Friday, May 30, 2003
Sunday: Work Freakout

I worked my regular hours (or what seem to be becoming my regular hours) on Sunday. It was an odd day. First off, it was a very slow day with so many people out of town for the long weekend. The assistant manager was talking about shutting down early if things didn't pick up.

Then he realized that he didn't have his keys. This caused him to start flipping out, which caused him to be about as much use (as they say) as tits on a fish. "Tits on a fish," in fact, was precisely the phrase that
came to mind as a sudden rush of customers appeared from nowhere and he was still running around the place looking for his misplaced keys. At one point he was up front while I was in back cleaning some dishes and he called back to me that there were customers... despite the fact that he was closer and I was actually doing work.

Finally it turned out that another barista had used his keys to open the cabinet where we keep the booze during daylight hours. "You obviously hate me," he told her over the phone. "No, she obviously hates me," I corrected him. He apologized for freaking out, and all was well...

Sunday: The Store Trip

...except that the last run had all but entirely depleted our supply of Skim Milk. We were also low on onions. So manager got a twenty from the register and sent me to get more of both.

Down 14th Street to the supermarket I trod. I don't recall what I was considering at the time, only that it struck me as very interesting at the time. Such are often my recollections of walks. I was probably glad for the break in the omnipresent rain that threatens to turn DC into Seattle, though the sidewalk was still dark with it.

I came to the supermarket just past the El Guapo/Boner graffitti and took a brisk turn into the out door. This left me with the only choice of going all the way around the checkout lines or charging through them in the wrong direction. Without pause I chose the second option. Still walking briskly, I cut a left turn past the 8 items or fewer line... only to learn that my dampened traction was not up to its centripetal task. Suddenly my feet were racing port and starboard of my center of gravity and my ass was accelerating toward the floor. I immedialely knew that if I landed on this ass I would break my tailbone and, furthermore, that if I instead landed on my back I would break my neck. So my highly caffeinated mind leapt into action and reached a split-second conclusion, immediately whereafter my arms shot out to grab anything handy.

(To heighten tension here, I'll take a break to marvel at just how much I've been writing since I created thee mighty mighty 'obBlog, as opposed to before when I was writing... well... not at all. This can only be seen as a good thing, and I hope (while I am not necessarily hopeful) that it will last)

The right arm grabbed the partition separating a cashier from the line behind her, and immediately used this purchase to throw its elbow over. The left arm, for its part, grabbed onto the left sleeve of said cashier's logo-emblazoned T-shirt.

With an immediacy speaking of reflexes rivaling my own, the cashier (a smallish black woman) immediately shouted "WHAT you doin'!?" If I may take another moment out I will lament the fact that I have little formal linguistic training, and certainly not enough to express precisely the vocal inflection of the preceding exclamation, which was really quite extraordinary. In non-scientific terms, the "WHAT" was a rising glissando-type affair, terminating only in what I must assume was the highest pitch the woman's voice could reach. For the following two words, the pitch immediately returned to the woman's (again I must assume) usual speaking tone.

As soon as I was sure my descent had been arrested, I released the woman's sleeve, pulled myself up on the barrier, and looked down over my shoulder at a wet patch of floor where a footprint was smeared, curving outward like a coriolanus-affected cirrus cloud.

I apologized twice and continued on my errand, walking slowly with a newfound distrust of friction. I picked up my milk and onions, which involved going to the other side of the store to grab a basket. When I checked out with my 5 items, I used the 15 items lane instead of the 8 items lane.

Sunday: Doldrums

"So it's all your fault, you and your onions. I almost died out there and to save myself I ended up molesting someone."

And then the lights dimmed for the evening and people kept ordering sandwiches and everything took on a surreal cast that I can't adequately describe. At some point the assistant manager tried to capture it.

He: "It's like I'm here... but I don't want to be."
Me: "I feel like I'm here, but I'm not entirely sure I am. It almost feels like a dream."

At one point the manager went out for a walk to clear his head. While he was out somebody ordered a breve. It was only through sheer luck that I had gotten curious the day before and asked what exactly a breve was (it's like a latte, except with half and half instead of milk). Moral: Pointless curiosity pays off.

Finally I ate a sanwich myself and everything returned to focus. I wonder that lately I experience hunger not as an emptiness in the stomach or a yearning on the tongue but as a cloudiness of the mind.

Sunday: Saint-Ex

After work we went over to the apartment of one of the assistant manager's friends, a woman who often hangs out with us at the Cafe and distracts us while we try to work. We eventually decided to head over to Cafe Saint-Ex, a new place that opened recently on the corner of 14th and T. With how often I walk down T Street, I'd watched every step of its gradual ansformation from a sleepy local tavern frequented mainly by local Salvadoran expats to the kind of trendy spot that simultaneously intrigued me, frightened me, and repulsed me.

