Wednesday, July 31, 2002

besides the row of always-occupied bar stools, there are only about six red tables and four black booths at 'the penguin.' some weeks, mark and i are sitting in there three nights out of seven, but, that's only an average, because sometimes it's more. it is a convenient place to eat or drink and i'm comfortable there in a way that i never seem to be uptown. there are many reasons for this: cheap, good-quality food, cold beer, cordial wait staff, late hours, good jukebox, diverse clientele, and, frequently, many, many james-style (editor's note: see yesterday's entry for definition).

the heavily-tattooed men and women who work there know us. they talk to us. they know what we want. for example, it's getting to where as soon as they see mark, they know it's "dixie chicken sandwich, 86 the tomato and mayo." it is kind of swell to be regulars at a place.

as for the music, here is what eight quarters bought me last night:

ramones- judy is a punk
screamin' jay hawkins- i put a spell on you
screamin' jay hawkins- you made me love you
patsy cline- back in baby's arms
hank williams- settin' the woods on fire
otis redding- pain in my heart
jerry lee lewis- there must be more to love than this

you just can't top their jukebox. chock full o' the people above, plus bowie, sinatra, run-dmc, billie holiday, a healthy dose of rockabilly; all blended into a tasty roux to thicken the social gumbo that is a night at the penguin. i'll put that jukebox up against any other jukebox in the county, son.

bonus entry
this morning, i was watching 'cat on a hot tin roof' and one of the main characters, big daddy, was delivering a soliloquy to his son about life's little truths. part of it was his delivery, but i can't exactly put my finger on why i found it so funny. i was forced to replay the scene like 3 times because i kept laughing so much. here are the sage's words:

you won't live with mendacity! well, you're an expert at it. the truth is pain and sweat and payin' bills and makin' love to a woman that you don't love anymore. truth is dreams that don't come true and nobody prints your name in the paper till you die.

hope that brightens your day.
your pal,
james

last seen: cat on a hot tin roof
last heard: edith piaf "milord"

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

i can't remember who came up with the term, james-style. it was, of course, one of the engelbrecht boys; they of the fondness for nicknaming and colorful patois. webster's doesn't list the term, but, as a part of speech, it functions primarily as an adjective. in recent months, however, we've witnessed its etymological transformation from chunky, verbose adjective to neat-and-tidy noun.

an illustration of its use appears below, so that you can comfortably begin inserting it into your own vernacular.

last night, while waiting for michael and company to arrive at the theater, i locked eyes with a young, waifish twenty-something. wisps of auburn hair carelessly framed her face. she was sporting a cub-scout uniform shirt (complete with epaulets), dark-colored shorts, white knee-high athletic socks, and low-top chuck taylors.

upon finding michael, he intoned, "i saw a james-style."
...to which i replied, "i already saw her."
both of us shaking our heads in silent agreement, absolutely sure that we were referring to the same girl.

last seen: the royal tenenbaums
last heard: wilson pickett "hey jude"
last read: billy collins sailing alone around the room
reading: anthony bourdain typhoid mary

Monday, July 29, 2002

why would someone want to go and steal my recycling bin? it was this little, cracked, sun-bleached red box that used to sit quietly on my porch, feet dangling over the edge, and never whistling at the ladies who were waiting for the bus. i discovered it missing this AM whilst trying to deposit many rinsed-out water bottles and a tuna can.

despite this egregious violation, i shall not be moved. especially now that i found an extra box of botan rice candy in the cupboard which i will surreptitiously bring to the movies tonight. they are screening "the royal tenenbaums" at spirit square for just five american dollars. this will be my third time seeing it, but it is worth the price of the ticket for the paintings in eli cash's apartment alone.

oh, by the way, this morning, a woman came up to the reference desk and asked me for a "thess-sah-saurus."

last seen: storytelling
last heard belle and sebastian "we rule the school"

Sunday, July 28, 2002

kentucky derby winner OR nickname of martin van buren, 8th president of the united states?

a. enchanter
b. iron leige
c. flying dutchman
d. machiavellian belshazzar
e. joe cotton
f. old kinderhook
g. old rosebud
h. gato del sol
i. petticoat pet
j. clyde van dusen

answer key
kentucky derby winners: B, E, G, H, J
nicknames, according to 'facts about the presidents,' p.580:
A, C, D, F, I

last seen: car wash
last heard: edvard grieg "in the hall of the mountain king"

