Thursday, April 22, 2010

Counterfactual of the Week

The NFL Draft is on tonight, will turn to watch the rest of the first round once the Penguins build up an insurmountable lead. Actually, it wouldn't shock me if Ottawa won this game. They had their best games those first two in the Igloo.

But I want to raise an alternative reality. What if the Indianapolis Colts had selected Ryan Leaf first overall in 1998 rather than Peyton Manning? The Colts are, in a de facto sense, my NFL team. But I don't compete in any "fantasy" football pools. Hence, unlike in hockey, I can have a team to follow, so to speak. I'm really just an overall observer of the NFL, but if I have a team, its the Colts. Even liked them when they were in Baltimore, as they were when I began to watch the NFL when I was a kid. When Bert Jones was under center (American sport, so I'll use the American spelling). Before he bolted in free agency to the LA Rams, and his career came to a quick end.

I even liked his Dad Archie. One of the first Sports Illustrated magazines I collected as a kid had a feature on Archie, during the bleak years of the 'Aints. It was difficult, though, to see those 'Aints beat the Colts back in February.

And what of the cannon-armed Ryan Leaf? I remember being in Seattle during his heyday with the Washington St Cougars -- they were playing the hated Huskies. After his glorious career with the Super Chargers, he finally quit football a few years later. Tried coaching in college, which didn't go well. Last I heard, he was doing 10 months probation for burglary and cocaine possession.

But as a senilic Cliff Fletcher once opined so eloquently, "Draft Schmaft".

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Summer of 609

It had been an infernal summer. A 65 cent dollar, scraping together a living in the bunghole of the anachronism that was the "Garden State". The death throes of a doomed and misguided relationship (what happens in Vancouver should stay in Vancouver). Left behind in the Santa's Village of the Ivy League Museum. Suspended in time, surrounded by a suburban swell of endless asphalt and indistinguishable strip malls. That summer, Dubya didn't drop into the Starbucks like Clinton did on his post-impeachment farewell tour. But you bumped into Russell Crowe all over the place, usually while he was telling his privileged undergraduate fans to fuck off between takes of the edifying John Nash story. We used to eat lunch at a table across from that bird, and I can tell you that there was nothing edifying about watching him eat.

What a stinking summer.

Taking care of the cat, and other domestic delicacies. Crisis, what crisis? after Crisis, what Crisis? But all I clearly remember is the stupefying heat, and the nocturnal cacaphony of those fucking insects. The ones you hear when Tony Soprano is swimming in his backyard pool at night. I'll never forget that soul sucking sound. It was as if a million night hags were having their Kafka highs simultaneously. At least I had a few weeks to get drunk while she was out of town. Go over to the omnipresent TGI Friday's/Applebees/Chili's franchise and get into the Yuengling for as long as my 65 cent dollar would hold out.

What a stinking summer.

Then that morning in September. As usual, we got up around 10 am (usual bedtime was 4 am). I turned on the TV -- nothing. I played with the rabbit ears a bit. Looked to be a grainy picture of the WTC towers on fire. That's interesting, I thought, but why wasn't the NYC channel working better? I looked out the window -- a bright, sunny (and still hot) day, a few clouds seemed to be forming to the Northwest, around NYC. Only in bits and pieces during that morning did I learn that those grainy pictures were from a few hours earlier, and both towers had already collapsed by the time we got out of bed. That's why I couldn't get a clear picture -- the rabbit ears picked up a feed from the towers. We had been at the foot of those things a couple of weeks earlier, and I had posed for a picture right beside that guy with the briefcase. I remember thinking that things were going to change a little bit, and I began to seriously consider ending my American experience. Things only got worse around there -- those anthrax packages were being mailed from the local town post office, the same one where I used to keep, regretfully, renewing my student loans. Soon after, buildings all over the place were finding some kid's doughnut icing on a computer terminal, and all the hazmat teams were out. On a daily basis. I reached Canadian soil before the end of the year, knowing I would never be back in the 609.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Power of Print Compels You


