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

January 31, 2004
Other people's proseOther people's prose:
Now you have reached a point in your life when you realize that you were not meant for youth, that you were in fact always a little older than everyone else and merely waiting for your age to catch up to you, so that you might live partly through memory, as you were meant to.
From Rachel Cohen's "Lost Cities," collected in the Best American Essays (2003).

January 29, 2004
Lunch and National GeographicInstead of eating lunch today, I ran to a lab between Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom to pee in a cup. I may still be a temp, but now that a major corporation wants to examine my bodily fluids I feel that I've taken another important step into the working world.

As I rushed back to work, trying not to stain my tie with the juice dripping from a lamb pita I picked up at House of Kebab, I happened upon the National Geographic headquarters, which fills a full city block and rises several stories. I always assumed they shot the magazines on location, but I guess all the photos must be done on sets. I can't imagine what else they would be doing with all that space.

January 28, 2004
Good newLooks like I've scored a nice little raise and the option to enroll in health insurance I can actually afford. I'm still a temp, but I'm going to be an in-house temp. Once this goes through, I'll be able to live without the generosity of my parents. Being independent feels good.

Iraq stock marketThree years ago, Jay Hallen was touring Cuba with the Yale Glee Club and arguing that the Indigo Girls suck. The Bush administration recognized his keen judgment, moved him to the Bagdad palace, and charged him with rebuilding the Iraqi stock market. Sure, he has no previous experience or interest in finance, but he's been cramming real hard for the last few months. According to the Wall Street Journal [not online], Jay managed to allay the suspicions of some Iraqi businessmen with his "confident tone and his repeated promises to quickly open a stock market that is the envy of the Arab world." Overconfidence alone has served the Bush administration well in Iraq, so we have no doubt that Jay will be the next Dick Grasso.

January 27, 2004
It's KerryThe tiny eastern state has spoken, and they decided that at this moment in history a phlegmatic New England patrician is the right man to lead the nation. If Kerry actually wins this nomination, I'm afraid the debates will be a rerun of 2000, when I felt like a teenager constantly afraid that his parents would embarrass him in public.

I spent the last few months trying to figure out Howard Dean, and now I got blind sided by Kerry. Perhaps I'll just ignore the whole thing until after Super Tuesday, and then examine my choices.

Snow and IceI'm cold even with the heater cranked up high and its too danger to walk down the block for a beer. Wonkette reminds us that "it's just a little ice on the road, people. You know, what you put in your drinks." Easy to say when you're a professional blogger who never has to leave the house, but tomorrow morning I have to skate down the sidewalk to the metro.

Over the weekend, Andrea and I saw a French woman wearing nothing warmer than a jean jacket happily walking through the cold and chatting on her cell phone. Europeans, Andrea noted, seem immune to discomfort. From a young age they become accustomed to thin mattresses, stiff chairs, and drafty rooms. As an America, though, I will proudly exercise my birthright to wear a pained look on my face when it's so cold my ears hurt.

Other people's prose Other people's prose:
I'd be willing to shave years from the end of my life to go back and intercept that evening under a cantilever when we both put our coats over our heads and rushed through the rain after coffee and I said, almost without thinking, I didn't want to say goodnight yet, although it was already dawn. I would give years, not to unwrite this evening or to rewrite it, but to put it on hold and, as happens when we bracket off time, be able to wonder indefinitely who I'd be had things taken another turn. Time, as always, is given in the wrong tense.
From André Aciam's "Lavender," collected in The Best American Essays.

January 25, 2004
Blogroll updateThe blogosphere giveth and the blogosphere taketh away. Invisible Adjunct, one of the few bloggers I read every day, has taken an extended break. I'm not sure what I'll do without a daily entry on the ill state of the academic job market, but I suspect it will be good for my mental health. I'm leaving IA in the blogroll, since the comment section has become even more active since the host stop posting. It just shows that academics will do anything to avoid grading papers.

The Antic Muse has returned in the guise of Wonkette, a snide guide to Washington. Wonkette is latest franchise of Gawker Media, the Starbucks of the internet. Wonkette went online Friday, and she demonstrated enough piss and vinegar her first day out to prove that she has more testosterone than Howard Dean.

In other good news, Dublog is again posting pretty pictures everyday.

To Do ListTo Do List:
  1. Dance with the dragon this afternoon at the Chinese New Year parade (2:00 p.m. at 6th and H).
  2. See Jeanne Moreau introduce Bay of Angels Tuesday at the AFI.
  3. Hear My Morning Jacket playing something like country music and something like rock Saturday at the 9:30 Club.

