Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Lost Highway: One Last Nightmare Before November

Hi. It’s Halloween, unless you’re reading this in New Jersey.

As we get closer to celebrating dead saints as opposed to dead regular people, I find myself thinking about scary movies and what I’ve seen on screen that has frightened me most. My finalists range from things I only found scary because I was young when I saw them — the skeksis in The Dark Crystal, for example — to more legitimate scares such as the first time poor li’l Casey Becker sees the ghostface mask in Scream,  which literally made me choke on a piece of popcorn. I’m almost inclined to give the nod to the nurse scene in Exorcist 3, just because no one ever mentions how Exorcist 3 actually isn’t a terrible film. In the end, however, it’s the party sequence in Lost Highway that gets my vote. It’s not a scene that would make you jump, and I suppose some horror movie purists would watch it and not particularly find it scary in any traditional sense. I, however, find it to be horribly affecting.

Watch for yourself, and know that it’s violence-free, with only a single “f”-word to make it not technically safe for work:

Yes, the fact that the kabuki-faced man is played by Robert Blake, a former Little Rascal and a real-life alleged murderer, adds to the overall creepiness, but what I find so disturbing about this scene is the way it re-creates the sensation of having a dream but not immediately realizing that you’re having a dream. It’s a slow build. Pretend you’re the Bill Pullman character, hanging out at a party and making casual conversation with this stranger. He’s odd, yes, but nothing that’s happening is necessarily impossible, really, until he delivers the line, “As a matter of fact, I’m there right now,” in reference to the fact that he’s somehow both at the party and at Bill Pullman’s house. Pullman, of course, doesn’t buy it. Why should he? Surely, this creepy stranger must be speaking figuratively, but then Robert Blake goads Pullman to call home. Blake’s voice answers. Blake, who’s standing right before Pullman, is also answering Bill Pullman’s home phone number.

When I dream weird, I frequently don’t realize that I’m dreaming until the narrative goes completely sideways. It’s a relief, honestly, to suddenly understand that your subconscious is taking the lead, because any alternative explanation sets you on a far more disturbing path. But leading up to that point, there’s always a progression that works like this: “Okay. Okay. Okay. Wait, what? Wait — WHAT?! OH HOLY SHIT.” I’d imagine I’m not the only one who’s experienced that escalating series of emotions. And I think David Lynch — himself a big fan of delving into the unconscious and subconscious — does a fine job of committing that moment of mind-melting horror to film.

Of course, Bill Pullman’s character doesn’t get to wake up, but let’s not get into the plot details of Lost Highway.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

And So Forth (or — On Ampersands)

In the same way I’m intrigued by etymology and the way that we bury the history behind our words, I like to think about punctuation marks. These squiggles convey meaning, but I feel like we rarely stop and think about how they came to signify what they do. Well, Shady Characters considers them, but not everyone reads Shady Characters. (Everyone should, by the way.) I’d actually posted more than once on this subject a long while back, but I’ve decided to revisit it. Today, I’d just like to focus on the ampersand — etymologically and per se and, a mongrel Latin-English phrase more or less meaning “and by itself is and.” It’s pervasive, even when it seems like someone could have found the time to write out and, and even more strangely, it’s readily understood even when it takes on different forms.


All of them slightly different, and almost certainly more varied than you’d expect from letters of the alphabet, but all of them being easily read as meaning “and.” Funny how that works. It’s certainly not the form itself that conveys the meaning, because I doubt that many people realize that the ampersand in all its forms is just a stylized rendering of the Latin word et, meaning “and” — as in et cetera. But it is. In each of the six variations I’ve provided, you can see a basic “e” shape conjoined to a “t” shape, in that order. Only in the last one do aesthetics trump readability, but even then you can see how the symbol is basically shorthand — a simpler way of communicating quickly, in the way that cursive speeds up handwriting.

That’s it. That’s the point: Ampersands are just et, written with the goal of celerity. I just feel like not many people notice this. I just feel like once it’s pointed out to you, it’s something you can’t not notice.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

One Minute to Midnight

It’s midnight. Embrace it.

