Friday, March 30, 2007

The World Won't Stop for Us

No matter how many poems we read, essays we write or art galleries we attend, I don't believe we ever come closer to grasping existential crises as poignantly as we do with that old childhood query:

Q. Why'd the chicken cross the road?
A. To get to the other side.

Remember back to the first time you heard that "joke" or, just as interesting, the old maxim about the chick and her egg. Just to be clear: I'm not here to theorize that the sum of human crises can be best explained with chickens (it can), but rather to note that a great many minds have spent lifetimes searching for answers, when it was right there in the punchline all along.

It's all very simple, isn't it? The punchline, I mean. It makes sense. And it's funny to us precisely because we were expecting more. We want a beefier punchline; more motivation; more cause and effect.

Ultimately, it all boils down to this: we want the action to mean something. We want there to be more. Plain and simple.

Have you seen those commercials on television that borrow the same sort of "cartoonish" effect (rotoscope animation) that was used in Waking Life?

Studies have shown that people are more likely to empathize with characters if they can see themselves in them. So if you take a very real, very defined person with obvious features, you reduce by a fair sum the number of people that can identify with them.

But if you overlay their features with effects... if you still use the human visage as your focus but make it somehow less defined... you can reach a significantly greater number of people.

It's for this reason that companies will try to incorporate a member of every race into ads that feature more than one visage: you reach more people when you either mute discernible features or you offer clear representations of everyone in your desired demographic.

By this same design, people don't want to see themselves in undesirables. If the outcome is unfortunate, it's best we distance ourselves as much as is humanly possible. This holds true for diseases, crime, natural disasters. The less we see of ourselves in these people, the more loudly we can proclaim: "That will never happen to me."

So if you've ever wondered why it's a chicken — and not a human that crosses the road... now you know.

It's easier to laugh when it's a chicken. We're programmed to see ourselves as anything but meaningless. We want for things to make sense. And for a "chicken" to cross the road for a reason as pragmatic as it is ultimately meaningless?

God forbid we ever confronted the futility — or even the naturalness — of human existence. We yearn for cause and effect in a way that requires we see ourselves (our purpose) as superseding those of the evolutionary "inferiors."

Though all the while our world spins around us, telling the same punchline again and again.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Haiku/Gesundheit (Volume XLIX)

because you're so much more important than everyone else

you walk side by side
in a hallway built for two
guess i'll turn sideways

and i thought maude was neurotic before

she leans toward the sink
meowing as water drips
"cup your hands or else"
a philosopher's post script

my dearest nietzsche:
what doesn't kill us today
kills in increments

a fortune cookie haiku

the pleasure of what
we enjoy is lost in the
desire for more

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Friendly Reminder

I've spent the last few weeks agonizing over the upcoming move. I mean, I haven't really seen any apartments that I like — aesthetically — as much as my current abode, and certainly not anything in the same price range.

Add to that it's gotten warmer, so I don't really freeze in my apartment any more AND the guy upstairs has less frequently been a nuisance when it comes to his music selection (that is to say, I still hear it sometimes — and for hours on end — but this happens only once or twice a week, whereas before it was daily).

And to make the place even more appealing, the evictees appeared to have left quietly at the end of February, as required by their notice.

But, whatever, the nail was in that proverbial coffin as I'd already told management that I wouldn't be renewing my lease. Besides, we all know if I stayed here, I'd just hate it all over again next winter. This is, after all, my life we're talking about.

Still, I've been stewing over this, quite literally, procrastinating in every regard when it comes to the move. I mean, there's no guarantee the next place will be any better for my mental health, though from what I've seen of other apartments, there definitely aren't any decently priced that look better.

So imagine my surprise last night when I was awoken by the sound of hammering at 1:30 a.m. I was in a deep enough sleep (thanks to Tylenol PM and the aching muscle that necessitated I take it) that I first only heard the hammering vaguely and subconsciously. I remember thinking to myself It'll stop. Go back to sleep now. — and I very nearly did — when the hammering picked up again, only louder.

I dragged myself out of bed and realized the hammering was coming from the hallway and yet — somehow — also upstairs. I peered through the peephole and saw someone (I don't know who) standing in the door. Behind her, the tall frame of my neighbor was scrambling frantically around in the background as the hammering continued.

But as is the nature of peepholes, I couldn't really tell what he was doing. Just that the hammering was coming from inside of his abode.

A few minutes later, two city police officers showed up and gathered just outside of my door, talking to my neighbor and his guest.

I couldn't hear everything that was said, but I caught such phrases as "well have they given him notice" and "will they remove him by force?"

