Saturday, July 29, 2006

Saturday Evening Post

I know that everything is going to fucking hell. And I know that, some time ago, this blog would have been aglow with my fury. The misery and the injustice -- and the future reckoning -- seem all too plain for even the most casual observer.

So instead, I continue to try to amuse you. This morning, lying in bed, I read one of the funniest things I've come across in years: Montaigne coming to the defense of the penis:
We have reason to remark the untractable liberties taken by this member, which intrudes so tiresomely when we do not require it and fails us so annoyingly when we need it most, imperiously pitting its authority against that of the will, and most proudly and obstinately refusing our solicitations both mental and manual. Yet if on being rebuked for rebellion and condemned on that score he were to engage me to plead his cause, I might perhaps cast some suspicion on our other members, his fellows, of having framed this fictitious case against him out of pure envy of the importance and pleasure attached to his functions.
From "On the Power of the Imagination".

Saturday, July 22, 2006

In your head

continuing our Where in the World is Octopus Grigori series . . . .

When I read Mrs. Octopus's blog, I hear her voice as I read the words. The same thing happens when I read letters from friends. It's just like on TV or in the movies, when someone is reading a letter or a note and there's a voiceover. The voiceover is always somewhat eerily patient and calm, though, as if the author of the letter or note, now a disembodied voice, is exhausted, weary. And then you have those moments where the voiceover of the author reaches a funny part of her letter and chuckles just a bit, and the reader simultaneously nods his head and chuckles to himself a little. But the reader doesn't chuckle too much -- because that would be weird. The reader is always somewhat restrained in how much they can chuckle at the disembodied voice's jokes. These scenes are always marked by a tinge of sadness.

When I read the blogs of people I don't know, I end up substituting a familiar voice, maybe a friend's voice, or an anonymous voice from TV or the radio, for the voice of the blog author. (I do a similar thing when I read books and have to imagine a house described in the book -- I always, without thinking, select a house that I've been in before, usually a friend's house, and use that as the mental image of the house in the book.) I usually hear legal opinions in the voice of some old, finicky person. I'm not sure in what voice I hear appliance instructions, street signs, or newspaper articles. Although, now that I think about it, if the byline reveals the gender of the author, I will hear the article in an anonymous gender-appropriate voice. I'm having a hard time thinking of what voice I hear when I read headlines. It's likely a middle-aged male voice. Ditto with text that crawls at the bottom of a news program's screen.

Anyhow, I wonder what this blog sounds like in someone's head who doesn't know me and has never heard me speak. I have no control over what I'll sound like in the head of a stranger -- he could have chosen to hear these words in his head as the voice of Ronald Reagan, Donald Duck, or maybe Casey Kasem. If I had an option to choose, as one would a font, I think I might opt to have the words on this blog heard in the heads of readers as the voice of John F. Kennedy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or perhaps Peter Lorre.

Update: I just reread this post, and I can't quite tell what voice I hear when I read my own writing. I kind of want to say that I don't hear any voice, but that's not quite right.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Metro 81

Blogging from the bus. There's a line that stops right near our place in Eagle Rock and stops two blocks from my office. The bus was basically empty yesterday. Today, it's pretty full. Also, today the video screens have the sound turned on, which is sort of annoying. Still, this is much more fun than driving.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Windsor, Connecticut

continuing our Where in the World is Octopus Grigori series . . . .

Our house in Windsor was fine, I wasn't sure why we had to leave. It was close to my Montessori school, my best friend in the world, Nancy, a girl about five years older than me, lived next door, we had a pool, and a creek down in the backyard, at the bottom of the sloping, seemingly endless lawn. My memories did not go any further back than this house, which we had moved to when I was about a year and half.

I remembered my brother being born soon after we had moved in, tents being put up in the backyard for my father's friend's wedding -- the ceremony was in front of our fireplace. My brother and I shared a room, with our beds forming a V against the walls. We had learned to swim in our pool. I remembered closing my eyes and still seeing the red of the blood in my eyelids from the sun coming through our living room window. We had a dogwood tree in the back of the house that flowered in the summer, and again in the winter, when it was iced over, sparkling in the flat January sunlight. I was rolling down the hill in the backyard and something went into my eye. I had to go to the eye doctor, who made me sit in a chair in a dark room while he shined a flat blue plane of light across my eye from behind a large scope.

I remembered coloring a balloon and noticing the weird square they draw on round things like balloons to show that they're round and wondering if it was supposed to be a reflection of a window. Sometimes I got Chef Boyardee ravioli, which I loved.

My father and his friends played ping-pong in our basement, with the concrete floor. We ate berries off the bushes by the creek. Nancy showed me which berries weren't too sour. There was a tree in spring we climbed into and found a nest with bright blue robins' eggs. Our friends came over and we ran around the yard in Underoos with garbage bags for capes and soda six-pack rings as masks.

We got Batman and Robin walkie-talkies for Eid. My brother and I talked to each other through the walls of the house until my mom made us go to bed. Nancy had a small cardboard theater, in which she could put on a finger puppets show.

