5.29.2008

"No Matter How New Age You Get, Old Age is Gonna Kick Your Ass" -- U. Utah Phillips (1935-2008)

Utah Phllips, folk-singer and train-hopper and old-timey socialist agitator, died last week. He was a fantastic story-teller; Ani DiFranco made a great record in the nineties by putting backing music to recordings of his between-song stage banter and stories.
Here's some lyrics to Talking NPR Blues. Like Phil Ochs, Utah kept no sacred cows, even if meant wagging fingers at his own audience.

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I have a summer project. Since the twins came, I've been lax on reading, and have started far more books than I've finished. So, this summer, I intend to read at least one book per week, chosen from whatever books might happen to be on the 7-Day Loan shelves at any particular branch of the Milwaukee Public Library. (I'm a plodding and deliberate reader, but I respond well to deadlines.) I have to rule out books over 500 pages, as 70 pages per day is about all I can reasonably commit to, and only actual prose will count, since poetry and comics are quicker reads for me (because I don't pay sufficient attention to the former, and I eat up the latter like the adolescent geek I truly am). After Labor Day, I will donate an appropriate amount -- say, half the price of each book -- to the library system and/or literacy related causes. (I will also accept sponsorship.)
In the inaugural week of the Brian Re-Literacy Program (BRLP), even before anyone -- myself included -- knew it was the the inaugural week, I read Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible, a fun book that gives a literary* and "real world" treatment to Super-heroes and -villians. This week, I'm reading Ron Hansen's Exiles, which concerns German nuns, a shipwreck, and the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins. Ron Hansen wrote the novel that was the basis for the recent Jesse James movie (starring Brad Pitt, and not bad!) , and is also the author of one of the more brutally beautiful stories I've ever read: "Nebraska" from his story collection of the same name.

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Early this morning, I received a call on the emergency red phone in my basement, a phone which only rings when the words "robot" and "monkey" appear in the same New York Times article. (Most of you already know that I'm associated with an underground group working to prevent the coming Cyborg Monkey Apocalypse. I mean, I'm all for technology that might help disabled people move better, but if I've watched the Terminator movies correctly -- and I think I have -- technology sometimes has its down side. See also: Toffler, Alvin; Postman, Neil; Pitt, Brad.)

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* I use the word "literary" here only to agitate my parents. "What does that mean?" they ask. All it means is this (particularly when said in the slightly derogatory way my grandmother would have used the word): fancy.

5.27.2008

Refer to Blog's Latin Subtitle

I have an ear infection.

I hear everything with a bit of reverb, as in a Tommy James song from the late sixties. (Wikipedia mind-boggle of the week: Tommy "Crimson and Clover" James supposedly lives in Monroe, WI.)

There's also a little man living in my ear, and he uses a sharp stick and a weather balloon to make sure that my ear always hurts in novel and interesting ways. (As I think about it, it isn't an overly long drive from Monroe to my right ear canal... I could very well have Tommy James in my ear.)

But I've been to the doctor and I've got a prescription. Crystal Blue Persuasion.

5.26.2008

The Juney Bugs and the May Bee

Caleb, cousin Aidan, and Sam turn their backs on the streets of Old Milwaukee, the northern view from their Granny and Poppa's cottage on the 26th Floor.  The tiger has wandered in from a William Blake poem.

It is said that most people have three distinct laughs -- a giggle, a belly laugh, and a chuckle or chortle.  Sam's recently premiered his third laugh, which goes: hyuk hyuk hyuk hyuk.

Sometimes at night we like to reenact scenes from Kubrick's The Shining, except that Caleb's altogether too good humored to pull off the Nicholson part.

1. Find three things that roar in this picture. 
2. Find one that goes: hyuk hyuk hyuk hyuk.

5.25.2008

Bubbles!



For reasons metaphysic and obscure, the boys have received a lot of bubble machines.  Recently, one arrived in the mail from friends in Minneapolis and I went to stow it away for a nicer day, finding two other bubble machines in the place where I thought to put it.  (And I'm certain we've re-gifted at least two bubble machines, which means that in two years worth of twindom, we've been the recipient of at least five bubble machines, which further means that we receive .21 bubble machines each month.)  Anyway, it seemed silly to have such a wealth of bubble-making power and not put it to good use, so despite the cloudy and chilly day, we made bubbles.

If anyone is short on bubbles, we've developed a bit of an assembly line in our house.  If you're interested in receiving bubbles, please place your order via e-mail and you'll receive a box full of bubble-wrapped bubbles in 7-10 toddler business days. 

5.15.2008

Movie Reviews

You know what I did this week? I saw a movie. In an actual movie theatre.

The movie was not a good one. I wanted to see Iron Man, but was swayed by a so-called friend to see Redbelt instead. Redbelt is David Mamet's karate movie and was not good. (By Midwestern evaluation norms, "not good" is a notch below "pretty bad.")


I have seen no more than four movies in theatres in the nearly two years since the twins came home to us, so bad movies are a particularly bitter dissappointment. The two beers I had afterwards -- in an actual tavern! -- and the discussion with Chris about what made that movie so not good only partly made up for having wasted a perfectly good opportunity to see a decent movie in an actual movie theatre.

