Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rust Clown

What's to laugh at here?  A dead, dry field under an overcast sky, a small metal building, and the structure of a ride winding like a spine from a large yellow head.

Someone thought that face was very merry.  It was someone's job to construct this head--were they given blueprints or carte blanche?--to mold the eyebrows above tiny, glowing red eyes, to twist that mouth into a yelp of delight.

Did any kid look at that face and feel the sympathetic thrum of delight?

Like the mythic elephant's graveyard, here lie the remnants of small-town Americana's tame indulgence.  Modest blue poles gingerly braced to a hub, for a certain circle-based pleasure ride.  Round and round you go; where you stop is very close to where you got on--the zero-sum wheel of fortune.

And I wonder whether this contraption died before or after it maker.  I wonder whether the metal-manipulating craftsman received notice: "Mr. Jackson, be advised your Hugo the Clown ride has been decommissioned to rust in God's acre outside of Superior American Amusements, Decatur, IL.  No further residuals are forthcoming."  And he slammed the hollow, dulled red driver's side door of his flatbed pickup, taking 36 from Long Creek to Harristown, which runs right through the heart of the city.  He looked around at all the buildings, the brand-new fixtures, judged them with a craftsman's eye: Who slapped that Hard Times sign together?  Totally wrong seam for that steel, it'll crumple under its own weight in eight years, or Holy mackerel, that Bettie's Diner marquis was old before Hugo the Clown saw its first coat of paint, but look at it still there.  Them's the breaks.

With no one else around he parked on the edge of the field, front tire crunching a striated patch of ice into the damp dead leaves.  His Brogans made short work of the twigs and brittle grass as a dozen strides took him to the wreck of his creation.  Rough hands shoved into the slash pockets of forest green work trousers, muted against a bright red-and-black plaid flannel jacket.  He stares at the joyous face scorched with rust and faded to the colors of generic ice cream from the cheapie-mart on the other side of the tracks in Long Creek.  His mind goes back to the commission, how excited he was to tell Avis about the job, how they went out for malts to celebrate.  Full creative liberty, his boss told him, and so his best girl sketched a goofy face on a paper napkin that made them both laugh helplessly.  There was no way he could not use that face.  Avis had a talent for art.

And one kid was hospitalized on the ride, just a stupid boy standing amid the spokes when the operator's back was turned.  Not the ride's fault.  And Avis dumped him two years later to go fuck her French TA while pursuing graphic design in Lynchburg, and then she wrote to him about it when it went sour, as if she had a friend in him after that.  And there were other jobs, other commissions, with that grinning yellow face in his portfolio, and it made the clients cringe just as it made him cringe for a different reason.

He watched it rust, then, with a sense of loss and a sense of lightness.  Kicked it in the eye, once, with a steel-toed Brogan before climbing back in his truck, thinking he'll take 51 to East Elwin, avoid Downtown altogether.

Friday, September 25, 2009

XN Bakes a Cake

Seriously: between witnessing/being subjected to mounting traffic violations (and hearing about huge sponsored parties for cyclists breaking the law), my hot water heater breaking and flooding the basement, and my sandwich rolling off my desk, opening up wide, and falling onto the floor in the worst way possible, I was having a bad freakin' day.

What else could I do? I had to bake a cake. I've been meaning to for years, but tonight my only recourse was in the oven. Now, I've never baked anything before, and my wife has a confrontational relationship with cameras, yet I baked a cake and she took pictures. Enjoy.

Childhood Photo

My mom just sent me this picture.  Actually, she sent me a PDF of an image which looked like she placed a photograph on a scanner and saved it as a PDF.  I straightened, cropped, and recolored the image, here.

This goes back to 1972.  I think I even remember that little cowboy hat: my brother Andrew and I had matching hats and one was trimmed in red and the other in blue.  I think mine was the red one, though for the rest of our lives I generally got the blue objects (like the Schwinn bike with banana seat and sissy bar) and he got the same thing in red.

I don't recall the shirt at all.

Where was I in 1972?  I was two years old at the time so I can't go right back there and relive the memories.  The photo does not look like our house in Farmington, NM, nor does it look like the front yard of our house in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (which would have been dry dirt), and it was far too early for our home in Chehalis, WA.  This could have been our A-frame in Boise, ID, possibly, unless we happened to be in someone else's yard when the picture was taken, in which case it could've been anywhere.

Mom's young and slender, I bet she loves this picture.  She also resembles her sister, my Aunt Lou, and even my own sister a bit.  And I look like the latter two but not Lou, and Amanda (my sister) really looks like Aunt Lou.  Sometimes.  But then I've also seen a few pictures of the Briggs from Montana, my paternal ancestors, and I share some traits with them, too.  At some point I think I should meet them for once.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Picasa: Everyone You Know

I recently updated to Picasa 3.5 because I couldn't wait for the update to be issued. I sat through the "here's what's new" video and it sounded intriguing.  You can upload to or download from your Picasa Web Album; you can place your pictures more easily on a map; and you can tag photos of everyone you know in pictures (attached to your Address Book file with their e-mail and contact info)!

It also sounded insidious. If this were a government plan to get people to identify multiple photos of themselves and their friends and family for federal records, I'm totally walking into a trap.

But I'm assuming it's not a trap, and I'm going along with this and placing name tags on all the faces of anyone who appears in my last ten years of digital photography. It gets a little annoying when I take a picture of a crowd at an event and the program asks me if I know every single person in the crowd.  On the other hand... how freaky would it be if I did? What if I took a picture of a crowd and the program picked out the face of an ex-girlfriend or a long-lost enemy?  What if I found someone who was supposed to have died 20 years ago?  I'm sure some tawdry novelist or film producer has already capitalized upon this.

