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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: August 10-August 16, 2003

Friday, August 15, 2003:

I would love to know the actual reason behind that massive blackout. My power went out at about 4:00 PM yesterday, and I just now got it back, at 5:45 PM. Not the most pleasant 26 hours of my life, though I slept through about 14 of them. (With no TV, no computer, no stereo, and no air conditioning, I decided that the best course of action would be to nap as much as my body would allow me to. An inspiring, Thoreau-esque tale of transcendence through self-deprivation, I know.)

I spent most of the afternoon yesterday listening to the news on my old, battery-operated radio, and the initial reports were that the blackout was caused by a single lightning strike at the Niagara Falls power plant, though I gather that has since been amended. Because it's stupid. One of my first thoughts was that the U.S. government intentionally caused the blackout in order to artificially create a crisis that would allow Bush's "leadership" to be on display, "helping" the country through this difficult time, and distracting Americans from increasing criticism of his administration over such things as our economy, the way our soldiers in Iraq continue to be killed despite Bush's inspiring appearance on that aircraft carrier proclaiming that the war was over, the WMD lies, etc. But then Bush didn't even make a public statement about the power outages until 9 PM last night, choosing instead to nobly soldier on with his intensive regimen of campaign fundraising. So I doubt it's much of a PR victory for him. (I also formulated and then rejected theories involving aliens and/or Jesus.)

My new theory is that ol' Spence Abraham and the Department of Energy were behind the blackout, as this provides them a perfect excuse to push through whatever legislation (and budget increases) they want, under the guise of "modernizing" their equipment to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. And correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't there a handful of people in the Executive Branch who have a personal financial stake in certain energy outlets?... I haven't heard any statistics yet about how many people have died as a result of losing power on the hottest day of the year, but I'm sure it's a number that the Bush administration would willingly sacrifice to further whatever agenda they're working.

Or maybe it all really was just an accident. Whatever. I got to skip work today.

Anyway, below is the journal entry I wrote on Thursday, but didn't have a chance to post before the power went out. I hope everyone who was affected by the blackout is coping alright, and is safe and as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.

Instead of that little thing on the handlebars of motorcycles that allows their owners to rev the engines in a really loud and manly fashion at every single stoplight, they should just have a button that bellows the phrase, "Look at me! I own a motorcycle!" through a loudspeaker. Perhaps in the voice of James Avery.

Last night, Jessi and I went to see Hem and Leona Naess at The Shelter in Detroit. Neither of us had been to The Shelter before, but it's a great, intimate little venue underneath St. Andrew's Hall. (Luckily, no one was playing at St. Andrew's last night, because sound tends to travel fairly easily between the floors. The first time I saw Ben Lee at St. Andrew's, he was all but drowned out by a Slayer cover band playing Reign in Blood in its entirety downstairs.)

We arrived about a half hour before the doors opened, and were hanging around outside, talking about Jack Chick and something called "Bibleman" when it became clear that the drunken homeless guy approaching us was not going to be ignored, since he kept yelling, "Hey!" louder and louder at us. When he had our attention, he launched into an animated, two-minute monologue which was utterly incomprehensible except for the moments when he interrupted his story to build suspense by saying, "...And guess what?!" I wish I could've understood what he was saying, because I bet it was funny. Jessi said she thought she made out the words Germany and dictator.

It wasn't air-conditioned in The Shelter, but they did have a number of industrial fans aimed toward the crowd, so it was fairly pleasant down there. Jessi and I snagged one of the three tables, in a dark little corner of the club, and talked for about an hour before Leona Naess came on. I'd never heard of Leona before I found out she was going to be co-headlining with Hem, and the typically self-contradictory page about her on the All Music Guide told me basically nothing (her second album is unblinkingly described as both "more upbeat" and "far more raw and dark"), so I wasn't sure what to expect. She was good! Neither as monotonously sweet as Sarah McLachlan or as ragingly unhappy as Cat Power, she played a bunch of personal, engaging folk-rock songs. After her set, a guy came around giving out four-song samplers from her upcoming album. My sampler is still in Jessi's purse, but I expect it'll be all the Leona Naess I'll ever personally need to own. Honestly, I rarely get a hankering for that sort of music, entertaining as she was. If you're generally a fan of the female singer-songwriter genre, though, you should totally check her out. Plus, she was selling T-shirts that read, "My X is a wanker!" and she is therefore cool.

