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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: July 21-July 31, 2004

Thursday, July 29, 2004:

I lay on my bed with my eyes closed for about an hour just now, and I'm not sure if I actually fell asleep or was trying to will myself to do so the entire time. For some reason, Larisa Salvia popped into my head. She was a girl I knew in kindergarten and first grade, after which point she moved away, and she was the first girl who ever kissed me. It doesn't count for anything, of course, because we were both, like, six, but I remember that we were in gym class, and she, Angela Mansour, and I were sitting next to one another against the wall while the other kids played dodgeball. (I can only assume that we were the first three who got out, which is perfectly in keeping with my athletic abilities.) Larisa told me to close my eyes, so I did, quickly felt something against my lips, and when I opened my eyes again, she was giggling wildly and Angela looked quietly amused. Blushing probably ensued on my part, though I don't remember feeling particularly embarrassed, thrilled, grossed out, or anything more than, "Huh. Wasn't expecting that."

She came over to my house once- and only once, as I recall- after school to play. It was around Halloween, and we were watching TV when a commercial for ABC Warehouse appeared, depicting a bunch of people being suddenly bathed in pale green light and then drawn to the store like hypnotized zombies. It totally freaked me out and I sat in silent terror for the rest of the evening, unable to think of anything but the fear that I was going to unexpectedly get trapped in an ABC Warehouse tractor beam and, presumably, be forced against my will to submit to savings. Larisa stayed for dinner with my family, and I don't think I could even eat. I'm pretty sure that she and I never hung out again because even though I liked her, every time I saw her from that point on she reminded me of that commercial. (I wasn't particularly easily spooked as a kid, but I was freaked out by random things. My mom tells me that when I was a toddler, every time that Sesame Street skit came on where Guy Smiley hosted a game show on which the sun and a cloud were contestants, I'd start hyperventilating and run out of the room.)

Out of curiosity, I Googled Larisa and discovered that she's now married. I'm old.

CURRENT MUSIC: Light & Magic by Ladytron.
CURRENT MOOD:
Robotic.
CURRENT FAVORITE EUPHEMISM FOR DEFECATION:
"Brownian motion." At work, I was editing a review in which that term was abbreviated as "BM" all throughout, and I immediately started giggling because I'm twelve. (But come on: "This is accomplished by convoluting a BM with a kernel"?) Robin, whose desk is next to mine, asked what was so funny, and I showed her. She pointed out that "Brownian motion" has kind of a scatological ring in and of itself, so from now on, that's what I'm calling it.
TIME: 7:50 PM.

Doot? | |

Wednesday, July 28, 2004:

Melvin Goes to Dinner is a pretty good movie. It's not what you might expect from a film directed by Bob Odenkirk (i.e., there's no inspired madness like the "Education Through Billiards" sketch or the hilarious "Cinco! All-Digital Phone System" advertisement on the Mr. Show site), and it's nothing especially original or mind-blowing, but it's a film that's very solid in its unambitiousness. Michael Blieden, who wrote the screenplay and whose performance is a more palatable variation on the good-humored, wide-eyed, underachieving doormat style that Thomas Cavanagh and Zach Braff aren't endearing enough to pull off, plays Melvin. He arranges to meet at a restaurant with his buddy Joey, and Joey brings along his old friend Alex, who brings along her old friend Sarah. And apart from a few effective, fun flashbacks and framing pieces, that's the movie: watching these four sit around the table and chat.

The dialogue is remarkable in its naturalness: it's not self-consciously aggressive and florid like Clerks, it's not a smug haze of pop-cultural references like... well, Clerks for that one too. But you know what I mean: even really good movies with a lot of chatting, like Roger Dodger and In the Company of Men, have a tendency to let their characters speak in fully-formed paragraphs regardless of how mannered it might sound coming out of someone's mouth. In Melvin, it's very real conversation, getting unexpectedly derailed and picking up in a totally different place, awkward silences that are followed by polite attempts to change gears, etc. Once you let yourself settle into the film's rhythm- which takes a little while- it really does manage to capture the feeling of a great, spontaneous evening of unexpectedly meaningful and interesting conversation. I can't think of another movie that's so successful to that end. Dazed and Confused, maybe?

Plus, Maura Tierney and Melora Walters are unsurprisingly great in their supporting roles, and David Cross and Jack Black are unsurprisingly funny in their cameos. It's not a great movie, and it's probably not a movie you'll retain much of except a favorable impression a month or so after you've seen it, but it's definitely worth a rental if you're in the mood for something low-key yet substantial. I'm happy I watched it.

