Thursday, December 21, 2006

Lo, I Am Sore

There's nothing worse than a sore blogger, and my ribs hurt. Caught some wretched upper-respiratory-sinus bug that's had me coughing up my lungs, spleen, and other festively-tinted organs of the season for five days now. The glottal, Germanic sound on the front end of Chanukkah has never come in so handy as with this freakin' cough. I just yell Cchchchchappy CHchannunkahhhhhahhhhh into the toilet, sink, whatever, and voila, out comes a dreidel.

First couple days, y'know, you're just stuporous and vaguely annoyed, guzzling tea and C and aspirin as the Ork armies of bacteria build up. It's only when the fever kicks in that you think, oh, this may require drugs, and by the time the searing headache presses against the backs of your eyeballs like pre-natal alien twins, you can barely form a coherent enough thought to say, I'd better call my pal the ENT...

except he's not in. And now it's nighttime and you're convulsing on the couch under a blanket with your temperature dialed to 103.3 FM and these shivers and sweats and you're just gonna tough it out until morning and go to the ER, except come next morning, you can't get out of couch (not that you can sleep, you've had maybe two hours, but you can't move), so you have to wait until afternoon and oh for godsake shut the hell up. SHUT THE HELL UP!

Yeah, hearing voices, too. One voice in particular, which is me as an old man retching and kvetching, "I maintain, I maintain strongly, it's not an ordinary cold." Check the recordings of old folks on Simon & Garfunkle's "Bookends" for a precise re-enactment.

None of this, of course, is sufficient reason for my long dry spulge here -- have I even posted in December? Can't remember when that thing about actors went up, and I'm not going back to look. Just typing this so far has been exhausting. But so worth it, when I consider my faithful readers, a couple (and that's, like, 33%) of whom have asked, "Hey, what up with your lame-ass blog?"

And I say unto them, fear not. For I bring thee writhings of great bok choy, hocked up out of carry-out Bo Ling's, my first food in days, not counting my darling spousette's chicken soup, broth only, thank Yaweh for the woman, she is a saint.

I should retitle this blog "Broth Only." And I should move to a brothel. The spousette is a saint not only for her fine Judaic medicine-woman cookery, but for the strip-tease she did to assuage the fears of a neurotic, fevered brain that the virus had laid waste to my manhood. I know, it's ridiculous, but I'd never gone four days with no sign of life in this admittedly overactive region of my pathetic male corpus.

Lo, I have lived to tell you how sweet it is when a diseased mouth-breather, slumped on the couch, moaning that he'll never get it up again, looks up through rheumy eyes to behold his lovely bride provocatively setting forth to prove him wrong. A SAINT, I tell you! A really hot saint who can shake it like a paint mixer.

And not a moment too soon, cuz having figured on doing all my shopping this week, the only gift I have for her at this point is the same kind Justin Timberlake is giving this year. If you haven't laughed yourself senseless at this adolescent SNL clip and very catchy tune (thanks, Bighead Needleman!), I can't recommend it highly enough. It's been pulled off YouTube, but you can find it here:

SNL xmas spirit

And so, by the third horse pill, our hero began to feel halfway human and crawled up the steps to blog. A dick and a blog.

Step one:
You cut a hole in the blog
Step two:
You put your junk in that blog
Step three:
Go 'head, link from the blog
That's the way we do it

My point is, Happy Goddamn Holidays!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Spulge Divulges Names of Greatest Living Actors

If you put 100 people in a room, and they’d all been watching movies since, say, the 1970s (this is to eliminate the whippersnapper effect), and you asked them to name the ten greatest living American film actors working today, these names would probably be on all but a few of the resulting lists:

Robert De Niro
Meryl Streep
Al Pacino
Robert Duvall
Paul Newman

That they’re all white and almost all men obviously reflects opportunity as much as talent. But talent they got. They make the list by sheer numbers of amazing film moments amassed over years and years, movie after movie. I say “moments” rather than “performances,” because I think we remember a few brilliant, authentic moments and call the whole thing a great performance, as long as there’s an arc to it and there aren’t fake moments to undercut the brilliant ones.

From Robert Duvall’s first movie role in “To Kill A Mockingbird” (and all he had was a moment), through the big leads like “The Great Santini” and “Tender Mercies,” right on up to the old-codger supporting roles he’s getting today, he seems never to have committed an inauthentic moment to film. As with De Niro and Newman, it never looks like acting. He just seems to be living in front of a camera.

Pacino does seem like he’s acting sometimes, but it’s usually when he’s enjoying himself so much that the scenery tastes good to you, too. And Meryl Streep, well, it’s just a privilege to live in a time when you can watch such a superb actor try so many different things. Anybody who pulls off “Sophie’s Choice” and “Silkwood” and “Out of Africa” and “Ironweed” but also “Postcards from the Edge” and “The River Wild” and “Adaptation” and that Lemony Snicket movie, for the love of God... That’s better range than any of the guys have. Pacino has the widest range of the male actors on the list.

So who else? And by what criteria? I didn’t put Jack Nicholson on there, because as much as I’ve enjoyed watching him over the years, he’s like a jazz musician who has a few arpeggios that he leans on in every solo. Likewise, Gene Hackman. And I didn’t include James Gandolfini or Edie Falco, because their titanic, greatest-TV-acting-of-all-time performances are, after all, on TV.

For a long time, I’ve felt that the greatest living actor might be Morgan Freeman. The range issue is still there, but you never doubt him for a second and he confers some kind of deep, dignified humanity on everything he touches, even in otherwise lame movies. He’s a black, male version of Vanessa Redgrave, who I don’t get to include because she’s not American. But damn. I might add Wes Studi, who’s never going to play the lead in a comedy, but should have gotten an Oscar, a lifetime achievement award, and a MacArthur grant for “Geronimo,” if you ask me.

