Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Alec Eiffel! Alec Eiffel?

Wow, I'm going to be a father in August!

Now we're obsessing over baby names, prenatal care, early child development. And we're considering parenting styles (as if you can order them on-line). Danna likes the name Alec Eiffel if we have a boy. You know, as in the title and refrain of that great Pixies song?

As in the name of the architect who dreamed up the towering, derrick-like icon of American Romance in Paris?

I don't know about Alec. Naming our son Alec Eiffel would pin him to several child-archetypal categories worthy of severe beatings. Especially if he's a smart kid who reads too much. Which he will be! I'm so excited!

For a cleverer consideration of the naming process minus the flip tone, visit Alexis Orgera's page and read this entry.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

R.I.P. T.S. Eliot (Hound)

Last week Danna and I made the difficult decision to have our beloved Boston Terrier, Eliot, put down. Wracked with anxiety, he had been living a miserable existence. Neighbor kids throwing a football around, for instance, would terrify him and send him, all teeth and claws, into a Taz-like fury at the windows and glass front door. Whenever we left the house, he would nip at us and throw his little body against the door as we slipped out and locked up. And we couldn't have friends over--he bit one of Danna's friends on the nose once as she leaned in to pet him.

Still, he brought so much joy to our home. Boston Terriers, with their short snouts and huge eyes, are known for their human-like facial expressions. Sometimes, when sleepy, he would look like our little boy who needed tucking in or another song sung to him. Other times (which was every time we watched a movie on the couch) he would lock his eyes with ours, giving us the most serious look you can imagine to demand we play fetch or tug-of-war. I know this will sound irreverent, but his prominent brow, intense, unflinching eyes combined with his mustache-like jowls connoted the face of Friedrick Nietzsche or other Wiemar Era men whose walrus staches underscore their soul-beholding stares in the old photographs:

We got Eliot from a breeder in Clinton, Missouri, two and a half years ago. When we first talked seriously about getting a Boston Terrier, Danna and I had just returned from a multi-city trip to Chicago and NYC (where I proposed to her), where we had seen more than several of these handsome looking dogs, strolling the sidewalks of Logan Square & the East Village, dressed in tuxedos. They were gregarious little creatures and had these adorable perpetual smiles on their faces. Danna wanted one, and when we got back home, she did some research and learned they were the perfect city dogs due to their small size, minimal need for exercise, and preference for living indoors.

I happened to mention that my wife really wanted a Boston Terrier at the end of class one day that fall, and one of my students mentioned that her aunt breeds Bostons and English Bulldogs. She said she could 'hook us up' with her aunt the breeder. We didn't know what to look for in a dog, much less did we know what to look out for. For instance, upon arrival we noticed that the breeder kept the Bostons in the same pens as the English Bulldogs, which should have sounded the first alarm. The dog she recommended to us seemed healthy enough, but he had scratches on his pupils, which she claimed were superficial, and he was already six months old (alarms two & three). The breeder rationalized this last fact for us with a simple-enough explanation: "He was the runt of the litter." Danna loved him right away; I liked his looks and loved how inexpensive he was: at $150.00, this broke-as-a-joke teacher would not find his fiance a better dog for less. Soon we learned that the scratches weren't in the least bit superficial. He had cataracts. Soon we realized that he hadn't found a home not because of his runt status but because of his eye condition and his less than ideal socialization. Despite his problems, we bonded with him, and soon he was our baby.

Our first six months with him seemed comparable to experiences everyone has with puppies. He quickly acclimated to our apartment at the edge of one of Kansas City's noisiest entertainment districts. We took him on long walks around the neighborhood, where we introduced him to children and passers-by. We visited the dog park and the pet store, it seems, once a week. He wasn't aggressive at first, only fearful, pinning his big ears back and tensing up whenever someone came within proximity of him. One day on the patio of the neighborhood coffee shop, though, he growled at one of Danna's friends. This was pivotal.

