Catching Up

It’s been way too long since I’ve rambled about the banal details of my day-to-day life.

Last Friday, five minutes or so after finishing my paper, I hopped in the car and drove to Atlanta for the SAMLA conference. There’s nothing like an opening-night reception to remind me of just how little I’ve evolved socially since the 7th grade, when I would spend both hours of every Friday-afternoon, middle-school dance with my back pressed against a wall, drinking punch and watching Motley Crue and Cyndi Lauper videos on the front-projection TV. Fortunately, conference receptions come with free drink tickets, so that’s something. Also, the reception was held in the same room as the bookdealer displays, which was nice. If I happen to make my way to a party at your house some night, and if you happen to lose sight of me, chances are I’ll be found standing alone in front of your bookshelf and/or CD/DVD collection. Browsing. Given a choice between thumbing through your books or making small talk in a room full of strangers, I’ll take the books. Every. Time.

While sipping my second glass of wine, I did my best to affect the look of someone waiting for that old friend I had arranged to meet — you know, staring intently across the room, even rocking forward onto my toes from time to time for a better vantage — but apparently I failed miserably. Midway through my glass, a young woman made a beeline for me, introduced herself, and told me she was alone and had decided to talk to me because I was so obviously also alone. And thank god she did. I’m not socially inept. I pride myself, in fact, on being a decent conversationalist. Not shy, but introverted. A one-on-one conversation, instigated by the other person — that’s where I shine. We chatted for about twenty minutes, then I left to grab some dinner at the Thai place connected to the hotel. My pad thai, by the way, smelled like a horse stall. This is the second time I’ve ordered pad thai while attending a conference (the other was in Boulder) and received a meal that reeked of hay and horse. Am I missing something?

The conference panel was a lot of fun. Chuck paired my paper on In the Bathtub of the World with a presentation by two faculty members at a small liberal arts college, where a group of in-coming freshmen had recently made a documentary about their transition to college life. The presenters were especially interested in the “real” lives of people coming of age in an era of total media saturation, and they seemed to equate the power of autobiographical storytelling with “agency.” Their presentation complimented mine well, I think, and led to a thoughtful and friendly discussion afterwards.

By the time I got home Saturday afternoon, Joanna had already left on a short trip to Nashville, leaving me bored and alone with the house to myself. Remember what I was just saying about my propensity for browsing through shelves? Yeah, I spent almost the entire evening at the local new/used indie music store, quite literally browsing through their entire inventory. I picked up three CDs:

Tiny Cities by Sun Kil Moon — Okay, it wasn’t until I got home that I discovered that this is a collection of Modest Mouse covers. Not that it would have mattered much. At this point, Mark Kozelek could put out an album of improvised readings from the phone book and I’d buy it. If I could sing like that, I’d never talk.

Goo by Sonic Youth — I first bought Goo a week or two after it was released in 1990. I bought it then for two reasons: 1. David Fricke gave it a 4-star review in Rolling Stone, and from roughly 1987-1992 I shaped my taste by reading every issue of Rolling Stone from cover to cover. 2. Late one night I caught the video for “Kool Thing” on MTV (can you imagine?). I just sat there for four minutes and six seconds trying to make sense of what I was seeing and hearing. I’m not sure when I sold my copy of Goo, though I suspect it was probably some day in 1993 or 1994, when I, like, really needed that new Widespread Panic album. Yep. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to rebuy Goo ever since I watched Irma Vep and had my mind blown again, this time by “Tunic (Song for Karen).” Sunday night, as soon as Joanna got home, I took her out to dinner just so we could drive around town listening to “Tunic” really loud.

(Edit: I just found a nice collection of photos of Sonic Youth and Cat Power. Kim Gordon and Chan Marshall. Be still my beating heart. Oh, and also new videos from Chan and Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy — both from Truckstop Media.)

Blow Up (Original Soundtrack) by Herbie Hancock (also featuring The Yardbirds and Tomorrow) — What a find! And for only $7.99! This album is top-to-bottom great, but “The Naked Camera” is two or three steps beyond great. After Joanna’s parents passed away last year, we bought this absurd house in a community where we’ve lowered the average age by a good decade or two. In January we’ll be hosting a “gourmet club” party, and I’m already working on the 5-CD mix of music that will be shuffling randomly throughout the evening. Most of Blow Up will make it. “The Naked Camera” might be side 1, track 1.

Let’s see. What else?

Yesterday my car got booted by the fascists from a local wrecker service. They extorted $75 from me despite the fact that I had, as a matter of principle, paid my $3 for all-day parking. The thieving bastards. I don’t know how they sleep at night.

Oh, and we’ve officially launched the website for the up-coming NEXUS conference, hosted by UT’s Graduate Students in English. I have to say I’m rather proud of the site design. If you shuffle through all of the title images, you might notice I’ve dropped in an allusion to my dissertation: the Angel Bethesda statue that features prominently in Angels in America. The topic this year is “Religion and Nation,” and the committee has scored a keynote address from John D. Caputo. Academics out there, be sure to check out the call for papers. (Hey, The Weblog gang, I’m talking to you.)