Saturday, September 29, 2007


Another edition of selected Incidents from the police blotter of the Park Rapids Enterprise, my hometown newspaper.
A car with a lot of people in it was reported sitting in a Park Rapids lot; A Lakeport Township resident reported lending his snowmobile to a friend a couple of years ago, the friend died and his girlfriend sold it; "Fighting and drinking" were reported in Farden Township; A parked semi was reported running for more than 24 hours;
A Park Rapids caller reported asking the neighbors to turn down the music and was threatened with being shot; An intoxicated female was reported lying on the road; A caller reported getting constant calls from a recorded message; A Park Rapids apartment manager reported a man who's not supposed to be there is refusing to leave, locking himself in the bathroom; A caller reported a driver tried to get her to race at the Highway 34/71 stoplight, he followed her, passing and slowing to 20 mph; A drunk Park Rapids apartment tenant was reported swearing at children; A neighbor was reported moving property line markers; Gunshots were heard in Mantrap Township, caller thinks someone may be lost; A Park Rapids caller reported a male making threats toward her regarding her stolen vehicle; Loud music and kids in the middle of Main were reported; Two people in a car were reported acting suspicious, caller thinks they're smoking something; A caller asked for assistance in retrieving his cellphone from an ex-girlfriend; A Crow Wing Lake resident reported a horse in the driveway.
Home sweet home!


Friday, September 28, 2007


Junot Diaz read at Powell's the other night and no way was I going to miss that. He had on a black fleece zipped all the way up and kept tucking his chin into it and kind of fiddling with the zipper, and arty glasses and good jeans (black rinse). Look, I took one picture for just this purpose but it's distant and blurry and I didn't try again because, I discovered, it feels really dumb to take photos of writers. But check out how Oregon this crowd is.

1. Junot Diaz loves Portland because "of all 20 cities I've visited on this tour, this is the first one where within two hours someone offered me smoke."

2. He has a total Jersey accent.

3. Responding to the question of how autobiographical is this book (answer: it's not): "My next book is about fucking mutants. I'm not kidding. And still someone's gonna be like, [in falsetto voice] 'Is that from your liiiife?'"
3a. He was also gracious and sweet about it, though: "I don't mind that question--fuck, as an artist you're so lucky anybody even wants to ask you questions at all."

4. "When you're writing it's like a fire. Fire is so eager to integrate everything it encounters." I just read something else like this, who said it?, about how when you're really in a story you're writing, you see signs everywhere you go. That is an exhilarating feeling--it changes how you see the whole world. Peronally I think it makes me a little checked out and socially retarded, too, but whatever, it's more gratifying than your standard social intercourse.

5. In 1992, the Dominican government built this enormous lighthouse, the Faro a Colon, to commemorate the quintennial of Columbus landing there. It cost a shit-ton of money and projects a cross-shaped beam of light 150 feet into the sky. But, as Diaz told it, the electricity situation is sketchy, and so at night, all the lights would go out in Santo Domingo--all the houses, the whole city would go dark--and then the lighthouse would switch on, this huge beam rising into the sky, and (here he swooped his cupped hand upward to illustrate) "it was like it was sucking all the light out of the city." He laughed and shook his head. "They don't even turn it on anymore. Couldn't afford it."

6. "You're probably really good at something that you gave up on too early." And then: "I thought, What if I gave up one week before it was gonna happen?"
It's true, right?
What did you give up on?

Monday, September 24, 2007


Carrie and Fred finally made a website for their short movies. They are so funny. "Feminist Bookstore" is my favorite (hits close to home!), but I love them all.

The womynly music in the background? That would be me on flute.
(It is all improv-ed. We just made it up in Radio's studio.)
(It was hard not to giggle into my mouthpiece.)

Friday, September 21, 2007


Here's the cover of the new Donnas album.

When you look at the back, it makes complete sense. Straight up eighties posturing.

But I have to wonder a couple of things. First: I am curious about the meaning of putting ass on the cover of your record. I know, the Donnas have always worked that jailbait/seductress thing, and I do appreciate that they're clothed all tough-like on the back here, not in corsets--more fatale than femme. But when Girlschool put an ass on their cover (the obvious reference here), what audience was that playing to, back in 1980?

And so, what about the Donnas? When is objectification tongue-in-cheek/kitsch? Or maybe the qualification is really, to whom--and can it ever be, fully? I know, I'm being all Bummer Feminist here. I'm just thinking aloud.

