Tuesday, November 30, 2004

"It hasn't happened... yet."


I hate Star Trek, but love William Shatner. Has Been is maybe my favorite CD of the year.

Letter to D.C.

I hate when people talk (or write) about how great things once were. It’s boring. In the interest of doing the opposite, I would like to mention how much better things are for me at this time. Here goes:

D.C., my good friend currently residing in Taipei, sent me an email the other day which expressed slight discontent with my having a blog. It appears I am the last of his friends to claim a strand of the web. It made him happy to think of me as something of a Luddite. As embarrassed as this vanity page often makes me, I feel doubly so now that D.C. has reminded me of the man I once was.

D.C. likes to remember me as the guy who slept on a couch every single night. He even took it a step further and once wrote a story about me, on the couch, using newspaper as my blanket. It would have delighted him if this were true. He recalls fondly the time we scrounged the floors and couch cushions of our apartment for enough pocket change to buy a pack of generic cigarettes. He sees me as some kind of bohemian, which I suppose I was.

Once upon a time: I drank every night, smoked a pack-and-a-half of cigarettes every day, quit jobs as often as people change their socks and ate bloody red meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I borrowed money, didn’t pay it back and lived in fear of the telephone’s ring. I lied to everyone and tried to see the angle in every social setting. I practiced a crude form of short con to get my rent paid and my stomach filled. When the short cons didn’t pan out, I begged. When one set of roommates got fed up, I moved on to whomever would have me.

Today: I no longer sleep on a couch. I share a big bed with my beautiful girlfriend and my cat in a nice loft-style apartment. I work and go to school and have not dropped a single class since returning to academia. I get my teeth cleaned and I wear clean clothing. I change the oil in my car with regularity and update my bank records daily. You can set your clock to my daily routine. I have brand new handmade furniture from Mexico, an abundance of books of and compact discs and spend my paychecks on comfort and leisure instead of vice. I exercise. I have not eaten meat in nearly four years. I no longer dream of being a writer, I write.

So, D.C., if you still come to this web site, please forgive me for changing. My mother had to get used to me not being her little curly haired baby; you’ll have to accept that the bohemian you once knew is dead.

I love you, brother.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women

I used to smoke a lot—upwards of a pack-n-a-half to two packs every rotten day. Smoking was a simple, pure and expensive joy. Not to mention deadly. I loved to see the flame dance on the head of a match and imagine that fire inside me. My friends called me “smokestack”. I used to smoke at work, after work and before work. I woke up and lit up. I went to bed only after that all-important last cigarette. I did this for about seven years of my life, the last one of those years accompanied by whiskey. Not as much as the smokes, but enough so that my roommates noticed. And I lost one job, but that was due more to rudeness. Rudeness in conjunction with a hangover…


Old habits are like old lovers, most of the time they are best forgotten and left alone. We move on and always ahead, for anything else is just dancing in a shadow. I know this but I still let these two old lovers back into my life.

Whiskey I don’t mind having back. Whiskey is the kiss of life. Whiskey is fun. Whiskey is easy to control. I never had a drinking problem. I don’t need whiskey every day, first thing in the morning and right before bed. I think I just did away with the distilled spirits as they seemed to go too easily with, you guessed it, the smoking. Cigarettes on the other hand, I know how badly they once ruled my life. Going back to them seems like a total mistake. Nevertheless, I have sat down with Nick O’Teen a few times as of late.

I could blame school. I used to smoke in college and now that I am back it just feels right. There was always that pre-test smoke to help steady the nerves or the celebratory cigarette after a class. The society of young men and women huddling outside the auditorium to pollute their lungs, despite Chicago’s chill… I was of them and when I see them now I feel somewhat nostalgic. Yes, the faces are different but the haircuts and attitudes are the same.

I could blame academia, I could blame my smoking friends, or, more directly, I could blame Mike Smith whose return to Chicago strangely coincided with my picking up the odd cigarette (usually his). I could blame my girl for suddenly deciding she wanted to have a smoke one day—which she did, buying a pack and then calling it quits when it was through. I bummed some off her and it felt fun, like the two of us were rebelling against something or someone. I could blame her again for scolding me each time she catches me smoking, something that must be working my psychological gears. Each time I smoke, I know she will find out. She can smell it, she can just tell. I know I will get caught, but I do it anyway. Why? Has this become my new rebellion? Absent of her admonishment, would I loose interest? I always wanted my parents to catch me and they never did. It was sort of disappointing.

