Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Final Mitford

Debo Cavendish, nee Mitford, has died at 96 years old.  Sad.  I last mentioned her in this post.

You can't blame a 96 year old for up and dying, but it does make the world feel more colorless when the last vestiges of better generations (ok, granted, she probably was THE last vestige) fall off.  There's something a little fascinating knowing that one of those participants is still kicking around, someone for whom amazing stories are memories rather than myth.

She's not famous like her sisters were because she preferred to live a quiet, unostentatious life.  She liked country life, chicken-raising, children, and farming.  Nice work if you can get it, as the sisters Andrew said.

Those Mitford girls were the cutest, though.  I think Debo most resembled Decca.  Nancy looks like the milkman's child, a dark and angular girl in a crowd of soft and peachy blondes.

When she married her husband, Deborah became the Duchess of Devonshire, a title formerly held by the famous Georgiana Cavendish back in the 18th century.  More about her some other time.

The Duchess at home

Marrying the 11th Duke of Dev

Bye, Debo.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I hate these people, and I feel justifiedish enough to be open about it it.

Of all the trifling, stupid ass things to be smug about - bicycling.  Not casual riders, but the intense hobbyists who buy the little 1920s swimsuits and thousand dollar bikes and race up Dreamy Draw like it's their fucking job.  Why I hate them: they are SO INCREDIBLY RUDE. ALL OF THEM.  They seem to feel entitled to the entire street.  Entitled in a resentful, angry way, as though cars are the enemy, as if you won't see them loading their bikes onto a Hummer H2 an hour from now.  I concede that they are pretty easy to kill/maim on their little bikes, which is why I do keep an eye out for them, but don't think I won't instantly lose my temper when some errant Lance decides to unnecessarily ride in the center of a neighborhood street, leaving no room for cars to pass.  When you do pass him, he is angry!  He wants you to drive 8 mph behind him, admiring his gristly, ropy body as he sways furiously on his dream machine.  Blow me, Lance.  Get a real hobby, you yuppie fool.  Try taking all of that time, money and anger and directing it into a more relevant occupation, LIKE BLOGGING.  Who could possibly derive such smug satisfaction from such a useless, pretentious engagement?  Riding your bike really hard over hills?  That's one for the history books.  Does the President know about you?

If my reaction seems strong, then I encourage you to live on a street favored by cyclists.  In 6 months, you would be sitting on your roof, trying to shoot tires out with a bb gun, I promise.

Oh, here's another thing - the ones whose little suits are covered in sponsor logos.  I KNOW YOU CAN BUY THEM THAT WAY, BLAINE.  No, I do not believe that Dyson has sponsored you for your weekly trek through the Squaw Peak Preserve.  Jesus Christ!  I can't deal with this.  Much of the point of this hobby is display.  Look at my bike!  Look at YOUR bike.  It is not as expensive as my bike!  Look at my calves!  Are they not hideous!  How do I even find pants to cover these things!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Written Language: It's over, find something else

Everyone is so tasteless and no one can write.

After months of composing all of our communications at work (as a favor: relevant), it has occurred to me that our director has no actual ability to see the difference between bad and good writing.  Not that I'm trying terribly hard or am turning out pieces that are spectacular, but they accomplish the purpose in an easy to read way that is appropriate for our audience.  Without explaining anything, partly because I'm lazy and partly because I don't want to be at all identifiable on the internet by people who know me in person except when I'm cursing and spitting on Facebook (and even then, I don't like it), I have to show all of my pieces to this facilitator we're paying before I put anything out.  This person is allegedly an expert in the field and, perhaps more importantly, is a personal friend of the boss.  Instead of making suggestions to me, she rewrites the copy and sends it back, but the rewrites seem to have been composed by a child, and they contain outrageous spelling errors as well as the most fragmented sentences I've ever seen.  Find the worst fragmented sentence in the world, and I will best it with the output of this titan of communications.  The errors are obviously not intentional, but this is no excuse because it means she didn't proof herself, because she apparently has no respect for the world or anything in it.  She just rewrote the copy like an asshole from her phone in bed or perhaps while drunk or on a rollercoaster and then sent it back.  And because she is apparently some kind of deity, like She-Ra, I get "the hand" when I complain, and the repeated answer that the facilitator knows best.  

Like these fucking spelling errors and half-sentences, which don't include any new or altered content and which disrupt any organic flow to the pieces, are all part of some master plan which is too complex for my puny mortal brain to understand, and that some day, in the future, we'll all look back and understand why it was necessary that we put out an annual report that contains the word "defiantively" instead of "definitively".  

This will not stand, of course.  Now I just show her the copy, she shows me her crayon drawings, and then I publish what I already had in the first place, and no one notices because they don't actually care.

Language obviously doesn't matter to many people anymore.  Half of my time on the internet is spent  making shitty remarks in the comments section on Gothamist about what duress the writers must have been under to have produced such tripe.  Not only that, but tripe that is hardly legible to the English-speaking audience.  Are these words?  Is this some kind language?  Did someone give you money to create this?  As Truman Capote said, "That's not writing. That's typing." (about Jack Kerouac. I agree. Sorry, latently literate 26 year olds.)

The problem with today's shitty writing is three-fold:

1. They're writing about something that is insultingly stupid and irrelevant to begin with. The intent is to create something where nothing exists.  This is possible if you are particularly witty or an expert comedian.  Unsurprisingly, people with these skills are not sitting around writing Buzzfeed articles.

2. Structurally weak pieces with poor word choices and awkward, stilted sentences.  There is generally no flow, and they often fail to make the intended points.  These pieces usually leave the reader with more questions than they had before they began.  The people who create these pieces are not writers, they are merely people who are trying to write, perhaps because their first career choice of being a music video producer didn't work out.

3. Basic grammatical errors, spelling errors, fucked up punctuation, weird capitalization.  The core elements of a sophisticated written language are missing.

Even blogs and publications that I like are turning out more and more items of dubious quality.  I don't want to be the uptight basketcase who's like, I ONLY READ LAPHAM'S QUARTERLY AND THE NEW YORKER BECAUSE I CAN'T EVEN, but I will be, eventually.  And it's not that I want everything to be written in the Queen's English, but there's a difference between an artful or playful flouting of "rules" and just plain boring, shitty, stupid fucking writing borne of ignorance and laziness.  I like to write in a conversational manner that echoes my speaking style because that's most amusing to me, but I think it's possible to write informally without creating something that would make Gore Vidal shoot himself in the face and then drown himself in a well.

At least SOMEONE cares:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Interpersonal disputes with foreign language animals

I hate mockingbirds.  I never did before.  I guess their mocking was less noticeable to me in the past.  They used to build nests in our citrus trees, and I would drag a splintery wooden ladder just beneath them, and climb up to peer inside the nest.  Sometimes there were speckled eggs that looked like Easter candies, and sometimes there were a few bedraggled pinkish nubs with brown down and comically unhinged beaks.  I remember watching their tell-tale striped wings as they wheeled around our yard, hollering and screaming.

