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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in teenybuffalo's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, May 22nd, 2016
3:02 pm
"We regret that we cannot prepare poached eggs."
Well, I was looking up addresses for [part-time job], and in trying to confirm the address of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, I found:

--It's in the theater district, aka the Tenderloin, known to me as the Wretched Hive, the petty-crime-and-drug neighborhood of downtown San Francisco, right around the corner from the street where I stayed in the youth hostel on my trip this past winter. It was a fun but nervous-making time.

--It's next door to the Pinecrest Restaurant, a 24-hour diner which looked lovably big and seedy and old-fashioned to me. I wanted to eat there, but they were always packed with a line down the sidewalk on the days I had time to go there.

--The Pinecrest was the site of a freak crime in 1997 that is the stuff of legend in San Francisco. It's worth of a Tim Powers novel in its down-to-earth details and random nature suggesting deeper meanings.

Here's the full story. To sum up: on July 24, 1997, a woman, whose name is unknown to me but who is invariably described as an "attractive woman" by the later reports, sat down in the Pinecrest Diner at the counter and ordered poached eggs. The chef, Hashem Zayed, made them for her despite their not being on the menu. Helen Menicou, whose position is given as "waitress" in the news but who had been daytime manager of the Pinecrest for years, yelled at Zayed and told him not to make poached eggs. This much is known to multiple witnesses because the Pinecrest has an open-plan kitchen and food prep takes place in full view of the customers. It is unclear whether the Attractive Woman got her food.

Following this, Zayed went on an all-night gambling binge, during which he lost thousands of dollars, including money Menicou had lent him. At what point she lent it to him is unclear, but she lent him gambling money regularly and might have given him money during/after the shift where they fought about the eggs. The next morning, he came to work with a .380 semiautomatic handgun, announced he would shoot Helen Menicou, and shot her five times. She died in the hospital half an hour later. Zayed went to prison, where he died of a brain tumor three years later, without ever having offered an explanation about why he had gone so far as to murder his co-worker as a response to her yelling at him.

If I'd known all this, I would have made the Pinecrest a priority during my visit, because I am ghoulish and want to see where it happened. I also find this a very scary story because massive overreactions are fearsome. Like the fear of a co-worker going postal or one of your fellow students showing up to school with a gun: work together for twenty-plus years in relative ease, and then one day your co-worker responds to your yelling at him by taking a gun and shooting you to death.

I think people read about this and want to make a complex or supernatural explanation for the murder. You could make the Attractive Woman an active factor in the murder. Maybe she shows up and looks you in the eye and strips away all your inhibitions, and you lose the repression that makes you able to function in human society. She's like the Santa Ana in "Red Wind" by Raymond Chandler. Or maybe Hashem Zayed and Helen Menicou were secretly lovers (unglamorous middle-aged food-service-industry lovers, but still), and this was a Frankie and Johnny crime of passion. Or maybe this was Hashem Zayed's initiation into the bad-guy club, and the Attractive Woman was there with a message from Bad Horse saying that if he was so evil, he had to murder his co-worker within twenty-four hours.

But it's also true that people who spend a lot of time together are capable of nasty, deep, stewing rage and hate, and 90% of accidents happen in the home, so I'd write this off as a domestic-violence-level murder.
Sunday, May 8th, 2016
3:12 pm
New-England bore you
I found this among my papers from a few months ago, as I was tidying up just now. I recall I was trying to create the most generic weird horror protagonist/Call of Cthulhu PC ever.

Name: Lloyd Freeborn
Age: 35
Vital stats: 5' 5 1/2", br/bl, receding hairline
Residence: 12 Acorn Street #3, Boston, MA
Occupation: independently wealthy poet-manque
Club: St. Botolph's
Family: deceased
Personal life: repressed
Hobbies: biblophily, swooning, table tennis, nighttime city walks
Personal aesthetic: subpar J.C. Leydendecker
Health issues: migraines, depression, anxiety, insomnia
Pets: 1 cat ("Lydia Languish," tabby)
12:26 pm
When I first saw the City of the Labyrinth, it was standing in all its glory
Looking up road signs for an unrelated task, I came across this streetview of a road in Buenos Aires that looks like a setting from a Borges story. I've no idea what went on here, but something scary and under-described and full of knife fights and old grudges and reminders that humans are only mayflies on the cosmic scale.

On a side note, I wonder what logic Google uses to blot out signs and address numbers in streetview. It seems to happen erratically, and solely in English-speaking countries plus some parts of Europe.

[Subject line is not actual Borges. Subject line is my recollection of that line from Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart, at the point when I realized they were going on a quest to the lair of a Borges-themed supervillain.]
Wednesday, May 4th, 2016
6:23 pm
PANTS
I have NEW PANTS! I have never spent this much on one pair of jeans before. But they've turned out to be one hundred per cent worth it. They're the height, length, breadth, and color I wanted, and the surface even feels pleasantly smooth and downy.

