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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: July 24-July 30, 2005

Friday, July 29, 2005:

5:00 AM: I'm currently sitting in bed at the nifty Swan House bed 'n' breakfast inn in Camden, Maine, about 60 miles from my new home. Bev and I spent the night here courtesy of her sister, Audrey, who got us a gift certificate as an engagement present because she's awesome. However, I woke up at 2 AM and haven't been able to get back to sleep- for which I don't blame the Swan House, but rather my increasingly unpredictable brain chemistry- so I thought I'd start on an update before breakfast.

I gather that Camden and the surrounding area are mostly known for easy access to outdoor recreational activities, such as hiking up Mount Battie, but it's been so hot since our arrival that it was a struggle for Bev and me to even walk down Main Street without walking up to cops on street corners, begging them to shoot us, so we've mostly focused on finding indoor recreation in the area.

Besides that.

Camden's a pretty big tourist trap by any standard, but unlike, say, Frankenmuth, Michigan (which basically alternates between fudge shops and trinket shops for blocks), there's actually enough to do around here to be satisfying to those of us who already possess all the lobster-shaped windsocks we need. Specifically, there's Wild Rufus Records, an independent record store where I got Sloan's Action Pact for five bucks (cheap enough to override Rich's warnings) and an Oranger two-disc set for six, and where Bev waited patiently for me. There's also an absolutely gorgeous public library whose architecture I can't even begin to describe... because I don't have the vocabulary, because I never read that book Adrienne recommended to me awhile back... and it's adjacent to a breathtaking, cloistered ampitheater that's built into the ground from several levels of sod and plants. Very peaceful. Bev and I talked about holding our wedding in the ampitheater because we both liked it so much. However, it is a rather public setting, so strangers would be able to toddle in and heckle things, and Bev doesn't see that as a potentially funny situation the way I do. So it's probably not gonna happen.

Anyhow, yesterday evening, Bev and I went to the Bayview Cinema to see The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. I adored the Bayview Cinema. In the lobby, there's a construction paper sign touting the theater as "Camden's Cinema Paradiso," and that's not just a snobby film-geek allusion: the theater really is clearly seen by its staff and the community as an entertainment oasis, every bit as charmingly passionate about the art of film as the claim suggests. In my experience, most small theaters that serve as the sole cinemas in resort towns stick to showing second-run Hollywood blockbusters, so it's really cool that the Bayview chooses to show crowd-pleasing-yet-tiny films like Wild Parrots and, according to their upcoming schedule, March of the Penguins, as well as more specialized stuff like The Aristocrats, which promises to be the most verbally obscene film ever made (and about which I have been stoked for over a year). The screening room itself is basically a no-frills wooden box that has probably never seen a modernization in its thirty-year history, and it's cozy and perfect. Plus, there are anti-Dubya cartoons taped to the wall in the lobby, so you know there's no way I was going to say anything negative about the theater.

[At this point, I fall asleep, so the rest of this entry is written from home, hours later.]

Wild Parrots was wonderful in every way. It's a personality study of Mark Bittner, a San Francisco resident whose existence seems as free from propulsion as that of The Dude, and who loosely adopted a flock of wild conures in the area. He feeds them, takes care of them when they're injured, and studies them to a point where he truly gets to know each parrot's personality and history even though the birds just come and go as they please. We do get plenty of biographical background about Mark, but only a touch of that is necessary as a foundation for us to understand the beautiful, symbiotic relationship he develops with the parrots. (It certainly doesn't hurt that we're treated to a feast of just-for-fun footage of parrots being naturally goofy.) At one point, Bittner is talking about the death of Tupelo, a conure he'd taken in when it was clear she was terminally ill, and although none of you will consider it news that tears started streaming down my face at that point, the theater slowly filled with the sounds of people coughing and clearing their respective throats to disguise their crying. It's a tremendously affecting film, and I highly recommend it if you like birds at all. You don't have to be a nutbar about it like me, where you feel more kinship with birds than other hu-mans; as long as you're not a soulless, materialistic yuppie like the couple who ultimately displaces Mark because they want to build an addition onto their house (an interesting bit of subtext, that, though it does nothing to erode the couple's loathsomeness), you'll have fun.

And the point of this whole entry is that I'm getting to really like Maine. Or at least that's how I'm going to anticlimactically sum it up because I want to go do some reading now.

