Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Don't Turn Your Back on a Day-Old Semifreddo

Erika and I started our holiday gift list last night. It's true, I need some new corduroy pants, but what I really want... is dinner with New York Times food writers Florence Fabricant, R.W. Apple Jr., Eric Asimov and Frank Bruni. Nothing would give me more joy _ aside from the future birth of my children, and the possible first production of a play I've written. I would bring Erika, of course. What the hell _ throw in Peter Meehan and Mark Bittman, too.

I envision a trip to the City. We get there early and spend a few hours staring at the ducks in the cold at Central Park. We head to a restaurant on the Upper East Side and find the group has already ordered _ they say they waited for us. The writers pass the time with Times gossip and snipes at the staffs of Gourmet and Bon Appetit. "Have you had any good meals lately," I ask and am met with icy silence. One-by-one, they slip off to the bathroom and out of the restaurant, leaving my wife and I with the check _ a la "Bonfire of the Vanities." A memorable evening, truly.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Dagwood Jailed as Trotskyist

I'm excited to share with you what I've been working on the past three months. In the service of BigMedia, I've devised a Comics Subversiveness Rating _ a computer program that scans newspaper comic strips for questionable content.

With the old stand-byes (Garfield, Peanuts, Blondie, Brenda Starr) aging rapidly before our eyes, it's up to the newspaper editor to be meticulous in his/her scrutiny of the new generation of strips that will take their place. The Comic Subversiveness Rating is a tool to aid the editor in this process.

Simply feed 10 strips from a prospective comic into the machine and wait for the results. Let's look at some sample tests...

1. Perry Bible Fellowship: a three-to-four panel strip appearing in arts papers. CSR rating: 98.3. Highly offensive with explicit sexual content, free use of blood, satire of important corporate trademarks, perversion of children's stories and disrespect for the Christian religion.

This is an easy one. An editor could spot it a mile away. The real threat is what is known in the comics monitoring industry as a "trojan horse." For example...

2. Arlo and Janis: a four-panel strip appearing in large dailies nationwide. CSR rating: 94.2 _ the highest mark for a major strip. Thinly veiled contempt for the modern workplace and productivity in general. Promotes laziness, daydreaming, unstructured free time and portrays a free-floating consciousness similar to a drug-induced state.

In contrast, look at one strip that scored low on the CSR...

3. Edge City: a three-panel strip appearing in major dailies around the country. CSR rating: 13.4. The story of a two-parent, two-worker family. Encourages company loyalty, personal goals as stimuli for increased productivity, devotion to religious and traditional practices and the general curbing of non-traditional tendencies.

There you have it. Keeping the nation's mind safe. Tonight I plan to drink a bottle of wine and feed copies of "Heavy Metal" into the CSR machine. That makes it scream.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

RE: Hilarity

What happened in here last night? I opened the door to the Woundup office an hour ago and found empty beer cans, a full ashtray and several copies of "Achtung! Busen!" scattered about. I think the 7-person content team is starting to slack for the holidays. Management must tighten the reins _ shorter breaks, cheaper coffee... and Thai Food Tuesday will be postponed till further notice.

Some of you have inquired about Woundup Corp.'s "Artist in Residence" program. Following the trend of advertising agencies and NASA, we're offering use of the 8'x 8' practice room at our facility on W. Hubbard _ aka "The Magnesium Mile." We want to work with you, the musical artist, to develop Internet-ready content for the 18-35 youth market... ... ... ... ... ... ... Yes. You can sleep in the space.

(On an unrelated note, I would like to welcome our first-time German visitors, undoubtedly clicking here re: "busen." Thank you for helping to break's single-day hit total record. Guten Abend und froliche Weinachten!)


hey, hey, hey, hey! guess what? i am drunk! not exactly. i'm buzzed _ that's what a drunk person calls his condition when he doesn't want to admit he's drunk. it's way past my bedtime. just got back from the ol' hole in the wall. spent some quality time with mr. matt lentz _ a good chap. i've never posted under the influence before. seriously. it's a whole sub-genre of web-journaling. but not me. until now. but, frankly, my buzz is waning. i'll probably eat something, watch some PBS and go to bed. hmph. this isn't exciting at all, is it? lessee here. something to spice up... shows. i used to go to shows all the time. i don't much anymore. i suppose that's age. it's a lot of crap, if you ask me. i haven't seen anything good in a long time. maybe that's tied to age. chicago seems to be populated by superstar side-projects. a lot of bullshit, if you ask me. i think the 21 crowd needs to depose the 30 crowd _ that includes me. kick us off the throne. we're done. out of ideas. just look at this WeBLoG _ out of fucking ideas. pull my plug. finished. matt was talking about some eateries 'round midway airport. christ i'm hungry. l.h. putgrass signing off and heading for the tub.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Peeping Ron

I like living in the Ukrainian Village. It invites the passerby to peek into its collective windows at night. Take a stroll through the Village after dark, and you're sure to spot some interesting living rooms. Why not stand on the sidewalk and peer in for a few minutes? I do it all the time.

