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Washtenaw Flaneurade
3 July 2005
Every Star Is A Setting Sun
I don't write about politics very often in this blog, mainly because other people do it so much better. Whenever the Fourth of July rolls around, though, I get to thinking about what it means to be an American, like my mind holds second-grade essay contests every year.

Over the past five years, the gap between rich and poor has grown considerably, and we've had a walking human embarrassment in the White House who's manipulated our good intentions and lied us into a war that's made the war on terror more difficult to win. Closer to home, in Washtenaw County, self-styled "liberals" are trying to keep the poor, the working poor, and working people from having affordable housing and available jobs in the county's urban center simply so they can preserve some faded, failed-hippie dream of domesticity.

And yet I'm still proud of being American. I'm proud of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the fact that this country fought wars to end slavery (well, eventually, anyway) and fascism (after isolationist conservatives had done their best to keep us out for two years, but better late than never), and, among many other things, the music. I'm sorry to sound like Jack Lessenberry in the Metro Times right now, but it can't be helped. Not today.

I watched I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (2003) last night, and am still glowing to a certain extent. Filmed by Sam Jones (not to be confused with the actor who played the title role in Flash Gordon or the one-term Louisiana reform governor during the late 1940s), it looks at Wilco (vying for a number of years with Sleater-Kinney to be my favorite American rock band) and their struggle to put together Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002), a album of glory and magic that I place alongside Pet Sounds, White Light/White Heat, and Born to Run as being close to perfect as possible. Watching Jeff Tweedy, Jay Bennett (despite his occasionally cringe-inducing arguments with the former and his eventual departure from the band), and the rest struggle with themselves and their idiotic record company to produce a masterpiece made me feel as patriotic as if I'd just voted. Truly awesome. The alternate version of the movie title song (the first song on the album) playing during the opening credits gave me goosebumps of a sort I hadn't felt in ages.

With that, I hope everyone, American or no, has a great Fourth of July tomorrow.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 12:21 PM EDT
Updated: 9 July 2005 2:07 PM EDT
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2 July 2005
Yiddish Breakfast
Well, leftover hamantaschen and rugelach left over from a funeral Tiffany catered on Thursday. They were still pretty good, though.

A long week comes to an end, to reveal three days off for me. Last night I went to see the Great Lakes Myth Society at the Blind Pig. The weather improved considerably, hovering between 50 and 75 Fahrenheit all evening--I walked home in my sweater. The show had some interesting surprises, too. There was an unexpected amount of human contact, as the cocktail server (if "The King of Beers" can be considered a "cocktail") Livy and Hailey, a library clerk who recognized me from... well, the library, came to ask what I was reading (Vanity Fair, which I finally finished this afternoon--highly recommended; deceptively Dickensian mawkishness drenched in acid). I actually got into a conversation with the latter, who plans to attend library school as well.

Opening for the GLMS were Starling Electric, a late-60s influenced band and the Singles... another late-60s influenced band. Most of the bands I like in the area are 60s-influenced, definitely my two faves, Saturday Looks Good To Me and the Avatars. I wonder sometimes whether rock music has hit some sort of creative ceiling, only able now to recycle various bits and pieces from its past into new forms. Of course, I guess the same can be said for any creative endeavor. C.S. Lewis, when talking about writing in "On Stories," pointed out that humans never think of anything genuinely new, only processing things they already know or perceiving and combining them into other constructs (the first time, so far as I know, that the word "constructs" has appeared in this blog, and hopefully the last).

The bands were pretty good, although the smoke used by Starling Electric made me think of bedrooms with towels stuffed under the doors and pot smoke filling the inside, a nice, healthy dose of early Yes on the stereo (not that that's a bad thing at all--I've come to be reunited with my own love of early Yes, the years before Rick Wakeman decided to become an Arthurian ice-skating impresario). The Singles were... jangly, that's the best way I can think of describing them. I didn't enjoy the "Gloms" as much as I thought I would--I think I was tired. As I'd been up since four in the morning that was certainly plausible. A weird mood came over me and I left about three-fourths of the way into their set. I don't understand why, either--some of the guitar work was the most intricate and accomplished I'd ever heard at the Pig (I don't play guitar, but it sure sounded intricate and accomplished to me).

I bought potatoes this morning. My life is a raging, churning torrent of anarchy.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:24 PM EDT
Updated: 2 July 2005 4:30 PM EDT
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1 July 2005
South Main Street Is Not "Death Race 2000"
Regardless, y'all should all see Paul Bartel's 1975 masterwork Death Race 2000 (I cop to the fact that I haven't seen Eating Raoul yet).

