Monsoon Damage

The August 28 monsoon has turned out to be one of the worst in recent history, perhaps extended history. A condo building in downtown Phoenix lost its roof, several trees were uprooted, and a friend of mine caught a pic of a palm tree flattening a car near ASU. Add to this that the 100 mile/hour winds in parts of the city rivaled a Category 1 hurricane and well, you've got a city in shambles.

The following photos came from here.

The aforementioned building roof.

I have some pics I took myself that I'll upload later...but this just gives you an idea of the kind of fury we're subject to in "the land without natural disasters."


Back in the (602)

When I left Maryland yesterday it was raining. Torrential rain during the tail end of rush hour is basically the equivalent of rush hour. I got Arden to the pet hotel without incident and made it to the airport on time, and then spent five hours inside the fuselage of a jet waiting to get home.

I got all my tying-up-moving errands done right away: closed bank accounts, got Beau to cut my hair. And then, in the night, there was a monsoon. Torrential rains. Trees blew out of the ground, palm fronds littered the freeways, and then there was the flooding, the road awash in several inches of standing water while a group of cars huddled together.

This morning, I saw a golf course covered in four feet of water. It looked like a manicured water feature, man made, and so common here.

Today: hot and humid. 99 degrees and tons of humidity. And people back East ask me how I like the weather there. I say, unless it's raining or about to rain, there's really not much difference.



So, I watched Borat for the first time last night.


I feel like there's nothing I can say about it that wouldn't ruin someone else's first time viewing of it, so I'll refrain from sharing a review.

Except to say it's been a long time since a movie made me laugh that loud (and while alone) while experiencing that much discomfort. I thought it was brilliant and tasteless and irresistible.


Melt My Heart to Stone

I had tickets to see Adele tomorrow night at a little club in DC, and then got a disappointing phone call (from a California number...?) saying the show was canceled and that I'd be receiving a full refund.

I'm pretty bummed! Since buying her album I've really come to love her music. I was looking forward to seeing her in a small venue—my favorite kind of concert experience.

So, I don't know what's next. Maybe tickets to go see Cut Copy? They're hot too.


A Five Hour Tour

I gave a brief presentation on The Writer's Center in Arlington today, for a group of federal employees.

I left my house (in Maryland) at 7 am to give myself a large cushion for arrival before the 9 am start time.

I arrived at the place at 8:45 am. It was "10 miles," according to my GPS. I didn't even hit that much traffic, really, until I got near the VA border (typical) and to the gate of the organization itself. And then waiting in line to get security clearance to enter...

I got home again at 12:30 pm. All in all, it was a five-hour ordeal.

In my experience, typical of going to Virginia! This is why the states don't mix much. It's a tremendous headache/heartache to go back and forth.

Me? I'll be back in VA on Sept 5 for The Writer's Center's event with Kate Blackwell for Leesburg's First Friday.


X Furniture Is Evil, 2

The day after the right chair arrived in the wrong color, I called X Furniture to discuss the problem.

A young woman answered with a bright voice. "How can I help you today?"

I said, "Can you please pull up my order invoice and tell me what it says?"

Sounds of her clicking some keys, clearing her throat, breathing. She says, "Okay, I see it here. You got the chaise lounge in the ivory."


I said, "No, that's what I bought. What I got is a chaise lounge in beige."

She says, "In beige?"

"In beige."


She turns in her chair and it squeaks loudly into the phone. "Lemme check something," she says, and I hear the sounds of papers flipping. She makes thinking noises. "Oh, okay, I see here. The guy who sold you the chair typed in 'Ivory' as the description of the color, but he typed in the number for beige."

[Side-by-side comparison of ivory and beige]

I felt a little relief. "Oh, god," I said, laughing a little. "Well, I'd like to get the ivory one delivered, then."

"Okay, we can—" She stops suddenly. "Oh."


"That chair doesn't come in ivory," she says awkwardly. "It comes in black, sage, honey, and beige. But no ivory."

I scoffed. "Well, that's really irritating because I was sold an ivory chaise," I countered. "I mean, the guy offered it to me in that color, it's not like I just made it up."

"But that chair doesn't come in ivory," she repeated.

"YEAH," I said, getting louder. "I heard that. But that's what you sold me. So that's a big problem."

"You don't want the beige chair?" she asked, a little incredulous.

"NO, I want the chair I plunked down my credit card to buy."

"But sir, it doesn't come in ivory." Her voice took on a confidential tone. "Sir, I don't mean to be offensive," she started, signaling that what she was about to say would be horrifyingly so, "but the man who placed this order? He's, um...well, he's foreign."

[Some languages spoken by foreigners, none of which are English.]


"So maybe he got confused between beige and ivory," she finished.

"You think that being foreign makes someone laughably color blind?"

[Example of tests administer to determine color-blindness]

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that only a legitimate blind person would mistake beige for ivory!" I shouted, suddenly becoming very angry and, at the same time, very authoritatively gay, like Martha Stewart with a beard. This is never a good combination, although it does tend to get good results.

