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Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

So it Goes

I had a dream a few nights ago.

It isn't unusual to dream, I hope. We all do it. Dreaming is the one thing that connects us even if the content of the dreams separates us. Some dream in Freud, some dream in Jung. And some of us, who are lucky, dream Nemo dreams.
+++

It is rare I dream in such a specific way, but I assume we all have dreams each night, and we wake, and we move on. Some dreams--some rare dreams--linger.

I dreamt this.

+++

A forest. There were redwoods and pine-needles. There was a smell, in-so-far as dreams have smells, of lavender and oak. There were leaves crunching beneath my feet that sounded like grunts. I was among friends. And the friends took similar steps across the leaves, which crunched and grunted.
 
+++

"Almost there," some guy told me. Some Guy was all around me. He was all races and all sexes, and she at one point became four or five different individuals. And their feet crunched the grunting leaves. They were leading me to a specific place in the wood, which was a nice thing for them to do--I was grateful to be taken where they led me.

"Here," some woman told me. "Get inside." I got inside. The forest--with its glimpses of ocher sky, redwood and pine trees, crunchy-grunting leaves--disappeared, as did the friends who'd corralled me into this spot in the woods. A small metallic cube.

A door closed behind me. The door sounding like a crumpled grunting sigh.  I looked behind myself to discover, dreamily, that there was no door. There was only a solid greyness.

"We're about to disconnect the link," I was told. I looked away from the absence of the door previously there, and towards the voice currently commanding my attention. The voice was coming from a young man sitting in a chair fitted with a satellite. The satellite sprang from the back of the young man's chair like a confused mushroom. There was a beam of green light vibrating from the confused mushroom where a stem would've been more appropriate.

+++

"The link." These words came from me. Suddenly I knew why I'd been brought to this cube, in the woods, across the grumbling leaves. "Now?"

"Now."

+++

The confused mushroom cut off its stalk. The green light stopped.

The chair sagged and the man rolled out of it like a soggy blanket.

In this dream, all I could think about was the metal room which had until then housed a green light shooting up. The green light was Vonnegut's works and ideas and intentions. Not kidding.

+++

People have been reading Vonnegut for longer than I've been alive, and yet I had the stupid fucking dream that his work was to be beamed out--like some Voyager III--in a stream of green light. In the metallic room, when the green stream is shut down, there is a silence as if my ears have been removed and shipped to the Met just before curtain. It is a self-conscious silence. It is a silence you hear just before you fart in church.

Then, the person from the chair tells me: "Prepare."

My hair stands up. My hair makes a run for it.

The human in the chair says, "It's a result from the cut link. Electromagnetic. It will pass. Like everything else."

Then my hair settles. My ears settle. And there is nothing else but the invisible metal door, which opens as Kurt Vonnegut enters the tiny metal room. Behind him I can see the redwoods.

"Thanks."

Vonnegut says thanks. Not to me, not yet. He says it to the people in the chair, which were first one guy, then a few guys and women, and are now just humans. In the metallic room, his voice echoes. I assume he thanked millions of times.

+++

Here is where the dream gets embarrassing: I started crying. Perhaps my brain--sleeping but active--needed a good cry. But Kurt Vonnegut was standing there, in a metallic room which had been sending out a green stream of light just a few seconds earlier, and I wept like a baby. I fell forwards. He caught me.

The one thing about this dream I'm thankful for is that I didn't feel ashamed at any moment. Most dreams are about shame or humility or dread. Which is a shame.

I cried into my favorite author's arms. I bent forward, and he caught me. We were in a metallic room set up to beam his work, in a green stream, to other worlds. It was a dream, and it was one of the best dreams I've ever had.

I did meet Vonnegut once. In reality, he wasn't someone to catch you. But that's why we have Jungian and Freudian and Nemo.

That's why we have humanism, and the things that make us less than human. We are all here to be nice to one another. If it is a struggle to understand kindness, ask for help.

+++

The most awful thing you as a human can do is to forget to ask for help.



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Poor Defense of a Christmas Standard: What IS in that drink?

Isn't this a duet? Where's Marilyn Maxwell?
"Baby It's Cold Outside" was--and remains--a song written by Frank Loesser in the late 1940s. Loesser, who is mostly known for writing music and lyrics to Broadway shows like Guys and Dolls, was not a man to weigh the pros and cons of the burgeoning feminist movement (one of his better-known songs, after all, is called 'A Secretary is Not a Toy'), but "Baby It's Cold Outside" has, in recent years, become a notoriously tone-deaf Christmas standard of lust, date-rape, and perhaps a bit of rohypnol.

