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» 2012 » April

Monthly ArchiveApril 2012

Commentary & Family life 26 Apr 2012 05:56 pm

Mobile blast furnace

I hate spring because it’s not winter, I hate summer because it’s not spring, I hate fall because it’s not summer, and winter I just hate, period.

“Hate” is a very strong word, and I don’t use it lightly. To be more accurate, I don’t hate the four seasons, but rather the arguments about temperature and climate control that they create between my wife and me.

Whenever we drive anywhere together, the conversation always turns from vital issues of the day — world peace, gun control, Mike Tyson having sex with a prison official while he was incarcerated in the ’90s — to the temperature inside the car. Like the Three Bears’ porridge, one of us is always too hot or too cold and seldom just right.

This bickering has continued as long as we’ve been together, which some days feels contemporaneous to the construction of the Sphinx on the long side or George Washington’s first false-teeth fitting on the short, especially where weather is concerned.

When we travel, my wife is almost always shivering, which causes her to turn the heat to high. Meanwhile, just across the gearshift, I’m melting like snow in an oven and stripping down to shorts and a T-shirt.

A dual-control heater should have solved the dilemma, but hasn’t. Yes, we can each blast hot and cold air simultaneously, but for dual controls to work, both sides have to be blasting something, and there’s the rub. Often, I’m not hot enough to require air conditioning, but cold air has to blow from my vents in order for hot air to blow from hers. So I may, ironically, become cold enough to need a little warmth on my side, but not cold enough to need the ongoing, undulating waves of lava issuing from Satan’s furnace on the passenger side.

We don’t have a temperature gauge inside the car, but I firmly believe that it sometimes crests 90 degrees, especially during longer trips when I feel like the Wicked Witch of the West, just doused with a bucket of water and wailing, “I’m melting, melting, melting.”

But that’s nothing compared to the bed. There, too, we have dual controls, this time to adjust temperatures on a heated mattress pad. My wife often keeps her control on “10″ (the highest setting), while mine remains on “2″ or off completely. Yet like the car, the residual effect of my spouse’s heating choices is to broil me like a hot dog in a convenience-store rotisserie. When I kick off the covers, it’s the automobile all over again, as I’m too chilled to go completely without blankets yet too feverish to crawl back under.

If you’ve been reading carefully (or even if you’ve not — I’m not exactly subtle), then you have likely picked up on the fact that I consider myself the victim here. But, Chris, you say (and don’t deny you’re out there — I can feel your beady little eyes staring at me through the page), it’s just as much your fault for being overly warm as it is hers for being overly cold.

And I’m almost willing to concede this point. But …

I almost wrote, “With my wife, there is always a big but,” except I’m not so warm-blooded that I could comfortably sleep outdoors for the rest of my natural life, so let’s instead go with “however.”

However, in the fall and winter, she seldom wears a coat, finding them “too bulky.” Instead, she relies on the tropical heat wave inside the car. I, meanwhile, wear winter coats and spring jackets, except when my role as Satan’s chauffeur causes me to unceremoniously shed them or risk dehydration.

If America’s car manufacturers really want to innovate and recapture Detroit’s glory days, they need to forget hybrids and design a car that can be both a convertible and a rolling, coal-fired train engine, simultaneously.

If not that, then at least they could install a pole next to the driver’s seat. That way, when I strip down as far as propriety and the law allows, I can dance around it at intersections.

Maybe I could make enough in tips from passing motorists to buy my wife a sauna, so she can feel how I feel. As the Wicked Witch once said, “What a world, what a world …”

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published April 26, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

Music 20 Apr 2012 06:33 am

No real rebels in rock hall

An Open Letter to Axl Rose:

So, you didn’t come to Cleveland last Saturday to accept your induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and you would have preferred that the museum not honor you at all.

That’s cool. It didn’t sound like your written refusal was dissing Cleveland or the Rock Hall in particular but that the whole schtick was just part of the ongoing feud with your former bandmates. That battle’s been raging for decades, after all, maybe from the time the first chords of “Welcome to the Jungle” rang out through stereo speakers across America, heralding the arrival of Guns N’ Roses. Contention and dissent are powerful muses, and the original G N’ R — either because of or in spite of them — logged some energetic, highly influential songs before “creative differences” tore the band apart.

Back then, you were the quintessential rock and roll lead singer — pushing boundaries, raising Cain, and often opening your mouth before engaging your brain.

