Wednesday, December 15, 2004

So long, suckers

Hey there everyone,
This will be probably be my last post until early January because I'm heading out for the big Nebraska road trip early Friday morning. We're going to drive to Lincoln, hang out there for a week, then drive across the state to see my mom and dad (which will also involve a lot of driving because my mother and father live in different towns), then drive back across the state to spend New Year's Eve in Lincoln, then drive back to Austin a few days later. Lots of driving. I'll be writing a lot more about my previous jobs when I come back from the road trip.
I watched four more movies this week. Here they are:
After the Rehearsal (Ingmar Bergman)
The Family Jewels (Jerry Lewis)
Frat House (Todd Phillips, Andrew Gurland)
Red Line 7000 (Howard Hawks)

Merry Christmas, jerks. See you soon.

Currently reading: Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste by Lester Bangs

Monday, December 13, 2004

Can you still call it the weekend when you're unemployed?

I had a pretty good weekend, give or take a couple of bad movies and some unsolicited criticism of my personal appearance (see comments under "Unemployment Journal: Day Five" post). My life is so much fuller and busier now that I'm unemployed, oddly enough, and my sugar mama wife treated me to not one, but two, concerts: The Magnetic Fields on Friday and Neko Case backed by Kelly Hogan and The Sadies (the latter's opening set was pretty stunning as well) on Saturday. I even ran into friends from the old job and their equally friendly significant others at both shows. Ah, the glories of being a kept man. Also got to see the James Agee/Walker Evans exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center on the UT campus on Friday and had some drinks with the old co-worker friends on Thursday night. I don't miss the job, but I miss seeing the fine people that work there. On the movie front, I'm going to start with the two disappointing films:
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir) Not particularly terrible, and opening with some intriguing scenes of the everyday routines on a British warship during the Napoleonic Wars, the film ultimately gets bogged down in the cartoonish simplicity of the characters, confusingly edited battle sequences, and sluggish pacing. The open-ended conclusion is too obviously a plea for a sequel rather than an interestingly ambiguous touch.
Yankee Doodle Dandy (Michael Curtiz) This is a wildly overpraised musical biography of super-patriot George M. Cohan, Broadway actor and writer of the flag-waving anthems "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Over There," "Grand Old Flag," ad nauseum, that changes most of the facts to suit the story. James Cagney plays Cohan and is pretty great in the role. There are some nice moments at the beginning of the film showing Cohan's rise to fame on the vaudeville circuit as part of a traveling act including his sister and his parents. Even with Cagney's performance and a handful of good scenes, the movie is mostly vulgar, stupid, boring propaganda. Filmed and released shortly after our involvement in World War II, the film was obviously meant as a morale booster, but is so cloying in its rah-rah jingoism I'm surprised we won the war. If you really want to vomit, watch the scenes of Cohan receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from a patronizingly smug FDR lookalike. And those songs. Ugh. Imagine Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American" or "God Bless the U.S.A." or whatever the hell it's called given a John Phillips Sousa arrangement. Then imagine about thirty more songs that sound exactly the same. This movie is interminable and even a force of nature like James Cagney can't save it.
Leave it to those freedom-hating Saddam-lovers, the French, to keep my movie-watching weekend from being a total bust:
Story of Women (Claude Chabrol) Isabelle Huppert is so good in this movie, and her character is beyond complex. Trying to figure out the motivations for her behavior in this film could be a full-time job. The other actors are wonderful, too, and the period recreation (the movie is set in Occupied France during World War II) is flawless. It's not like I was in France in the early 1940s, but the film seems like a document of a living, breathing corner of the world, not a hollow, stagey movie recreation.
Under the Sun of Satan (Maurice Pialat) This might be a great movie, but I think I need to see it a few more times to decide. And seeing it a few more times might not be much fun. This is a somber, austere, cerebral, dense, joyless film. Gerard Depardieu plays a humorless, zealous priest who feels the world is manipulated by Satan, not God, and is constantly tormented by this belief. This is such an artfully composed, deeply felt film, but its lack of humor and narrative confusion throw some obstacles in the viewer's way. Like its most obvious influence, Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest," the movie is based on a George Bernanos novel.