Mockingbirds used to torment my great-grandmother's cat, a marble-gray Persian named Sheena, who would be permitted on nice days to lay in the grass just outside the front door, and sunbathe.  It was only a matter of time, after a peaceful interlude of slow blinking in the sun and lazy tail waving, before the birds came.  They'd flit from branch to bush and circle in the air, hooting and jeering.  Eventually, the brave ones would dive bomb her, floating down with wings awkwardly splayed to seize a beak or clawful of the loose long hair, and then shoot away impossibly fast to stash it somewhere.  I couldn't believe the ego and audacity; Sheena was scary and everyone knew it.

I haven't thought about them much since, but they've been hell on wheels this summer.  One of them followed me for a long time after I passed under her tree, jeering and screaming and swooping as close to me as she dared, which was pretty close.  Now two more live at either end of my house, and all they do is charge around their respective trees, branch to branch, barking at nothing.  Their chirps are aggressive, loud and mechanical sounding, like something caught in a machine.  I don't know what they're angry about, no one ever goes outside now except for a few listless outdoor cats who lie like corpses on their sides underneath bushes, motionless except for wind ruffled fur and occasional tail flits.

The birds will bark for an hour after I've passed by, or after a cat has moved.  Their indignation is completely unreasonable.  So now I just yell at them like a common schizophrenic, shouting and gesturing at a tree. "Shut the fuck up! Right now!"  "No one cares about your nest!"  "Should I get the hose?"  They're very obnoxious.  Nothing like the distracted tittering of normal birds.  Normal birds aren't trying to talk to you.  They're just living their lives.

Mockingbirds have to talk shit, though.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

From the Personal Archive

Here's another one.  I found this in the pages of an old book at Qcumberz (seriously, that fucking name, I'm going to start calling it something else) a few years ago and was so amused by it, I kept it.

It's a packing list for a vacation, or camp or something.  The notepaper the list is written on is brittle and deeply yellowed at the edges where it peeked out of the pages of the book.  I instantly assumed it was at least 40 years old from the condition and the terminology used, but I could be wrong.  Things keep well when trapped in books.  It could be older, but I don't think it's newer.


church dress
shoes (shoe subcategory: 1. sandal  2. tennis  3. loafers  4. church  5. thongs)
everyday dresses
coat (1. raincoat  2. umbrella)
skirt and sweater
b. c. (!!)
bathing suit
pants (1. long wool  2. couch (illegible)  3. shorts)
shampoo (1. rinse)
lotion (1. suntan)
first aid kit
stationery (sp)
bubblegum - 100 pieces
shower cap
pizza mix
eye drops
fingernail polish (1. file)
knee socks

Obviously, items like stockings, girdles, skirt/sweater sets and everyday dresses indicate that this is pre-70s.

What cracks me up is the "b.c." which covers a line that had been erased in which it appears that she began to write "birth control," but then thought better of it.  This list could have fallen into the hands of a man, or a parent, or the Pope!

I assume this is a young person due to the need to put candy, sunflower seeds and gum on an important list of things to remember, as well as the awkward, flouncy cursive.  I also enjoy the order of the items, with curlers, the bible and makeup as the first things she thought of.

I wish I could remember what book I found this in.  Whatever it was, it was unremarkable, and I didn't buy it.  Yeah, I stole this letter too.

I have a rosy, incorrect view of girlhood in the 50s and 60s, mostly because I watched a lot of movies with heroines named Gidget or Tammy when I was a kid.  Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap was my fashion inspiration in ~1994.  Obviously, life as a female at this time was not quite as adorable as it looked in "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957), but in my mind, when I'm not thinking clearly, it was.

For me, it felt kind of easy to relate to those times when I was 10, 11, 12 years old because we lived in a house built in the 50s and my bedroom was largely unchanged from the way it had looked then, with the same furniture that had been chosen for some other family's daughter 40 years before.  As I have mentioned, our house came with all of its original 50s & 60s furniture, mostly unused as it had been a summer home, and we moved in and left it pretty much as it had always been, down to the glass grapes on the coffee table.  This is weird, right?  I think it's weird.  My bedroom had a custom built blond wood vanity, dresser and desk built into the wall, with a little stool covered in pink velvet.  I used the 50s jewelry box to store my own stuff, and the old ceramic cocker spaniel coin bank that had been the other little girl's is in my bedroom right now.

So anyway, I imagine this list was written by some everyday Sandra Dee.  What would she think if she knew someone had her list, and that something of such bland utility then could seem so interesting now?


Thursday, July 17, 2014


I've collected a number of letters and bits of paper over the years that have held some historic significance to me.

This is from a series of pen pal letters written between two young girls in the late 60s, a Miss Delfina Sapien of Phoenix, AZ, and Miss Stella Hardacre of Lancashire, England.

The set of letters was donated to the Children's Museum, assumedly by Delfina's family, because the museum is housed in what used to be the Monroe School, a monolithic 1914 classical revival in downtown Phoenix.  Delfina would have been a student at Monroe.

To my knowledge, the pack of letters still sits unknown, un-transcribed and generally uncared for in a filing cabinet in the development office of the museum, which is not really a museum, but rather a giant Wonka factory of installations meant to encourage children to learn through play.  So far, the Children's Museum has failed to realize its duty as the steward of its building's history, but we don't get too snippy about it; 15ish years ago, a demo permit had been issued for the building when the Children's Museum chose it for its space, saving the perfectly sound yet uniquely unwieldy building from destruction.  The building has been largely renovated since, but there are still entire rooms left in disrepair, with rotten wood floors too scary to walk on and discarded furniture covered in a furry coverlet of decades of dust.  Neat!

When Delfina attended the school in the 1960s, it would have been old, outdated, and mostly attended by poor children from the neighborhood.  It was closed in 1972 due to low enrollment, as people filtered out of the downtown area and entire neighborhoods were razed for commercial buildings.  When it was built, the Monroe School was one of the most modern and progressive public schools in the country, filled with such cutting-edge technology as flushing toilets, early intercom systems, and a teacher's lounge, the latter two being unheard of at the time.

The letters are written on tissuey, pale blue air letter paper, pre-printed with ninepence postage featuring the profile of young Elizabeth II.  We only have Stella's letters, naturally, one of which I inadvertently stole.  I took it home to read it, and, woops, I still have it!

This one is postmarked 22 July 1967, in Burnley, Lancashire.  Delfina's address is listed as 114 S. 8th Street in downtown Phoenix. Her house would have been a little bungalow built between the teens and the 30s.  Not only is the house long gone, the street is too, having been swallowed by the widening of Jefferson St.  The house's foundation is probably now in the middle of Jefferson's westbound lanes, a stone's throw from Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe.

In the letter, Stella shares the details (all of the details) of a family trip to Spain, then refers disapprovingly to the arrest of Mick Jagger & Keef Richards on a drug bust earlier that year.

"Dear Delfina,

I am writing this letter the day after we arrived back in England.  We have had an unforgettable, wonderful holiday in Spain and come back with a sun tan.  Early Wednesday morning July 5th we got up, had our breakfast, and at 6-40 am we set off in our car for London.  It took us about 6 hours to get there and we waited for about 1 hour til our flight was due. We had our passports checked and then we got into a coach which took us out onto the airfield where our plane was waiting.  We were shown to our seats and after about 10 minutes, we took off.