At around the same time as the earliest signs of aggression, he took up his post as house sentry. Whenever someone walked down the sidewalk, he manned the armchair facing the window and barked and whined. Over time, this guard dogging behavior turned into acute anxiety. Hearing the slightest noise, he would register it as a threat, often leaping out of sleep on the couch to growl and bark from the windows, pacing the length of our apartment with tears staining the fur around his eyes.

Needing help, we rented the first two seasons of The Dog Whisperer and indoctrinated ourselves with Cesar Milan's behaviorism like a new religion. He had to sit or lay down before eating, receiving a treat, or leashing up. On walks, Eliot trotted at our side or just a pace behind our footsteps. We blew Casar's Sch, Sch! attention-grabbing sound from our teeth and parted lips like pros whenever he got anxious over a noise. Carrying ourselves as the alpha dogs worked in some contexts: he seemed more disciplined and compliant around the house, and our walks around the block were more efficient than before.

But his watch dog's aggression soon transferred itself to other situations. On walks, Eliot began lunging after passing trucks and bicyclists. We had to start avoiding pedestrians by steering him across the street to the adjacent sidewalk. When we took him to Arkansas for Thanksgiving two years ago, he nipped at my brother as he leaned in to pet him. That winter, he began nipping the shins and hands of friends as they entered the apartment. He growled at them and bared his teeth. His growl had grown deeper and more serious, which alarmed us.

Still, our dog wasn't aggressive toward us. He was affectionate if not more than a little needy. He always had to be in a lap, for example. I called Danna the Lady with the Lapdog , and soon our baby talk voice for him developed into a unique dialect of English.

Unlike his aggressive tendencies around people, Eliot's interactions with other dogs were merely fearful and therefore awkward. Face to face with a dog, he reminded me of Melville's Bartleby. As the dog approached him and attempted to interact, Eliot's body language all but said I would prefer not to. At the dog park, we would have to encourage him to play chase with the other dogs. Too skittish to play, he would either stand back and watch, or move in and sniff their equipment. Most dogs just ignored our little gentleman, overdressed as he was in his black and white tuxedo. Some dogs, though, seemed offended by his aloofness (if you'll excuse this slip into complete anthropomorphizing) and singled him out for abuse. Once a miniature pinscher tried picking a fight. Another time, on a crowded Saturday morning, this Greyhound-Pit Bull mix from hell, intent on roughing him up, chased him through a slalom-like course swerved between the field packed with dogs and people. (He won the race, by the way, and in his single shining dog park moment earned the attention and praise of all in attendance.) The last straw was one spring afternoon last year when a Great Dane chased him, placed his giant paw on his back, and rode him into the grass like a linebacker sacking a quarterback's failed sneak along the sideline. Afterward, we marked the dog park off of our list of outdoor activities.

One day I came home from work to find Danna on the stoop in tears. "When you go inside, don't look at him," she said. "He's been bad. He bit our neighbor on the face...he drew blood...we might get sued and they might make us put him to sleep." It turned out that the neighbor had been drinking heavily, which explained, in turns, why the guy felt the need to lean in and put his head next to a strange dog's, why his superficial cut bled so much, and why he never mentioned the incident. A week later, Danna scheduled a behavior consultation with the leading animal behaviorist in Kansas City, a solid professional who often answers pet questions on KCUR's Up To Date. The behaviorist confirmed what we already knew: Eliot suffered from extreme anxiety, which caused him to react to strangers approaching him aggressively. He prescribed Prozac and recommended several behavior modification exercises we could practice while at home and on walks. Several months passed with minimal improvements. The watch-dogging reached a new crescendo. And he was still aggressive toward pedestrians. At the next consultation, the behaviorist increased the dosage of Prozac to a level often used to treat dogs twice his weight. When the increased dosage did not improve his anxiety, the behaviorist switched Eliot to the canine form of Paxil. Months passed. Still, there was no improvement.

[I'll post more later.]

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sean Hill was in Kansas City over the weekend to give a reading promoting his first book, Blood Ties & Brown Liquor. After hearing him read and spending some time talking with him, I'm really excited to read the book, which is a series of poems excavating the Wright family lineage and post-Civil War race relations in his hometown, Milledgeville, GA (incidentally, Flannery O'Connor's hometown). Good friend Wayne Miller, friends with Sean since their MFA days in Houston, had recommended the book back in February. But I had a giant stack of new poetry books to work through and couldn't afford to order the six he recommended.

