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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: April 15-June 17, 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007:

That's our newly-adopted dog, Cora. A picture of her, anyway. We think she's around four years old, and she's a goofy-looking critter- some combination of shih tzu, terrier, chihuahua, and possibly Brussels Griffon- but in a very cute way. She has a hilarious underbite, her fur naturally parts in the center of her back all the way down to the tip of her tail, and she just generally looks like she's half-otter. I love her, and could not have asked for a more affectionate, well-behaved pup.

Bev found her through Almost Home Rescue, a great organization that finds foster and adoptive homes in Maine for dogs that have wound up in "high-kill" shelters in Arkansas. Evidently, Cora's previous owner was a total crotch who surrendered her to a shelter because Cora got heartworms and the owner didn't want to deal with it. Like telling a toddler to hit the bricks when he gets strep throat. (Side note: I nearly got physically ill while watching an episode of The Wire that involved an underground dogfighting ring, and it occurred to me that I would actually feel far less squeamish if that plot thread featured infant deathmatches. The episode could be entitled "Amores Niños"!)

So Cora has been through a lot, but she spent a few months in a foster home down South, with a very sweet couple named Melissa and Lindell who doted on her. I corresponded with Melissa for a little while before adopting Cora, and she totally sold Bev and me on our new puppy's personality: "She just loves for me to sit and scratch the top of her head for long periods of time and will give me lots of doggy kisses when I lean down and give her a love pat when I am taking a break from doing household chores. She eats dog food extremely well, is a evening eater, and at times really likes to beg for people food in a nice mannerly way."

When we adopted her, Cora was called "Lady." We're not sure whether that was the name her previous owner gave her or if it was just a placeholder moniker the rescue chose, but she didn't react to the name at all (and she instantly responded to "Cora," oddly), so we felt okay changing it. Which was necessary, because "Lady" doesn't suit her at all. She's quite the opposite of poised and graceful, so that name struck me as leaning a little too far towards parody, and I also couldn't abide having a certain Tom Jones song stuck in my head for the next ten years. So we gave her a new name. Depending on our mood, she's either named after the title character of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, Iron Chef Cat Cora, or delicious Indian appetizer paneer pakora.

A couple Saturdays ago, I drove down to Saco (pronounced "socko," which would also be a vastly more whimsical spelling), just south of Portland, to a park-and-ride lot where the week's supply of transplanted dogs was to be introduced to their new families, including me! I can't imagine a more ecstatic scene than a dozen dogs milling about, basking in the affection they're receiving from gentle, smiling strangers. When I said hi to the volunteer driver, she said, "You're here for [Cora]? You're lucky- she is such a sweetie! She seems pretty disinterested in other dogs, though." She indicated Cora, who was looking around impassively as three or four other dogs sniffed her butt, a phenomenon that will never stop making me giggle. The crowd dispersed as I introduced myself, and Cora adopted the Nipper head-tilt in response to my petting. As I knelt to put her new collar on (a task that wound up requiring assistance from a patient Almost Home volunteer- damn martingale collars), a courteous black lab trotted over and stuck his nose in front of mine, moving his head whenever I moved mine, in order to give me the opportunity to say hi to him before I tended to any other, surely less interesting, business. I had a lot of fun in the few minutes I was there.

One more thing at the pick-up made me very happy: The previous week, when searching for Cora's info on Almost Home's site, I'd noticed a dog named Lehi in the list of adoptable dogs. It stuck out for me because his name was listed as "Lehi- SO SAD!" I didn't look at his story because I know my mental trapdoors well enough to know that there's no way I could've handled reading about a dog's sad history without disintegrating (there'll be more about my ever-escalating war on my brain in a future post), and we'd already committed to adopting Cora, so I couldn't have helped Lehi anyway. At the Saco pick-up site, though, amid the giddy miasma of introductions both spoken and smelled, there was a big ol' hound dog staring admiringly at a woman who was stroking him and saying, "Things are going to be great for you from now on, aren't they, Lehi?" I could've wept, and probably would have if the volunteer didn't need some help wrangling Charlie, a giant pointer to whom I was giving a lift back to Bangor.

