RETRO: Boston Zombie Lurch

13 May, 2007 at 6:07 pm (dear diary)

What do we want? BRAINNNS! When do we want them? RRAAAHHRRN!Found an article in the A&E insert in the Boston Globe about the second annual Boston Zombie March. As part of the coordinated efforts of the fine folks at Halfway to Human, a few hundred people dressed up in rags and tags and white makeup and wandered the streets of Cambridge last year. Warren Ellis might call this a “flashmob”, as it was an internet cooridnated event with no human interaction between the participants until they actuallly arrive at the agreed-upon location. I think he tends to think of flashmobs as more sudden, more spontaneous, originated and enacted on the go with full-on mobile technology. However, these were zombies, and they required a little bit more time to shuffle into position.

The march — and I must protest against the term. Wouldn’t a “lurch” be more a propos? More thematic? — was intended to be a massive bleary shuffle from Davis Square to Harvard Square, but as our blood was up, we ended up tramping at least another mile towards Central Square in order to find a zombie-friendly drinking establishment. Slightly less than three miles is a long ways to maintain an awkward, jerking lumber in one’s gait, and by the last stretch, most people were cheerfully out of character. Still not marching, per se, but not lurching anymore, either. More like ambling along with blood spattered across their painted mouths. The organizers guessed that we had something close to a thousand people shuffling along the three-mile stretch, so — as you can no doubt imagine — we caused quite a few traffic snarls. It’s difficult to get across an intersection in the requisite twenty-eight seconds when one is moving only with the soulless animus of a bleating hunger for human flesh. Not to mention where there are hundreds of us in a row. So we caused the occasional human blockade for Saturday afternoon Boston traffic, which is not overly forgiving to begin with.

But we were also simply a rubbernecking spectacle of considerable proportion. And even when we weren’t obstructing intersections, the mass of us on the sidewalk caused cars to slow and swerve, and generally take a good long gander at the clotted corridor of inhumanity. And people wanted to know… what were we protesting? And while we were being protested by anti-zombie groups decrying our presence and demanding that life remain the purview of the living, in addition to some robots unhappy that zombies were stealing their jobs, we didn’t have an agenda. While zombie movies traditionally have a wider social or political message, we were not marching to highlight man’s inhumanity to man, the inevitability of pandemics, the sleepwalking participation of America’s political process, etc. But those people passing us by called out to us, needing to know what we were doing this for, because if it only had a purpose or a message, then they could drive on by, content in context. They needed it to be a “march”, essentially.

As it was, we gave them no cogent answer, content in our randomness. We merely shuffled over to their SUVs, gurgled and growled, smeared crimson corn syrup on their windows, and headed back to the parade.

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I hate you so much

11 April, 2007 at 9:23 pm (dear diary)

So Pete and I have found many, many duos and pairings with which to compare ourselves over the course of our friendship. I still prefer the pairing of Danny and Casey from Sports Night, even though it’s woefully unrepresentative of how cool, how witty, and how romantically successful we really are. Still it matches our aspirations, and that goes a long way.

But while we often compare ourselves to duos who are well-oiled machines, we also have a long-standing tradition where Pete says something, I verbally cut him down with the speed and efficiency of a Matrix-bred combine harvester, and he sputters and tells me how much he hates me. This is called “fun”. Years ago I vetoed the use of the phrase “I’ll kill you”, which led to the codification of the acronym SUIHY, or “Shut up, I hate you”. Peter, however, has always preferred “I”ll kill you”, which has led to its recent revival, including threats involving an axe, or how he’ll deliberately invite in the inevitable horde of attacking zombies, just so he’ll be zombified first and experience the joy of feasting upon my flesh.

So he was well-chuffed when he discovered this recent Penny Arcade comic where Gabe is able to hasten Tycho’s death merely by wanting it hard enough. And since Pete — in the spirit of good fun — really wants me dead, he showed me the strip and told me to watch out for any future nosebleeds. I informed him that I regularly have nosebleeds, especially in the Spring, and it would therefore be difficult to attribute to him and his malicious will any bloody expulsions from my nasal passages.