Currently reading: Werner Herzog's original script for his movie "Fitzcarraldo"
Just finished: The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

Thursday, December 09, 2004

We live in a scary world

This is really creepy. I'm sure a lot of you have read about the shooting of ex-Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell while he was performing onstage, a bodyguard, a club employee, and a fan by a lunatic who was later killed by police in Columbus, Ohio last night. I'm disturbed by the news, partly because it makes me feel like we're basically unsafe anywhere, partly because a bunch of people got killed for no reason, mostly because I was at that same club less than two months ago seeing Guided By Voices. Here's the AP story about the whole frightening incident for those who haven't heard about it yet.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Oh yeah

I saw an excellent movie tonight at the Alamo Drafthouse downtown as part of the Austin Film Society's Recent Spanish Directors series. It's called Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Julio Medem), and it's a great love story with a tough ending that doesn't give you what you want. Instead, it gives you something much better, harsher, and more thoughtful. A magical realist fable, the film is a sweet romance but never ignores the disappointments, darknesses, and brutalities that fill our lives.

Working for the weekend: Job 2

I can't remember how old I was when I started mowing my grandparents' lawn. Maybe it started before the babysitting thing, which would make it Job 1, but I already wrote that one so fuck it. I would ride my bike to this job as well, eight blocks this time. My grandparents lived on the other side of town, which was the three or four blocks west of Main Street. My hometown is very small. Don't make fun of it. I have heard (and said) it all before. Some people brag about escaping my hometown (by the way, it's Bridgeport, Nebraska), but everyone who leaves has little choice. There are only so many jobs in a town of 1,500. No college, no record store, no movie theater (though there was a drive-in theater open in the summer that closed only about four or five years ago), no bookstore, nine or ten churches, not many interesting people, an unhealthy fixation on high school sports, lots of white houses, and a hatred and fear of anything slightly different or new, unless it was something like the new Super Wal-Mart in nearby Scottsbluff. If this was even remotely not your cup of tea, you had little choice but to get the motherfucking fuck out of there once you graduated. Maybe three or four people from each graduating class stay in town. The rest get out. After some time passes, four or five more usually come back. That's about it. There are some good things about the place. It's very safe (houses and cars stay unlocked most of the time), which made it an exciting place to be a little kid. You had the run of the town, even after dark. There is a really nice lake, some wonderful rock formations a few miles outside of town that are great for climbing, the aforementioned drive-in theater where I saw on-screen boobs for the first time ("Police Academy") and got drunk and stoned in my friend Clint's blue van with tinted windows. And I would be lying if I didn't say that some really great, interesting people live there (though there aren't many of them). Luckily, much of my family and friends from Bridgeport are in this category When I remember my childhood, my memories of the way the town looked contrast sharply with the way it looks to me now. It seems so gray, empty, deserted, narrow, unfriendly to outsiders, ugly, plain, ridiculous, backwards, laughable. I feel a haughty sense of superiority to it, which makes me feel ugly about myself. The way I remember it is different. As a child, Bridgeport seemed healthy, happy, green, expansive, full of possibilities, friendly. Then puberty hit, everyone turned into an asshole, the town seemed to shrink, I had to drive to Scottsbluff to buy music and books, I learned about all the stuff I was missing from the music and books, I felt lonely and unhappy, blah blah blah. Basic teenager shit, but at least you city teens had a little more at your disposal to fuel the angst and loathing. (A digression: one positive aspect of being from the small town and living in the city, though I'll never feel totally comfortable in either place, is that the city always seems so exciting and new to me. I still get excited knowing I can see bands I like in concert, buy CDs the day they come out, go to great movies, buy great books, meet new people in unexpected circumstances, eat in different restaurants, etc. This seems like a privilege and a thrill, and even though I've lived in cities for nine years, the novelty hasn't worn off.)
What does all this have to do with mowing my grandparents' lawn? Not much. It's just that the transition from small, happy, small-town Josh to teenage, unhappy, small-town Josh occurred while I was mowing their lawn. Thinking about riding my bike to their house made me think about what I saw when I rode my bike, which got me reminiscing about all that hometown shit. That job wasn't bad either. Mowing a lawn isn't much fun, but it's physical, not too hard, and you actually accomplish something, unlike the job I just quit. I show up. The grass is too high. I cut the grass. Not an amazing feat, but fulfilling in its own small way. A far cry from the endless bureaucratic loop of my last four years, in which I would a) proofread a document b) document would undergo slight, usually meaningless revision c) document would return d) I would proofread document again e) rinse and repeat. Sure, the grass grows back, but that's what grass does. It's nature, baby. A document won't revise itself. It takes an army of jackasses to handle that one.
Also, after I finished mowing, my grandmother would give me a ham and cheese sandwich and strawberry soda. If they were out of strawberry soda, I would have a Coke. Then I would get a five dollar bill from my grandfather. Not too shabby.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Working for the weekend: Job 1