The drive home went surprisingly well. Both dogs just napped in their crates while I soothed them by singing They Might Be Giants' first five albums. (I suspect they were merely exhausted from the drive, since they even slept through my spirited rendition of "You'll Miss Me.") Once I arrived home, I waited in the driveway for Charlie's foster mom to come fetch him (get it?!) while Bev leashed Cora and took her on a walk around our yard. I understand the grass in Maine is softer than that in Arkansas, so Cora pranced gaily about as she got used to the sensation. It made me feel vindicated, as I've always thought of our yard as the doggie equivalent of a moonwalk.

So Cora's settling in mighty well, in spite of her mild and understandable confusion. She's not much for toys just yet, but she adores our throw rugs, and has been methodically taking naps all over the house in an apparent effort to locate the most acoustically advantageous position from which to broadcast her powerful snoring (on the couch, beneath the laundry drying rack, on a pile of shoes by the front door, etc.). The birds don't mind her and she's fascinated by them, and she's instantly made our home even homier.

CURRENT MUSIC: The Pet Shop Boys' entry in the Back to Mine series.
How It's Made on The Discovery Channel.
3:18 p.m.

Doot? | |

Sunday, April 15, 2007
Tax Day

After a conversation with Amanda earlier, I realized that I haven't updated anyone on the MRI I underwent a month ago. I apologize, as the delay was incredibly rude to the people who care about me, not to mention most inconvenient to the legions who've been patiently awaiting a ruling on the efficacy of their voodoo dolls. The MRI came out clean, which is a relief, except it means there's still no obvious cause for my sanity-piercing headaches.

Rather than go on about depressing stuff, though, I thought I'd discuss the quilt pictured above. My mom and her best friend, Barb, fashioned it for me out of old T-shirts I left at my parents' house. I wore most of these shirts throughout middle school and high school, but in college finally admitted that they were really too big, too ratty, or too pit-stained to continue sporting. Honestly, there's not a better conduit imaginable for my own sentimentality, so you're going to hear me discuss each block in excruciating detail. I don't have the energy to make each segment of the quilt clickable, to bring you to individual descriptions a la the sensory assault that is The Million Dollar Homepage, so you're just going to get basic "map legend" descriptions. Imagine the squares numbered horizontally and lettered vertically, Battleship-style:

A1: (Barely visible in top left.) R.E.M. shirt with cover of Automatic for the People. That was the very first album I remember being excited for, pre-release. Until that point, I'd purchased only extant albums, based on my favorite bands' back catalog, radio singles, or friends' recommendations. My mom had pledged to pick Automatic up for me on the day it came out, while I was at school, and I remember getting happy shivers when I saw it waiting on the kitchen table for me that October afternoon. 'Twas no letdown. I giggled when Stipe giggled during "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite," I got goosebumps during the acoustic intro to "Monty Got a Raw Deal," I questioned the necessity of including "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1"... I also remember wondering why the jewel case was made of transparent yellow plastic rather than the standard opaque black. [See A3 for reverse.]

A2: Back of C4, apparently from 1994 tour. I never saw Phish live, but as you will see, I thought nothing of purchasing shirts from concerts I had not attended so long as I liked the band involved. The picture in this square is a postcard addressed to "Marley" (who I understand to be Trey Anastasio's dog- way to pick the most stonery name possible, there, Trey), at a realistic-sounding address that I never had the courage to write to.

A3: Back of A1. For some reason, the picture behind the Automatic tracklist is different from (and uglier than) that on the back of the actual album. Looking at this reminds me that "Find the River" has one of the most beautiful melodies ever written.

A4: Front of Meat Puppets T-shirt, with caricature of Abraham Lincoln colored in like Frankenstein's Monster. I collected as many Meat Puppets T-shirts as I could in high school because not only was I a fan of their Forbidden Places and Too High to Die albums, but the surreal cartoons of Curt and Cris Kirkwood were big influences on my own determinedly nonsensical style of doodling. Incidentally, "as many Meat Puppets T-shirts as I could" turned out to be three. (I was 14 and this was before I had Internet access.) [See G2 for reverse.]