The hammering desisted while the officers were there, and once they left I thought normalcy would return, ushering me into the deep sleep from which I had been awoken.

But then — for reasons I've yet to piece together — the guy across the hallway turned on his music. And quite loud, at that. We don't share any walls, but my bedroom is right next to the hallway. So while the music wasn't jarring, it was just loud enough — and just annoying enough — that I couldn't sleep (judging by the way my adrenaline was pumping, it would've been hard enough to return to sleep even without his music).

And then, finally, 20 or 30 minutes later, it stopped.

Yes! I thought. I can try again!

And I almost succeeded when once more I sprung from my bed in a jolt (as did Maude, who even beat me in the scurry to the hallway). The hammering had once again permeated the quiet, ripping me from near REM and forcing my right eye (out of curiosity as well as frustration) to peer through my peephole like the unintentionally nosy neighbor I'd become.

The hammering continued. Silence.

It continued.


It was well after two by this point. The silence continued for awhile longer and I removed myself from the peephole for a spell, returning a minute or two later when loud voices appeared to have gathered in the stairway just above me.

I could hear them more clearly this time. I assumed, initially, that they were angry neighbors convening to determine the cause of this ruckus.

I heard them say things like "This is ridiculous" and "I think he stopped" and "Sounds like he finally turned his music off" and then — when they got to the landing outside of my door and paused in front of my neighbor's — I recognized them as being two more police officers.

They walked out and I returned to bed.

It was almost 3. I'm not sure when I finally drifted back to sleep, except that I know it was a long while. I spent the remainder of the evening tossing and turning in such a way that — if dreams are any indication — the thrashing didn't stop even when my eyelids finally closed.

I'm awake now, and at work, but hopelessly tired.

Still anxious about moving. Still worried about getting packed on time. Still worried that the next place will be no better.

But if there's one positive to draw from last night's events, it's that they reminded me of one thing:

There's a reason I'm leaving.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blogger: Found

I've been meaning to offer up one of these posts for awhile now, but every time I made a note of an interesting search query (i.e. the way random people discover my blog using google, yahoo search, etc.), I seemed to store it on a different piece of paper than the time before. Things have gotten much better since I hired a bookkeeper.

Some of them make sense. Some... not so much.

why is meth so easy to obtain these days
adolescent thumbsucking
rumi's christian wife
laurence sterne's tristram shanty film
friedlander's handbags
whats the tragedy in six characters in search of an author
pets instead of kids
sebald rings of saturn criticism
in quiet desperation book review
yawp poems
a day without a mexican movie purpose of water dripping
samuel beckett vs. luigi pirandello
meta theatre in luigi pirandello
poems 4 sis like friend slides

after effect scanner darkly effects
raising the foot to flush a toilet in a public restroom
so lame the hair of tom

lee friedlander
lee friedlander photo style
lee friendlander reflections
tunes for bears to dance to video
translation of rumi "bittersweet"
noisy stomping upstairs neighbors boots
if i am evicted to i have to pay the rest of my rent
schweddy balls + SNL
schweddy weiners (SNL skit)
real monster truck etchings
mens toes photos

Monday, March 26, 2007

Golden Cage

Beautiful. Simple. Sad.


Juvenility Strikes Again

So glad we were stopping for gas; I would've hated to miss the chance to photograph this one.

This one actually kinda scares me.

There was a much better sign down the road, but that picture didn't turn out. Not that the quality of this one is anything to brag about.

I Bought My Cat a "Birthday" Present. Someone Help Me. PLEASE.

Though I don't know for certain, I estimate Maude's birthday to be about this time. I purchased a nice new bed for the occasion, which she enjoys lying next to on the floor. She does occasionally play with the mouse it came with, however, and I even caught her resting her head on the cushion (though the rest of her body, still, was on the carpet next to it).


Friday, March 23, 2007

Quote of the Day

A local cafeteria, where a new guy started a week or two ago. He's an energetic African American in his late 20s/early 30s. The couple of times I've seen him, he's earned high marks in my book on the "friendly" factor -- which compares dramatically to some of his co-workers.

Him: [full of energy, smiling and chanting] Pizza, pizza, pizza...

Me: [chuckling, eyeing the single-serving buffalo chicken pizza] I was thinking about it. [Pausing] Hey, is that white meat?

Him: Why, are you worried about Lent?

Me: Nah, I just don't like the taste of dark meat.

Him: [shaking, to try and hold back the laugher]

Me: [blushing furiously, realizing with horror what I'd just said, vaguely recollecting an old line from the Chappelle Show or one of those Scary Movies... I can't remember which. But the gist of the double entendre was clearly flashing through both our minds.]