January 22, 2004
Paul WolfowitzPaul Wolfowitz orders a lot of take out in Cleveland Park. Just after Christmas I was walking down Connecticut Avenue with my parents, who were visiting from Oklahoma. A large SUV with police lights embedded under the hood was parked outside the Park and Shop. First a young woman stepped out and scanned the area. Then, a man with a shaved head in a dark suit exited the car, signaled to the passenger it was safe, and the two agents led Paul Wolfowitz into Sala Thai. The undersecretary of defense got back in the car a little later with a bag of food.

I assumed my parents would be impressed by spotting a powerful Washington figure, but neither my mom nor my dad had ever heard of Wolfowitz.

Last week, I was waiting in line for a table at Nam-Viet Pho 79. Wolfowitz shoved past to order some food at the bar, and his agent stood next to me nervously eyeing his charge at the other end of the restaurant. Wolfowitz left with enough food for a crowd, so maybe he was having the entire neo-conservative cabal over to his house for spring rolls and pho.

January 21, 2004
Tearing bookChristoper Howse tears apart books and feels no shame, or so he claims. In his confession in the Telegraph, he must assure us that he only mutilates widely distributed titles and extol the convenience of the practice.

The person who first introduced me to Thomas Pynchon tore apart his copy of Gravity's Rainbow for similar reasons. He read the book cover to cover, promptly dropped out of graduate school, and moved to Alaska. After seperating the book into individual sections, he headed off to a tent to reread Pynchon's masterpiece. Periodically, he would return to Anchorage for provisions and the next section of the novel.

Terry Belanger, who runs the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, liked to destroy a book at the end of his class on bibliography and print. During the lecture, he would fiddle with a book and, as he concluded, draw the class's attention to it. Some 18th or 19th century edition, old but not rare. And then he ripped the pages from the spine, tore the cover in two, and turned the pages into scrap. The first time I saw the stunt, I was as shocked as the room full of rare book librarians around me. The second time, I knew it was coming and could enjoy the stunned faces around me. He did this to illustrate a point, but I remember only the illustration and not the lesson. [via Maud Newton]

January 19, 2004
Ben's Chili bowlBen's Chili Bowl has been clogging arteries since 1958, when the soul tunes on Ben Ali's jukebox were just hitting the charts. That Chili Half-Smoke with cheese fries may have taken a year off my life, but I'll tell you it was worth it.

From the outside, Ben's looks as glamorous as a movie theater. Inside, customers clog the entryway in a snaking line as they wait to order. As you inch towards the register, it's hard to resist the urge to add to your order one of the thick slices of cake stacked two feet high at the edge of the counter. Trust me, you don't want to resist. The chili dogs may have made Ben's fame, but the cake is as light and moist as your mother's own.

Andrea and I stopped in at Ben's Saturday around three o'clock. As we fell asleep at midnight, we realized that we had skipped dinner without even noticing. Neither of us had an appetite again until noon the next day.

Other people's proseOther people's prose:
Boston has a metropolitan economy and metropolitan-scale commuter routes--a gigantic tangle of expressways, subways and streetcar lines. But it has never coalesced into a metropolitan city. Its style is resolutely small-town--small-town emptiness, small-town sprawl, small-town isolation; it exudes the wet Sunday afternoon atmosphere of the dull province where there's no place to go, no big-city freedom, no glamour. Everything about Boston--its architecture and size, its strange concentration of eccentric talents--should have made it an exciting city. But no. This is not what Boston wanted. It craved discreet uneventfulness, the calm of a vast, woody suburb. Like so many American cities, it has succeeded in landing itself up in a terrible, anomalous mess.
Jonathan Raban in Soft City (1974).

January 15, 2004
Other people's proseOther people's prose:
In today's great cities, the most visible and vociferous inhabitants tend to be useless (by any standards which rate bread as being of greater utility than circuses), disproportionately well-paid for their uselessness, equipped with the money, the time and inclination to spend a large portion of their lives shopping.

Johnathan Raban in Soft City (1974).

English accentsGeorge Mason University has collected audio samples of almost 300 native and non-native English speakers. If you carefully study the samples for the 15 official languages of India, you might be able to identify the native tongue of your operator the next time you call for technical support. [via Boing Boing]

January 14, 2004
DCAWashington's Reagan National Airport sits almost inside the D.C. city limits, which makes it both convenient and dangerous. From my apartment on the opposite side of town, I can be at the arrival gates in 15 minutes if I hit all the green lights and the traffic is light.