I think the tone-deafness is actually in the modern ear of the listener, however.

Stay with me; I'm not defending Bill Cosby here.

First off, the song was written in 1947, and was performed at parties by Loesser and his then-wife, Lynn Garland. Garland adored the song and considered it "their" song. She loved topping off a night of entertaining by performing it, and was very angry when Loesser sold the rights to the song to MGM, making it less "our song" and more a Frank Loesser song.

In 1947, women were not Carrie Bradshaw. Obviously. The song, when first heard way back in the days before Helen Gurley Brown made her mark with Sex and the Single Girl, meant something else to listeners. Just as certain gay 'tells' were necessary to get the true character of a young man across to audiences, so to were there certain ways to reveal the very genuine character of the woman singing in this duet. The infamous 'Say, what's in this drink?' would've come across as such a tell to the audience back then. The woman is not suspicious of being slipped a mickey. She's genuinely curious, and feeling the temptation society says to her she must deny.

Lookit. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was not acceptable, even during a blizzard, for a woman to sleep over at a man's house unless that man was her father, her brother, or her husband. Her counterpoint to the man's reminder that 'it's cold out there' is to run through all the things others in her life would say should she agree to do what she is contemplating doing. This idea--that a woman might fear staying inside where it is warm and safe over braving a blizzard of disapproval and a cold world--is indeed and thankfully strange to anyone born after, say, 1980 (or 1990 in some warmer regions of the US).

She is not, and it is not written to imply, being railroaded into a night of date rape. The woman in the song is, yes, being boringly coy--like, typical male-fantasy-level coy; but Loesser isn't one to keep things simple. Most of the women characters he brought to Broadway seem, at first blush, to be vapid and meek but his lyrics (and the women who portrayed those female characters) bring a bit more to the table than just fainting couches and pearl-clutching and victimhood. There's a brilliance, for instance, behind Miss Adelaide's dim-bulb exterior; hell, even the song, mentioned above, about how secretaries are not toys has a brittle honesty in how women are not, for the love of god and no my boy, "toys," but useful and valuable members of the work-place.

There's a reason, for instance, Robert Morse, who starred in the original show from which that song comes--How to Succeed In Business without Really Trying--was asked to play the elder statesman on "Mad Men". Matt Weiner, Mad Men's creator, understood that the connection between that distant Pulitzer Prize-winning musical and his workplace drama was needed. Both share themes. It's just that Loesser lacked Weiner's modern, post-feminist experience.

Anyway, back to "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Interestingly, the woman singing the song, and doing much of the heavy lifting of the song, is usually called a "mouse." I do not consider her a mouse at all.

The song is not about a lecherous man pulling out all the stops, and perhaps some date rape drugs, to hold a woman against her will. It is about a woman trying to remind herself of all the reasons she shouldn't do what society tells her is wrong. The song, quite apart from being an anti-feminist piece of Rat Pack schlock, is the early stirrings of woman liberation.

No? Look, the end of the song. That crescendo. The two voices, the woman and the man, join in a moment of absolute agreement. Baby, it's cold. Baby it's cold outside. There's no hesitation. The man has managed to assure the woman he gets why she's hesitant. The woman understands he's aware of the consequences for her.

Certainly, to modern ears, this all sounds like bullshit, but this was the same period where we had Nellie Forbush (that name... oy) being assured of a wonderful enchanted evening, and all sorts of devil-may-care, love-conquors-all bullshit. What Frank Loesser wrote, initially for him and his wife to sing at parties, is about a man creating a safe place for a woman to be herself.

To be clear, I'm not denying this a wholly sexist and vaguely misogynist song. But it is a song of its time. Stripping the woman of her role in the song is just as bad to me as calling Huck Finn a racist novel. Portraying the woman in the song as a helpless victim is almost to infantilize her. So much so that in order for the recent Funny or Die parody to work, the woman must turn into Bruce Willis to break away from her attacker.

That said: This song is so easily misinterpreted it is perhaps, now, in 2015, best we just cut it loose for a while.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Idea for a Story 2

The first one is here, if you're curious.

“Barry.”

Sometimes it seemed important for Barry to say his name aloud. Speaking aloud also reminded Barry he was in possession of a voice, however craggy and cracky it was.

