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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: December 28, 2003-January 3, 2004

Saturday, January 3, 2004:

I'd like to apologize to Adrienne for the misuse of the word hopefully everywhere on this site. I'm sure that's as irritating to her as it is to me when people say, "I could care less," but I do it anyway because it's just easier. It's descriptively correct anyway- so ha!

I watched the documentary Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary earlier. It's a rather plain little film- 90 minutes of videotaped interviews with Traudl Junge, who was Hitler's secretary between 1941 and the end of WWII- but once you get attuned to the lack of visual stimuli, it's transfixing. She professes to have been ignorant of the true scope of the horrible things Hitler was orchestrating while she was in his service, only to be overcome years later by the guilt and horror of what had happened. The part of the film that addresses her attempts to forgive herself and come to terms with her past is pretty interesting, since you can see the woman's conscience spinning around in circles even after all these years (even though she performed only clerical duties and was never a member of the Nazi party), but the real meat of it is in the anecdotes she tells about dealing with Hitler on a daily basis. 

At one point, there's a single, unbroken shot where she talks for what must be 30 minutes straight about the final week in the bunker, after Hitler had realized that his defeat was assured but before he killed himself. She speaks of everyone spending hours discussing the ideal way to commit suicide, Adolf poisoning his (evidently beloved) dog to test the efficacy of the cyanide he got from Himmler, the six Goebbels children being put to death by their mother because she didn't want them to face life after Germany's defeat, and so forth, in creepy, mesmerizing detail.

Most of all, it's interesting to hear about Hitler interacting with others, and even displaying attributes like levity and camaraderie, given how history is always so quick to paint him as a one-dimensional caricature of evil. I'm not saying, "Oh, poor misunderstood Hitler!" or anything like that, of course, but I think it's important to remember that, in the end, he was little more than a cruel little weirdo who was in the right place at the right time, and exceptionally skilled at manipulating public opinion. There was nothing supernatural about him, and when people throw fits about how it's wrong to humanize Hitler (as in the controversies surrounding Max and that one made-for-TV movie with Robert Carlyle), they're forgetting that he was a human, and that's infinitely scarier to me than him being an oversized cartoon. Because if one fucked-up little guy could cause all that death and suffering and misery once, it could happen again at some point if we don't pay attention. I realize I'm not saying anything new or profound here, but Blind Spot makes that point pretty well, without having to come right out and fumblingly say it like I just did.

I can't say it's worth paying money to rent unless you're really big into WWII or Holocaust studies, but if it's ever on the History Channel or Sundance or whatever, it's definitely worth a look. (Also, did German typewriters from the '40s actually use the "Qwerty" setup, as pictured on the DVD box? I would've thought their keys would be arranged differently to account for ergonomic differences between typing in English and in German.)

CURRENT MUSIC: A Dutch Treat, a mix of Dutch songs that Anne made for me.
"Broadway Chevrolet. Parts and Service. 'We appreciate your business.'"
8:46 PM.

Doot? | |

Friday, January 2, 2004:

Jon just sent me a link to a rather sad web journal: Howard's Notebook. It's written by a 63-year-old nudist from Texas, and it's very interesting. I've read all the posts since last October, and this struck me as the most depressing passage: "I got a can of Coke out of a vending machine and when I opened it ..it was warm and coke flew all over me.. So the bugs [were] after me on the way back home for sure.."

I also liked this bit: "I went to Wal-Mart and spent $60.00 on food and stuff like that... I got a rug for the bathroom.. there is a dirty looking one on the floor. Well it is glued down or something. I just put the new one on top of the old one."

I don't want to sound condescending or mean about this guy's journal, mind you. It's not like that site I posted last summer, where the people of Tupper Lake, New York congregate to gossip and slander one another; something that demands to be laughed at. This guy's just talking about his life, and happens to be in a situation that's not ideal. (You'll see what I mean.) And lots of the posts are about computer equipment, website fundraising, or current events- he doesn't spend page after page complaining about things like certain other web journals I could name... Actually, he seems to have a pretty upbeat attitude given the fact that he has to share a house with his belligerent ex-wife, and I admire that, bleakly funny as it is. But he records the sad things that happen in his life with such a fascinating existential detachment that it reminds me of something Chris Ware would write. I wish I could discipline myself to write like that, but I'm too infuriatingly enamored of my own wordy "cleverness" to ever strip things down that much.

