Friday, November 30, 2007

"One of these bands is not like the others / One of these bands doesn't belong"

Roger Ebert's maxim is to review the film you're given, not the one you wish you were watching. But halfway into American Hardcore I found myself wishing the documentary wasn't about the American hardcore punk "movement" at all, but about the band Bad Brains.

Somewhere between all the little white guys with their neatly-buzzed scalps, the music that (hate to say it, but it's true) all sounds the same, the footage of Henry Rollins goading a fan to throw the first punch only to thump the bejeezus out of him when he finally complies .... is this guy ... this black guy ... wearing a suit, sitting in a park telling the camera, "We were about positive energy ... I told the band to do some reading ... the Bible, of course. But also this book by Napoleon Hill." Yep. Think And Grow Rich. The rest of these jokers didn't care if they ever got signed to a label, said outright that it wasn't even on their radar ... but this black band, that could actually play their instruments, wanted to think and grow rich.

I kinda-sorta knew about Bad Brains, back in the day. The vintage clothing store I frequented would play reggae and ska, and the Brains had at least one album that fell into that category. I'd also been to a party where a group of young guys were intent on reducing a kitchen chair to matchsticks, and, again, Bad Brains was providing the soundtrack -- albeit one that wasn't nearly so laid back. The latter is actually their earlier sound. It has an infectious energy to it, and the footage of their concerts reveals a band that really tears up the stage. The Brains are given single-handed credit for kicking off the Hardcore Punk movement, which must surely qualify as one of the most bizarre geneses of a sub-genre in the history of rock and roll. The Brains started off with no shortage of anger, but were also much too musically talented and aware to get pigeon-holed as punk. Throw in a front man whose informing passion was a restless spiritual pursuit, and eventually you wind up with a band that seethes, but grudgingly obliges their leader's insistence they become rastafarians.

The closing interviews with band members include the expected, "Ah, you know I love [singer] H.R., but he could make things just too crazy. I kind of understand it now, but it was difficult at the time."

I'll bet it was. And that's the film I want to watch.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

My Blog's Reading Level?

After yesterday's huffing and puffing, to meet my NaBloPoMo obligations I am resorting to a gimme:

Flattery will get you everywhere — everyone knows it's a major feat to get a Junior High kid to read anything that isn't punctuated with emoticons.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dick In A Book: Just How Pussy-Whipped Is Fiction, Anyway?

It's pussy-whipped, that's what's wrong with it [the modern short story]. I speak metaphorically, and I paraphrase Mr King, but that's the gist of his argumentMichael Allen, Grumpy Old Bookman.

[Michael Allen] has no use for the hierarchical notions of “high” literary writing versus “low” genre and no doubt that there’s a phallocratic element at work. Fine art is the work of gentlemen and trash is the messy product of women. Isn’t that right?
Mary Scriver, Prairie Mary (in reference to Allen's book, The Truth About Writing).

The blogosphere remains abuzz over Stephen King's introduction to The Best American Short Stories 2007. My own thoughts on his thoughts were hued with drowsy amusement, but with all this talk of pussies and phalluses, I inevitably became aroused and now feel compelled to stand up and be counted.

To Mr. King I say: so The New Yorker and Harper's are somewhat to blame, are they? I shall grant you that it's been years since I last read a short story in the pages of either mag, but blaming their editorial preferences for the declining health of the American short story is like blaming the Titanic for booking a band that only knows how to play "Nearer My God To Thee." Yes, let's by all means give a round of applause to those plucky short story types (and thank you, by the way) who write what they want as opposed to what they ought. But, to extend the metaphor beyond the breaking point, the fact is they — sorry: we — are sitting belowdecks while you stand on a lifeboat with your bullhorn, shouting “Row! Row!” As the waters rise we shall, by the grace of God, keep typing. But we're very well aware that nothing we put to paper is going to deliver us from obscurity. In that regard, we face one insurmountable obstacle, which you tiptoe around, so let me state it outright: nobody really wants to read a short story. Short story writers make a point of it, of course, but only in small doses — because NOBODY really wants to read a short story. More on this later, but for now we short story writers actually remain grateful even to the New Yorker for having the temerity to book and pay the band.

To Mr. Allen I say: God knows a little testosterone does wonders to keep me glued to the page. My favorite short story to be professionally published in the last five years is Until Gwen by Dennis Lehane. Testosterone fuels the whole thing — jail-time, murder, patricide — but is injected in measured doses to deliver a monster emotional workout. It wasn't published in The New Yorker, of course, just The Atlantic. Since then the Atlantic has gone soft and only publishes short stories once a year, most of them fitting the New Yorker's pussy-whipped template. Too bad for all of us, but I won't blame the Atlantic — at least not for the health of the American short story.

(P.S. Mr. Allen, if you've still got free copies of The Truth About Writing, might you send one my direction? I'll gladly give you one of my books in exchange. Not that you really want to read any of the stories located therein — more on this curious universal truth later.)

To Ms. Scriver I say: I will grant you that this phallocracy you suggest was the foundation of the Western World's publishing houses. I assert, however, that this order has been completely reversed in Canada (submit your off-color word for it below) and that the US is bound to follow, if it isn't there already. Our nation's publicly acknowledged "T"-writers — W.O. Mitchell, Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies, Morley Callaghan (who thumped Hemingway in a Parisian boxing ring, doncha know) — have all passed away, and CanLit's coveted spotlight has been studiously turned from their would-be heirs to the likes of Margaret Atwood, Mavis Gallant and the inescapable Alice Munroe (who, like Mr. King, claims she'll be “retiring” any day now). Those three ladies are prodigious talents, but even so it's mighty tempting to just go ahead and blame them for the declining health of the American short story, since they all remain highly-favored by the New Yorker. It could hardly be argued, though, that they write to any expectations other than their own, so let's just give them a round of applause, too.

It's not by any means a complete gender coupe — not yet, at least. Taking a quick glance at the Canadian Booksellers Association's list of Top Canadian Fiction (scroll straight to the bottom and ignore those other lists, please), the gender split still favors the men — by one. Were I the sort to be persuaded by statistics, I'd declare Canada a bastion of enlightened, progressive, fair-minded readers. Instead, I will further assert that the sales for all but one of those titles (a genre book) are chiefly attributable to female consumers (who appear to be entirely enlightened, progressive, fair-minded readers).