Today (by which I mean tonight), I’m reviving a one-time mainstay of this blog, and I’m doing it in the spirit of the upcoming holiday.
mesonoxian (mez-o-NOCKS-ee-an) — adjective: of or pertaining to midnight.
But I’m also doing a bad job, I’m afraid, because the history here doesn’t make for such an interesting story: it’s just mesos, “middle,” plus the genitive of the Latin noctis, “night.” That’s very straightforward, if melodic in the way that vespertime puts all things evening-related into a linguistically beautiful context. So instead of delving into the wordiness of it all, I’m instead going to offer your twelve thoughts on the subject of midnight.
  1. As a kid, I thought of midnight as mythical. Like Never Never Land, it could be pondered but not actually reached, for the ability to maintain consciousness that long would render a person superhuman.
  2. During my twenties, however, staying up until midnight (whether for work or recreation) became commonplace, and the witching hour got pushed back to three- or even five-o’-clock.
  3. Today, I’m usually in bed by midnight but awake when it arrives. And reading. And sober.
  4. It bothers me when people refer to 12 a.m. or 12 p.m., because I know that the twelves are neither ante nor post meridiem. They are the meridiems.
  5. It was the first time I can recall being awake at midnight. I was terrified. I hid under the blankets, even though I was smart enough to realize that a few layers of fabric would do little to protect me from the slashes and gouges of monsters.
  6. Today, I’m unsure whether I was better off being terrified by imagined monsters or simply being intimidated by the real challenges of grown-up life.
  7. Once, as a kid, I went to bed and then woke up around midnight as a result of a noise that sounded like someone fake gagging in an especially theatrical fashion. In the morning, I learned two of the sheep had died. No one else heard the noise or knew what I was talking about. To this day, I have no idea what would have caused that noise.
  8. I almost wrote this entry about a different word, quarternight — the point halfway between sundown and midnight.
  9. I can remember having a babysitter and being allowed to watch the start of Saturday Night Live, so long as the TV was turned off by the time my parents got home. In particular, I remember a Bill Murray-hosted episode with a sketch called “The Whipmaster.” I was never allowed to watch it all the way to “Weekend Update,” however. Perhaps my elders were trying to protect me from Dennis Miller.
  10. “Midday to Midnight” is an unlikely song, for a number of reasons, but I am glad that it exists.
  11. I can say with certainty that I watched midnight broadcasts of the following movies: A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Fellini’s Satyricon, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Mulholland Drive, Spirited Away and The Brady Bunch Movie.
  12. For all the epiphanies I’ve had during sleepless midnights, I’ve had at least as many pointless moments of anxiety about matters that I would have recognized as unimportant at any other hour.
I shall think of something better for next week.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Field of Red Amaranth

At home, the land matters more than it does here in L.A., and when I say that, I’m not making some trite observation about the earthy superiority of people living in an agricultural community. It’s just that L.A. happens to have paved over itself to the point that the setting of the story has changed to one of shiny right angles and rolling asphalt. In Hollister, elbow room abounds, and people still make a living off the land — not as often as they did years ago, but it’s a defining quality of the city. The high school mascot, after all, is still the Haybaler. “Go Haybalers” is something I have never actually said.

But it’s more than hay, which, if we’re being honest, was replaced by apricots and walnuts years ago, because it’s not just what grows on the land. It’s the land.

An example: Hollister is next to the Salinas Valley, an even richer source of produce and economic green, with the Gabilan Mountains from Of Mice and Men separating Salinas’s Monterey County with Hollister’s San Benito County. This geographical barrier keeps Salinas’s unending fog trapped to the west, to the point that you can tell more or less when you’ve crossed from Monterey to San Benito because you can feel the sun shining again. Hollister has the great weather, my grandmother still points out. However, on all but the hottest days, you can usually look west and see a thick blanket of coastal misery waiting to ride late afternoon winds into Hollister. That’s another meteorological plus — cool nights, even on hot days — but it also creates a sense of foreboding: That damned fog just waiting for its moment.