Saturday, July 27, 2002

when i opened my eyes this morning, warm, yellow, circles of light fell in a diagonal against the wall above my head. the sun passed through the blinds and dropped them there. tilting my head, i could see that it was 6:57am and, since i awakened on my own, i smiled, stretched into the shape of an upside-down 'U', and then reached over to click off the alarm and spare myself the 7am siren. the remote to the stereo sits on the floor beside my bed and i put on NPR the way i do every morning. that's when i heard the dulcet tones of joey popp finishing a story and then saying "it is 19 minutes past 8 o'clock."

there would be no lazy breakfast, there would be no dozing off for another little cat nap; i had to be to work in 41 minutes.

i'm here now, only half an hour late, coffee in hand and toasted bagel with lox sitting in a neat white bag on my desk. the next time that we go to ed's to just listen to some music, i'm setting my alarm before i leave the night before.

last seen: amores perros, pootie tang
last heard: white stripes "jolene"

Thursday, July 25, 2002

things that happened a long time ago, i have no trouble remembering.

i remember these korean twins named scott and david who lived on my block in seventh grade. i remember sitting in their bedroom playing atari pitfall when they confessed to keeping an extensive audio catalog of their farts. i remember them politely inviting me to listen to the tapes. i remember politely declining.

i remember that i used to carry a key ring clipped to the belt-loop on my shorts in second grade. i remember it held exactly 8 keys: one opened my front door and, the other 7, i had found lying scraped-up, dirt-covered, and negelected in the street or discovered long-buried in the deep recesses of our kitchen junk drawer. i remember feeling really important because i had a key ring that jangled when i walked.

i can remember all of this really old stuff, but, the problem is my short-term memory. more specifically, remembering people's names. i've often thought that if anyone asked what superpower i'd like to be granted, i would forsake flying or invisibility and just ask for the power to remember people's names.

this problem becomes most distressing when it comes to meeting young ladies. i've got enough to worry about when i start up a conversation: do i have any stray objects between my teeth or hanging out of my nose? what do i do with my hands so they don't shake nervously like i'm sizing up my next victim? did i turn off the stove?

so when someone tells me their name, it just sort of flies by only vaguely noticed like graffiti on the side of a train. then later, i second guess myself. was it tracy or karen? rachel or tanya? lula mae or becky ann? it's time i devised some sort of system, otherwise, i'll have to walk around with a little pad of paper and a golf pencil when i meet girls.

last heard: the beauty shop "personal jesus"

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

7 reasons to smile in the last 24 hours

-waking up right before the alarm goes off

-starting the morning with homemade blueberry pancakes and al green's "greatest hits"

-someone reading a piece that i've written and telling me that i should write

-seeing upstairs-john's really fat cat right when i pull my car into the drive

-the may/june issue of film comment being saturated with hyphenated adjectives (i.e., "all-midget musical westerns" pg.48, "spinning-out-of-control-yet-carefully-orchestrated quality" pg.64, "sub-dostoyevskian, quasi-nietzchean descent into the lower depths" pg.78)***

-a friend picking up the tab at dinner

-meeting tracy

***please start a band named after the gem on page 55, "the coked-up hindi tony montanas." if you don't, then i might and, i promise you, it will be a jugband with washboard accompaniment.

last seen: va savoir
last heard: elizabeth cotten "going down the road feeling bad" (...the girl i love's done turned her back on me/ honey, babe, lawd...)

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

chrystal, mackenzie, hilton, hunter, michaela, michayla.

yes, i agree, they sound like really clever stripper names. the kind of name a woman would put on like a coat and then leave in her locker at the end of the night with her six-inch clear, plexi-glass heels, but, sadly, they are a sample of the horrid kid names that i came across while working the children's desk yesterday.

i just don't understand what parents are thinking. the naming is probably one of the most important things that you will do as a parent. the name will live with your child forever like a scar. the only name in the above list that i find interesting is hunter and that is only remotely cool if you are naming a kid after hunter s. thompson which none of you upper middle-class white folks are.

when i meet the future mrs. james and we see fit to begin propagating the earth with our demon seed, trust that we will scour the 1930s census rolls in search of a suitable name, because i'll take a collette, tallulah, or abigail over any hilton.

last heard: stereolab "ping pong" (such an apt song for these troubled times that we live in...click here for lyrics.)