I could lay the blame for this shift at the feet of our publishing houses, or the cabal of literary prize-givers that for the last five years in a row has awarded the Governor General's, the Giller, and the Canada Reads awards to Miriam Toews for A Complicated Kindness. But the truth of the matter is naked for all to see: it's the internet, stupid.

There are three significant changes to the bookselling world that come to us entirely at the courtesy of the internet. (1) “Official” reviews don't matter any more. Now that we all belong to the chattering classes, bestsellerdom is achieved purely via word of mouth. (2) We buy our books from Amazon. Period. Maybe we throw a little coin to ABE, or the corner store. But in the bestseller book market, it is far and away Amazon's game, and what they stock and promote determines a great deal of what gets published. (3) The internet has effected a sea-change in cultural consciousness, which I can define with a simple question: what do you think guys with a little testosterone go to the 'net for? IF they are reading, they're doing so to bolster their bluster. Otherwise it's strictly amusement, in all the predictable forms.

Someone like my wife, on the other hand, recognizes the internet for what it is: the bane of her existence. The internet equals work, or worse: a distraction from the things that matter most to her. In her off-work hours she might use the internet for some last-minute shopping, or to help with a daughter's school project. But as soon as the mission is accomplished, the computer is turned off and she has left the room.

She faithfully reads herself to sleep every night, novels only. She hates short stories. “Oh, I had a blast editing yours,” she assures me. “But the problem with short stories is if the central character is even halfway compelling you feel ripped off for not getting more of them.”

It's all about narrative value. As a writer, I get more value writing a short story. But as a reader, I'm forced to agree with my wife. Not just because what she says is the truth; she's also the last remaining market for fiction.

Endnote: this is what my wife is currently reading (recommended to her by a colleague), and she will stack it up against Denis Johnson or Jane Smiley any day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wii ... would rather not.

The older daughter and I recently had a conversation about video games. A boy in her grade 5 classroom asserted that Gamecube (our current console) was "lame" and all the games "sucked." (He was hoping Santy would bring him Wii.) My daughter then piped up, "That's not true. I like Gamecube." And so she set off a chorus of similarly minded children, defending the lowly Gamecube.

I was pleased, of course, to hear of her impatience with conspicuous consumption, and let her know. "It's just so crazy," she said. "Why would anyone bother even buying a Wii, dad?"

"Well," I said, "I suppose if you want to play the newer games, that's the console you'd have to buy. They've already stopped making games for Gamecube. Not that that's an issue for us. But if you were curious about that new Simpsons game, for instance, you'd need a different console."

I could see the gears turning. "Oh," she said. "Then maybe we should get a Wii after all."

D'oh!! (Or should I say, "Mission Accomplished"?)

I gave it some further thought, talked it over with my wife and suggested it could be a gift to "me" while the girls received something less frivolous. It all sounded quite sane, so on my next foray into the land of Giant Boxed Stores I walked into the electronics-themed box and asked how much a Wii console was running.

The kid in the blue shirt looked at me as if I'd just crawled out from under a rock. "Uh, prob'ly 'bout $800, I'm thinking."

I blinked. "I was under the impression they were more affordable," I said.

"Well, they are ... when they're in stock."

How was I to know I was hunting for this season's Cabbage Patch Kid? Eight hundred bucks ... there isn't a console in the world worth that kind of coin.

Except for this one. Sturdily built, includes a heap of games that still haunt my dreams. Granted, it takes up a little more space than the new, high-falutin' consoles with their spiffy graphics. But look at those games.

The killer is its (to my mind) outrageous sticker-price of $2000. Two grand ... after I've probably spent that sum in quarters on those self-same games. So no Arcade Legends cabinet console for me, thank you. I will wait until spring, then dish out ten percent of that sum for the newly-available Wii.

Post-script: MAME is an option for some old-timers like myself (no helpful links, sorry: you will have to troll those porn-infested waters under your own recognizance. But Boing Boing links to this clever mash-up of an IKEA dinner table, rigged to include a MAME console.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

In Search of Lost Sound

I've been wading through the back end of my music catalog, dusting off CDs I haven't played in years and giving them a spin. It's funny to recall how excited I was to hear my first few CDs from the 80s. At the time, it was remarkable enough to listen to a technology that didn't have tape hiss or platter noise. Twenty years later, the sound quality of most of these discs is lamentable. In fact, there are cases where the record delivered better.

Split Enz is one such band. I happen to think "Hard Act To Follow" (from Waiata or Corroboree) could well be the best-sounding pop single from the whole scad of 80s New Wave acts. I love its frenetic build-up, the galloping coconuts in the background, the paced alteration of synthesizer sound-effects that trickle or tumble to set the mood. And the mood is ... well, it's either delighted or tormented, depending on the listener's point of view. Is the singer's object of affection a "hard act to follow" because she is no longer in the picture? Did she leave because she was fed up with his slightly creepy obsessiveness? Did he crowd her out? Is she still there? Is this his clumsy way of saying, "After you, there's nothing, baby!" Whatever the case, this is not a sweet Beatles-esque ballad -- it has a distinctly uncomfortable edge to it that is all its own.

And darn it if the CD isn't lacking the spacial ambience of the LP. I'm guessing the songs have been compressed to aid speed of CD production. I'm certainly not going to complain about the price of the disc, which even at the time of purchase sold for less than $10. But the final sound is a flat echo of what had once been so encompassing and moving -- further motivation, perhaps, to let the past be the past.

Wait a second: did someone say, "Remixed and remastered?"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Signs of Life (Elsewhere)

Alright, it's Grey Cup Sunday, and the two teams fighting for the cup are both from the prairies, so today for my faithful readers I've only got a little link-love. Since Lenny Kravitz is playing the half-time show (isn't he from Moosejaw?) here's James Parker: "We who live in the end times of rock 'n' roll, blighted as we are by melancholy and déjà vu, are nonetheless afforded certain privileges." Rockin' first sentence, followed by near-perfect execution. If this piece were a guitar solo, it would belong to David Gilmour.

And here is one of my fave authors (and poets), Jim Harrison, expounding on the poetry of Chuck Bukowski (who I expounded upon here).

