Posts in: May 2007

My Subconscious Says: Woodland Creatures Want Me Dead

This winter, during the excitement and fun of hibernation season, we discovered a small animal had taken shelter in our attic. It had pulled up insulation to create a nest of sorts and had dragged food and disgusting clumps of leaves and branches (one assumes to make the place more homey, since it didn’t appear that it was part of the nest). It wasn’t there when we discovered it, but it seemed like it had been gone awhile so my dad assumed it was hibernating.

How’d it get there? It chewed through an old vent screen. My dad took off the screen, leaving a gaping hole, thinking, “I have months to replace this.” But he’s lazier than I am, so it goes without saying that there’s still a gaping hole, now that animals have come up from their burrows.

I had forgotten about this, and then about a month ago I had a really weird, vivid dream that an animal had gotten into my room and was on my bed, a la the “gift” Tom Hagen leaves for Jack Woltz. Except alive. It woke me up and was so vivid still that I leaped from my bed, ran out of the bedroom, slammed the door, and I swear I heard it chasing me. After a few seconds of waking up, I realized how stupid and irrational this was, so I went back into my room. No animals, living or dead, anywhere. Big surprise.

The next morning, my mom announced, “I heard an animal crawling around in the attic last night.” Huh. Is it possible that I heard the scratching and clawing, as well, and this is what caused such a vivid dream? I didn’t know…

…until I had a very similar vivid, creepy dream of animals crawling around and had the same involuntary reaction upon waking. This time, at least, I didn’t think I heard anything chasing me. I went back into my room; obviously, nothing there. I didn’t hear any scratching or crawling, though. That’s the weird thing—I’ve never heard it while I’m awake, yet I have these dreams.

The next morning, my mom said the same thing: “That animal’s back. We really need to do something about the screen.”

So since I’ve never had these dreams on any other night in my entire life, is it safe to conclude that the animal crawling around in the attic is causing my subconscious undue agony? It’s a well-known fact that I hate and fear all living creatures, including (especially?) humans, so it’s pretty reasonable to assume my subconscious would interpret the mild scratching of a squirrel or raccoon as a murderous, demonic animal that wants me as dead as possible.

But that sorta sucks, because I like sleeping.

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American Masters — Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built

When Ahmet Ertegun founded Atlantic Records in 1947 with the $10,000 investment of his dentist, he never guessed it would be a lifelong career. The son of a Turkish civil servant, Ertegun was so certain that his record label would be short-lived that he penned songs under the name “Nugetre” so that, when he followed in his father’s footsteps and entered a career of government service, nobody would know he had spent a few years writing “obscene” songs.

Atlantic began as a three-person operation, with Ertegun and co-founder Herb Abramson producing the music and doing the A&R and promotion work, and Abramson’s wife Miriam doing all of the office work. As its reputation grew, the label got slightly bigger but still operated as a small independent, amassing artists like Ray Charles, Ben E. King, Aretha Franklin, and Bobby Darin, along with the songwriting team of Leiber & Stoller and legendary producer Phil Spector. Atlantic managed to outlast the many other independents of the R&B and early rock era thanks to Ertegun’s sensible approach to running a record label: he signed artists he liked and hoped the world liked them just as much. Fortunately for him, they did.

American Masters presents a two-hour retrospective, mostly in chronological order, that both reveals Ertegun’s life story (told largely in the form of anecdotes told by Ertegun, his wife, and many Atlantic artists) while telling the history of the label, highlighting its big “gets” and detailing the adaptability that allowed the label to survive in the sea of major labels. While Ertegun passed away in December of last year, his interviews are spirited and entertaining—he’s obviously a man who’s young at heart, even into his 80s. It’s clear from the affection of legends like Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, and Mick Jagger that they all have tremendous respect and admiration for this man and the record label he built.

The piece drags a bit in certain spots, mostly when the chronicling relies on narration or third-party anecdotes rather than Ertegun’s own interviews. However, the classic jazz, R&B, and rock music and great archive footage of live performances more than make up for it. The last half hour is pretty bumpy, though, as the classics give way to contemporary acts that haven’t stood the test of time, and the narration gets repetitive as it winds down.

Overall, this is an entertaining look at a music icon who probably doesn’t get his due outside of the business because much of his work happened behind the scenes. By believing in himself and his artists, and being a music lover before a businessman, Ahmet Ertegun created a successful business and revolutionized the music industry.

