Notes

Notes · · Tucson

Glitch

Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit - all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.

― Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices

Notes · · Tucson

Christmas in October

Sooner than later all sorts of people will be up in arms about people saying Merry Christmas again. I think I'd settle for people just saying good morning to each other again.

Notes · · Tucson

Amanda Gris

What if the novel in you is one you yourself would never read? A beach novel, a blockbuster, a long, windy, character-driven literary drama that ends sadly? What if the one novel in you is the opposite of your idea of yourself?
― Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays

Notes · · Tucson

Sometimes it’s harder to notice a place you think you know well

Sometimes it's harder to notice a place you think you know well; your eyes glide over it, seeing it but not seeing it at all. It's almost as if familiarity gives you a kind of temporary blindness. I had to force myself to look harder and try to see beyond the concept of library that was so latent in my brain. ― Susan Orlean, The Library Book

Notes · · Mexico City

In which Diego shaves me.

Diego shaves me in Roma

Diego shaves me.

Hiram took this photo of me getting a shave at the shop "Famous" near where we are staying in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood. This is the first time I have gotten a shave at a barber shop. I don’t think the barber, Diego, believed I speak Spanish because we both had to repeat ourselves a lot. Or perhaps this being my first shave in Spanish, I was speaking Spanish but not the Spanish you use when getting a shave. Perhaps because I didn’t understand what he was asking me to do or perhaps because I continue to be haunted by the beautiful film Roma, when Diego put the chair down and told me to stretch out, I tried to put legs up like the film’s protagonist Cleo at her OB Gyn appointment. It was a good shave.

Notes · · Tucson

Arbitrary Stupid Goal

There are many things to enjoy and think about in Tamara Shopsin's Arbitrary Stupid Goal, a memoir of family and friendships and neighborhood characters and places in a not-so-long-ago New York City that sounds as if it mostly doesn't exist anymore or won't soon. I enjoyed it and perhaps you will too.

But I also want to say that something I especially liked about the copy I borrowed from the library was how whoever put the mylar jacket on it, played with the already cool duotone design to make it even more fun than it already was. Well done, Pima County.

Notes · · Hermosillo

They are called Mexican wedding shirts

I have been to two Mexican weddings in the past year. Both times I have agonized over what shirt to wear.

Last night my sister-in-law married her sweetheart in a cozy ceremony in the garden of a hotel in Hermosillo. As I was putting on a tie I had brought to wear with the white shirt and black slacks I had bought earlier in the week, Hiram asked if I didn't have another shirt.

"I'm afraid people will think you are a waiter."

So I lost the tie and wore the other shirt — the one with the tiny polka dots. 

On the way to the hotel, we passed a pair of missionaries dressed in exactly the same clothes I was going to wear originally.

Ho hum.

It's hot in the summer in Hermosillo and it's just as well I didn't wear the tie, which I had only retrieved in the first place from a box from the nineties in the closet because I felt guilty for not wearing a blazer I don't own.

At the wedding I took some photos because I can't not take photos. Later, looking at Hiram's brothers in the pictures I had a thought.

Light bulb.

What they are wearing is what English speakers call Mexican wedding shirts. They are for sale in many places in Tucson in many colors and styles, new and vintage, expensive and not.

The answer to my question of what shirt to wear was sewn into the shirt I could have worn. 

Family and friends at Zayra and Arturo's wedding

Family and friends at Zayra and Arturo's wedding

Notes · · Tucson

Lane 9

Ken, bowling
Golden Pin Lanes
Lane 9
Hiram, bowling

We were looking for something to do and Ken suggested bowling. I don't remember the last time I went bowling. I think this was maybe the fourth time ever. Golden Pin Lanes, the last non-chain bowling center in town will close sometime in the next year. We decided to go there. 

Notes · · Tucson

Monster Children, Issue 58

Monster Children, Issue 58

I love Monster Children because its images of surfing and skateboarding remind me of what it's like to be young; I love Monster Children because its writing reminds me it's okay to put into writing how annoying things can be; I love the Australia Issue of Monster Children because it reminds me that I'm not the only one annoyed by U.S. news.

The Australia Issue. A concept that started as one thing and ended up completely contrary to what I intended at the close, for better or worse. The initial idea came about in light of over a year of being completely assaulted on all fronts with nothing but news of the United States. Sick of nothing but the frumpy clown in the White House, we thought shining a light on our own country, warts and all, would offer brief respite if nothing else.

