Friday, October 28, 2005

Once More, With Squealing

All right. So it’s not the Christmas present we thought it might be.

As of now, 1 pm, it seems as if Libby will be the only one indicted. So far.

But he'll be resigning as a result. And Rove will continue to be investigated.

Once again, there’s that sinking feeling in the stomach that nothing can be done to bring these criminals to justice. They’re like bad movie villains who crow to the police sergeant, “Go ahead, copper! I’ll be out in 24 hours anyway!”

Still, it’s something. It’s something.

It’s official recognition that this administration believed that the proper response to someone whose facts contradicted the supports of their phony war was to take revenge on him and not only him, but his wife.

This is what organized crime does. They’re good at torture, too.

Patrick Fitzgerald has provided a little ray of hope that there might be a shred of power left in the American justice system. And I’m hoping there may be further surprises to come.

What astonishes me now is how everyone seems to be behaving as if they knew all along what was going on. All of a sudden nobody knows what happened, nobody backed this cabal of warmongers. No one ever believed that George W. Bush was competent. But somehow there were enough Americans who believed he did such a good job the first time around that he deserved a second term.

Now all the reporters have suddenly found their nerve and Colin Powell’s Chief Of Staff condemns the actions of the neocons in fierce and blunt language.

Gee, thanks a lot. A little late, but I know 2,000 sets of parents who really appreciate it. No hard feelings. You did a heckuva job.

Look at them. Look at what we allowed to happen.

We let them put the whip of the torturer in Lincoln’s hand.

We let them put lies in the mouth of Washington.

We let them smear blood on the American flag.

They have ruined and debased us, as a people, and as a country.

We should reject them, shun them, as we would anyone who would sell out the ideal of freedom in return for power.

They are not Americans. We don’t do that.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Speaking of spooky things, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, Lady In The Water, is currently “lensing,” as we say in the trade, here in Philadelphia and nearby Bristol Township.

Paul Giamatti co-stars with Bryce Dallas Howard in a story about, well, go look it up on the IMDB if you’re interested. Does sound interesting, though. And I bet it has a twist at the end. Just a hunch.

I think Giamatti’s great, though. He’s been seen here and there in the area, buying jazz CD’s and going for walks with the family. I wouldn’t mind bumping into him so I could tell how much I’ve enjoyed his performances. I only just got around to seeing Sideways, in fact, which I thought probably represented his finest hour yet.

Giamatti’s Miles is his finest, most nuanced loser yet, his greatest achievement in carving out the ultimate schlub. They might as well have named him Schlubby McSchlub. Everything that could go wrong with his life has gone wrong. He’s bottomed out completely and is reduced to stealing money from his mother to keep going while he waits to hear from his agent for the latest rejection of his novel.

He’d make a good mascot for this site, in fact. We should put a little headshot of him up at the top.

In the meantime, he’s intent on showing his best friend Jack a good time the week before his wedding. Where Miles worries every little thing to death, Jack has no conscience. Where Miles has no luck with women, or at least refuses to act on his feelings, Jack is the consummate babe magnet, acting on every impulse even though he’s about to be married.

I’ll stop here, as most of you are probably a little more current in the timestream than I am and have, in all likelihood, seen the picture ages ago. This all hit a little too close to home for me, though, as I was an active partner in such a relationship. For a good while, I was half of a male friendship that involved doing many things together and acting as a team. One of us was terribly shy and reserved and had no idea how to approach women while the other was virtually catnip to them and had no problem at all in relating to the opposite sex.

Guess which one I was?

You don’t win anything for guessing correctly.

My friend was the active one, always driving us to parties where there were plenty of attractive women. Once we arrived I would seek out a chair and sit there sullenly until it was time to leave. In the meantime, he busied himself collecting phone numbers and striking up conversations with every woman in the room.

I, of course, partly envied him this ability, but at the same time, I was a little annoyed at the zeal with which he so single-mindedly pursued his goal. It struck me as a little callous and superficial.

And while women naturally gravitated towards him, I was stumped as to why they didn’t want to have anything to do with the pouting figure in the chair with his eyes cast down to his shoes. Was there something unattractive about me?

Inevitably, there were evenings where I was jettisoned for some new romance, which I understood completely. There was one time, though, where this kind of thing reached an almost farcical level.

We had dropped a woman friend of his off at her apartment and saw her upstairs. After some mysterious whispering between the two, my friend asked me if I wouldn’t mind staying the night, as he wanted to, er, renew his acquaintance with her. I could have the couch and then he’d drive me to work in the morning.

I agreed, as I had no choice, and watched as they prepared their bed of love with fresh linens. I was handed a pillow and shown the couch. Good night! they chirped, as the door closed before the felicitation had a chance to finish.

Now I was aware that there was a kitten on the premises, but didn’t think it would constitute a problem of any kind. But as soon as I began to drift off, the kitten, claws extended, would jump on my head.

It wanted to play.

This game continued for an hour or so. Drift, claws, drift, claws, drift, claws. Finally, I got up and quietly left. Walking up Broad Street in the early morning hours, I picked a subway stop and got on. This was where I belonged, I decided, with all the rest of the scratched-up detritus that’s lost its value. The kittens would never let any of us rest, not until we had to beg for food like they did.

I transferred to the bus and rode up to my job at the fabric outlet, where women would ask me to cut lengths of fabric for them and our lesbian security guard had “love” and “hate” written on her knuckles. The job was merely an excuse to have the money to buy records, which…

But, that’s another story.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fall Out

The mystery has been solved.

Over at the official Fire Engines site, someone posted a vintage postcard that would appear to explain the origin of the name of head Engine Davey Henderson’s current band.

Apparently Nectarine No. 9 was the address of a rather famous brothel in Yokohama around the turn of the century. Rudyard Kipling even immortalized it in his 1894 poem, McAndrew’s Hymn:

Blot out the wastrel hours of mine in sin when I abode
Jane Harrigan’s an’ Number Nine, the Reddick an’ Grant Road

And here I thought it was just another pomo non-sequitur.