Him: [smiling big, chuckling once, and then smiling again] It's all breast. White breast meat.

Me: [avoiding eye contact, cheeks burning] OK, thanks. I may be back.

[Pretending to look at "other options" before turning around and running -- sprinting -- back to work.]

Visual DNA

I first discovered this widget on a blog I've been reading lately. I dug the pictures, so I made my own.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Constant Gardener (Movie Review)

Here we have another movie that I watched over the course of two weeks, and in about four sittings. In which case, I'm hardly qualified to give it a proper review.

But I will say The Constant Gardener (2005) is painstakingly slow at parts, though its core message is just interesting enough — and its storyline just compelling enough — that I wasn't about to give up on it.

That is it say: it's slow, but meaningful, and you do care about the central characters: whether that's the British diplomat Justin Quayle (played by Ralph Fiennes), his wife Tessa (played by Rachel Weisz) or the Africans (primarily Kenyans and Sudanese) who offered "uninformed consent" to serve as guinea pigs for a Swiss-Canadian drug company.

There are two main plots to follow: that of the relationship between the quiet diplomat and his socially rebellious wife... and the immoral treatment of the "disposable" Africans at the hands of a Western corporation. Suffice it to say the two plots intersect, thereby affording the film its muted suspense.

It was difficult for me to follow at times, primarily because the movie unravels a mystery that requires you remember who's who. But when you watch a film over the course of two weeks — rather than in one sitting — that's a bit more difficult to do.

And, yes, I did find the dialogue to be a tad trying (i.e. unrealistic or saccharine) at times. That includes Justin's about-face in regards to his treatment of the Sudanese, in a scene where he repeats (verbatim) words previously spoken by his wife. I know what the director was trying to accomplish, but that didn't make it any less annoying.

Still, a tactful film that's socially aware, disturbing, and at-times touching.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Meth-Head to My Madness

Sunday night my throat hurt so badly that I kept having dreams about having a sore throat.

I'd be peering into mirrors to try and get a glimpse of the red patches, prying my jaws further and further apart til they were at a breaking point. I'd be in meetings, unable to listen to what people were saying because the only thing I knew was that my throat hurt.

I woke up repeatedly, each time to the grim realization that the sore throat itself was most assuredly not a figment of my REM-agination.

Fast forward to a couple days later — today, to be precise. The sore throat has subsided, but try as I might I absolutely cannot breathe. I blew a fair amount of cash on Tylenol Cold yesterday, but to no avail. I even doubled up on the decongestant by taking an extra dose of generic phenylephrine HCl.

Still no luck.

So last night I broke down and used some of that nasal spray, which is a big no-no (that stuff is addictive in that if you use it a day or two, you need it to breathe... even when the cold is gone).

But I needed a fix. And I needed it bad.

The spray wore off fairly early this morning, and misery struck once again. But I insisted on holding out until lunch-time, when I'd steal away from here in search of that heavenly decongestant that was so easy to obtain once upon a time.

I'm taking about pseudoephedrine.

Pseudoephedrine, for those of you who don't know, is a major ingredient in methamphetamine production. "Meth" is a pretty serious problem, particularly in rural areas where another major ingredient — anhydrous ammonia — is regularly stolen from farmers who use it in fertilizer (the remainder of the ingredients are easy enough to obtain... hence the nomenclature "poor man's coke").

After a year of usage, you'd scarcely recognize a meth user: in addition to dramatic weight loss and thinning hair, tooth decay is a near inevitability. As is graying, yellowish skin and a handful of other problems, including emotional, behavioral and psychological damage.

It's pretty serious stuff, and I'm all about making it more difficult for folks to manufacture meth. It ruins lives in the most literal sense of the word: parents neglect their children (or worse); meth labs engulf homes in flames; users lose their jobs; etc.

So a year or two ago, pharmaceutical companies replaced pseudoephedrine with phenylephrine in most over-the-counter cold, flu and allergy medications. Some varieties still contain pseudoephedrine, but you have to get it directly from the pharmacist.

So this newest illness is perhaps my second cold since OTC meds swapped nasal decongestants and pharmacists took pseudoephedrine behind the counter. And all I kept thinking yesterday while I chowed on Tylenol Cold was this:

This really isn't working.

And I remembered the time I was sick before that, also thinking the same thing. Didn't medications used to be more effective?

That's when I started wondering if perhaps phenylephrine wasn't as effective as its counterpart. Or perhaps it's all a matter of psychosomatics... in any event, I started aching for that wonder drug of a bygone era.