Alistair Klinkenberg: The Australia Issue, an Introduction

Notes · · Decatur

Serena Joy

Serena Joy, what a stupid name. It’s like something you’d put on your hair, in the other time, the time before, to straighten it. Serena Joy, it would say on the bottle, with a woman’s head in cut-paper silhouette on a pink oval background with scalloped gold edges. With everything to choose from in the way of names, why did she pick that one? Serena Joy was never her real name, not even then. Her real name was Pam. I read that in a profile on her, in a news magazine, long after I’d first watched her singing while my mother slept in on Sunday mornings. By that time she was worthy of a profile: Time or Newsweek it was, it must have been. She wasn’t singing any more by then, she was making speeches. She was good at it. Her speeches were about the sanctity of the home, about how women should stay home. Serena Joy didn’t do this herself, she made speeches instead, but she presented this failure of hers as a sacrifice she was making for the good of all.

Around that time, someone tried to shoot her and missed; her secretary, who was standing right behind her, was killed instead. Someone else planted a bomb in her car but it went off too early. Though some people said she’d put the bomb in her own car, for sympathy. That’s how hot things were getting.

Luke and I would watch her sometimes on the late-night news. Bathrobes, nightcaps. We’d watch her sprayed hair and her hysteria, and the tears she could still produce at will, and the mascara blackening her cheeks. By that time she was wearing more makeup. We thought she was funny. Or Luke thought she was funny. I only pretended to think so. Really she was a little frightening. She was in earnest.

She doesn’t make speeches any more. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn’t seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, now that she’s been taken at her word. 

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

Notes · · Tucson

Groundhog Day

The owner of the market was cashiering and couldn't remember how to ring things up. He said, "This is my store, but every time I have to work the register it's like groundhog day."

People have really warmed up to this analogy. I hear it a lot anymore.

Notes · · Tucson

Compatibility Issues

A rainy day and riding my bike to work are two things I love but prefer to love not at the same time.

Notes · · Tucson

Prototypes & Abominations

You form a prototype in your mind, based on your first exposure, and anything that deviates from that is an abomination. — Leela Punyaratabandhu

She's talking about stir fry, but it's a thought applicable in many other contexts.

Notes · · Tucson

UA Science Lecture Series: Problem Solving with Algorithms

We attended the first lecture for this year's UA Science Lecture Series at Centennial Hall, Humans, Data and Machines.

Professor Stephen Kobourov humorously explained how algorithms, which have been around forever, are used in computers to solve problems such as: What are you drawing? Also, are the robots drunk? They sure walk like it.

Thanks to the algorithms used in machine learning, those robots will one day outgrow this awkward phase. By then they'll be self-aware, which is a kind of self-consciousness they'll prove to everyone by effortlessly passing a Turing test. Then they'll stride over to where we're sitting and exhibit frightening self-confidence as they knock our phones out of our hands and begin exacting revenge for laughing at them before.

When this happens, we may not know what it is they're thinking, but at least we'll know how.

Notes · · Tucson

Cost Cutters

Cost Cutters sat me down and told me the truth about cheap hair gel. Did you know cheap hair gel can be on the shelf for three years or more? It's true. That’s why it often has so much alcohol. At Cost Cutters they get fresh product every two weeks. If you’re buying gel at the dollar store – my god, how did they know? – you need to watch out for flaking. It could be caused by cheap hair gel and its alcohol (a preservative) drying out your hair and scalp. Thank you, Cost Cutters.

Notes · · Tucson

Joe Frank

Joe Frank created radio that didn't sound like radio. His programs are dark and funny and sad waking dreams that I looked forward to finding on the dial.

Radio great Joe Frank has died. He had a long radio career, including decades at KCRW. Frank’s storytelling influenced many young radio journalists, who had never heard anything quite like him before. This includes ‘This American Life’ host, Ira Glass, who shares what it was like to be a young production assistant for Frank. — Remembering radio legend Joe Frank

Notes · · Tucson

The Book Stop is 50.

Fifty? Wowza.

Hiram and I found this out on Saturday when we stopped in on our way to the John Waters Christmas show at the Rialto. There were plates of cookies and a big thermos of lemonade. It was around 7:00 I think — practically past our bedtime — which made the eating and drinking all the more delicious.

I remembered all the hours I spent at the store when I was in high school and decided to re-read something I would have been reading then, but there was no Richard Brautigan or Kurt Vonnegut available. We've been reading Oliver Sacks's autobiography, On The Move, and in it he's mentioned plenty of authors I've never read but have this idea I should — W.H. Auden, for example. I asked the owner for a recommendation of something by Auden and she said she'd never read him either, so I know I'm in good company. I bought a hardback of his collected works printed the year I was born a couple years before the Book Stop opened.