Speaking of the Fire Engines, their new compilation Codex Teenage Premonition has been released in the UK, with a domestic release scheduled for mid-November. There’ll be a clutch of UK dates to publicize it, but no such luck here. And that’ll be the end of their short-lived resurrection. If you’ve yet to hear them, this is the perfect and most cost-efficient way of enjoying one of the most unique and influential bands to come out of the tumult of the post-punk scene in the late 70’s/early 80’s.

The only other CD collection of their work, Fond, is long out of print and, although many of the titles here will be familiar to fans, the performances themselves won’t be. Sounds like the US version may even score a couple extra tracks, too, including their half of the limited single they recently shared with Franz Ferdinand that featured both bands doing one of the other’s songs.

Before leaving the topic of The Fall, I had a look at some of the reviews of their current UK tour over at the band’s message board and was dismayed to find that a) Mark E. Smith appears to have revived some of the bad performance habits that have notoriously sunk his career in the past (walking off after 15 minutes, screwing with the band’s instruments, acting like 2-year old child, etc.) and b) even worse, there are fans who are willing to forgive any kind of behavior on his part and will rationalize his contempt for his audience by claiming that he’s a dysfunctional genius and that 16 quid for a 35 minute show is better value for money that any other group’s full-length program because he’s godlike, etc.

And I’m going easy on them. There are posts that claim that “the chaos is part of the performance” and that this petulant behavior is “part of Mark E. Smith’s vision.”

In other words, there’s a generation who’s grown up with the idea that Smith’s inability to put on a proper show without behaving like an infant is somehow part of his charm.

It’s like listening to the Bushies proclaiming the charm of Dubya’s inability to form an articulate sentence.

There are, of course, many posts by folks as old as I who remember when he actually led the most ferocious band on the planet before he threw it all away, thanks to hubris and alcohol.

So let me get this straight: this is the guy who berates every other band in the world for laziness and stupidity and their audiences for being idiot lemmings who go to see whatever they’re told.

Maybe he’s right. Imagine those poor folks, suffering through full-length sets by performers who don’t treat the audience like crap. Must be awful!

I picked up a very enjoyable slice of oldies fun the other day. Mutant Disco 3: Garage Sale is another collection of sides from ZE Records that features some tracks I haven’t heard since their original appearance in the 1980’s.

I hardly ever dig out the vinyl any more, so these kinds of collections are always a convenient and fun memory jog.

A thrill to hear some of these again: Sweet Pea Atkinson’s Dance Or Die, which I loved, Junie (P-Funk) Morrison’s Techno-Freqs (“Evacuate your seats!”), and other stuff from Kid Creole, Coati Mundi, Aural Exciters, Was (Not Was), and one of my very favorite Suicide tracks, Dream Baby Dream, which Bruce Springsteen is currently using as a show-closer accompanying himself on some kind of pump organ.

You try and come up with a phrase to describe this stuff and you realize…it really was Mutant Disco.


Monday, October 24, 2005

As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade

Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the First Amendment.
– Ann "Read My Crazy Lips" Coulter

We don't pursue the Democrats as criminals. We beat them at the ballot box.
– Rush "Hey, I'm Crazy, Too!" Limbaugh

There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda on 9/11. There was scant Pentagon planning for securing the peace should bad stuff happen after America invaded. Why, exactly, did we go to war in Iraq?
– Frank Rich

Spook House

In the memory palaces of our minds, haunted mansions abound.

When I was younger I was much more likely to do things on the spur of the moment. These days, as was the case with the recent Clive Barker signing, I usually plan ahead for weeks, partly so I can begin to build up the physical and psychic energy needed to crowbar myself off the couch.

Last week, though, the Free Library’s downtown branch was hosting a panel discussion with Charles Burns, Chip Kidd and Chris Ware, all plugging new books. I had just bought Burns’s book the day before, too, so it seemed silly not to expend the little energy required to have it signed.

Finding out about all this at the last moment, I laid it all out before the wife. She suggested I take the train in, a mere 20 or so minutes, thus avoiding the problem of parking. Not only that, I could use her monthly transpass, so long as I was careful to conceal the telltale “F” (for Female) sticker.

Simple as pie, but I still decided to think about it, which is the phrase I use for “taking a nap.” When the wife roused me, I had 15 minutes to make up my mind.

What the hell.

I threw some books into a bag and ran over to the train station, getting there with minutes to spare. Having successfully flashed my transpass at the conductor, I settled in with Burns’s Black Hole, the long-awaited collection of the 12-part series that took him 10 years to complete.

For those of you not familiar with it, Black Hole is a dark book, both figuratively and literally, that uses bodily transformation as a metaphor for the physical and emotional traumas of adolescence. Symbols and designs appear and reappear like in a dream, as his cast of teenagers try to muddle through 1970’s Seattle while dealing with the appearance of unexpected alien orifices.

Think of it as Ghost World with real ghosts.

Strangely enough, this odd stew began to bring back many of the feelings I had during my own young adulthood, the desperation for everything: love, sex, transportation, money, and autonomy.

Funnily enough, I realized that part of my adult reluctance to push myself into things like tonight’s adventure was because of all the years I spent running myself ragged across the landscape of the city, doing everything, going to everything.

I was tired of it. I was much happier, at this age, letting the world come to me.

20 minutes later I found myself on the dark streets of downtown Philadelphia that I had so often wandered with the O.G. (Original Girlfriend). It was with her that I suffered so much of what Black Hole tries to put across, especially the feeling that this relationship was the most intense one any two people had ever experienced and that it would be a fit for life. In retrospect, it seems we cried our way through those years as much as we had kissed.

Breaking into a trot in order to get there on time, this familiar end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Library and the Science Museum forming two sides of a triangle somewhere in its middle with the top pointing the way to the Art Museum, I was reminded of nothing so much as a deserted soundstage. It was like wandering the ruins of another life with all the lights now turned off, having outlived their usefulness ages ago.

Only ghosts lived here now.

Ghosts like the recently deceased Edmund Bacon, father of actor Kevin Bacon (the picture of Ed that appeared on a 1964 Time magazine cover clearly demonstrates who the Bacons-to-be would resemble) and the Philadelphia city planner whose vision for the city included the Parkway I was hurriedly crossing.

