TV-Turnoff

It’s TV-Turnoff Week.

Needless to say, we’re not observing this in our household. Depriving Xy of her remote control is like trying to separate a crackhead from his or her crack. Of late, she mainly watches CSI reruns. She says it helps her cope with the buttload of homework she has to do each night.

Yet for some reason or another, we are observing a TV-Turnoff night tonight. It was Xy’s idea, and who am I to argue? Our plan is to ride our bicycles down Canal Street and take the ferry over the Mississippi and ride up and down the levee in Algiers, then stop somewhere for a drink — hopefully a bar with no TV.

Post scriptum: Apparently not everyone thinks TV-Turnoff Week is such a great idea.

Cheap

I’m gearing up for a conference next week in New York.

I got a cheap flight (American Airlines, about $175 round trip, non-stop both ways) and a cheap room ($150 total for two nights at the Vanderbilt YMCA, private room) and as for the conference itself, it’s free — no registration fee.

I can’t help myself. I’m a penny-pinching bastard, even when I’m spending the university’s pennies.

Quiet

It’s Quiet Day again, here at the university. And I must say it is quiet on campus. I like the idea of Quiet Day — a day when nothing is supposed to happen. That’s my kind of day.

Of course people try to take advantage. Schedules are so full, and Quiet Day seems like an opportunity to catch up. But isn’t that antithetical to the spirit of Quiet Day? I think this should be a time for doing nothing whatsoever.

I had a meeting scheduled for this morning. But it was cancelled.

K

Damn good:

  • Kon-Tiki — 1950. Short and engrossing little documentary made by Thor Heyerdahl as he sailed across the Pacific on a raft.

Middlin':

  • The Killers — 1946. Beautifully photographed, but the story kind of just lies there.
  • The Killers — 1964. Bonus: See Ronald Reagan bitch-slap a woman.
  • King of Hearts — 1966. Not a bad film, though I had a hard time with the notion that war is funny, and mental illness is a hoot.

Lame:

J is for Judgment

Since we decided to forgo Joe Versus the Volcano (Xy had already seen it) there was only one J movie on our list. I thought this was odd. 26 H films, 19 I films, and only one J?

We watched it last night: Judgment at Nuremberg. Great performances all around: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Max Schell, Richard Widmark, Montgomery Clift. And surely this is the best thing William Shatner’s ever been in. Great cinematography too, especially considering this is essentially a courtroom drama.

It was over three hours long, but gripping, and heavy, and draining. It’s about the trial of four German judges who presided during the Nazi regime, charged with crimes against humanity. Plenty to think about. An amazing film.

Post Scriptum: I found this reflection on how the film was received in Nuremberg itself.

Coffee Reduction

I’m in my annual coffee-reduction mode. Starting in the middle of last week, I’ve cut down to two cups of coffee a day. Come this Wednesday I’ll cut down to one. Then after a week I’ll cut down to none, and see how that goes for a week or two.

Then I’ll start guzzling iced tea all summer long. Tea doesn’t bother my stomach like coffee can. It’s more enjoyable in the hot months. And brewing sun tea is fun.

Stepping down in this fashion allows me to avoid the headaches associated with caffeine withdrawal.

This will be my third year on this routine. I think it will be easier this year than last because I’ve already exercised some restraint. Last year I was slugging a mug at home before coming to work and downing a whole pitcher. This year I’m only drinking three of four cups anyhow.

“I Hate America”

Last night Xy and I went out to Jamila’s Café for dinner.

As we sat at our table on the sidewalk, a bearded man lurched up, looked directly at me, and blurted, “I hate America.”

Without missing a beat or even blinking, I replied, “So do I.”

(If we’d been having a nice sit-down chat, I might have explained exactly what I loved and hated about America in a more thoughtful fashion, but under the circumstances I was happy to simply express solidarity with his discontent.)

He continued on his way without breaking stride, but over his shoulder he came back with, “Fuck you! You’ve never lived homeless.” And we couldn’t hear the rest, but he kept ranting for the rest of the block.

