december 2002

Ah, December. Time to start the month-long gorging on repeated showings of A Christmas Story. Mmmm...Christmas Story.

Er...I feel like I owe you guys some content. These slow starts to a month can make this page seem awfully bare, especially with all the crap I've got on the sidebars this time of year. But I'm only halfway through a half dozen or so longer entries, and none of them want to get finished tonight. Soon, though.

Snow day!

So you'd think with a whole day off because of the snow, I'd have time to catch up on some of my writing, right?


On Wednesday, I was still very skeptical about the likelihood of snow on Thursday, but I uploaded some files to my home machine anyway just in case the roads weren't safe to drive on. There was no doubt in my mind that Hopkins would be open; they have a very puritanical pride in remaining open no matter what. Julie didn't have any appointments scheduled for Thursday, so she brought home reports to work on. At worst, I figured, we could both work from home and avoid the risk of our relatively long commute into the city.

As Wednesday evening passed and I became increasingly convinced that the snow was indeed coming, and in fairly good amounts, I started to get a little excited about the possibility of getting our first decent snow in several years. See, I grew up in the south, where if we got a light dusting school was canceled for the rest of the week and all the kids would spend the day trying in vain to sled down the barely-covered hills and build snow forts out of the meager accumulation in their front yards (if you were really lucky, you might be able to pack enough of it together to make a small snowman). I fell asleep on the couch watching the Weather Channel, and when I woke up to go to bed around 1:30, the snow was already falling steadily.

On Thursday morning, I woke up around 8 a.m. and wandered into the study to check on the weather situation. Julie was already up, and she told me that they had delayed opening the university for two hours. At that point, we just decided to work the whole day from home, since the snow was falling fairly heavily at that point and the forecasters said it probably wouldn't let up until sometime late in the afternoon. I was annoyed that Hopkins hadn't decided to close outright, like every other college in Baltimore and the surrounding area, but given their stoicism about ignoring the weather and remaining open come hell or high water, I was also surprised that they had even decided to open two hours late. So when we rechecked the emergency weather page on the Hopkins site at 9 a.m., I was shocked when I read that the univeristy had decided to close for the whole day.

I had all good intentions of getting some work done anyway, but that all went to hell when I lay down for a quick nap and didn't wake up until lunchtime. Later in the afternoon, we shoveled the walkway, driveway, and the sidewalk in front of our house, and I went ahead and brushed all the snow off our cars. The snow was still falling, but not as heavily as it had been in the morning, and when we went for a walk around the neighborhood around sunset, it was tapering off. We walked around for a while, until the streetlights started to come on, and then we headed back home.

I'm sure that we'll have to go in today, even though it's not supposed to get above freezing until tomorrow afternoon and there's a real danger of the roads developing patches of ice. But you can't expect Hopkins to close itself two days in a row. Heaven forbid.

There are no long stretches of enlightenment in this world. Human existence just doesn't work that way. Zen, epiphany, nirvana, revelation, harmonic convergence, grace—whatever you want to call it, our sense of unity with the world around us is doled out to us in minute doses, moments of clarity, infinitely brief glimpses of comprehension: the curling of a ribbon of cigarette smoke on an immaculately quiet winter morning; the graceful gravitational arc of a basketball floating through the rim of the hoop without touching it; the way her hair glows when the setting sun hits it just right. Tiny, perfect moments.

If you're lucky, and you keep your eyes open, you maybe get one of these moments a day. If you're really lucky, sometimes these moments will stretch into whole minutes, and sometimes even to the length of a conversation. Maybe once a year, or once in a decade, or once in a lifetime, that feeling of synchronicity will settle on you like a deep sleep after a week of hard work and stay with you a whole day, a unique convergence of time and place and being; these days usually involve another person, someone to share in the shock of recognition. Despite the pure joy of existence that washes over you, you find yourself resenting every second passing, because you know a day like this isn't going to come again soon, and the most you can ask for is that this feeling lasts until you put your head on the pillow and then follows you briefly into your dreams.