Is there anything worse than terrible world music? Right now I'm listening to a multinational clusterfuck of badly overproduced swill on an otherwise decent compilation album. It's the aural equivalent of Peter Gabriel rubbing his engorged member on every item in your local Pier 1 Import. Sorry about the digression, but I can't stomach that shit. Remember, protesters, globalisation is also to blame for the horrible miscegenation of 1987 stadium rock production values and watered-down, scrubbed-up indigenous musics located in the record collections of pseudo-intellectual (often pony-tailed) assholes who think culture is something you can purchase. Also, at least one of these guys owns a ferret. I know, because he brought it into the record store with him every time he decided to buy some masterpiece like "Sting and Youssou N'Dour Celebrate the Music of Bulgaria: All-Gregorian Chant Version." I don't care how many Putamayo compilations you own, no self-respecting woman is going to sleep with you if you walk around with a ferret on your shoulder. Fuck those guys.
Anyway, my first job was pretty good. I rode my bike three blocks to my aunt and uncle's house whenever they called me, and babysat my cousins Mariah, Andy, and Gunnar. My uncle has a large television and a great record collection. In addition, the kids were easy to watch and usually well-behaved. Their favorite game was to turn some music on pretty loud, turn off the lights, and run around like crazy people. That suited me since I could bring over a bunch of my favorite music, play it loud on awesome speakers, and wait for the kids to get tired and fall asleep. I thought most of the music I listened to then was deeply on the cutting edge. I'm embarrassed by it now, albeit affectionately embarrassed (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Murphy's Law, Follow For Now, Infectious Grooves, Metallica, a predilection for slap bass in a heavy metal context, etc.) I'm glad I also explored my uncle's record collection (Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Howlin' Wolf, Alice Cooper, Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, etc.), which elevated my musical taste a few notches. Once I found a dirty joke book in my uncle's room. I read it and memorized as many jokes as I could. I had great material for the entirety of eighth grade study hall. Solid gold. That was a pretty good job. Better than most. Mariah's getting married soon. Gunnar just finished his first semester of college. He's majoring in physical therapy. Andy's in Iraq. He's already been there longer than he should have been, and he has to go back again next year. I'm sorry this post ended like "American Graffiti."
Tomorrow, or whenever I get around to it: Mowing my grandparents' lawn.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Unemployment Journal: Day Five

