Tuesday, May 31, 2011

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

The opening lines of a radio adaptation of Perceval L. Everett's late 20th century tale "The Appropriation of Cultures":

VOICE: Is anybody listening?!

SOUND: (HEARTBEATS)

VOICE: Is anybody listening?

(MUSIC ... THEME ... IN)

ANNOUNCER: Is anybody listening ... to this half-hour-long program designed to bring you something interesting and unusual in the field of radio drama?

Well, if anybody IS listening, they'll hear something called "The Appropriation of Cultures" -- a radio play based on the short story by Percival Everett.

(MUSIC ... THEME ... OUT)

--

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Yeah, they took down that flag.

Used to be, that flag was always up there on top of the State Capitol.

It was up there for years and years.

And, one day, it wasn't there.

No, I don't know WHO took it down.

Well, wait, that's wrong. Actually, I guess you COULD say it was me.

No, I'm not bragging. All I'm saying is that that flag'd probably still be flying on top of the statehouse - if it wasn't for me.

(CHUCKLES) No, I don't work for the government.

I don't work anywhere, actually.

Well, when my mother died, she left me money and a nice house to live in. So I don't work and I don't pretend I need to work.

Oh, sure, I earned a degree. In American Studies from Brown University. (CHUCKLES) I earned the degree but the degree never earned anything for me.

What I really enjoy - is playing my guitar.

(MUSIC ... GUITAR LICKS ... IN BG)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) I play a nineteen-forty Martin guitar with a Barkus-Berry pickup.

SOUND: (CROWD NOISES)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Some nights, I used to go to a joint near the campus of the University of South Carolina and play jazz with a bunch of old guys.

(MUSIC ... GUITAR IS JOINED BY A SMALL JAZZ BAND ... IN BG)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Now, these old guys all worked very hard during the day, and I didn't.

(MUSIC ... A SUDDEN STOP-TIME BREAK)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) But they never held it against me.

(MUSIC ... THE BAND RETURNS JOYOUSLY ... AND FINISHES THE SONG UNDER THE FOLLOWING:)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) What I really loved to play was old-time slide tunes. But mostly we just played standards. And, sometimes, we would take requests.

(MUSIC ... TO A FINISH ... THEN OUT)

SOUND: (POLITE APPLAUSE ... CROWD NOISES CONTINUE ... SOME FEEDBACK AS DANIEL APPROACHES THE MICROPHONE)

DANIEL: (TO THE CROWD) Well, um, I guess we're taking requests. (NO RESPONSE) Nobody has a request?

FRAT BOY: (OFF) Play "Dixie"!

DANIEL: Huh?

FRAT BOY: (OFF) Play "Dixie" for us!

2ND FRAT BOY: (OFF) Yeah, play "Dixie"!

SOUND: (CROWD NOISE BUZZES)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) It was some white boys - from a fraternity. You know -- golf shirts and chinos and too much to drink? And I'm standing on the stage -- a black man holding an acoustic guitar -- and they're yellin' at me:

FRAT BOY: (OFF) "Dixie"! (TRYING TO HELP) You know -- (SINGS OFF KEY) "Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton..." You know!

SOUND: (CROWD NOISE SUBSIDES)

DANIEL: (NARRATES, AFTER A PAUSE) Yeah, I knew.

Weeeeeell, I give 'em a long look.

And then I look from them to the old guys I was playing with. And then I look at the other college kids in the club. Everybody's embarrassed. Everybody's uncomfortable.

Now, don't ask me why I did it, but I turned back to these drunken frat boys, and I said to 'em, I said:

(THOUGHTFULLY, AGREEABLY) Okay. "Dixie."

(NARRATES) And then I started to play.

(MUSIC ... A STANZA OF "DIXIE" ON THE GUITAR ... SLOW AND TENTATIVE AT FIRST, BUT BUILDING ... CONTINUES IN BG)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Now, I had to feel my way slowly through the chords.

And I had to use the slide to squeeze out the melody.

Because I had heard it a hundred, maybe a thousand times, but I had never played this song before -- this song that I grew up - hating. This song the whites had always pulled out to remind themselves and those other people just where they were.