A5: Back of F1. Crappy drawing, presumably by megalomaniac Rivers Cuomo, of stick figure wearing a crown and smoking a pipe. Alternate interpretation: I was once making use of a urinal at my high school when a pothead loitering behind me happily exclaimed, "Hey! The guy on your shirt is smoking a bowl!" as loitering high school potheads will do. If anyone wants to contact Mr. Cuomo to settle this age-old difference of opinion, be my guest.

B1: "Big Happy Purple Guy" from front of They Might Be Giants T-shirt. This was my favorite shirt for a long time, both because of my devotion to the band and because I found the clip-art purple guy strangely comforting. During my eighth grade class trip to Washington D.C., we had to assemble in front of the Capitol for a group picture, and despite the 40-degree temperatures, I refused to wear a jacket because I wanted the purple guy to be visible in the photo. (I think I was just amused by the fanciful notion that "Big Happy Purple Guy" might appear in the caption identifying everyone in the photo.)

B2: Another R.E.M. shirt, this one from the Fables of the Reconstruction tour, which I did not attend as I was five at the time. It's a fun picture of a monkey riding a bicycle with some sort of conure on its handlebars. I'm not sure of the source of the artwork, but I once saw this same picture hanging in the Grasshopper vegan restaurant in Boston, with the reference to R.E.M. missing. Also, Bev got me a poster of the R.E.M. version for Christmas last year. We need to find a frame for it. [See F3 for reverse.]

B3: A-ha! I was actually at the David Byrne concert this shirt commemorates! It's from the Feelings tour, and the pictured color wheel is the hilarious "David Byrne Mood Computer" from the Feelings tray card. The CD itself has an arrow across its diameter, and the consumer is instructed to bust off the teeth that hold the CD in the jewel case and spin the disc around. When the arrow points to a color, you are instructed to "determine your feelings by comparing the color the arrow selected to the color in the chart above," which lists moods ranging from "snug" to "starry-eyed" to "pissed off." (There's also a note reading, "WARNING: Determining your feelings repeatedly may or may not impair the quality of the Compact Disc." Which is seriously one of the best sentences ever written.)

B4: U2 shirt from Zooropa tour. I purchased this with the spending money my parents had given me for the aforementioned Washington D.C. class trip, during a detour to an extremely educational shopping mall. I'm fairly certain that I had never actually heard a U2 album when I purchased the shirt, but they struck me as the sort of band I might like, so I decided to take a chance and purchase the shirt, lest I be forced to spend the money on something that might remind me of the trip's actual content. Turns out I was never really crazy about U2, though I do like their Achtung Baby/Zooropa/Pop run. (While at that D.C. mall, a drunken vagrant joined me and The Late Matt Leslie at our table in the food court and had a lengthy discussion at us. This was shortly before he wound up getting escorted from the premises by mall security for sexually harassing some of the girls in my class.)

B5: Dead Milkmen shirt, promoting their fine album Soul Rotation. I wore this shirt on the annual class picture day several times in high school, hoping that the portion of the shirt with the band's name would appear in my yearbook picture. It worked once or twice. Due to my ongoing correspondence with Dead Milkmen guitarist Joe Jack Talcum, I felt an obligation to promote the band as much as I could throughout high school... though because I didn't like talking to people, my one-man street team efforts usually took the form of the photo thing or writing notes in the margins of peer-edited assignments, imploring my classmates to purchase Stoney's Extra Stout (Pig). [See D5 for reverse.]

C1: Another Meat Puppets shirt. A girl in my grade wore this same shirt as part of her gym class outfit. I never spoke with her.

C2: I doubt you can read it, but below the picture of the television on this shirt is the caption, "Literature for the illiterate." It was a birthday present from my friend Devan, from one of his skater gear catalogs. (The message: I like TV.) I have owed Devan an e-mail for about seven months at this point. Sadly, that isn't even the median length of time for gaps in my personal correspondence.

