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Washtenaw Flaneurade
15 May 2010
Porter Shorts
Now Playing: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention--"Hungry Freaks, Daddy"

The 12th of May, 2010, was one of the strangest days I've had for a while. The weirdness mainly came down to the way in which it started. I woke up around five in the morning to the sound of people screaming at each other outside. I thought it might have just been the standard din of "America's future leaders" rolling down the sidewalk on the way home from whatever afterhours beer pong bacchanalia was going on over on Walnut or Linden. Sadly, the screaming continued, and I managed to shoehorn myself out of bed and stagger down to the front door. Looking between the slats of the front door blinds, I saw a guy and a girl yelling and gesticulating, the girl threatening to call the cops, and the guy sarcastically encouraging her to do so. In between all this, I reckoned that much of their disagreement must have been down to someone named "Kelly." There wasn't much else I could glean, save that the girl thought she was being kicked out of the guy's house and that the guy's yelling back (if she had started it at all) wasn't helping. As their behavior obviously indicated that they wanted the entire neighborhood to know their business, I tried my damnedest to eavesdrop on the whole story. It was the least I could do, really, especially after being woken up. The whole nature of my morning changed, though, when he started moving towards her rather aggressively (the best spin I could put on that was that he may have been trying to take her cell phone off her). I then threw the door open and said, "If you hit her, I'll call the cops." This sounds sillier or more melodramatic than it actually was, believe me; it must have looked a lot more like a "you damn kids better get off my lawn" reaction than anything else. The guy protested that they were just having a "spat," and the girl ran off. It suddenly hit me that these two had been through a similar deal a few months back, as she had headed down Geddes in the exact same way--presumably she lived over that way. We live in a very student-"rich" area, so it's a little hard to keep track of these things. The guy snarks at me the same way he did at the girl, and nearly made a move to gain the porch. He stopped and apparently thought better of it (which, though a relief, was a little odd, as I'm not the most threatening physical specimen), going back inside his house (which is hideously ugly, by the way--not that ours is relatively unsightly, but his makes our place look like the Alhambra). I went back inside, thinking (a) I'd gotten them apart for a possible cooling-off period, (b) I'd also gotten them off our driveway, which the guy mistakenly identified as "his property," and (c) I'd be able to go back to sleep. It was only as I later failed at (c) that I realized how odd I felt. I am not a confrontational person. It almost certainly derives, like most things, from childhood issues, but it's also been rather beneficial for me in many ways--being able to see two sides to every issue, etc. It certainly doesn't sound like much, but I felt like I'd stepped over a threshold of sorts (I suppose literally). I was a trifle off-kilter for the rest of the morning. I went in to work to help with gardening, though the miserable weather has once again postponed planting my own garden (see below). I had a decent chat with our garden coordinator over the possibility of gardening on a more formal basis (essentially taking over her position after she moves to North Carolina this summer), and, after cruising the farmer's market, had a delicious lunch of grilled mackerel and rice on the new noodle bar at Liberty and Thompson. After getting home and starting some chicken stock (I've been meaning to make a new batch for a while), I noticed a police car outside and saw the girl talking with a cop in our yard (I suppose she didn't want to be in the guy's "property"). No idea what happened, although that she went ahead and called the cops suggests something a little more serious. I don't know whether to feel pleased that I was able to stop things before they might have gotten really ugly (however relatively inadvertently) or just creeped out at being in such proximity to such a sketchy situation.

This week in general has been unusually productive. I finally decided to take the leap and plant a garden, though the strange repelling effect my house seems to have on the sun has forced me to get creative. On a work supply visit to Downtown Home and Garden, an estimable Ann Arbor institution, I noticed the existence of "Earthboxes," mobile mini-gardens that work on the water-table system. They seemed like just the thing, and I picked one up and later got potting soil for it. Hopefully today I'll be getting leeks, peppers, and fennel from the farmer's market, and probably plant tomorrow morning. The weather over the past few weeks has been strangely cool; every time I got ready to bite the bullet and grab some seedlings, it's either dropped to fifty or started raining (I suppose it's better than getting a last blast of snow). Now it finally looks like I'm in with a chance. I think I might still get a pot for a tomato plant and some basil, to be a little more traditional; there's a place on our front walk that would be perfect for it. I don't think there'll be a yield big enough for more than one or two dishes, but if I can prove to myself that I can do it, I might actually splurge for a plot at one of the community gardens next season.