Watched Bend It Like Beckham tonight. I'd seen a free advance screening last year with my friend Kris, but had a horrible migraine and spent much of the film trying to decide whether it'd be practical to trepan myself with my keys. I came away from it thinking that it was a cute movie, but remembering nothing about it. Having seen it a second time, with no physical ailments, it's still pretty much just a cute little movie. So ideal migraine viewing, I guess. Which is more than I can say for Pi.

CURRENT MUSIC: The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld.
TODAY'S LESSON: "Dry-clean only" means "dry-clean only."
11:59 PM.

Doot? | |

Thursday, January 1, 2004:

New Year's Eve was good. Jess invited me up to her place, along with a few of her friends who wound up not coming (except for Natalie and Chad, that hilarious couple I met at the Halloween party; they stayed and bantered for 15 very entertaining minutes). It was still a lot of fun, since we snacked and talked and spent the better part of an hour learning how to play "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" by Herman's Hermits. We're planning on doing a Herman's Hermits covers album, so if anyone has any suggestions for lesser-known HH songs that are worth checking out and reworking, please tell me what they are, because we don't want it to be all "Wonderful World"s and "I'm Into Something Good"s.

Around 11:30, we went to a house party that her friends Steve and Ed were throwing. In theory, it was a "formal" party, but that designation was rather at odds with the number of ties being used as headbands, the impromptu mosh pit in the living room, and some of the decor. (For instance, the ceiling fan that had three white, plastic blades and one significantly smaller brown, wooden blade, all of which had sad orange crepe paper dangling from them.) Since I tend to freak out and go silent around people I don't know, I pretty much just stood next to Jess as she socialized. So I kind of put a damper on things for her, because she was obviously concerned about not wanting me to feel out-of-place or intimidated, and she kindly told me a few times that we could leave whenever I wanted to. But by the same token, I didn't want for her to miss out on fun just because I'm socially retarded, so I told her I was perfectly fine, and that we could stay as long as she wanted. 

It must be irritating to be my friend, because she obviously knew that I felt uncomfortable (I've been told that my facial expressions are completely see-thru, which makes me the worst liar in the world), but I refused to even admit to that. Not that I was loathing my every moment at the party, mind you- I was having fun eavesdropping on drunken conversations, plus everyone was very friendly in their attempts to engage me in conversation, and Jess seemed to have a great time, so I'm glad we stayed. I just feel bad for not being up-front with her and admitting that I felt a little awkward, but telling her that it was really no problem to hang around anyway. That should've been easy enough to say. The fact that I couldn't even be honest about that with one of my best friends, who could already tell how I felt anyway, is troubling to me. And it probably makes Jess feel like I don't trust her enough to tell her how I feel about things, which isn't true at all. So that was stupid of me. Anyway.

While Jess was talking with some of her friends from school, this stoner hippie guy came up to me and asked me if I have a nickname. I didn't feel like going into the whole "Willie" story, especially since he was probably thinking more along the lines of "The Flash" or "Assman," so I just said no. He then asked if I play any musical instruments, and we got talking about music for a minute or two, until his drunken girlfriend approached.

Hippie said to her, "Hey- this guy doesn't have a nickname! What should his nickname be?"

Girlfriend started at me really intensely and thoughtfully for a second, and then said, "His nickname should be... Speckles. No, wait! Split Fin! Split Fin!"

"Henceforth, I shall be known as Split Fin," I assented.

Hippie asked her why she chose that name, and she said, "Because he reminds me of a fish who'd be a really good swimmer. Like, 'I'll swim any way I damn well please, muthafucka!'" She punctuated this with little aquatic kicks. I laughed.

(I just realized that there's probably some obsessive New Zealand pop fan who has "SplitFinn" as his or her e-mail handle.)

Jess made us some tea when we got back to her place, we talked about Tori Amos for a bit, and then I slept on her couch. This morning, we had coffee and watched a bunch of fluff stories on MSNBC (a profile on the magazine Modern Drunkard, SPIN's inarticulate year-in-review segment, a fun profile on a guy who created a Jewish beer called He'Brew, etc.), which was nice. All in all, it was a really fun night, and I'm glad that's how I got to spend the New Year.