Happy Anniversary, Book Stop. We have always been close, but I didn't realize we were contemporaries.

 

Plates of cookies sit on the counter at the Book Stop, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Plates of cookies sit on the counter at the Book Stop, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Notes · · Tucson

Good Old Oil Prices

Emily Litella

For years I have thought the NPR announcer (all of them) doing the market report was saying “good old oil prices” Apparently, they’re saying “crude oil prices.”

Nevermind.

Notes · · Tucson

The Bees Outside My Bedroom Window

If I played banjo, I could write and perform a song called The Bees Outside My Bedroom Window. In it I would sing about grandma's biscuits, which I eat hot from the oven with butter and honey from the bees outside my bedroom window.

Notes · · Tucson

What is a snood?

On my way home from work last night I bought some of that new bread I am embarrassed about liking at the Co-Op on Fourth Avenue. The bread has about two dozen different grains and seeds in it, is a bit sweet, and the bag has a caricature of the long-haired, moustached company founder — who looks like he could be an ex-convict — playing guitar with his big muscles.

I think about how exciting this bag of bread would have been to me when I was experiencing puberty. Perhaps I would have made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with it to eat while watching Midnight Express.

It turns out the founder is an ex-convict who got out of prison, perfected his bread recipe, and began speaking motivationally. Afterward, he could buy all the guitars he wanted and cars to drive them around in.

What's my point? Oh, right. Since Tiny Town Gallery is a couple doors down from the Co-Op and I'd read on the internet that Issue 2 of the Tiny Town Times, the risograph quarterly the gallery publishes with Tanline Printing, is available — Hurrah! — I stopped in and picked up a copy, which is free. Full disclosure: I say so not because I know it's free, but only because they didn't try to stop me when I walked out of the store without paying for it. 

CLUB 818 By Erich Erving

Issue 2 of the Tiny Town Times includes this tiny portrait of Club 818 in which I recognize people and places in words on paper and recall exuberant times.

Notes · · Mexico City

Roma

We're in Mexico City, in the notorious Roma neighborhood, trying not very hard to not stand out while trying not to look like we're trying too hard to fit in. You know how it goes.

Vampire inspired graffiti and shadow theatre in the Roma neighborhood

It's even gayer here than we thought it would be so if we come back, next time we'll be sure to do lots of push ups first so our chests will be ready and perhaps we'll also work on a time machine so our skin looks younger.

But we won't go for protein shakes and cigarettes after the gym. Which seems to be a popular workout routine here.

Some good news is that for the first time in my travels in another country I seem to have worn shoes that nobody looks down on. I have been wearing Converse sneakers for years, but this visit lots of other grown men are wearing them too, so nobody cares. I'm invisible.

While we're at dinner eating one of my favorite Mexican foods — Argentinian food — a fashionably dressed man in a geometrically patterned black-and-white shirt who seems to have 1985 on a speed dial app he keeps checking sits down at the table next to ours, blocking Hiram's view of another man wearing a sweater on his shoulders. Hiram confides he's always thought the sweater tied around the shoulders is a silly look, but when seated at the dinner table? And when it's 76 degrees out? It's really upsetting him. I have long known about the Mexico City Brideshead Revisted cosplay enthusiasts, but the strong feeling it provokes in Hiram is something I have never known about him.

Hiram engages in some popular local cosplay

Hiram improvises some popular local Brideshead Revisited cosplay.

Lots of things can bubble to the surface when couples travel together. It's healthy, you know?

Anyhow, we want to thank the man from 1985 for helping us enjoy our dinner with his line of sight prophylaxis but suddenly it dawns on us: What if he is Information Society and just wants some privacy? If so, we should probably respect that.

So we do.

Notes · · Tucson

Man in Motion

What did they play in dentists' offices before Saint Elmo's Fire?

Notes · · Puerto Peñasco

Taco Tuesday Half Rhyme

We're sixty minutes into Mexico, sitting on the enormous terrace of our itsy bitsy, teeny tiny, rented room. Hiram has asked me to name my five favorite Pet Shop Boys songs. When I try to negotiate counting the entire first album as one song, we have to change the subject. There was an eensie weensie crescent moon when we started this that is nowhere to be found. Now we’re alone here under a black sky observing Taco Tuesday eating takeout empanadas with chimichurri, an Argentinian thing for which I am offering no alliteration.

