Inhuman Swill : December 2003

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December 29, 2003

Just heard on the radio

"One is not as important as the other, but they're both equal."

December 23, 2003

Schwarzenegger Tours Paso Robles Quake Damage, Vows to Find Those Responsible

Okay, this isn't a real headline, but I kinda wish it were.

December 19, 2003

Help buying ein Buch

Every so often I check amazon.de to see if there are any used copies available of a 1995 German edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction that contains a translation of my story "From Our Point of View We Had Moved to the Left." I have a copy myself, which Gordon Van Gelder kindly sent me, but my father, who served in Germany both as a missionary and as a soldier, would very much like a copy.

Well, today I found a copy:

Ein neuer Mensch: Die besten Stories aus The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction #91

I tried to buy it, but apparently the seller won't ship to the U.S. Here's the message I got when I tried to check out:

Dieser Artikel kann leider nicht an den gewünschten Ort versandt werden.
So here's my question: Anyone in Germany willing to buy this and send it on to me? I will of course reimburse this person for the full cost of purchase and both phases of the shipping. In fact, I wonder whether the seller might not ship the book anywhere inside the EU. Anyone in the UK willing to try?

This would be a tremendous favor to me, and would make my father very happy to boot.

December 15, 2003

Do you sell your tokens for money?

Can't offer much comment on this:

Mormon temple clothing up for auction on eBay

That will do.

December 14, 2003

Down and out in Tikrit

Just saw the mug shot of Saddam Hussein on TV. Are we sure the government didn't get Nick Nolte to play him in the capture?

December 12, 2003

What they call a "shitload" of music

My friend Andrew puts his finger on the real heart of the digital music revolution:

The Joy of Digital Music That I am rediscovering, or in some cases hearing for the first time, music I already own is symptomatic of what a lazy culture we have become (or least how lazy I am personally). Opening a CD case, carrying it to the player, putting it away again, these are inconvenient tasks! However, clicking the little shuffle button and going about your business is a piece of cake. Ironically, now I that have this archive digitized, I never use the corresponding search functions, the feature I once longed to have. I find I'm content to either select a song or album directly, build a playlist or just run the whole thing on random. Go figure.  [more]
Myself, I've written my very own music server so that Laura and I can listen to our CDs anywhere there's a fast internet connection. The collection is fully indexed and searchable on track title, album title, artist name, genre, subgenre, instrumentation, instrumental or vocal content, and other more esoteric designtations. We're nearing 19,500 tracks ripped, representing over 1,600 albums, and I estimate I'm 75 to 80% done ripping. I'm loading CDs into bankers boxes and storing them in the basement as they fill up. Ugly shelves are going away.

In the end, the entire collection will fit with lots of room to spare on a 200 Gb hard drive smaller than a hardcover novel. When I hit shuffle, as often as not I hear music I'm only marginally familiar with, if I know it at all.

If this isn't a science fiction world, I don't know what is.

Never too old

We learned something new last night at the Met. (The Metropolitan Opera, that is, not Museum.) The Met has these amazing crystal starbust chandeliers that hang from the ceiling and can be lowered at least halfway to the floor, maybe further. They look like overgrown versions of something that wouldn't have been out of place in a swingin' space-age bachelor pad -- but far cooler than that makes them sound.

Every time we'd seen a show, the chandeliers were down while the audience filed in, then would rise to the ceiling just before curtain. Last night, though, the chandeliers were already at ceiling level when we entered. "I want to know why," said Laura. "I'm going to go ask someone."

So she did. She's good at things like that.

She came back, having questioned one of the program-hander-outers, and reported that the positioning of the chandeliers is left to the preference of the director of whatever production is being mounted. "This director apparently wanted them up," Laura said. "Also, there are three curtains, a red, a gold, and a black, which I knew, and the director gets to pick which of those gets used, which I didn't. I guess this director liked the black."

So there. We learned something new. We're not too old after all.

December 11, 2003

Stream-of-consciousness ramblings

So how were my last few weeks? I'm glad you asked.

