Thursday, January 31, 2008


I finished teaching my winter term course today. We planned to go pay rent and run some other errands this afternoon. As we were getting ready to go, I felt very strange. I realized something, too.

When terrible shit happens (for instance, your beloved cat becomes sick, and wastes away for weeks, and then you have to have him put to sleep), it's really hard to sit there and take it, but there's nothing you can do about it that makes it less terrible shit. Whatever you do, it's still terrible.

I haven't felt good this whole time. I've had delicious food, I've had interesting class discussions, I've been entertained, but have not felt good for any sustained period through it all. I don't think that's extraordinary in the circumstances, but it's remarkable at least.

And all my projects collapsed. I had been writing lyrics, trying to record guitar tracks, working up songs we want to record. That collapsed. I had a hard time getting myself to pick up a guitar.

I felt like I was sleep-walking through my class. I read everything, graded everything, but I couldn't keep connected, or keep anything straight in my head.

I had been working on the paper I'm presenting in Puebla in February, on Marshall McLuhan and media. Now I can't imagine what I was contemplating writing about. I didn't want to write anything here, either. It feels as if I have to start myself over again.

I don't know how. Maybe I'll start by making potato gnocchi.

Monday, January 28, 2008

hard times

I haven't had anything to say for a week now. Sunday we had our first nearly normal day for a very long time. There simply isn't much to say about the past week. We were traumatized, then we felt intense pain, guilt, despair, numbness, void, disorientation, aching. We were good to each other.

We decided we needed to remember Lancelot as the joyful cat he was. Lauren drew a picture of him from a picture I took of him, lying on the bed, sunning himself. He loved the sun, and the wind, more than any other cat I've known.

I don't know how much sense this makes, but I think we've grieved well. It's hard work. I'd forgotten, or didn't know. I never grieved like this before.

When I was 9, my grandpa died, rather suddenly, and I didn't know what to do. I had this horrible, inarticulate guilt about his death for years, and never really got over it until I was in my 20s. My grandma died when I was in college, not at all suddenly, and her death was more a relief than anything. She had spent the better part of a decade slowly passing. The only other deaths I've experienced very directly have been of two other cats. It's very weird to say so, but I was closer to Lancelot than to anyone else in my life who has died, except for my grandpa. And it's very odd to realize as I'm writing this that I spent more time with Lancelot than with my grandpa. In fact, I believe I spent more time actually interacting with Lance than with any human being I've known. I was his in a profound way. His death has been a lot to grieve.

We're exhausted. We're doing well, though. Lauren has been wonderful to me. Our friend - indeed, Lancelot's friend -, Christina, has been wonderful to us.

So now, as I'm just starting to be able to respond to the world again, I look around, and it seems as though the world economy is collapsing due to the failure of the mass hallucination which is the global financial market. Listen, gang: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. I know, they call it a Ponzi scheme, but that's almost entirely a bad rep.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

goodbye, lovely Lancelot

We brought Lancelot to the vet to be put down this afternoon. The pain is almost too much to bear. My heart is broken. The world is broken. I don't have anything else to say.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

out of order

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

2. Lancelot. I just love him.

As I write this, he's dying.

He's my 15+-year-old domestic longhaired orange cat. I would like to tell his story.

My ex and I had a lovely tortie shorthaired cat named Morgan, who we thought would like a companion, since she had a cat friend when she was a kitten. We visited the county animal shelter in Pittsburgh a few times to try to find a healthy kitten to be her new friend. Those visits were heartbreaking for me. I adore cats, and the sight of all those doomed cats (not to mention the doomed dogs in the other room) was unbearable - a testament to unspeakable human indifference and stupidity, inflicting needless suffering and death, for no reason but contempt or flat lack of concern. The kittens all seemed terribly unhealthy, as well. We had agreed that the only criteria for our new kitten were that it should be healthy, short-haired, and not orange.

Finally, on a third visit, we saw a demon kitten hanging upside down from the rails of his cage, trying alternately to eat the bars or squeeze through them, wailing, drooling, frothing at the mouth. He had mounds of fluffy orange fur and whiskers a mile long. We pulled him out of the cage, and he was immediately quiet and peaceful, purring in our arms. He was clearly the healthiest kitten we would ever find at the pound, and he was also on death row. It was his second day there, late in the afternoon. They would euthanize him in the morning. So we took him home.

We paid the adoption fee, they told us he was probably around 10-14 weeks old, put the kitten in a cardboard carrier, and we started for home. Home at the time was Regent Square, a nice neighborhood in the east side of Pittsburgh. The shelter was on the North Shore, meaning that we had a car trip of about 7 miles, roughly 20 minutes, to get there. By the time we hit the Parkway East (the freeway from downtown), the kitten had chewed through the box.