[Martha Stewart, beard not pictured]

"Sir, this isn't my fault." She was clearly confused and wanted off the phone.

"I realize it's not your fault," I said with quiet assertion. "I know you didn't cause this, but you're the one who's going to fix it."

"Well, that chair doesn't come in ivory." Sound of her going back to the book. "It comes in...black, sage, honey, and....and beige."

In my head I imagined the scene from Carrie when the girl, drenched in pig's blood, humiliated, taunted, bursts into anger and causes all the exits to slam shut with the power of her mind. In that moment I was that girl, covered in blood but it was beige blood, both bland and disgusting, and I, too, was being taunted by Z Furniture's color-blind, foreign staff who were unable to tell the difference between two unmistakably different shades of two different colors!

[Dramatization of me during this phone call. Do not attempt.]

A friend of mine once noted that nobody ever identifies themselves as being "evil," that "evil" is a label society constructs and places on other things, usually things outside of the body politic. And yet, every day, reasonable people are driven to the very cliffs of their sanity by retail industry workers. "I know," I said, "So it means you basically stole from me. You sold me a product that doesn't exist and now here I am with a chair the exact same color as my beige walls, my beige carpet, and let me tell you, this chair has become the invisible jet of chairs because in this room, Wonder Woman's the only person who can find it to sit in it!"

So the woman says, "Sir, we can exchange the chair for you if you will simply choose between black, sage, honey or...or beige," she seethed.

We were locked in an epic battle of wits. We each knew neither would relent or back down, but we also knew no one was hanging up the phone. There were principles to think of, our sanity to preserve...and plus, we had to win.

But suddenly, an odd calm came over me. I looked around my living room with its black furniture and gray couch. Would another color be so bad, I wondered. I remembered back to that day many weeks ago when I, younger and with an idealistic sense about the world of retail, walked into their showroom and sat momentarily in the black chaise lounge on their showroom floor.

I cleared my throat. Very quietly, I told her, "The only compromise I would be willing to accept at this point is getting a black chair."

I could hear the tension break. "Fine!" She said. "We'll have it delivered tomorrow. But you're getting the one off the showroom floor," she said quickly, her voice fading slightly as the phone moved further and further from her head. And then the line went dead.

And the very next day, much to my overwhelming surprise, this was delivered:

A black chaise. And you know what? It works.


Why I Hate X Furniture

The weekend after I moved here, I decided to "treat" myself by going out and buying a chair for my living room. I am not a big spender by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, I simply hate parting with anything larger than a $20 bill. But, because I had been such a big brave boy about my cross-country move and was still relatively emotional/crazy about Beau's trip back to Arizona, a little retail therapy was helpfully prescribed.

I saw the chair in an ad for X Furniture in the City Paper, a free weekly here in DC. It was a beautiful, majestic chaise that had "Nintendo Wii chair" written all over it. How wonderful to laze in a fully reclined position whilst tapping out rhythms in Guitar Hero or thwarting demons in Zelda?

It was my first big Metro experience when I went to their showroom, sat in the chair, and bought it.

"It comes in black, beige, red, or ivory," the salesperson told me.

I thought about the color scheme developing in my apartment with its beige carpet, beige walls, and black furniture. I briefly considered red, as all of my accents in the room are red, but then blurted out, "Um, ivory," thinking about the potential contrast, about lightening things up in there.

He ordered the chair. "It'll take a week," he said, and then charged my credit card.

* * *

The next two weeks were a blur of getting situated in my job, going to every single literary event in the metro area, meeting people, rushing home, riding the Metro, running to Target, etc. I was exhausted, but, come Sunday of the second week, I realized I was still missing my chair, noticeable only as my boxes unpacked themselves and went to the dumpster. With Beau gone, there was a big empty place in my heart, but now there was also one in my living room. At least the latter I could fix. Theoretically.

I called X Furniture and explained I was still waiting. "Oh, I see it here," the man told me. "It's on its way to the warehouse now and will be delivered by the end of the week."

"Great!" I said.

* * *
Two weeks later, there was still no chair but the empty places in my heart and my apartment were getting wider and developing their own zip codes.

I called the store again. This is when I was finally starting to get angry. A woman answered. I explained the situation.

She said, "It's sitting in our warehouse." Oh, I thought. "Let's set up a time for delivery." She and I set a time for late last week, in the evening when I'd be sure to be home. I thanked her and, feeling my anger subside, began considering the precise placement of the chair.

* * *
Four days later, I was in my apartment waiting for the chair. Arden had been walked and fed and I was catching up on my Bravo shows. 90 minutes into my delivery appointment, I got a phone call.

"This is X Furniture delivery guy calling," he mumbled, barely coherent. "Can you reschedule please the appointment."

"No," I said. The next day I was traveling for work and besides, I fulfilled my end of the commitment. Uncharacteristically, I said, "You need to come tonight."

An hour later he called and said he was outside, which, with the configuration of my apartment complex, is similar to saying you are "right outside" at LAX or, maybe more appropriately, sitting outside the Smithsonian waiting for me. I walked outside, wandered around, and then finally saw him on the opposite side of the courtyard, lumbering toward me with the chaise slung over his shoulder.