A day like that can change your world forver, like a near-death experience or a religious calling. The feeling won't last, but if you're lucky, every now and then you'll be able to remember the way you felt that day the way you recall a dream; the memory will be elusive and transitory, just out of your desperately grasping mind's eye, but the ghost of the feeling will be just enough to give you hope for another moment, another conversation, another day.

But only if you're lucky. And you keep your eyes open.

Argh. All of these half-written entries, all of these half-formed thoughts, all of these half-interesting pieces of information to transmit. I've just got too much to do, and since I'm spending around 12 hours a day in front of the computer working on Hopkins stuff and a freelance project, writing for this site is the first thing to go. But it's what I'd most like to be doing. For the first time in a while, I have a lot to say, but no time to find the voice to say it with.

Ice, ice everywhere...

Does it count if you're just posting so you can say you posted something that day?

Did anyone else catch "'Tis the Season to Be Smurfy" on Cartoon Network last night?

No? Good. Because it was pretty crappy.

Back in the 70s, the radio station at Davidson was non-profit and entirely student run, and its broadcasts could reach all the way to the burgeoning metropolis of Charlotte about 20 miles to the south. Like most student-run stations, they were allowed to play pretty much whatever they wanted, within FCC regulations, and it slowly gained a strong following among younger listeners in the big city nearby.

But in the late 70s, the administrators at Davidson started to notice that they were getting consistently good ratings with the classical music segments, and they decided to make the station into an all-classical entity, eventually adding public programming like dispatches from NPR. And while this type of station certainly has its place, this decision deprived Davidson's students, who were largely responsible for the station's success, with the opportunity to run the station and play their music, and also deprived a large part of their audience of a valuable source for music outside the mainstream.

By the early 80s, the classical station became successful enough to move into a new building with a larger transmitter at the edge of campus, and some of the older equipment from the original station was given back to the students who attempted to resuscitate the musical community that had grown up around the first station, even though their signal could now barely reach the edges of the Davidson campus. Still, the students soldiered on for a while in a cramped basement in one of the main freshmen dorms, jamming all the records and files from the old station into a room that resembled a closet more than a broadcasting booth.

After a couple of years, the student station ceased operations, while the ever-more-powerful professional classical station grew by leaps and bounds. For a while there was no student radio station at Davidson, until 1989 when a musically minded upperclassman whose name I can't remember now tried once again to bring it back to life. That was my freshman year, and since I was bored out of my mind, I loved music, and my roommate George had run the student station at his prep school, I somehow ended up pulling a three hour shift with him once or twice a week. We tended to work in shifts; he would get half an hour of time to play whatever he wanted while I gathered music for my segment, and then our roles would reverse half an hour later.

We actually had a pretty good selection of records; somehow the upperclassman at the heart of this revival had managed to get us on the mailing lists for all the major labels and a few of the smaller ones (he probably neglected to mention that our audience at best was 1500 people, and some days we were lucky if it reached into the double digits), and we had all the latest alternative music (for those of you too young to remember, alternative wasn't always a derogatory word for generic crap like Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox 20 like it is now; it actually meant alternative, stuff that wasn't easy to pigeonhole into an well-defined commercial categoriees) from the Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, and Primus to Game Theory, Scruffy the Cat, and local favorites Let's Active. In fact, the new station had been cleverly rechristened WALT (W-ALT, get it?).

Because of our ample selection of records to choose from, it was usually pretty easy for me to put together the music for my next half hour segment, and on nights when I didn't feel like engaging with George during his between-song banter, I would poke around the old cabinets that held the files from the earlier days of the station. One night I stumbled on a letter from a band manager named Jefferson Holt, talking up his new act R.E.M. and trying to convince the station to sponsor the band for a concert on campus. It turns out that the group's lawyer, Bertis Downs, had graduated from Davidson, and that the band was recording their first record with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon in nearby Charlotte. Jefferson thought a concert at Davidson would be a good chance for the band to get some local exposure. From the autographed picture of the band that hung proudly outside of the performance hall in the student union during my tenure there, I know that the concert eventually did happen, and our sleepy little college had probably been witnesses to one of the first performances given by the band outside their hometown of Athens, GA.