After you round the back of the Tidal Basin on 395, the road runs parallel to the air strip. You can race the jumbo jets as the arrive over your shoulder and descend a few hundred yards away. In my experience the jets always win.

Photo bonus: All this week Frolic Photo will feature images of National Airport.

WritingDonald Shaw, a caustic old Brit who taught in my graduate department, gave me the best advice about writing I've ever heard: "Always take notes in complete sentences." Many times a few complete sentences, dashed off when a thought first occurred to me, have been the catalyst to overcome a block and even survived, unedited, into a final draft.

January 13, 2004
Spalding GraySpalding Gray, the writer and monologist, has been reported missing by his wife. He disappeared Sunday, and given his recent bouts of depression and attempts at suicide many are fearing that he took his life. His brother Rockwell described Spalding's mood at Christmas: "I wouldn't say he was in a happy state. It wasn't unusual. He's been in a fairly depressed condition for some time."

When I grew up in Oklahoma, books were hard to find and my taste were shaped by the motley assortment of titles I managed to acquire. Gray's Sex and Death to Age 14 was one of the books I read many times. He seemed exotic and sophisticated in a way I never thought I could be. I suppose now, between the internet and Barnes and Noble, curious kids can get a hold of anything to read. I wonder, though, if the books they find feel less like private discoveries.

Although I'm pessimistic, I hope Spalding Gray's life has a happy ending for the time being.

CorsairesRuss, over at This Paris Review, played his first game of "semi-pro American football in a second-tier French league" this Sunday. I'm happy to report that Russ and the Corsaires won handily.

Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are, so we tell them: we are the Corsaires, the mighty mighty Corsaires!

Gilbert NealGilbert Neal, writing in Salon, describes life as a 35 year-old wasting away working in a call center. I spent a few days in a similar place, and like Neal I remember being uncomfortable about using my real name and worrying that some old acquaintance would recognize me from the other end of line. [via Frogs and Ravens]

ContractA slight look of terror crossed my boss's face when I mentioned that his company's contract with my temp agency expired at the end of March. I think this means he'll find a way to keep me around. I hope so, because I really need the money.

January 12, 2004
KucinichHe will never sleep in the White House, but I no longer doubt that Dennis Kucinich rocks. Outside the metro this evening, I was handed a postcard promoting the outside candidate from Ohio. With its damaged font, pink hue, and background of graffiti, it looked more like a ticket to goth Valentine dance than a political flier.

With only Kucinich, Dean, Sharpton, and Braun in the running, the D.C. primary feels more like a class election than a stage in the race for the presidency. Why I Hate D.C. suggests that the four should engaged in a battle to the death instead of an election, but losing most of these candidates would take all the fun out of the Democratic nomination process.

UnemploymentIraqis continue to riot over a lack of jobs. I can only imagine what it's like to live in a country where millions of people are unemployed and the government in charge seems unconcerned.

Regarding unemployment in our own country, CalPundit looks at the odd practice of not counting the discouraged job seeker as unemployed, why men and college graduates are more likely to give up searching for a job, and whether the rising number of people on disability actually makes the unemployment figures look rosier than reality.

January 11, 2004
DreamLast night, I dreamed that I took a ride on the Goodyear blimp. An open air gondola had been attached beneath the big grey blimp, and a small group of us had bought tickets for the ride. We were in Spain, and it seemed familiar at the street level. Salamanca, perhaps? As we rose above the buildings, though, I was confused, since the top of the town didn't look like any Spanish city I knew. Too much red title and undulating patterns on the roofs. It looked Italian to me, but maybe Spanish cities look different from the air.

Dark clouds were gathering, so the crew decided to light tiki torches along the edge of the wicker gondola. That didn't seem like a good idea to me, but riding straight into a storm in a basket hanging from a blimp wasn't wise either. Suddenly, I blacked out.

When I awoke, I was lying on the floor of an abandoned, bombed-out three story apartment building. My wallet and my boots were neatly arranged on a table beside me. Outside, many other buildings were damaged and surrounded with rubble. All the phones were out of service. I found a newspaper, whose headline was devoted to the great blimp disaster. The article didn't give the cause of the crash, and I couldn't remember if lightening hit the blimp or, Hinderburg-like, the tiki torches set it on fire. The article did say that no one survived. Without a working phone in the town, I couldn't think of way to let people know that I miraculously survived the conflagration of the Goodyear blimp.

