Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Rudolph the Nasally Empowered Reindeer

"It's true that from birth Rudolph was a unique individual, that his luminescent olfactory organ made him different from (but not inferior to) the other reindeer in his age category, and that they often maliciously taunted him about his supra-nasal capabilities. Some reindeer caregivers, concerned that his nose had resulted from radioactive fallout or was somehow contagious, warned their fawns not to play with him."
--from Politically Correct Holiday Stories by James Finn Garner

Someone gave me Garner's book for Christmas, and it's a hoot. It also contains such stories as " 'Twas the Night before Solstice" and "Frosty the Person of Snow," as well as PC versions of "The Nutcracker" and "A Christmas Carol."

Poor Rudolph. I always identified with him, especially when I was a spotted teenager with braces on my teeth.

Speaking of politically correct holidays, we now have Festivus as an alternative to more sectarian celebrations.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Signifying Significance?

The annual convention of the Modern Language Association is held this week, and, as usual, some of the panels and papers presented by the attending academics have titles that are priceless. Some of my favorites:

"She Must Be Raggin'!': Children's Literature and Menstruation"

"Jethro, Mama, Sassie Sue, and the Midnight Plowboy: Hillbillies, 'Common Sense,' Urbanity, and Blaxploitation Film"

"Dude, Where's My Reliable Symbolic Order?': Gross-Out Comedies and the Rewriting of the Expressible"

Something tells me the titles of these presentations are their most entertaining elements.

Read more at Signifyin' at the MLA.
Word of the Day

quidnunc (n)

A nosy person; busybody.

"Close the blinds," Mildred commanded. "Do you want every passing quidnunc to know you're a beer-swilling couch tuber?"

Monday, December 29, 2003

Night Light

My most unusual Christmas gift this year was this, a green light bulb covered with pointy silicone "fingers" that my sister gave me. I've been trying to think of what it brings to mind. Some kind of undersea creature, perhaps -- an electrified anemone? A radioactive potato with prehensile roots? Or it could be an evil phosphorescent plant out to replace me with a pod person. Nah. It gives off an numinous glow at night, not strong enough to work or read by, but inducing a slightly meditative state, like staring into a candle flame. I've decided I like it.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Flake Philosophy

We're like snowflakes, I suppose, each of us condensing from the same cloud. We each have our unique, crystaline, six-pointed structure for a while. We filter down, flipping and gliding in our various eccentric ways. Some of us clump together. Then we all melt into the same puddle -- which evaporates, becoming a cloud again.

What a strange thought.

There's time to think about such things right now. These days between the holidays are like time suspended. We watched The Day the Earth Stood Still on American Movie Classics last night, and that's how it feels right now, everything at a standstill -- though somewhere, half a world away, people are being blown up as usual.

We can feel despair about such things -- or not. Happiness is a decision. Moods are not like the weather. They aren't something that happens to us; we get to decide how we feel. That's one of the few things I've learned.

So many things to say, but I don't know what they are.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Saturnalia Sentiments

Here's a Christmas poem I wrote a couple of years ago, probably when I was feeling a bit stressed out by it all. I'm not always so "bah, humbug," but I think this expresses one aspect of the holiday. Hope yours is merry.

Fa la la

Red, green, red, green--
your lights nictitate like
arrogant cop cars,

making my eyes throb
as your garlands drip
Yule-shine onto the crust

of this decomposing snow.
All night you're dreaming of
the right Christmas--

gilded styrofoam,
tinsel and trash beneath a tree
of wires strung like nerves.

Let's admit that you're dying
to get it over with,
the frozen fa-la-la

for that suckling in the cow trough,
who will someday wander
the tepid Israeli hills

in dusty sandals,
knowing nothing
of such nonsense.

(Originally published by Melic Review)

Monday, December 22, 2003

Give Peas a Chance

I've always had a taste for "weird" music -- I'm the only person I know who has actually purchased a Yoko Ono album, and I have a thing for obscure film scores. So I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the mp3 samples available from the The First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. The orchestra "consists exclusively of vegetable-based instruments, although where necessary, additional kitchen utensils such as knives or mixers are employed."

