please stop tickling me

In which we laugh and laugh and laugh. And love. And drink.

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Location: Portland, Oregon

Otium cum Dignitatae

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Family Portrait

I love this image of Rick Santorum conceding defeat, and have been studying the damn thing ever since I made it my wallpaper.

I love the fact that I just can't feel sorry for the stage-weeping little girl up front, nor the one that's at That Awkward Age, in the back.

I love their brother for so openly either flaunting how batshit insane he truly is, or understanding that there is serious political hay to be made from being perceived as insane.

But best of all, I enjoy Mrs. Santorum (Skeletor, R-Penn.). Look at that true ventriloquist's calm as she mutters into her shoulder mike. Can't you just hear her now, sounding equal parts drunk and having recently suffered a stroke?:
"Riiiiichhk...Tell dem bout how you hatesch zhe faaaagggzzz agaiiiiin, Riiiichhk...Meebe de'll underrrstan' how much you love dem, Riiiiichhk, and de'll bote choo bachhh innagainnn, Riiiiiiiiiiiiccchhhhkkk..."

Then there's ol' frothy anal mucosa himself, with a grin that pretty much screams, "Hey; what can I say? I'm an asshole!". Then the floor opened beneath him, and he, his demon larvae and his "wife" were gathered unto the bosom, once more, of the Lord of the Flies.

I have a co-worker who oftentide is the one who gets to drive the forklift. This means that, until something heavy needs to be moved, he is either listening to Bob Seger very loudly on his phone, or talking to someone on said phone.
The thing is, he's always making strange demands of whoever's on the other end.
"Well, you'd better make me that birthday cake you owe me," I heard him conclude a conversation with his daughter, and later, to someone else; "Okay, that's two times you need to let me drive the school bus, but- it's cool. We'll work it out."
And it makes me wonder what his end of the bargain was, in any of these cases:
"So I've shot the sheriff, naturally sparing the deputy. Now will you let your backbone slip and tell me how to whap-a-dang?", or
"I knew you were comin', so I baked that cake I owe you. Now I'm gonna need to get My Comeuppance. Are we cool?", and
"I filet-ed all the venison into miniature busts of popular late-night funnyman Jay Leno. Now where's my suitcase igloo?"

Something like that. But recently, someone smashed a window at the union hall, reached in and grabbed a laptop computer that had scads of personal information on it regarding members, especially recent hires, like myself.
But the joke here, of course, is: Hey, you want my credit rating? YOU CAN HAVE IT, BUDDY! (cue laugh track). I'm not especially worried, and the best part of all was, aforesaid co-worker had some advice.
In a long monologue delivered in front of both people that he's known for years and people he's never even met, he explained at length that he has never given accurate information about himself to an employer, ever. He's provided false Social Security Numbers, and generally lies about his home address. If you've got an accurate phone number for him (and oddly, apparently many people do), it's because he either trusts you, or he forgot to obfuscate that day.

No one asked, and I was really hoping he was going to drop the subject, but he further explained why he did this, sort of. "Well, you know what I do, right? Well, because of that...", he said as a perfectly audible aside to one of the other lifers. If the guy was trying to impress us with his junior James Bond skills, he failed utterly.
So, to recap: always lie about everything, then hint darkly (and loudly, in front of a bunch of strangers) that you're engaged in something nefarious. This way, even if the meth head who stole the laptop in the first place manages to hack into the damn thing...
Uh, no, actually. The two have no real connection. And what he does? You mean living in a strangely diseased world of his own making?

He can have it, in short. But the thing is, people like him will be the same folks I'll be deliberating with on a monthly basis, if I pass a relatively simple test on Monday.
With their usual spit n' polish attention to detail, the union has given me four days to prepare for the exam that will determine whether or not I become a full-blown cardholder. This is after a call I received in May, asking whether or not I wished to take the test the day after the call. No, I said; how about next month (which would be 'June')?
Here it is, almost August, and I recognize that the office manager returning to prison probably has made things iffy around there, but I finally had to do the equivalent of standing on a chair and saying, 'hey! Remember meeeee?' while waving my arms comically. That did it.