When I'm feeling lazy _ which is often _ I just look out our front windows. There's at least one apartment lit up across the street with the drapes open. It's a second floor flat and appears to have the same avocado green paint scheme and lighting as our last apartment on Noble Street. It even has a plant in the window _ just like our old place. I keep thinking I'm going to look over there one night and catch myself staring back _ me, but from last year. I look closer.

(cue psychedelic guitar)

Damn. The Mach 3 Turbo is not the close shave it advertised itself as. Should I go back to electric?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The World of Links

Hey, hey! Thank you to the Baseballwonk crew for linking to this site. I encourage you to visit them in the dugout. As a fan, I am happy to see the flood of new, wonderful posts.

Now the bad news. Some of you _ oh, I can't even say it. It is an electronic tragedy of the first order. Prior to the formation of Woundup Corp., an advanced content team funded by some of our current investors sought to assay the attitudes of the internet youth market. This entailed writing a web diary from the point of view of an android who lived in Orland Park, Ill., with his creator. Well... our technical director forgot to update that old site with a link to our current space... and you know what happens to WeBLoGS that don't get updated, don't you? If there is a ray of sunshine in this sad, sad situation, it's that the content team saved the original posts in Word files. They will be reposted sometime in the next few months.

To All the Flacks I've Loved Before

Part of my job involves talking to PR people _ flacks, as we call them on this end. I've been doing this for over three years, and I've seen a number of archetypes sift out. Let me share some of them with you...

_ The Nut Who Can't Believe You Don't Want to Write About His Stupid Idea: These are usually people flacking their own books or companies. You can hear them blinking in disbelief when you don't express awe at their pitch, say, for a book on Illinois' most famous Mafia gravesites.

_ The New Yorker: Usually a 30-ish woman with a nasally voice. They begin their pitch with the hyphenated name of the PR conglomerate they're enslaved to: Rubenstein-Gidwitz-Stern, Blastula-Thompson-Reed, etc. They speak quickly and are forgotten quickly. A corollary to this is...

_ The New York Hipster: A younger male. Usually flacking big corporate events and tours for cell phones or satellite radio. Their voices are tinged with the irony, condescension and self-hatred that are fast becoming the defining features of our generation.

_ The Jock: Sports flacks. The younger ones are of the ESPN school _ you can hear them smacking gum and sneering over the line. The older ones are like high school gym teachers, which I find comforting for some reason.

_ The Burned Out: Often older. Sighs frequently. At the end of his/her rope and with a constant headache. Maybe you'll feel sorry and agree to write the stupid story. Closely related to...

_ The Angry Flack: Also older. Has survived in the ruthless PR business by being a massive asshole, and you'd better write this stupid story, you peon. Let me talk to your editor.

_ The Yammer-er: Gives you the whole pitch in one breathless sentence before you can even say "Hello." My solution? Say "No," then hang up.

_ TOO Personal!: This was popular with female flacks in our state government offices when I started my job. They call you "sweetie" and "honey." One state flack would open unsolicited calls with a long pause then a whispered, breathy "It's me." Thankfully, this approach has gone the way of the Carrier Pigeon, though we might be ripe for a comeback (shudder).

_ The Speaker Phone Warrior: There's one state flack, god bless him, that tries to convey his authority by using a speaker phone. These kind of people get red-flagged to the front of the line for disparaging fictional representations.

_ The City Worker: Flacks for Chicago government offices are a lot like their brethren behind the counters at the DMV: Laconic, slow-moving, perturbed. The only exception are cop flacks, who are obliging and direct in a cop-like manner.

_ The Nice Flack: I won't say they're rare, but I wish they'd call a little more often.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Caught in a Web

Geezuz Kristmas! These band websites are getting more elaborate by the minute. Don't know what brought me to this one, but goddamn! If their music could even approach the creativity of their webpage, they'd be playing on the roof of the RnR Hall of Fame _ the Rest and Relaxation Hall of Fame in St. Petersburg, Fla. I hope to be enshrined there one day. My lifetime couch-laying average is sitting pretty at .303.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


I just paid for an expensive, stat-tracking webcounter. How expensive? I'd rather not print it here for tax purposes. Needless to say, the Missus and I won't be eating out for awhile

But, I think it's worth it. I need to know who you are. You right there _ the reader. This expensive stat-tracking service can tell me a lot about you. Feeling afraid? Perhaps you should. They say feelings of paranoia peak in one's early 30's _ so most of you, as I check my statsheet printout here, should feel quite edgy.