Something (relatively) of substance tomorrow.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Temples of Damanhur

"Get in the plane, kids -- here's our next field trip!" (h/t Boing Boing)

Joe Henry, Civilians

Here is another contender for my favorite album of the year: Civilians, by Joe Henry. I'm guessing the pro critics are comparing him (favorably) to Tom Waits, and there are moments when they share the gimlet-eyed perspective of the organ-grinder. More to the point, they both tap into the rich vein of Kurt Weil's artistic legacy. But where Waits can lurch toward the grotesque and occasionally sensational, Henry takes care to slide just beneath the surface, where desire and disappointment sit together like nettlesome siblings.

Pray for you, pray for me
Sing it like a song
Life is short but, by the grace of God,
This night is long

Henry's music is orchestrated to sustain the tension of his lyrics, intimating the sort of boozy comfort that flickers and disappears beneath the cloud of an oncoming hangover. I've received good comments from cafe customers, and the disc fits easily into my dining-room soundtrack as well. Highly recommended.

Joe Henry's site is here. Re: pro critics, Civilians seems to have received excellent reviews from everyone but the smarty-pants who think there's a better party somewhere else.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Sulking In Denis Johnson's Shadow

Frederick Buechner once began a review of Flannery O'Connor by admitting his reluctance to read her. Too many people kept saying, "Oh, you really should!" and drawing comparisons between his writing and hers. Someone finally cornered him on it, though, and his review went on to admit to the pleasures of her artistry and insight. But when I finished reading his essay, I couldn't help thinking this was meant to be his final word on the matter. "Okay, I've read her; now can we talk about something else?"

Denis Johnson is someone I want to read, while simultaneously wishing I could just avoid him altogether. I never finished Jesus' Son because I kept thinking, "Argh! Wish I'd done that!" I've managed a few pieces of his journalism, and somewhere I have a copy of Already Dead: A California Gothic, which I'm hoping will ease my Kem Nunn-induced jones for violent, California-based weirdness. Of course, the trick is cracking open the spine and bracing myself for prose I wish I'd written.

My hesitancy shouldn't be your hesitancy, though. Here's a smashing review of his latest novel, Tree Of Smoke — a book that is sure to adorn my bookshelf, because it already haunts me.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Imagining Batman

When I was a child my father's rule re: the purchase and consumption of comic books was pretty straight-forward: so long as my age was still in the single digits, I was restricted to Uncle Scrooge and Archie. He was also fine with Christian comics (*shudder* — another post, perhaps) and had an abiding fondness for MAD magazine, which I devoured from cover to Jaffee-fold-in cover. So far as censorious edicts go, my father's ploy was subversively clever. By the time I was 10, I so well-versed in "the usual gang of idiots'" shtick that I had no desire to spend my hard-earned nickel on men in capes and tights (that all changed 10 years later when Frank Miller came on the scene).

However, when I was seven the siren-song of Neal Adams' Batman was still very compelling. I was particularly drawn to this issue:

Bear in mind that I was completely ignorant of the Batman's origins and non-existent super-powers. I glanced at the cover and let my imagination run wild in an attempt to fill the gaps of my knowledge. "The Demon Lives Again"? Was Batman the demon? He certainly looked dead on the cover. Of course, even a seven-year-old could see the sword was lodged in the sand, and not between Batman's ribs. I also knew Batman had to "live again" just to make it to the cover of next month's issue, so I figured that had to be it: Batman was a type of demigod, who through some horrid process had been reduced to the fate seen on the cover by the scary-looking old dude holding Bats' costume. And how exactly did that costume work, anyway? The cowl was still present, as were the shorts and long-johns, but he was shirtless. And here, too, Batman was a peculiarity: superheroes were always a muscular hairless bunch, but this guy didn't just have chest-hair — he had nipples, too.

And he was dead. Or beaten up badly enough to have his costume removed. The answers lay beneath this cover. Dad was still talking to the pharmacist. Maybe if I just quickly leafed to the pages in question ... there's a fight in the desert ... scorpion stings Batman on the ankle ... he's down ....

"Um ... son?"

The rest of the story is in the pages of this book. And while I do love the artwork, I've gotta say: the story that swirled in my seven-year-old noggin was a lot better than the one I eventually read to its conclusion.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"America's Only Rock 'N' Roll Magazine"

Having said all that, I surely do appreciate those people who spend such a large portion of their lives nutting out why a particular sound gets their blood up. This territory is almost exclusive to men — Aristotle, Friedrich Nietzsche, Lester Bangs — but there are a few women interlopers as well, and as is typically the case, Patti Smith is well worth seeking out on this issue.

I suspect Smith and Bangs are at their best in the back-pages of Creem: America's Only Rock 'N' Roll Magazine. Their intelligent and/or semi-intelligible musings are recommendation enough for this, uh, handsomely bound retrospective, but I am also drawn toward the book out of prurient curiosity (Santa, take note). As I mentioned in the earlier post, I was more inclined to read Starlog or any of Forrest J. Ackerman's many publications than I was Creem. But as is typical with mid-life hindsight, I now wonder if Creem wasn't an inescapable chimera that blew through my (and countless others') adolescent zeitgeist. Surely there are trace elements in my consciousness that relate directly to that shoddy little magazine, the way trace elements of plastic float around in everyone's bloodstream.

I typically follow a simple mantra in these matters: "Identify and move on." Stay tuned to see how this episode concludes (probably sometime in January).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"This torch that I found / Has gotta be drowned / Or it soon might explode"

About five years ago, when I was buying some items at a grocer's counter, I noticed the tattoos on the arms of the guy packing the bag. They were all KISS characters — not exactly my cup of tea, but there was no denying the artistry. “That's some really fine shading,” I said. “Where'd you get those done?”

He grinned. “Right here in town. The man who did 'em is retired, though.” He pushed up his sleeves to reveal as much of his arms as he could. KISS tattoos, right to the armpits and onto his back. “KISS ARMY” on his neck, just below the hairline. I gave this guy a closer look. He was maybe a year or two older than I, and still very proud of these tattoos he'd had for over 20 years.

A friend of mine gave me the double CD of KISS ALIVE after I admitted envying him his youthful experience of seeing them play the Maple Leaf Gardens. The booklet inside has pictures of arena audiences awaiting the act. Smiling girls with flippy hair holding onto homemade “KISS ARMY” banners, surly dudes slouching in their folding chairs. A few minutes after those photographs were taken, the lights went out and everyone went crazy.

