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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: November 17-December 3, 2003

Thursday, November 20, 2003:

I had a nice deja vu moment earlier, while listening to Tallahassee by the Mountain Goats. Last winter, I went to a party at the house of my ex-coworker, Jessie. (Not the Jess who I always mention; this Jessie hasn't spoken to me since that party, and I'm not sure why. Though I do remember drinking two enormous Velvet Crushes and then going off on an indignant rant about the imminent Iraq war that lasted literally 45 minutes, so that may have had something to do with it. Oh, and also, my friend Tim and I kept her family awake till about 5 AM playing a noisy pool tournament and a noisier Tears for Fears compilation.)

Anyway, the party was the first opportunity I'd ever really had to sit and talk to Erica, one-on-one. Even though we'd worked together for a year or more, and we were friendly with each other, we'd never really had a good, long conversation where we got to know one another. I made her a Velvet Crush and she took one sip and made a hilarious "UGH!" face as she pushed it away (which is why I stupidly drank two of them: mine as well as hers). She found it hilarious to discover that I'm nicknamed Willie, because everyone at Barnes & Noble knows me as Chris. Just a lot of fun little moments like that until there was this Sims-like smiley face that appeared over our heads and we were actually friends, as opposed to just "friends-in-law" who hung out with the same people but didn't really know each other. You don't usually get to pinpoint the exact moment you become good friends with someone, so it's nice to be able to do that.

Jessie had invited everyone in attendance to spend the night, because she's got an enormous house and lives pretty far out in the boonies. So I wound up sleeping on a couch in the basement, curled up in a sad little ball beneath my coat. (By the time I decided it was time for sleep, staggering around the house looking for a blanket was not an option.) At about 9 AM, I woke up to the sensation of a huge quilt being thrown over me, and Erica saying, "Why the fuck didn't you tell me you didn't have a blanket?" in what was actually a very tender fashion. She was leaving, so I said goodbye and fell back asleep for a couple hours longer. Then I went upstairs, said goodbye to Jessie, threw up in her bathroom, and headed out to my car, which had been covered in light, powdery snow during the night. Erica had written, "HI WILLIE!" on the window in the snow and I laughed.

Little moments like that are important to me, which is why I record them in here. Because realistically, I know that my time as Erica's friend is limited. (I'm just using Erica as an example here; this applies to a distressing number of my friends.) Not that we're not great friends now, and not that I want us to drift apart or would ever do anything to hasten that, but ten years from now, it just doesn't seem likely that we'll be in touch in any meaningful way. She'll be happily married and off raising a family somewhere, and I'll (ideally) be living in New York or Toronto, doing my record label thing. Or, at any rate, I'll probably be doing something somewhere else, far away from her. And my friends can attest to the infrequency of my e-mails even now, when I have gallons of free time, so I can't imagine how sporadic my communications will become when I actually have a life. So she and I will probably hear from each other only rarely, let alone hanging out the way we do now. That'll probably be out entirely.

So that's why I spend so much time in this journal talking about things my friends have said and done. In ten years, I want to be able to look back and remember all these great little memories, because that may be all I have left of Erica. (Even if I've given up on this site by then, I will have retained this journal because I obsessively save every word I ever write. It's all gold!) And I'd like to think that someday, when she and her boyfriend Hugh are packing up her stuff to move to a fabulous new place in California or wherever, she'll come across a mix CD I made for her or something and she'll smile and think that knowing me has improved her life in some small way. But that'll be it, and there's no sense kidding myself about it.

Of course, you can't predict the future, and if you try to, you're going to get it wrong. The people you think are going to be (or want to be) the most important in your life forever will be the ones to drop out and fade away, and the people you never imagined you'd find a connection with will be the people who you become closest to for awhile. That's the "fun" of human interaction. So I might be dead wrong- and in the case of Erica, I hope I am. I hope I'm wrong about all those people who are important to me right now that I don't expect to be around forever. And I should mention that I'm lucky enough to have a handful of friends who I could easily imagine being close to for the rest of my life. (20 more years, tops. I think Adrienne and I settled on 45 as the "magic number" when we were discussing the ideal time to go.) I hope I'm not wrong about them.

But, then, all things move toward their end, don't they? According to Nick Cave, anyway, and I'm inclined to believe him. Little isolated moments of contentment are all you can ever hope to have, and you can't hold onto them. You can record them, you can remember them, but the feeling flits away almost instantly, and you spend the rest of your life chasing down similar moments.

