To Absent Friends, Etgar Keret, My Misspent Mallrat Youth, and More Jodo

It’s been a lot of quickie reviews of things I’ve been reading and watching lately. So let’s do something different today, yeah?

RIP Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, and also actress Arlene Martel, who I met at the Rod Serling Conference last year, still trying to keep herself out there in typical L.A.-style.  This isn’t one of those, “How dare they forget such-and-such?” notes.  Just a nod to the one I had a brief connection with…


Etgar Keret says a lot of things perfectly.  This bit from his interview in Granta is no exception…

I once met this very good writer. She told me that sometimes she comes upon a metaphor or a description and she writes it down on a notecard and keeps it in a box. Then when she writes a story and her character is taking a walk, she thinks OK, I’ll take a walking image from my box of notes. And I said to her, ‘Why? The guy is already walking.’ I don’t think a text should be beautiful. We’re trying to say something, to help something. It’s like sticking a feather on a guy’s back. You know he either grows wings for evolutionary reasons or he doesn’t have feathers. That’s my attitude to writing – although there are writers whom I love who I can see obviously don’t write this way.

Who wants to see where I spent my preteen mallrat years in a state of urban decay?

These photos break my fucking heart.  The building is still walking distance from the house I grew up in.  I haven’t been inside it in at least 15 years.  Those lounge pits you see are exactly as I remember from the ’80s, except the vinyl covering the seat cushions was a red violet instead of blue, if memory serves.  And there are a lot of memories.  Buying 45s, then, as technology progressed, cassette singles at the record store.  The Burger King that came, went, and came back where I got many a lunch after swimming lessons and learned the joys of the bacon double cheeseburger.  The Waldenbooks where I’d buy the Target novelizations of classic Doctor Who episodes, and perusing other books that no 10 year old had any business going through, but I got away with it as long as I wasn’t anywhere near the Playboy section of the magazine rack.  I was never ever asked to stay away from the “personal massagers” section of the Spencer Gifts, for that matter.  All the classic Star Wars action figures and other collectible toys that sell for hundreds of dollars now that my parents paid the ’80s equivalent of hundreds of dollars to Kay Bee Toys back then… ah well, the past is past.

Next up in my movie queue: Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain.

On Track to Shoot Chi or Lightning Bolts From My Hands

So I made it through my second yoga class the other day without stopping (or dying!), and I was warmed up enough that when I walked home, I barely noticed that the temperature had dropped to a balmy 7 degrees.

This time around, I was a touch less focused on just surviving the class, and could pay attention to things like exactly what my limits are right now (more than there used to be), and exactly how my body was having trouble moving (ways that never used to trouble me before).  I did do every pose though!  The quality sucked near the end, but I pushed myself as far as was reasonable I think.  That’s what matters.

And yet…

See, what I’m feeling with my return to yoga is almost exactly what I’ve been feeling like with my writing lately.  I can’t seem to bring myself to feel good about the rebuilding I’m doing.  Oh, I do it.  I take a step forward and I’m determined to show up and take the next one; lots of people would pat me on the back for that.  Yet, I know how far I’ve fallen.  I don’t go, “Yay, me! Let’s keep moving forward!”  I think, “One step down, 9,995 to go until I’m back to where I was.”

It’s motivation by self-loathing.  It’s letting fear and anger fuel me.

It’s the Dark Side of the Force.

Probably not a good thing.  But what to do about it…?

My Everyday Horror Story

From “An Everyday Horror Story”
by Harvey Pekar.
Art by Gerry Shamray.

Whatever lung pox I had that led to two weeks of paroxysms of coughing has messed up my voice.  To clarify, it’s messed it up for an additional week after the coughing is now more or less under control.  I’m starting to wonder if it’s one of the two(!) inhalers I’m on.  I’m this close to having to having to use one of my Field Notes notebooks to write things out instead of speaking them.

Anyway, it reminded me of a story in Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor (issue 5), “An Everyday Horror Story,” in which our man has a long bout with laryngitis and it starts to do things to his head.

I’ll tell you, I’m starting to relate.  It’s not just the voice loss, but these weird muscle spasms I’ve been getting lately.