I wasn't even remotely tuned into the band at the time. There was a scrawny Ukrainian-Catholic kid in my grade seven class who covered every spare inch of paper in his possession with KISS photos or, failing access to such, Bic-pen KISS graffiti. I couldn't name a single one of their songs, but if he'd said, “Rock & Roll All Nite” or “I Was Made For Lovin You” I'd have lit up. The local roller-rink played those songs.

In 1977 there were two types of kids: those who were KISS ARMY, and those who thought the whole thing was just a little strange. I belonged to the latter, much larger group, eschewing the bold technicolor rock & roll pastiche in favor of repeated reads of the Star Wars novelization. A year later at a school across town, a grade ten kid walked into his shop class with a canvas gunny-sack, pulled out his father's shotgun and blew away a classmate. He later claimed he was operating under explicit instructions from KISS. Devotion to a single rock & roll band, I concluded, was probably not a healthy pastime.

I know of people who follow a certain performer from venue to venue, Deadhead style. For these people, every performance is its own revelation, its own unique access into the music. The best account I've read of just such an exercise is Alex Ross's turn as a Dylan tour-junkie. I can appreciate that sort of devotion, and was probably capable of it when I was a younger man. At this point in my life, it is rare for me to enter into a musically-induced meditative state. Some sort of portal in my brain has been closed, and the key to opening it is proving elusive.

The same friend who gave me KISS ALIVE has followed the Canadian power-trio Rush pretty much from the day of their conception. The people around him know of his devotion, and I think for the last few years he's had his concert-tickets paid for by those of us who appreciate the depth of his love. When the lights go down and Rush walks on stage, while everyone else is cheering and whistling, he weeps.

I'm not sure why I hesitate to give account of my experiences as a concert goer. It's partially from a realization of just how limited that experience has been. I haven't seen that many “big” names, and the ones I have seen didn't leave much of an impression on me. But I do understand my friend's emotional response.

Roughly around the time I encountered those tattoos, my wife and I attended a concert. She had seen the performer before, but I had not. We had his CDs, though, and I loved them. I thought the music on them was so fresh, with such surprising, life-affirming insight, I was anxious to see if this guy actually existed. When he slouched on stage with his acoustic guitar, there I was: choked up, dabbing at tears.

Over the last few years he and I have had a few exchanges, so he remains anonymous in this post. I once overheard someone else confess a similar response to his stage presence. I was a little taken aback to see the performer wince. He wasn't putting on self-effacing airs, either; he was genuinely chagrined. In fact, I wondered if his response didn't border on distaste. I later said, “You've gotta realize: your songs are incredibly beautiful to some of us.”

“Aaaaaagh.” He squirmed. “Honestly, I'm just a guy who sleeps til noon, pours himself a bowl of Shreddies, then sits down to watch Bonanza.” He rubbed his temples, took a deep breath, sighed and recovered a bit. “But thanks.” We quickly changed the topic.

Part of me wonders if this guy couldn't afford to be a little more generous to his own soul. Another part of me thinks if he took his vocation as seriously as some of his listeners do, he'd never get anything done. So long as he's serving the music, who cares?

I do believe that in the main we are all poor stewards of The Music: “broken vessels” is the biblical metaphor, and it fits. What we sing, or dance to, is infinitely larger than what we are as people. It's a wonder more of us don't get carried away by the beauty and the intensity of it all. And perhaps that's the caution I hold to whenever I play or witness a new act — or try to write about the experience.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Show I'll Never Forget: 50 Writers Relive Their Most Memorable Concertgoing Experience

"You may have to say things twice," she said, "because my ears are still ringing. I went to a show last night."

"Who'd you see?" I asked.

"Uh ... The Dropkick Murphys?"

"No kidding!" I said, feeling elated that I was so freshly "in-the-know" about this band (a sweeping tip o' the hat to DV!). Had the Pogues been more like these guys, you could have called me a fan. Where the Pogues' frontman Shane McGowan eventually made every song sound like he was gargling marbles, the Murphys' testosterone levels keep the lines of communication in a clear roar. "Those guys sound like they could put on an incredible show."

She shook her head, and her eyes got a little wider. "It was insane," she said after a pause.

"You had a good time, then?"

She mulled that over, then said, "Well ... it got pretty insane."

It later came out that one of her group (college educated to a person) spent the night in the hoosegow after getting into a row, and she wasn't entirely sure what to make of it all.

Sounds to me like she has the material for a little prosaic gold, if she gives it a decade or so to steep. Hers is the sort of experience that fills the pages of The Show I'll Never Forget. I've hesitated recommending this book, because it is a very diverse collection of essays, and of the 50 there are probably only six that really haunt me. The majority of the remaining 44 are still worth reading, but man: nothing hits me between the eyes like Thomas Beller's account of The Kinks at Madison Square Garden in 1981. Beller, if he is to be believed, impulsively committed an act of incredible stupidity -- incredible stupidity! -- yet survived. I don't want to say any more, because the bald details are almost beyond credibility; yet Bell's rendering of the whole experience is completely persuasive. Similarly Diana Ossana's heartbreaking remembrance of Led Zeppelin in 1973, and John Albert's first exposure to Black Flag at the Hong Kong Café in LA, 1979. Lives writ large in the echoes of a great concert.

Not quite worth the full price on the jacket, but certainly worth borrowing from the library or purchasing remaindered or used.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

CFL Football, For Those Who Care

Now here's an oddity that probably fits as a working metaphor for Canada. The Canadian Football League has been suffering for years, experimenting with just about any exotic substance that crossed its path, including the invitation of a few American football teams. When I was a kid, the CFL ruled because it was Canadian, goddammit: as Canadian as I or the kid next door.

In other words, it wasn't American. We invited American talent across the border, but the game was resolutely (and, some would say, comically) Canadian. Three downs, wider field and all that.

So here we were today, watching a playoff game between Toronto and Winnipeg. The latter city is as Canadian as one could hope for, and has the sharpened teeth to prove it. They made mincemeat out of the Toronto Argonauts. So far as sporting competitions are concerned, this was as it should be.

