July 27, 2009

The Greatest Trick the Old Man Ever Pulled

I know you like your pop stars to be exciting, but I'm afraid I simply can't be bothered right now. I've been on sabbatical, you see—I'm not doing anything remotely interesting at the moment, so I don't want anyone getting the wrong ideas—but it seemed as if everyone was getting on well enough without me. False prophets choked the life from already-poisonous atmospheres, vile succubi debased humanity's collective sanity, mendacious tyrants clashed over dust-strewn deserts, and the New York Yankees have been restored to their proper royal status. Ah me, what's a happy cad to do under such joyous circumstances?

Take a holiday, of course—and that's precisely what I did, old chums. I felt a great need for some intense ultraviolet radiation, and that was that—hence my journey to the balmy climes of Gomorrah-By-The-Sea to let it all hang out below the gaudy parapets of the Laguna Ritz-Carlton. So refreshing, so luxurious—and such a change from what I was used to. Indeed—it's so very cold where I come from, ladies and gentlemen. Not many people knew that until a vulgar Italian blew the lid off, and the place I hang my hat has been a proverbial punch line ever since. Disgraceful, really—and not exactly a prime venue for my usual workshop.

So imagine my utter and complete contentment when, one scorching afternoon there at the shore, my calm repose was pleasantly broken by the musical titterings of two ever so lovely young ladies. 'What ho,' I thought, 'that magical number has blessed me again, just like young Brian always promised!' And blessed I was, my children—not to mention tanned, rested and ready for just about anything.

"Hey there, mister!" crowed the first charming young thing. "What's with all the gold sequins? Don'cha know it's about 99 degrees out here? You don't even have an um-brella!"

"Ho ho," I chortled, "but young miss, I thrive on the heat. A healthy pink glow nicely augments my naturally devilish demeanor, and I always enjoy the feeling of Vitamin D on my red-horned head."

She cocked her head stupidly at that last remark, and I feared I'd overstepped the bounds of appropriate discourse. "Please don't take that the wrong way," I said. "All I seek is perfectly innocent conversation."

They both laughed. "I'm not afraid of you," she giggled. "Real devils don't wear horns."

"Quite right, my dear," I nodded. "Astute observation, that. Keep your head about you and you'll go far."

"Oh, you betcha, mister!" she said, glowing. The other one could barely contain herself—a dazzling smile appeared perpetually ready to explode at any minute off her luscious, tarty little face—and I hastened to remind myself that I was, in fact, a disproportionately old man. Nevertheless, my fabulous Persian rug stretched wide across the sand, with plenty of room for both to take a minute to repose—and so they did. Their names, it transpired, were Sarah (the loud one) and Shelley (the smiley one), but I must confess I nearly forgot both over the course of the next half-hour.

We ordered mai tais from the brown servants and spoke of the day's events—or rather, I did, for they were both teetotal—and their periodic explosions of incredulous, ignorant innocence were ever so quaint. I sought to impress them with my considerable knowledge of everyone and everything in Creation, expounding upon all things war and peace, salvation and sin, and other such frivolous concerns—eventually meandering around to discussing, of all things, the President of the United States and his many manifold challenges. To my surprise, they both wrinkled their noses, as if some unpleasant animal had slithered across the beach.

"Oh, he's just icky," said Shelley, making a vulgar gagging motion. "My daddy says he's not even really the President—that he's just a dictator, like Hitler, or Castro, or...or Steinbrenner."

'What envious innocence,' I thought, but concluded that it would be best to remove a few illusions from her pretty head. "Oh, I don't think so. Young Barry is too tall to be a despot," I said, "but by all means, watch him closely."

Shelley's face fell; she was clearly shaken by my rebuttal. Sarah, however, was quite undaunted. "No no, mister—it's true! He's not just any old face-ist dictator, he's the Anti-christ! Honest to goodness!"

"I say!" Such enthusiasm made me nearly spit out my drink. "My dear lady," I sputtered with not inconsiderable surprise, "if he were indeed such a creature, I would be well aware of it, and on that you can trust me implicitly."

Sarah appeared confused, as if her beautiful mind were unable to reconcile two monumentally disparate problems. "But, but..." she stuttered, "he is the Anti-christ, mister. I just know it—I mean, I'd know it even if my boyfriend hadn't told me just a year ago!"

Now, I neither knew nor cared which hideous ape had said what to this lovely girl, but clearly her daft little soul was protected from On High. However, I could not let a fabrication of this magnitude stand. "See here, Miss Sarah," I said, briskly jabbing her perfect breast with my gnarled, sun-reddened finger, "that Goldman-crippled stick of a man is nothing more than the President! Isn't that bad in itself? Won't he be punished enough for his past sins?"