Let's see. I mentioned the show at Iridium. That was exciting. Lee and Emily felt like they hadn't been cheated because they did get to see Elvis Costello up fairly close before the show. Lee studies mechanical engineering at Stanford, specifically the modeling of turbulence, and he was in town for a conference on fluid dynamics. Since the timing was right, Laura and I invited him to stay in the neighborhood a bit longer and come out to our place for Thanksgiving. He liked the idea so much that he brought his wife and kid too. While Lee was at his conference, Emily and Jack stayed with some friends near Columbia. On Wednesday, the night after Iridium, all three of them came to our place, where they stayed for the next four nights.

We've traditionally (well, since 2001) had a big Thanksgiving party for folks without family in the city. We managed to get Cory Doctorow out to that first Thanksgiving party, and happily he hasn't missed one since, including this year's. We were also supposed to have Laura's brother Tom and friend, but Tom had to cancel because of work. A couple other guests dropped out too, and most of our old standbys were not available this year, so instead of the rollicking drunken baccanalia of the last couple of years, we had a fairly low-key meal this year, followed by low-key conversation and a lot of napping. But the food and company were both as good as ever.

The next day, Lee and I joined Cory for a noon showing of The Haunted Mansion. It was fun, though not nearly as good as any of us had hoped, given the quality of The Pirates of the Caribbean. I'm a big fan of the Haunted Mansion (the ride), and it was a pleasure to see the movie with an even bigger and insanely knowledgable fan. The look of the movie was terrific, and the corners were jammed with cool bits of eye candy yanked straight from the ride. (I especially appreciated what they did with the barbershop quartet of headstone busts.) The plot, though.... Ouch.

I have to give Disney points for one facet of the movie, though. It seems the Haunted Mansion is cursed (er, spoiler alert, though it's not a terribly spoiling spoiler) because of a murder that took place to prevent an interracial marriage there in 19th century Louisiana. No one in the film ever comes out and *says* that the bride being black was the reason the union would have destroyed the family dynasty, but that's what they're getting at. You may call them timid for letting the subtext remain subtext, but I say kudos for making it part of the plot of a family-oriented Disney movie at all.

Of course, Marsha Thomason is so drop-dead gorgeous and appealing in this movie, I would have risked the destruction of the family dynasty for her, too.

After the flick, Lee and Cory and I wandered around Times Square while we tried to raise the womenfolk by cell phone. (They were out shopping.) Along the way we stopped in at Toys 'R' Us to see the T-Rex Spielberg lent/gave them. Huge and impressive.

Cory slipped off to Brooklyn for a gathering there while Lee and I met up with Laura and Emily and Jack. Then Lee and I took Jack and went to a little tiny okonomi yaki stand on 9th Street for a bite to eat. Lee was a missionary in Japan, so he welcomed the chance to eat one of those lovely little Japanese pancakes made from flour and egg and cabbage and leeks and whatever else is at hand, all sauced up and garnished with bonito flakes. Yum! We had tako yaki also—octopus balls. It is good to live in New York.

After the late lunch with Lee, I slipped away to Brooklyn too, to Cory's shindig, and was glad to find [info]baldanders and [info]roadnotes and [info]agrumer there, among others.

The next day Lee and Emily and Jack and I hit the American Museum of Natural History, ate some fabulous barbecue at Brother Jimmy's (actually the best I've had in New York—the dry rub is to weep for), and then made the pilgrimage back to Toys R Us to take Jack on the ferris wheel. That was more fun than it had any reason to be.

The next morning, those Californians all flew home.

Managed to meet up with [info]curmudgeon early the next week for some excellent comfort food at the 2nd Ave Deli. Then, miracle of miracles, Laura was actually able to join us at Telephone Bar, where she and C, who hadn't met before, got on famously. It was almost frightening to behold.

Since then ... oh, I don't know. Laura and I saw Bad Santa. Loved it. Funniest movie we've seen since—well, the last really funny movie we saw. Quite a misanthropic Christmas flick, which is just what we needed. Did not love the audience. There were two women down the row from us who brought two small children. It is just barely possible that they thought they were at a family Christmas movie, because the language they spoke loudly all through the first 20 minutes of the show was not English. Thank God Billy Bob Thornton finally boinked Lauren Graham in his car while wearing his Santa cap or they might never have gotten up in a frenzy and left.

