A Frolic of My Own

Jazz, Books, Macs, Food, and Life Outside the Academy

Blogging from Cleveland Park, DC

iJunkman at hotmail dot com

Pages Written
in 2004 = 3

July 31, 2003
Good newsGood news! I got the temp job at the bank. I won't have to return to the polling company. My career as a telephone pollster has ended as quickly as it began.

I spent last night calling random strangers across the nation and asking them about their awareness of cable advertisements. Actually, I got hung up on by random strangers, while one kind soul took five minutes to answer my questions. Yes, in a desperate bid to add something to our bank account, I signed up to be a telephone pollster. It pays seven dollars an hours, which is roughly seven dollars more than I'm making at the moment.

It was hard to sit through the three hours of unpaid training and not feel like Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed. Of course, it was also hard to not feel like a bourgeois impostor. This was especially true given the fact that I had to start the job last night instead of Thursday, since it's Restaurant Week and I have Thursday night reservations at Ardeo. Even at the discounted rate, my meal tonight will cost more than I could earn on a five hour shift of polling.

A temp agency called me back yesterday about a bilingual administrative assistant position. It pays thirteen dollars an hour. It sounds strange, but it hadn't occurred to me that being bilingual was a marketable skill. With all the talk of a rising Hispanic population, I just assumed that fluent speakers of both Spanish and English were easy to come by. If I get the bank job, then I'm not going back to the polling place. Then again, maybe the place where I interviewed Monday will offer me a real job.

July 30, 2003
IlXorIlXor asks, "Did you really feel 'welcomed' to the jungle by Axl Rose, or do think that was sort of just insincere, halfhearted graciousness?" A thoughtful discussion ensues.

July 29, 2003
The China Town metro station was packed last night with ticket holders for the American Idols concert at the MCI Center. Many people had cardboard signs proclaiming their favorite singer, although I don't think any competition was involved.

I was in the neighborhood to attend trivia night at Fado, part of a chain of pseudo-Irish pubs. After a slow start, our team managed to pull into third place by the 7th round. We had some problems with our knowledge of Winnie the Pooh and the Godfather films, though, which pushed us back to the middle of the pack in the 8th and final round.

The game ended around the same time the Idols stopped singing, and the trains were mobbed again. Luckily, the crowds of concert goers emptied out after one stop, transferring to the trains headed back to Northern Virginia.

July 28, 2003
The Strand Book Store in New York sells books by the foot. Interested in eighteen inches of ornithology, two feet of biographies of great men, and a couple of yards of "leather looking" bindings? They can take care of that for you:
Are you searching for a library that not only looks great, but reflects the best that has been written in any subject? We have put together libraries for hundreds of clients, including the Plaza Hotel, Steven Spielberg, and Polo Ralph Lauren. Let our professional library consultants put together a collection that will please the eye and satisfy the mind.
Let no one say that Steven Spielberg is not a serious artist.

Job interviewThis morning, I have a third round of interviews for a job. After today, I will have spent almost seven hours interviewing for the position. That has to be a good sign.

July 25, 2003
I must finish the final corrections to the dissertation, so I've escaped to the Library of Congress to complete them. No job searching. If I want to access the internet, I have to avoid the suspcicious librarians. So far, the work is going well.

Is there a bassist alive with a larger tone than William Parker? Is there a better rhythm section working today than Parker and Hamid Drake? As Scrapbook (Blue Series/Thirsty Ear), Parker’s most recent release, makes clear, they are more than just a rhythm section. Joining with the violinist Billy Bang, the three function more like a classical trio than a traditional jazz rhythm section backing a soloist.

On the first track, for example, the trio establishes a buoyant exchange, with Parker’s bass filling in where you expect to hear Drake’s hi-hat or Bang scraping on his violin to handle the rhythm while Parker takes the melody. With “Sunday Morning Church,” they create a noir dirge, the perfect soundtrack for a funeral forced to take place under the cover of darkness. The album ends with “Holiday for Flowers,” a mournful song begging to be a standard.

Make no mistake, despite the sometimes infectious melodies and Parker’s innate funkiness, this is avant-garde music. After tracing out a melody, Bang’s violin will squawk in an atonal rage. Parkers compositions can be as complicated as they are catchy.

