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

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Oh! "...And laid 'im on the green", right!

---I've been thinking more and more about Mondegreens lately; these being frequently and commonly misheard song lyrics. George knows the lyric that, misheard, gave the phenomenon its name, and I'll let him tell it...

A discussion on Pajiba a month or so ago brought back a lot of good ones, albeit without use of the term 'mondegreen':
"Slow Motion Walter, the fire engine guy" for "Smoke on the water, and fire in the sky",
"How's about a date?" for "Eyes without a face", &
"Dirty deeds and the Thunder Chief" for "Dirty deeds, and they're done dirt cheap".

And my own arsenal includes:
"You pay for taxis, the beer on the shore..." for "Newspaper taxis appear on the shore", from The Beatles' 'Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds', one of the few cases I've seen where the Mondegreen makes more sense than the actual lyric.

"Lovin' would be easy if you cannibalize my dreams" for "Lovin' would be easy if your colors were like my dreams" from Culture Club's 'Karma Chameleon'. I'd say in terms of meaning value, that's a tie.

"Dooo the calcu-lator!" for "Dude looks like a Lady", song of same name, Aerosmith. I thought it was a hot new dance craze, The Calculator. I wonder what that would look like.

I believe it was also George who misheard Falco's eternal "Rock me, Amadeus" as "Armadillos on the bus", and The Who's "Eminence front" as "Livin' in funk".

I bring it up at least partially because the business of finding a decent transcription of song lyrics online can be annoying/puzzling/impossible. I myself dig the hell out of largely because it looks to me like these are only what the average fan thought they heard, and is no more an authoritative guide than anything else. Then, sober discussion of these lyrics is engaged by the fans.

Case in point: the lyrics to "Symptom of the Universe" from Black Sabbath's 'Sabotage' were submitted by someone named 'icy fire', and calls that first difficult line of the second verse exactly as I heard it in junior high:
" Mother mooch is calling me back to her silver womb..."
While I'm pretty damn sure that ain't it. Then again, what else could it be?

Well, commenter 'tasteofanthrax' sez:
"its obviously a love song of sorts, but some parts of it make no sense whatsoever. Also, the actual lyrics are "mother moon she's calling me..." not "mother mooch is calling me...."

Whereas 'killspy' thinks it's about birth, and does a couple of interesting contortions to get the more or less nonsensical lyrics to sync up with this:
"Seventh night...unicorn waiting in the skies.." Maybe one of those motorized carousel things hanging above cribs..I don't know."

I personally thought that the line was "seven thousand unicorn is waiting in the skies", which is even better for its crap grammar. Or was it "several" thousand head of unicorn? However many it takes, I guess.

The more commonly heard the song, the more multiplicitous the mondegreens. Steve Miller will probably never truly go away, perhaps if only due to a presence in advertising. His music is so simple, and his lyrics rarely diverge from that (although when he does, the results are hilarious: i.e. "grow the tree of wholeness in this desert laa-and..."), it makes a perfect match for pretty much any commercial.

However, whichever (one) airline company emerges from this era of cascade failure and endless mergers will still have trouble using "Big Jet Airliner" by Steve because it either sounds like someone's infantile recollections:
"big ole jet had a light on..."

Or something more sinister, in its obscurity:
"Leo, Chad and Delilah, don't carry me too far away..."

Matter o' fact, one of the better of Mr. Miller's mondegreens is from one of the places where he's trying to be Heavy. This is from "Fly Like An Eagle"
"Feed the babies
Who don't have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin' in the street
Oh, oh, there's a solution...

And, yes of course it sounds like he says, "shoot the children with no shoes on their feet" in there. And I've always liked to dance around, waving my hands in the air impotently as Steve is forced to concede that while there might be a solution, he can't be called upon to say exactly what it might be.

There's a number of bands who are willfully obscure, like the Cocteau Twins, who may very well have been saying, "If there's Pepsi involved, Sugar Hiccup...Makes Joe Albertson tremble..."
And Broken Social Scene, who I think genuinely said, "But we gotta menstruate in disguise..."

(Actually, go check out what songmeanings has to say on the subject of the Cocteau Twins. It's hilarious, and none of it makes any sense, again because it's clear that all you're getting is what somebody thought they heard.)

Finally, there is the class of lyric where you know damn well what they're saying, you just know it would be funnier if...
"All of my love" became "all of my drugs", and
"I can't help falling in love with you" became "I can't help falling in love with Jews".

There's another one of those. I forget, right now, what it is. Anyway, discuss.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Periodic Table of My Favorite Albums: "Sabotage", by Black Sabbath

The year is 1975. Black Sabbath, once seemingly overflowing with good ideas, has just released a real stinker of an album. It was called “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, and despite a shredding title tune, it lacked impact and worse yet, it appeared that Ozzy's songwriting had gotten far, far worse. It contained the appropriately titled 'Fluff', another one of those acoustic guitar workouts that alienated metal fans so much in those days. The doom was still there, as were the open exhortations to get fucked up, and the bad Jesus Hippy shit that marred the second and third albums was for the most part gone. But the music just wasn't very exciting.
Personally, had I not been in pre-school at the time and therefore couldn't have given a shit, I'd wager that a quick reinvention of Black Sabbath was not on the wise. (Their worst album, however, was still ahead of them. “Technical Ecstasy” would be an embarrassment to any band.)