Tonight we go to see The Marriage of Figaro at the Met. Good thing it's an opera of reasonable length. Last opera we saw was "Tristan and Isolde," which is so long that it started an hour earlier that the normal Met curtain time (7 instead of 8) and still didn't let out until a quarter past midnight. And we have tickets to the season premiere of Die Walküre in March. That one starts at 6:30! God. (Laura insists that she will pick the shows next season.)

Work is crazy, and I'm not nearly far enough on my memoir yet. Maybe over Christmas. Yeah, right.

December 9, 2003

Tarnished Iridium, or Strutting Peacock, or Elvis—Lost Fellow

It didn't actually turn into a riot two weeks ago at Iridium, but it looked like it might for a few minutes there.

The first indication of trouble came early, though we didn't recognize it as such as the time. My brother Lee and his wife were in town from Stanford. They wanted to see a jazz show while they were here, so we made reservations to see saxophonist Lee Konitz play at Iridium. The evening was part of a week-long stand at Iridium in celebration of Konitz's 76th birthday. (Konitz was playing in Miles Davis's nonet way back in 1949, so it's not a small matter that he's still around and blowing.) Lee and Emily specifically wanted to see the Iridium show because guitarist Bill Frisell was playing with Konitz, and they're both huge Frisell fans. Rounding out the quartet would be Gary Peacock (perhaps best known for his work in Keith Jarrett's old trio) on bass and Paul Motian (who played in the Bill Evans Trio in the '60s) on drums.

However, there was an extra enticement to the Tuesday night shows. The Iridium web site proudly trumpeted that, for one night only, the set would feature SPECIAL GUEST ELVIS COSTELLO. We were quite happy to be able to secure three reservations for the first set of the evening.

Doors would open at 6:30, so I arrived at Broadway and 51st nice and early to queue up to secure a good table. I was fourth in line outside Iridium, in fact. A portly, hale fellow arrived shortly after me, and the line was not much longer when Lee and Emily got there and butted in line with me.

While we caught up, a forest green BMW sedan with smoked-glass windows idled at the curb. Once or twice it drove off, only to return a few minutes later, apparently having circled the block. The guy behind us in line pointed it out and said, "That's Elvis Costello's car."

"How do you know?" asked Lee.

"I'm a huge fan. Been to a *lot* of shows, hung out, you know."

Suddenly Elvis Costello himself was walking from the car to the front door of Iridium. Lee and Emily were looking the wrong way so I tapped their arms and nodded, trying not to be too obvious about the celebrity-spotting. Elvis looked fit in a muted plaid coat and his trademark horn-rims.

He also looked somehow pained, distressed.

He peeked inside the door of the club, looked around, said something -- and then, rather than going inside, closed the door, spoke for a moment to the two women at the head of the line, then got back in his car.

The Beemer disappeared in the chilly night.

The woman said something to the guy ahead of me, who turned around to me and my brother and sister-in-law. "Apparently he's unhappy with the way the show was advertised," said the guy. "He says he was only supposed to do two songs."

I shrugged. I didn't figure Elvis Costello was supposed to be the focus of the set, but I could see why he didn't like the advertising. I passed the word to the guy behind us. The message continued Telephone-like down the queue, which was still less than a dozen people long.

We shivered in the cold for close to forty-five minutes more before being admitted to the club. By then the queue stretched all the way past Ellen's Stardust Diner.

From what happened later that evening, I must surmise that Elvis's message didn't filter back to the newcomers. Hell, even those of us who heard it didn't read the subtext entirely correctly.


The doors opened at six-thirty, as promised. After a check of our names on the reservation list, we descended a narrow stair to the basement and were shown to a table with seats right at the corner of the tiny stage. This was a long banquet-style table; three or four had been set up in rows perpendicular to the front of the stage. We were seated right down front. Lee and Emily were on the outside, looking straight onto the stage. I was seated on the inside, so that I had to turn my head or sit sideways to look at even the left side of the stage. I practically had to break my neck to see stage right.