But the reading went so well! Filling the auditorium at the Plaza Library, I was proud of Kansas City. Sean read his gorgeous poems, more than several of them written in form, traditional and invented. He read one, a new one, called "Penumbra" whose ending had the most seamless associative shifts from image to image that I've come across in months. Here's the first two sections of "Words like Rivers", from Blood Ties & Brown Liquor:

Words Like Rivers


At bars we banter over brown liquor,
Irish Scotch Canadian—
none of these my people.

Whiskeys, brown with undertones—
reds and yellows—
arranged behind bars.

All I want is a swallow,
but I just broke this bottle.
Lord all I need’s a swallow,
but I done broke my bottle.
Broken bottle blues—wallowing
in them broken bottle blues.


Black men bibulous—
bilious like me belching
the morning after whiskey—

stream words like rivers
and families riven over

My old lady’s yellow
and round like the moon.
I say my lady’s full
and yellow like the moon.
And Lord I can’t afford her
and that baby due in June.

He, Wayne, Jeanne (Wayne's totally awesome gf) and I had drinks at Wayne & Jeanne's after the reading. Sean's company proved solid as his poems.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Currently reading The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. So far, I'm endeared to his Sartrean ethos as much as to his continental sense of aesthetics. The book presents a phenomenology of architecture, namely how we comport ourselves in our houses and apartments and how our first childhood dwellings inform the way we imagine inhabited space. Published in French in 1958, and translated into English nearly a decade later, Bachelard admixes phenomenological and 20th century poetic beats like the most entranced dubstep DJ to whom you'd ever halfstep your sneakered feet:

"And all the spaces of our past moments of solitude, the spaces in which we have suffered from solitude, enjoyed, desired and compromised solitude, remain indelible within us, and precisely because the human being wants them to remain so. He knows that this space identified with his solitude is creative; that even when it is forever expunged from the present, when, henceforth, it is alien to all the promises of the future, even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic. We return to them in our night dreams. These retreats have the value of a shell. And when we reach the very end of the labyrinths of sleep, when we attain to the regions of deep slumber, we may perhaps experience a type of repose that is pre-human; pre-human, in this case, approaching the immemorial...In the past, the attic may have seemed too small, it may have seemed cold in winter and hot in summer. Now, however, in memory recaptured through daydreams, it is hard to say through what syncretism the attic is at once small and large, warm and cool, always comforting."

Bachelard, like Heidegger thinking on Rilke, posits the impetus for poetic inspiration in the home because the unconscious is housed there. While reading these first three chapters the other day, I remembered something Emerson said about poetic energies generating not in the home but in the transitional modes of leaving home or returning to it. I can't remember which essay, though. Maybe it's in "The Poet," but I skimmed this essay yesterday and couldn't find it.

Anyway. The weather is cool, and our old house has warm, west-facing corners in the afternoons, perfect for reading. Maybe later today I'll find a swatch of sunlight, and blow the dust off of the slim copy I've kept from college: Emerson: Five Essays on Man & Nature.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Parent-Teacher conferences next week. Somehow, all those grades must make their way from student papers to the grade book program by 3:30 today. 1st Quarter grades are due...can't wait for the second hand to drop over the six, join the three to mark 3:30. To mark the weekend. Our anniversary weekend. We got marriaged roughly one year ago, exactly one year ago Monday. Parent-Teacher conferences Monday-Wednesday. So we'll celebrate the anniversary this weekend. Here's a wedding pic illustrating the complications of our first dance:

Here's one with two of my best friends from high school and beyond:

Photos by Patrick Adams

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I Have Failed the Quiet

The weather has been cool. The light amazing. The crickets have slowed their rhythms to indicate the coming of fall. So these mornings I've been book-worming it out on the patio instead of indoors. We just moved to this house in a historic North East Kansas City neighborhood over the summer, so these cool mornings outdoors are brand new. At our midtown apartment, we had a balcony where I'd sit and read in the mornings until a line or two would come to me. But things sounded different there--there were layers upon layers of noise: dogs barking out to car alarms up to the rotor thwup-thwup of the ghetto birds out to Main Street traffic bass and horn out to the highways with the sad thrum of truck tires and the sounds of commerce droning on and on out into the day. Here, a polyphonic quiet slowly lifts itself from the mornings. A kind of quiet that isn't silent but something else. Anyway, I've taken a break from the Notes for a Memoir manuscript and have been writing poems in sections, something I had not done too much of before. Here are two (of six) sections from a poem I've written from the patio surrounded by the *quiet*.


