Tuesday, May 19, 2009


This makes me want to read God Says No, James Hannaham's debut novel:
"There are a lot of novels out there that make you think America is England, you know?" responds Hannaham, describing the type of fiction he deliberately didn't write. "That book is sort of—it's dark green, and there's a very sort of sensuous but depressing-looking cover: a photograph, there's like a blurry thing in the distance. It's a beach maybe, and the title describes a relationship between a mother and a daughter, or a mother and a father, or a father and a daughter. And the typography is all done in the same typeface as money, and the interior is all about small lives lived in a small way. I've often felt like those books don't have much to do with the way life is actually lived in America." (— interview in the Village Voice)
Funny and true! If I remember correctly from meeting him in Austin at AWP a few years ago, he's also the man behind Revolting Sofas, a blog of terrible sofa pictures harvested from Craigslist with accompanying mini-stories by various authors. I tend to skim the stories and gawk at the sofas, some of which are merely trashed and some of which give me a weird crawling feeling just looking at them.

It's hard for me to even have that one sofa there. I feel like its creepy pale ripply surface is contaminating the whole post. I have to tip the balance by putting in more photos. Such as:

an overweight hedgehog (thank you Gail), my childhood dog Shady (1985-1998) swimming in the lake,

a rock that looks like a monster at the Oregon coast, and my beloved friends Brock and Nick after breakfast in Portland.

That feels better.

Here too is the cover of James Hannaham's book, which officially hits the shelves next Tuesday.

Monday, May 18, 2009


A friend with an inside connection contests some of my criticisms of below, and since yesterday's post I've mellowed on the subject. Update: many participants were bike co-opers who put together the bikes themselves, and the kids cleaned it all up. I'm still not into the final outcome of a burning pile of wrecked bikes. But I can understand and appreciate the desire to keep the anarchic spirit of the Bike Derby alive.

Here's my final thought on it. I think that traditions and rituals worth holding onto are also worth adapting and reinterpreting. Whether it's marriage, Christmas, pedagogy, the Bike Derby, or whatever, I believe it's important to figure out what long-standing elements are worth keeping and what elements need to evolve to fit the times and one's own personal/political/ethical beliefs. I would love to see future organizers take the raucous, performative, and physical elements they love and make the Derby their own, in a way that speaks to the present and the future, not just the past.

Not that this matters to anyone outside Oberlin, I suppose.


Here is Bernard in his well-worn ANC T-shirt from 1991.

That's radical.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


When people ask if it's weird to be back at the same place I went to college, I usually answer that what's weird about it is how not weird it feels. My old coffeehouse is now a bar, but same owners, and I order the same things I used to make when I cooked there; nearly all of my mentors and professors are still here, now my colleagues; my fellow alums are everywhere, teaching and administrating and running restaurants and just living. Not much changes in a town of 8,000 people. From the day I arrived, I felt at home, and if Guided by Voices comes up in the shuffle I sometimes have to remind myself what decade it is.

Today, though, I felt the schism between my two lives here. What happened was that some students here revived an O.C. tradition that originally ended in 1993, the Bike Derby, but has been picked up off and on again over the last couple of years. The Bike Derby was an annual demolition derby on bikes, with costumes, in front of Harkness Co-op, but that doesn't begin to describe the gleefully destructive punk mayhem that it was. You can get a pretty good sense of it from this two-part video of the 1992 Derby:

The enterprising students involved in today's Derby apparently sought to recreate the whole thing from YouTube, down to every live-music and throwing-buckets-of-compost detail. But it's like when you try to clone a pet. It just isn't the same animal. Or maybe it's just that I am not the same animal.

Originally I posted a longer detailed report/critique, a viscercal reaction written in the heat of the post-Derby moment. A day later my feelings have cooled off, and I've got more information from people involved directly and indirectly, and accordingly I've come around on several of the things that bothered me as an observer. [See REDUX, above.]

Don't get me wrong, the costumes and the spirit of the thing were great.

The part where they torch the bikes still bothers me and is the part I believe is worth rethinking.

