The scene: last week in my apartment.  I found the bright green plastic bowl underneath the kitchen sink, careless tossed into the milk crate that held bottles of various cleaning solutions and soaps.  A bulbous knob extended from one end with a smile, and eyes peaking from behind a thin red mask painted on it.  “What is this doing in here?” I asked my roommate.  “Oh yeah,” he said. “I wasn’t sure where to put it.  What is it?”  I looked down into its goofy painted eyes. “It’s my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cereal bowl,” I said.

Twenty years ago, when I first dug the bowl out of the bottom of a Cheerios box, I didn’t want it.   My TMNT obsessed kindergarten brain immediately recognized the red mask as the identifier of Raphael and no one wanted to be Raphael.  Whenever playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with your friends, you would want to pretend to be your favorite turtle. Young “type A personalities” were drawn to Leonardo (succinctly described in the theme song with “Leonardo leads”), while the more creative kids wanted to be Donatello (“does machines”).  A rare few even liked Michelangelo (“a party dude”).  But no one, not a singe kid, liked Raphael (according to the song, he was “cool but crude”); and some unlucky latecomer who didn’t call dibs to be one of the other three early enough was general stuck playing Raph.  His other option was playing April O’Neil and she was a girl which was way worse (though I now wonder why no one volunteered to be Splinter, the giant rat that was the group’s sensei).

“Aw man, Raphael.” I remember saying with disdain, then turning to my mother, trying to enjoy her first cup of tea of the day, and inquired if we could run to the grocery store before school and get another box of cereal that would probably have a Donatello bowl (my first choice, but I would have settled for either of the other two) inside it.  Without having to say anything, I could tell her answer was a strong and definite “No.”

And so I made due with my Raphael bowl.  Years after the Ninja Turtle fad had died out, I found it again and brought it with me to college (mainly for its kitschy throwback value) and now keep it at the office so I can eat cereal at my desk (I had brought it home to wash last week, which is why my roommate didn’t recognize it).  And you know something?  Raphael has really grown on me.  What I mistook for a grumpy cynic was actually the group’s speaker of truths, who never beat around the bush and always said what was on his mind.  And his hot-headedness?  While many will agree that it constantly brought the group into dangerous situations, it was also the acting force on most of their greatest adventures (many of which forged their strongest alliances).  In essence, Raphael was probably the best Ninja Turtle and I am proud to own his cereal bowl.

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I hate current pop music.  This isn’t exactly a unique or groundbreaking sentiment; I’m sure many people agree with me.  It’s just that when you operate under the belief that quality popular music (with some exceptions) died in 1980, you don’t exactly keep up with what’s hip.  I tend to stick with stuff on my iPod and tune to NPR whenever I’m around a radio.  My girlfriend on the other hand likes current pop music and owns a clock radio.  So every time I sleep over, I’m blasted awake by obnoxious morning DJ’s and the latest hit songs.  Usually I just brush off these the chance encounters with the current music scene and go about my day.  But recently my brain has become infected with a particularly nauseating bit of modern musical horror that I’ve heard every time I sleep over and when I looked up the lyrics I found that they were bizarrely and comically nonsensical. So I decided to use my two English degrees to analyze it.

Before I begin, I want to be clear that just because a song is catchy (which this definitely is) doesn’t mean that it’s good (which it most surely is not).  The two are not mutually exclusive (something a lot of current songwriters seem to not be aware of); “Hotel California” by the Eagles, for example, is a good song that’s catchy, while Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter”  is not catchy yet still a great song.

The tune in question, “Tik Tok”, sucks.  The, um, “artist” is “Ke$ha”.  How you do pronounce that? Key-dollar-sign-ah?  Is that Dutch? As soon as I saw this young lady’s title spelling and grammar, I knew things did not bode well.  Though, oddly enough, while I was trying to clear my head of this song’s insipidness, sites like Gawker and The Awl pronounced her the new pop princess and “Tik Tok” to be her inaugural hit.  If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the song, consider yourself lucky.  But if you want to know what I’m talking about, here:

Ke$ha’s autotune-tastic song is a first person rhyming dictionary heavy narrative of her day.  I’ve gone ahead and mixed my comments in with her lyrics.  Mostly they’re just notes on how I was feeling while listening to it.  Let’s begin.