But first I did a little research to see if other folks had noticed the same problem. What I found was this: while phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine do the same thing, the former has a comparatively low level of bioavailability.

That means that by the time phenylephrine makes its way through your liver, there's not as much of it left to be absorbed. For it to be anywhere near as effective as pseudoephedrine in relieving nasal congestion, you'd need a lot more of it. Certainly more than they put in OTC meds.

And though I'm not 100% certain, I seem to recall from organic chemistry that bioavailability can vary by degrees from person to person.

In which case: has anyone else had problems with the efficacy of "reformulated" OTC meds? Or am I the only one who finds them to be ineffective?

I went to the pharmacy on my lunch break and ruminated over all of the sundry ingredients before I eventually decided on a product, and took my "slip" up to the pharmacy.

I cannot even begin to tell you how embarrassed the tech made me feel. The accusing looks as she grabbed the slip from my hand. The squinting eyes as she took my driver's license and proceeded to enter personal information into a computer (so "they" know how often you purchase the drug).

I mean, I actually felt like I was doing something wrong.

But you know what? That was 90 minutes ago, and already I can breathe through my right nostril and whistle with my left (attractive, I know).

Who cares if my heart is racing... almost as quickly as my mind.

Monday, March 19, 2007

300 (Movie Review)

When you love history and generally despise film adaptations of comic books, the last thing you should see is a movie based on a graphic novel based on Ancient Greece

It certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster, though in the case of 300 I was pleasantly surprised.

But that's not to say the film is without flaws: there are many, in fact, and I often caught myself laughing out loud at things that weren't meant to be funny.

For me, that's usually an indication of an awful film. But with 300, there's no denying the bottom line: I was entertained — something not too many "action" films do for me these days.

If you've missed out on the hoopla surrounding 300, it's based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. The novel "comicalizes" a battle that occurred circa 480 BC, in which the Spartan king, Leonidas, traveled with 300 bodyguards to Thermopylae (central Greece). Though the Spartan 300 were not alone, they were the vanguard in a 3-day battle in which more than 100,000 Persians (led by King Xerxes in a quest for world domination) were unable penetrate the lines. For the duration of the battle, it's estimated that a mere 7,000 Greeks took on anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 Persians.

The Persians sustained insurmountable losses, in large part because of the military prowess exhibited by Leonidas and his 300 men on the front line. And that — with nary a nod to the other Greeks who "tried" to help — is the focus of 300.

I was impressed by how much (though not all) of the film was accurate, even as the comic book elements — which I hadn't really anticipated — were undeniable.

So why did the comic book elements catch me off guard? I had heard 300 referred to as the "new Gladiator," a film which was anything but comic. Thus, I had expected 300 to follow suit: a beautifully shot spectacle, rife with color and true-to-(ancient)-life characters.

Instead, there are half-human, half-monster giants; grotesque, wart-covered hunchbacks; and leprosy-ridden "Ephors" who oversee the Oracles.

But even these elements are an homage of sorts to the mysticism of the ancient Greeks. Their brand of polytheism lends itself quite well to the comic book medium, with its superheros and uber-villains.

In which case I couldn't also help but wonder how much of the "history" of this story — the "history" we read in those Western Civ textbooks — is true. I mean, how we know the words of Herodotus are free of the same hyperbole that marks this film?

But back to the movie: remember, it is really hokey in parts, and some of the jump shots made me cringe. The real entertainment comes when the Spartans are strutting their stuff in battle, the orchestration of which must have been quite an undertaking.


Check Your Bags

My cat may be the most mischievous (and high maintenance) creature this side of the Mason-Dixon line, but I certainly wouldn't want anything to happen to her. She's been through enough already.

So when I read that about 40 different lines of cat and dog food are being recalled, you can bet I dug further to get all of the details.

If you have a dog or cat too, you may want to check this out as well.

POST SCRIPT: The news story was updated to say this recall does not impact dry food... just wet food that comes in cans and/or pouches.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Where I've Been

No, that's not me (last time I checked, I'm not a tall man with facial hair). And no, that's not my baby. Though once they got him cleaned up and slapped some clothes on him, I wasn't entirely opposed to taking him home with me.

But as I soon found out, the hospital terms that a "Code Pink" and "notifies security."

