Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Eleven singles I never tire of hearing, though they are (or were) ubiquitous

In no particular order:
Prince - "When Doves Cry"
Human League - "Don't You Want Me"
The Beach Boys - "God Only Knows"
Thin Lizzy - "Jailbreak"
Michael Jackson - "Rock With You"
The Rolling Stones - "Miss You"
The Clash - "Rock the Casbah"
Madonna - "Into the Groove"
Black Sabbath - "Paranoid"
Roxy Music - "Love is the Drug"
Blue Oyster Cult - "Don't Fear the Reaper"

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

An achronological history of growing up in a small town, or the wonder years, part one

One thing that really struck me about the recent Martin Scorsese PBS documentary on Bob Dylan was a particular Dylan comment about growing up in the small town of Hibbing, Minnesota. I'm not going to attempt a verbatim recall of the comment because my memory doesn't allow it, but I remember Dylan saying one of the myriad reasons he felt uncomfortable in Hibbing was that there was no way to rebel because the townspeople's lack of ideology meant there was nothing to rebel against. Any different viewpoint, or any viewpoint at all, just confused them. This comment was very meaningful for me, though I never had any particular inclination to be a rebel. I just felt confined and wanted to get out as soon as the opportunity arose. What was meaningful in Dylan's words was the recognition of my hometown of Bridgeport, Nebraska in his description of Hibbing. My hometown is a town without an ideology, a viewpoint, a thought about anything one way or the other. It just goes along to get along, and anything shifting that equilibrium one way or the other is met with puzzlement, ridicule, scorn, and finally hostility. Most people there are Christians, Republicans, lower to upper middle class, white, friendly, hard-working, sincere, sports fans, not particularly interested in cultural or political matters. There are a lot of positives and negatives in this highly subjective and possibly unfair checklist I've just made, but the problem is that most people there have simply adopted a set of characteristics handed down from their parents and a shared town persona without much thought about why they're Christian, Republican, etc. Things are the way they are because they've always been that way and almost everyone there is comfortable with that. That's fine, I guess, but I never felt comfortable there. I have to amend that last sentence. I felt comfortable in the town. I felt comfortable driving on its streets, walking through its parks, riding my bicycle over every square inch of it on marathon late night rides, swimming in its lake, climbing Courthouse and Jail Rock. I felt, and still feel, an affinity to the landscape, and I appreciate its beauty much more now than I ever did when I lived there. I breathe a sigh of relief every time I get off the plane in Denver or hit the Kansas state line in the car after the alien landscapes of Texas and Oklahoma fall away. But I never felt comfortable around the people, and it's only gotten worse. I don't feel any particular hostility toward them, especially since I outgrew my teen angst, but I don't feel any connection to the people who inhabit the landscape that feels like home. It's a weird, disturbing disconnect, and I have a hard time accepting it. Conversely, how connected am I to the people of Austin? Or to the people of Lincoln, where I went to college? My connections are to certain individuals, not geography. But that's a lie. Geography is important. Landscape has shaped me as much as human contact. Why did I turn out the way I did? It puzzles me.

Let's start this history off with one of my most embarrassing moments. In grade school, I became interested in true crime, serial killers and mass murderers (particularly Charles Manson), and unsolved mysteries. This interest was sparked by seeing a Geraldo Rivera special on mass murder (the one where he interviewed Manson) and the television show "Unsolved Mysteries." I was fascinated by the capability of human beings to be colossally fucked up. I was also freaked out that someone would kidnap and murder me and I wanted to understand all I could so I would be able to escape should this fear ever become an eventuality. This fear was exacerbated by a family friend's daughter being kidnapped by a sexual predator from Omaha who happened to be driving through our town, though the man ran away before doing anything to the girl after being spotted by a neighbor. He was later arrested for a previous crime in eastern Nebraska. Don't worry, this gets funnier. My interest was a little morbid, but I was still way more into comic books, rock and roll, professional wrestling, and swimming at the lake. There are no bodies hidden in my apartment. Anyway, time goes by and the fear of being kidnapped and murdered diminishes, but the interest in true crime remains. I was eleven or twelve, and I had just finished watching "Unsolved Mysteries" when one of my friends called. He said to meet him at the R&W shortly. The R&W was an ice cream parlor/hamburger joint that was a popular hangout at the time for pubescent dorks like me and my friends. It is now a Subway (the restaurant chain, not the public transportation system). I walked the six blocks to the R&W, probably ate some french fries or an ice cream cone, probably played some hair metal on the jukebox, or some Altered Beast on the arcade game. The only thing I remember clearly is seeing a lot of classmates there, and hanging out until it had become dark. I don't remember why now, but I ended up walking back home alone. About four blocks before I got to my house, I noticed a small car with out of state plates slowly turning onto the street. It slowly followed me for three more blocks. Very slowly. I'm starting to gently freak out at this point. "Unsolved Mysteries" is playing in my head. Then the car pulls right next to me and stops in the middle of the street. I can see my house from here and get ready to bust a move. A bearded man I don't recognize wearing a baseball cap leans over in the seat and says, "Hey." I lose my shit and take off running, not stopping until I'm in the living room of my house. My mother and father look at me bemusedly, and I tell them to call the cops. They ask why, and I tell them that some weird guy followed me for three blocks, then pulled alongside me in the middle of the street. I give a description of the man and the car, and my mom calls the cops. She starts going over the story with me again, gets a strange look on her face, then a flash of recognition, then embarrassment. "Oh, shit," she says. "I think you called the cops on Bill." Bill is one of my uncles. We drive over to my grandparents' house, and sure enough, Bill is on the couch and, sure enough, the sheriff talked to him. I look out the window, and see his car with its Colorado plates. I feel like the world's stupidest motherfucker, although there are some facts in my favor. My uncle had been living in San Diego, and had recently moved to Ft. Collins, Colorado. I had briefly forgotten this, and I didn't connect the Colorado license plates with him. Additionally, I had never seen his car before. Also, I hadn't seen him for a year or two, and he had a beard for the first time and was wearing a baseball cap, something I'd never seen him wear before. My mother called the sheriff and explained what had happened, though they seemed to think she had a retarded son. My uncle saw how embarrassed I was and laughed it off, though my grandfather made fun of me for about eight solid weeks. I'm not a big fan of symbolism, but I think I see some of it in this true story. I represent Bridgeport and my uncle and his car represent the outside world. Now, let's all eat a hoagie and go to bed.

