Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Fulton County's Economic Black Hole

Before I get into my tirade about good ol' Bumblefuck, let me share a few informational links with you.






On my train ride from NYC to Bumblefuck, I sat next to a guy who asked me what kind of industry we had left. I didn't have an answer for him. I got home around 6 PM, passed out around 9, and woke up at 3 AM. I couldn't sleep, so I got a glass of water. Dad is usually awake at this hour, so we talked a bit about what's been happening.

It started with all of the leather mills. The process of turning animal skin into leather is, to put it lightly, toxic. The process hasn't changed in 100 years. Some time ago, the EPA decided to charge the leather companies to clean up the waste. Well, it cost more to clean than it did to make the leather in the first place. The business owners, who had made their millions moved all production (and poison) to Mexico. Meanwhile, the EPA used federal and local tax dollars to continue the clean up. With fewer jobs left, people moved away. That means less income to tax, so the city plummets into debt, disrepair, and despair.

The owner of one of the small shops that Wal*Mart put out of business sold drugs to make ends meet. He and many others were arrested recently. Drug rehab centers are popping up all over the place. When a town has no industry, no culture, and no hope, everyone turns to drugs. Theft, rape, and murder rates have increased. Welfare is up. New businesses fail within five years. Businesses that move to the area for the tax breaks leave as soon as they expire. There are some who manage to stay afloat as an "independent contractor" but their luck will run out sooner than later. Doctors and lawyers have it made, to a degree. Once the town is deserted, they'll have to move to bigger cities and have more competition.

Am I glad I got the fuck out of there.

Wow, my Future is Fuuuuuuucked.

My grandmothers are both on walkers. Paternal grandma fell last Tuesday. Maternal grandma pulled a muscle in her leg. My dad's knee and back are simply fucked. Mom is exhausted all the time. They're 51 years old, and it feels like I'll have to take care of them soon. They're broke and getting further & further into debt. When oil prices shot up, the companies started charging a rental fee on the tanks for the furnace and stove. Because of Dad's DUI from a couple years ago, both of their insurance rates rocketed. They sacrificed so much for me, and even more for my sister, bro-in-law, and their two kids. I'm JUST starting to get my shit together. I know that in the next couple of years, I'll have to start sending them money. Hell, if I could afford it, I'd do so now.

I Almost got the Lecture. Twice.

Dad asked his annual question of whether I was on speaking terms with my sister. Naturally, I said "no." Dad said "Jeeeeeff..."

I told him, "if you want me to come home again, you'll drop it."

And he did.

A day later, paternal grandma brought it up, much to my dismay. Her line is "sometimes all you have is family."

Considering my family, who the fuck wants that?

Now, because I'm not a total heartless bastard, and I don't want to make my grandmother cry, I did not deliver my ultimatum.

While I know she's not going to be around much longer, and that one of her wishes will be to see us together all happy, I simply can't honor it.

It's been nearly six years since the rotten bitch pulled the rug of life out from beneath my feet, and the thought of apologizing hasn't crossed her empty mind.

And I will be damned if I suggest that she should apologize. If she can't figure it out, then to hell with her.

An Attempt at Writing Romance

Scene: interior, night. We are in a bedroom; the camera gives us a bird's eye view of the bed. The moon outside is our only light source, given a blue sheen by the translucent curtains. There is a couple lying in bed, in a post-coital cuddle. It's probably their second or third time together. The camera slowly spins around the bed, counterclockwise (starting at 6), with quick cuts to close-ups of their hands exploring each other, and an occasional facial expression.

Doug is about 6 feet tall, and somewhat rugged, and slightly overweight. Helen is at least a half foot shorter and just as chubby. Their arms and legs are intertwined; Doug's face is nuzzled in Helen's neck as they lie facing each other on their sides.

Doug lifts his right hand, and slowly glides his fingertips down Helen's ribs, to her hip, mid-thigh, and back up again. He lifts his head and kisses her left shoulder, traces her collarbone with his lips, and moves up her neck.

Helen half giggles, half moans. "I'm still not used to how affectionate you are."