But then, if we were just going to base it on one huge, stunning performance, the whole list would be different. Billy Bob Thornton would probably make it, and so would Terrence Howard, and so would Heath Ledger. Wait, Heath’s not American. He should get honorary citizenship for “Brokeback Mountain.” But if I let him in, I have to let Christian Bale in. We don’t want a coalition of the top billing.

For overall greatness established over at least a couple of decades, I’d have to fill out the ten with Morgan Freeman, Sean Penn, Sissy Spacek, Ed Harris, maybe Denzel. Or maybe Viggo. Or maybe John Cusack. Phillip Seymour Hoffman? Or the most abundantly gifted of them all, maybe, Robert Downey, Jr.

If range were the main criterion, my top ten would be:

1. Meryl Streep
2. Robert Downey, Jr.
3. Dustin Hoffman
4. Kevin Kline
5. Jamie Foxx
6. Sean Penn
7. John Cusack
8. Parker Posey
9. Christopher Guest
10. Sissy Spacek

Except for Parker Posey and maybe Jamie Foxx, I think they’re all at least 40. It takes time to establish range. I wonder if Clooney should be on there. Not a long track record, but from “Out of Sight” to “Good Night and Good Luck” to “O, Brother, Where Art Thou?” Still, he’s always kinda Clooney.

And of course, I left out my relatives. Employees of the Lotto and their families don’t get to play.

Who else did I miss?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Bob, Bob, and Bob

My arch-blogrival Bighead Needleman came into my office this morning throwing yogurt and dissing Bob Dylan. If I were Bob Dylan, I'd write a song about it, rather than a blog entry. It'd be something like this:

Well, Bighead she come down the corridor
She got the medicine made from a toxic spore
And I say, my lacto-intolerance can't tolerate no more
I aint no health food saint or craft-services movie star--
But she just look at me and said, you ain't? what you mean you ain't, of course you are

The thing is, I think if I could just put together the perfect mix of Dylan songs, she'd see the light. I told her I might just do it. But of course I won't. But if I did -- is that too O.J. Simpson? -- I'd start with the young Bob.

Off the first couple of albums, I'd take these two songs:

1. Tomorrow Is A Long Time
2. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright

Simple, see, so you get the taste and the lactobacillus without having to stir the fruit up from the bottom just yet. We'll avoid stuff she's already heard and found overrated ("Like A Rolling Stone"). But I'd pull something off Highway 61 Revisited to complicate things a little:

3. Tombstone Blues

And then I'd goose the complication with something narrative from The Times They Are A-Changin':

4. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll

Then back to simple, with Nashville Skyline:

5. Lay Lady Lay

As we enter the middle Bob phase, it gets trickier.

We must keep her interest, yet show some range. She's a humorist, so we can remind her that Bob is, too. But we also need the tunefulness, see. From Blonde on Blonde:

6. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
7. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

And I'd include

8. Visions of Johanna

but it'd be the live version off of Biograph, not the Blonde on Blonde version. Similarly, I MIGHT throw in

9. Percy's Song

also from Biograph. It's not the greatest lyric ever, but along with that live Visions of Johanna, it'll lay to rest any doubt she may have about his musicianship. It's like the guitar, harmonica, voice, and words are all one organic thing on those two. Hands down, his best harmonica playing ever. Damning with faint praise, I know.

Then we have to do a couple from Blood On The Tracks:

10. Tangled Up In Blue
11. Buckets of Rain

Then we'd jump right past the identity crisis and lame posturing of the 1980s -- not that there weren't some good tunes here and there, but jeez. What might get to Bighead from the later Bob?

I think we go all the way to the mid-'90s, Time Out Of Mind. What is that, about '96, '97?

12. Not Dark Yet
13. Make You Feel My Love

And then we round it out with the sublime Love and Theft:

14. Mississippi
15. Po' Boy
16. Summer Days

Then she'll see that Bob is really the love-child of Rimbaud, Steven Wright, and Jimmy Durante. Now that's a three-way I'd buy tickets to see. I'd add a couple of songs from the new album, too, but I haven't listened to it enough yet to decide which ones.

Suggestions? Edits? Jeers?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Two positives = a negative?

Tom Waits was on The Daily Show last night. He's usually a great interview, but he didn't really get a chance to say much. I was thinking, "Jon Stewart seems a little sycophantic -- is he uncharacteristically nervous or something...?" and next thing I knew, Jon Stewart admitted to being nervous about the interview because he's such a fan.

So that was a bit lame, but there was still hope because Tom was actually going to play the show off the air. Is this the first time a musician has actually played music on the show? I'm thinking maybe so. Which would have been great except that he chose what I think is one of his lesser songs ("The Day After Tomorrow"), and it ran long, so it got cut off about two-thirds of the way through. All in all, not a great night for either The Daily Show or Our Hero.

My interview questions for Tom Waits:

1. Why "The Day After Tomorrow"?
2. Why the constant porkpie? Not that I'm against the porkpie. Just wondering about your concept of the porkpie.
3. Is that ice on the street out there?

OK, that's ice on the street out there. I'm going home.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tom Waits for No Altman

Robert Altman dies;

Tom Waits releases an enormous new album.

One door closes; another one (a garage door with a holiday wreath made of a smoke ring, car parts, and shrunken heads) opens. I haven't checked on the time of Altman's death, but I think these two events took place within mere hours of each other.

Tom Waits and Robert Altman intersected on Short Cuts, an uneven riff on the stories of Raymond Carver. Tom and Lily Tomlin were splendid as a couple of co-dependents you just knew were stuck together "till the wheels come off," (a line from the movie reprised in the glorious "Picture In A Frame" on Tom's Mule Variations). If there's an afterlife, it'd be nice if Robert Altman and Raymond Carver were hanging out about now. Maybe listening to the new Tom Waits album.