I'm thinking that's why I like music so much. I'm never going to have a falling out with the Ramones. It's not like my life is ever going to go down one path and OK Computer is going to go a different way and we'll never see each other again. And songs aren't like movies or TV shows or books that always take the same form every time you experience them. You can watch Amelie 100 times, and she's always going to get the guy in the end, but great songs can provide you with 100 different emotional experiences each time you listen to them, depending on the environment, your mental state, etc.

Maybe that's why I keep compulsively buying album after album, sometimes ordering something from half.com for as little reason as a random recommendation from someone on Music Babble who I've never talked to before. (I just bought EA1 EA2 by the Tied & Tickled Trio in such a manner. It's great, but that's beside the point; it was a totally random purchase and I've been doing that a lot.) Maybe it's just some pathetic sublimation of my desire and search for a best friend who'll be with me forever. Or maybe some childish part of my brain thinks that the more albums I buy, the more memories I'll be able to create because some songs become so inextricably linked with my life's events that I get a nice memory every time I listen to them. Like "It's Not the End of the World" by John Southworth. Can't listen to that song without remembering the first night I spent with Jen down at her dorms at CCS, five years ago, when I brought her lettuce wraps from Chili's and we watched the fireworks from Comerica Park out her window.

Or maybe it's that there's no way music can ever hurt me when I discover that I don't mean as much to it as it does to me. Like that one Magnetic Fields song says, "All those country songs don't love you and they still won't pretend to." A line like that stings in a way, but it's also liberating in that music doesn't make any pretense of caring about you. So it can never turn its back on you or disappoint you; the love is all one-way, but it'll always be there. Kind of an Ode on a Grecian Urn sorta thing, I guess.

Life just seems intolerably, unacceptably cruel right now. Everything's transitory. Everything good vanishes. Everything with the potential to be good goes awry. And you go through it all entirely and totally alone. It's going to be cold. It's going to be gray. And it's going to last you for the rest of your life.

Oh- and as I drove home from Jessie's, I listened to Tallahassee, which is where that came from.

CURRENT MUSIC: Suffer by Bad Religion.
Not drunk, contrary to how the above entry may sound.
I hope he's not still making tired jokes about his lack of rice-cooking abilities. Although, paradoxically, I hope various passersby and restaurant patrons bombard him with irritating, tired jokes about his lack of rice-cooking abilities for the rest of his life. Hm. I suppose I can't have it both ways, can I?
9:24 PM.

Doot? |

Wednesday, November 19, 2003:

When I got home from work, I noticed my next-door neighbor slowly hobbling up the driveway in a walker. He's a nice guy, and I didn't know he'd injured himself, so I asked, "How ya doing?"

"Doin' better," he said.

"I'm glad!" I replied.

And then, upon entering my house, I realized that it's possible he'd actually said, "Been better." In which case I've essentially shouted "Yippee!" in response to the crippling injury of my one remaining neighbor with whom I'm friendly. Or was friendly.

CURRENT MUSIC: The Schulmadchen Report by Gert Wilden & Orchestra. (Awesome '60s porn music from Germany that Jon copied for me.)
Did I remember to wash my hands after I stopped at Amoco for a fill-up, and before I started eating these Cheez-Its?
3:18 PM.

Doot? | |

Tuesday, November 18, 2003:

At work yesterday, Aimee came back into the receiving room and decided to do an impromptu dramatic reading of The Giving Tree for Jon and me. I think she was trying to make us cry, a la Joey's reading of Love You Forever on Friends, but her plan backfired because she started crying before she finished.

All three of us love the book, but Aimee and I, at least, love it for entirely different reasons. Aimee maintains that it's an optimistic book about unconditional love, and how a selfless heart is ultimately rewarded (in this case, the boy comes back to be with the tree when it's nothing but a stump, and the narrator proclaims that the tree is happy). Whereas I find it a totally heartbreaking story about the sacrifices that are required for love, and that the big, scary risk of being in a relationship is that you could essentially give your entire life to someone and get nothing in return. My interpretation of the ending is that Silverstein is being somehow ironic when he says that the tree is happy, because she has given her entire being to the boy and transformed herself into exactly what he wants her to be, and her reward is being sat upon; that's not happiness. I don't think Silverstein is anti-love, necessarily, because I think we're supposed to view the tree as a very noble character and not as a sap (haw!), but I do think he's somewhat cynical about the idea. Silverstein can be rather dark at times, such as in Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, and sweet though The Giving Tree is, I can't imagine that the author would just gloss over the story's unhappy subtext. (If you've never read the ABZ Book, click on that link and do it right this second because it's hilarious.)