Matthew Shipp, the pianist and curator of the Blue Series, should be congratulated for keeping the albums short and avoiding the popular tendency to fill out the CD with everything recorded at the session. Scrapbook, like other discs in the series, leaves you satisfied but not satiated.

July 24, 2003
ME BlogHousekeeping note: Autopsy Report has been added to my blogroll. Be forewarned, this blog recounts the experiences of an intern at a medical examiners office. Those with weak stomachs are advised to click elsewhere. The tone of the writer is professional and he clearly knows his subject.

July 23, 2003
Helvetica gameIt's a sans-serif smack down! In this flash game, you help the classic Helvetica font defeat Microsoft's insurgent Arial. The last font with letters left in their case wins.

This weekend, for a few short days, my social life was more active than it’s been in months. I'm still getting caught up on work. Friday night my friend Brad came by Cleveland Park for drinks and dinner. Brad, a freelance writer, was in Washington to interview Nelson Rockefeller's environmental attorney for an oral history project.

After too many beers, Brad convinced me that I should write a book about my uncle Jerry, who spent his life ripping off casinos from coast to coast. Jerry even cleaned out a few cruise ships. The next morning it still seemed like a good idea, so I might just follow up on it. I would need to get my uncle to sign on and then start taping interviews with him and his associates.

Saturday I finally saw the Small Wonders exhibit at the National Gallery, and it was disappointing. Adriaen Coorte, a seventeenth-century Dutch painter, produced throughout his life a series of vegetables, fruits, and shells arranged on a cracked marble ledge against a black background. Except for a couple of vanitas, he produced nothing else. Scholars rediscovered Coorte in the 1950s, but this might be a case of academics hyping an artist to build their own careers. Coorte failed to master the optical effects that give depth to seventeenth-century Dutch paintings and make them so stunning. His still lifes look more like meticulous stickers pasted on a three-dimensional backdrop.

A favorite professor of mine, who I hadn’t seen since I graduated from WashU in 1996, happened to be in town. I joined her and her son on a quick spin through the Freer Gallery and the exhibit of Noguchi ceramics at the adjoining Sackler Gallery. I could only stay for an hour or so, since I had to meet Andrea at her office so we could drive out to Arlington for a cocktail party in honor of some recently married friends.

But wait, there’s more. Our good friends Andy and Cynthia, who relocated to Shreveport this summer, were also in town. So we left the party early, picked up our friends, and headed over to Kaz Sushi Bistro for the most incredible sushi I’ve ever tasted. I don’t know if foie gras marinated in plum wine topped with a plum wine jelly would meet a connoisseur’s definition of real sushi, but I like it.

Sunday was a little more relaxed. We met up with Andy and Cynthia again and spent some time at the U.S. Botanic Garden, but we were too early to see the Titan arum in bloom. They say it smells like rotting flesh, so that may have been a lucky break. For dinner we stopped in at Bistrot du Coin, an unpretentious bistro just off Dupont. While Washington’s restaurants can’t measure up to New York, Bistrot du Coin goes a long ways in making up for the overabundance of stuffy steak houses. I would argue its just as good as Baltazar in New York, but half the price.

July 22, 2003
Gin and TonicIs there anything more refreshing than a gin and tonic on a hot summer day?

July 21, 2003
To Do List:
  1. Hear rising fado star Mariza at the Birchmere Monday.

  2. See Seabiscuit at the Uptown theater.

  3. Hear Jake Halpern read Tuesday evening from Braving Home: Dispatches From the Underwater Town, the Lava-Side Inn, and Other Extreme Locales at Olsson's (Dupont Circle)

July 18, 2003
NYT's Style SectionWriting an open letter to the New York Times in McSweeney's, Michelle Arenas wonders why the recently married couples featured each Sunday in the Style Section look "as if they've been eating powdered donuts while gazing into an atomic explosion."

Since no one has time to actually read books anymore, Mastication has decided to focus on what really matters and review the covers. After all, what's important is how impressive the book looks on your coffee table.

July 16, 2003
The Chronicle of Higher Education's advice columnist, Ms. Mentor, reveals in an aside to her most recent column how competitive the academic job market has become:
Graduate students on the job market sometimes hire coaches to rid themselves of pronounced regional accents. (Yes, they are contributing to the homogenization of American life, Ms. Mentor concedes -- but unless they get jobs, they'll have no opportunity to show that Louisianians are as smart as Minnesotans.)
Sure, I hired the typical wardrobe consultant and personal stylist before hitting the interviews at last year's MLA conference. Who doesn't? But a voice coach? That's going too far.