At La Argentina Empandadas
Enormous terrace

Notes · · Puerto Peñasco

Tambo

First beach day, 2017. All of Playa Bonita and Sandy Beach was covered with discarded plastic bottles and Doritos bags – typical but it still always bums me out and leaves me thinking the worst things about people.

Here's a photo of some festive and neglected garbage bins.

The festive and neglected garbage bins of Playa Bonita

The festive and neglected garbage bins of Playa Bonita

Did you know the Spanish word for industrial drum is tambo? I get a kick out of saying it because it's also the sound they make when you drum on them. ¡Tambo!

And here's to words that are fun to say, bright colors and finding the good anyway.

Notes · · Tucson

Arnold Palmer

Hiram with beverage

Sometimes on Sundays, we walk to Rincon Market where Hiram orders an Arnold Palmer. Except he doesn’t call it an Arnold Palmer. He calls it iced tea with half iced tea and half lemonade.

Notes · · Tucson

Fifty-two is

  • The approximate number of weeks in a year. 
  • A significant number in the Maya calendar
  • On the piano, the number of white keys (notes in the C major scale)
  • The number of cards in a standard deck of playing cards, not counting Jokers or advertisement cards
  • The name of a practical joke card game 52 Pickup
  • "52 Pick-Up" is a film starring Roy Scheider and Ann Margaret
  • The code for international direct dial phone calls to Mexico
  • A weekly comic series from DC Comics entitled 52 has 52 issues, with a plot spanning one full year.
  • The New 52 is a 2011 revamp and relaunch by DC Comics of its entire line of ongoing monthly superhero books.
  • The number of letters in the English alphabet, if majuscules are distinguished from minuscules
  • The number of the French department Haute-Marne
  • 52nd Street (disambiguation)
  • 52 Hand Blocks, a variant of the martial art jailhouse rock.
  • 52 is the car number of retired NASCAR driver Jimmy Means
  • 52 American hostages were held in the Iran hostage crisis

Source: Wikipedia

Green grass and such

Photo: Hiram

Notes · · Tucson

Multiuso

At the supermarket today I have learned there is a Spanish language expression that apparently means both "Get down off of there!" and "Let your sister out of the egg case!"

It is:

¡Basta, ya! No los voy a llevar al .99 cent...

Notes · · Tucson

Annual Scott Avenue Acacia Blossoms Share

Acacia blossoms blanket the ground along Scott Avenue.

Spring has sort of come and gone early this year, feeling like little more than a quickly practiced ritual. February hadn't even begun before balmy days and the acacian pom-poms worked us all up with their jellybean scented cheer, sending some on blissed out walks and bike rides and others into allergic fits.

But by mid-March temperatures were already in the nineties and many of the yellow flowers—which this time of year are usually still dancing to unseen music against a deep blue sky—those flowers are down on the curb loitering as if there's going to be an after-party, but they don't know where yet.

Also around town, there are those shrubs with the red flowers that when they blossom always make me think of fishing lures. Now, after a week of hot sun, they're a bit more like a well-used cosmetics brush you spot on the sidewalk outside the drag bar during an early morning walk-of-shame home. Inevitably, not far away, there's that gamier bush, the one with the greyish flowers that smell like—how to say it?—a happy ending.

Baja fairy brush flowers

Calliandra californica is also called Baja fairy duster. Did you know that? I did not.

Notes · · Tucson

Holifield’s Dreaming

Sometimes the glass in the picture reflected the light outdoors and the flight of birds between branches of trees, and while it reflected, Mr. Holifield was having a dream.

– Eudora Welty. June Recital.

I am enjoying the images in this sentence and its efficiency.

Notes · · Tucson

Cinder Block Flattop

Sometime after my parents divorced, my mother was driving us home from a Thanksgiving spent with my grandparents in Fresno. She decided we would go through Nothern Arizona so we could stop and visit her Uncle Andrew. I didn't think I had ever met Uncle Andrew, but I had heard his name a lot before. He held a high position in our church and had been in a war. He was something of mystical hero to my mom and her side of the family.

I was an impatient ten-year-old prone to car sickness and didn't want to make any trip longer than it had to be.

“Can't we just go home?”

“You love Uncle Andrew.”

“I don't even know him.”

“You do, but don't remember it because you were just a baby. Everyone loves Uncle Andrew. He's a stake president. Did you know he has not eaten chocolate since coming back from the war?”

That part about being a stake president, that is an important church role to Mormons, so he must have had a lot of clout in his largely Latter Day Saint community. The other part, about the chocolate, is a non-sequitur. And that is the way we talk in my family.