I went to Target after work to buy a new alarm clock because the one on my phone is unacceptable. I discovered this yesterday morning, when I set the alarm for 7:00 AM and was awoken at 6:45 AM by a series of maddening beeps, accompanied by a warning flashing on the phone's screen that I had only fifteen minutes before the alarm was going to go off. I suppose I could just set it for 7:15 from now on, but I would rather not give it the pleasure. Bev was kind enough to give me a wake-up call this morning, because she is the best person in the world. As for tomorrow morning, I think I'm out of luck, because Target didn't have the alarm clock I want, so I bought a Black & Decker Toast-R-Oven Classic instead, not wanting to leave empty-handed.

CURRENT MOOD: Flannel.
BEST LINE FROM A HILARIOUS E-MAIL I RECEIVED THIS AFTERNOON FROM A MAN WHO DOESN'T ENTIRELY AGREE WITH MY ASSESSMENT OF THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO:
"6 million Jews died for your piss-poor taste in music."
TIME:
11:13 PM.

Doot? | |

Tuesday, July 27, 2004:

The Finn Brothers concert was fantastic the other night. I saw Neil Finn solo last year, and although I liked that show a teensy bit better because I think Neil is a stronger songwriter than his brother Tim, this one was definitely the more energetic of the two. The pair steered clear of most of their Split Enz and Crowded House hits (save for a sparkling version of "I Got You"), instead blazing through an energetic, melodic set that featured lots of typically smart fare from their forthcoming album as well as lesser-known chestnuts from their back catalog.

As we hung out in the front row before the show started, T-Bone, Dad, and I started chatting with three young women who were standing next to us. One of them, Suzie, was from Australia, and as she talked to us, another woman approached her and asked in a thick accent, "Oy- are you from New Zealand?"

"Naw, Australia!" Suzie replied.

They both giggled at each other's accents, and the woman from New Zealand demonstrated for us the differences between the two dialects by listing a litany of profane and scatological terms in each of their respective pronunciations.

Anyway, they were very nice people, and luckily, they were all fairly short (even the girl named Willow, who, while the tallest of the bunch, wasn't as willowy as you might think), which was good because T-Bone is the tallest in my family, and he's like 5'6". There's nothing worse than going to a concert with tall people in front of me. Oh- except for going to a Radiohead concert where you get stuck in the parking lot for two hours afterward because the hippies whose cars surround yours are more interested in encouraging one another to "No, really, man, just think about how mind-blowing it would be if, like, Doritos made a chip that could eliminate hatred!" than moving their filthy, beponchoed selves out of your way.

But yes, the Finns. Onstage, Neil and Tim fell into a cozy Odd Couple rapport, with Tim playing the free-spirited, sloppy Oscar- often grabbing a tambourine and jerking around the stage like a floppy-haired witch doctor during those parts of the songs that didn't require his direct participation- while Neil half-seriously rolled his eyes and turned his attention to making the arrangements as interesting and perfect as he could, constantly fiddling and flailing with his guitar. While Neil has never been stodgy by any means, Tim's presence seemed to bring out an extra glow in him, while Neil served to rein in Tim's indulgences and keep the songs focused: a perfect balance. The two still harmonize beautifully, and the band was nimble enough to swing from the new wavey "Six Months in a Leaky Boat" directly into an improvised, minor-key outro that was chilling, and later, to pull out a psychedelic lounge version of "Mood Swingin' Man" that would've made a perfect companion piece to Ween's "Zoloft," and a peppy "It's Only Natural" that interpolated bits of "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman."

Though we missed out on hearing Neil's beautiful new song "Gentle Hum" (a masterpiece of crowd participation that I heard at his show last year, and that sounds rather wan on the studio version without an entire crowd humming the melody together as the song requires), the new songs sounded spectacular, particularly "All God's Children," which I took as a rant against George W. Bush. Now granted, it could be because I'm predisposed to seeing everything in an anti-George W. Bush light, but given that Peter Green, the Finns' fan club president who was working at the merch table, was wearing a patch that read, "George Bush is a Punk-Ass CHUMP," I feel safe in my assessment.

According to T-Bone, the Finns are thinking about doing a fall tour in case you missed them on this one, and should it happen, I encourage you all to go. It's a great opportunity to see two of the most underrated songwriters of the past, what, 30 years?

On the drive home, I noticed a billboard advertising the upcoming PGA tournament in metro Detroit, and it featured a picture of a grinning Tiger Woods and the phrase, "Guess who's coming to Michigan?" I'd like to think that it was a subtle and clever play on Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in a way that mocks the way racism is still entrenched in the golfing world, but I'm thinking that campaign would be a hard sell to the PGA executives who paid for the ad.

