Thursday, November 30, 2006

Poster Art

I rarely talk about this for some reason. But I thought I'd mention here, in the interests of relentless self-promotion, that I design posters for my uncle who is a small town music promoter. His outfit is a non-profit called Smithfield Music and they put on shows in the local little theater and people's homes to benefit music education in Isle of Wight County.

I've done several of these, but this is my most recent.

Robbin Thompson poster

Please feel free to go back to shopping online now.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Like Pedro Almodóvar , This Post Is 'All About My Mother'

Most of this post comes from a letter that I wrote to my friend Claire, who is in school to become a psychotherapist in Los Angeles. Ever notice how med students get kind of excited when you cut yourself, or you need to take your temperature? Claire must have felt the same way when she said to me recently "Tell me about your mother."

Here's my response:

Fred and Sandra Simmermon

My mom is not a super-mom or a domestic goddess -- never has been, never tried to be. She just has a heart as big as the world and has always used all of her power and influence to help the people she loves to be happy. She has no idea that when she is being pragmatic, she's kinda being a downer, and I don't have the heart to suggest that I know exactly which branch in the family tree bore me as a somewhat depressive fruit. She doesn't need that shit.

My mom taught me to read before I started kindergarten and took me to the library every single time I asked, even after I was old enough to drive myself. We still go together, sometimes, and I'll never get tired of it.

Here are a few anecdotes that you can use to triangulate your impression of my mom, and the rest will have to come in dribs and drabs.

1) When I was in kindergarten, I came into the kitchen where my mother was cooking supper. She was standing there, chopping, I don't know, something, and leaking tears, sobbing. "Mommy, what's wrong?" I asked her.

"I just want to run away," she said. "Just run away from everything and everyone and hide forever. There's so much to do and so much I can't do, and I just want to run away."

This happened more than once. I didn't get it for a long, long time, but I get it now: being the Mom is really, really hard and there's no clocking out.

The important thing to understand here is: my mother never did run away. Never once, not even metaphorically. When I look back over the last twenty-five or so years since that particular conversation, I can't think of a single time that my mom has ever let me down. Never once. Whenever I was down, dumped, fired or whatever, she was always there with a hug, open ears, and a peculiar brand of pragmatic hope. She has always found it in herself to be there for the people she loves, every time. It's a hell of an example.

2) I have personally been present twice when my parents BOTH forgot that it was their anniversary. Both times they realized it around dinnertime, looking up from whatever they were doing and saying "Hey, wait. Did we get married today?" "Maybe," my dad says. "Kinda feels like it. What's the date again?"

Both times they celebrated by ordering takeout and watching Masterpiece Theater together, which they were planning to do anyway.

3) Once I asked my mom what the secret was to making a marriage last now 33+ years. "Low expectations," she said. "Simple as that." While I was not prepared to hear about how to keep it hot in the bedroom, that came across as pretty flat to me. "Jeffrey," she said, "It's really quite simple. I only have a very few things that I actually EXPECT your father to do, and those things are really simple and VERY obvious. After that, all the things your father does for me are constant, wonderful surprises."

That is why I think 'Sex and the City' can fuck right off. Sure, it's entertaining, but I've seen its essential premise eviscerated in thirty seconds by a nervous senior citizen in a sweatsuit.

4) Right after I had my tonsils removed (an operation that came as a gift to their underemployed 27-year-old son, I might add), I was recuperating at my parents' house. I couldn't speak, could barely move. My mom and I bonded over the first season of Six Feet Under, watching every second of it in order, together. It was a wonderful thing to share, a memory I will take to my grave.

During that first season, there is a scene where David Fisher is caught by the cops having some ROUGH gay sex in a parking garage with a prostitute. Not precisely the sort of thing I wanted to be watching with my mom. I fumbled for the remote, trying to say "Oh, I'm so sorry, here, let's watch something else" but with shrunken, bloody vocal cords that only whispered and squeaked.

While I sat there, horrified and trying to apologize, she turned to me with a look of eternal sadness on her face, a hand flying to her chest.

"Oh Jeffrey," she said. "This is just terrible. I feel so bad for him ... he's so LOST right now."

There's so much more of this, a lifetime's worth. But it's all I have right now, tonight. I'm off to ignore my filthy dishes and sleep in an unmade bed. There's some things the best moms on earth can't teach ... and I know this because one of those moms is mine.

Cool Guy, 1988

I found this photo just laying out on the bookshelf like it was a normal picture at my parents' house this weekend. It was taken on school picture day, 1988. I was in the seventh grade. Maybe the eighth. As this photo illustrates, my sartorial skills have increased dramatically, possibly deleting disk space allocated to math skills in my brain. I'm okay with that.

