Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Curioser and Curioser

---I hereby predict that, soon, emailing for personal use will go the way of the Model T, the telex and the telephone landline. You thought that actual handwritten letters were the stuff of crusty old nostalgics? Enter emailing; nobody does it anymore it seems, and those who do tend to keep the communiques extremely brief. I suppose one of the reasons is the volume of emails that many people need to deal with at the workplace; it becomes a matter of fatigue. But it's also another example of the continuing Fed-Ex Syndrome, wherein everything that once took three hours to do, then three minutes, now takes three seconds. Hey, life is short, so why waste it writing an actual letter to someone?

---Mystery. For as popular as it is in literature, movies and television, mystery as a concept remains hugely unpopular. Rare is the person, even the religious type, who is comfortable with mystery. In short, we need to know the reason or cause behind everything. Why else would we have so many sources for information at our very fingertips? Medical mysteries in particular continue to fascinate me, but almost in equal measure to frustrate me. Your Scatter-in-Chief was recently in a world of hurt due to what is still inexplicable leg pain; it came on suddenly during the night and lived with me for three days. Medication and rest are proving so far effective, but neither the doctor nor I have been able to identify the actual problem nor the cause. As a massage therapist, I deal with this sort of guessing game day in, day out, but when it happens to me, I feel a peculiar sense of failure when I can't figure out where the pain came from.

---The short story, or novella, or "novelette" or whatever it is, that I'm writing, "The Captain's Letters" is really teaching me a thing or two about writers, and that is this: it's no way to make a living. To make it work, you really need to: a) know what you're doing, b) a skilled and experienced editor at your beck and call, and c) the time to indulge this ultimately pointless pursuit. It's one thing to have a great idea, or even a riveting plot, and to put them into a collection of words and sentences that will keep the readers entertained, or at the very least, interested, but it's quite another to keep track of all the technical elements that a good story should contain: strong characters, accurate sense of time, place, and location, climate, geography, history, et cetera et cetera et cetera. It's no wonder that I've only completed six very small installments in the last 19 months. Good thing, then, that I don't do this for a living.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Captain's Letters, Chapter 6

After a brief debate which featured the Captain in a rare display of uneasy disagreement, that is to say he is typically quite confident when offering a dissenting view on the subject at hand however this go around had me thinking that he wasn't quite sure that all of his supporting facts were lined up, we decided against the short hop to Old Castle, instead figuring to grab a bottle of the fine bourbon I had stocked up on while he was in Brazil, sit in the truck at the foot of the driveway and pass the bottle back and forth to settle down a bit, waiting for Joanie to finish up with whatever she was doing on the porch.

This adventure took some planning to prevent the old woman from becoming aware of our presence, so after making a hasty turnaround at the end of the road, Packy suggested one of us might sneak around the east side of the cottage where one of us would be adequately shielded from view by the bamboo Joanie had planted a few short springs ago, and make a path undetected to the Bilco door in the back, which was always left opened, rain or shine.

We needed to keep the truck running so as to keep the defoggers going, as certainly one of us, which of course turned out to be the Captain, would need to keep an eye on things. This was a curious decision because the truck created a fair amount of racket, even after the full and complete tuneup I had just given her, but it was a risk that he thought was worth taking. I parked a few yards down from the foot of the drive, hidden partially by some of the tall grass that I always let grow along the edge of the road.

Sure enough, the Bilco was still flung open, reluctantly though, like the wings of some giant iron butterfly with tight shoulders, and I padded down the stairs, opened the equally chronically unlocked basement door, grabbed a fifth from the storage rack near the workbench and headed back out. Ninja tactics, all to avoid interaction with someone who had already occupied a ghost-like status with me, a mysterious and lonesome figure, slightly-built with short but neatly-cropped hair and beautiful, kind brown eyes.

I returned to the truck, rain still pissing down, with the Captain staring out the windshield as if he was holding sentry on one of his platoon's missions in the 'Nam. Not a word traded between us for a full two minutes, maybe more.