I also practically had to break my legs to get out of my seat to visit the men's room, the patrons were packed so close together down each row. The back part of the club, filled with little round tables, was just a crowded. I doubt Iridium gets that full even on Monday nights when Les Paul plays.

We placed our dinner orders and rubbernecked as Bill Frisell sloped through the crowd on his way to the backstage door, looking relaxed, low-key, and a little befuddled. I sipped a nice Balvenie 12-year double wood with my burger, and was still nursing it when the show began.

Lee Konitz at 76 is a portly fireplug who looks a little like Colonel Sanders cast as a Fisher-Price toy. He plays with his alto extended to the limit of its leash, in front of his stomach. Bill Frisell, 52 (whose face I practically had to look straight up to see), is fuzz-haired, bespectacled, and mild-looking, and seems awkward even as he cranks out his strangely angular and distinctive electric licks. Gary Peacock, 68, is gaunt, wiry, and weathered; put a cowboy hat on his head and he wouldn't look out of place in his hometown of Burley, Idaho. His eyes are so hooded that when he closes them while he plays you're hard-pressed to tell he isn't blind. Sitting in for Paul Motian (who, Konitz mentioned in the space between the set's two long improvisations, was out getting his "metronome" adjusted) was avant-garde drummer Matt Wilson, 39, who wouldn't look out of place behind the kit for a jam band like String Cheese Incident.

The set was jazz in a defiantly free mode. Konitz and Frisell didn't play leads so much as trade cryptic lines, as if taking turns talking to each other about two entirely different subjects. Two or three times I recognized a snippet of some standard melody in Konitz's parts, as if in the course of throwing shirts out of his closet he occasionally came across one emblazoned with a commercial logo. As much as I enjoyed the set, I felt myself drifting sometimes, particularly during the first half, and I sort of halfway understood what they were doing onstage, and had even come expecting it. I had the sense that large portions of the audience were simply baffled.

The second half of the set meandered around before settling into a startlingly funky (if low-key) groove that Peacock and Wilson somehow plucked out of the swirling oil-and-water tones of the lead instruments. The rhythm section's joy was palpable; Peacock in particular looked like one of the Happy Haunts from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. The mother was having one hell of a good time.

At last the jam came in for a landing (as did the Chimay that followed up my whisky), and the musicians accepted their applause and filed through the backstage door. The lights came up, and we kept applauding, all anticipating the band's return accompanied by Elvis Costello.

Minutes went by. The band didn't return. The crowd murmured.

We gradually became aware of an escalating commotion at one of the first round tables, near the middle of the club. Someone yelled something sharp and angry. We turned our heads, thinking some table had gotten a little carried away with their joking.

No. It was obviously club management, flanked by some muscle, trying to calm down a table of angry patrons. "That's not what was advertised!" yelled one man. "You *knew* he wasn't going on, and you didn't say anything before the show!"

More yelling, back and forth, as the crowd's murmur turned ugly. Granted, I'm quick to jump to the conclusion that a situation like that one is going to turn violent, but that's how the atmosphere felt. I was acutely conscious that I had a brother and his three-months-pregnant wife under my care (as my out-of-town guests, you know). I was trying to figure out what the best exit would be (answer: none, as I had already determined when scouting the fire exits as we first took our seats) when the yelling man stalked his way to the front exit.

"Demand your money back!" he adjured the crowd as he crossed the room. "They knew he wasn't performing and they didn't say a word!"

Then the room dissolved in cacophony. Everyone was trying to attract his waitperson to get the music charge removed from his bill. At our table, everyone near us was asking each other whether they were here to see Lee Konitz or Elvis Costello, as if to reassure ourselves of our superior jazz cred. It looked to me as if most of the rest of the room had trucked themselves in from Jersey on the promise of an intimate club gig with Declan MacManus himself. They weren't happy to have been rooked.

People were moving around in places where they didn't need to be. Over my sister-in-law's shoulder I watched some guy with a droopy black mustache and long black hair shouting down into Lee Konitz's face. "You tell that motherfucker he'll never play in this town again!" he shouted, punctuating his words with finger jabs in the old man's chest.