After a long, slightly grueling week at work and weather that for the most part resembled a mix of piss and ordure, the last thing I need is to go on my walk to work this morning, cross Washington while the light flashes "walk" (the ambiguity, as many of you probably know, has been largely removed by the replacement of "walk" by a small walking figure that lights up white), and nearly get run over by some inconsiderate asshole nattering away on a hands-free (I think--it was one of those headphone-mouthpiece things). What made it worse was that there were two guys directly behind me on wheelchairs. I know society doesn't exactly value my existence, but these guys are supposed to be off-limits, aren't they? Maybe not. Maybe the "haves" are finally getting fed up with having to look at the rest of us.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 5:53 PM EDT
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27 June 2005
Afternoon of Terror, Night of Magic
I feel better now--Sunday was awesome.

I cleaned my room as soon as I woke up, and had a very pleasant morning, returning beer bottles at the Village Corner and having a nice conversation with the lovely manager (who's always really cool to me and works at Liberty Street Video, too), and then breakfasting at the Fleetwood, as I do pretty much every Sunday. I'm convinced that Kathy and Karen are conspiring to ask me if I "need anything else" only when my mouth's full.

Last week at Cinema Guild, we watched Georges Franju's Eyes Without A Face (1960), commonly cited as one of the finest and most influential of European horror movies. It left me a little cold, to be honest. This week, we watched Judex (1963), a terrific remake--yes, that's right, I don't hate all of them--of one of Louis Feuillade's adventure serials made during the First World War. Feuillade also directed Les Vampires (1915), three-fourths of which I've seen. Judex tells the Monte Cristo-like story of a masked precursor to Batman pursuing his own private justice. It's great fun, and any movie that has two gorgeous, scantily-clad women engaged in a climactic battle to the death atop a gabled roof automatically has something going for it (especially if one of them's Silva Koscina).

I took a ramble through West Park that afternoon, and walked up a flight of wooden steps leading to West Huron Street. I looked down at the steps for a second and saw, directly beneath the step I'd reached, a skunk.

Anyone who's ever seen a picture of a skunk knows that they're actually rather adorable. Flower wasn't drawn that way in Bambi (1942) for nothing. We used to see a family of skunks cross Spring Street occasionally, the cutest thing I'd ever seen over there. Viewed from afar or in a book or movie, they look absolutely darling. From up close, it's obviously different, perhaps the longest two seconds I've spent since I moved here. I broke contact first, briskly increasing my pace up the hill. We both took leave of each other without significant olfactory damage. Next time, I don't think I'll be so lucky.

The main attraction Sunday night was the "all girls' summer fun show" at the Madison House, featuring Kelly Caldwell. It was only this morning that I realized how funny the first description was. Brandon had set up the backyard beautifully, with my donated shelves, some cinder blocks, and rows of folding chairs. A variety of flowers and a flag of Michigan had been hung somehow on the high wooden fence and the rear wall of the rug store next door.

People brought their own beer, and this managed to loosen me up and get me talking (perhaps too much, but it can't be helped now). I don't know what it is about social gatherings in Ann Arbor (of course, I've been to about five or six in the nearly three years I've "lived" here), but I seem to instantly contract social anxiety disorder every time I'm at a function like this (for example, spending the first quarter of the evening engrossed in a cheese recipe book I had gotten for free--again--from Ann--the lady who lived next door*). This time, I talked a little more to people, and got to tell Kelly Caldwell how much I liked her music, which was nice. I even continued my apparent private war with the world of "dumb beasts," as Brandon's housemate Chris and I were almost brutally assaulted by a bee.

The music all-around was fantastic, the experience even better than the last show there. I'd never heard of the first three artists, and they all stunned, especially Sari Brown, who belted out song after song in this incredibly gutsy, throaty voice that stretched well beyond her years. Molly-Jean from Detroit, a recent TasteFest vet, had an amusing set, in particular "OxyContin Denim Whore," about ripping on old ex-boyfriends. Aleise Barnett, who I've seen working at Shaman Drum (where I often browse but hardly ever buy--big surprise) and had no idea played music, delivered a lovely yet subdued collection, one of those kinds that really set me to thinking (always a good thing). And finally, I couldn't figure out whether Kelly Caldwell was actually better here or at the show a couple of months ago on North Division (also described in these pixels). I gave it up, as I probably won't figure it out. It was great, of course, but much more fun this time, as everyone, including me, knew the words to a lot of the songs and couldn't help singing along. "Southern Boys," a song I especially love for obvious reasons, was a hilarious group effort. Everyone sang along, the temperature mellowed out, the sky was pink with the sunset, the birds were aloft, the "motion-light" kept going on and off... Oh, the humanity. I was so carried away that I even told Brandon I might bring scones next time (once I learn how to make them on my own, which should be this weekend).

And this morning? No hangover whatsoever and I ran into Lou and a friend of his and had a nice chat on the #2 bus into downtown. Perfect.