Or the ghosts of the anatomical specimens on display at the Science Museum’s Body Worlds exhibit. Through a complicated process called “plastination,” actual bodies and parts of bodies were on display there, posed in many different ways, helping to demonstrate how our bodies work.

My ghost was here somewhere, too, preserved in memory and waiting desperately for life to begin.

I found a seat in the auditorium and tried to catch my breath from the run.

What had all the running been for? And how had it led back here again?

I settled comfortably in my seat, something I knew how to do.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Fall In

Why do these people look so frightened of the man with the ciggie?

Well, another year has rolled around which means another Fall LP is here. Some recent shakiness in the line-up, not to mention some shakiness of the part of their lead singer, has meant that recent albums have been hit or miss affairs. Fans are used to taking a kind of feast-or-famine outlook on what they do these days.

Luckily for them, though, last year’s Real New Fall LP (Country On The Click) was a promising collection that seemed to be the ramp-up for an even more solid piece of work, the brand new Fall Heads Roll, largely recorded in NY this year. It’s the kind of CD that allows you to forgive those other ones you listened to once and filed away, because you know you’re going to be wearing this out.

The Fall, or more properly Mark E. Smith, is/are inching up to his/their 30-year mark in the music business. You’d think by now someone could define what this music is, what it does. For many, Mark E. is a bilious megaphone, splattering his own pinched brand of misanthropy across his band’s musical landscape. For others, they represent an undiluted approach to creativity, part severe structure, part instinctive genius.

For me, they’re the great human band of rock ‘n’ roll. From the early scrawled album covers to the non-production production, the incorporation of mistakes used in a collage-style fashion, and over it all the vocalization of someone who used his limitations to a distinct advantage, The Fall have, more than any other band I can think of, done more to break down the artificial barrier between artist and audience. The records never distanced themselves from the listener. Instead, one felt as if one was listening in to a work-in-progress by musicians who were only interested in doing the best job they could. Each song sounded like something only recently created, before anyone had an opportunity to beat the life out of it.

Mark Smith knew exactly what he was doing. It’s why listening to an old Fall record now can be a startling experience, inasmuch as they can still sound incredibly vital and timeless.

There’s some wonderful classic moments here that could come from no other band. Rampaging stompers like Assume and Bo Demmick, the delicate spiderweb of Midnight In Aspen (a meditation on the recently deceased Hunter S. Thompson), and an inspired cover of The Move’s I Can Hear The Grass Grow. There seems to be some chatter that the running order received a last minute shuffle as the back cover of the disc reveals a different order than the finished product. In fact, I’ve got my own preferred order for the new disc, which would run as follows:

4, 9, 11, 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 3, 12, 10, 13, 14, 6.

But nobody asked me.

Still, if you buy it, give my order a whirl.

It synchs up to The Wizard Of Oz like crazy!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Clothes Make The Manqué

On the subject of my lackadaisical dress code mentioned in the previous post, Jill writes:

If you can't be comfortable, why bother?

And sure, I agree with her. But I know that my indifference to the fine points of sartorial splendor has probably played a role in my lack of progress here at Endless Bore and Tedium.

I remember receiving what was probably some good advice from a manager here once. When I asked what the dress code was for a job I was hoping to apply for, she told me “It’s a good idea to always dress for the job you’d like to have.”

I don’t doubt it’s a good rule of thumb. The only problem with it was that I didn’t want the job I had to begin with.

I never liked clothes shopping, but I suppose I’m not too different from the remainder of my sex in that regard. But some of them do seem to manage to throw a suit and tie on now and again. Some of them even shave.

For me, wearing a suit has never been that different from being inside an iron maiden. I start to sweat, my neck starts to itch, and I begin to suffer extreme feelings of claustrophobia. I regard it by and large as a fairly sadistic invention, whose purpose can only be guessed at.

When I was a kid, clothes shopping felt like an agonizing form of torture that slowed time down to a horrible crawl. Worse yet, all the pants were flared and I hated flares. All I wanted from the talented tailors and seamstresses of Sears was a pair of straight leg pants, but those sell-outs cared little for my needs and preferred to err on the side of what was considered fashionable. And this square peg was never going to fit into that round hole. Not without a couple of drinks.

I’ve gone through several phases, of course. There was the trench-coat-and-Stetson-hat phase, which I entered when I was deep in the throes of my obsession with detective fiction. There was the blue jean overalls phase, which lasted for a while, too. For some reason the Stetson inexplicably jumped ship and carried itself over into this phase, which made for a distinctly odd look, sort of a Philip Marlowe, Farmer Detective thing. In fact, there’s a wonderful photo of me with my younger brother on the evening of his prom where he’s resplendent in some sort of blue pastel suit, and I’m alongside him in the Farmer Detective outfit with shoulder length hair, clutching my then omnipresent plastic Tupperware glass.

Beneath them all, however, the basic ensemble of a K-Mart shirt and a pair of worker’s pants has remained fairly consistent for some time now. When I want to fancy it up a bit, I tuck the shirt in.

I made a purchase at a nearby Goodwill recently, though, that opened up an entire new world of couture for me. I bought a pair of black jeans that I’ve found very much to my liking. In fact I’ve already worn out one knee, which is all for the better.

I mean, I don’t want anyone here at work to think I’ve gone corporate, for god’s sake.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Two Librans

I’m sitting on the sidewalk with my packages at the corner of 13th Street and Broadway, thinking about how NY always has this alien, inhuman vibe, when this fellow pops out of the comic store and says, “You know, I can bring you a folding chair if you want.”

Another theory shot to hell.

It’s not that it’s inhuman so much, I suppose, but you always know when you’re in NY. There are many cities in America that you could be dropped in the middle of and you’d have a hard time figuring out where you were. I never have that problem in NY. Is it the pace at which the people move down the street, a breathless blur that even makes Philadelphians look like they’re out for a stroll? The cars that fight for every inch of space? The sense that you’re caught in the cogs of some great machine that will eventually chomp you if you don’t keep moving? The all-consuming hum and blanket of noise?

But the great paradox about New Yorkers is that for every one that bumps into you crossing the street, there’s another that’s more than willing to offer surprising friendliness and help to strangers like yourself.