"Tell him yourself. The door's right there," said Konitz calmly.

"I just will!" shouted the man, and tore through the backstage door.

I thought he was referring to Elvis Costello, but my brother Lee heard more of the exchange and reports that they were talking about Gary Peacock.

Similar confrontations seemed to be taking place around the room, though none came to blows. While the three of us dithered about whether or not to pay our bill, whether or not to stick around or just get out, the manager finally made an announcement about how people could see their waitperson to get the music charge removed from their bills, and how there would be passes available at the exit which would be good for free admission to any show Tuesdays through Thursdays. He didn't apologize for the advertising, nor for the lack of a pre-show announcement.

The crowd members who were through with their waiters began struggling toward the exit, many of them grumbling about how passes for a free jazz show were worthless to them. Lee and Emily and I paid our full bill and joined the queue that was forming to talk to the manager and (we thought) get our free passes.

The manager, a 20-some Brit with a shiny pale suit and suspect good looks, was hearing petitions right next to the exit to the stairs up to the street. When our turn was almost up, a livid Gary Peacock suddenly appeared from the stairwell, pushing himself up in the manager's face.

I don't recall a lot of what was said, but it included Peacock inviting the manager out to the alley behind the club to settle this right now.

"Look, mate, I'm dealing with a lot of angry customers right now, thank you very much," said the manager. "When that's taken care of, fuck yeah, any time, any place, I'll meet you."

I thought Peacock was going to pop the manager one right there, but another club employee appeared to usher him toward the bar, not without some resistance.

When our turn with the manager came, we asked for our passes. "I'm just reversing credit card charges here," said the manager. "You can get the passes upstairs as you leave. We've got a lot of good shows coming up. Ahmad Jamal. McCoy Tyner. Jack-o Pastorius. Plenty."

"Jaco?" I said incredulously. I couldn't believe what I'd just heard. I wondered if the manager were deliberately fucking with me, to see whether I was a real jazz aficianado or just philistine VH1-addicted clubtrash.

"Yeah, Jack-o."

"You mean, the dead musician," said my brother Lee.

"It's a tribute band," said the manager, sneering like we'd soiled his spats.

"All right, whatever," I said, and we headed up the stairs.

Sadly, Lee and I had to go back down in the melee to retrieve our coats from the coat check. And then Lee had to go down again to look for a lost glove. Which he found. But we all made it out alive -- no thanks to Iridium, who advertised the show so crassly, nor to the bulk of the audience, who were too ignorant even to reason out what the words "Special Guest" mean in the context of a jazz show.

Turns out, as I learned later that week from the New York Times, Elvis Costello was supposed to bring out a birthday cake for Lee Konitz at set's end and sing "Someone Took the Words Away" from his new album North. Apparently Gary Peacock didn't want to play backup for that and an argument during soundcheck resulted in Elvis walking out.

If he'd just come out and told us that in the first place. Jesus, these sensitive artist types.


For less dramatic reportage of the fateful Iridium show, see this NY Times review:

A $400 Cake Wasn't Served, but the Band Played On

(Free registration required to view story.)

December 2, 2003

The 49th Perpendicular?

Having entertained two sets of Canadian visitors in the last couple of weeks and discussed plenty of social and political issues, I was quite interested to see this New York Times article, as offered by Yahoo! News:

Canada's View on Social Issues Is Opening Rifts With the U.S. Recently, while musing about his retirement plans, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said he might just kick back and smoke some pot. "I will have my money for my fine and a joint in the other hand," he said with a smile. The glibness of the remark made it nearly impossible to imagine an American president uttering it. But in a nation where the dominant west coast city, Vancouver, has come to be known as Vansterdam, few Canadians blinked. [more]
I've chosen the most sensational paragraph to lure you over to Yahoo!, of course. Thanks to Canadian writer Michael Libling for sending me the article. You can find his most recent short story, "My Father's Club," online at SciFi.com's SciFiction, where it is currently the featured original.

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