Hopefully I'll at least get to visit him on the occasional weekend.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Haiku/Gesundheit (Volume XLVIII)

regarding typos in e-mail
(or, "i was going to donate anyway")

looking for sponsors?
i'll pay you for the good laugh
"lick here to donate"

i love this place!

think it can't get worse?
then you haven't known me long.
my mail was stolen
yourspace, myloneliness

friends leave like soldiers
shipped off to some great unknown
(we'll call it "myspace")
on punching myself in the face last night

a tug on taut sheets
leads to a slip of clinched fists
wish i was joking

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Queen (Movie Review)

Subtlety, subtlety, subtlety.

If there's one thing that makes a film "work" for me... it's a powerful message, subtly told.

And The Queen (2006) was doing just that for me right up until the end, when two simple lines, spoken by the Queen, left a substantially dark mark on what would have otherwise been a glowing review.

But first things first:

The Queen stars Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II. Mirren won an Oscar for this role — one I don't hesitate to term well-deserved. But I think kudos is also deserved to director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan; together this trio managed to humanize the Queen even as they portray one of her darker moments (personally, publicly, and politically).

The film centers around the death of Princess Diana and — at times — relies on reel footage from the event. In other scenes the actors and actresses recreate footage with haunting precision. In both instances, I found myself responding to the action much as I did 10 years ago when watching these events unfold on the news.

And almost as memorable as seeing the young Princes survey the flowers and cards that had been left outside of Buckingham Palace in their mother's name, was the week that preceded this public appearance.

And that is what The Queen is really about: the way in which the royal family handled the news of Diana's death — both initially (where they did nothing) and eventually (where the Queen made an unprecedented public statement). The film portrays these bookends, as well as the interim period... allowing us to realize not only just how "out of touch" the Queen was with the people, but also how the public turned to its symbolic figurehead in search of comfort — something the monarchy, historically, is neither designed nor prepared to do.

I actually found the Queen herself — though at times immensely unlikable — to be more "human" than I'd ever before considered her to be. We see her walking her dogs; cracking jokes; driving her own car; chastising others (i.e. the snooty Prince Phillip) for saying/doing things that would hurt her grandsons; etc. There's something oddly appealing about her, and even her primary weakness seems to be the end result of centuries of precedent.

She's trained to be "tough," to solve things "privately." And she's mistaken in thinking the same holds true for the British people.

This comes across quite well in the film, though I'd wager other film-goers may have a different reaction (I've already spoken to one co-worker who loved the film but found the Queen herself to be very unsympathetic). That's one of the great things about the film: it doesn't paint the Queen with just one color. So the viewer him/herself is able to develop their own opinion.

The same isn't necessarily true for Tony Blair, played by Michael Sheen. Watching the film reminded me of just how much the British people loved this "labour" party reformer after he was first elected in 1997. He's charming and well-spoken, and genuinely has the best interest of his constituents at heart. Seeing him portrayed in this film made me like him all over again.

Watching him in the news today, by comparison, is an altogether sad experience for me — I can't imagine what it's like for the people who actually elected him. Suffice it to say his allegiance to the U.S. in Iraq has been a rather unpopular decision — not that the American people don't feel the same way about our own involvement, but that Bush (unlike Blair) was never popular to begin with.

And I had actually made a mental note while viewing The Queen about how this split — between how Blair was viewed in the past, versus the present — had been wonderfully conveyed without the least bit of inference on the director's part. In short: it was a subtle message, but a message nevertheless.

So imagine my disappointment when, about ten minutes prior to the film's close, the filmmakers have Mirren insult my intelligence by foreshadowing Blair's political demise.

You were so close to a near-perfect film, Mr. Frears.

So close.


The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Movie Review)

I know, I know.

If I don't like westerns, why do I keep watching them? And, more importantly, why do I begin every review of a western film by reiterating my general distaste for westerns right before I offer a lukewarm to positive review?

Rest assured I'll be opening my very own Netflix account shortly after I move. In the meantime, all I can offer in regards to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is this:

For an award-winning film labeled a "masterpiece" on IMDB, I had a difficult time becoming terribly engaged with this John Ford "classic." It stars John Wayne and James Stewart in roles that don't pretend to be anything but allegory. Or even a reverse allegory.

Here's what I mean: Stewart plays "Ransom" Stoddard, the young lawyer/old senator who finds himself clinging to his law books in the "lawless" West. Wayne plays Tom Doniphon, the stereotypical cowboy who's good at heart but understands the value of sharpshooting as a means of conflict resolution.

Enter "Liberty" Valance, played by Lee Marvin. Liberty is the ruthless cowboy who plagues travelers and town-inhabitants alike with his lyin', stealin', cheatin', yellin', drinkin', rebel-rousin' ways.