The mp3s I listened to all had a nice beet (sorry!). Rather than an orchestra, the music made me think of a chorus of joyful mutants on some very damp alien planet.

(via boynton)

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Rings and Things

The Washington Post has an interesting article on J.R.R. Tolkien's Universe Of Inspiration. Though I enjoy the movies, and will probably see Return of the King over the holidays, I've never read LotR. I tried once, but couldn't get past the first few pages -- apparently it just wasn't the kind of literature I needed at the time. I did read some of Tolkien's inspirations in college, though, including Beowulf (a struggle for the modern reader) and this antique gem, as described by the Post:

". . . for most of his life Tolkien was best known as the editor (and later translator) of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' -- the most enchanting (and sexy) Arthurian tale in Middle English. In it Gawain finds himself tempted, in multiple ways, to break his oaths of knightly honor in the face of certain death. Not the least of those temptations is a gorgeous woman -- the wife of a mysterious nobleman -- who repeatedly sneaks into his bedroom and brazenly offers herself to him. Despite its serious themes, the whole story rejoices in an almost Mozartian lightness and charm. Appropriately, it is a tale set at Christmastime."

(via Incoming Signals)

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Double Vision

Apparently, I have a doppelganger.

At an office I was visiting the other day, one of the secretaries, a motherly type who looked about 60, kept smiling at me and shaking her head. I finally asked her what the problem was. "You have a twin," she said. "You do. You have a twin."

"No . . . I don't have a twin," I said, thinking, you have some kind of mental problem, lady.

She went on to explain that a frequent visitor to their office looks "just like" me, and that she at first thought I was him.

I don't think I like the idea of somebody out there running around town with my face on and causing who knows what sort of mischief.
Random Acts of Poetry


The sticks are broken, the coals have faded.
Smoke offers speculation. Your mirror shivers,

and the moon squanders its silver.
A tilted house is sleeping.

You rehearse the passions of Thursday.
The sharp lines of glass--

instants, appetites, lessons
revolve in the cobalt. Everything

fragments to jazz, futile words,
a pack of dogs chasing their tails.

An onion unpeeling its burdens.
You remember

blurred photos, three siblings, the old Chevrolet.
Lost books, days of inertia.

Now pencil light sketches an horizon.
Pigeons complain

on the frosted sill. The stale roar of traffic
builds its illusion of normalcy,

the radiators tick and exhale
a warm assertion of morning.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Read any good books lately?

I sat for over an hour in a doctor's waiting room today, but didn't mind the delay -- I was happily reading a book. Most of the other people in the room were slumped in their chairs and staring into space, like glum sheep. A stack of magazines went untouched. I felt like a weirdo as I turned the pages. A guy who reads: imagine that.

Whenever I know I'll be in a waiting situation, I bring along something to read. I can't fathom why so many other people don't. I think more people did years ago--people read more newspapers, anyway. Now they're more likely to bring along a video game or conduct their personal business via cell phone, as if no one else could hear them. Thank you for sharing . . . .

". . . books are like horses -- very handy in their day, but superseded by the technology of the camera/engine, and now their only function is as nostalgic weekend hobbies," says a Guardian article. "That's why people never turn films into books; it would be like downloading your iPod on to an eight-track. And again, why no toxic shame? Why not even the hint of sheepishness in the admission that reading is a little bit tiring compared with sitting and gawping at something?"

(link via Maud Newton)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Word of the Day

alible (adj)

Having nutrients; nourishing.

"I care not how alible it is," Humphrey hissed as he tossed his Christmas gift, a colorful fruitcake, out of the window.
Haikus from the Headlines

Got him! Got him! Yes!
Got him! Got him! And, Got him!
Television news.

The Guardian sponsors a weekly haiku contest in which readers compete to compose the best 17-syllable ecapsulation of the news or contemporary culture. Some of the submissions are head-scratchingly British, some are universal, and some, like Mike Capay's above, use just three lines to say it all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Words and Pictures

The moody images at the photo/poems blog, also known as p/p, incorporate random (?) lines of text on strips of paper. It's sort of like magnetic poetry (or a kidnapper's ransom note) elevated to surreal eye candy -- or even art.

(via boing boing)

Monday, December 15, 2003

Green Eggs and Spam

I am spam.

