Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Cento for a Sunday

When I was in college, I took a Shakespeare class where we had to do a group project.  For our group’s project, one of my fellow students suggested that we put on a short skit, talking about the plays, but using the Bard’s own words.  We carefully culled bits and pieces of dialogue from the plays, put it in the mouths of our characters, and, by putting exisitng things into new context, we created new meaning.  I was fascinated by this process and have occasionally found myself doing it for other occasions.  One of my best friends asked me to do a reading at his wedding, of anything I liked, and I cobbled together several different quotes on love and fashioned a complete speech out of it.  It was generally well-received.

I’ve also tried my hand at creating poems like this.  It turns out that poetry created thus actually has a name: it’s a cento.  I’ve done a few over the years (despite the fact that poetry isn’t truly my forté), but none of them were particularly good.  Today, I give you a new cento that I “composed,” which I think is better than my previous efforts, although perhaps still not great.  The lines (or in some cases half-lines) here are mostly quotes from other poems, books, songs, or movies, although some are old things other people have recycled before me.  Most are quotes that appealed to me and ended up in my quote file, but a few I had to hunt down specifically to fit parts of the “narrative.”  All I personally added were a few connecting words here and there, and the first half of the title, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything (contrast with the second half, which is rather deliberately chosen not only to offset the first half euphoniously, but for its meaning in its own source).

I thought of listing all the sources here, but I’ve decided against it, mostly because it’s more fun to let you discover them on your own.  I’m pretty sure that judicious Googling will turn them all up, so I don’t worry that the original authors will fail to be attributed.

Consider this a first draft and be kind to it.  It’s new, and doesn’t much know what it’s saying yet.

Cobblestone Fray, Cottleston Pie

Once upon a time, when we all lived in the woods,
on a dark and stormy night,
all of the animals are capably murderous—
still, you may get there by candle-light.

You got devils living in that head,
watching the whites of your eyes turn red
by the pricking of my thumbs.
Where’er we tread ‘tis haunted holy ground,
like someone trying not to make a sound.
At sunrise, there is the sound of drums ...

It’s all sex and death as far as I can tell,
drinking the blood-red wine.
Fear is the mind-killer; blood is compulsory.
And I’ve made an enemy of time.

No less liquid than their shadows, speaking with the speech of men,
Satan must be our cousin, and does his crossword with a pen.
What noisy cats are we,
with the perils of being in 3-D,
and why the sea is boiling hot?  He’s won a lot of friends ...

There’s no such thing as the real world, but
there’s a hell of a good universe next door.
Little things are infinitely the most important.
Respite and nepenthe: to die, to sleep no more.

We’re all alive for a reason.
People need good lies.
Thou wast not born for death, but
when you stop dreaming, it’s time to die.

I recommend pleasant, but we’re all mad here.
I am the king of the cats!
Dance like nobody’s watching,
cry, ain’t no shame in it,
and that is the end of that.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Media Trip

There are many of you out there who have never had a hallucinogenic drug, and never intend to.

Which is fine: it’s not every person’s cup of tea.  It probably involves dealing with unsavory characters, and who wants that?  It definitely involves lack of control—if you’re the sort of person who can’t stand being a passenger in a car, you must never drop a tab of acid.  It involves a certain amount of risk as well ... probably not as much risk as you take when you get into your car every day to drive to work, but different people evaluate risk differently, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, if you’ve ever wanted to feel like you were have a drug-fueled hallucination without all the bother of having to consume potentially dangerous chemicals, that too can be arranged.  There are many things you could watch and get the exact same feelings of disorientation, paranoia, and a conviction that the world is not what it seems.  I would start with Naked Lunch—really, just about anything in the Cronenberg ouevre will do: eXistenZ is good, and Videodrome or even Dead Ringers will do in a pinch.

In fact, certain directors just have a flair for this.  Peter Greenaway is good (I would go with Drowing by Numbers or 8½ Women, even though The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is more famous), as is Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man probably most of all, but Mystery Train and Broken Flowers have leanings as well), or even the Coen Brothers—Barton Fink is a full-on trip, and The Hudsucker Proxy a lesser one, whereas Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski are just a minor marijuana high.  And dare we forget David Lynch?  Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart are twisted journeys, and Lost Highway is just a bad trip.  Honorable mention to Spike Jonze (for Being John Malkovich) and Tarsem Singh (for The Fall).