It now remained to be seen whether or not Sab could integrate their hellish need to rock out with their curiosity about pseudo-classical arrangements and childlike love of effects. The answer was “Sabotage”.

It is an album loaded down with weird little jokes and puzzling evidence that really messed with my junior high-aged brain when I discovered it. Before the first song, someone very far off yells, “Attaa-ck!” (I think). The you hear Geezer turn on his bass amp, the countdown is heard, and then the air is filled with death boogie. “Hole In The Sky” is one of the better state-of-the-artist songs I've heard. You know; that first song on the album, wherein rock star lets you in on just where their head's been lately.
It would seem that he was still meditating on the stunning downward trend of the world, but from a more detached perspective than before. He wasn't singing little songs about satanic generals destroying the earth and God coming to punish wrongdoers everywhere. But everything remains fucked. The song is abruptly cut off, as if the world just ended, and segues immediately into a brief, beautiful classical guitar piece titled, 'Don't Start (Too Late)'.

'Don't Start' peters out, and is immediately replaced by this very proto-punk guitar riff. This is 'Symptom of the Universe', perhaps the greatest heavy metal love anthem of them all (uncrowded though that field may be). It jams along rapidly, unashamed of its pretty damn stupid lyrics (possibly because they are meant sincerely, or was Ozzy in on the joke too?). The guitar solo comes, and Tony has discovered phaser pedals, it would appear. This solo gets progressively more glam psychedelic, and just when it would normally peter out and return to verse, it transforms, somehow.
Here comes the acoustic guitars, whooshes and claves, ferchrissake, that spell Groovy Love Anthem. “Woman child of love's creation, come and step inside my dree-eams...” Ozzy is declaiming nearby. It is done: yer girlfriend is the Goddess, dude. The overall effect isn't nearly as cheesy as you might think. It's actually kind of sweet.

Next comes 'Megalomania', which gives away the actual theme of the album: the famous person complains about being famous, twenty years before Smashing Pumpkins. The song itself is a slobbery mess of loops and echo, with our narrarator beating his brow about how he “sold my soul to be the human machine,” which again is cheesy, but honest, I think.
The chorus pulls it all back together. It rides high on soaring power chords, and would be catchy for quite a few rock songs, I feel: “Whyy don-cha just get out-ta my life, yeah/ Whyy don-cha just get out-ta my life, now/ Why doesn't evry-bodah leave me alone?/ Why doesn't EEEvry-bodah leave me alone, yeahhh?” Beyond there, it descends into the proto-Motley Crue riff, with cartoony lyrics about impending insanity and revenge scenarioes (he even yells, “Suck meeee!”, which is funny, perhaps not intentionally so). The guitar work, as on a lot of the album, is so phased and flanged that it almostwanders out of rhythm. Before it gets a chance to do that, Side One ends.

It's hard to do this album justice. Like a lot of albums in this genre, the lyrics are the work of a person who isn't terribly bright, but he feels them so profoundly, it effects you. Some of the lines here work only if you suspend your cynicism (hard, I know), others because they're clumsy-but-true, and others because they actually work.
The music, on the other hand, is underrated-ly good. Tony Iommi could always be counted upon to be one or two innovations ahead of the rock guitar idiom of his time, and yet he will always be known as a savage basher-out of primal, simple doom-rock chords. It's kind of a shame. Even much later, after Ozzy, after Dio-on the one album they did with Ian Gillian, he still rises above the muck and wreckage with truly forward-thinking guitar work. I wonder if that continued to be true after I stopped listening to these guys.

Side Two starts out with 'The Thrill of It All'. In this, Ozzy is observing that he really has no more idea than anyone else what the hell is up with the universe. This is tacitly given as a good reason no to look to his word as gospel, and he also says, “If my songs become my freedom/ and my freedom turns to gold/ then I ask the final question/ is the answer bought and sold?”
Well, I like it.

'Supertzar' is the name of the next song. It is the sort of song that inspires parodies like Spinal Tap, in that it far overreaches whatever goal it had set for itself, and for all its pretense, you're never quite clear on what the point actually was. It sounds like the work of your average heavy metal fan who (for some reason) has been called upon to provide the music for a documentary on Russian history.
It has no lyrics, but there is a chorus of overwhelmed and surprised-sounding men and women emoting about something. The overall effect is hilarious, but on some level, it works. It's so damn weird, it redeems itself.