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Ahmet Ertegun

So I was sent a review copy of an American Masters documentary on Ahmet Ertegun, who co-founded Atlantic Records in 1947 and built it into one of the biggest independent record labels of the ’50s (before selling it to Warner Brothers in 1967, but he still ran it until his death last year). I watched it yesterday because I had to get my review posted.

As I wrote in the review, it’s slow in spots. What I didn’t say is that the review copy is extremely rough, so I wonder if the pacing problems came about because they hadn’t tightened all the cuts for the final edit. Even so, this does not make up for the last 20 minutes or so, where the narration spins its wheels repeating things ad nauseam and showing clips from Kid Rock that are supposed to lead us to believe he’ll be recognized like Ray Charles in 50 years.

But you know, it’s kind of stuck with me. It’s not trying to be inspirational, but that’s the best kind of inspiration, isn’t it? We just get a profile of a man who loved music and took his passion to the next level. He wrote a whole bunch of hits in the ’50s without anything like a technical knowledge of music or an ability to play the piano; he just knew, by instinct, beating his foot to a drum beat and belting out a melody. They made a point of showing us Ertegun stood out—and why Atlantic outlasted all the early independents, to the extent that they ended up buying most of them up)—because of that passion.

While most other labels were (and are) run by people who think they understand what will sell, Ertegun just tried to sell what he liked, because he assumed everyone else would, too; lucky for him, they did. I have to admire that. I also have to admire that, into his 80s, the man still has more energy and enthusiasm than most popular musicians. If you’re a music fan, check your PBS listings. They rerun shit all the time, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you can find it.

Also, Robert Plant has reached a point where he looks like those creatures from Where the Wild Things Are.

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Worst Sleuth Ever

The Internet is great for stalking. With the combination of social networking sites, instant messaging, message boards…that’s not even getting into all the stuff that makes it great for identity theft as well as stalking. As part of my ongoing mission to spy on my mother’s former coworker, I got her AIM screen name from her Facebook profile and added it so I could have a rough idea of when she was online. I thought it might help to identify whether or not she still worked there. I also have an instant messaging program that lets you open up a tab for a user, whether they’re signed on or not, and then it keeps a running log of when they’re on, off, away, or idle. This has sort of worked: on Monday, she didn’t sign on until after five o’clock; on Tuesday and Wednesday, when she has the day off and has to go to classes, she popped on and off an assload of times throughout the day. Like everything else, it’s circumstantial, but it seems at least reasonable to conclude that she was offline most of Monday because she was working.

So the big goal this morning was to get there around 9:45 and wait and watch, to make absolute positive the car my mom saw on Monday was indeed her former coworker’s car. The only way to make 100% certain was to physically watch her get out of the car and walk into the building. I got a good enough sense of the layout of the business park to know whether or not this was feasible; I had a perfect place to park so I could watch.

Unfortunately, my mom insisted on going with. I told her I know what the girl looks like thanks to Facebook, and I have at least a vague sense of the car she drives—it’s not rocket science. But whatever, it’s her job and her “investigation,” so that’s fine even if it means it’ll be ridiculously easy to catch her in the act.

So we drove into the business park and…a landscaping truck was parked across about five spaces right where the perfect vantage point was. So that sucked, but in retrospect it was probably a good thing; we had to park in a slightly different spot, but it was less noticeable. There was shade on the car; with the other spot, the sun would have been shining right through the windshield, making it obvious two people were sitting there staring. And if one of her coworkers had come by, it would’ve been obvious she was the one in the car.

So we were in the shade, backs to the compound, but my mom was freaking out because cars kept going by and people kept walking around. We were pretty far from any other cars or a desirable parking space, and nobody walking around paid any attention to the two people sitting in the car. In fact, they didn’t even glance in our direction (following one of my many worldly observations, that nobody will give a shit about anything out of the ordinary unless they’re looking for something out of the ordinary—an unfamiliar car with two people sitting in it for no reason? Only a security car would care).

But as 10 o’clock rolled around and the coworker didn’t show up, things got a little disheartening. My mom decided to stick it out until 10:05, but the girl was rarely late (in fact, she was usually early). I was about to suggest continuing the stakeout until 10:30, just to let any mitigating factors (maybe a car accident on the expressway?) work themselves out, but then I remembered something:

Last night, I was yammering on AIM with a couple of people, and my mom’s coworker signed on. After a few moments, she put up a cynical away message that would have endeared her to me if not for the fact that she’s skanky: “As I come home from the South Loop at 9:00, it occurs to me that I’ll have to go back there in less than 12 hours. Suburban life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” A sentiment I thought many times (yeah, she went to my alma mater—needless to say, I had to correct a lot of spelling and grammar to make her away message readable), but usually I shrugged and thought, “Deal with it.”

