The Bottom Is Out Of the Universe

“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.”
Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Poems of Rudyard Kipling

My Xootr Swift folding bike in the repair stand from Aldi – getting ready for a fresh pair of tires.

 

I am not a professional bike mechanic. If I was, I would need a professional bike mechanic’s repair stand. I would have someone’s bike in said stand all day, every day. What I am is a person that has to fix his bikes because he can’t afford to hand them off to a professional mechanic every time something goes wrong… which is often, if not every day.

Still, I have always wanted to have a bike repair stand. There have been too many scratched handlebars while I tried working on derailleurs with the bike upside-down on the driveway. Too many hours sitting on the ground or a stool, bent over, trying to wrench something that doesn’t want to be wrenched. I usually end up wrenching my back.

Once, when we lived somewhere with extra garage space I built a repair stand out of 2x4s and large Home Depot bolts and screws. It wasn’t much of an improvement. A professional work stand can run up to 300 bucks… I paid less than that for two of my bicycles together (maybe that’s why I have so much repair work to do).

At the end of our block is an Aldi grocery store – and it has been something very nice. I remember when it was first rumored to go in (I don’t remember what was there – some third-rate fast food place… I think) the folks on the neighborhood mailing list went nuts. “Some tiny European grocery store.” “All their own brands.” “You have to pay a quarter for a cart.” “Bag your own groceries.”

All of it was untrue (well, except for the “bag your own groceries”) – the place is our go-to for consumables. If they have something – you should buy it there. It has actually been expanded once, though it doesn’t seem any bigger. I ride my bike there – it is uphill (a bit) from where we live, so I can buy milk, water, anything heavy, and coast home. I have a pair of grocery panniers for my commuter/cargo bike (a converted Giant mountain bike I bought on Craigslist for 90 bucks) and it’s always a game to see how much I can pack in.

The only thing I don’t buy on my bike is eggs – there’s a set of traffic bumps on the way back and I seem to break them some eggs often, even though my bike has a front shock.

One odd thing about Aldi is that, small as it is, it has this one aisle with completely random shit in it. I call it the “random shit” aisle. You never know what is going to show up there – but if it is something you need, it’s probably going to be cheap. I rarely buy much from that aisle, but I always walk down it… which I guess is the point.

One day there was a dry erase board there for… like six bucks or something. I had been wanting one and been looking at them for twenty dollars at other places. I didn’t know if it would fit in my pannier, but I decided to go for it. It did fit, diagonally and barely, but I rode off. As I crossed the parking lot, some guy yelled at me, “Hey! Is that a Beto sign?”

That brings us to a few weeks ago. I was getting ready for a week-long business trip to Boston when my Facebook started blowing up. I belong to a number of “Bike-Friendly” groups and they were all posting about the weekly Aldi ad having a bike repair stand for twenty-five bucks. These had come through about a year ago and I didn’t jump quick enough – they were sold out in a day or so. And now they were back. But I would be out of town.

So I made arrangements for Candy to stop by the Aldi on Tuesday and get a repair stand if they had one. I received a text in Massachusetts that she had been successful.

I was really curious about the quality of the thing. How useful could it be for twenty five dollars?

It’s surprisingly good. Not professional quality – but it’s got a big base, very stable, very tall, and a usable clamp to hold your bike. It isn’t something to use every day, but for the shadetree bike mechanic – it’s just good enough.

My only complaint was the rubber jaws on the bike clamp fall off – but some glue fixed that. Now, I have a crazy idea…. I’ve wanted a serious camera tripod for long exposure shots. The stand is rock-solid and I think I’m going to try and build a camera mount on a cross-pipe so this bad boy can do double duty.

 

 

 

 

 

Never Cursed

Welsh rarebit with a poached egg on top. Bacon. Scones, butter, cream, jam. A pot of Lapsang souchong tea…. And some sausages.

—- Reynolds Woodcock, Phantom Thread

 

 

One of the ideas that I had when we decided to Cut the Cord (eliminate cable television) is to rent movies from the library. Free and easy. Our library has a huge selection of DVDs – movies on the ground floor and instructional/educational on the third. I see people, especially families with children, checking out monstrous piles of DVDs – I don’t know how they can watch that many in the seven day allotted period. I used to check out movies, but haven’t in a decade or so.

I can’t believe that I hadn’t seen Phantom Thread yet – a variety of reasons, mostly related to sloth in its various forms. It’s been a year. But as I was at the library on the last day of 2018, returning a stack of books, I looked along the long rows of DVD offerings (shocked at how many I had already seen) until I chose Phantom Thread. It’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film and Daniel Day-Lewis’ last. It was in the running for a number of Oscars – and I don’t give a shit.