It's amusing to me to see the program try to pick out my friends' faces. After I tag a dozen pictures, it starts to make educated guesses based on its face-recognition program. For instance, among my friends, it has accurately identified Martin in every single picture he appears in, whether he's facing the camera or turned to the side. On the other hand, it thinks my friend Rachelle looks like my sister, my friend Nichole, and three other people. It has a check-in system so I can quickly approve or deny the identification it's guessing at.  The process also shows me how many people I know but have no contact info for.  Some of these people have been friends and acquaintances for several years, yet somehow I've managed to get by without ever sending them an e-mail, which seems strange (if I had their address, it would be in my Gmail Address Book).  And then, like, I said, I get to sift through the ghostly background images to see whether or not I recognize these people, and sometimes these aren't people at all (images from posters, T-shirts, or in the above case an iron railing).  It's not a perfect process.

It is a trip down memory lane to look at nearly 700 images of myself and revisit what I was doing at every point in the last decade. My hair changes, my face gets fleshier, sometimes I'm in zombie make-up. I've even scanned in photos from elementary school and high school, so my own age range is pretty broad. Picasa is inadvertently providing a greater product than it had intended, I think.  (The astute viewer will note some of the faces in the top row are not, in fact, mine: I have to go clean those up, but I'm leaving them in this image to show the fallibility of the program.)

Even the new Blogger In Draft feature, it's correcting my typing. Apparently everyone has banned the implementation of double spaces between sentences, and I need to get on the ball.

Inspiration from Unexpected Places

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The End of Some Things, the Start of Others

Location: Minneapolis, MN, USA
This is just a funny little picture I took up in St. Cloud. It represents a metric ass-load of meaning: basically, whatever you want to read into it. It represents:
  • the oppressive flat-plains winters we endured
  • the anti-intellectual, binge-drinking environment
  • how far one feels one can get in a fly-over state
  • how there are things more fearsome than death
  • the cessation of one's prior way of life
...and so on, and so on, &c. Yes yes, very good, all those things are valid. And it continues to take on new meaning: for instance, I've stopped the old way of blogging and am plunging into this new Blogger in Draft mode with all its new enhancements. I thought there would be some trouble with incorporating photos in posts, as there had been before, but either they resolved the issue or I just became less-stupider and figured out how it works.

But this is a photo embedded in the old style. It is the last one I shall do this way.

It's late in the evening on a Tuesday night. I'm having a Bavarian Hefeweizen in honor of the approaching Oktoberfest--I thought I'd like to host an Oktoberfest party of my own, but we're trying to start saving money and a party is the opposite of that--and listening to a musical compilation, Maroc by Night. I'm enjoying it very much.

This afternoon I went to the pet store and bought a new bag of litter, hauled this 40 lb. bag home on my shoulder. I dumped the old litter out of the catbox, scraped the remnants away, decided to wash it and carried it downstairs.

That's when I discovered the basement was flooding.

I have no technical prowess whatsoever. It took me way too long to realize it was one of the two water heaters that was pouring water onto the floor--way too long to identify it as a water heater. Once that was done I had to guess where the water pipe on it was and shut it off. Fortunately, the instructions for shutting off the gas were very clear and accessible. That done, I quickly located a dry/wet vacuum (our landlord is on vacation in Mexico City this week), moved the waterlogged property out of the way, and cleaned up the flooded mess. I'm a little impressed with myself, at the efficacy of my work.

Then I went to my writers group meeting, which was just me and Heller. Rebecca (different one) said she'd be late and Kristin didn't say anything at all, and Sara never shows up. Well, Heller and I respect each other's writing and we found stuff to talk about. We talked about what prevents us from submitting for publication to certain places (or at all, in my case). We also called it an early night.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh, Such Trials as I Endure

Infuriating: the general public's attitude toward traffic law. I complain about this enough in Small Laws, but I've got to rant about this here.

My traffic blog is on the radar for Secrets of the City, and what this means is that once in a while--usually while I'm embarrassing myself--one of my blog entries gets highlighted in their blog roundup. (It is so hilarious that they ignored my query for my Asian MMO article, yet they keep coming back to my online spleen-vent.) I checked my blogs on StatCounter, and even on a very good day none of my blogs crest 30 unique hits. Therefore, when Small Laws shot up to 230 hits before noon, I knew something was horribly wrong.

What ensued was yet another tedious and go-nowhere argument about traffic law. One user, in Secrets' comments section, opines that because cars can do more damage than bicycles, cyclists should not be beholden to stop signs or red lights. Specifically, he does not consider bicycles to be vehicles, and believes that personal opinion has jurisdiction over legal culpability: if you disagree with a law, you don't have to obey it! And rather than follow procedures to petition a rewrite or amendment, just break that law a bunch and the legal system will conform to your wishes, or something, as though state law were nothing more than a magazine that comes out quarterly to reflect how people are currently behaving.

I told him that bikes are, in fact, a lawful component of traffic and that he needs to brush up on MN Statutes 169.18, 169.19, and 169.222 to more fully understand his responsibilities and rights as a cyclist. He then called me boring and I have no counter for that: I haven't been exciting or interesting for nearly a decade.

But another link that Secrets indicated was, oh my gods, one of the most banal, ill-informed, and fucking retarded "discussions" the Internet has to offer. It started with one user laughing that if he doesn't pay his traffic ticket for riding his bike down Nicollet Mall, well, what are they going to do? "will they take away my license to bike?" It unfolds that a fine has been tacked to his $100 for failure to pay, plus it's been referred to a collection agency. A WINNER IS YOU.

In between these revelations, a dozen hazy-eyed, slack-jawed naifs stumble out of the woodwork to marvel and wonder: is it really forbidden to bike down Nicollet Mall? Because they see people doing it all the time.
  1. Collage One: Bikes on Nicollet
  2. Collage Two: Bikes on Nicollet
There are signs posted all up and down Nicollet Mall, every single block--sometimes twice in a block's length--each side of the street, and these lobotomized consumerist sheep-zombies haven't noticed a fucking thing. I'm not even astounded or in the least way surprised they haven't plundered the Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes. No, of course they haven't looked up state or city regulations, of course not. I would be shocked if any of them had. My world would fall apart if it was revealed that any one of these brain-dead, fashion-vicimized pre-corpses had, at any point in their lives, done a modicum of research pertaining to the laws that govern their entire existence.