The next song, 'Am I Going Insane (Radio)' is already familiar to the legions of us who grew up listening to “We Sold Our Souls to Rock n' Roll”. A late attempt, I think, at another radio hit by Sab (note that hopeful parenthetical; even though there isn't a non-radio version anywhere I've ever seen).
It's okay, but I've never felt any real attachment to it. It's more in the pedigree of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, with its 'ooh, I'm so damn scary 'cuz I'm so damn ca-rayy-zyy!' feel, but again, entirely different guitar work that saves it in a weirdly speeded-up solo. It fades out into the cartoony laughter that siginifies 'insanity' in pop music.

But then something happens. As the laughter fades away, it is gradually replaced by this truly ugly howling. The laughing continues, but the miserable wailing of somebody is overtaking it. A dark, menacing bassline begins percolating. It's clear that they're building up to something big.
When the first note of 'The Writ' jumps out, it hits you really, really hard. They wanted to make you jump. It is the final song, and the most damning anti-fame number on the album. But it goes beyond that.

It's self-dramatizing, of course, but it's also a return to Ozzy the Crusader of earlier albums. Fame is Satan, or the Famous Person is. Or the World. Or the Eternally Ungrateful Audience. The fucker just keeps plunging on, punishing everything in its path. Ozzy seems mad. “All of the promises that never came true/ you're gonna get what is coming to you,” he fairly spits, and it's unclear who he's talking to. The Voice of Satan effect, also used in 'Megalomania', returns: Ozzy sings with a slowed-down backing track of his own voice.
Here, instead of speeding up, it heads into this fairyland full of chimes and ringing acoustic guitars.

He's trying to convince himself, unsuccessfully: “But evry-thing is gonna work out fiiine, yeah/ if it don't, I think I'll lose my mind...” There is a third movement of steadily churning guitar mixed with pseudo-inspirational lyricizing. It sort of grinds itself down while fading out, and you think, that can't be it...

Then, very quietly, you hear someone start playing a piano with a lot of delay on it. A slowed-down voice sings, “Bl-ow in a jug/ evah-body's doin' it/ bl-ow in a jug/ be like me and bl-ow in a jug/ I want you to/ bl-ow in a jug/ evah-body's gotta bl-ow in a jug...”
And it fades out. It's the most subtle that Sabbath ever got, and it's funny too. After laying on that fame=evil message so heavy for most of the album, it occurs to them that maybe a lot of that audience wasn't bright enough to get it, even then. So they might as well make a little joke about the whole thing; a joke about how the central premise of the whole star/audience thing is so fucked up, it's surprising that everybody doesn't just go start their own band.

And of course, punk rock was right around the corner, and everybody did start their own band, presaging the end of dinosaurs like Black Sabbath, kind of.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We Apologize for the Inconvenience (slaving in the inland empire, II)

Here is the Pasco-Kennewick bridge, also known as the Ed Hendler bridge. I found this picture on some guy's website noting "The World's Most Interesting Bridges".
Well, it certainly is interesting for two reasons; first, I'm pretty sure that those cables aren't actually supporting anything, and are just there for show. Secondly, despite how stunning the bridge itself is, it connects one ugly-as-sin excuse for a downtown area with another ugly-as-shit excuse for a downtown.

I drove over the Ed Hendler last week, in a vain attempt to find something, anything vaguely beautiful or interesting in the Tri-Cities area. It just don't exist, folks. I finally drove down to the waterfront, past Red's Western Smorgy, to at least look at the Columbia.
While there, I spoke to Ms. Bee, who informed me that we need to vacate our house by July 1st. It would seem that our landladies can't pay their mortgage, and would either need to raise our rent to extravagant rates, or sell the damn thing in this, the worst possible time to sell a house.

Sigh. Well, at least it isn't as hard as some things. People continue to want to move to Portland, and they will need houses. And selling a house is nowhere near as hard as finding a supermarket in the Tri-Cities.
After work on Monday, the rest of the crew decided to check out a bar called The Pub, which promised 'fun and games'. I didn't like the look of that, and agreed with the always frugal Renzo that our best bet was buying fresh produce, and not dealing with the strangely non-complimentary breakfast buffet. And the Asian woman who worked there, another one of those people who feels it is heartwarming to be addressed in a very loud voice, first thing in the morning.

But even before that, I needed to address the fact that I still would be losing my room in the morning. As always, the Washingtonians at the front desk were unapologetic, and offered nothing in the way of a solution. Apparently, the entire hotel was sold out for the rest of the week. There would be a policemen's convention there, and more than one person noted the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas overtones there.
But then I called up my boss, who called up his boss and told me again, not to worry, that everything was taken care of. The next morning, I was awakened at a quarter to six by a lesser boss of mine, her voice lowered by cigarettes to man-like octaves, confirming that I didn't have to find other lodging. Right after this, Renzo wandered outside and found that the hotel had gone ahead and given us our final bill.
That particular day, I wouldn't be there at noon, which was check-out time, and neither would Renzo, who had to go to the rehearsal.