I asked the wife later on about all the tiny dogs that seemed to be the preference there as I sat watching Pomeranians with tiny “I Love NY” shirts on being taken for their constitutional.

“Are they just easier to keep in tiny apartments?” I asked.

“Nope,” she said. “It’s the whole Paris Hilton thing. Everyone wants a tiny dog now.”

It certainly seemed to be the case at 13th and Broadway as I waited for the Clive Barker book signing to begin at the Forbidden Planet store. I’d shown up at 3:30 for a 6:00 signing and fully expected to see the beginnings of a line, but I was the first to show. Considering that I’d shown up much earlier and waited many more hours for similar events, two and a half hours was going to be a cakewalk.

I had to begin the line outside, which was ok with me: the weather was brisk but not uncomfortable, the kind of autumn weather I really enjoy. Sitting on the sidewalk, I probably looked like my usual vagrant self. However, with the arrival of the folding chair I seemed to enjoy a newfound air of authority as I quickly started fielding questions about directions to the Strand bookstore and Tower Records. I got the nervous feeling that someone was going to ask me to deliver a baby soon.

The next fellow in line didn’t show till 5:00. He wasted no time showing me the tattoos on his legs and demonstrating how he used to be “The Human Blockhead” at a Jim Rose-style sideshow by pushing a large thick nail first through his earlobe, and then up his nose.

“I used to ask for tips after, but I told the audience they had to staple them to my body,” he told me. “I once had 190 tips stapled to me, so I don’t mind pain. I tell people I’m using the pain to get ready for Hell.”

Clive has many kinds of fans and this is one of them.

They say that people often tend to enjoy those artists whose work or life experience resembles their own. I suppose this charge could be leveled at me with fairness where Clive Barker is concerned.

Not that I’m claiming to possess a sliver of the talent, mind you, but I always felt that in many ways we had probably been the same kid. Not terribly popular, an outsider, a kid who spent his time buried in books and in his own imagination.

The books were always the great attraction, of course, but I’ve always had a special fondness for him because of our mutual geek pedigrees. Not to mention the fact that he’s an exceptionally nice guy, even during those few frantic moments you get to share with him at a book signing.

He greeted the wife and I warmly and, when learning of the day’s festive milestone, volunteered that 50 had been a rough one for him, too (he’s got a couple years on me), but he wanted to assure me that things do get better. Knowing that Clive, too, had fought his own battles with depression, I took this advice seriously and actually felt a bit better about it.

“You know,” he said, “I have a theory that by the time we’re 70, they’ll have these pills that’ll make us feel like we’re 30 again.” Considering that I feel like 70 now, I hope he’s right.

We’ve been meeting like this for close to 20 years now, almost as long as the wife and I have been together, and so it’s sort of fun to touch base and see how we’re holding up. I can say with confidence, I think, that neither one of us seems to have developed much of an ego where our sense of fashion is concerned.

When I asked if he’d reached the point where he’d had to begin interviewing his daughter’s young suitors, he rolled his eyes and his husband David volunteered, “I don’t touch that – I just send them to him!” Knowing your date’s father invented that guy with the pins in his head has got to inspire them to behave, seems to me.

Then, after generously autographing my stack of books, we said goodbye till the next time. I like to think that we’ll still be meeting in 20 years, albeit a little slower and unsteadily, exchanging pleasantries about those new age-reversing pills.

But, in the meantime, it was back to our own battles, battles that treat everyone fairly and show no mercy to anyone regardless of wealth, success, or lack of same.

And, perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll learn to dress better.

Monday, October 17, 2005


just like you
just for a moment there
I didn’t think I was going to

- “picture this,” Charles Bukowski

I’m 50 years old today.

I haven’t done a very good job with the upkeep, but if you know how I treat my cars this will not surprise you.

Mostly I look back and see the mistakes, the now-obvious pattern of similar mistakes that I was apparently unwilling to learn from.

And if it took 50 years to get to that…well, you get the idea.

On the other hand, I live in a house.

I didn’t always think I’d do that. Even as a young man, I never saw a real future for myself and anticipated learning the ropes of the hobo jungle.

I haven’t ruled it out, you know.

Like many people, I wouldn’t mind a do-over.

I should eat better and exercise more. I’m trying to push a more positive attitude to the fore.

I’m grateful for the couple of friends I’ve managed to hold on to.

I’m still a little puzzled as to why the world and I haven’t gotten on better than we have.

What’s up with that?

There’s those couple of books that aren’t really books, which cheers me a little. Maybe some time after I’m gone someone will run into one of them and, if I’m lucky, they’ll read something that makes them laugh.

And I’ll keep pushing the music thing, even though no one’s terribly interested at the moment. That’s all right, actually. I understand it.

My wife has helped me suck a lot more juice out of life that I ever thought I would. I’m very grateful for that.

I’d like to buy a ukulele.

There is a little ways to go yet and the upside is I get to be the crazy old man I always was.

I’m 50 years old today.

Tomorrow, we start again.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Our Decaying Universe

Wednesday, as the wife knows, is comic book day.

It's the day each week when the new comics come out and, even though I am not what I would call a comic geek, the few things I like are things I like a great deal.

They usually don't have much to do with the Big Two - DC and Marvel – and their respective universes, though sometimes I do walk back into that enchanted forest when there's reason to.

For instance, I'm currently well into a year-long series called Seven Soldiers that requires that I brush up a bit on my knowledge of the DC Universe. You know, Superman, Batman and his other magic pals.

And my absolutely favorite title of the moment, Ex Machina, is published more or less by DC under another imprint, but takes place in a universe all its own.

So I do have reason to visit each week, sometimes for the books mentioned above, sometimes for paperback collections of comics I used to own or, like this week, for a new collection of Krazy Kat strips, the immortal creation of the great George Herriman.

Now, one of the things that both companies have become increasingly dependent on are Events, defined as sprawling, supposedly cataclysmic stories that will alter comic book reality as we know it, and that usually require that the reader buy as many titles as possible lest they miss some trenchant detail.

These usually occur during the summer, when a schoolboy and his allowance are easily parted. The advent of incredibly sophisticated video games have cut into the audience for comics, though, which seem rather quaint with their paper and ink attempting to provide the thrills.