I’d never thought about the fog in those terms until this weekend. I was actually driving toward it when I passed by an ag field that my mom had pointed out to me the last time I was home. “Do you know what that is?” she asked me, pointing at this plot of land growing conspicuously red-topped plants. I did, thanks to fancy L.A. salad culture. “It’s red amaranth,” I answered. My mom had never seen amaranth growing in Hollister, and I don’t think I’d ever seen it anywhere outside of the washed microgreens packages at Gelsons. “Honestly, I feel like people use it more for color than for taste,” I explained. This time, I was in the car alone, thinking of that poor girl who was murdered and whose car was found on fire, burning near an intersection of streets I didn’t recognize when I read the news report. When I passed where the amaranth was — it had been harvested — I realized that very spot was where they’d found the burning car. I instantly felt rude, in that inescapably Catholic way, for having stood on that land a few weeks previous, leaning over a fence to make sure that the bright red flowers were, in fact, amaranth, just so I wasn’t steering my mother wrong. Given what had eventually happened there, I felt like I’d trespassed, even though my more rational mind knew that the connection only existed in a symbolical sense — in an English major sense.

(I may have strange conceptions of space and responsibility and ownership and privacy, and that too may be a consequence of where I grew up.)

I didn’t get out of the car this time, and as I kept moving west I noticed the fog. I think my state of mind made it easy to see the fog as more than it was.

Still, I grew up there; you’d think I’d have noticed before.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The French Dandy

The below photo depicts my great-great-grandfather in his younger days. Despite the fact that he was not French, the words “the French dandy” are written across the back of the photo, presumably by some descendant who didn’t dig his style.

I have two things I’d like to say about this photo: First, I feel his style has actually held up well. I’m not sure how old this photograph is, but I’d like to commend my great-great-granddad for sporting a style of facial hair that would put him in good company with the guys who frequent certain bars in my neighborhood. Second, I may only carry a thirty-second of this man’s DNA, but I’m hoping that having ancestor who looked this cool — even for a moment or however moments it took to get photographed back then — might balance out the great-great-grand-gunsels and -goomfers whose DNA comprises the rest of me.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Drunk Agriculture

This weekend, I was afforded the opportunity to see my hometown from the sky, and among the observations I made — “People look like ants! Ants look like nothings!” and “I have become airsick!” and “Okay, now I feel better but I am so, so sorry” — was the following sight, captured through the magic of Instagram:

No, it’s not the solitary landing strip in the middle of San Benito County ag country, though that itself was a surprise. It’s the field that looks like it was manicured in a hilariously irregular fashion. Well, that’s being kind: It looks like someone trusted an intern with the task of crafting a festive harvest-time maze. It looks like a certain know-how skipped a generation. It looks like Farmer Joe maybe is brewing moonshine in addition to more traditional agricultural products. Whatever the story, is it not strange that this would happen on the farm of someone who owns a private landing strip and would therefore have the means to see how screwy it looked?

No one has been able to offer a reasonable explanation as to why someone would plow their field in this way, so I put the question to you, creative-ish people: Why do you think this happened?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ten Years Later? She's Still Not Sleeping

As of this weekend, The Ring is a decade old.

I wrote up a retrospective review for the blog Ten Years Ago, which you can read if you want to hear my thoughts on how the passage of time — and the passing of the Asian horror remake fad — have colored this film. (You know, more than those cyan filters colored it in the first place.) But you will have to click the link to read them. Here below, however, I give you my miscellaneous notes about The Ring, in classic A.V. Club style. Sadly, they may be more telling of how the last ten years have treated this movie than anything I say in my actual re-review.
  • I can’t decide if Ring parodies have helped or hurt the movie’s rep. It’s a toss-up, probably, but one spoof stands out: “Body Fuzion,” one of the first Saturday Night Live Digital Shorts. In the original broadcast, the Drew Barrymore-led workout clip turned out to be the video Aidan is watching, the one that prompted Rachel’s horrified reaction. In re-broadcasts, the Ring endjoke has been stripped, but I’m sure this version still exists somewhere online.
  • So who of this film’s cast has done the best career-wise? Watts’s career has cooled in recent years, but she’s playing Princess Diana in a buzzed-about upcoming film, and I feel most people still consider her a capable, reliable actress. The Ring also boasts a pre-O.C. Adam Brody as a spooked high schooler, but it’s maybe Pauley Perrette, who plays Noah’s college-aged fling, who’s come the farthest as far as mainstream popularity is concerned. No matter what anyone says, tons of people watch NCIS.
  • In a class by herself: Daveigh Chase. She’s something, even independent of Samara. She voiced both Lilo in Lilo & Stitch and Chihiro in Spirited Away, and she played the non-Gyllenhaal Darko sibling in Donnie Darko — a role she reprised in the rather meh sequel. She also played the manipulative Rhonda Volmer on Big Love, but her most recent feat to date is her involvement with a messy custody battle over a dog... named Stitch. Like I said, a class by herself.
  • Shannon Cochran played Samara’s mother, the one who bashed the little darling’s head in and dumped her in the well. She doesn’t have an extensive filmography, but she did play Pam Beasley’s mom in a 2005 episode of The Office before the role was recast. That puts Pam and Samara in the same category, at least in my head, and I think that is funny.
  • Gore Verbinski directed three Pirates of the Caribbean moves as well as the Oscar-winining Rango. Ehren Krueger wrote two Transformers movies. I maintain that The Ring is the best film either has been attached to.
  • The VHS tape isn’t the only antiquated technology in the film: landlines and non-flatscreen TVs abound. But this former newspaper editor had to cringe at the scenes of Rachel working in the bustling newsroom of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, because that’s perhaps the most glaring example of something that was plausible in 2002 but is no longer so today.
  • Finally, if you’ve made it this far, you might be interested to read a personal intersection of my life and The Ring — the Amber Tamblyn corpse in particular. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

