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july 31, 2003

Corporate Death

The funeral procession trudged it's way up to the twenty-third floor. We strapped Simpson's corpse into his favorite swivel chair, opened the window and tossed him out. Someone rolled up an old fax and blew the Last Post through it. A nice touch. Respectful.
On these occasions it is generally a good idea to attach a large company logo and other promotional signage to the body as it plummets to the ground: why not achieve maximum exposure for your business during this time of grief? Remember, just because a human has died doesn't mean they can't still be a Human Resource.
It is also worth recording that it was elaborate preparations for death, neat embalming tricks and building pyramids that kept the ancient Egyptian economy solvent. Who cares if they extracted the deceased's brain through the nose with a pair of primitive forceps. These people knew the value of good product branding.

stephenb 11:21 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 30, 2003
Garbage Man

Seek the most idyllically serene meadow in cloudless Arcadian paradise and there will still be garbage scattered thereabouts: the remains of a hooligan's lunch; detritus from the delinquent's campground; or, if your tranquil beauty spot is sufficiently romantic and secluded, mayhap a used condom or two. Yesterday I found myself a little shade beneath a leafy oak beside the leisurely, sun-kissed and glistening river, only to discover a lurid orange price sticker plastered to the tree trunk and a Pepsi can rusting in the grass. The inability of people to take their trash with them when they leave will never cease to amaze me.
With the exception of the decaying bodies and smashed armor of those slain on the field of battle, grinning skulls with "Et in Arcadia Ego" scratched on their foreheads and weird naked guys playing the flute, the countryside in Olden Days must have been virtually untroubled by litter. Everything had value back then, everything was recycled. Alas, today we live in the Age of Garbage.
Personally, I generate roughly eighty tons of garbage every week. This consists mostly of love letters, death threats, and ice cream wrappers, but at least I compact it all in a big wooden barrel and command the Goblin Army to come and remove it.

stephenb 11:41 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 29, 2003
Where to hold your birthday party? Inviting people to your home means you not only have to clean up beforehand, but also clean up again afterwards, an activity requiring too much effort. Asking people to join you at an expensive restaurant restricts conversation to those friends seated immediately to your left and right, and those friends occupying positions further down the table are left out in the cold. Consequently, having everyone gather at a bar seems to be the best solution.
This year I chose the Terrace Bar at the Boston Marriott Hotel in Copley Place, an establishment notable for its large collection of potted ferns, comfortable and spacious seating arrangements (who would go there!?), and live bands of the type suitable for weddings and bar mitzvahs: the band on Friday night played a very loud version of "Happy Birthday" to me, which I enjoyed immensely.
To put it in a nutshell, if you don't mind the tourist trappings, the Terrace Bar is an excellent choice of venue for a birthday bash.
My friend Shari took this picture at the event. I am holding a spectacularly dire ceramic model of a musical clown. A gift I shall treasure always, until I accidentally smash it to smithereens with a sledgehammer.
The owner of this online journal is thirty-gfgfgi years of age.

stephenb 09:59 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 28, 2003
Giacomo Casanova

With reference to the entry below, I feel I should say a word or two more concerning Casanova. His memoirs, The Story Of My Life, are exceptionally well-written and compulsive reading; and most of the adventures described therein can be historically verified. It is easy to imagine Casanova as a powdered-wig dillentante relaxing in Oriental splendour, but he was also the man who organized the French Lottery, amongst other feats of brilliance, such as escaping from the notorious "The Leads" prison in Venice, an activity that provides a gripping sequence in his exciting and extensive narrative.
Interestingly, he recounts as many failures of seduction as he does successes, and seems to have been genuinely interested in the woman he seduced, whether they were Duchesses or peasant girls: Casanova was no mere Don Juan, you could say.
On the whole, he seems to have been an eighteenth century Venetian James Bond, but a figure from real life, of course, rather than shaken-not-stirred Flemingesque fantasy.
Although it has never been proven that Casanova was a spy, it does seem to be the only explanation for his lengthy travels around Europe, and the reason why he had to leave so many places in such a hurry.
stephenb 11:17 - [Link] - Comments ()
Ladies Men