I watched season three of Oz today, thanks to Netflix. Man, I love that show! If some of the character arcs are a little flimsier this time through, it's made up for by more interesting and stylized direction (an episode each from Steve Buscemi, Chazz Palminteri, and Adam Bernstein, who did all those great, early Dead Milkmen, Beastie Boys, and They Might Be Giants videos), as well as the usual stellar performances. I'm starting to think that Father Ray is the most nuanced and complex portrayal of a priest ever to be a regular character on a TV show.

Tylenol brand Simply Sleep pills are for shit. I took four of them an hour ago and I'm not even a little drowsy.

CURRENT MUSIC: Iaora Tahiti by Mouse on Mars.
CURRENT MOOD:
Pissed because both MusicMatch Jukebox and my ocean machine decided to stop working tonight, so I have no way of waking myself up in the morning.
REASON MY MOOD WAS IMPROVED 30 SECONDS AFTER TYPING THE ABOVE: Hey, my phone has an alarm clock on it! Kick ass!
TIME:
12:18 AM.

Doot? | |

Saturday, July 24, 2004:

I finally signed up for Netflix, and have been having loads of fun going through and rating random movies they attempted to recommend to me. (For some reason, they kept trying to cram Harvey down my throat.) I came across lots of stuff I'd forgotten that I wanted to see, like The 400 Blows, The 25th Hour, and Thirteen, and ordered in a bunch of TV shows that I haven't yet seen, like Six Feet Under and... The Office. However, I can always use more recommendations- I'm especially trying to keep an eye out for good documentaries I haven't seen- so what should I get?

Nothing involving Ed Burns, please. Thank you.

Yesterday, I went to Meijer to buy some sleeping pills and Morningstar Farms products, and you know... the U-Scan self-service checkout lines really aren't for everybody. If you aren't fully confident in your ability to use computerized equipment, follow the directions given by various prompts on the screen, or understand English, there's no shame in using one of the old-fashioned checkout lanes where a surly adolescent cashier will do all the work for you. (And, if you get the cashier who helped me several weeks ago, he'll also gripe to you about Meijer's amusing "Eight or more- you know the score!" mnemonic device to help baggers remember that they're supposed to pack an average of eight items per bag.) I understand that the attraction of such lanes is the theoretical efficiency of them, but please remember that these machines are only as efficient as those operating them. If you just stand there with a box of Metamucil tablets in your hand, squinting at the screen with a giant orange cartoon question mark over your head, the machine isn't going to sense your plight and protract a couple of robotic arms to cheerfully swipe the item across the scanner, drop it in the bag, and affectionately tousle your hair. You're just going to wind up storming off and using the human lanes anyway, so why not move aside and let us competent folk go first? And also, please don't let your kids smear their juice-and-snot-encrusted hands across the touch screen as you juggle them on your hip, attempting to get your credit card out of your purse with one hand.

I bumped into Jess in the parking lot on the way back to my car, and we talked for a few minutes. So there's another reason I'm digging my new hometown better than Troy: accidental run-ins with people I know are more likely to result in unexpected conversations with my best friends than awkward "catching up" sessions with people from high school whom I've left behind for a reason.

This afternoon, I have to pick T-Bone up from the train station following his trip to Chicago to visit Christine, and then we're going to the Finn Brothers concert with our dad. Have a great weekend, y'all.

CURRENT MUSIC: Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives by Prefuse 73.
CURRENT MOOD:
Contentable.
HOUSEKEEPING QUESTION: Even though I've dropped one of those 2000 Flushes toilet buddies into my toilet's tank, there's still a bunch of algae/whatever growing in the bowl (I'm guessing due to the recent humidity). Should I drop another 2000 Flushes tablet into the tank, or would that just be as wasteful and ineffective as wearing two condoms? Am I just going to have to bite the bullet and buy a toilet brush?
TIME:
11:39 AM.

Doot? | |

Wednesday, July 21, 2004:

I know I really have no business spending time on a journal entry when I already owe everyone several e-mails apiece, but...

The job at Mathematical Reviews is going splendidly, editing the "How you say"s out of essays from Russian mathematicians and causing a minor furor among the other copy editors by pointing out the fact that "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves is the worst song ever written. I work with lots of great people, it's only 30 cents for a cup of coffee from the coffee machine (though it's not nearly as good as the drinks Erica would make for me at B&N), and I've got Boognish wallpaper on my computer, so it's a fun environment.

