Monday, February 28, 2005

one year, i got jacked by uncle sam and wound up owing some money to the IRS. nothing devious on my part, just a simple mistake. not enough to get me an orange jumpsuit and a job weed-eating highway medians, but enough that i had to work out a monthly-repayment plan.

ever since then, when i fill out tax papers at the start of a new job, i tell them to keep a little extra from each check. it winds up being a kind of savings account and now they send a refund every spring.

i don't really miss the money during the year and there is an added benefit to my largesse-- i can conveniently imagine that it is being used for good or evil to fit my mood.

if i'm having one of those george m. cohan, i-heart-america kinds of days, then the government is using my extra stipend to buy romance novels in braille for lonely myopic widows. or, maybe they're paying a guy to walk around my town with a bucket of gravel and a shovel; he fills the potholes before i steer my car onto some random road and he jumps into the bushes as i pass.

on darker, more cynical, days, they just use my extra money to buy smallpox for blankets.

last seen: battleship potemkin, laverne and shirley: season one (disc 2), the terminal, kung fu hustle, salesman
last heard: roy ayers 'running away'
last read: dbc pierre vernon god little
reading: jonathan safran foer everything is illuminated

Thursday, February 24, 2005

bookclub met today. we offer it twice. the afternoon meeting is for library staff and teachers (since we're connected to a school); the evening meeting is for the general public. sadly, the evening meetings have been a wash. two meetings and zero participants.

the staff bookclub, however, is another story. last month's bel canto discussion and today's brick lane talk were engaging and great fun.

when you listen to someone react to a passage you've both read, see how they look at it through their own particular lens, you get a good sense of where they stand on things and what they value. i'm probably not articulating it very well.

i guess it depends on what kind of relationship you have with the people you work with. maybe the thought of spending another hour with your coworkers makes you cringe. too bad for you.

if nothing else, it's kind of neat to walk into the breakroom at lunchtime and see everyone reading the same book.

[sidebar: i know there are a few library folk in the system who read this, you should come to our bookclub. tell your boss it is for professional development or readers' advisory or something. it's only once a month.]

last seen: this gun for hire [editor's note: veronica lake is dreamy.]
last heard: chasing love
last read: It was just a stack of paper to them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

i joined friends at mark's for dinner this evening. he wanted to test out a new recipe on us. i was responsible for a side dish, the rice. the meal was a success thanks in large part to my rice cooker and my push-button cooking technique. after dinner, i sat bloated, yet still eating baked goods, and watched my first episode of american idol.

juicy fruit and her friend, T., are fans of the show, so we tuned in. i'm not sure they enjoyed watching it with me because the sixty minutes quickly devolved into mystery science theatre 3000. i should apologize the next time i see them. i tried hard to enjoy the moxie and sass and pluck of each spunky singer, but mostly i just cracked wise for the whole hour.

my top three song wishlist for contestants of idol
1. the star-spangled banner
2. love is a battlefield/
on top of old smokey (tie)

oh, and one other thing. tonight, someone mentioned that the surviving members of TLC would be starring in a reality TV show. before they could elaborate on the premise of the show which was to scour america and track down a new member for their band, i immediately thought of weekend at bernie's.

the two TLC girls might get caught in mischievous, but light-hearted, antics as they tried to pass the dead member of their band off as actually alive. maybe andrew mccarthy would even cameo.

i would watch that.

last heard: CocoRosie 'by your side'
last read: Recently, they were enjoying a round of "What Were You Thinking?" when their fun was interrupted by a terrible smell.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

my dvd player finally busted. the audio began randomly dropping out in places. it started after dinner on friday night. jenn and i were watching an interview with michel gondry and kate winslet when the sound just went away.

saturday? different movie, same problem. i checked the wires. i made sure the issue wasn't my eleven-year-old tv. i even pounded on the components like a damned dirty ape and the sound was still spotty.

in this house, no dvd player qualifies as a genuine emergency.

i mean-- have i lived for over a month with no mirror on the bathroom medicine cabinet because the old one fell off, burst into a million shards, and i haven't replaced it yet?

sure, i have.

did i also live for several weeks with a tempermental hot water knob in the shower that had to be tuned to a scientifically-determined and precisely-calibrated angle for the water to shut off completely?

you bet.

but, no dvd player?

that's a problem that needs fixin' tout de suite.

so, this morning, i found myself in the parking lot of a gigantic electronics store, ten minutes before they opened, anxiously waiting for the time to pass. sitting in the comfort of my warm car, i watched ten other people shuffle from foot-to-foot in front of the store's locked doors. i puzzled over their own electronics emergencies, wondering what could be so urgent that it required them to stand in the cold to be the first ones in.

last seen: out of africa, constantine, laverne and shirley: season one (disc 1), before sunset, a night at the opera
last heard: the kinks 'lazy old sun'
last read: People don't value boredom enough!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

i know a lot of people who are sick or on-the-mend lately. i called one buddy this evening to see if he was feeling any better. seems he had to have a prescription filled and i guess his doctor told him to wear a surgical mask because he had a particularly virulent strain of flu and was still contagious.

