Friday, December 10, 2010

Weird Pennsylvania: Law Enforcement We Cannot Take Seriously

Some places have real news stories--I'm thinking, of course, of the riots storming the UK right now over the hike in tuition, which led to Prince Charles and Camilla's car being attacked. But Pennsylvania? Pennsylvania law enforcement cannot distinguish fact from fiction.

I have a number of personal encounters with the...flakes of local law enforcement in Pennsylvania, which I won't elaborate on here. But needless to say, I feel enthralled by any story that picks up on these themes.

About a week ago, a fire ignited in the George Washington Hotel in Washington, Penna. (a city near Pittsburgh). Emergency response teams arrived at the scene to address the fire, and in so doing discovered a blood- and gore-soaked room. Police Chief J. R. Blyth, according to The Daily Mail article linked to above, described the room as "the most grisly murder scene in his 35 years of law enforcement."

Until they discovered that it was actually a movie set from two years ago for a slasher flick starring the late 1980s heartthrob Corey Haim.

There are some things (hikes in tuition rates, drastic cuts in education funding) that are well worth spazzing about. But what led the police to assume that this was, in fact, a murder scene? Didn't they enquire into when the room had last been registered to an occupant? They spent eight hours before realizing that the blood splattered about the room was fake.

Here, we have an instance where reality becomes the fiction, and fiction, the reality. The first rule of detection--as with literary criticism--is to question your surroundings and what you see. We cannot jump to the obvious conclusions; blood does not always equal murder, just as our discoveries in the first pages of a text may prove false by the time we finish reading a book.

The entire episode is utterly surreal, but I think it's an instructive moment. Appearances can be deceiving. And...apparently, somebody is stilling preserving a shrine to the latter day work of Corey Haim.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wednesday Poetry: "ohio," by m loncar

First of all, what's with poets deciding that they're too cool for capitalization? Dear poets--you are not all e.e. cummings. And sure, it looks cool when he did it, but what's your reason?

I digress. Today's "Wednesday Poetry" offering comes from the collection 66 galaxie by m loncar, one of those lower-cased poets, and he is a graduate of Michigan's MFA program. The "narrative" of the book, if you will, is a trip across the country, and this poem--"ohio"--exemplifies what we remember from most long trips. It is not the landscapes that we remember when in transit, or necessarily the conversations, but those things that frustrate, harry, or harrow us. These are the things that make the journey drag or aggravate us to drive at 90 mph, just to get it over. These experiences include, but are certainly not limited to, spilling coffee on your lap. loncar's Ohio is a total spill, a place where the coffee is bad, a place where good things slip out of your hand and dissipate on your lap. Some might say it sounds freakishly like the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Some might say that.

(And next to DFW's "Great Ohio Desert," complete with black sand, in The Broom of the System, I find this to be a fair rendering of that state.)


besides spilling the better half, as well as the steamier half,
of mcdonald's best try at a cup of coffee on my crotch,
the ride out of ohio passed without incident

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Offspring of Bruce Campbell and Kill Bill, or, A Weekend of Bad Japanese Movies

So...I'm incredibly glad that head colds and sore throats cannot be spread over the Internet. (As Felicia Day sings in the song "Avatar" from her hit webseries The Guild, "Here in cyberspace there's no disease!") Read as: You're all safe reading this, and you won't get my weird hybrid cold/ear infection thing. But between reading some books and some napping, I turned on my Wii, navigated to the Netflix channel, and streamed a few movies--two Japanese flicks that came up under the "Foreign" category. My cat, Miss Kaylee, and I settled down for an evening of film watching.

In today's session of "Meowsterpiece Theatre," Miss Kaylee and I happily present two terribly cheesy Japanese films highly deserving of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment: constant interruption with snide remarks.

First of all, there's Man, Woman, and the Wall. The general premise is that this scruffy sleaze-bag of a guy moves into an apartment next to a strikingly beautiful woman. He listens through the wall to the different aspects of her life and eventually discovers that her boyfriend has been bugging her apartment and leading a double life: caring boyfriend but creepy stalker. Then scruffy guy who listens through the wall decides he needs to upset the boyfriend's reign of terror. This movie should perhaps be retitled "Why Mark Zuckerberg invented Stalkerbook." Because, believe it or not, Stalkerbook is far less creepy than this particularly Japanese flick (the cinematography of which appears to have been done on a rickety camera track).

Overall PitM rating: 1.5/5.