“Barry,” Barry said into the void of his apartment one grey and drizzling Wednesday afternoon. “Bar. Ry.”
The apartment did not respond, as expected, but Barry's point was made all the same: He was Barry, he had a voice, and therefore he had lungs, a heart, and all the organs needed to justify both a name and an ability to speak even in a vacuum.

“Vacuum,” Barry said next. Two 'u's. “Barry.” Two 'r's.

Barry was sitting at his computer, working. For years he'd suffered in a cubicle in an office downtown, working his way up to the level where an office became pointless; several months ago, his manager broke the news to him: “Bar, we've decided to promote you.... raise... work from home... weekly meetings via Skype... lucky bastard...”

Barry accepted the promotion without hesitation. “Nothing I do here that I can't do from home,” Barry told his manager.

“One thing you can do from home,” the manager joked, “is work in your underwear.” Then a pause. “Please, though, when we do the Skype thing, make sure you're wearing pants.” Another pause. “And a shirt. Please.”

Barry always wore pants while working. He felt there should be a modicum of business decorum. One 'u' for each word.

“Barry.”

The apartment, again, responded to his name without responding at all. Barry glanced at a framed poster of a Picasso painting to his left. It hung on the wall in a way framed posters usually do, which is to say it seemed, always, on the verge of collapse.

It also hung there in a way Picasso prints always hang, which is to say it seemed to vibrate with kinetic energy. Then Barry returned his gaze to the computer screen. A PowerPoint slide. There was a picture of a puppy asleep atop a pile of empty water bottles, and the heading of the slide was “How Can We Make the Uncomfortable Comfortable?”

The entire PowerPoint presentation was due in a half-hour. Barry had no ideas, but he at least had a name. And a pair of pants.

What he did not have was weed, which, as even his manager knew, was a vital component to Barry's work. Tucked into Barry's paycheck each week was an allotment called “Discretion,” which was tax-free for reasons Barry never questioned, and it was a considerable allotment, and it afforded Barry one of the alternate uses for his craggy voice. Barry reached for his iPhone and spoke to it: “Siri,” Barry said. “Call Himself.” After the call was made, Barry texted his manager: “Need more time on the pres. Two hours.”

The manager responded: “Fine. But 1 hr better than 2.”

+++

Barry in pants and shirt, with socks and shoes, no underwear, a hat to hide his mess of hair, a messenger bag, a jacket. This Barry dressed and prepared exited his apartment for the first time in two days—opening the door, Barry heard the apartment sigh as if he'd just opened, from the inside, King Tut's tomb—and hurried down the first of three sets of staircases. As he went down, Albert was going up.

Albert was younger than Barry. He was new to the city and unsure why he'd even moved there. Barry knew Albert lived in the apartment above, with two roommates and three cats, but that was about all Barry knew of Albert.

“Hey,” Barry said.

“How's it going,” Albert responded.

“Not well. I'm out of weed, and have a deadline,” Barry said. Then he clarified: “I only smoke when working. I'm not a stoner, except by trade.”

“Cool.” Albert was polite enough not to point out that Barry's ample frame was blocking his ability to climb the stairs. “So,” Albert said.

Barry, mid-stair, hands on both the wall and the railing, felt something should be said to prolong the conversation, which was his first conversation with a non-computer-screen human in weeks. “So how are the cats?”

“I don't know. They're not my cats.” Albert made a gesture indicating a desire to continue up the stairs.

“Oh.” Barry understood. He realized conversation was not required. His left hand slipped from the railing, and his right slipped from the wall. “Weed,” Barry said. “Deadline,” Barry said.

Albert, already moving past Barry, took a few steps beyond before questioning this odd collection of words. “Hey. Hey! What the fuck does all that mean?”

For the first time in months, Barry found himself in a position, quite literally, of looking up to someone. Albert was near the landing, hands splashed across the railing and the wall, bent at the hip, looking back down at him. If it were a PowerPoint slide, the heading would be, “Exasperation: How Do We Make Youth Less Exasperated?”

“I have a deadline.” Barry shrugged. “We all have deadlines, but mine is in an hour.”

“I meant the weed part.”

“Seriously? Weed. I work best when... What?”

Albert descended the stairs he'd just ascended, and leaned in to Barry. “I live with two girls and three cats. I just moved here. I have no fucking idea where to get weed. I do ten million things all day, every day, and they're all ten million things I like doing but when I come home, I would like... you know?”

“I'll speak to Himself,” Barry said. "If he says it's okay, I'll give you his number.”

“It's okay if not.”