There is a fairly new book by someone named Rick Marin, it is called Cad: Confessions of a Toxic Bachelor.
This is generally the type of book I avoid like the particularly virulent strain of a flesh-withering and extremely painful and unpleasant death causing plague. However, one of the novels Mr. Marin recommends that his acolytes read is the truly wonderful and almost forgotten Afternoon Men by Anthony Powell, originally published in 1931. Marin calls it, rightly, the British equivalent of Hemingway's A Sun Also Rises. He also quotes Powell's brilliant description of a disastrous sexual encounter, as shall I:
"Slowly, but very deliberately, the brooding edifice of seduction, came into being, a vast Heath Robinson mechanism, dually controlled by them and lumbering gloomily down vistas of triteness. With a sort of heavy-fisted dexterity the mutually adapted emotions of each of them became synchronized, until the unavoidable anti-climax was at hand. Later, they dined at a restaurant quite near
the flat." Alas, people do not - and probably can not - write like that anymore.
I think I shall have a browse through Cad: Confessions Of A Toxic Bachelor when I have finished the book I am currently reading, Casanova's multi-volume Story Of My Life, a million word true tale of seductions, spies, escape from prison, soldiering, gambling and the occult. Excellent, but lengthy stuff!
Mr Marin maintains a website to promote his book.

stephenb 09:54 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 24, 2003
Immaculate Conception

Personally, I do not believe in this sort of religious nonsense, but the window of a Massachusetts hospital has been attracting flocks of The Faithful ever since the image of Mary Mother of God has suddenly appeared on the glass. The Church in its infinite wisdom has decreed, however, than this holy manifestation cannot be a miracle because the image is formed by natural causes. Obviously the Church assumes that God only works in mysterious ways; but why wouldn't God use natural substances to make such a picture? And what, then, does the Church think a miraculous image of Mary ought to be made of? Ectoplasm?

stephenb 16:23 - [Link] - Comments ()

What is it that makes the bumble bee such a lovable, friendly creature compared to the vicious, mean and altogether nastier wasp? We perceive the fat and jolly bee as belonging to our world, as much part of the garden as the flowerbeds and grass. Yet the wasp appears as an intruder, an alien, something foreign and evil.
The bumble bee lives in a pleasant, democratic and famously busy hive; whereas, the wasp skulks in a seething nest like a viper.
The answer, of course, is that the bee makes honey and the wasp produces nothing except fear.
stephenb 12:31 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 23, 2003
668: the Neighbor of the Beast

Chimes at midnight. The moon is low. A piano plays in an empty room. Mad women shriek in locked attics. Tiny hunchbacked children herd packs of limping dogs across a windswept heath. Evil resides in the darkened corners, cloaked and hooded, anonymous. And apparently, Evil has also rented a room next door to my apartment for the duration.
I am pretty sure that one of my neighbors maintains a secret room where he stores his collection of Nazi memorabilia. I suspect, also, that the centerpiece of this room is a diorama of the Ardennes Forest with scale models of troops and tanks. Here, when he arrives home from work, the Panzers roll once more with himself in command, re-enacting a version of the Battle of the Bulge in which the final victor is my neighbor. He is also guilty of improper disposal of household trash.

stephenb 11:14 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 22, 2003
Roll Up. Roll up.

