Thursday, April 24, 2014

A to Z Day Twenty One: U2

"Angel of Harlem" is one of my very favorite songs.
U2 got a lot of crap for this album (and for the accompanying film), and I don't think it was fair. People were saying, "How dare these Irish dudes tell us how great Billie Holliday was! We know how great Billie Holliday was!" Well, OK. But I was 17 when this record came out. I didn't know how great Billie Holliday was. And U2 made it cool so I could learn who Billie Holliday was. Perhaps I should have already known. But they were my gateway to a lot of great stuff, and I think that means something.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A to Z Day Twenty: The Band

One of my new favorite songs, "Richard Manuel Is Dead."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A to Z Day Nineteen: Schrodinger's Cat

The late Erwin Schrodinger, an Austrian physicist, once proposed a puzzle (a thought experiment, neither he nor I actually killed any animals) where a cat is sealed into an airtight box with a vial of poison gas , a small amount of radioactive material which has a 50% chance of decaying per hour, and a radiation detector, which if the material decays will smash the vial and kill the cat. The puzzle is, when you shut the box, is the cat alive or dead?
The answer is unclear. One can answer that it is both, or it is neither, or it is nothing until you open the box. There are a number of different interpretations and counter interpretations that try to solve the puzzle, or ignore the puzzle, or work around the puzzle. Personally, it has always just given me a headache.
To quote John Cleese, "it's people like you what cause unrest".

Monday, April 21, 2014

A to Z Day Eighteen: Rest In Peace

A List, In No Particular Order, of People I Wish Were Still Alive:
Isaac Asimov
Kurt Vonnegut
Robert A Heinlein
Freddie Mercury
David Foster Wallace
Jim Morrison
John Lennon
Kurt Cobain
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Jonathan Larson
John Bonham
Heath Ledger
Molly Ivins
My Father

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A To Z Day Seventeen: Queen

James Hetfield, Tony Iommi, and the surviving members of Queen bring the noise on "Stone Cold Crazy."

Friday, April 18, 2014

A To Z Day Sixteen: The Postal Service

Those of you who only know me electronically may not realize that I was, am, and continue to be, a fanatic letter writer and snail mail enthusiast. Even in these advanced times, I sit down with pen and ink and send a letter to people in Wasilla and Washington, San Leandro and San Jose, Nottingham and the Netherlands. It's a form of pseudo meditation, because it cannot be done quickly- or at least, it cannot be done well quickly.

I hear constantly about how retail is dying, the Web is king, and the post office is going to be privatized and go the way of the dodo and the Celtics' playoff hopes this year. These people may be right, and if postal mail goes away, I'll get along. I'm an adaptive sort.

But it shouldn't. A post office is part of a civilized society. Citizens in a democracy should be able to communicate with their leaders and each other without needing a $500 laptop. And it's the only secure communication left- if you seal it tight enough, nobody will read it except the person you address it to.

Call me a Luddite, but I love my postal service and will stay with it until the last dog dies.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A To Z Day Fourteen: Red Sox Nation

I am a Red Sox fan. (I'm sorry.) Being a Red Sox fan is kind of like owning an iPhone used to be: at one point, you were unique, now every third person is just like you.

My instinctive response is to point out that I'm not one of THOSE people- I've been a fan since the Carter Administration. I root when we're good, like 2013, and I root for the dog's breakfast group therapy teams like 2012 and 2011, and I root for the grossly overrated teams like 1995. As Jerry Seinfeld once put it, I'm rooting for laundry, and it's too late for me to change now.

But that's not the right way to act. When you love something, the natural response is to share it, not push people away from it, and just because I know who Jimmy Collins was and what Duffy's Cliff was and who owned the Third Base Saloon, that doesn't make me a better fan than you. It just makes me a bigger nerd.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A to Z Day Thirteen: Handel's "Messiah"

I defy you to not get chills listening to this, The Hallelujah Chorus performed inside a Macy's in Philadelphia.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A To Z Day Eleven: Charlie Brown and the Kite Eating Tree

Most everyone knows who Charlie Brown is. The comic strip "Peanuts" and it's characters are known, I think, around the world. As with any great art, it works on two levels- a tale about a kid trying to fly a kite, and a kind of Sisyphean labor. Charlie Brown bargains with the tree, begs it, defies it, dares it, but still it sits there, implacable, endlessly hungry, ruining his day over and over again, heartless and cruel. I don't know what the late Mr. Schulz intended the tree to "represent", but I think everyone can appreciate a foe that just won't let you have a good time, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A To Z Day Ten: Jokes

A termite walks into a bar and asks, "is the bar tender here?"
What did one hat say to the other?

"You stay here, I'll go on a head."
Why couldn't Dracula's wife get to sleep?

Because of his coffin.
What do you do when you see a spaceman?

Park your car, man.
What did the big bucket say to the little bucket?

You look a little pail!
Why is there no gambling in Africa?

All the cheetahs.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A To Z Day Nine: You And I

"You and I", from the tragically forgotten musical "Chess", here beautifully sung by Elaine Paige and Michael Ball. It contains what might be the saddest lyric I have ever heard- "But we go on pretending/Stories like ours/Have happy endings."

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

A To Z Day Seven: A Gander At Gender

Blatantly stealing from my sister from another mother Giulie, today we talk about gender, and specifically gender in regards to my stories in the indisputably marvelous "2014" books, available here and at reputable book stores everywhere. And even some of the disreputable ones.

Gender is more complicated than it appeared to me previously, a phenomenon which is rapidly becoming a theme of my 42nd year on Earth. It's not simply your chromosomal layout or the appearance of your block and tackle, it's a social construct, who you feel you are as well as how you decide to present yourself to others. (This makes me think of the birth scene from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life", where the mother asks if she has had a boy or a girl, and Graham Chapman responds, "it's a bit early to start imposing roles on it!")

In my 2014 story cycle, Mark Hamilton is a man caught in a vise- he is making tremendous sums of money at his job, but he is starting to hate the things his job is doing to him. His work world, professional baseball, is male dominated, while his home life is dominated by his wife Angela and his distant daughter Madison. He has trouble reconciling who he feels he has to pretend to be to keep his job and his paycheck, with who he really is, which seems to me to be the central thrust of the concept of gender.

To quote the late great Mr. Vonnegut, we are who we pretend to be. So we must be careful who we pretend to be.