I have some unusual sizing requirements of jeans. I'm tall, and have very long cylindrical hips, so high-waisted pants on me look like mid-rise pants would look on a medium-sized person. Also, I require the cuffs to hit the tops of my feet, because there were periods of my youth where none of my pants ever came all the way down my legs, and I never want to dress like Milhouse from "The Simpsons" ever again. Also, I require the material to feel nice. I require also that as long as I'm making the effort to wear jeans, they should be fitted and flattering, and not have any trendy fake wear patterns or attention-getting marks.

I hate low-rise jeans because they make any wearer's torso look shapeless. Seriously, better we all hike our pants up to nipple level like old men. Actually, I grew up hating jeans, overall (uh, as it were). Every pair of jeans I put on until like the early 2000s was a horrible hard stiff raspy unforgiving prison for the skin, which hurt the backs of my knees when I crouched, and which never got any softer no matter how much I tried to wash it and "break it in," and you all must have hated jeans as much as I did, but pretended to like them and tortured yourselves to be Fashionable. That's the only explanation I can think of. I am onto you all. (I feel about my first twenty-five years of jeans the way some other friends of mine on Tumblr feel about booze: "it tastes like bug spray why are u all pretending to like the taste of bug spray.")

So, I got along with corduroys, loose cotton pants, and formal wool or pressed linen pants. Then fairly recently I encountered the concept of jeans that were stretchy and smooth and didn't feel like a Brillo prison for my legs. But I've also been relentlessly short of money, and hard to fit, and reluctant to go in big department stores because they're an assault on the senses. So for the last year or so I've had one really presentable pair of jeans that I could wear to a business-casual work day, and one that is visibly slightly worn and baggy, and that's it. Until recently.

A salute to the anonymous Toast commenter who mentioned looking for tall long-waisted jeans, and the other anon who suggested Madewell jeans. My order just arrived, I tried them on, and, well, I'm not going to post photos anytime soon because that would require effort, but please picture a fantastically well-dressed woman marching back and forth in front of her mirror going :D

In conclusion PAAAAAAAAANNNNTS
Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016
7:10 pm
Sing a roundelay: Traditional Song Swap, Sunday, April 3, 1:00 p.m.
You're all invited--RSVP and come sing!

From the Facebook announcement:


Come and share your songs! Let's have a lot of good choruses and participatory songs, plus solo songs and ballads. This swap is for unaccompanied singing. The focus is on traditional songs, but I won't say no to recent songs too.

For directions, please comment here, message me or send me an e-mail at aprilcatherinegrant at gmail dot com. I live right near Powderhouse Square; parking in my neighborhood is free on Sundays.

I'll provide tea and soft drinks. Bring snacks if you feel like it, but this isn't a potluck, so all you need to bring is yourself and some songs.
Tuesday, March 15th, 2016
6:24 pm
Saturday, March 12th, 2016
8:51 pm
So I watched "Taken"
Jesus O'Callahan Christ, that was a shitty movie.

OK, so I recently realized that I have a Thing about Liam Neeson. Partly it's because he looks the way I feel inside (ponderous, friendly, bewildered, well-meaning, wondering whether he left the oven on). But partly I also have a crush on him. Deep in my heart, I want him to hold me, pat me on the back and say, "Hey... hey, sweetheart, it's going to be all right." It's one of those life goals or wife goals? situations. It's confusing, but that's all right with me. What it means is that I'm watching every movie that looks like it might be interesting that contains Liam Neeson.

Yesterday I watched Taken (2009). I feel dirty now.

For those of you who were lucky enough not to see it: Taken is a thriller where Liam Neeson plays a guy called Bryan Mills who goes to Paris and murders brown people. Like, really a lot of them. Also he tortures guys with an electric cable hooked up to alligator clips, but it's totes OK for him to do that because the victim is an Albanian human trafficker, and torture produces 100% reliable intelligence every time. People whom Bryan Mills variously shoots, bashes on the head, and nonfatally maims include a whole lot of workers on a construction site (who may be exploiting women in a rape house, but who also may just be poor jerks hired by the day who have no idea anything bad is happening), and the servers at a big expensive party. (In order to get close to one of Team Evil, he bashes a series of waiters and replaces them. You know those poor servers were hired from Event Temps by the day and are just here to earn a few francs. That one really pissed me off.)

You can't dismiss any of this as "Our hero is shown doing objectively bad things in order to achieve his goals," because Bryan Mills is always right, never kills anyone who didn't have it coming, and has a near-total success rate. The audience is primed to go, admirable.

Shall I add that Team Evil are almost all Middle Eastern men who tend to have bad teeth and straggly beards? Or that they're covered in signifiers like crescent-and-star tattoos, or that the final boss is known only as "the Sheik"? The only anti-Muslim stereotype they didn't hit is "terrorist suicide bomber." It's surprising that Taken only came out in 2009. I'd thought it was much earlier, like 2003. Bryan Mills is basically the US marching on Baghdad.

This is all happening because Bryan Mills' teenaged daughter went to Europe with her idiot friend. Never go to Paris! You hear me, young 'uns?! (I've read that Liam Neeson has had a lot of people come up to him and say that they'll certainly never go to Europe after seeing THAT film, gracious no.) Daughter Girl, whose name I instantly forgot, is a living plot token with a personality consisting of being a virgin. Her idiot friend is not a virgin, so she won't survive. We are also directed not to care about the umpteen other young women who've been filled with drugs and presumably raped. Take note, insecure middle-aged men who watch this movie for a power trip: your daughters are your property, their virginity is what makes them valuable, and the world is full of generically ethnic evil men who want to rape them.