That Spam-I-am.
That Spam-I-am.
I do not like
That Spam-I-am.

Do you like
E-mail spam?

Read a Seussian take on everybody's least favorite form of online correspondence at Spam I Am. Then read more nonsense at:
The Dr. Seuss Parody Page. (More serious Seuss scholars may prefer to visit the Center for Seussian Studies.)
Random Questions

How much would that Saddam Hussein tongue depressor go for on eBay?

Should I get a flu shot if I've already been exposed to someone with the flu? (I've heard they take two weeks to take effect.)

Why is it that to shut down my computer, I have to click on "Start"?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Word of the Day

marplot (n)

A stupid and officious meddler whose interference compromises the success of any undertaking.

As each project dissolved into chaos, his predicament became agonizingly clear: he was working for a marplot.
Don't Know Dick?

Philip K. Dick is one of the few science-fiction writers I can stand to read these days. His stories, which never seem dated, revolve around a few basic subjects I find endlessly engaging: false realities, humans vs. machines, entropy, the nature of God and social control. I'm not the only one, of course--aren't these the obsessions of our time?--and Hollywood has made some blockbusters from Dick's novels and stories. The most successful so far has been Minority Report, which grossed $132 million in the US alone. It was based on a short story published in 1956, for which Dick was paid . . . $130. He died shortly before the release of Blade Runner (based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) in 1982, essentially penniless. The latest Dick-based film, Paycheck, with Ben Affleck, opens on Christmas day, and the trailer looks intriguing.

The story of Dick's sad, ironic life is detailed in a Wired article: The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Random Acts of Poetry


Tonight I hear the brutal music
of temples crumbling

behind the eyes.
This is the penalty

for thinking too jagged,
too acetic.

The train that hauls the twilight away
has finished the track.

Forever is a night
or a question, no?

Who can freeze
the tumbling stars,

or this idle banjo jangle,
echoing, echoing?

This reckless wind.
Whoever you are,

strike me a holy candle flame,
set this house to blazing.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Self Portrait

At 5 PM, December 11th 2003:

Wearing my winter jacket and logo-less baseball cap, I exit my building carrying a fluorescent-green laundry basket. Inside is an inflatable plastic flamingo (pink), with leis of multi-colored polyester flowers wound around its tubular neck. The basket also contains two bottles of champagne, a package of Hawaii Aloha Mix dried fruit, a fresh pineapple, two coconuts, paper "Happy New Year" napkins and plates, a bag of Mrs. Fields Macadamia Nut Premium cookies, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and "Holiday Entertaining" crackers, Kraft Easy Cheese in a spray can, and a videocassette entitled Club Med Party Dances ("Learn your favorites!").

Outside, the wind is gusting at 40 miles per hour and the leis are whipping my face. I balance the 20-pound basket on one arm while I fumble for my car keys. I'm hoping the macho guys who hang out in front of the plumbing supply store down the street aren't watching as I load this flamboyant assemblage into the car, but it appears they've all left for the day.

I drive away thinking about how much my wife likes making holiday gift baskets for her friends--and how easy it is for her to cajole me into delivering them.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Chevy marries Chrysler, fathers little Toyota

More and more, US babies get global brand names from their parents, says the BBC. According to Cleveland Evans, a psychology professor quoted in the article, one reason for the popularity of brands as names is "a growing desire on the part of parents to mark their children out as different." A child is named Armani or Chanel to reflect the parents' "material hopes" for the child, he says: "It is no different from the 19th century when parents named their children Ruby or Opal... it reflects their aspirations."

Evans has found that, over 25 years, seven boys were named Del Monte, 49 boys were named Canon (after the camera), almost 300 girls were burdened with the name Armani, six boys will have to explain the name Timberland for the rest of their lives, and seven boys were branded with Denim (which seems a bit downscale). Car models are popular, this being the US, after all: 22 girls got the name Infiniti, 55 boys are "Chevy" and five girls will answer to "Celica." Six boys were named after Courvoisier cognac, and two boys were named . . . ESPN. And the trend is increasing.