She shrieked with surprise. "Ow! Jimminy Christmas, mister, that hurt!" A tiny drop of gloriously red blood appeared exactly between her bikini line and Adam's apple, itself a far, far more beautiful vision than the shocked disappointment pouring out of those doe-like orbs she called eyes. "And how can you say something like that? Everyone but everyone knows there's only three more years 'til none of it matters anyway."

"Like, totally!" squawked Shelly, apropros of nothing. "Mr. Lahaye wasn't kidding, Gramps. Anti-christ or not, we'll be long gone by the time the dictator does his worst damage. I'm soooo looking forward to it—it'll be like, the ultimate awesome sleepover, you know? I mean wow, man—the Rapture!"

"What?" I gasped, incredulous. "My dear, unless your Mr. Lahaye is a terribly ancient Mayan savage, I'm afraid he has no idea whatsoever about when the End Times will occur. "I must insist that—"

"Must nothin'," interrupted Sarah, the little beast. "Shelley, I don't think this guy knows what he's talkin' about at all." She rubbed her punctured chest tenderly. "We better go. I promised Todd I'd meet him at the five-and-dime soda fountain before supper, and look—it's almost three!"

"Oh, okay," nodded her bubbly friend. "Well mister, it's been fun, but we gotta skedaddle, mmkay?" The false confidence in her voice broke only once, and I smelled a luscious hint of Fear. It was like a quick nip of cognac, or the salty tears of Judas—and I admit, it was difficult to restrain myself. Discipline is hard-forgotten, though—and I held firm, watching in silence as both lithe, supple young bodies got up and backed away slowly toward the stinking asphalt behind us. I refrained from watching them go, and it wasn't long before the distinctive rattling of a Cabriolet betrayed their hasty retreat, back to some stucco-padded, red-tile-roofed palace in a securely gated Niguel neighborhood.

I resolved to return to peaceful repose, but it didn't take long for the wind to pick up and bite my exposed heels with its foul sting. Idyllic nonexistence was turning out to be a frightfully difficult endeavor indeed—let alone the greatest trick I never pulled. So much for a sabbatical, what? I wandered back toward the lifeguard tower, but the shade was even worse there, and the attractive idiot in red trunks was little help as he stared down from his perch.

"Hey dude, are you all right? You look a little baked, man."

"Thank you, my boy," I called back, capable of only a half-hearted leer instead of a smile. "I'm quite all right."

"Okay," he replied, "you just seemed kinda tired, that's all. Can I, like, help you out or anything?"

"No no. Don't go to any trouble." I shuffled over to the pay phone, out of earshot. "I'm just going to call a taxi to take me home." And so I did, meditating on the eternal verities all the way. Off with the horns, on with the show.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, mlw

July 24, 2009

Web Industry Prattle, Direct From Seattle (Part II)

Day 3: It was only eight in the morning, but the unnaturally stifling heat was beginning to ratchet up again as I walked through the Emerald City to the second day of Web Design World. Emily had stayed behind, dozing comfortably in our air-conditioned hotel room while I prepared for another helping of snarky lectures and greasy sales pitches. The catered breakfast was functional—bagels and coffee—and I was stuck at a table with two shy, taciturn IT guys from Texas and Alabama who didn't seem too excited to be attending the conference for the first time.

I couldn't blame them, because I knew that bailing on our crude attempts at networking would only hasten the Boston flashbacks for me—at least two of the day's sessions would be repeats from last time. I was still unprepared for the oncoming déja vu, though, because it hit faster and stronger than I'd expected. At showtime, the CSS guru from yesterday swaggered into the packed main room to deliver his spiel on interface design, coming out swinging in favor of something like design eugenics.

"My mission in life is to make the world better via good design," he thundered, "and if that involves treacherous things like teaching your managers how to be competent, tasteful designers, then so be it! Muahahahaa!!"

Hoary laugh lines got courtesy chuckles, especially when ye olde CNN-versus-Fox website compare-contrast was deployed to predictable effect, and every tired swipe at the dead horse of Web 2.0 earned a few more conspiratorial cackles from the faux-jaded crowd. Everyone only truly perked up when the speaker reached his thesis, which was delivered with the force of all ten commandments combined.

"I call it an 'aesthetic usability principle,'" he crowed, relishing the vice-like rhetorical grip upon our delicate designerly sensibilities, "and it boils down to a simple truth: prettier things are easier to use. Your mileage may vary, of course, but..."