I’m a big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. His work is a gift to the world.

Phantom Thread was reviewed better than his last full film, Inherent Vice. However, I loved Inherent Vice – of course, if you didn’t like it, or you think it was a piece of crap… I won’t argue with you. Paul Thomas Anderson does not know who I am – I have never met him and never will, but somehow he made a film, Inherent Vice, for me individually. If he scanned my dusty noggin and extracted whatever is in there and then made a movie that would resonate… it would be Inherent Vice. Well, actually it would be Gravity’s Rainbow, but it’s impossible to put that on celluloid or nitrate or bits-n-bytes. Inherent Vice is as close as you can get in the real world.

So, I pulled out the DVD player, blew off the thick layer of dust and plopped the library disc in. It took some playing with the various remotes but I managed to get it to play in surprisingly good quality.  Excellent film – really needs to be seen twice because, like all truly good films, the first time through you sit there going “What the fuck is this?” Once you realize it’s a twisted rom-com you can enjoy the belly laughs.

I’ll let you enjoy the humor of a persnickety and slightly effeminate dress designer of a main character with mommy issues and surrounded by women (customers, seamstresses, and his sister) lugging the name Reynolds Woodcock around London. Chekhov’s gun makes an early appearance in a book about mushrooms. And the surface beauty masks the perverse melodrama simmering underneath.

So now – a trip back to the library and the return chute and another walk along the DVD aisle. I can’t plan ahead because the films churn quite a bit. Old-School baby!

 

The Room

“Stupid people don’t always know that they’re stupid. They might be aware that something is wrong, they might notice that things don’t usually turn out the way they imagined, but very few of them think it’s because of them. That they’re the root of their own problems, so to speak. And that sort of thing can be very difficult to explain.”
― Jonas Karlsson, The Room

Oblique Strategy: Get your neck massaged

Here’s some origami I did. I’m working on a story and I decided to origami my draft. The design is called, “This is a bunch of crap.”

Three down, ninety-seven to go.

A few days ago, while working on my goals for 2018 I decided to set a goal of reading a hundred books in the year. Thinking about it, I decided the only way to pull this off was to read short books. I made a list of 66 short novels and wrote about it. Thinking more about it, I was excited enough to jump the gun and start the 100 books immediately. The first one I read was Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The second was Zastrozzi, by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

I picked The Room by Jonas Karlsson by walking down the fiction aisle in the Library and looking for a thin book. There were two by the same author, the other was called The Invoice. I chose The Room because is was slightly smaller.

The book is a Kafkaesque tale, or at least it starts that way, of a worker bee in an antiseptic office (his boss keeps trying to get him to wear shoe covers to keep from tracking dirt) that discovers a secret room behind a door down the hall, between the lift and the toilets. He discovers that going there relaxes him and enables him to get through the day with a little less stress.

One thing about this room reminded me of one of my favorite tomes, House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. In House of Leaves, Will Navidson discovers his house is a few inches larger on the inside than it is on the outside. In The Room, Bjorn measures the hallway with leftover Christmas fairy lights and discovers there is no space for his room. He chalks it up to a trick of architecture.

The book starts out lighthearted but takes a darker turn as Bjorn’s officemates decide they don’t like him hanging out in his own special room. The book, told in the first person, like We Have Always Lived in the Castle, sports an unreliable narrator… an extremely unreliable narrator. The central question is “Is he nuts?” and there isn’t much doubt about the answer.

One question in my mind was who does Bjorn work for anyway? It is called The Authority and seems to be a quasi-government agency. It seems Orwellian as they take reports from investigators and process them in various ways. At any rate, their actual work seems to be easy enough – a lot of paper-pushing.

I enjoyed the book enough to think about reading The Invoice later. The author, Johas Karlsson is a popular Swedish Actor. A real Renaissance man.

Die of a Sort of Creeping Common Sense

“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Sculpture, Tree welded from cable, DCCCD Bill J. Priest Institute for Economic Development, Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Honor thy error as a hidden intention

After a long day of not getting much done I found myself bereft of ideas. My computer has thousands of text files that I have typed up to remember things, going back twenty years, and I decided to peruse them and see if I could find something useful.

