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A Change of Venue May 13, 2011

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Attention, subscribers and other regular readers:

I’ve picked up stakes and moved to a new blog.  An explanation is available there, so make haste and navigate your way to Warehouse: Songs and Stories.

And, when you get there, remember to click the “Subscribe” link on the left-hand side of the page.  Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you over there.

Cheers,

Monty

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Me, I Disconnect from You December 7, 2010

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I just don’t know what to think about Obama anymore.

I’ve been a political cynic as long as I can remember.  When my high school had a mock trial for the 1990 midterm elections, I wrote a lengthy diatribe on the ballot about how any election was simply a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils and it didn’t really matter what person was in office.  Apparently my handwriting was more recognizable than I thought, because later that day a history teacher accosted me in the hall, screaming about how I was “dead wrong.”  So much for the secret ballot.

My general indifference continued through the 1992 election and ’96 elections (I was pro-Clinton, but was I really going to be pro-Bush or -Dole?), and I didn’t really get my dander up until the Bush debacle in 2000.  Even then, it wasn’t so much an endorsement of the Democratic party on my part as much as it was disgust at the nimrod who had been swept into office on the back of the Supreme Court.

It took Obama to get me excited.  He was going to fight for universal health care, closing Guantanamo, and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  He was smart and funny, he was young, and he seemed willing to go to the mat in defense of those things in which he believed.  I threw my weight behind him whole-heartedly, and, like many in this country in 2008, I believed.

But now?  Not so much.

It started with the administration’s handling of the health care bill – drawing out that debate torturously month after month; finally, after all that consternation, passing a candy-ass simulacrum of a real health care bill; and then, in a final insult, not campaigning hard behind it, weak as it was, to let the public know that there actually was some good stuff in it.  So now we have a health care bill that hardly anyone knows anything about and which the administration doesn’t seem interested in touting.  The perception seems to be that it’s a bill wreathed in shame, even though it’s at least a step in the right direction.  But the mishandling of the process and the shortcomings of the final product have to be laid at the feet of Obama and his party, who were unequivocally in control of Washington during the debate.

My disillusion got up a full head of steam as soon as I learned about Obama’s education policies.  I’ve discussed this issue in more detail elsewhere on this blog, so I won’t rehash the past now.  One thing I will say, though, is that the intervening months between that post and this one have only made me sadder and more frustrated.  Obama has doubled down (through Education Secretary Arne Duncan) on the idea that more testing is the key to a better education.  I’m reminded of the quote by the late, great James Moffett, which went something like this: “Frequently measuring your height doesn’t make you taller.”  As usual, teachers have been left almost entirely out of this conversation, so now we have the new Common Core Standards (developed by the very testing companies that stand to profit from them), a push to evaluate teachers based on the test scores of their students, and a misguided belief that if we just throw enough money at charter schools, everything will get better overnight.

(And, as a side note, you should all be glad I wasn’t blogging a couple months ago when NBC aired its propaganda hack job, “Education Nation,” which practically gave Davis Guggenheim’s anti-teacher, anti-public school puff piece Waiting for “Superman” a blow job on national television.  I was not a happy fella that week.)

And now there’s this deal with the taxes, adding more to the deficit and lining the pockets of the people who got us into this fiduciary mess in the first place, all in the name of playing nice with a political party that’s going to tar and feather Obama no matter what he does.  What – did he really think that he was going to wipe the slate clean with Boehner and crew by extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich?  If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that trying to “compromise” with the GOP is a zero-sum game.  If Obama cured cancer, they’d lambaste him as a Socialist for using tax dollars to do so.  Extending the tax cuts for the rich was a craven thing to do – and he can deny this all he wants – all in the name of political expedience.

I’m mad at the Republicans too, don’t get me wrong.  But in a way I’m less angry with them because I’ve come to expect them to obstruct and, as the party of old rich white dudes, I can’t fault them for playing to their base.  I only wish Obama had the courage to do the same.  Because, see, right now he doesn’t need the Republicans to defeat him.  The Democrats in general, and Obama in particular, are the most self-defeating bunch of ninnies I’ve ever seen.  Instead of taking the fight to the Republicans and drawing a line in the sand about their beliefs, they bow and scrape and kowtow as though it’s going to make any difference.  The result is twofold, with neither half being any good.  They give the Republicans more or less exactly what they want, and in the process, the very people who trusted Obama, who believed in him, who voted for him, are being told that their faith was misplaced.

I know – and so, likely, does Obama – that I don’t have a real choice here.  It’s not as though I’m going to vote for the Republicans in 2012.  And it’s not as though a vote for a third party candidate amounts to anything except a feeling of smug superiority as I exit the voting booth.  So it’s either not vote at all, or vote for the guy who’s not as bad as the crazy bitch from Alaska, the rich Mormon, the fat Bible thumper, or the disgraced lunatic.  It’s not a choice at all, but it’s what we’re going to be faced with in a couple years, and it’s unbelievably disheartening to see how quickly I’ve become cynical again.

Thanks, Obama.  Bang-up job you’re doing.

*****

Current listening:

Rjd2 – Since We Last Spoke (2004)

The Back of My Mind December 5, 2010

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Every time I start this thing up again I turn it into a big production.  This is patently stupid because A) I think about two people read this with any regularity, even when I’m putting up a few things a day, and B) my fidelity to blogging has been sketchy over the years, and it’s only getting worse as I get older (although I will admit that my quality control is improving; I just resisted the urge to make a now out-of-date Tiger Woods joke at the mention of fidelity).  So, no fanfare.  Here we go.

*****

Something happened to me between the approximate ages of 22 and 35 that turned me into someone who’s not just uncomfortable in social settings – no, I’m now completely inept in them.  I have yet to reach Rain Man levels of social incompetence, but at the rate I’m going, it’s only a matter of time until I turn into a gambling savant and start babbling incoherently about daytime TV (substituting, I guess, Judge Judy for Wapner).

I didn’t always used to be this way.  In elementary school I was sort of a show-off, with the poor conduct grades (do they even give those anymore?) to show for it.  I discovered fairly early the value of getting a laugh, and I exercised that particular muscle early and often.  That continued into junior high – I was fine with people, I liked the spotlight, and I don’t remember suffering from any unusual degree of shyness.  In high school, thanks to my R.E.M. albums, I was all hopped up on self-righteous rebellion, so I turned into another kind of loudmouth.  And in college I was steeped in improvisational comedy – most of my friends were, too, and being “on” was sort of an expectation.

But now?

Well, here, let me set the stage.

A few weeks ago I attended the annual National Council of Teachers of English conference.  Every year the Scholastic company hosts a free Thanksgiving-style dinner, and it’s become tradition for folks from my old university and National Writing Project site to rendezvous here.  Somehow I ended up at our table (and these were huge round tables, where talking to someone who wasn’t seated directly next to you involved shouting and sign language) between two women who were, charitably speaking, survivors of the Great Depression.  All the other people I knew were scattered around the table in neat little pairs, but here I was, a lone island in between two octogenarians who were primarily interested in talking across me to each other.  So I spent the evening staring off into space, smiling faintly to myself in order to make people think that I was listening to and being entertained by the women’s meal-length nattering.

To be fair, the women did try to engage me in conversation.  But I can’t do it.  It’s too hard.  I don’t know what to talk about, and I always have the feeling that anything I bring up is so mind-numbingly boring that I might as well be reading aloud from the phone book.  And it’s not as though this is only something that happens with strangers.  At the same conference I found myself in social situations with people from work a few times, and in each instance I found myself doing a lot of listening, talking only when someone asked me a direct question.  The really distressing thing is that even alcohol, that old social lubricant, hadn’t come to my rescue.  These social situations were excruciating, and I can’t figure out why I’ve turned into this person.

