Monday, September 29, 2008

Banned Book Week

I just knew that there was something special about today, it's the beginning of the American Library Association's Banned Book Week! So, in honor of an oldie but a goodie, I'm highlighting "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", one of the most challenged books of 2007. First published in the US in 1885, it's caused controversy since the outset with some communities and their libraries. Notably banned at the time in the Concord, MA library, Twain, never the shrinking violet, famously commented to his editor, "Apparently, the Concord library has condemned Huck as 'trash and only suitable for the slums.' This should sell us another five thousand copies for sure!"
So, what's all the fuss about? Namely the character of Jim and his minstrel-esque portrayal, the lavish use of the N-word, and whether the book is racist or anti-racist. There are strong arguments on both sides of the aisle on this one. The thing is, you can never truly know someone's intent. What did Twain actually intend with Jim? I can't answer that. No one can. Ultimately, it's a conundrum. Which, considering what a smartass Twain was, doesn't surprise me in the least.
I'm against banning books. We're all grown ups, aren't we? Fahrenheit 451 is always right around the corner, is it not?

When Weddings Attack Your Wallet

My mother drives me around the bend. It's not just her job, it's her career. Her calling, as it were. In her own defense she usually offers up, "I just want everybody to be happy!" If that were true she would have stabbed dad in the chest instead of the arm that time he was strangling her. But hindsight is 20-20, so I won't belabor that detail.
So, the latest tizzy she's in is over my nephew's impending nuptials. A rare nonshotgun wedding for our family. Just as Dante ascribed levels to hell, so do weddings provide a glimpse into the eternal suffering locked therein. And right now, my mother is the ringleader. No, I'm not comparing her to satan, although in a way I am. I mean, she's not that bad, she's just got herself all worked up, and she's got a telephone, so, you know, we've ALL got to hear about it. The wedding is six weeks off, and mom wants to coordinate who is giving what gift. Well, I am fundamentally against being forced to spend BIG $$$$$ on gifts. If I want to do it it's one thing, but to have someone tell me what I have to spend? It gets my dander up. I'm refusing to commit to a dollar amount, and if mom keeps this up, I'm going to stuff twenty bucks in an envelope with a homemade card. Is that petty of me? Sure it is, but I've done worse and I have no problem sleeping at night. In fact, MK marvels how I can have a screaming match with my sister-in-law and then take a nap. It's because I sleep the sleep of the damned, or the unfettered. I imagine my sleep to be a lot like the sleep that limbo babies enjoy.
Anyway, I've calmed down now so I guess I better call my mom back and apologize.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lez Zeppelin

Last night MK and I had the drummer for Lez Zeppelin, Helen Destroy, over for dinner. Helen's a true vegan, so Wednesday evening I did a dry run dinner of stir fried veggies and marinated tofu. Cree declared it perfect, so of course for Thursday night's dinner I tinkered heavily with the recipe and preparation. It must've been ok because I'm now 785 days and counting without poisoning anyone.
I can't tell you what a treat and thrill it was to meet Helen, one of the best drummers I've ever seen live. She pounds, and I mean pounds, such a thunderous beat that it throbs through you. Last night's show at Diesel in Pittsburgh was no different. The crowd, primarily straight white male ranging in age from barely legal to drink to 60+, just went wild for these musicians and there interpretations of the Led Zeppelin classics. The radio staples were all in the set list: "Whole Lotta Love", "Ramblin", "Kashmir", you name it. Everything except, oddly, "Immigrant Song", which is one of my favorites, so of course I noticed its exclusion.
But no matter, the night was every bit as fun as the first time MK and I saw Lez Zep a year and half or so ago. Helen informed us that the band is leaving for a tour of Japan in a couple of weeks, and I just cannot imagine what it must be like traveling the world, playing the music that you love for frenetic - and almost creepy - adoring crowds.
Really, I'm just so glad that we got to spend a couple of hours with HD before the show, break bread and chat. WE'd never met before and had only talked briefly online, so all three of us got to basically lay the ground work for what I hope will be a long friendship. Oh yeah, Bela really loved HD! Because we all know that if you can win over the dog, you're golden.
One last footnote: Right before the first encore Caty and I made a dash for the restroom because it seems our tiny bladders cannot hold even one beer for more than an hour and a half. When we reemerged from the tidy row of toilet stalls, we didn't want to force our way back through the throng of seething mass crushing the stage, so we hung back. Right outside the men's restroom, as it were. There are no extras in the women's room, no attendant spritzing you with cologne or offering you a soft towel to dry your hands. But in the men's room, from what we could see, you could buy Doritos to enjoy while you stand at the urinal, or maybe you're in the mood for a lollipop. The attendant had so much stuff on display that I couldn't even register it all. And he kept shooting me dirty looks everytime he caught me staring. It's not like I could IN the men's room, I could only see the display of goodies. Of course there were the condoms, cigarettes, and little packets of Tylenol that you would expect. It was the individual serving bags of chips that threw me, and the candy and lollipops. Would you buy food in a public toilet? Even if it is all wrapped up. It just seems antithetical to the whole purpose of the toilet, not to mention the issues of hygiene and sanitation.
Ah well. Now that I've got that out of my system, I highly recommend to my Japanese readers out there they catch a Lez Zep show while the women are on your Godzilla shadowed shores!
And hey, Helen :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fringe: Ghost Network

