Tuesday, February 28th 2006

Fear is the mind-killer: the prequel
posted @ 12:50 pm in [ ]

Like most kids with active imaginations, I was convinced that there were monsters in my closet, under my bed, in the dark corners of the room, and lurking in every possible location that was obscured from eyeshot. My plastic dinosaurs (of which I had quite a collection) and favorite teddy bear would grow to giant size and combat them as I slept.

Recently, a friend of mine with small children who were similarly blessed/cursed with active imaginations asked me what I did to get past my fear of monsters. “They won’t sleep, ” she said. I recommended toy combat fantasies and Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban. I wouldn’t sleep either. It didn’t seem rational with all the things that might get me.

For example, I didn’t sleep for about the first four years of my life, first because I was colicky, fussy, and a generally “high-maintenance baby” (as we call it these days), and then because I had a theory. I got stung by a bee once when I was a toddler, and observed that the sting swelled. I surmised that people got larger, and grew up, because they got stung by bees. The swelling was pretty painful, though, and I was not at all interested in growing up anyway (obviously, I’m still not), so I didn’t think much of that. I later observed that I was growing despite a lack of obvious bee stings, and deduced that if I could not recall getting stung during the daylight hours, the bees must have been getting me while I was asleep. Upon observing the buzzing sound emitting from the radiator next to my bed, a theory was born. It took my parents a couple of years to find out what was going on, and during that time, I only slept when exhaustion overwhelmed me.

Upon finding out my first-ever pet theory, my parents finally convinced me to look into the radiator, where there was no evidence of any kind of bees. They explained how human growth worked. I slept more often. With the help of my garrison of protective toys, I was sometimes reasonably sure monsters would be subdued. When I had bad dreams, my parents reminded me that I was the boss of my dreams, which worked pretty well, too. I desperately wanted to be the boss of something other than my guinea pig, and apparently, I was into confrontation, even then. “What are you worried about?” my father used to ask me when I expressed my anxieties. “You’re the scariest thing around.”

And then there were the ghost traps.

I was never sure what exactly ghosts were made of, but I was sure they were white and that catching them would take extra craftiness. I used to save the plastic 6-pack holders to use as ghost traps. I think I thought the ghost would come silently breezing down the hall, step in them and get caught, but I’m not sure why I thought a 6-pack holder would be especially effective at ensnaring it.

The most famous ghost trap, however, was much more elaborate. It was so elaborate, it was part deterrent and part snare. My grandmother, who, if she were alive today, would probably try to live in Costco, had bought me several packages of those 70’s hair ties that looked like colorful bits of bloated yarn. I liked them, but I wasn’t sure what to do with so many of them. It occurred to me to begin tying them together like rope, and then as I saw how long it was getting, it came to me: this was the mother of all ghost traps. That night, after my parents were asleep, I ran the long string all around the apartment, especially the hallway and routes one could take to avoid the hallway. I slept really well that night, secure in the knowledge that no ghost could possibly get down the hallway, or go around it, to get me. In the morning, when the danger had passed, my father opened the door to the bedroom and all the chairs in the dining room fell over. I was ordered (through what I later discovered to be muffled snickers) to dismantle the craftiest ghost trap ever concocted.

“Well, what got you to stop being afraid of monsters when you were a kid?” I asked my friend. She didn’t remember. I remember what it was for me, though. We had moved to a small town a ways out of Boston when I was about 7. After several months, our friends stopped visiting us there. I remember my mother saying it was “too far out of the way.” I started thinking that if our friends wouldn’t even come see us out here, who else was going to bother? I pictured The Mummy, a vampire, maybe a werewolf or Frankenstein slogging up Route 2 to come get me, getting to about the Concord Rotary and saying, “The hell with this. It’s too far out of the way. Let’s get some kid in Lexington and call it a night.”