My hometown, part two

Courthouse and Jail Rock, two miles west of Bridgeport, Nebraska, c. 1970s. I climbed these rocks many times growing up. Posted by Picasa

My hometown

Main Street, Bridgeport, Nebraska, c. 1970s Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 28, 2005

What important cultural touchstones have you missed out on?

I meant to write about this way back in September, after a conversation with a few friends. I'm not sure what we were talking about, but eventually the following fact came up. I have never read "The Catcher in the Rye." While in high school, I always looked forward to reading the book, but I never picked it up on my own because Mrs. Bond always taught it in eleventh or twelfth grade English. A few years go by, and I'm in Mrs. Bond's eleventh or twelfth grade English class, and she makes an announcement. For the first time in several years, she's changing the books. She's tired of teaching the same books, year after year, so she's replacing one set of classics with another. No more "Catcher in the Rye." I was disappointed, but I never got around to reading it on my own, though I did read the other Salinger books. College came and went, and I took a million literature classes, figuring "Catcher in the Rye" would pop up somewhere. I always saw an enormous stack of them in the university bookstore, but somehow, "Rye" evaded me, semester after semester, year after year. I graduate from college and suddenly I have as much time to read whatever book I want, whenever I want. However, my desire to read a novel for young adults about an alienated young adult has dissipated. The way I look at it, with so many Henry James, Stanley Elkin, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Leo Tolstoy, Don DeLillo, Flannery O'Connor, and James Joyce and a few Barry Hannah books yet to read (among many others), "Rye" can sit on the shelf unread for many more years, or maybe forever. But something keeps nagging at me, repetitively, telling me to read the book. It's a cultural imperative, for chrissakes, unless you're like so many people in my hometown (especially my dad) who think books are somebody else's business, something people did until televisions were invented. So, I'm curious. What cultural ubiquities have so far passed you by? What books, movies, etc. that everyone else knows by heart have slipped under your radar? I'd like to know. Here's another one from me: I've never seen the movie "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." I've seen Tim Burton's remake, but I've never seen the Gene Wilder version. Never read that book, either. Also, I didn't have Nickolodeon growing up. I've never seen a Nickolodeon television program. What about you? Win a banana!

Coming soon

Two multi-part series starting tomorrow, to last for the indefinite future or until I lose interest, which may be sooner rather than later, inspired by recent reading material. On Can-Smashing Robot, tales of life in a small town. On Film-Watching Robot, a personal history of my interest in movies and film criticism. Self-indulgent, you say? Then don't read them, smartass.

What's the ugliest part of your body?