How good is "Fringe"? To quote Dr. Walter Bishop completely out of context, 'You may also experience an involuntary bowel movement.' While I did not soil myself while watching last night's episode, my whole brain was so excited that it had to walk around the block a few times to calm itself down.
I don't know if the writers and producers can sustain this level of believable intrigue for years and years, but so far they've got me in their hip pocket.
Some cool highlights:
  • Astrid's mad linguistic skills. I just love a woman interpreting Latin for the masses.
  • Sanford Townsend Band's lone hit from 1976 "Smoke From A Distant Fire" playing while Peter and Walter are at the diner. I always loved that song!
  • Can Blair Brown be any more chilling? That faux smile of hers makes me want to hug a kitten.
  • Cool cranial halo seemingly wired with twinkle lights and pixie dust...and how about that bit with the lost freshman interrupting just as Walter was about to drill into Roy's brain? Great stunt that effectively built the tension even more.
  • Anna Torv is the best thing to happen to television since the advent of the remote - or as we say in these parts, the clicker.
  • The evil dude purposely stepping back into the path of a transit train that we never even saw coming. Watching this show is like being a roller coaster!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vampire McCain

Everything is always open to interpretation, except when it's not. Art, in my humble and autocratic opinion, is definitely best when the viewer can take from it what they will.
But sometimes the artist is crazy in a nonfun way and they simply careen wildly off the deep end, taking no prisoners and leaving the casualties to heaven.
So, who has gone nuts? Apparently Jill Greenberg has. I'll be honest, until this brouhaha erupted over her cover shot of John McCain for The Atlantic, I had never heard of her. Then when I visited her site I knew why. Her brand of photography is not engaging to my brain. If anything, I find it thoughtless and trite. Oh, and please wait a moment to savor the effect....pedestrian. And staged. Big time phony crap. Glorified snapshots that are about as challenging as errant toenail clippings littered on the bathroom floor. Perhaps I'm being harsh, but given that she's a remorseless hack version of a photographer, I feel that I must stand up for my fellow shutterbugs. Thanks Greenberg. You've really advanced photography as art by employing cheap gimmicks and getting your ass forever banned by The Atlantic, and probably every other publication in the world. Sheesh!
Wanna see what all of the fuss is about? How about this massively photoshopped likeness of Vampire McCain, which has since been removed from her website. The internets are a glorious place...nothing ever really goes away. What was she thinking? Yes, we have freedom of speech (expression), but it seems as if we've completely lost our way when it comes to appropriateness, professionalism, and dare I say it? Decorum.
Edit: I forgot to point out the obvious....Vampires don't cast a shadow, dumbass.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Beagle News

MK and I removed Bela's stitches yesterday. She is now free and clear of the spaying. You should have seen those stitches. Like something out of Frankenstein's monster. Huge thick black Xs bisecting her entire abdomen, Shakes the Vet really out did himself this time. Bela's vet, an elderly man with a great reputation, is, how shall I say, nervous. None of the assistants will even assist him anymore, and I know why. Before MK and I left for vacation this year I took Bela in to the vet's office to get her rabies shot and a nasal spray for kennel cough. Shakes had himself so worked up that he sprayed the kennel cough stuff up MY nose (I got a terrible headache, but my sinuses were insanely clear) and he almost jabbed me with the rabies needle. When I went out to the front desk to pay for the visit I mentioned that I almost got a rabies shot, and all three of the women out there said that he's stuck them with needles. Hence, why Shakes is on his own. I have an irrational fear of rabies anyway, stemming from a raccoon bite when I was a child that I never told my parents about because my oldest brother had me convinced that mom and dad would kill me anyway if they found out that I had petted a wild animal and it bit me, so better to get the sympathy by dying the horrid death brought on by full blown rabies and hopefully be remembered fondly. Asshole.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bad Poetry Friday