He trailed off, lost in contemplation, but there was nevertheless much ooooh-ing and aaah-ing among the peanut gallery, who didn't seem to realize the evil buried in that bald assertion. I shuddered to think how my ex-girlfriends would have contrasted that principle with my younger, user-unfriendly psyche. I mean, prettier things may indeed be easier to use, but would they truly be equal to the dirty work of uglier things? Or would uglier things be useful for only for a short period of time? It didn't make much sense, and I had to find out why, so I raised my hand to question the wisdom of industry expertise.

"So...isn't that just another way to say 'don't hate me because I'm beautiful and therefore more useful?'" I asked. "Am I missing something here?" The presenter dismissed my query with a smirk and a shrug. "Don't hate me because I'm right, man." Several other geeks in the audience nodded and made other affirming grunts, which only encouraged his escalating hubris, and my lone desperate whining was soon washed away by the flood of euphoria coursing through the room.

"Make contact with your viewers! Cater to their every visual need!" he cried, and echoes of "Yes!" and "Hallelujah!!" erupted from the suddenly boisterous nerds around me. Sparks crackled through the crowd, and the speaker grew wild-eyed and manic. "Hell yes! Invite people to touch your interface! Put your hand against the screen!!"

It was all too much for me, that early in the morning, but the energy level didn't drop at all when the next presenter bounded onstage, and I knew instantly that I would be failing today's endurance test, because this new guy was the same fiery New Yorker who busted our collective balls in Boston during back-to-back lectures on platform compatibility and effective Javascript methods. A quick glance at the day's agenda confirmed that he'd be repeating the same grueling double-header, and my worst fears were confirmed when the compatibility session took off like a shot.

"Okay you punks," he barked, "I don't have any cool visuals like the last guy, so that means you'll all have to keep up with my Microsoft-funded brilliance purely on bullet points. Check it out—I've been doing this shit since 1982, back when we were all bashing out COBOL on our Commodore 64's, and there was no compatibility at all until IBM and MS-DOS. Everything was simple, which of course led to a lot of problems because oncedivergent featuresweredeveloped foreachplatformthat yieldedcompleteinsanity fromacompatibilitystandpoint! You move one thing wrong and then suddenly it'slikeJengaandyoursiteisdowninSingaporeand15minutesbehindeverythingelse—"

And then his voice swerved into the sun at speeds faster than light as my comprehension skills were demolished against the chair in front of me. I tried to clamber back into understanding, but all I heard was "Come on, debate me, you bitches! I'm a New Yorker, I can take it! You can't stop New York City, motherfuckers!!"

"Jesus God," gasped a middle-aged nerd to my right. "I didn't spend 1400 dollars to get a face full of F.U.D. from Microsoft."

The acronym brought me back to myself. "F.U.D.? I don't get it," I said. My neighbor rolled his eyes in a 'you-mortals-will-never-understand' way. "'Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt,' dude. Like, duh."

"Oh, I'm sorry," I sneered back. "I guess that really was the pitter-patter of passive-aggressive melodrama I heard earlier. Are you gonna take your Linux-shaped ball and go home now, you elitist prick?"

The presenter continued shrieking in the background, switching gears to his Javascript presentation, but my neighbor merely smirked at my rudeness. "You humorless, hypersensitive Mac users are all the same," he shot back. "Can I help it if you're too stupid to realize that this conference totally blows? The rooms are frozen solid and the food is terrible. In fact, I think I'll get up and leave right now. Have fun at the kid's table, dumbass."

The vibrations were becoming pure evil, and contagious to boot. Half the audience had left in the break between compatibility and Javascript lectures, and before I knew it I was stuck in a lunchtime session where a totally different Microsoft hack tried to convince us all that Internet Explorer 8 wasn't a worthless pile of rat droppings. His efforts were so pathetic that they're not even worth repeating, and my black mood continued through the next lecture on gallery pages.

Somehow I'd drifted into the adjacent, smaller conference room, and found myself wedged in the back corner of a lecture by yesterday's chubby elf-man. His ebullient expositions on "the hunting practices of informavores" and "credit cards for people who are silly" built up the presentation's energy to the point where endorsements of podcast interviews with "Battlestar Galactica" babes Katie Sackhoff and Tricia Helfer raised no eyebrows at all.

"That's how people think about content anyway," jabbered the fat man. "When cosmetology and cosmology are no different, then sweet Jesus, can Olympic amateur nail technology be far behind?"

'Wait, what the fuck?' I thought. How had I ended up here? I'd barely got my bearings when the presenter ended with his usual exuberant "Thank you for encouraging my behavior!!"

