Friday, July 24, 2015

This Dream's In Sight

So, I passed United States. The United States was driving fifteen miles an hour in the breakdown lane with the flashers on. The Baby on Board suction cup had gone south and the laminated placard flopped on the rear deck like a fish on the beach. The back seat was full of unread newspapers and bees and sticky empties with no deposits. Three tires were bald and the fourth was a solid rubber tricycle wheel and half as effective.

All the windows of the United States that weren't shot out were rolled down and you could hear the AM radio tuned to NEWSTALK RADIO! doodoodoodoo-doo offering to paint somebody else's favorite car for $49.99 including rims and doorjambs if you had any. There was enough smoke for a new pope coming out of the gossamer remains of the tailpipe. The United States saw no point in pulling over because the gas gauge read E-and-a-half and the spare was on the car already and the tire iron was in a police evidence room somewhere.

The United States spun armadillos like failed seven-ten splits as they lie quiet in the gutter with their leprous limbs pointed heavenward and praying to the last dread god who had made them pay for another armadillo's sins which were not confessed. The United States rolled on. The United States was not a color. As the sun set like an infected eye it became the color of whatever pool of neon shone on the spidered pavement from the signs of deserted motels. The United States was the color of a rainbow that only dogs could hear.

There was a man. There was a man at the wheel. He would not stop. He slowed only to crack the driver door and set the golden gallon jugs on the pavement.

This dream's in sight. You've got to admit it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

I Just Posted Five Minutes of Some Guy Fixing Donald Fagen's Fender Rhodes on My Blog

That was it. That right there. That's it. That was me posting like five minutes of some guy fixing Donald Fagen's Fender Rhodes. But it's just, like, some guy. It's Donald Fagen's Fender Rhodes. He's not Donald Fagen. He's not Donald Fagen at all. Not even a little. I don't even think he's the guy that fixed Donald Fagen's Fender Rhodes. You know, the 1973 Fender Suitcase 88 that Donald Fagen owns. He was just hanging around handy, ready to play it for no reason. Me? I was alive and walking the Earth in 1973, and now I hear a Fender Rhodes of that vintage needs fixing. I mean, I couldn't drive, or drink beer, or anything, but I was alive. I couldn't drive and drink beer, either. Either one, or both together. For those of you younger than Donald Fagen's Fender Suitcase 88, driving and drinking hasn't always been a crime. It used to be an activity. Now it's worse than Hitler. And Hitler couldn't even play the Fender Rhodes, so I'm not sure why I brought it up. He did have some 88s built for him, but they were anti-aircraft guns, not electric pianos. They were a little heavy in the bass register, as I recall. The anti-aircraft guns, not the pianos. The pianos sound just fine in the bass register. Well, they do after you fix them. If they're old, I mean. If you fix them because they're old, and then play them, even though you didn't fix them, and you don't own them, they sound good anyway.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Oh Boy!

Those are my two sons, AKA Unorganized Hancock, performing Oh Boy!, a song made famous by Buddy Holly and the Crickets. That was back in the 1950s when the world was still spinning on its axis instead of rolling down the galaxy's gutter.
Stars appear and shadows are falling
You can hear my heart a-calling
A little bit a-lovin' makes everything right
I'm gonna see my baby tonight

It's trite. Conventional romantic love is a trite topic. It's been covered. The only way to bring something new to the table is to bring something worse. I refuse to bring something worse to the table, and you can't make me, and you can't make my kids do it, either.

I hope they get their chance to fall in love and be possessed of the idiot excitement of simply seeing their beloved. I want them to be married and have children and raise them up and get a bad back from piggybacks. I want them to watch their geraniums wilting in their windowboxes. I want them to trip over a roller skate in the walk. I want the paint to peel on their rancher. I want them to roll down the windows and go for a drive. I want them to sleep on the floor next to the crib because their infant has a cold. I want them to tend to a brown patch of grass in front of the house. I want them to name their many children with more care than the family dog.

I want their children to play Oh Boy! in a tent on the town's baseball field.