Wake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy
[P Diddy speaking] Hey, what up girl?

Wait….is P. Diddy there? Is she waking up with him?  And what does it mean to say that you feel like him? You feel like a media whoring past his prime music producer who rode the coattails of his talented friend that was murdered?  I’m confused.

Grab my glasses, I’m out the door, I’m gonna hit this city
Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack
‘Cause when I leave for the night, I ain’t coming back

What? Leaving for the night?  She just said she was waking up in morning.  And shouldn’t the line about brushing her teeth come BEFORE the one about heading out the door?  Also, I’m pretty sure most dentists don’t recommend using Jack Daniels as tooth paste…bourbon has too much sugar.  Use Vodka, it’s the breakfast booze.

I’m talking pedicure on our toes, toes
Trying on all our clothes, clothes
Boys blowing up our phones, phones
Drop-topping, playing our favorite CDs
Pulling up to the parties
Trying to get a little bit tipsy

Whew, I love it when musicians blatantly explain what they’re “talking” about.  It saves me the trouble of having to try and understand the subtleties of suggestion or symbolism.  From this passage, we learn that Ke$ha (God, I think my IQ dropped just typing that name) is singing yet another party girl anthem (I’m sure that’s just what humanity needs right now), in which the priorities are partying, music, boys, drinking, and getting pedicures “on our toes” (as apposed to pedicures anywhere else?).  Thankfully we’re now onto the chorus.

Don’t stop, make it pop
DJ, blow my speakers up
Tonight, I’mma fight
‘Til we see the sunlight
Tick tock on the clock
But the party don’t stop, no [Yodel]

When did music digress to just singing orders?  Here’s she’s telling everyone to keep partying, the DJ to keep playing music, and proclaims that she’ll continue the struggle of whatever the hell her idea of partying is.  Did she take the room hostage? Is she holding a gun on everyone?  I’m sorry but this doesn’t make me want to have a good time.  Jesus, this chick makes getting drunk and dancing seem like working on a chain gang.  A sense that’s doubled by the fact that she immediately repeats the chorus.

Ain’t got a care in world, but got plenty of beer
Ain’t got no money in my pocket, but I’m already here
And now, the dudes are lining up cause they hear we got swagger
But we kick em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger

Wouldn’t having plenty of beer be the reason you don’t have a care in the world? Also guys don’t line up because they hear a girl has swagger (lets be honest, that’s a weird word choice), usually it’s because she’s easy and won’t reject them for not looking like Mick Jagger (which I’m going to assume means when Jagger was in his prime in the 1960’s and not now…that would be an old man.)

I’m talking about everybody getting crunk, crunk
Boys tryin’ to touch my junk, junk
Gonna smack him if he getting too drunk, drunk

The only type of person I’ve heard use the phrase “junk” are frat guys talking about their genitals.  It sounds like she’s admitting to being what the Internet is claiming about Lady Gaga.

Now, now, we go until they kick us out, out
Or the police shut us down, down
Police shut us down, down
Po-po shut us…

Goddamnit.  Now I’m just confused.  I thought we were going until dawn, now it’s until the cops shut us down.  What kind of party is this?  A meth party?

[Chorus] x2

DJ, you build me up
You break me down
My heart, it pounds
Yeah, you got me

Why the fuck….


With my hands up
You got me now
You got that sound
Yeah, you got me

Am I listening…

DJ, you build me up
You break me down
My heart, it pounds
Yeah, you got me

To this song?

With my hands up
Put your hands up
Put your hands up

Now, the party doesn’t start ’til I walk in

Oh, shut up!

[Chorus] x2

Thankfully, the end.

