December 31, 2002
Post Dated

Here is something I wrote exactly one week ago.

Iím in the bed I slept in when I was nine, and for another nine years after that, in the bedroom I called mine when I slept in this bed.

Itís a waterbed, a size called single, what would be a twin if water werenít involved. The non-conventional convention makes a hell of lot more sense to me.

Iím lying here, taking inventory of the room.

Thereís a toy box that used to seem huge. Everybody says that about things from childhood, but what you have to understand is that when I was three or four, I would empty out this toy box and get inside it. I can remember, or, perhaps more truthfully, imagine what it was like to be under the closed lid and not feel even remotely claustrophobic. I look at this 12 x 9 x 30 wooden box trying, and failing, to make even that idea fit inside.

There are two stuffed animals on top of the toy box, on top because its filled with books and old school papers now. One of them is a cartoonish looking moose in a plaid cap with earflaps. Its expression is both confused and baleful, and frankly I donít remember when I got it - probably in my early teens, certainly at Christmas, definitely past the stage when I would have given it a name.

Its fellow dust catcher does have a name, however, and quite a few memories associated with it. Itís a hand-knit bear, pink and what used to be white, with panda-like eyes and a tail that looks like a third leg, and in fact this nubby little tripod allows the bear to stand upright.

Here is how I came by this bear, and how the bear came by its name:

When I was three, my parents made a cross-country road trip to Pennsylvania, to visit my motherís family. The bear was made and given to me by one of these relatives, I wish I could say who. According to my mother, at some point during the trip back, I was acting up, and she turned to me in the back seat and said, "Youíre driving me nutty!" A bit later she asked me what I was going to name my new toy, and apparently I promptly responded, "Nutty Bear."

This is one of those stories that I donít actually remember, and until my mother told me about it several years ago, Iíd always just assumed it was called Nutty Bear because, well, it looks a little nutty.

From the age of three through the remainder of my stuffed animal bearing years, Nutty Bear was my inanimate companion of choice, appearing with me in countless photographs. Before Nutty Bear I traveled with one of those soft bodied, bean baggish baby dolls. My mother tells me that the first version fell out of my stroller and was lost, and that I was so upset my she and my father bought a new one and pretended to find it.

If it had a name, I donít remember what it was. Like Nutty Bear, it found its way into this room after I moved out, and now itís propped on a pile of textbooks, including an edition of "Modern Political Systems: Europe" thatís so old itís inadvertently become a history book.

Also on the shelves are big, heavy, illustration-laden books about things like astronomy and seashells and the wild animals of North America, many of them published by National Geographic, most of them inscribed by either my parents or my grandmother to commemorate birthdays or holidays, all of them well-worn with affectionate use.

The rest of the books in the room are paperbacks acquired in my teens that didnít make the box-n-ship cut, generally because theyíre either too trashy, or not trashy enough. Some of them find their way back with me as reading for the flight home if Iíve exhausted the books I brought along. This time it will be "The Count of Monte Cristo", which Iím a little surprised to find here - itís exactly the kind of vaguely respectable nineteenth century page-turner I tend to keep with me and reread every few years.

But I digress.

Another shelf has a picture of me with my parents at my graduation from the source of a stack of alumni magazines on the next shelf over. They just keep coming to my parentsí house, since Iíve never bothered to change the permanent address on file at any of the schools Iíve attended. My mother adds new arrivals to the pile, and I flip through them when I come home to visit. I never take them back with me; in spite of their efforts to focus on the present, thereís something about alumni magazines that seems hopelessly rooted in the past, and so it makes sense that they should stay in this room.

Lurking behind the picture is a bottle of Smirnoff vodka, also brought to this room after my depature, and purchased because the bottle is shaped like a nutcracker.

I am, a little surprisingly, not especially tempted to twist its head off.

December 22, 2002
Sirius Major

I complain about San Bernardino, but there are advantages to being out in the desert, under a clear sky, in a town without streetlights.

