Friday, January 6, 2012

A Brief Update on My New Year's Resolutions for 2012

As we reach the end of the first week of 2012, it seems fitting to review the progress I have made in realizing each of my various resolutions for the New Year. It is my hope that this exercise will prove instructive, if not inspirational, for others.

1. The Ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro

Let me begin by thanking all those involved in my rescue from the mountain’s north face. Truly, without your help this new year would have been, for me, a short one indeed! Who could have known that the temperatures would grow so cold and the weather so fierce as I approached the mountain’s summit? While I confess to disappointment at having failed in my first attempt to climb Africa’s tallest peak in 2012, I take comfort in knowing that 51 weeks remain for me to reach my goal. I will be sure to wear long pants in my next attempt. Also, no more flip-flops! In the meantime, if any of my readers happen to be in the area of Kilimanjaro and have the chance to retrieve my house keys, which I seem to have left behind somewhere on the mountain, I would be most grateful for your help.

2. My Novel

Progress on my novel has been, I am pleased to report, brisk. Although originally I had planned to set the story in the microfiche room of the local public library, I have decided instead to have the action take place in some slightly more exotic locale—either a 17th century village of the Sami people on the shores of Lake Inari during the early days of King Gustav Vasa’s ruthless colonization or the produce section of the Highland Park Costco. A final decision has been delayed until I have selected my author photo.

3. Inner Peace

I was made to feel most welcome at my first yoga class, even after I had explained that my phobia of bending over in the presence of others made it difficult for me to participate in several of the exercises. My instructor has promised that if I continue to make an honest effort, and refrain from ever again wearing my distressed cutoff jeans shorts to class, I may someday be allowed to ring the class gong. Namaste!

4. Redesigning the 50 State Flags

All state flags bearing the image of an animal—California’s bear, for example, or Wyoming’s bison--may remain as they are. This is in keeping with my deep respect for North America’s native fauna and my lifelong inability to draw animals. (Really, my horses always look like dogs!) Also, I am having difficulty with five-pointed stars, so these will have to become six-pointers. (If you can draw two triangles, you can draw a six-pointed star!) And do we really need so many eagles? North and South Dakota I have combined into one state to be called South Saskatchewan, for obvious reasons. Delaware I have eliminated from the Union altogether.

5. Mastering Conversational Spanish

Here I have exceeded even my own lofty expectations. Yesterday, for example, I successfully ordered two chalupas from the local Taco Bell. Also, I learned that the Spanish for Mountain Dew is simply Mountain Dew! Muchas gracias! Tomorrow I begin work on ordering breakfast burritos and saying hello to beautiful young women (or chicas bonitas).

6. Improving My Penmanship

How fondly I remember my time as a first-grader when Mrs. Thompson, my teacher, would gently place her hand over mine and guide it as I learned to form letters and words. Unfortunately, my inability to hold the pen in precisely the manner urged by Mrs. Thompson compelled her to prescribe the use of what she called “the harness.” This device did indeed help me to master the proper positioning of the writing implement in my hand. Unfortunately, its too frequent use atrophied the muscles in my right arm and rendered me, by the time I was an adolescent, unable to unclench my fist. But those days are behind me! Years of physical therapy have restored to me the full use of my muscles! Now, with the help of an excellent book called “The Palmer Method for Fun and Profit,” I am again mastering the art of penmanship. What a pleasure it is to write a letter and not have the phrase “please write me back” misread as “pour water on my bush.” I am certain that Mrs. Thompson would be proud.

I look forward to providing you with further updates as the year progresses.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Walt Whitman Prepares to Drive His Family South for Spring Break

Out of the driveway endlessly driving,
Out of the garage, the annual trek!

To the beach we drive! To sands democratic!
To palm tree,
To Waffle House.
To humidity and sand
And that musty, slightly cockroachy smell.

Of the slightly cockroachy smell, I sing!
Of the smell of motel rooms not properly ventilated,
Of rooms where someone has recently smoked!
Or recently done god knows what.