This is the only one of its kind, I think. I doubt my parents bought the full suite of school pictures that year, somehow. They must have, though, unless Olan Mills offered the "Awkward Years Special" that consisted of exactly one wallet-sized photo.

What you see sprouting powerfully from my scalp in this photo is the line in the sand between my burning desire for waist-length Jane's Addiction hair and my parents' insistence that their kid look somewhat normal.

I managed to wrangle coolness back on my side, though -- by shaving the sides and back of my head but leaving the top exactly as it is in this photo. The cut never had a real name, but I now think of it as "the Primus fan" or "the brain handle." That cut really showed the world who was cool, though.

I can honestly remember sitting in my room at that age and listening to Bauhaus' 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' over and over and thinking "gosh, why aren't girls paying any attention to me?"

The one conclusion I can draw after four days back home, visiting local hangouts and running into WAAAAY too many former classmates is this: Nobody worth being around now had an easy time of it in high school.

A bunch of you that read this blog have blogs of your own. Some of you even care what I have to say -- and I challenge you: let's see a photo from your awkward years. Send me a link or leave one in the comments ... unless you're too cool now.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gnawing at the Bones

The inspiration for this morning's post comes from "No One Cares What You Had for Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog," by Margaret Mason. Face it, people: sometimes you're stressed for content and the well's run dry. Sure, you could, I don't know, point out REALLY OBVIOUS stuff about other bloggers that everyone already knows ... but let's be above that.

Here's Margaret's idea, reprinted word-for-word. Consider this an ad for her superlative book -- the t-shirt at that link is good, too.

#30 -- Be Yourself

"Things I like -- dogs, reading, movies, hanging out with friends."

Honey, who doesn't? As long as you're writing one of those ubiquitous list de likes, at least make it worth reading. You readers don't care about whether you love kittens, they care about the quirky things you love, the things only you love. Say something surprising.

Chicken Bones

Hot rotisserie chickens bring me closer in spirit to any dog that's ever drooled on a lap at the dinner table. Once I have one in a filmy plastic shopping bag, I have to head straight for the nearest private place and immediately devour its limbs. The breast meat can wait. I'm talking here about leg and thigh meat hanging off the bone and that delicious wet sucking pop you hear when you pull the thigh from the body.

If I'm alone with a hot chicken, I get to hear that wet pop twice.

There's this weird little triangly bit at the back end of the chicken, between the place where the legs are bound with that weird elasticy rubber band. I call it "the nut." It's delicious, whatever it is.

I love to find the oysters, those two tender little meaty ovals of chicken muscle that have never been exercised and savor them, but quickly. The chicken is cooling, you see. And cold rotisserie chicken is never as fun.

Here's where my hot chicken lust gets weird: I like to eat the bones.

Bird bones are so soft and savory, and they've been marinating in chicken broth pretty much since the egg hatched. I love the gentle cracking you get from gnawing the cartilage off of the end and the calcium-rich broth that results from carefully, thoughtfully chewing chicken bones. It takes a little time, but man, it's worth it.

I'll eat the rest of the bird's bones when I get around to seperating the breast meat for use in pasta, burritos, whatever. Cold chicken bones make for a decent appetizer, as long as nobody's looking.

This whole exercise, gobbling chicken extremities, takes maybe half an hour, and is always conducted while standing over the kitchen sink.

Then I wash my hands and put the rest of my groceries away, taking a shower if necessary.

As a matter of fact, I am still single, ladies. How could you tell? Feel free to get in touch.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Two Times You Skip a Prostate Exam

It stands to reason, I guess, that before The Doctor officially became The Doctor, he had to be a doctor-in-training. While in med school, he worked a stint at the VA hospital. Since this was before America began creating thousands of new veterans, his patients were overwhelmingly male aging baby boomers -- just the right age for prostate problems.

Med students were to run the standard intake procedure for each patient: blood work, take temperature, then pull the glove on and run every guy's favorite -- the good old fashioned "turn your head and cough."

The Doctor had been skimping on the prostate portion of the procedure, for obvious aesthetic reasons. He got found out by his attending REAL quick, too.

As soon as the attending found out about The Doctor's digital delinquency, he hauled him into the hallway in front of his entire class, many of whom had picked up the habit.

"Son, let me clear something up for you," the attending said. "There's only two times you don't do a prostate on a patient: if the patient doesn't have an asshole, or you don't have a finger."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Last Night I Read A Damn BOOK

I came home last night with a new friend -- the computer headache. The computer headache is a large gerbil that lives right behind my eyeballs and snores very loudly. When he rolls over in his sleep, it makes my eyes bulge.