It's a 3-CD set called "Orphans." I must add: the two songs Tom wrote for Big Bad Love are on the second CD. This blows my mind, just as it blew my mind when Norah Jones covered one of them on her second album. Here's what really gets me: The songs allude to images and themes in the movie. And some of those images are in our script, but not in the Larry Brown book it's based on. So if the movie had been written differently, the songs would be different? Or if the movie had never been made, Tom's new album wouldn't have these songs on it? And Norah Jones would've put something else on her album, too? It's so strange. This little movie, which did so little box office, made these marks on other things. What must it be like to create something that has a huge cultural ripple effect? My mind would be in a continual state of blown-ness.

Robert Christgau mentions the Big Bad Love connection in his review of "Orphans" in this week's Rolling Stone.

Excerpts from Tom Wait's notes about the new album (which comes with a 92-page booklet):

"If a record really works at all, it should be made like a homemade doll with tinsel for hair and seashells for ears stuffed with candy and money. Or like a good woman’s purse with a Swiss army knife and a snake bite kit."

"On Orphans there is a mambo about a convict who breaks out of jail with a fishbone, a gospel train song about Charlie Whitman and John Wilkes Boothe, a delta blues about a disturbing neighbor, a spoken word piece about a woman who was struck by lightning, an 18th century Scottish madrigal about murderous sibling rivalry, an American backwoods a cappella about a hanging. Even a song by Jack Kerouac and a spiritual with my own personal petition to the Lord with prayer…There’s even a show tune about an old altar boy and a rockabilly song about a young man who’s begging to be lied to."

"I think you will find more singing and dancing here than usual. But I hope fans of more growling, more warbling, more barking, more screeching won’t be disappointed either."

Like Robert Altman, Tom Waits is a true American original -- visionary, uncompromising, wacky, inconsistent, ragged around the edges. He's an urban shaman and a suburban dad and often records songs in his car. A lot of his music will outlive him, but we should dig him while he's still around.

Monday, November 20, 2006

You Must Revise Your Life

I was looking through a big book about Buster Keaton this weekend, and had to come to grips with the fact that, although he's responsible for some of the most amazing, hilarious moments ever committed to film, there's not one film of his (including "Steamboat Bill, Jr." which, last time I rented it, I fast-forwarded to the climactic sequence at the end) that really belongs on my desert island top-five.

But I'm putting in his picture to compensate. I just hate to think of Buster Keaton being excluded from any list having to do with comedy. But it's time to buck up and be a man and push "O, Brother, Where Art Thou?" up on my list.

I guess. I think I'll make it easier and do a top 25...

Meanwhile, following a comment on the Room w/ a View post, I want to mention "Babel":

I haven't seen a movie that describes more devastatingly the situation we 21st-century human beings find ourselves in. It's beautifully written, movingly acted, stunningly shot, and directed and cut with a respect for the audience that is all too rare. But I came away thinking there was something missing, some little thing here or there that would have made it a truly, historically great film instead of simply an amazing one.

At first I thought, it's a lack of levity. The mounting dread and grimness of it is not just hard work to sit through, it's unrealistic. Life isn't as relentlessly heavy as that, is it? But there are a couple of light moments. And you do forget for long stretches that you're watching a movie. It's realistic enough to draw you in.

I don't know what it is, exactly. Maybe it's that there's one story in the middle that touches the two others, but those two don't really meet, except through the middle story -- like a triptych, where the larger middle panel is hinged to two panels on either side.

If the movie's a tower, it's missing a wall. But maybe that's intentional. The tower it's named for was never quite finished.

Or maybe we're the wall.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Desert Island Five

Well, after that all-too-ponderous post (and generous comments from y'all, including my first from an unknown-er (thanks Reel Fanatic -- more on Babel/Inarritu/Arriaga, next post...), I pick up where last Sunday's New York Times left off. A top-five list. The magazine section was devoted to comedy, and they published a lot of top-five lists as answers to the question "Which comedies would you want on a desert island?"

Among those surveyed: Will Ferrell, Christopher Guest (nice articles on both of them, too), Ricky Gervais, Catherine O'Hara, Bernie Mac, a bunch of other performers, writers, and directors. The most frequently listed movie was "This Is Spinal Tap." I was surprised to see some brilliant comic minds with "Dumb & Dumber" and "Team America: World Police" on their top fives.

Surely some of that's due to physical comedy getting the big laughs. This subject is taken up in the magazine's lead-off article by A.O. Scott. He's never been one my fave film reviewers (even less so after his lukewarm, miss-the-point-entirely review of Big Bad Love), but it's a pretty good piece on why "Borat" works and why something like the VW microbus gag in "Little Miss Sunshine" keeps getting funnier as the movie goes.

I'm tempted to do a top ten. Top fives are too hard. And the desert island factor means each movie must reward repeated viewings. So uneven movies tend to fall out. I still laugh as hard at the funny stuff in Woody Allen's "Love and Death" as I do at anything, but it has moments I find so lame, it's embarrassing. I have to eliminate things like "Harold and Maude," which I probably saw a dozen times as an adolescent, in favor of what I'd be willing to see again and again now, as an incredibly sophisticated adult with laser-like, irony-clad perception...

I really would rather watch "Jackass Number Two" than "Room With A View" on a given day. But top five?