I remember going to look for new houses with my mom. I remember her asking, in each town, about the schools. I liked the houses that had cool posters -- I remember wanting to move into the house that had a poster of a tiger on the ceiling above the stairs. We got to one last house, a white house, surrounded by trees, on a hill. There was a jungle gym in the back, and the kitchen had saloon doors. My mom asked me what I thought. There was no pool, but she said she would get us a small pool to make up for it. I said okay.

Monday, July 17, 2006

One-on-One Pictionary

Mrs. Octopus and I were bored the other night, unable to think of anything to do on a Saturday night in Los Angeles. So I suggested one-on-one Pictionary. Mrs. Octopus very aptly objected that one-on-one Pictionary wouldn't make any sense.

I thought, for some reason, that it would be the funniest thing ever. As I imagined it, one player would be drawing the answer, trying desperately to get his opponent to blurt out the answer -- perhaps from the sheer persuasiveness and power of the drawing. The drawer would draw and gesticulate furiously, and the guesser would either stay silent or make wildly inaccurate guesses. The guesser making wildly inaccurate guesses would run the risk that the drawer was drawing the opposite of what the clue was, and that by trying to be funny, the guesser would stumble into the actual answer.

I don't know if it would be even more fun the other way round: the drawer would draw nothing or something incomprehensible or totally misleading and the guesser would try his hardest to somehow come up with the right clue, throwing out guess after guess. Similar strategies as in the prior scenario would come into play.

We are going to update our Netflix queue.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Eagle Rock

continuing the Where in the World is Octopus Grigori series . . . .

It's about 106° F here in Eagle Rock right now, at 5:15 p.m. My brain has stopped functioning properly in the heat. The funny thing is that my soccer team has a game scheduled for tomorrow at 1:45 in the afternoon. I think some players may actually die.

We've fled the house for the afternoon and come to some coffee shop on Eagle Rock Boulevard called Sw├Ârk. (The umlaut should actually be over the w, but I can't do that on a Mac.) Our house doesn't have central air -- I've never lived in a house that has. We didn't think it would be a big deal. The previous owner had lived there for thirty years and survived, so we thought that surely we would too.

Ha! We simply forgot to factor in THE FIERY END OF THE WORLD, which we are currently enduring. Anyway, this Swork place is okay. It's a little annoying: it's got this very mid-90's Bay Area/Seattle dot com boom feel to it (lots of solid red design elements, internet terminals, natural wood color Scandinavian-type furniture, etc.) I'm going to stop complaining, because it's not Starbucks (there are only two Sworks, apparently), and they have a "Sworkuccino" called the "Eagle Roca", which is ridiculous, but tastes really fucking good.

In any event, it's certainly no Fall Cafe, but it'll do for now. I am liking Eagle Rock more and more all the time. It certainly has a lot going for it: a Trader Joe's, a decent vegan restaurant, a pizza place, a decent comic book store, and a pretty nice bar all within walking distance, a pretty big park nearby, super easy access to Pasadena and Glendale, reasonable access to downtown, and that whole weird small-town, time-warp feel about this place (even though we are technically still in Los Angeles). It's got these 50's-looking hamburger stands, ancient florists, and old auto repair places that make it feel a little Archie and Betty in Riverdale. But then you have the bizarre (and seemingly unsustainable?) boutiques selling Japanese comics, special outfits for yuppie babies, candles, overpriced vintagey looking crap and clothes, etc. My main gripe is that there are no movie theaters or bookstores (as far as I can tell) in Eagle Rock, which seems really weird. Instead, we have about 15 lube/oil change places. Also, there's no good Chinese or Mexican food in Eagle Rock that I've found so far. (If anyone knows of any, please instruct me.) We have one crappy, overpriced, lifeless Vietnamese place, but there's another one opening up soon. I wish there were a cafe here unlike Swork or the horrendous Coffee Table, something a little dingier and less expensive.

Oh, whinge and whine. It's so hard to keep a finicky deluded yuppie happy. He has so many stupid little needs.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Where in the World is Octopus Grigori: Hawaii

Somehow, it ended up that I had to go into the sixth grade principal's office and explain to him that we were going on a family vacation and that I would miss six days of school. "Where are you going?" he asked. "Hawaii," I said. "That should be very nice," he said, but not in the kindest way.

The flight went on forever. Water, water, water, and then green mountains, palms under thin clouds, beaches, massive hotels, bright blue swimming pools. Maui. The plane pulled up from the runway at the last second before landing. We shot back into the sky. The pilot came on, midwestern chuckle and casual explanation: we'd need to try that again.

The airport was so small. They checked our suitcases and slapped "Hawaii" stickers on them. The tan little Samsonite my brother and I were sharing was much improved with that sticker. It stayed on that suitcase for the next eighteen years. We left the suitcase on the curb in Brooklyn the night before we started out for California.

There was a shuttle waiting for us at the airport. The hotel smelled like rain and fog and large flowers that were always damp. The atrium was huge. We rushed upstairs, changed, and ran out onto the beach. We were in Hawaii. We ran out into the surf, the sand quickly turning to sharp coral, tearing into our feet.

