Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances


Saturday, January 11, 2003

My wife and I are having an underpants war.

She has this tidiness compulsion that drives her to fold all my boxer shorts and stack them neatly in my dresser. She forced me to quit putting away our clean laundry because she couldn’t stand knowing I jammed handfuls of boxer shorts into a drawer without folding them.

This ate at her in secret for a long time, apparently. I was pretty much the Laundry Man at our house from the day we married (she cooked, I did the laundry -- it was a feminist bargain) until a couple of years ago, when she began stripping me of my putting-away duties. First, she made me stop putting her clothes away because I failed to fold most of them. Then she made me stop putting mine away.

Now, I don’t want to give you the impression I’m a slob. I’m the guy who can’t write a word unless he clears every scrap of paper off his desk, collects extra pens in a small cup and moves books he’s not using to a wall shelf.

It seems to me, however, that worrying about underpants being folded when they are hidden away in a drawer is goofy. I mean, who is going to look in that drawer to judge if it’s tidy or not? And if I look in there, it’s to grab something to wear; I’m not going to be distracted from making the best choice by visual pollution.

Besides, what good does folding do? Underpants are worn wrinkled. Nobody irons underpants to take wrinkles out. Nobody (well, almost nobody) sees if they are wrinkled or not, because they are -- by definition -- underwear. They are covered up by jeans, cords, suit pants, whatever.

The idea, as far as I’m concerned, is to get my boxer shorts quickly from the dryer to the dresser so I can grab them when I jump out of the shower and into my clothes fifteen minutes before I’m due at the movie theater or the doctor’s office. Access is important. Neatness is not.

Cookie Jean doesn’t buy this idea. She wants EVERYTHING folded and put away neatly. She can’t sleep at night if she knows wadded-up underpants are lurking in my dresser. (Well, the dresser IS on her side of the bed.) So my laundry operation has been shortstopped at the delivery stage. I wash and dry clothes, then carry them to the bedroom in wire baskets. I am not, however, allowed to remove laundry from the baskets and store it. Cookie Jean retains this privilege for herself.

This was mildly demeaning from the start. I mean, what am I, so lame I can’t even be trusted to stick a tee-shirt in drawer? Before I was stripped of my putting-away privileges, I never consciously harmed any clothing that was vulnerable to wrinkles. If a garment, say a shirt or a skirt, appeared wrinkle-prone, I placed it on a hanger and put it in a closet. It was clothes like jeans, sweatshirts, tee-shirts and UNDERPANTS that I jammed into drawers unfolded. Still, I came to terms with my demotion until a major flaw in Cookie Jean’s own system cropped up.

Because she isn’t dazzled by the thrill of folding laundry, despite claiming to see it as a necessity, she undertakes the task infrequently. This creates a big bottleneck of clean but unfolded laundry piled in wire baskets strewn about our bedroom. Not only is this aesthetically displeasing -- hey, if the stuff was wadded in a drawer, at least we’d only have to look at it when we open a dresser; we wouldn’t have to climb over it in the dark, either -- but it gums up my dressing routine. As I said, it goes like this: shower, leap into clothes, race out the door toward the basketball game due to start in 15 minutes. If I yank open my dresser and the underpants drawer is EMPTY, it’s a disaster. Who has time to dig through three or four wire baskets looking for a pair of boxer shorts?

With this in mind, I occasionally violate Cookie Jean’s prime underpants directive by sneaking unfolded boxers into my dresser. When she discovers this, she hauls them out and throws them back into a basket until she gets around to folding. So I sneak the boxers from the basket again and replace them in the dresser.

This conflict has been escalating. Cookie Jean doesn’t appreciate it when I violate her directive, so she has taken to HIDING boxers she discovers unfolded in my dresser. A couple of days ago, I was late (as per usual) for an appointment. I jumped out of the shower, ran to the dresser and discovered all my boxers missing. No one else was home, so I couldn’t even yell at anybody. I dug around in the dresser until I unearthed an ancient pair of jockey shorts with shredded elastic and a dime-sized hole in the butt. That’s what I wore to my appointment.