“No, I'll see if he's okay with it.”

“You could just sell me some.”

“No, I don't do that.”

“But it's the same thing.”

“No, it isn't. Puppies on empty bottles.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

Barry took a moment. “I'm not sure. But it means something. I gotta go.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Idea for a Story

A young man--let's call him Gleg--does a kindness to another young man (let's call him Albert, because why not).

After the kindness, both discover the other loves video games, and that each has a subscription to an online gaming service not unlike Netflix...

No, scratch that.

Gleg... Let's not call him Gleg. Avery (why not) lives alone with his cat. He's nearing middle-age, and the type of person who can tell the date and time without consulting a clock or calendar. He wakes up every morning, pads to the kitchen to twist open a can of cat food, then drops the food into a nearby bowl. The sickening sound the 'pluuump' makes as the food disk slides out of the aluminum can into the bowl is strangely pleasant to Avery, and wildly exciting to the cat.

The cat is named Alopecia because the cat is a Sphynx.

No... scratch that. The cat is named Furball, because Avery (why not) is not very imaginative, and the cat is a generic mix of many breeds.

Each morning, Avery finds delight in the cat's delight, and rubs her neck while she eats. As Furball eats, she purrs, and as she purrs, Avery feels her delight in his fingertips. Then he showers, dresses, and walks to the train several blocks away.

He manages to sit in the same seat each day because he is at the beginning of the line. He chooses the same car, the same seat, and waits with the train to begin its journey into work.

No... scratch it.

Each morning is a mystery to Avery. And this one particular morning is no exception. The train, stuffed with humans of various sizes, volumes, devices, and intentions, are crowding the train which has been at work much longer than Avery. Avery is a part of the train's long journey. He is not, of course, simpatico with the train's day--he is merely stuffing himself into the train's busy schedule.

Avery is dressed for work. He is wearing a dark button-down shirt tucked into khakis, with Furball hair cris-crossing the back of the shirt. He has on his sneakers. His hair is combed, as usual, but also as usual the breeze constant across the world has knocked his hair out of sorts. When the train resumes forward momentum, for the first time in his life Avery lurches into another human being.

The human--a male--is jostled so hard that he drops a syringe. The syringe falls to the floor of the train and Avery, still trying to correct his own balance, accidentally steps on it with his sneaker, smashing it into....

Nah. Scratch that.

The human--a male--is jostled so hard that he drops a piece of paper he'd been clutching in his hand. The human male also drops himself, falling backwards, reaching out with his hands for something to hold and finding only other humans with which to steady himself. Feeling guilty, Avery bends over to retrieve the paper, and sees the words, "your deaths" and "justified." The color drains from Avery's face as he realizes

Ick. No. Scratch that extra hard.

Avery bends over to retrieve the paper, and sees the words, "my death" and "better off." Avery, who makes it a point never to pry into the business--or the papers--of others, exercises a rarely used ability: he skims. Most of us skim things we shouldn't, but Avery never does. Skimming is a form of eavesdropping. But he skims the paper, then reaches out to the male human still flailing around as other passengers on the train either attempt to steady him or avoid him.

"Sorry." Avery.

"Thanks." Male human.

Avery returns the paper to the male human (what the hell, let's still call him Albert) and says, "If you really want to do this, my office is on the 67th floor of the Tension Building. The windows open. You shouldn't, but it's fine for you to... you know. I'll let you in."

"So you agree I should just end it," Albert says.

Hm. No. Scratch that.

"So we live in the same five story walk-up. Two things, dude: you not even recognizing me and--two--not thinking I could just jump off the roof. Dude. I don't need 67 storeys to hit the ground. I just need five good ones, and I could do that without leaving my apartment."

"So." Avery thinks. "So." Avery continues to think. "So. Ah. I'm sorry. What can I do for you to make you either not do what you, ah, intend to do, or at least making your intentions less unpleasant?"

Avery considers Furball's food taking the long slide from the can, the sickening 'pluuuump' into the bowl, and reaches out to Albert--he extends his thin hand to the shaky human male. "If I can make it through 8 hours, you can."

Albert grasps Avery's hand. Shakes. Avery thinks the handshake feels rather papery and flimsy before he realizes the suicide note is still clasped in Albert's palm.

At work, Avery

Ugh. No, scratch that. No need to drag it out. Summary: Avery has a weird job, he's so miserable he doesn't realize it, and there's a very amusing incident in the breakroom where he sets a Sharpie on fire.

