Monday, January 30, 2006

Last night, deciding to dispense with sleep, I went to see The Living Jarboe, Red Sparowes, and Subarachnoid Space at the Bottom of the Hill. I drove up alone, getting there early since I didn't have a ticket. It ended up being too early, so I went up the hill to Farley's to get a mocha. This is kind of a ritual, actually. I almost always go and get a mocha before the show. It's the closest I ever get to hanging out at a coffee shop like some aimless hipster with a trust fund burning a hole in his pocket.
Back at the club, some guy tried to sell me a ticket for $10. I pointed out to him that A. the show wasn't sold out, and B. it was only $8 to get in. He lowered his price. I handed him a ten and got change. Inside, I ran into a few people I knew, including Jim & Andy, and somewhat later on, G., who had interviewed Jarboe sometime during the afternoon.
Subarachnoid Space were on first. They were crushingly loud, and managed to break strings on two different instruments during the first song. The last time I'd seen them, some six or seven years ago, they were playing noodly space rock, now they play very heavy, sludgy instrumental post-metal. Red Sparowes followed, also without vocals. They sound a lot like Neurosis with their epic, slowly building songs and tendency towards dirginess. Jarboe went on last, singing a mixture of old and new songs, culminating in a cover of Nick Drake's "Black Eyed Dog." She was superb as usual. Kris Force (who I didn't recognize for some reason) played violin. There was a guy on acoustic guitar who I think plays in Ludicra, and a woman on keyboards whose name I didn't catch.

Today another week of camp started. I'm at our second site. The kids are sixth graders and there seem to be a fair amount of troublemakers in the bunch. I hiked a group of them around in the rain and we found newts, slugs, and fungus. One of my coworkers saw a coyote while walking the trails before the kids arrived. We never see them when any kids are around though. Too much noise.

Jen is out tonight. It seems like we've been trading off all weekend. The girls are watching a movie, and the boys are supposedly in bed. I'll bet when I go and check my assumptions will be proven false.

Oh, and there is now a crayfish living here. Apparently is was in Alex's classroom (where it lost a claw and a leg in an argument with a bigger crayfish) and then at a classmate's house (where it was being kept in a tupperware container with peas and carrots floating in the water). Jen rescued it from this ugly fate, although the dad put it in a small, plastic drinking cup for the journey here. What the hell are people thinking anyway? Now it's in a ten gallon aquarium, and it seems to like the chicken bits I fished out of a can of chicken noodle soup. It's Alex's job to take care of it though. There's a pond near work waiting for it if he doesn't.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Another week has gone by without me posting much here. It went pretty well, considering the amount of children we had up at camp. I ventured away from my accustomed night hike trail, taking the group up near the landslide precipice, from which we could see the lights of the valley. I didn't bother telling the kids that we were mere feet from the grove where I had discovered Mountain Lion scat on a couple of occasions. We make it a goal never to mention anything remotely scary during night hikes. Most of the kids, and a good number of the teen cabin leaders are pretty nervous to begin with, if not downright scared.
I tried out my new method of checking for understanding after lessons as well. It involves having kids roll the sheepbone dice. Each side represents an animal, and each combination results in a fortune. I have now assigned a natural science question to each roll, so it's sort of like gambling. Sometimes you get a question you know the answer to. Sometimes you don't. Sometimes several kids will get the same question in a row, so it behooves everybody to listen to the answers as they are given. The kids had a lot of fun doing this.
There was a little girl at camp this week who suffers from a rare degenerative disease that has left her confined to a wheelchair. She is not expected to live much past her teens. She wasn't in my field group, but I heard that her parents came on the night hike with her, and that they said it was a really great family bonding experience. This really hits home because it made me remember back when we were afraid Willow had cystic fybrosis, which is another disease that drastically shortens lifespans. I'm really glad to be part of an organization that provides memorable moments for kids, especially in cases like this. What are our lifes but a collection of moments, connected by spans of routine? We need more moments and less routine. Nobody remembers the routines. I think it is very possible do do as much living in twenty years as some people do in seventy or eighty.

Okay, I'm starting to ramble, but my heart goes out to this girl and it was great to see her smiling all week.

Speaking of breaking out of routines, Jen got to go out and hang out with some friends last night while I stayed home with Willow. Willow wanted to watch some unmentionable show about a sappy, extinct purple creature. I sat with here on the couch and read more of The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, which is really great so far. It concerns a jesuit mission to a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. It ends badly. Fascinating read. I just found out that there is a sequel too.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The sun graced us with its presence today. So did 215 kids, which is a near record for science camp. Rooms that don't usually have people sleeping in them are stuffed with bunks and cots. Field classes have 4 or 5 more kids than usual. The good news is that the kids seem bright and respectful, although I'm sure exceptions will make themselves apparent as the week progresses.