[Update: Many thanks to the wonderful Kathleen M. from Connecticut for her constant support of our sons' efforts via the PayPal tipjar. It is greatly appreciated]
[Update: Many thanks to Mark M. of Colorado for his generous support via the PayPal tipjar. It is very much appreciated]

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sippican's Law of Thermodynamics: Matter or its Energy Equivalent Can Neither Be Created nor Destroyed, With One Exception

That is the Prelude, the largest floating object ever constructed.

It produces liquified natural gas. It's bigger than 5 aircraft carriers, and it cost $12 billion to build it. They'll park it off the western coast of Australia, and it's estimated that it will stay there for 25 years. Math-ing is hard for me, but here goes: It says will produce the energy equivalent of 110,000 barrels of crude oil every day. If my memory serves, there are 42 gallons of oil in a barrel. That's the equivalent of 4.6 million gallons of fuel oil every day. There are a little over 135,000 BTUs in a gallon of fuel oil. That means they're producing 621 billion BTUs-worth of energy every day. That means in 25 years, they'll produce 5,666,625 billion BTUs of energy. A million multiplied by a million is a trillion, so if they take the occasional Christmas off, they'll still produce 5,000 trillion BTUs of energy. That's enough to heat my house for 56,666,000 years and three months, if you're wondering. I know I was.

The price of a barrel of crude is way down these days, but even if they got $50 a barrel equivalent pricing, that's $5.5 million of energy production every day. That means they'll earn $50,187,500,000 during that 25-year period. Remove all the zeroes and that number is 50 billion dollars. They probably figured that they'd get twice that, but fracking is sending energy costs way down. They'll still net around $40 billion.

During the same 25-year period, the United States Department of Energy will spend $750 billion, if their budget doesn't get increased from this year's amount, which is very, very unlikely.

The Department of Energy doesn't make any energy.

Friday, July 10, 2015

RIP: Omar Sharif

(That's from Night of the Generals, the second-best movie with Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole in it) 

I can recite all the dialog from Lawrence of Arabia from memory, of course, like all cultivated persons can do. I was too young to see it in the first go-round, but my father took me to see it when it was re-released. My father liked movies a great deal. As the lights came down in the theater, and the Overture started, I remember he told me that Lawrence of Arabia was the greatest movie ever made, and that ever would be made.

He was correct, of course. I have seen that movie countless times, and I still can't slip a playing card in any visible crack in it. It's not like any other movie I could name. Nothing is wrong with it. Nobody is miscast in it. No special effect looks cheesy in it.  It looks like The Searchers and sounds like A Man for All Seasons. The music by Maurice Jarre is perfect. You can watch the movie with the sound off. You can listen to it with the picture off. You can read Robert Bolt's script and not get bored. You can pause the movie and see Robert Bolt smoking his pipe in the movie if you like. He's in the crowd in the officer's mess.

I realize that I've written about Lawrence of Arabia quite a bit. I Googled Lawrence of Arabia + Sippican Cottage and got 8760 results. Since I rarely get any results from anything I set my mind to, I figure that's a lot of results. I realized when I saw the list I even put Lawrence of Arabia in my book of short stories, The Devil's in the Cows. I guess I like it.

Years back, I started poking around and discovered how insanely bad Lawrence of Arabia almost was. It was then that I realized that movie-making is a total crapshoot. You can't believe everything you read, of course, but the producer, Sam Spiegel, wanted Cary Grant to play General Allenby. Think of that.

Now think of this: The producer wanted Omar Sharif to play the part of the Arab guide that Omar Sharif shoots at the well. A bit part. The part of Sherif Ali was supposed to be played by Horst Buchholtz of all people, or Alain Delon, for crissakes. This would have never happened:

If Alain Delon would have agreed to wear brown contact lenses, he would have shot Omar Sharif at the well, started talking to Marlon Brando, who would have been wearing a sweaty wife-beater T-shirt, I guess, when he went to mumble to Cary Grant about his existential woes.

You heard that right. The part of Major Lawrence was offered to, get this: Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Anthony Perkins. Those are insanely bad choices. Albert Finney was Lean's first choice, and could have done it without making a hash of it, I guess, but he turned it down flat because he thought Lawrence of Arabia was going to be a flop. He made Night Must Fall instead, playing a guy that cuts off people's heads with an ax and then talks to said heads in his room.  Actors sure are perceptive people.

