10 August 2007

The Whining Stranger's Song of the Day: 10 August 2007

"What are You Wearing?" by Kahimi Karie (from the album K.K.K.K.K., 1998)
Ever bored with the current state of American pop music, I find myself looking to international recordings stars more and more these days. (Or deep into the past, or deep into the past internationally: French yeye is a favorite style of mine over the past few months.) One splendid new discovery for me has been Kahimi Karie, one of the Japanese pop stars to hail from Tokyo's Shibuya district over the past decade. Check out this tune. It's dreamlike and revolting at the same time. Kahimi's voice is pixie-ish, but the intrusive computer voice that duets with her here will creep you out. On par with Serge Gainsbourg's "Lemon Incest" for unsettling sex songs.

The Whining Stranger on Books and Reading: It's Not Too Late for Summer Reading!

It's August. As I said around this time last year, for those people, like myself, whose lives are governed by the academic calendar this is a period of looming angst and melancholy. Summer is nearly over. Soon I'll be busy in blazers and striped ties, with ink stains on my fingertips, and too many papers to grade.

But summer's not quite over yet! And in an act of Buddhist goodwill, I want to recommend five great books for end-of-summer reading. All of these are from my list of books read in 2007, and all of them left an impression that makes me want to pass them on.

1. Bel Canto by Anne Patchett

Patchett says she was inspired somewhat by Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain here. The plot is somewhat timely: terrorists take a number of VIPs hostage at a dinner party in a South American country. One of the hostages is an internationally famous opera diva, who stands at the center of the unlikely group of people assembled by the incident. I've heard some opera fans don't like the book, but I loved it. It's emotionally compelling, with great characters, and I found myself listening to the opera channel on satellite radio for weeks afterward.

2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

This book is, literally, life-changing. There is no describing Murakami's style to those who've not yet read him. It's akin to trying to capture the essence of Zen Buddhism in discursive terms. Or like Louis Armstrong said of jazz, "If you gotta ask, you'll never know." Just pick the book up and read it. It begins with curious phone calls and a husband's search for a lost cat. You won't believe where it takes you from there.

3. A Neutral Corner: Boxing Essays by A.J. Liebling

You don't need to be a fight fan to appreciate this one. Liebling's prose is among the finest in American writing, with allusions that range from the erudite to the street-level. He'll take you into a scrubby gym to watch a palooka club fighter train, and take you off on a tangent about philosophy or geography along the way.

4. The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq

I warn you now: this cat isn't for everybody. You'll ask yourself along the way, "Is he being ironic here?" as he descends into virulent fits of misogyny and racism. But then he'll unleash a lyrical passage, lamenting humanity's flaws, and you'll forgive him, if only momentarily.

5. Oh What a Paradise It Seems by John Cheever

I just read this one the other day, after picking it up in a Goodwill store on the highway. It's a short novel, but a fine example of Cheever's lush prose style. And it has the kind of happenstance connections that I like in the best of his short stories. An entertaining read that you'll not put down easily.

23 May 2007

The Whining Stranger on Politics and Current Events: Which George Has Less Credibility?

This one?

...who is suddenly claiming that he was mysteriously drugged by some unknown party back in 1974, on the night Ali knocked him out in Zaire? A revelation so shocking he had to wait thirty-three years and until the publication of his memoirs to present it to the world?

Or this one?

...who's suddenly claiming (again) that there was a tangible connection between Al-Qaeda and Iraq, and thus the gigantic military clusterfuck going on over in the Middle East was necessary and justified?

You tell me.

17 May 2007

Musings: The Whining Stranger on Men's Fashion and Seminal Sartorial Influences

Hello all, if there is indeed any kind of all left out there after my endless absence. The last time I checked statcounter.com to see if the Whining Stranger had retained any kind of readership, I was not surprised to see that this has become a virtually readerless space on the web. Up on blocks, as it were. Nevertheless, I'm back, maybe mostly for myself, to return to semi-regular musings and minutiae, now that the summer is here and my work schedule has lightened again for a while.

Today's topic: a fluff piece, I'm afraid. No philosophy or politics or literary exegesis this time around, but rather a brief meditation on men's clothing. I've been thinking about my arrival as a self-assured wearer of clothes. I have specific tastes. I am not moved so much by passing trends. (Thank Allah for that, too, as I couldn't stomach another go-around with acid wash if it ever comes back into vogue.)

So today I present for your amusement, as a subset of my ongoing Pantheon of Heroes, a list of the seminal influences on my fashion sense.

1. Spike Lee

I love Spike for daring to make it acceptable for grown men to be seen in public wearing baseball-related apparel. My Alan Trammell jersey and my 1918 model Detroit Tigers cap thank you.