Monday, February 27th 2006

What do herpes outbreaks have to do with kayaks?
posted @ 4:25 pm in [ ]

Disclaimers/preface: Now, right up front, let me say that I don’t mean to make fun of folks who have contracted herpes, because it’s a serious and incurable disease, and pretty much wrecks your intimate life. I had a friend who contracted herpes from his girlfriend, whom he loved very much, after he found out he had MS, too. “Great,” he said, “Just what I need: another incurable disease.” It wrecked his life, even more than it had previously been wrecked. I have never been able to think of herpes as particularly amusing since, if I ever did before that. So let me be perfectly clear: I am not making fun of people with herpes. I am making fun of the advertising industry.

That being said, have you seen these TV ads for herpes medications? First, they start out with a pretty but sad girl saying that herpes outbreaks are a real hassle. Leaving aside all tasteless mentions of “The Sadder-but-Wiser Girl,” does anybody buy that the symptoms of herpes outbreaks can be described as a mere hassle? If you look up sytmptoms of herpes on the Internet, common descriptions include things like: “The predominant symptom of herpes is the outbreak of painful, itching blisters filled with fluid on and around the external sexual organs.” Eeeeeyowww! If this is “a hassle,” perhaps having one’s arms ripped off by angry howler monkeys is “an inconvenience,” and ramming a piece of rebar through someone’s skull a la Phineas Gage is but “a faux pas.”

So then, taking this marvelous medication instantaneously transforms Sad Herpes Girl into… Less Sad Herpes Girl! It’s as if they’re selling action figures. Less Sad Herpes Girl goes to the beach! She laughs at pigeons! She rides a bike! She kayaks! She’s gonna give that cute guy herpes later! Okay, I think I get how a herpes outbreak would make riding a bike “a less-than-pleasant experience.” But what’s with the kayak? Seriously, what does herpes have to do with kayaks? Are they saying that, just as it is possible to get crabs from a toilet seat, it is possible to get herpes from a kayak?! Less Sad Herpes Girl is just getting right back on that horse, is she?

Plus, in these commercials, there is always — and I am not making this up — a lighthouse. Buh? What the hell is that doing in there? Is it just a place to watch all that kayaking from? Does it symbolize the beacon of hope that is the medication that purports to make one’s incurable disease less of “a hassle?” Is it an indicator of Less Sad Herpes Girl’s “hassle” status? (Better stay away, Captain: the herpes lighthouse is lit…) The vast majority of folks who have herpes these days got it through normal sexual contact (either with someone they didn’t know so well or with someone they trusted and who ostensibly didn’t deserve that trust), without adequate protection. They did not contract it by “entertaining” the fleet. If I had herpes, the implication of a herpes lighthouse might just offend me.

Finally, check out the side effects. Since prescription drugs started being advertised, I have been astounded by the shameless commercialism coupled with the innumerable precautions to taking it: Buy our drug! …which will help you trade in your migraines for liver damage! And if you’re pregnant, or thinking about pregnancy, or you walked by a pregnant dog this afternoon, you might explode! Buy our drug! So in this case, the side effects include: headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, dizziness, and with some drug interactions, possible kidney damage. Niiiice. Hey, I can ride a bicycle again in between throwing up, violent diarrhea, and building myself a nice little kidney stone! Thanks, Nameless Medication! They think it might be okay to take it while you’re pregnant, though, because the animal fetuses they tested it on were okay. They’re not quite sure about people yet. It might unravel your DNA.

Now who wants to go kayaking?

Saturday, February 25th 2006

And what, pray tell, is Symphonic Pink Floyd?
posted @ 1:36 pm in [ - - ]

Oh, yeah, that. Check it out: The Colrado Symphony is offering an evening of symphonic arrangements of Pink Floyd tunes, featuring: “Learning to Breathe, Another Brick in the Wall, Time, Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, On the Turning Away, Money and more.” I was looking through the Arts and Entertainment section of the newspaper this week for something fun and cheap as an evening Cheap Fun Day activity, and there it was. Student tickets start at just $7.50, less than what you’d pay for a movie. Plus, it’s novel. Can’t beat that with a stick.

