Friday, June 20, 2003

Am I the only one who sees irony in the proposition, which a court has deemed meritorious, that Viacom meant to co-opt Spike Lee's carefully cultivated image by giving his forename to the cable channel TNN, once the home of the "Grand Ole Opry," Crook & Chase, and a Florence Henderson cooking show?

Thursday, June 19, 2003

I wonder how many people know what soylent green is, and what percentage of that number have actually seen Soylent Green?

Doesn't it seem like most people know what soylent green is, many more people than have seen the movie?

Do you what soylent green is?

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

One night in Portage makes a hard man humble

Joy's blog about Portage inspired me to new heights of creativity. Actually, it inspired me to new heights of recycling stuff I wrote a long time ago. Nevertheless, here's an email I wrote my friend three years ago about my impressions of Portage nightlife.


Sun, 16 Apr 2000 17:01:18 -0500 (CDT)

Robin, someday I will tell you more about last night, but at the very least I want to mention a couple of details.

I went to Portage, Wisconsin with my buddy McNeil, the guy who recorded the Benders' demo yesterday (you'll be getting a copy). He's a music-business type and was being paid by a Portage band to record their gig at a local bar, the Cactus Club. The band is called DeTOUR (they are very precise about the capitalization), and Portage, Wisconsin is no place you want to spend a Saturday evening unless you have a finely tuned sense of irony--which I do, as you know.

It is hard to describe the scene at the Cactus Club, but if there was a single telling detail, it was the fiftyish man who arrived dressed in medical scrubs, including stethoscope. The back of his scrub shirt said, in stenciled letters, "Dr. Poke-em." At some point I asked Dr. Poke-em if he really was a doctor, and he said no, he's only a medic--but it was when I was speaking to Dr. Poke-em that I realized the front of his scrub shirt said, over the pocket, "Oral Specialist."

Other highlights included Terry, the Phish head from New Mexico who writes and plays harmonica for a Portage jam band, and who lives with the band in a communal setting on a forty acre farm south of Portage. I asked what they grow, and he said they are turning the entire farm over to its natural state. Terry got into a long argument with my sound engineer friends about the merits of various live taping techniques, something about which Phish heads probably know too much.

Also entertaining was DeTOUR, the live band, all the members of which are brothers with bad teeth. They wore sunglasses onstage and played Bob Seger covers, and the keyboardist kept making his synthesizer sound vaguely like a string quartet, and then a saxophone. There were lots of bikers there (the management told us, as we set up expensive recording equipment literally on the dance floor, that there aren't usually a lot of fights) and signed pictures of Sable, the professional-wrestling sex kitten.

Ken Burns drank free.

Later, we left the bar and, against my wishes, visited another of Portage's evening establishments. The jukebox played mostly hair metal, and one mulleted local performed striking, lip-synched interpretations of Slayer hits, while an overweight young woman across the bar kept winking at my friends and me and performing lewd acts with her breasts--she would bare them, then hide them in a twinkling. We later approached her and her boyfriend, a one-eyed groundskeeper at a local golf course, and learned that she works stuffing sausages at the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison. She drives up to Portage for fun.

My friend put a Dolly Parton song on the jukebox and they almost lynched us.


Sunday, June 15, 2003

So it's official. Yesterday, on a cool and foggy Friday afternoon in the Windy City, I walked down Harper Quad at the University of Chicago and picked up a masters degree in international relations. It was graduation: bagpipes played, senior citizens wore freaky academic regalia, and 22 years after the divorce, Mom and Dad exchanged frosty greetings.

The title of my thesis: "Unimagined Miseries: Nationalism, Khmer Rouge Policy, and Khmer Identity." What that means I'm not exactly sure anymore.

Getting the degree is an enormous relief. I started it in 1997, back when I thought I wanted to be an academic. Two years of masters work at the U of C didn't dissuade me from that, in no small part because being a graduate student there is really fun, especially if you're on the masters level--i.e., especially if you're not worried about writing a dissertation and going on the academic job market.

No, what masters students at Chicago get a lot of is people telling them: "This is a great institution, and you are quite possibly brilliant just by virtue of your being here." It's infectious, slightly addictive--being on that stately old campus, reading great books, and--maybe best of all--talking and dancing and flirting with colleagues. I loved my years there, definitely as an undergraduate and, I think, even more as a grad student.

I also drank a lot, and that's the main reason it took me six years to get the degree. I had finished all but the thesis by spring of '99, but then I freaked out, and then I came here to Madison to start a Ph.D., and after not too long that plan wasn't working out, and meanwhile my boozing got completely out of control, and then after a while I was homeless and had stopped bathing regularly.

So I quit drinking, almost two years ago now, and I started trying to figure out what went wrong--or, to take the more optimistic tack, what to do to set things right.

I started cleaning up some messes, and one of those messes was this masters program. So I got back in touch with my department at the U of C, wrote the thesis, and--last Friday--graduated.

Redemption songs, my friends, redemption songs.