"Packy, I don't think I ever gave you any meaningful details about my old man and his angry ways, but lemme give you an idea about how deep the scars run. Some shrink would probably say I'm suffering from PTSD or some other shit but, whenever I remove my belt from my pants, and at the very end, when I pull the last bit of leather through the loop, you know that little SLAP sound it makes? That reminds me of him taking his belt off, winding it around his wrist, and aiming up to whack my ass. It's a few long seconds of terror, and I feel a cold shiver, but then I realize, I'm safe, it's my own belt and I'm just taking the damn thing off to hang it in the closet. Crazy, yes?"

"No, Captain, that sounds like a normal type of recall reaction to a bad memory.

While we're on the subject, I noticed you had a little shudder when you spotted Joanie on your porch. Did she shake up anything else in that complex head of yours?"

An extended silence henceforth ensued wherein the Captain took another slug from the bottle, now about a third empty, him staring straight out the windshield, then gently handing it back to me. He looked over, waiting for me to take another hit, which I did, out of respect.

Just at that moment, Joanie went into the cottage, reemerging with a small brown bag in one hand, locking the door with the other, and proceeded to walk back up the hill to her house.

This sudden development provided the Captain with the perfect opportunity to not only avoid answering my question, but to suggest that we were now free to finish the bottle in the relative warmth and comfort of the cottage.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Captain's Letters, Chapter 5

Miss Joanie, I know your secret,
but I'm not quite sure I want to reveal it

for fear that it may reveal me.
Not to protect you
or your kind

which of course are not my kind, except for their powerful livers.

Have you ever watched a bumblebee flit from flower to flower
sucking up all that honeyed goodness just to pass it along to the next

without ever getting any real benefit,
any profit,
any fame?

I'm that bee but without the ability to pass along any goodness
just to suck it up, spit it out.

So few know that, or me.

Just keep watering the goddamn hanging plants, you silly woman.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

TS Top of the Pops 2014

Here's the problem with popular music: much of it isn't very good and therefore does not stand the test of time. Most newly released independent and alternative music in particular does not bear repeated listening after the initial rush of excitement when you first discover it.

To put this to the test, I looked back at my Top of the Pops lists from the last three years. With each passing year, I listen to fewer of the selections on a regular basis, in fact at least three of them were part of a cache of CD's that your 'Scatter-in-Chief unloaded earlier this year to a flea market vendor.

I'm not sure if I will be looking to root out my She Keeps Bees CD three years from now from the back of the cabinet or if it will be within easy reach in the front row. I mean, after all, when I really need a shot of them, I can always put on PJ Harvey, The White Stripes or Heartless Bastards, all of whom inform their sound. And all of whom are still in the front row.

That being stated, there were some standouts from this past year, in fact I found it a lot easier than last year to settle on my winners. Maybe it was because they were that much better than the rest of the pack. Maybe it was because there were less new releases to sift through. Or, maybe I just got lucky.

As many of you know, I also listen to a lot of music (jazz, early and classical) made by people who are now dead. It takes up nearly half of my critical listening hours, leaving less time for the new stuff. Consequently, I do a lot of catching up these days, something that would be damn near impossible if it weren't for streaming via the mighty KEXP-Seattle and Radio Paradise. Those two sources continue to influence most of my new music purchasing decisions.

Herewith, the list:

TEMPLES: Sound Structures
   A trippy, psychedelic fun fest from start to finish.
BECK: Morning Phase
   You're not gonna get a better folk-rock record than this one. Well worth the 7-year wait.
ALT-J: This is all yours
   Yes the darlings of the art-rock world have delivered on the dreaded 'sophomore' effort.
    Includes my choice for song of the year, "So now you Know".
    The songs seem to last forever, and that's a good thing.
BOB MOULD: Beauty & Ruin
    One year after "Silver Age", this little burst of a record shines. Bob Mould is a god.
BOB MOULD: Workbook 25 (Reissue)
    A masterful reissue, twenty-five years hence. Bob Mould is a god.
THE TWILIGHT SAD: Nobody wants to be Here and nobody wants to leave
    Scotland's finest. The song arrangements are especially noteworthy.
SHE KEEPS BEES: Eight Houses
    The 'surprise' find of the year. Moody and powerful, this one's my sleeper.
   Return to form for the trip-folk kings, after several mishits. This one's a keeper.
As an added treat, we've added a few categories to recognize some very special achievements this past year in new music:

MOST ANNOYING ARTIST (aka "The She & Him Award"): Frazey Ford. She seems to be turning up on everyone else's 'best of' list. I suppose those folks are charmed by her nasally warbling but to me, it just annoys from note one. She's been around longer than I care to admit, but she's never been more annoying. She thinks she's Victoria Williams, but she's no Victoria Williams. Hell, she's not even Alanis Morissette.

BEST NEW RELEASE FROM BAND WITH BEST NAME (aka "The Blonde Redhead Award"): I Love you but I've chosen Darkness, "Dust". Joining some esteemed company from this year and the recent past, including The Pains of being Pure at Heart, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, We were Promised Jetpacks and The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash.

GREAT CONCEPT, POOR EXECUTION (aka "The Elvis Costello Award"): Thompson, "Family". Richard Thompson has enjoyed one of the most interesting and prolific careers in all of music. He is my personal favorite guitar virtuoso, but he's had his share of mishits, this being the latest. "Family" unites the great one with his buttery-voiced ex-wife and ex-musical partner, Linda, and their son, Teddy. Lyrically, it has some shining moments; musically, it could have been saved by fleshier arrangements. Conceptually? Great idea however Linda and Richard obviously still don't like each other and as far as the offspring is concerned, he's not yet qualified to join in on all the historic greatness.

WORST ALBUM FROM MOST DISAPPOINTING ARTIST (aka "The Tori Amos Award"): And the winner is...Tori Amos, with "Unrepentant Geraldines". She's always been a bit of a zagger against all of the ziggers, but her particular brand of obtuse quirkiness has worn very thin. She's become quite far removed from the piano-bench-humping siren bringing tears to listeners' eyes with her dramatic and poignant storytelling. Nowadays, it looks like she spends most of her time at the cosmetic surgeon's office, the gym and the hair stylist. If this one were released in 1999, we might want to look deeper into it to find out exactly what an 'unrepentant geraldine' is, but when the first lyric of the opening song is "I hate you", and then gets repeated, it's hard to commit.

BANDS WHO MADE GOOD ALBUMS BUT WHO DON'T MAKE THE LIST BECAUSE EVERYBODY ELSE HAS THEM ON THEIR LISTS (aka "The Shabazz Palaces Award"): Perfume Genius, The War on Drugs, Cloud Nothings, Strand of Oaks.
There you have it, 'scatters, the list. I hope I've inspired you to seek out some great new music that you might have either missed or overlooked this past year. I shall be posting cuts from each of the selections on my personal FB wall so be sure to give them a peek. Keep your ears on.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"... for they shall inherit the earth."