CURRENT MOOD: Satisfied.
CURRENT ARCH-ENEMY: Bev's alarm clock, which plays a piercing rendition of "London Bridge is Falling Down" that leaps randomly between assorted major and minor keys as it goes.
3:26 PM.

Doot? | |

Sunday, July 24, 2005:

I'm now a resident of Maine. I apologize for the lack of updates since I got here last Friday, but I've been having problems with either my laptop or my wireless router, and haven't had time to pointpoint the problem [that was originally a typo, but I think it's funny so I'm leaving it] what with all the unpacking and watching NewsRadio DVDs, so I haven't been able to e-mail all the people who are owed correspondence. If you think you should've heard from me by now and haven't, just pretend you have, and that way everyone wins.

Anyway, I managed to make the drive from Troy, Michigan to my new home in exactly 15 hours, which actually improves upon MapQuest's estimated time even with multiple stops for gas and the seemingly endless string of momentum-mocking tollbooths on I-90 and I-95. Without giving away all my tricks, there's a phenomenon known as "speeding" that I discovered can get you to places you want to go more quickly than you otherwise might. I'm mentioning this for informational purposes only, but due to a small manufacturing defect, some cars are actually capable of going speeds beyond what those ubiquitous highway signs suggest is the maximum velocity possible. Don't everybody do it at once, because we don't want The Fuzz getting wise to our plan, and it's very much in the experimental stages, but "speeding" may well prove useful to impatient motorists in the future. I'm investigating how this technique might be of service when one is in the unenviable position of finding himself unable to reach a destination at a predetermined time while traveling at the posted speed (i.e., "late"). I'll get back to you on that.

Oh, goodness, Maine drivers are already rubbing off on me. Please disregard the above paragraph.

The drive on Friday was pretty much uneventful. Some pretty scenery, and I nearly drove off the road in upstate New York because I was listening to Patton Oswalt's stand-up record Feelin' Kinda Patton, and the run in which he compares his TiVo to a mentally handicapped child struck me in exactly the right way and reduced me to that wonderful sort of unstoppable, tear-inducing laughter for about five minutes. Officially, I'm naturally offended by the line "Thank God you don't have retard strength, TiVo, or my car would be in the tree right now," but off the record, it's so delightfully absurd that it made me cackle until I couldn't breathe. (I've just noticed that George Zahora comments on the same phenomenon in his review of the album over at Splendid, so although I'm opposed to warning labels on albums, Feelin' Kinda Patton may be a candidate for a NyQuil-style warning about operating heavy machinery while using it.) Seriously, it's the most thoroughly hilarious comedy album I've ever heard with the possible exception of Raw Hamburger, and you all need to buy it. Don't let Oswalt's presence on King of Queens and in that Sierra Mist commercial dissuade you.

As for the other comedy albums I listened to on my drive, which I mentioned a couple posts ago? Todd Barry's Falling Off the Bone is incredibly funny and accessible, Lewis Black's Rules of Enragement is not his best work but is still very good, David Cross's Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! and It's Not Funny are great even after repeated listens, and... with apologies to Amanda, I discovered that I cannot stand Margaret Cho. Assuming The Notorious C.H.O. is representative of her oeuvre, I think her routines are alternately obnoxious and predictable, and I think her timing is miserable, mildly amusing though the bits about her mother are. I kept hoping she'd grow on me, but she never did. Without dropping a lot of comedy theory on you all, I would like to point out that saying the word pussy a bunch of times does not a punchline make, even to those of us who are genetically predisposed to finding naughty language funny.

Anyway, blah bling blah in Maine now. I'm still getting settled, though as Bev and I move stuff around to accommodate my crap, I'm discovering all kinds of awesome stuff around this place. For instance, Bev's copy of a Sears-Roebuck catalog from 1909, which contains the following advertisement: "DR. WORDEN'S FEMALE PILLS. Female Diseases and Troubles, Peculiar to the Sex and Women's Delicate System, Regulated by the Use of Dr. Worden's Female Pills. PRICE, ONLY 33 CENTS PER BOX. THIS REMEDY, designated as Dr. Worden's Female Pills, is a combination of ingredients well known for their value and effectiveness. These pills contain in correct proportion: Extract Squaw Vine, Dried Ferrous Sulphate, Potassium Carbonate, Ext. Sambul, Ext. Helonias, Po. Asafetida, Ext. Gentian, Ext. Viburnum. THOUSANDS OF WOMEN suffering from ailments peculiar to their sex have learned to regard this remedy as a valuable treatment and peculiarly adapted to overcome the ailments from which they are suffering. FEMALE TROUBLE, as a rule, is indicated by headache, nausea, weakness, sickness, depression, etc., the direct result of a derangement of the delicate female organism and nature's regular functions..." And it goes on for paragraphs.

