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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: March 1--April 24, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009:

Bev and her mom are in Maine. Bev's sister, Audrey, is in Cleveland. I am in Ann Arbor. These are some of the chillier regions of the country. So it was that we met up in Ben's old stomping ground, Florida, for a week, to hang out at the trailer Bev's dad maintains in Cedar Key. Her dad's been down there since January, befriending his neighbors, fixing up his plane, and developing a scorching hatred of Simon Cowell, as FOX is the only station his television receives with his new, government-provided digital converter box.

On the plane, crunched into half of my seat by the contortions of the camo-clad minotaur beside me who'd decided to spend the flight twisted sideways, the better to mack on his fiancee, I read the Best American Comics 2008 anthology, which contained depressingly little that made an impression on me for a book edited by Lynda Barry. (The only real standouts were the familiar gems from Chris Ware and Alison Bechdel, a sophomorically hilarious skit from Evan Larson, and creepy historical true crime from Rick Geary.) I also started Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, which I wound up liking pretty well. It's a breezy, anecdote-driven workplace novel that's set in a turn-of-the-century ad agency, and that owes an enormous debt to Douglas Coupland's Microserfs (my favorite book). Despite its occasional over-clever strain to replicate Coupland's pop-spiritual electro-navel-gazing analyses, it's frequently very funny, and the way Ferris wields workplace layoffs with gleefully unpredictable Ten Little Indians fatalism certainly makes the book a better Microserfs for the Dubya decade than Coupland's own rancid JPod.

My flight arrived at the Orlando Sanford Airport (to the obsequious applause of my fellow passengers--do people generally do that?) about 10 hours before Bev and her mom's, so I retrieved the rental car and checked into the hotel (getting lost in-between, natch) so I could relax, read, eat a supper of Fritos, and watch The Amazing Race instead of stewing at the airport.

The space shuttle Discovery was being launched from Kennedy Space Center that evening, and I decided to toddle outside to see whether I could see anything from the Days Inn parking lot. There were maybe a dozen others standing outside when I'd arrived--mostly seniors, mostly folks who'd already witnessed a shuttle launch or two, I gathered. I'm not sure how far Sanford is from the launch site, but the liftoff did provide an impressive spectacle. A searingly white, oblong magnesium glow rose into the sky, leaving behind a ruffled vapor trail that burned orange to yellow to lavender, and hung in the air like a psychedelic jellyfish tendril. I leaned against a palm tree, listening to the hoots of my fellow spectators and the approving croaks of the frogs in the ditch beside me, and watched with something cheesily close to awe as the boosters-or-whatever fell away and the shuttle passed out of view behind an Outback Steakhouse billboard.

Without attempting to sound profound or as though this was some sort of mind-altering experience--I'm not and it wasn't--my chosen life situation isn't going to often afford me the opportunity to watch a rocket launch while reclining against a palm tree, so it was a nifty, novel moment, marred only by the uncomfortable sneers directed at me by those other spectators who happened to glance my way.

I then realized that, after taking a shower in the hotel room earlier, I'd blindly donned my Dinosaur Comics T-shirt that boasts a picture of an astronaut and the phrase, "Not all dreams can come true."

So I was the contrarian dick who apparently crashed an impromptu NASA party in a hotel parking lot while silently wearing some sort of inscrutably bilious anti-space program protest garb to mock everyone's elation.

Bev and her mom didn't have much nice to say about their long-delayed flight by the time I fetched them from the airport and we wended our way through the air compressors powering the cleaning crew's nightly rounds. In our room, Bev and I fell asleep in front of some crappy CBS procedural where Graham Chase from My So-Called Life took a bunch of hostages.

On Monday, Bev, her mom, and I drove from Sanford to Cedar Key, where Bev's dad, Audrey, and Audrey's kid were waiting. Bev's dad's trailer down there is surprisingly roomy and comfortable, decorated with dozens of whimsical tchotchkes that match his admirably upbeat personality. The trailer's wood paneling reminded me of the trailer from Raising Arizona, and I spent much of my stay wondering whether there was a subtle way I could scrawl the word "FART" on the wall. I also spent much of my stay seeing how few words I could get away with saying to Audrey's kid (technically my "nephew"). The highlight was when he stood up in front of the television, in better-door-than-a-window fashion, and I wordlessly jabbed a cushion at the back of his knees until he sat down on it and got out of our way.

I did have to say "thank you" to him, though, when he plopped a half-eaten hush puppy in my lap, as I wasn't sure how else to react.