And I got partway through it when I decided - it was mine.

I decided that the lyrics were mine.

I decided - that the song was mine.

(SINGS, SLOWLY, BEAUTIFULLY, MEANING EVERY WORD)
Oh, I wish I was - in the land of cotton.
Old times there are not forgotten.
Look away, look away.
Look away, Dixieland ...

(SPEAKS) And I wasn't kidding. I sang it like I meant it. And there was no satire in my voice. And, as I sang, I could hear the silence all around me. I could see the roomful of eyes on me. And I wondered what the reaction would be.

(MUSIC ... THE GUITAR ... THE SONG ENDS, TRIUMPHANTLY)

SOUND: (A LONG MOMENT OF SILENCE ... ONE PERSON CLAPS ... THEN ANOTHER ... THEN THE ROOM ROARS WITH CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ... THEN UNDER)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) I looked hard into the darkness of the club and I found the frat boys in the back as they stormed out, a couple of people near the door chuckling at them as they passed.

And right next to me on stage was Roger, the old guy who played tenor sax. He slapped me on the back and said something like "Right on" or "Cool." And we got back to work.

(MUSIC ... SAX LEADS THE BAND INTO A MELLOW VERSION OF DUKE ELLINGTON'S "TAKE THE A TRAIN" ... JAZZ CONTINUES IN BG AND AGREES WITH THE FOLLOWING:)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Later, when the set was done, all the college kids slapped me on the back as I walked toward the bar, where I found a cold beer waiting for me.

SOUND: (CROWD NOISES)

COLLEGE KID: Nice work, Danny.

DANIEL: (NARRATES) I didn't much care for the slaps on the back but I didn't focus too much energy on that. I was busy trying to sort out my feelings about what I'd just played.

The irony of my playing the song straight and from the heart was made more ironic by the fact that, as I played it, it really DID come straight and from the heart. I was claiming Southern soil, or at least recognizing my blood in it.

Mine was the land of cotton and hell no, it was not forgotten.

Well, I guess when you're twenty-three, your anger is fresh and typical, and so is your ease with it. You can forget your anger for chunks of time until something like white frat boys asking you to play "Dixie" -- or simply a flashing blue light in a rearview mirror -- brings it all back.

Anyway, I liked the song, wanted to play it again, knew that I would.

(MUSIC ... OUT)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The main character in "Main Currents of American Thought" is a self-employed writer of radio plays who, we find out at the end, is twenty-five years old. That he is twenty-five comes as a shock, given the responsibilities he has taken on.

One of my favorite passages in "Main Currents" occurs when he sits down to look at his finances, how he relates them to the shows he writes for and what they pay.

"Eighty dollars rent. The roof over his head equalled two Ronnie Cook's and His Friends. Five thousand words for rent."

At first I thought this was how a young person explored the world -- associatively. But then I wasn't so sure. What I like about Shaw's story is that it reminds us of those who had to grow up quickly during the Great Depression.

Is the main character's association a link to his youth or the result of not having had one? Could it be both? Is that an amplifier of associative thinking -- having grown up too quickly?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A small room above a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

Beside the bed, a gooseneck lamp with beige cone shade. Below that, a seaberry Ricola and a roll of toilet paper. Underneath the toilet paper is a collection of Irwin Shaw stories, Mixed Company, a Jonathan Cape edition from 1966.

"Main Currents of American Thought" (1939) is a strange story about a freelance writer. Reading it against Shaw's later book, Rich Man, Poor Man (1969), is like having read Lydia Davis and being told that she also writes under the name "Alice Munro".

Monday, May 23, 2011

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

The banjo is that most platypus of musical instruments. Is it a Piltdown mash-up of guitar and drum, or a machine adapted by United States slaves from Africa? A bit of both? A bit of neither? Whatever the case, the banjo, like pizza, is a U.S. invention and became best known after the release of John Boorman’s 1972 film, Deliverance, which spawned the crossover hit “Dueling Banjos”, an AM radio staple.