We brought him home and, having read about how to introduce new animals into a household, let him out of the box in a neutral place - the large anteroom in the old Victorian house we rented the ground floor of. Then we brought Morgan into the room. He immediately approached her, and sniffed at her face. She hissed, swatted at him, and ran away, thus establishing what was effectively their lifelong relationship. We gave him a jingle-ball to play with, and she eventually stole it (she passed years ago, age 12, never having treated him better). We gave him some kitten food, and he vomited some of it, thus establishing his lifelong digestive dysfunction.

Days passed. He got stronger and stood up to Morgan a bit. I named him Lancelot because she was Morgan, and it just made sense. Back then, we let the cats out to play in the yard, because the neighborhood was quiet enough and they didn't roam. Our upstairs neighbor had two cats, and a couple times they escaped from her kitchen window, climbed down the fire escape, and would become belligerent. Once I heard a fight outside, came out to intervene, and saw Lancelot cornering our neighbor's cat, standing with his back arched, hissing and spitting, between her cat and Morgan. Morgan had a scratch on her nose; Lancelot had come to protect her. I grabbed the neighbor's cat, took it inside, then grabbed Morgan, then Lancelot, to get them inside. Lance started to calm down a bit. Morgan sauntered over and swatted him.

Back then he was a terrific and somewhat famous hunter. His specialty was birding. As a kitten he caught a blue jay that was practically the same size he was. He caught numerous sparrows and bluebirds, titmice galore, I think a couple of chickadees. He'd leave them for us on the porch, or roll on them, as cats do. One day he had caught a bird and was playing with it when a woman walked by with her little girl. The girl saw the bird and burst into tears. I came outside, hearing her mom explain that this is something cats do, and removed the bird. A few minutes later, I heard them walking past again, the little girl finally calmed down, and as I looked out the window I saw Lance leap into the air and nab a sparrow, right in front of the girl. She exploded in tears again.

The young boys in the neighborhood loved him. I once heard a boy regaling his comrades with tales of Lancelot's hunting prowess. I went to the window to look. They were standing on the sidewalk, petting him (as he always did with passers-by, Lance had trotted up to them to say hello), when he saw a bird somewhere in the front yard. He growled, dashed off, and snapped at it. The boy pointed and said "see? He's so vicious but he's so nice!"

I was completing my PhD program at Duquesne while living in that house. One of the steps is writing a comprehensive exam - at the time, three essays on historical subjects in philosophy and one thematic essay on a particular topic, randomly chosen from a list of 5 questions on each subject, one per day for 4 days. I wrote my comps along with two other guys, both of whom wrote every essay before the week of comps. I didn't, so that week I wrote 80 pages of essays, basically writing all day, sitting at an old Mac, with Lancelot in my lap. He was my working pal, and I was his heating pad. It worked for us. He was so affectionate and seemed to be really concerned, really listening, when I would read the essays aloud. Later, when I was writing my dissertation, and having late-night anxiety attacks, he was always there with me, purring, rubbing against me, getting me to sit down so he could lie in my lap and sleep.

It was then that he developed the habit of clawing my face. I was growing a beard, and I thought at the time that Lance thought I was a cat, since I was furry like him. He has never stopped doing it.

We moved to California, flat broke, when I took my teaching position at Stan State, almost ten years ago. I drove the rental truck, my ex drove our car. She had Morgan, I had Lance. We took five days to cross the country, stopping in the cheapest motels we could find along the way. We'd get out of the vehicles, get into the room, and Morgan would dive under the bed and hide for most of the night, and Lance would move from under the bed, to us, back under the bed, back to us, trying to give and get comfort to and from everyone. He hates being in moving vehicles, but he seemed to adjust to this weird lifestyle.

For several years we lived in a rented house near Ceres, which made Lance very tense. The cats stayed indoors by then. Lancelot never seemed to sleep. He kept guard hours at a time, staring out the front or back windows. We saved a beat-up cat there who eventually ended up living with us, despite my and Lance's protests (this cat was one against whom Lance had been guarding us all that time). Then another. We bought a house in Modesto, and brought in another cat, who lived separately from the now 4 in the house. Then strays started showing up. Lance had had it. He started getting aggressive with the others, and with my ex. He peed on her dirty clothes (indeed also her clean clothes) on the floor.

