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October 28, 2005

Since my last post I've gained a lot of wisdom and perspective about the world. First, my doom and gloom prediction that the Astros would never go to the World Series was shown to be just so much hysterical fan blathering. One game after Albert Pujols orbited a Brad Lidge slider into Deep Space 9, Roy Oswalt went back to St. Louis and closed up shop as ruthlessly and efficiently as a mortgage foreclosure in the Great Depression. When I came home from work and saw that the Astros won the game and advanced to the World Series I felt relief more than elation, but I was thrilled, nonetheless. There was a nice 24 hour period last week when I could dream of a team of destiny that was actually my own.
The White Sox promptly swept the Astros four games to zero and that was that. Sure, the Astros could have won each of the four games with a play, or two going the other way. The team just couldn't make the key play when it counted. They couldn't take advantage of breaks going their way, or make the big pitch when it was needed. The White Sox had all of the answers. All you can do is tip your hat and congratulate them.
As the playoffs went on and the tension and expectations grew, I began acting more and more strangely in my daily life. My New Zealand students were the recipients of increasingly bizarre monologues and breakdowns of the games. "If we can just get to their bullpen..." "Lidge needs to get his slider going again." "Willy Taveres ought to test Jermaine Dye's arm in right field...put the pressure on the White Sox." It was all-consuming and I could not help but share my excitement and anxiety with dozens of my students who have no real concept of baseball. It was like doing a card trick for a dog- total incomprehension. They looked on with real pity and concern when I showed up to work wearing a black Ramones shirt and white pants and explained that I wanted to wear the colors of the White Sox to give the Astros good luck. Makes perfect sense to me.
Anyway, yesterday I went to work and the kids asked me about the Series. I had hooked a few of them into following the games. Most of these folks concluded that "the Astros suck, sir." I nodded my head sadly and then I told them something that I only realised myself as I was talking with them: you are not a true fan unless you stand by them when they suck and disappoint. There are also no curses, there is no fate and there is no destiny. There's just the location of the fastball, getting ahead in the count and putting a bat on the ball when you've got men in scoring position. That's baseball and that's life.

• • • • •

October 18, 2005


I last wrote about a year ago when there was a glimmer of hope that Bush would lose and my beloved Astros would win. I was excited and nervous. Hopeful, yet wary. My instincts were that it was all too good to be true. I was holding out that one of my rooting interests would come through.

Of course, Bush won and the Astros lost. A part of me died this time last year. Then there was a big fucking tsunami, Katrina and the New Orleans tragedy, the earthquake in Pakistan and now the newest and worst tragedy in world history. My team lost today. I am a walking ghost. I am spiritually dead.

The Astros were not only ahead in the 9th inning, they were ahead by a comfortable margin with only one strike needed to end the series with the fucking St. Louis Cardinals. One strike. One out. One piddly, piss-ant out in a sport where if a batter succeeds only three times out of ten he goes to the Hall of Fame. One out and three batters to face. Leading 4 to 2 with two outs we gave it all away and the Baseball Gods declared eternal war on my soul. After being taken to the mountaintop of the franchise's first *ever* appearance in the World Series, I have been pushed over into the jagged canyon of despair thanks to one swing of the bat from Albert Pujols. Going from literally one strike from reaching the pinnacle of a sport our team has never seen in its 45 year existence to such black despair two batters later feels a lot like a kick in the balls (without all of the wit).

In the scheme of things I know I will die a fortunate man. I have a wife, friends and family that love me and give me infinite joy. I have pets that bring me great delight. I have a fulfilling career that is more rewarding than I could hope for. When I look back on my life I remember so many beautiful and funny moments that I truly feel lucky to have lived through them.

I also know that I will never see my team in the World Series and right now I want to crawl in a dark hole and never come out. It's just game you say? It's a game that took out my heart and ate it in front of me. Unless you are a soulless Yankees fan, ballparks and little league fields should have the same sign Dante saw when he entered hell- "Abandon Hope, Ye Who Enter Here."

• • • • •

October 01, 2004

25 years from now I will look out from my oxygen tent in my newly beachfront home and think about 2004 with a mixture of nostaligia and regret. I will think of a year of great personal transformation and satisfaction. I will also remember the deflating sensation when I realised that the character of my home country was forever changed. Where America once was respected and responsible both at home and abroad (or at least tried to be), 2004 will cement America's full embrace of the comfort, folly and disaster of being an empire all by herself.

But, I will also remember that one day, September 30th, I fooled myself into believing once again. My Beloved Astros had just completed a 35-10 run by sweeping the best team in Major League Baseball this year, the Detested St. Louis Cardinals(TM) and the Even More Reviled Chicago Cubs had gone all Mama Cass on their fortunes by choking against the 4th place Reds this week.