But there are dozens of these large purple signs lining the length of Nicollet Mall. They feature a picture and very few words for maximum simplicity. And still these drooling, befogged, undereducated spawn of the hapless are completely--completely--incapable of reading the sign and deciphering its meaning; indeed, they are powerless to notice it in the first place.

And they have jobs! Yes, they do! They're making food and drinks for you--they are making substances that you will put inside your body, and you don't even know their names! These triumphs of evolution who cannot interpret a stick figure are data-entering your insurance or banking information! They are, heavens forfend, in charge of other people! And someday, if not already, these intellectually independent kakistothropes are going to breed.

And oh, won't their children be something.

At Last: Egypt!

GOOD NEWS: Salah made it back to Egypt! I'm unsure how to spell his name, but Salah is my friend who runs Downtown Diner during the day. He studied 20 years to be an agricultural engineer, but makes more money running a pizza place in Minneapolis; however, he had to leave his family behind in Egypt and has lived in this city for nine years with a roommate.

It used to be that he could fly home and see his family every couple of months, but what with Bush did to the economy and international travel, Salah hasn't seen his wife and children in almost two years. He's been planning a brief vacation for several months but it kept getting pushed back and postponed. It broke my heart to hear about how close his plans would come into being, only to get yanked away again, and it was clearly tearing him apart.

I haven't been to Downtown Diner in a couple weeks but today I biked up to visit him. I didn't recognize the guy behind the counter, though. "Where's Salah?" I asked him.

He was a little confused at first and asked, guardedly, "You know Salah?"

"Yes, he's a friend of mine."

His eyes lit up. "Then I am your friend, too." He told me Salah successfully flew back to Egypt to visit his family. I was so excited I could hardly slow down my chatter to communicate this to my new friend. He was pleased to see someone else so happy for Salah. I'll have to go back and memorize his name, establish a new contact.

I've been slack about keeping in touch with Salah, I need to rectify that. I'm just really, really happy for him and I hope he's having a great time. I look forward to hearing about his trip when he comes back, and I hope it's not so long before he gets to see them again.

The Truth of RUMOR!?

Many cell phones with cameras have a little feature in which you can frame your intended subject within a mocked-up context, like the image on the right. I took a shot of my cat Bella in a digital football helmet. On a prior phone there was a simple sunglasses template: all you had to do was position the subject behind the sunglasses to make them look like, say, a highway patrolman.

But this one just kills me. This is my cat, Toki Wartooth, in a news template. It's hard to tell whether the person who wrote this one up was a native English speaker or not. The text dances the fine line between nonsense and eloquence. Even more appropriate for this goofy-assed cat, especially; this is exactly the quality of news channel he and cats like him would construct and set running. This is the kind of copywriting job they would pull off. This scenario is totally believable.

So I like my phone, but not for this reason. And I'm disappointed more of my friends haven't responded to my request to be included on the new phone. See, the Katana doesn't take SIM chips, so I have to enter these phone numbers into it manually, based on contact info from the old phone or my Gmail address book (which is getting closer and closer to containing perfect information). But I thought I'd separate the wheat from the chaff and ask everyone who still wanted to be in touch with me to please send me a message, saying so.

Backfired: three people responded. They may be seeing this as an opportunity to slip quietly out the back door.

I noticed someone checked "dumb" on the previous post. Maybe it was dumb. I'm the one who typed in that option in the first place. Still, to see someone actually check that off is bothersome, especially with the lack of constructive criticism in the Comments section. Just some faceless, anonymous nuisance who wants to weigh in without being held responsible for their actions.

Who would do that? Last time it happened, it was some jackoff in New Jersey. I would expect that kind of behavior from New Jersey. I would be stunned if something pleasant came out of New Jersey's mouth. But this was someone in Minneapolis, at twenty after six today, someone visiting me via Alexis' Girl Friday site, which receives a lot of traffic so it could've been anyone. I can only trace their ISP to a provider called Auncor, located at 800 Washington Ave. They share a building with North Loop Fitness, WeddingFavors.com, and TADS Tuition Management, also clients of Auncor. Do they work there? I don't know enough about Auncor to say.

And that's the extent of my private detective work. I have limited online resources and can conclude nothing to narrow this down at all. So the answer would be to remove the negative checkboxes from the "I'm too lazy to comment" section, or just do away with that option altogether (since I don't think much of leaving only praiseful options for posts) and continue to chuck these slate tablets up into the black hole just over the horizon. I suppose it's not a great idea to enable assholes to act on their inclination.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

These Boots, Evidently, Were Made For Walking

It was a good day right up until the last minute. After a brief argument over a misunderstanding, I stormed out of the Nomad World Pub, leaving Rebecca to walk the three blocks back to the car alone. It was about quarter to midnight.

I walked up Cedar Ave to Washington Ave, turned left, past sports bars with dazed mobs of college students choking the sidewalks with their smoke breaks. I crossed the highway and, coming the other way on Washington were three separate groups of cyclists. Maybe half of each group wore helmets, and fewer than one-quarter of each group owned working headlights. One girl had a single dim LED bulb on her handlebars, but MN statutes mandate a white lamp visible from 500'. Obviously so broke from buying such nice bikes that they couldn't afford a $14 rechargeable LED light at Freewheel.

Fourteen blocks later I turned SW onto Nicollet Mall. Now it was about midnight and I started to text my experiences to Twitter. Yet another group of midnight cyclists in dark clothes, no helmets, no headlights, and as they biked down Nicollet their traffic light turned yellow. "Red light! Red light!" they cackled. "Oh no, we're gonna get a red light!" And it turned red, the cross street's light turned green, and they--men and women alike, white to the last drop--laughed as they rode through the intersection in front of motorized traffic.