Eventually I left my ex, and brought Lance with me, and he was never happier. He had a second kittenhood in the first apartment I shared with Lauren (which we called The Apartment of Earthly Delights). When we moved into the House About Town, he freaked out for an afternoon, but then took to bounding at top speed up and down the stairs, leaping up and off of windowsills, having a wonderful time. He was the youngest 13 year old cat you could ever meet. He was still clawing my face early in the morning, too, which led him to being kicked out of the bedroom most days.

I wrote him a song, which we recorded. He doesn't like it. Lauren started singing in various Stanislaus State choirs, and later in the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Chorus, as a second soprano. He hates this. Apparently, not only is he not a music lover (which Morgan, incidentally, was), but his ears are hurt by soprano singing. He attacks her when she sings, except when she holds him up to her throat and face, and sings "Old Deuteronomy."

About a year ago, his 14 year habit of vomiting about every other day became more constant. We took him to the vet, who talked about the various possible causes, prescribed a liquid antibiotic, and sent us home to try that. Giving Lance drugs is incredibly dangerous, even when he's weak. We stuck to it, through his lacerations, and he got better. He put weight back on. A couple months went by, and he started vomiting again. We went back to the vet, started another round of antibiotics, reopened our wounds, and he got better again. Months went by, and it started again, this time with diarrhea, and for the past month he hasn't gotten better no matter what we've tried.

He spent the night on my chest last night, sleeping a little too quietly for my comfort. This morning he clawed my face, but I didn't kick him out. He sat up on my chest, shaking a little, while I petted him. He followed me downstairs as he always does, and I gave him some canned cat food and some cat treats while I made coffee. He ate a little of that, and he followed me back upstairs. He's lying in the windowsill, resting in the weak sun.

I simply cannot express how much this cat means to me, or how terribly I will miss him, or how awful it is to know it will be soon.

Friday, January 18, 2008

in brief

The cat's still sick. I'm in Sacramento, without my love, for a CFA meeting whose primary purpose is to discuss the doomed state budget and its impact on the doomed CSU and our doomed lecturer colleagues/constituents in this doomed state which is doomed. The Penguins are losing to the freaking Tampa Bay Lightning, and Sidney Crosby left the game with an injury in the first period.

I shall now crawl to the working dinner in a condition of utter abjection. Thank you for listening.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

yet more? yet more

Another of

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

39. Old episodes of The Larry Sanders Show. I just love 'em.

Before The Office, there was the Larry Sanders show (and before that, there was It's Garry Shandling's Show), a show-within-a-show sitcom about an absurdly egomaniacal, vaguely depraved, slightly perverted, utterly unself-aware yet tremendously narcissistic and self-doubting late-night talk show host. I've just given myself the present of the DVD box-set Not Just The Best Of The Larry Sanders Show, reminded as I was of the program by an errant copy of Entertainment Weekly, of all things.

It's delicious. The show's narrative perspective isn't all that inventive: we look behind-the-scenes at the internal comedy of errors that leads to the program's production, with special emphasis on the fatally flawed star. But they got fantastic performances from guest stars playing themselves, and the core group - Garry Shandling, Rip Torn, Jeffrey Tambor, Penny Johnson, and Janeane Garofalo - play their parts to the absolute frigging hilt. You could make this comedy broadly, play it like a Sid Caesar sketch or a Mel Brooks movie, but you'd never crack open the heads of the characters, never get the deep, revolting, hilarious revelation of their psychologies and motivations. What makes the thing tick is the contradiction between the arch-realism of the show's narrative perspective, and the absurd degree to which each character is firmly committed to his or her own particular pursuit, foible, or transgression.

I confess that the reason I first got into the show was a youthful and misguided obsession with Janeane Garofalo (though I'm not the only one), which has so far made no embarrassing reprise. I was a fan of It's Garry Shandling's Show (yeah, I was the one), which was decidedly more radical in approach, but the performances and writing in Larry Sanders were far, far better. Rip Torn is a god.

He's also, incidentally, not allowed in the house. I have my reasons.

Janeane is. Dammit!

how to get a job in higher ed

There are, I suppose, lurkers reading this blog, and I suppose some of them have certain ideas about the nature of faculty work. Here's some interesting interviews conducted by Marc Bousquet, author of How the University Works.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

it's Tuesday, and I have things

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

41. Union meetings. I just love 'em. Some of my fellow union activists don't love the meetings, and some claim they come just for the food (hotel kitchen food). I come for the meeting.

They're not all great, I admit. I also can't do very much with union rah-rah-ism. But I am a sucker for solidarity, and the meetings almost always build a great sense of solidarity. We're going this weekend to the CFA Lecturers' Council spring planning meeting, and despite the rather gloomy political/budget news of late, I'm optimistic.