When I got home, I hopped in the shower and scrubbed the last ghastly remnants of 2003 from my body, and emerged psyched to work on "Trapezoid Song," which is a new song I started writing on the ride back to Troy. So I set up my gear and discovered that either my effects pedal or its power cord must've gotten damaged (hopefully the latter) on the ride to and from Jess's, because the only sound I can currently get out of the thing is a horrible squeal. I went to Meijer and bought a new power cord that doesn't fit the apparatus because I'm dumb, and after that I didn't feel like driving all the way out to Guitar Center, so I gave up and decided to just do some basic recording with no effects. I hooked my keyboard up to my computer, and it flat-out refused to turn on. So instead of recording, I lay motionless on the floor for about 20 minutes, wondering why even the simplest tasks are impossible.

CURRENT MUSIC: Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie.
7:20 PM.

Doot? | |

Wednesday, December 31, 2003:

Shouldn't there be some sort of recipe somewhere that tells you how to reheat pizza in a way that isn't flavorless? I usually just sprinkle more cheese on top and pop it in the oven, which isn't bad, but it's still a far cry from fresh pizza. Seems like if I understood how "spices" work or maybe utilized the broiler in some fashion, it would turn out better. My cooking skills are shamefully underdeveloped. Or is there really no way of reanimating pizza once it's been in the fridge for a day or two? Maybe "Learn to Cook Well" would be a good New Year's Resolution.

Actually, following Katie's lead, maybe I should just list some resolutions, so we can have a place to check off the number of goals I fail at in 2004:

1. Learn to cook well and, as a corollary, eat better than I have been. Not that I can't follow a recipe now, but I hardly ever go to the trouble to make anything more complicated than macaroni, a soyburger, or soup, and that should change. I need some variety. And I'd like to develop the ability to improvise meals from assorted ingredients I have lying around, and not wind up with it tasting completely bland. First step here will be to watch more of The Food Network. And maybe buy a cookbook that has better-tasting recipes than that anarchist's one I have lying around. (What was with that orange juice-and-gasoline concoction? I mean, I like spicy food, but that was too rich for my blood!)

2. Get my album/record label off the ground, and do things right. Press kits, accountants, buying advertising space in assorted publications, talking with distributors, etc. DIY is fine to a point, but if I seriously want to make a go of this, I can't let myself half-ass things anymore.

3. Move to the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area. (Probably Ypsilanti. Cheaper, hipper, and it's easier to find parking.) With two great friends around there- Jess and Steve- who have generously taken an interest in helping me find an apartment and employment in the area, not to mention a brother who'll be working for the University of Michigan come May, I really have no excuse to not accomplish this.

4. Actually work toward some sort of positive social change, instead of just sitting around and bitching about things I've read in The Guardian and books like Weapons of Mass Deception. Maybe volunteer with the Democratic nominee's presidential campaign, assuming it's Dean or (ideally) Kucinich. And assuming that such volunteer work wouldn't involve any sort of door-to-door stumping or cold-calling, because talking to strangers is a skill that I'm just never going to develop.

5. Date someone again, maybe? I guess that's not really a resolution because it happens when it happens, but... Alright, maybe try to develop a self-image that doesn't contain the word unlovable.

I guess that's plenty. I mean, I'm otherwise perfect.

Went to Target with Adrienne last night, so we could see each other before she leaves for a two-month internship dealie in Washington, D.C. tomorrow morning. She bought some Care Bears socks and a Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit game, in the full knowledge that it may take years to find someone with whom to play the latter, because most of her friends aren't interested and she can't stand hardcore LOTR fans. I laughed at the "Phat Boys" clothing line, because it's a lawsuit waiting to happen, and the thought of courtroom sketches of plaintiffs The Fat Boys is just too delicious.

Hope everyone has a fun New Year's Eve, and that 2004 goes better for you than 2003 did! (That holds true no matter how 2003 went for you; I'm not just assuming it sucked for everyone else.)

CURRENT MOOD: As party-ish as I ever get. That is, I would still probably be depicted as wearing suspenders and a bowtie in the background of an Andrew W.K. video, standing against the wall, positively aghast at the much harder partying that's going on around me.
$11. Lousy credit union... closed on New Year's Eve...
4:48 PM.

