Saturday, May 30, 2009

Old cell phone photos

This last picture was going to be the subject of an advice column; Dear Semi-Competently Painted Painting Of Steve Albini. But I never could think of good enough questions.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Interview w/ VMFM Worker (2002)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, May 29 - This originally posted on, 2/11/02


Vermiform employee Anthony Berryman ("Bilious Bad Janitah", according to the Wu-Namer), singer of The Jews and longtime band member of Herr K, Aye Aye Cap'n and Umlaut, was interviewed by Sam M. in early February. Photo by Ben Wolfinsohn.

S - You're from Fresno, right?
A - Yeah.
S - What's Fresno like?
A - Fresno is, is like.. a great American wasteland, but also a wonderful place. [Yet it is] very violent.
S - In what ways do you think you can make a contribution to our company?
A - Well, I think... like anyone with a ... with a really great work ethic like myself... I'll start at the bottom, you know? and.... I can contribute as much.... opportunity as you're willing to throw my way....
S - What sort of salary are you expecting?
A - Well, I need at least... lunch...
S - Will you relocate? Does relocation bother you?
A - No, I, uh...
S - What sort of position are you interested in?
A - Um, y'know, whatever...

What a difference a year makes???

S - What's going on next with The Jews?
A - We are going to record the greatest...
S - What are your career goals?
A - I wanna be, um, I want to, want to... you know....
S - Why should I hire you?
A - You...
S - Why exactly do you feel that you deserve a raise?
A - I'm not even asking for a...
S - What do you feel are your greatest strengths?
A - I.....
S - Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
A - [barely audible] Still... the janitor?
S - Note to self; 'makes face'... What are your long range and short range goals and objectives?
A - I want to....
S - Why did you leave your last job?
A - I couldn't handle teaching children?
S - What do you expect to be earning in five years?
A - (laughs [nervously]) More than I am now.
S - Are you over 18 years old?
A - Yes.
S - AH HA! That was a trick question! It's against federal law for me ask that one!
A - Oh, no....

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Diminishing Returns (2001)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, May 27 - This originally posted on, 1/22/01


Men's Recovery Project convened on Thursday for the first time since last summer's catastrophic U.S. tour. A portion of the recording budget for their new LP ("Night Pirate", due later this year on Kill Rock Stars) was used to fly singer S. McPheeters from California to Rhode Island's T.F. Green airport. Drummer G. Mudge of Virginia caught the flight up from Baltimore. Guitarist N. Burke crammed everyone and their luggage into his '82 Toyota Tercel and the band drove three hours north to Lund Recording Studio in York County, Maine. Also crammed into the Toyota were; a Mackie 1604 mixing console, an ART tube compressor, a Boss GE7 EQ, a Korg G5 synth bass, which Burke says is "rare", a Roland R8 Human Rhythm composer, a Zoom 505 effects processor, a Zoom ST-224 sampler, the beloved Juno 106 keyboard with its keys still faintly marked in the four note configurations McPheeters struggled to perform live (but NOT the more impressive Korg Poly-6 keyboard which took a bad fall in Delaware 3 years ago and was vomited on last spring), a DOD FX 25B envelope filter, a Digitech PDS1550 Programmable distortion, the Korg EA1 synthesizer, a Digitech PDS 800 Echo Plus, a Roland SPD-20 Total Percussion Pad, the Roland KD-7 kick drum, including a long piece of wood for carpet use, a Good Stuff "Finger Beatz" unit, two Radio Shack studio monitors that Burke insisted were "top notch", a Carven DC200 electric guitar, a G&L SB1 electric bass, the Toshiba Satellite 2595CDS laptop, which was set up strictly for show, a Shure SM 57 microphone, an Atlas Sound mic stand with weighted base, the TR606 drum machine, repeatedly referred to as a "classic " and for which the coveted "young people rubbing themselves" gesture was made by Burke, despite its not being used in the recording, and the Midi Man USB sport 2x2 Midi interface box that, according to Mudge, "sucked".
By Friday night, recording was well underway and the group had run into the Law Of Diminishing Returns. This is the economic threshold that, once passed, has overall productivity declining in direct proportion to the amount of labor inputted. If a band records ten songs, for example, on a thousand dollar recording budget, each song is worth a hundred dollars. But the eleventh song pushes the per-track cost down to $90.91, and the twelfth song is only worth $83.33. Soon enough, every track is worth noticeably less than the last, spurring a general decline in song quality. A large ravioli dinner was held to discuss the problem. Eventually the more pressing issue was raised of how President Clinton should spend his final 16 hours as the most powerful man on Earth (all agreed on a basic "nude & aroused stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue" approach).

The band slept through inauguration morning but made good headway on Saturday afternoon. A group discussion was held on the strange quality of microphone popper stoppers to catch the plosive "P" but not the more common sibilant "S". McPheeters did the usual bellyaching about his ragged voice in a comical hoarse whisper. The next morning a vocal stalemate was broken. A large lunch was eaten and by Sunday night the band had a record, with dummy tracks mentally inserted as the low end Diminished Return songs. Equipment was disconnected and packed. A side discussion was held on the relevance of M.R.P. in a post-Clinton world, and a strange silence ensued.

On Monday morning the gear was again carefully stacked in the Tercel and the band set off for Rhode Island to go their separate ways. But time was made for one stop. Passing through the sleepy town of Biddeford, the band managed to locate the courthouse where George W. Bush was arraigned after his 1976 drunk driving arrest. A suspicious young man was shoveling slush off the front steps in a bright orange safety vest. "Just tourists", assured McPheeters, and the snow shoveling city employee agreed to take two group pictures in front of the courthouse with Burke's camera. The band thanked the young man and roared off towards route 95.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Problem: The Reaper Approaches

THE WORLD OF MYSTERY, May 26 - Now my blog is going to do you a solid. The next time A) you're stuck in traffic and "Dust In The Wind" comes on the radio, B) a distant acquaintance passes away unexpectedly, leaving you surprisingly morose, C) you lay awake at night pondering your own eventual demise, here is what you do. Get to a computer web browser and type in

Then look up the May 26, 2009 entry. Study this picture:

Now what were you worried about???

Monday, May 25, 2009

Indices Of Doom (2001)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, May 25 - This originally appeared in Punk Planet 42, spring 2001.


Around the time this issue hits the stands, the US economy will be chugging into its tenth year of unprecedented economic growth. Obviously, many people have a stake in predicting when the good times will finally end. Major economic indicators (unemployment data, orders for consumer goods, housing construction, etc.) are subject to intense scrutiny. Minor economic indicators (Christmas tree sales, rising hemlines, etc.) have been granted new significance. In order to spare readers of this magazine any further agonizing, I now submit five top secret and highly reliable economic indicators to help us wade through the mass of data. Act accordingly.


Ebay recently eliminated their entire used underwear division as part of a general smut flush. They're cleaning house to present a more family friendly auction site. A few sullied undie sales can still be found on the space, but it's certainly not the good old days of November 2000 when one could riffle through page after page of corrupted undergarments in alternating contractions of horror and awe. Who sells this stuff? Who buys this stuff? Could the plainly pedestrian prose ("used pair of cotton panties - high bidder pays $2 shipping and handling") really serve the needs of an extreme fetishist-niche market, or has a larger cultural shift been taking place? Did the technology create a new market, or have the used panty hoarders always been with our species, suffering through silent millennia? Underwear is, after all, heady stuff. Traffic in the fragrances of the human nether regions is a major gauge of Americans' fears and hopes. If you're like me, the mere thought of casting your intimates into the void triggers the most primal of fears - loss, death, fear of the unknown. But the money's not bad. A Mrs. C____ of Pekin IL. reported in the Dec. 11 issue of Industry Standard that she'd raised $4,000 in the last year off panty auctions. Another couple, retirees in Montana (think about this for a moment), inform that they simply haven't been able to meet customer demand, and have resorted to outsourcing fresh unmentionables to friends and neighbors. This could be the market to watch.

There is hope among the exiled that such sites as "" will fill the vacuum left by Ebay. But, last I checked, their virtual bidding floors were virtually empty. I'd thought about posting some 7" records I was unable to unload on Ebay (in the same spirit of renting hardcore porn videos and dubbing Burl Ives' singing snowman over the juicy bits) but, really; who would get the joke? Ebay's shakeup may have a profound psychological undertow on consumer confidence for years to come. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Possible market downturn by 2nd quarter '01.