Liberty and his gang rob Ransom as he first enters the town of Shinbone. Liberty himself beats Ransom to a bloody pulp, leaving him alone in the wilderness to die — but not before the ceremonial ripping of pages out of Ransom's law books.

Enter Doniphon, who rescues Ransom by taking him into town for medical attention. But Doniphon makes the mistake of taking Ransom to the home of Doniphon's own "girl." What's a "girl" to do when a handsome young idealist enters into an otherwise lawless town?

I won't spoil the fun by going further, though you can probably do the math. Suffice it to say I did find this film to be oddly compelling in certain aspects, though the allegory (I mean, a lawless man called "Liberty" tearing pages from a book of justice? A man of the law being forced to confront the lawless ways of the west?) is anything but subtle. Some of the dialogue follows suit — one of the main reasons I generally have such a difficult time with westerns.

Still, if you like this genre... Liberty is worth a shot.

No pun — or allegory — intended.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lost Cause

Whenever my iPod shuffles onto one of my favorite songs, I have a difficult time letting it play anything else. This is especially true when I'm working out (the only time I listen to my iPod, really). I'll hit "repeat" over and over until I'm satisfied that I've thoroughly digested the words enough for the evening.,. or, as is often the case, the workout comes to a conclusion.

This past Friday, I was hopelessly stuck on something by Beck -- whose music I've followed ever since I first heard "Loser" back in the mid-90s.

But if I may say so... I believe this may be his best song yet.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Haiku/Gesundheit (Volume XLVII)

in response to a co-worker who hinted i've lost my life-spark

a lifelong mantra
spills from lips like desert sand
don't worry i'm fine

to my mother, who called at 5:45 this morning

part a
i'm glad you called but
with my sis being pregnant
i thought you had news

part b
another birthday
forgotten leaves me laughing
(unlike the last time)
another grievance concerning daylight savings

you laughed then but you
can't say i didn't warn you
daylight savings sucks

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bags are My Bag... Baby

As much as I like to come across as the atypical female with a distaste for shopping in all of its sundry forms, the truth is... I do have a few weaknesses.

Books, sure. Camping stores, yep. And I can even be coaxed into shopping at the occasional clothing store, so long as it's not too fancy and we keep it quick.

But no matter where I go — and no matter what type of store I'm at — I always find myself drawn to their bag selection.

And, no, I don't mean those cutesy little handbags or those $1,000 purses that women literally crawl over themselves (and others) to get first pick when specialty boutiques open their doors.

I'm talking about bags. Backpacks, hydration packs, day packs, weekend packs, laptop carriers, Camelbaks, messenger bags... seems no matter how many I have, I could always use at least one more for that niche occasion.

For example: I found a rather nice pack for day hikes at REI a month or so ago. It stored 2,500 cu inches but could be cinched in to avoid looking like a behemoth; had a slot for a hydration pack; plenty of pockets; and was — and this is important — a color I liked. It was originally $110, but was marked down to $35... so I had to have it. But it took me about 30 minutes of "thinking about it" to come to this conclusion.

A week later I was at a different outfitting store when I stumbled upon another beautiful pack. This one was also designed for day hikes but — more specifically — in the winter time. It was much like the one I had just acquired in terms of size, shape, price and savings... but it had another nifty little feature: a pocket on the outside made especially for holding snowshoes. I swear to you, I nearly salivated when I realized its purpose.

It took everything in my power to not purchase that bag, too. And now that two more weeks have passed, I'm still not sure I made the right decision. I think of that bag regularly, and wonder if I'll ever see another piece of such beautiful equipment at such a low price.

And when I was gifted a messenger bag yesterday — an extra-small Timbuk2 that's big enough to hold a book and my camera but is still small enough to qualify as a purse — I was eager to dump everything from my current bag and move everything over. It bothers me even now, typing, that I haven't yet had the time to do so.

I'm wholly aware that I have a "problem," if you will. But in trying to determine the cause (as a means for a solution), I also can't help but note how I generally avoid most other material possessions. Sure, I have a lot of books, CDs and DVDs... but I've even stopped adding new ones to my collection with any voracity. And I can't wait to give away a heaping pile of clothes when I move — I'm tired of taking them with me. I turn my mother down every time she tries to "give me something" to decorate my home with (doesn't help that our tastes are so different), and I wish I weren't such a sentimentalist — it'd mean I'd have fewer photo albums to cart around, too.