For much of this past week, Bev and I took daily trips down to Waterville for the Maine International Film Festival, seeing what we can see. It's been a lot of fun. On Tuesday, we saw Twist of Faith, Kirby Dick's documentary about Tony Comes, a guy from Toledo who discovers that he and his family bought a house five doors down from Dennis Gray, the priest who molested him about 20 years ago. It's a downright uncomfortable film to watch, for obvious reasons, but it's also fascinating in the intimacy with which we're allowed/forced to see Comes unraveling as he fights seemingly unwinnable legal, spiritual, and interpersonal battles that stem from his early abuse. At times, Comes comes across as a macho, vaguely homophobic douchebag, too, which makes him an especially interesting subject for this film, because those qualities make him a somewhat counterintuitive choice as an individual face to put on this ongoing, nationwide string of victimization. It's a choice that pays off, though, because not only does it demonstrate that the trauma of abuse at the hands of a so-called man of God can wreak havoc on even the most thick-skinned, but Comes is also very good at articulating for us exactly what he feels, even when he's completely losing it. I was especially moved by a moment where he hysterically begs his mom to stop tithing when she goes to mass, because he feels she is essentially paying for the Church's legal fight against him. It's intense and unpleasant, but worthwhile.

We went to the Waterville Opera House on Wednesday, to attend the festival's presentation of their (moose-shaped) Pre-Midlife Achievement Award to Lili Taylor, which was followed by a screening of the 1993 film Household Saints, in which Taylor plays the Catholicism-obsessed daughter of Tracey Ullman and Vincent D'Onofrio. (The casting totally works. There's no silly, This is the Army-esque disregard for the actual ages of the actors portraying parents and children; Ullman and D'Onofrio "age" convincingly enough to pull it off.) The ceremony was brief, and Lili seemed a little flustered as she spoke to the small crowd, but she was still very gracious and lovely. And Household Saints was aptly summed up by a woman sitting behind me as "the sort of film you go to film festivals to see: a gem you'd never otherwise look at." It's a very sweet-hearted little oddity, swinging from the cute Little Italy romance of Ullman and D'Onofrio (he wins her in a pinochle game) to the disarmingly sympathetic study of their grown-up daughter's semi-psychotic drive to achieve saintlike goodness, all wrapped up in a fantastic style that's like the weirdo child of Graham Greene and The Princess Bride. It's difficult to describe, but it's great. Rent it if you can find it. I don't think it's yet on DVD.

After that film, Bev asked that we not see any more religious-themed movies for the remainder of the festival.

On Thursday, we trekked down Waterville way to see Camilla Rockwell's Stone Rising: The Work of Dan Snow, an hour-long documentary about Dan Snow the stone artist (not this guy). First, however, we had to sit through Lauren Shaw's documentary Maine Women: Living on the Land, an hour-long profile of ten women whose respective lifestyles are in some way inextricable from the rural areas in which they reside (there's a Native American chief, some farmers, and what felt like two dozen herbalists). I have nothing but respect for the subjects, and this project was clearly a labor of love, so I don't want to crap all over it, but it was so tedious that Bev had to keep me from squirming by engaging me in clandestine thumb-wrestling matches. Shaw was in attendance, and after the film, she explained that her background is in still photography, which is made abundantly clear by Maine Women's draggy style, which resembles a PowerPoint presentation. Again, she gets plenty of points for good intentions, but the whole thing is cobbled together so artlessly that you learn less about each woman profiled than you do about the contestants on your average episode of Queen for a Day.