My first attempt will be chronological:

1. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (Buster Keaton)
2. Sleeper (Woody Allen)
3. Fast Times At Ridgemont High (Cameron Crowe, Amy Heckerling)
4. Flirting With Disaster (David O. Russell)
5. High Fidelity (John Cusack, Stephen Frears)

That looks pretty close. I can't believe the Coen bros. aren't on there somewhere, but... "Raising Arizona"? "The Big Lebowski"? "O, Brother...?" and what would I take out? Maybe "Fast Times..." Or maybe I'd have to admit that stretches of "Steamboat Bill, Jr." are dull and not worth the great rewards of its high points. Maybe I'd have to include "Groundhog Day," a nearly perfect movie, especially for a desert island situation.

My friend Matt used to review films for a newspaper and says there are at least two John Cusack movies that are better and funnier than "High Fidelity." Them's fightin' words.

Man, this is hard to do. Each movie I love that I have to leave out is like a kick in the groin of my personal aesthetic. It hurts, man!

Go ahead. I dare ya.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Where You Live

What moves you? Ever had an ecstatic experience in a movie theater or listening to the radio? Think back to a signature moment of artistic expression that overwhelmed you or cracked you open or revealed you to yourself in some profound or salient way. What was it? Is there a movie or song or piece of writing or painting or speech or performance of some kind that seemed, at the time anyway, to change your life? Can you say why?

I’ve had a few, but I’ll pick just one. In 1986, my older brother was struggling with some personal demons and a mess of a first marriage. He was in England for several months, making a movie. I was here with a family and a job, and couldn’t really do anything to help besides listen and offer the occasional supportive word over the phone. So I did. He must have run up a staggering trans-Atlantic phone bill. We’d talk for hours. I also wrote him letters, mostly goofy stuff with little cartoons, jokes, fake articles about the movie he was making, that kind of thing.

That spring, I went to see “A Room With A View,” a Best Picture nominee for 1985 that had finally made it to Kansas City. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an adaptation of a literary novel by E.M. Forster, depicting a stiflingly mannered Edwardian English society (as well as a magnificently photogenic Florence, Italy), mostly from the POV of a young woman on the verge of marriage. It sounds dull. It’s not.

I saw the film at a small art-house theater just up the road from the Plaza area of The City of Fountains. (Not Rome; Kansas City. We have more fountains than Rome, you know.) I added to the municipal waterworks by crying like a hydrant as I came out of the theater. Something about the opening of this young woman’s eyes and heart, the triumph of true love over propriety and duplicity, the yearning honesty and soulfulness of the man she ends up marrying (and of his father, played by the splendid Denholm Elliott) — I don’t know, it just hit me with tremendous force. As I walked away from the theater, I was hyperventilating. I couldn’t move my mouth. My hands were numb and curling up into claws. I briefly wondered if I might be having a stroke or a heart attack, but I knew it was just a physical response to the emotion brought up by the film.

I got in my car, breathed slowly until I could open and close my hands, and then drove straight down to this big splashy Plaza fountain, parked illegally, jumped out of the car and into the fountain. I just stood there, letting a sculpted horse spray water on top of my head for a minute or two. And as I climbed out of the fountain, soaking wet, I said (aloud, I think), “I’m going to England to help my brother.”

And I did. Go to England, I mean. I don’t think I helped, really. I ended up spending a lot more time with another actor on the film than I did with my brother, who mostly wanted to brood and sleep when he wasn’t working. It felt absolutely right to be there, though. I didn’t really have the money or the time to make the trip, but I had the clarity and certainty, when I came out of that fountain, that it was more important to be with my brother than to worry about a credit card bill or lack of vacation time or anything else.

There are lots of movies I like more than “A Room With A View.” But where you are in life when you encounter a piece of art sort of guides the arrow as it leaves the bow and affects how close it hits to where you live. I don’t remember ever having such a visceral, life-changing response to a movie.

I mean, it’s no “Jackass 2.” But it’s worth renting.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Hallmark Writer By Day, Crimefighter By Night

One of my favorite Hallmark people just quit her job. I've only known her for about five of my 26+ years at Hallmark Cards, but she's a peach. Lydia Steinberg. My second-favorite petite Jewess. And the finest human being ever to work in PR.

Lydia's PR baby was the Hallmark Writers & Artists On Tour program, in which the company sends us scribbly creative types out to meet & greet the public. One year, I went with Bighead Needleman, forging a friendship that not even our fierce blogrivalry can tear asunder. Last time out, I was paired with one of my favorite humor artists, Eric Brace. We went to Sacramento (my birthplace) in August. We did TV, radio, and live events, heard people’s amazing stories about what cards have done in their lives, and came home inspired and exhausted.

Before all that, we had to do publicity photos, a session set up by Lydia with a staff photographer. Come the morning of the photo shoot, I’ve completely forgotten about it. When Eric calls and says, “Hey, don’t you know where you’re supposed to be?” I realize I’m wearing the kind of thermal underwear shirt you’d put on for a pickup softball game. My electric razor is on the fritz, so I look like I’ve been at sea for a week.

I dash down to the shoot, knowing exactly the look of disappointment that’s going to be on Lydia’s face. I’m dreading it. I mean, I’d rather disappoint just about anyone in the world than Lydia. She’s rock solid, dependable, caring, utterly competent, supremely professional, a joy to work with. To be anything less when she needs me to hold up my end, well, it’s mortifying.

She gives me The Look. And I start to make my whiny excuses, but there’s no point. Then I remember: I’ve got an old electric razor right in my office desk drawer, and it still works. And the men’s department at Halls is a mere two-minute run from where I’m standing. So I tell her I’ll be back in ten minutes and bolt back down the hallway.

Halls is a high-end department store, where designer jeans can run $500 and the fine Italian suits cost thousands. But once in awhile, they have a big sale, and as I sprint into the men’s department, lo, it is once in awhile. There’s a long sale rack of shirts and I start pawing through them, ignoring the dapper salesman who’s looking at me the way he’d look if a dog scampered into the place and started humping his leg.

