I Want Koo-Koo Cannonball


Father's Day weekend. Sam on the porch with Uncle Tim, Aunt Kathleen, Aunt Julie, and Uncle Mark. Unfortunately, Julie and Mark's car was rifled within a few hours of this picture. Shame on you, thieves of the lower east side.


Caleb leaps into the pool at Granny and Papa's condo. He no longer needs any help getting into or out of the pool -- a born swimmer. Or, anyways, a born cannonballer.


Again, yes -- Spider-Man Floaties.


Lunch at Granny & Papa's. All they seem to want this summer is melon.


Sam, Olin, and Caleb conspiring at Chill On The Hill. This was probably right before they split off into three separate directions in a clear attempt to shake off their embarrassing parents.


What Is And What Never Should Be

July 14, 2009. London, UK. Some alternate universe.

Last night’s hotly anticipated comeback concert, the first of 50 such concerts scheduled, left the sold-out audience in London's 02 stadium shocked, amazed, and stunned. Jackson, who had largely remained out of the public eye since his acquittal on child sexual abuse charges in 2005, revealed a blistering new stage show that included many of hits, several notable covers of his contemporaries and influences alike, and an angry obscenity-laced finale that will surely be remembered as one of the most electrically-charged and gripping performances of the singer’s career.

Amber stage lights illuminated a spare stage in the stadium's center, revealing a trio of guitar, bass, and a small drum kit, with Jackson emerging into the light to perform a rendition of Elvis Presley’s “That’s Alright, Mama.” Jackson wore a red leather suit clearly meant to remind viewers of a certain age of the black leather version worn by Presley in his 1968 comeback television special. Throughout this first song, Jackson stirred an already near-hysteric crowd with some slight Presleyan dance moves – a shaking leg, a jutting hip –built with the song’s momentum to include the full retinue of Jackson’s trademark moves. Joined by this time by a much fuller (and fully-electric) band, backup singers and dancers, “That’s Alright, Mama” slid slickly into Jackson’s own “Smooth Criminal,” complete with moon-walking, his tiptoed full-stops, and so on.

A bit of a greatest hits review followed –the Thriller album was well-represented, as were hits from the ‘70s like “Rock With You” and “I’ll Be There.” Jackson seemed to nod to President Obama by performing a kind of mash-up of James Brown’s “Funky President,” Parliament-Funkadelic’s “Chocolate City,” and elements of the Special AKA’s “Free Nelson Mandela” and the late Brenda Fassie’s “Black President,” a song composed Mandela by the South African pop singer. This song led into a stirring “Man in the Mirror,” followed by an up-tempo investigation of Elvis Costello’s 1977 song, “(The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes.”

The funk icon (and similarly reclusive) Sly Stone joined Jackson on keyboards and backing vocals for three Sly & The Family Stone hits – “Sing A Simple Song” and “Stand,” versions of which Jackson had recorded along with the Jackson 5, followed by a triumphant and clearly heartfelt “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." Stone, looking frail but funky in a paisley suit, waved to the crowd midway through this last number, leaving Jackson to complete the song alone.

In the second of three encores, Jackson dedicated a medley of songs to his father, Joe Jackson, who died just this past June 25th of cardiac arrest. Unexpectedly, the songs were in no way sentimental about the troubled relationship between father and son. Beginning with the relatively staid Gladys Knight song, “Daddy Could Swear,” Jackson later segued into material that displayed a great deal of unresolved anger and hurt with “Bloody Mother F*cking Assh*le,” as written by Martha Wainwright, then Superchunk’s punk anthem “Slack Motherf*cker.” The audience, in turn stunned and riled up with Jackson’s raw and vivid energy, hardly seemed to know what to do, except to ask for more.

In his last appearance on the stage, Jackson returned from the wings alone, holding an acoustic guitar, which he went on to play with serviceable aplomb. His final two songs, probably the closest to a confessional act as we’ll ever get from the King of Pop, was a fraught adaptation of Nick Lowe’s song “The Beast In Me,” perhaps better known from Johnny Cash’s American Recordings, followed by a strangely sad and mournful acoustic reworking of “Ben.” Jackson’s 1972 song about friendship with a fictional and telepathic killer rat seemed, in this context, to be an act of attrition towards his own thirteen-year old self, some 37 years gone.

With forty-nine concerts left to perform in this stadium over the next year, and possible retirement beyond, one hopes that Mr. Jackson can continue to put on shows of this magnitude and spectacle – with a vitality not seen since the late 1980’s -- for a good long while to come.

Of the opening act, a tuxedoed man in a grey fedora who solemly read the lyrics to "Billie Jean" over a karoke track, the less said the better.


The Palace at 4 A.M.

Strange weather in Milwaukee lately. Earlier in the week, it rained 3/4" round-head rusted wood screws along the lakeshore, damaging some docks and pleasure craft. On Wednesday, an otherwise unnoticeable change in air pressure caused the area waterfowl to lose some of the bodily oils that allow their feathers to shed water, and so all the ducks and geese in the city sat lower in the water than normal. Last night, a midnight storm of rolling thunder towed in its wake all the lost kites and mylar balloons of last weeks' birthday parties in the south and west, a parade of color that passed through the skies largely unseen as most of us slept.