It is lovely looking down from 17,000 feet onto the ground!  You can see all the fields and tiny dots of houses.  Soon we were over the English Channel and we passed many boats.  We crossed the coast of France and I noticed that this part of France was nearly all country, but my dad said that southern France nearly all was.  Then the captain came on the loudspeaker and he told us that we were climbing to 19,000 feet to fly over the Pyrenees.  I felt a bit air sick when we started to climb.  Soon we were above the clouds (you couldn't see the mountains, just clouds) and it looks like you are floating through a sea of cotton wool.

Then the stewardesses came round with snacks.  This was: ham sandwiches, piece of cake, cup of tea and an apple.  We landed at Barcelona airport where we went through the customs and then we got on a coach which was taking us to our hotel.  We went through Barcelona city.  I am glad I don't live there.  Just one road was 8 miles long.  There were 4 lanes of traffic on either side of the road and they were overtaking on the right, left and centre.  After about one hour we came to a small town and our coach went up a street and stopped outside a hotel called Mar Blau.  We realized it was ours and our luggage was carried in and we entered the lounge.  Unfortunately we found that no one could speak English in our hotel and we just had a representative man who spoke English coming over once a day to see everything was all right.

We went on two excursions: one to Montserrat, and one to a night club in a nearby town.  All the rest of the days we went on to the beach and sunbathed or did some shopping.  We did not like the food very much.  It was a bit sickly sometimes.  The meat was not good as well.  We are hoping to go to Spain again next year so we are all saving like mad.

I agree with you about the Rolling Stones.  It is awful.  I don't think they should let them go out on bail.
This is all for now.

Love, Stella

P.S., Did you get the postcard?  Also if the friend of yours is not going to write to Marlene, could you find someone else please?"

Stella - you can't please her!

Friday, July 4, 2014

It is very hard to feel patriotic about a country with so much potential, yet which has always been half spoiled by various unforgivable offenses, most of which have been unthinkable to our developed, western peers.  America seems to take so much longer than its sister countries to rise above its crimes against nature.  This is, of course, due to ignorance, arrogance, and religion: the trinity of American disgrace.

Not to get too heavy-handed - it is my favorite federal holiday, because it's the only time we, as a country, would ever engage in a wide discourse about stars of the Enlightenment period.

Even if you are suspicious and resentful of the current charade, there are writings from the Revolutionary period and after that can touch even the most offish of disaffected hearts.  Reading these documents is the only time I have felt legitimately, personally proud of the concept of America.  There have been other times, stories of bravery and humanity under duress by soldiers or nurses or civilians, positive Supreme Court rulings, certain elections, but these stories always seem to be marred with a rotten underside, an unexpected or hitherto unknown terrible repercussion, something.  Anyway.

The most important things you can read this summer:

The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, 1791.  Before this, the concept of individual human and civil rights was almost completely undiscussed, unconsidered.  How terrifying and telling that we have been focused on this type of human cultivation for such a short time.

The Virginia Act of 1786 by Thomas Jefferson.  Introducing!  Freedom from religion.

George Washington's Farewell Address of 1796.  Sweet, articulate and inspiring.

Read while listening to this on repeat for max effect.

and this

Past 4th of July posts:

J.A. says N-O

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


My relatives are putting together a family reunion.  One of those giant outdoor picnics of heredity that I have only seen in comedies.  By popular request, it is being held at the old farmhouse where my grandmother was born, in Iowa. 

It's weird to me that over 50 people will be attending this and that many of them requested meeting at the house instead of the original proposal somewhere else in the Midwest.  Weird because that's my house.  It's mine, and I will always entertain illusions of living there someday.

Up until recently, the house was owned by my great-aunt, whose frostiness was tempered only by her antiquated sense of hospitality when we went to visit a decade ago.  She was nice because she had to be, but that didn't stop her from bitching about things her brothers in law had done to her 60 years ago.  After she married my great-uncle Chick, it was decided that she would move into his family home while he was overseas during WWII.  What I thought sounded like a charming prank still stuck in her craw: the night she was to arrive for the first time to her new home was a late one, and after long hours of driving, they pulled up in the middle of the night and trudged carefully up the dark stairs to their bedroom.  On the upper ledge of the door had been balanced an open box of shot pellets.  Instead of slipping into a quiet bedroom for some long-anticipated sleep, they got a cacophony of hundreds of little metal balls clacking onto the wood floors and bouncing down the stairs, accompanied by the belligerent male laughter of many new brothers-in-law.  One got the feeling she had hated them ever since.

When we chuckled at the story, my dad particularly as he remembered fondly his uncles, she shot us a poison-tipped glance.  "Well it was certainly not funny at the time."  I remember that she seemed to be bragging about being from Ohio, a place that she thought was considerably more refined than Iowa.  Being from Ohio, she said, it took some time to adjust to the country ways of Percival.  I recall marveling that someone would speak of being "from Ohio" with the level of righteous pretension usually reserved for New York natives.

She was kind of charming, though.  We were initially wary because my grandmother hated her, hated her fucking guts, because she had thrown out a bunch of family heirlooms when she and her husband took over the house in the 1960s.  Allegedly.  She never visited and we had never met her, only thought of her as an evil witch living in my grandma's house somewhere towards the middle of the country.  We only met her after my grandmother died.  She was cute and old, with a 1960s tv set and a wall-mounted kitchen phone as her only windows to the outside world.  And an old radio, of course.  She asked me if I wanted to see "the Monaghan family library," and opened a linen closet to reveal stacks and stacks of Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey paperbacks.  Lots of phrases began with "The Monaghans..." in which she would illustrate what they do and don't do.  The Monaghans love barbecue.  The Monaghans have lived in this town for 100 years.  The Monaghans were the first Catholics in Fremont County.  The Monaghans fly planes and write copy for Chevrolet!

The Monaghans also had a cross burned in the yard of that farmhouse by the Klan in the nineteen-teens,  because of the Catholic thing.  My grandmother's sister told us stories of going to class in the one-room school and being teased and pinched by all the little Protestant children, who called them "cat-lickers".

After the great aunt's death, I was terrified for the house's fate, but all is well in that it conveyed to her genial son, a lay historian and riverboat card dealer.  That means I still have a chance to someday acquire the house.  In fairness, they have been careful stewards of the building's integrity, and apart from various stumbles, they have preserved it admirably.  When they diverge, though, they really mean it.  There is an upstairs back bedroom that, when I saw it, had 4" rainbow shag carpeting.  I don't know if that's period correct.

In spite of the occasional dashes of gingerbread and scallops, it is a practical, sturdy example of rural Victorian architecture.   It's not as flouncy or dark as I like them, but it is charming in its farmy way.

I like the glossy, polished dark wood thing and hallways so dark you want to put your hand out.  The first thing I would do in this house is strip the paint on the walls and find the original wallpaper pattern.  SUCH EXCITE!  Then I would, of course, remove all carpet to reveal the original wood floors, but I might just leave that rainbow shag in the back bedroom, because fuck the police, right?

So from the second photo, it appears to me that the house was not white originally.  I seem to recall an ancient conversation with my grandmother in which she said it was a garish color to begin with, something that sounded ugly to me at the time.  Perhaps yellow?  We'd do some archaeological peeling on that as well, just to see.

