Saturday, 24 March 2012

Cool Cute

Ed has bought a ukelele. He thinks it is the cutest instrument in the world. And it kind of is. Plinka plinka plinka, like a little girl in tap shoes and a big smile. Funny the way the uke has come back. It's cool again, like the banjo and accordion. Remember Weezer with the Muppets? Remember Ryan Gosling serenading what's her name in Blue Valentine?

Let's consider cool-cute for a moment. Where does
it come from?

What does it mean? And where does the ukelele come in? I think

cool-cute is about caring and laughing at yourself at the same time.

Tiny Tim played a mean ukelele but it
is hard to think of him as cool. Cute maybe (and maybe not), but there

really isn't enough care in him to be anything more. Now Jimi Hendrix was cool -- maybe the coolest rock star

ever. But he was not much for laughing at himself. Can you imagine him playing a ukelele? Didn't think so.

Ditto Jagger, Plant, Dylan, Young. For all the talent and drive and care and sense of personal integrity, not a lot

of self mockery in these guys. Young's song about his old car actually ends up sounding moving and kinda

deep, where Bohemian Rhapsody, say, makes fun of murder. Can you see Freddie Mercury with a ukelele?

Course you can. (Here's the pic of Ryan Gosling with ... is it Michelle Williams? Cool-cute or what?)

This is not a value judgement. Artists have to take their work seriously. But I am impressed at the way some artists can do this and laugh at themselves at the same time. It makes them seem more like people you would have a good time with at dinner. The ukelele as a litmus test .... think about it. Oh, the dreamy guy in the picture at the top is Rudy Vallee, a ukelele crooner of the 30s, who was at his self-mocking best in The Palm Beach Story, one of my favorite movies EVER.

Darn it darn it, I still haven't got to my take on the Jarman story. Next time. If you want to read the original, it is called, "Burn Man On A Texas Porch" and it is weird and cool but not cute at all -- no ukeleles in it.

Monday, 19 March 2012


Before getting to this week's homework assignment, I must say a word about things. Which sounds vague -- let me explain. I was glancing at an article about one of the dragons -- you know, the rich investor guys on TV. ( I think that's him in the picture.) And he was talking about the things in his life that he really really likes. There is something charming about enthusiasm, so I was smiling as I read about his genuine (I think) love for his sports car and designer suits and I don't know what else. But I realized that my feeling about material things is diametrically opposite from his. I am pleased at all the material things I do not have in my life.

Speaking of suits, for instance, my dad recently gave me a bunch of his old ones, since he doesn't wear them any more and we're about the same size. I kept one, in case a wedding or bar mitzvah leaps out at me, but I gave the rest away. I got antsy thinking about them hanging up in my closet. Even a drawer of pants makes me feel uneasy. Who needs more than a couple pairs of jeans? There is too much weight there, dragging me away from my ideal which would be to live out of a suitcase.

This all sounds pretty stupid coming from a guy with four kids -- nothing ties you down like family responsibilities. A Mercedes is cheaper and less trouble to run than a college student. True. But it's not trouble or expense that bothers me. It's physical weight, and things are heavy.

I'd make a lousy dragon.

Oh, shoot. I forgot I was going to give you another example of my homework. We were looking at a story by Mark Anthony Jarman last week. I don't understand it at all, but I tried to write like him. I'll post next time.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

homework -- wow!

News! I was going to say good news but maybe not. I am going to be a little more regular in my blogging. Not that the world needs to hear more from me but I am finding myself with a little more material on hand these days. Maybe that is good news and maybe it's just news.

We have to do writing exercises for school, and some of mine are turning out ok. So I thought -- why leave it mouldering in the hard drive when I can show the world (well, you guys) what you are missing not being in class with me?

Yes this is my homework. And if reading someone else's homework doesn't sound like fun, think of it as peeping through the window into the forbidden world of the MFA. Oh it's a freaky private place, the mid-level graduate Arts degree -- like being backstage at the Roman Coliseum , or in a Turkish harem, or at a Jedi training camp. For a couple of hours every week we sit and chat, all of us knowing WE are the chosen and yet struggling for precedence even amongst our talented selves, stressing the buttons of our souls to find literary insight, fawning at the teacher's smile and whimpering at his frown. Luke never had it so tough.

Our exercise last week was based on a very weird story where the narrator actually spends more time talking about another character. We had to write a scene working that way.

"Like Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson?" said Laredo, who sits across from me.

"Perceptive comment!" purred the teacher. And Laredo looked cooly down at his paper, and we all nodded like we thought it was perceptive too, even though inside we all wanted to kill Laredo.

OK, so here is my attempt. Hope you like it. But hey, if this idea is not working for you -- if you don't want to read my homework -- that is totally cool. You can stop here. I'll be back next week to introduce another scene in a different style, and you don't have to read that either.

When we got to the ID ward they made us take off all our clothes – every last seam and stitch. We put on hospital gowns that dont do up the right way, only we were so small that the gowns trailed on the floor around us like we were wearing our moms’ dresses. Moishe started to laugh. Not just at the gowns but at the way they all looked at us through the glass – the row of faces pursed up and worried. They must have been worried before but we hadn’t seen that because they’d been wearing masks.

We had to put our old clothes into a plastic bag and seal the bag and then put the bag into a special metal container and then seal the container. A tough gramma type told us how to do it step by step. Her voice boomed and crackled through the loudspeakers, filling the small bare room. She was real patient. That’s good Barry, she told me. Now find Moishe’s sock. It’s over there by the chair. See it? See it? Good boy.

Because I had the fingers and attention span of a five year old the operation seemed to take about a week. I had to dispose of Moishe’s clothes as well as my own; Moishe skidded and spun around the room. He was singing the song we learnt that morning in kindergarten – Row row row your boat. When I told him to come over and help he said Nah and kept singing.

The big blue doctor asked questions. Which of us saw the bodies first? Which of us touched one of them first? Where were the bodies? Where on the playground? Where? Where exactly? I started to cry. I couldn’t understand what he was getting at. Tears ran into the corners of my open mouth. The doctor told me to stop crying and be a man. The gramma nurse said Come on now Barry please help us.

Moishe came over to ask me what the hell was wrong with me – he said the word hell which stopped my crying like a sudden mouthful of ice cream sandwich. I told him I couldn’t answer the doctor’s questions. I couldn’t remember anything about the bodies. He shrugged. So what? he said.

He asked where our parents were. The old nurse turned her head away. The blue doctor coughed and said all four parents were on their way to the hospital. Moishe called him a liar. The doctor didn’t reply. Moishe spun around so he was facing away from the wall of windows. Then he bent over and lifted the back of his gown up, exposing his bare bottom. The blue doctor said to put down his gown and turn around. Moishe told him to go to hell, and started to sing in a loud voice. Row row row your hell he sang. Gently down the hell. Merrily merrily merrily merrily hell is but a hell.

It became our anthem at the orphanage. Whenever life got beyond us – curfew or the cops or the big Mexican coming after us for stealing his weed – Moishe and I would start singing the hell song. With a lung missing he didn’t have a very powerful voice, but his eyes shone with anger and a curious kind of purity that didn’t fade, and I was glad to be his friend even when things went badly for us.