It may sound odd, but even though I know absolutely nothing about math beyond the most basic of algebra functions- commutative property, transitive property, reflexology property, etc.- some little bunker in my soul feels like it's a faintly glamorous job. I'm surrounded by an editorial staff of Ph.Ds and I'm reading papers by mathematicians who are presumably the greatest minds in the discipline, from every country in the world that hasn't outlawed the study of math as an affront to the state-mandated religion. Every time I encounter one of the editors, I really do feel an odd sort of respect for how much smarter they are than I could ever be. (Of course, I probably know more Contra cheat codes than they do.)

I caught a funny bit of Chinese translation yesterday morning in a review I was editing: instead of using the word "previously," the writer had decided that the best English equivalent of his statement was "in those bygone days." It dropped a nice glimmer of poetry into the essay. And it was then excised.

The Pseudonyms concert on Saturday was fun, even though the only three audience members who stayed for the whole show were myself, Jason Justian of the Knowl-Tones, and Jason's wife Trinity. There were plenty of amused/bemused passersby, though, who sometimes took pictures and sometimes dropped money in Steve's guitar case. Though I can't wholeheartedly recommend any of the Pseudonyms studio albums that I've heard (with the exception of Behind These Eyes, which is an unflinchingly haunted WRC masterpiece on par with Mark Prindle's Only the Good Die Young, but that one is hardly typical of their oeuvre), their live show was a different experience altogether.

With Steve and vocalist Ian Kabell clad in matching tie-and-slacks outfits that made them look like Jehovah's Witnesses, and choreography that consisted mostly of Ian stomping back and forth, or the two of them walking in circles around one another- not to mention peppy folk-punk numbers like "Violence Can Solve All Your Problems"- it was a hilariously goofy set. At times, they attained the same laugh-with-us-at-ourselves sense of self-effacing brilliance that's Canned Hamm's claim to fame.

The show was rained out midway through their set, so we all went back to Steve's place and had Boca burgers with Jessica, Abe, and Dennis. Abe was a riot in the way that only a cheerful two-year-old who's getting lots of attention can be. I taught him the "Head Crusher" routine from Kids in the Hall, and later on, he proudly asked, "Do you want to see my penis?" at which point Ian practically spit his food across the living room. Jessica picked him up and said, "Abe, I want you to listen carefully to Mommy..." and then put him down again when she realized that she didn't know what to say, and started cracking up. It was a very fun evening.

I just discovered that one of my magnetic chip clips is strong enough to hold a bag of soy chips to my freezer door! Yay!

The other night, I caught Capturing the Friedmans on HBO, and it twisted my mind into a horrified pretzel. It's stunning. Imagine if Errol Morris directed Happiness; that's how powerful and fucked-up it is. (Jon, you need to see it; it's one of those movies that we would've spent days dissecting.) For those who are unfamiliar with it, it's a documentary about Arnold Friedman, a middle-aged computer teacher who, along with his son Jessie, was arrested on innumerable counts of child molestation in the late '80s. Director Andrew Jerecki masterfully interweaves present-day interviews with nearly all of the principal personalities- law enforcement personnel, the Friedman family, the alleged victims, et al- with jaw-droppingly brutal home movies that Arnold's other son, David, shot when Arnold and Jessie were under house arrest between their apprehension and sentencing. There are seemingly countless hours of footage that show the family screeching and screeching and screeching at each other, at the dinner table, on holidays, on random afternoons... It's just a venomous, insatiable tornado of misery and blame whirling around the house. Coupled with Jarecki's skillful, sustained illumination of various aspects of the case that slowly reveal the true enormity of its perverse perplexity (it doesn't spoil anything to tell you that no one seems trustworthy by the end of the film), those obsessive home videos left me chilled. You definitely need to see it, all of you.

Apart from that, I've been keeping busy hanging out with all my friends who are in the area- Adrienne and Jim visited last week, Jess took me to a great independent coffeehouse in Plymouth last Thursday, Erica and Rita came over to watch Amelie last Friday, I saw Anchorman with T-Bone on Saturday, and Rachael took me to the Washtenaw Dairy for lots of delicious ice cream this afternoon. It's really dreadfully inconvenient to live so close to so many people I like. It's been hard to make time to sit slumped in my darkened bedroom, sobbing into my hands.

Are we caught up now? Good.

CURRENT MUSIC: Supercute! by Twink.
CURRENT MOOD:
To quote Douglas Coupland, paralyzed by the ease with which obliteration can be obtained.
CURRENT ADDICTION:
This computer Scrabble game that Bev sent me. (I'm very proud of playing "ZITHER" and "PEDAGOG.")
TIME:
7:05 PM. |

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