*As one can see from the comments, her name is apparently "Diane," and she knew Peter S. Beagle (that one was for Natalie, I think), which is why she had the William Morris book the first time.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:50 PM EDT
Updated: 27 June 2005 5:17 PM EDT
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24 June 2005
See Ya Next Week!
I'm all in. I am so damn tired of everything. I hope I don't feel like this tomorrow. That's all I got, really.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 3:59 PM EDT
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23 June 2005
Brain and Brain! What is Brain?
This week has been really weird, but really uneventful at the same time. I slammed my thumb at work, and a lightning bug flew into my room while the window was open. I seem to be getting up at three-thirty or four every morning. I actually don't mind the last issue--there's a pleasantly eerie quality to the surrounding (or cross-street, I should say) landscape in the pre-dawn mist. I always feel that I'm about to hear sinister keening wails coming from the cemetery when I see the clock strike four (not sure why that's significant). I'm leaving now, to go home, have some gazpacho, watch "Coronation Street," study for the GRE, and go to bed, the same sequence each of my evenings has taken this week. That's probably why it all feels so strange.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 6:17 PM EDT
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19 June 2005
I Thought It Was Edible
I missed Juneteenth again!!! Some of you may be familiar with the primarily African-American holiday celebrating the end of slavery, which is supposed to take place June 18 (commemorating the declaration of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas, one of the last places to be reached by Union troops at the end of the Civil War). Every year there's a big shindig at Wheeler Park in Kerrytown, and I meant to go last year, and forgot, and did the exact same thing this year. Third time'll be the charm, I hope.

I did have a fun Juneteenth, though. I decided not to hike out to Gallup, instead just walking through the city and doing some intense comparison-shopping at the Farmer's Market and Sparrow's. I got enough ingredients to try mushroom, barley, and spinach soup this evening, so we'll see how that goes. I made a "Dutch farmer's soup" last week which was all right, but probably would have been better if I'd made a bigger batch--the veggies I used for the stock still taste great as a stew, though.

While walking along Catherine Street, I had an odd encounter with a cute girl sitting on her porch and eating an apricot. I nodded and smiled to her just as she dropped a freshly-gnawed apricot pit. We both watched as it tumbled in seeming slow motion down the steps and landing at my feet, and then started laughing in unison. I asked her if I could get it for her--I thought it was an unopened walnut until I inspected it more closely. She found this hilarious.

A very pleasant surprise awaited me at the WRAP office as I found that my friend Meredith from Planned Parenthood (who's also on the WRAP board) was running a garage sale. We talked for a while, and I spent $1.00 for about eight old shelves (to be donated to the Madison House for backyard seating purposes), two CDs of assorted orchestral music (one Saint-Saens and one just random stuff about sailing that included some Delius--I've never heard any of his stuff and have been meaning to give it a try), Meredith's old social policy textbook, a copy of The Hobbit, and a vintage 1982 cardboard poster featuring what looks like a raccoon straddling open water between a wharf and a rowboat that implores "hang in there, baby!" in weird second-grade textbook-style lettering. It was great to see her again.

This morning was glorious. I had breakfast at the Fleetwood, of course, which is always a good time (Sunday mornings being my favorite time to go). I sat on the Diag, the main concourse of the central Michigan campus, for the first time--and I've lived here for almost three years--reading Paris Babylon, Rupert Christensen's hugely entertaining book about Second Empire Paris and the resulting Commune. This afternoon? A Georges Franju film at Cinema Guild, maybe call my dad, and then a dogged attempt to make mushroom, barley, and spinach soup.

Have a nice day.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 12:24 PM EDT
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18 June 2005
Building the Perfect Potato Chip
Two nights ago, I had a rather disturbing dream. I was waiting to catch the #5 (Packard) bus home from somewhere between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. The driver sternly informed me that my Go!Pass was hereto invalid and that my place aboard depended on my success at an arcade game freshly installed at the stop which asked questions concerning The Wild Bunch. I remember I did surprisingly well on it, but he still wouldn't let me on. "They're men! And, by God, I wish I was with them!" Bastard. I also remember that the tinkling of quarters as I dropped them into the machine was curiously loud.

Last night, however, I did end up picking paper potato chips off the floor of a small performance space in Ypsilanti, sharing a bag of real ones with a very attractive sketch artist while watching a trio of marionette plays concerning the individual's relationship with society. You should all be so lucky.

Yes, it was Dreamland Theater time again for your indefatigable correspondent. The place, along with the Blind Pig, the Fleetwood Diner, and possibly the Old Town or the Eight-Ball (or the Earle on Friday evenings), has become one of my favorite places anywhere in Washtenaw County (and by extension Michigan, although then I should include Tom's Oyster Bar on Lafayette Street in Detroit). If there's one thing that cheers me up (and probably creeps a lot of other people out), it's watching marionettes or puppets prance around a stage.