When I came home, I searched the bedroom until I found all my boxers rolled in a ball and hidden beneath one hundred and forty-seven other pieces of clothing at the base of a three-tier pyramid of wire baskets. I went to Cookie Jean’s dresser, removed all of her underpants, rolled them in a ball and stuffed them into the same basket under my boxers.

This is war, and I do not intend to lose.

Friday, January 10, 2003

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
Groucho Marx (1890 - 1977)

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Time to look ahead and see what news the year 2003 will bring. Peoria Dave predicts:

President Bush will announce that he does not intend to seek re-election in 2004, but instead will leave the White House to become national director of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Sen. Trent Lott will announce he is a candidate to succeed President Bush on the Dixiecrat ticket.

Jesse Jackson will volunteer to run as Sen. Lott’s vice-presidential candidate.

Jack Nicholson will win the Oscar for best actor, but will skip the awards ceremony to attend an LA Lakers game with Adam Sandler.

Britney Spears will announce she has had her hymen surgically restored, so she is once again a virgin.

Cher will ask Britney for her doctor’s name and phone number. So will Michael Jackson.

The Yankees will win the World Series, having bought it with free agent money over the winter, and every decent human being outside New York City will suffer clinical depression.

ABC Television will unveil a new reality series, “Endless Sleep.” Each week, six contestants will be filmed sleeping for eight hours. The films will be shown uncut Monday through Saturday, beginning at 8 p.m. On Sunday, viewers will call in to vote for the most interesting sleeper. The winning contestant receives an all-expenses-paid, year-long vacation in Pocatello, Idaho.

Russell Crowe will beat up an insurance salesman from Escondido in a Beverly Hills bar.

Texas Tech will win the national collegiate basketball championship, prompting Indiana University to apologize to Bob Knight and offer to rehire him as coach of the Hoosiers.

Knight will reject the Indiana offer, moving instead to New York City as coach of the professional Knicks, but his tenure will end abruptly when he is arrested for clubbing Latrell Sprewell to death with a clipboard during a preseason practice.

A playwright from Sri Lanka will win the Nobel Prize for literature, prompting disappointed Norman Mailer to say: “Sri Lanka? Isn’t that some kind of faggoty decaf you buy at Starbuck’s?”

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski will throw out his back bowling, reducing him to playing the slots at Indian casinos to demonstrate his regular-guyness.

Rich Brooks will lose more games than he wins as football coach at the University of Kentucky, triggering a wave of nostalgia in Eugene.

Oregon State University’s football team will have more players arrested than graduated (again).

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck will marry, but the union will last only 23 minutes and 17 seconds.

After ditching Affleck, J-Lo will run off with French actor Jean Reno, terming him “the sexiest man alive.”

Billy Bob Thornton will file suit against J-Lo for $5 million, claiming Angelina Jolie bestowed upon him exclusive rights to the title “the sexiest man alive” in 2001.

The Portland Oregonian will win a Pulitzer Prize for a nineteen-part series of stories documenting the importance of banana slugs to the Northwest economy.

Corporate stocks will lurch back and forth between Bear and Bull markets, stirring mass confusion among Chicago sports fans.

Ann Heche will abandon her husband and baby to pursue a love affair with Rosie O’Donnell.

Weight Watchers International will once again be snowed under by a post-Christmas rush of fatties desperate to make amends for holiday sins.

Doctors will announce that research has determined sexual abstinence prevents cancer, heart attacks and herpes simplex.

Pope John Paul II will die and be succeeded by the first American pope, Ted Kennedy.

Actor Harrison Ford will break off his romance with Callista Flockhart and take up instead with Courtney Love.

Mattell will begin selling its version of the Segway, called the Jabba the Huttmobile and priced at a round thousand dollars.