Monday, July 22, 2002

dear punk rock girl who works at the video store,

thanks for smiling at me on friday night and saying goodbye. i think you're swell. i'm coming back to return my DVD tonight. if you like, please smile at me again and i will try to talk to you. maybe we could go get coffee or food or whatever.

see you tonight,
james

ps- please don't have a boyfriend...or a girlfriend. thanks.

last seen: the bridge on the river kwai, his girl friday, amelie
last heard: magnetic fields "come back from san francisco"
last read: kate christensen's in the drink
reading: billy collins sailing alone around the room

Saturday, July 20, 2002

three vignettes from last night's epic dream sequence

-i am walking on a beach and, in the distance, i see a large, grey whale that has beached itself. when i finally reach it, there are no people around. the whale is not dead. the front half of its body is on the beach and the back half is still in the water. standing right in front of it, i look up and its head towers above me at least two stories. i think i hear some mumbling and when i press my ear flat to the whale's immense head, it is speaking to me in english. there is no movement from its half-smiling mouth and i can't remember what it was telling me.

-me and my dad are walking through a house in north charlotte. we get to this room with a white sparring ring, where we run into sugar ray leonard sitting on a couch. later, we are all talking outside and sugar ray points out some construction on his property. he says it is for peter (this guy i know) and his family to move in.

-i am watching a chase through city streets. i'm not in the scene, it is kind of like a tv program. the chase involves two chinese people, a man and a woman, and some cops. it is on foot, in cars, and, at one point, involves a hang glider. when the chase ends in the lobby of a hotel, i am finally in the scene, standing in a large group of regular folks just watching the aftermath and clean-up. two cops are carrying out one of their own who looks pretty dead, but, as they pass me, one of the cops says that the 'dead' guy is just using a special breathing technique, so that people will think that he's dead. at that moment, the guy wakes up. (then, i also wake up before i have a chance to figure out why someone would want to use this special breathing technique.)

last seen: bully
last heard: the aislers set "the red door"

Friday, July 19, 2002

Name of a title on my 'To Read' booklist, topic of conversation over beers last night, OR band currently playing in the Chapel Hill area?

A: work clothes
B: liver patch
C: primordial meat-eating chinese fish
D: kind of like spitting
E: outlaw school
F: skittish cats
G: shallow be thy name
H: paris to the moon
I: plan b for the middle class
J: form of a rocket
K: women with men
L: outer space highways

answer key
book title: E, H, I, K
topic of conversation: B, C, F, L
band name: A, D, G, J

last heard: bratmobile "cherry bomb"

Thursday, July 18, 2002

a thin lady just tripped as she was going up the stairs in front of my desk. it was kind of funny. she didn't fall all the way down, legs akimbo, screaming for jesus...no, that would have been really funny though. she just sort of tripped, caught herself by the time she reached 45 degrees, and still managed to keep a white-knuckled grip on the cluster of biographies cradled in her left arm.

i'd been staring at my monitor when it happened, but, in my peripheral vision, i could see that she bolted upright, her eyes darting around to see if anyone had witnessed the incident. i wanted to look up from the screen and give the sympathic, albeit staged, 'are you OK?' look, but i had the feeling that if my eyes met hers, it would be like when you see a little kid beef it and then get up hoping to make eye contact with the nearest grown up, so the waterworks can start.

that's why i never looked up.

last seen: strangers on a train
last heard: george harrison "isn't it a pity (version two)"

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

i recently read that dj shadow had done all of the music for a documentary called dark days. so, last night, i decided to go rent it. just about every cut in the film was culled from endtroducing, which you really should own, if you're looking for something to lend balance to your blue oyster cult/samantha fox-heavy record collection. seriously though, when it was first released, it was groundbreaking and, even today when i hear it, i'm amazed.

the film itself only clocked in at like 80-odd minutes and is a series of patched-together interviews with residents of NYC's amtrak train tunnels. some of these folks have lived underground for more than ten years, building homes for themselves out of discarded pieces of wood, bits of carpeting, metal, and wire. really good documentary film.

last seen: dark days
last heard: dj shadow "what does your soul look like? (part 2)"