All the plays were by San Francisco-based writer Jess Rowland. "Satisfaction Guaranteed" tells of a Jobbish schlub named Bob who tries to kill himself, but is prevented by a very special bag of potato chips (hence my activities mentioned earlier). "Reality Incorporated" looks at reality's call center, where a new temp named Jessica struggles to change the system. "Dirt" is... about dirt, and how it loves an imperiled lass by the name of Marianne. The plays incorporated music and video projection in a very fresh way, and made for an incredibly entertaining evening (evenings there usually are). A number of audio problems occurred, and in the resulting intermission, I was able to tell everyone how odd it was for someone from Louisiana to see Zapp's potato chips marketed as a "gourmet" item at Zingerman's (whence I actually got a rejection letter this week in response to my application in early May, incidentally). There are usually about five, maybe six people in the audience, but everyone has a smashing time.

The last buses from Ypsi to Ann Arbor leave from 9:30 to 10:00, so I had to hoof it back to the transit center immediately after the plays ended, catching a gorgeous, cloud-shrouded twilight on the way over Riverside Park, where the Huron River cuts through downtown Ypsi. I always mean to stay and tell the puppeteers and musicians--head honcho Naia Venturi, Misha Grey, and Tom Barton, among others, how much I love what they do, but there's rarely enough time. It's too bad that more people don't know about the place.

Before the show, I stopped in at the Ann Arbor "Green Fair". I recycle and don't have a car, so the whole "environmental responsibility" thing is preachin' to the converted as far as I'm concerned (I do need to stop using styrofoam cups, though). It's good to see people trying to fight the good fight (even if I'm convinced that they, and the species in general, are bound to lose by this point). I wish them the best (except the "Friends of the Greenway," who stand for environmental irresponsibility ).

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 9:21 AM EDT
Updated: 18 June 2005 9:41 AM EDT
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17 June 2005
Underwear Is For The Weak
Yeah, that's right--no matter what "they" do to me, "they" can never take this away from me.

Again, frequent depression impels me to learn (as do the requirements of my job). I've learned a great deal about baking this week, having made a dozen scones from scratch and several quiche crusts. So huzza! for me. Before long, I'll be baking bread and everything.

I'm beginning to find that cooking does a lot to keep my mind occupied (I recently started writing and studying for the GRE again, so that helps, too). For the past several months, I've been in a bit of a funk and haven't been able to write (the fata morgana that was Emily's split-second presence in my life I write off to celestial mockery), but it's gotten a lot better.

Sunday Cinema Guild showed Michael Reeves' masterpiece, The Witchfinder General (1968), with perhaps Vincent Price's greatest performance as real life "witchfinder" Matthew Hopkins, well matched by the always terrific Ian Ogilvy and the gorgeous Hilary Dwyer as a pair of ill-fated lovers during the English Civil War. It looked fantastic on DVD, and the sumptuous Ralph Vaughan Williams-y score by Paul Ferris helped matters considerably (not that they really needed helping). Less a horror movie, really, than an "English Western," everyone should see it; it's fantastic.

I went swimming again yesterday and the pool seemed to kick my ass less than it has the past two weeks. Getting back in the water after you've swum a couple of laps and rested for the same number of minutes (it's been a long time since I swam regularly) is deceptively helpful for the limbs--only after you've swum the next lap do you realize you're in for trouble. I usually do a mole-like breaststroke, like I'm Angus Lennie or Steve McQueen in The Great Escape scooping dirt from the earth and shoving it behind me. I do a couple of freestyle laps every visit, but they're much more tiring. It's exhilarating nevertheless; I forgot how much fun it was to be in the water.

The weather has been remarkably cool and mutable recently--it's supposed to get down to 54 Fahrenheit this evening, but it'll be back up in the 80s for next week. I take what I can get, personally.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:21 PM EDT
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15 June 2005
Mouse Haters
I stopped into Espresso Royale on Main this morning to have a lemonade before work. As usual, two out of the three computers didn't work and an early customer got to the operational unit before me. I sat at one of the other terminals and waited for her to finish while reading Vanity Fair (funny, but it's hard going--Thackeray is so intrusive with his narration--he makes Dickens look like Raymond Carver). All the while she was doing whatever the hell she was doing, she moved the mouse around in an unusually savage manner. I mean, she was jabbing the thing, slamming it against the countertop like she wanted it dead. It was weird, it was bizarre, it was the perfect start to my day.

I saw a rainbow Monday morning, which was nice. Tonight I'm going to try and make a soup. We'll see what happens, but apparently I'm really good at making quiche crust.

One of these days I'm going to have some kind of interesting experience and y'all will think I'm lying. I did get a hilariously flattering mention in someone else's blog, but I'm holding back on linking to it because it's... well, really flattering.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 5:01 PM EDT
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