Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hagrid: bi-curious?

Closeted headmaster inspires complete devotion from a select group of students who over the course of their schooling become more and more like him to the puzzlement/anger of others.

These books can now be read as a roman à clef about the choir teacher at my high school.

With the emphasis on "roman".
I guess.

Here is how my brain processed this news:
(1) That's awesome!
(2) Oh, wait, I forgot, I don't give a shit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mr. Wong 925-8880

Rebecca says, “Miranda July doesn’t live in Brooklyn, does she?” I say I do not think so. She says: “Then I’m taking her off Brooklyn Authors.” Which I did not realize we had a Brooklyn Authors shelf, but great, that makes sense.

We are six months into being parents and have been forced deeper into the borough due to space and money (i.e., the not having of these things) and are reshelving all the books from all the boxes that have been stacked last-moments-of-Jenga-like in the living room, waiting to topple over and crush our whole raison d’être who has just learned to crawl, N.B.

I was trying to figure out if all the Lethems should be lodged between the Hammetts and the Philip K. Dicks, or just the early Lethems or what (too: they’re all different sizes, these Lethems, so when they’re together it’s less than what one wants aesthetically – this is the room where the Good Books are to go, after all, but I just hate to separate them all since they came from the same brain), so if there’s a Brooklyn shelf, then great; I don’t have to think about it. The cell rings.

We are still waiting for Time Warner to come out and enable our phone, internet and cable service (the “triple play”), so we have been hurtling toward the maximum allotted minutes on the cell with no way to check how close we’re getting. Stay strong, asymptote! (I say “we” but this has been a Secret Fight Rebecca and I have been having, that I have not taken care of this yet.) I drop the Lethems on the couch and say hello.

The voice on the other end says, “Is Wing there?” I say no, I do not think so. Below the shelf for Books About Wizards that are Probably Too Big for Their Own Good, The Books Not the Wizards (e.g., Jonathan Strange; Harry Potter; some Lord of the Rings; some Oz reprints from Books of Wonder), Rebecca has put the Dave Eggerses and the Zadie Smiths next to each other (“So they can kiss”) and I have Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings next to the Bible, a nice touch, I think. I have so much Borges, pulled off of stoops from our old neighborhood; I haven’t read one.

The voice says, “Is Wong there?” I realize what is happening. All of the Peter De Vries from my Peter De Vries kick last year are lined up together, in the order in which I read them and, not coincidentally I would submit, the order in which they appear in my estimation. Blood of the Lamb is first. The Cat’s Pajamas and Witch’s Milk is second: when I got that one from Alibris and opened it up, a piece of paper fell out: “Thank you,” it read, “You are right, I did enjoy his style. The ending of the first one will haunt me forever.” Both of those books are about a child dying, I am now sort of shocked to realize. Next to them is Mordecai Richler’s St. Urbain’s Horseman and Monkeys by Susan Minot, due to their having been purchased around the same time and the fact that they are of a similar height and are similarly Mylared. Monkeys had moments before been on Physically Small Volumes with Beautiful Covers that Make Up for the Contents (Lives of the Monster Dogs; Edison’s Eve; The Cheese Monkeys), but the cover isn’t all that damned beautiful and I kind of love that book. It is what’s inside that matters. As I said, I realize what is happening, but just say Nope.

The voice says, “Oh, I must have Winged the Wong number.” This is the first prank call I’ve gotten on my cell, ever, I realize. The phone lights up suddenly to let me know the call has been disconnected, a strange inversion. “Who was that?” Rebecca says. I pick up a Paul Auster (fucking Paul Auster!) and start to put him on the shelf reserved for Dostoyevsky if I ever decide I’m going to read Dostoyevsky, but then remember the Brooklyn Authors shelf. How many more minutes did I just lose on that call? It has spiraled my mood into someplace dark. We will never be done unpacking. We will never sleep for more than three straight hours again. We are not getting along. I can fit all the Austers next to the Lethems if I keep This Shape We’re In with the McSweeney’s Consortium, whose compositional uniformity is already null, so it doesn’t matter that I’m adding something else to it. But I don’t really want to give them more credit than they deserve (I’m over them). “Who was on the phone?” Rebecca asks. I have an idea. I start to tear out the pages of the Paul Austers and stuff them in between the spines of the other Brooklyn authors. This makes sense. “What are you doing?” Rebecca asks, “Who was that on the phone?” Fuck you, Paul Auster, I think. Fuck you New York Trilogy. Fuck you in particular, Timbuktu. Fuck you, Music of Chance, even if you allegedly inspired some of the books on the David Mitchell shelf, fuck you. As I’m tearing the pages out, I see a piece of paper with writing on it flutter to the ground. Rebecca picks it up and says, “Mr. Wong 925-8880?” This is my cell number (but my name is not “Mr. Wong” (see above phone conversation)). She hands the paper to me. I give up right there. The fact that a Paul Auster caliber plot twist occurs while I’m dismantling a Paul Auster book pretty much reduces me, as if by boiling. I do not know if this will work out.

But then I do something about it; I pull down the books on the shelves of Literary Geniuses Who Abandoned Their First Wives (which Auster could belong to, N.B.) and I hold them all in my arms, and I stand there, while the whole time Rebecca is asking what I’m doing, and for nine straight minutes I hold all 53 books in my arms and have you tried this? Because this is hard to do, and when I finally put them down, I do it on my terms and I tell her: I am ready to make this work. The phone is ringing again, but I turn it off and I do not know if this will work out but I say instead I want to make this work, I love our daughter, I love you, I am ready to make this work now, please help me make this work.

