Your First… Your Worst

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”
― Henri Cartier-Bresson

Half-Price Books, Dallas, Texas

Half-Price Books, Dallas, Texas

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What I learned this week, August 19, 2017

Solar eclipse of April 8, 2024

I really, really wanted to drive north next week and see the solar eclipse. Unfortunately, I can’t get off of work, so won’t witness the totality. I was bummed. But now, I feel better, because I discovered there will be another one in seven years and the path of totality will pass right over Dallas. Now I only have to survive seven more years.

Something else to live for.


Chemists Say You Should Add A Little Water To Your Whiskey. Here’s Why


12 Authors Share What it Takes to Make it as a Writer in Dallas


The front desk entrance to the Art Deco Belmont Hotel, with Smoke in the background.

10 Best Spots to Snap an Instagram in Dallas

Travelling Man – sculpture east of Downtown Dallas

People from the Seersucker Ride at Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas


7 World-Famous Landmarks That Are Hiding Something From The Public



7 Wonders of the Horror Movie World


This week’s short film:

What I learned this week, August 12, 2017

 

The Brutal Saga of One Extremely Evil Railroad Crossing


 

That’s part of what motivated Cherry and company to conduct what they call the nation’s first “empirical analysis of rail-grade crossings and single-bicycle crashes.” To them, the problem wasn’t with the cyclists. It was with the roadway design and the fact nobody knows, scientifically speaking, the best way to bike over railroad tracks.

This footage is amazing and very, very hard to watch. It is beyond my imagination that a city could put in a dedicated bike lane that includes a railroad crossing at an angle of less than 30 degrees, and then take so long to try and correct it. Imagine someone building a road that wrecks a good percentage of the cars that drove on it. It would be on the national news.

Nobody gives a damn.


 

Restaurant Workers Reveal Their Personal Food Hacks And Tips


 


 

Brian Eno Explains the Loss of Humanity in Modern Music


 

In music, as in film, we have reached a point where every element of every composition can be fully produced and automated by computers. This is a breakthrough that allows producers with little or no musical training the ability to rapidly turn out hits. It also allows talented musicians without access to expensive equipment to record their music with little more than their laptops. But the ease of digital recording technology has encouraged producers, musicians, and engineers at all levels to smooth out every rough edge and correct every mistake, even in recordings of real humans playing old-fashioned analogue instruments. After all, if you could make the drummer play in perfect time every measure, the singer hit every note on key, or the guitarist play every note perfectly, why wouldn’t you?

One answer comes in a succinct quotation from Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, which Ted Mills referenced in a recent post here on Miles Davis: “Honor Your Mistakes as a Hidden Intention.” (The advice is similar to that Davis gave to Herbie Hancock, “There are no mistakes, just chances to improvise.”) In the short clip at the top, Eno elaborates in the context of digital production, saying “the temptation of the technology is to smooth everything out.”

The man is a genius.


To avoid traffic, this guy swims to work

Munich, Germany resident Benjamin David hated sitting in traffic on his way to his job at a beer garden. So instead of hopping in a car or on a bike, he now puts on a wetsuit and jumps into the River Isar for his daily commute.

This guy is my new hero – I whine so much about riding my bike to work… and this guy swims.

Not only that, but he works in a Munich beer garden.


 

Dining in a time machine: Couple tours Dallas eateries that have made it for four decades


 

I moved to Dallas in 1981 – the restaurants I fondly remember from that time that are still open include Campisi’s, The Grape, Spaghetti Warehouse, and, especially, Snuffer’s.


 

I Ride KC


 

In this blog, the author sets out to ride every street in Kansas City. What an interesting quest. I don’t think it would be possible to ride every street in Dallas, but it would be fairly straightforward to ride all the residential streets in Richardson. Something to think about.


Paying the price for breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture

Returning to the American cultural values of the 1950s — thrift, gratitude, temperance, continence, among others — would “significantly reduce society’s pathologies,” says Penn Law School professor Amy Wax in an op-ed published Thursday on Philly.com and co-written with Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego School of Law.