As much as I'd like to say that I'm starting a new weekly feature wherein I will post my bad poems every Friday, we all know that I'm not that reliable.
So, without further ado, the first and perhaps last poetry installment:

Hold dear the vestiges of fleeting dreams
impassioned pleas and declarations reiterated
Everything has to be as it seems held within a dream
It is the lone demand
along with suspension of belief
A relief, really, of command

Thursday, September 18, 2008

When You Are Ungulfed In Flames

The other day I was at my sister's house and she thrust David Sedaris' most recent book at me, "When You Are Engulfed In Flames" and bade me to read it. Read it now! One of her clients had given her the book and she read the whole thing in one sitting, something it soon became apparent that she we wanted me to do too. I've been busy this week being sick, and while typically reading is a good activity while ill, not so much if you have a head cold. There just seems to be less clarity than usual rattling around upstairs. But my sister did convince me to read the chapter "Cry Baby", which is third to the last in the book.
Then she called yesterday.
Sister: Hi! Have you read the book yet?
Me: No, but I did read the chapter about the guy crying on the plane.
S: Isn't that hilarious?
M: Eh, it was ok. It made me think of that time I was on a flight to Philadelphia and the woman sitting next to me with a baby on her lap and she let the baby hang all over me, drooling on my shirt.
S: What does that have to do with it?
M: Nothing, it just made me think of it.
S: Well, what did you think of the chapter on such and such (truly, I forget which chapter she was referring to)?
M: I haven't read it yet. I read the crying chapter and then I walked the dog.
S: Wait until you read the chapter about quitting smoking!
M: Wait. You mean he quit smoking?
S: Yeah!
M: I'm not going to read that part.
S: Why not?
M: It's too much pressure. I decided to quit smoking myself. I just haven't done it yet and I don't want to internalize his account of the process.
S: That's idiotic. What kind of logic is that? He quit smoking two years ago, so it's not like you're quitting smoking with him and he's succeeded and you've failed.
M: I can't cope with someone else's smoking cessation success, regards of when it happened. I'm skipping that part.
S: Maybe you should give me the book back.
M: No! I want to finish reading it! MK wants to read it too.
S: Are you going to allow her to read the smoking section?
M: I don't dictate what she can read and can't read. She can read whatever she likes. She can read Japanese anime tentacle porn for all I care!
S: Tentacle porn? Is that what it sounds like?
M: I think so, but I can't be certain. I mean, I've never looked at it, I've just heard about from other people.
S: Not your kids, I hope!
M: No, they don't talk to me about porn, tentacle or otherwise.
S: That's a relief.

I really enjoy David Sedaris' work. MK and I have gone to see him read his work, which given that we had seats with a partially obstructed view, wasn't all that different from listening to him on NPR. Because of the nature of Sedaris's observations, it's almost impossible to not use that same eye and method when assessing what he's got to say. While the absurd is showcased, it's his position at the center of the ridiculous universe that gives it all perspective. I'm beginning to find this annoying. Nothing is simply presented as it is/was, instead it's all littered with his touchstones - some amusing, some tiresome.
But I'm going to keep all of this to myself because my sister won't lend me a book ever again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cough Syrup Update

As far as I can tell the stuff works. It both soothes your chest and makes your cough productive - without making you cough your head off.
Here's how you make it:
Gather some chokecherry or wild cherry branches. Peel the bark off (Cree and I used knives to whittle it off). Once you've got about 1-1.5 ounces of bark, put it in a quart jar and pour boiling water over it. Put a lid on it and set aside for 8-10 hrs. This will serve as the initial infusion.
After 8-10 hrs, strain the liquid through a coffee filter and pour the infusion into a pan and heat on the stove over low heat. Reduce the amount of liquid by half, producing a decoction.
That's basically it. I added 2 TBSPs of honey, but you don't have to, the syrup doesn't taste bad on its own. It's just kind of thin. Since both of the kids have this same cold I had them take the medicine too before they went to bed. So far it seems to have not killed any of us! And I really do feel a lot better than what I did yesterday.
One last footnote: When gathering anything for use in an herbal remedy always make sure that you can properly identify the plants. Otherwise, you can inadvertently poison yourself and others, which is never any fun. I have a cousin, Jimmy, who ended up hospitalized after picking mushrooms that he was sure were edible, but then not so much. Chokecherry trees are pretty easy to identify, you can either pick up a book or check it out on line. The bark is distinctive, as are the leaves and tiny little black/red fruit. Still, it's always best to be sure of what you're doing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jennifer, the Herbalist