The shooting of Manny Weinburg, and the miraculous deus ex machina that, hopefully, saved his life, has got me to thinking. About the power of print, or, in this case, the print technology that swallowed those bullets. The Underwood typewriter, the Marvellous machine that produced all those black riders on the page. I'm of that vampiric vintage (neither old nor young) that overlaps the phases of print practice. (Gotta get a vampire reference in there for the kids). Like many snot-nosed undergraduates, most of my papers were hammered out on an electric Corona. For no small fee, you could add the magic strip that, astonishingly yet acoustically agitatedly "erased" your one-fingered typos (or rather, pasted a drop of white shit "on to it", as my priceless pa would say). The resultant noise doubtlessly kept people up all night -- including car salesmen cousins who moved into your Grub Street hovel between commissions. Only as a graduate student did I "graduate" to the wonderful world of Word.

No, I never actually used an Underwood. But there was one in my household when I was a young boy. Don't know where it came from, don't know where it went. But it was there, and it looked just like Barton Fink's in his squalid room at the Hotel Earle. Doubtlessly it suffered a fiery martyrdom, along with my Joe Montana rookie card, during one of my father's fits of pyromania. Holy fuck, that man (god bless him) liked to watch things burn. One of my favourite old professors may still use one of those remarkable relics, and he resembles Barton in more ways than one. Why shouldn't the common man be on the stage, as long as he doesn't make a mess of things. Maybe he is Old Fink (c'mon Turturro, get old).

I have another cinematic memory of the Underwood. William S. Burroughs wrote a novel in 1959 called Naked Lunch. It was supposed to be unfilmic, defiant of any possible adaptation. And after seeing David Cronenberg's 1991 celluloid stew of Naked Lunch and a few other Burrough's novels, I don't know that I could muster much of an argument to the contrary. But for me, the success is in the attempt. And for my aesthetic appreciation, aside from a semblance of story, I really only need one or two incredible images. After all, music is (primarily) about the sound, not the word. Print culture is about the word, and all the esemplastic energies that follow. And film is about the image. I will never forget the Kafkaesque (or Schulzian) transformation of the Underwood into the sphincturous bug. "Hello Bill. Could you rub some of that powder on my lips, please"? During some of those all-nighters, my own Corona seemed to morph into different shapes and species, particularly around the 17th cup of coffee.

Post-Interruptnum, I have a different relationship with print culture. There was never a danger that my dissertation would become a Book. (Although I do see that its published on the web as an etext). Perhaps its head could have been shrunk, and the cannibalized version could have found its way to a legitimate academic journal. But when I left that world, there was no going back. No, the annotative scaffolding around John Millar of Glasgow will be my print culture legacy. The projected satirical novel which was to occupy my academic afterlife will not be written; after Lucky Jim who could do so? (but what I could have done with some of those characters, especially in the Ivy League Museum!) And I cannot write like Amis the Younger. The Anxiety of Influence overwhelms me. It always has. Not so much the Burden of the Past, though. I find that civilizing.

The blog will suffice, and my new project. I will transform just like the Underwood. I will become the Biblophagist. After the Interruptnum, the reading list will be my coy mistress. Had I but world enough, and time.

There may be no road map, but look upon me, I will show you the life of the mind.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I used to have favourite hockey teams. As a boy, it was Les Canadiens. Ah oui! Les Ca-na-diens! Les super canadiens de Montreal! Montreal had just captured four straight cups. Dryden had retired. Lemaire fled to coach in France. Scotty bolted for Buffalo. But they were still Les Glorieux. They were the default game on CBC, not Ballard's Maple Laffs. The elegant Danny Gallivan, Dick Irvin narrating from right to left on your radio dial. They lost Dryden to a lucrative legal profession, but they still had Bunny. And Denis Herron. That didn't go too well. But they were Les Glorieux. As the economics of hockey dictated that the Laffs become Canada's team, I remained loyal. Never more than seven years without a cup -- 1978/79, 1985/86, 1992/93.