When the headache gerbil's thrashing around, pretty much the last thing I want to do is sat back down at home and write another brilliant piece of electronic navel-gazing.

So you know what I did instead? I read a damn BOOK. VARIOUS books, actually. I've found that I can simulate rapid-fire web browsing quite well by simply making a big sloppy stack of newspapers, novels and comic books and fluttering right through the pile. It's great!

I'm pleased to report that Bill Bryson's new memoir is spit-your-coffee funny, and Y: The Last Man continues to thrill and entertain.

The best thing about reading some damn books is that nobody's trying to flex their social agenda in them. When you close a book for a minute and come back to it, nobody comes and scribbles catty things under a poorly veiled pseudonym in the margins. There's not much authorial infighting, and when I read say, Ken Kesey, never roll my eyes and think "what kind of a profession have I gotten myself into, where ADULTS act like this!"

And you don't get that weird headache, either. Try it tonight, people: real books by real writers. There's nothing like it in the world.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

THAT'S a Compact Car Right There

My friend sent me these photo today of this car crash she saw this summer. She and her friend Jackie were just driving down the street early one Sunday morning this June when they saw this cab's aggressive parking job:



How do you even DO that? Jackie said nobody was even around and everything was totally still. The cabbie had just pulled in and casually ruined a couple cars, then went home and went to sleep -- how does that HAPPEN?

If any of you are or know the owners of one of these cars, please get in touch. I'm DYING to hear this story.

Monday, November 13, 2006

God's Soldier Goes to War Every Day

toy cop car

I've had a long and erratic social orbit with Detective Jason McCall of the Waynesboro police force. It started in kindergarten when one of his teeth got knocked loose in some sort of playground accident and he would pull his lip down to shown me the purple, wounded gum tissue in his mouth. I used to nearly vomit, which tickled him no end. We hung out on and off throughout elementary, middle, and high school, our orbits growing further and further out of sync. By twelfth grade we were nodding acquaintances in the hallway, and although we attended the same college for four years, we never went to the same parties.

Still, there's a connection there. You share a neighborhood and a school system with someone, there's an obligation to the past that cannot be denied. I try to stay as cool with as many people from my past as possible and Jason McCall is a living, breathing connection to my childhood, a deep-voiced time machine back to tearing around the playground acting a fool and grossing everybody out, and how many of those does a guy get? We tumbled into a tenous electronic connection over MySpace a few months ago, and and when he was in D.C. last week for some sort of work conference, I was pretty stoked to catch up with him.

We met at a cigar bar near his hotel and caught up over the election returns on the flat-screens. He was pulling for the Republicans, me the Democrats. He got married thirty seconds after college graduation and joined the local police force shortly thereafter. I think that at every single decision point in our lives, we must have made opposite choices. It was amazing -- and so cool to catch up with this guy, a married cop with three kids, and just catch up and marvel at life, and at divergent roads re-crossing.

Here's some thoughts I got from Jason about having a family and being a cop, some stuff I doubt any of the dozen or so of you that read this thing regularly can confirm or deny from personal experience:

When I was on the force, every day I'd put on some pumped-up music. I'd pull on the vest (bulletproof), polish my boots, comb my hair and think to myself "Once again, McCall, you're going to war."

I'd kiss my wife goodbye every day and say "Honey, I love you," because in all reality, I might not come home. But you've got to have it in your head that you're coming home, no matter what. You get it in your head, and you get in in there early and you get it in there deep that no matter what, you're coming home -- you are getting over on the bad guys, NO MATTER WHAT.

"Was there ever a time that you thought you might not make it home," I asked. "Can you tell me about it?"

Yeah, twice. One time, we got to this house on a call, and a guy with a rifle meets us at the front door. So we immediately fall back and take better cover, whatever that was -- behind some cars or something. We've all got our guns out, and the whole time, he's holding the rifle, raising it and lowering it without quite aiming it at us, but MAN. And while I'm screaming at him to drop the rifle, I'm thinking "Shit. Either he's gonna shoot me or I'm gonna shoot him. And I really think he's going to shoot me, but I really don't want to shoot him."

So I'm bargaining with myself in my head, saying "If he raises the rifle past this angle, I'm gonna shoot him," and then he drops the rifle and runs back into the house. So we chase him back into the house, I'm fighting him in the bathtub, and we arrested him.

"What about the other time," I asked.