Regardless, it was still rather creepy when I sneezed today and the predictable happened.

BenCam

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Shrove, baby, shrove

21 February, 2007 at 3:55 am (dear diary)

IHOP's National Pancake Day promoYou can take your last day of gluttony, your bayou parties, your beads, and the like. I care for only one kind of excess on Shrove Tuesday, and that’s the luxurious feeling of having packed oneself full of sweet, delicious pancakes.

I wasn’t able to take advantage of this fabulous, fabulous holiday last year, but I drove eighty miles (round trip) in order to sit in a booth and have someone bring me pancakes for free. I may have spent $7.84 in petrol on that particular little gesture of excess, but it was well worth it. Oh, so well worth it. I feel shriven. And content and full, but mostly shriven. Sufficiently so that wish to to similarly shrove the laaame service that took a full ten minutes to get us our bill when the waiter was literally not serving any other customers in the IHOP. And starting tomorrow, I’m supposed to fast? Pfft. I think tomorrow I’ll have more pancakes.

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Walking here and there on the Earth

30 January, 2007 at 10:32 pm (dear diary)

I remain unsure as to how I missed the previous announcement, but I learned today that friend and fellow college student Osa Tannis had died this summer. Despite the fact that it seems somehow bizarre to mourn the passing of someone six months late, it was a bit of a shock. Osa was one of those people that you hoped you’d bump into at some point in the future, one of those people that you do a web search for in an idle, nostalgic moment, because one was certain that he would continue to inspire people and be joyful and be fully in life. So it’s quite dismaying to learn that he was far from eternal.

I have a memory of walking through the hallways of the Starbuck Building — back when it was a large, unused common room with some gorgeous fireplaces, and before it was chopped into subdivided office space for mid-level admin staff — and finding Osa latched onto a piano, singing with vim and volume. It was finals week, and he had biology work to do, and he was evading it with that thrilling energy that comes from avoiding that which is necessary by instead doing something vital and personal.

FLICKR: Skidmore: the Adversary talks to God

Previously, we had collaborated in performing an version of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Book of Job, wherein he played the rumbling voice of God and I was the sibilant Accusing Angel. We were each impressed with how much presence each brought to the part, as he was not to be trifled with and I was rather cunning. The class was based upon the idea of using performance to understand literature, culminating in an examination of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and having Osa sing and emote and arrest attention with his voice was instrumental in providing the class with the context to feel the work as more than just words.

There was “no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil…” and I shall miss the comfort of knowing that he was out there someplace.

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Snapshots

8 January, 2007 at 1:48 pm (dear diary, new hampshire)

Much has been made of the recent weather in New England. My own circle of correspondents and contacts have been woeful about the lack of skiing and the general lack of season that has pervaded this grey, warm winter. I have responded in a characteristic and contrary way, enjoying the lack of difficulty of movement that snow and ice afford. I do worry about environmental impact — particularly with regard to local organisms. Will plants bloom too early to be pollinated? Will animals lose out on important food resources that are tied to a seasonal cycle? As much as I am enjoying the lack of snow, I do enjoy the New Hampshire niche of plants and animals and landscape, and would be disappointed to have its cast of characters change permanently with the climate alteration.

Still, as it’s snowed twice this season and I’ve gotten in a car accident during one of those days, I’m hesitant to actually endorse a substance that increased the difficulty of ordinary movement.

Today was a another day of rain, which I enjoy because it makes me want to drink tea, and tea is one of my primary sensual pleasures in life. Even consumed daily, a new cup of piping hot tea is a thing in which to regularly luxuriate; each one has its essential and simple now-ness. It demands time and attention. While snowfall provides a sense of the cancellation of sound, muffling and restricting the ability of noise to travel, which creates a curious sense of vast vide, the low percussive white noise of rainfall soothes me immeasurably. And since there’s less after-effect than snow, one’s pleasure doesn’t need to be tempered by the awareness of the eventual chores to follow.