Oh, but the night before, we went looking for a supermarket. Since Kennewick is a seemingly endless sprawl of large roads that go nowhere in particular with smaller roads that go fuck knows where, we were sort of on our own. Nearby; a ShopKo. Closed at 10:00. The Albertson's we'd been promised? Nowhere in evidence.
As we wandered down toward the river, I wondered what in the hell kind of city doesn't have stores that are open twenty-four hours. But, of course, lots of things call themselves 'cities' that aren't.

Randomly, I decided to hop on the freeway. The town of Richland beckoned nearby.
From the road, again gleaming red like a beacon in the darkness, a Fred Meyer sign. It looked smeary, like a hallucination.
Once we were off the freeway, there was no indication whatsoever that there was anything at all, except for dark trees and darkened residential streets. Nothing in the way of signs; just guesswork. I drove in the direction of where I sort of remembered the store being.

The parking lot was empty, and the lighting, again, was spare. It was open though, like all Fred Meyers, until eleven.
For the first time in a long time, I found myself having to consider what my new friend and I looked like to others. Like a couple, that is. He looks like a supermodel, and...I'm also a man. We're shopping together, having conversations like, "Okay, I'll get the bread if you'll pay for the mustard..."
Yeah, that's right. It'd been a while since I'd had to consider the thought of having to physically defend either my friend or both of us. I've done it before, but it's been a while. Portland makes ya' lazy.

Of course, just because a man is slight of build, soft spoken, Peruvian and gorgeous does not automatically make them queer. That's my own particular assumptions running wild. I knew what it looked like to the dam-rats who lived around there, though, and was wary, even though we were the only two people in that giant store, aside from employees.
I tried to explain to him that Ranier beer is every bit as wonderful as Pabst, which they for some reason did not have. I also tried to buy it for him.
"I'm frugal, I'm not broke," he said.

It had been a good hour and a half of wandering around that bit of paved desert before we achieved our modest goal. The shopkeep bid us a good night, and I nearly drove off with the back door open.
"Kennewick: We're...Sorry?" Renzo said.
"Welcome to Washington: We Apologize for the Inconvenience." I said.

The next day I didn't have to work, so I drove over to Pendleton. Past the brown humps that contain subterranean bunkers filled with nerve gas, smelling Hansell's hog farm again. It's been closed over ten years, but that farm still stinks up the entire area.
Wandered around my hometown. Noticed that all those nice old houses from the 1800's look oddly naked, now that someone decided to cut down all the trees on Despain Avenue. Went up Skyline Drive, looked at Senator Gordon Smith's house, tried to figure out which one my dad lives in.
Not a lot to say there. My daughter and I got together for lunch, and for the most part, what we discussed is personal. I will tell you that the Mexican joint she wanted us to meet at was the first place in town where I'd been treated friendly. The other two places were both thrift stores, and both staffed by that scowling, immediately disapproving type of hescher woman that I just can't take. They act as though their fear of anyone they don't immediately recognize is a virtue: well, if there wasn't something wrong with you, you'd live here, where good people live.

Afterwards, I wandered over to the Rainbow, easily my favorite bar in Pendlytown. All the Round-Up champeens since 1910 up on the wall, the memorabilia all priceless. I'm doin' a crossword puzzle, like I always do.
I hear some of the older folks down the bar discussing one Sally Simpson. An awful person, this woman was my third grade teacher, and like most of them, they had no business whatsoever being near children. It was as though they hired them, around there, based on their open antipathy for small beings.
Anyway, turns out she's still alive. She was old in the Seventies-she's 105 now- which is one of those things which is amazing since she had a heart made of pure Fuck You, but then again, I've met other people who were Too Mean To Die, too.

I decided to take Cold Springs Canyon back up to Washington. This is a road that wanders lazily through the wheat farms, the "town" of Holdman, and little else. I was laying back, enjoying the scenery.
Pulling over to relieeeeve myself, I quickly noticed that my tires were sunk deep in the sand of the shoulder. This would be like trying to get out of a snowdrift. The four-wheel-drive didn't work, and I sat down to think about this.
So; I was on my way back to this "city" where I wasn't sure I even had a hotel room, was set up for camping in my truck if I had to, though having no food (whiskey, though. Had that). Calling my daughter-who was training at Pizza Hut that afternoon- I hoped like hell that my message was in some way coherent, as I was out in the middle of the damn wheatfields. I told her voicemail that I needed a tow truck. I tried to flag down all two of the vehicles that passed me: no dice. I could walk to the town of Umatilla, but who knew how fucking far away that was? (Not far, it turned out.)
But of course, in time I noticed a pile of sticks over by somebody's fence, grabbed a bunch of them, stuck them under my back tires and rocked myself out of the hole. Really, whole lotta worry for nothing, but still.
** ** **

Here is the Three Rivers Convention Center, described as "cavernous" in the weird puff piece for some company that set up the audio in there.
It is certainly that. Outside, like all of them, a shiny, futuristic gathering node, hopefully drawing folks in-like an airport. Inside, like all of them, the rooms are like airport concourses built in the '80's, and backstage, it's like a fortress.

