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Once More from the Top…

2 Apr

OK, so the whole dishwashing thing hasn’t really fired my imagination the way I hoped it would. I still think it’s a fertile topic, and I’ll be returning to it. But I want to broaden my scope some. Mainly, I want to start blogging about a new project, the most ambitious reading project I’ve ever undertaken.

Liz and I have a bookshelf I particularly love. It fits in a corner of our den, stopping just a few inches short of the ceiling, like it was made for the spot. Actually, it was made by my grandfather years ago, and it was one of the few things I wanted to take from their house after my grandmother’s death. So it has sentimental value; what’s more, since it’s our novel shelf, it has most of my favorite books on it. But it has many, many more books than that. Often I’ve found myself contemplating all those novels, many undisputed classics, some obscure, some personal obsessions, some clunkers or guilty pleasures that we just haven’t parted with, and then a great number of someday-we’ll-get-around-tos of all stripes.

Well, I’m getting around to them. That’s the new project I want to blog about. I’m going to try to march through our novel shelf in order. Starting at the top, each of its seven shelves, left to right. They’re in vague alphabetical order. We tuck new additions in where we can. Make no mistake–this is a lot of books. (Maybe someday I’ll actually count them.) And I’m not a fast reader. I think reading even a shelf per year would be extremely ambitious. Each shelf includes at least a few big novels that will take me months to read, I imagine. Some of them I’ve already read, of course, and I’m not going to reread them, unless they’re school assignments so dimly remembered that I might as well have never cracked the cover.

So we’ll see how far we get. Plus, I’m not going to stop reading other stuff. Hilary Mantel and Bruce Wagner both have new novels coming out before the end of the year.

Last night I pulled the first novel–the top shelf, far left novel–down and dived in. The Information, by Martin Amis. More on that in my next post. For the rest of this post, I’m just going to bang out what else the top shelf holds for me:

Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, The Blind Assassin (I started The Blind Assassin and was not into it, so this will be an early challenge.)

J. G. Ballard: The Impossible Man (Will I let myself off the hook when it comes to misshelved short-story collections? [Or memoirs? I’m looking at you, Speak, Memory.] Not sure about that yet.)

Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women

James Baldwin: Another Country

Kirsten Bakis: Lives of the Monster Dogs

Paul Auster: Moon Palace, The New York Trilogy, The Invention of Solitude

Jane Austen: Emma (Again, I’m taking these as I get to them, even if they’re not with their sister novels.)

J. G. Ballard: Rushing to Paradise, Super-Cannes, Empire of the Sun, Cocaine Nights

Russell Banks: The Sweet Hereafter

Julian Barnes: The Sense of an Ending

Djuna Barnes: Nightwood

Julian Barnes: Flaubert’s Parrot, England, England, A History of the World in 10-1/2 Chapters

Samuel Beckett: Malloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (Liz has suggested that I reserve three mulligans for myself; this may be when I start using them.)

Saul Bellow: The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson, the Rain King

Roberto Bolaño: 2666

Look, I’ve quit drinking. I’ve got to occupy myself somehow. James Ellroy said something apropos about this somewhere in My Dark Places, I think it was. I’ll dig it up someday soon.


A scientific question

31 Aug

There’s a special challenge to dish washing when you know that they’re someone else’s dishes. I’ve been lucky enough never to have to wash dishes as a profession. For me, it’s an avocation. They pile up; I shine them up; and it’s a few days before I have to worry about them again. (And that’s if I’m being lazy.) But just this week, I’m trying to diet. And so a lot of what Liz is making, I know I’m never going to eat. That pasta salad made for lunchtime enjoyment, that smelled so good? Forget it. I must reject it. Yet I’m cleaning up after it all the same. And that’s OK. Part of the zen of dish washing is that the creation of food leaves a physical trace; yet that trace must be washed away. And so we begin again. With shiny dishes.

Tonight’s playlist

Pink Floyd, “Lucifer Sam”

Gram Parsons, “How Much I’ve Lied”

An amazing song. With no chorus, it suggests that it’s just a crie de couer, an explanation to a wronged woman that had to come out, song structure be damned. “A thief can only steal from you, / He’ll never break your heart. / He’ll never touch the precious things inside.” You can see from the title where the rhyme’s going there; and so you can see the damning self-indictment that haunts that song (and a lot of Parsons’s work).

“Graham Greene,” John Cale

“Second Chance,” Peter, Bjorn, and John

A very entertaining song that torments me because I didn’t see them this past year. You can’t count on a second chance!

“Act of the Apostles,” God Help the Girl

What a charming voice that girl has whose name I’m too lazy to look up!

“The Air That I Breathe,” the Hollies

“Lime-Tree Arbour,” Nick Cave

I would think a really particular profile is starting to develop by now….

“Martha, My Dear,” the Beatles

“Clint Eastwood,” Gorillaz

“The Guitar,” They Might Be Giants

“Alone Again or….,” Love

The woman who gave me my copy of “Forever Changes” went crazy and stalked a friend of mine. I hope she’s doing well now. I mention this only because when music is recommended to you by someone who turns out to be crazy, it forever after has a slightly sinister quality to it. I call it the “Helter Skelter” effect.

“Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” Tammy Wynette

How awesome is it that Tammy has her teenage stepdaughter singing this song with her? I love the little triumphant “da-da-dah!” that accompanies her announcement that she’s going bad.