I can't remember much after that; I bounced between a glacially-paced forum on "Informing Design" and a blatant sales pitch masquerading as a Flash tutorial from an oily Adobe rep who told anyone not working with CS4 to "eat your heart out, losers!" I couldn't take it anymore, and was beginning to feel overwhelmed by complete mental failure, but Emily rescued me with a sudden barrage of text messages. My wife had been over at the Space Needle and its environs all morning, so her enthusiasm was infectious.

"You're gonna love the Science Fiction Museum and Experience Music Project," she wrote. "Come meet me at 4th and Pine after your final session and I'll even take you to see the Jim Henson Legacy exhibit!" And you know what? She was exactly fucking right—I loved it. I loved the robots and aliens and muppets all so much that my nostalgic glee lasted throughout the muggy monorail ride to and from the museum and the brutal walk back up the hill to our hotel room.

It even lasted through Day 4, the next morning of packing up, checking out, and fleeing Seattle for the airport and our flight back to L.A. It even lasted through the plane buzzing a mountain, and the vapid stewardess bubbling about "You guys shoulda taken a picture of that one!" and the shitty landing in Burbank—because Em and I had one last ace to play: a concert by Elbow at the Wiltern—one of our favorite bands playing one of our favorite venues.

Hell, the comfort of knowing we'd be seeing a great show even lasted through the worst ever opening band Em and I had ever seen, because once Guy Garvey and his crew strode onstage at the last outpost of art deco in Los Angeles, everything was at last all right with the universe, and we gratefully gloried in it.

July 23, 2009

Web Industry Prattle, Direct From Seattle (Part I)

Day 1: The natives tried to warn me about Seattle when I was still in California. "It's cold and rainy, even in July," said Captain Clemente, as we lounged on the hot sand at his reunion party in Laguna Beach. "The sun doesn't set until, like, 9:45 or so, and the city's surrounded by deadly volcanos. It's another planet for sure, dude." My wife and I were due to fly from Burbank to SeaTac in about twenty hours, but the Captain's ominous warnings weren't doing much to offset the usual onslaught of bitchiness that always crept into my soul before traveling.

My brother was sitting on a towel across from us and knew as well as I did that Clemente had barely set foot in Washington between tours of duty in Iraq and was only giving me a line to wind me up. "Relax Keir," Bryn said quietly. "Em will be with you, and if all else fails you guys can call Jeff Hostert and he'll be happy to show you around."

I appreciated the gesture at the time, but I knew we'd never need Hostert's help. My wife Emily was stoked beyond measure to visit Washington, the land of Sexy Teen Vampires, and I figured that momentum would carry us through the four days we'd be there. Em could play tourist all she wanted to while I was stuck in yet another Web Nerd Conference, so if I survived the technical workshops I'd have to endure for the Company's continuing education in Art and Commerce, my wife would certainly have the logistical wherewithal to rescue my addled brain.

Emily said as much as we taxied toward the gate after landing in Seattle. "You're doing great, Keir," she smiled. "Just hang in there til we get to the hotel and then you can crash."

"Thanks baby," I croaked, grateful for the pleasantly short flight. "You're gonna drive, right?"

"Right," she replied. The rental car check-out was conversely automated and convenient, and before long we'd zipped up Interstate 5 to downtown Seattle and got ourselves settled into the Sorrento Hotel on Madison Street. It was a surprisingly balmy day for Washington—we'd landed in the middle of an unseasonably massive heat wave—and we decompressed in the air-conditioned, vaguely Victorian hotel room for about an hour before going out to explore the city.

Our section of Seattle looked a bit like San Francisco, but more resembled Claremont with hills, so it was a little surreal walking around in the California-like heat with snow-capped Mt. Rainier looming in the distance, and that odd sense of displaced familiarity wasn't helped by Em's sudden squeals of delight. "Ooooh, the Puget Sound Blood Center! It's right across the street! We're truly in the vampire section of town!"

My wife's eyes were bulging with excitement, but she calmed down a little after we walked a few blocks to the Red Lion, where my conference would be happening over the next two days. Suddenly famished, we ducked into the nearest bar & grill and attacked some hamburgers with indecent gusto. The Mariners were on TV from Cleveland, and so we watched the game for a bit before heading back to the hotel, exhausted and ready for bed.

Day 2: The first day of the conference began with a lurch. Vile bleeping and screeching from my mobile phone alarm jerked me into consciousness, and Em stirred fitfully beside me. I got up, stared into the bathroom mirror and was confronted by a hideous red heat-rash on my forehead, an ugly reminder of a sun-fried California Saturday.