Circa 1913.  Not much changed.  My great-grandma in the middle holding a baby.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

This just in: newsmedia totally sucks

Last week, I started watching the morning news while getting ready for work.  I never watch tv, but have done recently because I felt a sort of nostalgia for the unintelligible background electronic din it creates while one is doing something else.  I also feel uncomfortable sometimes, because I get my news primarily from the various hard left, feminist, gay, socialist, Jesus-hating blogs I read, which means that viral non-news always escapes my notice, and I'm constantly having to be apprised by my exasperated co-workers of whatever the hell they are talking about at lunch.

I don't know anything about the current pop culture.  I don't think I've willingly listened to any music made past 2003, I don't know anything about new movies or shows, I have no idea who most celebrities are or why they are famous.  It's like a blackout, I'm like that gay couple in Brooklyn who are living a completely pre-war lifestyle and don't allow anything manufactured after 1940 into their home.

So when I started watching the news, I observed a few things:

1. I can't overstate the term "non-news".  I can't believe that people accept this into their lives and don't get angry about the zillion media dollars spent and made in the effort of explaining to you that Demi Moore's kid went topless at Whole Foods to protest being banned on Instagram.  And that is one of the more interesting bits because I've forgotten all of the really awful ones.  Or what about the rich asshat in SF who is planting envelopes of cash around the city as a "philanthropic" effort when really he just enjoys seeing people crawl all over each other like insects trying to find negligible amounts of free money.  Why do we have to pursue super dry or super partisan shows to get info on the things that actually have the potential to affect our lives?  Like, I may be a crazy Rachel Maddow devotee, and it's partly because she's one of my liberal sistren, but it's MOSTLY because next to few others (Moyers, Olbermann), she 1. fact checks and 2. isn't afraid to aggressively editorialize.  #2 isn't exactly missing from networks like Fox, but the left is usually way too chickenshit to do the same.  NOT MY RAY THO

2. Everyone is so happy and excited about everything.  The hosts act like pageant queens, the music is all hyper blaring dance music, and there are colors and sounds and special effects whizzing by at all times.  The shows resemble something meant to appeal to dogs while they're home alone.

3. Hearing them talk about controversial, highly partisan political topics in objective ways is hilarious and disturbing.  That said, it seems like the mainstream media has officially accepted gays as a regular household occurrence rather than as novelty items.  Now the novelty items are trans people.  I felt a little surprised by that.

Overall, though, I can't even.  Normally when I'm getting ready for work, I listen to podcasts, or the sound of Christopher Hitchens destroying something.  I can't get enough of his smug velvet voice and his weary jokes, even when it means I have to listen to him support Bush II, blame 9/11 on the Clintons, and treat the Iraq war (in 2001) as a mere impending skirmish.  I guess when you love someone, you must take the bad with the good.  Right?  It's worth it when you hear him summarize the first 90,000 years of human life in 5 minutes and then unexpectedly recite 10 lines of Chaucer or something.  There is no comparison to this man.

Overall, the occasional bits of mainstream media that I take in remove all question re: why are Americans so desperately stupid and vapid.  It disappoints me in a time in which information is overwhelmingly available, that people simply switch on the tv and watch a show about former tv stars dancing.  If people took the time to cultivate specific interests, they would naturally be led away from the horde into something more localized, even if that is stupid too.  At least it's customized to you.  To be handed your tastes by sponsored media is very sad and unfortunate.

That said, television isn't all bad.  Two things that just killed me lately:

1. Cosmos.  Obviously!  With my two dads, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the silent specter of Carl Sagan.  In the opening sequence, the letters "CS" appear before stretching into the word "Cosmos".  That almost made me want to cry a little, thinking about how hard it was for him to make the first Cosmos, and all of the anti-intellectual, anti-science shit that has gone on since then, and how amazing that it is back and so prominent, so much of the quality of which is thanks to Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan, who was such a major contributor to both the current and original series.

2. After the last episode of Cosmos, the Freedom From Religion Foundation aired a commercial ON the Fox network AT prime time ON a Sunday in which Ron Reagan, child of that Ronald and Nancy Reagan, unapologetically flips off mainstream religion and then does a wheelie chased by flames.  Basically.  Seeing that on tv felt kind of historic.


Monday, June 23, 2014

This guy has carefully documented his family's extensive photo history.  I love the Edwardian photos the best.  I love this era in fashion so much.  Cream and white cotton dresses, lace and giant bows on everything.  Dark, glossy hair was fashionable then.  Simple, trim lines.  I'm into it.

Baby on a pedestal

I think these are earlier.  Big, puffy blouses, tinier waists, crazy hats.  Also, is that Tina Fey's great-grandmother?


Beautifully austere

Her giant fur collar!  Oh my god.  Is that wild poodle?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Will never get over it.

My dead gothic vampire wolf boyfriend was a feminist.

Every year, sometimes more than once per year, I remember that Peter Steele is dead.  This is still pretty hard for me to accept, and I generally mark these occasions by watching a million live shows and interviews on Youtube, and feeling very sad, then feeling ridiculous for feeling sad, while still feeling sad. 

This year, I was joined by my jewelry bff, with whom I spent all of this week's idle hours at work discussing the matter at length.  I think we are probably friends because of Type O Negative, in fact.
Soon after meeting in a jewelry class, she showed me a keychain or pendant or something that she had made.  "Looks like the Type O Negative logo," I said, instantly regretting my comment.  My foreverlove for this band isn't really something I bring up in mixed company, because most of the people one meets while out of the house in this town have a "Rascal Flatts" air freshener hanging from their rearview mirrors.  Those who do know the band instantly call my taste credentials into question.

Worn constantly in the 90s and never again. I keep it with the clothes I wear regularly, though.
Mock all you want, jerks.  DGAF

"It is the Type O Negative logo," she said.  I raised one eyebrow.  We were now besties.

So anyway, in trawling interviews this week, I noted how remarkably without prejudicial hangup Peter seemed to be.  Believe it or not, a 6'8 white guy with a Brooklyn accent who fronts a doom metal band is fed a lot of baiting questions by music journalists, trying to lead him into representing the cliched mentality of many of the genre's fans.  He batted each of these questions away with bored yet witty answers that would have made any one of today's contributors to give a reply of, not bad.

Despite insisting that he hated everyone equally, Peter kind of sounds like a third wave feminist to me.  Labels are offensive to everyone, and I wouldn't go around re-casting a dead person's values to better suit my own, but it's true and you should know it.

In one early interview, he was asked about the recent national criminalization of marital rape (1993).  Obviously, it was a leading question intended to elicit a controversial reply re: marital rape isn't real rape, that you somehow forfeit sexual sovereignty when you marry (if you're a woman), or whatever stupid ass opinion stupid frightened men were having at the time.  He instantly rejected this position and instead talked at length about consent, the lack of which was completely unacceptable to him.  I don't think I can over-emphasize how unusual his approaches to topics concerning women were for his lifestyle and surroundings at the time, not to mention the fact that there was no mainstream outlet for feminist thought at the time that could have influenced him - he was influenced by his lifelong positive, supportive or familial relationships with women.  He may not have described the issue in the way that I would have, but the message was the same.  Certainly not what that two-bit music journalist was expecting to hear, no doubt.