The closest I’ve come to a reason can actually be found in an article I read a year or so ago.  Following David Foster Wallace’s suicide, Rolling Stone published a really nice article about his life and work, and it focused a great deal on Wallace’s own anxiety and depression.  The physical version of the article is long gone from my possession, so I’m relying on memory here, but there was a line in it that stuck with me.  The gist of it was that in social situations Wallace was so busy worrying about what other people thought about him that he couldn’t participate in the conversation at hand, which only contributed to the perception that he was an awkward, depressing bastard.

And that’s me in a nutshell.  I feel so uncomfortable in social settings that all I can do is focus on how miserable I feel and how ridiculous I must seem to everyone else and how I don’t have anything to talk about, and the result is that I can’t participate in the conversations going on around me.  This means I come off as sullen/aloof/arrogant/grouchy, when the truth, of course, is that I’m so nervous and anxious about what everyone else thinks of me that I’m paralyzed by insecurity.

The really interesting thing (at least to me) isn’t so much that I’m now like this, as much as it is to wonder why I’m now like this.  Because it developed fairly recently – as I mentioned above, it’s been with me for the last ten years, give or take – it’s not something I can trace back to my childhood.  I wasn’t humiliated in school, and nothing especially traumatic happened to me socially as I was growing up.  I have, however, always suffered from insecurity and feelings of inferiority, so the nearest I can figure is that for the first time in a really long time I’m truly out of my comfort zone.  When I moved cross-country to Georgia, starting a new job in a new place with new responsibilities and new pressures, I truly started from scratch, and the insecurity of that situation only compounded all my other insecurities.

I don’t know that I have a point in all this (not exactly the most auspicious start for my return to the blog), except to notice that I might have to admit to myself that I have a real problem.  As much as I like being able to say that I have something in common with David Foster Wallace, this is probably not the right thing.  I’m now in a job that requires me to be comfortable in a variety of settings and with a variety of people, so the panic I feel in most situations with other carbon-based life forms is not something I should nurture.

*****

Current listening:

Keane – Under the Iron Sea (2006)

Current reading:

George R.R. Martin – A Storm of Swords (2000)

Last movie seen:

127 Hours (2010; Danny Boyle, dir.)

Each Time Is a New Time April 10, 2010

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I didn’t really intend to shutter the blog. As I usually do, I just sort of lost interest for a bit. A new semester started with a new class that I’d never taught before, I increased my daily running mileage (and, as a result, my daily time commitment), and I generally got tired of the sound of my own voice. It happens.

It’s funny to look back on some of my posts from late 2009 and early 2010 and consider how much and how little things have changed in the last four months.  On the one hand, health care reform passed, the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien dustup is just a memory, and I’ve watched nine more movie adaptations of Stephen King’s books.  On the other hand, the right wing is still losing its collective shit over every single thing Obama says or does, Fox News still resembles a bunch of lobotomized monkeys poking a deflated volleyball with a stick, and Sarah Palin’s speeches still sound like they were composed after she spent ten seconds playing with one of those magnetic poetry kits.

And Nigel died.

This was tough.  He was always sort of a lazy cat, but in early February he appeared even more listless than usual, not even appearing interested in his daily snacks.  When I listened to his breathing, it sounded like he wheezing, so I took him to the vet.  She immediately noticed that his ear flaps were tinged yellow, a sure sign of liver problems.  She said they’d keep him for a couple days, run some tests, pump him full of fluids and medicine, and take it from there.

The next morning I got a call that he had died during the night.  Turns out he was even sicker than he thought.  Feline leukemia, which the vet suspects he had when I got him five years ago, caused liver damage that didn’t show up until it was too late.  Nigel was easily the most affectionate, even-tempered cat I’ve ever seen, and it still bothers me that he died among strangers.  Yeah, yeah, I know he was just a cat, and he didn’t really know what was going on, but still.  It’s not right.

The upshot (although I probably shouldn’t call it that) is that I now have Toby.  Named after David Cross’ character in Arrested Development, Toby is, to put it in clinical terms, insane.  He’s now about six months old, and I’m waiting desperately for the day when he grows out of his “I’m a kitten and I’m going to destroy everything in your home” phase.  I believe this is also the same phase that allows him to decide, at 4:00 every morning, that it’s time to play.  It’s also the phase that includes him climbing into the refrigerator whenever I open it, severing the pull-cords on my window blinds with his teeth, and tormenting Maggie, my other cat, to the point of a nervous breakdown.

The two of them are almost – almost – friends.

Also, as evidenced in the previous photo, I bought a new pair of pajama pants in the last four months.  Fun times in the big city.

That’s it for now.  I won’t promise daily updates – the semester is winding down, after all, which means an increase in reading and responding to student work – but I’ll give it a shot.  I also intend to continue the usual features I’d started in my last go-round: Cinema Sunday, Song of the Day, reviews of Stephen King movies, and the fledgling Perfect Movie Moment.

Much hilarity will certainly ensue.

Current listening:

The Delgados – The Great Eastern (2000)

Current reading:

Norman Mailer – The Naked and the Dead (1948)

Last movie seen:

Date Night (2010; Shawn Levy, dir.)

Intermission December 24, 2009

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All apologies for disappearing without a trace for the last ten – or so – days.  After the semester ended, and I survived the blizzard of portfolios and final assignments that needed to be graded, I decided to take a little break, which I’m still currently enjoying.  At the moment I’m in the wilds of rural Ohio, being coddled by my parents and enjoying a little snow and holiday cheer.

Three Seconds of Dead Air will return to full capacity sometime next week.  When that happens you can look forward to my fifth Stephen King review (John Carpenter’s Christine), catch-up reviews of a few other flicks (Up in the Air and The Road, maybe, and probably Avatar, too), and the list of my Top 50 albums of the decade.  Among other things.  Until then, have a happy holiday (yes, I am waging a war on Christmas).

Current listening:

Sigur Ros – ( ) (2002)

Current reading:

T.C. Boyle – Talk Talk (2006)

Last movie seen:

The Road (2009; John Hillcoat, dir.)

A Last Act of Desperate Men December 12, 2009

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There are many, many reasons to love actor Brian Cox: pioneering the role of Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter; expelling Max Fischer, as Dr. Guggenheim, in Rushmore; swallowing his pride to play Captain O’Hagan in Super Troopers; spitting profanity like champ in his role as Robert McKee in Adaptation; portraying one of the best fathers in the history of cinema in 25th Hour. He’s been one of my favorites for years – but this video gives me one more reason to think he’s aces.

*****

Current listening:

The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999)

Last movie seen:

Precious (2009; Lee Daniels, dir.)

Intermission December 7, 2009

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It’s the end of the semester, which means my free time will be in short supply for the next five or six days.  Much grading will be taking place, and when that’s done, it’ll be a swift transition into working on a couple articles I’ve been meaning to tinker with.  And somewhere in there I need to plan for next semester.  If I feel inspired or bored with work or something happens out in the world that’s just begging for comment, I’ll put something up – but it’ll probably be a little quiet around here for the next few days.

*****

Current listening:

Rooftops – A Forest of Polarity (2009)

The Art of Self Defense November 24, 2009

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Tomorrow, bright and early (or at least bright and earlyish), I head up I-75 to the wilds of Ohio.  It’ll be my first Thanksgiving with my family since 1995.  Weird, and I’m not entirely sure what to expect.  There’s always a little of the feeling of being an outsider when I return to the ol’ homestead, and I imagine that will only be compounded this year.  My brother and his wife have a three-week-old baby, my parents have just put the house up for sale, and I’ll be sauntering in after a two-year absence.  I’m not sure if there’s a point where home (even a metaphoric one) stops being home, but this might be it.