Following the law is uncool, you see. The pursuit of coolness trumps common sense or self-preservation instinct. It's cool to mock the laws that try to keep idiots like these from getting themselves killed.

After them was another group of cyclists. Slight improvement: half of them owned helmets and headlights. Still, they turned left on their red light and fanned out to ride in front of and behind me, several riders narrowly missing me in a gesture of dominance, only two of their number bothering to stick to the clearly designated bike path.

Then I went into downtown proper, indicated by a sharp decline in lawless cyclists and a gateway of lawless motorists. While I waited to cross 6th St, cross-traffic's light turned red and a pair of cars glided through the red light like business as usual. So did two more cars after them. On foot, groups of four jocks, uniformly wearing cargo shorts and Axe body spray, seemed magnetically drawn to me through some gravitational pull. There was no room for them on the sidewalk so they all had to head directly toward me, take my space, shoulder me out of the way.

There was a break in the clouds as a woman with a really nice butt appeared on the sidewalk before me, but I lost track of her when I stopped to give a busker a couple bucks. He was a quite talented saxophonist and his music was a balm to the evening, a relief to hear in the distance ahead of me and a relief as he receded behind me. The woman, however, crossed the street and marched off into the night.

From Washington Ave to 12th St is another nine blocks, and after 12th I took a shortcut between the buildings, on the north side of the Hyatt Regency. It's a paved trail that wends through some apartment buildings and dumps out onto Willow St, which runs along one side of Loring Park. Loring Park has the reputation for being an unpleasant area at night. During the day, its rolling grassy slopes are full of homeless and transient men and women sleeping on rolled-up clothing for pillows. I attended a Shakespeare in the Park performance where one inebriated unfortunate began begging the front row for change, until the actors themselves climbed down from the stage to escort him away.

But my stroll through the park was uneventful. I passed a few individual walkers, one of whom tried to bum me for a smoke, no pun intended. I passed a young glam-goth couple, drunk off their asses, holding each other up, leaning over the handrail of a bridge to yell for the ducks to make an appearance. In black jeans and a grey T-shirt, I was attracting very little attention and soon found myself on Hennepin.

This was familiar territory: this is my route where I bike to and from work each day. Now I got to experience it from the pedestrian's perspective. It's hard to say whether there's a sidewalk in front of Hennepin Ave United Methodist Church: there's a paved strip with a yellow dotted line down the middle but a block before it, in front of St. Mark's Cathedral, there's a sign that says the bike trail ends right there. I'll say that there's a path there, and cyclists and pedestrians both use it. I was menaced by neither: the cyclists breezing by through red lights, without helmets or headlights, gave me sufficient berth on the path. Maybe it was twenty after midnight by now.

I crossed Franklin Ave, walking south on Lyndale Ave. Immediately, in front of Mortimer's (the classy place that kicked me out when the bartender was too busy flirting to pop the cap on a second beer for me), I found a cop who'd pulled over a car with two black youth. No idea what was going on, didn't stare, but the area was too public for them to haul out the driver and start kicking him.

Somewhere along the way I waited at a stoplight, standing at the corner, waiting for the signal to walk. Across the street a tall drunk guy with a paunch staggered into the intersection. Sneering at me standing like a Boy Scout, he mock-confessed, "I broke the law," as he trundled by.

"Everyone does," I told him.

If young University students own downtown Minneapolis at night, Uptown is predominated with young hipsters in shitty clothing, intent on drinking shitty beer. Mobs of these drifted up and down the avenue, reminding me how very old I am and how very unsuited I am to stepping out of my home. People-watching along Lyndale Ave at night is an exercise in despondency and bleakness. Young kids who don't know any better, aging punks who never learned a thing. Around 28th St a trio of gutterpunks half-heartedly hit me up for some change, expecting either to be ignored or turned down. I nearly startled them out of their boots when I agreed, fishing out $10.

"Have a nice day," one woman said, at one in the morning.

That was nine more blocks, from Franklin to 31st St, where I turned right, two blocks to Bryant Ave, and then I turned left and walked six more blocks. In front of an apartment building two denizens were cooling off from some internal drama. A short, stocky guy in a white shirt stood on the sidewalk with his arms folded, while a round girl in black clothes slumped on a small semi-wall, holding her head in her hands. As I approached, the man greeted me with a curt "Morning."

I blinked at him and said, "Morning?"

The girl looked up at him. "Did you just say morning?" He shifted his stance slightly and enigmatically gazed into the distance, and I trudged the last few blocks home.

In the bathroom I found a letter my wife had written me, explaining her half of the evening. She gave me time to read it and mull it over, and when I was ready I sat down with her and we talked about my half of the evening. She went to bed and I stayed up to write this. Google Maps tells me I walked five and a half miles tonight, and I guess that sounds about right.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Changes in Lumber Exchange

This is a photo I took several months ago in the Lumber Exchange Building, downtown Mpls. You walk northward in the Skyway from City Center, pass through the Phillips Building (I think that's what it's called) and enter the Lumber Exchange Bldg. Immediately you're presented with a carpeted walkway that goes forward, a recently installed wheelchair elevator on the left, and a roped-off staircase on the right that leads up to another area... I've never been up there, I can't talk about it.

This photo was interesting to me because it's obvious something's going on behind that wall. The wall wasn't part of the original construction--someone threw up a few panels to block off the top of the staircase and ended up trapping one of the ceiling lights.

Except that's changed. The scene in this photo doesn't exist anymore: that staircase and alcove have been walled off and the walk-through area is much, much smaller now. I don't know what the plans are for that area but it's interesting that someone decided it should be sequestered away. Maybe later I'll get a shot of what it looks like now.