He was accused of misogyny, and rightly so, in response to the band's first album.  The songs are frantically angry, all written about and immediately following a breakup, and the music sounds like 80s hardcore.  I bought the album as a young teen and pretty much instantly threw it out a window.  It was not the band I knew from the super baroque and atmospheric Bloody Kisses album.  Peter took a lot of heat for the lyrics on this album, again rightly so, but I believe his explanations when he says he was a very angry, very young and emotionally shattered person at the time of the writing.  Additionally, the songs were not written for an album.  They were demos that he had made for himself which were made into a record in a very questionable move by the record company.

Believe me, I almost never accept the inevitable excuses when a guy is accused of misogyny.  Rarely do these characterizations result from misunderstandings - many men express themselves expecting the support and lauding that they've received all their lives, and when they get busted for crossing the current societal boundary line of acceptability, it's all a big misunderstanding, no one has a sense of humor, it's a witch hunt, they're being discriminated against, and all of the other tearful protestations regular white guys get up to every time they get into trouble.

But I believe Peter.  And not because I love him.  I believe him because everything he said from the beginning of his career to the painful end was almost confrontationally authentic.  At the height of his career, he discussed his fear and insecurity, his self-loathing, his suspicious feelings about praise, and all of the other issues that people of his particular emotional constitution feel on a daily basis.  When asked about how he got into bodybuilding, he says flat out, it's vanity and insecurity.  He thought he was unattractive and that his considerable height made him look ridiculous, and he did what many young men do in response: worked the hell out.  People rarely admit that kind of shit, particularly not when someone is writing it down.  When he became a sex symbol among female fans, many of whom rabidly pursued him in person, he said, "What's wrong with you? I'm just another asshole in a band."  He openly discussed his drug addiction and subsequent destruction late in his career, and it is heartbreaking to watch.  Aged beyond his years, these interviews show a frightened and gaunt-faced man discussing the bitter experiences he had in the penal and institutional asylum systems as a result of his addictions.  His eyes were wild, his teeth were rotten, and he could have walked through a crowd of his own fans without being recognized.  That is, if he hadn't still been the size of Andre the Giant, with hair down his back like the metal version of Marius the vampire.  (Anne Rice, fool! It's goth night)

His bandmates and family say that he was finally clean and reasonably happy or hopeful when he died.  His cause of death was aortic aneurysm, a breach resulting from the weakening of the walls of the aorta - an ironic, fairly common malady among recently rehabilitated long-term addicts.  It's a fast death following a very long one.

If I misrepresented him when talking about his openness about his discomfort with life, it's because I didn't mention that he normally expressed this with a black, rapier wit.  He slipped dark jokes into his conversation constantly, sometimes absurd one-liners, and sometimes subtle, razor-thin remarks that only revealed themselves when one started to bleed.  He seemed to enjoy expressing his frustrations and troubles comedically, and he was very, very funny - but then, his brand of bleak wit is just the kind I like, just the kind I am attuned to look for, one that we all possess in some way but that few are able to hone.

Plus he was hot.

The end.

Scraggly, early 80s, Carnivore-era, cartoonishly adorable.  Fascinating for the Brooklyn street scene, too.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tile Parade

I started a new tumblr about vintage tile.

I'm not generally looking for tile in my day to day life, but when I see it, I remember how strongly I feel about it.  Tile may very well be my number one concern when house/apartment hunting, aside from obvious things like structural integrity, air conditioning, and a dishwasher - one thing that is never guaranteed in a historic house.

Other people seem to think that caring about antique tile is a strange and trifling dissipation, or at the very least something that should be left in the hands of middle aged gays, but that's because other people are tasteless fools who own suede furniture and don't know why.

The address is after Charles Lamb's "Old China," because it is relevant and because I am a pretentious fancyperson.  Get over it.

I kind of figured that tumblr would end up being full of pictures of bathrooms, but I'm way more interested in that old subway tile.  It's so fucking DAZZLING!  Especially when it's all dirty and forgotten and maybe halfway covered with new construction, and finding it feels adventurous and like looking through a grimy peephole directly into the past.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mommie Dearest

I watched Mommie Dearest for the first time in my life recently. My main question was,

Why would Faye Dunaway do this?

All the Hollywood Babylon types despise Christina Crawford and reject she and her book as lies, but in the interest of fairness, I decided to research (Google for 10 min) this matter.  There are quite a few people, all as credible as the deniers, who agree that the kids did seem to be receiving some kind of abuse, and that Joan was, at the very least, unusually strict.  Her drinking was also completely out of control while her children were young.  Christopher Crawford always backed his sister up, while the younger two (four adopted children in total), twins Cindy and Cathy, have staunchly denied all allegations of abuse, even in the decades following JC's death.

I think the youngest two not only benefited from not being the first drafts of Joan's motherhood, but they also saw the frightening dynamic between Joan and X-tina and probably learned how better to deal with their mother.

Even if she wasn't really waking them up in the night to beat them with cans of Comet or, you know, strangling them, Joan's mothering skills still seem to have failed.  All of her children grew up to be unhappy underachievers with emotional problems, and they all seem to have reverted right back to poverty after her death.  Her estate was pretty small, at only $2m, and even the "good kids" only received inheritances of <$80k.

The movie is a camp classic now, but it wasn't really intended to be, which is why I wonder why they picked such creepy actresses to play Christina.  Both the child and teenaged actresses are strange, dead-eyed white blond things that make me think of those Fortean Times stories of black-eyed zombie children who kill people.  Even though her character is clearly being mistreated, the kid's creepy expressions and staring eyes don't stir a ton of pity. 

But seriously, even to non-fans of Joan's (I'm still not sure), this movie's bullshit is visible to the naked eye, and it lies by omission all over the place.  In the movie, it's implied that Christina wrote the nasty old book because her bitch mother left her with nothing at her death, but in reality, she was already writing the book, and it's reasonably likely that Joan knew, hence the expulsion.  Oh what she and BD Hyman couldn't talk about.

Just two regular gals

I used to think of my stepmother as a Mommie Dearest type.  No one had ever given me rules before my dad married her, and all of a sudden, I had this grown woman following me around, commenting on my behavior, and forcing me to adjust it.  I was horrified.  Looking back, I wonder how different I would be now if she had not been around.  I suspect I'd be messier, and I probably wouldn't notice the dog-like eating habits of other people.  In short, life would be easier.

She made me eat all meals at a fully set dining room table instead of on the floor in front of the tv.  Additionally, I had to eat all of the food I was served, something that felt like abuse when the meal was a giant bowl of navy beans and ham, like we were some wartime military regiment eating for energy and sustenance only.  I tried everything not to eat that (generalized anger about legumes continues into adulthood), and there were times when I was forced to sit alone at the table staring at the food I couldn't eat, but unlike Joan, she didn't make me sleep with the food in my room or eat it the next morning.  I had to keep arms off the table, chew with my mouth closed, never drag my fork on my teeth and keep the sound of silverware clinking against plates and bowls to a minimum.  Next, I had to shower.  I was seven years old and despised bathing.  As children are wont to do, I would take much more time in trying to deceive her than just taking the shower would have.  Eventually I gave in and got used to being clean.  I also had to dust all the wood furniture on the weekends, which she would check afterwards, usually ordering me to re-do it for unacceptable work quality.

My stepmother was irritable and prone to moods, like Joan.  Like Joan, she was vain, and her young prettiness had changed into a sort of severe, angular handsomeness with age, all heavy eyebrows and long acrylic nails.  She really was a sort of middle class Mommie Dearest, sans violence.