Too bad he didn’t come by five minutes later, when I was feasting on grilled scallops and Xy on lamb chops in a port wine reduction. That would really have fanned his flames.

Beer Break Fast

No, I didn’t have beer for breakfast this morning. But last Friday, I broke my beer fast. I haven’t really had any alcoholic beverages since Mardi Gras; I gave ’em up for Lent and just kept going past Easter. So Friday was my first drink in about two months. I had a couple beers with dinner at Katie’s. It was a beautiful evening for sitting outside on the patio, but the beer didn’t really do much for me, except make me feel bloated and somewhat stupid.

Well, I thought, maybe it’s the brand. Abita Amber, the local brew by default. It’s on tap almost everywhere in New Orleans, and frankly it’s just not a great beer. Maybe I needed a better beer. Maybe I need a higher alcohol content. I know that sounds counter-intuitive.

So Wednesday night I had a Pilsner Urquell and a Fransiskaner Weissbeir at the Brewhouse on Carrollton with some oysters.

Normally we go to Tyler’s for oysters. But the oysters at Tyler’s have been bland and dirty lately; the flavor may be due to seasonal variation, but blame the dirt on the shucker. The oysters at the Brewhouse were only slightly more flavorful, and not as cold as I’d have liked, but at least they were relatively clean. But I digress.

The beer was better. It didn’t leave me feeling bloated or stupid. And I enjoyed the flavor. But I didn’t really cop a buzz. And although beer commercials never talk about it, that’s surely one of the main reasons to drink beer.

Mind you, I used to drink a beer religiously as soon as I got home from work, and would get a very reliable buzz. Now, not so. Has my body chemistry changed? Have I unlearned how to drink? Can I reacquire the buzz if I apply myself? And would it be worth it?

I have noticed that I no longer get a low-energy feeling in the afternoons, as I used to. I can’t say for certain, but I have a theory that this is related to not drinking.

So one of these days — maybe tonight — I’m gonna try a mixed drink, maybe a bourbon and Coke or a gin and tonic or a whiskey sour or a Sazerac, and see how that hits me.

Bankruptcy

I guess it’s a good thing I filed Chapter 7 back in 1997, because it looks like Congress is finally tightening up the bankruptcy laws.

This sucks. This will hurt people who are already hurting. It only helps big money. When will the people rise up and demand justice?

I’m in favor of any reform that holds corporations accountable for their actions. If this legislation closes any such bankruptcy loopholes, so much the better. But Chapter 7 is for personal bankruptcy, not corporations. And most people end up filing for it because of serious illness or loss of employment. Putting the screws on those folks is what I object to.

For the record, I’d like to note that my bankruptcy ended up being a very good thing for me. J and I amassed roughly the same amount of credit card debt during the early production-intensive years of ROX. I should never have been extended that much credit in the first place. I was young and naive and made $100 a week or less. But I got all these credit cards because I’d gone to college. Before I knew it I had $20,000 racked up — mostly from living expenses. J ended up working his debt off, paying every last penny whereas I filed for bankruptcy. Now look at us. We’re both home owners, both productive members of society — but J is up to his eyeballs in credit card debt again, whilst I have sworn off credit cards entirely. (Well, we keep one for emergencies, but we never carry a balance.) OK, that doesn’t really have anything to do with anything. I just thought it was ironic. I’m hardly a poster boy for this issue.

The new law removes a safety net that was there for people who suffered some big setback. That’s bad news for most of us, and good news for big financial companies.

I

There were a lot of movies on my list that start with the letter I, and they seemed to have a couple things in common: lots of fun titles, and lots of really long running times.

The best:

  • I, Claudius — 1976. The greatest soap opera ever made. 650 minutes!