This place is an attempt on the part of the city fathers to finally break the Tri-Cities out of the limited-though-constant lure of the government dollar. Everyone who lives there is either employed by a defense contractor, or they work at the McNary Dam. And of course, they work at mini-marts, deal blackjack, roll dollar tacos, sell Orange Juliuses...You know.
But here, like many other cities of this size, they're trying to bring in the business tourism dollar, which is weird considering the location.

I definitely wasn't expecting chicken cordon bleu, grilled asparagus and a pretty decent looking cheesecake to be crew chow, but it was. Served on the nice linen tablecloths, too.

So that was weird. After that, we set to, in the desert winds now howling in through the massive open hangar-style door to the loading dock. Panel by panel, we took down the LED wall, the riggers brought down the truss, we ripped up the stage as carefully as possible, coiled cables, the whole bit.

As we did so, I thought about the night before, when Renzo and I shared a hot tub with three middle-aged gentlemen. One used to teach at the university that my daughter will be attending, this fall. Another was a roaming ultrasound technician who would stay at that particular Hilton once a week, every week. The third was part of a team of people testing a frictionless engine either called the Sterling Engine, or was an engine made out of sterling silver. I don't know.

The ultrasound guy was finishing up his studies at OHSU right around the time I was ending my career in medical records at that same hospital. He wished he could have done more with his life, but you know, you need to have three children, so you may spend the rest of your life being jokingly bitter about it.

The ex-educator turned sales rep was providing the good-common-sense, moderately conservative viewpoint on everything we talked about, and assured me that the aforementioned university my kid's going to is sheltered from the outside world by dint of the community they've made there for themselves, or something. I forget exactly how he put it, but he was really sayin'- don't worry 'bout th' niggers.

The guy from the team with the engine was actually more in the promotion line of things, but was able to answer most of the technical questions Renzo and I peppered him with. He had the most interesting things to say out of the three.

On the way back to our room, my head feeling airy from the combination of whiskey and hot tub, I observed that the conversation felt more like once would have on acid, as opposed to what it really was.
Renzo then was asking some advice about his romantic life, and I finally said, "Okay, boys or girls, which is it?"
He's hetero, and had been wondering same about me. Once I realized we were discussing the reactions women might have to given hypotheticals, I was better able to formulate some answers.

After work, we all went out to The Pub, with its attendant Fun and Games. We shot pool; I played miserably.
Around 1:30, I received a call from a noticeably distressed Bee, who said that the neighbors' house was burning down. She wanted to know if she should grab the pugs and get out of our house.
I asked if the trees next door were on fire; they touch our trees, in our back yard, y'see. The answer was no.
So really there wasn't a lot I could say or do, and I told her to go outside and monitor the situation, and to call me back if she had to abandon house.
She didn't, and we all got together in someone's room for the final phase of the evening.

This was a scene of everyone smoking weed but me, and at some point, our boss Casey passed the pipe around, asking that everyone at least touch it, and he'd tell us why in a moment.
I sort of hate shit like that; I feel it to be emotionally manipulative. But on the other hand, this was clearly important to Casey, and I took the pipe, inhaled a bit of smoke through my nose, explaining that I always did like the smell of the stuff.
Apparently his dad had died on that date, two years before. He was going to get a tattoo finished the next day, with the insignia of his dad's unit (tank battalion, it looked like), and that pipe-passing number was some sort of keeping-the-circle, vaguely Native American thing.

What's more to say? I made the four-hour drive back to Portland the next day in three hours. I got one hell of a case of Trucker's Arm (i.e. second or third degree burns on just your left arm)...It's hard to actually sum up a trip like this one, since the work is long and hard, but mundane to describe in detail. My feelings about the eastern parts of Oregon and Washington are influenced by growing up there, so it's probable that the profundity of what I felt is lost on anyone else.

I really am going to write something about our recent trip to the Chicagoland area. The difference there is; I didn't take notes on that one.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Slaving in the Inland Empire

How Renzo ended up in my car is this: he had arrived late, minus his belt. He needed a belt, and although he lived not far away, he was told that if he went to go get it, “it'd better be the shortest run of (his) life,” or something along those lines.

Due to high level of communication at work in this (and most) small production companies, I had not been told that we'd be travelling the four hours east in two minivans, and I didn't need to bring my truck. But I had brought it, and I'd done my usual and loaded for bear. On top of bringing my laptop and screwgun with case, extra battery and charger, I'd brought an entire tool belt, one messenger bag full of clothes and another, smaller one for books n' shit. On top of all that, I was fully prepared to camp a night in my truck if it broke down somewhere far away, i.e.; sleeping bag, pad, lantern...

So I certainly wasn't bringing all that along in a crowded minivan. Plus, I wanted to smoke, listen to the music I chose, and in general be alone, now that it was clear that I wouldn't be dragging along two or three stagehands.