He dropped it on my floor. "Sign," he said, handing me a piece of paper. Then he left.

I pulled off the four layers of wrapping on the chair: An exterior canvas-like wrapper, tied around the edge with string; a thin, white foam insider; a series of packing tape ribbons ringing the entire object; and, finally, several enormous foam rubber pads cradling the chair like the folds of an ear.

And that's when I saw it: my chair in all its glory.

And, it was beige.

Tomorrow: Part II.



There's probably not a more timely film than Marjane Satropi's animated history Persepolis. Based on her graphic novels, the film recounts Satropi's experience during the Iranian cultural revolution, the toppling of the Shah, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism that resulted in radical changes in Iranian day-to-day life.

The story itself is wrenching. In childhood, idealist Marjane sees things one of two ways: her way or no way. She spouts political dogma without fully understanding its implications, but then watches in horror as her family members and neighbors are imprisoned and assassinated during the tumultuous revolutionary period. The subsequent war with Iraq that followed for 8 years drains the nation of everything but its belief that women are so valuable that they should be completely shielded from the eyes of men.

Fleeing to Vienna, Marjane in her teenage years sees her world from the outside and thus becomes a stranger to it. She struggles to find a place for herself abroad while understanding the differences between the West and Iran.

The stark black and white animation is an effective metaphor for the black-and-white perspectives of fundamentalist religion, and the motion in the film is unique and interesting, using computer animation to provide techniques not possible through hand drawing. Marjane as a narrator is both endearing and unknowable in odd ways, but it is easy to empathize with her situation. The film nearly pointedly makes the statement that religion's impact on government is often debilitating to civil liberties and does make some arguments for recasting our eyes on our own government to assess the damages incurred over the last decade. But mostly, Persepolis feels a little like a warning, a cautionary tale. At one point, Marjane's grandmother scolds her for forgetting Marjane is still wearing her head scarf. "Fear so quickly leads to complacency," the old woman reminds her. A reminder many of us need to hear.


Meet My New (Platonic) Girlfriends

I heard this song when I was out a few weeks ago and can't seem to shake it. I got the whole Veronicas album and love love love it. One of them sounds a little like Michelle Branch, and you know how much I love that.


(s)Laughter is the Best Medicine

One of the things you accept about moving to a new city is going to see movies alone. I spent almost my whole weekend alone, actually, engaging in some solipsistic "me" time that included deep cleaning my apartment, putting away all the accumulated clutter from the unpacking process, channelling my inner Guitar Hero (both acoustic and Wii varieties), going in for some retail therapy, and seeing, finally, The Dark Knight.

I think Christopher Nolan is a very talented director. The film is absolutely novelistic in scope and sprawl, but maintains a narrow narrative thread. I think the characters are richly drawn in this film--more so than the last--and this makes for some compelling performances from Ledger, Eckhart, Gyllenhaal, and Oldman. Gary Oldman is a genius, taking this nothing role and turning it into the moral center of the film the way he does. In many ways, Commissioner Gordon is the fulcrum upon which all of Gotham City hinges.

The action of the film is so finely orchestrated it climaxes more times than the best date you've ever been on. It's hard to sense when the film is going to end for this reason, but the climaxes aren't as distracting as you might imagine. And the visuals do rival the most orgiastic of the Michael Bay films without the porny connotation. These are more Woo-like in their lyricism. (Soft-core?)

I could write an entire blog post about the voice of Heath Ledger as the Joker. It's what makes his performance stand out, become unique, be so eerie but at the same time something knowable. The slight lilt of his Lower Midwestern accent colliding with the nasally, human delivery is chilling. He seems almost like a normal person pushed to abnormal extremes.

And that's the true power of these new film versions. Superhero narratives are always representations of our culture in some way (Spider-man's radioactive spiderbite evidence of nuke fears, etc). In this Batman, every character is a schism, has two halves--a public self, a shadow self. Batman is a shadow self. The Joker is a shadow self.

This film makes the Tim Burton versions feel like drag performances.


Mama Said Knock You Out


Knockout, a print literary magazine that publishes a 50-50 mix of work
by LGBTQ and straight authors, announces its first poetry contest.
Judge: James Bertolino. Winner receives $100 gift certificate to
Powell's Books (redeemable online) and publication of their winning
poem. All poems submitted considered for publication in Knockout.
Submissions of up to three poems of any length must be received by
August 31, 2008. $5 entry fee per submission. Multiple submissions
allowed. Simultaneous submissions allowed (with prompt notification if
accepted elsewhere). For complete guidelines and for more information
about Knockout, visit www.knockoutlit.org/contest.htm


I'm Not There

...but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be!

The 2009 ASU Writers Conference is open for registration. Even though I got the ball rolling on pulling it together before I left my job and pretty much knew what was on the bill, when I saw the website I was filled with envy.

What great faculty!

And this year they're piloting their online registration system, which will make everything much, much easier.

Good luck to you, my ASU friends, and I wish I were there.