This was my first time actually going inside.

As soon as I walked in I saw people I have never met but whom I immediately recognized-- fixtures at the local indie rock shows. We headed straight through the upstairs, the polished wood of which had always struck me as a tad too yuppie-ish (the last 2 1/2 years since I left the dot-com world, years spent trying to write a novel and, even less fruitfully, trying to play guitar like Andy Gill, have once again afforded me the privilege of using the term yuppie perjoratively) and downstairs to Gate 54 and suddenly my eyes were opened. This WAS my kind of place!

The atmosphere was hip but cozy, with signs and posters adorning the walls, comfy chairs all around, and a flatscreen tv on one of the walls showing one of the Our Man Flint movies. The music wasn't loud enough to overpower conversation, as it is in so many other places. Even though we found seats next to a stack of speakers, we didn't have to shout at each other. And the music...

Apparently Gate 54 allows djs to play no more than twice a month to keep things from getting stale. If the other djs are as good as the two spinning that Sunday, Saint-Ex could well become my new favorite place in the cosmos. Off the top of my head: The Jesus & Mary Chain, X-Ray Specs, Velvet Underground, The Fall, Gang of Four, and (as we were leaving) Lilliput.

The people watching was also quite good. As should come as little surprise (but surprised me anyway) Ian Svenonius, whose Logan Circle-area ubiquity is really quite astounding, made an appearance. There was also a very pretty girl there, whom I may have fallen ever-so briefly in love with, who was wearing a black and white horizontally striped off-the shoulder shirt (revealing some very sexy shoulders). Her jeans were white and her hair was black with a streak bleached white on one side of her bangs. The entire effect was very monochromatic gallo-mod, in a way that I couldn't help thinking of as post-Godardian (because I can be a bit of a pretentious twit when drunk). She ended up dancing with a friend of Ian's, whose aesthetic I could best describe as muted neo-New Romantic.

It was a good night, but the Manager decided he needed to go home, so we left before we could do any dancing (and before I could manage eye contact with mono-mod). As we left, I declared my undying love for the establishment, which probably means I'll quickly become jaded and decide it sucks...

(NOTE: What has actually happened is that I've been afraid to go into Saint-Ex since, for fear that it won't live up to my first experience and I'll be terribly disillusioned. Thank you for tuning in for another episode of "Isn't Bob Neurotic?" I've been your host, join us next time!)
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Workin' Saturday

Last weekend was my first experience working Sparky's on a Saturday. Saturdays are the busiest days, I'm given to believe, so it was a big trial by fire. The manager even said she'd wanted to give me another week of evenings to learn the ropes before scheduling me, but someone else's schedule change had made it necessary.

How'd I do? My coworkers, who kept threatening to go early and leave me to handle it alone, were too busy imagining that they had fired the manager and were now in control ever to deliver a final verdict, but they did accuse me of having a "smart mouth" every time I didn't go along with the joke... which is odd, seeing as from what I've seen such is the only real requirement for employment there. They eventually agreed that I was the weirdest person working there, which I of course took as highest compliment.

(To tell the truth, I couldn't make out much of what they were saying due to the ambient noise ever-present at Sparky's. I took most of it as good-natured teasing, though. I've gotten much better at taking that kind of thing since I was growing up and my overreactions to it got me in trouble and made me all but a social pariah... but though my surface reactions are better, though I don't let it show as much, it still stings inside more than it really should. After all these years I'm still just a little too sensitive, I guess... especially when too much is left to my imagination-- I tend to assume the worst.)

The shift also caused me to miss brunch with Mary, Snarkout and Redfox. The former taunted me that she was stealing my friends, and the latter two later showed up at Sparky's to taunt me with how good the food had been.

Not Workin' Saturday

After work I fixed our gremlin-infested apartment network (actually what I did was founder, bang on my keyboard for a bit, unnecessarily reset the router, and finally discover that the DSL modem had been accidentally unplugged), then took a two hour nap.

Snarkout and Redfox came over later and we hung out taunting the cat for a while before watching "The Manchurian Candidate." It was only the second time I'd seen it, the first being a typically wonderful Brattle double feature with "The Parallax View".

I mentioned the above double feature as a good pairing of "a left-wing paranoia assassination movie and a right-wing paranoia assassination movie," and was asked to explain exactly what I meant. In my mind, "Parallax" is about a mysterious corporation brainwashing potential assassins while "Manchurian" is about Communists brainwashing potential assassins, but the pairing of the two in my head lead me to what is possibly a false dichotomy.