There's a pretty interesting article here about the many various philosophical responses to the book- including some rather overboard reactions, such as "The tree is a masochist who, quite predictably, has raised a sociopath"- but does anyone know what Shel Silverstein himself said about The Giving Tree? What the true message was intended to be? It'd be nice to be able to settle this.

CURRENT MUSIC: Become the Soft.Lightes by The Incredible Moses Leroy.
If you're going to attempt to record vocals in a room that also contains an attention-starved parrot, you'd better be prepared to do at least 30 or 40 takes.
4:30 PM.

Doot? | |

Monday, November 17, 2003:

Yeah, another trip to Chicago this weekend. At this point, it's become as routine as my daily journey to CVS to buy more random combinations of over-the-counter medications in the hopes of stumbling upon a cheap recipe for ersatz antidepressants.

This time, I went with my dad and uncle Dave, who offered to take me along on one of their frequent pilgrimages to faraway sporting events. (My brother Tim would be travelling in a separate caravan with six or seven of his friends.) On Friday, the Detroit Red Wings were playing the Chicago Blackhawks, and then on Saturday, the University of Michigan was playing Northwestern in football, so they planned to go to both games. I took them up on the offer because I enjoy a good hockey game, and I planned to hang out with Adrienne while the football game was going on. Plus, I got to skip work on Friday because Jon is way too tolerant of my flighty ways.

After a six-hour drive in which we discovered that XM Radio's all-comedy station is the most irritating thing in the entire universe, Dad, Dave, and I checked into the Extended Stay America hotel in Skokie. My elders watched ESPN for awhile, and I started re-reading Craig Thompson's Blankets, which smashed me into bits yet again. At 5:00, Dave's cousin Bruno and Bruno's five-year-old son Mateo picked us up for the Red Wings game. For being a precocious five-year-old, Mateo was not just tolerable but surprisingly entertaining; he reminded me of the adorable little kid from Life is Beautiful. Not enough to ever make me want one of my own, of course, but he was a spunky little dickens nonetheless.

We ate dinner at a terrific little independent pizza joint called Bacci Pizzeria (a contender for best pizza I've ever eaten), and arrived at the Blackhawks' arena roughly 45 minutes before game time. As it happens, Bruno and Mateo were sitting by themselves, Dad and Dave were sitting by themselves, and I was going to be sitting with my brother and his many U of M friends, due to the way the tickets were purchased. So Bruno collected his ticket from will call, hoisted Mateo onto his shoulder, and said, "Alright, time to pretend you're asleep, buddy!" Mateo giggled, pulled his hood over his head, and went limp as Bruno carried him over the turnstile into the stadium. Ha! Dave and Dad waited outside with me for Tim and his friends to show up with my ticket.

After about a half hour of that, and several cell phone calls later, the three of us hopped into a cab to retrieve my ticket from the Italian restaurant where Tim had decided to enjoy a leisurely dinner several blocks away. We returned to the arena, and I sat alone in a cluster of about a dozen empty seats, feeling like a sad pariah from a deodorant commercial, waiting for Tim and his friends to arrive. There was a modest laser light display before the start of the game- a spinning puck projected onto the ice- and for some reason, it caused me a minor freakout in which I couldn't stop imagining the PA announcer saying, "Tonight, as your Chicago Blackhawks take on the Detroit Red Wings, 600 fans in the crowd will be chosen to DIE!" over and over, in a voice reminiscent of the opening narration to the Butthole Surfers' Locust Abortion Technician album. I realized how moronic that sounded, but it made me feel claustrophobic and nervous nevertheless. Luckily, Tim's friends started to trickle in soon afterward, and I snapped out of it.

It was a pretty good game, but most of the action took a backseat to my brother's amusing running commentary on the Blackhawks' many deficiencies, which he pitched at a level just audible enough to further enrage the fuming Hawks fan sitting behind me. Tim knows everything about every sport, so it's hard to argue with any assertion he makes about any team/player/sports entity. The guy behind me could offer up no rebuttal less lame than referring to Red Wing Brendan Shanahan as "Brenda" and then underscoring his point by calling "Brenda" a girl. Get it?