2. Marcello Mastroianni

Marcello, as faithful readers know, is my model for sunglasses-shopping. The dark, chunky shades he sports throughout Otto e mezzo have influenced my purchases for over fifteen years now.
3. Bill Evans

For the spectacles, and the clean-cut timeless look. I wear horn-rimmed glasses very similar to those pictured here on days when I go bespectacled.
4. Steve Dallas

While this Bloom County character was never anything worth celebrating in terms of his personality, I was always charmed by the aloof way he held his martini glass, and the length of his ties (always extending below the belt buckle), and the way his Oxford shirts are always worn with sleeves rolled up. The first thing I do when I get to the office every morning is roll my sleeves up, the same way.

5. George Plimpton

The preppingest preppy if ever there was, dear George informed my love for corduroy and repp ties and Oxford shirts. I recall seeing a photo of George in Sports Illustrated when I was in high school, in a story about his attending both a Yankees and a Mets game on the same day. The photo showed George on his bicycle, riding to the subway station. He was wearing corduroy pants, and a wool crewneck sweater, and a tweed jacket. It was autumn in New York. I was transfixed.

And a few sartorial rules, by which I abide:
1. Men will never look good in cowboy boots.
2. Ditto tank tops.
3. Button-down collars were meant to be buttoned down.
4. The color of your belt should match that of your shoes if both are leather. (Grosgrain proves to be an exception.)
5. Loops and oversized pockets only look good on jeans if you're a carpenter and need to carry tools on the job.
6. White athletic socks were made for wearing during athletic activities.

05 February 2007

The Whining Stranger's Daily Haiku: 5 February 2007

You! Hallway whistler!
Avian interruptions!
Would that you would stop!

24 January 2007

The Whining Stranger's Daily Haiku: 24 January 2007

infinitely blue:
the sky, the trail of music
I follow them both

18 January 2007

The Whining Stranger's Daily Haiku: 18 January 2007

I live in trivi-
alities, traffic in the
mundane. Yet sometimes--

23 December 2006

Musings: 10 December 1994 - 23 December 2006

To the greatest canine companion a neurotic intellectual would-be-writer boy could ever have asked for, who traveled everywhere I went from age 21 to age 32, who lived in two provinces and one state and two countries with me, and who kept me going through dissertation-writing and book revisions and losing Tiger seasons and so many trying times, on the day of his death from old age.

I'll miss you, buddy.

A poem by Pablo Neruda, in tribute:

A Dog Has Died

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I'll join him right there,
but now he's gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I'll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I'll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he'd keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea's movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean's spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don't now and never did lie to each other.

So now he's gone and I buried him,
and that's all there is to it.

03 December 2006

Proustian Years in Review: Part 6: 1999

After re-seeing Kathryn Bigelow's film Strange Days (which takes place around New Year's Eve 1999) last night, I got to remembering what that resonant fin du siecle year had been like for me.

So, as always, let's revisit my madeleines.

For me, 1999 was:
  • tuna sandwiches on crusty rolls and strong coffee, bought from a deli every afternoon on a week-long trip to Germany I made in March.
  • the soundtrack to Bertrand Tavernier's film Round Midnight, a former favorite LP on vinyl, which I replaced in my music collection as a CD in summer.
  • Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, read in paperback over the holidays.
  • Sam Shepard's play Seduced; I played the lead role in a graduate school production in December.
  • my old Gateway 2000 laptop, which proved to be Y2K compliant.
  • Tiger Stadium, which I visited for the last time in September, with my family.

And what, may I ask, was 1999 for you?

21 November 2006

The Whining Stranger on Politics and Current Events: Oh, Christians!

Just in time for the holidays, a bunch of conservative Christians aiming to put the spectacle back in spectacular bigotry.

Read about their efforts to bombard Wal-Mart here: http://www.savewalmart.com/

And then make sure to drop them an email reminding them that the so-called Radical Homosexual Agenda they're trying to suppress was inaugurated by those notorious maverick queers, the Founding Fathers.

20 November 2006

The Whining Stranger's Song of the Day: 20 November 2006

"Lucky to Be Me" by Bill Charlap (as composed by Leonard Bernstein, from the album, Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein, 2004)

A lazy, swinging standard to commemorate a shortened Thanksgiving work week. The way Charlap comes in with bass and drums after the just-piano introduction is cause for thanks. And really, I need to say it out loud more often: "I'm so lucky to be me."

Musings: Ah, old scholar.

I realized this morning that my not infrequent grumbling about students' work ethics and yard ethics and driving ethics etc. may rehearse one of the more tired cliches of university life: The "What's wrong with these kids?" & "Back in my day" & "Now is worse than then" cross-generational divide. If I gave you the impression that I am united among my colleagues on the faculty in a constant misanthropic judging of today's youth, then I apologize. Such is not the case.

In fact, as I rediscovered at a faculty party this weekend, the professoriate has perhaps a greater ability to stir my ire than the earnest if underachieving undergrads about whom I sometimes rant.

