Saturday, September 24, 2011

Your Music Kinda Smells Funny

Day 268: Too Loud! by matt.koenig
Day 268: Too Loud!, a photo by matt.koenig on Flickr.
The other day, I gave a friend a lift home in the rain (The same friend who, several years ago, told me to "Leave my name out of it if you ever blog about me, k? I mean it!!" Which I will do now not only because I am a woman of my word but, also, because I'm slightly afraid of what she'll do to me if I don't.) We were chatting away (read as, I was chatting away) when I noticed that she was getting a strange look on her face. The kind of look that you get when smell a bad odour, if you get me.

Nameless Friend: Is this the radio?
Me: No. It's my iPod.
Nameless Friend: Are you kidding me?!!!
Me (clueless): Yeah. Why?
Nameless Friend (incredulous): Because we are listening to Christopher Cross, Francis! Christopher Cross, for the love of God!!! From the eighties?!!!

And that's when I realized it. My iPod was on random. And I had been caught listening to Arthur's Theme. In my car. Between the moon and New York City. I know it's crazy. But it's true. (You know I had to do that, right?) While Nameless laughed her ass off and banged her hand uproariously on my dash, I busied myself trying to find an Arcade Fire track that might restore my dignity and street cred, not to mention cleanse the car of shame. All of this whilst driving and dying a thousand deaths. Multitasking, yet again.

Let me see your iPod then, Jag-Off! I yelled in defense. I bet you have something in there you wouldn't want people to know about. That shut her up quick. She clutched her purse protectively and swung her head from side to side like she was shaking a giant bug from her hair. NO! NO! she screamed. I won't let you look! Do I even need to tell you that I wrestled her in her front yard, got the iPod and then ran three blocks from her home with her trailing me from behind while frantically scrolling through her song list? Well I did! And worry not, fair readers! I hit pay dirt with Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy), by Big and Rich. How you like me now, Nameless?

The digital age leaves little room for deniability. I know this first hand now. And, in the spirit of full disclosure, here are a few more embarrassing finds from my device.

Low - Flo Rida - This song is wrong on soooo many levels. It's a song about a guy going to watch a stripper, for God's sake! But every time my husband puts it on - usually really loud when we he is in his boat at the cottage- he pretends like he's a gang-banger and gets this totally greevy look on his face that completely cracks me up. The kids actually call it, Daddy's song now. I know. How can something so wrong be so right?

I'm Coming OutDiana Ross- OK, here’s the deal. A friend got hitched a few years back and the playlist was filled with dance hits from the early 1980s and mid 1990s. I danced with such abandon to this song with the bride's gay cousin that I felt like I had been transported to The Limelight, circa 1982. That feeling is lightening in a bottle, people, and I get it every time I hear that song. It stays.

Who Can it Be Now? - Men at Work- There is crack in this song. I have no excuse.

Can You Feel It? Black Eyed Peas - Let me be clear: I hate this song more than Senator Anthony Weiner hates the bitter taste of regret. But it lives in my iTunes. At least until 5 minutes after I publish this post, anyway. That shit is GONE.

Now, I know I am not the only naked person in the pool.  What embarrassing songs do you have on your iPod? 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thrown Under the Bus? No More!

Thrown Under the Bus by I, Rodius
Thrown Under the Bus, a photo by I, Rodius on Flickr.
Every once in a while, a saying worms its way into our cultural consciousness that leaves you questioning your will to live. Where's the beef? comes to mind.  WHAZZUUUUP! another.  What you talking bout, Willis?  Need I go on?  My current lexi- enemy is the now-ubiquitous term, Getting thrown under the bus.  Hell, my eye twitched just writing it. 

For those of you new to the planet, the term is an idiomatic phrase meaning to sacrifice another person (often a friend or ally), who is usually not deserving of such treatment, out of malice or for personal gain.  Apparently, it was picked up by the mainstream media during the 2008 primary season when it was frequently been used to describe various politicians distancing themselves from unpopular or controversial figures. David Segal, a writer for The Washington Post, went on to call the expression "the cliché of the 2008 campaign."  Well guess what, Dave?  We are leading up to a new primary season, and all I can ask myself, is, Why! Dear Lord! Why?! must I keep having to hear this phrase day after day?