On Tuesday night, I lifted the pillows off my side of the bed to give them a fluff. Underneath them had lain a little brown beetle, a stub end of a cheap cigar but with a carapace and little round head. I thought it was dead, that it had been pushed beneath my pillows after a scrap with my wife's cats, who would do that sort of thing out of their callous disregard.

I took the flashlight I keep next to my bed for after-dark reading and which always has fading yellowy light because the kids are always messing with it, and I unscrewed the top and set that aside, along with its batteries. I scooped the beetle into the hollow body of the flashlight and took it to the bathroom, dumped the bug in the toilet, flushed, and went back to bed. Reassembled the flashlight and read some of the Bolano.

My wife came to bed, after awhile. "There's a huge beetle in the toilet," she said.

It's hard not to see a beetle under one's pillow, particularly after a weird and difficult day, as a bad omen. And it's hard not to think about Kafka.

Once you're thinking about The Metamorphosis, you're probably going to be led to recalling Nabokov's lecture on the story. Nabokov served as a curator of lepidoptery at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology in the late 1940's, and so is uniquely qualified among novelists and literature professors to speak on bugs. (Those are his notes -- and revisions -- of Kafka above.) Nabokov challenged the common conception that Gregor Samsa transforms into a cockroach:

He approaches a cockroach in only one respect: his coloration is brown. That is all. Apart from this he has a tremendous convex belly divided into segments and a hard rounded back suggestive of wing cases. In beetles these cases conceal flimsy little wings that can be expanded and then may carry the beetle for miles and miles in a blundering flight. Curiously enough, Gregor the beetle never found out that he had wings under the hard covering of his back. (This is a very nice observation on my part to be treasured all your lives. Some Gregors, some Joes and Janes, do not know that they have wings.)

Amazingly, you can watch Nabokov deliver this lecture (with great humor and strong production values) on the You Tube in two parts.

According to this site, "in many parts of Europe it is said a beetle will bring on a terrible storm." As in fact, it seems to have done. So learned are the many parts of Europe!


Popsicle of Love


Caleb, always cool in shades.  Like Miles Davis cool.  Jimmy Cliff in The Harder They Come cool.  Thomas the Mother-Shunting Tank Engine cool.


Sam, on the other hand, looks uncannily like Hunter S. Thompson.


Caleb, Sam, and Olin watch the Sea Lion show at the Milwaukee County Zoo.  This is the new obsession -- they can't stop talking about sea lions.


"The plumage don't enter into it."  This feller's looking for a mate.


Sam, Caleb, and Olin toasting with popsicles.  (And isn't it irritating to find that the "NO SUGAR ADDED" frozen fruit bars are in fact full of sugar SUBSTITUTES...)


Dressin' Like A Duck, Not Giving a ****

For reasons personal and obscure, I somehow stumbled this morning upon a March 2005 Guardian article that simply has to be shared.

According to the article, Dutch researcher Kees Moeliker authored a paper -- the Guardian can't resist calling it "seminal" -- titled "The First Case of Homosexual Necrophilia in the Mallard Anas Platyrhynchos." The Guardian sets the scene:

He was in his office in the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam, when he was alerted by a bang to the fact a bird had crashed into the glass facade of the building. "I went downstairs immediately to see if the window was damaged, and saw a drake mallard (anas platyrhynchos) lying motionless on its belly in the sand, two metres outside the facade. The unfortunate duck apparently had hit the building in full flight at a height of about three metres from the ground. Next to the obviously dead duck, another male mallard (in full adult plumage without any visible traces of moult) was present. He forcibly picked into the back, the base of the bill and mostly into the back of the head of the dead mallard for about two minutes, then mounted the corpse and started to copulate, with great force, almost continuously picking the side of the head.

"Rather startled, I watched this scene from close quarters behind the window until 19.10 hours during which time (75 minutes) I made some photographs and the mallard almost continuously copulated his dead congener. He dismounted only twice, stayed near the dead duck and picked the neck and the side of the head before mounting again. The first break (at 18.29 hours) lasted three minutes and the second break (at 18.45 hours) lasted less than a minute. At 19.12 hours, I disturbed this cruel scene. The necrophilic mallard only reluctantly left his 'mate': when I had approached him to about five metres, he did not fly away but simply walked off a few metres, weakly uttering a series of two-note 'raeb-raeb' calls (the 'conversation-call' of Lorentz 1953). I secured the dead duck and left the museum at 19.25 hours. The mallard was still present at the site, calling 'raeb-raeb' and apparently looking for his victim (who, by then, was in the freezer)."

Moeliker looked into whether this was a common experience among British ducks, but results seem inconclusive. However, the Guardian offers this coda:

Mr Moeliker was informed of an American case involving a squirrel and a dead partner, although in this case it is not known whether the necrophilia observed was homosexual or not as the victim had been run over by a truck shortly before the incident.