So the Events have become more and more ambitious.

This Wednesday was an especially exciting one, then, for comics fans who enjoy their heroes super-powered and caped. Marvel was releasing the final installment of their Event House Of M, which seemed to be an attempt to whittle down the number of X-Men style mutants in the company's storylines, while DC was unleashing the first issue of Infinite Crisis, a sequel to their now 20-year old Event Crisis On Infinite Earths.

If you missed that one back in 1985, let me offer some details from a primer that appeared recently at the comic site Newsarama:

As the story unfolded, worlds and characters died at an alarming rate. For every new arrival, like the heroic Dr. Light or the new Superboy from Earth-Prime, there were five departures. Long-standing characters like the Barry Allen Flash and Supergirl of Earth-1 died heroically as the Monitor's opposite, the Anti-Monitor, moved to destroy creation. At the climax of issue #10, the Spectre fought the Anti-Monitor at the dawn of time. When the smoke cleared, Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-S, Earth-X, and Earth-4 had merged into one Earth.

You've got to know your stuff to read comics these days. I imagine there are some college curricula that are less complicated.

In fact, I recently had to do some reading up on quantum physics and string theory to get through some recent issues of Ex Machina. Seriously.

Anyway, let's just say this was a much-anticipated Wednesday by many comics fans eager to see their universes destroyed and/or reconstituted again.

When I pulled up to make my left onto the street where the comic store is, though, I found they’d closed off that end for roadwork. Approaching it from the other end, I barely manage to squeeze by and find, as I make my approach to the parking lot, that the owner of the store is waving me away and yelling something about how my car won’t be able to “make the gap.”

Sure enough, the roadwork had partly involved digging a huge trench right at the entrance of the comic store’s lot. I rolled my window down and the owner said “Go down to the library!” which I did, dodging chucks of broken asphalt.

Maybe it was our universe that was falling apart.

I followed the bedraggled string of fans who, like me, were desperate enough to walk in the rain for a few blocks to get to their goal.

I told you, comics aren’t for sissies. This bunch would have scaled a mountainside and had a lean and hungry look to them.

We all came in from the rain and found the owner chuckling, “See? Only the hardiest fans!” He was taking this pretty well for a retailer whose hottest day of the week (and whose hottest week in months) was being dealt a very real blow by road crews and weather.

As the majority went for the two hot titles, I gathered up my few purchases and scanned the racks looking for the latest issue of The Golden Plates.

Sitting there looking quite lonely among the stacks of superheroes was one copy of it, which is sort of odd for a brand new issue of anything.

Except for the fact that The Golden Plates is an ongoing comic adaptation of The Book Of Mormon, which might help to explain it.

I buy it because the fellow who does it, Mike Allred, is someone whose work I admire and I like to think I am not a fair weather fan. Allred, who has put his regular work on hold to do this, experienced something of a religious reawakening in recent years and decided to dedicate himself to adapting the entire Book Of Mormon into a graphic novel format.

He could be doing something that’s a lot more lucrative for either one of the Big Two, and has, but this is the road he’s chosen.

I bring my purchases up to the cashier who exclaims, “The Golden Plates! Yeah, you know we only order that for you anymore. You’re the only one that buys it!”

It felt sort of strange to hear this in the midst of fans grabbing at huge stacks of other titles, all of which promised earth-shattering destruction of one kind or another.

Tucking my plastic bag under my jacket I headed back into the elements, rain trying to sneak under my umbrella, universes collapsing around me, as I made my way back to the car with the only comic whose universe promised the reader eternal life.

You’d think it would sell better.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Yom Kippur 2003

it's a strange relationship
me and this kittel

the robe I wore at my

that I wear each
Yom Kippur

and which I'll be buried

an odd feeling, knowing this
is my ensemble for the

tonight the lights went out
halfway through the

but it went on:

we sang it all the way
through in the

i thought about all those years
in the dark to

me in the kittel

i wear it each time
i try to be

then there'll be
that one last,

it's nice

knowing that
they won't have
given up on

after the fact

singing in the

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

One For Miss Templeton

Apparently Rick Santorum felt he hadn’t been getting enough negative publicity lately.

Two days ago, the following piece appeared on the conservative NewsMax site:

"Fundraiser for Senator Rick Santorum at U2 Concert

On Sunday, October 16, a unique political event will take place.

At a concert of the legendary rock group U2, Senator Rick Santorum will hold a fund-raising event for one night only.

The thousand-dollar-a-seat fund-raiser has been put together by Sean and Ana Wolfington, and it will take place at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia in support of Santorum's reelection.

U2 front man Bono is no stranger to Washington, D.C. He has come often to the nation's capital to network with politicians on behalf of his many causes.

Santorum met Bono earlier this year, having been introduced by John Kasich, the former congressman from Ohio and host of Fox News Channel's "Heartland."

So what does the Irish rocker have in common with the conservative senator?

As in the case of Santorum, Bono's religious convictions inform his activities.

The U2 leader shared some of his faith perspectives with the author of the book "Bono in Conversation." He said, "It's a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people."

Santorum told "Christianity Today" that "faith is a source of morality; it's a source of virtue; it's a source of reason. It's a tremendous influence on my worldview."

Wolfington puts it this way: "It's truly appropriate for U2, a band with a purpose, to be involved in a fund-raiser with Senator Rick Santorum, a politician with a purpose. Both men are passionate about what they believe and their faith is very important to them.”

Sure makes it sound like Rick and Bono hit it off, doesn’t it? As the story made the rounds of the blogosphere, there were a few who found it difficult to swallow the notion of U2 aiding and abetting the creepiest man in American politics.

Yesterday, the folks at Santorum Exposed posted:

"We thought it seemed odd that U2 would put on a concert in a 19,000 seat arena as a political fundraiser for anyone, much less Rick Santorum. And we were right.


“It is not uncommon for politicians, from both parties, to organize events at all kinds of music concerts. If any such events take place at a u2 concert, it is without the involvement or knowledge of Data, U2 or Bono. U2 concerts are categorically not fundraisers for any politician - they are rock concerts for U2 fans."