Oh, and.  She went to therapy to deal with childhood feelings of abandonment, as her parents had pretty much left them to themselves at a young age.  The therapist's recommendation was for her to engage in the activities that a child would, to nurture her inner child.  She also had to call the child by name, to differentiate from her adult self.  Thus "Little Nancy" came into our house, and she bought toys, crayons and coloring books for "her," all of which I was strictly forbidden to use.  Although I was still very young, I thought this was bullshit and couldn't believe I was not allowed to play with those things despite being the only person in the house, Little Nancy included, who wanted to.

I'd write a tell-all about her, but I guess I just did.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Too Much/Not Enough Information: Complaints

Why is it so hard to maintain an appropriate amount of information on anything in particular?  I'm living a life in which I know way too much about people I don't care about, yet I am not quite sure if my dad is married or not.  This lack of clarity can only be expressed in .gif form.

I'm frustrated because I'm trying to finish my research on my diarist, Anna.  What I need, and all I could really hope to acquire in this type of case, is her obituary.  I know her birth year, birth location, and probable location of death, which SHOULD make finding the obit fairly easy, and yet I have nothing.

Corresponding with her nephew's wife was not as fruitful as I had hoped it would be.  Once she decided that I wasn't of much use to her for her own genealogical needs, she blew me off.  SUCH TYPICAL.  I did learn that Anna remarried someone named Charles "Chick" Davis, that she was living in Phoenix at least in the late 60s, and that her daughter married a doctor, which is why I can't find her by her maiden name.  She did send a picture of Anna, though, which was worth a million dollars to me. has a social security death index entry for an Anne C. Davis (could easily be my Anna H. C. Davis), who died in Maricopa County in 1996.  None of our online newspaper databases have a corresponding obituary, however.  I think that means I have to drag myself into our disgusting main library and look at the microfiche.  Seriously, navigating through that place reminds me of the old Simpsons Nintendo game.  End of analogy.

If I can find the obituary, then it might include the married name of her daughter Colleen, which might allow me to locate her now.  But if I have to search in the microfiche, then I have to look at every paper from that year.  Because all I have is the year.  Do obituaries only come out on Sundays?  I need to locate someone who reads actual newspapers and ask them.  Looking at microfiche is incredibly tedious even when you know exactly where you're going, so I expect that looking at all of the obituary pages for all of the papers in an entire year would take months, at least.  And I'm not even sure I have the right year.  Those death indexes are often slightly off, and that might not even be my Anna.

It might be easier to apply for a copy of her death certificate with vital records first just to be sure I have the right date, but they are somewhat tough customers at that office when it comes to handing shit over to non-relatives.

I wonder, if I found everything I needed and then located the daughter, if she would want the book.  What if she packed the diary with a bunch of other Goodwill stuff because she hated her mother?

And yes, I could just ask my dad if he married his longterm banshee (actually, I have called her La Llorona for years), but he can be oddly secretive, and if he didn't tell me, then perhaps he doesn't want me to know for some reason that I suppose I will respect.  He hasn't told anyone.  He informed my uncle that he was considering doing it, then never followed up or announced anything.  I only know because my uncle told my cousin, who told me.  I assume they probably did marry because they each wear a matching Harley Davidson ring (real cool, guys) on their ring fingers.  Dweadful.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

C. Hitchens

Speaking of Hitch, I read this today and it was like a simultaneous punch to the gut and flying fist pump into the sky.

While dying of cancer, he addresses rumors and jokes made by his detractors about a possible imminent conversion to religion: "If I convert, it's because it's better that a believer dies than that an atheist does."
Christopher Hitchens

This made me want to scream and clap like a baby.  Why?  Because no one is ever unapologetic or relentless or consistent when it matters.  Because so many truths are blurred, diluted and softened in worried anticipation of interpersonal conflict.  WHO CARES.

All of the time that is spent pussyfooting and apology-making for offending the religious has become imperceptible (and therefore, undiscussed) to the American because it is so ubiquitous that it's become the baseline, the very atmosphere.

This courtesy is, of course, never extended to the other extremist religious groups, and certainly not to the unreligious.  This is like a one-sided moral relativism that, when you think about it, is wildly ironic considering the fact that most Christians believe in a sort of bastardized moral universality, that is, that there is one generally correct way to live, regardless of your circumstance or culture.  That the religious right are allowed to run roughshod over laws and freedoms is a result of constantly applied moral relativity or misplaced tolerance. What these groups do is often wrong by western moral standards, and frequently by our laws too, but it is continually allowed because somehow (not somehow - through tradition, corruption, and the ravages of a flagging economy and poverty on society), the religious freedoms of one group have become more important than the legal freedoms of all.

I think this happens in part because non-believers can't let go of their rote understanding of what tolerance means, furthering the irony in that intolerant groups become overly protected by the concept.  That inability to reinterpret rigid definitions is the downfall of both the religious and the non-religious.

That's why I love the Hitchensian manner so much.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Mitfords

The Mitfords still aren't very famous in America despite making comparable famous American aristocracy like the Kennedys seem irretrievably boring.

It occurred to me today that I need to re-read Nancy Mitford's library of writings because, despite holding distinct impressions of her effortless wit, which often comes off as an afterthought, I've completely forgotten what The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate were about.

I do recall that her father, David Mitford, is hysterically preserved in both books, the Pursuit most distinctly (I think), in which he - a brusque, outdoorsy, irritable man - chafes at the dinner conversation of a visiting family member who wants to discuss books.  

“My dear Lady Kroesig, I have only read one book in my life, and that is ‘White Fang.’ It’s so frightfully good I’ve never bothered to read another.”

In an interview, Mitford sister Deborah confirmed the truth of that line, that as an adult, their father really had only read White Fang and was convinced that no other book could live up to it.  Concerned by this, their mother picked another book for him to read, which was Tess of the d'Urbervilles.  When he started to cry during the sad parts, his wife said, "Don't cry, darling, it's only a story."  Furious, David stood up and shouted, "Do you mean to say the damn fellow made it up!?"

The Mitford sisters were all beautiful, spectacularly intelligent and abnormally willful individuals, each of whom did something entirely distinct with her life except sweet Debo and Pam, who just got married.  All born in the beginning of the 20th century, they were part of an upper-class ("U") British family who spent most of their time living in their expansive country house, where the girls were not formally educated, because their mother didn't believe in it.

My favorite sister was Jessica "Decca" Mitford, who married a radical communist in the 1930s and quickly escaped to America to be a writer and journalist of moderate fame.  Her closest-in-age sister, Unity, with whom she shared a rather twinsy relationship, became strangely enthralled with fascism and traveled to Germany where she developed a friendship and one-sided love affair with Adolph Hitler, over which she eventually attempted suicide twice.  Their older sister Diana, incredibly beautiful and referred to by Hitler as the standard of Aryan beauty (don't quote that, but along those lines) married Oswald Mosley, the head of the British Union of Fascists.  Nancy carried on a series of affairs between enjoying financial and critical success for her writing.  Debo became a duchess and is still alive and in her 90s!  Pam farmed in rural quietude.