Just then was the quiet.
I would swear to its having
been the unmouthed voice
of the quiet. Listen,
I would indicate silence
to the boy with my hand
upheld, severing his speech
from the air. Could you
hear the quiet rolling
out from the Eastern hill?

But I have no son and
the quiet I heard was no
more than the trains lost
once again to the distance
between here and there.


I’m certain of the quiet
in the way a man is certain
of anything. Up all night,
the Certain Man will smoke
all his cigarettes one by one
like there was no tomorrow.
Before the street lights
stub themselves out,
before he creaks open
the car door and seals
his certain mode within,
intent on the convenience
store, he will let the quiet tear
the dawn into halves, smugly
handing over the first
before pocketing the other.
In this regard, I am less
than a Certain Man. I will stay
here. I will merely pit the quiet
voice against the gentle wind,
uncertain of the exact
terms of our transaction.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

the rhythm of joy

Currently reading David Lehman's The Last Avant-Garde, The Making of the New York School of Poets. Only sixty pages in, but I thought I should report the most impressive biographical fact read so far: At Harvard, Kenneth Koch, a 21-year old rifleman just returned from WWII, wrote his class notes in unrhymed iambic pentameter. He wrote his class notes in iambic pentameter! Reading this last night, I barely suppressed the urge to yell the news through the house. I mean, what bio detail could epitomize he, Ashbery and O'Hara's playful-with-the-serious aesthetic more? But I bit my tongue. My wife, angrily reading plogs, would not have been as impressed as you.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Back to school. The third week starts today. Now I have to shower and make the commute...but quickly, guess how many of my 15 gifted & talented sixth graders are girls?

Give up?



You were close.


Yeah, there are only 3 boys. I've been teaching GT, 6th through 8th grades, for seven years now. And the girl to boy ratio has never been so imbalanced. I'm the oldest of three boys. So I know boys pretty well. Now I'm planning to do some reading on girls. Please recommend books, if you know of any.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Thank you, Neruda

I have been restless with reading poems lately. My dad was diagnosed with cancer a month ago (stage one renal cell carcinoma), and so many poems written in the detached, elliptical style now all the rage just haven't spoken to me from human voices*. But this isn't a complaint, really, just an observation I'm sounding out, however trite--a reminder of one of the reasons we, as readers of poems, dig into them in the first place.

Tonight I read these lines in a Neruda poem for the first time:

Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.
--from "Nothing but Death"

I set the book down on the chair, shivered and understood the strange textures of these lines as if they had occurred to me that day back in July. When I heard Dad has cancer, it was as if someone had made an incision in the air. It was a bright, hot day, and more than the sunlight leaked through the cut. Everything around me filled with his voice, his whistle in the morning when he'd rise and dress for work, his laughter in the kitchen late at night when we all talked and joked. Something cut at the air and threatened the fact of him and all the nouns in his possession (thank you, Brenda Coultas), and it threatened me and my family because we love him. But this wasn't like the horrible moments (these came later)...this moment was radiant and filled with a beauty heavy as the sun.

My grandfather on Dad's side ran a commercial fishing boat on the Delaware Bay, and Dad was first mate during his high school years. One of Dad's most lyrical stories has him standing on the bow one morning, watching four hammerheads glide in sync a thin layer beneath the glassy water, and they were beautiful until he broke away from the trance of their power moved by grace, their embodiment of life by way of death. Tonight, Neruda's poem inhabited an ordinary moment and recollected for me the way death intrudes into whatever we're doing in the meantime. The way it will flood the day with the strangest, most familiar light. Thank you, Neruda.