 

Not all cultures are created equal’ says Penn Law professor in op-ed


 

This very interesting and needed op-ed will either create a shit-storm of argument… or, more likely, be completely ignored.

Penn Prof Faces Backlash for Saying “Not All Cultures Are Created Equal


This week’s short film….

No Country for Old Dogs

“You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.”

—- Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

I am so tired when I come home from work – it’s a struggle to do anything other than fall asleep.

So I try to do something on the way home – anything remotely useful, fun, or interesting. Today I stopped off at a tea place, Kung Fu Tea, to get some milk tea and write a bit on my netbook.

Everything worked out, except I couldn’t think of more than a few interesting words – and once my tea was gone I packed up and went home. I sat on the couch to decompress and turned on the great mind-eater… the television.

Flicking deftly and expertly through a long-learned series of channels I ended up watching the last twenty minutes of “No Country for Old Men.” I love that movie.

First, I’m a big, big fan of Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read pretty much all of his books. I put “No Country for Old Men” in the middle of the pack… but middle of the pack for McCarthy is still better than pretty much anything else in the world.

I’m even a fan of the screenplay he wrote, “The Counselor.” Everybody else hated that movie. You see, the average moviegoer saw the previews and thought they were in for a drug deal-fueled thriller. And that isn’t what it is. It’s a Cormac McCarthy movie. The plot is merely a distraction, a feint that the magician waves in front of the audience to distract the suckers from what is really going on – you have to pay attention to the long bits of boring dialog – that’s where the real story lies.

Oh, and as for “The Counselor” – it doesn’t help that it has two scenes – one violent, one sexual – that are so far over the top that ordinary moviegoers are appalled to the point that there is no way they can enjoy the film. Again, that’s McCarthy. Read his masterpiece, “Blood Meridian,” if you want over the top. I read that the proposed Russell Crowe / James Franco movie version has been shitcanned. Probably just as well – “Blood Meridian” is unfilmable… as the best books must be.

Back to “No Country for Old Men.” I’m sure a lot of moviegoers thought that film also was a drug deal-fueled thriller… even after they had seen it. It isn’t. The movie is about the Tommy Lee Jones character and his inability to soldier on in the face of overwhelming modern evil. The rest of the plot is, again, a distraction… or more accurately a colorful backdrop against and armature holding up the story of the aging sheriff – the last of his line – as it plays out.

The movie ends with the defeated and retired Tommy Lee Jones telling of his haunting dreams. To end this way – it must also start this way or the whole thing is unfair. On my television, right after one showing ended, another began. So I stayed for a few more minutes. Sure enough, the movie starts with a five minute monologue voice-over spoken by the sheriff while scenes of beautiful West Texas desolation slide across the screen.

That voice-over, ignored and forgotten by most viewers, tells the whole story… before anything actually happens.

Our old dog, Rusty, slept on the couch through all this… as he does for pretty much everything. He has to get his solid twenty-three hours a day of sleep in or he isn’t happy. Right in the middle was a commercial for Burger King. Apparently, they have decided to take all the guts of a Whopper and wrap it in a tortilla. They call it a Whopperito.

This truly is the best of all possible worlds.

I couldn’t help but look at the sleeping dog and think about how happy he would be if he could ever get his paws on a Whopperito.

It would be the best day of his life.

PS – If you really want to see the two horrific scenes from “The Counselor” – and I hesitate to do this – you can watch them… here and here. But please don’t blame me – you were forewarned.

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty Five – Running Away In Place

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty five – Running Away In Place, by Brandon French

Read it online here:

Running Away In Place

Today I felt like a modern short story from an online literary journal.

And what we have here is a very California piece of short fiction. It contains some very serious themes – sexual abuse, incest, hopeless fatal cancer, early onset Alzheimer’s, transsexuality, the sins of the fathers… and so on – but all this is tied together in a structure of movie reviewing. It’s especially California because the movies are all big hits – a New York story would include obscure foreign and experimental films.