To whit: "The Manchurian Candidate" posits the real force behind the plot, Raymond's "American Operator" as...

(WARNING: Major spoiler ahead!)
(Seen the movie yet?)
(If not, go watch it before reading the next bit, seriously!)
* his own mother, the wife (and Lady-MacBeth-style goad) of Senator Iselin (Raymond's step-father). The point here is that Iselin is a transparent McCarthy analogue, making the assassination a plot by extreme right-wing domestic elements to take control of America with the backing of the Communist powers.

A close viewing of the movie, however, reveals that Iselin's chief political rival, the angelic Senator Jordan, is himself a Republican. As Redfox noted, what better wish fulfilment could there be for the right wing than to be able to foist the responsibility for their embarrassing extremists onto their enemies?

How much fun would it be, for example, for a moderate Democrat to discover that Ralph Nader was on the Republican payroll? Or for a radical leftist to find out that the humorless, doctrinaire far-left sectarians who make them all look so silly are actually bankrolled by multinational corporations?

Sadly, however, a quick Googling reveals that most of the rhetoric surrounding "The Manchurian Candidate" is used to attack Republicanswho are seen as traitors for being too moderate rather than too extreme.
Saturday, May 24, 2003
Can you possibly be prepared for the wrongness that is Girls Are Pretty? I think not!

Be warned, I got this link from old man Ellis...
Friday, May 23, 2003
Music Theory

On Fridays at Sparky's we have performances, which usually involve a guitar player whose name I can't currently recall because I'm terrible with names and always have been. Anyway, the first Friday I was working there she played a song that I was able to figure out just by watching. I went home and was able to play it myself right away. I was so proud of myself that the next time she was there (I was there with some friends on my day off-- we'd been kicked out of the Red Room, but that's another story) I asked her to play it.

And because I didn't know the name I had to describe it by the chords.

"The one where you play the C, F and G shapes up at the eighth fret... no, not barred, just open. You start with the Fmaj7 shape, then you put your pinkie down, then you switch to the C shape..." Finally I had to show her, which was very clumsy because she's right handed and I can't finger chords with my left hand to save my life. But we figured it out.

After I sat back down, another guy who apparently played guitar started gently and smilingly chiding me for all my Fmaj7 talk. "There are the people who just know how to hear music, and there are the people who know all the theory..."

I've never had the ear to tell the difference between a M6 interval and a m6 one, at least not without stopping everything and humming the NBC jingle followed by Greensleeves, so I've had to fall into the latter category. One of the things that's always interested me about music theory is how many different approaches there are to it. I really enjoy starting over at the first principles of something I supposedly already know and seeing all the different ways of presenting it, all the angles I'd never noticed before.

My first exposure was in a general grade school music class, populated by everyone from piano prodigies to the tone deaf. The teacher tried valiantly not to bore the former without completely befuddling the latter, and managed to give us the basics of learning intervals, key signatures, the circle of fifths, relative minors and the like.

My next exposure was in jr. high band. As such, it was much more practical. Playing trombone required that I know whole notes from half and quarter notes, that I could recognize key and time signatures... basically that I could follow musical notation like a computer executing a program. Then and only then we would look at maybe getting some feeling or emotion into the notes. Trombone can play only one note at a time, so forget all that complicated harmony stuff.

Next was high school "Musicianship" class, wherein we did a bit of ear training (though not enough to do me much good), transcription, voice leading, and some introductory composition.

Most recently I've started playing guitar. The approach to music theory for guitar players is mainly chord theory for reasons that should be obvious. Chords are endlessly fascinating to me. I suspect that a big part of the reason I'm not a better guitar player after five years has a lot to do with my rush to try and learn as many chord shapes and variations as possible without stopping to practice changing between them or learning how they can work together.

Anyway, the most recent -- and to me, most interesting so far -- approach to music theory that I've stumbled upon is the esoteric approach. Pythagoras wasn't a mathematician, music theorist and mystic out of sheer dilletantism, you see, but because he saw an intrinsic link between the three subjects.

Music is organized sound, you see. And sound is vibration. In Pythagoras' mystic view of reality, all things are in vibration. Much of modern physics bears this view out-- down on the quantum level we are all possibility waves. So music, properly seen, is a model for all things. Mathematics can describe the world, and music, with its vibrational ratios, is math made physical.

Ok... This was all supposed to be introductory, and I had no idea I'd ramble on so much. I'll have to go further into these ideas in a later entry, I suppose. Anybody wanting a sneak preview should go to the same place I first learned about all this-- the website of Richard Lloyd, one of the two original guitar players for the legendary New York punk band Television.
Thursday, May 22, 2003
Jury Duty

Yes, that was my day. Waking up far too early (I overslept anyway and arrived a half-hour late) and going down to the DC courthouse. Then there was a lot of standing around, followed by a lot of sitting around. Having expected this, I brought a book of essays by H.L. Mencken, which is now almost finished.