At least for a few days, while I'm still remembering to be in awe of stars.

I'm Mister Green Christmas

I'm Mister Sun.

Okay, I'm not a mister, but I love his song, and I'm off to Southern California for Christmas, so I'm entitled to sing it.

Updates as events warrant.

December 20, 2002
Let 'er RIP

Today I noticed that some of the phrases in various e-mails I received would be good candidates for my epitaph:

Dec. 20 - LAST DAY to choose from over 1 million products

~ ~ ~

Mmmm...bacon!

~ ~ ~

a wholly owned subsidiary of SLM Corporation


But by far my favorite:

I actually quite enjoyed this one, even if I didn't know what the hell was going on half the time.

December 19, 2002
A Christmas Peril

Oh, you really have to go take a look at this.

Red Handed

Today I am interested in pomegranates

Also, I'm glad to report that "Secret Order of the Pomegranate" has no Google hits, so that whole secrecy thing seems to be working out.

December 17, 2002
Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I was about to cross the street on my way home from work tonight when one of those "screw pedestrians - Iím turning NOW!" cars whipped out in front of me. I had just enough time to notice two things: 1) there was only one person in the car, and 2) "Northwest Driving School" was written on the door.

Since I suspect they donít send students out alone it seems reasonable to suppose the driver was an instructor.

Weíre all doomed.

December 16, 2002
Media Bulimia

After starving myself for a month, Iíve been bingeing on media commodities, hence the lack of entries. Iím three-quarters of the way through Neil Gaimanís American Gods, and Iím relieved to say that in spite of the presence of Norse gods, my book isnít in the same territory, and the few ideas we have in common arenít original to either of us. So if I can get an agent to read my book, I donít have to worry about getting tossed on "somebody else just published this" grounds. At least not that I know of. Ack.

Iíve also been spending a lot of time at the movies - this is where I could take a cheap shot like, "Most of it was at Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," but my problem wasnít with its length per se.

My problem was with the pacing: it was in such in hurry to tell us everything it told us nothing. There was no time to appreciate anything before we were halfway through the next transitionless scene. There was no time to develop characters or build suspense (suspense is a function of timing and anticipation, not surprise, so the fact that all the book readers in the audience know whatís coming is no excuse). And I donít care how much plot you stuff in, without suspense or character development Iím going to get bored.

Yes, the quidditch scene was better, and the spiders were completely creepy. But mostly watching this movie was like overhearing people telling each other about a really good episode of a TV show they all saw the night before.

The waste of acting talent was also hard to take - sometimes it felt like I was a watching a series of cameo appearances. "Ooh, itís Harry Potter and the Rapidly Spinning Merry-Go-Round of Good Actors! Hey, look - there goes Julie Walters!"

So where do you get the time for something like character development when you're trying to film so much story? Itís easier said than etc. that you make some tough choices and cut out some scenes. But at the very least you tighten up the bit with the car falling through the Whomping Willow, because we saw something very much like it in Jurassic Park. Same deal with (cover your eyes if you havenít read the book, not that it matters much, Ďcause really, there isnít a lick of suspense about it) the blinded basilisk getting right up close to Harry.

Last year I kept insisting that the perfect director for the Harry Potter movies would be Danny Devito (if you donít believe me, go rent his version of Roald Dahlís Matilda), but I am intrigued by the idea of Alfonso Cuarůn doing the third one.

Okay, I don't have a really strong ending for this post, so, uh, let's all clap for Hagrid! Now hum something uplifting and slowly pan away from the entry.

December 10, 2002
A Few Minutes with the Devil's Flappy-Jowled Minion

Iím in seat 32D Ė galley just ahead, bathrooms just behind, engines on either side.

The seat is on Alaska Airlinesí Flight 421. I like Alaska because they are polite and friendly but not too friendly Ė they have a nice "donít bother us and we wonít bother you" thing going on, which I appreciate because thatís pretty much my attitude from the moment I walk into one airport and out another (okay, fine, thatís pretty much my attitude at all times, but I feel the need to actively project it when traveling - I am also one of those people who read all through the flight).