Man. I was all the way out at the edge of town on a call, all alone. And it was COLD, such a cold cold night, man. And there's this huge redneck there, drunk like you wouldn't believe and he's just FIGHTING me. He'd taken another officer hostage at gunpoint in the past, and I knew that while I was fighting him. And I'm fighting with everything I've got, man. I'm beating him with my flashlight, and he's punching me in the face, the neck, the chest, all over. He nailed me hard in the chin and I'm wrestling him and just bashing his face into the tailgate of his pickup, and he's still beating me! I was thinking "Oh man, if some backup doesn't get here soon, I'm not gonna make it home. But backup made it there, out to that lonely stretch of highway, and I got home.

"Why do you do this," I asked, ""go fight these guys and nearly get killed? What drives you?"

Well, it's not for the rush, I'll tell you. The rush comes and it goes, and when it's gone, you're not left with much. I say you're doing it fir the guys you're with, and to be a part of something bigger than yourself. I think every cop wanted to be something good that was more than just himself. I don't care what a cop says, the party line is that you're serving the community, but ultimately, you're doing it to take care of your friends. You get in these intense situations with those guys, and you just love them and want to help them out no matter what. You're doing it for the guys, to get home to your wife, and then for the community.

There's a tiered system in your head when you're out there. You're thinking "who would I die for?" You'd die for your team without even thinking about it, and for a kid -- no problem. Then you'd die for a woman -- that's third place. Some guy, you'd die for him last. In the end, you'd die for any of them, but you kinda rank 'em in your head, and it takes milliseconds in an actual situation.

Cops -- all cops -- we get jaded and cynical. Ultimately, I don't think anyone has good in them, innately. When I heard about Ted Haggard, some anti-gay minister being all on meth and getting with a gay prostitute, I was just like "Wow. I can't believe it took this long."

But I'm part of that problem. I don't need to look any further than my own mirror to see a bad person. I'm of the opinion that we're all innately evil and have to be set on the right path. I feel that anything good in my life, anything good at all, was given to me by God. God is what sets me on that right path.

Ninety-nine percent of the guys on the police force, the guys out there in a uniform, those guys have families. When you call 911 you expect the cops to be there. Nobody ever calls the cops to say "hi." Whatever you think of the police, you want 'em when you want 'em, and the rest of the time, they're at arms' length because they're an impediment to what you want to do.

Jason and I talked about our families, our friends, more about our lives. There was no grand conclusion, no ultimate moment -- just two very different guys with very similar pasts reaching out and catching up. At the end of the night, I walked him to his hotel and hugged him goodnight and goodbye, real, real hard. He might need God to set him on a good path, but in the eyes of this mortal, liberal sinner, he's one of the good guys and it makes me really, really glad.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Romancing the Cuss Word: I Swear to Christ, Bruce

tokyo c-60
Originally uploaded by looseleaf.
I can't tell if not cursing at work is a good or a bad idea. On the one hand, it keeps everybody civil. On the other hand, my forehead feels like a pregnant tick's belly looks. Had I been able to step outside and send a purple RPG of filth towards the sky this afternoon, things might be a little different.

Cussing in general, I support wholeheartedly. I was always told as a kid that articulate people don't use profanity to express themselves because they can think of other, better ways. As a grown professional writer, I can tell you that's bullshit.

The English language only has a finite number of epithets, most of which only have four letters apart from my favorite, which has 12 and starts with "M". The palette is limited but the possibilities are endless -- kind of like haiku.

In college we all used to sit around and listen to this cassette of a guy named Bruce cussing with purple, passionate power.

Bruce was known throughout suburban New Jersey as the most amazing cusser that had ever lived -- and this tape proved it. My buddy Ben had been high school buds with Bruce's two sons, Ethan and Josh. Once, one of them hid a tape recorder in the garage while Bruce was fixing a piano without the proper tools -- and the rest is comic legend.

I thought the tapes were lost forever, but the ever-astounding WFMU's Beware of the Blog posted an MP3 of the legendary Bruce tapes the other day.

Click here to hear some of the finest cussing that Caucasian Americans are capable of. Note Bruce's rhythm, how he builds and builds to climax, perfectly punctuating it with hammer blows, all while balancing between the profane and the comically G-rated.

When I hear this I think of sitting around on ratty thrift-store couches with my college friends, weeping with laughter. Now I know the rage that Bruce has felt a little better, and I am less laughing at him than I am thinking "Goshdarnit, Bruce, give that miserable piano what-for," and daydreaming of the day I have own garage that will give me the space to rock back and bellow "PHOOEY" to rattle the rafters.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Surrender to the Night

Last night was kind of a stiff mellow horror show, to be perfectly honest. No real monsters or demons, evil occurrences on the dance floor or heartless treachery happening at the bar, just the slow numb noooo that comes from realizing that I may be trapped inside this concrete area code with the rest of you bland policy wonks. You know who you are, deep in your shy beige-carpeted hearts.

