Friday, March 30, 2007

Awesome Dream I Had Last Night

I know blogging about dreams is pretty lame ... But I felt that this read like short fiction, so I thought I'd be lame anyway. Enjoy!

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I was living in what seemed to be my current apartment, but which uncharacteristically had a rooftop deck with a pool and jacuzzi. When I went up there to check it out, and all of my friends were. It was my surprise party - for no reason in particular, but it was great.

Soon after, a man raced across the roof. Sensing that he was after me, I ran from him. The chase ended on a small terrace at the corner of a roof. The man stopped, holding out a book-sized electronic device with colorful LCD panels and flashing buttons. The man was Sean Connery.

"Tell me how to work this thing," he demanded.

I looked at the device. Instantly I knew how it navigate its menus, and instructed Mr. Connery to "Hit YES, now NO, press the red button, now enter a code, hit ENTER and press NO."

The words "BIOLOGICAL WEAPON RELEASE TERMINATED" flashed in bright letters on the screen. We looked at each other, victorious.

"You've just won the American Express Challenge," he said.

I turned around to see a small camera crew behind us. I wasn't surprised, because I had known all along that it couldn't have been a real emergency if Sean Connery was involved. It seemed that this was some sort of guerilla marketing campaign where scenes from movies were reenacted and made into reality TV style commericals. "It's my surprise party, you know," I told Mr. Connery.

We went back to my friends in the jacuzzi. "Look, it's Sean Connery," I told them, "and I've just won the American Express Challenge!"

Everyone was all "Wow!" and "Sean Connery!" and "What did you win?" I got into the jacuzzi, completely fulfilled.

Then I woke up. But life is still good, Sean Connery or not.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A napkin, a dull pencil and a lemon, please. And fast.

If you're into short short stories (or if you don't like reading fiction because it's too long) you'll enjoy Esquire's Napkin Fiction Project. The magazine mailed plain white cocktail napkins to 250 authors around the country and published the results online. While I haven't read them all, one of my favorites is The Holdup by Andrew Sean Greer, which is pasted below.

The cold pressure you feel under the table is a gun. A real gun. I am a desperate man. I am a novelist. Don't look at me, just keep on drinking. Now what I want you to do--slowly, no sudden moves--is tell me a story. A true story, make it good. Maybe you woke up last week to a black sky and thought the world was ending. Maybe you called your girlfriend and said, I'm sorry about everything, and she said, Why? And you said, The world is ending, and she said, You idiot it's 3 in the morning. But thanks. I'm sorry too. And you know what? Let's get in my car and get out of here, I mean drive off and not look back. What about our friends, you ask. Screw them. I can't, you say, the world's not really ending. Well I am, she says, and that is how you lost her. Maybe a story like that. And when you're done, I want you to walk away. No funny stuff. Just walk away like nothing ever happened. Sit back and think. Order us both another Manhattan.
- "The Holdup" by Andrew Sean Greer

I probably like it because it's about writer's block. My most recent musings on writers block can be found here (see second paragraph).

I also enjoyed Sarah II by J.M. Tyree, which is, as they say in Internetland, LOL funny... And an untitled piece by Aimee Bender, which captured the spirit of the project with creative deadpan... And others. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon of procrastination.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

There's Nothing Quite Like a Parade in Baltimore


The St. Paddy's Day Parade in Baltimore is pretty much always on the Sunday before St. Paddy's Day. The parade is basically a jumble of Baltimorian craziness and whatever Irish stuff the city can muster up.



For example, this year there were bagpipe players in their fully kilted glory, followed by two New Orleans style marching bands.



One thing to always remember about parades in Baltimore is that, during any parade or city-commissioned event, whether it's the lighting of the Baltimore Washington Monument for the holiday season (the first Thursday of December) or an evening of jazz in the park (often in Mt. Vernon in summertime), alcoholic beverages are permitted -- and often for sale.



At least, this has been my experience. I might be wrong -- there might be some outdoor events that are booze-free -- but this has never applied to St. Patrick's Day. On the day of the St. Patrick's Day Parade, people arrive early and sit on their coolers to watch the madness go by. And if they don't, there are maddeningly busy places to buy beer on the street. This is a major difference between Baltimore and D.C., and one of the reasons why Baltimore is, in general, way more fun.


My absolute favorite part of the parade had nothing to do with Irish heritage, in fact. It was just the funniest, awesomest display of drunkenness in public that I can recall ever witnessing (at least in broad daylight). Here's what happened:


Seeing that the occasion was the Baltimore St. Patrick's Day Parade, Smoothie King decided that it would be appropriate to participate in the parade. (An obvious choice right?) So, Smoothie King had rented a stretched limo for the occasion, which was adorned with a Smoothie King banner, and followed by three dudes in Smoothie King outfits ("Smoothie Kings"), and a person in green who appeared to be a "handler" for the Smoothie Kings. I'll note that I was observing from the very front of the parade, where the participants needed to descend the rather steep hill from the Baltimore Washington Monument to continue down Charles Street. Well, at the very top of the hill, one of the Smoothie Kings stumbled and fell onto a garbage can on the side of the road, deflating his costume. It became apparent that all of the Smoothie Kings were drunk when another Smoothie King (who, I'm guessing, was either checking to see what happened to the fallen dude, laughing like a maniac at the fallen dude, or completely oblivious and equally drunk) fell down too. The third Smoothie King seemed to be stumbling, but steady. The handler, however, was also drunk and laughing so hard he could hardly manage to help the fallen, deflated Smoothie Kings back up.