July 15, 2003
War with North KoreaWith well informed politicians warning that the US may be at war with North Korea by the end of the year, I wonder how our thinly spread military could handle such a major conflict. Perhaps the draft will end my job search. It sounds absurd, I know, but more unimaginable events have come to pass in recent years.

Forced to dodge street protesters, Lance Armstrong lost time on today's leg of the Tour de France. I applaud this effort to incorporate more French elements into the Tour de France. Now if they could just scatter dog dropping along the route and force the cyclists to complete endless forms before competing, then the race would really provide all the obstacles of living in France.

Saturday night, Benny Carter passed away. Another link to big-band swing is lost, and one of the greatest eras of American music recedes further into history.

Benny Carter (1907-2003)

July 14, 2003
To Do List:
  1. Visit the new City Museum.

  2. Hear Jon Krakauer read from Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, Tuesday at Olsson's (Courthouse).

  3. See the exhibit "Front Page: The Photographs of Arthur Ellis," documenting 40 years of Washington history, at the Corcoran.

July 12, 2003
We went down to the Fish Market for the first time this morning, and we were both impressed. The vendors stretch out the length of a block, and almost every sea critter you'd want to eat can be found fresh and ready to cook. Several places also sell gumbo and boiled crabs and shrimp. Unfortunately, we didn't have an appetite or an idea of what we might want to cook. The market is open seven days a week, though, so we're heading back tomorrow ready to eat and ready to buy. After being somewhat disappointed in the quality of dining and access to gourmet ingredients in D.C., things are looking up now that we've discovered the market.

After the Fish Market, we drove around the Capitol Hill neighborhood looking at homes. We won't be in a position to buy for a few years, but after attending a party last night at a Capitol Hill home we're even more interested in the neighborhood.

July 11, 2003
For three hours, Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3 assaults you with an illogical series of images that range from slapstick to the grotesque. In the lobby of the Chrysler building, five enormous Crown Imperial sedans pound a black limo into a nugget of steel. A lone man scales the building's elevator shaft, finally arriving at an art deco Irish pub on the top floor. In an unconnected final hour, a pink clad Scot scales the inside of the Guggenheim, avoiding the Rocketttes, a legless model, dueling punk bands, and an angry Richard Serra.

Without a clear narrative or even a single line of dialogue, Cremaster 3 manages to create a sense of narrative momentum. On the one hand, the physical movement up the Chrysler building gives the movie a structure. On the other hand, Barney is a master of the technical tools of cinema. The tension he creates with nothing more than a rise in the pitch of the sound effects would make Hitchcock proud. Hollywood should hire Barney to direct a genre film. A horror flick? The next installment of the Indiana Jones franchise?

Is Barney the greatest artist of his generation, as the New York Times recently claimed? I can't even yet judge the one film I saw, although the images are more memorable than any film I've seen in years. The Cremaster cycle will be touring major cities this summer. A limit edition DVD was released, but at $25,000 a copy it probably won't find its way into too many home collections. The Order, the final section that takes place in the Guggenheim, will be released on DVD in August. Unfortunately, The Order is the least compelling section of the film.

Cremaster 3 will also make you want to drink a Guinness and floss your teeth. You'll understand when you see the film.

July 09, 2003
Housekeeping note: The Map Room, a blog dedicated to maps, has just been added to my blogroll.

Searching for a job is uncomfortably like writing a dissertation. There is no limit to the amount of energy and time you can devote to the effort. No matter how much you work, you can't escape the nagging feeling that you could be doing more. Surely everyone else is working harder.

The dissertation felt like an endless project almost until the end. And then, in the last few months it came together with a speed that still amazes me. Looking back on the years of reading, and researching, and writing, though, I can now see that it was a cumulative process. Each effort built on the previous work and eventually produced a 220 page whole.

The job search will end abruptly when I finally land a position. Will all the work that went before be responsible for the job? I think the job search is more like playing the lottery, but with better odds. The more tickets you buy, the better your chances. Of course, the first ticket you buy could just as likely be a winner as the 72nd ticket.