The flight attendant, an older gentleman probably on his second or third career, is in the galley, on the intercom, mixing jokes into the end-of-flight speech, Southwest style. The jokes arenít very original, but his delivery is pretty good, and heís getting a lot of laughs from the passengers. Itís all reasonably painless and easy to ignore.

The speech is over, and he sits down in the jump seat next to the galley. And thatís when he takes the intercom, and begins a near-perfect imitation of Andy Rooney going on and on about the idiosyncrasies of air travel.

So hereís the thing: I hate Andy Rooney. I hate his whiny, nasal voice, and I hate the way he puts sentences together. Really. If I had a free pass to punch any celebrity in the head, it would probably be Andy Rooney. I donít think about this very often, because Iím usually able to limit my exposure to Andy Rooney. I can avoid his books, and if I really need to see what Ed Bradley and Morley Safer and Lesley Stahl are up to (and I don't), I can watch 57 Minutes. But understand that Iím being completely serious when I say that the sound of Andy Rooney Ė even the sound of a convincing imitation of Andy Rooney - is like torture. It makes me gnash my teeth and clench my fists. It evokes a fight or flight response. It is very bad news.

I sit through the flight attendantís first bit, thinking heíll stop soon, but he doesnít, and I start to get desperate. I actually consider calling out and begging for mercy, since heís only two rows up, but I canít quite bring myself to do it, because he seemed like a nice enough guy before he started with the evil Andy Rooney voice. It occurs to me to hammer at the flight attendant call button, hoping that will get his attention and keep him from launching into yet another, "Did you ever notice howÖ". And Iím reaching up, I really am, when I overhear something from across the aisle:

"Why is he talking like that?"
"Heís doing an imitation of Andy Warhol."

This sends me into a fit of barking, hysterical laughter, which I do my best to hide behind a fake coughing fit. By the time I recover, waving off the concerned attention of the woman in the seat next to me, the flight attendant has hung up the intercom.

Thank you, mysterious stranger who can't keep your Andies straight.

December 06, 2002
Holy Tooth Decay, Batman!

Years ago E gave me the first six issues of a really bad DC comic published in 1975 based on the epic poem "Beowulf" ("based" in the sense that the paper it was printed on probably wasnít acidic). They are really, really, really bad - the kind of comic that people who use the phrase "graphic novel" are trying to dissociate themselves from. I never actually read past the first few pages of #1, but I also didnít throw them out. In fact, I suspect E only gave them to me to test the limits of my pack rattiness.

I pulled them out recently, my blurred memory assuring me that they were issues of Marvel Comicsí "Thor" (I was feeling the need to do some cursory research in the area of pop cultural representations of Norse mythology and also to put off working on the book). They were as bad as I remembered, but I did notice something Iíd missed before: full page ads featuring the heavyweights of the DC lineup in adventures with Hostess snack products. The one in which Superman protects his secret identity using fruit pies was pretty swell, but "Batman and the Mummy" was even better. The full text of the ad follows, and remember it's from 1975, so Batman and Robin look like they're just taking a quick break from shooting a Superfriends episode to hock sugary treats.

BATMAN: The Mummy has captured the professor and his beautiful daughter!
ROBIN: Great Cheops!
BATMAN: They violated the tomb of his ancestors, and now he wants revenge!

New panel: Mummy pushing a rock in the foreground; The Professor and His Beautiful Daughter at the mouth of a cave in the background
MUMMY: Iíll roll this two ton stone...theyíll never get out alive!

New panel: the ray gun looks an awful lot like the bastard child of a harpoon and a Daisy air rifle
ROBIN: Even my special mummy ray gun wonít stop him...
BATMAN: Well, after all, you canít kill a mummy!
ROBIN: Right...heís already dead! Whatíll we do?