My Waterloo with the line came last night while watching Project Runway, of all things.  In this particular episode, silver fox/mentor Tim Gunn empathized with a contestant who was having difficulties with a team challenge.  I don’t want your role to be so trivialized that you’re thrown under the bus, he cautioned and as he patted her on the back.  That's when I lost it, interweb. Lost. It.  So this is what it has come to. It’s not enough to use the phrase after people have been thrown under the bus or to comment on bus-throwing-unders as they are happening. Now, like an insatiable fungus, this godforsaken blight on the English language has spread its tendrils to the subjunctive, and we are INVENTING situations in which someone COULD be thrown under the bus so that we may remark upon those! (N.B.  To be fair, in the Project Runway universe, contestants exist only to be thrown under an enormous bus.  It is the way of the show.  It doesn't lessen the intensity of my ire, however, when I have to hear the term used out loud.  By Tim Gunn, of all people.  Sheesh!)

There must have been a time when the term was fresh as a summer breeze and didn't stink up the joint like it does now, non?  According to Wikipedia (where, sadly, there is an entire entry for it.  Yes.  Really.), the phrase harkens back to the writer Charles Bukowski, purveyor of all things skid row.  In his work Septugenarian Stew published in 1990, one of his characters, Harry, pushes his friend, Monk, in front of a bus.  While Monk lays unconscious and probably dying in the street, Harry steals his wallet and goes directly to a bar where he spends Monk's money by buying himself  two double whiskeys. Later, he goes to a  steakhouse where, again, using Monk's money, buys two beers and two Porterhouse steaks with fries.  Go easy on the grease, he tells the waiter.  

It is not a moment that launched a thousand Hallmark cards, to be sure.  But a catch phrase?  Could Bukowski have known that this scene would paint an image that would inspire millions - some, like me, to complete and utter distractions- each day?  Maybe this is the silver lining, then.  Maybe this is Bukowski's revenge:  that he managed to wheedle his way into the zeitgeist way past his due date. When you look at it that way, all I can say is, Touche, sir.  Well played.  But to the rest of you who insist on keeping the bus-throwing dream alive I say this:  Stop.  Saying.  That.  NOW!  Go easy on the grease.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Making The Corrections

Might I direct your attention to the far right side of this blog.  (No!  Not that right!  This right!)  Do you see that column that indicates all of the books I've read so far this year?  It's a pretty long list so far, huh?  Are you impressed?  Don't be because if I'd had my way, this  list would stretch the length of my arm. Allow me to explain why it isn't.

Every summer, before I head to my top secret retreat, I build a pile of reading materials that I try to get through in between trips to the washing machine.  This summer, however, in a joint effort to both improve myself and purge my shelf of some unwanted material, I made an effort to take out and read only those books that I owned and had not yet read.   There were books I'd been given and told to read by pain of death, some had been picked up on the road while travelling, with a few birthday presents from year's past and garage sale finds sprinkled in for good measure. It was a very big, very daunting pile but, no matter! I piled them into a Land's End boat tote and headed off to the land of  washing dishes by hand and worrying about the dump schedule.  Good times.

The project got off to a great start.  By the end of the first week, I had knocked three books off the pile.  Yay me!  I'm gonna eff you up list! The next week brought two easy reads before Wednesday.  This is like shooting fish in a barrel, I thought, as I reached towards an Ann Tyler novel paperback that'd stolen from the dentist office.  I was getting cocky. I needed a challenge.  And then I saw it.  The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.  Hadn't the entire world crapped themselves over this book? Isn't he the only author to have spurned Oprah?  Wasn't it time that I discovered just how good/bad/indifferent I should be to this novel?  Why not I thought, as I removed the book jacket and started to read.  And so began my trip down the rabbit hole that is The Corrections. 

How do I begin to describe just how depressed I became while reading this book? How do I begin to dissect a book that left me in a state of intellectual torpor for weeks afterwards? So much so that I couldn't pick up anything deeper than US Weekly (What's the point of reading, I kept telling myself.  It all pointless, isn't it?).  And more importantly, how do I begin to explain that despite all of this, it is really the only book I have thought about for two straight months? 