This Lemon Chicken Has Something to Say

I have a chicken recipe.

This is a sentence I’d never thought I’d say, because for so long I felt like I couldn’t cook. But the last time I visited New York, I tried some leftover chicken that my friend Kristen had made using this recipe. It was no mere lemon chicken; it was Meyer lemon chicken, the difference between Meyer lemons and regular lemons being along the same lines as that between a Rolls Royce and a shopping cart that you sit in and push down the street with a pole. This recipe got me to not only cook my first-ever whole chicken but also to turn that bird into food that tasted good. In fact, I was so pleased with my most recent iteration of this dish that I photographed it, and I’m not usually one to photograph what I cook.

(It’s a little obscene, yes, but cram your bottom full of lemon wedges, half a garlic head and a thyme bouquet and then sit there with splayed legs and see how you look.)

And I’ve since recommended the dish to anyone needing a dish that seemed special, that suggested a higher degree of skill than he or she actually possessed.

Since my friend Dina is shambling toward matrimony, I passed it along to her, so her husband won’t abandon her once he realizes her wifely skills are lacking. That suggestion resulted in the following GChatted conversion today.
Dina: interesting fact
  i was trying to clean chicken juices off my keyboard yesterday
  after attempting to make your lemon chicken
  after i finished cleaning i looked at what i had accidentally typoed
  and several times i wrote "drewsdrewsdrews"
  because that is where the chicken was spattered
  and now i know i can write your name by rubbing my finger in a circle
  which sounds terrible
  and that is all
And I couldn’t be happier than the chicken recipe continues to entwine itself into my life. Soon we will be one.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Twenty English Words the Japanese Totally Made Their Own

Not long ago, I was given a package of Ramune-flavored candy. The bag contains individually-wrapped cyan gummi discs, and while that may seem appealing, discs make as reasonable a shape as any for the flavor medium that is gummi. Go on. Think about it.

I have not been able to place the flavor, however. It’s subtle, familiar and vaguely lychee-like, but I can’t say, “Oh, it’s this.” It didn’t help that I had no idea what Ramune was. As it turns out, it’s a lemon-lime flavored Japanese soda, though I have to say that the Ramune candies don’t taste like 7-up or Sprite. And in one of those “That makes sense but I would have never guessed that,” the brand name Ramune is actually just the English word lemonade transliterated into Japanese. (Sayonara, end consonant!)

Ramune is not unique in having been created this way, and Wikipedia has a whole list of these words — both gairaigo, Japanese words based on ones borrowed from foreign languages, and wasei-eigo, constructions using English words that are uniquely Japanese and which an English-speaker wouldn’t say.