Years ago, when I lived in New York, an acquaintance managed to drastically lower my quality of life with just one photograph. The picture appeared in NY's Newsday and featured the acquaintance gazing heavenward as an anonymous man in the street. At his feet lay the smashed ruins of an air conditioner, a fatality to the previous man in the street. Walking down the sidewalks of Manhattan was never the same. The possibility exists that, at any given moment, just one of at least ten vertically aligned apartment dwellers have improperly secured their AC units to their windowsills, resulting in instantaneous and most humiliating death. Reality! Although I think my open air conversations grew more thoughtful and introspective in direct proportion to my escalating fear (certainly I didn't want to get clobbered while making some random rude mouth noise), my confidence in the "New York" brand name had been forever shattered.

Wal-Mart, Sam's Club & Home Depot are all facing this issue now with a series of recent high-profile merchandise topplings and smooshings. OK, so the odds of getting crushed by falling consumer goods in a Home Depot are still one in ten million. But mass psychology is everything in economics. "Sky Shelving", as the practice of stowing overstock thirty feet overhead is known in the retail world, makes good economic sense when pitted against warehouse costs. It looks more like depraved indifference to human life when your shopping cart drifts under these buckling behemoths. Consumer confidence nose dives where issues of cranial integrity are involved. What could be more humiliating than to exit this world under a 2,000 pound pallet of drywall screws? (A: perishing under a pallet of Soft Touch fabric softener?)

Then there is the Butterfly Effect. This is the cocktail party theory of global economics.... small actions can have large consequences. The air ripples of a butterfly stretching its wings in Tokyo can, under the right conditions, result in tsunamis ripping down Sunset Boulevard twelve hours later. Guess what, folks - it's no theory! That lady who got clocked by the 72nd street lamppost that was knocked over by a misguided "Cat In The Hat" balloon during New York's 1997 Thanksgiving Parade? I don't think it's any coincidence that the Russian ruble plunged just a few months later. The Butterfly Effect, you see. Confidence Drift. Now NASA has declassified projections that the "de-orbiting" of 66 Iridium mobile phone satellites (as per orders of bankruptcy court... see PP 38) will produce 1 in 250 odds of someone getting struck upside the noggin by the space debris of a failed marketing plan. Could we be on the cusp of the new wave of humiliating head injuries? Markets aren't going to like that. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Steep declines in technology, insurance, manufacturing. Probable recession within a year


Analysts have been quietly tracking this one since 1993, when Mr. Tomorrow's "This Modern World" accused corporate book chains of not carrying Noam Chomsky titles. Inaccuracy aside, the shrill tone of Tomorrow's work has cast a gloom from which the entire American humorist sector has yet to fully recover. Each installment of this obscenely unfunny comic strip contains more than the minimum lethal dose of pedantic baloneyisms and knee-jerk jerkisms. Foreign investors get an eyeful and simply take their cash elsewhere. Every TMW strip published further pushes down interest in genuinely talented American political cartoonists (Lloyd Dangle, Ted Rall) which in turn dampens market enthusiasm. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Dwindling capital inflows, market panic, spiraling inflation. US dollar bottoms out against Asian currency within six months.


It's no secret that Dread Zeppelin's 1989 debut "Whole Lotta Love" 7" on Birdcage Records preceded the US recession of 1990-1992. The Dumbly Named Rock Band Index has been a surprisingly accurate barometer of global economic health ever since. A wave of horrifically named mid-90's indie acts - "Smashmouth" , "Jimmy's Chicken Shack", "Butt Trumpet", "The Smoking Popes" - may very well have set in motion a butterfly effect of background consumer unease that ultimately resulted in the drastic devaluation of the Thai Baht in mid-1997, in turn stimulating a chain of recession that burst the "Asian bubble" in the latter 90's. This is deadly serious business. A brief lull in badly named bands brought on by the recent grunge and punk market collapses probably helped the Hang Seng and Nikkei stocks regain some ground. But new dangers lurk. A much more aggressive strain of musical misnomers looming in the New Metal genre - including "Sevendust", "Papa Roach" and "System Of A Down" - impacts quite badly on consumer expectations in our education system, with trickle down unease disabling savings, home buying and new construction, ultimately infecting monetary supply. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Dire.


Every now and then a rough little character known as The White Man pops out of my mouth and says some very annoying things. Sometimes he makes me do annoying things. Like the time I went through the Taco Bell drive through last month and ordered a 7-layer burrito. Simple enough, right? Only when I got a few blocks away and started digging in, it took at least four generous bites before I realized I was eating a meat grande fiesta or whatever and I'd gotten chunks of beef rot stuck between my molars. I mean, what the fuck? Then there was a scene cut and I suddenly found myself back at the Taco Bell counter, trying to control my voice while demanding to "speak to the manager". Folks; this was the White Man talking, not me. I know full well that the people who work at Taco Bell endure a nightmare existence of caulk-gun guacamole and drive through assishness. The last thing on earth they need is me in my Nike hat (I found it in a parking lot! it's my lucky hat!) spouting off shrilly. But it's a bit beyond my control at this point. One minute I'm sitting quietly with a book, the next minute I'm telling a telemarketer to "put me on with your supervisor". The last time WM popped out (in a Little Italy eatery, offering a loud refrain of "this isn't what I ordered"), the Indonesian Rupiah fell 80 percent. White Man had been in remission through the second and third fiscal quarters of 2000. His strong showing now, starting with the Taco Bell incident and continuing into the Christmas season - when such phrases as "excuse me, but we were actually in line ahead of you" could be plainly overheard by the general public- may bode particularly harsh tidings. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Kevlar, canned goods, lots and lots of D batteries.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Linden Tower (1999)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, MAY 22 - This originally appeared in Error fanzine # 103, 1/99.


I have made another Error. In the process of making this error, I’ve moved north by 4 degrees latitude, from Richmond to Providence, 3/16” on my desktop globe. Past errors have piled up. My errors are accumulating.

The move north came at the expense of my beloved office. The one and only advantage to living in a town that God frequently frowns upon is dirt cheap commercial space and on this front – despite not having needed or deserved dirt cheap office space – I had it fairly good for two years. I refer to Linden Tower, the decaying business unit on the northwest corner of Second and Franklin streets in downtown Richmond. Don’t try to find it... in January the building transferred owners and is now being renovated into upscale apartments edging into the four-digit rent range (yet it has been immortalized. The north face of the building can clearly be seen in the 1995 documentary “The Perfect Candidate”, looming morosely beyond the Republican party HQ, and the southeast corner can be glimpsed for a split second in 1997’s “The Jackal” starring Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, the climax mortar scene of which was filmed in a parking lot one block away while I was doing some typing). The renovations are part of some new plan for downtown Richmond, but I’m not sure what to call it. It’s not exactly gentrification, since no one is being displaced except pigeons and small business owners. And it seems not so well thought out as a series of bankrupt towers – the handsome Cokesbury building, the old Gerson Furniture store, the late James Madison Hotel, overnight home of FDR and Elvis – have all announced plans to go condo by 2000 under the perverted assumption that a bit of cash will lure yuppies to the empty fish tank of downtown Richmond, VA.

But my building had its moments. I always smiled warmly – as one would around a grown retarded nephew who decided to go nude for the day – when confronted by chalky ceiling water gushing down the south stairs every storm, the unstoppable radiators they’d blast all winter, punishment style, sapping strength at 94 degrees on a cold February morn, the windows with rotted frames that had a tendency to pop out and sail away into the night, the complaints made to the building manager of human dung in the hallway, allegedly eliciting the classic But... can you smell it from your place of business?, the silhouettes of three, maybe four dozen bats that apparently lived on the roof and which I would watch from the pavement at dusk, swarming in lazy circles seven stories overhead like a recurring nightmare, the strange sucking noises I heard by day from the orthodontist office directly across the hall and the more sinister mechanical clicks heard late at night, the daily message held aloft by a dusty E.T. figurine in the window of the ground floor barber – the “E.T. barber” – whose quips were usually moving and occasionally prophetic, the discovery that my key fit all locks on my side of the fourth floor and the subsequent discovery of ancient bloodstains near a deserted receptionist’s desk, or, of course, the north stairwell which I felt was essentially evil, somehow involved the night the night the elevator was left open on my floor, the stop button pushed and no one else around.