The one downfall of today’s rain is the impenetrable blanket of clouds that ruined one of my standard daily neatnesses (it’s not a miracle or a mitzvah, but it is a minor marvel). When I leave in the mornings, the light is weak, and the sky a pervasive midnight blue, and by the time I arrive at work, the sky is light and the sun has achieved clarity. People who dislike winter hate the getting up in the dark and the driving home in the dark, and it’s quietly pleasurable to get to work earlier than many people (7:05am) and still have the sky have transformed from dark to light between stepping in and out of my car. I have only rarely seen sunrises that were spectacular; most tend to be chill and lacking in any dramatic effect. But — again — the simplicity of the fact that, yea, there is light, brings me cheer.

This post would be best topped off with a photograph of the morning full moon from the middle of last week, hovering high over the horizon and glowing with enough light to make one think it was a pale morning sun. Unfortunately, I wasn’t carrying at the time, and so this post is picture free. But it was lovely. “Irreducably complex”? Not remotely. It was simple. Amusingly, it reinforced something I had been surprised to see portrayed in Berkeley Breathed’s unfortunately repetitive Opus strip:

Opus' proof of the absence of God

Right, enough sentimentalism. I’m off for a wee cuppa.

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My sting? Oh, that’s right here.

21 November, 2006 at 1:06 pm (dear diary)

Attended my third funeral in the past eighteen months, and the first for a non-family member. Prior to that, after attending two ceremonies for former teachers of mine, I had sworn them off entirely, realizing that the formal service was not personally helpful. The platitudes of faith and togetherness were not providing me with any grace or comfort, and it seemed unlikely, therefore, that my attendance at such things would provide any solace for any other attendants. And if that were the case, well, then it seemed better for all concerned if I simply forswore funerals altogether.

Attending these last few ceremonies have confirmed for me that there’s little the service can do to warm the cockles of my loss, but they have been interesting in clarifying the intended purpose of the event. And I’m beginning to understand that what I’m actually looking for in the post mortem is a good wake. The best funeral I ever attended was for the father of a friend, and it was organized as a remembrance of what the deceased was like in life, a celebration of the man and his works and his foibles. Vienna Teng has a song, “Say Uncle“, where she sings:

I retrieve the memories quickly as I can
add them to the portrait we all draw in our minds
your body gone, we shall keep the man.

That sort of mortal focus is what I need, the attempt at coalescing essence here, on this plane. And more and more I am coming to realize that this isn’t the intent of the service. It is there to provide words of the otherworldly, to prevent people from crying out, “But why?” It promises that, with patience, this will all be made right and that it was not meaningless. The difficulty is that Christianity is an evangelical religion, and in these trying times of flagging attendance, it seems to me that most ceremonial reminders of God’s divine grace tend to become mingled with entreaties for conversion. And, frankly, I find that to be the basest and most degraded of opportunistic shilling.

Charlie Nokes and Ryan McCaughn, 1999In addition to the confusion about the purpose of the funeral — and, admittedly, this could all be my own personal issues created by conflating the roles of the funeral and the memorial service — whether it is to celebrate the life of the deceased, to provide comfort with the belief of a greater beyond, or whether to serve as a cautionary moment to redirect the living towards salvation, this particular funeral had an additional master to whom was required homage: the military. Not only did the church need pulpit time to declare that we could mitigate our sorrows with the knowledge that death leads one to Heaven, the military trotted out its crisp, cornered ceremony to justify its actions on Earth. The military deals in death, it is the penny with which we all buy protection, but death of those on our side is somewhat embarrassing. It makes it look as if God in not with us, it reminds us that that fighting them over there is still guaranteed to hurt us here at home. Bugles, bagpipes, and triangular blue fields all try to say, “We are treating him honorably in death to convince you that we did honorably by him in life.” With particular unspoken emphasis on the circumstances that killed him. Yea, they are all, all honorable men.