I came across this quote about a Chekhov short story by one of my favorite writers, Tobias Wolff:

There’s a wonderful story of his about a soldier who’s returning from Manchuria, dying on a troop ship, but too ignorant to realize he’s dying. He was a brute, and that comes through, but he also has a very tender side. So he dies, in this state of longing and unredeemed ignorance, and most stories would end there. But Chekhov has the burial at sea, and then he follows the body, the weighted body going down and down and down. And a shark comes up, and nudges it, and swims away. And then he moves the vision back up to the sea and the sky where just at that moment the sun is breaking through the clouds and he talks about the light dancing on the water — and I’m trying to get this right — with a sort of joy for which there is no word in the language of men. So you get this tragic thing, this man dying in complete ignorance, a man with all the goodness in his heart that was never realized, so you have that incredible focus on the individual. And then suddenly he opens it up so we can see where we fit into this and how small it is. It doesn’t diminish your feeling for the character, but it gives you a sense of the finitude of our duration here and our problems. He’s an amazing writer. I love Chekhov. I could go on all day about him.

What an amazing story review. I, too, love Chekhov, but I doubt that the story will be as good as this review.

I don’t know, maybe it’s better. A quick Google search and I found the name of the story is Gusev.

It’s readily available online. Here’s one translation:

Gusev by Anton Chekhov, translated by Constance Garnett

I’m going off to read it now – I suggest you do likewise.

Beer and Batuman

“I found myself remembering the day in kindergarten when the teachers showed us Dumbo, and I realized for the first time that all the kids in the class, even the bullies, rooted for Dumbo, against Dumbo’s tormentors. Invariably they laughed and cheered, both when Dumbo succeeded and when bad things happened to his enemies. But they’re you, I thought to myself. How did they not know? They didn’t know. It was astounding, an astounding truth. Everyone thought they were Dumbo.”
― Elif Batuman, The Idiot

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman

Oblique Strategy: You are an engineer

In my struggle to live life outwardly, I spotted an event on Facebook that looked interesting. There was going to be a Book Club discussion at The Wild Detectives in Bishop Arts. I love that place – named after a Roberto Bolaño novel – it has a carefully curated collection of books, coffee and beer. What else do you need? On the weekends, they turn the wifi off – so people will be forced to talk to each other.

What could be better than to meet in a place like that and talk about a book?

The selected tome was The Idiot by Elif Batuman. The book is a bildungsroman about a ninteen-year-old woman attending her first year at Harvard.

I only had a little over a week before the meeting so I set up a spreadsheet with the number of pages per day I had to read. I have a terrible confession to make. I had a nice heavy hardback copy and the Kindle version. I never picked up the physical book. The new Paperwhite is simply too good.

I’m sorry.

The book was very interesting. Terribly well-written, it was unique in that the protagonist, Selin, was the most passive main character I have ever read in a novel. She drifts along, only slightly buffeted by life. Reading about her, I had the image of a person sliding down a featureless sheet of ice, silently observing the scenery go by (in very great and subtle detail).

So my feelings on the novel were mixed. It was interesting in that this woman’s life in her freshman year was incredibly different than mine (in a bildungsroman you can’t help but compare the protagonists experiences to your own) – for example: sex, drugs, and rock and roll make no significant appearance in her life at all.

One interesting aspect of the novel is that it takes place at the very beginning of the internet age: Selin is confused at first by this email thing – until she embraces it and has the most significant relationship with a slow email conversation with someone she met in Russian class.

The Wild Detectives is way across town from my ‘hood and I fought through the traffic after work, arriving early enough for a preliminary beer (Texas Ale Project‘s Fire Ant Funeral – if you are interested).

I really enjoyed the discussion. We started talking about the cover (I never even noticed there was a rock on the cover). Talking about the email, someone brought up that it was like letter writing in the time of classic Russian Novels (like Dostoevsky’s own version of The Idiot) people would write letters to each other, the distance and time separating the two adding a surreal aspect to a relationship.

A very nice way to wile away an evening.

The next novel we will discuss is The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet. I bought a hardback copy at the bookstore – I’ll avoid temptation and not buy the Kindle version. We won’t meet until January, so I won’t need a spreadsheet to egg on the pages.

One Star Amazon Reviews of Cloud Atlas

One of the soul’s great tragedies is to execute a work and then realize, once it’s finished, that it’s not any good. The tragedy is especially great when one realizes that the work is the best he could have done. But to write a work, knowing beforehand that it’s bound to be flawed and imperfect; to see while writing it that it’s flawed and imperfect – this is the height of spiritual torture and humiliation. Not only am I dissatisfied with the poems I write now; I also know that I’ll be dissatisfied with the poems I write in the future.