Naturally, Emily laughed at my misfortune. "You look like Gorbachev with that Mark of The Beast on your dome," she said, and I grimaced with shame. So the morning wasn't promising, but within an hour we were both staggering down the hill just like yesterday, before separating at 5th and Pine—me for business, her for pleasure. I walked another few blocks to the Red Lion, elevated to the third floor, and sneaked into the nearest conference room, thickly populated with web geeks and provisioned with bland muffins and blander coffee.

I was late to the first packed session, cramming myself into the right-hand corner to catch a presentation on "vision" by a chubby, bespectacled elf-man with a snide streak wider than his waistline. I furtively looked around for familiar faces from Boston—the agenda of classes looked to be a near-repeat—but I'd never met any of these people before. The session peaked with a hilarious insight about college and university website design—"they're all home pages with photos of girls under trees!" said the speaker, jiggling his fat chin—before descending to a horribly dated Apple corporate video from 1987 that attempted to picture "The Year 2010."

The next two speakers were the same as in Boston—a woman from the W3C reprised her markup guilt trips ("It's called 'accessibility,' and you lazy nerds still aren't doing it well enough, goddamnit!"), and a grizzled CSS guru who repeated his presentation word-for-word, right down to the same laugh lines, and openly advocated screwing around with new technology because "it's neat to play with!"

We all groaned as the session ended, and made our way to a lunch session geared toward shameless networking. I snagged a cheap boxed sandwich and wandered over to the "Social Media" table, but only had enough time to exchange a few superficial pleasantries with the people there: a woman from the Seattle Library and an IT guy from a local Indian casino.

I'd already blundered my way through a series of multiple failed Tweets in the CSS session, so I skipped the Twitter workshop in favor of back-to-back workshops on design best practices and mobile phone websites. My mind was a hopeless void for most of both classes, not least because the presenter (who was the same guy for both) opened up the deadly firehose of knowledge as soon as we all sat down, and didn't let up for the next two hours. It was a grueling endurance test, and I barely held on to my britches all the way through the infinite vagaries of iPhones, Blackberries, Nokias, and Androids.

After that, the day's final session on microformats—another repeat from Boston—was an ugly epilogue. The lecturer was the same boring drone, too—and still had a bug up his ass about the W3C regulating his genius. The man realized something was wrong, though—stopping with five minutes to go for questions and admitting "I'm the only thing standing between you guys and alcohol, right?"

"At least he knows his place in the world," quipped a red-afroed girl nerd next to me, and I laughed even though I wouldn't be getting sloshed with everyone else at the convention mixer. I ditched the Red Lion as soon as the class ended, trotting a few blocks to meet Emily on the third floor of a downtown shopping mall choked with out-of-towners.

"Take off your sunglasses," she said as I approached. "Apparently only the tourists wear them."

"We are tourists," I said, but she waved it off and continued. "I've been shopping all over this place today, and have been getting crap from people the whole time. I think they can smell the California on us. Some guy even said 'well aren't you dressed for the weather?' and I've been bent out of shape ever since."

My mood wasn't the greatest either, so all we did was schlep around the waterfront looking for a place to eat dinner, but nothing seemed appealing, and we ended up back at the Elephant & Castle below the Red Lion for some more well-handled beef and beer. We were too drained to do anything else, so dragging our asses back up the hill to our hotel was the only option.

When Emily's last hope for salvation—watching a new "True Blood" episode on HBO—didn't materialize, all we could do was pass out again and hope the next day would bring better Fun and Wisdom.

July 03, 2009

Shameless Revisionism: The Weapon of Young Gods (2008-2009)

Well, it's that time again—but at least it's the last time. That's right, ye olde Shameless Revisionism series will be bowing out just as summer truly heats up, but maybe we'll go out with a bang here. So, like I said last week, I'm gonna try to slice and dice the "Weapon of Young Gods" novel into tasty little bits, despite the fact that it's a clumsy first draft and I really should be editing the bastard. Maybe this will help that, though.

The short version of "how the novel came to be" is that Honey White had stopped for a bit (and I hadn't been writing many lyrics), so I needed a project to take up my time that I could do solo. I'm a good writer, but had tried and failed to write fiction before (even getting denied from UCI), and while there were lots of previous inspirations to do so, the final straw was a film called "Brick" from 2006. It was a nice love letter to sunshine noir and South OC, so I thought "hell, I can do that."

And then I did, for better or worse (and even wrote some music to go with it). Since there are 48 posts/chapters, I divvied them up equally and dispatched each with a single sentence or phrase. Yeah, how ya like that for economy? The quotes that usually come with each entry are, this time, picks from one of each group of six. Higher math, sure, but I did it. Since I've written quite a bit about the book before, and since we're going live to the planet tonight, let's just get to it and see if this shit works. Click on a post title to see the whole thing.