[Okay, I admit it: I’m copping out with a cheap “listicle” for this post. Give me a break, it’s Monday and I had a rough weekend. So, enjoy…]

I’m a man of many talents. I can pontificate on the symbolism found in 80’s action movies, hold my own in drinking a surprising large amount of whiskey in one sitting, and make a fairly decent omelet. But alas, there are some skills which I simply do not possess though wish I did. With the New Year coming up soon, it could be my chance to finally pick these seemingly effortless abilities. Unfortunately, I suspect they will remain gaping holes in my repertoire. Without further ado:

  • Carrying an umbrella
    I don’t know what the hell I’m doing wrong here, but I can’t properly carry an umbrella. I’m either getting soaked down my back or its getting caught in the wind and turning inside out. Then, I’m sure to pass to some suave impeccably dressed ass holding his umbrella perfectly balanced over his well entrenched area of dry space. And he’s always sure to give me a pitying look. Motherfucker.
  • Closing roller window shades
    I recently got a new apartment. And the windows to my new bedroom feature those rather inexpensive vinyl shades, I immediately wanted to move again. Here’s how these things work: you pull them down to cover the window and block out light (or hide your hideously pale nude body from your neighbors when changing) then have to tug them to activate some apparatus that rolls the shades back up. For some reason, I can’t do this and it takes more than a dozen attempts to get the thing to retract EVERY SINGLE TIME. But there’s the rub, those who can get the damn thing to pull up in one try cannot comprehend not being able to use such a simple mechanism and thus are unable to describe how to do it. It’s like one of those test that kung fu monks give children they suspect of being the reincarnated soul of their master—they either intuitively know how to do it or they don’t.
  • Remember to brush my teeth
    This one isn’t entirely my fault. I think my parents should share part of the blame. For some reason, they used to let me slide on going to bed without brushing my teeth and then totally left to my own devices in regards to my oral hygiene. So I never got into the habit of doing it twice a day, everyday. But I’m sure as hell going to make my kids do it. And when I’m pointing a shotgun at them from the bathroom doorway and they’re shaking with fear as they squeeze Crest onto their toothbrushes, I’ll say, “You’ll thank me when you’re in your twenties.”
  • Fly a kite It’s ironic that in describing the first skill on my list I admitted that whenever I’m holding an umbrella it gets caught in the wind, because I can’t do that with a kite.  Flying a kite looks like one of the most satisfying and fulfilling experiences one can have in this world. But when I try, it simply crashes to the ground and lays there… much like my soul.

kill_your_tvSo I don’t own a television.  Actually, I haven’t had a television for over a year now.  And before you go jumping to any conclusions, it’s not because of the recession.  I can afford it…I swear!  I honestly just don’t want one.  It’s a point that I have to constantly reiterate to people once they find out I don’t own a TV. Most keep offering to sell me their old one at a steal and more than once someone has flat out offered me a free television set.

And it’s not because I don’t like TV.  I love to watch TV.  When I owned one, I would spend hours just flipping through the different channels until I found something to watch, either nothing in particular or something I’d seen a million times before.  That’s why I don’t own a television.  If I had a TV in my apartment, I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now. Hell, I don’t think I would be able to write anything….ever.  It’s 10:30 at night, I’m pretty sure I could find something to watch.  Aren’t the Emmy’s on tonight?

Now, just because I stopped owning a television doesn’t mean I don’t watch TV anymore.  Sure, I’m reading more and I’m getting more writing done. And gone are the hours mysteriously lost to Law & Order reruns on syndication.  No longer am I distracted by some last minute TV watching, losing track of time, and thus am almost always running late.  But I still watch television shows.  We are living in a golden age in which networks are airing smartly written shows with plot, character development, and profound dialogue.  I couldn’t resist storytelling like that.  I have a select few shows that I keep up on via Hulu, but nothing near the amount that I used to follow (you know you have an addiction to TV, when you hate shows like “Bones” and “CSI” but watch them anyway).