Doot? | |

Tuesday, December 30, 2003:

I'm thinking about abandoning the Song of the Day feature. It's become a pain in the tuchus, simply because it's hard to keep finding new interesting choices. Not that there aren't literally millions of great songs out there that I haven't yet included, but I don't like doing really popular ones that people probably already know, or repeating bands (easy as it would be to do Dead Milkmen song after Dead Milkmen song, what would be the point?), and I don't have the time or energy to sit on Soulseek all day and find new songs to absorb and talk about. It might be different if loads of people wrote in with song suggestions, but at this point, the contributions pretty much just come from Cole, Oleg, Jon Walter, and Soulcrusher77, and while I appreciate their efforts, if they're the only ones getting anything out of this in the first place, why bother? I've been doing it for a year and a half, I've covered a lot of my favorite songs... any objections if I were to give up or just make it a (more) sporadic thing?

I got a package in the mail yesterday from the Shanty Creek Resort and Club, extolling the virtues of their "Premier Legacy Membership." It was apparently intended for rich bastard Christopher M. Williams, but the club sent it to the wrong house. (See how much fun it is to have the most generic name in America this side of John Smith?) Their brochure advertises, among other things, "traditional, classic golf reminiscent of a by-gone era," which I at first took to mean "no blacks," but they made sure to include a black guy and a Latino guy in the picture on the facing page, for which I give them credit. But really, apart from more widespread integration, how has golf really changed since the olden days? You're still just pushing a ball into a hole with a stick; unless it used to somehow involve the slaughter of foxes to mystically divine which way the green will break or something like that, I'd wager golf hasn't undergone any great modernization since its invention.

I like this bit too: "Nature has conspired to produce a scenic wonderland of lush forests, rolling hills and deep-water lakes to provide the perfect setting for the plethora of outdoor activities." See? It's okay to drill for oil in federally protected wetlands and engage in aggressive deforestation because Nature loves the rich, and Gaia will reconfigure Herself to better suit the tetherball needs of the privileged class! Why, it's like The Giving Tree on a global scale! Thanks, Nature!

They sent me a pretty nice Shanty Creek folder, too. That may come in handy. I'll probably be able to cut up the brochures for art projects of some sort.

CURRENT MUSIC: The Age of Plastic by the Buggles.
Annoyingly sarcastic.
"Aaaaaaaaaaagggh! The atmosphere!" Remember that? With the guy dressed up like an asteroid burning up in the Earth's atmosphere? It was funny.
TIME: 10:08 AM.

Doot? | |

Monday, December 29, 2003:

More Caribou Coffee fun last night. That place has quite the racket going. Anyway, this time I went with Jess, and we exchanged Christmas gifts. I gave her a soy candle and a couple books (Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner and Blankets by Craig Thompson). In addition to the Sufjan Stevens album she'd already given me, she got me a new issue of Crimewave USA, an awesome fitted T-shirt with the word "Ypsilanti" on it in Motorhead font, and a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

Allow me to explain the beauty of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps at this point. It's basically just a bottle of liquid soap- smells like the soap they use in McDonald's restrooms on those occasions when the soap dispensers are actually full- but I guess it's vegan and organic and so forth. Which is all well and good, but the real appeal, as Jess pointed out to me, is that the bottle itself is covered in incomprehensible, new agey theological screeds, written in bizarre, broken English. Here's a direct quote:

"The 2nd Coming of God's Law! Mohammed's Arabs, 1948, found Israel Essene Scrolls & Einstein's 'Hillel' prove that as no 6-year-old can grow up free without the ABC, so certain can no 12-year-old survive free without the Moral ABC mason, tent & sandalmaker Rabbi Hillel taught carpenter Jesus to unite all mankind free in our Eternal Father's great All-One-God- Faith! For we're All-One or none: 'Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!'"

There are probably a dozen such paragraphs on this tiny bottle, each one more quotably insane than the last. So if any of you start to notice me peppering my e-mails with phrases like, "Exceptions eternally? None! Absolute none!" that's why. It was a really great present.

Jess told me that last weekend, she hung out with Grant, the hippie guy we met at Xhedos a few weeks ago. He came over to her place to re-string her guitar for her, and she played The Airbag's Lipstick Kiss for him to see what he thought. Apparently, he enjoyed it, to the point that he reacted to hearing "Generic Shoulder Blade Tattoo" by saying, "Wow! This makes me want to do some yoga!" He then silently did a headstand for five minutes on Jess's floor. So I'm thinking about having stickers printed for the cover of the album that say, "Listen to track six for hot yoga action!"