*There are exceptions, of course--Mary Jo Bang's ellipticism is always from such a lived-in space of ordinarily unspeakable emotion. Alex Lemon has written fantastic associative poems. And there are so many others who have genuinely embraced this aesthetic...so you line scribblers out there will have to forgive this generality missing half its sequins.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Landscape Projected

Good friend Bryan Schutmaat stopped by Kansas City on his way back to Houston from Chicago, where he had been visiting our good friend Dave Gunn, recently expatriated (banished) from Lawrence & Dodge City, Kansas. See the creepy doctored photo of the three of us; from left to right: Dave, Bryan, and me last summer with a ridiculous stache (Danna was terrified for a month).

But we met up, caught up, and then dropped by the Human/Nature: Recent European Landscape Photography show at the Nelson-Atkins museum, where we carved up and ingested the phenomenal landscape photos by Bart Michaels, Andreas Gefeller and five others.

At 24, Bryan is already an accomplished photographer doing gorgeous work with landscape, interiors and portraits. We collaborated recently on a project tentatively titled The Slow Season. My first ekphrastic project, I let a series of his photographs tell me a story, which I recount in short blocks of prose, roughly one per photograph. Here's one of the fifteen photos that shut my mouth, that stilled my qwerty fingers:

On the way home to Houston, invigorated by the landscapes exhibit, Bryan shot this photo:

He sent it to me in an e-mail, calling it "a bit derivative." I call it wonderful.

You can see more of Bryan's work in his Young Photographers United portfolio.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Notes on Baldness

With my thirty-fourth birthday coming up this month, I've been thinking about age and its signifiers in the male animal. Here are some random notes and observations on baldness:

-->100,000 follicles per scalp; each one will grow an average of 20 hairs per lifetime

-->Twenty-five percent of men begin balding by the time they hit 30; two-thirds of the male population in the U.S. will begin balding by age 60; average hair-loss is 100 strands each day; balding men lose upwards of 250 hairs each day

-->My friends and family started noticing my thinning hair at age 24; I started noticing my youngest brother Craig's thinning hair when he was 25, and my middle brother Matt's when he was 24. Dad's hair didn't start thinning until he was in his mid-thirties; grandpa Smith's hair started thinning when he was in his mid-twenties, and his two sons, Mom's brothers, each sport male pattern baldness.

-->So many people will never experience baldness. Here's what it's like to be bald(ing) from season to season:
-Winter: cold on top; a cotton or wool cap feels great, but so do the snowflakes or ice pellets
-Spring: April is the cruelest month; bald men half expect their crowns to bloom like the flowers
-Summer: sunburn is a serious threat to the 8-head; a blinding glare is also a concern
-Fall: the trees losing their leaves hearten the bald guy

-->There are many myths surrounding what causes baldness: Grandpa Smith, for example, told us he had gone bald from wearing a hat during his younger years. This was during the 1930s, 40s, and early 50s, when men wore hats. His sweaty hat band might have increased the bacteria count on his scalp, but I doubt there's a real correlation between haberdashery and baldness. I bet this was a myth perpetuated by a younger, newly hatless generation of men. It wasn't enough that their exposed plumage drew more looks from the ladies, they had to rub it in by suggesting that the hat was oppressive in more ways than one. Of course, I could be completely off-base with this speculation.

-Another myth about baldness is that scalp circulation, or a lack thereof, has something to do with baldness. This has been refuted; the secretion of a specific kind of hormone has more to do with it than anything; don't ask me about the physiology of baldness...Somewhere there's a great picture of novelist Saul Bellow standing on his head (couldn't find it online). I wonder if, aside from yoga and the obvious kick he and his friends got out of it, he did headstands because he believed he was preventing male pattern baldness. Here's a good pic of him upright in the 1960s, wearing a hat to cover his bald pate:

-->There are as many cultural stereotypes surrounding baldness as myths. Bald characters in recent television and movies build off of an archive of archetypal bald traits. Sometimes the bald character is portrayed as psychologically unstable, such as the pedophile (Jackie Hailey) in Little Children, whose half-submerged, sunburnt dome fitted in snorkel and mask at the public pool is conveyed as the most frightening specter imaginable to suburban families. Living with his mother, surrounded by curios, his bald head embodies an infantile state of mind. In another film, Sideways, the balding character Miles (Paul Giamatti) is hyper-sensitive, depressed and anxious. His wife divorced him two years earlier, and we can imagine he has lost upwards of two-hundred and fifty strands of hair each day since:

Bald and balding men can also be tough guys. Take television series The Shield's Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis). A mercurial, nearly sociopathic kinesthetic genius. An effective vice cop who doesn't play by the rules because, as every teenage bully knows, the rules waste time and are followed by sissies. Vic is balding but, as evidenced by an atoll-like shadow of lateral hair, not completely bald. Since a full head of hair would gather resistance, he has chosen to shave his head slick and clean. His meathead could easily kick open doors, and I swear there's an episode where he headbutts a perp senseless.

On the positive end of the bald man spectrum, there are characters such as Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) who are seen as strong, virile, wise, and ethically superior to men with full heads of hair. Here's Pickard at the helm, making the difficult decisions:

-->In researching baldness on-line, I found out that many primate species lose hair following puberty. (Maybe we humans lose hair later because of our prolonged adolescence, and because we have a more advanced cerebral cortex that needs protecting?) Some species even convey increased status through a display of large foreheads; several species cheat by intentionally rubbing their heads bald to attain this status. This reminded me of certain teenage Morrissey fans back in the early nineties who cut faux widow's peaks in their hair to look more like him:

-In terms of baldness in human social evolution, researchers Muscavella & Cunningham speculate that baldness evolved in males through sexual selection as an enhanced signal of aging and social maturity. The bald head of an early human male, then, suggested a decline in risk-taking behaviors and an increase in nurturing ones beneficial to child-rearing. So maybe having less hair says to younger competitors: Dude, I'm older now, not as alluring or tough as you, maybe, but I've got a college education, a two-story house and a new Honda. You might, um, look out?

-->Babies are bald. This might be the most unnerving consideration about balding. Losing your hair is a sort of return to a baby-like state of hairlessness. This frightens men, I think, because it makes physical the already palpable vulnerability of growing older:

-->At nineteen, I was visited in a dream by a bald version of myself. He told me I was looking at what others would see forty years from now. But he was warm, confident and attractive, what old ladies (and my friend Robin) call a Silver Fox. He told me to not be afraid of who I would become. Nearly half-way there, I'm not afraid of turning into the old man who has lost his hair. But I am really dreading that old person smell.

Monday, July 28, 2008

beautiful again, & interesting, & modern

Finished watching last night's season two premier of Mad Men (see yesterday's post). Shazam! As if we needed confirmation that it is the most culturally literate show around, the writers included a voice-over reading of the fourth section of Frank O'Hara's poem "Mayakovsky" in the closing scene. Read by the main character, Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm), the poem and the scene perfectly encapsulate his day in late-winter, in early mid-life, late mid-century.

Danna just found out that Frank O'Hara's book Meditations in an Emergency (Don Draper sees a sophisticated young man reading a copy in a Midtown lunch spot; and in a later scene we see he has purchased a copy) is one of today's most-Googled items. This is such positive exposure for American poetry readership! For many, reading O'Hara might be an inroad to more experimental poetries, both contemporary and historic.

Here's the fourth section of "Mayakovsky"*:

Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.

*Mayakovsky was a Russian poet whose poems O'Hara adored. John Ashbery notes in his introduction to The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara: "...Mayakovsky, from whom he picked up what James Schuyler has called the 'intimate yell.'"

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Art of the Sell

Now recovering from a Mad Men, Season One marathon. 13 Episodes later, we have emerged from the frozen comfort of our one air-conditioned room. Sweaty, bleary-eyed. I am looking around the house for a time machine.

Here are the coordinates I would set:

Date: July 28, 1960.

Place: Madison Avenue, New York, New York.

