Thursday, May 31, 2007

Good Things: Fermentables

Earlier this spring, I started experimenting with small batches of beer -- 2, maybe 2 1/2 gallons instead of 5 gallons at a time -- and with making each batch from scratch, from grain, with no canned malt syrup.

And they've been great. I don't know if it's the size or whatever magic you get when you make something from scratch instead of with a bunch of pre-packaged stuff or if I've just gotten lucky with the recipes I've made up, but they've been, almost without exception, really, really tastey.

The best? I don't know. Right now, given how hot and humid it is in Virginia, I might vote for the Saison, which is light and sort of fruity and spicey. Or maybe the Tiny Hop Slam, which is my attempt to make a smaller, less alcohol-y version of the Bell's supermojo.

In the Style of Nobis: Book Reviews

As Professor Nobis shows, the five-second book review works.

Ian McEwan's Amsterdam: The first 2/3rds or so of this is quite good. After that, I stopped caring. It got too neat. Up to that point, the echoes, the use of repeating motifs, the way McEwan exploited the fact that one protagonist is a composer to justify and enrich the variations and connections between the various facets of the book, worked. Then, the whole thing just started sounding one note. Again. And again. And even though the conclusion is the fatal flaw of Clive's fictional symphony, I can't bring myself to believe that McEwan intentionally sabotaged the final movement of the novel to echo that failure.

Atonement was better. Saturday was better. The Child in Time was better. But, still, good for a while.

Back to School

Not that Rodney Dangerfield film (but maybe that, too), but me trying to catch up on all the stuff that I should have done when I was sitting in bed reading, listening to music, and waiting for my steri-strip things to fall off and ring the All Done Healing Bell.

Much grading.

Much trying to crank out this year's literary magazine.

Much trying to write a Baccalaureate speech by June 10.

Much trying to write two units for an online film study course.

But, then, the iPod just shuffled up Eric B. and Rakim's "I Ain't No Joke," so all is, ultimately, pretty damn good. "You like to exaggerate, dream and imaginate," Rakim says. Imaginate. Poetry is, obviously, everywhere.


I saw a quarter of game three, missed game four, and, from what I've read, that was probably okay. It also means, though, that I have nothing to say.

We'll see what happens in tonight's game.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cleveland - Detroit: Game One

Strange game. Not a great game. Not necessarily even an enjoyable game.

But Detroit won.


Before game two, tonight, I must ask: did anyone else catch LeBroN JamEs laying out Mr. Webber with that elbow on a drive? No replay on TNT that I caught, but, dang, something done flattened Chris.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Who wants a picture of an appendix?

Shoot, that's what Wikipedia is for, no?

Instead, have a picture of Harper. I'm sure he'll be wiki-wiki-wikified at some point in the future, but, until then, I have to bring the rain.

And, make no mistake, it's raining here in D.C.

Pistons Move On

I watched this one from a bit of a post-surgical fog, but I'm still feeling good about it and I'm still feeling good about Tayshaun and how perfectly that boy backed down Deng for the jump-hook over and over again.

And I'm feeling good about the new basketball rule that I learned during this game: apparently, if you're shooting a three and your shot gets blocked, you can grab the defender's shoulder on your way to the floor and get yourself a foul call. Nice! That's some mad science they never taught me at the YMCA.

Other thing I've learned: Deng is the Bull folks should talk about for the next year.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Schulze Organ Count: Minus One

Um, yeah. So, I just got my appendix removed.

I figured, Professor Nobis done got his taken out, and right about this time of year, too, I think, and, thus, after enjoying an amazing spring Sunday, a great family get-together, and an evening of deliberately not doing schoolwork, I decided to spend the next 12 hours trying to sleep through increasingly ridiculous pain until I pulled the trigger and went to the hospital.

One day later, one appendix shorter, and I'm back home.

The positives? Got to re-read The Wanderer, almost (finally) finish Pynchon's Against the Day, and listen to a lot of music. And nothing but more reading in store for the next week.

Chicago - Detroit: Game Four

Okay, I didn't see the game. It was an unbelievable afternoon in Virginia -- one of those perfect, windy, sunny, 70-degree, spring days when there really is not a good enough reason to be inside.

But, I guess I didn't miss that much. At least, not much beyond Kirk Hinrich punching Flip Murray in the groin. See the video here: punch-that-clown.

Lots of crotch shots in the NBA this playoff season.