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

why i always just say 'north carolina' when people ask me where i'm from

1973: frankfurt, germany
1973 - 1974: fort knox, kentucky
1974 - 1976: fort carson, colorado
1976 - 1978: bloomfield, new jersey
1978: fort bliss, texas
1978 - 1981: schofield barracks, hawaii
1981 - 1982: fort benning, georgia
1982 - 1984: fort bliss, texas
1984 - 1988: fort shafter, hawaii
1988 - 1991: fort drum, new york
1991: langley air force base, virginia
1991 - 1996: new orleans, louisiana
1996: newport news, virginia
1996 - 1998: charlotte, north carolina
1998 - 2000: chapel hill, north carolina
2000 - 2001: wichita, kansas
2001 - present: charlotte, north carolina

last seen: the graduate
last heard: otis redding "pain in my heart"

Monday, July 15, 2002

yesterday was the sunday by which all other weekend days shall now be judged. beholden to no one, i woke at ten to the sound of rain. i went to buy the sunday observer and returned to my tiny hovel determined to crank out a mess o' chocolate chip pancakes. they dripped butter and sat covered in powdered sugar, a fat man's dream.

i started to read the paper in bed and, after only finishing the first section, promptly fell asleep for another two hours. by the time, i awoke, the rain had stopped and, from my window, i could see patches of sunny blue peeking out from the spaces between branches and leaves. i took to the front porch for the next hour armed with a huge mug of brown rice tea and the rest of my morning paper. i sipped and waved to dog-walking passers-by and read all of the sections, saving arts and books for last because it's my favorite.

by 3:30, it was time to shower and wander. the friendly mart is three blocks away and i ambled there in search of a big fountain coke. the canopy of trees overhead was dark green after the previous night's storms and each successive block that i crossed had a scent. when i passed ridgeway, the air smelled of old books, musty and heavy and familiar. the next block someone was making cookies.

i was meeting friends for dinner that night, so, when i got home, i baked some brownies to share. at six, i got in the car to make my way over to university city. This American Life was just coming on and the first story i heard was from david sedaris. dinner with friends was good. i capped the night with an alias re-run and then read 30 pages of my book. just before bed, i remember wishing that everyday could be so perfect.

last seen: stranger than paradise, thunder road, pi, american history x
last heard: fats waller "sweet heartache"

Friday, July 12, 2002

library haikus composed today

brown-haired five year old
before descending staircase
licks left palm, then right

creepy biker guy!
quit stalking the tutors, man!
it weirds us all out!

librarians hate
the sound of tearing paper
from tables unseen

leprechaun websites
mister riley goes daily
trust me, they won't change
[please note: mister riley is a carney without a carnival]

last heard: dressy bessy "i saw cinnamon"

Thursday, July 11, 2002

some of us library folk met at a bar last night. it was my first time there. the 'beers of the world' menu exceeded 4 large pages, but the food menu fit neatly on a small, plastic-covered card. they sold t-shirts including one that said 'don't drink pee.' as sister lisa would say, "it was class with a K."

taps jutted out of the entire length of one wall, some plastic and some wooden, all multicolored, and i thought, someone's job is to design beer taps.

the dark green walls were covered in franklin mint-style, decorative plates which i rather enjoyed. just around my table, i spotted one with a portrait of annie and daddy warbucks, another with the state of nebraska outlined in gold on a black background, and a third on which was painted a mama and baby elephant.

one BLT with extremely salty fries: $4.95
one pint of abita purple haze: $4.50
waitresses in white, thigh-high stockings and black mary janes: priceless

last heard: howard zinn on the diane rehm show

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

my cd collection is becoming unruly. the red and white bookcase in my room is bursting with music that i have to own, but listen to only sometimes. on the other side of the room is the stereo. around speakers and on nearby shelves sit tiny, haphazard stacks of music that must be kept at arm's length at all times. while trying to bring order to these random piles, i realized just how much i depend on girl singers for instant happiness.

i can chart my life in terms of girl singer crushes: (boyhood) chrissie hynde, (formative years) natalie merchant, (undergraduate years) liz phair. girl singers always make my stomach all toasty. here, then, are a dozen voices that i always keep close by.

elizabeth fraser (cocteau twins)
astrud gilberto
sarah cracknell (saint etienne)
katharine whalen (squirrel nut zippers/jazz squad)
gillian welch
blossom dearie
natalie merchant
carol van dijk (bettie serveert)
isobel campbell (belle and sebastian/gentle waves)
laetitia sadier (stereolab)
bjork
dusty springfield

last seen: bonnie and clyde
last heard: norah jones "don't know why"

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

from the pot calling the kettle black files...is anyone else chuckling about this?