Last night, seeking shelter from the threat of thunderous showers, I dined alone in one of those faux olde tyme Boston taverns constructed of sand-blasted brick, mass produced brass fittings, oaken veneer and leathery booths. Here they serve deep fried scrod swimming in an ocean of ketchup over a seabed of "chips". From the wall, a blurry black and white photograph of an olde tyme Boston butcher stared down upon me. A figure from another age, one of those straight-backed Edwardian men in a straw hat, vigorous side-burns and an elaborate moustache standing erect behind his counter flanked by sides of suspended beef, pork, and fowl strung up by their feet. He stares directly into the camera, content to chop and slice his life away amongst the hooves, feathers and blood until he himself dropped off the hooks.
Outside, it never did rain. And so I walk up to the windswept concrete piazza they call Government Center. It was once called Scollay Square: a theater district that teemed with life after dark; thieves, prostitutes, organ grinders and the organ grinder's monkeys, tiny hunchbacked children chasing balls along cobbled streets, crossing sweepers, lamplighters, patent medicine salesmen and street singers. It is empty now, and here, alone with your thoughts in this former home of melodrama, you can audition for the role of yourself. "Don't call us, we'll call you." the seagulls seem to say.

Bomber Command

Those advertising inserts they place in magazines these days are a great gift to paper aeroplane makers. I myself have already developed quite an extensive fleet of jets, not only standard Boeings, but also a Concorde or two, and, in my more creative moments, a Flying Fortress, WW2 Lancaster, and even a Sopwith Camel bi-wing from yesteryear. The U2 spy planes are probably the easiest to make - just a couple of folds here and there, although they are the hardest to make fly.

stephenb 09:36 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 21, 2003
Law of the Jungle

The British composer Philip Heseltine alias Peter Warlock had a girlfriend called Puma, who, with a name like that, did not need an alias.
It must be nice having a girlfriend called Puma; she sounds so much more exciting than the Ethels, Matildas and Hermiones.
But then Heseltine alias Warlock stuck his head in the oven at the age of thirty-five. He is famous for putting his cat outside before gassing himself. Perhaps possession of a girlfriend called Puma had something to do with that - in which case, I'll take the Ethels and the Hermiones and thank you very much.
Anthony Powell wrote that Heseltine alias Warlock was "simply tired of the business of living," which seems an unlikely diagnosis to me if you have a girlfriend called Puma. However, Powell also thought that Heseltine alias Warlock always carried with him the air of things about to go horribly wrong. And maybe having a girlfriend called Puma has something to do with that as well.
Heseltine alias Warlock was a great friend of fellow British composer Constant Lambert, who drank himself to death. And also a friend of E.J Moeran, another British composer, who drowned after deciding it would be a good idea to go for a walk along a seaside pier during a gale. Neither Lambert or Moeran, as far as I know, had a girlfriend called Puma.
And so what do we learn about girlfriends from the lives of the great composers? Well, as long as I don't write any string quartets in the next year or two, I should be able to invite a girl called Puma out for a nice candlelit bowl of milk without being too concerned that I might suffer an early death after the night has performed its final coda.
Things are looking up!

stephenb 18:17 - [Link] - Comments ()
Pickman's Model

Strange, disorientating journey on the subway this morning, dark, rumbling and repetitive, rather like a troubled sleep; the disturbing, dreamlike ambience deepened by the almost complete absence of other passengers on a train that is usually crammed with commuters at that hour. As the train shuttled through a long, winding, rabbit's warren of dimly lit tunnels, seemingly bound for Points Nowhere, I began to worry: "Is this the right train?" and "Is it really the time I think it is? the day I think it is?"
H.P Lovecraft wrote about Boston's subway system in his story Pickman's Model, featuring a narrator who is afraid to travel underground at night because he believes that flesh-eating ghouls patrol the tracks during the hours of darkness. Sometimes it seems that the "T" - as the subway is known - has not changed much since Lovecraft's day.

stephenb 09:46 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 17, 2003
I Shall Challenge Mr. Boredom To A Bullfight

Where can you experience one of those authentic "grasp a flickering candelabra and stagger backwards into the shadows, wide-eyed and consumed with awe" sorts of moments these days?
Alas, I cannot say. Glorious and breathtaking melodrama is absent without leave from my life just now. The Muse of Wonder has been powdering her nose in a distant boudoir for far too long. There is a ballroom. There are no dancers.
A mysterious spicy chiaroscuro must be added. The "ooh!" needs to be put back into outré. Where is the whiplash-figured Ice Maiden with flaming tresses walking her snow leopards on a golden leash? Where the rosy-cheeked milkmaid with her ample bosom? Where is my stylishly printed invitation from Kublai Khan to attend a twenty-eight-course banquet thrown in honor of Marco Polo?
All I have in the world is a packet of nuts and one of those pens with a picture of woman on it that when you turn the the pen upside down all her clothes fall off. It's not much, but it's something.

stephenb 17:27 - [Link] - Comments ()
Is this a dagger I see before me?