So, it seems like Rick has access to a luxury box that he is using during the U2 concert for a $1,000-a-head fundraiser. That's just a little bit different than U2 "teaming up" with Rick Santorum. Perhaps someone close to Rick misrepresented the situation to”

This reminds me somehow of the Hare Krishnas who used to chase me down the street clutching copies of Back To Godhead as they cried, “You like The Beatles, right? Well, George Harrison is really into us! Got any money?”

It's getting nearly impossible to make fun of Rick Santorum anymore. He insists on doing all the heavy lifting himself.

(Thanks also to Crooks And Liars and The Democratic Daily)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Oh, Gigli!

I did it and lived.

Yup. To hear the critics tell it, merely watching Martin Brest’s Gigli is enough to cause permanent brain damage. But I took the Gigli Challenge and am here to tell the tale.

I know what you’re thinking. He just did it to be perverse. He just did it to try and prove them wrong.

Well, first of all, let’s get one thing straight. I’ll pretty much watch any movie on cable if I click on it as it’s starting. Or even halfway through, come to think of it.

But I do have a theory that oftentimes these bits of so-called accepted wisdom, like “Worst Movie Ever Made!”, are things that have just snowballed into exaggeration because of other factors. For instance, Gigli, and the follow-up Bennifer project Jersey Girl, were tagged as targets before they ever hit theaters, thanks to the public romance of their stars.

Nothing they did was ever going to get a fair shake. Now, it’s easy to pick apart some of the things in Gigli and make them appear ridiculous, but you could do the same thing with any film if you put your mind to it.

I’m not defending it as a lost classic or a diamond in the rough, but there were parts of it that were appealing.

If you go back and look at the reviews that appeared during its run, you’ll find that most of them are rather transparent excuses to aim barbs at Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez who, it seems, made the mistake of being rich, famous, and attractive.

Keep in mind that I thought Ishtar was funny.

If you’re not familiar with the plot of Gigli, Affleck and Lopez play two hardboiled underworld hitman types who are hired to kidnap the mentally disabled brother of a fed who’s putting pressure on a “client.” Forced to work together, the two predictably chafe against each other but soon begin to work together, especially after they’re ordered to send one of the brother’s thumbs through the mail as proof that they’ve got him.

The kid, channeling Dustin Hoffman’s performance in Rain Man with a little Tourette’s thrown in, has a penchant for quoting rap songs and dialing up the weather in Australia (a gag that pays off at the end of the film, by the way).

Throw into this mix the fact that Lopez is a lesbian and Affleck is hopelessly smitten. Apparently he’s the go-to guy when you’re making a film about a star-crossed homo/hetero love affair. Related to this is much discussion of whether men or women possess superior sex organs and the possibility that Affleck’s character may be having trouble dealing with a feminine side that is strangely attracted to this very dominant woman.

So I’ll give Gigli some points for a little more sophistication than one might expect in a project like this.

It’s not bad. And hey, you get cameos from Christopher Walken and Al Pacino, which automatically bumps you up a couple of stars. They’re both great here, but you know what they say about great actors and the phone book.

The mentally disabled brother, who spends the entire film begging to go to “The Baywatch,” is given a plot twist you see coming but is not less welcome for that. In fact, the love story between Affleck and Lopez here is actually more affecting and mature than the one they share in the supposedly superior Jersey Girl, which tanked in part due to the reception Gigli received and in part because it was such a drastic change in tone for writer/director Kevin Smith.

No dummy Smith, he’s already filming a sequel to his very first feature and evergreen fan favorite Clerks, which should hopefully turn his fortunes around. His fan base is such that he really doesn’t have to try that hard any more anyway. He’s at the point where he can produce a film full of in-jokes that only the converted will get, like Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, and he’ll still end up in the black. Don’t look for him to go straying off the reservation again anytime soon. If Clerks 2 does well, look for Clerks 3, 4 and 5 to arrive in quick succession.

Lopez has bounced back, but Affleck seems to have been permanently stained by Gigli. He’s the one the late night comics still make jokes about, the one whose name has been substituted into jokes where Madonna’s used to be.

It’s like everyone involved with the film was playing “Hot Potato” and Affleck lost.

That’s sort of how celebrity and the media works. Like Woody Allen said about intellectuals, they only kill their own.

Monday, October 10, 2005

This Is Not Here

Yesterday marked what would have been the 65th birthday of John Lennon.

That's a little mind-blowing for me somehow. It shouldn't be, but it is.

It's strange to think that he never made it past 40. And strange to think that he's been gone for 25 years now.

It was just always nice to know he was around, someone that smart and quick, who'd let you know what he thought about something.

We've managed, I suppose. We always do.

But we could have used him these past 25 years. Like a tonic.

So many timid and sad voices dominate our lives now. So many people lionized for their stupidity and cruelty.

I was watching some of this new reality show that's on now starring former Partridge Danny Bonaduce and his wife. I guess she was. I couldn't tell, really.

For anyone even mildly annoyed by reality shows, this show would be guaranteed slow torture.

Bonaduce, who never got over having once been famous and who has made a career out of debasing himself for money and fame, outdoes himself on this program.

He desperately parades his own manic depression, suicide attempts, and steroid and alcohol abuse in front of the cameras in the hope that some of this will keep us talking about him and make him some money along the way.

He's got nothing left to sell.

When he begs his wife to love him, it's crystal clear that he isn't talking to her at all. He's talking to us. He wants all of us to love him again.

The desperation on the show is palpable. He's like walking flop sweat.

I had to think about John for a moment, who had all the celebrity one person could possibly want, saw it for the narcotic it was, and rejected it for real life.

People had difficulty understanding that decision. I didn't, though.

When he and Yoko were in Philadelphia to tape a week's worth of Mike Douglas shows, I watched as a small group of people gathered into a mob as it followed them from the studio to their hotel a half block away.

They waited for an elevator, pinned to the doors by the crowd, while people yelled out things like "I love you, John!" and "I grew up with ya, John!"

John Lennon looked scared to death.

In the end, of course, hiding out from them didn't save him. It only made them want a piece of him all the more.

We're still pinning him to the elevator door.

Former local news anchor Larry Kane, who has milked the fact that he once interviewed The Beatles in 1964 beyond respectability, has come out with a new book about John that somehow parlays his brief moments with the Fabs into what is now his second Beatle-related effort.