Daughter Girl is played by a grown woman whose idea of acting like a teenager is to shriek and jump up and down a lot. Mind you, everyone else is one-dimensional as well. I understand that no one checked into this movie for Shakespearean levels of complexity, they checked in to watch Liam Neeson punch people, but even so, my intelligence felt insulted by this movie. The character arc that went "Guy has poor relationship with daughter and is undervalued as a person -> daughter imperilled -> guy kills a lot of people -> daughter loves him and everyone else also validates him" just made me sad because it was worked out in strokes about as broad as I just stated. I feel badly for the men who need that as a wish-fulfillment story.

To top it all off, this movie didn't even give me Liam Neeson doing anything that another actor couldn't have done about as well. It was a very poor and bland use of him. Most of the time. There were a few moments of Bryan Mills being kind to distraught women, like the pop star for whom he does security or the drugged girl he rescues from the construction site, which looked particularly good coming from Liam Neeson. (And I got needs.) Most of the time, though, he just played Generic McPuncherson--and with a half-baked American accent, to boot.

Ah well, my time was not quite wasted--at least I found out that I wasn't missing much, and can avoid his other action movies. My friend K. and I are going to watch Michael Collins on Monday night, which I understand is a much better use of Liam Neeson, and also involves Alan Rickman as Eamon de Valera (we've been holding a long protracted wake for Alan Rickman and making some lovely discoveries in his body of work).

I need something cute to take the bad taste out of my mouth. Here is Liam Neeson talking about the time he hit a deer very lightly with his motorcycle, and here he is recording voices for Good Cop Bad Cop from The Lego Movie. I haven't seen that one yet, but Neeson going "Wakey wakeeeeey..." is making me think I've been missing out.
Wednesday, March 9th, 2016
11:58 pm
Song: "Sadie the Goat"
I just watched Gangs of New York (2002). It frustrated me that in this otherwise excellent movie we only got a few glimpses of the most interesting-looking person--she looks like a nineteenth-century Lady Deathstrike cosplayer with her teeth filed to points. This is Hellcat Maggie (ably played by Cara Seymour), sole representative of a bunch of mean, bad, nasty women criminals from mid-nineteenth-century Manhattan who are described, and maybe embellished upon, in the Herbert Asbury book that inspired the film.

Sadie the Goat and Gallus Mag are now my personal favorite female lowlives. The movie character is a mashup of all of them--she's a street fighter with metal finger claws like Hellcat Maggie, keeps a bar like Gallus Mag and decorates with severed ears like Sadie the Goat. I've had this song in the back of my head, trying to be written, for days. It's a filk of bad-man ballad "Duncan and Brady." (Link goes to Leadbelly's performance.)

NSFW: cusswords and violence.

[edit: SHIT oh shit oh shit, this is just one day too late for International Women's Day. Shit! Oh, well.]

Gallus Mag was opening the Hole in the Wall,
Sadie the Goat was the first to call.
"Start me a tab," is what Sadie said,
Mag bit the ear off of Sadie's head,
Cause she been on the town too long.

Sadie Sadie Sadie, you know better than that,
Ask for credit and you get mashed flat,
Troubling Mag when she's opening the bar,
Now she put your ear in a pickle jar,
Cause she been on the town too long.

The Charlton boys trying to steal a boat,
Down to the river comes Sadie the Goat.
Sadie shed a tear when she heard the noise,
"I'll help these poor little Charlton boys,"
Cause they been on the town too long.

Pirates on the Hudson, Sadie and her crew,
Holding kids for ransom, like heroes ought to do,
Robbing every washline and chicken shed,
And they flew the Jolly Roger from the old masthead,
Cause they been on the town too long.

They wore out their welcome and the old boats sank,
So they all went home to put cash in the bank.
Sadie the Goat comes to call for beer,
"Mag, you old cunt, give me back my ear,
Cause I been on the town too long."

Gallus Mag and Sadie are the best old friends,
Sadie rolls the drunks, Gallus Mag bartends.
Maggie sees the cops get a great big check,
Sadie keeps her ear in a locket round her neck,
Cause she been on the town too long.
Sunday, March 6th, 2016
10:13 am
The box. You opened it. We came.
I watched Hellraiser (1987) the other day and quite liked it. Pinhead and his BDSM crew are way oversold in this movie. From the way everyone I've ever heard hypes them up, you'd think the movie was wall-to-wall Pinhead shredding people. Instead they're mostly offstage, though they are reasonably threatening when they do show up. The real villain of the show is--surprise--a zombie that I DON'T sympathize with, for once. I had no idea the character existed, going by pop culture again. Well, why would anybody remember Frank? He's just a thoroughly unpleasant person.

By the way, welcome to my blog, everybody, it's about 50% folksongs and 50% Cenobites.