[orig. submitted in haste for this thing but just posting it now. It's really old! I'll back-date it, but sorry to anyone who hates old stuff that has to read this because of an RSS feed. Booo, old stuff.]

Monday, October 15, 2007

Presidential Quotes Reconsidered

Presidential quotes. Who doesn't love them? (Answer: Communists and whores.) But who does love them? We do, you and I.

...but: what was the original context for some of these inspirational mouth-steeds (that's a kenning!)?
See below...

Woodrow Wilson: "America lives in the heart of every man everywhere who wishes to find a region where he will be free to work out his destiny as he chooses."
Vexillographer: So... sorry, how many stars do you want on this thing?
Woodrow Wilson: 1.8 billion.
Vexillographer: Um.
Woodrow Wilson: Oh, and add another one for Puerto Rico.

Andrew Jackson: "One man with courage makes a majority."
(Runs out onto the court and gets creamed by dodgeballs)
Van Buren: Ha! Right in the jewels!

Theodore Roosevelt: "Speak softly and carry a big stick... of delicious MacSemple's Pure Spruce Gum." (He smiles and holds out the gum. John Singer Sargent quickly paints this.)
Director: OK, next one.
Theodore Roosevelt: "I'm as strong as a bull moose and you can use me to the limit... provided you bring the MacSemple's Pure Spruce Prophylactics."
(he stands, unzips his pants) I am a star. I'm a star, I'm a star, I'm a star. I am a big, bright, shining star. That's right.

Abraham Lincoln: "You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time."
Mary Todd Lincoln: What about some of the people some of the time?
Abraham Lincoln: What?
Mary Todd Lincoln: You're not being thorough in your definition, and I just want to point that out.
Abraham Lincoln: (flustered) Yes, of course, you can fool some of the people... Look, you're-- (Mary Todd Lincoln pulls off her mask to reveal she is really Stephen A. Douglas)
Steven A. Douglas: Lincoln doesn't know what he's talking about. This concludes my Second Affirmative Rebuttal. In closing, I want to thank Coach Timmons, the National Forensics League and the Hockaday caf for having such awesome Frito pie. Shizaaahhh! (runs off with trophy)
Abraham Lincoln: Aw, tits.

John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
Secretary Lincoln: Nooo, that's an antimetabole. I need an aposiopesis here.
John F. Kennedy: What about "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."
Secretary Lincoln: Um, no that's another antimetabole.
John F. Kennedy: How about: "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to..."
Secretary Lincoln: No. I need an aposiopesis.
John F. Kennedy: Oh, right. How about: "Quos ego—!"
Secretary Lincoln: Perfect. OK, here we go. (holds up completed MadLib) "Quos ego—! he said, as he jumped into his convertible lampshade and drove off with his stinky wife."
All: Ha, ha.
John F. Kennedy: (sotto voce) I have a secretary named Lincoln?

Franklin Roosevelt: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Reporter: What about polio?
Franklin Roosevelt: Why, what did I say?
Reporter: Something about "fear"..?
Franklin Roosevelt: Let me start over. "The only thing we have to fear is polio."

Get this man an agent!

What an unbelievable talent!

My only complaint is the typeface is too small.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

And we spill some blood on the ashes / Of the bones of the Jones and the Cashes

My current best thing ever is the Internet Archive page for Jon Langford of The Mekons. I’d heard Langford do a (much shortened) version of this performance at the Magnet Theatre at a Little Gray Book Lecture a few years ago, and was blown away by it.

It’s a history of the Mekons and Langford and 1970s art schools in Leeds and early punk and the death of country music and letters from the (non-fictional??) Anne Bourbon-Levinsky to her (fictional???) mother Sophie Bourbon expressing disdain at the whole thing: “Your ship is sinking, mother, because there is a hole in it; and that hole is Jesus-shaped.”

This is a crappy recording, but it captures some of the ability-to-hold-your-attention-ness of the (totally Dashiell Hammett-looking) Langford’s reading, the most striking moment of which, I will transcribe below, thereby likely ruining it.

The Mekons have fallen in with The Sundowners, a trio of minimalist country (while it still had its vestigial tail “& western”) musicians who were the house band at the Bar R-R Ranch in Chicago for 30 years. Langford holds them in reverence:

The Sundowners said they’d play our wedding, sort of, but we never knew if they were coming till they came. As the dark clouds gathered in the June sky, they rolled up the driveway in a big gleaming station wagon, all decked out in their matching silk bomber jackets with the Sundowners logo on the back. They played a set and my friends and family from Wales and London and New York danced around and yelled until the temperature dropped and the band retreated into the house to stuff their weathered faces and schmooze with people their own age. They were very popular with the Welsh ladies.

Hours later, I prized them back outside for a short set, and of course, they didn’t want paying, so I gave them three matching bolo ties I’d picked up at Alcalas Western Wear and they went away, and one by one over the years they got older, and sick, and The Ranch closed down. The mayor, Mayor Daley, made December the fourth Sundowners Day, and we celebrated it with a couple of big parties. Then Don had a stroke and lost the use of his picking hand. And Curt died. Bob Boyd came and sang on the Pine Valley Cosmonauts tribute to Bob Wills. We recorded at King Size, a punk rock studio in hipster Wicker Park. He walked right in, took off his Stetson,
spiked up what little hair he had left, and stuck a metal ring in his nose, saying, “Just thought I’d try and fit in.”

But he was already sick, and he died the following year. We went to his wake and we sat with the families, and looked at pictures, and drank and smoked by the Coke machine in the back of the grim, suburban funeral parlor.
And told old stories, and somehow felt at home; my three-year old staring, unafraid, at the open casket, asking:
“Daddy, who is that cowboy?”