Lennon Revealed, complete with the appropriately gauzy cover shot, is a sad book that, contrary to the promise of its title, has nothing to say but lots of room to say it in. Its purpose is to take your money. And yet it's littered with quotes from various Breakfast With The Beatles jocks from around the country (every city has one, apparently) telling you how essential it is. With admirable restraint, Publishers Weekly observed, "A final chapter of letters written by Lennon fans, however, feels tacked on." Hey, the man had pages to fill! You can't expect him to write the whole thing!

Seems Larry didn't get the memo that the best way to honor Lennon's memory might not be to milk his corpse until it's dry. Perhaps his next offering will be one of those empty diary books with John's face slapped on it.

That way the reader can write the whole thing this time around and probably do a much better job.

And that way, Kane can devote that much more time and energy to Bonaduce Revealed, a post-mortem whose time should be arriving any day now.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Bush Dentist Gets Nod For Supreme Court

(AP) WASHINGTON - In what was seen as an apparent reaction to disgruntled voices on both sides of the political aisle, President Bush withdrew his nomination of Harriet Miers to the US Supreme Court and announced a new nomination, that of his dentist, Dr. Ira Needleman D.D.S. of Frederick, Maryland.

Making the announcement at a hastily arranged press conference, the President, whose dwindling political capital and failing poll numbers have caused concern among the party faithful, sought to assuage the fears of his base.

"Dr. Needleman is a good doctor," the President told reporters. "Like me, he works hard. It's hard work, being a doctor. You've know, be all doctory and it's important work, hard work."

When questioned by a reporter as to Dr. Needleman's credentials to sit on the highest court in the land, the President became suddenly quiet and serious.

"Now I'm not one of those people that thinks that knowing anything about the law is a requirement for sitting on the Supreme Court. I'm just not. What's important to me is that I know his heart. He's fixed a great many of my own teeth, teeth that were hurting me. Now I don't know a lot about what he does. All I know is that before I went to see him, I was in pain. And after I saw him, the pain was gone."

"And that's what he'll do for America. He'll take a look inside the mouth of this great country of ours and take an X-ray. Then he'll shoot us with a powerful numbing agent that will take a few minutes to work. Finally, and most importantly, he'll drill out the cavities of malaise and despair. He will not be like one of these activist dentists who try to drill from the bench. He will give us the smile we need to bring our allies closer and the bite we require to take a big bite out of Al-Qaida."

"And he's a faith-based dentist, too. Now I don't want to get into any particulars about how he'd vote on issues like abortion, abortion, or abortion, that's his business. But let's just say that I've known Dr. Needleman for as long as I've been in Washington. And we've had long talks that may or may not have included how much we hate abortion. And so, abortionally speaking, let me just say that I think I know his abortion-hating heart well enough to be able to stand here before you and say that he will put an end to that 'quiet holocaust' that goes on every day in clinics across this great land. And by 'quiet holocaust,' I mean that which or may not be referred to as 'abortion.'"

The President then winked repeatedly at his evangelical Christian supporters, answered one or two more questions and then declared the press conference over.

In a related story, Dr. Needleman was indicted before the President had finished speaking.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Sam, You Made The Pandemic Too Long, Or: Apocalypse Sweeter Than Wine

I will admit to a fondness for products of the apocalyptic imagination.

And I would define these products as not only those stories or movies that deal with the end of the world, but those that are willing to take whatever they do to the limit.

I know it’s part of why I like so many of John Carpenter’s films. Many of them teeter tantalizingly on the cusp of apocalypse at their conclusions. And I know for a fact it’s what appeals to me about Clive Barker. There is an implied willingness in his work to destroy all preconceptions if it means opening a doorway to another world. There’s a painting of his called The Arsonist that seems to personify this – it shows a man wielding a torch whose fire has spread itself over him with no apparent ill effects.

I’m reminded from time to time, however, that in real life the end of the world might not be quite so jolly or metaphorical.

I had a nightmare the other night that really shook me. Part of what was so unsettling about it was the fact that it was so linear, so un-dreamlike, as if I were watching a documentary that I happened to be in. Even when I woke from it, when I fell back to sleep it would pick up from where it had left off.

Something was slowly wiping out the human race, some sort of virus against which we had no defense. It happened gradually, until those of us who were left started wandering from town to town in search of other survivors. More often than not we were met with “Quarantine” signs, although we’d sometimes ignore the warning and tentatively explore the premises.

My wife was with me in the dream and I remember at one point, having taking refuge with a great many others in a large abandoned house, saying to her, “I can’t believe this is real. I can’t believe this is really happening.”

When I did finally wake up for good, it took a few moments to realize that I had been dreaming and then it all evaporated as I thawed back into reality.

Still, as some dreams will do, it stuck with me throughout the day, coloring the day with those feelings of dread and terror. The real-time feel of it made it more difficult to shake than most nighttime spectres and phantoms.

What had triggered it all? Was it residue from Katrina? Or too many Bird Flu reports?

All the Bird Flu reports were worrying. I know that each time I read one I got a little more nervous as the news seemed to get worse. There’d be comparisons with the Flu Pandemic of 1918, making it seem that much more in the realm of possibility.

Do some Googling and read up on that particular bit of history. It will seem remarkable to you, I think, that these things happened within the last 100 years. Just an unstoppable swath of death that sliced its way through the country and through the world, “piling bodies up like tinderwood,” according to one observer.

Was it some nameless sense that we’re due for our apocalypse? After all the attacks and bombings and drownings and helplessness and hopelessness?

Or, and it took me a while to consider it, was it simply getting closer to actually being 50?

No way back. No time left. My apocalypse.

I can’t believe it’s real, that it’s really happening. Joining that long line of wanderers.

Could it simply be that? Just some midlife jitters on my way to the boneyard?

And will I wake up at the end of the nightmare, at the threshold of another world?

The real world, here at last?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Weather Report

While driving in this morning, I heard about how the Senate voted last night in favor of the McCain amendment that would prohibit the use of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” against anyone in United States custody.