Design-wise, I'm not that interested in design that purely mimics a previous aesthetic. It seems lazy to me. And it also obviates the designer--where is your invention, your way of seeing? It's just pastiche. (I'm way more excited by, for example, the stunning opening credits of "Mad Men," which integrate 1960 mid-century minimalism with a modern illustrative sensibility--the Herman Miller and Knoll catalogs appear on screen for a moment, but they're the means, not the end.) Design has its own equivalent of Stone Temple Pilots--imitation so pure it's not even flattery, it's self-effacement. A fake so meticulously executed you'd think it's real. Which can be parasitic.(1)

The Donnas cover isn't parasitic, as it's not sucking the life force out of anything. Nostalgia is about the Over. And the eighties are definitely Over, though the nostalgia for them is through the roof. I'm curious about this, because the true believers, especially fashion-wise, seem to be mostly people who were born in the '80s or even '90s--the people who were basically babies, if that, the first time around. (Even though I was formatively age four to fourteen during that decade, I have pretty much zero nostalgia for the '80s. Maybe it's because I was living, literally and in my mind, in a woodland bubble with minimal/delayed pop culture exposure. We got three channels and I didn't watch them. I played in the woods and wrote horse novels. I never had a Madonna or Michael Jackson record. Totally missed David Bowie. Most '80s music I like now, I didn't discover until the '90s and the '00s. (2) )

Anyway, what I've heard of the Donnas record so far sounds exactly what the cover looks like. I really am not trying to dis the Donnas here. I think they are great musicians and performers and people. And I have a huge soft spot for pop-metal, despite the heinous misogyny of it (the lyrics to "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" will make any Rock'n'Roll Camp for Girls believer's stomach turn)--it was the soundtrack to high school, and I am ever a sucker for an inescapable pop hook. So it's cool that women are reclaiming/reappropriating that sound for their own purposes.

I'm just saying: when I saw that big purple ass at the top of the eMusic charts this morning, it struck me in all these ways. It grabbed my attention, and got me to write all this stuff about it; and just by looking at it, you know exactly what the record sounds like.

So maybe, ultimately, it's a design coup.

(1) Remember when that first STP single "Plush" came out? (No, if you're lucky.) The exactness of the Pearl Jam imitation was stunning. They were the first (of many) to reduce Vedder from a voice to a mannerism, just like Silverchair did to Cobain, et al., ad nauseum. The chameleon gone cannibal.

(2) My nineties nostalgia, on the other hand: encyclopedic.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I subscribe to the Park Rapids Enterprise, my hometown newspaper (comes out twice a week, circulation 6000.) I used to work there in the summers of '93 and '94. Since it's a tiny paper, I was able, even at ages 17 and 18, to do pretty much everything--I reported, took photos, edited, and did layout. This was pre-digital times: we were exacto-ing out the text columns, feeding them through a machine that coated the back of the paper with a skin of warm wax, and sticking them down into place. Peeling off and taping down long thin stripe-stickers to frame the photos. (O ye olde twentieth century.)

The Enterprise was housed then a couple blocks off Main Street in one of the strangest structures I have ever worked in. It looked like a tin can, cut in half the long way and tipped over, and painted dark brown. (Basically, a turd.) The walls were cinder blocks, the roof was corrugated metal, and it had two doors and one window. Inside: carpet, dark fake wood paneling, and an open room of desks. I sat three feet away from the editor-in-chief, LuAnn Hurd-Lof, who was/is openly feminist, worked all the time, and constantly drank from a small styrofoam cup of office coffee.*

Today I went through recent issues with a scissors to extract some clippings. As always, there are a few Onion-worthy pieces--"Couple Liked It Here In Spite of Incident," and an amazing editorial called "Bleach Accident Causes 'Bullet Hole,'" which describes in detail a laundry mishap, and which I may have to reprint here in its entirety. But the INCIDENTS section is hands-down the best part of the Enterprise and 90% of why I subscribe. On a slow news week, they print every single call that comes in to the police station. I have one in front of me that takes up a full five columns. They break it up into categories: Miscellaneous, Animal-related, Fires, Accidents, ATV-related, and Burglaries, thefts. Here is a selection of things that made the paper last week:
Careless driving and rude gestures were reported in Akeley Township; A male was reported shooting rocks through a PVC pipe into a Park Rapids park; A red boat was driving "very crazy" in Mantrap Township; A "weird odor" was reported coming from a neighbor's house; A house was toilet-papered; A caller asked to speak to an officer regarding her aunt exploiting her grandmother; A highly intoxicated female who's "worked up" was refusing to leave in Lakeport Township; A Park Rapids caller asked to speak to an officer regarding his neighbor who ran over his ice cooler; A Helga Township caller requested 27-year-old daughter be removed from her home; A caller reported her granddaughter broke into her home while she was gone and had a party; A caller reported her renters vacated property at her request, but left horses behind, which she's been feeding; A "skinny dog" was reported in Todd Township; A horse with a saddle, no rider, was reported in the ditch; Shoes were reported stolen while caller's son was at the neighbor's house; A foreign car was reported to have flown around a corner and hit a tree in Park Rapids; Loggers were reported cutting through the night on the east side of Lake Minnie, disturbing caller's sleep; a Todd Township mailbox was "stuffed with something."
Thefts: gas, chainsaws, the food shelf, guns, money, rings, golf clubs, tires, a wiper blade.