A Chicago Cub fan celebrates in the usual way after another inspired effort on Thursday

With three games to go the Astros had a great chance to go to the playoffs and end their history of nice-guys-finishing-a-solid-second existence. The Astros were so dead six weeks ago that medical students were hovering around the ballpark in Houston hoping to get some cadaver time. If for a day, all is right in the baseball world.

Another hot and steaming cup o' hope, sir

September 30th also marked the odd sight of hope in 2004 U.S. Presidential campaign. The first debate between the candidates showed John Kerry to have dominated an outclassed and a befuddled George Bush. The debtate, which concentrated on foreign policy, was expected to be to Bush's advantage. Instead, Kerry was decisive, forceful and clear on the issues while Bush often struggled to speak coherently about anything past platitudes and the talking points of his campaign Reichsmarshal Rove (Jim Henson's Muppet Goebells). One man looked looked a president while the other looked like the neighbor on a bad sitcom.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Diplomacy Club Band, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb(s) in North Korea

So, I will look back on this date as the date when John Kerry got my hopes up one last time before the doomsday machine kicked back into gear and Bush was re-elected in a landslide.

Gushy sentimentalist, or How I learned to prefer the Cold War

• • • • •

July 04, 2004

Fun Facts About Totalitarians, part 8:

Gilbert and Stalin's "H.M.S. Pinafore"

So, I'm listening to an interview with an historian called Simon Sebag Montefiore who recently did this massive biography about Stalin ("Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar")and I got a little more than I bargained for. Sebag had access to basically all of Stalin's private correspondence, as well as the documents from the USSR. Did you know that in addition to being a cold-blooded mass murder [he liked to have the wives of many of his underlings shot in the head for the motive of pure jealousy (I guess this is because Stalin's wife killed herself in 1937, but I am going out on a limb here...fun guy!)],

Alternate caption: "I'm a little teapot, short and stout/Here is my handle, here is my spout/ When I get all steamed up hear me shout, comrade"

Stalin was also

1) incredibly well-read...he knew his Dostoyevsky, Pasternak, Dickens, and world history front and back, and- get this- Stalin and the entire Politburo read the "Forsythe Saga!"

-"The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic."
-"Did I wax my moustache?"

2) had an incredible knowledge and love of westerns (evidentally loooved John Ford)

How the East Was Won

and musicals

Steppin' Out With My Bolshevik!

...and even wrote lyrics for Soviet musicals.

Oh, and Happy July 4th, comrades!

• • • • •

June 28, 2004

I think that most people have secrets about themselves, large and small, that would surprise most of their family and friends. Secret hatreds, sexual adventures, fears, desires, what truly makes them happy...I would imagine that these categories contain the sorts of id-like things that only come out in dreams, or under the influence (pick your poison).

My inner child

Then there are the other sorts of hidden information that we carry with us that I have been thinking about a lot lately- the secret identities people have about themselves. Maybe that grumpy middle aged accountant who wears the bad sweaters who sits in the next cubicle secretly sees himself as the heir to Jackson Pollack.

Deep down, he dreams of stamp collecting

Maybe underneath the easy familiarity of middle age your mother still clings to the notion that she's an undercover assassin who will one day be called to duty by her fatherland...wait, that's just my mom! (Kidding, people, kiddin! My mom is secretly Elizabeth Taylor in International Velvet. Duh). The point is that you just never know. Which gets me to my point: my secret life? Drag queen.


What else can explain my intense love for Tammy Wynette's "Woman to Woman?" I challenge you to find a song that is more about d-r-a-m-a than this one.

Justified and ancient

Oh, God...it's so perfect! So much paranoia and self loathing! And it's all about the continual worry that her may-un is going to find the mythical other woman "who can do things to a man that you never dreamed a woman can do." Wow! Are those the words of a drag queen, or what?

Is this really the most appropriate wedding present? Hmm?

I also challenge you to find a more tortured body of work than Ms. Wynette's. The Wynette Challenge! It seems like every song is either about how her horrible relationships are fucking up her kids (D-I-V-O-R-C-E), or the keep-your-man-happy-or-else types of songs (Stand by Your Man) that "Woman to Woman" is the supreme example. These songs make the collected works of Nick Drake, or Elliot Smith look like campfire sing-a-longs. Through a bourbon bottle darkly, man! George Jones, what evil powers did you have over Tammy?

More percodan please

• • • • •

June 18, 2004

Defending Paul McCartney can be a little challenging sometimes. There is something almost cosmically cheesy about him. His revisionist ego-trippin' (the "Let it Be...Naked" fiasco comes to mind) is indefensible and you can certainly understand why the other Beatles once chucked a brick through his window. Having said that, I think that Paul has been criminally underrated. Sometimes being well-adjusted and rather boring can hurt artists' reputations and I think that this has been the case with Paul. Well, except for "Rockestra." Bad move, Paul.
Man, that sucked

Anyway, back to my point... It seems unfitting that such a - well, there's no other way to put this - *dork* be considered a musical genius. We prefer our geniuses to be tortured (Lennon, Cobain), cranky and incomprehensible (Dylan, Van Morrison, Miles Davis), or fucking nuts (Brian Wilson, Syd Barrett, Captain Beefheart-Don Van Vliet). From the beginning, Paul never hesitated to secrete huge dollops of cheese into the public sphere. Paul has spent *way* too much of his life mincing around in a fucking bowler hat and this is before the Say, Say, Say video, let's put it that way.