But hey.  It’s what you make of it, right?  So, no promises of content over the next few days (they haven’t invented the Internet in Ohio), and be sure to take some time out to relax, catch your breath, and enjoy the company of friends and family.

*****

Current listening:

Nova Mob – The Last Days of Pompeii (1991)

Love, Hate, Love November 5, 2009

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angry cat

Tired of Garrett yet?  I am.  Here’s the next excerpt which, if I’m estimating correctly, exactly zero people are clamoring for.

*****

Garrett spent part of Friday evening carefully putting together a mix tape for use in the car’s cassette player.  He didn’t think he and Steph would actually be in the car long – a fairly quick trip from her house to the cinema and back again – but he was feeling optimistic enough to accept the possibility that she might want to skip the movie altogether and spend a few hours making out.  In that case, he’d want to have some good tunes so they didn’t have to listen to the radio.  The local stations were miserable: living in the heart of Cowtown, U.S.A. guaranteed a minimum of listening options, and what was available catered specifically to those whose tastes ran to Garth Brooks or Whitesnake.  If he was lucky he might be able to pick up the college station located near Cincinnati, but its signal wasn’t strong and it was far from a sure thing.  And music was essential.

No way did he trust his own conversational know-how to carry the evening.  He’d been brainstorming topics ever since she’d told him earlier in the day she could go out with him, and at this point, after compiling a list of exactly two topics (how awful Spanish class was, and a discussion of the softball team, which he knew would mostly consist of him smiling and nodding in encouragement since he didn’t know much about softball beyond the fact that it utilized a ball that was soft), he figured it was about as likely that he’d be able to instigate a meaningful conversation as it was that the cows in the pasture down the road would don top hats and begin a high-stepping dance routine to “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”  So the early part of Friday evening consisted of Garrett putting some of his favorite songs on tape – 60 minutes this time, since he doubted they’d be in the car more than an hour total anyway – Elvis Costello, R.E.M., The Replacements, XTC, The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, all carefully chosen to enhance the mood of the evening.  The Smiths, for obvious reasons, were not included.

He stayed up late that night, feeding tapes into the VCR, watching The Jerk, then Stripes, and finally falling asleep around 3 A.M. just as the Catholic minister was getting struck by lightning in Caddyshack. His hope was that by staying up late he’d also sleep late the next morning and have less time to stew about all the things that could possibly go wrong during his date.  As luck would have it, his hyperactive imagination, caught in the iron jaws of Garrett’s slumber, began to chew its own leg off at just past 7 A.M., and Garrett stumbled from bed, his mind gauzy with sleep but alert enough to know that a return to bed would just result in tossing, turning, and worrying.  He spent the morning in a peevish, anxious funk, his nervousness morphing into irritability and ricocheting frenetically around the walls of the house.

From noon, Garrett was trapped in amber.  He had never realized their house contained so many clocks.  No matter where he went in an attempt to distract himself from the passage of time – his room to read, the family room to watch TV, the kitchen to forage through the refrigerator – a clock face seemed omnipresent, taunting him with hands that never seemed to budge.

At one point he stalked down the hall, passing his father. “How’s it goin’, pal?” Steve asked.

“These clocks suck,” Garrett muttered, and stomped downstairs.

Realizing that nowhere in the house was safe unless he hid in the bathroom for the next three hours (and finding himself unwilling to cop to the desperation that move would entail), Garrett finally grabbed his battered copy of Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream and headed into the backyard to stretch out beneath one of the spreading hickory trees.  He snuggled his back against the tree’s rough bark and tried to nestle his backside into a divot in the grass he had discovered during his first visit to this spot.  It wasn’t the most comfortable spot to read, but he found it strangely relaxing, stretching his legs out, feeling the individual blades of grass prick the underside of his legs, letting the cicadas’ buzzsaw chirring gradually fade into the background, looking up between pages to watch the sun shift on the lawn in its kaleidoscopic interplay with branch and cloud.  The day was warm, and if he closed his eyes he could almost imagine that the gentle susurration of the April breeze on his nape belonged to Steph, exhaled between moistened lips an inch away from his neck, whispering his name, and her desire for him.

He awoke suddenly, his mind breaching the dark waters of sleep with a gasp and a shout.

“What time is it?”

He looked around frantically.  The Ellison book was clumsily tented by his side, and the sun’s patchwork design on the grass had deepened, burnished, as the day moved slowly into evening.  Garrett didn’t know what time it was, and he was nowhere nearly outdoorsy enough to read the sun with any degree of accuracy, but he could tell it was much too late.

“Aw, geez,” he muttered, scooping up the book and hightailing it across the yard and slamming through the back door into the kitchen.  His mom was pulling food out of the refrigerator.  “What time?” he gasped, even as his panicked eyes seized upon the green numbers on the microwave: 15:12.  For the briefest of moments Garrett relaxed in the comfort that his parents had arbitrarily set the microwave to military time, making it 3:12 in the afternoon.  But then it ticked to 15:11,, then 15:10, and his panic level ratcheted back to its previous level.

The microwave was the only clock in the kitchen, and Garrett suddenly felt the world spinning crazily.  Earlier in the day he couldn’t escape clocks.  Now, when he desperately needed one, it was looking like he was going to have to dash back outside, find a stick, and construct a crude sundial.  “Mom!  The time!”

“Hold on just a second.”  She shifted something deep within the refrigerator.  Garrett felt the time sliding away, spiraling down the drain.  Kathy finally turned away from the fridge, precariously balancing several Tupperware containers in her arms. “Give me a hand, sweetie.”

Garrett swept them from her and nearly flung them to the counter.  “Time?  Mom?  Please?”

Kathy glanced at her watch.  “6:03, it looks like.  You’re not late, are you?”

Not quite, but he might as well have been.  He was supposed to pick up Steph at 6:30 so they could make it safely to the 7:15 showing of Field of Dreams. Steph lived across town, at least fifteen minutes away.  “Aw geez,” he said again.  “Mom, why didn’t you wake me up?”

“You didn’t tell us what time you wanted to leave, sweetie,” she said.  “Are you running late?”

“Aw, geez,” and this time it was nearly a bark as Garrett wheeled out of the kitchen and down the hall toward his room.

He shut the door behind him and carefully took stock of the situation.  A shower was out of the question, so he had roughly six minutes to change, brush his teeth, and attempt to wrestle his curly hair into shape.  He stomped down hard on his panic.  “Think cool, be cool,” he murmured.  Bill Murray in Stripes; Chevy Chase in Caddyshack. Would they panic?  Would they worry about time?  Hardly.  Think cool, be cool, get ready, and go. All was not lost, as long as he stopped being himself for the next six minutes.

 

Five minutes and 47 seconds later, Garrett backed out of his parents’ garage and onto the road.  He wasn’t entirely pleased with his appearance, but such a statement implied that he was ever pleased with his appearance.  His dissatisfaction usually revolved around his hair.  He longed for a towering pompadour, and to that end had spent enormous amounts of time in the bathroom during the last year with a hairbrush, hairspray, and a photo of Morrissey, trying to mold and shape the waves that proved to be as compliant as a fussy two-year-old.  The woman who cut his hair told him she’d kill for his hair – “You’re so lucky to have such a beyoooootiful head of curly hair, honey” – but, to put it bluntly, he wasn’t a 50-year-old woman, and as far as he was concerned, his beyoooootiful hair could take a long walk off a short dock, thank you very much.  Without anything approaching a sufficient amount of time to wrangle his hair tonight, he simply ran a brush through it, said a silent prayer to the tonsorial god, and hoped for the best.