Friday, February 24th 2006

FAQ: What’s “Pints”…
posted @ 3:44 pm in [ - - ]

…and what would we be walking off? Oh, I’m glad you asked. Pints is Pints Pub in Denver. It features a British theme, some terrific beers brewed on the premises, and claims to have the largest collection of single-malt scotch outside Scotland. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it may very well be — they have hundreds of single-malts, as well as plenty of folks on staff who know many of the malts intimately. (I didn’t ask.) They also have better-than-British food, and are conveniently located right across the street from the art museum, so after some sampling of many fine malts, one can quietly amuse onself in there until one can once again safely operate one’s motor vehicle. Hey, it’s a dignified buzz. Anyway, it’s become sort of a Cheap Fun Day tradition, and some folks show up just for this pairing.

This of course is the perfect occasion to mention how Pints educated me about one of the passions of my adult life: single-malt scotch. Occasionally, friends who are becoming interested in scotch will ask me what they should try. The answer is: I have no idea. It’s like asking someone else what kind of art you should get. It’s all about personal taste. Here’s a quickie primer, adapted from Bartending 101. I’m alarmed at how much misinformation is out there about good scotch, but this is pretty straightforward:

“Single malts are characterized by geographic origin, age, and barrel type used in aging (sherry casks, bourbon barrels, or plain wood). There are over 100 distilleries marketing Single Malts from Scotland, but they can be grouped into five regions. The descriptions are all according to Jackson:

The Lowlands area tends to produce whiskies in which the softness of the malt is evident, less tempered by Highland peatiness or coastal brine and seaweed. As for the Highlands, the western part produces scotches with rounded, firm, dry characters, with some peatiness, scotches from the far northern section have a notably heathery, spicy character, and the south highlands produce fruity whiskies. Speyside is the heartland of malt distillation. This area contains over half of Scotland’s distilleries and produces whiskeys noted for elegance, complexity, and often a refined smokiness. Campbeltown produces whiskies with a briny character. Islay, an island in the Hebrides, produces single malts noted for their seaweedy, iodine-like, phenolic character. These are bold, intensely flavored Scotches.”

The best way to figure out what you like is probably to start trying it out. I’m partial to highlands: there are a lot of different varieties available, and they’re complex, interesting, and very smooth. Islays are pretty good, too, but they’re not kidding about the intense flavor. If you’re not used to them, they can make your palate feel like it just got hit with a baseball bat. But hey, that’s just me.

I leave you with… Top Ten Ways to do Violence to Good Scotch: 10. Mistake it for bad scotch. That just hurts its feelings. It’s very proud. 9. Smash the bottle and attack your neighbor with the shards. Use the Everclear instead, dear. Good scotch is for drinking. 8. Leave it in the bottle and never, ever drink it. It wants to be loved. 7. Gulp it or shoot it. If your goal is to get wasted, there are more efficient ways. 6. Light it on fire. Again, this is a better use for Everclear than drinking it, so go with that. 5. Drink it out of a woman’s shoe or other novelty container. Feh! 4. Lick it off a surface that is not the outside of your glass (or, one might argue, a Scotsman). 3. Mix it with other scotch. Let Johnnie Walker ply his disturbing trade — you want the good stuff. 2. Mix it with water. Who are you, Lou Grant? (Exception: if it’s cask strength, a bit of spring water is permitted, to taste.) 1. Put ice in it. I actually broke up with someone because he put ice in my scotch. How could I let a barbarian like that touch me?

Thursday, February 23rd 2006

Megfest Plans are a go!
posted @ 3:52 pm in [ ]

Okay, it’s pretty well set up. If you’re going to be in Denver and want to join in, let me know and I’ll get you locations and directions and what-not.

Cheap Fun Day itinerary (March 4) 9:00 - 9:30 Coffee 10:00 - 11:15 Breakfast (Mexican) 11:30 - 1:00 Minigolf / karting / lazer tag, etc. 1:30 - 2:45 Lunch at Pints 3:00 - 4:20 Walking it off in the Art Museum 4:45 - 5:30 Roving Mars Imax 5:45 - 7:00 Dinner (location TBA) 7:30 Symphonic Pink Floyd

Day of (March 9)… …includes cake for breakfast, a trip to the Botanic Gardens, a fun-filled midday class, tea at the Brown Palace, a fun-filled evening class, and dinner at my favorite local French restaurant.