But then, it occurred to me at 10 a.m. that if, at 9 p.m., she said she’d be back in the South Loop in less than 12 hours…that pretty much meant she wouldn’t be showing up to work. Or, at least, she wouldn’t be anywhere near on time. Finals are gearing up, and I imagine she has a lot of projects due, probably needs to use school resources and can only find the time to do that during time she’s normally working. So she took a day off…

You’d think that’s a pretty big clue that a real, semi-competent investigator would hone in on and say, “Yes, she’ll be down in the city,” and if I had really wanted to I could have used my former college connections to track down where she’d be and when and tail her and/or have her kneecaps broken. But it didn’t occur to me until after we drove all the way out there and sat around for half an hour. And I was going to suggest we wait even longer.

I have no right to continue pretending to be a private detective. I am deleting my Rockford Files ringtone and setting fire to my Raymond Chandler books.

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Gangster Lovestick

Original Recording:
In yet another doubtlessly unsuccessful attempt to defy title-based expectations, I wrote a weird rap-rock song about gun control. It starts out as a depraved exploration of using an actual gun as a sex toy, then meanders off the beaten path to describe a weird religious cult. Since I have no real talent for voices (especially on an unforgiving microphone), to accomplish the sound design that opens the song (allegedly taken from a film by Vance Sloane), I took a friend’s advice and slowed down my own voice ever-so-slightly for the “gangster” voice.

2007 Remix:
In 2007, Seung Hui Cho killed 32 and wounded 25 in the now-infamous Virginia Tech Massacre. A deplorable action made annoyingly hilarious by the combination of the leaking of Cho’s obvious-cry-for-help stageplay scripts and an R. Kelly tribute single for the victims (which had virtually nothing to do with paying homage to the victims).

Because I am a monster, I took the opportunity to satirize both by remixing “Gangster Lovestick,” giving it more of a straight-up rock feel. I also wrote a short play, Charlie Whores that spoofed Cho’s Richard McBeef. I’m the worst person who’s ever lived, but goddamn if I don’t still laugh at it.

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Another Stakeout

Well, this morning we (yes, my mother insisted on going with me again) went back to spy on the college girl who theoretically still worked there. And, at 8:01, she showed up. Pretty disappointing for my mom, even though we all saw it coming.

Other news? Somebody from high school who I don’t remember at all added me on Facebook. Will this lead to an interesting adventure or more boring rambling? Stay tuned!

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The Bailiff

Most people know that Judge Mathis is my favorite TV judge, and my chronic unemployment has allowed me to sample a wide variety of TV judges. He’s by far the most interesting and entertaining, and the cases are usually more bizarre and hilarious than the other courtroom fare. Longtime watchers of the show (like me…I will at least admit I’m kind of ashamed to have watched it for this long) might have noticed the abrupt bailiff shift a few years back. According to this horribly designed website:

Judge Mathis Bailiff Dead at 37

As announced on a recent episode of Judge Mathis, former bailiff Brendan Anthony Moran died on December 28, 2002 at the age of 37. Moran’s death has been officially ruled a suicide; he passed away after falling off a balcony. Moran’s family disputes the ruling, claiming that Brendan would not kill himself. Still, it is an unfortunate fact that suicide spikes during the winter holidays, when people who are only moderately depressed fall into even deeper levels of depression.

Saying Goodbye and Moving On

On the first edition of his show taped after Moran’s untimely death, Judge Greg Mathis briefly eulogized his friend and coworker, finishing by saying “Goodbye, my friend,” and dedicating that episode of the program to the late bailiff. Of course, the show must go on, and Mathis, who is fighting to increase the ratings on his show in order to make it to a fifth season, is now working with a new bailiff, pictured at left.

R. I. P.

Brendan Anthony Moran


Clearly the site is regularly updated, since this five-year-old announcement is plastered on the main page and it claims this all was announced on a “recent” Judge Mathis episode, but who am I to mock? I obviously missed the eulogy episode and had no idea what happened. I just assumed he quit for whatever reason.

I can’t deny this news is kind of depressing. I wonder if they ever investigated and found out it was…murder?! It’s doubtful. The “we’re his family and we know he’d never commit suicide” routine is pretty common.

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YahooGroup Throwdown

My extended family has had a YahooGroup so long that it was started before eGroups got bought by Yahoo! It’s typically used as a resource for everyone to keep in touch, and while interest in using the YahooGroup has waned proportionally with the family’s interest in keeping in touch with each other, it’s still used on occasion. It’s nowhere near the insanity of election fever circa 2000, when we peaked at more than 650 e-mails per month (seriously!); in fact, at this point we’re lucky to get more than 100 posts in a year.

