Heather at AGNI Online.
Royals Season Preview
So it's probably time to write about baseball. Opening Day is Monday--no matter what we are supposed to think about those real games in Japan--and as always the Kansas City Royals are primed to play 162 games of baseball with a moderately exciting level of skill.
There's a lot to like about the Royals right now: new manager, renovated stadium, an influx of very young talent, and the commissioner appears ready to void the suspension of their key offseason acquisition. So it's like they've won something already (if having three more weeks to spend with a guy who appears to be an insufferable prick is "winning").
Let's take a look at the roster as it will likely be to start the season, grading each player with one of the Compsons from The Sound and the Fury.
(ed note: I will be ignoring the 4-game suspension of another one of their key offseason acquisitions. Yes, that's right, they signed two guys who were known to be suspended to start the season. And I was for these moves):
Gil Meche - Caddy.
Brian Bannister - Quentin.
Zack Greinke - Way Quentin. Too much Quentin.
John Bale - Dilsey. Technically not a Compson.
Brett Tomko - Way Benjy. Too much Benjy.
Joakim Soria - Caddy.
Ramon Ramirez - Too soon to tell in my complex analysis.
Yasuhiko Yabuta - Japanese.
Ron Mahay - Jason (the father).
Jimmy Gobble - A Quentin if Quentin only came in to face left-handed characters.
Leo Nunez - Miss Quentin.
Joel Peralta - Jason (either one).
John Buck - The mother.
Miguel Olivo - Jason if Jason told everyone he was going to start and then blamed his Spanish translator.
Ross Gload - The golf course.
Alberto Callaspo - Caddy.
Mark Grudzielanek - The corpse in As I Lay Dying.
Esteban German - Soon to be traded for (hopefully) a Caddy or a Quentin.
Tony Pena Jr. - Bit of a Benjy.
Alex Gordon - George Brett.
Mark Teahen - Sometimes a Caddy, sometimes a Quentin.
David DeJesus - Another Dilsey.
Jose Guillen - Name might as well be Jason Guillen.
Joey Gathright - Can jump pitchers. Oh, and Miss Quentin.
Billy Butler - Benjy but in the best possible sense. He's stupid good.
Well, that was pointless. My prediction: 78-84.
Colson Whitehead's novel is about race. And elevators. Actually, mostly elevators. Which are, presumably, a metaphor for racial progress. So it's still about race. But elevators, too.
The city is never named, nor is the year given, but it is more or less an alternate version of pre-Civil Rights era New York where elevators have allowed the city to achieve a lasting and modern verticality (notably to Lila Mae, the city's first black, female elevator inspector, mankind has achieved this technological advancement far faster than its achieved any commitment to equality). For whatever reason, elevator inspectors are an essential cog in public service, the equivalent of police and firemen not just in their duties but in their cronyism, corruption, and insider fraternity. Lila Mae isn't liked, not just because of her race and gender, but because she is an Intuitionist--a kind of elevator inspector who intuits problems without a physical examination of the elevator--who are opposed by the Empiricists, traditional elevator inspectors who hold power in the profession's guild.
There's an election coming up for the elevator guild presidency that, for the first time, an Intuitionist might win. An elevator crashes. It's one Lila Mae has inspected. She's a high profile Intuitionist so it's not unreasonable to assume it's been done to influence the election. But why? But who? But elevators?
If it sounds silly--and it probably sounds silly--it's also remarkably brilliant. At no point does Whitehead take his subject anything less than absolutely seriously. In this world, journals are filled the minutiae of elevator repair, new elevator models are introduced to great fanfare and publicity, and who wins the elevator guild election dominates the media. That's just how it is, and that commitment makes for a powerful allegory. Even rhapsodizing by the founder of Intuitionism on the coming age of 'second elevation' works for both the plot and the purpose and only at the end does Whitehead's book strain to contain its message underneath its genre construction.
You see, it's a mystery. To keep her job, Lila Mae needs to discover who set up the elevator crash, but she quickly realizes she can't trust anyone, even her fellow Intuitionists. Her isolation can't be separated from her race and gender and both ultimately play an essential role in the plot. The allegory is too powerful to ignored, but it wouldn't be fair to the book to stop one's reading there. It's a really gripping plot, elevators and all, and it doesn't hurt that Whitehead is an incredible prose stylist.
He's that good, capable of long passages of rhapsodizing over his intricate world while still keeping things moving. He's the rare writer capable of adapting his prose to fit the action of the book, and he does it almost sentence by sentence without it ever fracturing or feeling disjointed. I've been lucky to read a lot of good books recently, but I'm not sure if any were exactly what I wanted to read in the way The Intuitionist was. I want to read more novels like this one. I want to read more Colson Whitehead.