Within seconds I’ve found an Armani shirt in my size marked down from $250 to $50. My employee discount makes it $40, plus tax. I payroll deduct it and bolt for my office, where I shave like a wolfman possessed. I come running back into the photo shoot, and the smile on Lydia’s face makes all the stress worthwhile. I’m breaking a sweat now and I need to lie down, balance my electrolytes, and maybe get a blood transfusion. But I have taken The Look off of Lydia's face. And I am filmworthy, insofar as I will ever be.

So, here’s a heroic shot of The Talent portion of Team Sacramento (Lydia actually, if wryly, calls us "The Talent")), ready to meet the public and defeat the forces of evil. I’m the one in Armani and eyeglasses. And that’s my partner in derring-do, Eric Brace, aka Bigfoot. We will not rest until the world is safe for social expression.

Shirt and shave, courtesy the great Lydia Steinberg, who shamed me into them that summer day. I miss ya, Lydia.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Spammies from Heaven

The money comes pouring in! Look at that comment on my last post! I'm rolling around naked on top of 800 fresh, crisp, lacerating dollar bills! And all I have to do to open the filthy lucre floodgates is click on a link posted by someone named "anonymous," who makes $800 every month and it's easy and I'm going to be slicing off so much cheddar, I'm already opening new lines of credit (or should I say "cheddit"?) and I'm going straight from here to The Territory Ahead website and order me some richly textured dobby-weave shirts! Everything from now on is going to be richly this or luxuriously that!

Just think, out of all the millions of blogs out there, anonymous picked mine. I knew it would pay off! If I just did what I love -- blogging -- the money would follow. If I just stayed true to my vision, blogging and bloviating relentlessly...

I'd like to thank Joren and Beth for making this possible. And I'd like to thank Bighead Needleman for challenging me and forcing me to be a better blogger. And lastly, to all the people, all four or five of them, who have read my blog and left comments -- to Dan, Lee Anne, and of course my wife and best friend...

Sorry. I didn't really have anything prepared, and I really should have worn a diaper.

Thanks. Thanks so much.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


So Bighead Needleman comes up and says, who's this Rumi and how come you don't fulfill the promise of your blog? Well, I have Valentines to write. But, since you ask...

Rumi is my 13th-century imaginary friend and the best-selling poet in America. He was a Sufi, the original whirling dervish, out of whose ceaselessy turning mind poured thousands of poems. He's a fountain and a mountain and a sweet-talking ladies' man (although he may have been gay). He's a carnival ride and a spiritual guide. He is timeless, rhymeless (in English, anyway) and he has more to say to us here in the 21st century than a thousand academics hunched over borrowed monkey typewriters.

The main reason for Rumi's popularity today is Coleman Barks, his greatest translator. Coleman played a Southern preacher in a movie I wrote called "Big Bad Love." He is a bona fide poet, madman, and vastly creative human being who sits on a porch in Georgia and keeps churning out the translations in addition to his own original work. He was born to do it, and his tireless, ego-less channeling of Rumi has enriched my existence beyond measure. Getting to meet him and work with him was a big deal for me. Hence, the link in my sidebar.

There you go, Bighead. And happy birthday to your little man.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


So, you go into the polling place and you find that it's filled with electronic voting machines made by Diebold, that nice Republican company whose CEO guaranteed Bush the state of Ohio back in '04. You get your little ballot card and stick it in the slot and do the touchscreen thing and then go to confirm your vote, but it comes up different than how you voted. So you call the ancient poll worker over and she ends up having to unplug your machine and plug it back in so you can vote again...

Meanwhile, the voter next to you is yelling to the poll workers that her touchscreen isn't working. So a brawny poll worker comes over and tests things out. Apparently he can't feel her touch, either. But he jiggles the cord on her voting machine and then it seems to work.

So you vote again, and this time the confirmation screen comes up with the lesser of two evils you voted for, rather than the greater one who showed up last time. So you pop out the ballot and hand it to the ancient poll worker, and neither one of you knows what's on it, or what happens when it gets carted off and put into another machine that adds up the tally.

But we do know that there's software on the ballot itself, and that this software can be hacked, and that the people at Diebold lied about that. How do we know? Because a few people were worried enough about it after the 2000 election to go out and do a documentary on electronic voting machines. If you have HBO, you too can get terribly depressed by watching "Hacking Democracy." This link is actually to a story about the documentary, with a clip or two.

When did this country become the Soviet Union? It's really hellish.

Anyway, vote! It may or may not count!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ted Haggard, free at last

Of all the Haggards, my fave is Merl. But Ted runs a close second. Even before all this news of gay prostitutes and meth, I was entertained by that wacky persona. He always seemed on the verge of transcending his beady-eyed sanctimony and going completely batshit insane. I saw him interviewed once and thought, "Now that's a guy who really needs to get laid."

Apparently, that wasn't the problem. The batshit part is transparent, though. It's hard to be yourself when you're the head of a 30-million-member organization that just doesn't understand your needs. So he had to split off that whole part of his personality. But that never works. In Jungian terms, his shadow material just got too big for the bag he was carrying it in.

Anyway, he's free now. Free to do you and me. But maybe he'll pull a Swaggart, with a big weepy public apology, throwing some blame at Satan and pornography and childhood abuse. Plus the meth. Which he threw away. But still.

Hey, I wonder if Ted ever bumped into Jeff Gannon at a White House prayer breakfast or press conference (not to be redundant )...?

Why is it so deeply satisfying when this kind of hypocrisy is exposed? I don't think it's straight Schadenfreude, or however Bighead Needleman spells it. There's just nothing like a gay basher turning out to be gay. It's like redemption. God works in mysterious ways.