Now he was speeding down the empty road toward Steph’s, the drummer in his chest pounding out an insistent tattoo that would have made John Bonham proud.  Calm down, Garrett, just calm down.  She said yes, she liked the tape.  You didn’t blackmail her or force her at gunpoint into going out with you.  No money changed hands.  She didn’t even hesitate when you asked her, not really, in fact, if you just take a second to cool it, you’ll remember that she’s the one who called this a date.  You just asked if she wanted to hang out.  She suggested the date.  If you think about it, she’s the one who asked you out.  You were totally propositioned by a beautiful girl.  Stop sweating it.  Relax.

These are the thoughts he tried to focus on.  Even though they didn’t exactly work to calm him down, it helped to at least distract him from the insistent pounding in his chest.  It wasn’t until he neared downtown Edgewood, the fields thinning to be replaced with homes, shops, and offices, that he realized he’d forgotten the mix tape.  In his haste to leave on time, the carefully sequenced Memorex had been left on the dresser in a pile of scattered coins.  For the briefest of seconds Garrett considered going back for it, but he knew if he did so there was no way he’d be on time.  The last thing he wanted right now was an excuse for Steph to doubt his loyalty.

He drove on, skirting the downtown’s main street and continuing on an eastward tack, the fields increasing in frequency as he left the heart of Edgewood behind him.  He would just make do without the tape.  With any luck they’d be talking too much on the way to the movie to need music, and afterward he’d take his chances with the college station near Cincinnati.  He always seemed to pick it up better at night, anyway, maybe because there was less interference in the air.  If his makeout scenario came to pass, he hoped she didn’t mind silence.

Garrett pulled into her driveway a hair shy of 6:30.  Steph had given him perfect directions to her house, and for that he was thankful.  His sense of direction was so flawed that whenever Garrett read about ancient explorers – Magellan or Vasco de Gama – he knew that if he had been in their shoes, he would have undoubtedly led his entire expedition off the edge of a cliff.  The reality of sitting in Steph’s driveway suddenly hit him, and the nervousness which he’d managed to reduce to background chatter blossomed again as he put the car in park and opened his door.  On shaky legs he approached Steph’s house, rehearsing what he’d planned to say if her parents opened the door: Good evening sir and/or ma’am (he wasn’t actually going to say “sir and/or ma’am,” but he found it wiser to prepare for both eventualities), my name is Garrett.  Is Steph home? He considered himself bad with adults in general, and parents in particular.  He always felt awkward and self-conscious, and assumed that every word out of his mouth and every action he took was being judged.  He felt this way most of the time, in fact, but with adults it seemed amplified, exaggerated, like he was constantly auditioning.  So he rehearsed his line as he took the two steps up to Steph’s front door, wiped his feet on the bristly doormat, inhaled, exhaled, and knocked.

There was a momentary pause, just long enough for Garrett to wonder if he could possibly run back to the car and peel out of the driveway in a hail of gravel before anyone answered, and then the door opened.  It was Steph, smiling, in jeans and a light blue Izod that made sapphires of her eyes, and Garrett suddenly found himself struggling for breath.

“Hey, Garrett.”  She chucked him lightly on the shoulder and Garrett fully expected, if he removed his shirt, to see her knuckles branded there like sunburn. “Let’s go.”

“Don’t, uh.  Shouldn’t I meet your parents?”

“They aren’t even home,” she said, heading for the car. “They’re having dinner with my grandparents in Hamilton.”

“Maybe later, then?”

Steph had reached her door and turned back to him. “Why are you so interested in my parents, Garrett?  I thought it was me you were after.”

Garrett swallowed hard and laughed weakly.  What was he supposed to say to that?

“Yeah, okay,” he managed, and made for the car.  As he reached the driver’s door he looked across to where Steph was standing.  Door, idiot.  Her door. He resisted the urge to smack himself in the forehead with the palm of his hand and scurried around the front of the car to her side.  “Your door, madam,” he said and pulled on it.  It didn’t open.  “Heh.  Whoops.  This would help.”  He fumbled in his pocket for the keys, flicked through the ring with fingers that had all the flexibility of a frostbitten explorer, found the right one, jabbed it at the lock, missed, tried it again, missed, and finally jostled it home on the third try.  “There you are,” he said, opening it at last.

“My hero,” she said, sliding in.  Careful not to slam any part of her anatomy or clothing in the door, Garrett shut it.  As he returned to his side, Garrett was frightened to realize that if the simple task of opening a door was such a difficult hurdle, this was going to be a long night.

Once on the road, Steph suddenly leaned over and gripped his bicep.  “I loved your tape,” she said.  “I mean, absolutely loved it.”

Now that she was here, in his car, with her hands on his arm, the tape seemed like an unnecessary distraction.  It had done its job, opened the door, and now he just wanted to pretend it didn’t exist.

“Oh.  Thanks,” he said, striving for a dismissive, yet still gracious, embarrassed humility.  “The songs’re pretty rough.  And I’m not sure how long we’ll keep playing together.”

“But you guys have keep playing together.  It’s so good.  And your lyrics – oh my God, Garrett.  You’re so smart and such a good singer.  I was listening to it and kept thinking, ‘There’s no way this can be Garrett.’”

Garrett’s heart skipped like a scratched record.  Did she know?  Was she just stringing him along?

“I don’t mean that as an insult,” she quickly added. “It’s just so good.  You should be really proud.” She settled back in her seat and looked out the window. “And I feel really lucky that you wanted to share it with me.  No one’s ever given me something like this.  It means a lot.”  There was a catch in her throat.

The guilt that rushed into Garrett’s heart was toxic.  She wasn’t supposed to take it so personally.  He had wanted her to like it, true, and to think he was cool and mysterious and different.  But it wasn’t supposed to be like this.  It wasn’t supposed to be a personal statement of his trust in her.   And it definitely wasn’t supposed to make her cry.  He needed to fix things.

Garrett knew the right thing to do.  And did something else.

“I hope the movie’s okay with you,” he said.

She turned back to him.  No tears, and for that he was grateful.

“What are we seeing again?” she asked.

Field of Dreams.”

“Oh, right.  The baseball movie.  I hear it’s good.”

“I thought, you know, since you like softball that this would be a good one to see.”

“Do you play anything?”

“Play anything?”

“A sport.  Duh.”  But she was smiling, and not like a lot of the other kids his age.  There was no thinly veiled antagonism in her teasing, no implied insult, and Garrett felt himself finally relaxing.  It was a good feeling.

“Oh.  Ah.  Not since tee ball in first grade.”

“Ooh.  Tee ball.  I’ll bet you were good.  A real stud.”

“I was ferocious.  When it came to picking my nose in the outfield, no one could touch me.”

Steph laughed.  If joy had a sound, this was it.  Garrett had several favorite sounds – the delicate tinkling of wind chimes, the contented purring of a cat, the distant rumble of thunder, river rapids, a fiercely strummed guitar – but they were immediately relegated to a distant second-place status.  It was a laugh that made him want to be funny, just so he could hear it over and over again.

The rest of the ride to the movie theater continued in much the same way.  The tape, to Garrett’s relief, didn’t come up again.  It was only a twenty-minute drive to the movie theater, but in that time they managed to talk about more than Garrett had imagined possible:

• Steph’s experience on the softball team (she liked the sport, but not the coach, whom she thought was a pervert)

• Their favorite music (Garrett: R.E.M.; Steph Guns ‘n’ Roses, but she was open-minded)

• Spanish class (their bilingual education appeared to be so useless that they both agreed if they and a two-year old child were abandoned at the same time in the middle of Mexico City, the child would survive longer)

• English class (what was so great about To Kill a Mockingbird, anyway?)

