Hey, lady, you want us to fix your car?

So, I had some time to kill in the Valley the other night. I was supposed to meet a friend at 6:30 for an odd little adventure:  we were going to a talk by an “internationally recognized prophecy expert,” a the-world-is-ending, repent-or-perish type who we hoped would go on a wild rant about stocking up on rice, guns and gold. My friend and I share a fascination with apocalyptic evangelical church stuff, so this was our idea of a fun Thursday evening.

Anyway, I got there way too early, so I drove around the neighborhood looking for a suitable place to spend some time. To my delight, I found a bookstore with a big parking lot. Bingo! I parked and went inside to browse.

After about a half-hour, I walked back out to the car. I got in and spent a few minutes checking my email and text messages, and as I was doing that, another car pulled up behind me. Three young guys were inside.

“Excuse me,” the driver said. “I work for a Toyota body shop, and I can see your car has some dings and a panel is loose, so would you like for me to fix it? I can do it right here.”

Because I did not fall off a turnip truck yesterday, I knew this was a scam. “No,” I said, scowling and waving my hand dismissively. He shrugged and pulled away slowly as I looked back down at my phone.

A moment later, I watched as he pulled up behind someone else and tried the same thing. Seriously? Who falls for this stuff? I thought. I felt proud of myself for being so savvy, for not having considered their pitch for even a millisecond. Then again, I’d just had body work done on my car, so I knew for a fact that it was in perfect condition. Those guys were idiots–the least they could have done was choose a car that actually had something wrong with it.

I drove to meet my friend, and we went to the talk, which turned out to be less fire and brimstone than a lukewarm oatmeal of every boring sermon I’d ever heard growing up. Afterward, we cheered ourselves up with some barbecue from a food truck, and I drove home.

The next morning, I went out to my car to drive to the gym. As I was getting in, I noticed that the left rear panel, near the gas tank, was popped out. What the! So, those guys were right — there was actually something wrong with my car. How had that happened? Had I banged into something? So strange that I hadn’t noticed it before.




I tried to pop it back into place, but it wouldn’t go. This was going to require tools. What a pain!

Then I looked closer, at the edges of the panel.


See that yellow mark there? That, my friends, is the mark of a screwdriver. Yes, those douchebags were driving around parking lots, hopping out to damage vehicles, and then asking the drivers to pay them to fix the damage.

How do I know this for sure? Because the last thing I did before parking at the bookstore was fill my tank with gas. And that panel, which is just below the gas tank opening, was completely intact.

So, anyway, that was my Thursday night. I’m not sure what the moral of the story is, except that it’s apparently more dangerous in bookstore parking lots than in apocalyptic-evangelical-sermonizing parking lots. Be careful out there, readers.


Reefers and vino, rest cures, religion and pills

One of my goals when I was in high school was to go to college and smoke marijuana. I was a squeaky clean kid, mostly because my parents somehow managed to install themselves as giant floating superegos that went with me everywhere, but I knew college was going to be the land of Id, which in many ways it did turn out to be. Not that Ma and Pa Superego would have been horrified by a little toke–they both tried it in college (Austin in the 60s was hippier than you might guess) and just weren’t really into it.

I wasn’t either, it turned out. Or anyway I just did it because I wanted to be someone who smoked pot, and I didn’t do it all that much. Later I would come to find it sometimes actively unpleasant, but at the time I just remember it as somewhat neutral, a social act that wasn’t enjoyable on its own merits. It wasn’t and would never be as fun as drinking, and after college I basically stopped. A doctor asked me once if I smoked marijuana and I said “oh, maybe once a year,” at which she stopped writing and asked, “so why even bother?”

The last few times I smoked, it was a drag. Once was on New Year’s Eve in Chicago and we stayed up all night watching unsubtitled Korean soap operas until my friend made us awful biscuits from Bisquick and suddenly the holiday was officially over. It was meta-fun, like here I am quirkily watching Korean soap operas, but I felt gross and jangly-nerved and tired and never anything so nice as drunk. A few times were with an upstairs neighbor who smoked absolute acres and, when she smoked, went from a very sweet and mellow person to someone who could not stop talking and sometimes made no sense. She smoked strong stuff and it made me paranoid in a lower case way, not concerned that the government was reading my thoughts but certain that everything everyone said was a veiled jab at someone else in the conversation.