Glaxo was paying for the trip. The same company that made my light blue Ventolin inhalers. They had chocolate chip muffins at breakfast in the tree-filled atrium. I had never heard of such a thing. The pool had three sections, three waterfalls.

We had mango ice cream at a store in town, in waffle cones. We had never had waffle cones before -- they smelled so good. My parents and their friends stopped their rental car in front of someone's yard -- there was a huge mango tree. My parents and their friends went up to the door of the house and asked if they could pick some of the mangoes. They looked so beautiful on the tree, they'd be willing to pay. The people were happy to let my parents and their friends pick the mangoes.

We were "tsunami warriors" at dusk, trying to stand up to the huge waves just before sunset. People played tennis on the beachside courts behind us. I was facing my brother, showing him my Karate Kid crane kick and he tried to warn me, but I didn't hear him in time. A huge wave picked me up, lifted me six or seven feet, and slammed me into the solid, flat, wet part of the beach. My brother came up to me and I tried to talk to him, but I could only make groaning, gagging sounds. My tongue had gone totally numb, and I couldn't really control my vocal cords. After a few moments, I was able to breathe. I was able to form a word or two, but gagged and groaned a bit after that as well.

We had CNN in our room. We watched an entire news cycle, the news repeating after an hour or so. We watched "The Right Stuff" on HBO. We caught the scene where the astronaut not chosen for the mission takes a test plane straight up, out of the atmosphere. He catches a brief, wispy glimpse of the stars before his plane fails and he hurtles back down to earth.

Our hotel had a metal sculpture map of the Hawaiian islands on one of its walls. We picked the other islands we would go to, next time. There was a Beni Hana type restaurant in the hotel.

We had lunch on a volcano. I got a key ring with a Hawaiian god-type guy on it. There was a luau buffet at the hotel. Everything smelled like the outdoor torches and the candles they burn under buffet trays to keep them warm. For the only time in my life, my nose peeled. We made friends at the pool and never saw them again.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Science Update

Forgetting for a moment who you are, forgetting that you have to be anyone, relieved, looking down from silent, cool darkness. Planetary movements, million-year cycles, the long journey of light. Bare trees in midwinter reaching their branches toward you, clearer than anything you've ever seen before. All the colors so saturated, the snowflakes so fat and defined. Heading home to warmth, to friends, to photographs of your family.
[I]n a report published this week on the effects of magic mushrooms, more than 60 percent of people taking the hallucinogenic drug said the resulting "trip" met the criteria for a "full mystical experience" as measured by established psychological scales.

One third of the 36 subjects said that the experience was the single most spiritually significant of their lifetimes; and more than two-thirds rated it among their five most meaningful and spiritually significant experiences. . . .

Many of the subjects, who were healthy, well-educated volunteers, and most of whom were middle-aged, compared the importance of the experience to the birth of their first child or the death of a parent.
Japan Times See also Forbes ("Volunteers who tried the hallucinogenic ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms during a controlled study funded by the U.S. government had 'mystical' experiences, and many of them still felt unusually happy months later."); Washington Post:
Of the 36 people, 22 had a "complete" mystical experience as judged by several question-based scales used for rating such experiences. Two-thirds judged it to be among their top five life experiences, equal to the birth of a first child or death of a parent. Two months after a session, the people who had taken psilocybin reported small but significant positive changes in behavior and attitudes compared with those who had taken Ritalin.

One-third of the subjects, however, said they experienced "strong or extreme" fear at some point in the hours after they took the hallucinogen. Four people said the entire session was dominated by anxiety or psychological struggle.
The research appears to have been funded in part by the U.S. government. I want to say that such research is valuable in exploring possibilities of the mind, but I also wonder to what purpose the government or business would want to put chemicals such as psilocybin. In any event, if the chemical can improve people's lives, I guess it's worth looking into. God knows that we are currently dosing ourselves with all sorts of mind-altering chemicals.

Life is short and filled with mundanity, pain, loss, sickness, and struggle. Perhaps everyone is entitled -- at least once -- to the type of experience psilocybin appears to offer. Psilocybin and similar substances have been part of ritual and tradition for a long time, and apparently for a reason. Of course, as the studies note, substances like these are not risk free, and many have gone very wrong by going too far. What if the world were just a bit weirder, though?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Victory will be ours

The house is winning. I'm still coughing from something evil and noxious the house discharged or exhaled. But I'm making a comeback. I bought an air purifier and I think it's working. At the very least, it's making me think it's working, which makes me cough less.

Slowly I will show the house who is master. The challenge is that the house has so many tricks. It has hidden plumbing, dummy sockets, spiders, splinters, dead pilot lights, stuck windows, a dog-smelling garage, lack of cabinet space, loose locks, but, happily, no ghosts. So far.

Every day we fight the house with our teams of mercenary contractors, cleaners, plumbers, servicepeople, retrofitters, shinglers, painters, cable guys, gardeners, and Sears delivery men. But we know our goal and always keep it in sight. One day we will sit down in the dining room with the house, a band will play an ironic tune, and the house will sign official papers of surrender.

Much treasure and blood will be lost before that day but I am sure -- pretty sure -- that it will all have been worth it.

West Pakistan surrendering to East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Thought for the evening

We are all trapped.