I love cats. If someone were to ask me, "Hey, Mark, what is your favorite animal?", the answer would be, hands down, "Cats. I love cats." They're so cool, with their idiosyncratic behavior, the purring, the different varieties like tabby, Siamese, calico. I just love them.
I also love to soak my feet. I usually put a cup and a half of Epsom salts and a few drops of some nice smelling essential oil, like lavender, into a foot tub of hot water and soak those puppies for a good ten or twelve minutes. I also like to use my German-engineered "Tweezerman" callous shaver after the soak to remove all of that dead skin that builds up during the week, since I'm on my feet most of the time. I like to be on my feet, especially when standing, walking or climbing and descending stairs. It is much easier doing any of those activities with your feet than with your hands and arms.
I like to listen to music, and often. I estimate that music, of one variety or another, is being delivered to my ears for about ten to twelve hours each day. I like many different categories of music, but mostly I listen to music that was made by people who are now dead. I love jazz, and most of the best jazz is from people who are dead. Some are dead for more than 40, 50 or even 60 years. Charlie Parker has been dead for almost 60 years, and he made arguably the best jazz music ever. It would be very difficult to find anything better than his jazz made nowadays, so, I figure, why bother?
I also listen to music from people who are very, very dead, we're talking dead for like more than 250 years, like Johann Sebastian Bach. In fact, he's been dead for about 264 years, I just looked it up on Wiki. His music is phenomenal, and he was very prolific, which means he made an awful lot of it. There are people who have spent their entire lifetimes studying nothing but the music of Bach, and for good reason. You should try to listen to some Bach if you get a chance, you won't regret it.
You know what else I like? Flannel shirts. Goddamn if there is an article of clothing ever that is as totally awesome as a flannel shirt. The grunge rock scene of the 1990's did wonders for the humble flannel shirt but those of us who didn't need some drug-addled rock stars in Seattle to make it cool to wear flannel were wearing it for many years already. My first real flannel shirt was from Sears & Roebuck in Hackensack, and it was a beauty. I remember wearing the fuck out of it, my mother washing it every week, and it eventually disintegrated, too worn and tattered to even make it to the rag pile.
I like to drink bourbon. It's not something I drink every day, but when I'm at a nice bar or upscale restaurant, I love to order a "Makers on the rocks". Not only do I enjoy the taste and the warmth it provides when I drink it, it makes me look important to the bartender so I get his respect in order that he treats me better than the schmuck next to me who ordered a Blue Moon. Blue Moon is one of the worst beers on earth. The guy who orders it is usually some philistine who thinks he's ordering a 'craft beer', but what he doesn't realize is that it's mass produced by MillerCoors and cleverly marketed as a craft beer. But it's basically a Coors with some flavoring added, and its usually served with an orange slice on the rim of the glass to make it look fancy.
Sorry, I got distracted there for a moment, and I'm trying hard to keep this post positive, upbeat, friendly and light, what with all the chat about how cute cats are and jazz music and flannel shirts.
I like to be a little cold when I climb into bed. I also like to remain that way throughout the night. As I drift into sleep, it makes me feel all safe and cozy to get snug under the blanket, thinking about the hard and dangerous world outside my window and how lucky I am to have a bed and a window and a blanket to protect me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Airing of grievances, part 378.

BIRTHDAYS: That one day of the year that we all celebrate, unless of course we fall into the category of person who celebrates their 'birth month'. I once suffered a co-worker who was of this ilk, and lemme tell ya, there are few people as annoying as someone who is over 30 (or over 20 for that matter) who counts down the days to her birthday for weeks leading up to it. And, if you happen to forget this person's very special day? A fatal error, my friend, you'll be hearing about it for weeks to follow.

I am offering this post to you because I have such a friend now, and she's pushing 50. At what age does one finally realize that the earth did not spin off of its axis on the day your mama farted you out of her womb? I don't want to be a buzzkill (oh, crap, that's a lie, sure I do) but c'mon, people, can we please reserve the big, balloon-strewn, Carvel-ice-cream-cake-serving festival for the kids?

Now, I do have a reputation for being a bit of a birthday curmudgeon but I have very good reason for this: the anniversary of my birth happens to land on January 1st, every year. That's New Year's Day, the day that has most people sleeping in until about 10:30AM, waking up, reluctantly and most likely very hungover, or in a puddle of their own vomit, to face another year of their shitty job, stressful family, strangling mortgage, college tuition, and taxes. Who wants to help you celebrate your birthday? Nooobaaahdy, that's who.

My grandfather, the incomparable Edson Arthur Fuller, once told me when I was knee-high to a grasshopper that the rest of the world was not only celebrating the start of a new year, they were helping me celebrate my birthday. He had a special gift for making me feel better, but he had to contend with the rest of my family; we were not what I like to refer to as 'birthday-centric' in that we would usually only have the immediate family and maybe, maybe, a friend or two watch us blow out the candles. Not that it was an afterthought, but it just wasn't made a big deal.

