For you, the dress code is casual.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Unpacking Chronicles: PCing Bastards!

They've politically corrected my childhood!

I've just unpacked another find, but you need some background first. Once, after a strange bookstore-work conversation had unfolded about books that influenced us as kids, a coworker found my then-favourite book, which had been repackaged/renamed in the last decade or so. It was one of the three or four books that got me interested in world events, et al. To this day, I'm a politics and current affairs junkie.

The original name of my fave childhood book? NAZI GOLD.

Yes, you heard right. But it was this empowering, liberating story about a bunch of innovative and daring kids who steal the gold bullions of Norway out from under those Nazi swine simply by hiding the gold under them on their sleds and sledding casually by the big bad ol' Nazis as they careened down into the fjords.

(Now, apparently this was a widely believed story for some 40 years after the war, but there's no proof it ever happened.)

I thought it'd happened. I freakin' loved it. Read it time and time again. The title now? "SNOW TREASURE."

You go from Nazi Gold to "Snow Treasure?"

C'mon! I look like a sissy reading "Snow Treasure." I want to read about "NAZI GOLD." It's like Spy Kids versus Hitler! Bad guys and gold! And who wants a treasure filled with snow? It's water, for crying out loud!

Oh, giddy, giddy, goody!

I have inadvertently happened upon my most favourite kind of day. A book day.

That isn't to say I'm reading. No, not at all. A book day is any kind of day that revolves around inhaling musty, dusty old pages, and being surrounded by binding.

They can include a day relaxing in the library at the Sylvia Beach Hotel, a day free of appointments where you lose yourself in used book store after used bookstore, a day where the waitress politely ignores the fact that you've been glued to the booth in the back corner for the better part of the day and are now paying for refills by the pot, not the cup.

Or it can be the kind of day where you open a beer and sort through seven boxes of books from a mystery period of time, like I'm doing tonight.

Coincidently, earlier today, a co-worker and I waxed nostalgic about that cliche literary coming of age we all had--Catcher in the Rye, Hunter S., Ayn Rand, Vonnegut, et al.

And here they all are. From Lenny Bruce and Black Like Me to Aldous Huxley and Drinking, Smoking & Screwing (and I assure you, a few variations thereof), These are the books that, from the time I was 18 through 24, made me think I was brilliant. Hey, I was cool. I had the Tom Robbins, the Vonneguts, the HSTs, then the "classics" like The Chrysalids, Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the not-so-classics like, A Child's Garden of Grass: The Marijuana User's Handbook, and Going Down (an anthology that's not about elevators).

This unpacking thing, though, is such a trip. I've been wondering of late where some of these books were. Why I had them one day, and never saw 'em again. Like this one, for example: Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy. It's the anthology to end anthologies on religious thoughts--from the Bhagavad Gita and Chinese mysticism through to Christianity and Islam. For some reason, it's really been on my mind, and I recall lately thinking, "Damn, I wish I'd read that!"

That's right, I haven't read it. No, I bought it when I lived in Whitehorse and I thought, "Man, I wish I was the kind of person that could devour that book." The reality, though, is that when I was in Whitehorse, I was 21. Hell, I wasn't smart enough to understand this book if you'd fed it to me with a spoon.

Honestly, I'm probably still not. Big words don't necessarily daunt me, but the fact is, I hate it when they gang up on me. All those syllables joined together, confronting me on a single page. Oh, that's just no good.

I suppose I could just try to be a little smarter. Hmm. I kind of like my "lazy intellectual" thing I've got going, though. Smart enough to know better, but too lazy to do something about it...

I do digress. I'm thrilled to have found my books. Now, though, I'll have to put my money where my mouth is and read the Huxley. Fortunately, I have that nasty habit of reading six books at once, so if I play my cards right, I can draw it out over six months.

We'll call it the no interest, pay-as-you-go intellect purchase plan. On approved credit, of course.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Where the Buffalo Roam: RIP, Hunter

Hunter: R.I.P
Originally uploaded by scribecalledsteff.
Hunter S. Thompson put a bullet in his head yesterday.

He'd long stopped being the writer he once was, but Thompson, at his finest, changed the world of journalism and opinion writing.

There was something tragic about Hunter from the mid-'80s on. I've written about opinion writing before. It's a hard life. Thompson ending his life this way echoes that. As an opinion writer, your life is largely spent hoping that the people you write about, the world you write about, will improve under your watch. Thompson's world didn't improve.

In fact, the America of today is the America he's been fighting to change for decades. The re-election of Bush was a monumental victory for the religious right, and a crushing blow to true "freedom lovers." The result of that election and the continued erosion of moral freedom in the US must have been a horrendous reality check for the author's infamous alter-ego, Raoul Duke.