• Lauren Alexander and Anthony Brown’s supposed tryst at Curtis Martin’s party last weekend (v.d. for everyone!)

• Plans for the coming summer (they both needed to find jobs, and although neither of them wanted to submit to a life in fast food, they knew their ratio of ambition to skill was skewed directly toward McDonald’s)

By the time they reached the movie theater (dubbed Cinema 6, although it only had four screens, which Garrett had never quite figured out), he was actually sorry to arrive.  Conversation had never come easily to him, but not only was he having no trouble talking to Steph, it was fun.  Is this the way talking to other people is supposed to go? he wondered.  You don’t struggle to come up with topics or replies?  It just sort of … happens? This was an alien concept to him.  Most of the time he found himself waiting in silence for the other person to introduce a new subject, and when they did, his replies usually consisted of nods and variations on “Yeah” or “I know.”  With Steph there was give and take and laughter and it was a breathless footrace to get to the next topic.  He hoped he would have the chance to do this more often.

He bought their tickets and remembered to hold the door for her as they entered the darkened cinema.  Seat selection was something he had considered long and hard.  He ended up settling on the fourth row from the back – close enough to the rear of the theater to allow for making out, yet not so close to the back that it looked like making out was on his mind.  They settled in, Garrett sitting on Steph’s left, and he was immediately mindful of how close she was sitting to him.  He realized that if he feigned restlessness and rocked his legs back and forth, he could make their knees brush repeatedly.  He filed that away for future reference.  Steph had staked out the armrest between them, so Garrett let his right hand rest on his right knee, mere inches below her hand, almost close enough for him to touch if his index finger was freakishly jointed and able to reach up at a perfect 90-degree angle from his hand.  Further, if he nestled himself back in his seat, their shoulders would almost be touching.  The possibilities were endless.

What Garrett didn’t know is that Field of Dreams wasn’t the ideal movie to encourage physical contact.  It would be one more year and a date with Karen Cline for Garrett to learn about the aphrodisiacal qualities of horror movies, and how their palpable air of suspense was conducive to the grabbed hand or the head nuzzled into the shoulder or the seized knee, or better yet, some combination of the three.  It would be one more year still (this time with Ashley Stone) before he saw that romantic comedies often achieved the same effect, ostensibly softening up the date with thoughts of romance and kissing and intimacy.

But Field of Dreams?  He found it to be interesting and funny, but there was nothing in it that would in any justify suddenly brushing her had with his, or bringing in his palm for a landing on her knee.  It wasn’t for a lack of trying.  It was definitely creepy when Kevin Costner’s character first heard the voice in the field, but it was over much too soon to be of much use to Garrett.  And when Burt Lancaster’s character first appeared on a darkened, fog-shrouded street, Garrett thought his moment had finally arrived.  But again, when the character turned out to be not only benign but a kind, grandfatherly figure, Garrett thought it would look odd to choose that moment to make a move, like he was frightened by old people or something.  So he spent most of the movie tied in indecisive knots, inactive and thoroughly miserable.

As the movie began to wind down and Garrett saw that any physical contact between them would have to come outside the theater, he started to pay more attention to the plot.  He wasn’t a big baseball fan, but the final confrontation on the field appealed to him.  The movie was, he finally saw, about following your heart and finding peace through accepting your place in the world.  Burt Lancaster’s character was meant to be a doctor, not a ball player; James Earl Jones discovered his destiny as a writer; only Kevin Costner’s character was still conflicted at the end.

Until the payoff.  Garrett watched as Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, got the chance to meet his estranged father, who had died before the two of them had a chance to reconcile.  But now they were meeting on the field of dreams, and Ray’s father was young again, innocent, unjaded, his whole life before him, and Ray sees him through new eyes, all their years of argument and recrimination evaporating in an instant.  It was a chance for the two of them to make up for lost time, to heal old wounds, to say all those things that they’d never had a chance to say while Ray’s father was alive.  Garrett felt the lump growing in his throat, the size of a cherry, then a golf ball.  The screen blurred through a film of moisture, and by the time Ray uttered the line, “Hey, Dad?  Wanna have a catch?,” tears were streaming down Garrett’s face.

He began to panic.  What would Steph think?  Here he was, the mysterious musician, sobbing like a baby at a Kevin Costner movie about ghosts on a baseball diamond.  It was inexcusable.  What girl in her right mind – especially one who looked like Steph – would want to spend her time with a sappy, overly sentimental crybaby when she could easily have her pick of the football team, the basketball team, the baseball team?  Why spend her time with him when she could easily find a guy whose only tears would come through extreme torture at the hands of a foreign enemy, or if his favorite team lost the Superbowl?  Steph was still looking at the screen, so as the credits began to roll, Garrett faked a yawn and swiped at his face with his hand.  Either he hadn’t correctly gauged the force of his swipe or there were more tears on his cheeks than he had anticipated.  Whatever the reason, several salty drops arced gently through the air and landed squarely on Steph’s arm.

She turned, and even though the theater was still dim, Garrett’s red eyes and tear-streaked face were unavoidable.  Here it comes, he thought.  She wants to go home immediately.  Who can blame her? He rubbed at his face again.

“Are you okay, Garrett?”

Allergies, yawning, inflammation of the tear ducts.  None of these was an acceptable excuse.

“Yeah.  I just.  The movie.  It got to me.  Sorry.”

“Garrett, you’re even sweeter than I thought.”  And her thumbs gently brushed away his remaining tears and her smile was incandescent and her eyes were closing and as she softly touched his lips with her own, there were no warning voices in Garrett’s head, none at all.

*****

Current listening:

beak

BEAK> – Self-titled

Even Good Kids Make Bad Sports November 2, 2009

Posted by monty in Uncategorized.
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1020-gosselinshmuley So, okay.  I know that stars – even fake stars like Jon Gosselin – occasionally need spiritual guidance, too.  But isn’t there something just a little creepy about receiving this guidance from a celebrity rabbi in front of an audience who paid 20 bucks a piece for the privilege?

And as for Rabbi Shmuley, when your celebrity “clients” include Jon Gosselin and Michael Jackson, doesn’t the International League of Rabbis revoke your membership?

I try to avoid commenting on stories like this one.  But the ick factor here is so high that I just couldn’t resist.  I have to admit that I always sort of felt sorry for Jon when The Soup would show clips of him being hen-pecked by Kate (Wife or succubus?  You be the judge.), but the supreme level of douchebaggery he’s exhibited now officially makes it impossible to feel sorry for either side.  This public cleansing, full of faux mea culpas, is the sad sight of someone trying desperately to make sure everyone still likes him.  But whenever someone says, as Gosselin did, “I think I’m just misunderstood,” it’s a sure bet that we understand him perfectly.

In a lot of ways, though, I feel much more disdain for Rabbi Shmuley.  Even though he’s proven himself to be a tool of the highest order, I genuinely think Jon Gosselin is a shlub who just got in over his head.  But the rabbi is a shameless self-promoter, author, radio host, TV personality, and self-proclaimed Love Prophet.  My question is, why should I even know this guy’s name?  Who decided he was worth promoting, and what has he done that makes him more deserving of recognition than the religious folks who toil away in soup kitchens or build houses for Habitat for Humanity?