Chapters 1-6
The Disagreeable Ones 1.27.08
The Precipice 1.27.08
Immobilized At Dawn 1.28.08
Vanishing Points 1.29.08
Scrambled Shame 1.29.08
Last Train Leaving The Abyss 2.9.08

I'd already written a few short snippets of stuff for this story, but the real meat didn't come until the end of 2007, when I blasted out these six chapter drafts and decided to blog them early in 2008. Basically, they are excuses to tell the skeleton-nightmare story and subsequent morning after hangover (1, 3, and 5 from Roy's point of view), and an excuse to unearth/invert a bad Chico road trip story (2, 4, and 6 from the 2nd narrator, named Derek). Not so auspicious a beginning, really, but I did have a good opening line (here in the quote from Chapter 1):

When I was younger I was still insane. I know that now, but didn't realize it then because I was afraid of everything and couldn’t think straight. The bad dreams began when I was ten, and within days became full-blown terrors that left me hopelessly overwhelmed by fear whenever I slept. I dissolved into a trembling skid-mark of paranoia every night, petrified by the vampires on the roof or ghosts over my shoulder or zombies waiting for me outside the window. I taught myself to lie as flat on the bed as I could, so that if the werewolves showed up they wouldn't see me, and might leave my house alone for once.
Chapters 7-12
Crippling Nostalgia 2.9.08
Your Time Is Not Your Own 2.10.08
Jeopardy On Crack 2.11.08
It's Quiet Up Here 2.16.08
The Morbid Frieze 2.18.08
Tourniquets 2.19.08

Output was still going strong for the next six chapters (Feb. '08 was a good month), but other than the continuing character narratives from Roy & Derek (party scenes and ghost stories in Ch. 8-11) the interesting part here was trying to write from a female perspective—their girlfriends—in Ch. 7 and 12. I probably didn't really pull it off, but whatever. Here's a bit from one of them (Lisa) in Ch. 12:
I'm sitting in Harbor House waiting for Justin when the pain comes back. I squirm and shift my weight in the little booth near the door as the dull ache enveloping everything below my navel gets sharp and angular. Over at the other end of the diner the waitresses clink silverware and yell at the cooks as they get ready for the dinner rush. They haven't been over to check on me in ten minutes, but that's because I said I was expecting someone. Expecting someone, sure. Well I was, but now I'm expecting someone else. That should be funny, but it's not.
Chapters 13-18
Fending Off Implosion 2.21.08
Concussions 2.29.08
Circle Of Envy 3.1.08
Treating The Symptoms 3.29.08
Sounds Like Screaming Mimes 4.4.08
Gauchoholica Uber Alles! 4.7.08

Production got a little slower, but was still pretty steady by the time I got through the next six. They basically were excuses to tell a bad breakup story (13), relive old soccer stories (14), indulge in UCSB dorm nostalgia (15), get slightly surreal (16), resurrect the IVBC venue (17), and highjack the infamous Del Playa skinny-dipping story (18). Also introduced another new narrator, Colin, for Ch. 18:
Neena has been talking up a storm, going on for a while now about politics, religion, life, death, and the universe, but I can't really keep up with her, since the alcohol's sort of slowed every reflex I have. Except, so far, the impulse that keeps me from looking completely stupid, but I'm not so sure how long that one can hold out either, mostly because of her weirdly hypnotic eyes. She has no pupils; her eyes are simply two enormous black orbs in the middle of a dark-chocolate face unframed by the luscious blue-black tresses currently held back in a ponytail. I'm trying to imagine what she'd look like with it all let down when she starts in on the massive curfew we're all currently violating with extreme prejudice.
Chapters 19-24
Narcoleptic Blues 4.16.08
Fragile Equilibrium 4.27.08
Backwards Fear 4.29.08
Accidental Recon 5.5.08
Salvage Some Dignity 5.17.08
Ruinous Smackdown Fallout 5.26.08

Things got a little tougher here. These chapters from April and May '08 veered in between a wild card, failed 2nd-person narrative from the detective character (23), more half-true dorm revisionism from Roy (19 and 21) and some indulgent Dana Point-isms from Derek (20, 22—excerpted below—and 24).
Roy lives just a few streets away from me, across the park, but after I drop him off, my headache dials down to a mellow hum, and since it’s not that late, I don't feel like going home yet. The scenery change I was looking for when I left UCSB earlier today has already degenerated in my mind to an endurance test comprising my depressed mom and annoying little sister, so I drive down Santiago, making my way out of the old neighborhood, passing my house and others identical in form and function. Twenty years has aged some of them gracefully, but most are not flattered by the passage of time. When I get to Caracas I go left, opposite from where Colin's old house is when his family still lived here in SoCal. He wouldn't recognize it now, rendered gargantuan with new additions, so I don't bother glancing that way as I go, exposed to the intersection’s blind turn. It’s safe, but I can sense the fog filtering in as the night ferments in that unique suburban stillness.
Chapters 25-30
Electric Hubris 5.28.08
Shatter The Surrounding Splendor 6.10.08
Starting Fires 6.13.08
Immortals On the Loose 6.23.08
The Vortex of Angst 7.18.08
The Bait and The Switch 8.2.08