Anyway, the further...Not 'indignity' exactly, but 'reason for feeling weird' is the low-stakes nature of the exam. The stakes aren't low in terms of earning potential; this is where I determine whether or not I spend the rest of my stagehanding career doing those jobs where I am accompanied by a bunch of jizz-headed kids who would gladly work for beer, or the unprecedented opportunity to see Hoobastank for free. No: I'd like to be paid well, and would rather do it in the company of people who, while old as the hills and cranky as fuck, at least know what they're doing.
'Low stakes', though, in terms of what I actually do. Again; tying knots, for instance. As one of the older stagehands put it last Xmas, when we spent all day long doing just that, "Most of what we do would be familiar to any sailor from the 1700's."

A lot of what I do comes down to ridiculously simple things that anyone could do (but since this is union world we're talking about here, and job security is paramount, not everybody will be able to do), and then in equal measure, things that I am completely at sea with. My nervousness around electrical equipment is a thing of legend.

But fuck it. I really wish that was working for me today (though I appreciate written passages like, "Wrongly handled, gripped, or tied, rope can kill, maim, or burn. You could be the victim!", and the fact that there is such thing as the National Speleological Society), so I might better come to understand the Trucker's Hitch. In any case, I suspect that those union types just, like any pyramid scheme, want my money. And, I'll gladly do it for the job opportunities and for what can occasionally pass for Family.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Deep, Dark, Pop Culture Hole

Now, Nathan Rabin over at The Onion's 'AV Club' (who tends to start his posts with "Hey guys," which I think is just great) has brought up a long-buried memory. That of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"-The Movie! It starred Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees, among many others.

Let's see if we can't just make a You Tube thing work here for the first time ever in this here blog:

So that was it. I remember seeing it the theater, as a kid. I also recall, even then, noting that representing the character of Henry The Horse (from "For The Benefit of Mister Kite") with two unnamed extras in a horse suit on roller skates was wrong. It's about heroin! That's what the bad pop-cult interpretation book I'd just read had told me!
And this movie served as the grave for many an undeserved career. Well: George Burns and Aerosmith made it out, but it took many years for Alice Cooper and Steve Martin to get back their thunder. The damn thing was cursed.

And that brings me to the subject of Paul Nicholas. He played...Um, I want to say 'Billy Shears', but that was Frampton. So...He was in the movie anyway, since he too was a big star by 1978 standards, and needed to be a part of this fantastic project.
Who? Well, he was responsible for the ultimately forgotten disco hit, "Heaven On The Seventh Floor". As far as songs about raping someone in an elevator go, this one is pretty much tops.
Well? I mean, far from being a song about doing a bunch of coke while laying on the cold tile on the seventh floor of an office building (the coke is a given, I suppose), it's another one of those tunes that is a story, told by a fucking idiot.
He asks this girl out, she says no way would she date his coke-addled, towel boy ass, and then makes the mistake of getting in an elevator with him. It gets stuck, natch, and so therefore: we must fuck!

Happy ending, eh? In eastern Oregon, we'd just drive down a very long country road, then suddenly claim engine trouble. Matter o' fact, isn't this exactly the scenario that produces not only redneck children but porn movies as well?
(Heard despite terrible audio): "Wew, since we stuh in dis el'vader, I gess we shoul' hab Sex, 'cuz..." I've seen that movie.

The song itself is document to that moment when the Seventies went from that sort of morose, claustrophobic, joyless, singer-songwritery leftover Sixties stuff to this also joyless but relentlessly peppy, flat production valued, coked-out preview of the Eighties.
The many You Tube results that pop up when you're looking for "Heaven on the Seven" are telling. (Hey 'Armored Panther'; just uploading audio of the song and putting in a static shot of a compilation album intriguingly titled Radio Hits of the Seventies is not making a video.)

But even th' Panther gets cred from the commenters, who are largely glad that anything involving the song ("My first make out song!", one says) is here. It is briefly discussed how awesome all this was. But other people managed to find footage of Paul on some unnamed British show :

Curiously, there was video of "Heaven" up there yesterday, but now it's unavailable. However, the delightful "Dancing With the Captain", as you have just seen, is there, as are his other hits (?) "Grandma's Party" and "Reggae Like It Used to Be" (!).
Am I the only one that's noticed that England in general just collectively became gay in the Seventies? Also, note the hyperactive backup dancers, and how openly stoned the hosts are.