Tim's major at U of M is "kinesiology," which ostensibly means "the study of motion," but is really just a fancy name the university gave to his program because it would sound really stupid to say, "I'm majoring in sports." Which is what he's doing. (While visiting Steve Knowlton last year, I mentioned Tim's major to Steve and his wife Jessica- both of whom are employed by the university- and to my delight, they shook their heads and chuckled in the same "That's so not a real major!" way that I always do. Apparently, the "kinesiologists" have quite a reputation among people who are actually at U of M to learn things.) Not that Tim plays sports, mind you. He just likes 'em. A lot.

And I bring this up because his four years of studying sports and the culture surrounding sports yielded a semi-interesting observation at the Blackhawks game. He said, "You wanna know how you can tell that the Blackhawks don't usually draw that great a crowd to their games? By the amount of promotions they're doing during the game. They've got a 50/50 raffle going, they're running a silent auction, they're doing trivia contests between the periods, 'best fan' contests... It's like they've gotta keep hustling people rather than letting the game be the main attraction. You never see them doing stuff like this at Joe Louis Arena [where the Wings play]. It's kind of embarrassing."

His friend Scott then pointed out, "Well, that or the fact that, in the silent auction, they're auctioning off a Brendan Shanahan jersey rather than one of their own players', for Pete's sake!"

I dunno. I found it to be a neat observation. I'm always interested in the corporate, money-grubbing subtext of any event.

So the Wings won in overtime. Woohoo! After the game, Tim and four of his friends went to a local bar, where they racked up a $215 tab for the evening. By way of contrast, Dad, Dave, and I went back to the hotel and fell asleep with Showtime on. I woke up in the middle of the night to an episode of Compromising Situations, which... eww.

The next morning, we ate breakfast at a place called Barnum & Bagel. The food was decent and the coffee refills plentiful, but I couldn't stop giggling at the fact that the average age of the restaurant's patrons was roughly 80, and they were all contentedly, obliviously dining beneath such circus-themed decorations as horrifying, oversized clown's heads. If you're looking for a surreal breakfast experience, I don't think it gets much better than Barnum & Bagel.

After Dave and Dad spent about an hour getting dressed for the football game like a couple of girls, we all drove to Adrienne's apartment building, where Dad and Dave parked the car and walked to the stadium. I left a message on the machine in Adrienne's apartment, telling her that I was in the parking lot, and to call me back or please come get me when she arrived. Her sister, Chrissy, was also visiting this weekend, and I was early, so I figured they were either out for awhile or Adrienne was in the shower or something.

While I waited, I figured out how to program phone numbers into my cell phone, and then completely failed to amuse myself by playing the mind-numbingly janky games that came with said phone. The "poker" game, for instance, doesn't even feature any other players. You place your bet, decide which cards to discard, and then the phone arbitrarily tells you whether you've won or lost.

After about 45 minutes of waiting, I left another message on Adrienne's machine, telling her that I'd decided to go hang out at the Borders down the street from her house until she got back. Long story shorter, I spent a few hours at Borders, reading every music magazine they had as well as the beginning of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, basically turning into the sort of loitering customer that I scorn on a daily basis, until I finally got ahold of Adrienne. We'd gotten our signals crossed and she was under the impression that I'd just call her cell phone rather than her apartment phone as soon as I got into town, etc. She bought a Julie Andrews Christmas CD, and I bought acceptably-priced albums by the Decemberists and Boards of Canada, and we met Chrissy across the street.

The three of us agreed to drive to Target and then find something to eat. Chrissy and I were excited by the prospect of possibly obtaining Pizza Hut food at the Target cafe, like you can in Troy, but our hopes were dashed once we got there. Adrienne pointed to a selection of candy bars next to the crappy, ready-heat pizzas the snack bar was selling, and said something like, "Well, if you guys are really hungry, you could always purchase an individual candy bar for more money than you'd pay to purchase the same candy bar in bulk elsewhere in the store." Except she phrased this observation in an inimitably funny way that I cannot, for the life of me, remember now. Damn it! The way she phrases things when she speaks is so eloquent and witty and perfect that I constantly find myself jealous. Especially since I tend to drown my sentences in a vat of ums and likes when speaking aloud.