Around 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday, I awoke with my every muscle pounded into cube steak by the flu and could not get back to sleep, which was just absolute horseshit. I had a feverish reverie in which the United States government privatized sleep and I was lying in an insomniac stupor because I hadn't purchased sufficient sleep credits from my local slumber distributor (or accumulated enough promotional SiestaPoints from Jose Cuervo, which were also accepted). When she awoke, Bev fed me lots of medicine and I spent the day convalescing.

Once I got on my feet, at around 6:00 p.m., Bev, Audrey, and I went to retrieve pizza from the Blue Desert Cafe, which took an hour and a half for some reason. Bev busied herself by organizing the Trivial Pursuit cards that were sitting on the bar, while I busied myself by unintentionally Robotripping and staring blankly at the tabloid newsmagazines flickering on the cafe's muted television. ("What I'm taking from Entertainment Tonight is that the octuplets got kicked off Dancing with the Stars," Aud remarked at one point.)

We returned home, watched a Seinfeld rerun ("The Millennium") which made me wonder why I ever watched Seinfeld, and then Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which made me pine for Seinfeld.

On Thursday morning, Bev and I took the rented Sebring down to Silver Springs, which is essentially a zoo with theme park prices. It was alright. We fed graham crackers to some friendly giraffes, saw amusing fish from a glass-bottom boat, and giggled at a Kodiak bear who was merrily pile-driving a bucket, but the whole experience was still kind of a downer. The animals weren't neglected by any means, but neither did they seem as well taken care of as I would've liked. They seemed lethargic and vaguely sad. The experience was pretty well embodied by the ibis whose foot was hobbled by some sort of packaging material, pathetically limping around the food court to the accompaniment of a gung-ho MC who was distributing awards at an Amway banquet across the park. At any rate, Bev and I agreed that we weren't sorry we went, but the day hadn't left us particularly happy either.

We spent the night at the Riverside Resort in Homosassa Springs, which maintains a tiny, floating playground for monkeys called "Monkey Island." (Not related to the fabulous LucasArts game series, but cool nonetheless.)

In the morning, Bev and I hit the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. That one was great, particularly since we arrived just in time to watch the manatees eat breakfast. Manatees are amazing. We didn't see a single one that wasn't sporting a horrifying propeller injury that had been spackled over, but they all seemed perfectly, adorably content to gobble down entire heads of iceberg lettuce as they bobbed lazily in the water. We also saw a wonderful presentation by a volunteer who struggled to educate us about the burrow owl while wrangling an especially antsy example of the species. I blurted, "I love them!" at just about every exhibit Bev and I passed by. (Exception: the bobcat who violently snatched a squirrel from the tree in its pen. I think I booed while Bev chided me, "It's nature!")

Upon our return, Bev, her parents, and I ate at a restaurant called Seabreeze, which was pretty awesome. We sat by a window overlooking the gulf, spotting the occasional leaping dolphin, and observing the dock behind the restaurant which has evidently been ceded to a hilarious gang of pelicans. None of the animals I saw on this trip were as lovely as Cora, of course, but there were still dozens who stole my heart.

On our last day in Florida, Bev's dad took us to a yard sale at the Cedar Key Historical Society Museum, where Bev found a comforter and some mud flaps. I picked up a couple VHS tapes whose labels suggested they were someone's home movies, but which turned out to be a bunch of shows taped off Bangor's NBC affiliate in the early '90s. (Kind of a disappointment, but I did enjoy Cured! Secrets of Alternative Healing, hosted by Olympia Dukakis, of Too Many Grandmas fame.)

On the way back to Michigan, the Allegiant Air flight attendants blared into the loudspeaker for nearly a half-hour straight while hosting an in-flight 50/50 raffle. Very classy.

My dad met me at the airport and immediately thrust a folder into my hands, containing the latest in my grandpa's posthumous legal battles (this time against a property management company who claims that Grandpa defaulted on his lease by dying). Ah, life.

CURRENT MUSIC: Discography by Pet Shop Boys.
CURRENT MOOD:
Sketchy.
CURRENT SONG I WISH I'D WRITTEN:
"Fade Into You" by Mazzy Star.
TIME:
7:47 p.m.

Doot? | |

Sunday, March 1, 2009:

Alright, here's the deal, man. The total deal. I haven't written in this journal or on the Disclaimer site in almost three months because December was full of stressful holiday nonsense (and stressful holiday television specials), January was spent being sullen and solitary (and watching crappy mid-season replacements like Lie to Me and 13: Fear is Real), and February was full of personal tragedy, including the death of my grandpa and the serious injury and hospitalization of a close friend (and awaiting the most shocking "After the Final Rose" ceremony in The Bachelor history, which will air tomorrow night, hooray!). March, I can only assume, will bring fender benders, fire ants, unwanted ball gags, and the continued presence of "Coach" on Survivor.