This brings me, for some reason, to Joe Tex. That there is the cover of Soul Country, which I found the other day for two whole dollars, sitting on the floor of some record shop.
Here, Joe is thinking deep thoughts- or not: it's hard to say. Joe Tex was, I believe, the R. Kelley of his day, since both are very talented, completely fucked up, and in both cases, it's almost impossible to tell when they're joking.

Except that in Kelley's "Trapped In the Closet", at least by the time they introduce the midget (which are stupid-person shorthand for 'automatically funny'), it's clear that he's just fucking with us. Joe, I think, never made a joke in his life.

Soul Country opens up with "I'll Never Do You Wrong"; a wonderful song musically speaking, and distracting for the weirdness of its lyrics. It resembles many another soul song in that it describes the many tortures he'd gladly put up with in lieu of doing anything that might distress You.
But he gets too specific, and I think it comes back to that thing I've said before about the Tyranny of Rhyme:
"I hope I slip
(he hope he slip)
and break my hip
(and break his hip)
I hope a fever blister come on my lip.

You know I love my hip
(he love his hip)
And I love my lip, baby,
that's why I'll never do you wrong"

See what I mean? On one hand, it's a no-nonsense approach: here are some practical reasons why I will never do you wrong. But on the other hand, regardless of how one may view one's hip, can any of us be said to love it?

He has this problem, too, with starting a song with what, in other hands, would be a metaphor, then it becomes something else. In the song "What You Lookin' At?", in particular, he goes from seemingly suggesting you've done something wrong in an abstract sense (" What you lookin' at, fool? You DID it!") to noting that you've actually spilled something on the floor ("Don't just stand there: GO GET A WET RAG!").
And the song "Bad Feet". It could be a metaphor for how your character stinks so bad, it's like smelly feet. But no: it's really a song about feet.
And "You Said A Bad Word"; the word could be anything. Maybe you used the word 'love' too early in the relationship, and now Joe is nervous about the extra pressure. I don't know. But far, far worse than this, instead it's a song about how you literally said a bad word, and now Joe is going to coerce you into sex, lest he tell someone what you've done.
(Matter of fact, halfway through the song, he reneges on the original arrangement: "(snickering) But wait; we gotta make a different deal, cuz' that last deal done gone BYE-BYE!")

I don't know where he is these days, nor do I know where Paul Nicholas is. Again, I swear that Paul literally was working at some disco/bath house/coke den and was noticed by some advance man for Robert Stigwood. Hence, brief fame. I imagine that Joe Tex came up in that era when any black man with half a singing voice could get snatched up by Atlantic Records. Only later would they stop and notice what intensely personal demons he was working out.

This is all the stuff that we live with in our memories, and occasionally find ourselves humming while driving. It's where we came from.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007


The Rusty Sharp Things are sitting in a bucket, outside in the rain, getting rustier. The bucket is an old thing made of tin that held firewood at Bachelor Pad Two for as long as I've been alive. In fact, this whole damn place is decorated in early Sixties beach house. It smells like the sea.

Truly: there is the sectional that first graced my grandparents' home in Astoria for twenty years or so, then was relegated to the beach house, like all things we, in the family, no longer wanted.
Myself, when I bequeathed things to that house, it was more along the lines of A Decent Vacuum Cleaner Finally, or some witty, pithy remarks in the guest book (hereafter known as The Great Book of Life and Death).

This summer included a Da Nang-esque airlift out of Bachelor Pad One, getting all the furniture (and a fair amount of the art) out of Bachelor Pad Two, month's-long hegira to the Bee's place (two adults and two Thug Dawgz in a one-bedroom apartment), finally coalescing here, in fantastic Dockworker's Paradise.
And now...O Christ, there she goes each morning, to a job of some sort...Somewhere. This leaves me to look at stupid shit on the internet, shortly before me and the girls get together for pitchers of martinis.