What really disturbs me though (even more so than the insectile typewriter in Naked Lunch) is that many of these experiences can be gotten from watching television with your children.  If there is an adult anywhere in the world who has ever watched their first episode of Teletubbies and not said to themselves “dude, whoever came up with this idea was tripping balls!”, I can only assume that they simply don’t know the meaning of the phrase.  And don’t even get me started on Yo Gabba Gabba!, where even the name of the show must have required a serious LSD hangover.

I was sitting around watching television with my middle child (current age: 7) and my youngest (current age: 1) and we were searching for something colorful and distracting to keep the smaller one from destroying the house.  (And if any of you fellow parents out there are looking down on my use of television as a babysitter, I can only assume you have nothing breakable in your house.)  I was hoping for something educational, like Sesame Street, but I was willing to settle.  Cruising through the cable listings, what to my wondering eyes should appear but H.R. Pufnstuf, which I remembered very fondly from my own childhood.  I quickly switched over to it.  The baby didn’t seem to care much for it, but the middle child was fascinated.  Then my oldest (current age: 14) came in, stared at the screen for a few minutes, and then looked at me with wide eyes.  “What the hell are you watching?” he asked.  I couldn’t really explain.  Seen through adult eyes, it was just as insane as any Yo Gabba Gabba episode, even down to the bizarre outbursts of singing, although H.R. didn’t seem to have as many morals prepared as DJ Lance Rock typically does.

(After Pufnstuf was over, whatever channel we had stumbled onto immediately launched into The Land of the Lost.  It was like the Sid & Marty Kroft all-the-time channel or something.  I fully expected to see Sigmund and the Sea Monsters next.  Unfortunately we had chores to get to, so I never found out.)

I wonder how many more of my treasured childhood memories of televsion shows would play like bad acid trips to my adult brain?  Man, I’d love to find some old Electric Company reruns: Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader and Rita Moreno yelling “Hey You Guys!” at Bill Cosby.  You can’t get more trippy than that, right?  Or Captain Kangaroo ... dropping thousands of ping-pong balls on somebody’s head because a talking moose tricked you into saying the magic words is not something you come up with without some sort of chemical stimulation.  And those Hanna Barbera guys were certianly on something ... Hair Bears? a talking air-breathing mystery-solving drummer shark? Captain Caveman? really?  And as much as I loved shows like Blackstar or Thundarr, I’m not sure they make any more rational sense than my little brother’s He-Man or the slightly-before-my-time Herculoids.

So, today, I’m watching Ruby Gloom.  For some insane reason, my middle child really loves this show, which he discovered through the magic combination of Netflix and Roku.  Ruby Gloom has been described as a goth version of Strawberry Shortcake, which I suppose is not too far off (although I have to say that, for me, mainly what it triggered was vague memories of the Groovy Ghoulies).  So I have no idea why he likes it, being neither a fan of Strawberry Shortcake nor goth, as near as I can tell.  But he’s really into it.  I think he’s watched every episode at least once and is on his second tour through.  In Ruby Gloom, there is a character called “Scaredy Bat” (get it? oh ho ho!), who is a talking bat with an Indian accent.  Why does he have an Indian accent?  I mean, I know why Baljeet on Phineas and Ferb has an Indian accent: he’s actually from India.  And I sort of get why Raj on Camp Lazlo has an Indian accent, being an elephant and all.  But the talking bat?  That I don’t get.

Drugs.  I’m telling you: we have drugs to thank for all this.  Yes, like Bill Hicks, I’m positing that chemically-induced hallucinatory experiences may have had some positive impacts on our lives.  I just don’t see any other way to explain something like Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Squidbillies.  In fact, I think the very existence of Adult Swim owes quite a lot to narcotics of questionable medical value.  And then there’s the Japanese, who apparently are getting high off all the squid ink and crab brains they consume (I’m going by Iron Chef on this point).  There’s Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, which has a character who uses the martial arts style “True Fart Fist,” and then there’s Fighting Foodons, with its Pokemon-like food, including an anthropomorphic plate of fried rice.