My man Charlie and I usually default to dive bars and smoky hipster enclaves, the sort of places where the chicks all have "interesting" homemade haircuts and the dudes are vegan but look like they've never had a green vegetable in their entire anemic existence. In the spirit of aggressively expanding the social horizons we met up at Panache and man what a hardcore drooling yawnfest that turned out to be.

In life the answer should always be "yes," you should say "yes" to everything and try as much as you can every chance you get but I got to tell you in all honesty that most of the time the ROI is pretty piss-poor. You get some magic moments but man, usually you end up getting drunk and bored around a bunch of strangers. Last night, shall we say, did not fall far outside the old bell-curve.

The man of the hour and star of the show turned out to be this dude and a brown suede jacket with a map on the inside who does rolling publicity performances for political candidates. He had a small crowd of cold pretty women in thrall with the story of his appearing on CNN dressed in a furry beaver costume for a rally protesting a perceived misallocation of government funds to prevent beaver damage.

Was I frustrated? Yes. Jealous? Absolutely. I am a storyteller extraordinaire and my ego is a green hungry dragon that craves constant belly scratches from as many people as possible. To have my stage stolen by such an obvious rookie is a cosmic insult of the highest order and the dragon is in a high state of apoplectic fury.

You see, at times I am a reincarnated zombie god, a chattering klanging ratlling magic phoenix that stitches stars into magic fabric stapled together with words, spewing the tapestry over and under entire cities. I need people, lots of people, thousands of people to look up into their polluted sky and surrender to that night, to settle down comfortably for a long winter's nap under the sparkling velvet blankets that fly out of my soul. They need to know, these people, they got to understand that they are cold and tired and it's time to stop chasing it, stop catching cabs and trains from parties to bars and looking looking looking to dance with similar strangers, to just lie down and surrender to my night.

And man, I have been taking this message to the people in the street one by one ever since that greedy dragon god cracked out its golden egg deep within the belly of my brain. Writing down the dragon and spraying him across the world in ink and pixels is a more effective delivery mechanism but it keeps me trapped in a cluttered room, sitting here in the dim dark daytime pressing buttons and never seeing that mysterious public that hangs hiding around every corner.

Chuck Palahniuk said it best when he said
The worst part of writing ... is the fear of wasting your life behind a keyboard. The idea that, dying, you'll realize you only ever lived on paper. Your only adventures were make-believe and while the world fought and kissed, you sat in some dark room, masturbating and making money.

It's that fear that gets me out and keeps me cranking, drinking laps around this town through endless curtains of boring people. It's the hope that one day, one way or another, I'll connect somehow and and all this frantic frenetic verbal energy will find a home that can hold it. It's the dream of real adventure, that magic conversation with a guy from beyond the stars or a lady with psychedelic magic deep in her pores -- that real, earth-shaking human connection that you never get from writing -- that's what I want, and it hurts every time I cast the nets onto empty, dying oceans. This satisfaction of connection can't come from one human. No man is big enough to wrangle my multitudes. There's just the hope that somewhere, outside my apartment and beyond the world of shuffling, dreamless sleep, I can find something, whatever that is.

Then it's time to stop taking my own cabs and trains and realize that it's me, I'm the one that needs to stop chasing that hope and just come back to my rumpled, unmade futon and surrender to the night.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Anti-Iraq Simpsons -- on Fox Sunday, or This Blog, Now

I'm actually okay with a heavy liberal bias in the media. I encourage it, frankly. Truth is the sound of the most popular voice, after all, and I'm hoping it works in reverse: if we hear enough liberally slanted news, maybe the America's Republican deathmarch off a cliff can be reversed. And if this episode of 'The Simpsons' is any indicator, America's getting good and angry at the war in Iraq.

Here's an excerpt from an article originally appearing in Radar Online:
The episode, which airs Nov. 5, concludes with an Iraq war satire that may rank as the most pointed political statement the show has ever made. In the segment, aliens invade Springfield to prevent mankind from obtaining "weapons of mass disintegration," but their mission, called "Operation Enduring Occupation," turns into a quagmire. "You said we would be greeted as liberators!" accuses one alien.

You can wait until Sunday to see the episode on TV -- or watch it righ here. The rest of the show is kinda lame by Simpsons standards -- or the standards they set in the mid-90's -- but the writers bring out the heavy artillery at the very end.

Uploaded by Lastnightontv

I've been wondering where the groundswell is, when media and people in the street are finally going to weigh in on this. Hopefully this is just the start.