Hem totally blew me away. There were only about 50 people in the audience, but their set was so cozy and warm that it had the feeling of a small, summery bonfire with your friends anyway, and a larger crowd may have spoiled that. If you don't know the band, they play gorgeous folk songs (originals and covers) that are still closer in spirit to the twee friendliness of, say, Lambchop or The Gentle Waves than the hippie excesses that A Mighty Wind parodied. With spacious arrangements that eschewed drums in favor of interplay between five musicians playing such inherently emotional instruments as mandolin, pedal steel, and accordion (plus silken-voiced singer Sally Ellyson), they might sound a little gimmicky on paper, but Hem's songs are so unquestionably heartfelt and so joyously performed that you'd have to be one soulless bastard not to be touched by them. The show was "phenomenal," to use the first word out of Jessi's mouth after they left the stage. For their final song of the evening, they played their addictive rendition of the traditional song "The Cuckoo," and asked everyone to clap along- not just to interact with the crowd, but because the handclaps gave the tune a truly communal feeling. They really made me feel like everything was going to be okay, as they played. It's a nice feeling.

CURRENT MUSIC: Through the '90s by American Analog Set. Remind me to make "Magnificent Seventies" a Song of the Day when I start doing those again.
CURRENT MOOD: Elated at no longer having to be hot and bored.
FUNNIEST THING I READ TODAY:
On the label at the bottom of my Silk brand coffee soylatte (a latte drink made from soy), there is a disclaimer reading, "Not to be used as infant formula."
TIME:
7:30 PM.

Doot? | |

Tuesday, August 12, 2003:

Okay, the cop was very friendly in a stern kinda way, and he also did me the big favor of writing me up only for 10 MPH over the speed limit, when I was in fact going 70 in a 55 MPH zone. He didn't have to do that, and I am very grateful that he did. (I was lucky to be in Sterling Heights at the time, as Troy cops would never in a million years have done me this courtesy. They most likely would've tossed me in the cooler for the day, and then planted several grams of crack on me for good measure.) And M-59 is a known speed trap. I knew this. I travel down the same freeway on the way to work every day, I frequently see people being pulled over, and I usually know enough to watch for cops on the shoulder as I drive. So the fact that I got a ticket really is entirely my own fault.

And yet, I'm bitter and indignant about it. For one thing, the cop and his radar were stationed about 20 yards beyond the point on M-59 where the speed limit drops from 65 to 55. Doesn't give a man a lot of time to slow down. Yes, I was going 70, which would technically be speeding even before the posted speed decreases, but I think we can all agree that any cop who'd pull a person over for doing merely 70 in a 65 MPH zone is a cop who's on such a power trip that he should probably be considered a dangerous loose cannon and be made to turn in his badge.

For another thing, there was a bunch of construction on M-59 yesterday morning, so this morning, I was honestly too occupied trying to see if the left lane was again closed a mile down the road to pay any attention to my speed. Granted, if I had been clear-headed enough to pay attention to my speed, I probably would have continued to go 70 and just kept an eye out for Smokeys, but the only people who actually slow down to 55 MPH on that stretch of M-59 are (a) people who actually see the cops ahead of time, and (b) the elderly, who never drive faster than 45 anyway. It's an uninterrupted stretch of highway, so it's generally accepted that the speed limit is still 65. On the occasions when I slow down to 60 MPH or so (usually when I'm stuck behind a truck), I am frequently passed by cops doing at least 70.

Also, I have a thoroughly clean driving record except for a minor accident when I was 18, when some business guy and myself both attempted to merge into the center lane at the same time, from opposite sides. (That shouldn't count because I was a foolish 18-year-old, fer Pete's sake! I still listened to Dave Matthews Band and believed in love! You can't hold me accountable for things I did back then!) And a parking ticket I got a couple years ago when Jen's asshole neighbor tattled on literally the entire street for cars parked across the sidewalk. (I could've parked on the street like I was supposed to, except for the fact that said neighbor had parked two of his four cars directly in front of Jen's duplex, leaving no room.) And a ticket I got when this beastly woman on a cell phone slammed into me a few years ago, but the magistrate threw it out because it was totally her fault. (Didn't stop the woman from suing my insurance agency, but I digress.) The point is: with no moving violations for four years, and for an infraction that in no way endangered anyone's safety, I think I could fairly have been let off with a warning. You know, the way a buxom teenager in a tank top would've been had she been caught driving in a similar fashion in her daddy's sportscar.

But no, it looks like I'm going to be working for the 41st District Court of Sterling Heights for the rest of the week, to pay off my $110 fine. Frankly, I think they should just allow me to donate the $110 to a worthy cause. It's safe to say that Sterling Heights already has a very well-funded law force (it's the city in which Eminem lives, to give you some idea of the collective bling contained therein), and it's not as if I've really learned a lesson here except that perhaps a radar detector would be a sound investment, so I think they should just send me a big list of acceptable charities and organizations who could really use the money. Not just me, but all irresponsible drivers. Surely the Humane Society or the Salvation Army or NAMBLA could use my $110 more than the City of Sterling Heights, and- wait, not NAMBLA. That other one. Amnesty International. You know- organizations that everyone can agree on, who benefit the world immeasurably. Maybe people's fines could actually be reduced if they agreed to donate the money to such a cause! Forcing people to get involved might even light a fire under some of them to do so on their own time, with money that they weren't legally obligated to spend, and with organizations that would likely be too political to qualify for this program. (Say, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities or the ACLU.)