As Chrissy looked for something or other, Adrienne and I wandered to the Christmas section, where she indulged her love of purchasing gift-wrapping accessories. ("Hmm. This package has enough ribbon to last about 80 years, but only three bows. You know what that means?" Here, Adrienne gleefully throws the package into her cart, along with a different package containing about a dozen bows.)

After Target, we drove around for awhile, looking for a restaurant, until we finally decided to park back at Adrienne's place and then walk to a noodle restaurant nearby. Adrienne was driving her friend Josh's car, and asked me to get out and tell her how far she could pull forward without hitting the wall of her parking lot. I waved her forward, and she regarded me suspiciously and creeped as slowly as humanly possible toward the wall even though she'd initially had about five feet.

"You can trust me, ya know," I said. "I'm not going to let you hit the wall and then yell, 'Gotcha!'"

"I just wasn't sure whether my foot could react and hit the brakes in time once you signalled for me to stop," she replied.

This reminded Chrissy of an awful story her dad had told her, about a friend of his who hadn't known that his (the friend's) infant son was playing behind his car as he backed out of the driveway, and ran over the kid. Adrienne said, "That's horrible. How could you live with yourself if you killed your child? And I don't mean in a Medea kind of way, but just in an 'Oops, I dropped it' kind of way."

We entered Adrienne's apartment, and the entire building smelled, quite literally, like vomit. The stairwell, the hallways, the elevator all the way up to Adrienne's floor, her hallway- though, thankfully, not her apartment. Someone must've puked into a vent. I held my breath and walked quickly. Chrissy pulled her jacket up over her nose. I think Adrienne just toughed it out. When we entered her apartment, we realized that we'd had no real need to return to her apartment in the first place, as we were planning on walking to the noodle restaurant and had forgotten all the Target purchases in the car, so we took a back stairwell down to the parking lot again, and felt a little dumb.

Around this time, I called to see where my relatives were, and it turned out they were headed back to the car in Adrienne's lot, so we couldn't go to the noodle place after all. Adrienne and Chrissy sat in the car with me until my family showed, and we said goodbye. At which point I had to stop hanging out with one of my best friends, who I rarely see, so that I could take a mystical voyage to the ESPN Zone theme restaurant in downtown Chicago, which is where my dad, brother, and uncle had decided to go for dinner. Adrienne and Chrissy, meanwhile, had to go to a "Devil Came Up to Michigan"-esque amateur turntable contest that night anyway, so that Adrienne could do research for her final project. So I'm guessing the night was a little anticlimactic for all concerned.

The less said about the ESPN Zone the better, really. We waited roughly one and a half hours for a table there, and the vegetarian options were few. I wound up getting an eight-dollar plate of "Penne and Cheddar," which the menu admitted was basically glorified macaroni and cheese. (And not good macaroni and cheese at that, although the menu neglected to mention this part. It tasted like Velveeta.) Tim had brought along his vegan friend Christine, who goes to art school in Chicago, and she ate a plain baked potato. As my relatives and Tim's male friends yakked about sports, Christine and I talked about music, which was fun.

Why does my ear hurt so much?

CURRENT MUSIC: Castaways and Cutouts by the Decemberists.
Well, since I've started using the "Report Spam" button instead of just deleting the garbage, I've been receiving about 200% more spam mail than I had previously. So you tell me. And by the way, isn't that Spam commercial with Jay Johnston awesome? I laugh really hard every time I see it.
9:51 AM.

Doot? | |

PAST JOURNAL ENTRIES: May 3, 2003-May 9, 2003. May 10, 2003-May 16, 2003. May 17-May 24, 2003. May 25-May 31, 2003. June 1-June 7, 2003. June 8-June 13, 2003. June 14-June 21, 2003. June 22-July 1, 2003. July 2-July 13, 2003. July 14-July 20, 2003. July 21-July 26, 2003. July 27-August 4, 2003. August 5-August 9, 2003. August 10-August 16, 2003. August 17-August 23, 2003. August 24-August 30, 2003. August 31-September 6, 2003. September 7-September 13, 2003. September 14-September 20, 2003. September 21-September 29, 2003. September 30-October 4, 2003. October 5-October 11, 2003. October 12-October 19, 2003. October 20-October 26, 2003. October 27-November 1, 2003. November 2-November 16, 2003.