I could blame all of these people, places, things, nouns, etc. I could but I won’t. It is my own damn fault. I’ll give it up soon, seriously. I always do. I like to give things up from time to time. First it was smokes, then whiskey, and then coffee then meat. I am back on coffee full time, whiskey part time and smokes, well, I’m doing my best not to succumb to peer pressure. I’m trying, children, really. I will never go back to meat. It’s just wrong. But I guess the realization is that everyone needs a vice. Or three.

For the record, I barely smoke at all. Once and awhile at the bar, with the whiskey, when not in the company of my wild, wild woman. I bummed a cig from a young girl in my class once and it made me want to vomit. I don’t know what the problem was; I think her brand did not agree with me. These days, I am something of a wuss when it comes to tobacco. People with serious habits laugh at me when I tell them I have to stop. I would have laughed at me. I quote Bill Hicks. “A pack a day? You puss. I go through two lighters a day.”

I leave you with the song from which I stole the title for this blog entry, and the poem of the same name. Fun stuff.

By Tim Spenccer

Cigarettes, whiskey and wild wild women
They'll drive you crazy, they'll drive you insane;
Cigarettes, whiskey and wild wild women
They'll drive you crazy, they'll drive you insane;

Once I was happy and had a good wife
I had enough money to last me for life
Then I met with a gal and we went on a spree
She taught me smokin' and drinkin' whiskee

Cigarettes are a blight on the whole human race
A man is a monkey with one in his face;
Take warning dear friend, take warning dear brother
A fire's on one end, a fools on the t'other.

And now good people, I'm broken with age
The lines on my face make a well written page
I'm weavin' this story -- how sadly but true
On women and whiskey and what they can do

Write on the cross at the head of my grave
For women and whiskey here lies a poor slave.
Take warnin' poor stranger, take warnin' dear friend
In wide clear letters this tale of my end.

By the magnificent Anne Sexton

Perhaps I was born kneeling,
born coughing on the long winter,
born expecting the kiss of mercy,
born with a passion for quicknessand
yet, as things progressed,
I learned early about the stockade
or taken out, the fume of the enema.
By two or three I learned not to kneel,
not to expect, to plant my fires underground
where none but the dolls, perfect and awful,
could be whispered to or laid down to die.

Now that I have written many words,
and let out so many loves, for so many,
and been altogether what I always was—
a woman of excess, of zeal and greed,
I find the effort useless.
Do I not look in the mirror,
these days,
and see a drunken rat avert her eyes?
Do I not feel the hunger so acutely
that I would rather die than look
into its face?
I kneel once more,
in case mercy should come
in the nick of time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Maja Ratkje

Considering the limits of noise and the avant-garde (and it can be limiting, sadly) when something as exciting as Voice by Maja Ratkje comes around, it is cause for celebration. As arresting as Masonna, as playful and odd as Mike Patton’s Adult Themes for Voice, Voice is truly interesting work from a truly interesting artist.

If early Boredoms and Eye’s Hanatarashi stuff excites you, check out Voice. If Patton’s Tzadik works get your blood pumping, give Maja a listen. Voice—an all vocal recording—predates Bjork’s Medulla by a few months, but while Bjork uses voices to sculpt lush soundscapes and a few pop songs, Ratkje uses hers to create shattering screams and an absolutely creepy vibe that will stay with you long into the dark, terrifying night. This woman is the future of forward thinking composition.

Most known in Norway as one of the 4 members of the all female imrpov unit, SPUNK and the offshoot duo, Fe-Mail, Ratkje has turned a few heads in the improv/ electronic/ noise community. Taking their influence from Pippi Longstocking, the quartet SPUNK has apparently made some bizarre sounds that I shall comb the record stores of Chicago to find.

"Pippi Longstocking sleeps with her feet on the pillow. I try to turn certain conventions on their heads. But most of all it's about not taking everything for granted, about always being open to different solutions as long as it's fair. Pippi is anarchistic and boundless in her ideas, but also has a great sense of fairness and justice. That's a fine model."

Make sense?

Go to: http://www.ratkje.com/index2.php and read all about Maja.

Go to: http://www.mic.no/mic.nsf/home/forsiden?opendocument&url=http://www.mic.no/mic.nsf/doc/art2003120214442173790341 and listen to Voice.