All we can be certain of when we write is that we write badly; the only great and perfect works are the ones we never dream of realizing.
—-Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

Falling Water Fountain, Dallas Arboretum

I read somewhere where someone had listed a bunch of one-star Amazon reviews of one of their favorite books. Interesting. “Cloud Atlas” is one of my favorites… one that comes to mind. I loved it and was enthralled. However, I can imagine it isn’t for everyone.

And I am right.

Avoid it if you value your time
Cloud Atlas is one of those book you just drag yourself through page after page waiting for them to get interesting only it never does. It just drags and and drags and drags. It has these stories that never really come to a conclusion and are totally unrelated which are tied together by a flimsy piece of twine ready to snap at the first breeze.

I had to “slog” through it…
I read a lot of fiction, and this is the worst book I’ve read in a long time. The plot (was there one?) was impossible for me to follow. The book did not ” flow” either. I really did not like this book and only finished reading it to see if it would “take off”, which it never did.

Could not get past the first 200 pages
I have previously read two Mitchell books and liked them both, to a degree, but this one just bored me to tears in its first 200 pages. Maybe the stories conclude in the second half, but who cares? There is not one character in the first four stories that even remotely interests me. And the minutia of dialog and detail is downright tedious. Life is too short to waste hours on a book that just doesn’t make any sense for hundreds of pages. Sorry, but awards aside, this one really is a gimmick in search of a plot.

Not worth the read
While I did enjoy the overall arch of the story and how all of the characters interacted with each other, portions of this story dragged on a bit. I kept reading under the general impression that it would get better, but it did not.

Very tough to read, even harder to like
The story, which is not very interesting, is written in the first person. This means the dialogue is not easy to follow. But, this is probably good because the language changes with the time period of the main character. The 18th century language at least made sense, but when the story moves into the apocalyptic future and the author presents future dialects the language becomes nonsense.

The world is dying, but we never find out why. The big revelation is that some people will treat other people badly if it makes their life easier. Still this could have been interesting if there was a single character I could identify with. For me this story is a lot like The Road, a grim tribulation for the reader.

waste of time
So…I bought this book because I hated the movie so much. But they made a movie out of it, after all, so I figured there must be something to it that just didn’t translate well into film.

Well, I was wrong. I knew in the first 90 seconds into this book that it was unreadable. Still, I soldiered ahead, thinking maybe it was just one of those books that takes a while to get into. Nope. I’m still angry that I wasted an entire night trying to slog through this mess. Thank goodness it was only one night of psychological torture.

Loved it….at first
I was very excited to get Cloud Atlas for my Kindle. Dived right in and loved the first third of the book. Extraordinary writing; Mitchell was weaving a spellbinding tale. Then I hit “the wall” with the chapter on Sonmi. The book turned toward preachiness and difficult-to-follow language and structure. I saw where it was going so I slogged through the chapter hoping for better. The next chapter was worse, mega-preachy and really hard to follow. It was like Mitchell put down a challenge to readers to get through it, and while he was at it bludgeoned us with stuff that made me feel like I was sitting through a basic, and boring, philosophy class. I skimmed that chapter, then gave up. Made it about halfway through, but by that time I didn’t care how it ended. Sorry Mr. Mitchell.

Waste of TimeI have read a few really bad books in my day and this one is one of the worst. The author writes like Herman Melville with a very bad case of ADD. I knew about the multiple stories and the time periods covered prior to starting the book and I expected it to be a difficult just because of this ambitious goal. What I did not expect was the multiple thoughts and vectors the author would take in the same paragraph throughout the book. It was extremely difficult to follow mainly because the book is written so poorly. It wasn’t a bad story and it seems that the author had great intentions with the story line, but the writing style is so bad that it completely detracts from the story and makes the book impossible to enjoy. There is a lot of detail and a great deal of description, but in far too many paragraphs throughout the book, the author goes from one thought to another, one time period to another, one character to another and these numerous vectors within the same paragraph are extremely hard to follow. Especially when the author makes no attempt to tie his thoughts together in the ensuing paragraphs.