I also sent off a story. One of my colleagues on the BHF drew my attention to Pill Hill Press, which puts out themed anthologies every few months, and is publishing one on werewolves entitled Silver Moon, Bloody Bullets, due out this summer. I've been discussing with work chums the growing stylistic bankruptcy of vampires and zombies, and the idea of exploring lycanthropy appealed to me, as did the short notice on the anthology, the deadline for which was Saturday. I knocked out a piece that I maybe think could use a little more flesh on its bones, but which stands alone pretty well, formatted it to the guidelines, and sent it off. It'll be only over the next few days, I think, that it truly sinks in what a big step this has been for me. I've been published before in the BHF anthologies, but that was originally by invitation for the first, and so submitting two more for the third didn't seem as forbidding as it might have. Ever since I started writing, I've only submitted "blind" twice, both in situations where the stories were quite unsuited to their destinations. I doubt this one will make it, but the threshold I've crossed (this has been the week for them, apparently) will make it easier for me to do this in the future, I think, and there are a few more themed anthologies coming out that might be more up my alley if this one doesn't work out. This year, while not as eventful, maybe, as last year's, is really shaping up to be a formative one.

The Witches and the Grinnygog (1983): The personally influential Nickelodeon series The Third Eye, which I've mentioned earlier on this screen in connection with Children of the Stones, delivered one more intriguing entry of children's supernatural fare before going off the air, apparently as a result of Nickelodeon's decision to retool around 1984, a decision that would lead to shows like the deeply loathsome Double Dare. Having already introduced malleable American viewers to a number of British series involving kids mixed up with the supernatural (and one New Zealander program, 1981's Under the Mountain), The Third Eye gave us this offbeat 1983 tale of cuddly tea-cozy witchcraft and then lamentably skeddadled. I vividly remember as a kid Nickelodeon starting to go down the tubes around this time, and it was probably for that reason. I didn't get to see all of The Witches and the Grinnygog back then. I was hooked for something like the first and second episodes, and then the combination of the titular unnerving stone idol and what I thought was a creepy scene with a disembodied voice coming from an attic scared me shitless and actually gave me nightmares. I'd like to report a surfeit of embarrassment on finally righting an almost thirty-year-old wrong (i.e. finally seeing the whole thing, fittingly enough given the story's subject matter) at the very idea of The Witches and the Grinnygog being scary. The Witches and the Grinnygog was based on the Whitbread-shortlisted children's book by Dorothy Edwards, and put out by TV South, an upstart independent station in southeast England that had a brief run of success in the 1980s, co-producing Fraggle Rock, among other things. A small village in southern England (interesting to compare this contemporary portrayal of the Thatcherite era with more northerly examples like Billy Elliot and Shane Meadows' compelling This Is England) suddenly finds itself beset with all manner of strange doings as the local vicar (Robert Swann, most famous in my house for the elegantly cruel Rowntree of Lindsay Anderson's if...) tries to stop the redevelopment of his church and everyone prepares for the village fete. It all revolves around the appearance of a mysterious gargoyle-like statue and three strange old women, one of whom apparently has a mannequin for a daughter. A band of kids--the vicar's and their more working-class friends--try to figure out what's going on, with the occasional help of the mysterious Dr. Alabaster (Olu Jacobs), an African academic who knows more than he's telling. The whole thing's supremely weird, and that I ever had trouble getting to sleep on its account will henceforth rank as one of my chief childhood shames. That's not to say it's bad at all. Its weirdness and relative lack of tension make for a refreshingly offbeat feel, as does the portrayal of village life. This isn't a Miss Marple story with the dates changed; the kids and the vicar are all seen listening to what clearly sounds like New Order and the Human League on the radio (interestingly, the YouTube upload for the finale of Part One features, on the side, the video for Real Life's "Send Me An Angel") and Mrs. Firkettle, the working-class kids' mother, has very realistic worries about losing her job in a department store. The appearance of Mr. Alabaster (and a bus driver of Asian descent) gives a refreshingly diverse twist for the time. The story revolves around an ancient injustice needing to be put right, but the tension never really quite results in the payoff one might expect. The title idol has its moments of creepiness, but none that really justify, even in retrospect, robbing me of sleep. Even so, it's a pleasantly offbeat trip down memory lane, and a laid-back, pressure-free way to scratch off some long-neglected unfinished business.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 10:31 AM EDT
Updated: 15 May 2010 10:40 AM EDT
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16 May 2010 - 12:23 PM EDT

Name: "Mom"

Get yourself a rosemary plant.  It will grow almost anywhere and will provide you with an abundance of usable stems in no time!

16 May 2010 - 7:25 PM EDT

Name: "Tara"

Hey, I had no idea that Nickelodeon was ever good! We didn't get cable until it had already started to suck, and then my mom wouldn't let us watch half the shows on account of their stupidity. (Oddly, Double Dare was not off limits; did you know that Mark Summers is severely OCD? Poor guy.) 

Anyway, perhaps your ultimate confrontation with the stone idol enabled those threshold crossings : ) Whatever it is, congratualtions and good luck with the story submission!

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