You were one of the first rockers I ever heard who sprinkled expletives like seasoning salt throughout your lyrics. “Out ta Get Me” was so raw it made Roger Daltry’s single, muffled f-bomb in “Who Are You” sound like a nursery rhyme by comparison. You wore your addictions and not your heart on your sleeve. Other artists had monkeys on their backs, to be sure, but you were the first one to connect the beast to a chain and play music for it like an organ grinder. (I was naïve enough back then that I thought “Mr. Brownstone” was about an old man who liked to dance and not a reference to an illegal substance. Imagine my surprise.)

Of course, like anybody whose public persona hovers perpetually too close to the line, you sometimes tripped over it. Your racist rant on “One in a Million” is shameful, and your recording of Charles Manson’s “Look at Your Game, Girl” was ill-advised. (Even worse, it’s a bad song.)

Then came your 15-year absence from recording amid continual promises of “Chinese Democracy,” the long-gestating, often-delayed sixth studio album that finally arrived in 2008 as a Best Buy exclusive (not very dangerous, that) and sounded about as much like G N’ R as a Chipmunks Christmas album. Maybe that’s because your feet-dragging over that decade and a half drove off the other original members, making this in effect an Axl Rose solo album, which is how it should have been billed.

I’m not one of those fans who believes that creative types owe the public anything beyond the best work they can produce. As far as I’m concerned, you fulfilled all obligations to me each time you delivered a good album in exchange for my hard-earned money. So I don’t care if you ever reunite with guitarists Slash and Izzy or the rest of the classic lineup, something which, based on your rambling letter last week, will happen right after graves yawn open and give up the bodies of John and George to reunite with Paul and Ringo for a Beatles tour. But if you do, I’d buy that record. Or CD. Or digital download.

If anything, your letter proves you still have plenty of rock and roll street cred. I mean, rock is all about rebellion, and nothing is less rebellious than being inducted into a museum, right? It’s like the old Groucho Marx quote, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”

Besides, refusing the Rock Hall’s induction puts you in rarefied company. The Sex Pistols refused the honor when they were inducted in 2006, referring to the Rock Hall as “urine in wine” and wondering why so many subversive artists feel the need to ask “How high?” when the museum says jump.

Hey, controversy with Pistols and now Guns. Maybe the Rock Hall should stop inducting groups with weapons in their names.

At any rate, I’m looking forward to your next album in 2021. By then, China might actually be a democracy. All the best.

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published in The Alliance Review on April 19, 2012.

Commentary & Family life 12 Apr 2012 07:06 am

Letting go of pink

I’m standing in the bedroom that used to be my daughter’s, looking at walls that used to be hot pink but are now a mix of pink and primer, waiting to become a neutral beige.

My daughter turns 21 this week, something that happened in the clichéd blink of an eye. Clichés become clichés for a reason, after all, and the reason most often is that they are true.

I hardly need tell this to other parents and grandparents who have watched their own children grow up like a movie stuck in fast forward. One moment you’re at the opening credits and the next you’re at the midway point, where images go blurry and characters shoot from youth to adulthood in the time it takes to chew a popcorn kernel.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I marveled at my daughter’s feet, so small and perfect as they poked out of a receiving blanket. I remember trips to the park, pushes on swings, kissing away boo-boos, applying Band-Aids, shopping trips and vacations at the ocean and vacations in our backyard, filling plastic swimming pools with water that would soon become cluttered with grass clippings from neighborhood feet, alternating between lawn and house, depending on the temperature of the afternoon sun and the flavor of popsicle offered inside.

Parenting is really just one long exercise in letting go. You let go of the bicycle. You let go of the car keys. You let go of her hand when she climbs on a bus that takes her to a place where other people and other ideas begin to influence her more than you do, a truth both exciting and frightening. At some point, you let go of her heart and hope he won’t break it, but he always does, yet you let it go again because that’s life and it’s what she wants you to do and what you’re supposed to do.

You let go when you leave her on that first day of college with people she and you barely know, and although you tell yourself that the quiet house is a relief, you know it’s not. The quiet is something you endure, not something you get used to.

Some of the letting go is easier. You let go of the drama of lost homework and the surprise of discovering the gas gauge on empty and the conviction that never, ever, will you allow a room in your house to be painted, floor to ceiling, in hot pink.

You let go of all these things because you tell yourself that they’re only temporary, that these sojourns to school and mall and college and work will be over someday and that she will come back home and be your little girl again, but even as you tell yourself these things you know that they are lies.

A good friend once told me that grown children never come home the same way they did when they were young. Yes, they may return in late spring with futons and laundry in tow, but they’re really just marking time in hot-pink rooms until they can visit friends or head back to campus. Or until they can find an apartment where they can stay all summer long.