No point to this post other than to indicate the constant state of change Minneapolis undergoes. If you stay home for half a year and go out, chances are there will be a lot you don't recognize wherever you go.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Turn and Face the Strange

So I'll probably hold onto Yahoo for a while, just because my Flickr account is already paid for and it costs nothing to let that stupid e-mail account sit and that neglected photo gallery sit for another year. I'd rather just be done with it, but other factors detract from that being a complete victory.

Yesterday I figured out how to start an online folder in Picasa Web Photos. That little trick eluded me, and it's not as simple as it might have been through other means, but it's still quite simple. Today I finished placing all those photos on the world map, and that's quite an enjoyable little feature, especially since I've done a little traveling in the past two years.

I also cleared out my Haunted Notebook blog. I've written a nice, even 50 short stories there but no one, absolutely no one was reading them, so I cut-n-pasted them into Word docs and stored them at home. I'll refine several of them and start submitting them for publication. I also deleted the 20 stories that I'd written in this blog and transferred to The Haunted Notebook. Any future creative effort will be entirely in private.

Finally, I'm flossing nightly. Never done that before, but a couple weeks ago I had a dental clean-up and they said I didn't need any repair work but they had a couple spots they would keep their eye on. I really felt like I'd dodged a bullet with this one, so now I'm focusing on floss and fluoride rinse to see if it's possible to reduce their concern even further.

To be continued.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Another Online Album: Holga

New Stamp Collection Online

Good lord, did I just spend an hour uploading, naming, tagging my entire stamp collection in Picasa Web Albums, then affixing each stamp to a spot on the map?

Damned if I didn't do just that. I'm preparing to shed Flickr and want to see how easy it is to work with Picasa Web Albums.

Pretty easy.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I've been a Yahoo customer since way back in the day. I had a GeoCities account... hell, I taught myself HTML in the late '90s with that GeoCities account. It was a very useful experience and I was pardonably proud of my homepage, back when homepages were the rage. Now you can just start some bland pre-fab account with MySpace or Facebook and call it done.

Then GeoCities was bought out by Yahoo, and I started a Yahoo account. I found a hate e-mail from 2001 in its archives, and I must've had it earlier than that. I had enjoyed Yahoo's services for so long that I had better services than people who joined later and paid for their accounts. Those benefits were of course mitigated in future upgrades, but I was still a loyal customer. I even started to pay for my Yahoo e-mail account, out of gratitude.

Now it's time for us to part ways. Gmail offers for free everything that Yahoo asked me to pay for, and Gmail offers more than that. I've spent the last few weeks going through everything I've stored in that Yahoo account, saving the absolutely essential information (several passwords and contracts with various online organizations, family records, &c.), transferring all my accounts to Gmail. Finally I was ready to delete my Yahoo account...

Except I discovered my Flickr account is now inextricably linked to my Yahoo account. Yahoo bought them too, so now you can't have a Flickr account without starting a Yahoo account, and when I delete my Yahoo e-mail account I will likewise lose all my archives and information on Flickr. Gone, like so many tears in the rain. What sucks about that is that I very recently renewed a one-year membership with Flickr for $36, which is essentially money flushed down the goddamned toilet.

Google offers free online photo storage. So does Adobe, to an extent. So too, for that matter, does Facebook. All these perfectly cromulent online storage facilities, all for free, and I paid Flickr for it because they're so fancy, and now I'm going to terminate my contract early and kiss that money goodbye. Furious with myself, I am, but I have got to get away from Yahoo and the more things that attempt to coerce me to keep my account, the more I'm inclined to kick my way out.

Vocabulary Notes

My Yahoo e-mail account has finally reverted to the crappy free version. My paid time has run out, and my dozen years as a member garner nothing, so all that's left to do is FWD a few pertinent e-mails out of storage and into my Gmail account. But here, I'm going to keep track of some vocabulary words, using Blogger as a kind of Post-It note system or Moleskine notebook.
  • apologia (noun): a defense especially of one's opinions, position, or actions.
  • apophasis (noun): the raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it.
  • catachresis (noun): 1) use of the wrong word for the context; 2) use of a forced and especially paradoxical figure of speech.
  • soi-disant (adjective): self-proclaimed, so-called.
  • xylography (noun): the art of making engravings on wood especially for printing.

So when I protested the Dayton/Hudson Phase II project by attending the Environmental Impact Statement and we were forbidden from mentioning anything outside of environmental impact, I clumsily executed an apophasis by reviewing all the irrelevant issues other people had brought to the table, stating I would rise above mentioning them.

And to keep them straight in my head, soi-disant casts a slight aspersion upon someone else's self-styled status, while ersatz is simply a cheap substitute for the real thing, and erstwhile means former. "The soi-disant chef churned out a wretched array of ersatz hamburgers per our erstwhile appetite."

And some Chinese I want to keep track of: Lay chee seen, ngaw doe may chee seen. "Even when you go crazy, I still won't be crazy."

Lastly, here's an e-mail I received from a fan back in 11/16/2001. Wow, I've had that account a long time.
How fucking dare you fuck with me you fucking wannabe creep, you come to milwaukee and i will break your fucking balls. you work in a HIV clinic because you probably have AIDS you pole sucking fag. You talk shit on the web , but you wouldn't have the balls to face me asshole. I never said shit to you but you dished me on goths over 30. you fucking don't even know me. I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE, FUCK OFF you little PUNK !

Monday, September 14, 2009

Luxury T-Ride

I have something to confess: I'm way into this throwaway-looking early '90s metal band.

I was lucky enough to be introduced to their self-titled album by a friend in St. Cloud, when I was going to college and getting exposed to all sorts of radical ideas. T-Ride looks like just another hair band from 1992, I know.

But I love their album. I have no defense against it. It's great to kick back to and focus on, or it's great to have in the background. The harmonies are tight, Queen-like, and they go for tricky, hooky pop posturing. That's what makes it listenable.