July 08, 2003
Writing in Slate, Brian Montopli reports on the DC Metro Blog Map, which catalogs bloggers by their closest metro station. He believes that blog maps provide an underground guide to the city, exposing the reality of the neighborhoods that official guides overlook. The 1999 Lonely Planet guide, for example, describes Dupont Circle as a "fashionable residential district," while its bloggers reveal the zone as a "liberal, gentrifying, largely gay neighborhood." That sounds about right to me.

According the Montopli’s theory, though, my own area of Cleveland Park is home to techies and the underemployed. I always thought it was an upscale residential neighborhood.

Montopli also notes that two of DC’s best known bloggers, Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall, haven’t joined the Metro Blog Map. Well, Andrew Sullivan lives in Adams Morgan, and as we all know, despite the existence of a metro stop called "Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan," there is no metro in Adams Morgan. Perhaps Marshall lives in Georgetown.

To Do List:
  1. See the Carpets of Andalusia exhibit at the Textile Museum.

  2. Schedule an appointment to see Gerard Rondeau's behind the scene photos of French museums at La Maison Francaise in the French Embassy.

  3. See Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3 at Visions Cinema and Bistro Lounge.

July 06, 2003
On the 4th of July, we ventured down to the Mall to watch the fireworks. We were a block from the Capitol and nine floors above the crowds. Although the view of the Capitol and the cannons firing across the reflecting pool for the finale of the 1812 Overture were spectacular, the fireworks were partially obscured by rooftops and cranes. By the end of the long display, the smoke hung thick in the air and the fireworks were muted surges of color behind the gray.

The next morning, we needed to escape the city. It was too late to book a room anywhere within a three-hour radius. Instead, we drove over to Annapolis, ate some crabs for lunch, wandered the town, and drove home that evening.

July 03, 2003
A Ph.D. in the humanities, it turns out, prepares you to run a troubled archdiocese. Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley, recently appointed by the Pope to run the Boston archdiocese, holds a doctorate in Spanish literature. He wrote about mysticism, fittingly enough for a Franciscan. That's my dissertation director's field. I wonder if they ever met at a conference?

July 02, 2003
Just in case I needed more evidence that the job market is less than stellar, Slate offers another indicator of the sorry state of the economy:
Feeling more optimistic about the job market? Check out the Conference Board's Help-Wanted Index. The 52-year-old index, which measures the volume of help-wanted classified advertisements in newspapers, stood at 36 in May (with 1987 as a 100 baseline), its lowest level since 1961, and off 50 percent from February 2001.
There is something thrilling about living through a singular moment in history. Hey pop, do you remember the terrible recession of the early millennium? Boy do I son, I was on the job market during those years. It would have been wiser, perhaps, to have proudly participated in the irrational exuberance of the 90s, and then seek cover in an ivory tower during the present economy. That I did just the opposite can only be attributed to bad timing.

I have seen the Peeps, and they are day-glo. Rows of identical Peeps lined up like soldiers or rare butterflies pinned to a board. A jumble of yellow peeps packed in behind chicken wire. You too can see David Ottogalli’s Peeps at Kramerbooks & Afterwords, but only until July 12. Can’t keep them on the walls too long, or they might start attracting flies.

July 01, 2003
My second job interview took place this morning. It went well, I think. They plan to interview seven more candidates. That sound like long odds to me, but I remain hopeful.

After a weekend in Charlottesville, I now understand why urban dwellers buy weekend homes in the country. Although we spent half the time cleaning out our old house and supervising the movers, it felt like a vacation. It was so quiet we slept like the dead. We met up with some friends, ate at some favorite restaurants, and wandered through the city’s shops. I found a used copy of David Murray’s New Life and Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The Murray CD I hadn’t seen before, but I knew it was from the mid-80s when the sax player was still young and edgy. The Eggers book, of course, was the one everybody talked about last year. I’m now trying to learn what all the fuss was about.

We were in Charlottesville for the wedding of two friends. The ceremony was held in one of the gardens, each with a serpentine wall and a unique landscape, that line the lawn at the University of Virginia. The bride met the groom in Guinea while serving in the Peace Corps. Half the guests were from Africa and the other half from Indiana just across the border from Kentucky. The music was a mix of the disco classics and contemporary African pop, with a little singing and drumming as a live interlude. Everybody danced.

In an adjoining garden, an acquaintance from grad school happened to have her own wedding the same evening. She married Hal Hartely’s producer and best friend. Last I heard, the indy director was slated to serve as best man. I guess he was dancing away right down the lane from us.

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