Here are twenty kickass ones, which I have chosen mostly on grounds of being the hardest to recognize as being English.
  • amerikandoggu, literally “American dog” but used to mean “corn dog”
  • bebika, literally “baby car” but used to mean “stroller”
  • bōrupen, literally “ball[point] pen”
  • buruma, “bloomers” (and I’m just glad someone is talking about bloomers)
  • donmai, literally “don’t mind” but used the way an English speaker would say “don’t worry about it”
  • eroguro, “ero[tic]” plus “gro[tesque],” and why yes there is a Wikipedia page for that
  • furaidopoteto, literally “fried potato” but meaning “french fry”
  • gōruden'awā, literally “golden hour” but used to mean “prime time” in the context of TV
  • inkī, literally “in-key,” used to refer to when you lock your keys in the car
  • jingisukan, literally “Genghis Khan” but used to refer to a style of Mongolian barbecue
  • kīsumāku, literally “kiss mark” but used to mean “hickey”
  • kyatchihon, literally “catch phone” but used to mean “call waiting”
  • majikkutēpu, literally “magic tape” but used to mean “Velcro”
  • mūdi, literally “moody” but strangely used to mean “nice”
  • nōkurēmunōritān, literally “no claim, no return” but used how English-speakers use “as is”
  • pokeberu, literally “pocket bell” but used to mean “beeper”
  • ronpari, “Lon[don]” plus the French pronunciation of “Paris,” amazingly used describe the condition of being cross-eyed or lazy-eyed, with one eye on London and the other on Paris
  • rorikon, which is known to some English speakers as lolicon, which comes from “Loli[ta]” plus “icon” and which refers to a sexual attraction toward underage girls... and why yes there is a Wikipedia page for that
  • sofutokurīmu, literally “softcream” but used to mean “soft-serve ice cream”
  • vājinrōdo, which is fun to say, which literally means “virgin road” and which refers to the procession aisle at a Western-style wedding
By a long shot, my favorite is ronpari, just for its poetry.

Also, there was one that I actually doubted: karaoke, allegedly from the Japanese kara, “empty” plus oke, originally from the English word orchestra. For some reason, it didn’t seem possible, but Etymonline backs it up.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ric Ocasek Gave Me the Chills in the Weirdest Possible Way

I’m offering something personal today, though not about my private life so much as something deeper than that — a little insight as to how my mind works. I don’t completely understand it, honestly, and in putting this out there, I wonder if I’m telling more than I realize. Don’t care about me? That’s cool, because this odd little story happens to hit all the pegs — music, a movie, an obscure video game. They just intersect in a way I didn’t expect… in a way that took twenty years.

You may not find this significant. I do.

Scene One

I’m a kid still. I can’t be more than seven years old. I’m riding in the car of neighbor lady, for some reason, and she’s singing along to the radio. She’s younger than my mom, so the soundtrack skews younger than the Simon & Garfunkelly easy listening my mom listened to. It’s new wave. I don’t know what that is at this point, but I know this music sounds different. I can distinctly remember one of the songs being “Send Me an Angel,” and it might have been the first time I heard that song. I can picture not-my-mom dancing to the chorus, and I guess that’s why I always liked the song, despite the ripe cheesiness of it. But there’s a second song. For the longest time, I wasn’t able to remember the lyrics — just the intro, which I can hear clearly but which defies description. It’s just sounds, really, not even a melody. For years, I’d wonder what that song was.

That’s it.

Scene Two

I’m in high school, maybe in my third year. I’m sick — at-home sick, and for real, too. This goes on for several days and eventually my mom pulls out a gift from her present closet, where all Christmas and birthday give-’ems wait to be given. Feeling bad for her bedbound son, my mom hands me a Super Nintendo game, and I’m shocked that it’s Earthbound, one of the more notorious cult hits of the 90s. It’s by Nintendo but not one of the company’s more commercially successful releases. My mother had no reason to think I’d even heard of the game, and I hadn’t asked for it. I guess she had just picked randomly and lucked out.

I’ve played video games throughout my entire lifetime, but Earthbound stands out for two reasons: It’s surreal and it’s funny. Most of it takes place in Eagleland, which functions like a oddball version of the U.S. — a parody of American culture as devised by a Japanese man that veers between folksy-dorky-funny and disturbingly David Lynch-y strange. It has crazed cultists and corrupt policemen and zombie attacks, but most importantly it has Fourside, a kinda-sorta stand-in for New York City. At one point in the game, the hero passes from Fourside into Moonside, a bizarre mirror world in which where skyscrapers are replaced by negative space outlined in flashing neon. Passers-by speak in backwards talk — “no” means “yes” — and among the enemies that attack you is the melted clock from Dali’s “Persistence of Memory.” It’s pretty weird.

That’s it.