While we drank coffee and chatted, two guys at a table near ours were engaged in a fierce tournament of Yahtzee. They didn't seem to be having any fun at all, but were rather going about their game with the focused determination of professional gamblers. (Jess mimed removing a wedding band from her finger and placing it on the table, saying in a southern drawl, "Well, I guess it's down to my wedding ring, Roy.") They were soon joined by a person of indeterminate gender wearing a black trench coat and a T-shirt with the "Anarchy" symbol, staring intently at their game. We decided that s/he was the Yahtzee referee who would enforce the rules, but didn't believe in them.

Hmm. I've just now noticed that Jess has better described the Caribou experience (Yahtzee guys and all) in her journal, so I'll let her take over...

CURRENT MOOD: Cromulent.
9:44 AM.

Doot? | |

Sunday, December 28, 2003:

Big Fish? More like Big Disappointment! Har! Well, alright, not a big disappointment...

Big Fish? More like Moderate Disappointment! ... yeah.

I dunno. Maybe my expectations were too high, but when Tim Burton has building tools including Ewan McGregor, Steve Buscemi, Helena Bonham Carter, siamese twins, a werewolf, and a witch whose glass eye tells you how you're going to die, and he still can't make a consistently enjoyable movie, something is wrong. I went with it for the first half, but then it became clear that the narrative was pulling a Forrest Gump- meandering aimlessly under the mistaken belief that the result will seem "epic"- and I developed a case of tennis elbow from looking at my watch so often for the remainder of the film. Lots of fun individual bits in there, like Ewan's stint at the circus, but heavy-handed sappiness is not what I want out of Tim Burton. I want the whimsical anarchy of Pee-wee's Big Adventure and Ed Wood. Oh well. I'd probably give it a C+.

Last night, Erica, Lorenzo, and I went to Royal Oak for dinner. We ate at the Monterey Grill (and yes, three gin-and-tonics and some cheese poppers count as "dinner" in my book) and then wound up walking to the Barnes & Noble on Main Street because none of us gets enough of that store during the rest of the week. The Royal Oak B&N has a music department, which our store does not, so the three of us shopped for CDs for a little while, and I impulsively purchased 1972 by Josh Rouse, the Ego Tripping At the Gates of Hell EP by the Flaming Lips, the Pieces of April soundtrack by Stephin Merritt, and Extinguished by Prefuse 73.

While we were shopping, some art-school girl nearby idly mentioned to Erica, for some reason, that she wanted to see Big Fish. I told her not to bother, and we chatted about Tim Burton for a minute or two. She said she was trying to get an internship through her school to work on Burton's remake of Willy Wonka. After we went our separate ways, Erica teasingly said to me, "She was cute, wasn't she?" (Lorenzo, meanwhile, was randomly talking to a drunk middle-aged woman about how many indecipherable functions his new VCR has, and she was voicing her wholehearted assent in the form of "Fuckin' A!")

Aimee met us in the B&N cafe around 10:30, and we then all went to Caribou Coffee for a few hours. At one point, Aimee was complaining about something and Lorenzo irritably cut her off by saying, "I'm Aimee! Blah blah blah!" To which Aimee glared at him and spat, "Suck my dick, Lorenzo." They were both seriously annoyed with each other, which made me laugh so hard that I choked and my mouthful of Hot Apple Blast dribbled out onto the floor through my fingers, which were trying vainly to hold it in. Erica thought I'd just thrown up, and the look of horror on her face just made me laugh and choke and cry harder. They shan't be hanging out with me again anytime soon, I have a feeling.

As Lorenzo drove us home, he and Erica noisily sang along to some song on his Britney Spears CD (yes, Lorenzo owns a Britney Spears CD) where it sounds like she's saying, "I wanna get a P'Zone! I wanna get a P'Zone!" They made up new lyrics about pizza toppings and La-Van Hawkins.

I had a dream last night that Mike Doughty wrote and directed a movie about the Olsen twins getting kidnapped and their subsequent struggle to survive, which Mary-Kate and Ashley starred in as their big bid for artistic respectability. It was pretty gritty, and I remember thinking, "Damn you, Mike Doughty, for making the Olsen twins respectable!"

CURRENT MUSIC: 1972 by Josh Rouse.
Fuckin' starved for love.
Downloading Beyonce songs for Adrienne.
12:23 PM.

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. November 17-December 3, 2003. December 4-December 12, 2003. December 13-December 20, 2003. December 21-December 27, 2003.