Case in point: the tenured colleague from another department who brazenly and proudly told my partner and I that--

  1. He hates cats and would be happy to shoot them if they came into his yard. ["Um, you do live out of the radius of my cat's wanderings, right?"]
  2. He has pulled himself up from his bootstraps over the course of his career, the evidence of which is the fact that when he first moved here to [unnamed college town] he lived in a neighborhood where [sotto voce] he "was the only white person around." ["Um, it is truly inspiring how you've left those insidious black and brown folks behind."]
  3. The university needs to stop hiring so many ugly women, and when he's on a hiring committee makes sure to vote against any unattractive women candidates. ["Um, what is the number for the campus ombudsman again?"]
  4. He doesn't feel you need to be able to talk with the person you're fucking. In fact, he had a thing with a 17 year old a few years back. The pussy, he insisted, was great. ["Um, did a tenured faculty member just say "Pussy" and proudly admit to statutory rape?"]
  5. The Mexican-American fellow colleague of ours who's thinking of running for the House of Representatives in the future should borrow his white wife and children to impress voters, unless of course that would hurt the "obvious" advantage of being a minority candidate. ["Um, we are talking about the United States, right? What fucking advantage?"]


15 November 2006

Musings: "The reports of my death..."

...as Mark Twain wrote in 1897, "are greatly exaggerated."

My apologies to any readers of The Whining Stranger who've missed my daily billets absurd, my cranky meditations, my pop culture obsessions. Maybe that reader is me most of all, who's been sad to let this blog slide for sometime now. But it's been a busy semester. And after the Tigers' collapse in the Fall Classic ("Practice throwing to third base come Feburary, ye Motown pitchers!") I fell, quite frankly, into a bit of autumnal melancholy.

So, what I have missed reporting on?

Well, I published a short story last month, which was exciting. And my classes continue to go well, though we're into the grading monsoon period of the semester. I've worn innumerable pencils down circling comma splices and writing "vague topic sentence" in the margins of undergraduate term papers. Today I felt the first surge of impending Yuletide spirit when I booked my trip home for the holidays. 32 and still waking up in the old childhood bedroom on Christmas morning... Which means, yes, Mom still hasn't sold the house. But she will, I assume, at some point.

Politically, the Democrats restored some equilibrium to that mess up in Washington. And joy of joys, that bonehead rummy, by which I mean, Mr. Donald, stepped down. Shame it took 2800 American military casualities--to whose families my heart goes out, and my prayers are directed--before he was willing to admit things weren't going so shit hot. Speaking of matters political, was anyone else as digusted as I was being forced to endure that lousy Chevrolet commercial throughout the baseball playoffs, in which John Mellencamp celebrates "Our country" to a series of contradictory images: Viet Nam, Ali in the ring, Rosa Parks, Nixon saluting from the plane, MLK, Jr, Katrina, the Twin Towers... And all to sell more fucking big trucks. I wait for moresuch inspired commercial spots. Maybe "the Trail of Tears" to sell Pop Tarts; Japanese internment camps shilling for Chef Boyardee; a Swiffer sold by veterans of the Tuskegee experiments... Ah, our country indeed. And history makes for good marketing.

See, cold autumn winds, post-Series depression aside, I remain critical, and whining, and stranger.

15 October 2006

The Whining Stranger on Sport: World Series Bound!

World Series Bound!

The ball goes sailing from Magglio Ordonez's bat into the left field seats at Comerica Park and I am somewhere between ten years old and thirty-two. More than two decades I have waited, ever faithful about baseball, but cynical about so many other things. I've grown weary with age about politics, about religion, but baseball. Sweet baseball. Those heartbreaking Detroit Tigers, in whom I put so much faith and hope every April.

The World Fucking Series.


10 October 2006

Musings: Real Men Use Umbrellas

Last night, at a bar with a couple of friends to commemorate Monday Night Football with ultra-manly activities (read: drinking beer, eating pizza), one compadre began to tease me for having an umbrella with me. (It was rainy; I walked!) Apparently, he'd been listening just yesterday to two morning radio louts go on and on about the potential unmanliness of using an umbrella. (Their reasoning had something to do with not being able to work a barbecue, hold a beer and carry an umbrella all at the same time. To which I say, unironically, I've got big hands. And you know what they say about men with-- Er.)

Anyway, is this--dear Mary Poppins--the face of umbrelladom? Is this the popular image of the umbrella post-Neville Chamberlain?

Need I remind people that one of the scariest, most mysterious figures in twentieth-century American history is the so-called Umbrella Man in Dealey Plaza the day John Kennedy was killed? This is a spooky figure who carried an umbrella--and had it open as Kennedy's motorcade passed--even though it was sunny and warm that day. He's an insidious villain who may or may not have fired a poison dart from said umbrella and thereby paralyzed Kennedy so he couldn't react to the incoming hail of gunfire.

That example, noted, though, I will of course point out that not every man with an umbrella qualifies for real man status. Look at the unreal man pictured below. He's--dare I say it?--all wet, umbrella or not.