Last year, after an attorney was discovered in a nearby office tied to a chair with her throat slit, building management set the front door security switch a half hour back but never did get around to installing any bolts or alarms on the entire fire-escape accessible seven story west face. One bleak dawn the soda and candy machines were discovered looking like they’d been dropped from an airplane (exactly what kind of a person breaks into an office building to fight two helpless vending machines?) and a year later the demoralized cleaning lady recalled for me an incident of a man and a woman fighting with their private parts in the open hall next to the very same vending machines. Later, as an unauthorized full time resident of the building, I found myself often darting down the hall in the late hours to dump my juice jars of urine, spared complete desolation on the nights I could hear Ron the musak man one floor below, like the Overlook in “the Shining”, his distant melodies echoing down deserted corridors. On one of my final nights as an occupant I was rousted from a sound sleep on the office floor by not-so-distant clatter. My worst case scenario had finally arrived; building broken into with myself inside. Listening at the door, in that particular gloom known only to unlit office suites and whose film noir appeal evaporates at the first hint of trouble, clutching the mace I knew would be of little use against people who attacked whole vending machines, I suddenly caught a rhythm to the muffled thuds and realized I was hearing one of Ron’s bassier musak hits, wondering at that precise moment if there were any others like me, secretly living in their office suites elsewhere in the building and at that very same moment squatting by their doors in their underwear, groggy and clutching personal protection devices of similar pathos.

Through some legal slight of hand I never did get my deposit back, and I hereby take this moment to enter my faceless ex-landlords in the Richmond, VA We Ripped Off Sam And Got Away With It Hall Of Fame, alongside “Fat Guy” of EZ Car Rentals at 2029 W. Broad and Buddy the pock marked crack head who resembled the Hey Vern man long after relevancy, who “lost” my deposit for the unborn Barnacle Bill’s record store at the corner of Broad and Goshen, a week later “losing” himself, never to return. And since Linden Tower was scheduled for gutting of all but load bearing partitions, I took meager pleasure in putting a foot through the wall and didn’t even bother with the Vienna Sausage routine (obtain a can of such, punch hole in sheetrock, spoon feed sausages into wall, paper & paint hole, move out) that had to be employed on one very naughty landlord a few Julys ago. In my last week the power was switched on for the newborn city paper building a block away, slowly erected over the course of my two year lease, and its empty floors were left lit all night just to unnerve me, sheet plastic dangling from each fluorescent light like strange Chinese lanterns. Nine months later, none of this even figures into my dreams anymore.

Low commercial rent had been my prime justification for living in Richmond, and once removed from the equation I found myself unmoored, without any excuse for staying on, feeling somewhat like the guy who gets stuck on the inhospitable planet while making lengthy spaceship repairs. One day that guy simply wakes up, eats a baloney sandwich pill and realizes he’s spannered his final hull patch. When the last issue of Error hit the stands three years ago myself and contributors Iggy and Aaron held some long conversations over the great potential for tapping Richmond’s historical particulars. I take responsibility now for the opportunity lost. The capitol building collapse of 1870, the railroad engine and engineer entombed in an imploded Church Hill tunnel, the dramas of human slaves and Yankee P.O.W.s, Monument Ave, with its statues of defeat, memorials to a future that never was, capped to the west with the even stranger statue of Arthur Ashe, doomed to raise his tennis racket in rage towards every fiery sunset from now until the end of time... to all this I applaud. Someone needs to dedicate an exhaustive and respectful publication to Richmond’s fundamental balumptny. But, alas, that person shan’t be me.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

1YOBMS (2001)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, May 21 - This originally ran in Punk Planet 45.


There's a certain kink in interstate 10 when one heads west into Los Angeles. You crest a hill, pull northward and suddenly you're peering over the spectacular skyline of L.A. Depending on the day's particulate count, it can be a stunning view. You're also momentarily faced with what has to be one of the prime billboard locations in southern California. Ever since I moved here in late 1999, an internet company called has monopolized the spot. For most of that first fall, the slogan on their billboard read think of us as your rate crisis hotline. I assumed I'd misread it the first two times I was driven past. The third time made me think there was something fundamental I was missing about modern commerce.

The next spring I was offered some insight. A frequent flyer account magically surfaced (being, like karma or [and my prostate crinkles even writing this phrase] "punk points", something you think of as existing in an invisible bank account somewhere, accruing interest, until one day - presto! - you discover that it really was in an invisible bank account). United Airlines wrote to say that I had 9,000 miles about to expire, and would I like to redeem them for magazine subscriptions so they weren't wasted? This seemed suspiciously polite of them, especially in light of my not being able to remember having flown United. I was reminded briefly of those sting operations run by sheriffs' offices to catch gullible deadbeat dads and petty fugitives ("Congratulations, you are a winner!!... meet us at the corners of such-and-such streets to claim your new snowmobile!") Then I remembered and my desire for insight into the unseen. I checked the box next to every business magazine they carried - Business 2.0, Business Week, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes ,Fortune ,Industry Standard ,Inc., Inc Technology, Money, Red Herring. At the very least, I thought, I would be able to write an informed report from the world of finance journalism by mid 2001.

But wee insight was to be had. Below the surface lay... more surface. I rarely found anything in any of these eleven publications to hold the interest of a non-MBA holding humanoid. There was a general impenetrability to the reportage that hammered my self confidence. Well, you're wondering, what the hell did I expect? But I did hold high expectations. The LA Times business section, after all, is loaded with good stuff. You just have to know how to read it (meaning, the same way one reads the NY Times Metro section - with an eye for gross human misconduct). It was in the LAT Business pages that I learned of the 37-year-old finance advisor who bilked $20 mil out of Phish and Leonardo Decaprio (only to arrive at his arraignment with a stocking over his head), the Iridium global phone meltdown, and the guys who tried to con NASA by having gold spacecraft sheeting delivered to a strip mall suite with a sign on the door reading "Neutron Accelerator Project" (they were caught only after misspelling the word "sergeant" on a requisition form).

None of these types of stories make it into the modern American business publication. Instead, I got two basic types of reporting: 1. Small Biz Success 2. Incomprehensible. The former featured many pictures of determined (and frequently ugly) people who had conquered some dinky, first world adversity to triumph as regional distributor of lawnmowers-by-internet / specialty hot sauce / llama feed. The latter featured amazing headlines like "the limbic slavery of the outernet", but never seemed to follow through with the great science fiction short story that should logically follow. The only articles I could wrap my brain around were those discussing the great villains of finance, and then only if there were pictures. I started scanning these magazines like a 16-year old devouring Tiger Beat behind closed doors. GE's Jack Welch, slimy NY mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg, Oracle's sinister, scheming Larry Ellison, ham-faced Ford CEO Jacques Nasser, those two ponytailed buttholes behind energy-broker Enron... these were the only guys who held my interest.

Meanwhile, the magazines piled up. A half dozen of these slippery, heavy, richly inked bastards are spilling out of my mailbox every day. The people at my post office have started with those sharp glances that tell me I'm not fooling anyone. Our front porch has passed through the waiting room stage and now resembles the outer office of a hopeless crank, my obsessive removal of the paper subscription inserts has become a daily chore and I'm realizing... shouldn't these subscriptions have ended months ago??


1. I finally saw an Iridium satellite in person. It was purely by accident. I happened to be in the Smithsonian Air & Space museum last month (unknowingly on the first leg of a patriotic quadrangle that would take me to the White House tourist wing ["the jerk wing" I heard a fellow sightseer muttering on the sidewalk afterwards], the Empire State Building lobby and, by mistake, the statue of Uncle Sam in south Troy, NY). I was hunting for the Enola Gay. It's a testament to the greatness of the A&S that one could go walking its halls in search of a stray B-29 bomber, but I never did find the thing. In a certain room full of computers and doodads a friend tapped me on the shoulder and motioned upwards. There was the Iridium orbiter. Did Motorolla commission a satellite especially for the Smithsonian, or was this one a factory mistake? It was a lot uglier than I'd expected, and a lot larger. And it certainly looked like it could kill the shit out of anyone it fell on.