Princess Diana will continue to be dead.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Teichelt the Tailor

Teichelt the tailor
swore he would soar,
sewed a batwing cape.
The Eiffel Tower
seemed a perfect place
to launch his life
in the air.
Press, police
and the people of Paris
turned out to see
his feat. Cold eight o'clock
on a December morning
in 1911, intrepid Teichelt
climbed iron steps
into the sky
and leaped for glory,
but plunged
into the Seine and drowned.
Some say he was a fool,
but I say
better to sew
one batwing cape
than a hundred bankers' suits.
--by David Jordan
(appeared originally in The Pointed Circle, Spring 2002)

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.
-- Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

See? You can find a quotation on the internet to justify dang near anything. In this case, I’m using my old pal Al to rationalize reading only 22 books all the way through in 2002. That was down eight from the previous year, and who knows how many from my long-ago childhood years, when I devoured books voraciously.

I try to tell myself I finish fewer books now because I am a more discriminating reader. I won’t stay with a book just because I bought it or took the trouble of checking it out of the library. I work by a rule of thumb -- if a writer hasn’t set his hook deep into my psyche by the time I’m fifty pages or so into his book, I won’t finish it. As a result, I quit or skip-read far more books than I complete. I sample and abandon books so often, I have no idea how many I brush up against in a given year. If I read 22 last year, I suppose I cracked five times that many -- 110 or more.

In fact, that’s why I hang out at the Woodstock Branch Library so much. I used to buy books that captured my short-term interest, but I wound up owning so many partially read books I was in danger of burying myself in (and bankrupting myself with) words unread. So I try to at least scout most books through the library. It’s cheaper that way. If I check one out and decide it’s really great, I can go buy a copy.

As my pal Al would have it, I’m saving my brain for more creative pursuits, like playing Kaboom or watching Strong Bad on the internet. I wouldn’t want to fall into lazy habits of thinking.

Of the 22 books I did finish last year, the best was Sylvia Nasar’s “A Beautiful Mind.” Yes, that’s the book on which the Russell Crowe/Ron Howard movie was based. I came to it backwards, as is more than occasionally the way with me. I saw the movie on DVD and found it okay but far from great, despite its Academy Awards. Seeing the movie made me wonder about the flap that flared when film critics complained it was not true to Nasar’s 1998 nonfiction book about schizophrenic math genius John Nash. I borrowed the book from the library and read it. The critics were right. The book is much better than the movie. The real John Nash was even crazier and more fascinating than the character in the movie (for instance, he envisioned himself ruling a world government). And he did not have an imaginary roommate with an imaginary niece, or an imaginary spy contact -- those were invented by the screenwriter. Nasar’s ability to bring Nash’s real professional and private milieu to life is quite remarkable. I am anything but a math fan, but she kept me reading for 390 pages. Even when I didn’t understand, I was intrigued. “A Beautiful Mind” explores the thin line between genius and insanity better than any other book in recent memory.

The best novel I read in 2002 was Nick Hornby’s “About A Boy.” My eldest son, Joe, gave me a paperback copy of the 1998 book for Christmas of 2001. I got a big kick out of it. Hornby, who also wrote “High Fidelity,” is glib, smooth, amusing and deft at dealing with pop culture. Interesting that he’s British, because I don’t associate those qualities with English writers. Perhaps I was force fed too much Jane Austen as a college student.

“About A Boy” concerns Will Freeman, a wealthy 36-year-old London slacker who invents a 2-year-old son and joins a club for single parents as a way to seduce vulnerable women. He is the ultimate uninvolved hedonist in the beginning, spending his days watching bad movies, listening to rock music and reading glitzy magazines, but his sly plot brings him into contact with a bright, spacey 12-year-old boy he ends up befriending. Their relationship transforms Will’s life. No, I didn’t see the movie based on “Boy” that came out last spring. But I can see Hugh Grant playing Will Freeman. It fits.

Although “About A Boy” was the best novel I read last year, it finishes pretty much in a dead heat with Carl Hiassen’s “Basket Case” as funniest book. I greatly enjoy Hiassen, who moonlights as a mystery novelist from his job as a Miami newspaper columnist. “Basket Case” tells of a downtrodden reporter who tries to escape the obituary desk by investigating the death of an aging rock star. The novel features Hiassen’s standard wisecracks, florid villains and rocketing pace. It also contains some dead-on diatribes about the decline of newspapering as a profession in these days of bottom-lining corporate ownership.