Note: Since posting this, I have given the CD a few more listens (I am listening to it right now, as a matter of fact) and I must add that this is hardly a noise CD in the traditional sense. There are many, many quiet, calm, ambient and intensely silent moments that add to the sheer beauty of this recording as a whole, and it begs to be experienced as a whole. Just thought I’d add that in case the 4 people who come here were scared off. Give Maja a chance, she’d do the same for you.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

I love Chicago

Found on a light pole, Adams near State, in front of the Bergoff, written in pen, affixed with band-aids:


Arrest Polishman
[Numerical part of address deleted]
West Carmen Second Floor

Temp Murder

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Sorry Earth

I, Fucker

Living in close proximity to other people is always a pain in ass. Still, I cannot do as Thoreau did (and countless others have claimed they would someday do) and isolate myself in the middle of the damn woods. I hate camping. On a similar note, I’m not moving to Canada anytime soon because of the damn election. I’m staying in Chicago indefinitely and who knows, maybe I’ll die here, deep-dish pizza within reach. By admitting this, I am willing accept that my city, my country, my world, is overcrowded and thus I will bump into many disagreeable humans. As I have often said, you can’t step out into the pouring rain and bitch about getting wet.

Prepare for a wet man’s bitch.

I love Chicago for many reasons. I love living in an urban environment with exposure to culture, excitement and all night coffee houses. I love the dive bars and the pawnshops. I love the filthy lake and the fake beach. I love the skyline at night as I drive south down I-94, gunning it as fast as I can past the indifferent cops. I love the taquerias and the vegetarian friendly kitchens. I love the Soup Box on Broadway. I love waking up early on Sunday to grab a pound of nopalitos and fresh, hot tortillas for less than 4 bucks. I love Powells and The Bookman’s Corner and even the pretentious-as-fuck Myopic Bookstore (they host god awful poetry readings and have Draconian policies about re-shelving books). What I hate are the people who share my beloved city.

A few weeks back I was driving in the heart of Lincoln Park. I try to avoid the area these days, but it is smack dab in the middle of town and sometimes I find myself there anyway. Approaching the uncontrolled intersection of Lincoln and Seminary, I saw a yuppie couple fresh from the gym, crossing against ongoing traffic, namely, me. I applied the breaks and honked at them. My intention was partially to alert them that cars were coming and partially a knee jerk reaction rooted in anger. The ape-man pulled his frumpy blonde back to the curb and I took my foot off the breaks. But no, she decided she was still going to cross the street where there was no stop sign or streetlight in sight. Again, I applied the breaks, but this time after nearly hitting her. We engaged in the old standoff, me in my car, in the middle of the street with cars starting to line up behind me, and they in front of me with confrontational looks on their faces. The blonde reached into her purse and I decided not to stick around and find out for what she was searching. I swerved into the left lane and went around them.

I made it to the streetlight on the tri-corner of Lincoln, Diversy and Racine when I saw the blonde running, her sweatpants and gray shirt fluttering over her sagging frame. She ran to my car, took out her cell phone and called the cops. I could also hear her reading my license plate number over and over. Her ape made it to the other side of my car a little after (apes run slower than blonde broomsticks) and I rolled down the window and asked him what the hell was the problem.

“That was a cross walk!”

“You can’t walk in the middle of the street,” I said.

“You have to let pedestrians cross!”

“It’s not a controlled crosswalk. You can’t just run into traffic like that.”

“You’re in lot of trouble, you little piece of shit!”

That was enough for me. I gunned it the hell out of there. I heard the girl saying, “He’s trying to get away!” as I turned on Racine. To this date, nothing has happened with the police (knock wood). Quote Bukowski: “The problem with these people is their cities have never been bombed and their mothers have never been told to shut up.”

I might be able to deal with spoiled, self-important yuppie scum oozing down the streets and across the intersections of Lincoln Park, but annoyance in my own backyard is harder to take. Not my backyard, but underneath me.

I live in a nice apartment. After years of living like a roach, I am finally in a position to afford a decent set of digs. It helps that I do not live in Lakeview, Wrigleyville, Wicker Park or any of the other areas where moderate rent gets you “vintage” living. My place is nice and rehabbed and I like it that way. I have space, a bathtub and a shower, tall ceilings with big windows and plenty of natural light. And I live in an area that is just starting to see gentrification. Thus, there is only one Starbucks in sight and still some local color. Sadly, there is also a University within walking distance. As a result, the downstairs apartment has been rented to dumb, white college kids. I believe they all hail from some farm town buried deep in the Midwest. I cannot tell one from the other as they all dress alike and sport the Fred Durst bushy chin-hair and backwards ball cap combo. And they love the fake metal.