The climax of the story is an homage to “Touch of Evil”… “So let me just say one more thing about my friend Bryce –- if you’ll be kind enough to imagine some gorgeous black and white lighting, a tinkling piano, a corrupt and bloated sheriff lying dead in murky water and Marlene Dietrich in a jet black wig” followed by a famous quote.

It’s an unfair world, but still one that pales in the light of the silver screen.

I’m a screenwriter so I know you can’t create a character who is a pretty good guy for most of the story and then you find out he raped his grandmother, or ate his dog, because people will say no way, I don’t believe it, not credible. But the truth is that people who do bad things aren’t usually walking around with wild hair, death’s head tattoos, and Charlie Manson eyes. So when you ram into their shadow, it’s like hitting the side of a mountain on your Harley, and then wandering around like your head snapped off and you can’t exactly see where it rolled.

One Groove’s Difference

“What goes around may come around, but it never ends up exactly the same place, you ever notice? Like a record on a turntable, all it takes is one groove’s difference and the universe can be on into a whole ‘nother song.”
—-Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Cover of Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon

Cover of Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon

I have always had an odd and powerful relationship with the novels of Thomas Pynchon. I have spent a good portion of my life with his work in my hands. It started with Gravity’s Rainbow – which took me twenty five years to read… and I consider it to be my favorite novel. Even though I first tried to read it in college I was not able to get through the massive tome until the advent of the internet. I had to follow along with a chapter by chapter summary and a hypertext compendium of characters and information to keep from getting lost.

Then, over the years, there was the almost equally massive V – then the short and bitter Crying of Lot 49. Time marched on to the West-Coast based Vineland and by the time Mason & Dixon arrived I was writing online and chronicled the devouring of this text as I went along.

From my old blog – The Daily Epiphany

Daily Epiphany -Friday, March 19, 1999

Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs

May 2, 1997. A little less than two years ago. That’s the exact day that
Mason & Dixon arrived from Amazon (an online journal is useful for finding useless factoids like that).

Over those two years I have, sometimes dutifully, more often sporadically, with plenty of vacations and sabbaticals, slogged through the pages. I was well known to be seen carrying that book around, it’s cover handmade by me from the red white and blue Tyvek wrapper it arrived in. “Aren’t you finished yet?” asked on many occasions.

That didn’t bother me. After all, it took me twenty five years to read Gravity’s Rainbow. In some ways, Mason & Dixon, though shorter and less complex, was even more difficult. The weird faux colonial Olde English and bizarre capitalization and punctuation added an Extra Dimension of Difficulty to the usual Pynchonian Puzzlements.

So slowly I kept at it. Week by week the irregular, oval coffee-stain on the pager-edges moved, slice by imperceptible slice, from my right hand to my left.

Tonight, I finished it.

I bent the cover back and slid the crude Tyvek cover off and dropped it into the trash. It was replaced with the original two-layer cover, preserved from the travails of two years of pawing, stored safely in a dresser drawer.

In order to make room in my bookcase for the Pynchon, I had to pull something out. So, now, it’s Infinite Jest. It’s only 1,079 pages long. Print looks a little small. I even have a bookmark for it. I bought the book used and it contains a loose snapshot of some scrubby looking guy posing by a motorcycle. I have, of course, absolutely no idea who this is. That’ll do.

The thickness and size seemed familiar so, on a whim, I pulled that Tyvek bookcover out of the basket, turned the cover around.

It fit exactly.

A few years later, I tackled Against the Day, then fell off the Pynchon wagon (for no real reason except maybe the intrusion of real life) until now.

Now, I decided to read Inherent Vice – Pynchon’s noirish dark psychedelic detective crime novel.