Oh, don't worry. I can't get your social security number. I don't know what you'll be having for dinner tonight _ though I wish you'd call me once in a while. I'll bring over a nice bottle of wine, and we can talk about how you fit into the target demographic schematic.

Here're a few tidbits to whet your whistle:
89% of Woundup readers enjoy foreign films.
93% of Woundup readers have skimmed a book on communism.
76% of Woundup readers like fur-lined boots.
88% of Woundup readers haven't renewed their subscription to the New Yorker.

Huh. Well, I feel I know a little more about you... Actually, I now know a lot more about you. My machine can smell the fragrant residue of your internet use. Care for an Advil? My data says 99.3% of you would.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A War We Can't Win, Inc.

I'm a bit addicted to Yahoo news blurbs _ the little headlines on their homepage. These outrageous teasers seem aimed at itinerant web surfers looking for cheap thrills. One link caught my eye this morning: "Tuberculosis likely influenced Orwell's '1984.'"

There is a distrust of high culture in A. mainstream journalism and B. the American middle class. In "high culture," I would include serious literature. The work of this Dr. Ross, while intriguing, when it's capsulized on this Yahoo site just feeds the above prejudices _ particularly of B. The way it's cast, it seems that many (or even all) great works of literature were written by the sickly, demented or insane (Shakespeare's syphilis?). The notion that something like "1984" could only be written when, this article suggests, Orwell was not in his right mind is disheartening. Of course, further down, a Stanford professor says that sickness was only a small part of Orwell's creative drive. But that is "further down."

I am leary of this kind of biographical study _ that of the "disease muse." I think it reinforces a negative stereotype that further marginalizes artists _ this time as "sick" and possibly "crazy." It drives the average American away from great literature by allowing them to bolster their laziness and suspicion. "I don't have to read 1984. I don't have to understand it. Orwell had TB. He was crazy."

[And what about this passage?
"In the 19th and early 20th century, tuberculosis -- also known as consumption -- often struck artists and authors who lived in crowded, germ-filled slums. In many cases, infected people slowly wasted away, giving the victims a romantic cast, as seen in the film 'Moulin Rouge.'"
A sneaking glimpse into the bald inner life of ace reporter Randy Dotinga?]

Our mainstream culture does not challenge our citizens intellectually _ that is a rhetorical statement of the first order. This article is a subtle attack on the creative impulse and a reinforcement of America's intellectual infantilism _ the reluctance to face painful feelings and questions. Yahoo provides many soothing entertainment alternatives on its home page.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Great Moments in Agitated Music

In light of the flood of 10-year-ish anniversary re-releases with bonus material, I would like to cast my vote for Six Finger Satellite's "Severe Exposure" (1995, Sub Pop) to receive the royal repackaging treatment. I would kill _ KILL _ for unreleased tracks from this album's studio sessions.

I take "Exposure" with a grain of nostalgia _ like many of these 10-year plan reissues, it first hit during my greener days at ol' State U. But its caustic nature quickly strips away any such warm feelings. It's one of the best rock 'n roll records _ ever. I'm serious. It rises above its new wave/motorik/noise trappings into the orbit of "Funhouse" _ the measure for all great rock music. I'm serious.

"Exposure" is indeed a lot like "Funhouse" _ the production is straightforward with the rhythm section very prominent. I picture it in this dark vortex _ at least in my mind _ the music is bright red like a muscle or a limb, moving, flexing in space. The Six Finger record, like "Funhouse," gets wilder, more unhinged as it progresses... till you end up with "LA Blues" (or "Board the Bus").

I encourage you to revisit this classic _ or listen for the first time. It'll keep you up at night, and keep your downstairs neighbor a step closer to that domestic disturbance call.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Head Games

Man... for a good time, read Freud's "Civilization and Its Discontents." I laughed out loud several times _ not at his wit, but at the sheer, crushing darkness of his worldview. I'm just starting the section on wo/man's disappointment with participating in society _ the daily curbing of her/his personal desires.

Why do I keep reading it? I do find it interesting, but I'm afraid it will send me over the cliff into despair. The days are getting shorter, and that has also affected my Behavior in the past. But hey _ why not toy with danger? I'm just expressing my Death Instinct.

Part of me thinks I can stand up to the suggestive powers of such an authoritative work _ that I can view it objectively. It's like a test. Don't get me wrong _ I don't pretend to believe I'm stronger than anyone else. I'm probably weaker. I don't know. There's always the Tribune sports section... oh wait, that's a pain-averting diversion! Dammit!!!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Have the Courage to Turn Your Back

I am generally against this sort of thing, but I'd love to write a play or screenplay about NYTimes food writers Florence Fabricant, R.W. Apple Jr., Frank Bruni and Eric Asimov _ I see them all pooling to work in a clown car. Maybe they solve murder mysteries in their spare time. Christ, I've been watching way too much Channel 101. It's a bad influence.