The most disappointing book I read cover-to-cover in 2002 was “Savage Beauty,” Nancy Milford’s biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay released last spring. The poet’s story has fascinating possibilities, a real life resembling a racy fairy tale, but Milford seems to have been overwhelmed by her research to the point of being unable to put details in perspective or interpret the meaning of what she learned about Millay. You get a lot of specifics about health problems and their treatment (suffering from intestinal pain, Millay went on a whole-grain diet and received two enemas a day -- just what I wanted to know), but you get little explanation for her extreme sexual promiscuity or analysis of the talent that made her the most popular poet of the first half of the Twentieth Century. “Savage Beauty” reminds me of Carlos Baker’s book on Ernest Hemingway, which is supposedly the seminal biography but features long stretches of “on Thursday June 10 he wrote 650 words in the morning, then went fishing from one to five in the afternoon and caught three marlin, two swordfish and a manta-ray.” Too much detail and not enough context.

The worst book I read in 2002 was “Please Don’t Kill the Freshman.” Friends recommended Portlander Zoe Trope’s little cult fave as the new “Catcher in the Rye,” but most of it is incomprehensible gibberish, the kind of junk today’s kids often post on web logs like this -- whining and bitching about parents, teachers, peers, etc. Hearing Trope won a contract from a big New York publisher for a sequel to this Oregon-published screed is almost enough to make me fear for the future of American literature.

There you have my summary of Dave’s 2002 book year. In case you wondered, I’m hard at work on 2003. I already finished “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

Monday, January 06, 2003

This just in from T-Model Tommy Goodloe. It took a while reaching me, because Tommy sent it by mule from the wilds of Milton-Freewater in Eastern Oregon, where he is on assignment for Hook & Cook Magazine. Tommy is researching a story on the town’s namesake, the world’s only Jewish-Indian fishing guide, Milton Freewater (1872-1939), who gained fame by leading Zane Grey to a major grunion run on the Wallowa River in 1921.

MILTON-FREEWATER, OR -- Yo, Peoria Dave!

College football season is finally over, and it ended satisfactorily for all of us ABM rooters. ABM (Anybody But Miami) folks were pleased to see Ohio State beat the trash-talking, chest-beating, sack-dancing, faux-student Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl, even if it did seem to take six hours, including four hours of TV commercials.

I am no Ohio State fan (I remember the days when bully boy coach Woody Hayes used to do stuff like sucker punch opposing players as they ran out of bounds), so rooting for the Buckeyes to beat Miami was sort of like rooting for the Oakland A’s to beat San Francisco in a World Series. I don’t like the A’s, but I’ll back anybody against the Giants.

Now we won’t have to read any more about how no one is in Miami’s league, the ‘Canes are going to break Oklahoma’s national record for consecutive wins (47), Miami opponents are defeated by fear before they ever take the field, etc. We also know that Nebraska’s humiliation in last year’s national title game occured because the Cornhuskers weren’t very good, not because Miami was unbeatable. Makes me wonder, once again, what the U of Oregon would have done against the Hurricanes if the Ducks had made the 2002 Rose Bowl with Joey Harrington at the helm. Oh, well.

We could go the next year reading that Ohio State is unstoppable, I suppose. If so, I may be forced to join ABOS -- Anybody But Ohio State -- rooters. I am constitutionally incapable of cheering the favorites, it seems.

It makes me think of an acquaintance who adopted the Boston Red Sox as his baseball team, although he’d never set foot in Boston. My man saw it as rooting for the underdog, because the Bosox haven’t won a World Series since they ditched Babe Ruth. He went to see a psychiatrist about various woes, though, and the shrink said his bet was that my buddy backed the Red Sox because they were perennial losers and he is, too, in his own mind.

I, of course, am not a perennial loser. To prove it, I may even root for Ohio State to win again next year. Nah, I can’t do that. I’ll cheer instead for Oregon State. Go, Beavers!

T-Model T.G.

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