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

October 31, 2003
EmmylouEmmylou walked by without even a glance in my direction.

untitledEmmylou Harris stood on a raised platform in Borders like a goddess with an acoustic guitar, wearing dark glasses and a battered black cowboy hat. Her grey hair spilled around her face, but she looked radiant even from where I stood at the back of the crowd and her voice sounded as pure as it did back when she sang harmony for Gram Parsons. Many performers have perfected the art of commanding attention, but Emmylou Harris projects the kind of aura that only surrounds those who have lived at the center of great moments. Her life and her work cut through some of the highlights of American music in the last thirty years, and standing across the room from her you feel that you are connected to that history.

Why was Emmylou Harris playing for free at a Washington Borders? She mentioned that her daughter Molly worked at the store. It's hard to imagine Emmylou Harris' daughter working at the Foggy Bottom Borders. It's also hard to imagine having Emmylou Harris for your mother.

October 30, 2003
HalloweenRetroCrush has posted a whole gallery of classic Halloween costumes. If it hasn't already been bought on eBay, I'm planning to go as Ringo Starr.

Be safe out there in the dark and don't eat too much chocolate. It will make your face break out.

EconomyThe economy surpassed everyone's expectations in the third quarter, and my first thought was "I hope this doesn't assure Bush's re-election." I know my reaction is no better than that of the conservatives CalPundit rightly criticizes for treating economic news like positive polling results for their boy. I know, as someone who's still a little queazy from how fast this roller coaster economy fell, that many people desperately need for things to improve. I know that, if I hope for anything, it should be that the positive numbers portend job growth.

In the end, though, there are things more important than the economy. If the economy were a novel, it would be an endless episode of good and bad days with no satisfying forward motion or conclusion. Yes, we witnessed one of the largest upward swings in the economy's history. Now, we are suffering through a downturn. It will go up and down many more times during our lives. There are events, however, that are singular in history. The attacks on 9/11 were such an event. A great leader could have a created something positive from the destruction. A good leader would have made the nation safer and rallied the world to our aid. Instead, the United States is more vulnerable, more distrusted, and more despised than it has ever been. It is impossible for me not to be angry at the opportunity that was lost and at President Bush for losing that opportunity through actions that appear more willful than inept.

History is littered with men who, in hindsight, made colossal mistakes. We tend to grant them the benefit of the doubt and assume that that the disastrous consequences of their actions, which are so clear to us in the present, were merely hypotheticals in the past. Having watched the Bush administration squander its moment in history, I wonder if we are too kind to the figures of the past. Maybe the consequences of their mistakes were perfectly clear at the moment, but other agendas and interests were more immediately compelling.

Tina Brown returns to the Washington Post to remind us that she knows lots of famous people, and these famous people call her on the phone, and sometimes they even let her eat ice cream with their kids. As a service to the citizens of Washington, she also notes that Patrick Moynihan was the senator "of the bow tie, the tweeds." Tina, we may not know what Prada means in D.C., but we can identify politicians without visual cues.

October 29, 2003
PhotoAll this week, Frolic Photo will be featuring hands from the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden.

untitledOther people's prose:
My heart goes out to them, and then it comes back, selfishly, humanly, to me and my own.
From T. Coraghessan Boyle's "Waiting for the Apocalypse," an op-ed in the New York Times.

untitledAll the blogosphere is abuzz over Amazon's new Search Inside the Book feature. Shoppers at the online retailer can now search every word of 120,000 books. As with other new search technologies, such as Google or LexisNexis, it will take years to discover all the applications and implications of Search Inside the Book. Timothy Noah used the feature to update Richard Rorty's list of most popular intellectuals, while Steven Johnson dreams of the day when he can search just the books in his personal collection. Meanwhile, the marriage of the internet with the Early Modern technology of print has already made some writers uneasy. The internet may have lost its freewheeling edge, but Amazon fulfills some of the net's early promise by creating a radical new way to access words and offering it free to every person in the world.

What will Amazon do next? Jeff Bezos tips his hand in his open letter introducing the Search Inside the Book feature. As an example of the new service, Jeff says that by searching for the term resistojet, "I've been able to find books that I could not have found otherwise." And those books all relate to rockets and nuclear power. Is Amazon about to follow China into space? Or does Jeff want to join the nuclear club before Iran? That's one way to spend Amazon's profits.

October 26, 2003
To Do List:
  1. See Civic Endurance, a video installation dedicated to Seattle street punks, at Conner Contemporary Art.

  2. Watch the queens run Tuesday at the High Heel Race, the annual drag queen race organized by Delta Lambda Phi (17th between Church and R at 9 p.m.).

  3. Listen to Emmylou Harris singing to the lunch crowd for free at Borders (18th and L at 12:30 p.m.).

Wal-Mart reduxAccording to USA Today, some of the illegal workers arrested in raids at Wal-Mart stores across the country were paid as little as $2 a day. At those wages, they couldn't even afford Wal-Mart's "Eveyday Low Prices."