At maybe ten o'clock in the morning my number was called, so I got to go somewhere else and stand around, then go into the courtroom and sit around. Then I was introduced to the lawyers and the defendant, who was charged with felony heroin possession. I filled out a questionnaire in which I mentioned that I didn't know the defendant, any of the witnesses, or the judges, that I didn't live near the place of arrest, that I had no prejudice for or against police officers, and yes that I had been involved in a crime in the past ten years (when I got mugged in Somerville). Then I got to sit around listening to the white noise generator while each potential juror (all 60 of us) was called up to the bench so that the judge and lawyers could talk to us about our answers. I affirmed to the judge that it was my belief that being beat up by three drunk highschoolers wouldn't color my view of a heroin case, and told the prosecutor that I worked as a barista.

Then they read off a few numbers, told those people they were free to go (back to the Juror's waiting lounge, at least). Then there began a long, boring game of musical chairs: "Juror number 546, you may step down... juror number 888 sit in seat number 3..." Finally they settled on 12 jurors and 2 alternates. I was far enough down the list that they'd have had to throw out 2 full juries for me to serve.

So I went back to the check-in room and told them I'd been sent back into the pool. By then it was lunchtime, so I got an hour to go to the deli down the street (it was raining and I hadn't thought to bring an umbrella, but I still had no urge to sample the courthouse cafeteria) and eat a veggie burger.

Then back to sitting, reading, and listening for my number.

Eventually I got thirsty, so I went to the vending room and bought a ginger ale. We weren't allowed to eat or drink in the lounge, so I sat around by the machines sipping and reading and returned to the lounge to see it being turned into a reception room for a bioethics seminar and wandered around dazedly for a while asking random passersby if it was OK for me to go home. Finally I ran into somebody who was able to check my number and explain: "Ohhh, you weren't in the lounge, so you missed the announcement!" That's what I get, it seems, for getting thirsty on the gummint's dime.
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
As Good a Place to Start as Any

Last night as I was mopping up, for some reason I got a single word stuck in my head. It was "Amphigorey," the title of an Edward Gorey collection. And I started thinking about the prefix "amphi-," that it meant everything. Thus "Amphigorey" was a collection of all of Gorey's works, at least up to that time. But then I remembered "amphibian." An amphibian lives both on land and in the water, suggesting that "amphi-" means "both."

Then I got a bit confused, remembering "ambi-" as in "ambidextrous" and "ambivalent." Somebody who is ambidextrous can use both hands equally well, but, "dexter" being Latin for "right," the word literally means having two right hands (a frightening concept to southpaws like myself). Something that is ambivalent means two things at once. So I stopped my mopping and asked the asst. manager if "ambi-" and "amphi-" were just different spellings for basically the same prefix and he looked at me funny.

I could easily look this up, but knowing the truth of the matter is much less interesting than having a random question to ask people in order that they may look at me funny.

It does suddenly occur that "ambi-" could mean all and "amphi-" both... but then why not speak of the amphidextrous President Garfield writing in Latin with one hand and Ancient Greek with the other?

That last sentence may actually contain its own answer. "Ambi-" is Latin, whereas "amphi-" strikes me as having a distinct Greek flavor. Mixing a Greek prefix with a Latin word is far worse a crime than splitting an infinitive... I think it would be interesting to do a survey of neologisms to see how many of them trample this neat boundary.

Let us all hope that this last meandering and pointless entry does not set the tone for all future to follow. Charitably view it as a priming of the pump-- first comes air, then sludge, then mud, then dirty water. Perhaps clarity will come in time.
Monday, May 19, 2003
Well, you asked for it (three or four of you at least) so here it is: a 'Blog by some guy you've never heard of. I will not be taking this opportunity to do a selection from my off-Broadway show "Hitler Sings," nor will I continue to confuse some of you with an endless stream of Mr. Show references. I've basically started this 'blog for two reasons:

First, I'm not all that great at keeping in touch with my friends, so this might be a way to keep farflung folks up on my exploits.

Second, I tend to be a very private person in person (with family and friends) but I've learned I can be immensely confessional when writing for a massive anonymous audience. This 'blog will create in my mind the fiction of a massive anonymous audience so that the five or six of you can find out what's actually happening in my life and in my skull.

Those of you looking for more substance or background might be able to find it in my embarrassing old website, Th'BobWeb, that is unless Earthlink finally realized I don't give them any money any more and took the damn thing down at long last.

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