Fans of the arts of this era, "the time between the wars," will know the Mitfords as their stories are so closely intertwined with other noted British names of the day, like Cecil Beaton, Evelyn Waugh, the Churchills, and almost everyone who was anyone at the time.

I thought I read that one of the girls was going to marry Joe Kennedy, Jr., the first Kennedy heir and the one Joe Kennedy, Sr had actually intended for the role JFK took, but I can't find that anywhere, so it must just be a rumor.  

The Unity thing was so bizarre, I feel that there was some kind of mental abnormality with her, so singleminded and strange were her behaviors, although it is worth noting that this was the early 1930s, a time in which Hitler was widely approved of in the British upperclass, and in which antisemitism was so commonplace in the society in which Unity had grown up that it tended to offend only the lefty rebels (her sisters Decca and Nancy included).  She learned German by herself and sought Hitler out like a magazine celebrity, and eventually achieved some level of friendship with him in which he did favors for her, like find her luxe lodging in Berlin near him (evicting the prior Jewish tenant), and take her around with his entourage.  She never got as close as she wanted, and when England and Germany went to war, she couldn't bear having to choose between her home and adopted countries, so she went to the Tiergarten in Berlin and shot herself in the head.  She survived, and was immediately conveyed home to her family.  During that trip, she tried again to kill herself by swallowing a small Nazi medal Hitler had given to her.  Really, if someone wants to die badly enough that they re-try it as soon as they gain consciousness after the first attempt, then maybe you should just let them go.  The brain trauma from the gunshot wound caused Unity to spend the rest of her days in a "simple" mental state, and she died a decade later, the sad and ghoulish ward of her mother.

Unity and Decca had been extremely close as children and teenagers, going so far as to invent their own language, called "boudledidge" (told you I was a fan).  It is ironic that they immediately split apart in the most extreme ideological ways possible as soon as they were old enough to leave home.  Jessica remained a radical leftist for the rest of her life, gaining some fame later on by writing an expose on the American funeral industry called "The American Way of Death".  That was the 1960s, but it was revised and re-released with updates in the late 90s after her death.  I recommend reading it, and I guarantee that, upon doing so, you will instantly call your significant other or next of kin and say, "Write this down: no embalming - burn me - put me in a cardboard takeout box - do whatever you want with it.  But for christ's sake, no mortuary."  The commercialized funerary practices are offensive on all possible levels.  Disgusting and absurd debasement of bodies (painting teeth with clear nail polish and pumping faces full of dye to look "lifelike"), outrageously priced, predatory maneuvers made on people stripped of their reason by grief, etc.  Making a body look like a mannequin and then formally viewing it has always seemed absolutely insane to me.  I know what they looked like!  Why burn this image into my brain?  I remained glued to a pew during my grandmother's viewing, only approaching the casket after a tight-lipped whispered argument when my uncle approached my cousin and I and told us to get our asses up there and view her like everyone else had.  We didn't want to go up.  When we finally did, I turned away instantly.  There she was in a familiar dress, with pictures and mementos placed around her like a dead pharaoh, and glossy pink nail polish on her fingers.  That was the most vulgar to me.  She never wore pink nail polish and I was affronted as one can only be in grief that the mortuary would dare to assume she liked that color.

Decca's stories of being reviled by morticians across the country are very amusing - apparently, they referred to her by first name only in one of their industry papers.  "Jessica has done another interview with..."  Wrecking their grim party.  After her book came out, the cremation rate nearly tripled.

Decca's first husband, Esmond Romilly (Churchill's nephew), had been killed in the war in 1941, leaving her alone with a baby in a foreign country in wartime.  She took on a variety of meager jobs out of necessity, eventually ending up in journalism, and later married ACLU lawyer Bob Treuhaft.  They were both members of the Communist Party until the late 1950s.  Decca was called before the House of Un-American Activities, from which she was dismissed in frustration after refusing to answer questions.  She said she took up writing because she was tired of being fired from jobs for being a Communist.  No one can bar you from writing for a living if you can do it.

I was thrilled recently to find this video in which she is interviewed by Christopher Hitchens in the late 80s.  My two favorites!!!!!!

Really starts at about 5:00.  Worth listening to for both of them, but Jessica is hilarious and charming as hell, as is Hitch's obvious deference to her.

But since this post was inspired by my rediscovery of Nancy Mitford, here is a quote of hers that I recently heard for the first time and which made me laugh out loud.  Complaining of having to pretend to be thrilled by the births of babies, Nancy remarks that it's hard to coo at a newborn because they tend to look "...Like a howling orange in a fright wig."  Perfect, damn it.  

Early days at home in Oxfordshire




Unity Valkyrie - seriously, who gives their infant daughter the middle name of Valkyrie?  Cool, though.

Unity with her fucking boyfriend

Friday, April 25, 2014

Comments of note

"If you could go back in time and painlessly cull somebody with a high velocity rifle bullet, it would be Lord Alfred Douglas."  Will Self

I couldn't possibly agree more, except about the painless part.  He's more gracious than I am.

Although Oscar Wilde's life seems as though it cannot have been true, and is rather a fanciful and tragic history translated from a series of found paintings, it is still one of the saddest things I know.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


I love old man garages.  They are inevitably musty, eclectic, and full of treasures.  They are comfortable places for me, probably because I spent so much time in them as a kid.  

My brother and I visited my dad's house today.  I don't get over there very often, but every time I do, I'm struck by how funny and unusual his tastes and style are.  When I was a kid, it was normal to live in a house where the wall art was all antique guns and photos of classic cars he had owned at various times of his life.  There were by far more sentimental car photos than photos of people on the walls.

I learned to drive in the red '55 Ford.  I remember lamenting in the church parking lot we practiced in that the truck was so hard to handle.  "No power steering!" he cried.

The Hulk mask.  I can't believe he still has it.  I was so afraid of it as a small child.  Some of my earliest memories involve my dad wearing the mask, lunging out from behind doors with a growl to scare my mother.  She never thought it was funny.  He loved to scare her.  Later, after they were divorced, he gave me some giant rubber cockroaches and told me to place one in a cabinet in our kitchen for her to find.

This fucking dog.  He's one half of a set of massive matching pitbulls who ensure that the house, an excellent target for thieves, goes unmolested.  He's 110 lbs, the size of a pony, and has the loudest, deepest bark I have ever heard.  He's easily two or three times the size of a traditional pitbull, intentionally bred that way, possibly for fighting or for the sheer terror-value.  My dad's girlfriend took him in as a puppy from a shady acquaintance.  He is quite friendly, but his size and strength are a constant reminder that he is totally capable of killing you - quickly, and painfully.

Growing up, I spent a lot of Saturday nights playing alone in man garages while my dad and his friends hung out, drank, and talked all night.  We would visit his friend Big Don, whose garage was particularly epic, as he was not only a car & motorcycle guy, but a historian and outdoorsman.  There were animal heads, Civil War artifacts, guns, knives, bikes, car parts, everywhere.  They were all amateur bodybuilders, so each garage was also a miniature gym.  None of the guys had kids my age, and I was expected to entertain myself without being a pest.  So I would sit on a bench and flip through cabinet card photos, or peck out tunes on the hundred year old piano he had salvaged from the nunnery at the local Catholic church, or sit at the massive wood slab that was their kitchen table, playing with loose bullets that were rolling around or stacking playing cards into houses.  Once, I found a coffee can with severed deer legs sticking out of it, the butchered ends salted.  This didn't meet my approval.  I also recall finding a huge tortoise shell that still stank of bits of flesh that had been missed.  Big Don's house was totally fascinating.