And the smell of too much chlorine, I sing this as well.
The smell of swimming pools, the smell of headaches.
You smell it, too, do you not, fellow citizen?
Ay, for it has seeped up the elevator shaft of the motel,
And it has crept down the hallway
And it has passed unchallenged down the hallway,
where the ice machine snores like a sentry dozing.
And now the smell has entered our room.
It loafs. It invites itself.
It is in our clothes
Ay, even in our underwear.
Do you smell it, too, fellow citizen?
Or am I just nuts?

Of the Interstate I sing!
Black unspooling river.
Of lanes closed and lanes clogged,
And of Mack trucks looming ominously in rear-view mirrors.
I see you, Mack truck driver, and I say we are as one,
Pilots of our fates alike, captains of the road.
Strong of arm and clear of vision,
Though you are more buzzed on Red Bull than I.

I sing of drive-through fast food and the need for a rest stop.
I sing too of the lack of rest stops when we most badly need one.
O! Rest stop 27 miles ahead, your array of white urinals awaits me,
Like a platoon of porcelain troopers at attention,
(Each one made in Kensosha, Wisconsin.)
But, fuck, I don’t know if I can wait that long!

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then. I contradict myself.
You’d contradict yourself, too, if you were as stressed out as I’ve been lately.

I sing of being stuck in the slow lane,
Stuck behind a slow-moving Presbyterian church van.
See! How even now on my left the Lexus does pass me.
See how I am passed by the Element and Vibe.
See the Escalade, see the Volvo laden with camp gear and two bikes strapped to its tailgate rack.
And the kid in the back seat giving me the finger, as he too passes me.

O! kid in the backseat giving me the finger, where are you going at such high rate of speed?
Bound across rivers, surging and masculine.
Bound across fields, fertile and prone.
Are you going to Hilton Head or Biloxi or Sarasota?
Wherever you go,
I hope it rains there all week.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

(Probably Not) Coming Attractions

[After Anthony Lane]

The following film projects, having halted production, will not be coming to a theater near you any time soon.

Criminally Delicious
Steve Buscemi plays a New York mobster and foodie who must conceal his love of baking from his criminal cronies. But when his recipe for a Dutch apple breakfast puff qualifies for the national finals of the Betty Crocker Bake-Off, his secret is threatened—with hilarious consequences. What will he do when he is asked to fly to Miami to “whack” a gangland rival on the very day of the Bake-Off judging?

The Indecision
Hoopster Lebron James takes a star turn in this film, loosely based on “Indecision,” Benjamin Kunkel’s 2005 novel of existential distress, as a dithering NBA star unable to decide where he should “take his talents to.” Paul Rudd co-stars as the high school social-studies teacher James hires to advise him on geography, and Rosie Perez as the league executive they both love.

The King’s Leech
The court of King Edward VII grows alarmed by the King’s inability to say no to a commoner who continually hits His Majesty up for loans of twenty pounds and sixpence until payday. The social order is nearly overturned when the commoner moves into a spare bedroom in the royal palace and begins hosting stoner parties for his loser friends, but the courtiers are eventually revealed as snobbish boors when the houseguest helps cure the King of hiccups, saving him from embarrassment at a state dinner honoring the Prince of Bohemia.

Dude, She Digs My Beard
Seth Rogen, playing a fleshy and unkempt underachiever grown weary of fending off the advances of intelligent and stunningly attractive women of his own age, embarks on a troubled relationship with an intriguing older woman who may be displaying signs of early onset dementia. Co-starring Dame Judy Dench.

Tranny Hall
Woody Allen returns to his roots with a reimagining of his 1977 classic, directing Jason Schwartzman as a whiny New York writer who begins an unlikely romance with a reserved WASP of indeterminate gender (Cynthia Nixon). New York Magazine reports that the famous lobster-boil scene had been replaced by one in which Nixon’s character discusses with her life coach her vegan diet.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Recommended Non-Reading

I just finished my annual Mardi Gras read of Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer, about which you can find more here. In honor of the occasion, here's an incomplete list of books I might have read if I hadn’t been busy reading The Moviegoer.