Maybe I should say that I don't know if it ended particularly well. Or at least it ended abruptly with some threads resolved better than others. Or maybe I was just sad it was over.
You can check out the first chapter here. I think you should.
Stock Photography Review
A poorly chosen stock photo can give the impression of incompetence instead of the shallow, faceless reassurance you want to evoke in the viewer. As most stock photographers and models are unfamiliar with the scenarios they are supposed to play out--and, it seems, photography and modelling generally--it's easy for errors (and worse) to creep their way into the pictures.
These "errors" tells us a great deal about the state of our nation and the consequences of our ineptitude.
For example, this doctor seems bemused at the fact that he's repeatedly missed this woman's hand cancer. As they stand slack-jawed, pondering her impending death, he offers no reassurances or hugs, only amazement at the fact that she not only has two right hands, but that one of those hands has rapidly metastasizing tumor which has extended like a sixth finger beyond the hand's traditional boundaries.
She, on the other hand, always knew about the hand cancer--it was why she was referred to him--but just couldn't bear to hurt his feelings by asking about it after their second appointment together. Now she's just trying to peer past the sight of her undoing to see if there is a ring on his finger because there isn't one on either of her two right hands.
Or maybe I'm just reading into it. Let's look at this guy:
This is clearly a commentary on America's nuclear vulnerability. This guy risked everything just to take his picture next to Reactor 7, his favorite. When he couldn't get the shot he wanted with his hazard suit on, he shed it but kept his hard hat because he knows nothing about Reactor 7 except that he loves it so.
What may appear to be a "flavor savor" is actually the cancer spreading stylishly from his chin. This is exactly what happened to Howie Mandel.
Still, our science can save them:
They are either curing these people's cancer or making them some rock candy so they don't feel so bad about it. Based on the color, I'm betting rock candy.
And then there are these people who don't even know they are standing right next to each other...or that they're in love. This picture says sad things about the state of industry in our new service-oriented economy but it says great things about our romantic comedy industry. I see this one as Career Opportunities meets Disclosure. We'll laugh, we'll love, we'll recession.
Tom sold all of his tools to buy that teal toolbox, but it didn't matter, not even when they laughed, not even when Cindy left.
The worst part about the national malaise these photos illustrate is that even a sure-to-be-booming industry like crime is immune:
Look how sad and befuddled that poor, hooded robber is by the simple lock system of this Taurus. But a purse from Target! But a circa 2000 Nokia!
I bet he'll stand there looking at it all day until he has to go home to his family who wait hungry for food and smack. It's almost too sad for words. Almost.
At least the wage workers will get a holiday party at work:
No, no, that's not right, that's not right at all!
(I spent the better part of an hour trying to come up with a legitimate reason for that photo to exist. I've got nothing).
Now that my brief period of intense college basketball fandom has come to an end, I'm afraid this blog will revert back to being mostly about Chris Sarandon and candy bars I ate.
A few notes:
*Finally had the opportunity to watch Flight of the Conchords this weekend. I don't even have words for how amazing it is.
*On a related note, we've changed the pronunciation of our dog Brett's name to "Brit." She won't even respond to "Brett" anymore so don't try. It took all weekend and a lot of Beggin' Strips but it's done.
*Also saw The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and it's pretty great if not a little too long. Still, once it hits its stride in the second half it comes together nicely, and the movie might as well have been financed by the Missouri tourism board (visitmo.com). Anyone looking for the beauty of the plains should check it out (or drive up NE Highway 2 for awhile).
*Oh, and Casey Affleck. Good.
*Things upcoming this week: maybe some stock photography, a review of a book about elevator inspectors, a Royals preview, and who knows what else. Probably something about Chris Sarandon or candy bars or both.
In honor of Drake University having made the NCAA tournament, I plan on doing some comparisons between them and their first round opponent, Western Kentucky University who won the game on a last second three pointer.
Winner: Western Kentucky.
Apparently they're about two points better at basketball. It was an amazing game though. Drake was up one with five seconds left and lost on a running three. Western Kentucky was locked in all game and played great. Congratulations to the Hilltoppers.
We'll be taking our conestogas back to the plains now.
In honor of Drake University having made the NCAA tournament, I plan on doing some comparisons between them and their first round opponent, Western Kentucky University because I'm pretty sure this hasn't gotten old yet.
Sorry, but there's something quasi-problematic about this whole spirit/master thing. It's not just the valuing of spirit--that's fine--but it's the priviledging of mastery as opposed to, say, decency. If Western Kentucky wants to fill the hills with a bunch of little Ayn Rands, that's their business.
Plus, it's in English when everyone knows that any motto should be in a dead language. (I'm looking at you, Nebraska).
Veritas wins easily.