“Love Is Like Oxygen,” Sweet

“Male Prima Donna,” Subtle Sexuality

One of my coworkers went to school with Ed Helms. I think that’s pretty awesome. She also went to school with Gary Shteyngart, author of the excellent Super Sad True Love Story. I went to school with Orlando Jones, the guy from the 7-Up commercials.

“Here, There, and Everywhere,” the Beatles

“Some Kinda Love,” Velvet Underground

Combines the absurd with the vulgar. That’s what we’re all about.

I never addressed the scientific question! Here it is: Why do my dish towels stink so much? Even the latest ones get wet for a day and have a distinct rank quality. We wash them regularly. We use fragrant fabric softener sheets. What gives?

I took to the Internet to look for an answer.

Catching Up

27 May

I’m a be honest—I’ve been shirking on my dishwashing duties lately. (Not for the whole last six months—I’ve been shirking on my blogging even more than I’ve been shirking on the dishwashing!) Summertime, and the living is easy: Brower’s lazy, and the dishes pile high. We took a trip to the beach; work has been taking up a lot of my time; season finales have been accumulating on the DVR. Even a dishwashing enthusiast like myself just looks at a full sink at the end of the day and can’t bring himself to tackle it.

But tonight, perhaps inspired by two straight hours of Oprah finale episodes exhorting me to run over everything blocking my bliss and embrace my true calling, I grabbed my dish wand and tried with alacrity to recapture the ol’ DiWa mojo.

It wasn’t easy. There was a lot to take care of. Among them was one of my least favorite items to wash: the top of the food processor, a habitrail-shaped item likely to dump water on the kitchen counter as you try to work the wand into its nooks and crannies.

Determined to approach tonight’s dishes with a degree of mental rigor, I was resolved to listen to whatever the iPod decided to play. It’s a crapshoot: there are some definite wild cards that ordinarily I would forward over without a second’s thought: anything off Liz’s Tori Amos albums, for example, or tracks from Bongwater’s Double Bummer CD, which I used to love but now never endure any track from in its entirety. The iGod was merciful tonight.

Dish Playlist for 5/26/11


O’Jays, “Don’t Call Me Brother”

This is a pretty long song, as it turns out, and thematically not much different from the more concise and catchier “Back Stabbers.” From the excellent compilation Am I Black Enough for You?

Colin Newman, “Not Me”

I first knew this song thanks to the This Mortal Coil album It’ll End in Tears. (The album that was also my first exposure to Big Star’s “Kanga Roo” and “Holocaust.”) I did not know, back in the day, that It’ll End in Tears was sort of a primer to some classic cult songs. I find the Big Star covers hopelessly stilted compared to the intimacy of Chilton’s originals; but I might actually prefer Robbie Grey’s take on “Not Me.”

Barry Adamson, “People”

I love Barry Adamson, and I love this song. The lyrics are occasionally lame—“People… they are dumb”—but Barry’s voice always gets me, and musically, it’s just an entrancing song.

Stereolab, “OLV 26”

I was worried that this was the Silver Apples and that I’d made a terrible mistake in my absolute deference to the iGod.

Junior Boys, “In the Morning”

Synth-pop revival bliss. This motivated to wash the drip bowls on the stove after I’d emptied out the sink.

Nine Inch Nails, “The Downward Spiral”

Our friend Rebecca, about the mattress she just bought: I rolled over and fell into a hole in the shape of me.

Me: That sounds like a Nine Inch Nails lyric.

NB: All NIN songs on our iPod are from my music collection.

X, “Under the Big Black Sun

This is from X’s third album, where many of the songs are about the death of Exene’s sister, Mary Cervenka. (See “Riding with Mary,” “Come Back to Me,” and the title track.) This is the most melancholy album of a great American band.

A statement of purpose–now with more cleansing action!

16 Jan

I’ve been considering starting a dishwashing blog for awhile now. It just seems that with so many food blogs out there, including my wife’s, there ought to be some attention paid to the aftermath of all those wonderful meals. Attention must be paid!

“But Charles, is there really that much to be said about dishwashing?” you may well ask. And indeed, that’s the challenge. But when it comes to an activity that so many people spend so many hours at–that I spend so many hours at–well, I have to think I can find some interesting places to go with it.

“Let your husband do the dishes!” HA! A self-evidently hilarious proposition.

Louis CK has a bit about how degraded we’ve let our language become–that if you call a basket of chicken wings you ate “amazing,” what are you going to call the second coming of Jesus? You’ve set the bar for amazingness too low. No doubt it’s consumerism that blazed the trail for such injudicious use of hyperbole, and Exhibit A might well be Joy detergent. While I often find satisfaction in dishwashing, I submit that Joy, by its name alone, oversells the experience. I have never beamed with demented pleasure at a handful of suds as this woman does, especially when the task is over and the sink has been cleared. Heartbroken over her husband’s scornful laughter yet again when she asked him to help with the dinner cleanup, she has retreated fully into madness. She draws a bath and squeezes the rest of the bottle of dish soap into it. But not even the greatest bonus of Joy suds will dissolve away the pain of a failed marriage that sticks to her like so much grease. “Could you ask for more?” she asks herself, and her smile takes on a strained, glacial quality. You could, but what’s the point?

Joy: cleaning dishes, besmirching meaning.