The good news is, unless the one I saw comes unmoored from the Smithsonian ceiling, no satellites will be falling on anyone soon. Someone raised the cash to keep the things afloat (I know this only because I've seen the ads for renewed & improved Iridium service in my business magazines, not because I'm, um, obsessed with the story), one of many signs that the economy is still doing fine. In fact, my entire trip east seemed filled with such favorable financial omens - a) I was flown to DC by a UK techno act so that my band could open a vast & ridiculous show simply because the UK techno act had, like sultans of earlier centuries, felt like seeing my band play and ordered that it be so b) my hometown of Albany, NY remains in the process of replacing its former downtown with a much uglier, more costly downtown seemingly molded from a single piece of concrete c) I passed several tons of new, expensive looking, stupendously ugly and completely unnecessary sculpture in the Providence airport, d) the only gutter punks I saw on St. Marks Place in NY were actually talking on their cell phones.

2. Business Week is actually a great magazine. I'm keeping my subscription after the freebie expires. It's a journalistically solid compliment to The Nation, only minus the wit & crusty crankery of certain columnists. Ralph Nader praised BW last year for a good piece on corporate welfare, calling the magazine "to the left of Al Gore". But then, so is Tiger Beat.

3. The ad gets weirder the more I dwell on it. This wasn't a vanity billboard, and isn't some fly by night affair. By '99, this company had been in finance for 16 years (the dot com was only a recent addition). A LOT of people must've signed off on an ad campaign directly poking fun at rape victims. What is the exact chain of events that leads to a judgment collapse of such magnitude? This last week I searched for evidence of the billboard in question, mostly to prove to myself I hadn't imagined it. I discovered that the "edgy" ads had indeed existed and incurred the wrath of many. Said an unnamed CEO, "we'd never seen it from the point of view that our consumers have seen it." But, of course, there's no other way to see it. The CEO feebly added that the company's female vice president of marketing had approved the campaign.

(Writing this now makes me wonder why I hadn't complained my own self. After all, I'd seen this billboard at least a dozen times and the company's name is also their address. The only reason I could think of - and it's not an excuse - is that the sign was facing westbound traffic. By the time I was heading home, in the eastbound lane, whatever events had just transpired inside Los Angeles had pushed the controversy off my temporary palette and into long-term memory. If the billboard had been facing the other direction I would've been all hellfired up the entire drive home.)

4. Of course it's not really interstate ten, it's the ten. As in "take the ten to the fifty seven to get to Disneyland." Apparently one has surrendered to California the moment one starts adding "the" before the number of a highway. When I talk to east coast people now and make the mistake of saying something like "traffic on the 95 clears up after New Haven", they say "oh, so now it's THE 95?" with a curdled little smile as if they had some psychoanalytical knowledge of a defect in my personality I was unaware of and/or powerless over. Guys: fuck off.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Paper Blowing Around (1987)

SIGNIFICANT DOCUMENTS, May 20 - Anything that is good with my life in 2009 can be traced back to the four panel cartoon "Paper Blowing Around", which was drawn by Jason O'toole in 1987. Jason and I were best friends in high school, and in the tradition of all good sit-coms, we roomed together as freshmen in college. He ran this comic in an issue of our fanzine, Plain Truth. My future friends Adam and Neil sought him out after reading this comic, I eventually formed bands with both, and through touring with one of these bands I met my wife, etc etc etc.

So thanks to Jason. I asked him recently if I could include this on my blog, and he said sure, as long as I mentioned that the 1999 film "American Beauty" gracelessly ripped off all four panels. As if I needed another reason to hate that movie.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Highlights: Weekend # 2,083 on Earth


A blast of oompah-oompah Mexican music woke me early on Saturday morning. The clock said 7:30. I put on some shorts and followed the noise two houses down and rang the bell. A middle-aged man came out from his side yard. Since we're not next door neighbors, we've never had reason to introduce ourselves in the five years since his family bought the place. After a few sentences, I realized his English comprehension was very low and I had to pantomime that it was early (pointing to wrist, where a watch would be, if I wore one) and that I needed sleep (diagonal praying hands next to tilted face).

He moved close and said, in angry, broken English, "This is my fucking house". Last week I lost my temper with a wayward movie usher, so it seemed best to play it cool this time around. The conversation went on like this for a while, me gesturing calmly, him expanding on different variations of how this was his fucking house and how he "worked fucking hard". He got me on that last point: I wasn't working hard at that particular moment. 7:30 on a Saturday morning is my time to loaf.

It struck me that similar half-communications take place thousands of times a day in America. Most English-speaking Americans probably base their views on immigration solely on one-off exchanges like this. I'm the only person I know who favors 100% immigration (meaning, literally, everyone who comes here gets in; I know that it will never happen, and that you don't agree, and that you probably think I'm joking, which I'm not). But I don't have much sympathy for anyone who moves here and forgets to learn English. I understand English is tough, and there're lots of exceptions to the rules of conjugation and grammar and whatnot. So what? Five years is a lot of Berlitz classes. If I lived in Stockholm for five years, I would not have the raw cajones to pull the old me-no-speaky-Swedish trick. And I certainly wouldn't blast Elvis at dawn while my neighbors tried to sleep.

For my part, the lesson I took away from this exchange was distinctly non-political. My neighbor is just an asshole.


My in-laws took me out for a late birthday dinner on the San Clemente pier. I can see why Nixon liked this town. It's nice. There was an interesting discussion on my eventually growing my hair out and getting a "fuck-it cut" ala the teen heshers of 1979's "Over The Edge". Later, I was presented with a birthday cake;

In this picture of me blowing out the candle, I have a mysterious globby growth on my face. Even though it doesn't exist, should I be concerned?


If I could travel back in time to 1996 and befriend Barack Obama I would. I and my wife had a rare opportunity to correct the mistake this weekend, when Gabby Giffords spoke at the Scripps College commencement speech. My wife and Giffords were buddies back in college, and now Giffords is one of the youngest members of congress (AZ's 8th district). She married a fucking astronaut! President Giffords seems like a plausible scenario for the 2020's. This would have been my only chance to hobnob with future greatness.

But we overslept. In hindsight, maybe this wasn't such a mistake. After several lengthy conversations with my old drummer Brooks Headley (now a world-famous chef in New York), my ego can only take so many soul smooshings in one weekend.


I showed up with a bag of thrift store blouses and a bottle of red food coloring. My idea was to rope people into posing for my "street violence" photo series. Luckily for me I tested out the food coloring before dousing anybody with fake blood. Up until this weekend, I'd had no idea that red food coloring semi-indelibly stains skin. My hands were left with embarrassing red splotches, like they'd been dunked in boiling water. More friends arrived and I could tell they noticed my skin condition and kept mum out of politeness. After downing their beers, several people pulled me aside and asked, what happened to your goddamned hands?

"Street violence," I mumbled forlornly. Another good idea shot.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Absent M (2000)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, May 18 - This originally posted on, 6/15/00.


There is an advantage to having chosen a flawed record label name, and this advantage took only ten years to mature. Although half a decade late in landing a web site, at no time was I in any danger of discovering that some 14-year old boy or Dutch pharmaceutical company had already scooped up the domain name. Came time to register, and there was waiting patiently, tapping its tiny foot, casting a forlorn eye on its tiny watch. Recalling the recently spawned All The Good Domain Names Have Already Been Taken industry folklore boilerplate in most major newspaper business sections, I registered, hit return and let fly a wee sigh of relief. An hour later, doubt crept in. Had I settled? Why hadn't some entrepreneur already jumped on this word? What's so wrong with my word that no one wanted it? What, my business name's not good enough??

These are rhetorical questions and some of you may have already eyeballed why... Absent M Syndrome. There aren't many words in the language with defects on a structural level, but I apparently have managed to find one. Of the two M's in "Vermiform", the first is routinely dropped like a corrected typo in the course of day to day human contact. I have a file folder containing a decade of misspelled mail-order envelopes, bank statements, NSF notices and even a letter from my own distributor, to some company named "Veriform" or "Veriform Records". Hesitant production people have left ugly voicemails , Yes, I need to speak with whomever is in charge of accounts payable at... uh.. veriform records?... V-E-R-I-F-O-R-M.