Surely someone has charted the history of scandals like this, from the Puritans through the 19th century through Elmer Gantry and right on up through this recent rash of right-wing hypocrites. It would make a pretty good book.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Hot Links, Get Your Hot Links

I now have five new links in my sidebar. Not to snub Bighead or anything, but allow me to draw attention to two of them. My daughter Emily and my friend Shane both have MySpace pages with their own songs on them. I've heard Emily's golden tones for most of my life, so I was happy to see her put a few tunes up. But I hadn't heard from Shane in years, so when he sent me a link to a new website that features his design, illustration, and photography, I wrote back asking if he was still doing any music (he sang at my wedding and is a brilliant musician), he sent me a link to his MySpace page.

Check 'em out. "Life without music would be a mistake." Can't remember who said that, but I wish I had.

I also added my high school friend Lee Anne, and of course, the peripatetic Basses, whose fault all this is.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Partly Witty With A Chance of Sacrilege

The last time I saw Katarina Witt skate was 1994—her farewell competitive event, I think. She dedicated her performance to the city of Sarajevo, where she won her first Olympic gold medal. The music was “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” and she had everyone in tears, not least because of what the question meant to Sarajevo in 1994. She was soulful, elegant, with the most magnificent female body ever to wear ice skates -- but she fell once, and she'd been surpassed technically by the younger skaters. She took seventh place. She later spoke very movingly about her disappointment and what Sarajevo meant to her.

So I was thinking what a miracle it is that a woman like that ever becomes a world-class athlete. And a few years later, I had a rough draft of this very long three-part poem called "Messianica." It’s a mess, alright. A work in progress.

The first part is Jesus walking on the water. The second part is Katarina Witt skating on the ice. And the third part (really long, and nowhere near finished, so I won't inflict it on you) currently features Al Gore in a steam bath with Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane respectively playing soprano, alto, and tenor over in the corner. So we have water, ice, and steam, with a kind of historical progression, and the jazz parts have strict rules about vowel sounds for the various saxes -- Ornette can only use long A's, long E's, and long I's -- and some other crap that's equally boring to describe (and, at present, to read). I'm thinking of replacing Al Gore with Bjork and setting the third section in some steamy, geothermal part of Iceland, but I've been working on this thing off and on for more than a decade and still don't know what it means. Hope to finish before Armageddon.

So here are the first two parts. If I knew how to load music, I’d put "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" on here. First in Hebrew, then in German.

from "Messianica"

A savior arrived,
walking over the sea, carefully placing his feet,
not yet pierced by iron spikes,
on the surface, through which he gazed
into the depths. He was drawn to depths,
would have to be pulled upward against his human will
in the tractor beam of myth. As seen from vantage points
on far shores, he moved across horizons
like a desert wanderer, which he also was.
Seen from underwater, he left only a mild, sucking swirl
for a footprint, the stirring of a shallow oar.
Scriptural mention is casual, as if the writer
(Matthew, let’s say), having fallen asleep
on the fourth watch, awoke to this sight,
but by now was used to such things.
“Jesus came to them, walking on the sea.”
This followed on the heels of other miracles—
the loaves and fishes cloned for multitudes,
the blind now dumb with light, the lame
running into the waves in his wake,
unable to follow, but willing to drown for him now,
to kiss and wash his feet, fresh from the surf,
come up into prophecy and Palestine.
The hem of his garment dripped
salt water and spit, the ancient broth
of earth kissing sky, tongue of lightning,
breath of vapors, ecstatic grunting from the dust,
the sprawl and din of devotee on devotee,
Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee.

A savior arrives,
moving slowly over the water as if it were frozen,
it is frozen, she skates over the still water
with the sound of sharpening knives
or of diamonds being cut, a sound we have heard
yet never quite like this—the blades of her last name
quick slices into the ice, the mind, Witt, Witt,
into the record book, the list of champions
that tells only the ending, never the story—
yet exactly like this. Born December, 1965,
to no known astronomical fanfare, now gliding
through the compulsory figures of the millennium,
retracing her own path. She is of the old school,
surpassed by progress, early training, extended
practice, tiny ice princesses laced up by five a.m.
to spin and jump and fall toward success—
but she arrives past success, always more artist
than athlete, more fire than ice, more gesture
than technique, which cannot save Sarajevo,
more woman than girl, who could not understand
Sarajevo, more Sarajevo than East Berlin,
more Berlin than any city without sorrow.
But what city has not wept for a savior?
By now we welcome the idea that he is a woman,
we do not care if she is a figure skater,
if she smiles naked in airbrushed soft-porn,
or endorses chocolate pudding. Or we do care,
but accept in a savior the missteps, the falls,
the faults that in skating we wince to witness,
“ohhhh...” our own indignities tumbling
ass over teakettle into our eyes—Witt, Witt,
up from the ice, having fallen,
having sought a perfection beyond our imagining,
or hers—not higher perfection, not spiraling
upward through numbers, but deeper, a laceration
into the world, her long wall of beauty rebuilt
of ice, flesh, and air for beloved Sarajevo, now
marred by the bullet-pock a toe’s errant fraction
of fractions leaves behind—that sad smile,
the one with no dazzle, where we see
that she feels she has let down not just an arena,
but a city already fallen, a nation already split,
a world where the stain of cleansing
will never come clean. A Muslim boy speaks
into a camera, pulls the stump of his arm out
the neck of his sweater, a small lever of flesh,
and smiles, “I can use it. I can work with it.”
He says, “A Serb shell does not have eyes.
It was not looking for me.” He is blond, freckled.
The camera is looking for a Muslim boy.
Eastern Europe is looking to the West.
The skater is looking for the space in the music
she can leap up through, into above beyond,
the double distilled to the single,
now the last circling figure,
Witt, Witt, saving us
in defeat, looking
through tears
she cannot

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Know Time

OK, my blogrival Bighead Needleman left a comment reminding me that I told her about meeting Sting when we were in Washington, D.C. for Hallmark Writers On Tour. Know what that means? That means I didn't meet Sting in the summer of '05, but rather in the summer of '04. Which means that time is proceeding roughly twice as fast as I think it is.