In which case, I've determined my "problem" to be multi-faceted:

  • Between work and school, it's been over a decade since I've lived at the same place for more than two years. This constant moving creates a sort of distaste for unnecessary possessions.
  • This penchant for asceticism is a direct contrast for my love of literature, music, movies, art, novelty items, etc.
  • There have been times when I've been traveling or hiking when I've found myself in dire need of supplies (like water) when none was available. I now suffer from a compulsion to take every possible "necessity" with me everywhere I go.
  • Likewise, my ascetic longings are contrasted by my need to preserve things: my family's past (scrapbooks); my present (newspaper clippings, etc); mementos; sentimental gifts and so on.
When I consider these four "problems" as a whole, I can't help but note that a "bag," in contrast, has a very functional purpose. It's meant to hold things — to make them easier to move, in bulk, from Point A to Point B.

And for someone like me who takes a book, a camera, paper, a pen, a small first aid kit and all of those usual girly supplies (Kleenex, chapstick, etc.) everywhere she goes... and a bag of some proportion (which co-workers and friends always make fun of — until they need some Excedrin or a finger nail file or whatever) is an absolute necessity.

Couple that with the simple fact that I always seem to be moving... and my neurosis is starting to make sense.

But I may be rationalizing a senseless addiction. Who knows. However you look at, at least one thing is certain:

I need help. And by that I mean: cold, hard cash. Or how else will I ever afford this basic human indulgence?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

All Past is Hearsay

She was buried in a place called hope.

Every time I read the obituary, every time I look at her picture, I search for some subtle detail — a glimmer in the eye, a crooked smile, a hidden dimple — for the slightest hint of shared DNA.

But I don't see anything, really. No similarities. Just that line about her place of burial, and the realization that — perhaps — we are keenly alike in our sense of irony.

She was buried in a place called hope.

She's my father's mother. But for as long as I've been alive, I've been physically unable to call her "grandma" — she died too long before I was born.

And though I've seen a picture of her once before, this was the first time I'd seen her obituary. Until a couple months ago, none of us knew even the slightest detail of her death. Not even my father, who was too young to remember.

But the more I stare into that photo, the more I look at her features — the more I question the very nature of my heritage, which had long been sold to me as something to the effect of: two different Native American tribes, some Dutch, some English and some Irish. Maybe.

When people ask me about my lineage, I generally utter the word "mutt" and change the subject. I mean, until two months ago I didn't even know a thing about my own grandmother (there, I said it). How on earth could I trace my lineage back further than that, on either side?

It's something I've often envied in others: an understanding of roots; of heritage; a discernible, undeniable history.

I feel like the progeny of mere chromosomes completely unconcerned with preserving their present, all the while obsessed with their past.

There again: the irony.

So on my paternal side, it looks like — yes — I'm 1/16 of a local tribe. On my maternal side — where history is only slightly better preserved — there's a picture of a man, supposedly my great-great-grandfather (though no one's certain) with dark skin, dark silky hair, a pointed nose and an impressive stature. They say he's Cherokee. Though, again. No one knows for certain.

When I was a kid, I was tremendously proud of this purported Native American lineage. It was the only thing I had to latch onto, as far as ethnicity is concerned. We'd go to the occasional POW WOW or war re-enactment and watch card-carrying Native Americans beat on drums and chant around campfires. I generally felt connected to these people, knowing that — if you looked back far enough — we shared the same, bittersweet history.

My family generally paid a small fee to attend these activities. And it wasn't until I hit my early-teens that I realized just how sad the whole situation was. I was paying to observe the remnants of a society (estimated to be 1/8 of my ancestry) all but annihilated by the remaining seven-eighths.

You can see this gross monopolization in my features, too. My pale white skin (but, oh, does it tan well!). My blue-green eyes (they were darker when I was younger). Those quintessentially high (or so I'm told) cheekbones, and a faint almond shape to my eyes.

But it's all so muted — diluted — by everything else. Like staring at the face of a woman just two generations removed and turning to someone, saying:

Do I look like her? Can you see?

Tell me you see.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Scanner Darkly (Movie Review)

I'm about to say something hopelessly uncool:

I didn't find this film to be anywhere near as compelling as I'd hoped. That's not to say it's bad... just that expected more from a Philip K. Dick adaptation — especially one directed by Richard Linklater, whose Waking Life (2001) I watched three times just to make sure I didn't miss anything.

I'm not being fair. Scanner Darkly is good. But my expectations were, perhaps, a bit too high. If you've read many of my movie reviews here, you know my high expectations often interfere with my final analysis.

That said, Darkly wasn't so much a futuristic film as it was a look into the past. In fact, it employs only one piece of technology not yet available in our present: holographic suits that are ever-changing, thereby enabling cops to work undercover without even their superiors knowing their true identity. Beyond that, even the "scanner" itself reminds me of various pieces of existing technology... devices that enable police to monitor our every move with wiretapping, hidden cameras, etc.