What’s really interesting is that watching TV used to be one of the most anti-social things I did—just staying in my apartment and watching by myself—but now it’s one of my most social activities.   I look forward to my weekly date to watch “Mad Men” with Kate at her place.  I go to other people’s apartments for season premieres and finale’s.  Next month is the MLB post-season and I’ll catch the games at my neighborhood bar.  It sounds strange, but since I quit owning a television, I have a lot more fun watching TV.

[Pic via SFGate.com]

bluebeardOkay.  So, to start off: I’m so fucked.  Here I am on the last day of August (the day before my deadline) with still a ways to go.  Throughout this whole summer reading thing—for those of you just tuning in: I’m reading all the novels of Kurt Vonnegut—I’ve always said that my goal date to be finished is September 1st…tomorrow.  Shit.

So let’s get to the latest book for me to get under my belt: Bluebeard.  For me, this is the closest thing to a mystery that Vonnegut ever wrote.  As I explained in my post for Galapagos, Vonnegut’s habit of informing his audience on how the novel is going to end (generally in the first chapter) creates an irritating lack of suspense, particularly in the last fifty pages because…well, you know how it’s going to end!  Bluebeard seems to be Vonnegut’s response to such criticism.

Narrated by Rabo Karabekian, the abstract expressionist painter who made an appearance in Breakfast of Champions, the novel gets its title from the Bluebeard fairytale.  The legend tells of a king, or aristocrat, Bluebeard, who repeatedly keeps getting married even though all his wives eventually disappear.  When he does get married (for the umpteenth time), he tells his new bride that she is free to roam anywhere in the castle/mansion, except one specific room.  And of course, each time, the fact she can’t go into that single room piques the bride’s curiosity and drives her desire to see what’s in the there.  When she does manage to open the door and see what’s inside, the wife is shocked to find the room filled with the bodies of all the other wives (all of whom also broke the rule of not looking into the room and thus saw the bodies of their predecessors, as well).  Bluebeard then kills the latest wife/victim, adds her to his expanding collection of dead brides, and begins looking to get married again.

This legend mirrors the mystery of the book: Karabekian’s locked potato barn and former studio, which he has ordered no one to enter.  The novel, which Karabekian writes as his autobiography, explains his origin as the child of survivors from the Turkish Armenian genocide with an apprenticeship to the most famous classically trained artist in the U.S. to his service/capture by the Germans in World War II and eventual member of the abstract expressionist movement in 1950’s and 1960’s, joining the likes of Pollack and Rothko.  The narrative cuts between Karabekian’s life story and his present life in his Hampton mansion filled with the largest modern abstract art collection in the world, where a Baltimore widow/writer/uninvited house guest, Circe Berman, challenges his beliefs on art and everything else in his life.

For what it’s worth, this is one of my favorite Vonnegut novels and also the best of the titles that I’d never heard of before this project.  It does a great job of exploring ideas and themes tied to artistic creativity and even the communities that it creates.  While the “mystery” isn’t the biggest payoff when you finally see what’s locked in the barn, it does a good job of keeping the tension and thus setting the pace for the reader.

So here I am coming up on the last day and two books left to go.  Thankfully, I’m on vacation.  I think I’m going to make it.

UPDATE: I just finished Slapstick a little before 1 AM.  So all I have to do is finish reading Timequake by the end of the day.  I’ll post the reviews for both later.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Just finished Timequake a little before 1:30 PM on September 1st.

[Pic via Amazon.com]

HocusPocus(Vonnegut)In case you didn’t know, I’m a huge nerd.  How big a nerd? Well, remember those summer reading lists from when you were a kid? I’ve assigned myself one and it’s a doozy.  I want to be able to say by the end of August that I’ve read all the novels of Kurt Vonnegut.  I subtracted the few that I’d read before and am crossing the rest off one by one.  I’ll post reviews as I go and you can track my overall progress here.