For some reason the second M remains untouched - I've never received a single letter addressed to "Vermifor" just as I've never once been addressed as "Sa". So what gives? What is it about this particular placement of this particular letter? It is a mystery of anthropological proportions. Does my use of M pose some sort of threat, perhaps cause offense? Or is the dilemma rooted in biology? Is there a rogue lump buried deep in our primal brain matter that this seemingly insignificant letter arrangement sends into a hissy fit of misfiring neurons? If so, I have to wonder if the M droppers - folks I have more than once dismissed as microscopic nincompoops - could actually be in some sort of trouble. Could my M Index, quietly tallied over these ten long years (In 1995, for example, mail customers were misspelling on 1:18 scale - by 1999 it was 1 in 12), offer some crucial diagnostic insight into the mad cow disease of the next era? Remember; dyslexia wasn't ID'd as a disorder until printed matter came along. Of the many, many technological advances born just since 1990, it wouldn't surprise me if at least one graham cracker sized new-economy wireless communications gizmo is already covertly disrupting human mental processes, and I wouldn't put it past my two little M's, Experimental & Control, to have cracked a statistical nugget that won't be tapped for another fifty years in the fight against whatever this scourge turns out to be.

And if it's not some sort of bad omen, I hereby demand my Ms back. Enough is enough. I've been more than reasonable with all of you. Time for some answers. There is a "" registered to the List & Data Services Corporation of Arlington, TX, and I have a sinking suspicion they hold the next piece to this puzzle. As of this writing, their site was in hiding, server unlocatable...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Falloujapalooza (2004)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, MAY 15 - This originally ran in Punk Planet 62.


Of the many sad chores of adulthood, not many are as poignant as the trampling of one's childhood terrors. If you were ten during the Carter years, for example, you may have been traumatized by twin taboos known as "The Sex Pistols" and "Dawn Of The Dead". Both hung from the overhead adult world as unexplained anomalies, obscene in their impenetrability. What kind of adults trafficked in such weirdness? None that I knew. Blink and suddenly it's 1997 and I'm clapping like a rube at the encore of a Sex Pistols reunion concert in San Francisco. Blink again and it's 2004 and I'm in a theater full of teen-agers, wondering why I just shelled out $9 to see the remake of "Dawn Of The Dead". In the bland hands of Jeep commercial director Zack Snyder, DOTD '04 is only barely distinguishable from the trailers before it, one long, expensive fart of explosions and rap-metal and ugly people doing wretched things.

Except for those first ten minutes. The first ten minutes of this movie scared me. A lot. The action is straightforward enough. Actress Sarah Polley wakes up in her suburban home, escapes her freshly dead boyfriend and emerges onto her front lawn to discover that civilization has fallen apart. For such an abusively crummy flick, this first scene seems spliced from the phantom world that lurks just below the post 9/11 universe. One day you wake up and things are burning and people are trying to kill you. "If I had done the opening 10 minutes and opening credits of the Dawn of the Dead remake," Quentin Tarantino recently told the LA Weekly, "I’d be very proud."

Maybe it's a stupid observation, but there's less fantasy here than I'd like. For Rwandans, dawn of the dead fell on the morning of April 7, 1994, when Hutus, mobilizing after the plane crash of president Habyarimana, began killing their fellow Tutsis. There is a western view, I think, of that genocide as a rural affair. But its mechanics were at least as urban (and faithful to the logic of bad nightmares) as those first ten minutes of the "Dawn..." remake. Writer Phillip Gourevitch probed the '94 massacre from four years in the future, and his description seems cinematically familiar;

Neighbors hacked neighbors to death in their homes, and colleagues hacked colleagues to death in their workplaces. Doctors killed their patients and schoolteachers killed their pupils.

Kurt Cobain was found dead the next day. I'm writing in April, so his death anniversary is still fresh on the magazine racks. I'm not surprised that there's been more coverage in 2004 of Cobain than the Rwandans. And I don't think it's necessarily selfish of Americans that Kurt Cobain made more of an impression the deaths of 800,000 + people in central Africa. That's how life works; the death of our next door neighbor moves us far more than the death of someone three blocks away we never met. What does surprise me is my own narrow frame of reference. In the last ten years, I've met a lot of people who've intersected Cobain's life. But I have yet to meet anyone with even the slightest connection to Rwanda. Except for a crew of surly Nigerians who worked at a Cranston, RI Dunkin' Donuts I used to frequent, I don't think I've even met anyone from the entire continent of Africa. That's a large gray zone.

Unwanted introspection of an insulated life is only one on a long list of dreads this movie picks at. There is fear of crime, fear of loss, fear of death, and being eaten, and of the apocalypse. If one can accept that there is some brutal interior to the human brain that makes people write computer viruses and kill seals, then it's not so hard to accept that there may be an even further reptilian inner core of brain matter that reduces people to wheezing cannibals (or at least compels them to butcher their neighbors with machetes, grenades and something called the masu, which Gourevitch explains is "a club studded with nails").

It's been a month, and I keep thinking about this stupid movie. At least once a day I find myself sizing up survival scenarios in the dressing room at the thrift store, in parking lots, at the supermarket. Last month's newspapers made hash of the "fast zombie" phenomenon in modern movies, as if this had some deep cultural significance. But most newspapers didn't bother to review the movie. The LA Weekly never covered the film and the New Yorker listed it only as a one liner in the 'Now Playing' section. These omissions seem ominously suspicious as I lay awake at night, pondering some wider conspiracy, listening for barely audible scrapes and shuffles in the back yard, police helicopters swooping over my neighborhood, searching by spotlight for other anonymous intruders.

Helicopters: when I moved to California in the last century these were a nightly occurrence, circling in lazy swoops over my neighborhood. Two years ago the 210 freeway extension was completed three miles to the north. I and the missus drove up for the inauguration and walked on the clean, empty lanes and took some zombie photos with a disposable camera and red food coloring. When the freeway was opened for cars, the helicopters stopped. Perhaps the tides of meth pulled dealers and clandestine lab operators towards the least clogged freeway. Only this spring have the helicopters returned, in force. Their drone and searchlights set a tone of dread each night. Why are they back? Who do they seek in the dead of night?

These are familiar question marks. In downtown L.A., it's hard to not cross through the "homeless containment district" in skid row, passing the "zombies" that shuffle and beg and sleep under tarps, like corpses. At the train station last week, sizing up platforms and nearby lots for zombie escape routes, I overheard two guys talking about their sons in Iraq. This month's photos from Fallouja are more grisly than anything in the DOTD remake. The administration has invented its own motiveless killer responsible for the current carnage in Iraq; the "Baathist dead ender". When I read about KBR contract truck drivers being paid a hefty sum by Halliburton to risk being killed and mutilated, I have to think of Sarah Polley and her small gang driving their doomed trucks through crowds of undead antagonists. In the newspapers, Iraqi opposition fighters are usually blurred in flight. On the DOTD remake poster, the zombies are faceless ciphers. What is this "Green Zone" - that walled off section of central Baghdad, bordered by the Tigris on one side and feet of blast-proof concrete on the other- if not the classic compound of all zombie films?

On DOTD's gravest charge - that humanity is doomed- the crystal ball is murkier. Everything is doomed in the long run. Last year, British astronomer Martin Rees gave people 50/50 survival odds for the 21st century. Aren't those at least better odds than we had during the 20th century?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Buying A New Toilet Seat @ Home Depot

POMONA, MAY 13 - I drove to Home Depot to buy a new toilet seat. The old one is cracked. I know; reduce, reuse, recycle. I get it. We all get it. But what about old toilet seats? I can't reduce or recycle painted wood. I don't have anywhere to burn it. I'm not going to drive out to the woods just to burn my old toilet seat. That's crazy.

My only option, I guess, is to stow the old one in my garage and reuse it after civilization has collapsed, to place around the necks of my enemies / slaves. Maybe the unsightly crack will add an extra bit of shame to the already significant shame of having to wear a toilet-seat-yoke. Tough; that's what you get when you cross me after civilization has collapsed.

I used to worry about getting caught in the bowels of a Home Depot during a massive earthquake. Now I just hope when the 8.9 hits I'm squashed by something manly - an oven range or a washer dryer combo - and not a flying toilet. Fingers crossed.

When I worked as a supermarket cashier, years ago, I used to dwell on every purchase I rang up; the soap that would soon be pressed against someone's flabby torso until it dwindled into a sliver; the food that would soon be turned into something far less pleasant. Standing in line at Home Depot, I suddenly found myself staring at the drawing of a toilet on the box, thinking about all the thousands of times I'd have to seat and reseat myself on this object in the years to come. If the cashier was thinking this also, he had a good poker face.