Right now, in fact, my children are watching Cartoon Planet, as hosted by Brak and Zorak—whose journey from cartoon supervillains to talk show co-hosts to surrealist children’s show presenters is a strange trip itself—with numerous commercials thrown in for Thomas the Tank Engine, who carries “hallucinatory” well into the territory of “creepy,” heading hard into “terrifying.”  It’s all around us.  There are screens everywhere these days: the gas station, the doctor’s office, the breakroom at work, restaurants, bars, hospitals, gyms, family rooms, bedrooms, our children’s rooms ... everywhere we turn.  And, on many of those screens, we’re caught up in somebody else’s freaky acid dreams.

It’s something to ponder, anyhow.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Perl blog post #18

Had an interesting conversation at $new_work that I parlayed into a new tech blog post.  If you dig Perl (especially modern Perl), hop on over and check it out.  If not, then you can try back next week, if you’re so inclined to be that persistent.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Birthday Time Again

Well, it’s birthday season at our house again, starting with The Mother‘s birthday last weekend, the Larger Animal’s birthday today, and continuing on through the raft of Scorpio birthdays next month, including myself and several of my best friends.

Today in particular we spent the day at Universal Studios with both Smaller Animals and four teenagers.  As I’m sure you can imagine, I’m exhausted.  So no blog post this week.

I’ll come up with something exciting next week.  Unless I don’t.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Here's My Beard; Ain't It Weird?

It’s almost time to shave again.

I grew my beard at age 19, to make myself look older—or at least that’s what I told everyone.  My family hated it: mother, father, both grandmothers, aunts and great-aunts and nearly everyone who bothered to notice at all.  I sort of liked it, but I always claimed I was willing to shave it off if I didn’t need it any more.  You know, to look older.

When I turned 21, I reasoned that now I was older: old enough to buy beer, anyway, and what other reason is there to look older?  So I shaved off the beard.  I left the moustache though: I was afraid I’d look a little too young without some sort of facial hair.  That only lasted a few months.

I look like a complete goober without a beard.  My original conclusion was that I just had too much of a babyface.  This was overly optimistic.  What I came to realize, eventually, was that I have no chin.  Not just a weak chin, but practically none at all.  I get it from my mother.  Turns out it’s not so awful on a woman, but for a man to have no chin is pretty bad.  And it gets worse the older you get.

A lot of people have told me that, when they try to grow a beard, it itches too much and they eventually give up.  My beard has never itched when it’s coming in.  In fact, it hardly ever itches at all, except for one sort of curious cycle: about every 5 years or so, it starts to itch something fierce.  So, every 5 years or so, I have to shave my chin completely ... just to air it out, so to speak.  Twice I’ve gone for the General Burnside, which let me tell you will get you some strange looks.  Once I did a sort of droopy moustache and soul patch combo, like Ben Stiller in Dodgeball.  I can’t recall what I did for the other one.  It probably won’t be long until the next cycle rolls around, although that’s not the sort of shave I was talking about.

No, I meant just the regular sort of shave.  My pattern, you see, is to let the thing grow for several months: basically until it’s so long that it gets annoying.  The beard will, if left untended, start curling under my chin, creating a sort of shelf under there.  I can understand why people put beads and shit in their beards—I’m sure it’s just to get the stupid thing to grow straight down.  I can’t imagine how much effort it takes to grow a ZZ Top or somesuch.  But that’s mostly irrelevant to me, because long before I have to worry about that, my moustache will get so long that it starts getting in my mouth.  When I’m trying to eat, certainly, but even when I’m just trying to talk, or stick my tongue out so I can concentrate, or sometimes for no good reason at all.  Once that starts happening, it’s time to shave.

I had a friend (my boss on my first professional programming gig, as it happens) who grew a beard for a while, but he eventually shaved it off.  When I asked him why he gave up on it, he said it was too much trouble.  I was perplexed by this answer.  What do you mean, too much trouble, I asked.  Well, you have to trim it, and shampoo it, and condition it ... he went on and on about all the beard grooming he was putting in.  I had no idea how to respond to this, other than to say: you’re doing it wrong.