he visited one pharmacy and they did not have the medicine to fill his prescription. he was forced to take another embarrassing journey to a second pharmacy and subject himself to more rude stares from strangers.

everywhere he went kids gawked. adults, first, looked at him and then their eyes snapped quickly away. some people even backed up as he walked by, wondering what horrible affliction my friend had been cursed with.

i said, he should have told them he had crabs.

last seen: the battle of algiers [more]
last heard: sufjan stevens 'they also mourn who do not wear black (for the homeless in muskegon)'
last read: A bit of skimming and scanning – taking in samples of prose like pondwater.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

a buddy of mine screened carmen jones last night. it was part of a film series at the main library. i attended, along with a handful of older folks and two young moms. the two moms brought two, very bored, little boys under ten with them. i'm sure they just wanted to give the lads a bit of culture but, honestly, making two young boys sit through a 1950s musical based on an 1800s opera-- i thought perhaps the boys had done something wrong earlier in the day.

carmen jones was my first introduction to dorothy dandridge. i read a little about the show before i arrived and discovered that many of the singing parts were dubbed by other performers, a fact i found odd considering that harry belafonte, dorothy dandridge, and other cast members had very nice singing voices in their own right. sadly, the dubbing would have been quickly evident, even if i hadn't read that piece of trivia, as it was not done well.

one of the greatest things about people in musicals, and i realize this is very obvious, is that they can sing in a crowded room and, when the chorus comes, everyone knows the words-- even the bad guys. they sing along and kindly wait until the end of the number to start their fracas.

oh, how i do appreciate a polite n'er-do-well.

another thing that i liked about the film were some of the more creative character names. for instance, the climax of the picture occurs at a boxing match. the two fighters? husky miller and kid pancho, the latter being from south america, of course.

last seen: carmen jones
last heard: the stranglers 'peaches'
last read: Fidel Castro, I'm sure, never heard of the small town of Vermillion, South Dakota, until late last year.
bonus: would you, could you in a box? [via andrea]

Sunday, February 13, 2005

sometime, months ago, in my old apartment i think, michael stood looking at a numbered list of movies, typewritten onto three onion-skin sheets of paper. many of the titles had little black slash marks through them. he considered those that remained and picked the one he wanted me to watch last, with him, on the day i finished the list. yesterday, we watched patton together and i was done.

oh, AFI list, how little we knew ye.

less-obvious selections i quite enjoyed
the apartment
network
midnight cowboy
the french connection

best movie with the worst title
the philadelphia story
(they were just going to call it katharine hepburn 1940 project, but it wouldn't fit on t-shirts.)

knock-knock. who's there? orange. orange who? orange you glad you weren't raped by turks, stuck in a hot box, or forced to live in a half-submerged, rat-infested tiger cage until it was time for you to play russian roulette?
lawrence of arabia
the bridge on the river kwai
the deer hunter

last seen: yankee doodle dandy, patton
last heard: the association 'like always'
last read: monica ali brick lane
reading: dbc pierre vernon god little

Saturday, February 12, 2005

i'm trying to get better about living within a budget, trying to see if i can squirrel away a few nickels from each paycheck. maybe i can take a trip or buy myself something swell. what's more likely to happen though is that i will save and save and then have to get a root canal or post bail for mark.

slowly, i'm learning how to be creative and discovering new ways to cut corners. i'm not out planting victory gardens or cutting my soy milk with tap water, i'm just looking for cheap ways to stretch my entertainment dollar. suggestions?

dining-out is one spot that kills me. the smart thing would be to cook at home, but that won't happen with any regularity. for one thing, i don't know how to make chicken korma. at least now, if a craving strikes, i try to make it to restaurants during lunch hours instead of waiting until the evening; this saves a few dollars.

i'm too lazy to cook at home. i think it's because i'm single and don't want to put forth all that effort to cook for one.

last seen: a place in the sun, wuthering heights, all about eve, the african queen
last heard: mia doi todd 'my room is white' [video-- dear mia doi todd, we would have very pretty babies. i'm just saying. your pal, james]
last read: "No one can not have contradictions," he says. "It's just a matter of how you deal with them."
bonus: name voyager [via robin]

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

to get out of high school, kids around here have to do senior exit projects. they generally pick some boring and predictable topic like steroid use by professional athletes or violence in the media or the benefits of marijuana and then try to write a huge paper on the topic.

what this means is that, around this time of year, librarians across the county are flooded with the same kinds of questions and, frankly, it can get a little fucking boring. (yes, i realize that you can make rope out of hemp, i just didn't realize there was a worldwide rope shortage.)

every once in a while though, a kid will pick a really unique topic and ask for my help. perfect questions are rare, but, for me, they're the ones where i have a personal interest in the topic, too. that's what happened yesterday. it felt like the library gods were pitching one over the plate to see what i could do with it.

the student was still trying to find the edges of her topic but she was interested in alternative housing for the poor, sustainable architecture, and unique building materials. [sidebar: our library is connected to a technology high school that has an architecture/engineering track.]

i told her about samuel mockbee and the rural studio and showed her some things that he built. i explained that there were architects experimenting with shipping containers and converting them into houses and schools. i loaded her down with all kinds of information-- articles, books, people, keywords to search in the online databases.

her eyes completely lit up. she didn't think she'd find someone who was as excited about her topic as she was.