Adding it to a $440 billion military spending bill, the Republican-controlled senate voted 90 to 9 in favor of the bill, which Bush has threatened to veto. Even Colin Powell contributed a letter in favor of it.

The other side, which is dwindling daily, continues to argue that there is no systematic abuse of prisoners.

Ordinarily, the sight of so many of the President’s men jumping ship on something like this would be something to celebrate. And, of course, for anyone who believes there is a chance of gathering together and repairing the tattered remnants of America’s reputation around the world, there is good reason to be optimistic.

But I don’t believe for a moment that this is a case of politicians suddenly coming to their senses. These folks don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows and what you have here, more or less, is a weather report.

This is the most graphic sign yet that the Bush/Cheney party is over.

With the administration slowly beginning to sink back into the cesspool from whence it sprang, weighted down by indictments and increasingly poor poll numbers, even Republicans have gotten the message that it’s no longer politically advantageous to back this hideous gang of thugs and liars.

When even nutcases like Ann Coulter start to write things about Bush like “He was elected to represent the American people, not to be dictator for eight years,” you know the rats are starting to sniff around for the nearest portholes to exit from.

The nomination of Harriet Miers (which the Coulter quote was reacting to) has especially managed to stick in the craw of conservatives who not only wanted Bush to fight harder for a more obviously ideological choice, but who can’t believe that he would make such a choice on the heels of the Michael Brown debacle.

I watched some of that Rose Garden press conference in which Bush defended his choice to the press. You'd think after all these years I'd be used to the way Bush stumbles and fumbles his way through a sentence, as if his brain were gasping for air. But I still sit transfixed, amazed that anyone could find him appropriate for any kind of elected office, let alone the Presidency.

Yet there he was, once again treating the English language like some sort of Keystone Kops slapstick chase, saying that Miers's qualifications included the fact that that she was "highly intelligent" and trying hard to turn his personal relationship with her into a plus by proclaiming that this closeness meant that he knew her "strength of character" and "what also matters is the intangibles."

Last night on David Letterman, they ran a fake public service spot about Bush’s exhaustive search for a Supreme Court nominee that concluded “Harriet Miers: The most qualified candidate within 50 feet of the Oval Office!”

Indeed, the only thing you really need to know about Ms. Miers is that she supposedly once referred to Bush as the smartest man she ever met.

It’s easy to sit back for a moment and enjoy the spectacle of all these Conservatives doing Eddie Murphy’s blind beggar routine from Trading Places: “I can see! I can see! Praise Jesus!”

But I don’t think any hearts or minds are really being changed here. I am encouraged that a notion of what America should stand for still manages to survive in some deep, dark crevice of the human heart. It took a former P.O.W., John McCain, to press for this amendment against the obvious distaste of someone whose experience of actual warfare is limited to finding the zipper on a flight suit.

And, who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this madness has finally begun to pass, like a fever, and the better angels of our nature have begun to reassert themselves.


Monday, October 03, 2005

My Pudding Bum

It’s not just my birthday that seems to have the fabric of reality in a tizzy. Other strangely synchronicitous events also seem to be paving the way for the wife’s upcoming trip to England in December.

That’s right. For two weeks, she’ll finally be making her long-delayed pilgrimage to the land where the name of every subway stop has been immortalized in a Top 40 hit. It’s a trip she should have made long ago and I think England needs to meet her as much as she needs to meet it. Pilgrimage is not too strong a word for someone whose love of and devotion to Anglophilic pop (and pop culture) is second to none, at least in my experience.

The official excuse is that she’s going to see The Pogues play some holiday shows. Considering that even framed portraits of Shane MacGowan seem to harbor some dislike of me, I’ll be sitting these out, thank you. Besides which, I’m not going to Blighty unless someone guarantees me a whole bunch of singing chimney sweeps. But for the wife, it’ll be a trip to the moon on gossamer wings.

And the way is being prepared.

For instance, about a week ago we strolled down the main drag here taking in the sights of the annual Sunnyside Street Fair, an event which features any number of handmade crafts and bootleg DVD’s. It’s hard not to go to something when it’s one block away from your house.

Stretching the short distance between the train station, past the biker bar and Buddhist college, and down to the bank, it usually doesn’t take long to get the gist, although we did get hung up for a while in the Entertainment area where some energetic tots were doing their best to demonstrate the choreography they’d learnt for At The Codfish Ball.

Predictably, I got hung up at the budget CD stall where I took a chance on a 3-CD set of George Formby’s Golden Greats. For those in the dark, Formby was an extremely popular British entertainer in the 1940’s whose songs of sly double-entendre endeared him to the public. Titles like She’s Got Two Of Everything, With My Little Ukelele In My Hand, and With My Little Stick Of Blackpool Rock should give you some idea. They’re full of wordplay and just-avoided lyrics (saying waistcoat when the rhyme would clearly suggest knickers) and usually involve nudist camps, ladies in baths, and kilts gone akimbo.

Sort of the audio equivalent of a “saucy” postcard.

Anyway, they’re all terribly addicting, which means the wife has had to suffer through endless replays of Why Don’t Women Like Me? and Levi’s Monkey Mike. Formby makes the Sex Pistols sound about as British as Ashlee Simpson, so she should actually be thanking me for helping to acclimatize her to the environment that awaits her.

Then the other evening we’re checking out the programming on the new gay and lesbian cable channel they added to our package, which so far seems to consist of Xena marathons and reruns of The Graham Norton Show. It was on one of the latter that we caught Graham subjecting some contestants to a sort of Newlywed Game type show.

The female half of a British couple was asked what she thought her mate’s best feature was and she replied “his sense of humor” (or humour, if you prefer). Asked to reveal his guess, her husband held up a card which read simply "My pudding bum".

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I defy you to come up with a phrase more quintessentially British than My pudding bum.

It’s as if Winnie-The-Pooh and Paddington and Rupert the Bear all got together to discuss their best feature over a light repast of marmalade and jaffa cakes.

So ever since we witnessed this, the answer to everything around here has pretty much been my pudding bum. It will probably be quite some time before you can get any other words out of either one of us.

I figure by the time she leaves, no one over there will even realize she’s American. And these days, that’s sort of an advantage when you’re traveling.

I wonder if The Pogues will cover Step In Time ?