40. Excuses to make buerre blanc. I just love 'em. The excuse today was our unscheduled trip to Motown to buy cat digestive enzymes in a further effort to resolve Lancelot's GI problems.

The need to go up there fairly quickly hatched a plan to go to Johnathan's, which is, to be frank, a meat market. But they also are the best source of fresh seafood in the area, and I've been thinking about shrimp lately with a fairly passionate Mediterranean feeling - lots of garlic, saffron, things like that. (Domestic shrimp, which is far better for the planet than imported, is extremely hard to get here, so we eat very little shrimp, sadly.) We ended up getting Louisiana rock shrimp and wild Alaskan coho salmon, and as I started thinking about it, buerre blanc would be perfectly suitable for salmon as well. What the heck.

So, shallots in white wine vinegar and dry white wine, boiled down to a couple tablespoons, with mounds of butter whisked in. This is just about unspeakably good on shrimp.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

not a new song!

We've been working on new music . . . that is to say, frankly, I've been working on new music, because my loveliest of all is writing fanfic nearly constantly lately (but Lauren is throwing in her two cents on the stuff I'm doing, plus as of this evening she is officially on notice, because my lyrics need help) . . . [ALERT! SYNTAX APPROACHING CORE BREECH! SHIFT ALL GRAMMATICAL RESERVES TO LIFE SUPPORT!] . . . for a while now [THAT'S GOT IT! AHH, SHIT! INTERJECTION ERROR! CONDITION RED! CONDITION RED!]


The point is, I'm working on about 10 new songs right now, trying to get them into sufficient shape to record them. I've gotten a lot pickier about what I think I want a song to be, which I hope means I'm getting a little better at writing. I have a couple new tunes I adore utterly, a handful I think are serviceable, and one I'm frankly embarrassed about, but which seems to work, so I'll let it be.

Anywhence, I posted a recording we made last summer on our Soundclick page, and now that they have an HTML code embedding script, I thought I'd link that here. (Soundclick, by the way, works waaaaaaaay better than the music stuff on MySpace. MySpace is owned by News Corp., i.e. Fox, i.e. Rupert Murdoch, so I'm not surprised it's a piece of crap.)

Without further ado, Lauren's song, "One Wing Wheeling"!

Friday, January 11, 2008

and for those who don't like bad economic news, there's sport

The state government's fiscal crisis continues. 6 years ago the budget analyst at the non-partisan Legislative Analyst office said that California's budget problems are systemic and can only be permanently fixed by either slashing state services to a point that would harm a lot of residents, or else raising taxes. Well, obviously, we can't raise taxes, because that would be ridiculous, of course, because that would mean people would be paying more money for state services.

So, instead, governor Schwarzenegger plans to cut 10 percent from nearly every state agency. The last major cut to the CSU's budget caused enrollment declines, staff layoffs and non-rehirings of hundreds of non-tenure-track faculty. The increases in our budgets since then have barely kept pace with inflation, and the CSU Board of Trustees and the state have begun to depend on increasing student fees in order to fill the gap.

This bugs the hell out of me in every conceivable way. An ideologically driven political agenda beginning in the 70s has made it impossible for the state to adequately fund any of its agencies, by getting the electorate to vote for slashing property taxes and to require a 2/3 majority to pass a budget. Who benefits from that? Who is hurt by it?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

nothing to do with the New Hampshire primary

I'll preface this by reporting briefly that I'd rather be playing my guitars right now, but I'm not, because I'm missing my right thumbnail and ring fingernail, both to accidents involving metal things. My thumbnail was gouged when I foolishly tried to open a door on campus with my right hand (I can only reliably open doors left-handed) and my thumbnail struck the metal plate around the door handle. I didn't trim it, and the tear weakened the nail's structural integrity enough that handling the Christmas turkey gravy preparation did it in. [No fingernail fragments were consumed during the dinner, I swear.] I forget what took my fingernail, but in any case, I'm left with long index, second, and pinky nails, and I can't functionally fingerpick my guitars this way.

This is especially distressing because of

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

42. D'Addario 12-string silk and steel guitar strings. I just love 'em.

For a year I've been experimenting with guitar strings. I was gaga for John Pearse phosphor bronze strings, but after putting D'Addario EXPs on my Takamine jumbo 12, and absolutely loving the sound, I decided more experimentation was in order.

I've always been tempted by silk/silver wound so-called "folk/fingerpicking" strings, and I have fallen head over heels and ass over teakettle in love with the sound of these things on my Breedlove. Songs I had tired of, or never felt happy with the sound of, now sound perfect to me. We've been working on a couple covers that I was constantly disappointed with, and now they're spot on, exactly the sound I wanted.

