December 2007 minutiae

  • I dream about locker rooms a lot more than one would expect given that I haven't been in one since 1987. The locker rooms are usually co-ed, which could potentially be titillating except for the fact that they're also usually empty. They are always a little musty and run-down, and usually I have a strong sense that I'm not supposed to be there — that I have taken advantage of a faulty lock or something.

  • Abolish Standard Time! Ever since the clocks went back an hour, evening traffic has been many times worse. The sign that usually says 10 minutes to OAK and 22 minutes to SFO now regularly clocks in at 45 and 60+, respectively, and those tend to be underestimates (at least on the OAK side).

  • I have been in California for over two years now, but I am still keeping my vow where the weather is concerned. As I walked out of Tacubaya I overheard some people complaining about how horribly cold it was, and at Sketch the proprietor asked, "Why aren't you wearing a jacket?!" It was 58 degrees! When it hit 58 degrees in Massachusetts I reanimated the corpse of Mark Linn-Baker and did the Dance of Joy. I will never complain about the weather in California.

  • I don't know about you, but when I am going to go to sleep, first I turn off all the lights except for the one by the bed, then I get into bed, and then I turn off the light be the bed. So why is it that every hotel I've stayed in recently doesn't have a light that can be turned off by someone in bed? Who installs the lighting in a room such that the occupant must turn off the lights and then stumble across the room in the dark in order to get into bed?

  • They say nobody walks in L.A., but I discovered that I would rather walk several miles a day than have to deal with a valet guy. Having to interact with a human in order to have access to my transportation makes me very anxious. So staying in a hotel with no self-parking turned out to be a great workout plan. I walked several miles a day!

  • It helped that L.A. is flat. I am embarrassed to say that I usually drive to Berkeley instead of taking BART even when I'm only going to places within a reasonable distance of the stations — the hills kill me.

  • When I go to one of those community restaurant review sites like Yelp I find that every L.A. listing is tagged with writeups warning people about how rude the servers are. This has tended to make me nervous, because the vibe I give out could not possibly be less hip and so I kind of expect L.A. types to throw garbage at me. But I have never found any of these places to be as rude as advertised. Maybe the difference is that I am not expecting to be fawned over.

  • I have written a fair amount recently about how quickly the artworks of past eras lose their immediacy and become objects to be admired and studied rather than loved. So it is weird to hear a snatch of "Greensleeves" and think "dang, that's a hell of a good melody" and then realize that the person who wrote it lived half a millennium ago.

  • Speaking of old songs, I recently learned the lyrics to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," and they seemed shockingly inappropriate. Later I learned that the lyrics to the first song with that melody were about a maimed soldier. Perhaps whoever changed them to be about adulation for a triumphant war hero might have wanted to take the song out of fricking G minor.

  • In 1981, when I had just started 4th grade, there was a kid at my school bus stop who told me about the video for the song "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John and said that the fat guys were really funny. He said I should watch it sometime, but I didn't actually know what a music video was at the time so I didn't know how to go about finding it. By the time I started watching MTV a couple of years later, it was out of the rotation, and I forgot all about that rave review until this month when Jennifer posted about a DVD of 80s videos. I then watched the "Physical" video on Youtube. I wonder what that dude would have thought had he known that I would take his recommendation seriously enough to follow through on it 26+ years later.

  • Listening to "Physical" was basically a nostalgia dagger straight into my forebrain. I had more or less forgotten what it was like to be seven, but this song (which played on the radio more or less nonstop in 1981) brought it all back. I was so much further away from death then!

  • Also, I only really knew Olivia Newton-John from the "Physical" era, with the Princess Di mullet and the sweatband. After pulling up this video I clicked onto a video of "Magic" in which she has long hair. She is super cute! Plus the song transported me into the dreamtime past of my pre-California days, back before I was really conscious of time as a measurable dimension.

  • More 80s music: while I like many versions of "Self Control" (the song, not the video, despite the forthcoming Youtube links) to one degree or another, the best is the original by Raf, which I had never even heard of until 23 years after buying the Laura Branigan cover on 45. I had no idea that "Self Control" was so much more popular in Europe than in the US — apparently for a couple of weeks the #1 song in West Germany was Laura Branigan's version and the #2 song was Raf's! — or that consequently there are so many Euro-dance covers of it. The Soraya Arnelas version is notable in that Soraya, a Spaniard, really hits the R's in words like "girls" and "matters" and "you're" — you know, the R's that serve as one of the primary identifiers separating American from British English. I love the way these words end up sounding! But is that a Spanish accent or something idiosyncratic? (Meanwhile, the American Laura Branigan doesn't pronounce the R's in her cover!)

  • About that Laura Branigan video above — as with "Physical," the first time I saw this was just now, on Youtube. It actually came out during my MTV-watching days, but MTV banned it. Little did I know that the legion of "Self Control" covers included the movie Eyes Wide Shut!

  • I try not to be a packrat — I regularly sell off sizeable chunks of my book and CD collections — but I sure wouldn't mind having the enormous stack of 45s I had as a kid back. Not to listen to, even. Just as a totemic thing.

  • I did a couple of surveys to see how people would answer the question "What are the primary colors?" Of those who answered that they were red, yellow, and blue, a strong majority listed them in that order. The only exceptions listed them "red, blue, yellow." Interestingly, everyone who answered "red, blue, and green" listed them in that order, despite the fact that the common acronym, RGB, puts blue last.

    It is well documented that every language has words for black and white (or at least for dark and light), and that every language that has a word for even one more color has a word for red. I wonder whether people always list red first because of that phenomenon, or because of its position in the spectrum, or for some other reason.

  • I noticed that John Allison posted an announcement that he was considering shutting down the Scary Go Round message board due to lack of traffic. I can't help but think that some of this might be due to the fact that nearly every time someone posts an observation about the comic, Allison appears and has a little freakout about it. "It feels personal, personal to me. I can't help it," he posted once. And if Allison doesn't jump in, the moderators (who are now basically the only ones posting) do.

    I'm very interested in the way the web has changed the dynamics between artist and audience. It used to be that in order to reach an audience, you had to go through the intermediary of a publisher, which sort of by default meant that you agreed that you were offering up your work to the public and therefore had to have a thick skin about the public's reaction. Nowadays I find that a lot of people want to release their work but still consider it more or less private. Even those who don't have the audacity to come right out and declare "Positive comments are welcome" after posting something often make it clear that they consider criticism of their work an attack on their very souls — and that they have no desire to cultivate healthy detachment.

  • Elizabeth whimpers a lot in her sleep but to my knowledge I have never made sounds in reality while reacting to dreams — until this month, when I woke up from a dream laughing out loud. Why was I laughing? Because in my dream I had been watching a man kicking a football, and it did not go very far.

  • I have become kind of addicted to pistachios. It's not just because they taste good, but also because cracking open the shells is a mindless activity that I find myself doing instead of playing Tetris or Minesweeper or whatever.

  • I was listening to "Marketplace" on NPR and there was a report about how thanks to the advent of flat-screen TVs, hotels now find themselves looking to get rid of thousands upon thousands of armoires. Now, there is a standard American pronunciation of the word "armoire", which you can listen to here. It's basically "arm-warr". I suppose you could also go with the French pronunciation, since it is derived from French. What you should not do is file a radio piece in which you say the word "armoire" a hundred times and pronounce it "om-wah" every time.

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