Alfresco productions of Shakespeare on Boston Common begin again tomorrow for those who enjoy a Picnic with their Bard. This year the company are performing - ssshhh! - the Scottish play.
Obviously Macbeth seems a strange choice of play for a summers evening, and they staged Twelfth Night two years ago, which is even more bizarre. But what the Hell - it is free!
So you will find me on sprawled on a blanket in a shady spot furthest away from all the dog crap and frisbees. I will be the one with the grapes and vino artfully concealed inside a thermos flask.
Actually, Shakespeare on the Common is, along with Providence's Water Fire, one of the best civic events I can think of; much better than those rubbishy free pop concerts sponsered by unlistenable, noise-polluting radio stations.
Also, it makes a nice change from watching those Falun Bong people or whoever they are doing their Tai Chi en plein air with the tinkly soundtrack.
There is so much activity on the Common during the summer months. Last Saturday there was some sort of Lego exposition, featuring a large Lego robot standing guard over the Brewer Fountain. What next?
stephenb 09:34 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 16, 2003
Sand In Your Eye

Nostalgia is an awkward disposition: a synthesis of lived experience, both real and imagined, filtered through emotive scenes and sounds from all the well-loved books, paintings, films and music of a wistful lifetime.
But nostalgia is also ephemeral like changeable weather; hopelessly romantic in a humdrum kind of way, sentimental, ultimately self-deceiving and sometimes oppressive.
Preparing for a summer weekend at the Cape, it is impossible not to think of crisp blue Winslow Homer days on a sailboat. Edward Hopper evenings, quiet shady and still; an isolated lighthouse and a dog chasing itself through the dunes. Thoughts of the beach also recall Colette's novel The Ripening Seed, read so long ago, where the lessons of adolescence become uncompromisingly clear; summer holidays being notoriously linked with the discovery of the unveiled bodies of the opposite sex.
The reality of Cape Cod, however, is of course devastatingly different. But then, alas, it never really was quite what you expected or hoped for.

stephenb 10:17 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 15, 2003
Inside too long, and the sounds beyond my window recall rushing waves on a rugged shore. Hardwood floors transform themselves into a stretch of sun-baked beach, and this comfortable couch a hillocky sand dune. The kitchen sink has become a rock pool. Swept from a greasy plate by ebb tides of tap water, disintegrating lettuce leafs turn into seaweed tendrils submerged in balsamic salt water. Two croutons cling to the stainless steel basin like limpet shells hiding from seagulls made of rubber gloves. An oil slick of raspberry vinaigrette catches the sunlight. I should have bought my crab line and that net attached to a bamboo pole.
Cue Neurosis
But what about all the pollution? And who is that twat on the jet ski? I thought you didn't like the beach. Damn, my ice cream has fallen into the sand, etc...
stephenb 12:30 - [Link] - Comments ()
Road Hogs

It must be miserable being a truck driver hauling your cargo into a modern city: roads are too narrow; corners are too hairpin; bridges are too low; and everybody hates you. But it is an essential job since it provides an essential service - delivering the goods, farm produce and other supplies that make urban life possible - so it always irritates me to hear self-righteous SUV drivers complaining about traffic congestion and pollution caused by trucks.
This morning, for instance, a guy at my office complained that it took much longer than usual to arrive at work because of the trucks. "Twenty minutes to get here. I could walk here in that."
Why don't you then? This idiot lives just down the street but he still drives to work in his massive gas guzzling, small-phallus-compensating mobile. Get off the road and make room for the trucks!. I have also heard this same fool grumbling that it is difficult to find fresh vegetables in the store. Is it any wonder when he is blocking the highway with his colossal motorized buttocks?
Perhaps all cities should have a Congestion Charge like London does. Personally, I think regular motorists should be taxed in every possible conceivable way until there are less cars belching along the public streets.