In Boorman’s film, the banjo is played by an autistic hillbilly boy. That such a character should become the best-known banjo player in the world struck me as odd, given the instrument’s roots. But then, I cannot imagine many post-WWII African-Americans wanting their children to learn an instrument associated with 19th century minstrel music. How is it that the banjo was embraced by those who insisted its inventors were uncivilized?

When I was twenty-five my father gave me a banjo for Christmas, which also struck me as odd because after the age of eighteen he had stopped giving me presents. Yes, I had been playing in a band where a banjo would be welcome (and was), but I was also undergoing chemotherapy, and the last thing I imagined was the day after the one I was struggling to get through.

As it turned out, the banjo was just what I needed -- a hopeful gift and a distraction from the chemicals that were both eating and cleaning my body. But my father being my father, I was never sure. After thanking him, he took the instrument from my hands, plucked the strings admiringly, and said, in manner both deadpan and absent, "So, if these treatments don’t work out, you’ll see that this banjo gets back to me."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A small room above a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

Yesterday I threw out the flowers. They were so old as to be unrecognizable.

Dead flowers: a genus all their own.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Below are the two texts Astral Media Outdoor refused to "post" as part of the Digital Natives (billboard) series. The first is by Edgar Heap of Birds, the second by Larissa Lai.

IMPERIAL CANADA AWARDED SEX ABUSE TO NATIVE YOUTH BY THE BLACK ROBES NOW PROUDLY BESTOWS BRONZE SILVER GOLD MEDALS WITH INDIAN IMAGE

YOUR GRANDPARENTS' UNACKNOWLEDGED DEBTS RETURN TO YOU AS RAGE AGAINST THE CAR IN FRONT

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tomorrow marks the premiere of Slash Forward (2011) at Lower Mainland Skytrain stations. This piece will run for two weeks on the stations' 52" monitors, in a spot reserved for public service announcements.

Slash Forward borrows its white-on-red design from another civically-funded project I contributed to, called Digital Natives. For the month of April, Digital Natives ran a series of solicited messages (up to 140 characters long) on the electronic billboard at the southwest end of the Burrard Street bridge.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Friday, May 13, 2011

SOS is shorthand for a dish common to U.S. Army mess halls. The polite version (long-form) is Stew on a Shingle.

The item below was sourced from Urban Dictionary:

My dad was in the army for 24 years and my mom use to make this for him. I love the stuff. The navy uses chipped beef but I prefer the hamburger version.

Here is an official U.S. Army recipe for SOS:

CREAMED BEEF ON TOAST (SOS)
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
4 tbsp. sifted flour
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup water
2 tbsp. butter

Brown ground beef in its own fat. Remove excess fat and save for making roux. Season with salt and pepper. To make roux, place 2 tbsp. reserved fat in double broiler or heavy pan. Slowly add sifted flour, stirring constantly over low heat until thoroughly blended. Cook for five minutes. Do not brown. Combine milk and water. Add butter and scald (not burn) in double broiler or heavy pan. Add roux to scalded milk, stirring constantly until thoroughly blended. Add meat mixture and cook about 10 minutes, or until desired consistency. Serve on toast.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The ChiloƩ Archipelago is comprised of a number islands off the coast of Chile. In the 17th century Jesuits introduced fitzroya shingles ("Real de Alerceas") as a local currency.

Fitzroya is from the cypress family, and named after Robert FitzRoy, captain of the HMS Beagle, the ship Charles Darwin travelled on while researching his book, The Origin of Species.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Upon rising yesterday morning I glanced out the window and saw that a section of the garage roof had been torn open. My first thought was space junk. Or a wheel from a passing plane. Or a chemical explosion, given the crap we have in there.

After breakfast I climbed up and saw that the damage was restricted to a 2'-by-2' square, with only a few shingles broken. The repair took less than an hour, during which time it occurred to me that whatever wanted in might be back, and that my patch, hammered into two layers of disintegrating shingles, would be laughed at by nest-seeking raccoons.

At some point this summer I will replace the roof, a job I might take on myself. I have never shingled a roof before, but I'm sure I can find out how online.