Only when I'd parked my car in front of my house and had stepped out with my new toilet seat cover, did I notice the gaggle of teenage girls walking in slow motion down the sidewalk about 15 feet away. This was an adolescent nightmare of humiliation come to life and it literally, actually happened.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Review: Dischord Shirt

WARDROBE, MAY 13 - I bought a shirt from DC's Dischord Records during a period of furious correspondence and mailordering in eleventh grade. I didn't have many other pieces of clothing that made me look cool, but in this capacity this one shirt served me admirably for ten years.

Later in eleventh grade, I was invited to participate in some sort of Students Night at the Albany, NY City Council. Nobody told me it was a formal affair, so I dressed in my civvies and got a ride to City Hall. It was kind of fun - each student impersonated an existing council member and debated real life municipal issues - but at some point I was pulled aside and discretely but firmly reprimanded by one of the town elders. He smelled like pomade and seemed genuinely enraged that I had disrespected the concept of civic government. Oddly, a different kid who'd come dressed like a Scandinavian pot dealer (mullet, teen 'stache, JC Pennys sweater) received no such rebuke. I think it was my shirt. At the end of the night, we took a group photo;

Yes, that is "Good Morning America" anchor Chris Cuomo in the middle row, 4 teens to the left. My left.

Last December I decided to sell it on eBay. Back when I was in a band, I had the foresight to wear the shirt on an album cover, so I figured I might make enough money to cover one utility bill. In the interest of fair disclosure, I included a disclaimer with the auction;

Elephant in the room. This shirt will only look good on you if you are a superbly athletic guy with Tom Of Finland abs or a super hot petite chick with a great rack. If you are a 39 year old man who weighs 178 lbs., this maybe is not the t-shirt for you. More importantly, the shirt itself is not in great shape. It was a thin garment to begin with (Hanes, 75% cotton / 25% polyester, L42-44, which must mean children's large) and time and countless washing machines have worn it threadbare. Although you could easily slip it on and wear it around, the shirt is slowly growing holes around the neckline (see photos), and has the slightly brittle feel of a family heirloom. So buy at your own risk.

After five days, bidding only reached $3. I realized a global economic meltdown might not be the right time to part with the shirt. I paid $6 for it in 1986, after all. It's only fair that I cover my expenses. I pulled the auction and put it back in my trunk. Someday maybe this'll make a nice gift for a friend's grandkid. Or maybe the Smithsonian will want it. Whichever.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Complaints (2003)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, MAY 12 - This originally ran in Punk Planet 55.



It's early in the 2004 presidential campaign, but already the Democrats are in the Differentiation Stage, which is the period of any public race when national candidates must prove they are not the same person as one or all of the other national candidates . By my count, the office-holding five official contenders break down into two camps; Cretins (Howard Dean & John Edwards, both of whom I detest right off, not so much for being pro-Yucca Mountain and pro-death penalty, but because both are suspiciously smarmy young men in the Giver Of Unsolicited Backrub variety), or Ninnies (Dick Gephardt & John Kerry, both of whom I've detested for a while now, not so much for being half-assedly pro-war, but because they have so clearly been wheedled into public service by their wives, or past gambling debts), with the occasional, rare combination known as Creeninny (Joe Lieberman, whom this magazine is not yet paying me quite enough [although: 50 bucks a column now!] to dig up anything good about).

That leaves Al Sharpton. Anybody who lived in New York City in the 1980's is more or less obligated to hate the man. And, deep down, I suppose I hate him too. But of all the Democrats running in '04, Al's the only guy who says the things that need to be said. And, unlike Ralph Nader, the chap can give a wonderful speech. That he's made sweeping, irreparable mistakes with his life (the Tawana Brawley case for the right, his stint as an FBI informer for the left), AND has never been elected to so much as public custodian AND still runs like he actually means it, is a welcome note of inspiration in this fog of post-Election 2000 cynicism.

Which puts me in a moral bind. If Sharpton has held public office exactly as long as I have, and if he's made far greater blunders than I have, and 2004 will actually be the first election in which I'll be old enough to run... what exactly is stopping me from running as well? It's getting harder and harder to ignore the question. I mean, shit. it's not like I have a particularly high paying job weighing me down. Sears of Montclair Plaza reneged on their offer to let me unload trucks all day, and the Borders across the parking lot didn't seem to think I had sufficient fire in the belly to man their coffee counter. The presidency pays top dollar. Frankly, I could use the money.

This dilemma raises further troubling questions of cabinetry. Jello's brief '00 campaign opened the Fantasy Lineup Question. If elected, would his cabinet have been drawn from the pantheon of My Rules-era Glen E. Friedman photography frontmen, or a regrettable assortment of present-day Alternative Tentacles regulars RE: Lynn Breedlove, Wesley Willis, and Dreadlock Guy from Alice Donut? Sharpton's candidacy reopens this challenge. Would his cabinet be composed of other social justice activists - Jesse Jackson, Kweisi Mfume, Randall Robinson - or a regrettable assortment of his loutish, portly peers such as Michael Moore, Rikki Lake and Jim Belushi? In turn, this forces me to ponder if my own cabinet would be composed of my esteemed fellow columnists or a regrettable assortment of current associates from the men's room at the Montclair, CA Greyhound station??


My annual month of resolve was a lot more plausible in 2000 (Year Of The Dragon), 2001 (Snake) and 2002 (Horse). A sentence like "Year Of The Sheep is the year I get it all figured out!" doesn't really cut it. Try saying this one into the mirror if you doubt me. Unfortunately, the jokers who wrote up the Chinese zodiac thought it'd be a real hoot to stack the deck with a succession of lowly beasts, and now I have to suffer the consecutive years of chimp, cock, dog, pig and rat before finally, in 2009, arriving at the rather manly Year Of The Ox. But I do have a good feeling about that one.

Why does God allow this to happen? What is it about this one condiment that says to the world, "the wearer of this stain is untrustworthy for even five minutes alone with a 59 cent Bic pen, let alone a job application"??

Am I the only person on Earth who understands than when Lou says (to the L.A. Weekly, 1/31/03) "I hope your readers know who Ornette Coleman is", what he MEANS is "My life has become an impossible lie. I seek an end to my misery." I'm not calling for a formal fatwa here (too much paperwork). But I have to wonder why this jackass is still awarded public forums. Am I the only one who sees the grinning skull of evil under that mysterious, cracked leather face? Am I the only one who has noticed that this same face has recently been photoshopped onto all four bodies of the Rolling Stones? Am I the only one who has a hard time envisioning historians of the 32nd century sitting around and discussing how important Velvet Underground were??

As of this writing, there's a big pile of bricks and girders and twisted metal on the floor of L.A.'s Union Station. Presumably the whole thing is covered in a fine layer of industrial toxins and bone powder as well. The pile is cordoned off in plush ropes and marked by a plaque I haven't yet read. I haven't read the plaque because I'm avoiding the display, and I'm avoiding the display because CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, SEPTEMBER ELEVENTH IS STILL REALLY, REALLY FUCKING DEPRESSING. Let the good people of the 32nd century examine the pile. Speaking as a strict 21st century kinda guy, I must say I am in equal parts disturbed that: a) someone in New York thought that perhaps the rest of the country had sorta forgotten their woes and should be treated to a big pile of hazardous crap, b) I need to be reminded on my frequent Metrolink commutes that my port of arrival is also on someone's secret top 10 list of Shit To Destroy, c) that the world is, fundamentally, a cruel, asymmetrical place where pain, violence and broken objects are the rule, not the exception.

I don't see the humor in my proposal to have Courtney Love inserted into President Bush's ass. Enough is enough. Really. This kind of execution-as-public-spectacle was a weekly occurrence in the ancient world. Go see Lord Of The Rings if you doubt me. But I am going to need at least
30,000 signatures for the United Nations to take me seriously and hey, where are you going?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Recent Acquisitions

RECEIVING, May 11 - Recent Acquisitions:

I doubt the residents of Prague could have ever imagined, way back in August 1968, that their sufferings and travails would have made such a fine coffee table photography book, and even finer birthday present for me. Of these 250+ Josef Koudelka photos, what stands out is the time lag between opposing sides. Cold War Czechs grieved over the gulf between their country's scarcity and west Europe's futuristic prosperity, but in these pictures the gulf is between modern urbanites and the WW2 re-enactors that came to subdue them (Prague's men, teetering between the eras of hats and beards, resemble 21st century Brooklyn hipsters). The Warsaw Pact troops looked a lot like German Infantry, down to their flared helmets; one soldier, standing with the sun shading his face, is rendered into the eyeless chiaroscuro of Nazi propaganda. When a brutal army invades a gorgeous city (and the residents act with inspired passive resistance), is it possible to take a bad photo?