“Dealing with the Hippie is generally straightforward. His childlike nature will usually respond positively to drugs, sex, and/or rock and roll, although in which order these are to be deployed must depend on conditions specific to the moment.”
—- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

“It had been dark at the beach for hours, he hadn’t been smoking much and it wasn’t headlights – but before she turned away, he could swear he saw light falling on her face, the orange light just after sunset that catches a face turned to the west, watching the ocean for someone to come in on the last wave of the day, in to shore and safety.”
—- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

I had the trade sale paperback on the shelf for a long time, but I had to read it right now because, next month, they are coming out with a movie made from the story.

Oh, and not just any movie, a Paul Thomas Anderson movie.

Imagine that, Paul Thomas Anderson filming a Pynchon novel. This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Modern technology has advanced now to the point I could sit in my reading chair with the book in one hand and a tablet in the other, with web pages queued up to alphabetical and page-by-page summaries to help me with the complex plot and kaleidoscope of characters.

This is arguably his most accessible novel, if for no other reason it has a familiar setting and is woven upon a loom of an established detective genre. It is the only thing I’ve read by Pynchon that I would say is remotely filmable – though just barely.

It still has the Pynchonian style of paranoia, subtle complexity, and, especially, a huge cast of odd characters with odder names. I enjoyed the book immensely. It is, without a doubt, the kind of thing you will like if you like that kind of thing.

Now I am psyched for the film. Only a few days before the premiere. This will be the second beloved book (after Cloud Atlas) committed to celluloid (actually its digital equivalent) by a stylish director in the last two years. I loved Cloud Atlas (both the book and the film) though it predictably bombed at the box office.

I suspect a similar fate for Inherent Vice – I can’t imagine the ordinary teenage-minded moviegoer enjoying the complex interplay of humor and horror that the Pynchonian Universe produces splashed across the silver screen. But I will be there, staring up as if it were meant for me alone.

“You need to find true love, Doc.”
Actually, he thought, I’ll settle for finding my way through this. His fingers, with a mind of their own, began to creep toward the plastic hedge. Maybe if he searched through it long enough, late enough into the night, he’d find something that might help — some tiny forgotten scrap of his life he didn’t even know was missing, something that would make all the difference now.”
—- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Looking at the IMDB page – it sure looks weird, seeing all those big time (and not so much) stars arranged against those wonderfully outlandish Thomas Pynchon character names.

Reese Witherspoon … Penny
Jena Malone … Hope Harlingen
Joaquin Phoenix … Doc Sportello
Josh Brolin … Bigfoot Bjornsen
Sasha Pieterse … Japonica Fenway
Owen Wilson … Coy Harlingen
Benicio Del Toro … Sauncho Smilax
Michael K. Williams … Tariq Khalil
Eric Roberts … Mickey Wolfmann
Maya Rudolph … Petunia Leeway
Martin Short … Dr. Blatnoyd
Sam Jaeger … Agent Flatweed
Katherine Waterston … Shasta Fay Hepworth
Martin Donovan … Crocker Fenway
Timothy Simons … Agent Borderline
Yvette Yates … Luz
Serena Scott Thomas … Sloane Wolfmann
Keith Jardine … Puck Beaverton
Elaine Tan … Xandra
Madison Leisle … Goldfang
Steven Wiig … Portola Barkeep
Jeannie Berlin … Aunt Reet
Christopher Allen Nelson … Glenn Charlock
Hong Chau … Jade
Jefferson Mays … Dr. Threeply
Peter McRobbie … Adrian Prussia
Samantha Lemole … Gold Fang Mom
Toyia Brown … Harmony
Diana Elizabeth Torres … Lourdes
Sophia Markov … Amethyst Harlingen
Andrew Simpson … Riggs Warbling
Victoria Markov … Amethyst Harlingen
Martin Dew … Dr. Tubeside
Michael Cotter … Rhus Farthington
Taylor Bonin … Ensenada Slim
Laura Kranz … Chryskylodon Patient

“Later they went outside, where a light rain was blowing in, mixed with salt spray feathering off the surf. Shasta wandered slowly down to the beach and through the wet sand, her nape in a curve she had learned, from times when back-turning came into it, the charm of. Doc followed the prints of her bare feet already collapsing into rain and shadow, as if in a fool’s attempt to find his way back into a past that despite them both had gone on into the future it did. The surf, only now and then visible, was hammering at his spirit, knocking things loose, some to fall into the dark and be lost forever, some to edge into the fitful light of his attention whether he wanted to see them or not.”
—-Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Mole Temptress

The Bourbon Barrel Temptress, on a Bourbon Barrel

The Bourbon Barrel Temptress, on a Bourbon Barrel

As I have said before, there is a local beer, a milk stout, made by Lakewood Brewing company called The Temptress. I think this is one of the best things in the world – not the best beer, best things.

