Monthly Archives: March 2004

Cycle

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Stay up too late reading (when I should be studying French). Get up damned early. Get on train to NYC. Go to meeting. Take train back home. Rinse. Repeat.

Bikes are everywhere!

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Friendly reminder — spring is here, idiots like me are out on the road, and when was the last time you read over the New York State bicycle and pedestrian laws? It’d been a while for me, so even though I knew there was a new law (really reinforcing the old law), completely and utterly ignored in this state, that gives pedestrians in a crosswalk the right of way, I did not know that a bicycle must be equipped with a bell, horn or other device that can be heard 100 feet away. No one has been dragged away to jail on that one in a while, I’m thinking.

I don’t usually let bumper stickers change my life, but many years ago I saw one that said “Look Twice / Save a Life / Motorcycles Are Everywhere,” and ever since then I’ve been especially conscious of double-checking my mirrors before changing lanes, because a bike could be sitting on your corner and not be especially visible. Excellent advice. Applies to bicycles, too . . . so look twice, and don’t run me over by accident. (On purpose is entirely a different thing.)

In fact, I find about 90% of drivers are pretty good about sharing the road, but one does tend to remember the others who think it’s funny to run you off the edge, or who throw bottles at you, scream out the window, etc. (There’s also a percentage who go way too far out of their way to give you room, way off in the other lane, far more likely to cause a massive accident than if they just gave you an extra foot or two.)

Hey, that deer carcass that was lying out by the firehouse on Phillips Road last fall? Deer skeleton now. Big old pile of rib bones really makes you look twice when you’re flying by. Somewhat alarming sight.

It’s all about entertainment

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Okay, maybe it sounds like I’m being defensive, but in fact I appreciate the helpful suggestions regarding the, um, shortcomings of my iTunes collection. When I started filling it up, I just added entire discs, which created certain imbalances, and ate up more space than was necessary. Now I’m adding more judiciously, and there’s plenty of room left. But some good questions are raised. Like, where the hell is the Depeche Mode, anyway? I actually only own a little, but that’s more than nothing. I thought I’d put those discs up already. And where are those surf music discs I recently, painfully, transcribed from tape?

Much media viewing lately. Watched “Ghostbusters” with the kids again this weekend. Can I just say? Sigourney Weaver? Yummy. Despite some very ’80s hair. Lee and I watched “Lost in Translation” on pay-per-view (now actually priced lower than our video store, without the whole driving there and back thing). It was wonderful. Slow-paced, without flagging. Interesting that she was able to maintain a particular pace while still making it visually interesting. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson were both incredible. I kept fearing at the end that Sofia Coppola might ruin it, that she might hit a wrong note and end up throwing them into bed together, but she held true to her story. It was beautiful.

Big TV discovery, for us anyway, of the last couple of weeks is “What Not To Wear” on BBC America, a makeover show on which at least one of the two hosts is virtually guaranteed to fondle the breasts of their subject, which adds a certain interest to the whole thing. Tuesdays at 9. Don’t miss. And, Bravo’s “Significant Others” is hilarious — well-written, well-acted; first cable sitcom I can think of that is as good as (and actually better than) network fare.

What else? Oh, Johnny Depp in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Perhaps this movie makes no sense to someone not familiar with the book, but to someone for whom the book and its author were once something more than role model, it’s deeply, deeply funny. And nothing is funnier than when his attorney (Benicio Del Toro, not quite beefy enough for the Samoan, but who’s to gripe?), totally done up on mescaline and devil ether, cannot figure out how to step off a carousel bar in Circus Circus. Viciously funny stuff, but it may be a “you had to live there” sort of thing. But a sudden and wide appreciation for the talents of Johnny Depp, who had also recently delighted in “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.”

Huge ultimate vanity project — growing out of the idea that anyone would be interested in what’s on my iPod, you can now see what’s actually playing on iTunes, updated every time the song changes. It’s off to the right. If it doesn’t change, it means I’m away from the computer, which is something I do from time to time. Or just not listening to music, which is less likely.

No more shootin’ the curls

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Just read that Jan Berry of Jan & Dean has died. Not too long ago, I found a Belgian pressing of Jan & Dean’s Greatest Hits in my collection, and was amazed that I had this and couldn’t remember the last time I had played it. So I got it all ready and put it right onto CD, and found out why . . . by the time I was done putting the disc together, I hoped not to hear it for another 20 years. I’m thinking Brian Wilson deserved more than some of the co-writing credit on “Surf City.” “Dead Man’s Curve” is a fairly typical, though fun, teen death song (actually, near-death song) of the era. “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” is a regrettable novelty. And everything else is awful, just awful. Not to speak ill of someone who’s just passed on, but it’s really not clear why we even remember Jan & Dean, musically speaking.