C3: This is a novelty T-shirt featuring a sketch of a dog and the caption, "No, seriously. Let me out." I don't have any memory of this shirt or where it came from, but it's cute.

C4: Phish T-shirt, with drawing of oblong-headed plowhand/fishmonger on "Republique du Phish" postage stamp. There was a girl named Michelle in my creative writing class who had this shirt as well, and although I never talked to her, I would frequently namedrop characters from Phish songs in my writings for in-class presentation, just to see if she'd smile when she heard them. I think "Fee" was the only one she ever got. [See A2 for reverse.]

C5: Back of D1. Just an unimaginative list of the stops on Lou Reed's "Hookywooky" tour.

D1: Lou Reed T-shirt, with the lyrics to Set the Twilight Reeling's title track scrawled on Mr. Reed's face to creepy effect. Like the U2 shirt, this was an instance of money spent on a shirt declaring allegiance to an artist I was basically unfamiliar with. To put it another way, this was an instance of me being a total poseur. I knew "Walk on the Wild Side" and had seen the video for "Hookywooky" on 120 Minutes, so I bought this shirt at a head shop in Birmingham (Michigan), thinking, "Hey- I like his two songs I've heard!" Little did I know that those two songs would wind up accounting for fully 20% of Lou Reed's total solo product that I enjoy. Oh well. I kept wearing the shirt even after I found out I'm not a fan because it creeped people out. [See C5 for reverse.]

D2: Front of a Toad the Wet Sprocket T-shirt that I absolutely adore. Just a divinely funny picture of a hand pointing to an unflappable frog in the grass. This shirt was initially T-Bone's and I envied him greatly for it. Can't remember how it fell into my possession. I think he wrecked one of my shirts somehow, and following my mom's Solomon-esque wisdom (though I imagine she'd compare herself more to Job in situations like that), I got to appropriate one of his. Such was my desire for the Toad shirt that I probably would've framed T-Bone for shirtslaughter earlier if I'd known I could have it. [See G3 for reverse.]

D3: Dave Matthews Band. Moving on.

Oh, fine. I admit to liking Under the Table and Dreaming a lot in high school- and still recall it being a fairly solid album, though I haven't listened to it in years.

Really, this square could be dorkier, now that I think of it. Luckily, the Spin Doctors T-shirt is safely tucked away at the bottom of my bureau.

D4: Back of F4. This is my favorite panel from any of my Meat Puppets shirts because of the chair in the word balloon. Nowadays, it calls to mind The Sims, but when I was in high school, its utter randomness pleased me quite a lot. As did the Gogo Dodo character in the Viking helmet. Seriously, this was the sort of thing I would draw all the time, trying too hard to capture the baked free-association of the Kirkwoods' work. And never succeeding, apparently due to the fact that it takes dump trucks full of controlled substances to be so effortlessly, cheerfully hallucinatory.

D5: Back of B5. I'm not sure why Dean Clean drew this popular Masonic symbol into the Soul Rotation artwork, though it fits with that album's twin themes of conspiracies and unconventional spirituality.

E1: The cover of Sugar's Copper Blue album. I became a follower of Bob Mould's assorted projects in middle school, and I think Copper Blue was my all-time favorite album for a brief period in high school, before I got OK Computer or realized the brilliance of the Talking Heads' Remain in Light. It's still in my top ten, at least, though: I never get tired of the layers of guitars- the feedback dueling with crisp chiming for emotional supremacy- or the raw, heartbroken confusion of Mould's lyrics in breakup songs like "Fortune Teller," "Helpless," and "If I Can't Change Your Mind." It's great stuff for a teenager who suffers an endless series of crushes and heartbreak even though the objects of his erratic adolescent affections were never informed that they were in the romantic crosshairs in the first place, but it's also great stuff for mature rock fans who appreciate a good emotional lyric with a good, powerful hook.