Pretty good:

  • In the Heat of the Night — 1967. The performances make this work: Sidney Poitier is compelling as always; Rod Steiger plays a stereotyped slow Southern sherriff but somehow makes it work.
  • The Iceman Cometh — 1973. Wow. This would have been great if not for the washed out color and the muddy audio. 239 minutes.
  • Irma la Douce — 1963. Perfectly ridiculous tale of a pimp and his hooker. I liked it in spite of myself.
  • It Happened Tomorrow — 1944. Both charming and clever.
  • The Invisible Man — 1933. Classic.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest — 2002. Delightfully insubstantial fluff. It was nice to compare this to the version from 1952; a bigger budget and more inventive production made this less stagey and more enjoyable.
  • Ivan the Terrible, Parts I & II — 1945/1958. A visual feast. 183 minutes.

Mixed bag:

  • I Am Curious (Yellow) — 1967. Pretentious but marginally interesting. Noteworthy for being banned in the States. Also, it’s Swedish.
  • Immortal Beloved — 1994. The story of Beethoven’s life is good, but somehow the movie falls a little flat.
  • Invaders from Mars — 1953. Incredibly hokey paranoid fantasy. Kind of fun.
  • It Should Happen to You — 1954. Jack Lemmon’s first film. Fun, but sappy.

Rather disappointing:

Unwatchable:

The Death of Van?

When I came home from my book club meeting today, Xy was crying. Our neighbor, Richard, had just told her some bad news. She didn’t get all the details, so I talked to Richard myself and confirmed the following:

Around seven o’clock this morning, he saw a car stop and pick up a dead cat from the street in front of his house. It was a black cat with a pink or red collar. Van matches that description, and we haven’t seen him since last night. Richard lives just around the corner from us. I’d never seen Van on that street, but it’s certainly possible.

What’s odd is that Richard was quite clear that the car he saw did not hit the cat. The cat was already there, dead. Why would someone pick up a dead cat from the street? Richard said it was not the SPCA or public sanitation or anything of that nature. Perhaps the mystery car hit the cat earlier and came back around later to retrieve the body? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Not knowing for sure is aggravating. Van’s collar has a tag with our phone number, but we’ve gotten no call. Hope springs eternal and all that, but with each passing hour it seems more likely that Van is dead.

Van on Steps

Van is survived by Lucy, Archer and Folds. He was our only boy cat. And he had very male energy. Our next-door neighbor, Craig, called him Van Halen, “because he’s always causing a ruckus” — namely, fighting with Craig’s cat.

Strange — our other male feline, Bilal, died too. That was three years ago.

What was cool was that Lucy bonded with Bilal, because we got them both as kittens and brought them up together. When Bilal died, we got Van; after many months of hissing at each other, Lucy finally bonded with Van. They would sometimes curl up together, groom each other, eat from the same dish at feeding time. They didn’t have the same territorial issues that most cats have. It was sweet.

Now it looks like Lucy’s lost her second brother. But I wish I knew for sure.

Well Damn

On a hunch, I try putting my “right” lens in my left eye. Hmm. Things seem clearer. So I put the “left” lens in my right eye. And guess what? Yup, I can read again.

My suspicions were aroused when I first picked up the lenses. The two boxes were marked with their respective prescriptions, but not for which eye. The good doctor marked them “left” and “right” just as he handed them to me. When I put them in for the first time the next morning, I wondered if maybe they were swapped. Looking at the prescriptions on the sides of the boxes didn’t reassure me. I always thought my left eye had more astigmatism, yet the “left” box said AX 30, while the “right” said AX 170.

Oh well. I’m happy now. I’ve got 20/20 vision again. Just wish I had tried this four days ago.

Open Up the Tired Eyes

Today is my fourth day of wearing my new contact lenses. I picked them up Friday afternoon, wore them for five hours on Saturday, seven hours on Sunday, eight hours yesterday.

I’m definitely getting more comfortable with them, especially putting them in and taking them out, at which I was initially inept.

When I first wore them, I was disturbed by the fact that I couldn’t see as clearly, especially close-up, as I’d been able to see with the temporary lenses the good doctor had given me. Those weren’t even my prescription! I figured my new, correct lenses should provide clearer vision.