But Renzo also was going to be sharing a hotel room with me, so I said, “If you want to ride with me, that's fine, just so long as you don't mind my constant smoking of cigarettes.”
He noticeably blanched. “You mean like, chain smoking? Or, say, five cigarettes in four hours? Or...”
I put him at ease, and off we went.

I was the only person in our twelve-person, three vehicle caravan who had even been to the Tri-Cities. Well, there was one guy, but I get the feeling that he got really stoned last year, then someone drove him there, and for all he knew, we were going to Idaho. For his part, Renzo thought that the Tri-Cities were up by Seattle.
This is not the case. Richland, Pasco and Kennewick are three hours east and another half-hour north of Portland. The closest town of any size in Oregon is Pendleton, where I grew up. This entire region is collectively known, sometimes, as The Inland Empire.

And we were going there because Lockheed-Martin was having an IT Day event at the convention center, and as always, someone needs to do the stage work for that.
Who is Lockheed-Martin?, most of my fellow hands wanted to know. "They make planes," said the bossman.
"They make bombers," someone else said.
"Basically, they sell war," I said.

The Tri-Cities have lived and died by the defense industry for a good long time. Hanford Nuclear Reservation (in Richland) was where the uranium for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs was enriched. Just down the road, in a series of depressing bunkers that stretch to the horizon, is the Umatilla Military Depot, where all the old chemical ordnance is semi-buried/leaking into the groundwater/slowly being incinerated...And that's just some of it.
On the other hand, this was my old stompin' grounds, and I was looking forward to it. "We're off to the dark and lonely East." I said to Renzo.

We got along well; matter o' fact, I do believe I made myself a friend this week. We talked about everything, and I also did that tour guide number I can't help but do whenever I'm in the Columbia Gorge. We stopped in Biggs, which is about halfway out, east from Portland. Renzo, born in Peru but raised in Miami, was amazed at how heavy the gusts were there, right where the winds from the Canadian Rockies crash into those sent from the Pacific Ocean.
Behind the counter at Dinty's mini mart, a cow-eyed woman who smiled distantly at something on the counter, still able to complete the basics of her job, but that's it. I asked her how it was going, and she just kept on contemplating whatever made her so happy.
** ** **

So we get there roughly three minutes or so after one of the minivans, and we all wander in, looking like we're there to rob the joint.
We're all wearing matching hats, and many of us are carrying tools. I myself have an impressive armload, and look like I'm impersonating a repairman.

It also turns out that our reservations, for whatever reason, were booked as only one night, as opposed to the three we actually needed. As has often been the case in my life, I was told to trust that this would be taken care of, and not to worry.

Everyone wanted to go out, and a few of us wanted to know where the nearest supermarket was. The bar wouldn't be hard work to find, according to the front desk ladies, but I saw how worried they looked when asked about the location of a store that sold food. We will return to this.

Those of us who wished a bit of bar time piled into one of the vans, driven by the one non-drinker among us, and tore off down the road. The non-drinker, I might add, is one of the most high strung people I've met in my life, and actually was making me a hell of a lot more nervous than most drunks would have.
The Tri-Cities have this odd southern California vibe about them, which is to say that it's an expanse of sagebrush covered at intervals by strip malls. In the area behind those malls, there sits an unnavigable welter of roads that- despite the fact that there's nothing really on them -have decided to class the joint up a bit by adding English-style roundabouts.

Or "rotundas", as our driver seemed to think they were called. We drove blindly and way too quickly into one of them, took one of the four options presented to us by the vague and incomplete signage, were briefly shot out onto a large main thoroughfare, saw something that looked kind of promising, ran back into yet another roundabout that led us back to exactly where we began.
This was terrifying. "Did we just slip into some kind of time hole?" I asked. I then requested that our driver slow down so I might better scan the horizon. Back out onto the wide main thoroughfare...Dark, but everything has neon signs...Red Lobster, Red Robin- ah! Red Lion, where we'd been directed.

The parking lot was so dark, one could easily run over a careless pedestrian. There was almost nothing indicating that this was a hotel at all, and could have just been a very large manor house on an estate that had been plunked down right next to a mall.
Outside, lots of young kids milling around, smoking, as you can't do that indoors in Washington. Lots of white baseball hats in that crowd, and you know what that means...
Inside, packed to the gills with fratboys and sorority sisters, beefy dude checkin' IDs at the door. I wanted no part of this situation where it would probably take an hour to get served, and nothing but annoyance the entire time. So I left, thinking it would only be a brief walk back to the hotel.

I had forgotten that we'd sort of gotten lost getting here, even though we were truly only five minutes or so away. Crossing the massive thoroughfare, I found what looked like the right road, avoiding getting killed by Red Robin employees speeding off into the night from another oddly unlit parking lot, and plunged in.
Then I remembered that I needed to negotiate a maze of mostly featureless roads featuring roundabouts that further confuse one. I knew I was heading south; but where is that, exactly? An enormous, deserted bus stop served as a promontory, but all I could see was lights twinkling in the distance, any of them possibly being the Hilton Spring Garden Inn (tm) where we were staying.