I’m not shy about my religious skepticism, but I’m also not blind to the fact that many people take solace in the relationship they have with their spiritual advisers.  Rabbi Shmuley makes a mockery of that relationship  by taking part in this circus.  If he really wants to help Jon Gosselin, by all means, help.  But you don’t do it in public and you sure as hell don’t charge admission.  Gosselin is just a harmless dipshit; Rabbi Shmuley, on the other hand, is a slimy opportunist who takes advantage of the weakness of others and calls it beneficence.

The two of them combined are just one more example of how we, as a culture, have our priorities all wrong.

Entertainment Tonight (11/2/09): Rabbi Shmuley Opened “Up the Doors to My Emotions”

*****

Current listening:

Primal scream echo dek

Primal Scream – Echo Dek

Meet Me at the Lookout Point October 28, 2009

Posted by monty in Uncategorized.
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hate writing2

And here’s where I hit the lull.

I kept a near-daily blog for almost three years, and now I don’t know how I did it.  Once I started work on my Ph.D., a combination of being insanely busy and constantly exhausted stymied any serious attempt at starting the thing back up.  I’ve tried to resuscitate the blog in various forms for the last three years, but after a few weeks I find I run out of things to say.  When I was keeping a regular blog, I either had a more interesting life, or else I had a higher tolerance for writing about myself.

And there’s part of the problem.  Every time I start  a new blog (and this is at least the fourth iteration I can recall off the top of my head) I resolve for it not to be one of those annoying repositories where the author simply recounts his or her day.  For one thing, my life is just not that interesting.  But the main thing that the “Dear Diary” bloggers fail to acknowledge is the public nature of this little endeavor.  If all you want to do is keep a running account of the weeks that make up your life, buy a journal.  There are several people of whom I’m inordinately fond, but I’m not sure I’d want to read a blow-by-blow account of what they did each day, no matter how much I might genuinely like them.  Blogging is a pretty self-centered act to begin with, and making yourself the subject of your writing is even more solipsistic.  Unless you’re Anne Frank, your life is probably just not worth documenting.

So I try to keep things interesting by focusing my lens outward, examining education, politics, pop culture, etc. (And, for the record, I don’t pretend for a second to analyze any of those things especially well.  I do what I can, but it’s strictly Amateur Hour around here.)  When I do write about myself, I try to make sure it’s not really about me, but about what I’m experiencing.  Case in point: my dissection of race relations in Georgia. I mean, yeah, on the surface it’s about me getting acclimated to my new home, but it’s more about the veiled hostility around here that no one really talks about.  And in those rare instances when it really is all about me (such as in this post right here), I at least try to be entertaining.  I don’t always succeed, but at least I acknowledge that there’s a potentially disinterested audience I somehow need to snag.

All of this meta-blathering (Whoa, he’s blogging … about the difficulties of blogging!  That’s deep, maaaaan.) is really my way of saying that keeping things fresh around here is tough.  I used to just bitch about politics and the conservative media all the time, but seriously: how many different ways can you say Fox News sucks?  And I’m not sure it’s any more interesting for me to keep writing about authors or comedians or musicians I like.  It’s interesting to me, but it actually runs the risk of being just a variation on writing about my day.  But I’ll try to find a way to keep this site entertaining and interesting, despite my lazy inclination to throw in the towel yet again.

So, a mission statement, if you will.  I’ll keep pottering around on here simply because I think I need to force myself through the resistance I always feel right around this time.  But having said that – and noticing that my readership has been steadily increasing – do bear in mind that I write this for an audience, and I do spend a fair amount of time crafting these little missives for others’ consumption.  If you’ve taken the time to visit my little corner of the Web (and especially if you’re a regular visitor), comments are welcome and appreciated.  I try to respond to them as time allows, and I’m genuinely interested in hearing what people think.  A dialogue is much more interesting to me than a monologue, so don’t be shy.

*****

Current listening:

weezer 12x12cs3.indd

Weezer – Raditude

Please Hold October 26, 2009

Posted by monty in Uncategorized.
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customer service

This is going to be an exceptionally busy week for me, so my posts will be sporadic for the next few days.  I’ll try to put up one or two things to reward my regular readers (Songs of the Day probably, and any quick links or pictures that seem entertaining), but between teaching, observing student teachers, attending meetings, grading papers, polishing an article, and starting to run again, I’m not going to have a lot of time to write anything weighty.  Apologies for the inconsistency, and thanks for reading.

*****

Current listening:

Moldy peaches

The Moldy Peaches – S/T

Current reading:

BANR2005-full

Amber Dermot – “Lyndon” (from The Best American Nonrequired  Reading 2005, ed. by Dave Eggers)

More Stars Than There Are in Heaven October 15, 2009

Posted by monty in Uncategorized.
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writing-man1

To get the obvious out of the way first, I solved my technical difficulties by purchasing a new MacBook Pro.  In my defense, the good folks at the Apple Store diagnosed my problem as a fried logicboard, and after having a couple people look at it, the consensus seemed to be that inoperable keys would soon be the least of my problems.  So, problem solved, at the cost of $300 a letter.  Righteous.

In the interest of the late hour and my general weariness, I’m going to share something I’ve written previously.  Coming up on October 20th (next Tuesday, that is), the National Council of Teachers of English are hosting/celebrating/sponsoring the National Day of Writing.  People from all over the country are submitting pieces to NCTE to be posted in online galleries which are, I believe, open for public viewing.  I submitted an excerpt from the novel/short story/ill-defined narrative thing I started working on in the summer of 2007.  It’s always been in the back of my mind to finish the thing, so maybe giving it a public airing will be the impetus I need to get off my lazy, procrastinating arse and hop to it.  Anyway, here’s my submission.  Enjoy.  Regularly scheduled programming should resume (fingers crossed) tomorrow.

*****

Excerpt from something I think I’m calling The Reason the Night Is Long

Even though Garrett had never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, he imagined that the waning minutes of the carnival shared much in common with the last few moments of his high school’s lunch period.  Revelers pinballed their way from locker to locker, amped on soda and fast food (juniors and seniors) or pizza and chocolate milk (freshmen and sophomores), highfiving frantically, eking out every last shred of gossip, determined not to let the party die until they woke up to the hangover of 6th period.

Garrett stood before his open locker, staring at the cassette tape where it sat on the shelf and attempting to tune out the cacophony that swirled around him.  The five songs he had recorded from The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder were now etched on the crinkly black audio tape of that 90-minute Memorex cassette, their titles scrawled in longhand on the insert and their sound quality just shoddy enough to pass muster as a live recording.  In less than five minutes he’d be handing it to Steph on the pretense that it was him, it was Garrett and his amazing band, unbelievably talented for a group of 16-year-olds, bursting with ambition and promise, and because all girls secretly longed to be with a sensitive musician, this tape would be all it took for Steph to fall madly in love with Garrett.

And yet.

It was only now, on the cusp of his deception, that Garrett began to question the ethical machinations of this handoff.  There were, of course, logistical questions he had tentative answers for (Would Steph recognize The Smiths’ music?  He didn’t think so.  Would she want him to sing for her?  He’d claim stage fright.), but now he felt the first pangs of guilt.  He was lying to her, after all.  Deceit was hardly the most auspicious way to begin a relationship, but what other romantic gambit did he have?  What else would set him apart from the other hormonal boys vying for her attention?  His athletic ability seemed to indicate that he suffered from some sort of inner ear disorder, and his gifts with pen and ink extended only as far as stick figures and unfortunate-looking cats.  As for his own looks?  Average, all the way around.  In an era when Tom Cruise was the standard of male beauty, he was disappointed to look more like Tom Hanks.  So, cassette it was, and Garrett figured, if fortune decided to smile favorably on him for once and grant him a date or two with Steph, he could always claim the band broke up amid a flurry of egos and substance abuse.