In watching this video I finally learn why they did not succeed. On top of a bland look, the lead singer has absolutely no stage presence. He doesn't even look interested in lip-syncing his own lyrics in the video. He looks bored, and it looks like it was up to post-editing make everybody look more interesting than they were.

Still, they played with White Zombie and Joe Satriani. They get props for that, even if they drove themselves into obscurity. And their album is still listenable, almost two decades later.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Who Shields the Umbrellas?

There's always some kind of gimmick going on downtown, you just have to keep your eyes peeled for it.

Sometimes it's more obvious than others... and sometimes it's not. Mounting all these red umbrellas all over the defunct Swindler's location means different things to different people--it's a semiotic field day. If you're a prostitute, the red umbrella could represent the symbol for international sex-trade workers' rights. It could also look like the Traveler's Insurance logo, and they've certainly used the 3-D advertising model before. But in fact, this is a promotional campaign to alert citizens as to an upcoming performance of Mary Poppins. Not very intuitive, since her umbrella was black.

(UPDATE: Actually, I'm told the umbrellas mounted on and around Shinder's are actually a Traveler's campaign, coincidentally implemented during the Mary Poppins promotion. Tonight I'll post a picture of the theater promotion and you'll see how I could have gotten confused.)

Here, workers are seen affixing the umbrellas all over the store that used to be Shinder's, and way up on top of the building that used to house Teener's. This is kind of a bad-luck corner: it's next to a strip bar that's next to a sleazy lounge that used to be the location of a movie theater where, several years ago, people got shot by gangstas. Next to that is a car park that perpetually reeks of urine: bad enough in the winter, intolerable in our humid summers. The city has a long way to go in cleaning up this strip of business.

The umbrellas, sensing the miserable atmosphere permeating this half-block of buildings, have started to migrate or simply flee.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Road Trip to Iowa

This weekend Rebecca and I took a road trip throughout Iowa. I must preface this with the history of my contentious relationship with Iowa: back around 1994 I connected with some online friends who converged on one girl's house in Ames, and that weekend I drove us back and forth between St. Cloud and Des Moines. That was fun, but Iowa did not care for me. I drove straight into a tornado, unable to find any shelter: all the overpasses were taken by semis. Finally we coasted into a truck stop/diner and a group of four "good ol' boys" threatened to haul me outside and beat me up. It was as abrupt and out-of-nowhere as that. From that point on, Iowa in my mind was represented as a broad, flat plane of green that rose to meet a broad flat plane of blue, and its sparse population was of amoral, bellicose rednecks.

But Rebecca suggested driving through Iowa for a road trip and I might not have agreed, but in the course of my stationery pursuits I learned of a specialty dealer on the southeastern border of the state. Pendemonium deals in all stationery supplies, e.g., quality bottled inks, calligraphic nibs, fine paper and homemade cards, sealing wax and accoutrement. It also has a compelling array of vintage souvenirs for collectors and enthusiasts: antique fountain pens for people practicing pen repair, preserved newspaper/magazine ads, all sorts of memorabilia and original artifacts. I had a great conversation with the proprietor about Rhodia vs. Moleskine and the pen shows that used to occur in Minneapolis but now happen in Chicago. I came away with antique inkwell and a lot of little things that mean a lot to me.

Pendemonium is on Avenue G in Ft. Madison, IA, but what else is in this tiny, flat town? From Avenue H we actually spotted Fort Madison, a traditional old-skool 'soldiers vs. Injuns' fort with a supply of replacement logs for the walls, right on the north bank of the Mississippi. And two blocks west of the pen store we found a microbrew bar, the Lost Duck Brewery. What a treat: this place had a gorgeous, comfortable interior and they make their own beer. Again, the proprietor was on hand to talk about his craft, and after a time one of his favorite patrons came in and had a seat next to us. What followed was a great education on the process of microbrewing and regional history: the owner talked about the disaster last year with the flooding and what that did to his water supply and, consequently, his craft. I had a pint of the Pelican Porter, Rebecca had a homemade root beer and then a grape soda, which she quite admired. But this bar, what a gem to discover in the heart of a tiny town on the edge of Iowa. The proprietor supplied us with a beer/wine map of Iowa, and we were stunned to realize how many active breweries and vintners were operating in this state. One could easily and happily indulge in a well-rounded brewery-crawl over the course of a weekend.

We drove to Davenport, a tiny city unto itself. I was impressed with how much it had going on: the highlight was the casino, but the treasure was a late-night coffee house with a live blues band. Much of Davenport closes at 4:00 PM, but there was still enough going on that one could get excited about walking around the "downtown" area. As it happened, we had to drive 50 blocks north to find an acceptable hotel...

The next day we made it up to Dubuque, the other intended destination on this trip. I found online information about their funicular, the Fenelon Place Elevator: "the world's shortest and steepest railway." For one slim buck you can get hauled up the side of a tremendous hill and enjoy the spectacular view of Dubuque and the Mississippi river. We walked downhill and ended up at Monk's Kaffee Pub. Pub, because they have a notable selection of beers; kaffee, because they serve coffee. We got a couple drinks with some variation and extras and, once again, the proprietor was a font of good-natured conversation. He talked about who he knew in Minnesota and I related the fantastic things I'd been discovering in Iowa (without having been accosted by farmers' sons once). I bought a T-shirt to commemorate my visit to this wonderful establishment. This is definitely where I'd spend a good portion of my time if I lived in this town.