I don't think I ever showed the letter to George or anyone else who worked at the station, and the fact that it was still there each time I looked for it every couple of weeks indicated to me that no one else had discovered it on their own (it probably didn't help that I jammed it behind some other papers at the back of the file cabinet). Every now and then I thought about taking it, keeping it for myself as a souvenir from one of my favorite groups, but something—my love for the underdog station, my dead-serious belief in Davidson's Honor Code which forbade theft, or my inability to be selfish when it comes to historical items—kept me from doing it.

The station didn't even last through the end of my first year at Davidson, and a couple of years later I thought about the letter and again considered retrieving it. I even went down to the basement room where we had broadcast from, only to find it blocked with boxes and trash. I would bet that someone else who worked at the station found it and took it for themselves, doing what I couldn't bring myself to do. But I guess it's possible that it's still sitting down there in that basement, waiting for a flood or fire to destroy it or some enterprising student to reopen the station and discover this little treasure, a unique memento from the early days of one of the most important rock bands of the past 20 years.

I finally watched the From Hell DVD that we bought a month or two ago as part of a two-for-one sale at the local video rental store. It wasn't too bad, although I think I'd like to watch it again before I pass final judgement. I'd also like to read the Alan Moore graphic novel (the fancypants name for a thick glossy comic book) on which the movie is based. The opium-induced vision sequences were pretty well done, in that same sort of eerie way that the peyote-desert scenes in the Doors were well done, and, not having read the comic book, the mystery remained mostly unsolved until about halfway through. But there was a little too much use of the grainy, dropped-frame style made famous in David Fincher's Seven and abused in countless thrillers and mysteries since, and visually it wasn't quite as arresting as some of the reviews I remember reading made it sound. But at least the ending remained tragic and true to the original work—you know there must have been some major pressure from the studio to create some sort of happy ending despite the dark tone and subject of the movie because, as with most of his characters, the underrated Johnny Depp once again creates a complex and conflicted character who is nonetheless genuinely likable and trustworthy.

As for the rest of the cast, Heather Graham actually gave a decent performance, although I still can't figure out if she just hasn't found the right role to showcase her acting talents yet or if she's just a mediocre actress who'll continue to get cast in big movies because of her looks. It was pretty weird seeing Robbie Coltrane (the guy who played Hagrid in Harry Potter) as a clean-shaven police officer, but it was even stranger seeing Ian Holm (Bilbo from the Fellowship of the Ring) as a psychotic doctor and rabid freemason. It's also pretty sad that, since Sleepy Hollow was released in 1999, Johnny Depp has taken another role as a 19th century forensic scientist/detective with some rather odd methods, while Tim Burton has yet to make another decent film. And it doesn't look like that's going to change any time soon.

Let's see. I've been meaning to write about my trip home for Thanksgiving, going to see Kathryn sing at the National Shrine, and at some point I'm going to want to write about the letter I got from Regan yesterday (the first time she's written me since I can't remember when). I've also got a lot of notes and half-written pieces on subjects ranging from an examination of the similarities between art and the open source movement and how both are being compromised by ever-more restrictive copyright laws, to a comparison of religion in the Star Trek universe and the new Joss Whedon show Firefly (which better not get canceled, damn it), to an analysis of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach as a eerily visionary metaphor for America in the wake of 9.11 (don't get me wrong, the movie was pretty bad, but it had some interesting subtext). But as usual, it's late and I don't really have the mental energy to finish my thoughts on these topics.

I guess in terms of basic news, Dodd has gotten back into Duke, Kathryn finally found out that she has been accepted into the MLA program with me, Carrie is still doing well in her medical coding program, and Tori...well, I don't know exactly what is up with Tori, but she seems happier at Iowa than she was at Chicago, so I guess that has to count for something.

I feel like there's this whole month of experiences and thoughts that are slowly drifting away from my consciousness every day that I delay writing them down, but I've just got too much to do before we leave for the holidays. In addition to all of the projects at work, which have caused me to stay late, leave early, or cut short my lunch every day since getting back from Thanksgiving, I'm trying to finish up some freelance work that will hopefully contribute significantly to the cost of our new heating/air conditioning system and get the last bit of my Christmas shopping done.