Things haven't been very productive on the writing front, excuses being sickness, lost mail, minor but affordable car trouble (timing not so great, am I right?), ennui and self-loathing, worrying about money, doing a lot of reading, buying music and listening to it, watching movies. Sometimes I think I might have made a mistake quitting the comfortable state job, but I didn't quit my job because I want to be comfortable. Patterns need to be broken for life to move forward. Discomfort, unease, change, uncertainty. These are your friends. You can't spend your life doing something you don't want to do because you're worried about insurance and a steady paycheck. Money is meaningless. Money isn't worth shit. You don't need that much to eat. All you can do with money is spend it. You can save it, but then you end up spending it later. If you never spend it, someone else will spend it after you die. That dollar in your wallet is eventually going to be spent. What else can it do? Nothing. At the same time, I realize that I grew up in the middle class, I'm white, I'm an American, and I have a college education. It's a privilege that I get to quit my job, that I have enough to tide me over three or four months until I'm forced to prostitute myself for rent and turkey sandwiches again. Instead of having a horrible life, I was lucky enough to be born into mediocrity. Hooray for me!
I watched these movies during the weekend:
Intervista (Federico Fellini)
M. Butterfly (David Cronenberg)
Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle (Eric Rohmer)
Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk)

I bought some music (already budgeted in before I quit the job):
Various-Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures Vol. 1
Dramatics-The Best of the Dramatics
John Frusciante/Josh Klinghoffer-A Sphere in the Heart of Silence
Oneida-Nice/Splittin' Peaches

I'm also growing my beard again. Right now it's at the stage where it itches and I look like a fucking derelict. Another week or two and maybe I won't look like trash.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Working for the weekend: a tragedy in ten acts

I have had ten paying jobs in my life.
1. Babysitting my cousins Mariah, Andy, and Gunnar.
2. Mowing my grandparents' lawn.
3. Stocking shelves and bagging groceries at Jack and Jill.
4. Flipping burgers at Hardee's.
5. Telemarketing Part One: Working for assholes, selling subpar NASCAR videos to big dummies.
6. Telemarketing Part Two: Selling tickets to a charity dinner for firemen.
7. Bagging groceries and cashiering at Russ's Market.
8. Cashiering at Homer's Music and Gifts, a record store.
9. Writing and copy editing for The Daily Nebraskan, my college newspaper.
10. Proofreading for the Texas Legislative Council.

I will get into the specifics of each job, and which ones deserve their own little corners of hell, each night for the next couple of weeks.

Unemployment Journal: Day One

I thought today, my first day as a free man, would be awesome. It was decidedly not. I woke up feeling a little sickly, which I assumed was the remnant of last night's boozefest with my pallies from the former job, but it took such a turn for the unbelievably sickly that I had to rule out the hangover theory. I had a headache so intense that it made me vomit up a little bit of bile and remained intense even after taking four Ibuprofen. I was also nauseous, too hot, and too cold. I didn't accomplish any of the day's goals, which included going to the grocery store, getting an oil change, and doing some writing and revising on a few stories. I did drift in and out of consciousness, drool on several pillows, clutch my head in agony, punch myself in the forehead a few times, and curse everything. In addition, the wife and I have been stressed out about post office woes. We were out of town last week and had the post office hold our mail. Except they didn't hold our mail. They fucked up. There was mail in the box when we got home. When Kristy went to the post office to see why there was mail in our box, they were holding what they claimed was the rest of the mail. It was three magazines. We should have also received some packages, bills, etc. They couldn't find those. Then we find out that our regular mail carrier was on vacation, and the substitute carrier set the packages down in front of our door. These packages were stolen. This is the tenth time we've had trouble with this particular post office. I hope the motherfucking place burns down with the incompetent staff inside. Back to today. The combination of post office stress and sickliness pretty much turned me into a nasty little prick. Needless to say, I had a fight with my wife. Then I felt a little better, so I vacuumed the apartment. This made me feel a little nauseous again. Then my wife started feeling sick and went to bed early. There is no way tomorrow could be worse. I'm still looking forward to the unemployment experiment, but day one sucked a horse cock.