Elizabeth Stern, a partner with the law firm Shaw Pittman LLP quoted in the Washington Post, questions the government's renewed vigor in enforcing immigration laws. "That's the wrong attitude when you are trying to foster a national economic recovery," she said. I suppose publicly suggesting that federal authorities ignore the laws governing corporations is one way to drum up clients.

October 23, 2003
FriendsIn the gym tonight, every television was tuned to the latest episode of Friends. Watching the show without the sound, I was struck by how it has become a grotesque parody of high school theater. All across America, sixteen year old kids are painting wrinkles on their faces and trying to master the mature complexities of Our Town. Meanwhile, in Hollywood aging actors smooth out their faces with plastic surgery and pancake make-up, hoping to imitate carefree youths in New York.

untitledFederal agents arrested over 250 illegal immigrants working at Wal-Mart stores around the country, according to CNN. Mark Mandel, an analyst at Blaylock & Partners, believes the whole episode amounts to nothing more than "slightly bad press." "If Wal-Mart was hiring from sweatshops," Mandel added, "that would be much worse." And if they were selling goods produced in sweatshops, well that's just good business.

John Allen, a corporate brand consultant, cautioned, "Where this could hurt the company is in its reputation of not being a great place to work. If left unchecked, it could have an impact on Wal-Mart's image." Since most people who believe that Wal-Mart is a great place to work appear only in the company's television advertisement, their image is probably safe.

Update: The feds dubbed the raids "Operation Rollback."

October 22, 2003
North Garden, VAThe town of Charlottesville quickly disappears into the countryside no matter which direction you drive. The transition is abrupt; you notice nothing more than an alley separating the strip-mall from the hills and trees. Last weekend, Andrea and I drove ten minutes outside of Charlottesville and spent the weekend in North Garden, cat sitting and enjoying some time together after spending too many days apart.

We had been warned about bears in the area and I spotted a deer one night along the road, but the possibility that people might be lurking around the house was more frightening than any wild animal. On our way out for a walk Saturday, we noticed an old car at the end of the driveway. I'm familiar enough with the horror genre to realize that a young couple in an old house in the country are always at great risk for grisly assaults. By the time we returned, the car had disappeared. It's possible there was an innocent explanation. The fewer people that surround me, though, the more suspicious I become of their motives.

Andrea celebrated her birthday Saturday, so we met some friends at Metro for dinner. The restaurant used to be called Metropolitan and specialized in applying one too many innovations to good ingredients. Thankfully, they have streamlined the cuisine and lowered the prices. Now, Metro serves high-end pizzas, duck carpaccio, and rich ravioli stuffed with lobster or goat cheese. After dinner, we all returned to Andrea's apartment to eat cake, drink Cava, and sing happy birthday.

Monday, I defended my dissertation and then celebrated as well. In the University of Virginia's Spanish department, all trials and tests of graduate students are public, from the M.A. and Ph.D. orals to dissertation defenses. While that may sound like torture, and often can be where M.A. and Ph.D. exams are concerned, the dissertation defense normally provides an opportunity to share your work with the faculty and fellow graduate students.

The faculty were more complimentary of the dissertation than I had anticipated and the conversation reminded me of how much I enjoy scholarship. I had almost forgotten, after reading too many bad articles and listening to too many hastily written conference presentations, why the seventeenth-century captured my attention and held it for five years. The defense proved to be the culmination of my decade of college education.

October 21, 2003
It's official. As of three o'clock yesterday, I am a Ph.D. Now that I've completed graduate school, I can devote all my attention to updating this blog.

October 17, 2003
untitledThe first Chinese man to orbit the earth, Yang Liwei, was unable to see the Great Wall of China from space. According to CNN, Yang told state television, "I did not see the Great Wall from space."

Chinese state television also reported that attempts to dig a hole to the United States were thwarted by the discovery of molten lava at the core of the Earth.

October 16, 2003
Blog classWednesday night in Washington, Jason Lefkowitz charged a group of students $37 each to learn the secrets of "how to start an online journal." Starting a blog involves nothing more than logging onto www.blogspot.com, choosing a title, and typing an entry, so Jason was either collecting $3 a minute from the students or he had one hell of a powerpoint presentation.

I couldn't make it to Jason's class, but I like to imagine that it was filled with Baby Boomers hoping to blog away their Golden Years. If that was the case, then Jason was just carrying on the Generation X's proud tradition of fleecing their parents. I've always believed that the rise and fall of the internet era was a massive payback to the Boomers for calling my generation slackers. The children of the 60s crowed about the good works they accomplished and clucked over the self-centeredness and inertia of their kids. Their kids built an online house of cards, took advantage of their elders greed, and took mom and dad's 401K for damn near every penny it contained.

Of course, when the bubble burst, it forced the kids to take up temping and move back home. No shame in that, though, since no one ever expected the Generation X to amount to much anyway.

October 14, 2003
untitledSince I temp at a bank, I'm off on all the holidays normally enjoyed only by mail-carriers and government employees. Of course, in Washington half the city works for the government, so even on a minor holiday like Columbus Day there are more people in the cafés than at their desks.