Unfortunately, insofar as the league is concerned, this win amounted to a small suicide. Had Toronto won, the league may have been granted a few more years' existence. As it stands, Toronto the Beautiful seems intent on getting an NFL franchise and waltzing away entirely from the CFL. I haven't yet posted my complete and unexpurgated thoughts on Toronto sports fans, and frankly am not likely to. These chuckleheads have more money than they know what to do with, and so invite all sorts of sporting trouble to their city and the country they live in. Witness their NBA team, the Raptors. Or take another gander (if you dare) at the Leafs. Then step on the other side of the fence and take a close look at the Blue Jays -- a much better team than this city deserves. Of course the city's sports fans, as if to prove the maxim, stay away from Jays' games in droves even when the team plays better than any fan has a right to expect.

I first lived in Toronto in the fall of 1983, when the Argonauts won the Grey Cup. Cars were overturned, store windows smashed. It's now 24 years later, and if the Argonauts won they'd receive a modest parade in front of Castle Loma. Toronto deserves the Leafs, and any other franchise it wants to pit against George W. Bush's USA, instead of Canada. This crazy city can't compete within its own nation, yet it wants to go up against the world?

Take my city. Please.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mulligan Courtesy of Nick Hornby

I moved house this month and have bought no books at all for the first time since I became a Believer. I have spent hour after hour finding homes for unread novels, biographies, memoirs, and collections of essays, poetry, and letters, and suddenly I can see as never before that we're fine for books at the moment, thanks very much ... The ways in which a man can kid himself are many and various ... The truth is, I'm too worried to begin Hilary Spurling's apparently magnificent biography of Matisse (bought about five years ago, new, in hardback, because I couldn't wait). Housekeeping vs. The Dirt

Ah, but Nick doesn't have Post Office Ladies to contend with. Here I am, smiling at my neighbor as she hands me the latest Amazon package. She doesn't know it contains a Batman comic and a George Pelecanos crime book. For all she knows, it's something trivial. I have to chuckle (guiltily) and assure her I have a budget for Amazon purchases, and this is all on the up and up.

No, Nick knows not what he's missing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The New Friday Night

My Friday is just about over (no, really) and I've got nothing to say. Except that no-one prepared me for my Fridays to be so completely taken up with family activities.

Actually, I'll add just one more strain of whine to the stew: movies. In my youth I would never have believed I'd get to be so clueless about movies as I am at this moment. And it's not my fault; it's the kids. They go to bed too early for us to watch a movie as a family, and they go to bed too late for my wife and I to fight the sleepies to the bitter end.

I can't accurately recall just which was the last movie the two of us rented and watched, but it might well have been Scorsese's The Departed. It was entertaining enough, but when all was said and done, I can't say he supplied much motivation for harried parents on the cusp to stay awake.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I hear the girls asking for a Simpson's episode (from one of the first three seasons, when they were still funny). I might also be hearing a glass of wine call my name.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Locate The Mystic

It's been a while since I last viewed End Of The Century: The Story Of The Ramones, but it really stuck to the ribs. This morning I find myself thinking of some of the extra footage included in the menu, including interview out-takes with Joe Strummer. In one of these moments, he's asked some question about what The Ramones meant to him, and his eyes take on a distant look and he reminisces in a hushed voice. He says something like, "The uniform, those black leather jackets and the jeans ... at some point Johnny must have sat the rest of 'em down and said, 'This is how we're going to be.'"

I was struck by the romance that seemed to pick up Strummer and carry him away. Similarly some of the musings that Bob Geldof has in New York Doll. Geldof typically comes off as one of those surly Irish personalities with no room for sentiment, but wow, does he wax sentimental when it comes to the Dolls. And he is genuinely pleased to see these three surviving geezers gather on stage and sing the songs of their younger selves.

So here we have Strummer and Geldof, two artists who know how quickly the bloom comes off the rose of being a rock & roll star. One could argue that in both cases these guys witnessed their bands overtake their heroes. And yet, in their imagination, there is an inner sanctum where these rock personalities met, and from the cauldron of their shared imagination came this dramatic "WOW" that seemed like something larger and ineffable that Strummer and Geldof still yearn for. This, from guys who know it's all nuts-and-bolts, and who's gonna drive the van tonight?

Bear with me, but these thoughts occur to me after reading Yahmdallah's take on the final televised Star Trek episode, belonging to the shoddily-conceived and ill-fated Enterprise. Rick Berman and Brennan Braga, the two Roddenberry heirs who cooked up Enterprise, ostensibly referred to the final episode as their "valentine" to the fans. I have no doubt they used "valentine" in the ironic sense. As in, "The divorce papers finally came through -- Happy Valentine's Day, bitch!"

I haven't seen the episode in question, but Yahmdallah's appraisal is entirely persuasive. Judging from what cast members and fans have said in response, it sounds like B&B deliberately created a vehicle for their scorn. They rang the doorbell, and watched from a discrete distance as Trekkies opened up to discover a burning paper sack on their television porch.

Now contrast B&B's snarky, "It's a valentine!" to third wheel Manny Coto, who called the final episode, "Not so much a finale as a coda." It sounds to me as if Coto, who had nothing to do with the finale, was exerting what little damage control he could on behalf of a now widely-loathed franchise. That's the job he was hired to do as a writer, and most of the fans I've talked to say he really rolled up his sleeves and did good work.

If Coto was in any way involved with the latest movie production, I'd give it a chance. I watched one Coto-written Enterprise episode, and thought the concept and execution were surprisingly fresh. More than that, it looked as if the actors were finally having fun. Coto brought in a perspective that was fixed on the Star Trek universe, as opposed to the Star Trek franchise.

Anyhow, I don't want to get too laudacious when it comes to Coto's abilities. No-one will ever thank him for The 1/2 Hour News Hour, and I still maintain that 24 is a moral cancer eating at the soul of America. But when it came to Star Trek, I think he slipped into the mystic, pretty much the way Geldof and Strummer did when they thought of their heroes.

That sort of thing is good -- good for rock & roll, good for Star Trek, and good for the rest of us.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Batman: Interesting Or Merely Distracting?

"Hey, Dad," said the nine-year-old, "Mommy has a Batman comic book! And boy is it stupid!"

I chuckled nervously. Of course they were talking about my Batman comic book, purchased on impulse to see how Grant Morrison was carrying on. "Stupid how?" I asked, almost certain I already knew the answer.

Bingo: "There's girl superheroes, and they've all got underwear that slips right up their bum-cracks. See? Stupid!"