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Studio or Real

8 November, 2006 at 3:13 am (dear diary)

Is it just me, or are the local anchors of my news stations barely repressing a decidedly unobjective glee as they report that Democrats are winning seats in the election?

Maybe I’m just projecting.

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Seeing Red, Fade to Black

12 October, 2006 at 3:16 pm (benjamin, dear diary)

No real stories from Dimitri’s wedding, but I am forced to revise my previous estimate that a hotel room is a hotel room, no matter how much one pays for it. My previous position was based upon a few hotel experiences and a growing sincere belief that one can dress it up, and buy different cleansing perfume, but that a hotel room still remained a box with an immobile bed whether it cost $35 a night or $100. Having just stayed in a $125 room, well, I’m ready to admit that maybe there are levels. It still had terrible construction and typical furnishings, and the headboard was hilariously broken and badly repaired, but the room had a better feel to it, a nicer sense of occupancy that didn’t drive one from its confines.

Noah Webster's Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, 1806Also, the four hour drive from Connecticut convinced me that I would not have the fortitude to drive back and forth to Amherst this evening for a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. This event sounds hella nerdy, and the draw is unmistakable. I have no real idea on what sort of basis the event would stand: would it be social, conversational, a lecture, a presentation? What sort of people would show up? What happens when bibliophiles, graphomaniacs, and librarians clash over cocktails? The answers to these questions should be compelling enough, but the idea of driving home between 9:10pm and midnight is simply no longer feasible. My ability to string coherent thought together expires each evening at 9:30pm, and the night from there becomes a sparkly, glistening enterprise of unusual word associations, heavy eyelids, and raucous laughter. Terrifically amusing to me and my flatmate, but not the optimal state for driving twisty back-country highways. So no Noah Webster for me, I’m afraid.

Instead, I shall have to comfort myself with color theory. I recently learned that the school district that employs me did not see fit to have a consistent color scheme across its school athletic teams. So while the middle school wears blue, the high school players sport red. Now, I went to a combined middle/high school, so I lack the perspective and experience to know if this is normal. However, it feels odd. It feels like we have competing teams in the same system. And while I enjoy the classy black and red warm-up jackets that are worn about campus on game days or simply autumnal days, the actual red uniforms don’t do much for me. So I was amused to hear Sports Illustrated editor Frank Deford, on his weekly column on NPR go off on a torrent against too many teams that use red as their color. It’s a marvelously verbal essay, full of thesaurus listings and alliteration that would make Stan Lee envious.

There is too much of it, and I am asking for a bloody moratorium. OK, maybe—maybe—I can live with your darker hues, your maroon, your garnet or your burgundy, but the ripe reds running riot, row upon row, in stadiums and arenas, is becoming, as Chester A. Riley used to lament, a “revolting development.”

…Understand, I’ve got nothing against red. Hey, you’re listening to a man who named his daughter Scarlet. I’m just the fashion policeman trying to help all you cinnamon-clad crimson creatures, you puce people, you magenta masses, you vermilion millions. Everybody’s doing it now. Wearing red to games is tacky. It’s passé. It’s so yesterday. Red flag it.

—Frank Deford, “At Games across the land, seeing red

So marvelously wordy, but interestingly issueless. I like Deford. He does for sports what PRI’s Marketplace does for money: Marketplace charmingly makes money matters accessible and contextual for those who are not financiers, and Deford he talks sorts in a manner that’s jocular but not jock-specific. But while I think he’s been a clear voice of reason about many sports issues, it must be difficult to come up with something substantive each week, and this tract is a soft lob. Which is perhaps why the vocabulary is so lush: he had to fill the column-inches somehow. Enjoyable, but mildly disappointing that he didn’t speculate on the purpose of the power color, the cultural reasons why red is so preferred by players and fans alike. After all, if studies show that those wearing black uniforms attract more penalty calls and demerits thank those wearing non-black uniforms, then color and competition clearly collaborate in some psychological manner. Is it true or is it an urban myth that red cars are pulled over by the police more frequently than any other hued vehicle? Do we associate red with speed, with daring in the way that Mark G. Frank and Thomas Gilovich’s study indicates we associate black with violence?