But I don't think Dick was really trying for another blatant sci-fi piece when he wrote the 1977 novel that inspired this film. Rather, Dick's story pays homage to the friends he lost to drug use in the Beat era and beyond.

The plot goes a little like this: a highly addictive chemical substance, known simply as "D," has much of the world under its spell. Problem being its "perks" are substantial and the side effects don't surface until after weeks or months of abuse — and even then, the symptoms are initially so subtle, addicts don't realize there's a problem. But those side effects become increasingly worse and are generally permanent (as well as psychological) in nature.

An undercover cop (Fred, played by Keanu Reeves) is asked to monitor a suspected drug dealer, Bob Arctor. But Fred has been taking "D" to appear more legitimate in his undercover work, and the side effects are just beginning to surface: not the least of which is confusion over his assignment, since he is Bob Arctor. Or at least he pretends to be Bob Arctor. He isn't really sure.

But he takes to monitoring he and his "friends" (or Arctor's friends) nevertheless, an interesting twist that — for me — spoke more about dependence on drugs than it did covert government control (another frequent theme in Dick's stories).

Also of note, until I hit "play" on the remote control, I didn't realize this film was done in rotoscope animation, a technique previously employed by Linklater in Waking Life. But given the long-term psychological effects of "D" — not the least of which is split personality — I thought this technique worked rather well for the story.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Wrap Your Brain Around This

My mother is allergic to her own tears.

So much so, in fact, that her ophthalmologist implanted tiny little plugs into her tear ducts, and put her on a pretty intense regimen of saline drops.

I'd be lying if I didn't say the muse within finds the whole situation to be bitterly poetic.

Something about human aversion to tragedy, or the inability to express grief as God (or mother nature) intended.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Haiku/Gesundheit (Volume XLVI)

on trying aluminum-free deodorant for the first time

if it's natural
why are my armpits in flames?
no more tom's for me

what's more inappropriate: where the toothpaste falls, or where you're staring?

worktime toothbrushing
can cause some unsightly stains
please avert your eyes
on second thought, i'll hold it til i get home

i move from stall to
stall in search of nirvana
as in dante's hell
thoughts concerning the revival of carcass-based raiments

fur coats line the streets
like cars in a traffic jam
i just don't get it

Friday, March 02, 2007

Good Night and Good Luck (Movie Review)

In a time when Anna Nicole, Britney Spears and various other forms of "infotainment" dominate the news headlines, it's easy to forget about the media's role as a political watchdog.*

Take Edward R. Murrow, for example. Notably one of the greatest American journalists in this country's comparably short history, Murrow was one of few watchdogs to actually man his post in the 1950s — that is to say, when Senator McCarthy leashed up his hound dogs and went out in search of Communists, Murrow was one of few to question the Senator's methods (not to mention, all of the civil rights he violated).

Murrow and his team — despite cloaked threats from the military, and despite worries that McCarthy would retaliate by charging Murrow with Communist leanings — put together a series of reports that underscored injustices that incurred during the McCarthy hearings. These reports played a crucial role not only in stopping that now proverbial witch-hunt, but also in the formal censuring of McCarthy.

It's this part of Murrow's career that is the focus of George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck (2005). This mockumentary (if you can call it that — it does have a more serious tone than do most films of that genre) draws from real footage from the hearings, all the while divulging the goings-on of Murrow (played by David Straithairn) and his crew.

And while I think every member of the cast played his/her role quite well, Straithairn's performance definitely stood out to me. Beyond that, I wasn't anywhere near as interested in the other characters, as I was intrigued by the real, reel footage.

In other words: there's a subplot or two at work here, neither of which I really got into. But the main story worked for me, in that it reminded me that it is possible to stand up to the government when it consents to, and perpetuates, violations against our civil liberties. Though, honestly, if Murrow hadn't had the time and experience from reporting in WW II to gain the trust and win over the hearts of the American public, I'm not sure he would've been as effective. Rather, there's a good chance he wouldn't have survived the hearings.

Now there's a scary thought.


*For the record, I do believe many media outlets out there are still "doing their job" and doing it well — or else the Walter Reed hospital in Washington wouldn't have improvements on the horizon.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Global Warming

After all of my gripes and complaints regarding the tempature woes in my apartment, I found it pretty ironic when I came home a couple days ago and saw this metallic beast near my front door.

If this misplaced radiator is anything like the blood/oil spill they left outside of my window, it could be there for months.