Doug looks up into her eyes and pulls her closer (if it's even possible). He kisses her softly and longingly.

"I'm just so grateful that you've let me into your life. It takes every ounce of restraint to keep my lips off of yours 24/7."

Cut to Helen's face as Doug continues.

"You...you make me feel new."

Thought of the Day

Step 1: Get a Hershey's Kiss (and a significant other who enjoys chocolate).

Step 2: Put the Hershey's Kiss in your mouth and let it melt a little bit.

Step 3: Plant a deep one on your lover and exchange until the Hershey's Kiss dissolves.

Step 4: Lather, rinse, and repeat as necessary.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

200-Mile Annual Guilt Trip

Thursday, I'll be headed north to my home town of Bumblefuck for Christmas.

That is, of course, if I can make it to Penn Station on time. The transit strike has made things very interesting. I saw some video on the news and the line just to get into the station is about a block long. I'll have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn to get there.

Speaking of Bumblefuck, the closest computer is about three miles away from my parents house. I already feel withdrawal symptoms.

At least I'll be back on Monday, and I'll be able to type into my phone (but no web or email access).

Bah humbug.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Not a Kodak Moment.

The giant orange Cingular blowup doll in front of the cell phone store is not a historic monument. Please do not obstruct the sidewalk by taking a picture of your wife and small children standing in front of it.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Funky Supervillain

What strikes me most about this album is how well stories are told through music. Aside from jazz, I'm a big fan of film scores. Many are great at setting a mood, few help set the pacing. Storytelling in comics is vital. Without clarity in storytelling, it's all just a bunch of pretty pictures. It makes perfect sense to me that Lyman chose Jim Mahfood, a cartoonist/storyteller with a funky drawing style, to illustrate the cover.

Starting with Tastycakes, we're greeted by Lyman's upright bass. The snare drum snaps into place and the rest of the Lower Level explodes with unbridled joy, like they've just discovered music for the first time. The trumpet blasts with pure LOVE ringing in every note, and duels with the piano. This HAS to be my favorite song on the album.

Immediately thereafter, we're transported to a dark smoky lounge. The spotlight shines on the sweetest voice I've ever heard, on a cover of Feel Like Making Love. The siren song of Jessica Vautor can also be heard on I Only Have Eyes For You. If you don't have someone to share this song with, FIND ONE, dammit!

Funky Supervillain launches us into a spy movie with a car chase, and four lunatics are behind the wheel. It fits right in with a Henry Mancini/Pink Panther composition. It starts with a dark kinetic frenzy, and it picks up speed from there.

Such a Beautiful Girl couldn't be anything else but the story of Lyman's relationship with his wife. From the initial pangs of loneliness, to that special spark, courtship, all the way to marriage and beyond, each tender moment is captured for us to celebrate.

Where Funky Supervillain is a frenetic daredevil car chase, Big Slick is a warm, relaxing drive on a dark, dusty highway between sprawling cities. The music picks up when you stop into a roadside diner. Pay the check and you're on the way to Smoothsville. It's a long journey, but you can't get lost. The solos are local attractions between metropolises. They reinvigorate the driver, and make the rest of the trip enjoyable.

Big City Dreams bids us a fond farewell. It's a joyous recollection of times spent together with great friends, and anticipation of future gatherings.

The only problem I have with the album is the ratio of original compositions to rearranged cover tunes. Beatrice, I Only Have Eyes For You, Snoopy's Search, and Red Baron are all performed wonderfully, and something new is brought to each song. However, they don't quite resonate as well as Lyman's own creations. His greatest strength lies in the personal stories he tells, and how he lets us into his world.

This is truly a fantastic piece of work. I've listened to the album at least five times a day over the past six days. When I'm not able to listen to it, I find myself humming it.

The Funky Supervillain. "Learn it, live it, love it."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Don't Panic

After spending hours on hold today (and finally getting my shit together all week), I've found the cause for the new student loan payment booklet:

ACS bought loans from CFS. Without bothering to tell my sorry ass.

Like Henry Rollins in Russia for the first time (see his spoken word album THINK TANK), I'm always the last to know anything.