I try to avoid soliciting curbside consultations from the medical professionals I work with, but a lot of them are just generally helpful by nature.  So the other day, some of them dropped some knowledge on me.  Now, I knew the muscles that were spasming (my intercostals) are the ones I use to cough but what I didn’t realize is that the reason they can take a long time to heal is because they can never truly rest, seeing as they’re the same muscles I use to breathe.

That’s what’s messing with my head.  My voice I can rest, but I can’t stop breathing.  Talk about feeling like a supernatural force is messing with you.  It’s bad enough fighting my own procrastination, which I do every day.  It’s even harder when you can’t talk and have trouble moving, or even sitting.  But I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, really.  Harvey got his voice back.  I’ll likely get my voice back (gonna call the doctor again, though).  My intercostal muscles will get better.  Maybe I’ll get my groove back, too.


Chapter LX

From Heavy Metal

We’re still 18 years away from 2031 when, if I’m still around, I’ll be 58 but still look the way I do now depending on what sort of genetic and/or cybernetic modifications I’ll be able to afford.  But that doesn’t stop me from feeling like an ancient relic now.

But believe it or not, I’m in a better space than I was this time last year. Just.

Let’s just say that I’ve now lived long enough to get to the point where I can completely relate to what the late, great fellow-Clevelander Harvey Pekar says…

Don’t fret.  Our man isn’t that hopeless.  Granted, I’ve never been one of those people who fully appreciated the whole “adversity makes you tougher” idea.  But I’ll tell you this–adversity has sure made me shrewder.  It’s made me smarter.  It’s made me hungry for the things I want in life.  And it’s damn sure taken my patience away from the things that would stand in my way.

So, I take the ups and downs.  Because as Robert Lamm sings…

We’ve all had our highs
The lows we can’t command
Sleeping through insomnia
It is more than you can stand

Boy, is that right.

I have a day off tomorrow.  But not the day after.  In the meantime, I’ll not be taking comments from the peanut gallery just now.  In fact, I’m likely fast asleep.  I love time-shifting this stuff.

See what I mean?  Shrewder!

“Are you gatherin’ up the tears? Have you had enough of mine?”

My goals for the past Memorial Day weekend are clearly stated in the first two verses of this song.  And got’dammit I needed it because the pace of my life has been breakneck.  Two days back at work, and it almost doesn’t feel like I’ve had a break. 

I had I week where I had meetings on 3 out of the 4 edges of campus.  I’ve “achieved” the level where I have to leave a meeting early just so I can arrive 10 minutes late to my next one.  Where it’s up to me to make executive decisions about which meetings to beg off meetings, or face walks like this.

Hell no.

For these, and other reasons, I’ve been on silent running.  Every day is a battle to reclaim energy to have a high-level of executive functioning the next day.  I’ve time-shifted this entry–I’m sleeping as this goes out.  It’s fine for now.  But my life just hasn’t left me much to talk about on teh social medias on a daily basis without sounding like I’m just aching and moaning.

I am catching up, though.  I’m closer to it than I’ve been in a long time, but not as close as I want to be.  I’ll get there soon.  And then, that’s when the last verse of “Funk 50” will become relevant.

“Jumpin’ up, fallin’ down / Don’t misunderstand me…”

I knew this week was going to be bad.  It’s started off even worse.  But I’m getting by. My coping mechanism of the day has been playing this video on a loop.  It’s Joe Walsh playing “Funk #49” with Daryl Hall.

Yes, you read that right.  And your brain is short-circuiting at the cognitive dissonance, isn’t it?  It’s that short-circuit that keeps me from falling into a black hole of depression, because who can not get fired up hearing that guitar riff?

“…we’ll muddle through, one day at a time”

I’m actively juggling plates.  That, and fighting off whatever Andromeda Strain I might’ve picked up at work, hence the extended absence.  But these are plates that put me more and more in a position of having to (temporarily, at least) set aside the things that threaten to derail my momentum if any of the seeds I’ve sown are to bear any fruit.

I’ve been doing my best giving those things the Dikembe Mutombo treatment when necessary…

…and just taking things one day at a time.

“I’m just looking for clues at the scene of the crime…”

This is a “Proof of life” post.