So I called Dr. Burns and he explained that since my new lenses were stronger, the muscles that focus my eyes would have to work harder. Since I’ve worn glasses for many years, those muscles are somewhat atrophied, and there will be a period of adjustment as these muscles get stronger.

I forgot to ask how long this would take. Four days later and the world is still slightly blurry. It’s damned hard to read, and I read a lot. I can feel my eyes getting a workout, trying to focus. They do get tired. And I have had a few moments of complete clarity, where everything is suddenly crisp and sharp and beautiful.

Then I blink, and it’s gone.

Pay-Off

By purposefully having way too much withheld from our paychecks, Xy and I got our biggest tax refund ever — almost $3,000.

Combined with most of our savings, I just now used the refund to pay off the $4,000 remaining on our car loan.

This all happened electronically — the tax filing, the refund, the loan pay-off — so it still seems a little unreal.

But I won’t miss making that $250 monthly payment. And I believe the car is now worth less than $2,500…

A Walk in the Park with My Love

Friday night Xy and I had mushrooms for dinner. Just a handful, split between the two of us.

We went for a long walk. It was a strange and wonderful night. The relative sizes of things kept changing. This made it difficult to cross certain streets without being hit by cars. We sat on the edge of the bayou for a while, watching the sky, which was boiling with fractal patterns, and the soothing silver ripples on the water. In the distance we heard someone speaking backwards over a loudspeaker. Eventually we were drawn into the park to seek the source of this sound.

I kept feeling like a tourist, in part because I thought this might make a good alibi for gawking at everything, but also because I kept thinking I was in other places — Venice, Rome, Madrid, Brazil, Wisconsin.

When I looked at Xy I couldn’t help but notice that she was surely the most beautiful woman in the world, and I was overwhelmed with feelings of romantic love.

We stopped atop a bridge in the park and shared a kiss. As we looked down into the quiet waters, beneath the moss covered oak branches, we saw a gigantic fish, big as a whale and pale as moonlight, swimming silently toward us and under the bridge. We went to other side to watch it emerge, but instead we saw a swan, just as pale and just as silent coming toward us from the other direction.

I felt that I could have stayed on that bridge forever. But finally we were drawn onward to seek the source of the backwards voice which continued to sound intermittently.

We wandered past strange sights: a man hanging upside down by his feet, empty tents and tables laid out as if for a wedding feast attended by ghosts, and (quite suddenly) a bustling amusement park tucked away in the middle of the park. Even as I scoffed at the miniature roller coaster and the garish lights strung up in the trees, I was filled with a sense of universal love, a love for all humans and all living thing on earth, and I thought that having a child would be a good thing. I mentioned this to Xy and she replied, “I wasn’t thinking about that at all.”

And finally we found ourselves at Tad Gormley stadium, where a track and field event was taking place. I was briefly convinced that we were at the Olympics or some other world-class event, but this illusion was quickly dispelled when the race began and the athletes knocked over most of the hurdles. Why the announcer was speaking backwards, I’ll never know.

Later, as we made our way home, I felt Shiva reach through the earth with long arms, all the way from the Indian subcontinent, and clap me between his hands.

We listened to music while I gave Xy a massage, the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem. I felt Verdi must have appreciated something intrinsic to the human experience, and I was again suffused with a sense of universal love, quite an unusual feeling for a misanthrope like me.

Xy went to sleep and I sat on our couch with a cat (Van) for a long while, listening to one of the neighbor girls (Crystal) argue with her boyfriend. I enjoyed a profound sense of well-being, of being comfortable in my body; my fingers and toes warm despite the cool evening breeze, and not at all clammy as they sometimes are; I was neither hungry for thirsty despite eating nothing but a few dried mushrooms for dinner and drinking very little.

If all this makes it sound like a completely blissful evening, I hasten to add that it was not. I forgot to mention the nausea, the tension, and the old familiar Fear. Most of this seemed to dissipate as we lingered on the bridge, in the form of a long, esophagus-rattling belch.

Finally I ate a bowl of cereal and went to bed and dreamed of walking in the park hand-in-hand with my love.