Dubuque reminded us in many ways of Duluth, in fact, with the same charm and feel to it. The river factored heavily into building this city and that romantic, historic atmosphere permeates the businesses and architecture. There were many well-preserved or restored houses and buildings from a bye-gone era, some great photography to be had. Could we live there? We thought maybe, pending a community of like-minded individuals. Just a hypothetical question we tossed at each other occasionally. It felt good to get out and drive around, and I'm pleased our efforts were rewarded with these wonderful little surprises in each town.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Niece Goes Oink, the Girlfriend Goes Cluck

Almost two full years ago, Rebecca and I went down to Sever's Corn Maze with my sister, Amanda, her husband Collin, and their daughter, Maggie. I'd never been to a corn maze before--we have at least two very good mazes within moderate drive from the Twin Cities--but many of my friends have and they testify to the amount of fun to be had.

We played in the corn pit, which is a huge squared arena framed by hay bales and filled with a metric assload of corn kernels. You could hide several people and their bicycles in this quantity of corn, but as it is it's an excellent romping area for small children (and adults who still remember how to play). At the end of the day we watched the pig races and tried a pumpkin-flinging contest, at which Amanda seemed to excel. And yes, we also did the corn maze, which was amazing and an inordinate amount of fun, but I'm getting away from the pictures.

Here are Maggie and Rebecca, each having a blast with the brisk November day, posing behind that popular photo-op, the Large Painted Image With the Face Removed. I'm sure they have these in every nation, this inverse-mask game, and it has existed throughout history. Everyone loves it, down to the last curmudgeon (and for real comedy, stick that curmudgeon's grim mug through the face-hole). I was just charmed with these two photos from back then.

Things have changed since then: my niece is twice as old, and my then-girlfriend has been my wife for a full year. Memories retained via crappy phonecam, of all things.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Past Photos in Advance

I'm writing this entry in advance because, if all goes according to plan, my wife and I are hustling across the country to southern Iowa. It's a roadtrip for a roadtrip's sake, but it's also a prime opportunity for me to visit a small but significant landmark in my passion's topography.

I'm going to visit Pendemonium in Fort Madison, IA! A little stationery-hajj! I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, I've been digging around in my old folders of digital photography and found some interesting experimental shots. I must've been just wandering around my apartment with my crappy Nokia, taking pictures. But it's still possible to take good pictures with a crappy camera. There's the Holga, but I would even elevate the Holga above this Nokia phonecam, just because the Holga is such a specific effect, such a specific artistic tool. The phonecam... what can you do about that? It's supposed to be high technology, but with one megapixel to your name plus a share of lint that works its way under the lens and cannot be removed, you're just kinda up the creek for photography.

Yet, despite, you can capture or frame an image powerful enough to override the obstacles of the phonecam. I do not foresee that a school of art will flood the streets with crappy phonecams and challenge each other to produce the most amazing visual renderings with them, but I'm just saying. I did the best with what I could.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Wandering Through Music

My eMusic subscription rolled over to a new month, so I have a bunch of music to look for and download. Moreover, it's my six-month... semianniversary... with them, so they gifted me with some bonus tracks. Forty-five credits to spend, burning a hole in my ePocket.

I never know what to get. I called my sister, asking her if she could remember the energetic, busy Latin orchestra from Viva Variety! but she and her husband were completely flummoxed. For no good reason I did a search for "Django" and produced Django Reinhart. Now, I like hothouse jazz, but I wasn't in the mood for it tonight. I put him and Bix Beiderbecke in my Saved folder.

Heading more into the modern sounds of Latin music, I discovered Nortec Collective, variations on Tijuana classics through a techno filter. Very intriguing, but only stored in my Saved folder.

Through whatever perambulations I can't guess, I came upon a segment of very dark music. It was some user's collection of very dark albums, from a particularly nightmarish dub reggae accomplishment to the harrowing story of M.F. Grimm, one of the unluckiest rap artists in history. I encountered Kevin Drumm for the first time, checked him out, think I understood what he was getting at, but these credits were too precious for me to gamble with.

Oh, I will say I had, prior to this, downloaded Yoko Solo and Bloody Buddies (compilation) so I only had 22 credits to play with. That's why I was so churlish with exploring new music.

So then I found this band, Mars, which an eMusic reviewer describes as an "amazing late-'70s New York no wave band". Intriguing... so I listened. If I still had a physical CD collection, these guys would be on the shelf with 45 Grave and Kommunity FK: old-skool death rock, long before goth was a glimmer in anyone's eye. I got very excited, because music like this always feels like coming home. That's the only way to describe it, like I'm returning to the land of my progenitors. It feels like a return to my people.

I downloaded most of it. It's also in my Saved folder. I ended up grabbing a lively and exotic Moroccan compilation, Maroc by Night, and got as much Mars as I could with the remainder. I'll get the rest of it next month, I guess. I'm just excited to still discover and care about new music (even if it's only new to me).

On the other hand, I really regret taking a chance on Kid 606. This is why it's important to listen to all the sample tracks and then sit on it for a day, rather than checking out one 30-second track and buying the whole thing immediately. Like some people I know.

Life Imitates Urban Legend

This happened just yesterday (Thursday, 11:30 AM): a Target admin ordered a salad from Au Bon Pain, City Center location (Downtown West, Minneapolis), and started to eat it when she noticed the dead mouse lying on top of the lettuce.

I don't think this was a manufacturing error, since it's very obviously on top and dressed in olive oil and feta cheese. My guess is that it was the work of a disgruntled employee or someone with a sense of humor as poor as his/her impulse control. The customer pointed it out to the store manager who took it, refunded her money, and made note of her contact information. Good thing she got photos of the salad before the manager could dispose of it.

I've never cared for that particular Au Bon Pain. I've blogged in the past about the hostile or dismissive attitude of most of the employees there. Most of the cashiers give me a contemptuous look, especially if I've interrupted their conversation (in-store or on a cell phone), though a few choose not to be interrupted and continue calling out over their shoulder while punching in my purchase. I'm not sure where the contempt comes from, since I have been at pains to be a polite and uncomplicated customer wherever I go, having worked foodservice myself.