Actually, the girls in question were supervillains, but never mind. I thought I had put the offending book somewhere relatively safe, but my wife had noticed it and picked it up out of curiosity. And yes, the girls were indeed wearing outfits that would have hampered their attempts at hand-to-hand combat.

"Uh ... so what does Mommy think?"

"She can't stop reading it," reported the younger. "I had to say her name three times before she answered."

I heard a giggle in the other room. "It's true," she confirmed. "I haven't read a Batman comic since I was little. It's all very interesting."

Well ... it's getting there. "Very interesting" is a bit of a stretch, unless the last time you read Batman was when Neal Adams was in charge. As with earlier Morrison stories, I thought this month's issue was too short and lacking in continuity to be anything but superficially engaging. But the artwork is zippy, and even if it doesn't contribute what it should to continuity and emotional development, it has an undeniable distraction factor. But I don't think I'll be putting down the money for Morrison's collected works just yet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Brian's Enemies

Poor Brian. The guy sure loved to live the life of 24 Sussex. Most of our Prime Ministers do (although I still wonder about Joe Clarke), but Brian really loved it. He was a big-deal power-broker business man, and those were the qualities he took to the PMO. Prime Minister of Canada was as big as it got for him -- not quite Jack Welch big, but still impressive in its way.

He left office with quite a tidy benefits package, but no-one seems too eager to remember his tenure with even the lightest patina of fondness. Lord knows it's difficult for me to generate much respect for him, even on those issues where it's due him. I haven't voted for any of the PMs who have served me, so I'm disinclined toward cheerful appraisal at the best of times. But I begrudged Brian the most. He seemed crass, arrogant, a pretender who got his way by spending enormous sums of money. Most damning of all, when he dropped dough there never seemed to be any benefit for the little guy. Couldn't figure out the "bread and circuses" equation, our Brian. He withheld the bread and figured we'd content ourselves with the circus of his ego.

That's my uneducated observer's take: informed spectators with a greater capacity for fairness can say otherwise, and may yet get the final word. I doubt Brian will ever have that honor, though. He can't seem to scrape the stink off his shoes, and in his case each shoe has its particular taint. On the left is Pierre Trudeau: clever, classy, seductive, a genius at spending other people's money, yet always game for public debate because he was unshakable in his rectitude. And on the right is Karlheinz Schreiber, a manipulative weasel with an eye for the nearest shortcut to his goal.

I'm not sure I quite ascribe to the notion that we choose our enemies, but Brian comes close to bearing it out. And with both nemeses, I wonder if he isn't fighting above his weight.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Norman Mailer

I once bumped into my uncle on the subway, back when I still lived in the city. He noticed the book I was carrying and asked me what I was reading. I was incredibly embarrassed to admit that, in fact, I was reading Barbary Shore by Norman Mailer.

So now Mailer's gone, and it's the end of an era and all that. But I hardly have to explain why reading Mailer was a rather gauche activity for someone of my generation. The guy was nutty, so much of what he fixated upon was repulsive, and his behavior was frequently of a piece with it all. But at the end of the subway ride even I had to admit that, even though I didn't like what he wrote, he knew how to pull a reader in.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Toronto The Beautiful

"Great: more liberal guilt" -- as spoken by Lisa Simpson, after she runs over another pedestrian in the incomparable video game The Simpsons: Hit & Run.

We drove into the city yesterday to celebrate my uncle's 65th birthday. That's right: "the city." I'm not talking about Vancouver, Halifax, Edmonton, Winnipeg or even Montreal or any of a dozen other fine Canadian candidates. I'm talking about The City. Toronto (duh).

Oh, how the rest of Canada loves to hate Toronto. The brilliant/idiot city that proclaimed its own "World Classiness" in the 90s. The national media center that determines the news, entertainment and sports for the rest of the country. The city where the cultural elite reside and deliver their churlish pronouncements between bites of crumpet and sips of tea. The home of the Maple Leafs -- and their fans.

Feel free to add to the list of grievances in the comments below. It's fun!

I doubt anyone hates Toronto more than Prime Minister Brian ... no, wait ... Mike ... hang on, it's on the tip of my tongue ... Stephen (yes!) Harper does. I'm not just referring to his unwavering "Quit asking Dad for money and go earn it fair and square like the rest of us!" response he keeps giving to our beleaguered mayor and premier. No, I'm working off a hunch, actually, because Harper pretty much grew up in Toronto, then moved to Alberta. And no-one hates Toronto more than someone who's moved from here to Alberta. You will never hear a transplanted Torontonian in Calgary say, "It's lovely here, but I have to be honest: I still miss Toronto!" Nope. The conversion from, "I once was Lost but now am Found" is more complete for these high-minded souls than any personal religious awakening is likely to be. Toronto is so foul, so wrong, so coddled and ignorant and arrogant and stupid. And yet it thinks it is the center of the universe, and drags the rest of the country down with it.

Anyhow, here I was at this lovely party in the city, meeting so many lovely people and having lovely conversations. Near the end I was speaking with a neighbor, who reluctantly admitted that, yes, he'd been born in Toronto and was living here at the moment. But he'd worked some years in the Maritimes, and that had opened his eyes to how loathsome Toronto's existence was to the rest of the country.

I conceded the point, insofar as it concerned the Leafs. And I admitted that at times I felt homesick for the prairies. And I asserted that smaller cities like Winnipeg and Halifax were more productive arts and cultural hothouses than Toronto is, because artists can afford to starve there (correction: they actually live quite comfortably). "But," I said, "I loved living in Toronto. I miss living in Toronto. And I wouldn't hesitate to move back to Toronto."

Just to make one particular point about the city: it's a beautiful city to walk through. For a stretch of years I used to work at Yonge & Bloor. At various times I lived within a 20, 40 and 60 minutes' walk. I didn't mind the time spent, because I loved to look around. Just looking at the peaks of houses was an aesthetic treat. But there was also the yards, the windows, the shops, the handmade signs .... Toronto is a beautiful city. Montreal probably edges it out somewhat in that category, but just by an accentegue. Toronto is beautiful.

If only they could swap hockey teams with Ottawa...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Intuition Proven Wrong. Again.

I had friends who, when they were a couple, asked themselves which of the beloved A.A. Milne characters they best embodied. "Oh, that's easy: you're Pooh!" "And you'd be Piglet, in a cinch!" My approach to the exercise wasn't quite so flattering. I would have loved to be categorized as an Eeyore, but the truth was more bitter. I was a Rabbit.