today, (with a straight face, mind you) the president of the UNITED STATES shook a matronly finger at big business and uttered the words "no capitalism without conscience."
the same man who did this.

well, maybe he will crack down on big business. in a world where OJ is still searching for the real killers, i suppose anything is possible.

last heard: a tribe called quest "bonita applebum"

Monday, July 08, 2002

as long as they don't come back completely trashed, the disorder that accompanies our returned library books is rather endearing. pages of chilton's auto manuals smeared with heavy, black grease. the occasional mystery novel that reeks of cigarette smoke. the red candle wax drippings that dot the back cover of philip larkin's collected poems, a book i recently held in my hand. they remind me that our books are being used and kind of validate my existence. then there are the numerous photographs that i've harvested from books. they form a rotating collection in my house like a mini exhibition of people i will never know. the girl in the blue sweatshirt showing her open mouth full of chewed-up carrots is my favorite.

last heard: traffic "utterly simple"
reading: kate christensen's in the drink

Sunday, July 07, 2002

i was driving up to michael's this afternoon, listening to 'nine-ee-two poin seb-m' (WASP translation: 92.7). usually their playlist sucks, but i 'keep it locked' for two reasons: (a) there's slim pickins in charlotte, if you like rap, and (b) if you're lucky, they'll throw on something like special ed's "i got it made" or a track from eric b and rakim's paid in full. this second fact alone keeps me obsessed like a grizzled, old miner panning through mountains of crap for the occasional nugget of mid-to-late 80s hip hop goodness.

one such example of the musical hardships that i must endure occurred today. they played a new lil' bow wow song from the soundtrack of his new movie, 'like mike.' it was a remake of the kurtis blow classic, "basketball." i wanted to turn it off, but it was just so bad, that i had to keep listening...confused about whether i should be more upset with mister 'wow' and jermaine dupri for bastardizing it OR with kurtis blow for selling it to them OR with myself for caring so much about it.

oh, the trouble i seen.

last heard: vince guaraldi "great pumpkin waltz"
last seen: powerpuff girls




Saturday, July 06, 2002

my dear mother is proof that you can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl.

she now lives in the bucolic environs of the shenandoah valley, but, many a family gathering, mom has delighted the assembled masses with her tales of a bloomfield, new jersey girlhood. we sit spellbound by stories of witnessed fist fights, maulings by neighborhood mongrels, and awakening to bulletholes in cars, always told with slight embellishments for comic effect. this week's story did not disappoint. as talk turned to games that each of us played as children, mom chimed in with:

we never played 'kick the can' when i was young. we played 'kick the kid'...and, if we liked you, we took our shoes off first.

last seen: outside providence, high fidelity, men in black II, shallow hal, harry potter and the sorcerer's stone
last read: zadie smith's white teeth
last heard: stereolab "motoroller scalatron"


Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Recent thread from "Fiction-L," a listserv for librarians, OR song title from Bruce Willis' seminal album, The Return of Bruno

a. flirting with disaster
b. fun time
c. girl with pleurisy moves north to live with sled dogs
d. adam and eve and pinch me
e. comin' right up
f. rattlesnake ralph!
g. Re: DISREGARD THE LAST 4 EMAILS! from me re: fiction reviewers
h. lose myself
i. mrs. mike sequel
j. young blood

Answer Key:
"Fiction-L"- C, D, F, G, I
"The Return of Bruno"- A, B, E, H, J

last heard: bob marley and the wailers "one cup of coffee"

Monday, July 01, 2002

people don't really wink that much anymore.

ever since i was a kid, winking was in the arsenal of only three types of people: older uncles who would greatly exaggerate the gesture after saying some really horrible pun, '70s guys who chomped gum and made passes at ladies with bad yellow perms, and waitresses in pink and white uniforms who slung coffee and called everyone "shug."

but the other day, a lady was in the library and while we were talking (and mildly flirting), she winked at me. my stomach got all tingly, but that's beside the point. on the drive home, it was just me and "all things considered," i practiced winking, not because i wanted to add it to my charm repertoire, just because.

i discovered that i am not genetically-inclined toward winking. my face got all scrunched and i had to concentrate on only closing the one eye of my choice. it would be impossible to casually insert a wink into conversation. maybe that's why no one does it anymore.

last seen: the 39 steps, the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie
last heard: the fixx "one thing leads to another"