For reasons I’m not sure of, unless it was just a When in Rome thing, as soon as I moved to California, I decided I was going to give it another go. It does seem like a universal habit in Oakland. Also it occurred to me if the whole thing is on the up-and-up, it gets more corporate, and I’d probably be able to say “here is my money–give me whatever kind is just going to make me, as people have been requesting for thirty-some years, chill the fuck out.” And that’s pretty much what happened.

First I went to what we will generously term the doctor’s office. This was in an abandoned-seeming but fancy building a block from Lake Merritt, where downtown turns fully residential. I rang up, was buzzed in, and was greeted by a perky woman who took my blood pressure and told me a certain amount of her life story. She turned out not to be the doctor, but put me on skype with the doctor. Because that’s how that works.

He was kind of a grizzled old weirdo in Southern California somewhere. He asked me a few questions, nodded at my answers, and got fixated on some joke about what “now” meant. I said some stuff about insomnia and anxiety, both of which I have sometimes, and both of which I had just heard are what you say to a marijuana doctor. I have the impression I could also have said “I intend to spend the rest of my life high as a fucking kite” or simply “GIVE ME POT” and the result would have been the same. It was the very definition of cursory.

There are a million pot dispensaries in the area, so you use a website called I forget what, maybe WeedMaps. It’s pretty detailed. It tells you what strains they have at what shops and how much they cost and sometimes descriptions. I went to a place just across the tracks from our neighborhood that is very highly rated. I chose the Platinum Cookies from the menu, because honestly what the hell do I know about it? I didn’t really want to be the big nerd who walks up to the window and says “‘scuse me, mister! I’d like to do drugs! Can ya help me out?” I of course had this peculiar version of impostor syndrome: “they can tell I don’t smoke pot, at least not idiomatically” but it turns out they are really just there to sell you pot.

And so began my descent into reefer madness. I write to you now from rehab. Well, fine, not really. I’ve smoked about four times, and I am bad at it. I cough a lot. Once we watched the Herzog documentary about trappers in the Taiga. Once I listened to most of the Monteverdi Vespers. Mostly I have used it to get to sleep. I am now the only person in history to do what I told the doctor I was going to do when trying to get him to fork over the ganja. It takes the edge off a little. It is not as good as being drunk.



I finished the bench made from the nice piece of wood. It was’t that hard, but it took some time. Sanded down the wood with several grits of sandpaper. (An orbital sander made this SO much easier than just using sandpaper wrapped around a block of wood.) Then wipe-on polyurethane, one of the least hip finishes yet recommended to us by the hipster at the wood store. Six coats total, with light sanding every other coat. Then added the legs, which I ordered in custom dimensions from somebody online who has a metal shop. The key to attaching the legs turned out to be screws with hex heads, like bolts really, and a little attachment to the drill that drove in those hex heads. This solved the problem of stripping out the Philips-head screws. Anyway, a bench.

It was easier than the beanbag chair. Did I ever show you guys the beanbag chair? It has been described by one household member as being made from Grimace skins:

beanbag chair

Here’s a new post on The Great Whatsit

Hi, everybody! Nice to see you all hanging out here again. Here’s some stuff I’ve been thinking about recently:

  1. Is Homeland good, bad, offensive, or some combination of all three? I can’t help but think that if I were (a) Pakistani, (b) bipolar, or (c) CIA agent, I’d really hate this show. It’s so completely divorced from reality as to be nonsensical, and yet I can’t stop watching. PS: Claire Danes is pretty.



2. I’m not as bothered by the midterm elections as I feel like I should be. So many friends were gnashing their hands and wringing their teeth (that’s how bad it was) that I’m troubled by my lack of strong emotion. Can anyone help me get a little more freaked out?


3. Has anyone here ever taken a cooking course? I desperately want to be able to cook more than the four or so dishes in my repertoire, but I have no natural aptitude and find it boring to follow recipes. I am totally envious of people who can say, “Oh, there’s an onion, a chicken leg, a sprig of basil and some yogurt in the fridge. I’ll make dinner for six.” I just want to understand the basics of what to do and not to do in preparing various things. Anyone know where I should start?



4. Going to see Kinky Boots at Pantages on Friday. Nothing to ask here; I just wanted to let you all know.



5. God almighty, did anyone else HATE Interstellar with the force of 10,000 suns, like RB and I did? That movie was a preposterous mishmosh of Deep Thoughts and silly plot devices. And it was THREE HOURS LONG. Agony. Plus, I kept imagining Matthew McConaughey driving that Lincoln and muttering to himself, rather than being in space.



