Artless Dodge

The following are my outsider opinions on the auto industry. Don't take them too seriously.

The problem with Dodge, and to a lesser extent, Chrysler lately is that the design ethos behind their cars, regardless of class, is ungracefully aggressive. This is characterized most notably by the long distance between the bottom of the front bumper and the highest point on the shortish, apparently overstuffed hood, often accentuated by a tapering at the rear of the vehicle. Sadly, this "big grill" look has been copied by several other automakers.

The Dodge Magnum may be the worst offender, with the Nitro and the Caliber running closely behind it. It's the quality that Automobile Magazine called "American badassness." I get the same dismaying feeling about early 21st century American culture when I see a corpulant Dodge Magnum station wagon bitch-slapping its way through traffic as I do when I see one of those sans-serif Bush Cheney 04 stickers. I don't think it's a stretch to call them two sides of the same coin.

Going by what DaimlerChrysler is previewing at the North American International Auto Show this month, it will be more of the same. From my less than full view, the Chrysler Nassau looks like a cross between the Magnum and that brontosaurus of a car, the Pacifica.

There are a few notable exceptions. The PT Cruiser is aggressive looking only in a foppish way. It appears to have been custom made for middle-aged people who wear fanny packs. It's ugly but basically harmless from a design point of view. The Charger puts Dodge's bullying aesthetic to good use. A Charger should look mean. And the Dodge Viper looks to be legitimately built with badassness, as it were.

Similarly, DaimlerChrysler's ad campaigns for their Dodge cars appear to be overseen by Karl Rove. They aim for peoples' worst impulses of selfishness, domination and dealer-bought hyper masculinity. Admit it or don't, but people (including many I know) take their attitudinal cues from commercials like this Dodge Nitro spot or this one for the Magnum. Sure, cute and fuzzy creatures are annoying, but scaring the f**k out of them isn't particularly funny or satisfying. Dodge ads celebrate the worst of human nature, nudging the culture in an ugly direction. I don't want to live in a place where everybody is out constantly grabbing life by the horns.

While I'm on a rant about advertising, I'm sure you've seen the commercials for Chevy trucks with the John Cougar Concentrationcamp soundtrack. You know: "This is our country". The original one was repulsive, using images of 9/11 to sell trucks, but have you seen the latest in which they an show an anvil with the accompanying text (THIS IS OUR CONCEPT VEHICLE), and dirty work boots and jeans (THIS IS OUR DRESS CODE). My f
avorite wry affront to the elite is the tired looking firefighters: (THIS IS OUR FOCUS GROUP). Actually, no. You are ad executives. YOUR FOCUS GROUP is... a focus group.

The Songs I'm Listening To:
Toto - Rosanna
Archie Bell & the Drells - Tighten Up
Scud Mountain Boys - Massachusetts
Steve Reich - It's Gonna Rain


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Marriott Masala

Yesterday I delivered a continental breakfast to the Marriott in a neighboring city. Saturday catering is fairly rare, so I have an agreement with our other driver to take those deliveries, while he takes any Sunday deliveries.

At about a quarter to eight I pulled up in the van in front of the hotel's adjoining conference center and loaded the trays onto a cart. I went inside and looked up at the directory of events. I was supposed to be taking the food to the
W____ Family Suite, which I mistakenly assumed was the name of a meeting room inside the conference center. (You know, named in honor of the W____ family, who donated the funds to this multi-million dollar hotel chain to build a conference room in their honor.) Not seeing any mention of that suite, I walked to the rear of the lobby and into a very small office. There was a man in shirt sleeves and a tie bent over in a chair tying his shoes. He seemed flustered that I walked in on him, as if tying his shoes was an intimate part of his daily attiring, not meant to be seen. His voice was impatient and a little strained from bending over when he corrected my mistake.

I pushed the cart down a hall in the direction of the hotel proper. Fortunately I had left the restaurant early and had some time. After maybe thirty yards, the hall opened up into a wider area. The space was full of traditionally dressed Indians (not Native-Americans, but the sub-continental kind). On my right was a set of double doors opening up onto an elaborately decorated banquet hall, with rows of chairs wrapped in beautiful fabric, facing an intricate sort of altar. I gathered this was a wedding. There was a man with a very large, professional-looking video camera filming the decor. To the right of the doors was a shrine to Ganesha, the Lord of Good Fortune and Destroyer of Obstacles, complete with candles set on an embroidered rug on the floor, which had the effect of extending the shrine several feet in front of the god's image. The people milling about were lightly perfumed and smelled lovely. (Can I, as a man, use that word here, Kevin?)

Another thirty yards and I was in the lobby of the hotel. It was the most lavish looking hotel I had been in since Jenni and I stayed at the L'Enfant Plaza in D.C. (One night I got drunk in the hotel bar and offended tv personality Pat O'Brien, in town for an NFC championship game featuring the Lions at the Redskins. This was long before his infamous voice mail messages, which made me feel somewhat vindicated for his snub. But that's an entry for another day.)