One of the Worst Recommendations I’ve Received
I almost put this book down I was so frustrated with it. The only thing it has going for it is that the author successfully writes in six different styles, all accurate to the time period the stories are set in. However, I feel that it is poorly written and poorly executed. The idea of splitting the six stories in half and having them “fold in on each other” sounded clever when it was explained to me, but reading it was a different matter entirely. Since the stories were split up I lost interest in the characters and had a hard time remembering who was who when I got back to the second half of the stories. Many of the characters are stupid or unsympathetic. Also, the whole idea of reincarnation, which is supposed to drive this book, really fails in the stories. The Warner Brothers site claims that the book/movie “explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future.” But, the characters do not impact the lives of their future reincarnations at all. They learn absolutely nothing from their past experiences. Also, at one point near the end of the novel the author flat out explains his title to the reader, even though it was already abundantly obvious (to anyone with a brain) why he named it Cloud Atlas. If you have to explain the title of the novel within the novel you have failed. If you have to outright ask your reader whether your title is “revolutionary or gimmicky” the answer is already pretty obvious.

It’s too late to get a refund
It makes no sense, it’s impossible to follow, the stories aren’t interesting enough to keep reading. And now I’ve let too much time pass and I can’t get my money back. I’m only 8% into the book and can’t even imagine continuing and I read all of the Game of Thrones books! And I hated them, too, but at least there was a story.
Oh well – I fell for the Tom Hanks/Halle Berry movie trailer – at least I won’t waste my money on the movie. Sheesh – Penny Marshall and Cloud Atlas at the same time. I must be losing my mind……….

Clous Atlas
What a piece of crap. I read relentlessly and this is the most unreadable piece of drivel I have run across in a long while. It makes “Atlas Shrugged” seem like “Fun with Dick and Jane”. DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK. DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

Cruise the Boulevards Of Regret

“You can only cruise the boulevards of regret so far, and then you’ve got to get back up onto the freeway again.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Cover of Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon

Cover of Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon

So, last September I read Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon because… well, because it is Thomas Pynchon – but more specifically because I had read that Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, The Master) was making a film based on the book and I wanted to experience the text first.

Pynchon has occupied a great many of my thoughts and a large part of my time ever since I first picked up a paperback copy of Gravity’s Rainbow at the KU Bookstore in 1976 or so (I was not able to finish it for a quarter century – not until a summary, an online page by page annotation, and wiki helped me keep the characters straight). I have read most of the rest of his oeuvre (still have an unopened copy of Bleeding Edge on my bookshelf) and am most assuredly a fan.

Up until I read Inherent Vice I considered Pynchon’s fiction to be unfilmable. After reading it, I agreed with PTA in that Inherent Vice was only almost unfilmable. He had tried to adapt Vineland into a movie, but realized that was impossible.

Because of business and inattention to the Internet, I missed the Dallas showings of the film in December, but finally a wider release was in the offing. My son and his friends saw it over the initial weekend, but I wasn’t able to fit the time in so I decided to go after work.

On Monday I logged into the Alamo Drafthouse website (it’s only a stone’s throw from my house and my work) and bought a ticket for that evening. I was tired and it was bitter cold and I knew that if I didn’t buy it ahead of time I would wimp out after work and go home and sleep.

The Alamo Drafthouse is such a nice experience. You get a reserved seat, craft beer (Temptress Baby!) and the food isn’t bad at all. I ordered a hamburger – a Royale With Cheese, of course. Alamo’s policy of no talking and no cellphones is certainly a welcome perk.

So… how was the film.

If you are a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson you will be disappointed. This isn’t a PTA movie; it is a Pynchon movie. PTA’s movies can be weird (Frogs!?) but this one is WEIRD. What makes it crazy making if you don’t know what to expect is that he sets the stage with so many familiar tropes and then abandons them without a moment’s hesitation or regret. From the trailer you might think that it is a detective story – about a search for a missing billionaire and the detective’s old girlfriend – hoary old familiar plot devices -, but from the book I knew that this is a feint – that nothing is going to be explained, nothing is going to make sense, and the mystery will fade away rather than be resolved. What the hell exactly is The Golden Fang anyways?

You might also think that this is going to be a druggie comedy in the style of The Big Lebowski. There are elements of that – but the comedy is overshadowed by Pynchon’s signature paranoia and despair.
But, that said – I thought it was great. It is the kind of thing you will like if you like that kind of thing.

Despite the ending being changed and large sections of the novel excised (you have to do this to get a tolerable running time) it is amazingly faithful to the book – for good and bad.
What was crazy for me is the way the characters speak. I have been reading Pynchon for so long I am very familiar with the unique language a Pynchonian character uses – his cadence, style, and subject matter. I have been reading these letters on the page and hearing them in my head for decades.

Now, to hear these words coming out of another human being’s mouth was astounding. I could only shake my head at this ephemeral world of imagination now come to life on the silver screen.