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The setting and atmosphere are good. It's apparently set in London, but I read it as an undefined city that's in whatever country we say it is; there's a mix of accents, and the suburbs ramble like Detroit and verge into urban decay, trash fires burning in vacant lots, there are nuns and desperate beggars. The house is too huge for London and in the middle of a big yard, and all the trees and bushes look a little overgrown and all the cement is cracked, the stucco walls fissuring. In fact, it reminded me of two recent films. One was Only Lovers Left Alive, with the vampires' house in the suburbs where everything is overgrown with weeds, all the big buildings are ruined, and there are no close neighbors or social services and maybe no police or government. The other was It Follows--Detroit again--with the scenes of Kirsty walking down the street in terror and trying to hide it while normal people look at her funny.

Ashley Lawrence as Kirsty looked like Sarah from Labyrinth had wandered into the wrong movie. Her look was the same--massive curling hair, floofy white poet's shirt worn with jeans. I like to think Kirsty found Labyrinth a formative experience, like many of us. I think she's my favorite Final Girl I've seen in a while. She gets brave eventually; she gets guileful fast. I believed all of it, and believed it was coming from a basically nice and naive young woman rather than going, "Oh, well, she's the only person here who's not a villain, guess we have our Final Girl." I don't want to watch any of the sequels because as far as I'm concerned she gets to live a happy life now, and let the events of this movie dwindle into a vague sexy memory of Doug Bradley's voice.
Saturday, March 5th, 2016
2:10 pm
"What's the matter, Kate, what's the matter, woman?"
Margaret MacArthur, folklorist, singer, teacher, performer. We didn't know one another very well, but I enjoyed every conversation I had with her in the first years of the aughts. I once had ice cream in Manhattan with her and the Kossoy Sisters and two other friends after a folk festival. Seeing her there, with her lace and flowery old-fashioned dress and long white hair, was like seeing a great blue heron walking to the subway. But she was a woman of the world--grew up outside Chicago, lived in the Southwest, moved all over the US and only settled in Vermont in the 1950s when she and her husband were raising their kids. She just dressed like The Source Singer that we all have in our imaginations, who lives on a mountaintop somewhere miles from any town and bakes all her own bread.

She died in 2006. Something or other is always calling her back to my mind. If it's not the songs I've learned from her, then it's sure to be someone else knowing stuff they could only have learned from her, or a view through mountains that reminds me of "Reynardine" the way she sang it. If it's not that, then it's some funny little rhyme or short song that doesn't quite fit anywhere else. She has a lot of them on "Vermont Ballads and Broadsides."

There's a FB post going around with a link to Margaret MacArthur's performance at the Library of Congress. One hour and four minutes of solo concert. She sings, she chats, she talks about her own informants and she plays the "MacArthur harp" (a novelty harp-zither from the early 1900s which is generally called by her name these days) and mountain dulcimer. Skip over the ponderous introductions and go straight to Margaret talking to the audience.
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016
1:28 am
I want to feel you hold me
Speaking of Liam Neeson, I just watched Ethan Frome while it's free on Netflix in order to see Neeson in his early or wolfhound-puppy stage of existence. Ended up liking the movie as a whole much more than I'd thought I would, and I recommend the experience. It's a lovingly book-accurate film that hits every high point from the Wharton book and then some.

The entire movie was filmed in the picture-postcard town of Peacham in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and it is beautiful. It's as accurate a depiction of New England as anything I've seen. White church steeples, rolling hills with mountains in the distance, dry-stone walls in ill repair, big rambling houses that are built back into the barn, interiors that are simultaneously cavernous and cramped and impossible to keep warm, giant fireplaces where you could roast an entire ewe, big black stoves, and it's always either muddy outside or snowing horizontally. All the characters are passive-aggressive sad sacks who would rather do literally anything, including die, rather than talk about their problems and try to work out good solutions. So, also 100% accurate. The only difference from reality is that most of the men in New England aren't as attractive as Liam Neeson.

Patricia Arquette as Maddy and Joan Allen as Zeena were the surprises for me. I wound up liking the film because they both got relatable fast. The part of the book that never really came across for me was Maddy and Ethan falling in love and having their dirty weekend while Zeena's out of the house. It works better in the movie, with Maddy bursting into tears, refusing to explain, trying to get Ethan to hold her hands by declaring that her fingers are frozen, bragging about her music skills and singing "Chicken crowing on Sourwood Mountain," and, in short, performing every act she can think of to show that she likes him, without daring to either say so or kiss him. As for Zeena, she may be a whiny hypochondriac, but she also knows that her husband and her cousin are banging hard enough to break the red glass pickle dish, and she can't either talk about it with Ethan, the aggressively silent pussywhipped jerk, or pack her bags and walk out on him. Just because a character is an unpleasant person doesn't mean they can't also be suffering.

They don't show the moment of impact, in the Sled Ride That Needs No Cocoa. I assume they didn't have the time, money and stuntpeople to stage it. What they do is show you another sledding party of little kids watching in shock as a broken sled goes sailing up into the air and arcs into the trees, and then you see what's right in front of those kids: Ethan and Maddy's unconscious bodies hitting the ground together covered in blood. That was just as messed up as it could possibly be.