Here is what I would pack:

A gray suit, a white shirt, Jousting Knight cuff links, a skinny tie, black frame glasses, and I'd walk the avenues uptown, hatless, as was the trend with the stylish young men that year.

And a married man traveling back in time can still let a broad in a sudden red dress catch his eye, can't he? Probably not. That would maybe be a little too fresh. I love my wife so much, I'd experience irrational guilt. I'd then have to set up thrice weekly sits on a psychoanalyst's couch.

Barring time travel, I guess I'll just have to wait for season two.

Mad Men, in case you don't know, is the AMC series about one of the cogs that moved the wheels of post-war consumer culture, the Advertisers who worked on Madison Avenue, New York. The highly-stylized show, set in the summer and fall of 1960, is more than an exercise in period dress, design and diction. The show focuses on the dynamics of an ad agency in that period of American history just after men stopped wearing hats and just prior to when women, at least the daring ones, began wearing pants. Yet socio-political attitudes are still very much those of the previous decades. Everyone smokes and smokes, everywhere, drinks like fish, and eats like razorbacks. The show does a fine job of not romanticizing these excesses while still showing how individuals fell under the sway of being an upper middle class New Yorker in 1960.

It has the surface texture of good post-war suburban/urban malaise fiction such as Richard Yates and John Cheever, while attaining the psycho-cinematic moxie that the Slavoj Zizek crowd enjoys so much. You really need to check out this show if you haven't already. I mean, look at these characters:

You can watch the whole first season here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Luddite for a Day pt. 2

Yesterday, I imagined calling these friends, who I haven't talked to in an unforgivably long time (see yesterday's post). And I heard each of them take in a quick breath of air, exhale in a half-whistle, and say something to this effect: "Hmm, I'm not sure. Lets look it up." Followed by twenty seconds of key strokes, silence and/or small talk until the moment the search terms "dogs + light & sound frequencies" revealed something like the following:

Recall that the frequency range for human hearing is 20 Hz – 20 000 Hz

  • 20 000 Hz can be written as 20 kHz.
  • Electronic systems can be used to produce electrical oscillations with any frequency.
  • These electrical oscillations can be used to produce ultrasonic waves, which have a frequency higher than the upper limit of the hearing range for humans.
  • Some animals such as bats and dolphins emit ultrasonic sounds. Even more animals, such as dogs, can hear them.
My friends would have said something like, "Well, Marcus, this might be your answer. Maybe Eliot is hearing the sound waves emitted from the motion sensor, which sends something like radar through the room to detect motion--." I probably should have called them first. Don't nominate me King Luddite. I don't deserve it after all.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Luddite for a Day

Yesterday, a salesman knocked on our door while I was napping upstairs. When the knock came, Danna was downstairs, reading D-Listed updates, etcetera, summer etcetera. Kinder than I am toward people who cold-knock door-to-door, she locked our temperamental Boston Terrier T.S. Eliot in the bathroom and stepped out to greet him. After the security system salesman explained that there have been two break-ins on our street in the past month, she invited him to sit on the patio chairs and give his spiel. Two hours later, we had a free system installed in exchange for giving his company a square foot of advertising space on the front lawn. One of the best things about having the summers off is this sort of disruption of the routine. I have mixed feelings about routine.

Today, Eliot's morning routine is disrupted, apparently, by
the sudden presence of a motion sensor perched above the living room curtains (he just noticed it fifteen minutes ago). Which means our routine is disrupted, too, because we are puzzled away from our morning reading and talking about our reading, summer etcetera. I'm fascinated. As I type this upstairs in my little study, Eliot sits on the couch goggle-eyed, taking in the sensor and the area around the sensor, and it's as if he can see the waves of light invisible to us. Can dogs see light on this end of the spectrum? I imagine they can but don't know for sure. Curious, I'm going to do a search later to find out. Herein lies my love-hate relationship with the internet. Before this epoch, wouldn't a guy have simply dialed up his most science-minded friends, say, his college friend with a degree in engineering or his other college friend with a degree in physics? From such an inquiry, a conversation would have happened, no doubt--two human voices registering wonder at the world. Would you nominate me King Luddite for a Day if I tell you tomorrow I called these friends first?