Alright, so here I am in the home stretch.  It’s now the last month of summer and I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a little behind.  After this entry, I have five novels left with three weeks to read them; daunting, but completely doable.  If worse comes to worst and it doesn’t look like I’m going to make my deadline of the first day in September, I’ll push it back to the day after Labor Day, which a friend recently pointed out to me is when summer is “officially” over.   Anyway, let ‘s get to this latest review, which is…

Hocus Pocus was recommend to me by an acquaintance after I told him about my summer reading project.  “It’s my favorite,” he said—a surprise since most people will claim Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat’s Cradle as being their personal favorite.  Like a lot of the other books I’ve read so far, the cover for Hocus Pocus was emblazoned with the phrase “classic Vonnegut!” and the novel itself utilized many of the standard Vonnegut tropes and themes I’ve come to expect—non-linear narrative structure, heavy foreshadowing, stupid rich people, even a thinly veiled Kilgore Trout reference.  What surprises me most is that I still really enjoyed it.

As seen to some degree in previous books, Vonnegut writes in a broken up style again—though this time in the utmost extreme.  In fact, he inserts an editor’s note on the first page informing the reader that “the author of this book did not have access to writing paper of uniform size and quality” and thus it was written in snippets “on everything from brown wrapping paper to the backs of business cards.”  Lines cut through the text and separate it into sections, which are about three to a page.

The story’s narrator/main character is Eugene Debs Hartke, a Vietnam veteran who has taken Vonnegut’s own advice to “make love often” (he screws anything that moves) and was once a professor at Tarkington College, a post-graduate school specifically for learning disable children of the wealthy and elite. Hartke narrates while a prisoner on the Tarkington campus, which is now a prison.  Taking place in the then near future (2001), this is an America that has been bought out by foreign companies (much like the RAMJAC Corporation in Jailbird).  And he tells of how he went to West Point, then to Vietnam, ended up teaching at Tarkington, got fired, got hired teaching at a prison owned by a Japanese company, wound up back at Tarkington when it became a prison, and in his lifetime has ended up killing the exact same amount of people he’s had sex with (which is a lot in both cases).

Although you wouldn’t think so, this is the most political of any Vonnegut novel I’ve read so far. Sure, his left of center views have always come through his previous work, but here it is more overt. Through a combination of factors, Vonnegut covers his view on pretty much everything under the American political sun: war, race, the penal system, imperialism, globalization, drugs, public relations, media, big business, etc.  One character, Helen Doe, is introduced near the end of the story and only seems to exist in order to spout theories on American class warfare.  Another, Jason Wilder, is a detailed amalgamation of every conservative media figure that has and will ever exist, right down to the pride of being so damn ignorant about the rest of the world.  It all feeds into Vonnegut’s message that, whether we like it or not, our lives are influenced by the political in some way or another; from the war that we watch on television to the job we take—it’s all caused by that behind-the-scenes “hocus pocus.”

[Pic via Wikipedia]

I’m exhausted.  I went and saw a midnight showing of Harry Potter last night, because I’m a huge nerd.  The highlight of the evening was when the grown man (in costume) two seats down from me wept at the end and had to be comforted by his girlfriend (who was dressed in a slutty Harry Potter costume). Anyway, I don’t feel wordy today.  So here’s another photolog post.  Deal with it.

Stairs

I like it when my graffiti tells me to read more…as an annual reminder.

Jingle BenzI feel like whoever decorated this Mercedes Benz station wagon in a Christmas theme did so for a demolition derby.  I’m not sure if they suspected at the time that they’d be driving it around town, in July.

PickAxe

When you think about it, a guy taking a pickaxe on the subway isn’t that odd.  Especially when you imagine  all the insane things people have carried on the train in New York.  Still, it throws you for a loop when you see one on your morning commute.

bike

I’m often puzzled by the amount of broken bicycles left chained up around the city.  Even if it was run over and knotted together with another bike, like so, I think I would still untangle/unlock my bicycle and take it home,  not just walk away.  But that’s me.

ruinsA building in my neighborhood randomly collapsed one day.

And finally:

obamaI’m tempted to buy a stack and send them to random southern addresses.