My dad's garage was good too.  Exploring always felt risky because you never knew when you'd come upon the unfortunate discovery of and unwanted insect.  His garage was small, detached from the house and custom built by the house's first owner, who had had similar tastes.  Some of his possessions had been left behind, abandoned by family after he died.  Unlike Don's garage, ours was dark, and as much as I liked it, with the warped work table, the ancient pencil sharpener mounted to the wall that I'd use when doing homework, and the comforting smells of old wood and years of dirt, it was spooky and unwelcoming.  I didn't tend to linger in there.

I lived in that house alone after I turned 18.  My dad had moved in with his girlfriend, and rather than deal with renting it, he let me live there as long as I paid the utilities.  I had a roommate at first, my middle school best friend, but eventually had to kick her out for her intolerable habits and inability to pay the minimal costs of living there.

Once the house was mine alone, I didn't go in the garage much.  The mood was different after my dad took his things out.  I would work on my various projects in there, painting the furniture I'd drag home from thrift stores, but I really didn't like to hang out.  It didn't feel safe.  The whole house felt creepy and unpredictable once my dad had gone, and I started to adopt weird behaviors in there to adapt to the dark mood.  I'd avoid entering certain rooms or parts of the house after dark.  This was easy, as it was a long and rambling ranch style, so I could stay well away from the east side of the house if I wanted to.  If I stayed up late at night, I'd often become very uncomfortable around midnight or 1 am, sometimes to the point that I would leave the house and stay the night with my boyfriend instead.

After I finally moved out, my dad spent some time prepping it for renters.  I stopped by to see the progress one day and he called me into the garage.  The large door was open, letting in the breeze and light of spring in Phoenix.  I had known for years that there had been a suicide in the house, but I never knew the details.  I thought no one did.  My dad pointed to the unfinished beams of the ceiling and said, "Ever notice that stain?"  I said no.  I guess I had never looked up.  The stain was more of a splatter of black blotches on the beams.  My dad explained that Vern, the old man and original owner of the house next door, had told him the details of the suicide years ago, and took him into the garage to show him.  The splatter was the final evidence of that suicide, leftover blood and brains that had been overlooked by whomever had had the unsavory task of cleaning the poor woman up.  I guess they hadn't looked up either.  She had done it in there to prevent messing up the house.  My dad had never told me because he didn't want me to be afraid. 

That might've been why our garage wasn't as cheery as others I've known.

Still, they are magic places and I'm always delighted when I visit people's houses and find that they have one, too - a crusty, dirty space full of weird junk.  Not everyone does this, of course - curate an unrefined ever-evolving museum of personal tastes and pasts.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Fragile

I used to think I was an insecure person.  I (secretly) adopted this errant self-description because I often questioned myself, and when I made mistakes, I dwelt on them at length in a self-abusing way.  Now I have realized that I am merely self-critical and probably too focused on myself in general.

Insecurity is so much worse.  I've been able to study it at length in my working career, and unfortunately have a close vantage on a particularly active specimen at work.  Their behaviors are all the same, and are so quickly recognizable: breathless, child-like bragging about regular shit, or untrue shit; constantly feeling threatened by trifling or non-existent "conflict," assuming everyone is after something they have, and generally being fearful, uncharitable bastards who never take accountability because they don't have the confidence to navigate potentially difficult situations.  I mean...right?

I went to a professional development session at a local foundation recently and ended up sitting next to an exec from another nonprofit.  She was acting just like our resident jerk does such that I felt helplessly bookended by these batshit assholes who can't keep their mouths shut because they have to bleat constantly about their extensive knowledge of everything.  What they don't realize is that their bragging sounds like a distress signal: No one respects me!  I am unsure of my abilities!  I don't feel important enough!  No one held me as a baby!  Save it for your husband, lady; it's grotesque in public.

I've got plenty of sympathy or patience for flawed people, but it dissipates completely when they couch their problems in a pantomime of superiority.  This act tends to go on forever because they have no idea how obvious they are, and no one around them wants to engage in a confrontation that feels cruel when you realize how pitiful and emotionally fragmented someone must be to act so consistently foolish.

It's disturbing when people take their routine problems and turn them into some sort of pathology.  I say pathology because the behavior is so deeply ingrained that it's sometimes impossible to see past it or see that it is a behavior at all.  Perhaps these people are so un-introspective that they can't see an outside perspective of themselves, and so unintuitive that they don't see the way other people react to them.  If people leave the room as soon as you enter, take heed.  If people immediately disengage when you start talking, there is a reason.

The most ironic part of this is that these people are so obsessed with their ranking in life and so fixated on bossing other people around that they don't realize how incompetent and wrong they often are, because they don't see themselves at all.  If you're going to behave in an imperious way, you had better be right ALL THE TIME.  Instead, at least with my work example, she's always wrong because she would rather have an answer every time than answer only when she knows she's right.  Probably fanning the flames of her crazy, I'm forced to question her and follow up like she is my child: Did you do the thing I asked you to do?  Why didn't you do it?  When do you plan to?  How about you do it right now while I watch you, because you can't be trusted.  I don't want to have to do this with someone twice my age. 

The woman at the session the other day displayed other typical actions that I find to be obnoxious, such as agreeing with everything a superior or speaker says, even when they contradict themselves mid-sentence, or before they've had a chance to make their point.  Or trying to finish the sentences of a speaker to show the people around her that she has a preternatural awareness of whatever is being discussed.  When she inevitably finished sentences incorrectly, even when wildly inaccurate about statistics, she didn't let it get her down.  She just kept on hysterically nodding her head and mumbling underneath the conversation.  Naturally this distracted me, as I had to start thinking about all of the snarky things I'd like to say to her.

What these self-obsessed idiots never realize is that life is so much easier when you admit that you probably have no goddamned idea what is going to happen, and when you admit your mistakes.  I have no respect for or trust in any person who will not admit fault when they have made a mistake.  I find it to be disturbing and unnerving when people lie and build ridiculous barricades, anything to not be wrong in the open.  Not only do I write them off immediately, but I become inordinately offended that they actually think they may be tricking me with their dog-ate-homework excuses.  Admitting mistakes is so freeing and preserves your credibility with your peers.  How have these grown ass people gotten this far in life without realizing that?

So anyway, I have plenty of opinions and observations, but as yet I still have absolutely no idea how to deal with these people, because they are both aggressive and incredibly fragile at the same time.  In most cases, I see this blustering, sometimes cocksure behavior as a flimsy covering for a deeply flawed, confused, emotionally stunted person who has probably suffered some emotional trauma and will probably never improve.  You know, not to infer too much or anything.  But I assume that they are so poorly constructed psychologically that an open, plainly spoken confrontation of their behavior might cause a scene not worth dealing with.  Unfortunately, it's really hard for me to ignore annoying things.

Friday, April 4, 2014


You won't get this unless you've seen the ending of Shane, the classic 50s western, but you probably have.  I laughed.  Kate Beaton is the best.

Click through to see it in a normal size.