I don't know. Maybe I can borrow a laptop to take with me so I can get these thoughts down before they fade too far away to be worth the trouble. Otherwise, I'm afraid these short notes will be all that ever becomes of them.

alarm snooze alarm snooze alarm snooze alarm shower brushhair brushteeth shave getdressed fixlunch getkeys drive music work goodmorning desk email junk email junk junk email junk junk junk junk email sql excel word enterprisemanager jh76 meeting email meeting email sql excel lunch turkeysandwich cnn wirednews zdnet abcnews espn salon meeting email email email sql html email drive music home phonemessage email junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk email junk junk junk junk junk junk email junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk email junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk junk dailyphoto dailylinks fixdinner movie tv write tv couch sleep awake stumble bed sleep alarm

I wish I had something to give you, but after spending a couple of hours shopping for Christmas presents and a few more troubleshooting the template for a freelance site I'm working on, I just don't have anything left in the tank. I feel like all I have done on this site recently is make excuses for not having any real content, and that sucks, because I have an awful lot of things that I want to write about. I have to try to get caught up over the holidays, and I can't drift back into this when work starts back up again. It's just too important to me.

Wow. The past couple of weeks have brought emails from Doug, Scott, and Tom, a note from a classmate at NCSSM who somehow stumbled upon this site, a full-blown letter from Regan, and even an email from Lydia. It's almost starting to feel like I've got a circle of friends again. Now if I could just find the time to write them back...

Vengeance is mine, quoth Elvis.

The above quote is from last night's Sealab 2021, and I have since learned that they were actually saying Alvis, who is apparently a dead hispanic cowboy revered as a god by Captain Murphy (if you've watched the show, this will make as much sense as it's ever going to, and if you haven't...well, just watch it—Aqua Teen Hunger Force is the only thing funnier on television, and it's conveniently on right after Sealab).

But Elvis is a lot funnier in this context, don't you think?

Nobody cares, Moby. Nobody cares. No one.

That last one was from Space Ghost.


And I remember doing nothing
On the night Sinatra died
And the night Jeff Buckley died
And the night Kurt Cobain died
And the night John Lennon died
          —Badly Drawn Boy
            "You Were Right"

Sadly, it looks like it's time to add another name to the list.

As much as I love music, I don't normally get that emotionally involved in the lives of the people making the music or even whether or not bands are still around. I got a little worked up when the Smiths called it quits, and I'm still a little pissed that the Pixies still haven't gotten back together. But I felt more disgust and pity than sadness when I heard about Cobain's suicide, and there haven't really been any other rock star deaths in my lifetime that have elicited any kind of emotional response.

But Joe Strummer was a rock idol in the truest sense of the word: he was someone you could look up to. Vocal about his politics without being overbearing and uncompromising about his music, he was one of the few punk legends who genuinely made a lasting impact with his rage. He was, as Mick Jones insultingly called him in an early interview, the "salt of the earth", but not in the derogatory way that the British usually use it. Despite his origins, he was truly working class: sincere, hardworking, and not afraid to fight. It was always a nice little thought in the back of my mind that he was still out there in the world, just being Joe Strummer. The world will be worse off without him, and there's not many rock stars you can say that of—or many ordinary people, for that matter.

I noticed something interesting about the list of dead stars from the Badly Drawn Boy song: all the musicians named in the song have died since 1980, and they all have three syllables in their names, just like Joe Strummer. That got me thinking about other dead rock stars, and these are the ones that lept immediately to mind: Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, and Ronnie van Zant. Strangely enough, all of these guys died before 1980, and all of them have four syllables in their names.