And, let's make that the last time that phrase pops up here.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Detroit - Chicago: Game Three

I thought this was the best piece of analysis of game three of the Detroit-Chicago series. It comes from the comments section of the Detroit Bad Boys blog.

“You know how — as a kid of the ’80s — sometimes you’d think you pressed pause on the awkward Nintendo controller during Mike Tyson’s Punchout…

and say you were fighting Glass Joe…

But you didn’t really pause the game, so while you were getting some Kool Aid, talking on the phone, or destroying a Micro Magic cheeseburger, Glass Joe was having his way with helpless Little Mac?

You know when you came back to the game, Little Mac had already been knocked down once and his energy level was way down?

You know what I’m talking about?

Well, when you came back to the game, you didn’t press reset, did you? I mean, you were fighting Glass Joe for godsakes. You just grabbed the controller and beat the hell out of him for the remainder of the fight.

And you still won by TKO (or, “eee aaaa uuuu,” according to the ref) just as you would have had you succeeded in pressing pause or been playing since the beginning of the fight.
Well the Bulls are obviously Glass Joe (or glass psyche, in this case), and the Pistons just beat the hell out of them. My guess is that we’ll still see the TKO.”

See, I’m in favor of pretty much anything that uses the NES as a metaphor. Comparing, say, a beer to one of the weapons in Super Contra, or a particular day to a Super Tecmo Bowl player, or even a particular day to that one game, every season, in Tecmo that the NES decides – just straight-up decides – that you are going to lose, no matter who you’re playing or how healthy your players are.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Dispatches from the iPod

The next five songs to come up on shuffle on the iPod:

1. “I Believe in You” by Neil Young. Professor Neil. From After the Gold Rush, of course. Like the best of Neil, it’s beguilingly simple and affecting and perfect. And it’s got a great mix of acoustic guitar (right), piano (center), and electric guitar (left).

2. “Maggie’s Farm,” by Bob Dylan. Bob and Neil back to back. Every once in a while, that little hard drive gets it right. “They say, ‘Sing while you slave,’ but I just get bored” still gets me, no matter how many times I hear it. And how many times have I heard the song? A thousand? Would that be an overly grandiose number?

3. “Animal Sings Gershwin (A Foggy Day)” from one of the Muppet Show albums. Eleven seconds. Animal hits the drums, cries out, “A foggy day in London Town” and the song ends. Who’s going to argue with that? Nada y pues nada.

4. “Donuts (Intro)” by J. Dilla. Okay, I’m not really hip enough to justify this, and the album works better in long chunks than when just one of the little 70-second segments pops up, but, even so, when they do, I feel like Bobby arguing the merits of soul food: “Because it makes me happy.” Plus, it makes for much better hipster listening than, say, the Arcade Fire. I don’t have a particular problem with histrionics, as such, but which old god done decided that what indie rock had really been missing all these years was a disco beat?

5. “Hat and Beard,” by Eric Dolphy. From Out to Lunch, a great, leaping, jarring album with incredibly angular playing and crazy rhythms. And, it’s got vibes. And Tony Williams plays drums on it, kicking all kinds of 1964 rump: over the beat, under the beat, around the beat, up and down the pulse. Rumplestomping of the third degree.

And a bonus, since Animal's number was only eleven seconds long: "Everybody Loves to Cha-Cha-Cha," by Sam Cooke. I have nothing bad to say about Sam Cooke, but, if I tried, I could come up with a few relatively negative things to say about this song. But, then, in the end, it's Sam Cooke, and there's some cowbell, and, if nothing else, it's an excuse to think, for a moment, about Real Genius: "Okay, just take a step back. And a step forward. And now we cha-cha."

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

More Hemingway

Another great story from the Hemingway collection: “The Sea Change.” This one is a conversation between a man and a woman in a bar at the end of a relationship. And the bartender watches, but thinks about a horse. The couple is young, tan, healthy, and the man does not know how to deal with the fact that “the girl” is leaving him to pursue a lesbian affair.

At the beginning of the story, the man looks at the girl and notes, in a great sentence, how “her skin was a smooth golden brown, her blonde hair was cut short and grew beautifully away from her forehead.” Toward the end, as he sends her away, he looks at her again, noting again her hair and how it grows, but this time without the “beautifully.” And his voice sounds strange to him. And he feels like a different man. And he finds that he has “settled into something.” And he moves to the bar, remarking that, “Vice… is a very strange thing” and joining the couple (are they men?) already sitting there. The “other two” make room for him, “so that he would be quite comfortable.”