This thing was the bane of my employment at the video store last year. Rows of novelty electronic keychains dangled at eye level for every adolescent who came stumbling down the aisles, and many of my shifts were punctuated by the sounds of wretching and raspberries every eight minutes. These things are loud! I never sold one. They're awful. Isn't repeated exposure to fart sounds, in the course of one's job, a form of sexual harassment?

I wrote a strongly worded Karen-Silkwood-style email to store management about the devastating impact of this product on employee morale. When that didn't get the response I'd hoped for, I had to resort to stashing these things in spots no customer could reach. Now that I own one myself (a birthday gift from my ex-store manager), I'm not sure what to do with it. On one hand, it's a depressing reminder of how low American civilization has sunk in my lifetime. On the other hand, I know if I donate this to a thrift store or mental institution, I'll be kicking myself, years later, for reasons currently unknown.

After years of using one of the pillows from the couch, it only dawned on me last week that I'm an adult and can buy a proper, new pillow at Target any time I want. So I did, for $6. Although I'll be spending a third of my life with a pillow of some sort, $6 really seems like the upper limit of what I'm willing to shell out. Also, it's nice to remember my dreams now, but kind of a bummer that they're all really boring and about trains. Yawn.

This hand-lettered, Old Navy shirt, size large - an instant addition to my all time top five birthday gifts - is pretty much a perfect adult-proportioned duplicate of the one worn by a wayward waif in 1979's "The Jerk". Only I'm not sure how to wear it. Jury duty, obviously, but what else? Concealed, at job interviews, so that I can unbutton my overshirt if the conversation gets stupid and stride out like a man? And how can I properly convey the essential nihilism of the shirt?

I watched our neighbors' cats several times this year, and each time I'd read a few more pages into this book, perched on the shelf just above the litter box. I finally bought a copy on eBay last month, only to discover I'd gotten the crummy 90's lame-lady cover instead of the cool 80's creepy cover paperback. I don't even want to read this anymore.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Scott Jernigan, 1975 - 2003

FROM THE ARCHIVES, May 7 - This ran as an addendum to a column in Punk Planet 57.

There are a handful of people, scattered here and there, with the power to scramble the humor center of my cerebral cortex. But I’ve only met two who were able to do so through sheer, overwhelming comedic firepower; Jared Warren and Scott Maniac from the bands Karp and The Whip. Jared took on the Dean Martin role of studied bemusement, with Scott hammering home punchline after punchline in Jerry Lewis attack mode. When the boys stayed at my house in February, they bought a three-pack of toy hillbilly teeth from a local supermarket and I found myself relegated to straight man (to his credit, their bandmate Joe Preston held his own with the funny – in my analogy, this would make him an older Bing Crosby to their Martin & Lewis). It was relentless. Trying to crack jokes in the presence of these two obscenely funny men was like attempting to halt a MIG fighter with a limp stick of celery. The next morning I made waffles for everyone, took a shower, and when I emerged three Appalachians were belting out show tunes in my living room.

Scott, Jared, and Joe 3/1/03

Scott’s death on June 10, in a Seattle boating accident, made me realize how little I had known of the guy. We’d talked vaguely about our two bands playing shows together in the fall, but when I searched for his voice mail it was already gone. From his obituary, I learned that his last name was Jernigan, that he was only 28. Without any warning, I’ve crossed into that portion of life where friends start up and dying. If Scott was here, with his spitty redneck teeth in place, he’d have already spun some comedy gold from this situation. But he isn’t. The universe has lost another good mind. I won’t forget him.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Better Business Bureau Letter (1986)

FROM THE ARCHIVES / OOPS DEPT. May 6 - 23 years ago, I narced on a independent record label over a 7 Seconds EP and a "Nuke Your Dink" 7" compilation. It was not one of my finest moments. In my defense, $6 was a lot of cash in 1986. And I was young and impatient. I didn't understand that record pressing problems can indeed occur at one's pressing plant in Los Angeles. The records eventually arrived.

The summer after this unfortunate exchange, I booked a 7 Seconds show at the Albany Hibernians Hall and - surprise! - the band never showed. Later that month, leaving for college, I stuffed all my worldly possessions into a rental van and made my goodbyes in front of my mom's house. Somehow the compilation 7" floated to the back of one of the piles and got smooshed up next to the window. After my mom hugged me farewell, she looked up and said, 'Nuke Your Dink'?? and the thought occurred to me that perhaps those weren't the best three words with which to start one's new life as an adult.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Spanish Sam Dilemma

CHOICES DEPT., May 5 - Which of these four Spanish versions of me will you trust to take the top bunk of your youth hostel bunkbed?
Choose wisely.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blind Trust Revisited (2002)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, May 4 - This originally ran in Punk Planet 53.


For reasons of research that would be somewhat awkward to explain, this last April I paid a visit to the offices of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Scottsdale, Arizona. Alcor is the foremost cryonics organization in the United States, and their sole mission is the freezing of the newly deceased for eventual thawing. I’d done a lot of research on this organization in the early 90’s, and had long since come to feel personally connected to them, their procedures and their endearingly slapdash literature. Since I’d started my research the company had moved from Riverside, CA to suburban Phoenix. At a certain point somebody in charge realized that the organization could find a better home for their precious cargo than a corner of the country notorious for earthquakes, mudslides, brush fires and race riots. Also, there was a question of security. Lab cats had been frozen by Alcor scientists to perfect the freezing process, and the early 90’s were a heady time for animals rights activists.

Which was bad news for me, my painstakingly arranged and verified meeting having evaporated from their computers. “We have no record of your appointment,” a receptionist firmly told me, blocking the entrance with her body. I caught my own reflection in the sharp angle of their front door; wearing a black button down shirt, badly rumpled from a long drive through the desert to see a Thrones show in Phoenix the night before - the stoic attire of an animal rights terrorist. Told to wait for the mysterious “Dr. Lemler”, I was forced to cool my heels at a nearby Wal Mart, chewing over what this anticipated failure would mean for my flagging self-confidence.

I made some more harried calls, returned and talked my way into the office of the marketing director, a chipper woman named Karla. Karla politely grilled me as she put the finishing touches on a website update which featured their new logo (Alcor’s old emblem involved a phoenix not unlike the symbol on every street sign in their new city). The new logo is a sculptural, abstract pyramid, corporate and cold. If one is in the market to have one’s earthly remains frozen until further notice, corporate and cold could be a strong selling point. But the revamping represents more than just cosmetics - the company’s increasingly mainstream presentation mirrors the advancements of the 1990’s; breakthroughs in cloning and gene research. Gone was the trekkie glee of their early literature that had so charmed me in 1990. In ten years, Alcor will be as mainstream as any fertility clinic in America.

“Are you doing a paper for your school?” Karla asked absently, over her shoulder. “Actually,” I fibbed, hemorrhaging confidence, “I’m writing an article for a small music magazine.” She looked up from the computer. “Which one?” I paused, unsure. “Punk Planet”. Ah, the title of this publication. I’ve aired my beef over these two words to Dan Sinker in the past, and I now add one further count to the indictment; this magazine’s name is no Open Sesame to the scientific community. In her underwhelmed silence, I understood that things would have gone radically smoother with Karla and the gang if I had just scrapped the half truths and posed as a potential customer.

But fate granted me one more shot at those magic words. A passing technician was hailed by Karla and asked if he could give me a tour. Clearly unimpressed by my lack of credentials and rumpled eco-terrorist shirt, the older man carefully blocked the doorway to the inner sanctum. “Tell me about the article you’re writing,” he asked. I know enough on this one subject to hold my own in a conversation with a cryonics technician, and as I delivered a rambling improv monologue on several marginally related science geek issues, I understood, in some preloading foyer of conscious thought, that there actually was an Open Sesame for this man, that the two needed words were nothing more than the name of a popular science writer. In the middle of my soliloquy, I carefully pictured the cover of a science fiction novel by the mystery author, scanning the visual memory for a name, a set of words. “But of course,” I concluded nonchalantly, “much of this has been covered in the book ‘Deep Time’ by writer… Gregory Benford.”