When I first met the kids, they seemed like nice enough idiots. Nothing unusual-all a bit slow, terribly unoriginal and basically resembling kids of every generation, minus the applicable (lack of) fashion. We exchanged pleasantries and our mutual coexistence seemed to on a fine track. Within a week they were blasting Dave Matthews. There may be no bigger offense (maybe Coldplay). A few days later, Blues Traveler wafted through the floorboards. Dear god, someone under the age of thirty bought a Blues Traveler CD?

Time passes. My girl and I are trying to get some rest on a Thursday night. We, of course, have work in the morning. I have to be up by 6:00 to get to my job on time. I tell the kids as much, only I say it with a little less composure. I think I scream. They are having a party. Scores of potential date rape victims wander in and out of their door. There is no shortage of bad facial hair and dim eyes on the young men. The soundtrack to their soiree is nü metal. It is pretty scary.

An aside: now, I grew up in the ‘80s. I listened to plenty of crap music, but I also think I have good taste. If you’re going to listen to metal, listen to Slayer, early Metallica even. Listen to the first two Ozzy records. Listen to Napalm Death. Listen to Tool if you must. Listen to something that isn’t completely derivative. Thank you for your patience during this interlude.

Okay, where was I? Right. So I end up going back downstairs three times to ask them to shut the fuck up. There is no compliance with my request. Even my girl went down, again to no avail. Finally she decided that enough was enough. She called the cops.

I have to say, it is quite a sight to see a river of blonde girls running through the back alley of your building. Hilarious. Eventually I got back in bed and tried to sleep through the sound of the cops questioning these dolts. I really felt pretty bad about everything. I generally don’t care for cops and would never think to call them. My girl, on the other hand, does not fuck around. Her justification: we warned them.

It happened again last week. They were loud, she went down and warned them and they failed to turn it down. She called the cops. It will probably happen again.

A few weeks after the first incident, I was coming home around the same time as one of the kids. He was in his apartment with the door opened and heard me struggling with my keys.

“Who goes there?”

“Me,” I said.

“Oh the neighbor. He’s a fucker.”

“No, you must be thinking of the pricks who live on the bottom floor.”

And so on.

Two days after the last incident, I came home and saw three of the kids coming out of my building. One confronts me and goes so far as to call my girlfriend a bitch.

“That’s fucked up, don’t call my girlfriend a bitch,” I say just as she comes to the door. “Oh look, here she is, you want to say that to her face?”

“You sackless piece of shit,” she says, and goes on to chastise the lad. He maintains his Limp Bizkit attitude and, meekly, calls her a bitch again. His friends tell him to shut up and I contemplate hitting him. I think my girl wants me to but in the end, I say some authoritative words about keeping it down or else and give the little fuck an angry look. He looks pretty shaken, despite trying to maintain a tough façade. I go upstairs and feel old.

In the past month I have been called a little piece of shit and a fucker. By strangers, no less. This bothers me more than I admit. I don’t want the world to hate me, even the dumb kids and belligerent yuppies. I might hate them but that doesn’t mean I want it back. And besides, I only hate them now after their hate for me has been etched in stone. My hate is reactionary. So I suppose I need to calm down, to accept that people are flawed and very very annoying. I need to study some Zen or something.

I am merely the pool that reflects, not the object itself. I am a fucker but only after being fucked.

Goodnight. Keep the noise down, you pricks.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

A Nation of Imbeciles

We are. There is no denying it.

All hail President Kang.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Godspeed, Droopy Face

In my busy life as a working mother of two, I rarely find much free time.

Start again:

Working for the lawyers and going to class at night keeps my time sufficiently crunched. Today is Election Day and I knew that if I were to perform my civic duty I would have to do so in the early A.M. It’s a bitch, yes, but it is preferable to living in a country where that right would not be mine. Then again, considering the outcome of the last Presidential Election, do I really reside in a land where my vote counts?

The first time I was able to vote was the great Clinton v. Bush election of the early 1990’s. I was going to school at the time and working as a bar coder—a job so dull it often made me want to stab myself in the jugular. Voting was exciting. Finally, I would have a voice. I was an adult. I had responsibilities. November beckoned and I was ready.