“He doesn't eat chocolate?”

“No. Something happened to him in the war and he won't eat chocolate.”

“What about his kids? Can they eat chocolate?”

“Yes, but he won't.”

“Why? What happened to him in the war?”

“He never said. He probably had a vision.

I still was not happy about extending the agony of the road trip, but it was inevitable. I started to wonder now if I might be able to find out why a wise man wouldn't eat chocolate. Could he have been tortured with chocolate somehow? Maybe an angel appeared to him and promised to deliver him safely home from the war if he vowed never to eat candy bars again. Adults won't ask things like that, but given the chance I probably would.

So we went to see Uncle Andrew.

Uncle Andrew's house was huge compared to the houses I knew, so I thought it must be true that he was a successful and important person. There were the familiar prints in gilded frames of Joseph Smith and Blonde Jesus. There were doilies on the arms of the couches and, just like my mom's other aunts and uncles' houses, everything smelled like Ben-Gay. Also, the house had a basement that wasn't like the few gross basements I had seen when we lived in Mesa. The basements I had seen there had dirt floors and were where the hot water heater was. They smelled of insecticide and us kids were forbidden from going in without a grown-up. Technically, I think they were cellars or crawl spaces, but the hastily built cinder block houses in the area where we were living in Tucson by then didn't have even those.

The basement at Uncle Andrew's was like in houses on television. There were bedrooms and bunk beds and there was carpet and there was a rec room with weights and trophies and black-and-white photos of my mom's now grown and moved-away cousins as high school track stars. Yes, there was wood paneling. To ten-year-old me it seemed like they had a vacation home underneath their real home. I spent as much time there as I could that day studying the trophies and pictures of my mom's athletic cousins, wondering about their lives and thinking about how to ask Uncle Andrew later why he wouldn't eat chocolate.

But I was cut short.

At dinner he announced, “Your boys need haircuts. Before you folks leave tomorrow, I'll get the clippers out and shear 'em.”

“What does shear mean?” I asked.

“That's what we have to do to the sheep, so we can make coats with the wool.”

Ha, ha! Cool. I wanted to see the clippers and hoped I could get the flattop the cousins in the photos all had. I laughed and made a joke. Would they sell our hair to make coats? Ha, ha!

Then without missing a beat, he added,“We also have to do it when little boys start looking like little girls, like you do.”

All the adults laughed again. But, ouch. I probably made a face because my mom shot me a dagger.

I no longer wanted the flattop. I no longer cared about making these people laugh. I just no longer wanted to be there. As soon as he left the room I told my mom I didn't like him and I wasn't getting a haircut.

“You'll behave and you'll get a haircut.”

“I'm not.”

“We'll see about that.”

When Uncle Andrew came back, he asked mom if I was giving her trouble.

“He gets a little big for his britches sometimes. He thinks he's not getting a haircut, but he's getting a haircut. You're right. He needs one. Thank you for offering.”

I don't remember what was said next. I do remember there was shouting and tears and probably spitting. That was something I did then. When everything seemed horrible and beyond my control, I spit. Soon Uncle Andrew gave me a bad haircut, a hard spanking, and a talk about boys growing up without fathers needing discipline.

When we left the next day, Uncle Andrew said, “Bring your little girl back for a haircut and a spanking any time.”

More laughter. I fumed and tried to make sense of what had happened. It was too much though.

I had a dad. I hadn't done anything wrong. I actually wanted the haircut at first. Why did he have to say I looked like a girl? Why did that feel so, I dunno, yucky?

It would be years before I comprehended why it feels creepy when grown men are bothered by little boys looking like little girls.

But mostly I wanted to know why my mom, who was still angry with me, had let him spank me.

“He loves you and he is worried about you.”

“Well, I hate him. I hope I never see him again.”

“If you talk like that again, I'll spank you. One day you'll understand and you'll be thankful.”

But I didn't and I'm not.

Years later when it happened that a man I was dating turned out to be from Uncle Andrew's town and congregation, I told him the story about the haircut and the spanking.

“Really?” He asked, “I always thought he was a sweet guy, but I can see it. He was awfully stern with those kids. Did you ever find out about the chocolate?”

“No. I didn't care after that.”

And it's true, I didn't. By the time we got back to our cinder block house without a basement or a father's discipline, I decided Uncle Andrew had probably had just come down with food poisoning in whatever country he was in during the war and later, when he didn't want to talk about the diarrhea, everyone reconciled his stubborn silence with something unquestionably sacred.

Another time when people who should know better got their faith mixed up with some man's awful crap.