This means that the world is spinning at about 50,000 mph instead of the leisurely 25,000 mph of my youth. Do I have that figure right? Wait, I think it's that the world is 25,000 miles in circumference. I think the speed is 20,000 mph. But is that rotation speed, or revolution speed?

Whatever. My point is, the shit's speeding up. Days really are getting shorter. That's why it's hard to get anything done, why you so rarely feel fully rested, and there's that general uneasiness that we're all about to be centrifugally (centripitally?) flung off the face of the earth, out into space. Really, it's not just the dread of these Dick Cheney types taking over the world. It's worse than that. It's a science thing.

My daughter's going to be 28 in February, my oldest son's going to be 25 next month, and my 5-year-old is reading at a 3rd-grade level. He has to, just to keep up. The other day, he was eating a granola bar and reading the packaging copy on the granola bar box. And he said, "Hey, if you put one of these in your golf bag for a snack, it'll keep you going for 18 holes." And then he looked up at me and said, "What are these holes? How big are they?" I said, "The biggest ones are usually the guys playing the sport." It cheered me to realize that we'd managed to shelter him successfully from the facts of golf. At the same time, I felt bad for all the little kids out there, trying to figure stuff out, only to come face to face with the ultimate unknowableness. So we construct our frail epistemologies.

It's possible to be a truly big cigar, operating at the highest levels of achievement, where everyone's a millionaire wielding enormous power as a matter of course, where you can pay anybody to find out anything, and still end up wrong almost all the time. We'll be greeted as liberators. The insurgency is in its last throes. I'm going to shoot some quail. At Halliburton, it's not who we know, it's what we know.

See? You never know. And then you get flung off the face of the earth, out into space.

Meanwhile, we live, we love, we laugh. And we write poems featuring Katarina Witt. But that's for the next post.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Still Haven't Washed My Hand

It occurs to me that maybe a free (and ad-free) blog doesn't really have to let you upload all the photos you want. But I'm going to try again, because if we can't festoon our blogs with celebrities, why do we fight? Besides, fame is like oxygen for my rival blogger Bighead Needleman and she'll hyperventilate.

Thus: my sparkly spousette, Sting's supernatural guitar player Dominic Miller, and me, at a Sting concert, summer of '05. We got backstage because my mini-mate is so charming and friendly, by the time we got from the parking lot to the gate, she'd met a woman who went to high school with Dominic Miller, and this woman fell instantly in love with my wee wife and gave us the extra tickets she had waiting at Will Call, and then took us backstage with her, where we sat with Dominic (I call him "Dominic") and then, yes, Sting.

That there, that's Sting. And that's the nice woman, Roberta, by whose graces we met Sting. The thing about us is, we hang out with Sting.

Now, I've loved this guy's music for more than half my life and have always been fascinated by the person behind that amazing voice. So some of this is my own projection. But there are people whose personalities are just bigger than most. And Sting's emanates like an electrically-charged fog. It fills the room. He packs more charisma per pound than anyone I've ever met. He has that thing I recognize from being around certain actors, a kind of shy, withdrawn quality that seems to have its own gravity. Then, when he actually speaks or looks at you, it has a physical effect, the way it feels when your eyes have to adjust to bright light. When Dominic introduced us, Sting shook my hand, looked at me, and said, "Hello, Jim," and the look drilled right through my head and left two smoking holes in the wall behind me. That's a neat trick you learn when you study tantric yoga.

So, Sting is my celebrity of the day. And the concert was a reminder of how many great, memorable songs the guy has written over the past three decades. I ask you: What would life be without "Roxanne," "Message In A Bottle," "Don't Stand So Close To Me," "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," "Spirits In The Material World," "King of Pain," "Every Breath You Take" . . . and that doesn't even get us out of the mid-80s. I just bought the new CD, on which he plays an archlute and sings the songs of John Dowland, a composer of the Elizabethan era. Nice work if you can get it.

You almost want to resent him for being so talented AND good-looking AND wealthy AND rain-forest-preserving AND for never having sung a flat note in his life. But you can't, because he's a genius. And if I hadn't been so starstruck, I'd have thought to get my picture taken with him, too, before he walked off, slowly and majestically, taking the fog with him.

Friday, October 27, 2006

O, Lame New World

Suckiness, thy name is Blogger. My simple little photos will not post! I uploaded a mere jpeg, letting the little "Uploading Your Images" wheel spin while I got some work done, only to come back to a Server Error message. So I try again, and the thing just spins and spins and I come back a half-hour later and it's still spinning and I hate everything.

This was to be a celebrity photo post, too, in order to trump Bighead Needleman's recent family photo and force her to post a comment, because she is drawn to celebrities as a moth to the flame. But nay.

So now you'll just have to guess which of the following celebrities it might have been:

1. Bono
2. Denzel Washington
3. Bernadette Peters
4. Sam Shepard
5. Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket
6. Samantha Bee
7. R.L. Burnside
8. Katarina Witt
9. Sting
10. Barack Obama

Winners receive their own blogs that sometimes make it hard to upload photos.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I Get Comments

Blogosphere Knot, For I Bring Tithings Of Great Hoi Polloi.