The last person to shingle this roof was a seventy-four-year-old man. Judy's father -- George Radul. Yesterday was his birthday. He would have been 94.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Monday, May 9, 2011

Among the more pleasant garden surprises this year is the return of the Dicentra I purchased at Figaro's last spring.

This shade-friendly plant (aka "Burning Hearts") was planted in a pot by the north fence, and did well. Then, one cold December morning, I looked out the window and saw that the pot had became a leaping platform for cats. Being December, I never got around to moving it, and all but gave up on its return.

But now it is back! In a new pot, and a new location. Like all plants that surprise us this way, we afford them special treatment.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Yesterday Scott and I travelled to Chan’s Nursery in Richmond for a final round of annuals. For me, these trips are almost always concerned with the dark and hollow patches on the north side of the house. Begonia, impatiens, lobelia, fuchsia -- these are what I fill my flats with.

Now that everything is in and watered, I wait. And watch. Next week I might move something, like the azalea Lindsay gave me, worried it might not be getting enough light. Then again, she had it on the north side too.

The south end of the house has changed since last year. The new bed by the sidewalk is a year old and filling in; the bed by the house, just east of the vignette, is now a tiered rock garden, with an evergreen magnolia at the corner. But this could change too.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A small room above a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

This morning's rain has ignited the daphne below. If I can't wake to sunshine, the next best thing is a fresh smelling room.

Before heading out I will visit the daphne, crouch down before it and look for its scent in its hard pink flowers. When I return I will Google it, see what its needs are. The day after that I will feed it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Thursday, May 5, 2011

There are now enough versions of what happened in Abbottabad on Sunday to have achieved the kind of confusion the United States sought when they crafted the "Killing of bin Laden" narrative. What better way to manage a situation than to diffuse it through multiple scenerios, with everyone going down their own road, with new and even more distracting scenerios emerging.

Here is something I read in today's Globe and Mail, an interview with a local man who denied western reports that bin Laden's compound was in an affluent part of the city:

"'This is not a posh area. We call it a middling area,' another property dealer, Muhammad Anwar, said.

Asked about the American estimate, he scoffed: 'Maybe that's the assessment from a satellite. But here on the ground, that's the price.'"

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The question of whether or not to show the "death photos" of Osama bin Laden continues despite recent statements by the President of the United States, who said in an interview (to be broadcast by CBS this weekend) that "[i]t is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence."

Do I need to see these photos? No more than I needed to see video of an American "contractor's"' beheading, or what U.S. soldiers got up to at Abu Ghraib. Will seeing these photos incite me to "additional violence"? I can't be sure -- until I see them. But not likely, no. Can we be sure that these photos were not staged? No more than we can be sure that parts of bin Laden's brain were "photoshopped" out.

But these "death photos" -- are they the definitive bin Laden "death photos"? What about the photo released three days ago of the U.S. President, Vice-President, Secretary of State, etc. in their "situation room," watching what was likely a 'live' POV feed from the helmet of the first Navy Seal to reach "The Target" -- his shot between the eyes? Nothing we will ever see of a dead bin Laden will match what is going on in this photo.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Not once during the nine-and-a-half years the United States was looking for Osama bin Laden did I imagine his capture. Am I surprised he was found in a house and not a cave? No, I always felt he was in or around Islamabad. Am I surprised that it was a cell phone call that gave him away? No, though it is worth noting that his outsized hideout had neither a land line nor an internet hook-up. Am I surprised that it took this long to find him? No, like Orwell I thought his absence served a purpose, both as a motivation and a justification for U.S. domestic and foreign policy. Am I surprised that he was buried at sea? Despite the shrine that his gravesite would have invariably become, yes, I find this strange, especially for someone who was born and raised in a desert. Am I surprised by the reaction to his death? No, there are many in the U.S. capable of the kind of celebration only an execution can inspire. Do I share this response? My first response to any death is to consider what it is to be absent.

Monday, May 2, 2011

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Robins were everywhere when I was a kid, but never more than two at a time.

Every spring I would find a piece of robin's egg, which is the most beautiful blue there is.

Robins with their rusty breasts, and in the park across the street, the grass black with starlings.