Nada y Pues

Students are working on a choice reading project at the moment, so I’m reading in class, as well. This morning, I read a bunch of Hemingway’s short stories. I’m not a huge fan of Hemingway’s novels – though The Sun Also Rises has some amazing moments and is, unlike, for me, any of the others, worth reading – but I almost always like his short stories. What’s more, they strike me, ultimately, as much richer thematically than the longer works. I find much more to think about in them. Or, at least, I find myself actually wanting to think about them more.

In any case, here’s a great moment from near the end of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

“What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

You got to admit: that’s fantastic. The whole story is.

Twenty years from now, running for the senate, I’ll destroy my campaign by answering a question about attending church by quoting part of that: “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name…”

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Detroit - Chicago: Game Two

Another game, another rout. This one wasn't nearly as much fun to watch as game one, due mostly to the fact that play stopped on every other possession for a couple of free throws. I'm all for hard, working ball, but let me see movement for more than 45 seconds at a time.

That said, you know that cliche about how the game wasn't as close as the score might indicate? That applies here -- and the score wasn't even remotely close. The only thing that kept the score as close (if you can call 21 points close) as it came out was the number of free throws Chicago took.

And (damn him and his university-destroying sturm und whine), Webber had a ridiculous game. Ten of eleven shots?

And Prince was everywhere. Everywhere.

And how do you get to pros, get to the playoffs, play a major role in sweeping Miami, and then double-dribble? Mr. Gordon?

Monday, May 7, 2007

Harrison Knows Teaching

Okay, so one more little thing from Harrison's Off to the Side, which is all too relevant at the moment. In a section describing a year spent teaching composition, Harrison writes off how he accumulated student paper after student paper, could hardly stand to look at them, had no idea how to deal with them, and finally piled them into his car and hauled them to the dump.

Bob Talbert Had a Name for This

More good things, in no particular order:

1. The beating that Detroit put on Chicago on Saturday night: Billups getting Gordon into foul trouble in the first quarter; no one losing it on questionable calls; focus, focus, and more focus; all of those forced Chicago turnovers, etc.

2. Sly Stone’s album Fresh. It’s like Stone trying to bounce back from the darkness and paranoia of There’s a Riot Goin’ On and only making it halfway. The songs are elastic, his vocals are amazing, and it has, in “If You Want Me to Stay,” one of the best singles Stone released. And that’s saying a lot.

3. Joe Henry’s cover of Sly Stone’s “Let Me Have It All” on Henry’s album Trampoline.

4. Harper, two weeks beyond his second birthday, reminding me, throughout the first quarter of Saturday’s game, that “Chauncey Billups is bald.” And then insisting, as we watched a couple of minutes of the Suns-Spurs game, that every bald player he saw was, in fact, Chauncey Billups.

5. A pale ale that I made a month or so ago. It’s hopped only with Amarillo hops and it’s dry and incredibly citrusy. Like grapefruit beer, kind of. Or like Squirt with less sweet and more bitter. I dunno. But it’s good.

6. Just over a month of school remaining.

7. I've been married for seven years today.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Shuffle

The best songs I heard while running yesterday:

1. "Get to Know You" by the Vandalias. This is from one of the Yellow Pills compilations of power-pop. It's classic late-period crunchy power-pop, and catchy, too, of course. Plus, it has this magic chord in the chorus, the same magic chord that The Beatles use all the time. I don't know what it is, exactly, but you know it when you hear it. It's that transitional chord, that minor-seventh, or something.

2. "Message to the Boys" by the Replacements. One of the two new songs on the Don't You Know collection. I won't argue that this is, like, the equal of "Left of the Dial" or "Alex Chilton" or "Favorite Thing" "Color Me Impressed," but it is good. And it's got a great opening line: "Met her in bar / Like I always say." And maybe that's almost too easy a line for a Westerberg song, but it acknowledges it's own self-mythology, right?

3. "Shake Some Action" by the Flamin' Groovies. This one speaks for itself.

I suppose a real blog-person would go ahead and link to some on-line shop offering those albums for sale. Right.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Jim Harrison's Eye

Some of the great writing in Off to the Side finds Jim Harrison writing about losing his eye as a child and the attempts to restore sight to it.

Here's a poem I wrote that is, I guess, as the title suggests, about that eye.

Jim Harrison’s Eye

A writer I’ve never met
Living in Michigan
Lost an eye as a child
And now sees grace, bones, and spirit in
Immigrants and mountains.