Murder Tonight in the Trailer Park

Is there an album or other musical something that, many years ago, was so basic to your aesthetic sensibility that you assumed you would always love it, but then it turned out you wouldn’t/didn’t/don’t?

Yesterday, for no reason I could easily trace (though there’s always a seed you can dig up if you do something like Freudian dream analysis) I got a Cowboy Junkies song on repeat on the infernal jukebox within. When I got to college in 1991, the Cowboy Junkies were one of the first things I chose as a newly minted adult as a Thing I Liked.

Throughout college they were my second favorite band. I even went to hear them in concert, which was just so totally not a thing I did. Margo Timmins told one of those “Insert Name of Town You Are In” stories about going to a laundromat to do her laundry. I don’t remember much else except they of course did “Sweet Jane.”

When I think of “Black Eyed Man,” I think of the room I lived in sophomore year, one of the only singles in the coop. There was a twin mattress on the ground, a picture of Greta Garbo on the door, and a boom box I bought from this vicious queen named Abe for sixty bucks. Practically nothing else. Some piles of clothes on the floor. A viola da gamba. Papers.

I had never liked country music. (I still didn’t, but I’m getting there.) The Austin music scene was largely lost on me, but living around people who were into more music than I was cracked my mind open just a little. The sound of the coop, as I remember it, was about what you’d expect, a pastiche of things college kids and stoners and comparatively edgy kids from Houston would like.

Some of it, like funk, I never got around to liking. Some of it (the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance) is intensely nostalgic when I hear it now but I’d never put it on. But this band, and this album in particular, if it’s been long enough since I’ve listened to it, can really plunge me into that year in the past and fire up the weather that was in my head then.

Unless I really listen. And then what I hear is kitsch. Specifically, southern-fried kitsch, made by Canadians. Oregon Hill was my very favorite song on the album. It’s named after a neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, which is a thing I didn’t know until last year because google didn’t exist in 1991. It’s a song about someone’s reminiscences of a familiar place and the woman who is waiting for him* there while he’s in prison somewhere north of town.

YouTube Preview Image

The song starts on Pine Street, which is actually a street in Oregon Hill, and includes a reference I have never gotten:

The great grandsons of General Robert E. Lee
Are makin’ love with a little help from STP

STP has a lot of hits on Acronym Finder. At a glance, I can’t fit any of them into the song. We’ll go with Stand-to-Pee, a urinary aid. Or maybe Stowarzyszenie Tlumaczy Polskich, a society of Polish translators. They are probably helpful in certain kinds and instances of lovemaking. Anyway.

Next there’s some incredibly on-the-nose southern stuff about confederate flags and gun racks. Moonshine. Baptists. Rednecks. It’s just…awful. Though at the end of the song there’s some fun brass and a line I always liked:

Me and Suzie, we’re just celebrating
The joys of sleeping in.

He’s escaped from prison. He knows he’s going back. Suzie will wait for him, which is really her problem if you come right down to it. It’s not a very good song. Margo Timmins is a capable singer in the sense that her pitch is quite reliable and her voice is attractive. There’s not a wide emotional palette. When she takes on the persona of a convict from Virginia, even lightheartedly, it’s a little bit…silly.

The other songs that spring to mind, though I forget exactly what’s on which album, have similar problems. “Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning,” a famously happy song about breaking up, is really a lot of refrains of “Am I right, ladies?!” Maybe tonight, she says, newly and defiantly single, a movie. “Black and white, with a strong female lead.” Prescient, as this would become a category on Netflix some years later! [Okay no, that’s on The Caution Horses.]

YouTube Preview Image

I think a lot of the rest of the album is maybe less country-smoked-ham-fisted, though possibly just as wispily poetastic. There’s a duet with John Prine that is very sweet if you can stand his voice, and there are two Townes van Zandt tunes, one of which I find he wrote for them, so that’s a bit of cred right there. Musically it’s all good without, I think, being very interesting. It’s possible the Cowboy Junkies had one great album in them, and that was (by common consensus) The Trinity Sessions.

Or it’s possible I’m just murdering things I once loved because getting old stings. It’s hard to say. Do you have any of these?

*presumed masculine narrator despite female singer. The song doesn’t specify but it was 1991.