A desk attendant directed me to the
W____ family suite on the fourth floor. I delivered the food and set it up without incident then headed back onto the elevator. Outside in the parking lot as I was turning the van around I saw a slow moving procession led by a white Ford Explorer. In the wake of the vehicle was a man dressed in traditional Indian garb banging on a large drum. Behind him a large group of wedding revelers were clapping and dancing and shouting. A loud sound system inside the Explorer played piquant sitar music.

The Songs I'm Listening To:
Rainer Maria
Broken Radio
Television Little Johnny Jewell
Paul McCartney Jet
Of Montreal I Was Never Young
The Spinners I'll Be Around (a melancholy wonder)
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And I'm a Rock Star

At the risk of getting all James Frey on you, I'm back after a week in alcohol and drug detox and I'm feeling terrific! Well, a little better anyhow. It was my fourth or fifth time in this particular facility, run by a non-profit under whose aegis also fall a large house in our city and an actual working farm in the country, both offering two to six month rehab, a turgescence of transitional housing units and a jail outreach program. The detox is in an old house on the northeastern edge of our downtown. It can house ten men and maybe seven women at a time. There is a red van that takes the clients to several twelve step meetings a day.

Since the first time I was there in 2001, there has been a poster behind the toilet in the men's bathroom. It is a picture of several "urban" looking young black men, "hanging out" in the manner that the photographer must have imagined these people do. The caption in big red letters says: "You're All That... Are You HIV Too? I don't want to go back in another five years to see if the poster is still there. I'm getting to old for this. One of the hidden blessings of the experience though, is the people I always meet. One character, a crack smoker, introduced himself at meetings by saying, "My name is D____ and I'm a rock star."

Last night I printed up a bunch of labels for Kathy the Catering Coordinator to put on boxed lunches; Ham on Sourdough, Chicken Croissant, etc. In addition to gently lecturing me on my substance abuse, she said, "See, this is a more productive use of your time than your blog." Maybe so, Kathy

The Songs I'm Listening To:
The Shins Caring is Creepy
Six Organs of Admittance You Can Always See the Sun
America Sister Golden Hair
Fatlip What's Up Fatlip?
Matisyahu Warrior

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The Cave of Adullam

I've been traveling far and wide across the so-called "blogosphere" and one thing has become obvious to me. Political blogs are where it's at. In that spirit I've decided to try my hand at political cartooning.

(Click on cartoon to enlarge)
As someone once said "Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes." I think that was directed towards the ladies, but my voice was shaking like a dissenter in the Bush White House when I penned this cartoon.

Kathy the catering coordinator smacked me on top of my head today so hard that I actually saw stars. I don't remember what I did or said to bring it on, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't deserving.

More on my new music feature: this is exactly the sort of thing I would hate if someone other than I did it. I would see it as a sad attempt to prove how hip he is; how obscure and varied her tastes are. There may be a little bit of that in me, but mostly I just like to seek out new music, and when I find something good I like to share it. Here it is, gang.
The Songs I'm Listening To:
The Arcade Fire
The Postal Service Against All Odds
Islands Where There's a Will There's a Whalebone
Joanna Newsome Flying a Kite

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A good indicator of my reading life of late is the fact that I can name two characters on the infomercial for the Magic Bullet Blender. Berman is the sceptical curmudgeon with a hangover and Mimi is the female co-host of the party. She makes a milkshake with peppermint candies. Her husband, I just found out, is played by Mick Hastie, the Australian inventor with the oddly English accent. If you've ever seen Bob Odenkirk do his infomercial host shtick you know Mick. As I continue to look into the phenomenon that is the Magic Bullet infomercial, I gather that the bath-robed, chain smoking, bespectacled aunt with the over-cooked Yiddish accent is called Hazel.

I have six or seven books on my nightstand, but it's taken less effort lately to fall asleep with The Daily Show. I've never been one to sit in a chair in the daytime and read a book; since childhood, I've been a bedtime reader. Among the books awaiting me are David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, The Sea, by John Banville and a couple of non-fictions: Watermark by Joseph Brodsky and Antony Beevor's Stalingrad. All were given to me by my father.
I really am looking forward to getting back into the reading habit. I started weaning myself off the thirteen inch Daewoo in my bedroom (NLT) by reading an article in the New Yorker by Tad Friend about the people that brought us the Blue-Collar Comedy tour. I read it with the zeal and anticipation that Sean Hannity might have reading Ann Coulter. I wanted an indictment of Larry the Cable Guy and his willfully ignorant politics. Instead, I found a well written piece that touched on said fraud's phobic, populist garbage but didn't linger on it.