Provolone, or camembert?

Paul can also come across as a calculating prick and a lazy airhead. All of these are valid criticisms.

Paul is still a musical genius. I am not talking about in terms of numbers of times his songs have been heard, or even in terms of influence. I am talking about pure songcraft. Pure melodic invention. He was one of the main reasons (along with heroic doses of LSD and Murray Wilson abuse) that Brian Wilson became Grizzly Adams and went into hibernation for much of the 70's. Wilson, arguably the greatest pop melodicist, himself, was intimidated by the relentless brilliance and output of the Beatles (of which Paul was the most productive member after 1965) and could not cope with trying to compete with them. Wilson said as much himself numerous times.

Before Sgt Pepper...

The Beach Boys, 1974

Let's leave out the Beatles (which, in a discussion about Paul McCartney, is like leaving out "Ulysses" when talking about James Joyce, but never mind). After the Beatles he made a number of really interesting records that combined a lo-fi (before the term was invented) sensibility with pop flourishes and arrangements that sounded like nothing that was going on at that time. The sheer number of ideas that are contained in these deceptively simple pop songs is staggering. Amazingly, Paul pretty much jettisoned (sorry for the pun) many of the staple Beatles-isms with his solo records. The structure, chords and use of backup vocals were very different, for example. I say that he has three or four albums after the Beatles that rank with anybody during the period. I'll see your "Sunflower" with "Ram," raise you "McCartney" and "Band on the Run" and ask you if anything that Dylan did in the 70's besides "Blood on the Tracks" is better than "Red Rose Speedway?" And you would rightly call me an idiot and we'd move on.

The point I am making is that Paul's musical legacy will probably only get the full respect he deserves when he is dead and gone. Future generations will just hear the music and not have to violently recoil from the memory of Paul prancing around with an oversized American flag singing that detestable "Freedom" song. For as much as Paul is a dick, he is a dick that wrote more great pop songs than anybody else.

I am looming over you all! Give me some veal!

• • • • •

June 09, 2004

You know another good book that continues to seep into my thoughts is Don DeLillo's "Underworld." It's a grand alternate history of American life during the Cold War (seems quaint, don't it?) while plumbing the vast depths of the secrets both personal and institutional that sustain our very identity. Heavy shit. It's well worth a look.

In honor of Don, an alternate top 25 album list:

1) "After the Gold Rush," Neil Young
2) "A Hard Day's Night," The Beatles
3) "Paul's Boutique,' Beastie Boys
4) "Between the Buttons," The Rolling Stones
5) "Life's Rich Pagent," REM
6) "Hot Buttered Soul," Issac Hayes
7) "Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space," Spiritualized
8) "Nothing's Shocking," Jane's Addiction
9) "Live at Albert Hall, 1966,"Bob Dylan
10) "Young Americans," David Bowie
11) "Loaded," The Velvet Underground
12) "Loveless," My Bloody Valentine
13) "His 'n' Hers," Pulp
14) "Suede," Suede
15) "Shoot out the Lights," Richard & Linda Thompson
16) "Stankonia," Outkast
17) "Never Mind the Bollocks," Sex Pistols
18) "Moondance," Van Morrison
19) "Kid A," Radiohead
20) "Something Else," The Kinks
21) "Somgs for the Deaf," Queens of the Stone Age
22) "13," Lee Hazlewood
23) "De Stijl," The White Stripes
24) "Rings Around the World," Super Furry Animals
25) "Van Lear Rose," Loretta Lynn

• • • • •

File under: Oh, the humanity!

It is senior week at my school (great invention, New Zealand) and rather do something useful like lesson planning, or marking the Sears Tower of student work that is growing on my desk by the nanosecond, I read most of Paul Feig's "Kick Me" today. Feig is the creator of the late and lamented "Freaks and Geeks" and his book shows where he got his "inspiration" from. I don't think too many people survive that much humiliation in one lifetime without becoming sideshow freaks, or going into advertising. I should think that being forced to stay alive by eating the flesh of your recently living Grandpa after a plane crash in the Andes would only be *slightly* more demoralising than many of the stories Feig relates in his memoir about growing up in the seventies. This book is obviously brilliant, so check it out. Once again, thanks to Lawrence, a fellow F & G lover, for hooking us up with this little treasure.

• • • • •

The Long, Drawn Out Cry For Help
"The Catholic Church just got a whoooole lot sexier!" -David Cross