I hate the having and removing of unwieldy nostril hair. What kind of God could have allowed such a world in which nostril hair exists? My faith is shaken to the core. To the very core. From now on, I only believe in hoagies.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Blog is a stupid word

It's been an odd year for me, a kind of limbo or purgatory between the past and the present, this year of unemployment. The last time I didn't have some school or job where I was supposed to be, I was two years old. That was twenty-six years ago. The day before my next job starts will be a close relative of the day before I started pre-school. Right now, I'm just casting my net in a very boring ocean, hoping to pull something up big enough to eat. The results so far: nothing but carp. This year has provided me with a lot of opportunities to think and not much else. I still think it was a good idea to quit my old job. I don't regret it. I do regret liking Austin as much as I do. At this point, I can't afford to move anyway. I find the job market in this city horrifically uninspiring. I wish I wanted to live in New York City or some other monstropolis. There are a wealth of interesting jobs in those places that I could get, but I need a little space. I wish someone would just pay me to do what I do. I don't need much. Just a little more than the zero a month I'm raking in at present. If it weren''t for the handful of things in life that are so blindingly wonderful and/or horrible, there wouldn't be much point in getting out of bed. Most of it's just a lot of uh. Repetition of patterns. But the parts that are good are really good, and the parts that are bad are really awful, and those parts are worth experiencing. Presently, I'm just impatiently waiting to exchange one rut for another and living for the moments when things actually happen to me and not around me. Why the fuck won't anybody hire me? Do they know how quickly I will grow to resent the position, no matter what it is? They must know, somehow. I think I had a midlife crisis way too early. Does this mean I'm going to die young? I hope it's in a fireball of some sort.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Facts about bananas

1) In the 1980s, a home electronics store held a $299 sale on expensive stereo equipment. In the television advertisement, a wacky spokesman said the stereos were only "299 bananas." Thirty-two customers took them at their word, and entered the store with 299 bananas each in exchange for the stereos. The store owners were good sports about it, and allowed these customers to purchase the stereos with bananas. The bananas were donated to a local zoo, but the zoo would only take 1,000 of the bananas. A zoo spokesman was quoted as saying, "Most of our animals like them, but we can't just give them bananas in uncontrolled amounts."

2) I was raised Catholic. Every year in my home state of Nebraska, the Catholic Church held a statewide youth event for junior high and high school kids that featured activities, events, speeches, presentations, and a big dance. This event was called "Going Bananas for Jesus."

3) Woody Allen's movie "Bananas" is a hell of a lot funnier than Woody Allen's movie "Interiors."

4) In Lithuania, it is a symbol of patriotism and good luck to keep a banana in the right front pocket of a winter coat.

*One of these banana facts is not true. Can you guess which one? Win a banana!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Geography report (local version)

Aside from a few friends' homes and a couple of restaurants, South Austin's reputation is wildly undeserved. In fact, someone should drop a nuke on it. The economic damage to the city would be a burden, yes, but a burden worth the detonation of so many douchebag hipsters, confessional acoustic folk singer/songwriters, aging hippies, and guys who think it's a good idea to go into a place of business barefoot and with their dog.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Dr. Mystery: "May I please have a job?" Dr. The Man: "Sit on it!"

I almost got a job today, but the curse remains. I took an editing test for a temporary editing job yesterday. I was informed that the job would be from late November to mid-December for thirty to forty hours a week for $25 an hour. The work was dick-pummelingly tedious, but for 25 bucks an hour, I was prepared to pummel a little dick. They send me the test. It's just a PDF file of a document with no instructions. What the fuck was I supposed to do with that? Stare at it and send it back? I email the place and ask for a little more instructional detail. They email me back and point out one of the errors on the document, but no instructions. Yes, I know I'm supposed to find and correct the errors. Thanks, jerks. What I need to know is how the fuck I'm supposed to edit a PDF file. Do they want me to print it out, correct it in pen or pencil, mail it back to them, fax it, buy some software that will allow me to correct it on the compute-machine, email it back, what? Sweet christ, what a conundrum. They email me back again to tell me that they looked at the test and realized it was confusing. They told me to edit it any way I wanted, and send it back any way I wanted. Who's running this operation? I get an email today telling me the job is mine if I want it. They will get back to me with the hours later. Alright, I think. The curse is lifted. They call me up and tell me the position is actually between six and twenty hours a week, usually six. I will be on call through the Christmas holiday. What the shit, I reply. I'm not skipping out on Christmas with my family to be on call for a six-hour a week job. Call me back when you're not tripping balls, suckers. They still might be able to throw me a little work, but until I hear something sensible, the curse is still raging. I'm fucked. I had to quit my old job because I was dying inside. Now I need to find a new job because I'm dying inside. It's almost been a year. When can I die? Please kill me soon. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Geraldo's a douche

Geraldo Rivera, from his new show "Geraldo at Large," about a man on trial for the abduction, rape, and murder of an 11-year-old girl: "Can you believe the unmitigated gall of this savage, savage monster... [five-second pause] ... if indeed, he is guilty."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Texans are jerks

Nothing much to say. I'm just tired of looking at that headless torso. Additionally, I live in a pocket of sanity in a cesspool of homophobia. Texans hate gays so much they are willing to part with their conservative values and add an amendment to the state constitution to ban something that was already illegal. Good job, you fucking morons.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Happy Guy Fawkes Day Tomorrow

Exploding head week concludes. Regular programming resumes next week. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Happy Thursday

* Exploding Head week continues. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tuesday, November 01, 2005