In honor of Drake University having made the NCAA tournament, I plan on doing some comparisons between them and their first round opponent, Western Kentucky University. This meeting of two college basketball powerhouses will surely go down in history as one of the least important things to ever happen in Tampa.
In honor of Drake University having made the NCAA tournament, I plan on doing some comparisons between them and their first round opponent, Western Kentucky University. The game is at 11:30am (central) today and before then I'll post some smaller comparisons. They'll each have to be an individual posts because formatting these isn't fun.
University President's Facial Hair
Mr. Ransdell doesn't have facial hair, and everyone wishes Mr. Maxwell didn't either. Some bonus points should be given considering Mr. Maxwell is a Russian scholar and the son of a jazz trumpeter. I mean, he probably should have a beard with a resume like that.
It's not his fault that he's genetically incapable of growing one.
In honor of Drake University having made the NCAA tournament, I plan on doing some comparisons between them and their first round opponent, Western Kentucky University, because really, there's not a lot else going on that's holding my interest and I'm going wherever this bandwagon takes me.
Emerson: Has crush on Juliet
This morning an obviously pregnant woman was waiting for the elevator as a man I didn't know and I walked toward her. The man, an upper-management type based on his overwhelming cologne, said hello to the woman. The woman had a very large cup of coffee when she turned to us and as we got on the elevator the three of us had this exchange:
Man: Is that decaf?
Woman: Nope, I get one to get me started.
Man: Well, be sure to enjoy it then.
Woman: Actually, it's usually about one or two of these and then a few Diet Cokes.
Woman: Just don't tell my doctor!
The elevator stopped and the woman got off. It was just me, the man, and his cologne.
Man: I thought caffeine was dangerous during the pregnancy.
Man: I'm sure I heard that. Huh.
Um, yeah, buddy. I think you did.
In honor of Drake University having made the NCAA tournament, I plan on doing some comparisons between them and their first round opponent, Western Kentucky University. I've always wanted to be one of those people who gets really behind their alma mater. I swear to god, if they get past the second round I'm buying a Drake license plate holder for my car.
Winner: Drake. The bulldog may not be the most original mascot, but the Hilltopper is just nonsensical. As far as I can tell they are named the Hilltoppers because A) fox hunting or B) coal mining or C) the campus just happens to be on a hill. Since the first two are examples of humanity at its lowest, I don't think they can win this one.
Also, the problem with an intangible mascot is that the concept must somehow be stretched into an image that conveys its meaning. As you can see, the Hilltoppers gave up on this and decided to go with Thing from The Addams Family waving a towel. On the plus side, they do have someone dress up in a Grimace-esque costume and play the role of jubilant, team-spirit inducing hill. Nothing wrong with that.
This is the Haruki Murakami towel Heather made me for my birthday a few years ago. That line is the first sentence of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
For my birthday this year, she made me a Salman Rushdie one with the first sentence of Midnight's Children.
As you can tell, those are both amazing. If you come over, I'll let you dry your hands with them. It won't mean as much if you haven't read the books though.
Here is another great article on Drake's remarkable season. Needless to say, nobody saw this coming. Let me put it another way: The day I arrived on campus as a freshmen I met the RA on my floor who was a junior from some small town in Iowa. A nice guy of average height and build who showed no particular athletic ability in the ultimate frisbee games he played in front of the union, one day in the hall he mentioned that he had to run to basketball practice.
Me: Oh, are you on a club team?
RA: Oh, no.
Me: Is it a fraternity thing?
RA: Didn't I ever tell you this?
Me: What? That you play co-ed basketball?
RA: I'm on the basketball team.
Me: Yeah, but which one?
RA: The basketball team.
Me: Our floor has a basketball team?
RA: Yes, but that's not the point.
Me: Why didn't anyone ask me to play? I'm taller than you.
RA: But I'm on the Bulldogs. You know, the school's team.
Me: So do you guys ever play the floor's team?
Now that guy--not that guy but pretty much that guy--is the Valley player of the year and the lynchpin to Drake's first tournament run in over 30 years.
I don't know how well you can see it in that picture, but that's a footprint on the top of my car. There was also one on the hood. And one on the windshield.
I've reenacted what I imagined happened with the part of my car being played by Kenneth Branagh.
The History of Love
I read Nicole Krauss's book as part of my company's book club, and while I get the feeling that some of the others didn't enjoy it, I thought it was pretty great and the ideal book for a club of diverse readers like ours. It's a quick, easy read that features a fair amount of pleasure in its language, plot, and message. Plus this book was everywhere a year or two ago, and reading it places you in conversation with millions of other book club readers across the country. Isn't that what these things are all about?