For these six, Roy's narrative got easier—relying on a high school band gig (25, excerpted below), an exegesis on the one that got away (27), and the (again) infamous story of the bony ass through the Volvo window (29). Derek's, however, got difficult—the buildup and release of a violent episode in Capo Beach (26, 28, 30) was kind of tough to negotiate, and the villains I ginned up don't really seem like people.
"Yeah!! Yeah, it's like that, baby!" Alan's voice rang with defiant glee through the ragged PA speakers as we bashed out the last notes of "Eat Shit And Die" from the center stage of my old high school's main hall. Our frontmanly singer-guitarist's enthusiasm was met with scattered applause and semi-comprehension from the inert mob of teenagers below, who seemed to wonder why their lunch hour was being interrupted by an assault of Old Dead Sixties Music. Alan sensed that his precious span of glory was almost over, and he wasn't gonna go without a fight. Neither were the rest of the Blue Monkeynuts. R.J. and Alan had whipped us into well-rehearsed shape over the past few weeks, and I'd learned all the covers they'd chosen as well as teaching them "Narcoleptic Blues," which I'd finished in an intense three-hour fit of inspiration in Frankie's room while she slept. The gig had begun a little shakily, but I soon fell into lockstep with Mike, the drummer, and we'd given R.J. and Alan a nice fat backdrop to raise hell for the past thirty minutes.
Chapters 31-36
Artificial Archaeology 8.3.08
Perverse Psychic Penance 8.7.08
Echoes of the Womb 8.8.08
Thrashing Even Harder 8.19.08
Fitful Mind Games 9.2.08
Leave the Rest in Ruins 10.1.08

The endurance test began somewhere around this point for me, as a writer. It was once again a trade-off between Roy and Derek narratives; the former started strong with mystery hint-dropping (31) and my womb-reverb theory (33, excerpted below), but the second nightmare sequence from Ch. 35 was really hard. Derek's stuff also seemed to deteriorate from the interesting freeway bit (32) to increasingly incoherent and unraveling party reporting (34 and 36).
As we listened to the porous wall of voices, my ears spilled over with the natural reverb of the huge surrounding space, and I thought of how much fun it would be to record the band in a place like this, to capitalize on the organic acoustics and tape the perfect vocal take or the best guitar lick, drenched in buckets of sound. The warmth of it all, and the woozy contented bliss stealing over everyone who heard it, suddenly made me realize why the sound of reverberation appealed to the human brain—it must be an echo of the womb. It had to be a vestigal memory from all of our unborn, gill-like ears, when the sounds of the outside world filtered in through liquid distortion and nurturing comfort. I savored my momentary lapse into lucid genius with the lack of humility appropriate for such a venue.
Chapters 37-42
Frantic Improv 10.3.08
Crushing Heads 11.11.08
Frayed Strands 11.17.08
This Won't Hurt a Bit 12.27.08
Open-Heart Surgery 12.31.08
Don't Carry Dead Weight 1.14.09

These six were just as hard to finish as the previous six, but thankfully not worse. I'd outlined the whole plot before beginning the story, but fleshing out the details was proving increasingly tough. The pattern was similar—Roy's bits were easier: the Fullerton trip (37), the Strands setting (39, light-years from its first incarnation as my initial stab at fiction), and another freeway meltdown (41)—and Derek's were hard (the violent climax in 38 and 40, the latter excerpted). A token narrative from one of the villains, Chris in 42, couldn't seem to rescue the downward spiral.
Some lucky souls get to remember their dreams, but I've never been one of those people. Never recalled any profound truths from random subconscious netherworlds. Never thought that much mattered, though, cause I've definitely dealt with some weird hallucinatory shit—usually caused by either controlled substances or some deliriously painful physical injury. So yeah, an absolutely skewed frame of reference is attempting to run in response to what's up right now, cause it sure as hell isn't a dream when I get yanked into lucidity by two pairs of dirty hands. It's pretty fucking real when I'm wrenched out of the Civic and dumped onto a cracked and ugly part of the Earth's face that looks an awful lot like an Irvine office park. My flickering field of vision stretches and shrinks with impunity, but everything hurts too much to be a dream.
Chapters 43-48
The Weapon and the Witness 1.19.09
Radioactive Decay 2.21.09
Demasiadas Revelaciones 3.27.09
Approaching Armageddon 4.28.09
Stubborn Fits of Piety 5.31.09
They Always Run 6.14.08