Scene Three

I’m in college now, and brainstorming for a final project in my Flash animation class. I’m at a loss, so on a whim I decide to do something involving dreams. I’ve always thought that dreams work like movies, in a way, and my admittedly limited experience with Flash has allowed me to “make a movie” in the loosest sense of the term. So I decide to adapt a recent dream in which I found myself in a city composed of negative space, neon-flashing skyscrapers. And just as in the game, this strangeness is rooted in a glowing statue that is evil — just evil. I don’t know what made my subconscious dredge up memories of Earthbound so many years later, but in a way it’s appropriate: Dreams and video games are two of the few opportunities a person gets to “be” someone else and control their actions in a type of alternate world, however superficial and temporary.

So I make the little movie. It looks crude today, but I was pleased enough with it to turn it in. I eventually uploaded it to YouTube, not because the world needed to see my feeble attempt at filmmaking but rather because it took a fuckload of time to arrange the various sprites in the fashion I wanted, and I couldn’t let that work go to waste. Here it is:

You’ll notice that there’s no sound. In the version I turned in, there were two songs that played: First, there was “Sixteen Megatons” by Funki Porcini, which I picked for itsdistinctive and likely intentional David Lynch quality. (In an older post I made about Earthbound, I noted how the transition from Fourside to Moonside reminds me of a similar scene in Fire Walk With Me. I told you this game was Lynchy.)

For the other song, I actually picked a track from Earthbound itself: “Theme of Moonside.”

It… weirdly doesn’t sound like video game music, mostly because it’s not so much melodic as atmospheric — and the atmosphere. It teeters toward cheerful, but it’s the wrong kind of cheerful, especially when it falls apart around the forty-second mark. And yes, that is the Little Rascals theme you hear sampled, albeit it a manipulated, off-key version.

The project got an A. It wasn’t graded on artistic merit.

That’s it.

Scene Four

It’s about three years ago. I’m working from home at night, waiting for a late story to come in. I’ve been waiting for a while, and so I pass time by listening to music, stumbling from one playlist to another in search of something new — by which I mean something old that I haven’t heard yet. It was actually this process that introduced me to Hüsker Dü, a band that got me through more than a few terrible, late nights. I don’t know what it is about deadline nights that make me listen to old music.

Eventually, a Cars playlist gives way to some of Ric Ocasek’s solo work, and one song stops me in my tracks: “Keep on Laughing,” from the his 1986 album This Side of Paradise. This is the song I remembered from when I was a kid, the one to which I could only remember the indescribable intro. That intro is also strikingly similar to the “falling apart music” that starts in around the forty-second mark in the song from Earthbound, the one I picked for my video.

I think it’s unmistakable. Here, try for yourself with the two clips side-by-side:

I may be one of those people who hears similarities between songs that those with more musical know-how either dismiss as being coincidental or nonexistent, but this one I feel especially confident about. In fact, the guy who composed Earthbound’s music used a lot of Western pop music, and other people hear the resemblance to “Keep in Laughing” too.

But isn’t odd how this song took almost twenty years to make its way back to me, from the first time I heard it to the first time I was able to identify it? And considering that noise was bouncing between my ears all that time, isn’t it curious how my brain latched onto this segment of video game music without ever realizing the connection my subconscious was making? And finally, is it maybe a little unsettling that the dumb little Flash project I made and the video game that inspired it both concern liminal states and some colorful, strange place between being awake and letting the other parts of your brain take over?

As I said in the first paragraph, this may not seem significant to anyone else. And I regret to admit that this all doesn’t lead up to one clear, stunning conclusion. It’s just a mess, in the end, of memories and pop culture. But I own this mess, apparently. And that’s something.