A lot of that has to do with being secretive. Many of the issues with Aunt White Trash were sent privately by Aunt Matriarch to just the brothers and sisters, to shield their children from the family issues. Of course, this was an unnecessary step since all the brothers and sisters just told their kids everything, but I guess Aunt Matriarch didn’t want to thoroughly humiliate Aunt White Trash by spreading the information onto a YahooGroup filled with young adults who might still respect her (ha!). Also, I think YahooGroups are public, so she’s pretty much airing the dirty laundry and if anyone actually cared, they could read all the posts.

Apparently Aunt Matriarch doesn’t care anymore, because last night she sent an e-mail to the YahooGroup last night containing the following information:

  • Aunt White Trash e-mailed Grampa on May 5th asking for more money, which is what elicited this response in the first place. This is the only communication she’s had with him since they arrived at their destination.
  • Aunt White Trash refuses to talk to Grampa on the phone or give him a phone number. Also, her last communication with him involved her screaming incoherently and hanging up.
  • Aunt White Trash is stressed and depressed about the events of the past few months. She requires monetary compensation to alleviate both of these feelings.
  • All told, the total cost of getting her the fuck to California was $4400, with an additional $5000 spent to clean the house and return it to saleable condition.

A few hours later, Becky (the eldest of the white trash brood) wrote back, explaining:

  • Aunt White Trash “put her life on hold” to “lovingly take care” of Grampa. As I observed in my earlier blog entry, the loving care last for all of a month before they decided to use him as a human ATM and only help him out when they absolutely had to. You might remember this anecdote: The only clear incident I recall of them “taking care of him” is when he fell down on the driveway and got disgusting, old-man welts and cuts all over his arms, knees, and face. And instead of bandaging him up, they ran and got the camera, uploaded the photos to the family’s Yahoogroup, and wrote a few sarcastic comments about how useless old people are. That about sums it up.
  • She actually made some valid points about how family should be there for each other (in reference to the entire extended family turning their backs on Aunt White Trash & Co.), but it falls under the heading of “pot kettle black,” what with the rampant abuse of Grampa.
  • Aunt Matriarch is “losing it” and “needs to get a life of [her] own.”
  • Bottom line: Becky took issue with Aunt Matriarch using YahooGroups for the reasons I pointed out above: the humiliation factor and the tainted opinions of “[her] cousins.” But she spun it that Aunt Matriarch doesn’t have her facts straight and her whole e-mail is tantamount to libel.

Why would she care about our opinions? Because, as she stated in the following paragraph: she had a kid. She has started the “next generation” of the family, and most family members haven’t even acknowledged the baby’s existence. And, if you want to dig deeper, the cousins are all she has left—monetarily, her siblings are as useless as she is, as is her own mother, so what can she use as a cash cow other than the welfare department? The cousins. Well, the joke’s on her! None of us have any money, either!

Oh, and also: we already know all the negative stuff. The YahooGroup only circumvented information trickling down from parents to children to significant others/spouses. Instead, it’s all right there for us to see, together; everyone already knows the shit that was going down, which is why nobody except my dumbass sister* acknowledged White Trash: The Next Generation. And at least she has a husband who’s smart enough to point, laugh, and not hand over any of his money.

Seriously, we all know I love playing conspiracy theorist and finding terrible, convoluted motives for pretty much everything. But trust me when I say this e-mail reads like shrill pandering to those (like my sister) who might feel pangs of guilt for cutting this entire family out of our lives. The entire subtext is: Even though I had a baby now (after three abortions) solely because I’m old enough to qualify for welfare benefits, I am not my mother. Don’t lump me in with her, and by the way I am still registered at Bed, Bath and Beyond and The Container Store if you want to get a gift for the new grandchild.

Becky’s e-mail ended with a line I’ve deemed a family classic. It seems like the only genuine emotion in the e-mail, and it’d be heartbreaking if not for the sloppy and baffling wording:

This isn’t really like you and because I have love for you which doesn’t seem to be reciprocated anymore this really hurts my heart.

There hasn’t been a response from Aunt Matriarch or anyone else. I was tempted to respond specifically because of the bits about the cousins, but it’s really Grampa and Aunt Matriarch who are being dragged through the mud. If they want to reply, that’s their prerogative; I have a feeling they’ll respond in the best possible way: by not giving them money.

