Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Five: Five Specific Comic Strips I Remember From Long Ago, For Some Reason

About the only thing I miss from newspapers is the comics page. I know there are comics on the Internet but it's not really the same.  

1. I'm A Reasonable Man, Doonesbury.

So I was kind of a weird kid. I used to check out Doonesbury collections from the library, and one of the first was one from the 1970s in which Duke went and became the governor of American Samoa, with Zonker as his lieutenant governor. I had no idea what many of the strips were about, but they helped me piece together, slowly, lots of things that were going on around me in the world.

I don't know why this strip is the one that stuck with me, though. It just has.  I think of it everytime it snows, for one thing. It will start to snow and I will think I'm a reasonable man, so I know this isn't snow, and chuckle, and I never explain (before now) what I'm thinking.

2. I didn't even do it yet, Calvin & Hobbes:

This strip is twenty-eight years old. I think of it about once a week. What do you suppose Calvin would've grown up to be? I sometimes listen to Mr Bunches talk about his plans.  He was playing with his planetarium the other day and he told me that he's going to be an astronaut and go to Saturn, and also he would be a policeman. He watches science experiments on Youtube and then has us recreate them.  Mr F, meanwhile, tears through the house and neighborhood laughing hysterically, have us chase and wrestle him, swinging acrobatically. They both play games they make up on the fly.

I used to think, when I read and re-read and re-re-read Calvin & Hobbes that it would be kind of awesome to have a kid like Calvin. I think I got two of them.

3. Could You Go To Your Window, The Far Side.

I mean I get why this is funny but I have nightmares about it.

4. Beethoven, Peanuts.

When I was a kid I read a lot, and I did not talk to people a lot. I read a lot of comics especially. I also took piano lessons. I was shocked when my piano teacher taught me Fuur Elise, and said it was by "Bate-Hoven."

I'd always pronounced Beeth in a way that rhymed with teeth, oven, like the stove.

5. Made Or Just Happened, Bloom County.

Made first, then set loose to see what happens.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Until we meet again, summer. Until we meet again.

Last night, I asked Mr Bunches what playground the three of us should go to.  He picked the playground in back of their school, where they'll start 3rd grade this year.

It's been 60 degrees each day this week, and cloudy.  There are only 130 hours left until September 1. People on the radio are talking about football, and the shadows have that look they get when the days get shorter.

Summer is over.

Monday, August 24, 2015

10 (More) Minutes about "California" and its apocalyptic marriage.

I'm about 1/2way through California and there are two things that I find both fascinating and compelling about the book.  First is how nothing seems to happen and yet the story keeps just pulsating forward with energy, and the second is how the book seems to really be about Cal and Frida's relationship.

The latter first: As I might have mentioned the last time I talked about this book, it's an apocalypse-happening book.  Civilization hasn't completely broken down: there are walled-off communities and there is still electricity and consumer goods and gasoline, but people can't afford anything and something like 2/3 of the people in the US' Midwest and South have died in blizzards.  (There is also no mention, ever, of other countries.) While the end of society seems pretty far advanced, it's not dead yet.

All of this is told matter-of-factly and as part of the story: Cal's mom died in the blizzards, and Cal and Frida sold their heirloom wedding rings to get enough money to buy gas to leave LA, and as we get these details little bits and pieces slip in about the world at large, so while it's exposition, it's done in a stylish way that doesn't detract from the book.

The more I read, though, the more I keep thinking there are parallels between society and Cal and Frida's marriage: just as we don't really know what happened to the US (it seems to be a mix of scarce fuel and global warming, maybe, destroying the economy as well as people, but that's just a guess), we don't really know much about Cal and Frida's marriage or relationship.  Their story jumps back and forth from how they met (at Cal's school where Frida's brother Micah, a terrorist who blew himself up in a bombing at a mall, just after saying, cryptically, "Listen") to their life now to their life in LA to their childhoods, and each new piece of information subtly changes the way we look at both Cal and Frida.  It's really, really well done.  I once wrote a book in which I deliberately jumped the story back and forth to give the reader a feel for how we actually get to know people: when you meet someone, you don't just get their whole life story chronologically. You get some information up front and then get to know them in everyday life while getting little bits of history here and there. I think I did pretty well at that task, but Eden Lepucki is so much better at it that it leaves me kind of in awe.  She makes characters sympathetic and then unlikeable and then mysterious and then back again, all in a few chapters.

As she does that, too, there's more and more a sense of uneasiness about their marriage. At the start of the book the marriage seems like a rock, just a solid piece of emotion that holds fast in a weird upturned world, but now, halfway through, the marriage feels like it's ready to break apart, almost, if it was ever together. I don't know if I'm reading too much into it, but the parallel feeling between the marriage and what happened to society is really amazing, and unsettling: this couple, who a reader will start out liking and rooting for, suddenly is not such a great couple at all and may not have much future. Or they do.