Name me Cynical, but I suspect that, in some cases, there may be more to this than just "reflecting" favorite brands. I could see GM hiring someone named Toyota to pitch their products, or little Denim starring in a GAP ad. By any other name, would they smell as sweet?

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Words and Pictures

Reading poetry creates images in your mind, but if that seems like too much work, or you're just in the mood for a surreal slide show, you may want to try Visual Poetry. The site "translates any text into a series of images by looking up the words on Google image search . . . . You can use it to view your favourite poem as a series of images from the Internet to amuse yourself or let other people guess which sentence or poem is displayed. Or you can just marvel at the weird pictures streaming from the Internet to your computer."
Word of the Day

sudoriferous (adj)

Producing or secreting sweat.

"It is absurd to expect a man of my capabilities to engage in sudoriferous efforts," declared Dr. Smith as the Major handed him a shovel.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Freeze Frame

The elves are busy this time of year.

The bespectacled, red-haired clerk behind the window at the local post office wears a green Santa hat, trimmed with white fur. The name "Kevin" is spelled out in shiny script on one side of the hat. Kevin, who might be 35 or 40, wears a dark green vest over his uniformed, slightly chubby torso. The vest is festooned with pins and medals: tiny wreaths, silver bells, buttons that say "Happy Holidays!" He wears a tie that portrays a crowd of jovial snowmen of all shapes and sizes.

Most of the women customers at the window make similar comments about his attire: "You look wonderful," "It makes me happy just to look at you," "I love your tie; where did you get it?" The men stare and smile, but most say nothing more than "I need a dozen stamps" or "I'd like to send this package to . . ."

The clerk works rapidly, stamping packages, fetching boxes, poking the cash register. He is sure of himself and efficient, and behaves no differently than he would if dressed normally, except that he keeps saying "have a great holiday," in a practiced theatrical voice, over and over again.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Home Alone

The most wonderful time of the year? Thoughts on holiday loneliness.

(via boynton)
Slush Hour

Suddenly, everyone around here is a ballet dancer, leaping over pools of slush. Either that or they're doing the old-man shuffle along crusts of unstable, cracking ice. You have to feel grateful at a time like this for a patch of concrete or a narrow canyon that someone has carved through a snow bank. Single file, everyone. The winter wonderland of the weekend is already dissolving into a gray, dripping mish-mash. But over the usual urban sounds you can still hear the frantic whine of tires spinning and the dull rhythm of digging, digging, digging--and (heads up!) the crash of ice falling off a roof.
Quote of the Day

Life is very short, and there's no time
for fussing and fighting my friend.
I have always thought that it's a crime.
So I will ask you, once again,
Try to see it my way . . .

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Think Small

Read some excellent advice on writing well from The Rabbit.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

More Poetry Outtakes


Machines speak to apparitions.
The clerks are all mechanical,
their equations glistening.

Above a portrait of inertia
the messages load endlessly.
A search stirs a mad question.

The motion of a bug
tempts the man mercilessly.
He eats a peanut.

His hand studies his forehead,
his office disappears.
Calm waves tap the silken sand.
Word of the Day

testudinate (adj or n)

1. Of or pertaining to a turtle or tortoise.
2. A turtle or tortoise.

I looked out of the bedroom window and felt a testudinate desire to pull the covers over my head.

(This is literally true. We are in the midst of a way-too-early-for-this blizzard here in the northeastern US. I've already shoveled the steps and sidewalk three times, and sprinkled sodium chloride around, but it looks like I've done nothing.)

Friday, December 05, 2003

Just Do It

Go to the main Google page and type in "weapons of mass destruction" (in quotation marks). Then click the "I'm feeling lucky" button.

After that, do the same with "miserable failure".

Hot and Not

The top 10 gaining search queries, according to the Google Zeitgeist page:

1. michael jackson

I guess this one is obvious enough. See what I had to say about MJ below. By the way, go here if you want to see what Michael would look like today if he'd left his face alone.

2. kellie waymire

A nice name. It has a ring to it. Who is she?

3. paris hilton

I enjoyed an episode of her new reality series, The Simple Life (and I hate reality shows). A spoiled heiress spends a month working on a family farm. It reminded me of one of my favorite TV comedies, a Beckett-ish study in rural frustration called Green Acres. Could Paris be the Eva Gabor of the new century? (No, I haven't seen her sex tape.)