But wait--there's more! I also watched The Machine Girl, a paragon of cinematic cheesiness. Think of The Machine Girl as Kill Bill meets "The Complete Works of Bruce Campbell." Particularly Army of Darkness Bruce Campbell. There are tons of slow-mo battle sequences, replete with severed limbs that cartoonishly spray gore the consistency of cranberry juice. High school girl Ami Hyuga (that's actually Hyuga Ami, if you're putting surname and given name in the Japanese order) seeks to avenge her brother's death at the hands of a yakuza's heir. In her first attempt at storming the yakuza's headquarters, Ami loses an arm in a series of prolonged tortures; she manages to escape and stumbles into a few friendly mechanics, who build her a machine gun arm. Insert more ridiculous and gory battle sequences. Oh, and the villain kid's mother? She has a drill bra. A steel bar with giant drills for cups. Yes, it is that terrible.

Overall PitM rating: 2/5.

Save yourselves the time: Avoid these films unless you have somebody to help you make fun of them.

Friday, December 3, 2010

On (and off) the Road with Jack Kerouac

The last time I was in the Strand Bookstore, I picked up a copy of Kerouac's The Dharma Bums; I figured that, for eight bucks, I really had nothing to lose.

Until I learned a rather painful lesson: When it comes to Kerouac, it doesn't get better than On the Road.

This is not the first time I met with such displeasure when Kerouac's name was attached to a book. I felt it, too, with Grove/Atlantic's release of a lost novel co-authored by Kerouac and William Burroughs--And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.

The Dharma Bums does not come as the first time that I ran into some...frustrations with the unrefined nature of Kerouac's work. It's an inevitable hallmark of his work, evinced in his famous methodology piece "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose," in which he writes
LAG IN PROCEDURE No pause to think of proper word but the infantile pileup of scatalogical buildup words till satisfaction is gained, which will turn out to be a great appending rhythm to a thought and be in accordance with Great Law of timing.
TIMING Nothing is muddy that runs in time and to laws of time--Shakespearian stress of dramatic need to speak now in own unalterable way or forever hold tongue--no revisions (except obvious rational mistakes, such as names or calculated insertions in act of not writing but inserting).
The concept--which is wincingly at work in The Dharma Bums--is the transformation of the page from a crafted literary artifact into a textual vomitorium. For this reader, at least, there is little pleasure in the discovery of Ray Smith's arduous and repetitive run-on sentences, his arduous and repetitive recounting of prolonged conversations on Buddhist theology in the novel's first seventy pages. Sentences such as the following are commonplace in The Dharma Bums:
I felt it was Morley who had done the influencing--he had the same snide, sarcastic, extremely witty, well-formulated speech, with thousands of images, like, when Japhy and I walked in and there was a gathering of Morley's friends in there (a strange outlandish group including one Chinese and one German from Germany and several other students of some kind) Morley said "I'm bringing my air mattress, you guys can sleep on that hard cold ground if you want but I'm going to have pneumatic air besides I went and spend sixteen dollars on it in the wilderness of Oakland Army Navy stores and drove around all day wondering if with rollerskates or suction cups you can technically call yourself a vehicle" or some such to-me-incomprehensible (to everybody else) secret-meaning joke of his own, to which nobody listened much anyway, he kept talking and talking as though to himself but I liked him right away. (29)
Holy sentence, Batman. And this is coming from an avid believer in the possibilities of the sentence pushed to its extremes, but the different here is the author's sense of control. Even the Penelope episode of Ulysses, which is Molly Bloom's unpunctuated soliloquy, demonstrates a sense of authorial control, of a delicate and deft handling of words. Following his desire for spontaneous prose, though, Kerouac lets The Dharma Bums' narrator, Ray Smith, throw all the lyricism of On the Road with a ditch. Compare, for instance, the above garbled redundancy (a German from Germany? Oy....) to a moment at the beginning of Sal Paradise's venture in On the Road:
But then they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people who for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!" (5-6)
Both excerpts are long sentences, yes, but the example from On the Road--which is the earlier of the two novels--demonstrates a willingness to punctuate as well as a more careful consideration of words. Both excerpts build in the way that we might expect from such "spontaneous prose," but Sal Paradise, narrating the latter of our two quotations, has a more lyrical voice and provides us more readily with specific verbs ("shambled") and luminescent images ("fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars").

When I next feel inclined to read Kerouac, I'll bum around with Sal Paradise, who has a narrative voice that's more readable, more lyrical, and--I cannot emphasize this enough--far less frustrating.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wednesday Poetry: "Histories," by Eavan Boland

Today's poem comes from Eavan Boland's 2007 collection Domestic Violence, and the poem itself comes from the title sequence.


That was the year the news was always bad
(statistics on the radio)
the sad
truth no less so for being constantly repeated.

That was the year my mother was outside
in the shed
in her apron with the strings tied
twice behind her back and the door left wide.