It is at this moment in the story when the picture to your left was shot (click to enlarge). But the hilarity was seemingly ceaseless.

Before I continue, however, I must share a factoid that I only just learned this Halloween, so I'll assume it's not common knowledge. Inflatable costumes such as these Smoothie King ones (and the horse and rider costume my friend was wearing this Halloween) have a fan inside to keep them inflated. I suspect that this is the only thing that keeps them remotely wearable, and that this also makes them all the more impossible to wear.

So, as two of the Smoothie Kings had fallen, they had deflated their costumes. No problem though, right? Because the fans would re-inflate them in no time! But that appears to depend on how drunk you are. One of the Smoothie Kings began to recover. He looked a little melted for about half a block, but wobbled along as you'd expect a drunk Smoothie to wobble. The other seemed perplexed. He had unzipped his side zipper and couldn't seem to either walk straight, or figure out how to get back into the costume. The drunk handler wobbled alongside, attempting to help, but to no avail. Eventually, he tried to force the drunk Smoothie inside the limo, but I'm not sure whether he made it in. Maybe all three recovered, because, by the time I saw them at the bottom of the hill, they were wobbling merrily along, waving, stumbling, bumbling, and maybe even getting away with being drunk. Because, hey, it's St. Paddy's Day, after all. And you can drink on the streets in Baltimore.

(Disclaimer: This is my opinion of the events that occurred. I have no evidence that anyone was drunk, and I mean no harm to Smoothie King. In fact, I have a new found respect for Smoothie King for having to balls to get its Smoothies drunk before the parade.)

Although that was the high point in hilarity of the parade, the craziness continued. My friends and I made our way slowly through the crowd to what appeared to be the epicenter of the mayhem, Mick O'Sheas Pub. Not only was O'Sheas selling beer inside, where most of the tables had been removed to make room for the endless swarm of drinkers, but they had a stand outside where a man with a loud speaker was commentating on the parade. Behind him, they were selling beer in the alley, and where a whole row of Port-A-Johns was set up. We walked through the alley to cut back to a part of the parade that was slightly less chaotic, and encountered some guy relieving himself on the street, only yards from the Port-A-John. But then, it's St. Paddy's Day in Baltimore, and you can drink on the streets. So why not pee on them too?

Once we got back to the parade, armed with Guinnesses, a float came by which was designed to look like an Irish pub. And what was it called? SHERIDAN'S!! So, my friend made me hold his Guinness so I could go over to the float to have a picture taken with it. Did I mention that, in Baltimore, they don't put barricades on the street for parades?



So, I was standing by the float (which was stopped for a moment because, in Baltimore, they periodically let cars drive through the roads that intersect with the parade) with two Guinnesses to get a picture. Some guy who was with the float asked me what I was doing, and all I said was, "That's my name!" That seemed to be all he wanted, because he got out of the way and this picture was shot. Not the best shot, but well earned, I say.



Anyway, soon after that came the finale, which was about three step groups (nothing to do with Irish heritage, mind you, but talented and entertaining nonetheless).



What is the grand finale of a parade in Baltimore? The garbage trucks of course. They swarm through after the parade, causing the crowd to scatter, eliminating all traces of celebration. Suddenly you're left standing on the street in broad daylight holding a beer and wondering, "Is this still legal?" Not knowing, you gulp it down, toss it in the nearest garbage can (maybe even one that the Smoothie Kings had tripped over a mere hour before) and head out to get some pizza.

(Another disclaimer: I haven't been to that many parades that weren't in D.C. or Baltimore, so any comparisons I make are between those two cities. I truly have nothing against Baltimore. In fact, I almost like it more than D.C., although they both have their moments. This whole piece is merely my recollection of the events that occurred, and which I witnessed. And I had an AWESOME time at the parade!)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Great Poem I Heard on NPR Today

Although I might be violating a copyright, I really liked this poem from today's "The Writer's Almanac", so I'm reprinting it here...

Poem: "A New Lifestyle" by James Tate from Memoir of the Hawk. © The Ecco Press. (buy now)

A New Lifestyle

People in this town drink too much
coffee. They're jumpy all the time. You
see them drinking out of their big plastic
mugs while they're driving. They cut in
front of you, they steal your parking places.
Teenagers in the cemeteries knocking over
tombstones are slurping café au lait.
Recycling men hanging onto their trucks are
sipping espresso. Dogcatchers running down
the street with their nets are savoring
their cups of mocha java. The holdup man
entering a convenience store first pours
himself a nice warm cup of coffee. Down
the funeral parlor driveway a boy on a
skateboard is spilling his. They're so
serious about their coffee, it's all they
can think about, nothing else matters.
Everyone's wide awake but looks incredibly
tired.

-James Tate, Memoir of the Hawk

Happy World Book Day!

To commemorate the occasion, a "Top 10 Books The Nation Can't Live Without" list has been compiled. Tolkien and Harry Potter have beat the Bible. And I'm currently reading, and very much enjoying, the second half of #8.

The top ten are as follows:
1) Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen 20%
2) Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkein 17%
3) Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte 14%
4) Harry Potter books – J K Rowling 12%
5) To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee 9.5%
6) The Bible 9%
7) Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte 8.5%
8) 1984 – George Orwell 6%
= His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman 6%
10) Great Expectations – Charles Dickens .55%
(From worldbookday.com)