It makes sense. I had a Takamine classical forever, and the silk strings produce a sound somewhere between the classicals (especially the bases) and phosphor bronze. The stuff we do, and especially the stuff I write, is built for that kind of warm tone. The fingerpicked 12-string numbers sound incredible.

I'm gushing. I know. I gush.

Oh, yeah, and John Fahey is not allowed in the house. Lauren asked, as she has to on these occasions, whether he's not dead, and indeed he is, rest his twisted, tortured soul, but that's no reason to let him in. Sorry John. I adore your music, but you'll have to play outside.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

"torrential downpour"

It rained Thursday night, all Friday afternoon and evening, and overnight Friday. It rained a bit more yesterday. Apparently we got a record rainfall of over an inch on Friday. I just heard Lakshmi Singh call the rain a "torrential downpour." The Governator declared a state of emergency, and thousands of people have no electricity up near Sacramento, where the storm hit hardest.

'Round here, it's just another wet winter day. The storm sewer in the middle of the complex driveway clogged, as they do. My loveliest unclogged it sufficiently (it was blocked by a piece of roofing material) and no harm seems to have been done. A stream formed in the back yard, under the gates between the yards along that side of the complex. Nothing serious.

In fact, it's all good news, because of the correlative heavy snowfall in the Sierras. Which brings to mind one of

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

43. Winter days. I just love 'em. I miss real winter days with snow and cold and all that, of course, but we generally get satisfyingly rainy winter days in December and January. The last couple years have been dry, but we've had a good start this year. Here's hoping for a good wet winter.

Friday, January 04, 2008

bad weather, bad health, and badness

California makes a person soft. The weather is, for here, terrible: it's been raining all day, with gusty winds up to 40+ miles an hour. Accidents are piling up on the freeway; streets are flooding; chaos and lawlessness are descending upon us. (It's true! We've had to defend ourselves from three bands of roving, devolved troglodytes just this afternoon!) And there's more rain on the way.

In Pittsburgh, you'd call this kind of weather "Wednesday," and it wouldn't strike you as abnormal, except in January or February, when you'd say it was unseasonably warm. And in Fairbanks today the high temperature is -9.

I feel cold and wet. I've lived here almost 9½ years.

We had to risk drowning to take the cat to the vet today, because his GI tract is once again three miles of bad road. Poor old thing. They're running blood tests and have us feeding him antibiotics (which helped the last time), so we'll see. Of course, I'm worried sick, so I didn't sleep last night, which helps tremendously.

By the way, I wasn't kidding about risking drowning. The onramp to get onto the Crankster Freeway was almost unnavigable. The driveway through the complex soon will be. We were planning to go out to a hobby shop in search of model train gear tomorrow, but I've called that off.

In other news, it sure warmed the cockles of my heart to read of Hillary Clinton's response to her coming in third to Barack Obama in yesterday's Iowa Caucus. "Don't have false hopes, don't get your hopes up too high" is such optimistic, forward-thinking speech. It really shows what she stands for.

We also saw Sweeney Todd yesterday, as ruined utterly by Tim Burton. It's a terrible story, of course, but it's a musical, you know, with music, and it's supposed to be entertaining, you know, like entertainment. Burton drained it of almost all humor, made the entire production as grim as possible (with the exception of Helena Bonham Carter's cleavage), and soaked it in blood. Could someone please explain to Tim Burton the difference between a movie musical and a snuff film? Please? Thank you.

Tim Burton is now not allowed in the house.

I don't think Alan Rickman should be, either, but that's still in negotiation.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

44. Primary seasons. I just love 'em.

Granted, today was the Iowa caucuses, which are not primary elections, but they do begin the Presidential primary campaigns in earnest (or frank, or randy). Tonight after the Sharks game we switched on CNN, which we almost never do, to see the results, and were surprised to learn (a) that Hillary Clinton finished 3rd, and (b) that David Gergen is permitted to leave his cell without wearing a strait-jacket.

In any case, it brought back to mind the 1988 election, when I got my roommate and friend Doug hopelessly addicted to politics. We routinely stayed up until 2 or 3 AM watching the endless debates, primary returns, and political chat shows. Back then, C-SPAN ran a call-in show after every sane, rational person on the East Coast would long have called it a day, and we were absolutely hooked on this thing.

The irony is, I don't even remember who my favorite was in that race, though I do remember Doug's silly faux-Southern accent when he would shout out, à propos of nothing, "I'm Al Gore!!!"