My old (as in class of '74) high-school friend, Lee Anne Millinger, left a comment on my Technopeasant Prevails post. She's a writer in Detroit, and she just plugged Spulge Nine in her nice Christian blog! Check it out at such small hands
(leave it to Lee Anne to find a superfine e.e. cummings phrase for a blog name). Had to write code to put that link in. Damn, I'm good.

So. I have a vast Christian following. Dan! Lee Anne! I love you guys! Oh, and as to you who'll be hanging out in hell with me later... Bighead Needleman! I love you, despite the fierce rivalry of our blogs! And my Jewish bride! I love you most of all! Tonight, let's do that special hug that only grown-ups can do. We may not get the chance to do it later, in hell. Hey, Satan (and/or Blogger)! I love you, too!

We're all about the love here at Spulge Nine. That and not being able to come up with any good card ideas for Graduation. This IS a problem. We're dealing with it. The cut-and-run crowd would have us retire early. But our strategy remains the same. Only the tactics and the distractics have shifted.

Two posts in one day, and a plug out there in blogtown. I must be raking in the cash. Where do I go to collect?

Nukular Winter

Hey, Blogger! Or Blogspot, or wherever I am! Posting photos here is a drag, man! Why the 68-character limit on URLs? There's not a photo-hosting site in the known universe that doesn't stick a URL of about twelvety thousand characters on every photo! I'm having to use exclamation points, so intense is my dismay!

OK, so I pull this little fambly jpeg off my computer. I think this went out with all the Xmas, Cha-nookah, Kwanzaa (actually sent one), and Ramadan cards last year. Fine, I didn't send any Ramadan cards. But I used Ramadan postage stamps. They were the prettiest ones.

I lean more to tantric poly-atheism, with a nod toward the Sephardic kink in my wife's storied tribe. Shiva, Krishna, et al. are way more impressive to me than the God I grew up with, and since Buddha walked on water before Jesus did, I'll put his bo-tree wisdom right up there with the sermon on the mount. And I side with Wade Davis, ethnobotanist and man-about-town, in the belief that Voodoo is probably the most beautiful religion ever devised by human beings. We do get all Jewy in our household, come Passover and the high holidays. I guess I'm a pagan HinBuVooJew. By proxy. With a side of Native American sweat lodge.

Anyway, my point is, here's the nukular family, after the only big snow we had in '05. If it is '05. Maybe that was '04. All moments in time exist simultaneously, Billy Pilgrim. Get off my back.

Now let's see if I can pull the photo from this post up into my profile. If I can type HTML code, surely this is not beyond my ken. Like I should have to do any of this. When you get a free blog, shouldn't it come with a hired staff? Aren't there enough illegal immigrants to go around?

Hey, Blogger! You suck!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Technopeasant Prevails

Yesterday, I actually typed a line of HTML code in order to put those links in the last post. This is like giving a 5-year-old a roll of razor wire and a pair of tin snips and saying, go ahead, build yourself a bicycle.

I also tried to install the Cost of War in Iraq feature, but their site's instructions for using it don't sync up with Blogger's instructions for installing anything. I'll probably have to write some code. I write code, y'know.

I blog like yo brutha
Write code like a mutha
You aint seen anutha
Can hang w/ Jas P.

My rhymes make ya shudda
I step w/ no stutta
I float like the butta
'N stank like Aunt Bea

I may post a photo
W/ my buttery floato
Don't ring the wrong Frodo
That photo be me

OK, if you tried Bighead Needleman at my urging yesterday but were unimpressed, try her again. She's gone blog wild (oh, surely I'm the first ever in cyberspace with that cute locution) and put up a profile and a photo. She think she all that. Click link in previous post and see for yourself.

She sits maybe 75 feet away from me and we're communicating only in the blogosphere. I guess Karl Marx was right when he said, "The means of production requiring alienation of workers is something I discuss at length in my blog."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Don't Know Much About Bloggery

Have I made any money on this blog yet? Man, I hope so. I'm going to go learn how to do online banking, so I can watch the rapid ascent of my balance. I bet it's just like that ticker for the cost of the Iraq war.

Hey, I'm gonna go find that ticker for the cost of the Iraq war and see if I can install it on this blog. I think I'll do that before I learn about online banking.

But first, a shout-out to fellow blogger Bighead Needleman. She is SO derivative, what with starting a blog and all. But funny. Let's see if I can paste in a link:

I should get her blog listed as one of the links on my page, and I would, if I knew how to post stuff.

OK, so here's my to-do list:

1. Post this new, exciting entry on my blog.
2. Install ticker for cost of the Iraq war.
3. Figure out how to install links.
4. Figure out how to add a photo for my profile and in general be more like Joren Bass, whose fault it is that I have a blog. Here's a link to the blog he set up for his darling wife Beth to document their many travels:

click here, I'm experimenting with links

5. Figure out online banking to monitor the millions I'm making with my blog.
6. Pay off home equity loan with blog millions.
7. Do some work.

I can't believe how much this blog has changed my priorities, and the world, in just two days.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Started a Blog

I have a blog only because when I tried to post on someone else's, I had to sign up and got dropped into a routine that created the thing for me. I now understand why they say twelve krillion new blogs are created every five seconds. You think you're just typing along, and suddenly you have a blog.

For some reason, when I was prompted for a blog name, the first thing that came into my head was from some old Ring Lardner story. The Spulge Nine was a mythical car of some kind, as I recall. (Why aren't more people named Ring? Insert bathtub joke here.) The only other Ring Lardner thing I remember has to do with a car, too. There's some kind of family road trip, I think, with the kid in the back seat listening to his parents bicker as they drive along, Mom yammering at Dad, and Dad famously getting the last word in:

"Shut up," he explained.

And I will. End of first post.