about it.

She probably had one of those names you'd expect to see on the Beantown Social Register, right between the local parrish priest and guy who inherited the hardware chain. But here she was, in his mailbox, talking about hard-boiled gimlets and moviestar dogs. All dripping goodness and virtue on his secondhand mud-stained Sears and Roebuck welcome mat -- yet her eyes told a different story, one that would no doubt send Lassie running for a stiff drink and two pair of concrete shoes...

She'd never done this before, she said. Maybe he was Bad News, she said. That's when he noticed how hot it had gotten in this fleabag joint...and he fixed himself a cold glass of irony.

Still, there she was, looking like a brand new car in a bad neighborhood. He knew a gamble when he saw it. But that never stopped him before. Her hot breath smoldered through the dark strands of her hair as she stared back at him; she did look familiar, like someone he'd seen in a movie...or a dream. He took a long look at his aging, but still handsome reflection in the blacked-out window of the bar. A wry grin began to crack across the unshaven glass.

Staying out of Trouble, she had said. And yet she had just walked right up and tapped Trouble on the shoulder...

His words sounded so perfect. Too perfect. She had to ask. Did he borrow them from somebody? The words were just so familiar, like she'd read them before in some dime novel. Was he playing her for a fool?

So the dame had the nerve to ask him where he 'borrowed' his words.

Plagiarism? He laughed out loud. If he was gonna steal something, it would stack neatly in his well-worn billfold. Or beat feverishly behind a woman's breasts. He glanced over at the past-its-prime creaky futon he called a bed. Hell, it had never had a 'prime'; in all likelihood that's what 'futon' meant in Japanese: Bed That Never Was. Goddamn sneaky Japs. First Pearl Harbor and now they'd sold him an imaginary bed. For a San Francisco minute he imagined those Liz Claiborne stretch pants of hers in a crumpled yet still somehow stretchy pile on the floor next to it. His XXX imagination was getting the better of him again.

X. X. X. There was that letter again. It haunted him, filled him with a thousand crisscrossed memories like arms folded over the chest of a former head of state. His life was filled with Xs, from the XX of the eyes of the men who'd crossed him, to the X-wife that gave him most of his scars, to the X next to the signature of every contract on which he'd signed his life away in exchange for a few bucks that lasted a week and a half.

His words flowed and coagulated like sour milk from the leaky squeeze bottle in his ribcage and the noisy typewriter in his skull. 'Borrowing' somebody else's would make about as much sense as Porky Pig eating a ham sandwich. He grimaced at the bad pun, but sent it anyway; after all, she wanted the real deal, right?

And at this point, so did he.

An ex-wife, eh? She knew there must be a story there; a painful one. She must have done him wrong; she must have been like a drug that was cruelly taken away and left him alone with the withdrawals. She wondered if he was over that pain, and if he would be ready for a girl like her. Or was he still addicted?

Yeah, it was an addiction. The smell of her skin, the shine of her hair in the reflection of the neon moonlight outside the third-floor window where he gazed into emptiness and saw the swirling smoke from the street begin to dissipate and form a face. But it was only a night like all the others. The peeling paint around the window brought the reality of his solitude home, and he turned to switch on the fan and blow the fog back into the chilly soup it came from. In the other room the aging refrigerator hummed a dissonant etude; downstairs the crazy neighbor shouted at ghosts. But the night swam slow laps around him like it always did, and the unspoken longing sat beside him like an old friend. Withdrawal symptoms on an endless loop, almost comforting in their familiarity. Yet there were no tracks in his arm. The tracks were on his soul...

The pillow was soaked through to the well-worn mattress when he woke up. Dazed, he ran his fingers along his temple and glanced at his hand. Sweat. Not blood. Relieved, he grabbed the other pillow; the one that always sat with its smiling creases like a sated vampire against the cracked plaster above the futon. It still smelled like her. The one that got away.

What time was it? How long had he been out? He stood over the cheap cultured marble sink and looked in the mirror. His face looked like the linoleum floor of a Chinatown laundromat. Taking a nap was supposed to be good for you, or so they said, whoever they were. He stepped into the shower and coaxed the leaky pipes to pay their chlorine-scented liquid tribute. Within moments he was back to normal, whatever that was.

He wondered what the dame was doing right now; whether she was out painting the town red or staying home blue. He wondered what she looked like up close, and if he'd recognize her from someplace. He wondered if she'd be the one to finally take him down.

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