Oh, geez, I am going to hell, aren’t I?

(After I posted this, I spent the rest of the morning with “LOLFP” irretrievably stuck in my head. Karma’s a bitch.)

One song

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Sometimes it takes just one song to just completely spin me off into a space I haven’t been in for ages. The other night I set all my new NYC pictures (currently being dribbed and drabbed to my Fotolog) to The Psychedelic Furs’ “There’s a World Outside,” and now I’m completely in a Richard Butler headspace.

I was stunned to see one of my all-time favorite bands, The Church, featured with an Apple Music Store “Celebrity Playlist,” particularly because I am dead certain that no one has ever heard of them. I’ve never met anyone who has said, “Oh, yeah! The Church! Dude!” when I’ve mentioned them. They had a little commercial success with a middling album about 13 years ago, and otherwise have flown under the radar, making incredible music all along the way. But, “celebrities”? I don’t think so. Spouse’s answer is that I’m not as cool as I think I am. Well, we know that’s not so, so it must be something else . . . .

Hey, get off my iPod’s back!

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Just to respond to some comments on the contents of my iPod, I feel the need to make some clarifications:

  1. That is just the tiniest fraction of my CD collection, to say nothing of the 600 or so vinyl albums I’m still stubbornly hanging onto (and slowly putting onto CD, hence the nearly complete lack of ABBA on the pod).
  2. Molly Hatchet? Molly Hatchet? Are you mad?
  3. Nine Inch Nails came at the wrong time for me; I was completely in a blues space then, and I never went back and caught up with it — unlike Nirvana, who completely undid me with the Unplugged album. Suddenly, I got the entire thing, and loved it all.
  4. Never owned a single thing by Boz Scaggs, Faith No More, or even Dire Straits. Not sure why, although they mostly fall into the “that’s nice but they don’t need my money to support their careers” category. I lost track of Kathie Dawn, so I haven’t heard the “Drag” disc, but I’ll sample it.
  5. The omission of “The Juliet Letters” is, in fact, inexcusable, and I will rectify it immediately. In fact, the great good thing about the iPod is, as you may have heard me rant already, Intergalactic Shuffle Mode. It means that albums that are absolutely through-the-roof excellent while at the same time being only rarely listenable — they may need to fit a certain mood, or too much exposure may just cause you to slit your wrists — can be taken in small, random, shuffling pieces. Thus, Patti Smith, whom I love and will rarely listen to for 40 minutes at a stretch, gets much more play. Same with Anne Sofie von Otter, and Ute Lemper, and . . . hmm, perhaps it’s an Elvis thing, eh?
  6. Britney, Avril, and a couple of others are there because my daughters wanted them. This is actually my iTunes list, and not EVERYTHING here makes the iPod. But nearly everything does.
  7. Now that you’ve got me looking at it, how can there only be one song by Cake? Where’s the rest of my Tom Waits? How come Screamin’ Jay Hawkins almost never comes up in shuffle mode?
  8. The Dondero High School Symphony Band and A Capella Choir’s desperate wheeze through “Fox on the Run” and “Sunshine of Your Love” at first seemed funny as hell, but they have grown on me considerably as I think of how hard these kids worked to adapt these rock and roll classics for a very NOT rock and roll group. They dared to try to keep time, and that they failed matters not. These songs are classics.