My day begins when hers does, what with me making some coffee and rudimentary breakfast. Actually, having this dry season in my own employment has allowed us both to truly take our time in moving all these many times, and for me to ineptly build things.
Well, this house, for all its stately double-lot backyard, is tiny, and needed improvised storage, which a middling carpenter like myself can certainly sort of figure out.

So I go over to Mr. Plywood (whose logo is a diamond-shaped, coverall-wearing man made of wood, with lurid holes where his eyes should be), and stand there feeling like a fraud. It's so much better when I'm there for a job: "Hey man. Oregon Ballet Theater? Y' got an invoice for me?"
But standing there requesting several awkward cuts on strange pieces of wood so I can make the world's least impressive shelving unit for my many, many vinyl records? I feel like I'm in Man Drag.

Then I go get some groceries (my man likes her pear cider when she gets home and takes off her trench coat, throws down her briefcase and badgers me for her pipe and slippers, doncha know), and prepare to make some dinner. Having recently figured out what constitutes a decent chicken confit and how to make risotto, I'm all right.

Truth is though: if only I still had that fucking beach house. I took so many people there who only broke my heart, or failed to appreciate it for its inherent greatness, it stings most mightily that here, this summer, I can't take someone that I truly love.
And I consider this too: that for so many of the recent summers, what I was really doing was going there with couples who were happy with one another, and...Me, who was always happy to be there, but Alone. Or better yet, sitting there alone for a week, mourning the loss of yet another fine love affair.

I tried not to be a spoiled brat about it. I was on the phone with th' Gringa a couple summers ago, sitting there eating baked brie with roasted garlic, crusty bread and mussels seethed in the limey, tomatoey, salty brine that is the byproduct of my salsa-making. Staring at the sea going golden at twilight, living like a pimp, but all I could think about was: why the fuck isn't there someone here for me to share this with? What's the point of assiduously harvesting the blackberries from the bush out back when there's no one to surprise them with in the morning?

As my father once pointed out to me though, not everybody has a beach house.

So now we live further up the river. On a good day, I can smell the swamp cabbage and sea breeze, just as if I'm over on the coast, visiting my relatives. I live with a woman who routinely writes wonderful things about me that I, despite what I've been told is a gift for words, can never truly reciprocate. I've been a cynical bastard for too long.
Or: I say them to her face. Writing about such things always struck me as boring and trite. You never get to watch any of my fictional characters have sex, either. That's somebody else's job.


Friday, July 06, 2007

(what now, what now, wha-at now, what now)

Capping off Grizzly Bear's epic Yellow House album is the song "Colorado", which has the blogtitle (it's one word! get with the program!) there as its chorus. The entire time I was in Colorado, I kept hearing it in my head.
I loved the state. It has moments that rival the greatest aspects of both Oregon's and Montana's landscape, and there's so much more of it. As Bee rightly pointed out, you can feel that there isn't some guy's house right around the corner; you're in the middle of fucking nowhere, which is pretty much where I like to be.

It was hot, and the air was noticeably thinner. Cottonwood blew not-lazily but aggressively through the air. The town of Remote Mountain Village (as per Aunty Christ, and which is loomed over by a peak that is redundantly titled Mount Remote Mountain Village. Maddening.) is both a natural wonderland and a place where the children of the rich come to get their swerve on. And Texan Tourists? I only thought that I hated them worse than dental receptionists. Now I Know.
All the architecture is well-kept 1880's style: from my years as a ghost town-obsessed young boy, I remembered not only the names of many of these places, but pictures of them as well. Put shortly, none of them were bona fide ghost towns then, and haven't been for at least twenty years now.
Ouray springs to mind as an example. It felt like our hotel room was a set from 'Deadwood', but in a nice way. An overwhelming feeling of History, like I was walking in the footsteps of those same bastids who mined the living hell out of these beautiful mountains, searching for gold.
Their descendants now mine self-same mountains for molybdenum and copper, utterly fouling the water supply. One of the few things that would cause me not to retire to a place such as this (after making my fortune, you understand) would be that particular fact.

In fact, Colorado and places like it are environmental barometers. The snowpack melts ever-earlier, and is contaminated (it is said) by that giant toxic dust cloud from Asia.
But I still love the fact that it is both a place where I can see nothing at all in the way of a city, but has also learned that tourists are best lured by fantastic food.