We're settling in for the night again. As usual, the kids are resisting. Alex is whining about having to take a shower - "I just HATE using that shower!!" Nate wants to be read to. Willow wants milk. Sophie is watching a video. Of course, I'm sitting here in front of the computer. I think I'll go join the real world now. The real world is a gift. Don't take it for granted.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

My mom called this morning and told me to look in the obituaries. When I looked, I found that one of my friends from high school had died. This was during a time of my life when most of my friendships were based on music preference, and the music I preferred was heavy metal and punk. Nearly every weekend we would pile into a car and drive to some little shithole venue in S.F. or Berkeley to experience loud music. I say "experience" because mere listening was only one aspect of a multifaceted picture. A good time was only had if one emerged from the experience drenched in sweat, covered in minor bruises, and with the smell of leather and cigarette smoke permeating clothing and skin. Mike Sammon was almost always there, silently and steadfastly making the trip to nearly every show I went to. He was relatively soft-spoken, as are many people into extreme, cathartic forms of music, so he was often in the background, but he was part of our little group for a number of years. I've already sent out e-mails to a few other people, and gotten one phone call this morning.

Umlaut has already posted his reaction here. Scroll down for some additional words by me. There's a link to his obituary too.

Currently listening to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal - '79 Revisited double cd compilation. As I type, Girlschool's "Demolition Boys" is playing. A fitting tribute, I think.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I forgot to mention. This page features one picture with me in it, and two taken by me, along with various other photos of friends and acquaintances. Oh, and a slug. You've got to love that.
For a needed change of pace, I worked at our second site this week. There were only 80 kids, and the routine is simpler than the one at our main site. The kids were relatively well-behaved, and genuinely excited to be there. It rained during the Monday night campfire, so we had it inside the dining hall, and despite this last minute change of venue (as it were) it ended up being one of the best campfires the veteran teachers had seen. It's always the best campfire the students have seen, but they haven't been coming up every year like the teachers have. The rest of the week flew by, with the weather changing from rainy to sunny and cool on Thursday and Friday.

On Thursday night I went up to San Francisco to see Espers, who are a psych-folk band from Philadelphia featuring Greg Weeks on guitar. I single him out for a mention here because it was his solo cds that led me to Espers in the first place. They were very good, providing the audience with beautiful songs full of cello and haunting vocals, with occasional bursts of Week's electric guitar. Weeks also played keyboards and recorder. Too bad the club, 12 Galaxies, has a bar, with attendant blabbermouth barflies who felt the need to talk through the proceedings. The opening band, Feathers, were also quite good. I didn't stick around to see Vetiver, who were headlining, because I'd seen them before and hadn't been that impressed. I had to get up early for work too.

Stopped in at Aquarius Records before the show. I'm currently listening to the Andrew Chalk cd I bought. Beautiful. Check out his label here.

M spent the night last night so he could go and see an episode of the miniseries on South Africa that G has been patiently editing for a decade or so now. I think it's the same bit he brought with him when he came over during the holidays. I couldn't go because I was performing at a couple of birthday parties earlier today. Both went over well, netting me lots of cake, indian food, pizza, and forty bucks in tips. I stopped and bought Grizzly Man on the way home. You can never have enough Herzog around the house.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Yesterday, Willow went with her grandmother and I to the little park I where I used to play when I was her age. It has changed a bit during the interim years. Gone are the wood and cinderblock structures and the vague smell of pee that clung to them. Gone are the old fountains that never seemed to work anyway. Gone are all of the seventies clothing and hairstyles. Now it's all brightly painted metal and rubberized walking surfaces. Willow bounced around like a pinball, never staying still for long. She's still little enough to have a hard time on some of the ladders, and there's an even chance that she's going to want me to go down the slide with her. The upshot of this is that I got to bounce around like a pinball for a couple of hours as well.

Today, there are five children here. The calm has once again been broken by flurries of bickering and sporadic downpours of milk. Jen gets home sometime around midnight. I'm looking forward to seeing her.

I've actually managed to watch three movies this weekend:

Wheel of Time: Werner Herzog's documentary on Tibetan Buddhism. It took me into a world I've never visited. You've got to love films that do that. It's got me itching to patch the remaining holes in my Herzog collection.

The Card Player: Dario Argento's latest, which reminded me more of his first film than any of the others. His main innovation this time was the absence of the fountains of blood that usually drench his films. That and an increased reliance on natural light sources. This from a man who at one point painted individual frames to get a certain lighting effect (Suspiria) and is (in)famous for his bloody murder scenes. I actually quite liked this film. Granted, due to what I'd read and heard elsewhere, my expectations were low, so that may have had a part in my pleasant surprise. The nighttime shots of Rome are beautiful. The lead actors are good (Some would say that this is unusual for an Argento film), and the plot less convoluted than in the past. Of course, I had a pretty good idea who the killer was almost right away. I was right too. Best line (paraphrased): The winner will go free, the loser will be unrecognizable!"

Shaun of the Dead: I've seen it before, but it succeeded in making me chuckle again. You've gotta love zombies. Jen picked this up for me sometime before Christmas. It came with a free watch, which doesn't work too well. Who needs time anyway?

Don't worry, I did dishes and laundry too.