4. jonathan brandis

Sorry, Jonathan, I have no idea who you are.

5. rugby world cup

To me, rugby is like (American) football, without the pads and helmets. Testosterone city. Are they brave or crazy?

6. the bachelor

One of those execrable, contrived "reality" shows.

7. australian idol

Who do Aussies idolize?

8. paulina gretzky

Wayne's wife? No idea . . . (Postscript: I've been informed that this is his daughter, and she's a singer.)

9. phil collins

What's HE done lately?

10. coupe du monde de rugby

Using my high-school knowledge of French, I've determined that this is the same search query as #5 above. Le rugby est chaud -- c'est tout dire.
Blog Me Do

Today is December 5, 1963, and The Beatles Are Coming! Aaahhhhhhh!!

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Character Flaws

I usually don't like those web quiz pages, but here's a mildly interesting one: What is Your Shakespearian Tragic Flaw?

It seems I'm a "Hamlet," to wit:

"You have a hard time dealing with tough situations, and with growing up. You also have a tendency to fly off the handle at the smallest thing, but let major problems be."

I'm not sure I agree, entirely, as the multiple choice answers are rather limited in scope. A lot of them have to do with killing people and baking them into pies. (I guess the site's creator is a Titus Andronicus fan.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

That's a Thought . . .

A fellow who calls himself Don the Idea Guy is inviting submissions of "the weirdest ideas you've ever come up with" for inclusion in his projected e-book, Unusually Creative -- Weird Ideas From Weird People. "During every brainstorming session (if you're doing it right) you amass a lot ideas that are just too 'out there' to make it past the first round of the evaluation process," he says. "The concepts that made everyone laugh, roll their eyes, or literally groan out loud. The ideas that got crossed off the list first for being too outrageous to implement. Those are the ideas I want."

Unfortunately, most of my weird brainstorming ideas involve illegality or story plots that are best forgotten.

(via Goatee Style)
More Poetry Outtakes

The Seeds

The seeds multiply under leaves
while bystanders, with their truths,
study you carefully; you ignore them.

The light arranges a gallery of porcelain.
Ah vague
dove, the lover of confusion,

feathers, humble minds--
every second this
day has vibrated,

like a tumbleweed solstice.
Your fingers form a flower, the languid
willows praise your cheek.

They promise
to convey you to a radiance
inner and secret, a rich knowledge.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Story Time

Other People's Stories is a site that collects tales the contributors have overheard or been told by someone else. New stories appear every Tuesday, and I found today's engrossing and weirdly uplifting: Davy Rothbart on the lady with the mannequin arm.

(via Jerry
Word of the Day

consanguinity (n)

Relationship by blood or by a common ancestor.

Consanguinity forced Millicent to endure Martin's endless reminiscences of Christmases past.

Monday, December 01, 2003

The Man in the Mirror

My free, non-professional legal advice for Michael Jackson:

1. Sell Neverland and move into a modest apartment in LA.

2. Eat more and work out at a gym. Gain 50 pounds as fast as possible.

3. Cut your hair short.

4. Get rid of the eye-liner and lipstick. If your pallor really is due to a skin condition, use a bronzer, or something. If possible, get a more realistic nose. (You apparently know a plastic surgeon.) Try to look like the good-looking black man you once were.

5. No surgical masks. Wear jeans and T-shirts, or a suit and tie.

6. Surround yourself with mature adults who aren't paid bodyguards. (Not just Liz Taylor--some "real" people as well.) Do not appear in public (or in private, for that matter) with children other than your own.

I know what you'll say: "You're telling me not to be myself." Not really, Michael. A sense of self comes from within.
More Poetry Outtakes

Night Ritual

Around, all around, the shadows gather.
My dread grows as doom's scythe falls against my heart.
It severs me, and darkly my
essence drips
to the thirsty earth.
In a frenzy I cry out, Why?!
while oblivion takes my hand.
Now alone, my vitae falls upon cold eyes.

This is your love.


Awful, isn't it? That one was generated at the Create Your Own Darkly Gothic Poem site. (I swear I've never used it before . . .)

(found at The Word Foundry)