We were enjoying our last day of summer Monday, so I headed over to Adams Morgan to see what the district looked like in the daylight. For lunch, I stopped in at Mixtec (1792 Columbia Rd., NW), a Mexican restaurant that began as a grocery but now serves some of the best Mexican food in the district. Instead of the more typical Tex-Mex platters, I ordered a pork torta, a sandwich with guacamole and refried beans served on a French roll. It reminded me a similar sandwich I bought from a street vendor in El Paso. In El Paso, the meat was ladled with the juice of jalepeño peppers and the bread cover with both mayonnaise and guacamole. The torta at Mixteca was excellent; the sandwich from the stall carved out of the entrance to a discount store in El Paso specializing in baby clothes was even better.

As you move down Columbia Road, which connects Adams Morgan to the Columbia Heights neighborhood, the aesthetic, the language, and the people become increasingly Latino. At the point where you are surrounded by Latin music stores blasting music onto the street, emporiums of cheap luggage and dolls, and wire transfer shops, you almost forget that two blocks away people are sipping three dollar cups of coffees and bars are preparing for the onslaught of young professionals, students, and interns.

untitledSimply ordering your food, eating it when it arrives, and paying before you leave marks you as a rookie. Phil Vettel offers ten tips on how to be a professional diner.

October 12, 2003
I had dinner Tuesday with my friend Chrissy at the Chinatown Express. It's a humble basement location, but welcoming with its bright windows full of hanging ducks and cooks making noodles and dumplings by hand. We shared an order of pork and leek dumpling, which were as good as I imagined they would be when I saw them lined up in the window like pastries on a tray. My entrée, dried and cooked squid in black bean sauce, was less exciting. The corn starch in the sauce imposed a uniformity of both texture and taste on the dish. I should have been more adventurous and ordered one of the specials, which was where the Chinese patrons appeared to be finding their food. My normal instinct is to order anything new or that I can't identify. How else will I learn what it tastes like? I might be a little more timid with Chinese food, but next time I vow to order off the special menu.

Chrissy has started applying for academic jobs in Spanish, and the conversation about openings--the jobs that seemed out of reach, the locations that weren't great but acceptable, the crazy Christian schools we would never apply to--reminded me of so many I had last year. I'm still close enough to the academy that the job list, which provides a rough guide to the interest of the discipline and clues about whose contract wasn't renewed, interests me. At the same time, my daily life, my concerns, and my future is so removed from the academy that I can hardly believe I went through the very same job search just 12 months ago.

The academic job search was an attempt to imagine a dozen different ways I might spend the rest of my professional life. Could I be happy living in the South, teaching all the time, and hosting regular dinners for my students? Would I want to be in a near-Artic clime and adopt a Marxist attitude? Could I settle in my old hometown and teach the same five classes for the rest of my life? While some academics change jobs every two years, most professors finish their careers where they start them. I began to realize, though, that none of these possible careers appealed to me and I would be better off outside of the academy.

October 09, 2003
untitledPresident Bush wants you to know that the situation in Iraq is "a lot better than you probably think." That man truly has a gift for stirring rhetoric.

If you are as obsessed with your music as I am and have more tunes than you can track, the newly launched Smart Playlists.com is here to help. The site will be collecting ideas for iTunes smart play lists and other tips and programs to help you manage your Mp3 collection. [via Boing Boing]

October 08, 2003
The newly installed management of Tyco took out full pages ads Tuesday to let the world know that "despite the distractions of the recent past" they still believe in the company. Can you really trust someone who considers the theft of $600 million a "distraction"?

October 07, 2003
untitledWould you want to share a drink with who you were ten years ago? Would you want to open an email ten years from now from the person you are today? FutureMe can at least offer you the second opportunity by sending an email you write today on a date you specify in the future.

FutureMe allows you to browse the emails of those who opt to make their messages public. Several years in the future, some people will be embarrassed by how immature they are now.

October 06, 2003
Ms. Mentor makes mention of Frolic in her most recent advice column in the Chronicle of Higher Education. While I'm happy to accept any publicity that's offered, would it have been too much trouble to actually link to my blog? She certainly knows how to link to her own articles.

October 05, 2003
Magician Roy, one half of the famed Las Vegas duo Siegfried and Roy, was mauled and dragged across the stage during a Friday perform. According to the Washington Post, he remains in critical condition after 2 1/2 hours of surgery. No word on whether he will ever join Siegfried on the stage of the Mirage again.

In an unrelated story, the New York Times reports that police discovered a 350-pound bengal tiger in a Harlem apartment over the weekend. The tiger shared the apartment with his owner and a five-foot reptile.

October 02, 2003
Record changer, long play, and ten-cent store have all been removed from the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. As David Kipen reports, these words can be revived, but only if we use them in a handful of newspapers and magazines published east of the Mississippi.

October 01, 2003
I know it is rude to read over someone's shoulder, but it was hard to turn away from the catalog of New Age trinkets and clothes a dowdy bureaucrat was reading on the Metro today. The medieval-style nightgowns and lingerie were truly hideous.

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