The masthead of the Enterprise today is still made up of three quarters of the people I worked with then. Can you imagine being a sports writer in a town of 3,000 people? The only sports are high school sports. But Vance Carlson has been doing it for at least two decades. He goes to every game and meet, he takes the pictures, he writes up the stories. He is a veritable thesaurus of ways to say "defeat" ("Seals Swim Past Panthers" said a recent headline.) I have nothing but respect.

* LuAnn liked me and paid me more than I'd ever made: $7 an hour. She even let me have an opinion column. Fresh out of my first year at Oberlin, leftist fires a-blazing and jarred by re-entry culture shock, I chose as my first subject the Little Miss Park Rapids pageant; my second, the word "feminazi." The newspaper received a surge of letters, including a four-page handwritten-in-blue-ballpoint missive about baby-killers, and one cane-waving (no joke) lady stormed in demanding to have a word with me--"Who's this Chelsey Johnson? Where is she?"--alas/luckily I was out "reporting." But I also got stopped and thumbs-upped in the supermarket by the rad middle-aged women of P.R.'s small yet ardent feminist posse.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

T:BA Festival

I'm a member of the "Press Corps" for PICA's Time-Based Art Festival this year. I have been gorging myself on performances and art and performance art. Here are links to writeups I've done so far (most with pictures too):

• Seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in Donna Uchizono's Leap to Tall
• A breathtaking light installation of constructed eclipses
Mirah and Spectratone International
• A roving guy reading On The Road aloud

I am formulating things to write about some of the other things I've seen--Taylor Mac, William Kentridge's 9 Drawings for Projection, the Dutch theater/film group Kassys' weirdly awesome Kommer. And there's still a whole slew of things to hit this weekend. I'll update as I go.

Here's Kassys, the super cute Dutch film/theater group.

UPDATE: I got sick! Terribly sick! And missed almost everything after. But despite anyone's better judgment, I staggered down to see the Nature Theater of Oklahoma's No Dice Saturday night.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Yes! I have been waiting for this book since December 2000, when a story called "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" appeared in the New Yorker. I liked the previous Junot Diaz stories I'd read, but this blew Drown out of the water, bursting with bravado and heart and breaking all kinds of rules. I was in my first semester at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where many of my classmates liked to formulate you-can'ts about all kinds of narrative strategies--you can't switch tense! you can't shift point of view! you can't leave this track unresolved! ("Can you ask them if they've ever read fiction?" my girlfriend in New York commented), so the pleasure of reading this raucous, tumbling, cussing, unwieldy, POV-shuffling thing, featuring one particular sentence that took up a full column and a half without stopping, thrilled me. I made copies of it and for the past seven years it's been the literary equivalent of that one song you always put on mix tapes. Friends, students, colleagues, woo-ees: they all get it from me.

This part comes about halfway in:
The first time I met Oscar was at Rutgers. We were roommates our sophomore year, cramped up in Demarest, the university's official homo dorm, because Oscar wanted to be a writer and because I'd pulled the last number in the housing lottery. You never met more opposite niggers in your life. He was a dork, totally into Dungeons & Dragons and comic books; he had like a billion science-fiction paperbacks, all in his closet; and me, I was into girls, weight lifting, and Danocrine. .... Those were the Boricua Posse days, and I never got home before six in the morning, so mostly what I saw of Oscar was a big, dormant hump crashed out under a sheet. When we were in the dorm together, he was either working on his novel or talking on the phone to his sister, who I'd seen a few times at Douglass. (I'd tried to put a couple of words on her because she was no joke in the body department, but she cold-crumbed me.) Those first months, me and my boys ragged on Oscar a lot--I mean, he was a nerd, wasn't he?--and right before Halloween I told him he looked like that fat homo Oscar Wilde, which was bad news for him, because then all of us started calling him Oscar Wao. The sad part? After a couple of weeks, he started answering to it.

Besides me fucking with him, we never had no problems; he never got mad at me when I said shit, just sat there with a hurt stupid smile on his face. Made a brother feel kinda bad, and after the others left, I would say, You know I was just kidding, right? By second semester, I even started to like the kid a little. Wasn't it Turgenev who said, Whom you laugh at you forgive and come near to loving?
The mix of slang and literary reference and Spanglish and comic books (Marvel and Daniel Clowes) sucked me in, but what I loved most about the story was the raw vulnerability beneath all the bluster and fast talk: people dying to, and for, love. But that was it. Nothing else from Diaz, at all. All I had was this photocopy from the New Yorker. Finally this June, another Junot Diaz story appeared: "Wildwood." And instantly I recognized Lola the sister, and lo, there was Oscar himself, and, joy, an author bio snippet that mentioned a whole book. Here it is! (Michiko Kakutani loves it.)

Thursday! I'm on it!
This is, like, my Harry Potter.
Also, Diaz comes to Powell's on September 25.