stephenb 09:38 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 11, 2003
Today is one of those scattered, uncoordinated days: heavy air producing weary limbs that don't want to go anywhere or do anything: the very atmosphere is a burden to humanity today: a canopy of inescapable steam and occasional humid rain: if there were a map of today, it would be damp, crumpled and folded wrongly.

stephenb 14:04 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 10, 2003
There must be French philosophers who are worried sick about the state of French intellectual life; but there can't be that many of them.
At the moment, French arts and letters pretty much consist of weary
self-absorbed ponderings written in unreadable gibberish, and that woman who wrote a book about enouraging men to anally penetrate her in anonymous Parisian parking lots. I believe the latter is called The Sexual Life of Catherine M or something like that.
I always thought the point of philosophy was to try and explain notions of the ineffable in plain prose. And French philosophy was always interesting to me, because even if you were not particularly "tres existential", you could still sit around in cafes and debate your Being and Nothingness as if you were "really dialectical and stuff". Deep thought merely cost the price of a packet of non-filtered Gitanes back then. These days, apparently, it's all about coming up with six syllable compound words to describe what kind of vaginal lubricant your girlfriend uses in bed. Words like - and this would be a translation from the original French - "Vaginoidlubriacosis" and "Metaphysioedibleunderpantivity".
I made those up, but you get the picture.
So, come on you French philosophers, pull your Gallic fingers out, stop making up silly long words, and give us something real to think about while we smoke (outside the cafe, of course, since you are not allowed to smoke inside them now).

stephenb 17:25 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 09, 2003
Oh the horror! The horror!

In olden days, our ancestors grazed cattle on Boston Common. And they still do, considering the bovine expressions on the faces of many people wandering around the area today. Until 1817 public hangings were held on the Common, also. And again, you would think they still are, judging by the lifeless bodies sprawled on the benches thereabouts. The gallows stood on the exact spot where tourists with camera straps biting into their necks now ask directions to Quincy Market.
Stroll along the shaded, junky-lined avenues of Boston Common, and up above the treetops you can see the gleaming, golden tit of the State House. And I am sure the red-nosed people in the State House must be able to see you. Which means that those Irish Whisky drinking politicos in the State House can also see the poor, neglected Brewer Fountain (1868) that sits forlorn and neglected on Boston Common covered in pigeon shit.
No water flows through the Brewer Fountain this summer. A great shame since the fountain has three beautifully decorated tiers. Around the base are excellently sculpted bronze figures of four Classical figures: Neptune and his wife Amphitrite, and the lovers Acis and Galatea. At the moment they look positively suicidal. And no wonder, they are forced to stare into a bone dry and empty basin that is full of litter and still stinks of last years vagrant's urine. This fountain has not been cleaned in how long?
Far too long, obviously.
I sincerely hope Mr. Brewer is not rolling in his grave, but I'm almost certain he must be. Why donate beautiful things to the city if the authorities will not take care of them? Whoever is responsible for the upkeep of public monuments in Boston should be drummed out of whatever miserable organization he or she belongs to.

stephenb 10:25 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 08, 2003
Pandora's Vacuum Cleaner

Is it not a pity that Pandora did not own a vacuum cleaner with which to suck up all the Evils Of The World that were released from her famous box, and also a pity that this vacuum cleaner did not have an small nozzled attachment for sucking up the Merely Annoying Things Of The World that sometimes get kicked under the couch and are hard to get at?
stephenb 16:43 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Body Wilts Before The Mind Does