Movie Day (March 11) We have a local host with a good setup and lots of seating, and the theme is: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Oh yes, I have the complete set.

So that’s the story… The Colorado Symphony is indeed playing some symphonic arrangements of Pink Floyd songs, and student tickets are cheaper than a movie. Should be wicked fun!

Wednesday, February 22nd 2006

Back by popular demand…
posted @ 5:48 pm in [ - - ]

…It’s another wiseass version of a social-software survey! Same disclaimers apply…

  1. Who was your first kiss? Jose Cuervo.

  2. When was your first slumber party? Right after my first felony arrest. I had a pillow fight with my cellmate.

  3. Who was your first prom date? The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

  4. Who was your first room mate? My three other personalities: Zora, Pia, and Jethro.

  5. What alcoholic beverage did you drink when you got drunk the first time? Battery acid and Fresca.

  6. How old were you when you first got drunk? Apparently, not old enough to know better than to drink Fresca.

  7. What was your first job? Doorstop. We go to work young in our family.

  8. What was your first car? A rusty old clamp-on rollerskate. It hurt like a bastard to drive.

  9. When did you go to your first funeral? Right after I crashed the skate. I felt really guilty.

  10. How old were you when you first moved away from your hometown? A little older than a doorstop. Maybe footstool-sized.

  11. Who was your first grade teacher? Genghis Khan. Not THE Genghis Khan, just A Genghis Khan.

  12. Where did you go on your first ride on an airplane? Into the sky. Duh!

  13. Where did you go for your first date and who was it with? Captain Morgan. We played mailbox baseball.

  14. When you snuck out of your house for the first time, who was it with? Regis Philbin.

  15. Who was your first best friend and are you still friends with them? Pia. I might still be friends with her. That bitch keeps wearing my clothes, though.

  16. Who was the first person to send you flowers? Jethro.

  17. Where did you live the first time you moved out of your parents’ house? I lived in a barrel with some marmosets. Believe me, it’s not as fun as they say.

  18. Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day? Jethro, but his phone is always busy.

  19. Whose wedding were you in the first time you were a bridesmaid or a groomsmen? Pia’s, but she didn’t show up.

  20. What is the first thing you do in the morning? Ponder the vagaries of the universe, then find my clothes and go home.

Tuesday, February 21st 2006

Megfest update and call for festivities
posted @ 3:34 pm in [ ]

Who says only children can’t share? I firmly reiterate that the idea of Megfest is that, yes, my birthday is the excuse, but as an event, the celebration should belong to everyone. On March 4th, designated 2006’s Cheap Fun Day component of Megfest, for example, one of our celebrants will be turning 21. So naturally, we had to pick a breakfast spot that featured beer, and March 11th’s Movie Day will be held at his place (with a theme of Monty Python). The rest of The ‘Fest is coming together nicely as well.

I do want to add here, though, that those of you with something of your own to celebrate should feel free to let me know. If this annual event is going to snowball to feudal-party and parking-holiday proportions, your contributions are not only welcome, but encouraged! In that spirit, then, I also add Dr. Daisy’s half-birthday on March 6th: a demi-Daisypalooza, if you will. Please join me in eating half a cake.

Saturday, February 18th 2006

Which has more culture: Denver or a cup of Yoplait?
posted @ 12:35 pm in [ ]

It’s still pretty close to call, but I think Denver is pulling ahead. When I first moved here a little less than a decade ago, I would have said the Yoplait for sure. My impression was that Denver liked art in much the same way a lizard likes ham: they don’t really have anything against it, and sometimes they like it, but a lot of the time, they don’t really get it and don’t know if they want to try it, or what to do with it.