The technician smiled - Gregory Benford! - and bid me enter. We passed through several more administrative offices and emerged into the perfusion room, the sanctum where the newly deceased, already packed in ice, are prepped for long term storage. No bodies were being worked on this day. Alcor can sometimes go years between clients. Past this was the cool-down room, a loading dock holding a large tank that can slowly chill a fresh corpse’s core temperature to -325 degrees. Everything was tidy and clean. Aido, the Alcor cat, came out from under a stairwell, hungry for visitors. Finally, my guide unlocked the door to the room with the bodies. Is there a special name for this chamber? In my awe, I forgot to ask.

A room full of frozen humans looks far more austere than one would expect. The bodies themselves are stored in 10-foot tanks of liquid nitrogen. I’ve since read several accounts comparing the space to a microbrewery. Contrary to the occasional political cartoon, there are no extension chords for the hapless janitor to trip over, no portals showing onto glazed faces. It was a strange sensation, knowing that I was sharing a room with 48 carefully preserved humans beings (a dozen or so patients are just heads – “neurosuspension” costs only $50,000, versus the $120,000 needed for a whole body job. A future that can resurrect diseased and/or ice damaged tissue, the thinking goes, can easily whip up a new body from cloned earlobe scrapings). The science behind human cryonics is “speculative” in as much as it relies on technology that doesn’t yet exist. But their procedures are very rational. There is every reason to believe that these 48 people will be walking the Earth long after you and I have decomposed.

I still felt a sadness in this interim space. When have adult humans ever been this vulnerable? These unrelated strangers were – are still – dependent not just on the quality of present staff, but on all staff to come. Twenty, forty, perhaps two hundred years from now somebody is still going to need to keep the utility bills and property taxes and liquid nitrogen supplier paid up. These people are infants in the womb of a mother they will never know. And if - as a hobo’s leaflet once informed me - human beings are nothing more than “badly recorded meatburgers”, where do these poor souls fit in the cosmic scheme? The major religions are still quiet on cryonics, this awkward infant cousin of the heart-lung machine (although the Islamic injunction against use of cadavers probably bodes badly for neurosuspension). The theology gets a bit creepier when you’re in close quarters with these folks.

Only three months later, the body of the late Red Sox MVP Ted Williams would be brought to this same room, tank 6, even as postmortem custody was being hashed out in the courts. By mid-July, Alcor had been hoisted out of obscurity and inserted into a two week Jay Leno joke. Williams had trusted his kids to discretely follow his last wishes, the same way (to date this column with October’s headlines) TV actor Bob Crane probably trusted his own relatives not to sell his sordid life story to Sony Pictures and Kurt Cobain probably trusted his wife, under the larger assumptive heading of Human Decency, to not sell his diaries for four million dollars. Williams’ fight brought estate battles into the 21st century, where one’s assets includes not just a body but all the dizzying potential of a life yet to come.

How could I fail to think of these pitiable persons, earlier this month, arriving at the first Thrones show I’d seen since that April in Arizona? The venue in Claremont wasn’t charging admission, so I valiantly volunteered to be the doorman, donning a shoddy cardboard head I’d built just for the occasion. My handwriting on the front of the head instructed passers by to feed cash donations into the slotted plastic of the mouth. I’d meant my efforts as some sort of good faith financial transaction, a what-would-Ben-and-Jerry-do type of gesture. Instead, it became bad performance art, like so many other rites of adulthood I find constantly snaring me. It was confusing, monotonous and in some fundamental violation of principles I’d once promised myself I‘d always live by. “Are you going to lick my hand??” one young lady asked, raising her own issues of trust. I shook my head side to side, but the mask remained still on my shoulders. I remembered the frozen people - the bodies and heads stacked in strange configurations, sometimes four to a container - feeling a sad kinship that even now is hard to define. By night’s end, my own trust was betrayed as well; the plastic baggie taped to the mask’s innards held less than $60, including random pocket change I’d fed myself, like bonbons, all night long.

LA Philharmonic @ Walt Disney Concert Hall

LOS ANGELES, May 3 -Why isn't the Walt Disney Concert Hall hated? It squats weirdly over Bunker Hill, a grand symbol of conspicuous consumption for the city's effete elite. The vast fortune it cost to build the thing is mirrored by the smaller fortune it must cost to heat and cool the thing's innards. And then there's the cost of cooling the thing's outards. After its 2003 opening, neighbors complained that their condos were overheating from the reflection. Pedestrians had to step around 140 degree "hot spots" on the sidewalk. Also, it looks unsafe. In a quake, is a building designed to look like Jello cubes sturdier or more deadly than a regular cube?

Visiting the hall for a recent Sunday concert, I found the theater interior disappointingly symmetrical. For most people, the inside of such a building would be a revelation. But most people aren't from Albany, NY. In Albany, we have The Egg, a concrete absurdity that squats over the downtown skyline. If you live in Albany and you want to see Boz Skaggs or Russian ballet, you will have to go to The Egg theater. The Egg's interior is furnished with curving concrete and Swiss pearwood veneer. The inside of the Disney Hall is lined with Douglas Fir and finished with Oak, and similarly lacks sharp edges. For a few scary moments, I thought I might round a corner and find myself back in upstate NY. Eventually we reached our seats, directly behind and above the stage, facing out towards 90% of the crowd. I scanned for celebrities in the multi-tiered audience facing me, but Philharmonic concerts apparently don't have the draw of Lakers games.

Below us, a kettle drum player laid his sticks out like surgical instruments. The lineup featured one concerto each by Kodály and Liszt, and then a symphony by Dvořák. I only vaguely recognized one of those names, although I'd come prepared by eight minutes on Wikipedia. "Quite a coincidence," I said to Laszlo - my sole Hungarian friend, and the afternoon's benefactor - "Two of the three composers being Hungarian and all." He seemed amused and a little disturbed that I knew all about Kodály; the background in ethnomusicology, the death in 1967, the correct name pronunciation.

"How do you know this name?" Laszlo demanded.

"Please," I said disinterestedly as the concert started. "You're talking to a product of the American public school system. We are all quite familiar with the works of Zoltán Kodály"

The Hall made good on its reputation for world class sonics. During "Concerto For Orchestra" I watched each of the 80+ ensemble members and understood that I could distinguish every instrument. Towards the end of the piece, a thin man sitting towards the back of the orchestra, meaning closest to me, rose to ding the triangle with perfect clarity. It was like listening to a virgin slab of vinyl, with coughs from the audience substituting for scratches and pops. The hall's reverberation time drops by a fifth of a second when filled with soft human meat, so our presence made the concert just a bit better.

My wife passed me a note: Imagine David Belle doing parkour here. Just as classical music conjures all the imagery of Hollywood - all the gliding starships and desert landscapes John Williams has ruined my generation with - so did the concert hall itself evoke its own cinematic treatments. I tried to remember what films I'd seen with orchestra scenes, and all I could think of was the wonderful opening of "Red Dragon" where Anthony Hopkins winces slightly at a sour note, dooming the flutist. Then I tried to remember any other classical concerts I'd attended, coming up blank. All my Egg memories are of plays and musicals and live comedy. Why were there so many musicals and live comedies in my childhood?

At intermission we all stood out in the northwest courtyard, a sunny spot overlooking the nearby condo complex where residents had gotten roasted in their own apartments by the building's glint. Up close, the building's titanium "skin" resembled the complexion of the St. Louis Arch without any of the horrific vertigo. A lot of people looked very rich.

The second act featured a cover of Dvořák's "Symphony No. 8 In G Major, Op. 88". I wasn't able to conjure any spaceships to this one. Guest conductor Hans Graf furiously wiggled his baton like a man with something to prove. Which, more or less, is what he was. Two weeks earlier, beloved outgoing LAPO conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen reportedly received a 12-minute standing ovation, a burst of sustained Caucasian superjoy approaching performance art. Frankly, the odds were against Graf getting such a reception at the end of this show.

After a while I got sleepy. Then I got really sleepy. I rested my eyes, thinking of Bugs and Elmer in the opera house, and Mickey Mouse in "Fantasia", and the "Peter And The Wolf" cartoon I was made to watch relentlessly all throughout grade school. As I drifted off to slumberland in my seat, I felt a sadness. The closest I would come to knowing anything about classical music was through the cartoons of the 20th century. I would probably never know more about classical than I did now. In my own passive way, I was contributing to the increasing aggregate dumbness of the human race. Then I was gone.