I was taking a philosophy class and my teacher was perhaps the brightest I have ever had, and I am currently enrolled in my third institution of higher learning. I’ve met tenured professors who hold numerous PhDs. I’ve met T.A.s who still have that passion you only see in bad films with Robin Williams. I’ve encountered wise men and women who had something to teach me that no book could. Of them all, this woman stands out not only for her tutelage but her keen eye and ability to balance the ideal with the pragmatic. When the debates were being conducted, she eschewed lecturing to let us watch Bush and Clinton tongue wrestle. I asked her a silly question:

“So, who are you voting for?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m thinking of not voting.”


She pointed to the split screen, where George and Bill were dancing in front of the nation. “I don’t know that I wish to sell my vote this cheaply.”

I have never forgotten those words.

She had a point. As socially irresponsible as it might have been to skip the ballots, it made sense philosophically. In theory, my vote is precious. I know this. My father has said it to me countless times. My Grandfather fought in World War II for my right to vote. People have died for this privilege. It is a slap in the face to ignore this. Although I realize that is the truth I have to admit another inarguable fact: my valuable vote is wasted on these goons.

This is the best we can do? These are our options? In 2000 I was of the opinion that a trained monkey could have beaten George W. Bush. Sadly, I was mistaken. Al Gore should have won, but that stick of plywood could hardly muster up the enthusiasm within his own party to ensure victory. And I still don’t believe Nader stole his votes. Nader or not, Clinton would have mopped the floor with W., even after the blowjob scandal. That guy knew how to campaign.

Back to today:

I woke up at 5:30 in morning, showered, got my books together for school and walked with mi novia to my local voting booth located on Ashland. I live in what was once Little Italy and is now referred to as the Tri-Taylor area. The neighborhood is packed with annoying college kids, elderly Italians and the last remnants of the crumbling ghetto on Racine. Among them, I walked to the polls eager to cast my vote and get on with my day.

As of 6:00 A.M. the booths were not ready. Only one of the moderators was there and I was informed that the voting could not begin until at least one more arrived. There was nothing to do but wait. I thought I might explain that this would be the only time today I could vote. I had to get to work by 7:30, had a class during my lunch break and then had errands to run after 5:00. It would be next to impossible to get to the polls at any other time. Well, it would not be impossible but the point of opening the poles in the early morning was to accommodate people like me. Goddamnit, my rights were being trampled. Seems to be happening a lot with this administration.

We went for coffee and killed some time. Chicago skies opened and the rain fell like piss. It was gray and cold and depressing. Perfect. November 2, 2004 was shaping up to be a lousy day and it was not even 6:30.

Back at the booths, they seemed to have gotten their shit together. We got in line behind a cranky older woman who, like us, had arrived early and, like us, was none too pleased. When the young volunteer informed her that she was not in his book, the lady blew her stack. He asked her if she was registered.

“Of course I’m registered!” She turned to my novia. “Do you believe what he’s asking me?”

In response, Lo said, “He’s just asking you a question.”

A minor debate ensued and the line was subsequently held up like a convenience store. The woman nearly walked out, saying something along the lines of, “If I ain’t in your book, I ain’t gonna vote!” It appeared I would have to forgo voting or be late for work. Deciding that work could go fuck itself, I waited.

Eventually I was granted a ballot and led to a booth. The archaic manner of poking holes in a Scan Tron sheet worried me. It seems so easy to make an error and this is a crucial election—certainly the most crucial in my lifetime. I would think a simpler, more effective way of voting could be arranged. The paper and needle just doesn’t inspire confidence. I like words; I like the idea of casting my vote in big bold letters that would make John Hancock proud. A pinpricked ballot does not seem correct.

Considering the events of this morning, it is easy to understand low voter turn out. Still, inconvenience is not an excuse. We live in a society where we have a voice and yes, not using it is shameful. As cynical as I am, I still believe in this concept. I realize my Presidential vote might not mean a damn thing considering I live in Illinois and Kerry will surely win my state. The real question is how badly Obama is going to whip his goddamn homophobic putz of an opponent. Nevertheless, I got my dead as out of bed nice and early and cast my little vote in this absurd election. I pray the results come soon as I cannot stand the idea of waiting weeks to find out if the droopy faced guy beat the dumb frat boy. As much as I admire my former teacher, I have let pragmatism win out over idealism. I sold my vote rather cheaply. Godspeed, droopy face.