Wrapping up the final chapters was a real slog, no bones about it—especially because I had three new narrators this time (Frankie in 44, Olivia in 45, and R.J. in 46, excerpted below). By this time I was only able to squeeze out one a month, prolonging the inevitable crash and burn of my story into a vague and disorganized mess. It was a wreck, but at least it was finished, to a certain degree.
I wake up late the morning after Olivia's party, and am almost immediately hit with the full force of approaching armageddon. Worrying about Roy all night had kept me conscious until an absolutely satanic hour, and now after lurching through the bathroom-kitchen-closet routine at a sloppy pace, I blearily step into the end of the world when leaving for school. The air is thick and dry with smoke when I walk out the door, making me hack and spit involuntarily—but in between fits I look west toward the source and shudder. A massive ash cloud is blacking out Aliso Peak, slowly descending from what looks like somewhere in Laguna, blanketing all points east in fine flakes of carbonized snow. Trees, cars, sidewalks, streetlights, signs, and cheap Halloween decorations stand silent, all looking like they need to be dusted. It’s almost peaceful, until I realize that's what's left of someone's home on the Volvo. Their house on our car.
Whew. Well, that's it for the 2009 Summer of Shameless Revisionism, gang. I have no idea when this book will truly be "finished"—there's still lots of editing and a little rewriting left to do. Even then, self-publishing is probably the best-case scenario. I have so little interest in fighting the War to Make People Care—and the song lyrics are starting to come back. Anyway, thanks for enduring this year's sustained run of egomania. Undoubtedly it will again rear its hideous head in the future.

July 02, 2009

Deep Cuts Come Out for U2-360

Like wow man, and stuff, totally. My favorite band of rich Irish dorks pulls some old tunes out of their arses for their new tour (via U2log). Do I have tickets? Well, no, no I don't, but there are no tears over that because I'm a big boy now. Seriously, I'm not into seeing stadium shows anymore, even for these guys.

Anyway, they did this for the last tour, of course--playing ancient obscure tunes from "Boy," for example--but I consider this second round of un-mothballing continued good behavior in terms of not Completely Becoming The Stones and Not Totally Sucking.

So, come on feel the YouTube, I guess. From opening night in Barthelona:

Ultraviolet (Light My Way): Last played 8/28/93

The Unforgettable Fire: Last played 1/6/90

...and my pick of the new ones:

No Line on the Horizon

From the second night:

Electrical Storm (a lightweight recent one, but still, never played previously):

I'm holding out for some stuff from the oft-maligned "Pop" album (they did actually rehearse "If God Will Send His Angels," apparently). That one, plus the October and Unforgettable Fire albums would seem to go well with the new stuff.

Okay, the geek hat's coming off now. Sorry.

July 01, 2009

The Wilco-Beserkely-Half Moon Bay Four-day-cation

Finally got a chance to drive up to Mom and Bill's new hood last weekend in Half Moon Bay. The new home isn't ready yet so we crammed into the rented beach house with them and the crazy dogs. First on the agenda was an all-day jaunt up to Berkeley to see Wilco (who were pretty damn good this time around). It was the 6th time Em and I have seen them and this show was easily in the top 2. (UPDATE: Great, great review of the Wilco show from a self-described Wilco lifer [been to 50 shows!] at Bandwagon). Also, here's a photographic diagram of our actual location during the concert:

We walked all over the UC campus before the show, so naturally the best thing to do was to do another hike up and down the beach in HMB the very next day. It was a great time, and we were spared the horrible inland heat thanks to the perpetually-socked-in HMB fog, but my calves were weak and out of shape and I'm still sunburned. Ah, June. Anyway, both Bill and I shot some photos in our own special "following our wives around" way, which I've compiled into this semi-Oceanarian-tastic post:

California cliffs seem pretty much the same, north or south.

Mom sure is happy to be living back on the coast again.

"...and we shall call it...um...'this land.'"

Mom claims her little corner of Half Moon Bay resembles South OC in the '60s, but to me it sure looked a lot like the quiet site of Isla Vista circa 1995.

We drove home on Highway 1, stopping in Santa Cruz before hitting 101 again, and then suddenly, the first month of summer was dead and gone—but at least it went out with some dignity.

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