I guess I’m eager to find out if there will be a Scene Five.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Twenty Favorite Steel Magnolias Characters (in Order)

Because some mushmouthed, garblespeak version of the South, that’s why.
  1. Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine)
  2. Truvy (Dolly Parton)
  3. M’Lynn (Sally Field)
  4. Clairee (Olympia Dukakis)
  5. Anelle (Daryl Hannah)
  6. Shelby (Julia Roberts)
  7. Eglinore (Anjelica Huston)
  8. Footsie (Glenn Close)
  9. Sioux-Sioux (Cher)
  10. Purrlee (Virginia Madsen)
  11. Coloradonna (Anabella Sciorra)
  12. Kathay (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio)
  13. Beff (Kathy Bates)
  14. Sassperanza (Annabeth Gish)
  15. Dinkles (Mare Winningham)
  16. Snoopu (Conchata Farrell)
  17. Zavivanah (Laura San Giacomo)
  18. Crematora (Amy Yasbeck)
  19. Kablammo (Marsha Mason)
  20. Snurrrrrr (Teri Garr)
And if you want to create your own Steel Magnolias, it’s easy: Have a stroke, and then try to pronounce one word, get confused, end up pronouncing a different word, have your nurse write that down. Congratulations! You have just dreamed up a Steel Magnolias name for Kim Greist’s character!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Death of a Swan

Not that long ago, I didn’t live in Los Angeles, and I didn’t live alone. In fact, I had a roommate whom I had known for a long time. As it turned out, we were not actually close. I don’t think we even liked each other.

In the last year of cohabitation, the divide grew especially apparent, and there were times when I felt angry about perceived failures in this less-than-friendly relationship. It also happened that the roommate owned a set of porcelain Anthropologie measuring cups that were shaped like swans. The actual cup formed the bird’s body and then a neck and head extending from there in what would appear to be a handle but which but which seemed to me too delicate for that purpose. Like I said, they were from Anthropologie, where aesthetics always trump functionality and omigod did you see how the drawstring on this shopping bag can also be used as a hair ribbon? Now I’m spinning in a meadow!

Anyway, now that I’m an adult, I try to act reasonably, and I try especially hard not to exact vengeance on inanimate objects, so it’s a testament to my self-restraint that I didn’t drop the swans one by one onto the kitchen floor, to say nothing of just snapping off all their necks while I made my old roommate watch. When I finally moved out, I was actually proud that those swans still had necks: I hadn’t lowered myself.

Two years later, I’m walking back to my apartment, Saturday morning coffee in hand, and I see two girls unloading boxes of stuff from a trunk. There are books, there are cosmetics, and there’s junk generally tossed into these open-topped boxes that I can peer into as I pass by. Clearly, someone’s moving and they’re taking every previous bit of their life with them. I look up at the girls just in time to see a box overflowing with stuff get pulled out of the trunk, and perched near the top of this small junk mountain is one of those fucking Anthropologie measuring cup swans. Naturally, it teetered off the mountain and exploded onto the asphalt. The noise was softer than I would have expected — and I had thought about it — but still satisfying. The other girl, the one not responsible for the swan’s death, laughed a little. “Oh, she’s going to be pissed.” The first girl, stonefaced and unmoved by this tragedy, simply said as follows: “She can suck my dick.”

And that, friends, is the most empowering thing I’ve experienced in a while: Yeah, she can suck your dick, righteously disdainful girl. You don’t have to care.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Foreign Heat (Not a Pornographic Film Title)

I was at the liquor store, “Eetz hot,” the man behind the counter proclaimed. It was hot, in fact. Last Monday afternoon had been sweltering, and it didn’t diminish the moist, chaffing ick of it to recall that the end of the week was forecasted to be ten degrees cooler.

“Yeah, it’s awful. I don’t even want to think about how hot it is in my apartment.”

Him, again: “Yesterday, I go home, and there are ninety degrees!”

Now, this actually stopped me. Even knowing he hadn’t yet mastered English idioms, I was not immediately sure what he meant. Then, I realized: It was ninety degrees inside his house when he got home. I’d just never heard anyone phrase it that way. I thought he was talking about, like, right angles — and godammit, homes need corners, as far as I’m concerned.

Then, the overthinking as I walked home: Isn’t it strange, grammatically, that the temperature is uncountable but nonetheless treated like a singular? Even when it’s almost always given a value of more than one? We say “It is ninety degrees” and not “They are ninety degrees.” If you had learned basic from-the-book English without understanding how it’s actually used, however, I think you might actually be inclined to say, “They are ninety degrees.” It makes logical sense — plural thing is plural thing, rather than singular thing is plural thing. That's how the guy in the liquor store put it together in his head, I'm betting.