There isn't any more resolution than there was in the book. All you get is a look at broken and embittered Ethan limping off around the corner of the house to lumber through some more chores, and then a long shot of the village covered in snow a yard deep, and that's it. Nothing left to be said. If there was a point, you gotta decide for yourself what it is. I'm torn between "And that's why love suicides are a bad idea, children," "Don't ever have sex with your employer," and "For Christ's sake engage in the awkward conversation while you still can."

[This is all happening in the Northeast Kingdom, aka Mi-Go country, aka near where Henry Akeley lives in "The Whisperer in Darkness." I kept wanting to give things a quarter-turn and cross over with Lovecraftian Vermont, but I never figured out just where I'd make the connection.]
Tuesday, March 1st, 2016
9:52 pm
Unicorn chaser: cute critters
It has been a long day for a lot of people, I realize, so here is a short scene from Sesame Street where Count Von Count teaches Liam Neeson to count like a vampire. I don't know whether my favorite part is the Count Von Count wearing a beret and discovering his inner diva director, or Liam Neeson trying to keep the monocle on his face.

It occurs to me that some of you fiends might also like to see an excerpt from the Muppet Show with Miss Piggy sexually harassing Rudolf Nureyev in a steam room while they're wearing nothing but towels and singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

Oh, and while I'm on the Muppets, someone out there might not have seen them do "Bohemian Rhapsody," so here you are.
Sunday, February 28th, 2016
10:53 am
What have I become?
The other night I went to a superhero party dressed as Darkman. Resulting photos are here. $20 for bandages (turns out gauze rolled bandages are freakin' expensive) and $20 for a used Outback coat, plus costume elements I had around the house already. What I said in the tumblr post:

I think I got stabbed a few times, people kept looking at me and bursting into tears or running away, I got to be half of a Double Dragon pose. Altogether I enjoyed it. I think next time I’ll wear nerd glasses over my bandages, or find a plush elephant toy to carry.

I had the satisfaction of hearing several people I know say “Who IS that in there?” in worried voices. On the other hand, no one went as grimdark as me, and I think most people found me disturbing company. I’m not doing this look again in a situation where I want to make friendly conversation. I also found myself talking with my hands more than I usually do, to reassure people that I meant them no harm.
Sunday, February 14th, 2016
2:07 am
We will worship Great God Ra/ We'll just stand there and go, "Ahhhh!"
I have just found out in casual conversation that there was a cartoon on TV for one season in 1997 called Mummies Alive! It featured Ancient Egyptian mummies who were like undead Power Rangers, or possibly Sailor Scouts, and they were all bodyguards to this one pharoah who had been reborn as a schoolboy in San Francisco. They had Egyptian-themed cars and shouted "With the strength of Ra!" in order to transform into battle mode. Their catch-phrase was apparently, "Let's kick Tut!"

I fell down laughing and told my informant that they were just messing with me, this show couldn't possibly exist, and it wasn't fair to play tricks on me by pulling in all the things that I'd enjoy and inventing a fake show. They responded by linking me to the theme song.

I'm forced to accept that this exists. It even looks like something I'd have been obsessed with, as a young teenager. Did anybody watch this the first time around? I kind of want to watch the whole thing, except that ep. 1x01 is titled "Ra Ra Ra," and I don't know if I can handle it yet.
Friday, February 12th, 2016
12:59 am
Story rec: "Breaking Water," by Indrapramit Das
Via handful_ofdust on Twitter. I found it to be an unusually sad and wistful zombie story.
Thursday, February 11th, 2016
11:10 pm
I never asked you to have faith in me, Goody Watson
Most of the time I think the Toast is overrated. Every so often it hits me where I live.

Please go over there and read Mallory Ortberg's "Reasons I Would Not Have Been Burned As A Witch In The Early Modern Era No Matter What I Would Like To Believe About Myself And Would In Fact Have Been Among The Witch-Burners."

I feel a little bit less embarrassed about preteen me, who liked to pat herself on the back about how enlightened she would have been if she'd lived in Salem Village in the 1690s.
1:50 am
From the familiar to the unfamiliar
I'm in SFO awaiting my flight out. Made it through security with only the loss of a jar of caramel. I really want to post something while in an airport, like my more worldly friends often do, so while I'm thinking of it:

The Museum of Jurassic Technology was exactly, exactly my sort of thing. rushthatspeaks, rezendi, you were 100% right that I needed to see it and I'm happy you know me well enough to know it would suit me. I had a window of time a week ago Sunday, the only day I'd be in LA and the museum would have open hours. I managed to get there at 3:30 (I'm proud of my learning to negotiate the buses from Union Station so quickly) and they closed at six p.m.