It was particularly ironic to see a pile of newly-destroyed bicycles set aflame, black smoke billowing from the burning tires, before the backdrop of the state-of-the-art new environmental studies building. In that moment, I couldn't help thinking the whole stunt could just as well have been a demonstration by Republican wingnuts.

Amazingly enough, the whole thing was apparently cleaned up within the hour. So props for that. Over and out.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


The blog's been quiet for a while, I know. I have been working very hard. Now I am relaxing very hard: soft-serve blackberry ice cream, lazy afternoons playing Catan on the porch, whiskey-ginger ale-maple syrup cocktails in mason jars, forays to community rummage sales and state parks, dance parties, even an hour-long massage I "won" (i.e. bought impulsively) at a benefit. (Totally worth it.) My small-town life has gone from teeming hive to sunny vacation lifestyle.

Today I spent the afternoon watching the Eurovision song contest with two Russian professors and an authentic Pole. Have you seen this show before? It is so ridiculous and campy. (America should have a 50-states version.) Musical representatives from the twenty-five finalist countries perform outrageously tacky songs; then the audiences in each of the 42 participating countries get to vote by phone, on the condition that they cannot vote for their own country.

• Since Russia won last year, this year's contest took place in Moscow. Earlier today, Moscow gays assembled a pride parade, at which the police promptly arrested 35 people. The towering Swedish (p)opera diva Malena--she of the four-octave range and arms that make Madonna and Michelle O look like saplings--declared in solidarity, "Today, I am gay!"

• Ukraine got shafted in the vote but was one of my over-the-top favorites. Granted, at first I guffawed at the bizarre hamster-wheels-from-the-future set, lit up in green and black like a commercial for an energy drink, the singer wriggling in her sequined-stiletto-knee-high-boots, and the men's tiny sex-gladiator outfits that really made them look like silver-painted Marvin the Martians. The song: "Be My Valentine! (Anti-Crisis Girl)." The lyrics make as much sense as the title.

But then a drumset appeared on the stage and Svetlana abruptly hopped off the gladiator she was mounting, took the throne, and pounded out several bars, and I loved her. It happens at 2:47 in this video.

Albania, what on earth was this guy about? When he wasn't Krishna-ing behind the singer, he was doing elementary somersaults off to the side. Turquoise? Sequined? Full-face hood? And it's not even a unitard?

• The German guy wore skintight silver glittery leggings. Not even the gracious Dita Von Teese tickling her riding crop up his chest could salvage his heterosexuality. (If he ever claimed it.)

• The Danish "rock band" gamely made the most of their performance, which by venue seems inherently doomed destroy their rock credibility forever. The tight-trousered guitarists strutted like C.C. DeVille and swung their lank locks as if they were playing an actual rock show and not international karaoke camp. The drummer wore sunglasses. Someone had on a cowboy hat.

• The weird thing is that once it comes to the final voting, all the long-simmering rivalries instantly melt and an inexplicable, almost provincial neighborliness kicks in. Finland votes for Sweden; Bosnia-Herzegovina grants its highest score to Serbia; Ukraine's top vote goes to Russia; Cyprus loves Greece.

(Exception: Armenia gave not a single point to Turkey.)

• Norway won! It was a little ridiculous, this "Fairytale" song, and I wasn't into the Disneyish pink princess dresses--you can't wear that kind of thing if you're blonde, you just look tacky--but I liked that the little guy sang and played the violin and wrote the music and the lyrics. And he won by a landslide--387 points, with second-place Iceland at 218 points and Azerbaijan with 207. (Who knew Azerbaijan was Europe?)

Trivia: In Norway, they call the contest Melodi Grand Prix. I have no idea why.
More trivia: Alexander Rybak (the little guy) is originally from Belarus. He moved to Norway when he was four.

• Finally, what is a Eurovision recap without a nod to ABBA, who, as true scholars will know, got their big break in the contest with "Waterloo" in 1974. Agnethe's boots/pants combo is fab. Poor Frida, is all I'll say about her look.