Panic: ended. Nuclear Meltdown: averted. Apocalypse: postponed. Towel: secure.

Breathe, Jeff. Just breathe.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

And the word is: PANIC

"Panic" is precisely what you do when you find out you owe an additional $17,300 in student loans and receive a payment booklet out of the blue while your budget is stretched slightly beyond the limit.

Oh well. No gym membership or therapy for me. I was SOOOOO looking forward to that whole "happiness" thing. I keep hearing great things about it.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Very Nice Compliment

Lynne, Alex and I were chatting about random shit, while searching myspace for SVA alumni. The conversation turned to how Alex and I need Lynne for art projects, and started to pay each other compliments. Lynne said:

"Jeff has an atonishing strong moral sense, and a generosity that most people, unfortunately, seems to not recognize due to his quiet demeanor. Despite his fatal flaw of not being able to move beyond the black color spectrum in his wardrobe he has wonderfully outspoken viewpoints on life which, said author enjoys by reading his blog."

No wonder why I think of her as my best friend.


It’s all my parents’ fault. It was Mother’s Day, 1990 (I think that was the year.) It was a Sunday. We took mom out to McDonalds’ for breakfast. My dad’s favorite radio station, usually Classic Rock programming, was featuring its Sunday Jazz Brunch. After almost a minute of his “what the hell is this shit” mumbling, dad switched it off. By the time we got home, it was over. But the next weekend, I got up early, and listened through the whole thing. A lot of it was what’s played on NYC’s “Smooth Jazz” station. Some of it was Swing/Big Band. Nice stuff, but nothing really moving. But I taped a lot of it off the radio anyway, cause I wanted to hear it during the rest of the week.

Then it happened. A few weeks later, I heard The Trumpet. That’s when I discovered real Jazz. Miles Davis and his Quintet playing a live version of “All of You.” The song was over 14 minutes long, and I got it on tape. It took me a decade to find the CD. In that time, I checked out every Miles CD I could find with songs that were over 10 minutes long, and anything with the name “All of You.” All the recordings of that song sounded NOTHING like the one I taped off the radio years ago. While I did find a lot of great music by Miles, including my all-time favorite (In a Silent Way), I was still frustrated. But then, I started looking for live-recordings only. I’d forgotten that one little part.

“Miles Davis: The Complete Concert 1964. ‘My Funny Valentine’ + ‘Four’ & More.” This was it. The song I had spent ten years looking for had finally come into my possession. The February 12th concert was a benefit for the registration of black voters in Louisiana and Mississippi. It was performed in what is now called Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, the same building where my SVA graduation ceremony was held. I didn’t know it at the time, but for a brief moment, I shared the stage with my favorite musician.

A Fucking Travesty

On my cab ride home from work at 5 this morning, I heard a horrible bastardization of jazz saxaphonist Paul Desmond's composition Take Five.

It was playing on the 'smooth jazz' radio station, which provides endless hours of shitty elevator/dentists' office music to the NYC Metro area. The problem with most of what's on this radio station is that it's not jazz. It's over-produced crap. There is no improvisation or syncopation. No call-and-response. Virtually every synthesized note is strategically placed.

Can you tell I took a History of Jazz class in college, and that I'm a total snob about the subject?

The cover tune I heard was 90% synthesizer, 10% Kenny G-style saxaphone. The "drum" beats sounded like too-tightly wound bass strings being violently plucked.

Paul Desmond wrote Take Five for the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1959, for the album Time Out. It was meant to be a drawn out drum solo for drummer Joe Morello "to release himself from the rigidity of the 5/4 pulse" (from the album's liner notes) as Paul's alto sax played off of him, while Dave played the constant piano vamp and Eugene Wright drove his sly bass line down Broadway at 3 AM on a cool, rainy summer night.

Paul has to have spun in his grave a million times by now.

Later today, I'll tell you more about how I got into jazz. Monday, I'll review Lyman's jazz album Funky Supervillain. I already know it's going to be good. I just haven't heard it all yet. Check out his blog & myspace. He's got a few songs up there.