Two and a half hours is not nearly enough time to enjoy the museum fully. I didn't even get upstairs till the last ten minutes. It's a small building, but it is packed and uses the space as thoroughly as possible. If any of you ever get within shouting distance of this museum on days when it has open hours, go, for the love of Pete, go and start as early in the day as you can. They even have a tea-room upstairs. It's in a row of shops and small businesses in Culver City. To me, the neighborhood looks like a mass of freeways, with sidewalks and grungy buildings of one or two stories. The storefront of the Museum of Jurassic Technology is distinguished only by an attractive set of stone seats, with little shrine-like alcoves on each side. When you enter, you step immediately into a dark gift shop and approach the ticket desk with no transitional period. A formally dressed young woman with an accent I couldn't place took my money. There were at least five paper coffee cups on the desk beside her. I don't know if they'd all been left by museum visitors or if she just drank a lot of coffee. She was doing what appeared to be math homework from a textbook. There were numerous people crowded into the gift shop and the museum beyond was packed too.

Short version: the place is run by cultists. That's the only way I can explain it. Immediately on entry, you're greeted by signs and T-shirts with images of the creepy stone face from the Museum's website, and there's a big vase of fresh flowers in front of a larger copy of the same image (which I still haven't looked up, by the way; if it's explained in the museum, I missed that part). Then there is a scale model of Noah's Ark, looking, not like a boat of friendly animals and people, but like a giant wooden sandwich with no portholes or pilot house or any distinguishing features. It looks like the descriptions of the wooden sort-of-submarine vessels which I understand are described in the Book of Mormon. There are also depictions of the tower of Babel. And then things get really uncomfortable.

There's an introductory video on the history of museums in general and this museum in particular. The narration is this text, but please note that it's being read aloud by a portentous, disembodied voice, to the accompaniment of black-and-white images from period texts and illustrators. It's like a Max Ernst series.

[continued later, at home in Boston]

What I mean is this. The portentous voice describes the way the museum works, using literary and classical references and allusions. Since you can't indicate quotations marks when you're speaking aloud, it's not clear whether a given odd turn of phrase is a quote or just the way the portentous voice happens to like to talk. "Like a coat of two colors," it intones, "the Museum serves dual functions. On the one hand..." and there's a picture of an antique glove on the screen. When it gets to the "On the other hand" clause, there's another picture of the same glove flipped. So, still the same damn glove for the SAME hand, just pointing the other way. I kept waiting for that to be a plot point, but it never was. (Sidebar: I kind of talk like this. When I really get caught up in a subject, I talk like a book, and the more excited I get the more formal I sound. I wonder whether that makes people as uncomfortable with me as I was with this narrative.)

The narration talks about the history of the concept of museums, bringing in Noah's Ark as a museum, since it's the most complete possible Museum of Natural History. The narration refers to the concept of the museum burning through the ages as the "famed Hetruscan sepuchral lamps" burned without benefit of fuel or air. At no point is there any indication that the voice can tell the difference between religious doctrine and the work of relatively recent and provably real historians/curators like Elias Ashmole and Charles Willson Peale. There is a reference to Ole Worm, who was a real person and famous for his curiosity cabinet, but who appears in the Lovecraftiverse as the definitive translator of the Necronomicon into Latin. It closes by booming, "Glory to Him who endureth forever, and in whose hands are the keys of unlimited pardon and unending punishment." This is in quotation marks in the Museum's website text version, but I can't find a source; all online versions of this line lead back to the MJT, or else appear in works of fiction which are evidently inspired by the MJT. The video image that goes with the words is the round stone face with the creepy expression.
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And then I had to leave, without seeing most of the upstairs or having the time to drink tea and eat cookies in the tea room. I didn't see half of the exhibits. Writing about it, I feel a great longing to go back. The sense of someone gently screwing with me, in the nicest way possible and with no punchline, was both comfortable and uneasy-making. And the actual history and lore on display was amazing, and presented to make the greatest possible impact on the audience. I think the sense of chagrin, is this place yanking my chain?, is so strong in people after viewing the MJT that they'd come away and do research even if they hadn't felt the inclination to do any background reading up till then.

I bought a paperback book on ice houses throughout history, in the gift shop on my way out. It seemed like the most appropriate way to remember the place. There were T-shirts with the stone face, but that image is scary enough I don't want it on my clothes.
Wednesday, February 10th, 2016
1:05 am
rolling home to old New England
Boy, it'll feel nice to get back to my potted plants and my own bed and my friends in the Boston area. But I will miss this. I have had a gift for blundering into good stuff and fun times this trip. Wanna post about all of it. We'll see how much I get to.
Friday, February 5th, 2016
12:26 am
Of the Barbary Coast steer clear, my boys

I'm in San Francisco installed at the youth hostel. So tired, you guys. I should go to bed, but I want to get this down while I have the chance.

Things I have done in the past twenty-four hours:

Got the hostel-hopper from Santa Monica to San Francisco. Insert resentful rant here about how none of the car rentals would rent a car to me; I decided to go on to San Francisco a day earlier than I'd planned, and I managed to get a bus ride that wasn't too terrible. It was a long drive and I'm sure the shore road would have been more interesting, but Route 5 is fun to do once. Lots of orange groves, not as many stockyards as I'd been led to believe, lots of angry signs complaining about the "new Dust Bowl."