Van Halen: A Visual History
Morey Amsterdam’s Benny Cooker Crock Book For Drinkers
Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR
Lord Jim
Thirty Years of the Rockford Files
Women Who Love Cats Too Much
The Remarkable Millard Fillmore
Suzanne Somers' Sexy Forever
Jesse Ventura Tells It Like It Is
Cooking for Mr. Latte
Dennis Rodman's Bad As I Want to Be
Basic Plumbing With Illustrations
Belly Dancing for Fitness
Become a Better You
Turn the Beat Around: The History of Disco
Dr. Phil Getting Real

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bears (Redux)

If you just can't get enough Super Bowl-related content: is re-running my retrospective of the 1985 Chicago Bears. This is the piece for which I had to telephone William "Refrigerator" Perry at home at 4 a.m. Also: the piece on which I learned that even Mike Ditka's wife calls him "Coach."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Blizzard and The Damage Done

Over on Facebook everyone seems to be posting their blizzard photos. The enormous snowdrifts. The bizarre icicle formations. The cars hopelelssly immobilized and abandoned.

I took a few of my own photos, because the enormity of the storm and the mammoth hassle of digging out seemed to require some commemoration. But after a while all the pictures start to look alike. They’re awful or they’re beautiful, but it’s hard to know exactly how to respond. And you can’t not look. It’s like blizzard porn.

We can’t stop talking about it, either. That’s the thing about catastrophe: It’s exciting. You can dread a storm like that—and I confess that I spent a lot of Tuesday’s runup to the blizzard creating various scenarios involving power outages and fallen trees and collapsed roofs and dead furnaces. And when I went outside to try shoveling on Tuesday night, during the storm’s first hours, I was a little surprised to discover that it was every bit worthy of my anxious imagination. I’d never seen anything like it. The snow, yes, and the wind, as well, which was ridiculous. But it was thundering and lightning out there, too. Great green flashes of light across the sky. I mean: I didn’t even know that kind of thing was allowed.

It made me think of a scene in The Moviegoer where a violent rain storm momentarily cheers up the suicidal Kate Cutrer. She tries to explain to Binx that, with her, the worst times are the best times. That’s a theme in Percy: That catastrophe is a kind of existential rescue. That even disaster is preferable to everydayness, to mundane, muddling Tuesday-afternoon-ness.

I’m not willing to come out so forcefully in favor of catastrophe. But it's true that you don't see so many pictures on Facebook of ordinary Tuesday afternoons. Maybe catastrophe is like a loose tooth that we can't stop fiddling with. Is FB trying to tell us something about our secret attraction to disaster?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Ten Best Existential Crises of 2010

Everyone’s a critic. And every critic, at this time of year, has to publish a best-of-the-year list. So here is a list of the ten most profound existential crises I experienced in 2010.

(Check back tomorrow for “The Ten Best Sandwiches I Made in 2010.”)

1. Running through the train station to catch the 4:16 Northwest Line express, I find myself unable to choose between the stairs and the escalator. At midnight, when the building closes, I am removed by Security. Is there no consolation?

2. I wake one morning in August to find only decaffeinated coffee in the house. Why do we go on trying?

3. An email invoice sent to a publisher in Minneapolis is returned as “undeliverable.” Absurdity is an open hand that strikes one repeatedly about the head.

4. Attempting to order a cocktail, I am unable to make the bartender understand what I mean by a “Gibson.” We live alone and die alone and our cries go unheeded.

5. I make a cheese omelet, but forget to include the cheese. Beauty mocks us by offering fleeting glimpses of the joy that we would have last for all eternity.

6. Unable to choose between a purple crewneck sweater and an orange cardigan, I spend the morning in bed watching “The Price is Right.” Nietzche: Our destiny exercises its influence over us even when, as yet, we do not know its nature.

7. Entering K-Mart, I step aside and hold open a door for an elderly couple, but receive no acknowledgment or thanks. Can there be any greater proof that the universe is a cold and pitiless place?

8. When, after months of effort, I at last birdie the fifth hole in Wii Golf, I find the triumph not as satisfying as I had hoped. Ah, life.

9. A Facebook status update about my stamp collection is “liked” by only six people. The world is an enigma made more terrible by our own mad attempt to grasp it.

10. Unable to sleep, I walk outside in the remorseless quiet just before dawn. Gazing at the stars and considering my mortality, I am overcome by what I assume is a sensation of utter dread, but which turns out to be a raccoon urinating on my foot. Ma pensee, c’est moi.