I thought I might be onto one of those weird cosmic coincidences that pop culture churns up every now and then until I started doing some research. Pre-1980, there were such stars as Patsy Cline, Brian Jones, Keith Moon, Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole, Cass Elliot, Nick Drake, and Sid Vicious who did not fit the pattern (Woody Guthrie and Louis Armstrong were the only new ones that fit the four-syllable pattern), while post-1980, I found Bon Scott, Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne), Hillel Slovak (Chili Peppers), Roy Orbison, Freddie Mercury, Fred Smith (MC5), Michael Hutchence, Tito Puente, Joey Ramone, and George Harrison (along with three-syllablers Ian Curtis, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Cliff Burton (Metallica), Shannon Hoon (Blind Melon), John Denver, Mel Torme, Mark Sandman (Morphine) and Frank Zappa).

So I guess there's no pattern. But it was interesting to see how quickly my brain was able to put together a list of people whose names conformed to my hunch.

A lot of the info for this entry came from the Dead Rock Stars Club, an exhaustive (possibly too exhaustive) list of anyone with any notoriety who had anything to do with the music industry in the last century (for example, they had an entry for murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who apparently played fiddle, bass, and keyboards in a couple of non-professional bands). It's almost numbing reading through their lists, but every now and then you stumble across an interesting nugget.

We all know the common substitutions for swear words on edited for primetime movies: asshole gets translated as airhead, fuck gets changed to frig or freak (or forget when it's used in the phrase fuck you), shit is easily overdubbed as shoot, etc. But last night on Fox's presentation of Die Hard with a vengeance, I saw what may be the most interesting substitution I have yet encountered: motherfucker was altered to melon farmer. And not just once—twice when Samuel L. Jackson's character is calling Bruce Willis' character a motherfucker, the overdub is melon famer. Melon farmer. What kind of insult is melon farmer supposed to be?

On a sidenote, while doing some research about tv swear word substitutions, I came across a web site for a fascinating little device called the TVGuardian that overdubs your television content real-time with non-offensive substitutions. And the really interesting thing is that not only does it claim to do this according to strict Christian standards (which include not filtering the word Jesus when you're watching a religious program), it claims to be better at finding more appropriate substitute words than its competitor, CurseFree TV. Who knew?

Well, it's about fucking time.

Although now that I read more about it, it looks like the film will be a prequel and will focus on Harry and Lloyd as teenagers and therefore won't feature a re-teaming of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Still, it's better than nothing. But it sure would be nice to see those two together again, especially since Mr. Carrey has apparently abandoned his Oscar quest for the time being and shouldn't have any careerist objections to making a true sequel.

Well, this year is finally over, and although I'm currently in a low-energy down-cycle, it was definitely better than 2001. I got a new job at a place that won't likely go out of business no matter what the economic climate is over the next couple of years, I'm a year closer to paying off my student loans, nobody close to me died, and no religious nuts flew any planes into any buildings full of thousands of innocent people. And I even made a new friend.

Next year should be okay, too. Despite my heavy workload at the office, I really feel like I'm contributing significantly even though I've been there less than a year, I'm starting to work on a new project about Lewis and Clark with the same group of artists that did the Borges project I contributed to last year, I'll start grad school in a few weeks, and I'm almost starting to feel like I'm getting my sea legs back for writing this journal again after a couple of months of not feeling quite on target. And let's not forget those two new Matrix movies, the X-Men sequel, and Peter Jackson's final installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Minor things, yes, but it's the little things that really bring joy to daily existence (like the Lord of the Rings game finally being released for Gamecube later this week).

My love goes out to everyone who is part of my life, even if you sometimes piss me off, or I piss you off, or we're just not communicating well: mom, dad, Rachel, Dodd, Tori, Carrie, Doug, Jeff, Jeff, Kathryn, Regan, Scott, Tom, Greg, granddad, Leila, Jane, Vicki, Sasha, Sheri, John, Sally, Sam, Lydia, and especially Julie. That's not a very long list, but that's because I'm pretty picky about who I invest myself in. Each of you mean a lot to me, probably more than you know, because even though I care deeply for each of you, I'm not one to wear my heart on my sleeve too often. If I haven't spoken to you in a while, or I've been grouchy or judgemental about something, just know that I love you all very much and you are part of my thoughts on a daily basis. Take care of yourselves; I'll talk to you soon.
december 2002
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