Thompson, a diehard Democrat all his life, lived and breathed politics. He always had a dream of what America could be, and spent his life lamenting the failure of his nation to ever measure up to his dream of it. The one time in the last 15 years that the Thompson of old was able to revisit the spark and venom that made his early writings so wildly original was in 1995, upon the death of Nixon.

Nixon, Thompson wrote, "was the man who broke the back of the American Dream." The president was so twisted he required two aides "to screw his pants on in the morning." Tricky Dick was Hunter's ultimate nemesis. As the cliched lying cheat of a politician, Nixon stood for everything Thompson loathed. The author never forgave the President for orchestrating the Kent State shootings, and a lifelong animosity was formed.

Thompson was a part of the newly political youth movement that spawned demonstrations like the one that led to the shootings. Kent State is widely accepted as the beginning of the end for the hippies, and Thompson was a casualty of that time. His jaded cynicism paved the way for a new kind of journalism--Gonzo journalism. The Gonzo journalist shuns the illusion of objectivity, and absolutely embraces the subjective. They tend to mix fact with fiction for effectiveness--all part of of the natural order, as far as Gonzo journalism is concerned.

The author's lit career lifted off with a violent fury when Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was serialized in Rolling Stone magazine. In 1972, he then followed McGovern on campaign and produced a brilliant book from the installments: Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 became one of the most shocking publications of the year, and forever impacted both campaign coverage and politics.

I was 18 when a friend introduced me to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. When those words, "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold..." rolled off the page and into my psyche, it began a long relationship with the Good Doctor.

When Nixon died in the mid-'90s, Thompson lost his last great nemesis, and many of us suspected that he'd probably never be the same kind of literary power he once was. Then all the retrospectives began coming out--his lifelong labour of fictionnal love, The Rum Diaries, the compilations of his letters in The Lost Highway, and his preference in his last few years to write only of sports... something he loved, but could never hurt him, unlike his passion for American politics. It seemed to me like there was an expiration date looming for the lit icon, but I could only hope to be wrong.

I can't point to many writers and say, "He is why I learned to write." But early Hunter S. Thompson is definitely at the top of that very, very short list. I am not given to idolizing people, but for a time, he was one of mine.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

benny's @ night

benny's @ night
Originally uploaded by scribecalledsteff.
My chosen haven for coffee. They could clean the freakin' bathroom, but you don't really go there for hygiene. It's more a cream cheese & ambiance sort of quest.

There were a few years in a row there where it was consistently voted as the best place in town to write a novel. And then they started to charge for refills.


Friday, February 18, 2005

The Fine Art of Whoring

Getting published is like getting laid. Anyone can do it if they set their sights low enough.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

You're gonna probe me with what?

Yes, an ugly photo, but I think acupuncture's freaking amazing. I realize people don't like needles. I sure as hell don't. But there comes a time when chronic pain compromises your quality of life, and you exhaust traditional efforts. I took a chance with acupuncture for the first time a few years ago, and yes, it did help.

For the first time ever, I'm getting regular treatments. I always do it after work on Thursdays (usually every second one) so I start my weekends on a good ch'i note. In short? Acupuncture rocks--physically, mentally, and spiritually. Show me a Tylenol 3 that'll do all that for ya.

* * * *

About the Photo:
The needles are maybe 2.5 inches long, but they're incredibly thin. Most points do not hurt upon insertion, not if it's a skilled doctor. There are "trauma" type points, though. Think of them as the source of all your problems. Unfortunately, these ones tend to have a touch of unpleasantness about them. They hurt a bit during insertion, but then the doctor, if he's a good one, will manipulate the needle a bit, causing further irritation. This apparently stimulates the ch'i and is the trigger for healing. All the more reason to find a nice drink when you hit home.

However, the discomfort settles down as soon as he stops, which would seldom be more than 20 or 30 seconds. You'll grit your teeth, but you'll be fine. As you heal, though, that particular point will get better and become painfree when you're poked. That's taken about 3 sessions for me. And oh, so worth it.

So you've noticed the copper tip, I assume. Absurdly simple, Dr. Watson. The copper top acts as a conductor when you're left Zen-like upon the table whilst copping a porcupine pose. There's a heat lamp maybe 6 inches above you, and the heat (relatively low-key) travels down the needle, into your tissue. Further stimulating the ch'i, and helping you reach internal Happy Camper-ness.

Yep, it's a two thumbs-up from me, Gene.

[ED. NOTE: Wrong-o! Turns out the needles are FOUR inches long! Doh! They accidentally didn't dispose of one in the "hazardous materials" bin, so I got a good look. (No touch, of course.) Definitely a spooky four inches long. Crazy! And I pay for that. Fortunately, it makes me feel good and even sort of drunk by the time I get done. Zen is good!]

Is that it?

Apparently George Michael is quitting pop music for good. I know it's not at all cool to admit that I've always had a soft spot for George, and maybe that's some kind of inner "fag hag" or something, but this makes me bitter.