Looking at the sentence “It is ninety degrees,” I’d say it looks like a predicate nominative construction — or what we use when we express the idea “X is equal to Y.” If I say “The boy is a murderer,” I’m saying that in this case, the boy is the same as a murdererboy is the subject and murderer is essentially another subject, because you could flip the sentence around and it would basically mean the same thing. On either end of that is is a noun that being treated equally and assigned the same case. English-speakers would never say “The boy is murderers,” because that doesn’t make sense, yet that would seem to be what we’re doing with “The temperature is 90 degrees.”

Is it just that “The temperature is 90 degrees” is elliptical? We’re really expressing that “The temperature is valued at 90 degrees,” or something to that effect. But no one really says that either; we just say “It’s 90 degrees.” So at what point does a construction like this cease to be elliptical and just become standard grammar? If it’s not elliptical, how do you explain what’s going on here, grammatically speaking?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Well, There Were Moments When

When people think about The Shangri-Las, the 60s girl group, they probably think of pastel confections such as “The Leader of the Pack,” with its corny motorcycle sound effects, or even odes to teenage melodrama such as “Give Us Your Blessings,” in which tragedy climaxes with the simultaneous deaths of the protagonists. But some unfortunate souls may not know that this group performed some cool, progressive work during its run, and one of the standouts is “Past / Present / Future,” a spoken word piece paired with “Moonlight Sonata.” The Shangri-Las released “Past / Present / Future” in 1966, which Mad Men taught us was the same year that The Beatles released Revolver, so you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that other groups began venturing into experimental territory, but the girls in The Shangri-Las were still teens in 1966, so their plunge into the bizarre maybe seems a little more daring.

Here’s the track. You might at first think it’s hokey, but give a listen all the way through. You may end up somewhere darker than where you began.

Keeping in mind that the girls were all still in their teens when the song came out, it’s discomforting how the song allows you to project all manner of horrendous situations onto the narrator. She’s talking about something bad, yes, but she offers no details, so her trauma can be however awful your imagination wants to make it.

So there’s that. But there is also a second reason I love this song: It’s kind of hilarious if you imagine it being just one side of a conversation of some poor guy’s date with a batshit crazy woman. I’ve thought this for years, to the point that when “Past / Present / Future” starts playing on my iPod — and yes, I have this song on my iPod — I can actually time it about right where I play the part of the guy on the date and squeeze my lines in between the ones in the actual song.

And here is what that sounds like, more or less. (Shangi-Las on the left, me on the right.)

[Past. Past.] Well, now let me tell you about the past.

Oh, great. I actually didn’t know that much about —

The past is filled with silent joys and broken toys, laughing girls and teasing boys.

That’s, um, expressive.

Was I ever in love? I called it love. I mean, it felt like love.

I actually hadn’t asked that.

There were moments when. Well… There were moments when.

Is there someone I should be calling?


Do you also hear people speaking in unison?

Go out with you? Why not?

What? We’ve been at the restaurant for, like, twenty minutes.

Do I like to dance? Of course.

I definitely did not bring up dancing.

Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to.

We’re in Ohio. Do you know we’re in Ohio right now?

But don't try to touch me. Dont try to touch me.

Waiter! Check please!

Because that will never happen again.

Believe me — we’re good.

Shall we dance?

I don’t think I — oh, okay, you’re kind of going on of your own there, twirling.

[Future] Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow’s a long way off.

I actually cannot wait for tomorrow.

Maybe someday I'll have somebodys hand.

Like, you’re going to cut off someone’s hand?

Maybe somewhere someone will understand.

Like, a doctor?

You know I used to sing, “A tisket, a tasket, a green-and-yellow basket.”

Hey. Hey! Waiter!

Im all packed up and I'm on my way and Im gonna fall in love.

That’s why you brought a suitcase, I guess.

But at the moment it doesnt look good.

Wow. No, it does not.

At the moment it will never happen again. I dont think it will ever happen again.

[Lights dim but do no go completely dark. The actors remain frozen on stage. 
Eventually, the audience decides for themselves that it’s time to go.]

And that, my friends, is everything I have to say about The Shangri-Las’ “Past / Present / Future.”

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Small Victory for Good Taste

Regarding this post and this post, in case you’ve been on the edge of your seat, know that my piece won. Thanks for the votes! Here’s one more painting.

He’s genuinely a talented guy, I have to point out. See more of Danny’s work at his site. And yes, I will let everyone know when the video is ready.