I am rapidly approaching my thirty-seventh year on planet Earth, and only now do I begin to consider that my body is my temple, since the altar is beginning to outstrip the apse and the nave, if you know what I mean.
I did not have to worry much about it before, as I was one of those chosen few who could devour whatever we desired without detrimental effect.
But - alas - that is no longer the case.
Therefore I have begun a daily exercise regimen that makes Army Basic Training look like, well, pretty hard work really - unfortunately my regimen does not involve much effort at the moment.
Usually I start the day with six or seven lays on the floor in a fetal position and complain loudly to the Gods that I have to wake up so early.
Then I progress to walks over to the coffee pot to see if it has brewed yet. (Repeat ten times with slow, steady loafing motion).
After that, I conclude my mornings exercise with a single, prolonged squat in front of my closet and try to decide what to wear.
Then I do it all over again very quickly because I am often running late for work at this point.
Actually, I am blessed with a spectacular physique.

stephenb 09:22 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 07, 2003
I have been on vacation; long days laying on the beach scolding the kids for being unable to construct a Bretagne-style chateau with baroque embellishments from the available sand - what is to become of them? As the sun beat down mercilessly on my head, I also added the finishing touches to my book An Examination of Kiln Preperation Methods in Etruscan Pottery 760BC -755BC.
This will undoubtedly become the standard work on the subject, but amazingly has yet to find a publisher!
Inbetween stints operating as an local amateur vet, I was fortunately able to find the time to observe the 4th of July fireworks on the Charles River. The display seems to get better every year; although the experience was somewhat marred by the sight of people deciding to leave during the finale as the band played the National Anthem. Mind you, most people didn't even bother to stand up. So much for the 4th of July and the patriotic spirit.
stephenb 09:27 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 03, 2003
A Fistful of Amex Travelers Cheques

It is summer, and the tourists here in Boston have gone into heavy sunburnt, bleary-eyed rotation. Personally, I love tourists. It is nice to know that people want to visit the place you live, and I like to think I benefit in some small way from the money they bring into the city. However, since I live just down the street from the laughably named "TV's Cheers pub", I spend a lot of time advising people not to go there when they ask for directions. Although the exterior of the bar is the one seen on television, the interior is completely and utterly different in all respects.
One thing I have observed about tourism is that language phrasebooks are absolutely worthless. You spend hours locating the phrase you want to use and learning the correct pronunciation, then you speak it to the man in the hotel, and he answers you in the same language with sentences you have no hope of understanding - consequently the poor hotelier must act out his reply with gestures rather than words, or grab your phrasebook and locate the appropriate response which he then has to point out to you.
Can you imagine travel tourism in the future?
"I like to pack light: rocket boots with special Dr. Scholl's Ejector insoles; two silver togas, one with a red flash insignia for evenings; a utility belt and ray gun; and a Mars-Earth phrasebook chip implanted in my cerebral cortex. Many travel agents advise that it is a good idea to arrive at the launch pad eight weeks before blast off. That way you have plenty of time to undergo Anti-Gravity training before your departure."
Tourism in ancient times was just as bad. Romans were a neurotic group of travelers, they would never depart for a journey on a Tuesday since it was deemed bad luck to do so, nor would they leave at the end of the month for the same reason - unless, of course, the entrails of a sacrificed chicken augured differently.

stephenb 10:01 - [Link] - Comments ()
july 01, 2003
I have spent the last few days tiptoeing around my new born nephew on a freshly unrolled carpet of egg shells.
"Why don't you hold him, he won't do anything on you." screech the puke and dribble encrusted grinning morons who have apparently infiltrated my family overnight. I am forced to endure a nursery rhyme sing-a-long that sounds like it's being sung by masses of huddled Londoners in a tube station during the height of the Blitz.
And then, suddenly: "Ssshhhhh. He is sleeping."
How so? How could any sentinent being have fallen asleep during that grim vaudeville performance? But it is true - he is fast asleep, and we must now spend the next few hours communicating as though we were playing a game of charades. It is at this moment that I wish to liquefy all my assets, and with the proceeds, assemble the largest brass band the world has ever seen.
stephenb 11:57 - [Link] - Comments ()