There's a sign by the registers, in fact, that promises to cover the cost of your purchase if the cashier does not offer you a receipt. It is frequently attended by a very tough and angry-looking cashier who fails to offer you a receipt, tacitly daring you to call him on it. No, I don't think I would actually get punched out in the middle of Au Bon Pain, in the middle of the day, but that's what it feels like could happen.

As for the mortified customer, she has written a very stern e-mail to Au Bon Pain's ownership and contacted her attorney.

Update: As of 1:00 PM Friday afternoon, how's Au Bon Pain doing?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Beware the Glamp-Ass

I thought this was lame and/or sloppy advertising. Behold the "Maoy's Glampass."

It is never made clear what a "Maoy" is. They could be another Polynesian tribe. They could be a branch of the Malloys who lost their double-Ls in the potato famine. Whatever it is or whoever they are, they're in possession of the glampass, which any Vonnegut reader will recall is a karass of four people fulfilling the same wampeter.

No, I know what the sign's really supposed to say. I just think this is equal parts laziness and terrible design.

I'm no fan of "glam" as it is. I don't aspire to it, I find nothing appealing or desirous about it. Some of my friends are into it, and that's fine, they can go do that thing, but this motif has never spoken to me. That a store would advertise it as a marketable motif and an event function shows me how far I am from mainstream target demographics. Sometimes that's cool, and sometimes it's depressing: it definitely makes it difficult to shop, when all the stores have agreed to sell a load of garish, ugly garments all at once. I hate picking through the least-offensive cast-offs of a season just so I have something to wear.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I never mentioned my trip to the State Fair, did I? I mean, hundreds of thousands of other people are going off about exactly the same thing, sure, but I went too.

The first thing we did, as in years past, was hit the deep-fried turkey sandwich booth. The turkey meat is deep-fried (not battered) and piled onto a bun. You can add your own toppings but you run the risk of blocking its own innate deliciousness.

I kept an eye out for the Pronto Pups, my personal tradition (for no good reason), but every time I found a booth it was insanely crowded. They have two lines, one in each window, and each of those lines held a good 20-30 people in them. After the fourth or fifth booth I did finally break down and condescend to get into line, which went fairly quickly, as Rebecca suggested it would. They have a new thing, or else I just don't remember seeing it: the Papa Pup, which is a footlong corndog. I ordered that and discovered that its unusual size presents a logistical difficulty: the distal end was still cold in the center. I hate cold hot dogs, but I plowed through it anyway. I mean, it costs enough, might as well eat it all up.

I also tried the new food this year: salad on a stick. It's a caprese salad, so it's just a long stick with cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and balls of mozzarella. I coated it in olive oil, ground salt and pepper, and it was pretty refreshing. This was had at the organic food section, so the ingredients were particularly healthful and healthy. For a beverage I tried a maple soda, which was both cute and nostalgic to my palate. The salad was $6 and the soda was $4, so I'm grateful for the experience but feel no urge to repeat it.

We saw the rabbits being judged in the rabbit barn, and I felt a lurking need to own and raise my own rabbit. Right now would be the worst time to attempt that, of course, so I did not breach this discussion with my wife. We caught the tail-end of the sheep-judging competition, where a large sheep (the size of a small horse) was resisting being posed for a photograph.

We checked out the Midway and actually went on a couple rides. I hate roller coasters and rides that hoist you up high and fling you around, so we only tried the latter. I feel it's important to challenge myself, confront my fears (see also: misadventures with online dating, circa 2006). We also went in that space-saucer-looking thing that rolls you up the tilted walls by centripedal force. Always a favorite of mine, though we spent a lot of time spinning and not much time actually rolling up the walls. That was a rip-off. It was probably due to the group of retards (read: teenage boys) who started goofing off as soon as we hit velocity.

Teenage boys should be forbidden from that ride for fifty minutes of every hour; they should get their own exclusive ten-minute ride, where the controller spins them at maximum velocity for ten solid minutes, lets them goof around, then kicks it up to an unsafe threshold and tosses handfuls of steak knives and billiard balls at them. A chute in the back could open to dump the bodies out, the cushions could be hosed off, and the ride would take one more spin to dry itself out, then back to business as usual.

We also got a bowl of custard, mocha-flavored, which was astonishing. I'm starting to become an ardent fan of custard over ice cream, and this sample had little bits of ground coffee bean in it. If it also had vanilla bean, I would become a booster for this company. There is no reason not to get a bowl of this amazing custard every time you go to the State Fair.

Also, we got the roasted corn-on-a-cob. I don't see the point to buying expensive food you could make for yourself for a fraction of the price. I don't see the point to going out somewhere unusual and ordering something completely common and ordinary. But the fact remains that this corn is roasted to perfection and exquisitely sweet, so I will shut up and eat my corn.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nonsense on Nicollet

I have no idea what's going on here. I had my camera out because something much more interesting was going on last week: all the Target employees had their big-ass meeting at the Target Center where live bands such as Black-Eyed Peas and Pearl Jam (had no idea they were still together) were playing, and the streets were flooded with red and khaki. Pictures forthcoming.

But on Nicollet Avenue were these... well, I will censor myself and simply call them "art students" because that's what they look like. That one dude looks anorexic, which is so three years ago, but if you observe the big artificial-looking mops on the girls' heads, those are quite trendy.

They set up on Nicollet Mall with a camera and a stick mic, and the guy looked like he was reciting something and joking around. It was impossible to tell exactly what was going on, with one girl running camera and the guy talking in front of it, and then a bunch of their friends milling around.

And if you look in the right picture, you'll see that the brunette has spotted me. What made her look up at the Skyway at that moment? We'll leave that one for the philosophers. She hastily nudged and whispered to all her friends and pointed up at me. Their gazes shot up to my location like I'd caught them in the middle of something. I let them see I was taking pictures of them, then nodded and walked away. ...Unfortunately, my wife remained staring at them for a few moments more, totally taking the thunder out of my mysterious exit.