Anyway, it's one of those books that propels itself forward by hiding from the reader. If only the characters all wrote each other letters or Googled each other or had MySpace pages, none of this would really be necessary. But they don't, and therefore the 24o pages of the book are mostly concerned with unravelling mysteries of distance.
Two main characters narrate the book. One, a Holocaust survivor originally from Poland, lives out his last few years with his friend Bruno in New York City while wondering how to meet the son who doesn't know he exists. The other, a 14/15-year-old girl, deals with the death of her father by involving herself in the translation project of her mother. What ties these and a few other narrative threads together is a book called The History of Love which passes through each of these characters' hands.
Various obstacles prevent any one character--or reader--from connecting the dots between them until, of course, the end. Mostly the obstacles are sad reminders of the fragmentation of diaspora but a few seem less than genuine, coincidences and choices made not by rational characters but by an author needing to buy more time. Still, it's a really well constructed book full of stunning moments where the characters are capable of creating genuine heartbreak.
I probably wouldn't have read it without the book club, but if I wanted to go eat Mexican food with them, I sort of had to. And I'm glad I did. Isn't that what these things are all about?
Last thought: It's remarkably unimportant to mention that Krauss's husband is Jonathan Safran Foer, but I find it fascinating, and a little endearing, that this book shares so much with his two novels. Not just the plot elements--the Holocaust, a quirky old Man, children hunting for someone/thing around New York City--but how the books read and feel. If someone says, I want to read something like Everything is Illuminated, the obvious answer is The History of Love. And it has nothing to do with them being married. Or everything. Who knows.
Things I Consumed While Driving Review
Wendy's - [The] Baconator
I never eat at Wendy's so I panicked when ordering and ended up with something called either "Baconator" or "The Baconator." I'm more than willing to eat, watch, hug, or run from anything that risks the "-nator" suffix, however, so it all worked out. The actual sandwich seems to be a hamburger with Swiss cheese, bacon, and a sauce that tastes like those hot Cheetos you might have had once but didn't really enjoy. I spent most of the twenty minutes after ordering it trying to take it apart while driving to determine all of the key components. Had it tasted a little more like Andy Capp's Hot Fries and less like Cheetos, I might have had more than two bites.
Bosselman's Truck Plaza - French Vanilla Cappuccino
If you've never had a "cappuccino" at a gas station, you're basically missing out on one of those machines that spews scalding foam at irregular intervals and then asks you to properly determine when to stop the machine since it apparently takes a few seconds to calculate the algorithm which shuts it all down. This has always confused me, but over the years I've gotten pretty good at knowing exactly when to take my finger off the button. I really nailed it on this drive, too, and gave the cashier who'd been watching me a nod that basically said That's right, unlike most suckers you see here in Wood River, Nebraska, I don't even need to push the button again to top it off. He didn't seem too impressed with my achievement. Of course, he only had one ear so he's probably seen a great many incredible things in his life. Still, I really wish we could have shared that moment.
As far as the actual drink: Delicious. It tastes nothing like coffee or milk or French or Vanilla, but it does tastes like what might happen if you melted down the marshmallows from Count Chocula and distributed the liquid by a high-stakes game of skill.
Elk's Club (Cozad, Nebraska) - Cheeseburger
This was the only place open in a 15 mile radius when I stopped to have dinner with my grandmother and even they only had hamburgers. It was delicious and the service was quick because, according to the waitress, we missed the 5:00pm dinner rush.
Creepy Gas Station (Julesburg, Colorado) - Water
Modern gas station technology has yet to hit Julesburg which is fine except for when it leads to multiple awkward encounters with the same friendly (but insane) attendant. We had a good talk in several parts as I prepaid, got a bathroom key, and bought my water. It's a shame their coffee technology stopped at a few loose frappuccinos rolling around on the cooler floor, because this guy would have had a lot to say about my cappuccino-machine skills.
I'll be reading this Saturday in Boulder in connection with the good folks at Subito Press. It'll probably just be some MUtDs and assorted shorter pieces. I'm not sure which ones to read from the little book, so if you have a favorite, let me know. Otherwise I'll just read the same one over and over until the audience leaves.
Anyway, the details:
There is even another fantastic reading afterward with Cole Swensen, Paul Hoover, and Linda Norton. In fact, there are great readings and panels all weekend in connection with their Small Press & Translation Festival. I have no reason to think anyone reading this lives in Colorado, but you should come anyway if you have access to a car, horse, or zeppelin. As always, a boat will do you no good.
A new DIAGRAM is up. I have a small flasher piece in it and say something absurd about my mother. Plus, a lot of other stuff you'll like even more. For example, I think Amelia Gray's "The Cottage Cheese Diet" is awesome. I think that either despite or because I find cottage cheese a little gross.
I'm glad we can share like this.