We didn’t plan to have the room painted this week. It was supposed to have happened weeks ago, but the painter’s timetable and ours didn’t quite match, so here he is, covering the pink with primer and creating, all unbeknownst to him, a metaphor.

The pink is what was; the white, what is; and the beige, what will be. Right now, the room is a mixture of past and present, and that’s how I view my daughter — through the pink of the past, but with the white becoming more apparent each day. The beige is what she — and our relationship — will become, one of equals, something I’m learning means that, while I may still want to play the father card and yell and stamp my foot, I must talk to her the way I do other adults.

That, too, is about letting go.

Although she may still come home from time to time and sleep in the beige room, it won’t be the same; and even when I would like it to be, I don’t wish for it. It’s not the natural order.

But wherever she is and wherever she goes and whatever she does, the pink of her formative years is still with her, just as it will still be underneath these walls, unrecognizable and unsuspected by those who don’t know. I take pride in that, just as I take pride in the fine young woman she has grown to be, sometimes because of my help, sometimes in spite of it.

The future may be beige, but it sure isn’t neutral. Letting go never is.

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published April 12, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & Media & Music & Television 05 Apr 2012 08:50 pm

Play that air banjo

I shocked my wife recently by performing the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme song from memory.

This included a passable vocal rendition of the Earl Scruggs banjo solo. Scruggs was in the public eye last week because he died, an extreme way to trend on Twitter, but effective if you’re willing to sacrifice.

Anyway, I summoned my best bass to imitate singer Jerry Scoggins and launched into “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” which spent 20 weeks on the country charts in 1962, six years before I was born. “Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed, a poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed,” it begins, and takes the audience (in this case, my long-suffering spouse, desperately rolling over in bed to ignore the lunatic lying next to her, who was belting out lyrics and playing the air banjo — my air guitar’s in the shop for repairs — with reckless abandon) through the rags-to-riches tale of food-shooting, oil-finding Clampett, who moves his family from the hinterlands to swank Beverly Hills. Chances are good you’re singing it now — “bubbling crude,” “black gold” “Texas tea” and all.

For a guy who just last week wrote about how his memory for names is shot, I’m happy to report my recall for ephemeral nonsense is as strong as ever. In addition to “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme, I can rattle off principal actors in “Leave It To Beaver” (Barbara Billingsley, Hugh Beaumont, Tony Dow, “and Jerry Mathers as The Beaver”); the number of consecutive issues that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby collaborated on the Fantastic Four (102), and the names of all 10 Led Zeppelin studio albums (to be fair, the first is self-titled, two and three are Roman numerals, and the fourth is runic shapes that are loosely transcribed as “ZOSO”).

Yet ask me what I had for dinner last night or how many years I’ve been married (my pat answer to the latter, “All of them,” doesn’t play well) and I’m at a complete loss.

We live in the golden age of pop culture because virtually everything is available to us — in print, on disk or online. Want to read “Gulliver of Mars,” the book that inspired Edgar Rice Burroughs to create John Carter, which inspired Disney Studios to make the biggest bomb in its history? Twenty years ago, you had to haunt used-book stores or order sight unseen through the mail. Today, it’s free online.

Around 1987, I took a movie appreciation class where the biggest problem was how to watch any movies. A few students had VCRs in their dorm rooms, but almost nobody had pre-recorded videos. We begged and borrowed movies — not necessarily good movies — just to have something. I ended up working with a group to analyze special effects in “Alien,” not because we particularly liked it, but because it was the only movie we had.

Today, that’s as alien to younger film fans as the title character was to those crew members who watched it pop out of a man’s chest.

Want to relive “King Kong,” “Casablanca,” “Double Indemnity,” or other Hollywood hits? You no longer have to stay up until 2 a.m. and receive a fuzzy signal through a rabbit-ear antenna from some station in Outer Mongolia, only to doze off five minutes before the movie starts and wake up as the final credits roll. Chances are good the movie is available for purchase, rental or loan on DVD, Blu-Ray or instant download to scratch the cinematic itch on your schedule.

The same holds true for music, poetry, drama, art — you name it, you can likely find it.

Today, the hardest part of pop culture is making time to enjoy everything that interests you. Or maybe it’s finding a way to step out of its path and connect with the real world outside your door and not the one on the omnipresent screen in front of you.

In previous generations, people like Jed Clampett knew dozens of ways to catch food, mix roots and herbs, and live off the land. Today, people like me know dozens of tunes and trivia about characters like Jed Clampett.

I guess that’s progress, as long as the banjo you’re hearing is the theme from “The Beverly Hillbillies” and not “Deliverance.”

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally printed in The Alliance Review on April 5, 2012.