I was stunned, for example, the first time I went to the Denver Art Museum. I saw the whole thing in a couple of hours. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston cannot possibly be seen in a day, even with the aid of roller skates. I tried repeatedly, and was never able to do it. An art facility you could see in a couple of HOURS seemed more like a public gallery or a collection. Now, the Denver Art Museum is currently expanding. They’re building a whole new connected… structure of some kind. I applaud the idea, of course, but the structure itself is stunningly ugly. I wonder if the old building is going to wake up the morning after the new one is completed and somehow chew off the connecting arm between them. As it is, if I were a little more agile and a little less concerned about getting arrested, I would climb up to the highest peak of the new eyesore-in-progress and spraypaint “S.S. Minnow” on there.

The very first time I went to the ballet here was similarly weird. First, a lot of people were wearing jeans or cutoffs, and sneakers. Where I’m from, you get tarted up to go the ballet (in a classy way, of course). That faux mink stole you have for some reason and have no opportunity to bust it out? Now’s the time. We’re going to the ballet. Really a lot of people go to the ballet, too — if you don’t at least take the kids to see The Nutcracker at Christmas from time to time, you might as well have the word “oaf” scribbled on your forehead with a Sharpie. The other major oddity was that people here hooted and hollered in the ballet. Great enthusiasm, but where I’m from, that’s sort of like screaming in church. One receives one’s ballet in library-like silence. Then, when the curtain comes down, the requisite golf applause is amplified according to the enthusiasm of the audience. Never before had I encountered the appreciative stomping of boots and athletic shoes in the ballet, but it looked like a lot more fun that what I’d been doing all those years, so I joined in. Ballet: YEEEEEEAHHHHHH!

In recent years, Denver has been trying to get into art some more. It’s as if some people are figuring out that a new football stadium does not make a city “world class.” After all, who the hell travels to a city to see its stylin’ new bleachers? I know, I know: the Coliseum, sure. But if the Coliseum were in Denver, it would have been razed to make way for a sports complex that looked like some sort of gargantuan birth control. Have you seen “Invesco Field at Mile High?” Looks like a diaphragm that has Jumbo-vision and seats thousands. We also have some weird public art outside the Convention Center that’s kind of a giant, rusty, coiled spring, which of course reminds me of an I.U.D. that someone left out in front of the Convention Center. I do not want to know how. Within eyeshot of that are two “dancers,” 50- or 60-foot high spindly white figures that appear to be playing beehive-style soccer with the cars on Speer Boulevard.

I recognize what’s going on, though. When you’re from the northeast, you go through this process on an individual basis when you’re young: you see some art, you see some theater, you see some ballet, maybe you see some opera, and you figure out what you like. As a small child, I was wild about both Paul Klee (particularly “Sinbad the Sailor”) and the painting, “Watson and the Shark.” I was into nautical themes and animals, and I really dug the bright colors and odd shapes of cubism. I still like some of those things, and I like some other ones too. I like Swan Lake a lot better than The Nutcracker, for example. I never would have known that, though, if I didn’t have the opportunity to check those things out and figure out what I liked.

I think that’s what Denver is doing now: as culture and the arts begin to have more of a public presence here, it’s trying things out. As a city, what do we like? We did get a delightful piece of public art last year that I like very much. It’s a huge blue bear, maybe 40 feet tall, that appears to be peering curiously into the windows of the Convention Center. It’s just so cheery and funny, I smile every time I drive by it. That seems right to me: playful, outdoorsy and interested in novelty. I think it’s a good fit.