Stone Rising was alright. It's no Rivers and Tides, and Dan Snow is no Andy Goldsworthy, but there was nonetheless plenty of beauty to be seen. Snow doesn't have Goldsworthy's inspired, lunatic energy, but that's what's interesting about him: although he confesses a spiritual connection to the rocks he works with, his approach to his work is that of a blue-collar craftsman, finding peace in the assembly line repetition of his job. Though his pieces are frequently breathtaking in their own right, I ultimately came away from Stone Rising feeling more admiration for Snow's ability to "see God in his work," to quote one of the last lines in Household Saints, than for the stone creations themselves. That said, it really is slow going. I do suspect I would've enjoyed it more if Maine Women hadn't gotten on my nerves so thoroughly, but Rockwell still tends to linger unnecessarily.

Friday was the last day Bev and I were planning on hitting the festival, using up our passes on two more films. The first was Ocean Odyssey, a documentary about Paul Gilman, a guy who tries to communicate with aquatic creatures through his particular brand of noodling new-age music. Though the film obviously wasn't going to feature any Koko the gorilla-style dialogue (DOLPHIN: "Hurry nipple drink drink foot look!"), Bev and I nonetheless hoped for lots of fun dolphin and whale footage. Well, if we'd bothered to do a little research beforehand, we would've noticed that Ocean Odyssey is a film about Paul Gilman, directed by Paul Gilman, and co-written by Paul Gilman. So as you may infer, the animals aren't really the focus, which was disappointing, because despite a level of self-aggrandizement that would have you believe that Gilman is Jacques Cousteau, Ray Lynch, and Dr. Doolittle all rolled into one moustachioed package, he's pretty much a big, boring sieve as an on-screen personality. The unintentional highlights of the film were the many interviews with his lady friend, who says things like "I think dolphins might be the future of relationships," and thus suggests a spacier version of David St. Hubbins's wife from This is Spinal Tap, and there were enough shots of happy marine mammals to keep it from being a total bust, but Ocean Odyssey was hardly an undersea Winged Migration or anything as enjoyable as that.

After a three-hour break in which Bev and I grabbed dinner and explored downtown Waterville (i.e., Bev took a bunch of pictures of me straddling a cannon on the grounds of the city hall, pretending it's a giant phallus,


and then we wandered across a spider-infested footbridge), we went back to the Opera House to catch my favorite film of the year so far, The Puffy Chair, directed by Jay Duplass and written by and starring his brother Mark. It's one of those talky films that I love, like Melvin Goes to Dinner and Dazed and Confused, in which you're given just the tiniest strand of a plot to frame the real point of the film: the characters and the dialogue. In this case, the plot is that Mark's character, Josh, takes his girlfriend, Emily, on a road trip to pick up the titular seating device from an eBay seller as a present for Josh's dad's birthday, and on the way, they impulsively pick up Josh's hippie brother, Rhett. Once that's set in motion, we just watch the characters interact, jabbering thoughtfully between hilarious little vignettes like Josh overthinking his grand scheme to save $10 on a motel room, and an encounter with an unscrupulous upholsterer. Apart from a cute scene in which Josh re-enacts the famous boombox serenade from Say Anything with Death Cab for Cutie in place of Peter Gabriel, The Puffy Chair never stoops to the easy Kevin Smith road of pop-culture references standing in for characterization; the dialogue is remarkably real, not to mention sharp. The characterization comes through in great visual details, too, like the way Rhett is wearing daisies in his beard at a crucial moment, or a tiny hole in Josh's sweatshirt that's visible in the penultimate shot. As the tension between the three increases, the film perfectly captures the "Let's just get the hell home" feeling of a road trip gone bad, too. And just when you think it can't get any better? "Disconnect the Dots" by Of Montreal shows up twice. Twice! I hope this gets a nice, wide release on the indie circuit, because it's a teeny, easygoing little masterpiece. I loved it. (And remember that it's The Puffy Chair, not The Puffy Shirt, as my Seinfeld-addled brain keeps wanting to call it.)

So anyhow, today I'm gonna get some errands done. That's where things stand in the World of Will. And there you have an update that's taken me so long to write that I probably could've caught up entirely on e-mailing everyone I need to e-mail if I'd made better life decisions. Enjoy.

CURRENT MUSIC: Group Sex by the Circle Jerks and Shinola, Vol. 1 by Ween.
Terribly vexed by this huge horsefly that keeps buzzing my head.
"In terms of damage to children and to our society, meth is now the most dangerous drug in America, having surpassed marijuana."
12:03 PM.

Doot? | |

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