Liked the lady's friends, too. Got to hold the one-month-old offspring of one of them. I always like to do that: take the kid off the hands of the already-going-a-little-nuts new mother, and see if I can lull it into sleep. I do okay.
"You like holding babies," said Bee, and she's right: I do. It's interesting too to note that some of the most evil looks you, as a man, will ever get off of a woman of Grandma-age is when you are a man holding a baby that is crying.
Fuck that. Babies cry. That is all, and I do better than many women I've known on the subject.
The friend? Glad to not have to hold the kid for a few, I figured.

From the mountains to the plains: in Gunnison (often noted as the coldest place in the Lower 48, right next to Meacham, Oregon and International Falls, Minnesota), we purchased Cowboy Hats. They keep, it turns out, the sun off your face.
Whenever I think of Colorado, I think of mountains. The license plates themselves give you this bias, as did "Mork and Mindy". But of course, most of it is anything but.
My last experience with the state was in 1985, and outside of Mesa Verde (which you all gotta go check), my impression was gleaned from Cortez, Colorado. A place in the desert that also happened to be a strip mall hellscape.
That was the summer when I was writing the unpublished (and underappreciated!) Stoic Observer's Guide to Travelling the West. Yeah, gonna have to dig that particular notebook out.
The point being, on one hand I view the state of Colorado as being a glen up in the mountains, where the hippies dance and make macrame. On the other, I view it as being as lovely as Nevada.

It's always a treat to read the local papers, too. The Denver Post being what passed for that sort of thing around there (actually, the two papers Bee used to work for were there, too, but they don't have the ever-important crossword puzzles).
Buncha assholes, these Den-verians. I read a wonderful letter from a man who found that whole Pride Festival thing he- for some reason- attended to be shocking and lewd. Man was just looking for fun at the Civic Center, you know? Take the kids! Hot dogs! Why'd he take them to the big Queer thing? I don't exactly know, but here was a Perfectly Heterosexual Gentleman who had his precious Sensiblities offended, and...
One might find the same screed in the Portland paper, though, and I think that I have. More interestingly/annoyingly though; you don't see as much unbridled enthusiasm for the concept of patriotism around here. This leads to earnest young chaps such as Christopher Rawlings not only writing op-eds, but getting them published in the Post:

"It's a good thing that America is still around."
(Oh good. I'm looking forward to you formulating some sort of argument to back up this thesis statement.)

That assertion could be a tough sell to many among the cultural elite of America and Europe, but it's something most of us accept without much reservation. Simply put, the world is a better place with America in a position of global power."
(Oh. Well, I suppose when you're done pointing fingers at the easy targets, you'll get back to defending your now somewhat expanded basic point.)

If nothing else, Independence Day is a celebration of what America stands for and the happy fact that we're still around, standing up for the things we famously stand for: America is still about freedom and opportunity, here and abroad; our free market enables economic success unparalleled in the world; and, despite the frantic efforts of the ACLU and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, we're still one nation under God. These are all noble ideals and the world is better to have an America that bothers defending them."
(I suppose it's best to continually underscore your happiness at the happy facts that we're all rightfully happy about -and again do some demonizing of some easy targets-but then ending on a somewhat indefinable note and then repeating yourself seems a bit...Soft headed.)

But that's the point: The ideals are only noble so long as they're worthy of being defended. It's great that you believe in freedom of the market and freedom of religion and speech. But it takes more than a cutesy bumper-sticker to protect those freedoms. As it turns out, arms aren't just for hugging."
(Yeah! Yeaaah! Right on!-er, What? Okay; ideals that you're willing to kill for are the only worthy ones, I believe you're saying. How...odd. Then-somewhat ridiculing Constitutional rights because there's some of us who know The Truth, and Should Speak, and then there's Others who...Well, You Know [rolls eyes]...Then the author ridicules a bumper sticker that he takes issue with.)