Decision made, Garrett didn’t find the actual execution any easier.  The tape seemed to be pulsating with radiation, or emanating some odorless, yet undeniably toxic, gas.  Before he could change his mind, Garrett swept it from the shelf and thrust it into the breast pocket of his shirt.  He buttoned the pocket, patted it once in reassurance, grabbed textbook and binder, slammed his locker, and spun the combination lock once for good measure.  It was only a few short steps to Spanish II, past the drinking fountain and the pungent restrooms, but Garrett wanted his journey to elasticize, to stretch out before him like a country road, his destination the pinprick where asphalt meets sky, so impossibly distant he could only imagine what it looked like.

Garrett maneuvered his way through the boisterous throng, stopping completely whenever someone even remotely stepped in his path, pausing once to look around for an imaginary pencil he had dropped (wondering, at the same time, if he could get away with pretending to lose a contact lens, and then deciding the fact that he didn’t wear contacts would seriously impede the success of that ruse).    He reluctantly watched the doorway of Room 52 loom ever closer, more imposing than the monolith in 2001, and if anyone in the future would ever dare to tell him he couldn’t know what it felt like to be a death row inmate on his way to the chair, Garrett would respectfully have to disagree.  And then he was there, stepping through the open door before he lost his nerve.

He saw her as soon as he walked into the room.  She was sitting at her desk, the one right in front of his, and he almost wished she wasn’t.  An unexpected absenteeism (due to some benign intervention, of course; a tooth cleaning, maybe?) would have provided Garrett with the excuse he needed to forget the whole plan.  But no, there she was, standing out radiantly against the backdrop of Mexican travel posters, sombreros, and chili peppers spouting motivational slogans.  She was writing something, her neck bent, hair swinging gently with the movement of her Pilot ballpoint across the page.  At fifteen, the long-distance marathon runner of Garrett’s romantic vocabulary hadn’t yet caught up with his sprinting, short-distance hormones.  Once it did, he might have described her hair as a molten, honeyed waterfall; her eyes as depthless cerulean pools.  As it was, he knew all it took was one sideways glance from her to turn his heart into a jackhammer.  Two days ago she laughed at something he said and lightly touched his wrist; for one brief moment the cafeteria bleached in a nuclear sunburst, and he was terrified that he was going to wake up on his back, staring into the concerned faces of teachers and paramedics.

But there she was, and there he was, with three minutes to spare, and a heavy burden in the breast pocket of his shirt.

What if she didn’t want to be bothered?  She looked serious.  She looked busy.  She looked –

At him.  And smiled.  Garrett had just enough time to register the words Aw, crap, skittering spiderlike across his consciousness, and then he was walking toward her, just wanting to get it over with, to end the feeling of cotton in his mouth and flames in his cheeks.

He swung into his desk in a way that he hoped looked debonair.

“Hey, Steph.”

“Hi, Garrett.  How – “

But he was talking, much too fast and much too loud and right over the top of her and he felt terrible and knew it looked at least as bad as it felt, but it was too late to stop.

“So my band and I were recording something the other day, just, you know, out in my garage, we live in the country so we can, like, jam and no one will be bothered, and we recorded a set of songs, I think they’re pretty cool, not, you know, radio-ready or anything, but not bad either, and I thought maybe you’d like to have a copy?”

And he could hear the faint pleading at the end of it, and it was a question, but he didn’t wait for an answer, didn’t want an answer, just wanted to get rid of the cassette in his pocket that now felt as heavy as the lead shot Mr. Palmer had handed around in Earth Science one day.  He reached to pull it out, but he had stupidly buttoned the pocket, and he fumbled with the flap, nearly wrenching the button from the fabric in his haste.  He ripped the cassette from his pocket, thrust it toward her like he was waving a crucifix at an approaching vampire, and felt absolutely zero relief when she took it.

Instead, he was greeted with the absolutely crushing certainty that she would immediately see his deception for what it was: a scared kid feebly trying to impress a girl who was way out of his league with a tape he had recorded in his parents’ garage because he thought it might sound like a real band.  That’s what it was and that’s who he was and if the universe knew anything about what it was doing, he would be found out immediately.

“This is you?” Steph asked, flipping the cassette in her hands.

Garrett was so surprised not to be immediately struck dead by the hand of karmic retribution that he wasn’t sure what to say.  He had been expecting her to take one look at the cassette, utter a laugh pitched at the perfect midpoint between disgust and disbelief, and then fling the tape back at him – the perfect form he had seen her model on the pitcher’s mound now directed at him, rocking back on her right foot, arm at first seeming to reach out to him in welcome, then lancing skyward but not stopping, continuing its 360-degree rotation until it was once again extended toward him, a near-invitation, a quasi-beckoning, but instead the tape would leave her hand with a shriek, rocketing toward him, the audio tape itself, caught at the point of departure on one of her exquisitely painted nails, unspooling behind its plastic case like a shimmering black snake.  The fact that that didn’t happen nearly froze Garrett’s vocal cords, and it was only by a supreme act of will that he got them moving again.

“Um … yeah.  My friends and I.  We’ve got a band.  That’s us.”  He gestured to the tape in her hands, seeing the name he had scrawled across the label – The Newspaper Taxis – and wondered if she’d get the Beatles reference.  He wished instead he’d chosen something more manly: The Hairy Chests; Oozing Testosterone; Toolbox.  Something, anything to counteract the guilt and embarrassment he was desperately trying to choke down like cough syrup.  The Newspaper Taxis.  What was he thinking?

“This is so cool, Garrett.  I can’t wait to listen to it.” Steph opened her binder, and Garrett swore he could smell roses, vanilla, and dewdrops on 6 A.M. summer grass.  She unzipped her pencil pouch and tucked the tape carefully inside.  “It’ll be safe in here.  I’d hate for anything to happen to it.”

“If it gets broken, I’ve got, like – “ Garrett struggled for a number, unsure how many tapes fledgling bands would just happen to have around the house.  “– at least a couple hundred more.  At least.”

“Don’t worry.  It’s safe with me,” Steph said.

“Yeah?  Cool.  Cool.”

“You know something, Garrett?” Steph began.

And the bell rang.

Steph wheeled around in her desk as the post-lunch tumult immediately winked out of existence.  It was plausible to think that Ms. Matix, the Spanish teacher, had not only been in attendance at the Spanish Inquisition, but had probably assisted in its planning and execution.  No one wanted to test her notoriously limited patience.

Verb conjugation was, as usual, on the day’s menu, but Garrett was too preoccupied to pay anything but half-hearted attention to the lesson. You know something, Garrett? Steph had asked.  NO! he wanted to shout.  I don’t know!  Ms. Matix, could we please pause this delightful discussion of irregular verb forms so Steph can finish her thought?  If I have to wait until after class or – heaven forbid – longer, I’m going to go muy loco! Please.  A minute is all I need.  Let us work with partners.  Let us go outside.  Let her ask to use the restroom so I can conveniently have bladder issues at the exact same moment.  Please. Pleasepleasepleasepl –

Garrett didn’t realize he was muttering quietly to himself until Ms. Matix interrupted his mantra.

“Garrett.” She never yelled.  There was no need.  Her voice was the sound of a cell door sliding shut, forever.

Garrett’s eyes snapped immediately into focus and his formerly Steph-plagued brain went tundra-blank. “Ms. Matix?”

Me ver después de la clase.”

“What?” He heard his voice crack, jumping an octave in the space of a single syllable.