I mean, if we’re going to be honest here, most of the reason I grew the damn thing in the first place was sheer laziness.  The whole “it makes me look older” thing was mostly a convenience.  And, if you’re growing a beard because you don’t like shaving, then you better not be shaving very often, or else what’s the point?  I shave once every two or three months.  Something like that.  I don’t keep track; as I mentioned, I just wait for it to get annoying, then I shave.

But I don’t shave it all—did I mention that I have no chin?  Basically, I start at about the top of my ears and go all the way down until I have just a smallish goatee.  Then I thin out the beard a bit, square off the moustache so it’s not in my mouth any more, and that’s it for another few months.  Now, if I’m doing this for a special occasion (funeral, job interview, that sort of thing), I may follow that up with some shaving cream and a safety razor, but typically it’s just clippers.

The clippers I use to trim my beard are the same sort people use for shaving their heads—which is handy if you have friends who are skinheads, or Neo-Nazis, or Sinead O’Connor fans, or just guys who are going bald but still need to look tough, like bouncers in dive bars or Bruce Willis.  I’ve tried special beard trimmers and that sort of thing as well, but a nice simple pair of clippers is moderately cheap, does a great job, and they’ll last forever.  Well, they will if you oil them regularly.  My first pair of clippers I didn’t oil them.  The clippers come with a tiny little bottle of oil, and a recommendation to oil them after every use, and to use only the special oil with the manufacturer’s name on it, and if you’d like to order some more, it’s only $30 a bottle.  This sounds like a rip-off—which it is, but not because the clippers don’t need the oil.  I found out right quick that the clippers will rust on you in a heartbeat if you don’t oil them.  The rip-off part is needing to use the special oil.  Just get yourself some sewing machine oil: it’s the exact same stuff, except cheaper.  The Mother‘s mom is the one who taught me that trick: she bought me a 3 or 4 dollar bottle of oil some ten years ago or so, and I’m still on the same bottle.  I don’t know if you need to oil the clippers after every time you use it, but, since I only use mine once every few months, I do.

For me, shaving is a whole big ritual.  I only do it before I shower (otherwise you wander around with little stray beard hairs down your shirt all day).  I only do it over the toilet—I only had to clog up my sink 3 or 4 times before I learned that one.  So I always start by cleaning the toilet first.  Not necessarily the toilet bowl, I mean, but the outside of the toilet and the seat and all that.  Then I get my mirror and prop it up on the seat.  Then I double over my ponytail and tie it up out of the way ... one wouldn’t want to shave off one’s ponytail by accident, now would one?  Then I do the shaving, which is fairly simple.  Then I use one of those barber’s brushes to sweep all the stray hairs into the toilet.  (Maybe those things are easier to come by these days, but it took me about 15 years to manage to get one when I first started looking.)  Then I have to brush the stray hairs off me.  Then I have to brush the stray hairs off the clippers.  Then I oil the clippers.  It takes quite a while, really, for the whole procedure.  But then again I’m only doing it every few months, as I say.  So it’s not that bad.  And, you know: you get it down after a while.  Becomes sort of second nature.

So I start with the goatee, and it gradually fills out to a full beard.  By the time it gets shaggy, my moustache is in my mouth again and it’s back to the goatee.  It never really itches (except for the every 5 - 7 years thing), and it’s not particularly stiff, so I never bother conditioning it as my former boss did.  Oh, I shampoo it when I shampoo my hair, but conditioning?  That’s way above and beyond.  I’ve also never had any problems growing it.  I don’t have nearly as much hair on my head as I used to—my once-cool widow’s peak is now more of a Phil Collins sort of look—but the beard has always grown in nice and thick.

When I was younger, it was brown, with reddish highlights.  It got darker as I got older, nearly black ... and then it started to go gray.  First a salt-and-pepper look, then almost all white except for a black stripe down the center of my chin.  Yes, for a couple of years I was rocking the reverse-skunk look.  Now you can barely see any black at all.  No gray in my hair, but my beard is almost completely white now.  Hopefully it looks distinguished.

Our title today is from George Carlin’s famous poem about his hair.  (And where is the hair on a pear?  Nowhere, mon frère!)  Mr. Carlin always had a flair for language that I envied.  I’ll lean on him a bit to offer my final thoughts on the topic of beards.

Don’t be skeered,
It’s just a beard.