Warning: Nostalgic Rhapsodizing Ahead

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Not too long ago Hannah needed a cardboard box for a Girl Scout project, and she said one of the Scout leaders had suggested they could probably get one at an appliance store. Of course, nowadays there’s hardly such a thing as an appliance store, though there’s still one here on the turnpike. The thought of going to the appliance store to scavenge cardboard boxes took me right back to Scotia, 11, 12, 13 years old, every now and then we’d ride our bikes up to the back of Swire’s Department Store and see if there were any boxes appliance boxes lying around so we could build a fort, a rocketship, a superheroes’ headquarters. Swire’s seemed almost like the center of Scotia life, then, along with the A&P grocery store and the post office. Amazingly, the grocery store is still there, under another name, and the post office remains in the center of the village, but Swire’s is long gone. It was one of those amazing stores that now seem to exist only in the most remote areas, a store that sold just about everything you could need in daily life in the ’60s and ’70s. Way more expansive than a five-and-dime, way more compact than the K-Mart that was about to emerge and drive the independent stores under. Swire’s had two big sections — up front, the boring part: appliances. Washers, dryers, refrigerators, televisions, stereos of the type that only parents would buy. When the CB craze hit, that’s where my Dad bought his CB (he was a trucker, it actually made sense for him.) But the real life of the store was in the back, down a little steep ramp and past the two cash registers, where they sold . . . everything. Everything stacked high and tight. Fabric, patterns, buttons. Toys, models, model rockets. Paint, wallpaper, every kind of hardware. Hand tools, nails. Coloring books, Golden Books, Big Little Books. Bicycle parts. Spray paint, but you had to have a note from your parents (store policy). Caps and cap guns and “joke” fireworks that provided us with a shell and a fuse, and we’d rely on sketchy ideas and a chemistry set to try to figure out how to make a real explosive (this never worked, by the way). There were a couple of old women at the registers, both of whom were wise to our tricks but one of whom would gruffly forget about the tax when we came up a few cents short for something. If you had a penny left over, you could get some terrible gum from the ancient gumball machines that teetered at the top of the ramp. We bought a lot of model cars and airplanes there, a lot of Pactra paint and airplane glue (and for a while, you had to have a note from your parents for airplane glue, too — we could have been dope fiends!), a lot of Estes rocket engines, a lot of jigsaw puzzles. Nearly every birthday present I gave anyone as a kid came from the Swire’s (back then, kids, most department store toy sections shrank dramatically outside the Christmas season.) I know what a codger I’m going to sound like when I say you could have a good time there with 50 cents.

But the best things from Swire’s were free — the appliance boxes. If they sold a fridge or dryer, the box would sit out back. (Swire’s was on Mohawk Avenue, the main drag of Scotia, with a great little alley along the side of the building leading back to a parking lot that opened on Glen Avenue. That alley loomed large in our navigation of the village by bicycle.) Now, if you’re about 12 years old, there are a couple of ways to get a giant appliance box from the back of the store to someone’s house a few blocks away. None of them involve a car. I suppose that a couple of kids could have walked up to the Swire’s and just carried the box back home, but I don’t think that ever happened. No, the approved method for moving an appliance box was by bike, two guys on their Sting-rays, flanking the box, reaching out to hold the flaps. If the box were smaller, it would be possible to hold it up in the air, but big boxes produced a significant amount of drag. No matter. The mechanics of two bicyclists navigating a gigantic cardboard box down streets and around corners are deserving of further study, especially when you consider that the other kids would be weaving around among them, not helping at all. Sometimes the box came loose and one or the other of the pullers, balance upset, would go sailing and have to re-collect and start up again. But we always got them home. We’d paint them, cut windows, knock them together (duct tape not generally available then, by the way), set up tunnels and forts and whatever. When our parents were sick of looking at the mess, we’d often enough burn it down, and then wait for the next time suitable boxes would appear in the back of the Swire’s.

I think the Swire’s went out of business before I was even out of high school. The store was taken over by a large and fairly successful independent appliance store. The alley is blocked off. I have no idea if kids in Scotia today can raid the back of the store for cardboard boxes. Very few of these kinds of stores still exist anywhere, and when they go out of business there’s a general lament, but it’s clear that we don’t want them. We want clean and shiny and huge, not small and cramped and worn. Will kids ever treasure their trips to the big box stores the way I treasure the memory of that ratty old Swire’s? I’m really not sure. I remember going to the big, shiny Two Guys, and to the Mohawk Mall when it was so new, and while there was something special about those places (there’s something special about every place when you’re in your teens, isn’t there?), they would never be as important a part of our lives as the Swire’s was.

Slumber party in progress

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There are 7 screaming, giggling 11-year-olds (plus a little sister) running around my house, which is why, despite my groundrules for life, I have just learned the answer to the question, “What would it sound like if Smashmouth covered The Beatles’ ‘Getting Better’?” (Courtesy of the abomination that is Mike Myers’s “The Cat In The Hat.”) I’ll now be retiring to my chamber, where I have set up the previously unused emergency backup TV with the Playstation. I intend to spend the next several hours focusing on learning my way around Staunton Island (Grand Theft Auto 3) and ignoring the sounds coming from the living room.