Thursday, February 16th 2006

Where is our Pericles?
posted @ 3:58 pm in [ - ]

After the great, victorious Persian Wars Invincible Athens stood the only superpower in the known world. To do business was to do business with Athens, Athens, loved by all Athens, feared by all Athens’ superior culture emulated by all the known world The Delian League paid tribute to noble Athens whose only conquests were bloodless riches, its stately temples and public buildings reflected by the sun-kissed waves of the wine-dark sea

Not sated by the tribute of most, Athens turned to conquest of all, those first who would not love Athens who would not fear Athens who would not pay Athens Mothers sent their sons to faraway lands: “Come back with your shield or on it” the middle class, now too small to feed to a foreign army, placed Athens’ creaking ships on the wine-dark sea

When mighty Athens reached the Melians It had already lost the names of its heroes “The strong do what they will, the weak do what they must.” You must love Athens You must fear Athens You must pay Athens or you must be destroyed and so the Melians were. Shining Athens died with the first of its fallen– Apollo’s own chariot could not pull the sun from the wine-dark sea

Too many would-be conquests stood up to now-friendless Athens, They would not love Athens They would not fear Athens They would not pay Athens Spartan swords killed many, Athenian hubris countless more and the nameless Athenian ultimatum-givers toiled in Spartan salt mines, spoils of war while Socrates went down to the Piraeus, the smashed seat of mighty Athens’ power over all the wine-dark sea

Wednesday, February 15th 2006

Oh, the impediments!
posted @ 3:13 pm in [ ]

I’ve been doing a lot more driving lately, and not the kind I like. I like it when I can drive somewhere new, or just for a long time without stopping, and watch the scenery change. It’s like meditation, or therapy. I even like the kind where I’m running a lot of errands and have something to show for all the tooling around. That kind of driving is satisfying because I’m on a mission, even when it’s only a mission to Safeway, and even when Safeway annoys me by once again utterly failing to consult me as to where products really should be shelved. Lately, though, I’ve been doing a lot of driving along the same piece of road a couple of times a day, with not too much else to break it up. There’s nothing new to notice, and in the sensory-deprivation tank on wheels that has become my car, I have discovered what it is about this kind of driving that really bothers me: impediments.

For one thing, I drive (and prefer) a small, manuverable car in a land of hulking SUV’s, most of which are being driven by people who are either on the phone or have no idea where the hell their vehicles end. This would of course be okay if they were on the phone to the car company to check on that, but they’re not. So my field of vision is often impeded.

Second, there is something Denver drivers do that I haven’t seen much elsewhere in my travels. They don’t seem to understand that multiple lanes = multiple speed opportunities. Instead, they will all go exactly the same speed in a sort of horizontal lane so it’s impossible to get around them, and as that happens, they seem to all slow down together (or perhaps they’re just mocking me). No kidding, it’s like the Blue Angels are all driving home together and trying to piss me off. So I am impeded there.

Third, along this mind-numbing route are a number of ill-timed traffic lights. Now, some traffic lights are timed so that if one goes the speed limit (or, purely mathematically speaking, twice the speed limit), one will hit all the green lights, and thus reap the reward of being unimpeded by red lights without the fuss and bother of multiple traffic tickets. Other traffic lights are timed so that they mostly keep the largest thoroughfare humming along, and then occasionally change the light to allow sidestreet users to cross it when the weight of a motor vehicle or possibly a really big bag of marbles (don’t ask) is perceived by a pressure pad on the side street of the intersection. These areas of Denver and Wheat Ridge use none of those methods. Their traffic light switching is instead carried out by drunken babboons. Also quite an impedement.

Fourth, along this frequently-traveled route is a “school zone.” Sometimes, when they remember to turn on the flashing yellow lights, you are supposed to go 20 miles an hour along this stretch of road, but I never see any damn kids, so I can’t imagine why that would be. Maybe I’ll feel differently about this when I actually have some damn kids, but right now, yeah: it’s a flippin’ impediment!

Fifth, there is a lot of unsignalled lane-changing along this route, all of which occurs directly in front of ME and involves the lane-shifting car immediately slowing down at least 20 mph. This would be significantly less of an impediment if I were permitted to mount a bazooka on the roof of my car. In this day and age of fuel crises, I think the shell expulsion would have the added benefit of ever-so-slightly improving my gas mileage.

I guess it’s still not as bad as Boston. At least here, I’m the only assh*le driving on the shoulder during a traffic jam. But that does cut down on the impediments.

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