New panel: Talking heads, no David Byrne
BATMAN: Weíve got to have a secret weapon...Iíve got it!
ROBIN: What is it? Weíve got to act fast!
BATMAN: Weíll lure him away with an offer he canít resist!
ROBIN: Seems Iíve heard that somewhere before. Whatís that?

New panel: Batman and Robin hiding behind a rock; moonlight bathes the mummy as he heads toward the object of his desire
ROBIN: Here he comes!
MUMMY: M-m-m! Delicious Hostess Twinkies! I canít resist that moist sponge cake and creamy filling!

New panel: Close up of one happy mummy in the foreground; The Professor and His Busty, I mean, Beautiful Daughter in the background
MUMMY: Iíve been around for 2,000 years and Iíve never tasted anything so good!
THE PROFESSOR: Nowís our chance to escape! Letís go!

And the last panel...
THE PROFESSOR: Gee! Thanks, Batman and Robin!
THE PROFESSOR'S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER: For these delicious Hostess Twinkies! Mmm -
NARRATION BOX: You get a big delight in every bite of Hostessģ Twinkiesģ

Also, if youíve never paid a visit to The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project, you really oughta. I promise it doesn't involve deep frying.

December 05, 2002
Camera Obscura

Maybe itís just because Iím pulling my head out of the book for the first time in a month, but it feels like everything around me is conspiring to be ridiculously cinematic. Walking to work yesterday I saw dozens of crows roiling around the electric bus cables over the street. They were cawing almost painfully loudly, doing their damnedest to break up the drab, pointless morning. And when I got closer I saw one of them on its back in the middle of the intersection, feet pedaling spasmodically in this completely creepy way. It looked like it was missing a head. After I crossed the street I turned to look again, and saw that it had hopped back up on its spindly little crowís feet, head intact.

Then on the next block there was a rolling lump of small children in brightly colored clothes, thick jackets and little caps, the antithesis of the dark, scrawny crows in almost every way - the children were so far ahead that they seemed (certainly falsely) to be silent, their movements slow and trundling instead of sharp and agitated. The only thing they had in common, the children and the crows, was the way they stood out against the gray sky, the gray sidewalk, the gray buildings.

I am one endless fucking POV shot.

December 04, 2002
Todayís entry is brought to you by the letter "F"

So when I was in first grade I asked my parents what "fuck" meant, and because my parents are very keen, enlightened types, they calmly explained that it was a vulgar term for intercourse. And because I was a geeky little kid, the next day on the playground I explained to all my geeky little kid friends that we could say "Intercourse you!" and "What the intercourse?!" and not get in trouble...at least not with other kids. (Yeah, that was me. Hi.)

Later, when I went beyond inquiry to an actual cursing stage, my parents calmly suggested that words like "fuck" lose their power if you use them too often, and then when youíre, say, really, really pissed off, you have nowhere to go, foul linguistically speaking. At the age of ten this made a lot of sense, and while I have since learned that there are, in fact, lots of places to go beyond "fuck", I still think their advice is generally sound. Observe:

When I first moved to Cambridge from Southern California, I had a roommate from Brooklyn who used the word "fuck" even more often then I used the word "like" (Me: He was, like, totally nuts. Roommate: Oh, yeah, he was totally fucking nuts.) After enough "You want some fucking toast? Fuck, weíre out of strawberry jam. How about fucking apricot?" you just stop hearing the word, so when he really had a point to make he had to resort to shouting and sputtering and arm waving, which I do believe is less impressive than the rarely delivered, ice-cold, simple "Fuck."

Why do I mention this? Because lately Iíve been tempted to make big fucking withdrawals from Bank of Profanity, thatís why.

December 01, 2002
Bathing the Rhino

My new upstairs neighbors have an endangered white rhino called Betty. Betty requires frequent baths. These are small apartments, though, so getting her in the tub can be quite an ordeal.

In addition to being meticulously groomed, Betty also practices the mambo on a regular basis.

Or at least thatís what it sounds like from down here.