Then Ottawa gets their NHL franchise. That tribal, or rather civic affiliation was forged during my years of exile in Vancouver and central New Jersey, that hockey hotbed and home of the ECHL's Trenton Titans. Needless to say, neither the hapless Canucks nor the mighty Titans inspired much civic humanist zeal. And Ottawa, well they are continuing their Great Tradition of perpetual disappointment. Although I did nearly get drownded, as the Young Artist would have said, in the charivari that was the "Elgin Mile" back in 2007. At the end of all those days, how did I possibly negotiate those stairs down to the pisserie at the Fox and Feather? Why couldn't I have just pissed off the balcony? In the topsy-turveydom, nobody would have even noticed. I think I might have done it a couple of times.

But now, its no longer about the teams. "Who do YOU cheer for"?, people ask over enthusiastically. Nobody, I says. I only have interest in individual players on my keeper league "fantasy" team. Such an odd term. In my lurid fantasies, hockey doesn't usually feature very prominently. "Did you watch the game last night"? Yeah, Florida eked out a thrilling 2-1 overtime win over Columbus. Matthias picked up an assist! People usually just walk away confused and unsatisfied, deprived of their collective civic pride.

They don't know the feeling. The addiction. The solipsistic self-love of building your own juggernaut. Building the levee, gulp by gulp. Kane, Duchene, Perry, Horton, Fabian Brunnstrom.

And the diadem at the centre of the Crown, Steve Stamkos.

Bibliomania -- Catch It!

I had a dream last night that I was entirely made of books. I began to read myself, then I lost interest. The protagonist was a real fucking asshole.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ode to a Brown Box

How long have you been there by my side, lulling me to sleep? Such a pathetic looking thing, not even state of the art when the state of the art wasn't very good. You probably couldn't even find a home in a retro kitsch diner.

No, I cannot bestow you with the honour of being the original sonic signal -- that belongs to the "family stereo unit", that peculiar species of 1970s technology. The stereo that's made to appear as a piece of furniture. The burnished brown particleboard, the luxurious velour latticework, and then the internal secrets revealed -- not just a turntable, but the futuristic 8 track deck, its silvery plastic exterior gleaming in the subdued light of the middle class living room, complete with wall to wall carpeting stapled over that horrid hardwood. And so much room to cache all your records (those that haven't been upgraded to 8-track yet, of course): News of the World, Dynasty, Live at Bukokan and ... hold the line ... Toto.

No, I cannot credit you with that. But as the next decade (aka Modernity) dawned, you came into my life. So complex, so many buttons to push. So many shiny plastic knobs to manipulate. Such metrics of meretricious melodies to marvel at. You were the conduit to my muscial awakening, before falling into the clutches of the metallic masters. What teenager doesn't go through that phase, except for The Square Corner? What a Golden Age. Keeping my head above the oceans of DEP that deluged the domestic environs of the (still) middle class living room. Ultravox, Heaven 17, Missing Persons, such memories (trauma?) of the New Wave. Again, nostalgia fucking with your head. The "classic rock" of the new generation, it seems. Missing Persons, you get a pass, since you had the great Terry Bozzio back on the kit. Too bad your wife provided the vocals though. And, sadly, my introduction to Neil Young -- Trans. This poorly schemed experiment is the primary reason that I came to Neil Young relatively late in life.

All of these vibrations emerged out of you, my friend. And now, so many sleeps later, you're still on my bedtable. Resurrected from your retirement, once again the airwaves crackle with life. Despite the Darwinian imperatives, you have outlived the ghettoblasters, the Walkmans, the Discmans, the laptops. Postgame shows, CBC news, Brave New Waves, right through to the Strombo show. In the epic struggle vs. the night hag, you are my armour.

Thank you, little brown box.