January 08, 2004
Bush twinsThe Washington Post takes apart the Bush twins and decides that Jenna and Barbara are ungrateful brats. Bad parenting seems to be the cause. Like a royal family slowly disentigrating through inbreeding, the Bush clan began as New England patricians and ultimately produced two clones of Paris Hilton.

ShoesLast week I bought some hip new Kenneth Cole shoes. "Fashion forward" was the phrase the salesman used. When talking about men's dress shoes, I think fashion forward means that instead of looking like your father's shoes, they look like something your great grandfather would have worn to work.

Today on the metro, the guy next to me had a pair exactly like mine. For a moment I thought I had four feet.

January 06, 2004
Other people's proseOther people's prose:
I have contact with perhaps thirty people every day, and I lead a sedentary and relatively isolated life. Some are just voices over the phone, some are casual strangers (cab drivers, shop assistants), some distant acquantances, some close friends. In addition, there are the crowds one passes through: faces across the carriage of a tube train, bodies moving in the street. Some of these anonymous figures will become suddenly and temporarily sharp; they will take on a fleeting, partial personality--a look of complicity or interrogation, a sly shove, moments in which identity is asserted then as quickly withdrawn. Even of my basic thirty people, I may see or talk to only fifteen ever again. In the city, nearly everyone disappears into the dark, and to emerge again is to participate in that peculiarly urban trick of coincidence.
Jonathan Raban on London life in Soft City.

January 04, 2004
Welcome, 2004! 2003, I'm glad to see you gone.

By the afternoon of New Year's Eve, every bar and restaurant in my Cleveland Park neighbor was set with balloons and party hats. I wanted a drink to celebrate the fact that the office closed at 2:00, but most places were either reserved for private parties or not opening until later in the evening. Since Andrea was visiting her mother in Arkansas, I had absolutely no plans for the evening. New Year's Eve is not a good night to be alone, but I refused to pay a cover charge to stand in a bar and drink with strangers. Instead, I picked up a six pack and a few of the last remaining slices pizza at Vace and headed home. Fox was kind enough to program a marathon of Arrested Development, so the evening was not a total loss.

New Year's day was quiet. I tried a new Julia Child's pork roast recipe, although I accidently skimped on the dry rub and marinated the meat for about 24 hours less than recommended. It was, nevertheless, delicious. Julia never goes wrong.

I've made a resolution to write four pages a week, and unfortunately I've excluded blog entries from this count. Perhaps I'll add a page count to the blog. The fear of public humiliation might be a great incentive to carry through on this resolution. Do any of Frolic's early readers remember the job search stats I used to post? I finally took those down when the number of applications verged closed to the triple digits and the number of interviews could still be counted on one hand.

I missed out on the MLA in San Diego this year, so I was glad to see that Chun the Unavoidable offered his firsthand account of the festivities:
My interviews were swell. I don't understand why everyone gets so worked up about them; it's only your future at stake. And there's a lot that can go wrong, usually without you realizing it. But "the way up and the way down are one."

As I only take meals at Hooters, I didn't run into many of the MLA crowd while not actually at the convention. Those I did see were to a person well-dressed and much fitter than the average American. Sure, there was an inordinate amount of black and plenty of hipster-doofus glasses, but the vast majority of these were worn ironically. There are certain juts and flourishes that give it away to the canny observer, and need I invoke performativity at this early stage?
I just remember the anxiety and terror among the job candidates waiting outside the cattle call, where hundreds of tables are set up in an open room so that committees can interview potential hires in full view of all the other applicants. People were crying as they left the room.

January 03, 2004
Housekeeping note: Clicking on the "A Frolic of My Own" icon, in any page of the archives or on Frolic Photo, now takes you directly to the front page of Frolic.

My Trek ThumbDrive appears to have survived a trip through both the washing machine and the dryer without any damage. As electronics get ever smaller, though, will engineers have to insure that the gizmos are machine washable as well?

January 02, 2004
Good Reports' research reveals that in 2003 the book jacket blurber dispensed with mere encomium and instead offered pure insanity. James Ellroy called John Burdett's Bangkok 8, "A novel so steeped in milieu that it feels as if you've blasted to Mars in the grip of a demon who won't let you go." Bill Gaston truly believes that "John Gould's stories are small in the way that nest are small. Or globes, or hearts, or irony." And Lorna Crozier, perhaps revealing more about her own twisted mind than the book being blurbed, wants us to know that Florence Treadwell's Cleaving "arrives like a blue sweater filling the doorway and nothing is the same again."

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