I put a cheerful face on my everyday public dealings, but find I have to combat a tendency toward fretfulness. It's a different creature from its cousin "gloom." A friend once asked me what my "gut feeling" was regarding a certain circumstance. I told him, but was quick to add, "My gut feelings are disproved every time I get out of the car and close the garage door."

I have reservations about Martin Seligman's Learned Optimism. So far as self-help books go, this one has been only moderately successful in helping me help myself. But while I may not yet be an "optimist," I have at least learned to question the most pessimistic of my fretful impulses.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Giving The Gift of Unconsciousness

It's my younger daughter's ninth birthday, today. "Did you see the toy her sister bought for her?" asked my lovely wife.

"No," said I. "What'd she get?"

"Aquadots," said my wife."Name ring a bell?"

"Mm. Kind of. Not sure why, though."

"Then read this."

Good thing we kept the receipt.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand

These last few weeks, whenever I pay my daily visit to eMusic I get confronted with their flashy banner for Eric Clapton's downloadable memoirs. “A ROCK & ROLL GOD,” it proclaims, scrolling up to a picture of the young Slowhand and his Strat, settling on the image just long enough for the viewer to recognize him before scrolling to the rest of the message, “SHREDS HIS PEDESTAL.”

It catches my eye, but boy does it bug me. “Shreds his pedestal”? If we're using rock & roll metaphors, and we assert (wrongly) that Clapton's “shredding the guitar” is what got him to that pedestal, shouldn't we assume that “shredding his pedestal” is meant to elevate him someplace higher?

More to the point, I'm still enough of my mother's son to bristle at the term “rock & roll god.” She raised me to take the Ten Commandments seriously, especially the first. And even if I bypass my impulse toward reverence, the concept of a rock & roll god seems anachronistic. In the last 20 years, has anyone used the term without tongue in cheek? The recent spate of “reality based” rock celeb vehicles demonstrate that, with the right script, these jokers can still inspire amusement. But as for glory, laud and honor, well . . . when the music's over it really is best if we, to quote one late “rock & roll god,” turn out the lights.

Having said all that, it is difficult for me to attribute mere humanity to any of the Led Zeppelin crew, particularly Robert Plant. The music, the over-indulgence, the stupidity and even a tally of their most addled performances is of such a mythic scale, it all seems to blend seamlessly into something considerably larger than life. Especially the music. Especially the music. When, three minutes into “I Can't Quit You Babe” Robert Plant emits his guttural, primal...


... we're witness to a sound we can all identify with, but only he can make.

In the years since Zep retired, that sound is essentially what Robert Plant has brought to each of his solo projects. Plant has always demonstrated a remarkable range, but his choice of material tends to capitalize on his pipes, which even in his advanced years can deliver volume, volume, volume. So I permitted myself some amusement when I saw he was releasing — sorry: co-releasing — an album with the ethereally-voiced bluegrass artist Alison Krauss, called Raising Sand.

According to this Amazon promo clip, the three chief personalities involved entered the studio scared spitless. It's easy to see why. Plant, Krauss and producer T Bone Burnett are music visionaries with very distinct takes on their chosen genres. Perhaps I presume, but I think Burnett and the band provided the sonic space for Plant and Krauss to play in. Burnett keeps the reverb high and the overall sound swampy, letting the bass or the higher range peek out from time to time, only to retreat when the voices return. Plant responds by keeping his voice hushed, without losing any of his character. Krauss, in turn, locates her ability to swing, and the result is aural magic.

I do Krauss an injustice by focusing on Plant. She is exceedingly gifted, but the fact is she is still young and has a lifetime of musical exploration ahead of her. Plant is facing the final curtain. And in this album, for the first time in his life, he evokes a yearning, touching, finite humanity. This could well be my favorite album of the year.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Whither Genius? Whither The Audience?

That Thursday Dude has tweaked and re-posted an earlier entry that I thought was worth my reconsideration as well. It seems TTD is worrying over a particular topic that sits at the bottom of his brainpan the way sand sits in an oyster. He's puzzling over some astutely rendered dichotomies: creative vs. critical, taste vs. genius, and one or two more to boot. His post is a nuanced exploration of character, biology, primal impulses and the assumed role of the critic.

Reading it, my own (post-nasal-drip-clouded) brain swerves in several directions at once (no Hindu monkey, I). My inclination is to think of these classifications as representative of a particular internal tension, rather than warring factions or dichotomies. I love reading criticism, and have whiled away many a pleasant hour in its consumption and production. If it's good criticism it has an aesthetic all its own. But at the end of the day, it's just a quick improvisation off a larger composition that required greater energy and devotion of the artisan. Working with the definitions that TTD supplies, can criticism ever be a work of genius?

(A: Yes. Goddard's maxim is the one to remember.)

I think the more pertinent question is, what's a genius without an audience? The most competent creative types have a shrewd understanding of their audience's expectations; the best authors/singers/auteurs realize, in other words, that they are performers. A performer recognizes boundaries and limitations, imposed from within and without, then works at delivering a surprise.

So who is the greater genius: Franz Kafka or Max Brod? One more dose of this cold medicine, and I believe I may just have the answer for you.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Time I've Wasted On Progress...

...could never be measured in coffee spoons -- a sturdy aluminum snow-scoop, maybe, but not coffee spoons. At least, certainly not if this cheeky comparison holds any truth. All the DOS command lines I've typed since 1983, all the code brackets I inserted into my early WordStar documents, all the hair-pulling anguish over proper Mac OS extensions .... When I think that my forefathers cleared brush and tilled the soil to ensure a better future for the forthcoming generation, my puzzling over what makes the 1s and 0s dance to my tune seems shamefully trivial.

Oh well -- so it is, and so it remains. At this late juncture I heartily endorse Ubuntu as the gentlest Linux Operating System. It does what you need it to, unless you're an online gamer or addicted to that (ab)user-friendly commercial purveyor of music files and television episodes. HOWEVER, like any other Linux OS, Ubuntu does require some willingness from its users to engage in a little code-work and personal fine tuning.