I decided early on that 2009 was going to be a "rebuilding year," to use a pro-sports euphemism that's employed when teams sink to hilarious levels of ineptitude, because I am determined that this year will end better than 2008 did, but in spite of my uncharacteristic optimism, I've simply been too preoccupied to write anything substantial--even smartass three-sentence rebuttals to Scott's MP3 picks. In my personal resolve not to be (as much of) a downer this year, I have written nothing. This must change.

So here are a few things that have made me happy lately:

--Daisy Owl.
--A 12-year-old who rode his bike across my path the other day while loudly and unself-consciously singing "I Know What Boys Like" by The Waitresses. Coolest 12-year-old ever.
--The Carolina Chocolate Drops performing "Hit 'Em Up Style" at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival.
--A testimonial excerpt from the 1916 Michigan Supreme Court case Rohmer v. Labo that Tim e-mailed me, which contains the following sentence: "Just as I got back on the sidewalk, or very near to the sidewalk, I felt something strike me in the leg, and I says, 'Possibly I am shot.'"
--Man on Wire.
--Sandra Lee's online recipe for "King Cake" (best read with no context whatsoever, so I shan't provide any).
--The use of Soul Coughing's "$300" on an episode of House centering on the title character's methadone treatments.
--This particular video from Jandrew Edits, even though I ordinarily cannot stomach anything Star Trek-related.

Also friends, family, etc.

Furthermore, even though it's embarrassingly late in 2009 for "best of 2008" anything, here's the tracklist for my year-end mix Tarragon Spill in Curdled Waters: The Best I've Heard of 2008, which has sat on my hard drive unpublished for goodness knows how long. I usually attempt to describe the individual songs in some pithy way, but I continue not to have the energy, and yet I want to get the list posted and out of the way so it's not hanging over my head any longer. (My sincere apologies to Mike from Quetzalcoatlus, whose song and album both deserve a proper--and positive--review that I am too burned out to provide at this time.) So here's that:

1. Pierce Brosnan: "S.O.S." (3:21)

Wait, wait.

1. Mike Doughty- "Fort Hood" (3:13) From Golden Delicious.
2. Lykke Li- "I'm Good, I'm Gone" (3:09) From Youth Novels.
3. Magnetic Fields- "California Girls" (3:00) From Distortion.
4. Aliens- "I Am the Unknown" (5:28) From Astronomy for Dogs.
5. R.E.M.- "Houston" (2:05) From Accelerate.
6. Shearwater- "Rooks" (3:21) From Rook.
7. M83- "Kim & Jessie" (5:23) From Saturdays = Youth.
8. Matmos- "Polychords" (3:31) From Supreme Balloon.
9. Emiliana Torrini- "Jungle Drum" (2:13) From my favorite album of the year, Me and Armini.
10. Electric Six- "Watching Evil Empires Fall Apart" (3:58) From Flashy.
11. Ladytron- "I'm Not Scared" (3:58) From Velocifero.
12. Minotaur Shock- "Bats" (3:47) From Amateur Dramatics.
13. Of Montreal- "For Our Elegant Caste" (2:35) From Skeletal Lamping.
14. Katie Herzig- "Forevermore" (2:13) From Apple Tree.
15. Jim White- "Jailbird" (5:45)  From Transnormal Skiperoo.
16. Bon Iver- "Skinny Love" (3:59) From For Emma, Forever Ago.
17. Flying Lotus (feat. Dolly)- "RobertaFlack" [sic] (3:08) From Los Angeles.
18. Beck- "Walls" (2:22) From Modern Guilt.
19. School of Seven Bells- "Prince of Peace" (3:06) From Alpinisms.
20. Fleet Foxes- "White Winter Hymnal" (2:27) From Fleet Foxes.
21. Quetzalcoatlus- "Donda Hadda Farn" (4:56) From Beats + Noise.
22. Liam Finn- "Gather to the Chapel" (3:21) From I'll Be Lightning.
23. Music Tapes- "Freeing Song for Reindeer" (2:59) From Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes.

I hope to send out copies of this CD soon to those who've requested it, but the impatient may prefer to make their own. If anyone else wants one, e-mail me with your address.

More in awhile, hopefully.

CURRENT MUSIC: The sound of German hip-hop in my head.
CURRENT MOOD:
Stomach-knotted.
CURRENT FAVORITE TEXT MESSAGE FROM BEV:
"Still at walmart. Watched kid sneeze on stuff, then bonk self on head w/ball."
TIME:
6:35 p.m.

Doot? | |

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