Moved into a top bunk in the hostel, which is in the Tenderloin, which is a horrible name for a neighborhood. I'd gleaned that this was the theater/red-light district before now, but I didn't gather that the hostel was located here till I showed up. Lots of bars and nightclubs and drunks, but, fair's fair, every hostel I've stayed in so far has been in drunken binge land. There are people begging on the street in every block, and some of them look to be in desperate shape.

Walked right across San Francisco to get good and physically tired so that I could sleep well. I think I spotted the tall, skinny white apartment building that they used as the villain's home in Dark Passage, that Bogart/Bacall movie with all the POV cam. The hills kicked my ass. On the plus side, the city lights and the Bay Bridge look fantastic from that mountain crest.

Ate fantastic Indian food at a hole-in-the-wall place called the Curry Leaf. It was more than I could afford, but really good.

Drank a chocolate malted from the Ghirardelli restaurant.

Walked around Hyde Street Pier in the darkness and then realized it was unwise to do that.

Walked all the way back home to the hostel and went to bed.

Got up, did laundry, ate hostel breakfast incl. very good bagels.

Ate a second breakfast at Wicked Grounds, San Francisco's only BDSM supply store/coffee shop. Everyone was charming. Giant woden penis used as paperweight on top of pile of napkins. Bought [redacted], [redacted], a hot cocoa and a chocolate chip cookie. Watched the store owner chuck a man out of the store for using drugs in the bathroom, with mingled embarassment and enjoyment on my part. She did not actually, physically chuck him, I should clarify. She just spoke sharply to him, but it was very impressive.

Experienced the most pretentious museum I've ever explored for free, which I suspect exists as a vanity project for a Buddhist spiritual leader whom I won't name here but who had created more than half the paintings, prints, sculptures, etc. in the building. He had this ten-foot-square painting of water lilies where you could tell he'd looked at the Monet painting and taken away all the wrong lessons. The lily pads were formed three-dimensionally from bubbled epoxy and looked like gangrenous pancakes. There were also paintings by other artists. When I came across a Chinese watercolor of carp that was actually attractive, I feasted my eyes on it in sheer relief to look at something beautiful.

Returned to hostel, did laundry.

Bought MUNI pass, rode cable car over death-defying hill route to Hyde Street Pier. Hiked to Pier 33. Bought ferry tickets for Friday.

Ate tomato soup in bread bowl.

Admired sea lions, which are as numerous as ever and still resemble big cuddly furry slugs that like to yell at each other.

Walked through Fort Mason park area. Figured out how to negotiate bus system to get to Golden Gate Bridge. Got to sightseeing area. Took a zillion pictures, some of which I'll share later. Walked all the way across the bridge to the Marin County side. Constant, refreshing cold wind; constant roar of six lanes of traffic beside me. The bridge was even more imposing than you'd imagine from its appearances in the media. The sky over the open sea was full of looming clouds like mountains and forests and the hulls of giant ships. There were surfers riding the backwash-waves on both sides of the Golden Gate, looking tiny below me. I was seized with an ambition to learn to surf. Perhaps I will do that one day. Took a bunch more photos of flowers. Walked back. It was dusk and parts of the city were lit up by the time I returned to the bus turnaround.

Made it back to the hostel. Wrote previous post. Was seized with sudden unbearable urge to eat fresh fruit or drink a really good smoothie. Bought mediocre bottled smoothies from Walgreen's, bought excellent Minneola oranges from corner grocery, went to hostel kitchen and cut up and ate oranges in manner of Ives eating dinner in Ravenous. (Zelda got me to watch that with her on Monday night and it was 100% the kind of thing I like.)

Now I'm going to make myself go to bed. Tomorrow: Alcatraz.

Thursday, February 4th, 2016
10:33 pm
Books: "Anno Dracula," Kim Newman
I read this on the bus journey from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It beguiled the tedium of the journey. I don't know if I would have been able to hold still long enough to finish it if I hadn't been stuck on a bus.

Briefly, I liked the setting and background a lot more than the plot and characterization. Nothing happened that surprised me much; the element that might have been an entertaining if melodramatic plot twist ([character from other thing] is also Jack the Ripper!) is revealed in the first few pages, and we spend the rest of the book watching this plot thread go nowhere interesting. There's a later twist where [bland character we don't care about] turns out to have been involved, but it didn't do much for me. The protagonists, a female vampire social worker and a wishy-washy male human double agent, try to catch Jack the Ripper, fail at protecting those within their care, and fall in love and have sex. There are a lot of minor lowlife characters who appear for like a page apiece and are more interesting than they are.

At the end, the nicer characters storm the lair of Jabba the Hutt Dracula, and manage to do heroic stuff, but it's not enough to keep me from feeling cheated that I read a long work of poorly-structured fanfiction where nobody's storyline wrapped up. I guess I've had the book built up and built up for me by people idly referring to how much they loved it or how influential it was or what a deep comment it made on Stoker's Dracula, and I obviously don't see what other people see in it. It comes off like half of a good novel. I understand there are sequels. I wonder if Newman intended Anno Dracula to be twice as long, and had to cut it in half and publish it as separate books.