E2: Heh. Among the dozens of Seinfeld T-shirts printed over the years was this little gem, featuring an open-mouthed Jason Alexander reciting the nickname his character was saddled with by a high school gym teacher: "Can'tstandya... Can'tstandya!" I was a big Seinfeld booster during the Larry David years, but it wasn't just appreciation for a spot-on bit of sitcom writing (seriously, the "Can'tstandya" pun is a perfectly unclever gym teacher witticism) that earned this shirt a spot in my starting rotation- yes, alongside "Golden Boy"- well into my high school years. No, no. It was my unabating rancor toward my middle school gym teacher, Roger Peterson, that made me such a fan of the "Can'tstandya" line. My story (which Adrienne may have heard more than once) isn't much different from that of millions of other young men: Peterson was your stereotypical macho nutslab who had no use for any boy who did not excel at organized sports and, as the poster child for "does not excel at organized sports," I was singled out for criticism a lot. That's the short version, which excises the part about Peterson making us jump for our towels post-shower, but it didn't get unusually sinister. I just took it all unusually personally. So I wore the shirt to remind myself of the ultimate fate that befell George Costanza's gym teacher: living on the steps of the New York Public Library.

E3: Back of C1. Just for something to say here, I'll note that this particular Meat Puppets shirt was far more comfortable and made of a softer fabric than my other two. It probably would've fallen apart sooner.

E4: Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie T-shirt, purchased from Entertainment Weekly. I'm not sure why I felt a need to purchase a shirt in honor of the MST3K film when I already had a white T-shirt with an identical logo (minus the words "The Movie") in honor of the TV show. Especially since the film wasn't anything special by long-established MST3K standards. Maybe I was still feeling righteously angry about Comedy Central canceling the program so I bought it as a "screw you" to network president Doug Herzog? That does seem like something I would've done.

E5: Another Dead Milkmen shirt, this one with the cover of their record Not Richard, But Dick on it. The back of the shirt (not pictured) bore the slogan, "Dick is swell!" Athens High School faculty requested on more than one occasion that I refrain from wearing the shirt to classes in the future. I ignored these directives on the grounds that I'd chosen not to purchase a similar album companion shirt which bore the slogan, "Dick is coming!" and thus felt I had already done my duty for community standards.

F1: I can't remember whether I bought this Weezer shirt at their show or from their fan club, of which I was a member. The only Weezer show I've been to was unimpressive: rote run-throughs of every song on The Blue Album, plus what Matt Sharp claimed was the inaugural live performance of "Why Bother?" The latter was the high point. (Actually, openers Teenage Fanclub were the high point.) [See A5 for reverse.]

F2: Back of F5. Just the Seinfeld logo. That show really hasn't aged well, has it? I've caught a few reruns recently, and the rhythms and mannerisms that were so charming in the early '90s are just so dated and clunky now, it's embarrassing. Not to the depressing degree of, say, Mad About You or King of Queens, but in retrospect, episodes of Seinfeld live or die based solely on how relatable the predicaments are, because set-ups like Jerry and George being mistaken for neo-Nazi leaders or Kramer and Newman conspiring to transport a mail truck full of empty bottles to Michigan just seem flat and silly today. (Incidentally, remember that episode where Kramer is dating an African-American woman and then spends too much time in the tanning bed before meeting her father? Has that one been pulled from syndication yet? Because... yikes.)

F3: Back of B2, listing all the dates for the Reconstruction tour. Seems R.E.M. bypassed Boston on that run. I wouldn't worry about it, though- it's not a big college town.

F4: This panel was eventually used as the cover for the fake Meat Puppets album Golden Lies. (Curt Kirkwood had assembled an entirely new band as Derrick Bostrom had left and Cris Kirkwood was MIA, but his label refused to release the album unless he used the Meat Puppets name. It's not very good, apart from "I Quit.") A portion of the picture features a jeweled crown which is rendered in puffy, glittery paint, which is a touch I always enjoyed. [See D4 for reverse.]