As a side note, I will give my cousin Becky credit for not resorting to horrible, unreadable “txtspeak” or weird “gangsta” chatter.

*The thing that cracks me up about my sister feeling sudden sympathy is that when the pregnancy was first announced—six months into it—she was really pissed off that she and her husband were waiting to have kids. She’s currently the only one of our generation of cousins who is married, and maybe we’ve all given up the Catholicism that was beaten into us as children, but we didn’t give up the idea that having babies outside of wedlock doesn’t count.

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Some Shit Is Going Down

Grampa, who has generally remained quiet (using Aunt Matriarch and others as his voice), finally wrote back. In brief: remember how I praised Becky for not resorting to txtspeak or Ebonics? Grampa doesn’t believe that e-mail could be written by “a high school dropout” (I thought she graduated!). He also laid out, in exact dollar figures, what has happened:

  • All told, Aunt White Trash owes $113,884 that she can’t hope to pay back. This deprives the rest of her siblings around $4000 for their estimated inheritance.
  • Becky, individually, owes $5411, plus another $2000 for instances where he paid to bail her out of jail.
  • Darlene owes ~$1200 for some reason.

He capped the letter by referring to her family as white trash and that they aren’t getting any more money. Good times!

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The Hot Drive-Thru Girl

So there’s this burger joint I like to go to on the edge of town (I say that mainly because it sounds kind of cool and dangerous like a biker bar, but it really is on the edge of town). Since I’m not going to spend my own dwindling cash supply on frivolities like fast food, I rely on mooching off my parents for such things. Because yesterday I was overruled on our traditional Sunday artery-clogger, what with it being mother’s day and all, my mom felt oddly guilty* and offered to buy me lunch today if I went with her to get a haircut. I needed a haircut, but like most unemployed 25-year-olds living at home with a mother who just lost her job, when I need to go out and do something, I want to go alone.

Unfortunately, she needed a haircut, too. Even though I go to the cheapest imaginable place, I was sucked in by the offer of both a free haircut and a free lunch. We went together to BoRics and stopped at the burger joint drive-thru on the way home.

The girl at the pickup window was incredibly cute (and not just rated on the scale of drive-thru workers, who are not usually the cream of the crop, looks-wise). Even better: against all odds, she was giving me The Look. That va-va-va-voom, look-at-the-cute-guy-in-the-car look, edging her eyes past my mom and trying to make eye contact with me. Rather than make direct eye contact, I tried not to move my head past the three-quarter-profile she saw, because obviously there was something she liked. After staring at myself in a mirror while harsh fluorescents beat down on my bleached skin, exposing every fault (major or minor), my confidence was shaken. I didn’t want to look at her dead-on and have her see what I saw and lose interest.

Oh, also: I was sitting in a car with my mother. In her old-lady Buick. It wasn’t like my old Buick, which I transformed from an old-lady car (literally owned by my 85-year-old great aunt for 20 years before it was passed down to me) to a bad-ass pussy wagon**. It was an old-lady car owned and driven by an old lady, and I was the passenger with the obvious family resemblance: the 25-year-old son picking up drive-thru with his mom at 2:30 in the afternoon. This was a humiliating experience on a number of levels, and I wanted it to end as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to make eyes back at her and catch a whiff of disappointment; I didn’t want my mom to say something that she thinks is adorable that is actually embarrassing. I just wanted to get the food and drive away as quickly as possible.

On the way home, I started thinking: this is a girl who is seeing me at my absolute worst. I’m being carted around by my mother like a drunken, shiftless loser, and she knows that. I am a fat pig who, on occasion, orders a bacon double cheeseburger and large fries on a Monday afternoon, and she knows that. And despite taking my disgusting order and witnessing me on the Mom-mobile, she was still looking at me with an encouraging degree of lust.

While this could (and probably will) end with me being named in a lawsuit involving food and pubic hair, I can’t help but think this is some kind of opportunity. Good or bad, I don’t know. Maybe I’m reading too much into Fortuna’s wheel spins, but it seems fortuitous that on the same day I get my new, improved “job-interview-ready” haircut, I both receive a call from my most promising job lead in months and discover a girl looking past my gut and my mom and saying, “I want me some D-Rock.” Am I leaving the “crushed dreams” phase of life and moving on to “settling for less”?

I sure hope so!

*Which is funny because I totally didn’t care about where we ate. I just tossed out a suggestion and was shot down. It’s not unusual. [Back]

**Note: despite the overall coolness factor, this car only managed to get me to second base. [Back]

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