All this to say, I spent a good portion of the day upgrading to Gutsy Gibbon. And still there's work to be done before it feels like a room I can call my own. Throw in a headful of cold germs, and my brain is not fit for prose composition. I know it's NaBloPoMo, but I'm sorry: the dog ate my homework.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Straddling Political Ideologies, While Bolstering My Bookshelf

Today marked a first for this Canadian consumer: I ordered two items from the US Amazon site that I could have purchased at Had I ordered these books from the Canadian site, I'd have qualified for free shipping. But even with the US shipping charges, it was cheaper to get the books from across the border. That's what a better discount and a superior dollar gets you.

I've got enough Trudeau-era ideological residue to feel just a little guilty for sending my Canuckle-head bucks across the 49th parallel, but I also came of age as a witness to the Mulroney Trade Deal. We get to buy our oil back from the US; they get first dibs on our diminishing freshwater. And I get cheaper books. Everyone is happy.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Spending One's Daylight Savings

My family had a daylight savings ritual we followed for a number of years: my father would take me and my brother out to a local hockey game, to watch the farm teams duke it out on the ice. If this sounds like modest fun, bear in mind we all had to be in church the next morning.

I was thinking about this last night as I drove my wife and daughters home from a family do. The girls were fighting sleep. I glanced at the clock on the dash -- 7:42, 7:46, 7:49, etc. The minutes were as painful for me as they were for my girls. At this rate, I figured I could just about count on a very early wake-up. Somehow we covered the right conversational material to keep them awake until we got home, but the sanity of my father's tactic became impressively clear.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Reverently Befuddled Aesthete, Continued

Sometime in High School I got the impression that if I wanted to play in a rock and roll band, playing bass guitar was the fastest, easiest route. I had no empirical evidence of this. The bass players I could name had genuine musical chops — Geddy Lee, John Entwhistle, even Michael Anthony from Van Halen. Anthony sure jumped around a lot, though. Maybe that's where the idea took hold.

A friend of mine generously took me on a tour of the city’s music shops, to give me a few tips and keep me from making a completely disastrous purchase. I loved walking into all these places, even the pawn shops. It felt like I was entering the pantheon of some exotic house of worship, where the elements gleamed and beckoned to be picked up and played. I lived in hope that I’d someday be worthy of just such an honor. My friend would take down a Les Paul, hook it up to a Peavey amp and coax all manner of incredible music from it. I, on the other hand, would reach for a cheap Ibanez knock-off, plug it in and ... well, even in 1981 when everybody and their gerbil could play the opening bass riff to “Turn Me Loose” or “My Sharona” I clearly marked myself as an infidel in the House of Music.

I bought the knock-off and farted around with it for a few months, but never got anywhere close to actual proficiency. I sold it a year later and gave up on my rock and roll dreams.

For the last 20 years I’ve owned and played a simple acoustic guitar. I’ll happily strum it at any bonfire; I even know a couple of scales. But I don’t know it nearly so well as to prompt me to buy anything so sweet as this stuff (same friend, BTW). Still, I love to look at it. These are the doors that grant the true disciple access to such terrific sounds. And for that I revere it.

Post-Script: since I'm talking bass guitarists, it behooves me to link to at least one interview with Lemmy from Motörhead. "Q: Is it true you tried to teach Sid Vicious how to play bass?" "A: Yeah. It was all uphill. And he still couldn’t play bass when he died, I mean, ****ing hell."

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Reverently Befuddled Aesthete

In the 80s I used to hang out in my friend’s garage, listening to FM radio and watching him take things apart. He was a gear-head, and keen to look deep into any crap vehicle that left an oil patch in its wake. Whenever he needed a third hand I’d step in, but beyond that I wasn’t much help. I could rattle off the basic components of a combustion engine, but couldn’t reassemble one to save my life.

He finally turned to me and said, “You’ve got no head for this, so why do you bother?”

“It’s not about being practical,” I told him. “I like looking at engines. I think they’re works of art.”

He gave me a queer look, and returned to his work. After a few minutes curiosity finally got the better of him, and he broke the silence. “What do you mean, ‘Works of art?’”

“I mean I think they’re beautiful. They have this terrific balance between function and form. All these meticulously crafted geometric shapes put together for optimal mechanical performance; in the process they attain an aesthetic balance as well.”

He snorted. “You’d probably surprise a few engineers with that thought.”

“Would I? Just look at the block of a V-8 engine and tell me someone wasn’t concerned about it actually looking nice. It’d be one thing if it were just a hunk of metal with 8 holes bored into it, but it’s actually a smooth hunk of metal, with well-defined edges. The holes are perfectly round, evenly spaced. It’s very tidily designed. I’m telling you, if you shone the right light on it and photographed it from the right angle, you would think it’s beautiful.”

I still believe that to be true. In fact, someone with the right talent could make quite a snazzy coffee-table book out of photographing the guts of a car (hey, JD: you listening?). But my fascination is spurred by more than some Platonic sense of perfect balance. I can remember the awe I felt when I saw my first motorcycle dismantled, staring into the tabernacle of those combustion chambers and thinking, So this is where it all happens.

It’s a little like looking inside the human body. I sort of know how it all works, and in the case of the combustion engine, I have some glimmer of the reasoning applied to its design. And of course the way an engine “goes” isn’t in the same league of mystery as the way recombinant DNA “goes.” But still: wow!

Reverence — that’s the word I’m looking for. I actually revere this stuff. Tomorrow I'll post another example from my youth.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Launching Into NaBloPoMo With A Post-Halloween Tidy

Curious how each Halloween is different from the last. There have been years when we've run out of goodies. This year we've got a heap of leftovers, so it's Rockets galore for this family. Last year I gave away Coffee Crisp, and was left with nothing. Looks like I picked the wrong year to cheap out.

My wife took the girls out begging; she had the impression this was one of the busier years. Hordes of kids and parents, trolling up and down the different drags. Nevertheless, at one of the girls' last stops, the lady of the house gave them mounds of candy. "I can't be trusted with this stuff," said she, "so I'm trusting you with it."

The police paid the town a visit, but didn't see fit to flash their lights or hit the siren. Our village had a quiet Halloween, by police standards. Even our family jack-o-lanterns, which I pointedly leave out overnight close to the sidewalk curb, were left intact. I'm disappointed. No doubt if I kept them there over the weekend, I'd be obliged, but that's not the way it works. As soon as I've posted this, they'll be going into the compost.

On second thought, why don't I just bite the bullet and take care of it now?

Aah! Now on to November...