I do have stuff I could be talking about.  Just don’t quite have the wherewithal yet.  Mostly because it requires a level of organizational thought which I’m not currently capable, since I’m still recovering from whatever Andromeda Strain kept me away from the dayjob last week.

In the meantime, here’s the stuff I’ve been marinating my brain in for the past couple of weeks…

You’d think I’d have known, as a comic book guy, that avowed subbie and Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston actually had a hand in creating the polygraph.  I’m truly ashamed that I never knew, or at least never retained that information.

My current favorite comedian: W. Kamau Bell.  I’d only kinda sorta heard of him and then a couple of months ago, I’d heard Elvis Mitchell interview Bell on KCRW’s The Treatment.  From there, I caught a couple of episodes of the podcast Bell does with guitarist Vernon Reid, The Field Negro Guide to Arts and Culture, and the first half of the first season of his TV show Totally Biased.

And, it just so happens he was on a recent episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.


Modern racism functions not by applying malice, but withholding forgiveness. We write so many rules that compliance is impossible, then enforce them selectively.

I am trying to follow some of the advice from the Inkpunks blog on Reigniting the creative fire

“That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change…”

Seems like a lot of PBS documentary films set in the Philippines are coming out of the woodwork lately.  A few months ago, I saw Left By the Ship on Independent Lens , and last week on POVGive Up Tomorrow. That’s awesome!!  Okay, I might be a little biased
Give Up Tomorrow was more relatable to me.  Not because anything in my life resembles the predicament of the film’s primary subject, Paco Larrañaga… well, come to think of it, no one’s life could.  Back in the late 90s, well before the social media and just before the 24-hour news cycle, I remember catching the occasional word about the Philippines’ version of “The Trial of the Century.”  I never took the time to learn much about it, thinking it was just some Filipino hyperbole.

From the film’s website

As a tropical storm beats down on the Philippine island of Cebu, two sisters leave work and never make it home…

GIVE UP TOMORROW exposes a Kafkaesque extravaganza populated by flamboyantly corrupt public officials, cops on the take, and a frenzied legal and media circus. It is also an intimate family drama focused on the near mythic struggle of two angry and sorrowful mothers who have dedicated more than a decade to executing or saving one young man, Paco Larrañaga.

So, no, unlike Paco, I’ve never been convicted and sentenced to death for rape and murder, even though 35 witnesses and at least one photograph place me 350 miles away from the crime scene.  But when I hear the stories of the things the victims’ family and Larrañaga’s family did to try and prove Paco’s guilt or innocence–things people in most civilized countries would call trading in influence, corruption, cronyism, and nepotism–I remembered how I grew up hearing that those sorts of methods were, regrettably, simply “the way things are done.”  Or, in the immortal words of Bruce Hornsby and the Range, “That’s just the way it is.”  In other words, you needed to do what you needed to do in order to get your due in what everyone knows is a broken system.

Because if you think your son is suffering through what you see is a gross miscarriage of justice, and you had the position and influence to take advantage of an international law to get him moved to another country, what might you do?

If you think someone is about to get away with the rape and murder of your children because you fear his family could use their position and influence to do just that, and you have relatives who are cops, or who literally work in the office of the President of the Philippines, or who actually happens to be The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, what might you do?

The amazing thing about the film is it’s example of how virtually every person in it really does see her or himself as the hero of his or her own story.  From Paco, to the Larrañagas, to the Chiongs (the victims’ family), even down to the judge who gave these bizarre rulings and even fell asleep (yeah, you read that right) at different points during the trial.

Well, except for maybe one person.

Near the end of the film, Paco’s mother berates herself for not having allowed her son to flee the country to the US or Spain (where they have relatives) when the charges were announced, against the advice of virtually everyone around her.  That strategy isn’t so unusual, even for ostensibly innocent people: go on the lam for a bit, maybe to another province or another country, let the heat die down a bit, and let the evidence wind its way through.  But Paco’s mother refused to play that game.  She applied the reasoning that most others would apply: 35 witnesses + 1 photograph = This’ll get straightened out in a jiffy.  And because she made that bet, she continues to ask herself to this day if she was a bad mother.

When people can feel like a failure as a parent for trusting the system, it’s no wonder they think they live in a world where “some things will never change.”