Brando made another wonderful and underrated movie, Mutiny on the Bounty, instead of Lawrence. It's amusing to see him forget to have a British accent about halfway through, but he's about perfect for any sort of character that's doing a slow burn, and Fletcher Christian is that, surely. That movie lost all sorts of money, but was nominated for seven Academy Awards. It didn't win any, because Lawrence of Arabia came out the same year and stomped it flat. 

But we're not finished. Not by a long shot. The reporter, Jackson Bentley? He was played by Arthur Kennedy, but only because Edmund O'Brien had a heart attack during filming. Since Arthur Kennedy and Edmund O'Brien are interchangeable humans, we'll give the casting director a pass, but you might reconsider if you know that neither one was supposed to play Bentley. It was supposed to be Kirk Douglas. Kirk Douglas! Kirk Douglas turned it down because they wouldn't give him top billing over everyone except whoever played Lawrence, and he wanted more money than everyone else, too. The producer said no thanks, and then promptly paid more money than everyone else to Jose Ferrer, who coughs eleven times in the movie to earn his dough. He got more than O'Toole and Sharif combined. Plus a car.

Twenty years later, in an infinite recursion Mobius Loop kinda thing, Robert Bolt, the screenwriter for Lawrence, wrote a script for Mutiny on the Bounty for David Lean to direct. Lean wasn't interested and Bolt had a stroke or something, so they made some kind of Australian version of the movie. It had 400,000 exposed Tahitian breasts and Mad Max in it, which is the sort of entertainment they favor down there, I guess.

To get back to the topic at hand, making movies is a profoundly hit-or-miss proposition. Not only can anything and everything go wrong, everyone involved tries as hard as they can to make it go wrong; but sometimes they fail, and so they succeed by accident. By some sort of cosmic cock-up, they gave Omar Sharif the part of Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia.

I thank God for small favors.

Monday, July 06, 2015

So Much Freedom

My two sons, AKA Unorganized Hancock, performed for the July 4th celebration here in Rumford, Maine.  They stood on a stage just behind the pitcher's mound at Hosmer Field, facing center field. The basepath was like a moat between the audience and the stage, and putting the band on a riser underneath a tent made everyone watch their knees perform for 40 minutes or so instead of their heads. Ah, the music business. It's so glamorous.

The boys brought their own PA system, but one of the other bands has already set up theirs, and they were kind enough to let everyone use it. They had piled eleven speakers on the front of the stage, giving the whole construction a kind of machine gun emplacement vibe. I tried to take a video of the boys through the mail slot that was left over. We'll see if it turns out OK.

The kids played great. Miles broke a string twice during the set, and Garrett just kept playing while his brother went and got another guitar and then picked up where he had left off without missing a beat.

Little Garrett told jokes.

"I probably shouldn't tell you this, but I drink brake fluid."

**Nervous laughter from the audience**

"But I can stop any time I want."

I never get tired of watching the boys perform. They received a nice review on a local man's Facebook page:
"At any age, UH would be a great duo, but at 19 and 12 respectively, Miles and Garrett are far ahead of many other bands. They're musically clean, rhythmically tight, in tune, on-key and have excellent stage presence, and even though they are covering tunes we all know, they still manage to make each one their own. These guys have it."
Yes. Yes they do.

Friday, July 03, 2015

A Grand Day Out

My two sons, AKA Unorganized Hancock, are performing at the Shea Stadium of our little mill town tomorrow for the Fourth of July.

Rumford is the county seat, so the fireworks afterward will be fairly elaborate. They'll likely be hundreds of people in the audience. The Facebook event page has over 350 people who say they're attending, and there could be ten or twelve people in Maine that don't have Facebook, so a few more could show up.

The boys are able to perform in front of a large crowd outdoors because my readers have supported them via the tip jar in the right hand column, and we were able to purchase a sound reinforcement system with the proceeds, among other equipment. If all you lovely people ever wonder if you've ever helped those boys, there's your evidence. My wife and I are very grateful to everyone that's shown support for the boys in every way.

Unorganized Hancock will also be debuting another original song at the show. Be there or be square. It's OK to be both, by the way.