Yes, I really just referred to myself in the third person. That's what happens when you've got a ridiculously common moniker. So, anyway, I'm a certified herbalist. Bet ya didn't know that! I only practice on my family and friends, so it's not some big career path. I'm simply too cheap to run to the doctor unless I think that whatever is wrong with me might kill me. Then I grudgingly go. Otherwise I'm out in the fields and woods gathering stuff to cure what ails me, and everybody else in my small circle. Today, to treat my horrid cold, I cut some chokecherry branches and I'm making real cherry cough syrup, nothing like that chemical crap you get at the store. Oh noes, this is the real McCoy. I've never made cough syrup before, usually treating a cold with lots of tea liberally doused with homemade brandy. But, I'm all out of brandy, and I don't like that fake flavored stuff they sell at the liquor store. Sooooooo, I'm making cough syrup and cherry brandy. The cherry brandy won't be readyl for several months, so that's just me planning ahead, which I should have done last year. Damn me in the past! A pox upon my shadow self!!!
Anyway, the syrup will be ready later today and I'll post tomorrow whether it works or not. If it works, I'll include the recipe for it. If it doesn't work you can send cash in lieu of flowers to MK to defer the cost of my impending cremation. :) I have a feeling it'll work. I mean, it was used to treat everything from whooping cough to emphysema in pre-WWI North America (waves to Canada).

Thursday, September 11, 2008


This is the former Dixmont State Mental Hospital. Opened during the Civil War and shutdown forever in 1984, I had the opportunity to tour the facility on a field trip my senior year of high school in 1980 with and for a psychology class. A couple of things stick in my mind about that visit: The building was in severe decline and ruin, and the young schizophrenic I spoke with knew more about flatworms than anyone else I've ever met. He carried with him a detailed notebook on all things flatworms. His pencil drawings were meticulous and precise. The simplicity of flatworm anatomy and function had him in its thrall. For the life of me I can't remember what that young man's face looked like, but I can still his hands moving over the pages of that notebook. Of course he asked me for matches. Everyone we encountered asked us for matches. Most of the patients smoked, but they weren't allowed to have lighters or matches. The staff would light their cigarettes, but they still all wanted their own matches. Sometimes I look at a book of matches as representing a little freedom. Not in a pyromaniac sort of way, but like how you strike a match and light the way through the darkness.
Anway, Dixmont was torn down and Wal-Mart meant to build a massive superstore on the site...but the hillside wasn't stable and resulted in a massive landslide onto Rt. 65 below. After further landslides Wal-Mart gave up on developing the site. There have long been rumors that Dixmont was haunted...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Deep down, I'm a skeptic who loves conspiracy theories and is a little thrilled by fringe science. I can't help it. It's like eating Funnyuns, or chocolate, or drinking cheap vodka and Tang: You just can't stop!
The new Fox show from J.J. Abrahms, "Fringe" is almost too good to be true. I didn't trust my initial assessment on the first viewing, so I watched the whole 1.5 hr premier again. I was even more blown away by the set up and premise, owing in no small part to Anna Torv's turn as Olivia Dunham. While other people are in the cast, and they are capable enough to deliver their lines, it's Torv as Dunham that sets the pace and direction of the show. She's an absolute joy to watch. She's not afraid to show emotion and go the extra yard for something that is close to her heart, but when push comes to shove, she's all FBI all the time. A weird balancing act, but Torv pulls it off.
So, I'm committing to this show. Despite how I felt about J.J.'s other show, "Lost", I'm going to stick with "Fringe" for at least the full season.
As a footnote, the show I've given up on - "The Sarah Connor Chronicles". One big WTF? Nothing but extraneous filler for an outcome that we already know. Yes, I love Lena Headey (what lesbian doesn't?), but the show itself is dreck. Too much tension is built every single week and the show just can't sustain that. It feels forced because it is. Maybe if they could've just had some more down time funny moments, something relatable, I would've thought that there was hope. But no. I'm outta there.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Buffy 8.18