F5: A picture of Jerry Seinfeld with his mouth open, and the caption, "Shouldn't you be out on a ledge somewhere?" I forget which episode that line is from. I bought this shirt on a family trip to Chicago. I begged my parents to stop in the NBC store because I like TV (see C2), and this must have been early in the day, because I doubt they would've acceded to my request after being dragged into every record store in the city. At any rate, I think this was the only Seinfeld shirt featuring a caption I felt comfortable selecting, as the rest were a little too risque for an awkward 12-year-old to be wearing. (This was pre-Britney/Paris, remember.) I mean, I thought they were funny, but I didn't want my parents to know that I thought they were funny because that would've meant having The Talk, which I was determined to put off as long as possible, having successfully deflected it many times in years previous. I eventually convinced my dad that T-Bone and I had been taught everything he was about to say in school already, so please stop talking.

G1: Frank Zappa. It's such a great shirt. Just Zappa's disapproving face glaring at everyone who walked my way. It felt like a suit of armor, because you're not going to fuck with Zappa. Look at him. Well, don't look at him in this particular picture, because the quilt wrinkles there and makes him look like he was freshly pummeled, but... Back off, bucko. If I haven't made it clear in this journal what a cool brother T-Bone is, he's the one who got me into Zappa when he was in, like, seventh grade. He bought the Strictly Commercial compilation, and it blew my mind so I bought We're Only In It for the Money and Hot Rats, and... well, you can't stop there, can you?

G2: Back of A4. More Meat Puppets. This one has a couple eye stalks watching a gnarled hand draw names from a hat, and the name "Dr. B" written in mirror writing on the retrieved slip. I really love this stuff.

G3: Back of D2. Pictures of each member of Toad the Wet Sprocket, around the time of Fear, judging by the font in which the band's name is printed. I purchased Fear when it came out, on the strength of "All I Want" (and was kind of bummed that the vocals on the album mix are far inferior to the fuller single mix), and it was the first album I owned that had the word fuck printed in the liner notes, in the lyrics to "Hold Her Down." I wound up snipping off that portion of the booklet and gluing the remainder together- with wood glue, for some reason- just in case my parents got it in their heads to investigate what I was listening to. If they asked what was wrong with the CD booklet, I recall that I planned to tell them that I dropped it in the toilet, which... was not the most airtight cover story. And really, I don't think my parents would've cared in the first place, but I was a paranoid young man.

G4: Eric's Trip T-shirt, depicting a damsel tied to a tree, with the caption, "Stereo Mountain." I do not understand the caption. Maybe it was the name of an EP? At any rate, I discovered Canadian indie-rockers Eric's Trip thanks to my friend Jim, who namedropped them at a forensics meet in high school. It was an amazingly nice day outside, so the competitive dramateers from my school were all hanging out in the courtyard of the fancypants high school that was hosting the meet. I was playing a game of Bullshit with Will Brick and Robin Sloan, and was half-listening to Jim chatting up a girl who was competing against him in the prose category, who'd performed a Kathleen Hanna screed as her piece. At one point, Jim referred to Eric's Trip in the same breath as Sloan, who was one of my favorite bands at the time. I whipped around and asked Jim to repeat the name of that other band, and I think he must've mumbled, because for awhile, I was looking arond for a band called "Airstrip."

G5: Ramones! My friend Nick bought me this T-shirt for my twelfth or thirteenth birthday, and it was, like, size XXXL, so it came down past my knees on my 5'5" frame. I wore it valiantly for about six years, until I finally saw a picture of myself wearing it, and realized that, awesome or not, the shirt made me look extra-stumpy, so it was finally retired. Also, Richie Ramone is the drummer listed in the band insignia, so you can tell I'm not a bandwagon-jumper who only got into the Ramones once Urban Outfitters started mass-producing their shirts (which name Tommy as the drummer). Make a note.

I'll leave you with a brilliant snippet from an online conversation I had with Ben a few weeks ago:

COSMICBEN: That's not me laughing out loud. That's little cartoon Ben throwing his hands up in frustration at your lousy humor.

(It's more effective in a sans serif font, so you may want to change your browser settings before viewing the above.)

CURRENT MUSIC: Between the Bridges by Sloan.
4:51 p.m.

Doot? | |

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