There's a certain humility in that sort of quiet observance of a birthday, but I can remember more than a few years when I felt slighted or even left out in the cold (which it usually is on January 1st around these parts; hey, who wants to go to your house for a stupid birthday cake when its 19 fucking degrees out and there's a 3-foot layer of ice on the driveway?). This being stated, as of today, there are exactly 92 days until my birthday. Start planning now on forgetting it.


WORLD MUSIC: Let's face it, folks, once you own one "world music" record, you've got them all. I happened to catch a few insufferable minutes of the "Putamayo World Music Hour" on a local public radio station the other night and they were featuring some Togolese or Malian "singer"-songwriters. It sounded a lot like last week's feature of Ivorian and Tanzanian artists even though the producers spend boundless energy traveling the globe to seek out the unique sounds of the 'world' music category. Let me save you lots of time and trouble: buy ONE album from Ali Farka Toure and you've got it covered.


ETHICS: I have just completed a section of my state-mandated continuing education, so that I may continue to legally perform therapeutic massage. The course was in ethics, a potentially thorny subject, you could imagine, and it covers a broad range of categories, from proper client draping to recognizing "boundary" violations. According to the guidelines, the state of New Jersey prohibits everything from offering a client a bottle of water after a session to listening to them complain about their loveless marriage; we can't accept a benign hug from them as they leave the studio nor can we barter with one of them for any services other than massage. At this level of depersonalization of the studio environment, I am going to start suggesting to my clients to go out and buy one of those $8.000 massage chairs.


SHAVING CHRONICLES, part four: I can report, after being a member for well over six months now, that the Dollar Shaving Club is working out quite well for me, and I even have a pleasant customer service story to tell you. A few weeks back, the handle that accompanied my original shipment of blade cartridges developed a crack right at the point where the cartridge is engaged, rendering it quite impossible to use effectively. The promised "3 to 5 business day" period for receiving a replacement was now entering its eighth day and I was starting to look like Mike Napoli from the Boston Red Sox circa October 2013. After bringing this to their attention, they apologized for losing the order, and another one was sent out, only to arrive one day after the first one (which, apparently wasn't lost after all!). So now I have two. But they did credit my account $6 for the inconvenience, totally redeeming themselves, and I decided to add a packet of their fancy-schmancy man-ass wipes for my next shipment.

DSC now also offers a very useful adjustment to your shipment schedule; some of us who do not shave every day, sometimes skipping a full two or three days, do not require four fresh blades every month, so they give you the optional 'every other month' feature. Whether this idea grew from customers dropping the service due to the glut of unused blades taking up inventory in their medicine cabinets or from someone at DSC-HQ being a marketing fucking genius is unknown, but for now I'm sticking with it. ... For an extra chuckle, one of the DSC representatives who helped me with the replacement handle issue was named "Nick". I couldn't resist mentioning the obvious to him, but he politely handled that by telling me that, yes, indeed, he's heard that one before.

I'm so proud in fact of my membership in the Dollar Shaving Club that I'm considering including it on my next resume, you know, in the "Organizations and Associations" section. It will fit in very nicely with "Lifetime member of the Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770" and "Charter member of  the Jean Jacques Rousseau Society", don't you think?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Airing of grievances

---Are you ready for some football? All eleven minutes of actual live play, seventeen minutes of replays, 100+ commercials, coach's challenges, official reviews and boneheaded commentary at half-time?

---To anyone thinking about opening up the restaurant of their dreams, please do us all a favor and avoid the following: naming the place with the address of its location. If I see one more restaurant called "Seventy Seven Park" or "251 Main" I'm gonna lose it. If the extent of your creativity is that limited, I could imagine what's coming out of the kitchen.

---Now that the ice bucket challenge excitement has finally subsided, I'm wondering what really came from it. Are we 'more aware' of Lou Gehrig's disease now that LeBron James and Britney Spears have been doused? And, I'm wondering if Ryan Seacrest ever accepted Bill Gates' challenge (what an odd pairing that is, no?)... But here's to ALS, a disease that affects only about 5,000 people every year, already receives about $40 million in research money and is no closer to a cure now than it was 73 years ago. I feel better, don't you?