Kirsten has suggested that we get sitters for Friday night, and go see Iron Man. As a person whose interest in literature, comic book, and film put me squarely in the "geek" category of nerd taxonmy, I've withstood the lure of the Iron Man movie for about as long as I can without developing a stress fracture, and I'm lucky to have a wife who understands and indulges me.

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On Tuesday night, as Kirsten was finishing her book-club read of J. Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude (an abolute fave of mine, and totally for and about lit/comic book/film geeks, by happy circumstance), I watched Away From Her, which from both a flim and story perspective, was devestatingly sad and beautiful. Highly recommended for the emotionally prepared.

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Here's a tiny review of Redbelt, extra-small so that it won't burgle your time as it did mine:

The Guy from Dirty Pretty Things/American Gangster/Talk To Me/Children of Men is the dojo of a jiu jitsu parlor in South L.A. He’s very honorable, which the film suggests means being na├»ve and super nice to people, and he has a sexy Brazilian wife who is sexy and from Brazil. (You know she’s from Brazil because A) she’s sexy, B) she wears shiny green dresses and listens to samba, and C) she is constantly talking about being from Brazil.) He also seems to have trained all of the cops in L.A. who are all very athletic, do not have mustaches or body fat, and who affectionately call The Guy “Mikey.” In a convoluted David Mamet kind of way, Mikey ends up saving a famous actor in a bar fight. Here, Tim Allen (the voice of Buzz in Toy Story) is essentialy playing James Woods, and to do so he seems to have bloated up his neck and face with booze, and become both pasty and splotchy at the same time, which is how you know he’s supposed to be James Woods. (It may be worth $9 to see Tim Allen play James Woods, but it’s not at all worth two hours. Also, there are times were you begin to wonder if this isn’t James Woods playing Tim Allen…) Anyway, Joe Mantegna (who may be played by Chazz Palminteri) is Tim Allen’s manager or producer or some sort of Hollywood halfwit, and for totally unclear David Mamet reasons he cons Mikey into fighting in a pay-per-view Unlimited Fighting Championship. Mikey doesn’t want to fight in this because he’s honorable, so he has to be tricked and betrayed into doing it, and then once the pay-per-view show starts he’s shocked – SHOCKED! – to learn that the whole thing is fixed. Mikey decides he’s going to jiu jitsu everybody involved in the pay-per-view so that he can get to the microphone over the center ring and announce to all the mouthbreathers who’ve payed $39.99 to watch 9 hours of Unlimited Fighting on their televisions that, unbeknownst to them, their Cheeto- and Cathode Tube-based lives are but the gelatinous by-products of a late-period capitalism that has begun its tail-swallowing decline through self-consumption. Of course, no one, including his wife and Joe Mantegna and other fighters on the bill want him to expose their lies, so he has to fight them all without ever going into the ring or on TV, and when he’s beaten them all the whole auditorium applauds and they give him the gold belt that they were supposed to give to the winner of the whole pay per view, and an old Brazilian in the audience bows to him because he is honorable. This was a big dumb Jeanne Claude Van Damme movie with some occaisionally smart Mametian dialogue, or -- perhaps -- the reverse.

5.01.2008

If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?

We've made it through April unscathed (or perhaps only lightly scathed), which is not always proven so easy to do.

My week has been long but somewhat interesting.  We're trying out potential new Deans at the school, and the interview process has involved a presentation before the full faculty and staff.  Sort of like a pin-striped American Idol.  The decision is now in the hand of the Provost's office, though maybe they'll set up a 1-800 number for voting.

I've also started to contribute in the effort to create a 20 year reunion for the Rufus King High School Class of 1988.  I had a very long conference call on Friday night with old friends I haven't seen since graduation.  (Check out the developing website, by the way, at www.king1988.com.)

According to the check-in system at my office, I advised 100 students between Monday and Thursday this week.  Welcome to the special brain-blanking that is Priority Registration.  Advising is an incredibly not-hard job for 10 months of the year, and an endurance test in April and November.  Not because what I do is brain-science or rocket-surgery, but because talking to 25 different people in 8 hours (not counting time away for Dean presentations and maybe a sandwich) is just plain exhausting, and doing so for five days a week for three or four weeks makes maintaining energy hard.  One starts to recommend Managerial Accounting where one ought to have said Managerial Economics.  One becomes unable to visually separate Linguistics 210 -- Diversity of Human Language (cough - gut course - cough) with Business 210 -- Business Statistics.  Worst of all, one gets cranky in the mornings at home, and lumberingly stupid in the evenings, which tests the p
atience, empathy, and reserves of one's spouse.  (By the way: LOVE.)

Now, because my head is otherwise empty, fun pictures:

Sam, who says "Cheeeeeeeeeze," shows signs of ham as well.

The withering worried look of Sam, who is sometimes unsure of how he feels about his Caleb's demonstrative and somewhat shovey version of brotherly love.


Cousin Aidan and Caleb in the sandbox on the back porch on a fluke 70 degree day in mid-April.  These boys shovel real well.  And the look on Caleb's face slays me, as Holden Caufield used to put it.
Aidan's new puppy Krypto, who's named for Superman's puppy (PRIDE), gives Caleb a run for his money.
Caleb has been drawing with a red marker. Given the picture above, and in the time alotted, please list the places in the house or on his person that were newly decorated in red.  If you run out of room, please continue your answer on a separate sheet of paper.