Further trudging along seemingly endless and dark roads led me ultimately to the massive, beige Benton County Justice Center. I had noticed it earlier during our 'rotunda' phase, and was trying to put this information to work for me. I briefly considered walking into the jail to ask directions back to my hotel, but thought better of it.
Behind this, a large expanse of weedy pavement with a rickety wooden tower in the center. This was an abandoned drive-in theater from back when this all would have been on the edge of town. I started walking through it, then realized that if there was ever a place to fall into a hole, pierce one's foot with something sharp and rusty, or just wander for a mile before coming up against some fence in the darkness, this was it. Instead, I skirted the edge of the lot, and ultimately saw the hotel's sign, a red beacon in the darkness.

On the way back, I noticed both an enormous complex named the "Toyota Center", and the Three Rivers Convention Center. Even though no one else knew it yet, our worksite was happily located across the street from our hotel.
It had taken perhaps forty-five minutes to walk back from a bar maybe ten blocks from my hotel. Renzo and I elected to drink whiskey and watch 'Iron Chef'.

What we did the next day was construct a stage, send up a modest amount of lights on trusses, and put together an enormous soft LED wall. More or less a twenty-five foot tall TV, this thing was comprised of fuck-who-knows-how-many individual panels of venetian blind-like strips of metal with multicolored lights on the front. The whole thing was held together, naturally, with hundreds of insanely fragile aluminum connectors. Each individual panel cost $2500, I was told, and upon completion would look like this:

That's a picture from the Tri-Cities Herald from that day, and the figure walking in front of it is this guy from L.A. named Don. The four enormous (and puzzling) styrofoam Oscars that stood behind it were installed the next day, which I had off.
In that photo, it's still in test pattern mode, but when in use, it would enlarge the head of whoever was on stage to massive proportions. This fact apparently was lost on a hapless opera singer who, during the actual conference, sang for quite some time with a giant snot ball dangling out of his enormous nostril.

This particular instrument, like many I've encountered in my line of work, is the kind of thing that only a handful of people in the world own. When they aren't traveling around installing it themselves, they rent it out for even bigger dollars. I figured that the software that controls it is proprietary, but nope: that's free. It's the massive expense of purchasing (and later safely shipping and installing) the actual piece that's the problem.

That day's load-in took thirteen hours, minus two meal breaks and four smoke/coffee breaks. We stagehands are nothing if not hyper-legalistic, and will burn your ass for not giving us as much break time as the law allows, even on a non-union gig like this one.
Lunch was at the Wok King, over on the massive thoroughfare named Columbia Center Boulevard. I suggested that this sprawling Asian smorgasbord (or 'smorgy', a word I'd never heard until that day) with its hum bao filled with horrifying yellow paste and baby ocotopi in a gritty broth should have "It's Disgusting (c) !" as its motto, accompanied by a cute little frog or something.
Dinner was at a casino of sorts that seemed to have been cobbled together from the remains of a Chuck E. Cheese. It was dollar taco night, and I prepared myself for what that probably meant. But no: it was fantastic pork, roasted carnitas style. Earlier, I'd been reminding everyone that while it might seem that Outback Steakhouse was the only near-decent food to be had in this area, one could probably find hundreds of fantastic Mexican joints.

(Gee, this sure is taking a long time, huh? I'll break here, as there's still way too much more information to impart. Tomorrow: Rich and Renzo try to find a supermarket)

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Unglamorately Phonin' It In while Living the Life You've Imagined

Now, the thing is as follows:
1)Was 'Doc' Bruce Banner "belted" or "pelted" by gamma rays? Certainly it wasn't "melted", albeit that's exactly what it sounds like.
2)Not only is the introduction of the Baby Snooks/Betty Boop-esque singer wildly inappropriate, but what the hell kind of neologism is 'un-glam-o-rate'? Hulk blinks, poignantly, at you after he is so described.
3)And, the Hulk was big, but I don't think he was so big as to just step on a bunch of tanks with a resounding 'skroonk'.
4) Baby Snooks again: "Ain't no monster clown who is as lovable". I dunno, but I'm pretty certain that lovability wasn't one of Hulk's major attributes. I'm pretty certain that the main deal was his overwhelming heartbreak at being unable to control himself, often smashing ("like the bull") things he didn't mean to smash. Furthermore, Hulk hate being called 'clown'.
5) This clip cuts off the very ending. After that "everlovin' Hulk" ("everlovin'" is used throughout the show as interchangeable with "motherfuckin'"), it's supposed to coda with "Hulk. Hulk." This is too bad.

Again, that's obviously from the old Hulk show, which decided to cut costs by not actually animating anything, but instead taking still shots and just kind of moving them in front of the camera. This led to many hilarious moments, as did the boy sidekick of the story, 'Rick'. On more than one occasion, boy sidekick would get himself in a pickle, and Hulk would have to get him out of it, of course, with the tired-sounding voice over giving us a rheumy "Rhhhiiickk...I'm com-ing..."