The Corrections is a skillful, disquieting examination of a severely dysfunctional Mid-Western family - The Lamberts - as they make an effort to fulfill their mother's desire to have one last perfect Christmas with their Parkinson's afflicted father. To say these people are messed up is really understating the case and they are, each of them in their own twisted way, looking towards ritual and routine to provide any vestige of happiness or sincere emotional connection to their already shaky foundations.  And so Christmas hangs over the family in this book like mistletoe but, it ends up, by books end,  causing them more grief than joy. The happy family reunion that Mama Lambert ends up hoping for never materializes, of course.  Same goes for the rest of the family members whose lives are heaped with turmoil of one kind or the other. Characters medicate themselves with  happy pills or sleep with married people in order to feel connection of any kind.  Gary, the family's eldest, looks for joy in cooking for his children which, in the beginning starts as a weekly family event, but later turns into yet another cause of his growing depression. What Franzen confronts about our modern world is how the rituals we have embraced have become disorienting and empty.   We take our medication to be happy, but are unsure of whether our happiness is really a sham. We encourage sociality in our families with special dinners around the table, but those dinners might end up feeling like mere pageantry disguising unhappy lives. 

Buzzkill, right?  

And then I got it. Like the Lamberts, most of us are committed - ambivalently or otherwise - to some pretty miserable routines.   What Franzen suggests is that this is our modern dilemma:  creating stability in a deeply unstable and contradictory world. Just as Enid Lambert eventually learns from her vacation with her husband Alfred on a cruise boat, to avoid tumbling overboard, we are compelled to constantly adjust our balance. 

Certain books have that uncanny, almost, magic ability to speak to us about our time.  They prop a mirror up to our culture and speak to us in a way that, to be perfectly frank, can lead  to uncomfortable resolutions about ourselves.  And that's why I dropped that book full of unread shiite off at the dump on my way home for the summer.  I had to make the corrections.  I have Jonathan Franzen to thank for that.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The World According to Leon

Forgive me, blogosphere.  It's been too damn long since my last posting.  I repeat: Too. Damn. Long.

For those of you who were not aware, for the last 2 months I have been sequestered in a  witness protection-type of program with the members of my immediate family. Although I cannot divulge the exact location of said program nor the reason why I was sent there (I might blow my cover, people.  My deep, deep cover...), I can say that the time spent away from the rigors of my normal, every day existence were beneficial to my general well-being and psyche.  That it coincided with the beginning and ending of the school holiday break was only a coincidence, really.  Just a coincidence. That said, a big shout out must go out to my good friends, Wolf Blass and Kim Crawford for getting me through this difficult period.  I could not have done it without you.

I did have occasion this summer to host a fair number of guests at my top secret domicile and it gave me occasion to ponder the very nature of the houseguest.  The mark of a good one, I've been told, is their ability to stay for a good time, not a long time.  (There is another homily about guests and fish, too, that you often see embroidered on pillows in your finer homes but I'm not a lover of fish analogies of any kind, so I'll it leave it to your imagination. )  I prefer, instead, to draw my best illustration from the murky pond of popular culture and in the pantheon of fictional houseguests that span from Blanche DuBois to Mork from Ork, perhaps none has wreaked as much havoc in the lives of their hosts as the character of Leon Black.

Leon, from my favorite show Curb Your Enthusiasm, is the underdressed layabout and willfully vulgar foil of the producer and main character Larry David. Leon landed on the show when his family moved in with Larry after being displaced from Hurricane Katrina and his job - besides eating Larry out of house and home and never paying rent - seems to be to lay down the wisdom on Larry.  Leon, with his aggressive posturing — in one episode Leon literally steals the shirt off the back of a pedestrian because Larry believed the shirt was his — and hilarious one liners ("You have to bring the ruckus, Larry!")  seems to exist to transgress as many taboos as possible.  He has no deeper agenda beyond bringing on what he does best.And what is that exactly, you may ask?

Keeping it real.

Here is a perfect example of that:

Consider me inspired. Look out blogosphere! This year, I intend to bring the Leon.