At home, Avery sits down on his couch and is caressed by Furball. He checks his email, which is empty, then checks his social media sites, which as all as barren as the Moon. Avery takes a quick shower to wash off the day's interactions, then returns to his computer, opens GSG, and selects a game. He's made a point, over the past year, to stop purchasing games from GSG. He's also finished most of the purchased games many times. So he's torn: keep up his resolve and not spend more money; or buy a new game.

No scratching. Just get to the point. Yaddayaddayadda: Albert.

Avery calms Furball. Albert wipes the blood from his left hand. "So. Yeah."

"Sorry. I should've warned you. The cat can be a bit much if you just grab at it."

"Right. Fair enough."

"I'm Avery," Avery says.

"Albert."

"Albert." Avery seems to consider the name. "Sorry, Albert. I didn't mean to knock you down and didn't mean to read your suicide note."

"It happens." Albert stares at Avery for a moment. "Anyway. So I just came down to repay you."

"But--I knocked you down. I didn't do anything." Avery stroked Furball, sandwiched between his crossed arms.

"You did two things. You offered me kindness, and you offered me an apology. It's nice. People are nice. They just aren't enough."

"You aren't still considering... you know." Avery meant it to be a question, but it was no question.

"No." Albert shakes his head. Stares at Albert. Shakes his head again. "No."

"Ok. Good."

Albert reaches out a hand to Avery. Avery, by habit, allows Furball to drop to the ground and reaches his own hand out. Avery and Albert meet palms.

"I'm giving you access to my GSG account," Albert tells Avery. "I know you like playing games. The whole building hears you screaming obscenities at 3 in the morning."

Avery shrinks back a bit. "No. I... surely that's just when I... I stub my toe on the way to the bathroom or something."

Albert firms his palm against Avery's palm. "You yell at Mario, for chrissakes. You're yelling at crap characters on GSG. The free games. My parents pay for my GSG account. It's expensive. So, when I'm not on it, you can use it. I'll text you the sign in shit."

Avery glances down at Furball. The cat is still on her back, recovering from a sudden drop (cats don't always land on their feet, and that is by choice).

Avery is thinking, You mean I can actually play Fuffut 3 without paying for it?

Avery says to Albert, "Thanks. I'll text you my GSG account info too. You can use it when I'm not on. Too."

Fuffut 3 is a game Albert wanted to play but refused to buy. Patience, he insisted, and patience he has, but the buzz around the game makes him

Scratch that. Point? Avery cannot log into GSG when Albert is on. It is Albert's account.

[Scenes from next weeks 'Idea for a Story': A desperate Avery realizes Albert is seldom off GSG. Albert contracts a sudden illness. Avery meets the love of his life... in a game on GSG.]

Scratch that: GSG kills off Albert because they can make more money off Furball videos posted to Youtube.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Nightvale Novel is Causing a Crisis

Welcome to Nightvale is a podcast. True.

Welcome to Nightvale is now a novel. Also true.

I have always loved radio broadcasts. True. In fact, I used to buy cassettes of old radio shows.

Radio is a dying medium. True.

Print is a dying medium. Eh--dunno.

Here's the thing: Welcome to Nightvale, which I started listening to a few years back, now has a book--a physical, weighable book--out. A recent interview with the writers of said book mentioned the audio version.

As a fan of Nightvale, I can now either go a bookstore and purchase the book; I can go online and purchase the virtual book; I can go online and buy the audio book, which is essentially an extended podcast.

"You like books," Greg told me.

"I am trying to... it's just... I have a screen where I can read--"

"Books. You're the son of a printer."

"I'm the owner of an iPhone 6."

"You like books."

True. I have a lot of books in storage in Alabama, and it feels as if I've been castrated because those books are not with me. Those books are just there, sitting in boxes. And the thing about books is that they smell a bit, and the paper has a raspy sound, and the font declares itself.

"You read and you criticize the paper. Get the damn book."

"But I can just buy it online. Do I want it as a---"

"Get the book. The physical, actual book."

There is something magical about having a book. The pages turn. They feel crisp between the fingers, and they sound oh they sound like a release, a sigh, when they flip over to the next page. And G's right: the font is important. And he's right: paper. The weight, the texture, the....oh god, the kearning.

Books are not made for light carriage. They are things to be held, and considered, and contemplated.

"Just admit you don't like iBooks."

I'm old. My nuts are so low because my books are missing, and I've pretended for years that iBooks was a decent substitute.

It isn't. True

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