He can sing of oxygen felt
Humming through his heart
On Lake Superior, northern
Lights sent spinning green
Across the sky.

I kept both eyes, grew up easy,
Hunted imaginary deer at dawn,
Pushed slow through November
And crouched behind great rolls of hay,
The straw sharp against my face.

I kept both eyes, tried to forge
Wisdom out of complexity,
Waited for grand visions,
Awe and wonder,
Invented scars to impress the page.

I misled myself and missed
The falling stars and the
Muffled white of winter,
The freedom that rubs
Raw stones, forests, and soil.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Jim Harrison's Memoir

Parts of it are great. Most of the first half, childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, is fantastic. A couple of the "obsession" chapters are great. The Hollywood segments get tiring. Even Harrison seems bored by a lot of the Hollywood stuff and writing about how much money he made and when he made it and what he did with it and who he had dinner with in Aspen, for the writing slips off into repitition.

Following Dunn

A follow-up, this time a fragment of Wallace Stevens, related both to that Stephen Dunn poem and, to a lesser extent, to Jim Harrison’s memoir Off to One Side, which I read over spring break. The memoir itself is okay, occasionally great, especially when focused on Harrison’s relationship, both as a child and an adult, with the Michigan landscape. The pleasure of the concrete. Not of concrete, but of that which is concrete. As Edward Abbey almost put it, of this rock, this tree, this cloud.

“The greatest poverty is not to live
In a physical world, to feel that one’s desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair. Perhaps,
After death, the non-physical people, in paradise,
Itself non-physical, may, by chance, observe
The green corn gleaming and experience
The minor of what we feel.”

- Wallace Stevens: from “Esthetique du Mal”

Hubcaps and Day-Glo

I read Stephen Dunn’s poem “Introduction to the Twentieth Century” again today. It opens like this:

“The conveyor belts bearing hubcaps and loneliness
Were everywhere, and the invisible ruts in the air
Could transport you for a lifetime
If you weren’t careful.”

Nothing particularly surprising there, right? And, actually, on this reading, it struck me as rather pedestrian. Almost predictable. Almost, “Yes, right, here’s a poem about the twentieth century and blah blah blah and we were lonely and we lived monotonous lives and we were sedated by luxuries and we bought and we bought and etc.” The whole first stanza is like that for me: “There was no way / to escape the Day-Glo and boldface” and so forth, the only exception being the line, “Monotony had a hair trigger,” which I love.

But the second stanza: that’s where the poem takes off. That’s where we find this:

“Yet some of us were happy for hours, days, weeks.
Even in the subways there were people to love,
There were children who ripped apart their mothers
To get into the world, and them others called them
Daughter or Son, and the fathers got drunk
And felt they had a say in the universe.
This would happen every day!”

Right. So much there. So much that could be, in the hands of a smaller poet, shrugged off as too easy, as almost contrived (in concept), as the same old ground that’s been worked over countless times by others, whether put down in poems or not. It could go the way of the first stanza. But it doesn’t. Here, it lives. It matters. Notice how perfectly the sentiment at the start of the stanza meshes with the exclamatory statement that follows, reminding us, through the speaker, that, yep, given all we’ve seen in the first stanza, all we’ve seen in our own lives, all the time that we’ve spent railing at imperfection, at inadequacy, at the loss of beauty, at the transformation of our lives into routine and advertisements and slow death by acquisition, we still, occasionally, even every day, sit up with sudden joy, sudden wonder, sudden happiness, sudden laughter.

And I love how Dunn allows the fathers to feel they have a say in the universe only when they’re drunk. As if they can dare hope that they matter, that they are not powerless, only when intoxicated, only when they, paradoxically, can claim less responsibility for their thoughts and actions. As if facing that hope, that belief, that bit of fundamental trust that an individual has a say in his own life, damnit, might be too frightening, particularly if facing it might mean acknowledging it, and as if acknowledging it might mean acting on it. And, I guess if you’re drunk, you get to duck the responsibility that such a hope, such a feeling, might entail.

The poem continues:

“This would happen every day! And for every death
There was a building or a poem. For every
Lame god a rhythm and a hunch, something local
We could possibly trust.”

It celebrates, like so much of Wallace Stevens’ work, our ability to find mystery and goodness in the concrete, in our own lives, in “something local.”

Even in the subways, no less.

There are more lines, six or seven of them, but they’re blah blah Hitler and blah blah Stalin until the very end, when Dunn kills me with this:

“In difficult times, we came to understand,
It’s the personal and only the personal that matters.”