I love the Buffy Season 8 comic, a do, I really, really do. But I'm getting more than a little put off by this arc. Here we are, three issues into it, and I'm still waiting for something to happen. Maybe I've got unrealistic expectations, maybe I'm a demanding cur barking at the darkness, or maybe we've all come to expect excellence from the Joss Whedon camp because that's almost always what we get. Who knows?
The issues I take with issue #18 revolve specifically around Willow literally evolving into someone I no longer recognize, and Buffy purposely not saving some people screaming for help from a cadre of vamps. When did Buffy start ignoring the slaughter of innocents? And Willow with the weird orgasm visit to the tentacle porn creature...? And, and, and future Willow, the sad mad woman, is about as prophetic, or dark, or darkly prophetic as a cardboard cut-out of Callisto. Wait, I take that back, Hudson Leick was able to master a menacing and withering leer.
Maybe it's me, maybe I'm missing some brilliant subtlety with all the clobbering of Willow and Buffy not acting like Willow and Buffy. Maybe it's all a bait and switch, which will kind of suck if the nonsense of the last three issues are all tied up overly neatly in #19.
When's Jane Espenson going to write an issue? The strength of the show BtVS was that a lot of the shows were penned by women. So far with the comic we've had only guys writing it, and it is really starting to show in the voice of certain characters and the overall tone and direction that they are taking. We really need a breath of fresh air in the slayerverse. I also wouldn't mind having Brian K. Vaughn come back to write some more issues...and let him bring Faith along with him! That's by far been my favorite arc. It was complex, problematic, and a joy to read, and reread, and reread, and reread...
What's really disappointing is that I was really anticipating this issue, hoping to get a colossal set up for the finale. Wow, did it not deliver. It's not like I'm going to quit reading or anything. I mean, I stuck by The X-Files through the Doggett years, so clearly I'm loyal, if sometimes critical and disgruntled. I'm in for the long haul, wherever that may lead.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Gemini Division

Despite having a name that reminds me of an 80s British New Wave band, this online show is a winner. Gemini Division is the rarest of commodities in a virtual world besieged by empty content: It is good. Produced by Electric Farm Entertainment, the same people who brought us the animated, really quasi animated because there's only jerky movement, Afterworld, and starring Rosario Dawson, Gemini Division is part sci-fi, part love story, part mystery, all topped off with uber techno cop gadgetry. It's quite ingenius. But, when you get right down to it, the reason that the show succeeds is Dawson. She has to establish an intimacy with the viewer that has to feel genuine, and it does. Because of the nature of how the show is shot, with her talking into a webcam to some unknown person or persons, the weight of carrying the storyline falls directly on Dawson's shoulders, and she brings it, baby!
Is the show perfect? No. The webisodes are too short. And despite Dawson's awesome ability to draw you into the circumstances that she's confronted with, it seems as if at times extraneous exposition is forced. I wonder how this will play out as the show advances.
Still, I cannot stress enough how gloriously Dawson pulls off the difficult balance of carrying the full load...
Oh great, my mom's here. She probably wants her tupperware back.

Pissed Red Redux

It's that time again boys and girls! MK and I will be bottling another batch of delicious wine! After that I'm going to throw a bunch of pears in the fermenting tank and make some brandy. All should go well as long as an open flame is kept a safe distance away.
What I love most about making hooch is the unpredictability of the entire process. Explosions, fires, cloudy poison corked up in a bottle...It's a little like being a mad scientist, only without the actual science part. I mean, yeah, sure, I know the science involved in the breakdown of sugar molecules into alcohol and all that, the exciting process of conversion. But, when you're actually making wine it seems less like science and more like, Eureka! We've got rocket fuel! Let's get blasted!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye

Labor Day: All-American Holiday celebrating the commitment and worth of our workers? Or insidious socialist (really, COMMUNIST) plot to motivate the lowly toiling stiff to overthrow the evil global corporate empire and replace it with an evil ruling Junta?
Of course it's neither. It's nothing more than an extra day off, for some - retailers are all open - and those that gots the day off, they're all boozing and whooping it up as summer's last hurrah. I remember one Labor Day weekend, about fifteen years ago, where we had a keg set up in the backyard, and friends and family came to drink and set off some sort of illegal explosives, when my then four year old son got a dinosaur sippy cup and walked over to the keg. I thought, No, he can't be going to get himself a beer! Then he got himself a beer. I let him go for a minute, as he walked over to a Little Tykes molded plastic picnic table situated under a towering choke cherry tree and sat down. Before he got into his cups I went over and asked him if he wanted a cigarette with that beer. Said son scowled and gave up his prize, and only scowled more when my now ex mother-in-law admonished his actions with, "No drinking until you're at least fifteen!"
Oh, those halycon days of yore. I marvel that we all emerged with only emotional scars and no physical ones.