Oh dear. Here's some more (what the hell is that thing in the desert?):

"I must get to that boy!", and "A finger presses the fatal button!" Or, "Me, Rick Jones! You're the first one that ever cared about me...Rick Jones!" and "Hey! You've changed!".
And of course, "Stop, clumsy one! And die!"
I haven't felt this weird about a cartoon since 'Top Cat'.

(Actually, I went and found all of those episodes, and was planning on a long, in-depth dissertation about '60's-era Hulk, but thought better of it. Surely I can return to a subject this large at some later date.)

I watched Alan Jackson phonin' it in, last night. I was watching from stage left, monitor world, when he decides that his encore needed to be the commercial for Ford's truck division he did some years ago. In this case, he changed it back to 'Mercury', which still makes it a very boring song. It is reminiscent of Steve Miller's "Mercury Blues", which is already a painfully boring song.
He began the song, then kind of decided to let the band take this one (including a weirdly timed drum solo) while he wandered, in a desultory way, around the stage, signing his name on glossy photos thrust up at him from the audience. He also received many gift bags of the sort that look like they would include fancy soaps and fragrances.

The road crew of most touring shows is about half good ol' boys and half Brits (or Aussies). This one was all good ol' boys, and there were very few of them. I was talking to the sound board guy, and noted, "I'm a little surprised how little shit you guys travel around with," noting their spare five semis versus the fourteen or so that would accompany, say, Rascal Flatts.
"It's hard enough just gettin' the boss outta the house these days." he responded. He looked, as all of them did, bored as hell to be there.

Even the crew shirt that people like me end up with at the end of each of these shows was phonin' it in. It was a maroon number that read "Havin' a GOOD TIME with Alan Jackson" on the back.
Really? That's it? I'm havin' a corn chip with Mr. Jackson (if you're nasty) is more like it. I'm sighing in a disheartening, disappointing way, and so is he.
(Incidentally, there is a brand of corn chips called 'Have'A Corn Chips' that Bee likes. It has led to acres and acres of entertainment around the house, as we are now applying 'have a' to anything plural.)

Twenty years ago, the type of act that would sell out a place like the Rose Garden would be Blue Oyster Cult, or something. These days, it's Alan Jackson, Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, etc. Say what you will about B.O.C. (and Jethro Tull, whatever you wish to put in there), but at least they were sort of encouraging their audience to think about things. Even "Godzilla" kinda has an environmental message, of sorts.
These people though? They're like watching your really boring next door neighbor jam out in their basement, stripping all the work and passion of real country blues right out of it, devaluing the entire process utterly.
Then they'll make you weepy about The Flag, or some shit.

Reading: The Outline of History, by H.G. Wells. Yup, when he wasn't writing things like War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man, he was busy with projects like this one, which purports to drag your ass through the history of humanity in a way that is both concise and informative.
The effect is heady. I actually only have Volume Two (or, half of 'The Complete Story of Man'), which begins with the rise of Islam. And even though he pretty much deals with it in the course of a pretty short chapter, he covers several hundred years in a complete and descriptive way, all in a dryly hilarious British tone of authorial voice.

I love it. I also left my copy of it in an eye doctor's waiting room in Puyallup last week. I took a day or so to go up there because my mom had both eyes worked on, and thus would not have been able to see enough to drive, for example.
Now, after nearly being blind for most of her life, she can see without glasses. And all they had to do was IMPLANT SOME GODLESS PIECE OF SPACE METAL IN HER EYE! OH GOD!
No: They really are doing amazing things with plastics these days.

And I would get that back from her on Mother's Day, except I'll be skipping out of that one due to work. Mom was supposed to meet Bee's folks, but an opportunity to work came up, and I'm diving on it.
I'll be spending three or four days in Kennewick, Washington: the heart of the Tri-Cities, and one of the few places I've seen that has their own inspirational poster:

Inspirational poster with oddly unspecific affirmation, that is.
Despite the stark, high plains desolation/beauty of the accompanying photo, the Tri-Cities is another one of those surprise urban areas that eastern Washington specializes in. Like Spokane, where it's all- nothing nothing nothing !!!!CITY!!!! nothing nothing nothing...
I haven't been there since the early '80's. It was the closest thing we had to The Big City, out where I grew up. As I will have Tuesday to myself, I'll probably pop over to Pendleton and see th' She Bear.

...Who is graduating from high school at the end of this month, and the week after that, will be travelling in some sort of trans-state caravan with nineteen-or-so other teenagers to attend the Shakespeare hoo-hah down in Ashland. Will Bee and I be playing chaperones? Yes, yes we will.
I haven't been in Ashland since I stopped living there, and haven't been to the Shakespearean Festival since I was a mere stripling. This should be good/weird.

Anything else? Well, we went to Chicago, but that's so totally another post.