Serious countries don't subsist for long on sweet-sounding slogans. It takes a fighting spirit and a willingness to defend a nation in existential crisis."
(Man, I'd forgotten how to be a serious country! Especially one overtaken by Fear and Trembling/The Sickness Unto Death. I didn't realize you right wing pigeons read so much Kierkegaard! After this, the author tells a pointless story about Washington at Valley Forge, for some reason leading to...)

Republicanism was derided by the fancy- pants leaders in Europe as myopic, the war seemed too difficult and too costly, and many initial war supporters backed out as political pressure mounted for a "peaceful conclusion" (read: surrender). Thinking about that puts me in a time warp. Add the Air Force, the Internet, and a baseball team in Denver and it begins to sound a lot like America today and the ongoing war on terror. (OK, maybe scratch the baseball-team part.)"
(One of the most damning things one may call another in this, the country that is terrified of the idea that someone, somewhere just might think they're Better Than You is 'fancy pants'. The fact that this usage was deemed acceptable by some editor is simply charming. And hey: know what we have in Colorado? The Internet! )

Maybe American ideals just aren't seen as being at risk. The usual argument in favor of a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq goes something like this: Just as the war won't help us, quitting won't hurt us. But there is something narrow and naïve about that assumption. A loss to al-Qaeda in Iraq is a loss to al-Qaeda everywhere. Our credibility and future lie in balance - and the truth is that we cannot succeed in Afghanistan or Iran or anywhere else if we can't succeed in Iraq. Iraq is the proverbial canary in the coal mine."
(Well yes, that's what they say, anyway. I keep forgetting that our 'credibility' is somehow involved with our success in Iraq, and that as we all know, this base of our 'success' is still somehow a flashpoint for this international terrorist organization that may or may not exist. Comfortably omitted here is the idea that perhaps we are making allies of sects in Islam that have actively loathed each other for centuries.)

"But what we don't see is the realignment of power in the region that hinges a lot less on whether you are Sunni or Shiite, Arab or Persian, Iraqi or Pakistani than whether or not you're Muslim - or, more accurately, a Muslim who has pledged his life in fighting the Great Satan. The Jihadist ideology has grown to encompass unlikely allies, and it is this ideology and the proponents thereof that we are up against in Iraq."
(Whoops. Nope. There is the omitted point, although now being used to justify further incursions into sovereign lands elsewhere who will also, no doubt, welcome us as liberators.)

Your neighbor may be perfectly content in seeing this one through with a witty bumper sticker on his Saab. But for America and its national ethos - formed in 1776 to remain the global standard - it will take a whole lot more than stickers."
(Ha. 'Saab'. Funny car name. But really: sloganeering is foolish, unless practiced by some bright bulb with no idea what he is talking about; in which case it is that good, wholesome horse sense. In Your Heart, You Know He's Right. It Just Makes Good Sense.)

Pardon that. Regardless of where you are, the Fourth of July is an endless reminder that to be American is to be complicated, when not merely being vindictive and childish. The local radio station in Remote Mountain Village spent much of the day playing the music of true rebellion: Sixties shit.
I love them for it: they played "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", by that greatest of all American bands (though all but one of them was from Canada): The Band. A reminder, again: nothing but conflict, and things to talk about. There are people who view The Brother's War (my favorite name for it yet: 'Deadwood' again) as a personal matter to this day.
That evening, as we sat by the riverside in an enormous valley, in between giant mountains streaked with iron-y reds and copper-y greens, they played what pretty much seemed like the entire 'Woodstock' soundtrack. It just seemed right. To rebel against the endless non-questioning and again-automatic vindictiveness that characterizes our nation is the true revolution, if I may get all teary-eyed from all the soap in this box.

They ended off with Dylan's "Song To Woody", which summed it up nicely: for all the time we spend loving the hell out of the men who rip off the tops of mountains to find the pretty rocks underneath, leaving the rest of us undrinkable water for starters, every now and again someone with a folksy smile and a clear voice wanders down the road, singing songs for the rest of us, and reminding us that the real duty we have is not to the Nice Men who own the mines, but the resta these dumb bastards down here in the valley.

Shit. Way off track there. Colorado. Really loved it. Hope to take This One Here back there one day, after we make Our Fortunes, and live there as Decent Old People who Just Fucking Know Better Than You, now go get me a goddamn drink.