[Update: Felicitations and thanks go out to Kathleen M. in Connecticut for her continuing support for the boys. It is much appreciated]
[Update: Many thanks go to my friend Gerard for sending a big cake with a file and some money in it for the boys. It is greatly appreciated]

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

Excuse me, did you say "42"? Because 42 is so last week. I have discovered the answer to life, the universe, and everything, and it's a lot more useful and comprehensible than 42.

My wife was accosted in the supermarket parking lot by some ill-mannered brigands, otherwise known as female high school students. Don't get me wrong; people are more mannerly and friendly in Maine than in other places I have known. But there are many interactions between persons that have been bent by circumstance. One thing used to mean one thing, and now means another. The form of the thing remains, but it's reflected in a dirty funhouse mirror.

That is to say: a dirty mirror in a funhouse, not a mirror in a dirty funhouse. A dirty funhouse sounds like fun to my ear. Upon reflection, I've been in a dirty funhouse before. It was fun. Walmart is not fun, but it is dirty. It's installed dirty, I think. All the surfaces look drear on day one. The sky was lowering and the occasional urban jellyfish was buoyed on the breeze pregnant with rain, and ...

Sorry, I turned into David Foster Wallace there for a minute. Anyway, the old trouble and strife needed provisions, and she had to pass the portals of Dante's Always Low Prices and Common Denominator Warehouse to get them. That was the precise moment that she was waylaid, when she was girding her loins and shrugging from a low-rent blow from an existential god unseen -- the exact moment we discovered the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. The students sauntered up to my wife, and importunately asked if she would like to buy a candy bar to send a kid to camp.

My wife is very quiet and reserved. She smiles a lot, but she doesn't talk very much. I have always depended on her steadiness, because I am mercurial. I wonder if there is anyone in this world who has anything bad to say about her, other than she chooses husbands in lighting not suitable for buying off-brand bales of hay. Anyway, she was caught somewhat unawares, and didn't have a moment to parse what she said carefully for its effect. She just asked, more or less politely, "Why would I want to do that?"

They backed up like people who had opened a mummy's tomb and heard Egyptian being spoken. It was as unanswerable as a tax bill.

Don't you see? Can't you see it? It's the answer to everything. It's the Swiss army knife of life, with the little can-opener dongle on it, except instead of opening cans it opens universes. If everyone would answer 99 percent of the questions put to them every day with, "Why would I want to do that?", the world would be a better place. Not just for the questioner. All manner of mischief would fold up and die and I wouldn't get messages from Nigerian princelings anymore because every offer to send a million dollars tax-free would be met with, "Why would I want to do that?"

I recognized it like a lost friend. It's the phrase I've been thinking but not saying, morning, noon and night, for years on end, whenever anyone asks me anything about anything. It is my default position for everything, I've just never uttered it.

Why would I want to do that?

Look at it. It's a daisy. It's magnificent. No, really try it out. Try it right now. It works on everything.

"For only five dollars more a month, you can add over 250 channels of television programming to your monthly Internet bill."
"Why would I want to do that?"

"If you act now, you'll receive a free coupon that will allow you to take the whole family to Disneyland!"
"Why would I want to do that?"

"This new button on YouTube lets you autoplay all the videos in the right-hand column!"
"Why would I want to do that?"

"Sign up for Facebook and find your friends. Create an account to start sharing photos and updates with people you know!"
"Why would I want to do that?"

"You can read the New York Times on your smartphone for free!"
"Why would I want to do that?"

"For only $200, you can have an Amazon Echo device that will let you use voice activation to stream music from a smartphone app wirelessly!"
"Why would I want to do that?"

" You can donate $3 of your federal tax to go to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund"


It was there that my slogan failed the ultimate test of life, the universe, and everything. Because it had to be modified in this one instance, it was not universal, and with the modification, the phrase reads and sounds less lyrical to the ear:

"Why in the name of Honore de Balzac would I want to do that you buttmunch dillhole *deep breath* me cago en la leche *deep breath* yela'an sabe'a jad lak *deep breath* nide muchin shr ega da wukwei *deep breath* krisnera zhazh tan vred *deep breath*. Now go piss into a transformer."

It just doesn't roll off the tongue. Back to the drawing board.