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Sleigh Bells Ring, Are You Listening?

4 October, 2006 at 12:15 am (dear diary)

I always keep track of when I see the first instance of Christmas decorations each year. There has been a gradual creeping back, earlier and earlier, since my childhood memories. I recall that there used to be a Thanksgiving sometime in November, but Christmas decorations began coming hard on the heels of Hallowe’en. Then I began to see them when the Hallowe’en decorations started to come down, a few days before the holiday itself. I’m pretty sure that the earliest Christmas decorations I’ve ever seen — aside from the insane people that celebrate the miraculous virgin birth of Santa Claus all year ’round — we in the mid-twenties of October.

But today I realize I’ve been looking in the wrong place. Retail stores and supermarkets offer a window into the common commercial experience, and I always have used those as the most reliable indicator. But I now see that decorations and muzak may not have been the bellwethers I assumed them to be, and that I have been insulated from the truth. You see, I watch as little television as possible. And when I do watch TV, I try to make it as much a non-commercial experience as possible. And if what I experienced today is normal, is typical, then it throws my whole calendar out of whack. For today I saw a televised advertizement that was clearly a pre-Christmas teaser. It has elves and wishing and magic and expensive stuff. I didn’t come right out and say “the Holiday season”, but the visuals made it perfectly clear.

As if I really needed one more reason to despise Wal-Mart.

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Pennies to Heaven

8 August, 2006 at 12:30 am (dear diary)

In the year 2001, I was given an enormous jar of pickles by a friend who thought that it was be an amusing gift. It was, particularly because I hate pickles. I brought the jar to a department meeting and they were cleared out in moments by ravenous faculty members, and I took the jar home. I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to do this, except that it had been a gift and while I abhorred the contents I still wanted to enjoy the spirit of the gift in a tangible manner.

The jar became, by dint of random chance, the jar into which I dumped my excess pennies. There’s a new attempt to get rid of the penny, as previously documented on The West Wing, and I occasionally find myself agreeing with the prospect. And these times, by total lack of coincidence, tend to fall on occasions when I have seventeen cents in copper weighing down my change purse, and no other money on my person. We don’t even have a ¢ key on the standard western keyboard anymore, f’r cryin’ out loud! So, I would keep four cents for the purposes of exact change, and the rest would get habitually chucked in the pickle jar. Five years later, I still hadn’t filled more than about two inches of the jar, so perhaps the problem wasn’t as rampant as I thought, but when wandering around my apartment trying to find stuff to discard for my upcoming move, well… a giant glass jar of change seemed to meet the basic requirements.

Luckily, my local supermarchet has what’s known as a Coinstar machine. Truly, a brilliant invention. One takes one’s giant pickle jar of pennies to the supermarket, and dumps them in a scoop. The machine counts the pennies and either turns them into actual, useful money (while removing a percentage for the service), or — and this is the really cool bit — turns the pennies into gift certificates to useful megaconglomerates like the iTunes music store or Amazon.com.

Back in the day I rowed crew, and every day on our way to practice we would stop at a Dunkin’ Donuts to buy a 20-pack of chocolate munchkins for $1.99 (which should give you an idea of how long ago this was). After a concentrated four seasons of this, we had enough pennies left over from the change from $1.99 to buy a 20-pack of munchkins: one hundred and ninety-nine pennies. It was an event, and we were proud. I figured I’d have a similar amount saved up today, enough to buy one of the two remaining episodes of The Office that I hadn’t seen. Imagine my surprise when the machine clinked and clanked up a count of 978 pennies.

Wow. That was a really good gift, even with a slight briny cent, sorry, “scent” (no pun intended, really) lingering over my pentennial accumulation of spare change. I’m now totally excited to go to one of the five Coinstar machines within easy distance of my new apartment and pour in a whole new bucket of petty cash. Too bad it’s going to take a few years to accumulate an equivalent experience.

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