The reason I'm posting about this instead of letting myself forget the book is that I liked the background very much indeed. AU where everything in Bram Stoker's novel happened up to the point where Dracula attacks Mina. Here he succeeded, she went vamp and evil, Dracula killed most of the other good guys, Van Helsing and Seward fled to the wilderness, Arthur Holmwood went vamp, and Dracula cut a swath through England. He killed tons of people, made a lot of new vampires, and acquired lackeys and henchmen and recruited other really old vampires from across Europe to come to England and perform a coup. They forced Queen Victoria to "agree" to marry Vlad Tepes. He's the Prince Consort, Victoria's grown children presumably being in exile, and he's the only one in charge in Buckingham Palace now. The country is packed with vampires, home-grown and imported. We see every possible kind of vampire, including a hopping Chinese vampire that even the other vampires find scary, and hear pretty much every famous vampire of fiction name-checked. (Newman evidently loves Hammer horror films best. We also get lots of obscure literary vamps. I was pleased that Mrs. Amworth the matter-of-fact middle-aged woman shows up as, basically, a vampire EMT.)

The vampire-human world is well realized. It works more neatly than any other work I've seen depict a city where vampires are out of the closet and coexist with humans. It goes to a predictable norm: humans are the sheep and the vampires are the rich elite. However, there are now so many vampires that they're starving in the streets just like the humans. Also, there are vampire hereditary diseases; Vlad Tepes' line of descent is "tainted," whatever that means, and the result is that some of his infectees at three and four removes are covered in weeping sores or able to turn partly and ineffectually into animals. One little girl can sort of turn one arm into a bat wing, but only the one arm. Poor people feed off each other: the most impoverished vampire prostitutes will perform sex acts in exchange for a little blood, while, from the human side, there are adults walking around in the bad neighborhoods with little kids on leashes, offering to let desperate vampires drink infant blood for a shilling a time. The streets are full of homeless vampires who can only wrap themselves up in blankets and huddle in doorways through the hours of sunlight.

It's amazing how little difference vampire rule makes to the poor people. Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss: the rulers are a combination of upper-class Percivals who are there because they're old and rich and have personal armies, and bastards who are in charge because they're intelligent and ruthless and give the public what it wants. Lord Ruthven is probably the most nuanced; he's a smug fop who has been pulled out of his wandering lifestyle to act as Dracula's right-hand man, and carry out Nazi-like purges of the other elite vampires who helped Dracula get where he is. I enjoyed the by-play between Ruthven and his own underling, Arthur Holmwood, who is trying very hard to prove he's on board with the vampire cause.

One of the nasty pieces of work is Count Vardalek, who is Vampire Ernst Röhm; he's a sort-of-pedophilic gay vampire. Vardalek is in the book to be a comic villain, so we can feel good about the heroine beating up a bad guy. Wouldn't you know it, although there are other quasi-bisexual or pansexual characters among the vampires, Vardalek the flaming queen is the only one we see in same-sex situations--which consist of his trying to buy one teenaged boy from his parents and murdering two others during creepy snake sex. Overall, Newman does a good job of making me see the vampires as morally ambiguous, but I could have done without his equating "gay" to "pedophilic" which is how this comes off.

There's a surprising amount of positively depicted (heterosexual) sex in this book. The vampire do-gooder, Genevieve Dieudonne, has a genuinely loving affair with a guy; other people have functional/friendly/enjoyable sexual encounters, including some sex work, in order to throw the nastier moments into sharp relief. That was nice. On the other hand, the male characters are always spouting on about how MOST women are weak/passive/dull/spineless, except that this woman right here is different and interesting. This is a load of crap, and also means the audience has been told to find the most potentially interesting villain in the book dull and spineless. She's like a female equivalent of Magnus from The Vampire Lestat: she twiddles her thumbs for half the book waiting for someone interesting to rescue her from middle-class dullness, and when that doesn't happen, she goes out and stabs a vampire in the neck and drinks his blood in order to turn herself into a vampire. It works. And then... nothing. That's literally all the character arc she gets. Perhaps she does something in the sequel, but I'm probably not going to bother to find out. There's a plucky female vampire newspaper reporter, who does nothing much. Vampire Mina exists but never becomes important to the plot. There are vampire whores who are physically monstrous but are also just sex workers trying to make a living and give the client what he pays for. They're underutilized.

Oh, well. This is a world where the new Gilbert & Sullivan opera as of 1888 is called The Vampyres of Venice: Or, the Maid, the Shade, and the Blade, and Ruddigore was a deliberate satire on vampires. A vampire poseur (as in, one who dresses like a Goth in our reality) is commonly known as a "murgatroyd" for that reason. I fell in love with the world of this book because of touches like that. I had my heart broken by almost everything else.

Also, when you finally see the dreaded Dracula for a moment at the end, he's truly awful and has power to frighten. He's a massive giant who sits around encrusted with blood and filth, with his dick out, and he keeps Queen Victoria on a leash like Jabba with Princess Leia. He constantly shapeshifts, taking a new monstrous form every time a new thought crosses his mind, and that's partly why he's nude--he can't keep his clothes on, because there's too much of him, because he is every single version of Dracula all crammed together.

Anybody read the other books in this series? Want to encourage me to keep going because it gets better, or head me off now before I invest more time?
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