Which brings me to my next Bright Idea for Improving This Fershlugginer Country. Every year, people should be given a $250 credit off their federal income taxes with which to purchase books. Unlike certain other tax credit programs, this one would be the same all across the board, whether you make practically no money or you're Oprah. Every taxpayer in the nation would basically receive a $250 gift card that can be used at any bookstore, where you could purchase any books you wanted for a 20% discount. The card could be used all year long, and if you don't use it all up by April 15, then any money you have left goes to the government like the rest of your tax money. (Where it will be used to fund the killing of people you've never met, and to organize and levy a series of fines against those who oppose such practices.) The idea, naturally, would be to get people reading and improving their minds- again, perhaps sparking a lifelong interest in things that had never otherwise occurred to them, that will continue far beyond the books they purchase with their government credit.

Granted, it's not a perfect plan. For one thing, you'd have people who used the $250 to buy crap like Fern Michaels's entire bibliography or Kelly Ripa's monthly book recommendations; at least they're reading, but they're reading items that really aren't going to broaden their horizons or teach them anything. However, if you start blocking certain books from eligibility, then there's potential for a lot of censorship and abuse. And even though a few people might waste their allotted money on 368 pages of fallacious demagoguery or a series of comically far-fetched "erotic" vignettes, I like to think that the majority of the American public might be inspired to pick up something educational or classic or otherwise mind-expanding that they wouldn't ever pick up without this incentive. Of course, an informed public is the enemy of the United States government in its current state, so I expect this plan has even less a chance of being implemented than the one about charities, but the only way we're going to get this nation back on track is for people to start getting involved and making an effort to become informed. And the only way that's going to happen is if we give them a nudge. Don't tell them what to think, just teach them to think.

We received a series of children's "Action Rocket Kits" at work last week, each bearing a label warning of a "CHOKING HAZARD." Jon's reaction was, "So don't give fellatio to the rockets, kids," at which point I practically fell on the ground laughing.

CURRENT MOOD: That mood which is best indicated by the one Community Chest card in Monopoly that depicts a despondent Uncle Pennybags holding his out-turned pockets as his money flies away.
SADDEST SONG EVER:
"Ruth Marie" by Mark Kozelek. We listened to it in the receiving room today, and Stacie came back to find both Aimee and me with tears streaming down our faces. She said we looked like a support group for something. Seriously, I've listened to that song probably 50 times by now, and it gets me every time. How is it the Red House Painters can be so boring but Kozelek's solo stuff kicks so many kinds of ass?
TIME:
7:28 PM.

Doot? | |

Sunday, August 10, 2003:

I think I may have found the genetic roots of my tendency/ability to find unimaginable sadness in everyday objects. I was talking with my mom, and had "The Fucked Jam" by Ween playing in the background (a three-minute song that consists solely of a loping, droney bassline and drum beat underneath a scrambled, unintelligible, high-pitched, computerized vocal loop- just Ween being annoying), and she said, "Whatever song you're playing is making me really sad. It sounds like someone trapped in a box or something, and they can't get out no matter how hard they try, and they're crying for help but no one hears them." I laughed, because it's Ween, but then remembered that I do the same thing all the time, as frequent readers of this journal can attest. So maybe seeing misery in everything runs in my family.

Yesterday, I got an e-mail telling me that there's a flash mob planned in Rochester Hills today. I think that's an incredibly fun trend- organized silliness always cracks me up- but it could get out of hand quickly, if everybody starts doing it. I thought about attending it, but parking in Rochester Hills is difficult on the best of days...

CURRENT MUSIC: quebec for about the sixth time this weekend.
CURRENT MOOD: Tired of updating the site. Want to go watch the videos Jon lent me. Yet can't enjoy them with site maintenance hanging over my head. Grrrrr.
WILLIE'S COOKING TIP FOR THE DAY: When the margarine tub is almost empty (say, one or two pats left), save it and store your leftovers in there. When you're ready to eat them, reheat everything in the margarine tub itself. Not only will your vittles now have a delightful buttery flavor, but the margarine will prevent your food from drying out in the microwave or oven. Or so I'd imagine. Tell me if this works. BAM!
TIME: 12:05 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.


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