That feeling, the uneasiness, is the hallmark of the book.  It almost feels like there is something big around the corner, at all times.  Not like in a horror movie, say, where a character is about to look in a mirror or open a door and you can feel that the monster is going to appear.  There's just a feeling of dread, mixed with excitement. I mentioned before, I know, that post-apocalyptic books represent a kind of freedom, a release from society's strictures.  There's an element of that here, and that's where the excitement comes from.  Cal and Frida are free to form a brand new kind of life without any interference.

But dread, too, because it's clear they're just on the edge of survival: we keep getting information about how little food they have, and how cold it gets.  I won't provide any spoilers, but Lepucki also keeps shifting the information around, revealing bits and pieces of the story so that your expectations are constantly mixed around.

I said that nothing much happens, which is not quite true. There are big events that take place, but they seem muted, distant, less immediate than Cal and Frida's own struggles for survival and struggles with themselves and each other.  The first really big thing just happened to the couple, and while it's inarguably a big deal in the book (again, no spoilers here), it somehow feels anticlimactic, like this big thing is only a prelude to the next big thing.

The book has an edgy feel to the comfort, like the feeling you'd get if you invited someone you didn't like much to your Xmas party.  It's ... enthralling. That's the word I'd use.  I read it last night until I couldn't even keep my eyes open and then I put the book aside and just laid in my bed thinking about it until I fell asleep.

I'll get to the 10 minutes later today but...

In the meantime I've started a new thing, and since the posts are longer than I like to do here, now, I've set it up on its own site.

The new thing is called
  "Adventure Squad!!"  

It's sort of a travelogue about our adventures with the boys: humorous reviews of (mostly) free stuff we do.

If you get a chance, check it out. The posts are long, so leave some time to read them. They'll be put about about 1 every 1 or 2 weeks, and I'll note here when I do.

In addition to discussions of the places we travel to (mostly around our house) the entries contain scathing social commentary (the rich own death rays!), interesting tidbits about stuff (do you know why we call it a See Saw?) and the usual stream-of-consciousness string of non sequiturs you've come to expect from me.

Here's a sample from the first post, "Four Corners Park: Live Like The Rich Play!"

So I turned right and turned around in the driveway of a rich person, thereby lowering their property values by 0.00001% ("A middle class person drove here, didn't they?" future home buyers will ask, instinctively feeling the presence of a car bought on sale and used to transport generic sodas from Woodmans.)
We drove back again, looking more closely, and I caught a glimpse of what might have been a swingset through a break in the trees.
"It's Four Corners playground," I told the other Adventurers, who greeted me with silence because they were reading books about the solar system and/or trying to get out of the elaborate system of harnesses some of them must be rigged into to avoid them clambering all over the car as others of us drive.
"Should we get out?" I asked.

Click here to read the rest.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Friday Five: Five Poems I Read Wednesday Night (Poem 4)

I didn't forget about these:

Because I cannot remember my first kiss

Roger Bonair-Agard

but I remember sitting alone on the brown
couch in my grandmother’s living room,
couch whose cushion covers were of velvet
and the color of dark rust, or dried blood
—and sewn by the tailor from up the block,
the same one who made me my first light blue
suit two years earlier 
             And I sat there running my hands back 
             and forth
over the short smooth hairs of the fabric
and understanding what touch meant
for the first time—not touch, the word,
as in don’t touch the hot stove or don’t
touch your grandfather’s hats but touch
like Tom Jones was singing it right then
on the television, with a magic that began
in his hips, swiveled the word and pushed
it out through his throat into some concert
hall somewhere as a two-syllabled sprite,
so that women moaned syllables back in return.

And I knew I wanted to touch
like that  because
Tom Jones stooped down at the edge
of the stage and a woman from the audience
in a leopard-print jumpsuit unfurled
from her front row seat, walked like
a promise of what I couldn’t quite 
discern up to him and pushed her mouth
soft and fast up against his mouth
and they both cooed into his microphone
mouths still move-moaning together
like that for an eternity.  And then 
Tom Jones unlocks his mouth from hers
while my breath is still caught
in my throat, and moves to the other
end of the stage, and squats there, 
and kisses another woman from the audience
in a black jumpsuit, while the first
woman looks on, swaying so slightly
I almost can’t tell—to the band
which is still vamping the chorus line—
mesmerized and taut with expectation as I 
am, palms down on the velvet-haired 
cushions        and Tom pauses, sensing
the first woman’s impatient almost-mewling
and says Easy Tiger while he moves his mouth
against this woman’s, his cheeks working 
like tiny bellows, before returning to the first
one and then the bridge or the chorus
or whatever—at that point the song 
is an afterthought, and I knew there was
a mission to be fulfilled—Tom Jones
pointed to the women and said touch
and the new color TV made everything
shimmer with promise so my eight year old
body preened and stretched itself against
the ecstatic couch and dreamed of what
tomorrow could be like if I could make
touch mean so many things, if I could
make a building or a body coo like this.

Memory is very much on my mind, nearly every day. We are the sum total of our memories; or perhaps we are the sum total of all the things we can no longer remember.