The best work he ever did was "Songs From the Last Century," and that was never really pop, but a throwback to another time, which George does with flair. His "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" is my fave version. Apparently he disdains the course pop music has taken. Well, don't we all? But if the decent pop artists leave, we'll be damned to the bubblegum divas ad nauseum.

I naively think his reasonings for quitting are kind of weak (the damaging cult of celebrity, et al), but the dude's had a rough decade. I know a little of what trouble after trouble feels like, so I can grasp just giving everything up, but I can't grasp what it must be like to be just trying to cope and then finding paparazzi around each corner.

(And speaking of weirdness, last year the guy had a stalker living under his floorboards for four days. The ditz screamed his name while he was on the phone, jumped out from her hiding spot, and ran naked out of the house. Maybe I can see why he's not enjoying fame anymore.)

Still. I'm bitter. It's not like I even listen to him much anymore, but I'd like that choice. Mmf.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Broken Records 101

So the CIA's Big Cheese made an report today on the growing threat of North Korea's nuclear arsenal. Apparently, it has gone from bad to essentially "badder."

I don't think it's any secret that I have rather damning opinions about the American presence in Iraq, and how all that began, but really... how much faith can we have in the CIA's report? After all, they did cry, "Wolf!" once before, didn't they?

Fortunately for them, those big, bad Korean dudes coughed up an admission to having nukes, but I can understand the Koreans' hesitance to dismantle all their "big boom" toys.

After all, sure, we can tell them, "You're under no threat. You must get rid of them." (Insert veiled "Or we'll come and invade you" threat here.) But who are we kidding?

North America still has them. The US, in fact, is making more bombs, developing more smart weapons. They're not stopping. It's hypocritical, isn't it, to state that your moral premise is somehow more valid than others', just because of cultural clash? After all, isn't it a matter of subjectivity?

Let's be clear about this: I do not feel the least bit comfortable with North Korea having any kinds of arms, period. Their leader is a nutbag, and it's fair to say that nutbags should not possess easier, more efficient ways to kill large numbers of people. Bad things always happen.

That said, to use an analogy, it's flat-out bullshit to be loading and cocking your gun while trying to convince a guy to hand you his grenade. The US continues to operate its foreign policy on a "But we're different" sort of mandate that somehow excludes them from the harsh light of judgment that falls on the rest of the world.

Hell, I'm five seconds away from putting on some John Lennon and chanting, "All we are saying... is give peace a chance" while I dance around my bedroom with a flower in my hair. No nuke is a good nuke, we all know that. Nukes in the hands of nutbags, an even worse kind of nuke. Yes, make them all go away.

But the US is hypocritical in its approach, and worse yet, its attempts at diplomacy and peace-brokering have been laughable thus far. Condoleezza Rice as the Secretary of State? Puh-leezze. The woman's written the book on how to shoot yourself in the foot.

But, gee, on the positive side of things, only 46 more months in Bush's term.

Transcending Violence

An interesting article in the International Herald Tribune on schools in the DC area and their new teaching techniques.

Sandbagged by excessive school violence, the administrators took the gutsy step of teaching transcendental meditation to the kids. The students are now calmer, and violence has been quelled noticeably.

The article is quite good, but I don't have time to throw my two cents in about this. Check it out for some lunchtime reading, though.

Monday, February 14, 2005

All about the Crystal

As if you needed another reason not to fuck around with that vile, evil drug crystal meth, here's another:

Methamphetamine use has shown to increase the progress from HIV to full-blown AIDS by as much as 1500%.

It's not like a rocket scientist needs to tell you that putting Drano in your system is probably a dumb idea, but where the hell is the media on meth?

I would think that taking the time to flat out state precisely what's in meth (Drano, sulphur, iodine, and mm, mm, mm-much mm-more)and just what it does to you is probably going to have a hell of a lot more effect than someone, somewhere seems to think.

Meth is a terrible, tragic social condition. Unlike your typical drug with its standard worst-case scenarios--homelessness and desperation, with meth, you get even more. You have a wonderful memory-impaired future ahead of you. If you're really lucky, you'll even get to become an absolute wacko with acute paranoia and hallucinations.

Now, where do I sign up?

Naturally, this AIDS angle makes this already incredibly disruptive and marginally discussed drug an even more intense problem. Now, heroin also fuelled the social spread of AIDS, but my understanding is that it never markedly helped HIV reach full-blown status. Meth, however, does.

Thanks to that favourite past-time, sex, this freaky hypersensitive HIV strain is not going to stay confined to meth addicts. Who's to know how or when it might become a strain that's damaging to the public at large?

The saddest thing of all with these two topics, both HIV and the meth crisis, is that education--uncensored, unflinching, brutal education--could really profoundly change the rate at which both the drug and disease are spread.