The other week, at the Cobra Brewing Company event, I ran into a guy out in the yard wearing a Lakewood shirt. He worked at Lakewood Brewing. He was one of those people (at least on this day) that acted like he knew everything. The thing is, though, nobody knows everything… but he did know an awful lot.

So I stood there for a long time and pumped him for all the knowledge I could. Types of beer, good and bad local brews, the future of the local breweries, small business philosophies and how to grow, sour beers (the hottest, coolest, newest thing – awful, terrible, spoiled swill in my opinion) and on and on.

We talked about how difficult The Temptress is to make. Then he said that for this holiday season, Cinco de Mayo, they were making a seasonal special edition Temptress – the Mole Tempress.

I have mixed feelings about these special variations. Some are really good – the Bourbon Barrel Temptress is fantastic. Some are not so great – the Raspberry Temptress was too Raspberry-y. The thing is, how do you improve on perfection?

But Mole Tempress? That sounded interesting.

For those of you not from these here parts (or parts south of here) Mole is a complex, Mexican sauce made with hot chili peppers and a myriad of other spices. It is ground, reconstituted, and cooked into a thick paste that screams with flavor. It is good stuff.

This isn’t something that you would immediately associate with as a beer ingredient. But local craft beer can afford to experiment. That’s the whole idea.

Meanwhile, fast forward to now – this is the rare slice of pleasant weather time here in North Texas – the wonderful few days between the cold, wet winter and the killer summer heat. Bike riding time.

There was a terrible accident on Highway 75 – a semi tractor trailer burst into flames beneath a crossing turnpike. The entire highway was shut down. My cow-orkers were caught in the ensuing backup – some sitting stuck on frontage roads for hours. I saw the news on the early morning Television – but it didn’t affect my bike ride to work in the least.

As the workday wound down I somehow remembered a Tweet I had received from Lakewood Brewery that the Mole Temptress had been released. At about the same time I received another from the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema that they had a keg of said brew on tap.

I had never ridden my bike from my work to the Alamo Drafthouse. I sat down with Google Maps and figured out a route, winding across a busy freeway and through a few varied neighborhoods. It wasn’t very far. A single beer on the way home would be a good way to mark a Friday after work (we are broker than broke right now – it’s all the entertainment I can afford).

So off I rode in the beautiful weather of the early afternoon. I had to wind around a bit – one problem with Google Maps route-finding is that it is hard to tell in a mixed residential/apartment/commercial/retail area if you can ride from one parking lot to the next or if there is a big wall there, invisible to the overhead view. Still, it took less time than I thought.

The theater was abuzz – The Amazing Spiderman 2 was premiering and there were costumed heroes, throngs of loud kids, and a big velcro jumping-thing. But they did have my Mole Temptress on tap.

It was good, very good. A complex, spicy mix – the hot pepper and chocolate flavors came through just right. I don’t think it was as good as the regular Temptress – but few things are. Maybe nothing is.

Still, a change of pace, a hot spicy cold drink, on a nice late afternoon, on an outside patio next to a gaggle of bikes… there are worse things.

A terrible Blackberry photo of my folding Xootr Swift parked next to a Yuba cargo bike (set up to carry a whole family) outside the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Two different philosophies on urban bicycling.

A terrible Blackberry photo of my folding Xootr Swift parked next to a Yuba cargo bike (set up to carry a whole family) outside the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Two different philosophies on urban bicycling.