(for more information on the toughest job you'll ever love, go here.)

last heard: nat king cole 'quizas quizas quizas'
last read: I first heard Jimmy at Small's Paradise in January of 1956. [editor's note: he had one of my all-time favorite album covers.]

Monday, February 07, 2005

some sundays i decide to cook. i pick the biggest knife from the wooden block and work to fill one million tiny glass bowls with all manner of diced and chopped things. i chop so much, i find flow. i listen to the SHHH sound the knife makes as it travels through each object and the THAK sound the knife makes when it hits the board beneath. i try to make those sounds come quicker each time like it's a race.

yesterday, there was a bowl of potatoes, cut into quarter-inch squares, a bowl filled with diced red bell pepper, a bowl of chopped onions, many, many things. finally, i had a collection of brimming glass bowls each waiting to be emptied into a pot. i like the comfort that comes from following steps, from observing a system and a definite order.

last seen: all quiet on the western front, el dorado
last heard: joanna newsom 'flying a kite'
last read: By 1912, the nondescript little man with a mustache was leading two lives in parallel -- a grim, workaday existence and an increasingly elaborate fantasy life, articulated in his endlessly expanding life project: a novel with illustrations he called "The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion." [editor's note: for some reason, the link above works only sometimes. if you're still interested, go here and click the link to the henry darger article at right.]

Saturday, February 05, 2005

"Open your fists," he said, "and let go of the coals."
-the brothers k

some people can shut their eyes, breathe deeply and return to their center. i envy them. finding balance has always been an effort for me. i must be competely mindful before the problems that i've allowed to snowball start to recede back to normal size.

not today though-- today, the quiet mind came simply, if unexpectedly.

this past week left me unsettled and anxious, but i can tell you the exact moment when i let go of the coals. it was this afternoon around 4pm. the sound that brought me back was the sound of plastic big-wheel tires crunching gravel on the sidewalk over and over and over.

i heard the crunching through the open front windows; faintly at first, because i happened to be watching a movie, but then i focused on the crunching. i imagined the conversation that had taken place just before that kid left his apartment. i could hear the negotiations-- yes, he could go outside, but he had to stay on the sidewalk. no, he could not leave this block.

the crunching crescendoed from the left, built to its loudest just below my windows, and faded out as he continued to pedal west. after 50 yards, he would turn around and the sound would start again. with each pass he made, i could feel my shoulders becoming less heavy and, under my breath, i thanked him.

i must remind myself to be quiet, to just listen.

last seen: the maltese falcon, gunga din, king kong, the birth of a nation
last heard: neal hefti 'rhumbacito'
last read: Any more of that Dungeons & Dragons crap and I'll drive down there and kick your ass for the whole school to see. Got it? Love, Mom

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

there wasn't enough snow and ice to completely cover the back sidewalk. peering out my kitchen windows, i could see little islands of grey concrete, wet but not yet snowed over. still, this is north carolina, so it was enough wintery mix to get the libraries shut down by noon on saturday. have i mentioned how i love the south?

the threat of being trapped in my apartment for the weekend didn't seem so terrible. the postman recently delivered movies and music. plus i had cocoa, a couch and a blanket.

i watched three more AFI movies bringing me a few steps closer to completing one of my New Year's resolutions-- to finally finish watching everything on the list. the score stands: James 89, AFI 11.

two of the films were charlie chaplin classics and the third film, the best years of our lives, did not star the little tramp. it was about veterans who come home after WWII and how they readjust to civilian life. i highly recommend it.

one of the main characters was a sailor played by harold russell, a real-life veteran who actually had his hands blown off in the war. you have to remember that this was at a time before they made protheses that looked like actual hands, so he went around with those old-school hooks you used to see guys wear when you were small.

mark somberly shook his head saying, that guy will always be typecast...as a sailor. i have the best friends ever.

as i mentioned earlier, the postman not only delivered the three envelopes from netflix, but i was happy to see that he left a CD from sharyn as well. it is peppered with many bands i've read about, but never heard before. people like low and deerhoof. any compilation worth its salt includes the occasional oddball track. sharyn delivers with faye wong covering the cocteau twins. yep, that faye wong.

last seen: the gold rush, the best years of our lives, modern times, bullitt, sexy beast, the last samurai
last heard: low 'peanut butter toast and american bandstand'
last read: ...the coasters Mark gave me when I finally moved out. They had scenes of Ancient Greeks in various sexual positions.