Probably these events are the source of the adage, "If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck and engages in gay sex with a corpse like a duck, it's a duck."


And Ted And Alice

Two sets of twins -- Sam & Caleb and Leo & Cooper -- out to see the U.S.A. in their Chevrolet.


Sometimes I Wonder What I'ma Gonna Do

Summertime is here, and the weather will follow. We've been galavanting around the city, behaving as if it's 80 degrees and sunny in the hopes that the universe will follow suit. (In Prague Spring, the Czechs gained freedoms by behaving as if they were already free.)

At the Kite Festival, Caleb and Sam and Olin share fruit.  I was in California at the time, but I've seen the pictures of strange giant squid flying over Milwaukee.

At the Model Train Show in Kenosha.  Caleb found the coolest set-up early, and refused to leave this room.  This one featured G-sized tracks and trains, with one diesel and two steam locomotives on the track.  (I judge a model train set-up by it's Easter eggs, and this one featured cleverly hidden pin-up girls flashing the trains as they passed.  Not quite as erudite as the set I once saw that recreated classic comedy bits from the Keystone Cops and Harold Lloyd movies, but how much can one demand of Kenosha, WI?)

Sam, Caleb, and Olin working with Play-Do.  They feel that of all the arts, sculpture is the only one in which the form of the art lies latent within the medium.  "One applies brush and paint," Sam said, "or one employs the camera, but within the Play-Do itself lies the final form the sculpture will take.  One must only find it there, and coax it out."  They made a fish, some snakes, and several blobs.

Three men in a tub.  In no particular order: the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.

Kirsten likes to take these kind of shots of the boys coming through the tubes.   I'm no Freudian analyst, so I'm just going to appreciate them for what they are.

At chase.

Sam's been practicing the drums lately.  We went to see Paul Cebar play the Chill on the Hill season opener in Bayview's Humbolt Park this past Tuesday, and Sam stood in the middle of a bush with two sticks and made like Neil Pert, playing Kiss covers beautiful and stoned.

I take the photos of the family suddenly emerging from the ends of slides.  Again, I'm no Freudian analyst.

Sam and Caleb at their gymnastics class.  I forget what this move was called when Reginald "The Crusher" Lisowski did this to Mad Dog Vachon.


One Who Hides What He Don't Know To Begin With

Two books, to cover the last two weeks.

Martha A. Sandweiss' Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line enticed me from the bookstore, combining on its cover many of my personal touchstones: the late nineteenth century, sepia-tone photographs of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the inescapable issue of race in America. This is a story of the secret double life of Clarence King, a notable geologist and friend of both John Hay and Henry Adams. For at least the last 13 years of his life, the (Caucasian) King lived part of the time as (African-American) train porter James Todd, marrying Ada Copeland, a New York City nursemaid and former slave.

Unfortunately, one of the problems with secret lives is that they depend on, well, secrets, so much of Sandweiss' exploration of the relation ship of King/Todd and Copeland relies on speculation. In that way, this is a non-fiction book that would have benefited from more of the tools of fiction -- presumption, redirection, suggestion -- to keep it engrossing and to perhaps suggest aspects of this secret life that the book, and capital-T researched Truth can't reveal. It's an interesting book, but it ultimately is less compelling and less salacious than this particular reader was expecting. What is mysterious and unknowable about this relationship in the book's jacket copy is just as mysterious and unknowable at it's conclusion.

David Hajdu's Positively 4th Street covers the brief convergence of the lives of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina. Roughly, this corresponds to the same time period as what Martin Mull refers to as the Great Folk Music Scare of 1961-1965, or the time between Dylan's first appearance at the Newport Folk Festival (as a duet partner with Baez) and his first stab at "going electric" as a folk superstar four years on.

It's a fun read, particularly as it makes stars out of two people (Richard and Mimi) I wasn't familiar with, and people out of the two stars (Bob and Joan) with whom I was. Even if you're not a Dylan fan, I think this book is worth reading just to discover the character of Richard Farina, who claimed that he had a metal plate in his head, that he was a Cuban militant, that he'd once single-handedly sunk a British submarine on behalf of the Irish Republican Army. Farina was both a novelist and a songwriter, and seems to have been fairly accomplished at both, but died young in a 1966 motorcycle crash that oddly echoes Dylan's own (non-fatal) crash a few months later.

There's plenty of pithy and acerbic comments from the late and lamented Dave Van Ronk in the book, as well as frank talk from the Baez sisters and other old folkies. And fun abounds: the marriage of Richard and Mimi was attended by Joan Baez as maid of honor and Thomas Pynchon as best man, the latter in what Hajdu describes as "a moustache so big, it looks like a costume-shop disguise (and may well have been)." Dylan and Richard Farina shoot pool at Henry Miller's house while Miller puts the moves on the Baezes. All the requisite oddballs and opportunists of Greenwich Village appear, some of whom were last seen in Van Ronk's book, The Mayor Of MacDougal Street.