Sigh. You could get the impression that our kids' frail psyches somehow meant more to us than keeping them alive, and their generation is most at risk. What are we doing?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Year of the Rooster

Year of the Rooster
Originally uploaded by scribecalledsteff.
From this year's annual Chinese Lunar Year Parade.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Kills: New Release

A new LP, No Wow, (only 11 new tracks) is being released March 8th, a little over two weeks before their next gig in Vancouver.

This pleases me.

Pitchfork, however, fail to mention the upcoming Vancouver stop in their mentionings of the gigs to come. Pfft. Bad 'fork.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Use Your Head

If I see one more movie or television show where Our Hero rides off on a motorbike sans head gear, I'll blow a hissy fit.

When I made Graham Greene's proverbial trip from "the saddle to the ground," the only thing that kept me from meeting my maker was that helmet. Something about colliding with moving vehicles on a bike at 40 km-per-hour will do that to you, let alone at the bitching cool 80 klicks-per they're doing in the flicks.

How about just once we show responsibility as being cool, not just go for the pansy-ass artsy thing of a pretty boy's hair flickering in the wind as he careens down a seaside highway on a hog? Jesus Christ.

You said what? Vol. 1

Words a banker ought never utter:

"Now, if you'll just sign your life away... "

Not the highlight of my banking appointment this afternoon. How you say, "pause for thought?"

Monday, February 07, 2005

Coffin Shopping

I'm enjoying my Six Feet Under: Season Two. To tell the truth, I've always been a happy, shiny, morbid person. Death has fascinated me for far too long.

I had some early exposure to death, so maybe it just intrigued me. My lack of understanding death, though, has definitely fuelled that. Funnily, all my exposures to death were always in a somewhat disconnected manner. A classmate, a far-away relative, that sort of thing. I had a "that sucks" mentality about it, but it never did hit home.

That is, of course, until I, like everyone eventually, encountered the big-D "Death." Suddenly, that hazy loss paled in comparison to this new experience of utter abandonment. I finally "got it."

To completely digress, I learned of the Korean tradition of "death days," a few years ago, back in the bad old days when I taught ESL. A client's father was marking his parents' death day with a massive vat of saki and all the decadent accoutrements, and I was asked to be a part of it.

Many sakis later, I understood the reasoning behind the mix of morbidity and memorializing, and always thought I'd do the same one day.

However, I'm not sure it'll fly here among the Westerners. "Hi, there. I'm celebrating the day that the tumour finally took 'er down. Come and celebrate the demise of dear old Mom. Be here at 7."

Something tells me the appetizers'll have to be freaking amazing to draw a crowd to that one. Nachos?

But at least I have my Six Feet Under DVDs--a little grief, a little humour, a little philosophy, all nicely packaged in a box, replete with remote control-interactivity offering both "pause" and "play" options, to substitute for the utter lack of control I actually possess over my life. All for the low, low price of $35.99. Why, what more could I ask for?

Sunday, February 06, 2005


Who in the hell steals pillow cases?

All right, I know they're a beautiful crimson/burgundy hue, and the flannel is oh-so-luxuriously cushy in these colder climes, but what in God's name is wrong with you people?

And the worst of it? I'm now uncoordinated. Sure, I have the fabulous flannel treatment for my body, but beige cotton for my noggin?

Oh, the inhumanity of it all. 'tis a cruel fate inflicted upon me, my friend.

I'll Take Two

Nice to know my karmic cheques still ain't bouncing. Spotted the Complete Season Two of Six Feet Under on DVD, "previously viewed," for the disgustingly low price of $35.99.

Call me crazy, but compared to the list price of $114.99, I thought it was a Righteous Bargoon.

Now it's just mine.

I knew I kept waiting for a reason.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Ah, Dave, Dave, Dave

Being that Thursday nights aren't the television powerhouse they once was, and since I got home early from my night out, I've fired up the VCR to catch last night's episode of the Late Show with David Letterman.

So, Dave had an ice sculptor doing his thang out there on 53rd Street. Dave suddenly asks, "But seriously, Mark--has Global Warming affected your business?"

Rest in peace, Johnny. But at least we've still got Dave.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Groundhog Day

Just checking to see whether there will be another six weeks of winter (Groundhog Steff says no), and came across this:

"How groundhogs got a reputation for predicting weather patterns is a mystery, because they are not the least bit interested in their shadows or the number of winter weeks remaining. The only reason they come out of hibernation is for food and sex."

Hey, I think we can all relate to those priorities.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Popping Cherries

Speaking of seasonal goodness, spotted my first in-bloom cherry blossoms today. Somewhere around Nelson and Bute-ish.

Ah, the start of the good life.

[Ed. Note: And whilst I realize the redundant nature of "in-bloom cherry blossoms," sometimes I believe being excessively obvious is a virtue, and when it's about the heralding of spring, obvious is damned good thing.]