“See me after class.  Por favor.”

And the lesson continued.

Damn.  Now there would be no chance to talk to Steph after class.  And today the softball team was away, so there’d be no talking to her after school.  That meant either waiting to talk to her tomorrow, or somehow accessing previously unplumbed reservoirs of strength and calling her.  Which wasn’t going to happen.

As despair seized his heart, he felt an echoing pressure on his knee.  Slight, timid, there and then gone, but pressure nonetheless.  He quickly looked down and saw Steph’s hand retreating back to her desktop from where it had alighted for the scantest of seconds on Garrett’s knee.  Long enough to pass him a message in the Morse code of body language.  Garrett supposed it could have meant anything, but he chose to believe it meant this: It’s going to be okay.

And he knew he’d be able to call her, after all.

*****

Current listening:

Lord st

Lord Cut-Glass – Self-titled

Silence Can Be a Headline October 13, 2009

Posted by monty in Uncategorized.
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technical-difficulties

If you’re one of the five people who currently reads this blog, things are going to be quiet here for a few days until I get my computer situation sorted.  Long story short: My keyboard (and specifically the letters i, o, k, l, m and the number 8) doesn’t like pinot noir.  Everything I type on my laptop takes about three times as long to do (switching as I am between the real keyboard for most of my typing and the virtual keyboard on my screen for the inoperative letters, which are way more common than you might think), and since people aren’t exactly clamoring to read this, I’ll just shutter it until the problem’s solved.  I’m sure you’ll find some way to survive.

*****

Current listening:

Ride nowhere

Ride – Nowhere

Current reading:

DennisLehane_MysticRiver

Dennis Lehane – Mystic River

Bad Things Coming, We Are Safe October 9, 2009

Posted by monty in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , ,
4 comments

In his book I Drink for a Reason, David Cross writes a chapter about how he’d be the worst survivor ever.  No matter what the catastrophe, he’d be the one crying in the corner, praying for death.  Similarly, on Patton Oswalt’s latest album, My Weakness Is Strong, he laments how, without his meds, he’d be too depressed to fight back against the hordes of raiders in our unavoidably post-apocalyptic future.  I mention Cross and Oswalt because the thought of surviving some world-ending event has been on my mind since seeing Zombieland last weekend.

This might surprise those of you who know me, but I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that I’d do quite well following the apocalypse.  This is why:

1) I can handle solitude. At the time of this writing, I’ve lived by myself for nearly fifteen years. More importantly, the older I get, the more uncomfortable I become in social situations.  I see a future as a shut-in – like Harold Smith in Twin Peaks – as a very real possibility.  So the thought of being on my own after the end of the world doesn’t fill me with dread.  If anything, I’ll probably enjoy the fact that, when I’m out foraging for food or trying to siphon the last drops of gas out of a car for my own souped-up, bad-ass ramming machine, I won’t have to make small talk with anyone.  I’ll simply stick my two cats in a backpack and roam the wasteland. I’ll become a legend, spoken of in whispers.  The Lonely Cat-Guy.  The Feline Stalker. It’ll give me the mysterious cachet I’ve always wanted.

2) I can run fast, and for long distances. My wimpy, asthmatic lungs notwithstanding, being an on-again, off-again runner for the last ten years has given me speed and stamina.  I’m not in the best physical shape I’ve ever been in, but I figure the necessary reduction in calories following the apocalypse will get me down to my ideal weight in no time.

Now, if the apocalypse involves zombies, the world of film has taught us we have two options.  If I’m faced with George Romero’s shambling, staggering zombies, I’ll be set for life.  Those things can barely walk, let alone run.  As long as I watch my back, exercise caution in opening doors, and always have at least two exits to any room I’m in, I figure I’ll have nothing to worry about.  Things get a little dicier if I’m faced with the sprinting, Olympic-ready zombies of 28 Days Later or Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. I’m not sure why death redlines their capacity for aerobic activity (which is a contradiction anyway, since zombies don’t need oxygen), but this scenario would certainly necessitate more caution.  If there’s anything I’ve picked up from those movies, though, it’s that sprinting zombies A) are easily distracted and B) aren’t the most perseverant things in the world.  As long as I can outrun them for a few minutes and/or have some distractions ready (dropping my backpack of cats will work in a pinch – sorry, Nigel and Maggie), I should be able to lose them.

Things get slightly more difficult if the apocalypse doesn’t involve the undead.  For some reason, your garden-variety post-apocalyptic hooligans often travel in packs, they usually have at least one speedy vehicle, and, in the absence of guns, they always seem armed with distance weapons – crossbows, slings, and other weapons that launch pointy things – like the apocalypse suddenly turned the world into a giant game of Dungeons & Dragons. I clearly couldn’t outrun a car, which means I would have to be supernaturally alert to the sound of engines, and always have my own vehicle handy for when the power of my legs just won’t suffice.  Otherwise, I have extraordinary powers of dodging and weaving – as long as I don’t pop a hamstring, I should be able to run faster than my pursuers and avoid any projectiles they hurl my way.

3) I have no desire to be a hero. The plots of post-apocalyptic movies all revolve around the rise of one character to heroic heights.  At some point, survival is supplanted by a desire to do something for The Greater Good.™  I have no such aspirations now, and I’m sure I wouldn’t suddenly get ambitious if the world as we knew it came to an end.  In fact, my guess is that in such a situation I’d become even more selfish than I already am (see my previous plan to feed my cats to ravenous zombies).  I’ll leave the post-apocalytpic heroics to the Mel Gibsons of the world and practice good ol’ Emersonian self-reliance.  It’s not that I wouldn’t want to help other people, but seriously – what’s the point of surviving the apocalypse just so you can die trying to save some ungrateful bastard?  My solipsism will save me while the rest of the survivors are being noshed on by zombies.

4) I’m industrious and clever. I have no practical, real-world basis for this belief.  However, I tend to think these abilities are lying mostly dormant within me, just waiting for an opportunity like the end of the world to bring them forth.  Why do I believe this?  Because there are flashes of MacGyver-like ingenuity in my past.  Just last week I used a rolled-up magazine as a doorstop in my office.  I once fixed a car’s hose with a Band-Aid.  And years ago I used a piece of fishing line to create a hinge for a broken pair of eyeglasses (the fact that the glasses never fit me properly after that is immaterial).  Being forced into a situation where I had to be resourceful to survive would cause my cleverness to blossom like a flower.  In no time at all I’d be making weapons out of the unlikeliest of things.  Old page-a-day calendars, drink coasters, tape measures, the tokens from a game of Monopoly – Edison would weep with envy if he could see what I did with them.

5) I want to live. This is the big one.  It seems like in movies and books about the apocalypse, a good number of people just give up.  But I’m a sucker for new and unfamiliar experiences (which is at odds with my anti-social nature, I know; I’m a complicated dude), and is there anything newer and more unfamiliar than having to dodge zombies through the detritus of a ruined city?  Life wouldn’t become boring and pointless just because most of the population got snuffed out.  If anything, it would become more purposeful.  I live comfortably now, and a part of me has always been a little disappointed by that.  I think that’s why I like camping, hiking, rock climbing.  It brings me a little closer to a life without all the other distractions I love.  And the harder things get, the more belligerent I become.  I wouldn’t be the most pleasant person to be around following the end of the world, but I’d be a good bet for survival.

Although there’s probably just as strong a chance I’d be the guy to run screaming from a building and get run down by a car within the first five minutes of the apocalypse.  Odds are 50-50 at best.

*****

Current listening:

Foo nothing

Foo Fighters – There Is Nothing Left to Lose