A new feature to this blog: The Songs I'm Listening To (mainly as a rebuke to My Good Friend Kevin, who says my life cannot be "rich" because I don't appreciate or understand music as he does).
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists The High Party
VHS or Beta Solid Gold
Ambulance LTD Michigan

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Dig For the Bones of a Lobster

I had a dream last night: I'm in old hospital/rehab type building, getting ready to check out. My ex-girlfriend Jenni is there, selling books out of my (our?) room. It's a not-for-profit operation, this book business. She is running low on stock, so she borrows some books from the institution we're in. There is something she wants to talk to me about (are we breaking up)? I leave the room alone and start walking down the hall. The place is more like a school now than a rehab. My pants are down, not quite to my knees, but far enough that I'm able to involuntarily defecate on the floor as I walk. Walking a ways behind me is an orderly or some kind of employee of the institution. He is big, dressed in white and is in a position of authority. I start walking faster, knowing he will soon discover the load I dropped. I take a right down another broad hall and now the place is now even more like a school than before. The hallway leads to a doorway to the outside and I go through it (Strange, I had thought that we were several floors up.) I see another entrance back into the building up ahead. There's a small, scalene-triangular shaped courtyard bordered by a black wrought iron fence in front of the door. This is a school! Mothers stand around the courtyard along with some small children. I need to get in as The Orderly will be gaining on me. One of the mothers, short and matronly, stops me to ask if I have kids. She's asking for the benefit of someone else, another mother or maybe a kid, in order to make a point about something. I say no. She's holding me up. I finally get inside.
What h
appens next is hazy

eventually Jenni and I are leaving the place.
We have plans to travel to several cities and then maybe back to New York. We are walking the Manhattan streets and come across an interesting door. We enter, go down two flights of stairs and come to a pitch black doorway. Closer to this door we can see some light inside and when we're closer yet we can see a woman get up from the end of a bar and come to greet us. We decide to stay for a drink. There's a large screen tv, showing only shifting shapes. We both sit facing it. I finish my beer and say, "Anytime you're ready to go, I am." I've never been ready to leave anywhere after one beer. We leave and are immediately separated. Jenni calls my cell phone and says she wants to try this new restaurant she heard about. We will be meeting several friends there, but neither of us knows where it is. I stay on the phone with her, narrating where I am: "I'm in an alleyway running between Fruit St. (sic) and Houston St.
Ahead of me I hear a couple of guys cursing each other out from a distance. One is walking away, still shouting. By his voice and his short stature I realize it is the actor Danny DeVito. "Mr. Devito," I say "Do you know about this restaurant we're looking for"?
I describe it and he says yes, he knows -it is that place that almost looks like it's closed down, right?
He shows me the way. I ask him if he'd like to join us for dinner and without much hesitation, he says yes. As we arrive, so do our friends, sans Jenni. We go through a narrow door into a small, dilapidated room. there are three tables in this room with fairly well dressed people at all of them. I'm still talking to Jenni on the cell phone, but become concious that these diners might think I'm rude. We are led down a narrow staircase into another dining room and are seated at a long table near the stairs.
We start conversing. I ask DeVito what he's working on. He doesn't say it outright, but implies that it was not cool of me to ask him that. Later, DeVito gets up, maybe to use the restroom, which is upstairs. Everyone in our group starts laughing at him, in an openly hostile way. He goes upstairs and I wonder if he'll be coming back. Soon after that I woke up.

I was at my grandmother's today, eating lunch with her. There was an advertising flier on the table for a seafood restaurant. We started talking about seafood, none of which, with the exception of shrimp once, she has ever eaten, or ever cared to.
She told me my father cooked lobster once when they visited him in Amherst. She said he ate it like a kid eating candy; "He ate it so fast, I thought he was going to eat the bones and everything."
I had a good laugh.

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A Date With Destiny

From DetroitTigers.MLB.com: Tigers rookie Justin Verlander is running fourth in the All Star American League Final Vote standings. You can help him play in the 77th All-Star Game by continuing to vote for the Detroit pitcher through 6 p.m. ET on Thursday.

With his
record of 10 and 4 and ERA of 3.01, the hard throwing right hander might be the biggest All-Star snub. It would be a shame if that jagoff A.J. Pierzynski from Detroit's AL Central rival White Sox beat out Verlander for the last spot. Equally unlikeable Chicago Manager Ozzie Guillen has already stocked the AL side with plenty of White Sox. The Tigers have the best record in all of baseball and deserve more than just two players.

Kathy the catering coordinator will be back from vacation tomorrow. A lot of shit doesn't get done or doesn't get done right when she's not ther
e, so almost everybody will be glad to see her back. I imagine she spent quality time with her beloved cat Destiny, worked in her yard and on her web site. I don't want to mention what she sells because ads for competing sites will appear to the right of this. Bless your little heart, Kathy.
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