Oh, and hello to my readers who got married in the same place we did. The comments you've left come through in my e-mail but not on the site itself. Not sure why. Anyway, I'm glad that you're reading and enjoying this.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Willow and I went to the park in the gentle rain yesterday morning, strolling about and investigating various species of waterfowl before returning to the van and running some errands. It's not often that just the two of us get to spend so much time together, and I find it is actually quite relaxing, considering the chaos that usually reigns around here.

Last night, she did wake up a few times, but went back to sleep without a fuss. Maybe she was having bad dreams... who knows? Right now she is playing with the Playmobil grocery store set. Later we plan to go to another park...

Now she's grabbing onto my arm in an attempt to involve me in the Playmobil world. Time to go...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Jen is on her way to Texas, with a stopover in Denver, a city in which I once slept on a stranger's apartment floor. A good place for stopovers, I guess. Alex is in school, but the other three are home. Nate said he was sick this morning, so we let him stay home. Sick of school, I think.

Another week of science camp is over. Since I am home with the kids, my field class this morning was facilitated by the two cabin leaders who hiked with us this week. I'm sure they did fine, even though the kids this week tended to be unfocused and selectively hard of hearing. These negative points were more than balanced out by their general excitement at being in the hills and on the trails. I can tell that they really needed the experience.

I went to see Sleepytime Gorilla Museum in Santa Cruz at the Catalyst with M last night. Tonight they're playing in L.A., followed by and end of tour gig at the Great American Music Hall in S.F. on Saturday. The show was brilliant as always, with a couple of new songs added to the set, one of which Nils dedicated to Per. They've made up some Per shirts too, using his alias of Ward C. Picnic and of course featuring his artwork. I still keep half expecting him to see him walk into the room when I'm around that crowd, even though I know he never will.

Look at Sleepytime pictures on Flickr, since for some reason I still can't upload photos here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Willow made a sort of bean soup today by dropping beans all over the floor and then spilling water on top of them. She used this as a backdrop for a game she was playing with some little Richard Scarry action figures that I'd recently exhumed from the depths of my own childhood. It involved submerging them in water and exclaiming, "oh noooooo!"

I got a raise too! That will help.

Here are some more myspace pages. Odd folk meanderings by Whysp and Spires That In the Sunset Rise.

More to come.

Monday, January 09, 2006

I just realized that it has been almost a week since I last posted. I've been busy, of course. Last week really flew by. I took my class up the creek, which could have been a disaster due to the amount of water foaming and splashing downward, but ended up being really exciting for the kids as we formed human chains across the water and scrambled over rocks and through the shallows. The rest of the week seemed to be over before it had a chance to begin. Somewhere along the way I found the time to eat the lollipop that G gave me for Christmas. It was green apple flavored, with a big mealworm imprisoned within like an ancient insect in amber. I couldn't even taste the mealworm, but it really grossed out the kids to see half a mealworm left after I took a bite. I've got to get more of those. They're fun. Look on Flickr for a photo. I still can't manage to upload them here.

Over the weekend, I did my first science party of the year, and like last year's first party, I got tipped $40. Then I went and bought shoes. And a cd. More specifically, a Fear of God cd, which sounds sort of like somebody vomiting inside a quonset hut during a hailstorm. It's a acquired taste, I guess. I'm thanked in the liner notes though. I'd forgotten about that. Ah, nostalgia!

Jen went with M to see Brokeback Mountain while I stayed home and watched the kids. They liked it. The kids attempted to stay up until she got back. Sophie and Nate managed. Willow and Alex didn't.

Sunday night I went and helped train this week's cabin leaders. It's one aspect of the program that I hadn't been involved with yet. Now I have. I barely missed getting the full time slot that just became available. One of my coworkers, who has been there longer than me and done a larger variety of jobs for the program, got the position. Not a big surprise, I guess. I was told it was a hard decision though. Aren't they always?

This week is off to a good start. The kids are pretty good, the sky is clear, and fungus is everywhere! This was also the first morning this winter that I had to scrape ice off my car windows before leaving. Tonight's campfire was pretty cold too, and as luck would have it we were unable to get the fire going. The kindling was all wet, my lighter was out of fuel, and the temperature was such that all paper brought outside immediately became soggy. I told the assembled kids about the dew point and about how cold air holds less moisture than warm air. They were not amused. Ha ha.

Here are a couple of more myspace links. I love that so many different musicians have these now. David Tibet and Sol Invictus have spent a lot of time on my cd and record players over the years. They still continue, in different ways, to scratch musical and emotional itches that nobody else can. Both communicate a sense of melancholy that actually makes me feel good - a kind of catharsis maybe. I could go on at length, but I won't. Mecca Normal have been around for quite some time too. When I first heard them, I wasn't sure if I liked them or not, but they were fascinating enough that I kept buying their records. I know I like them now. The last time I saw them play, they shared a stage with Godspeed You Black Emperor. Now that was an interesting pairing, possibly one that will never happen again. Who knows?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Today was my first day of work this year. Everybody seemed in good spirits, relaxed from the time off over the holidays. Rocks and mud, perhaps tired of their perches on hillsides, had slumped onto the road leading up to camp, and runnels of water crisscrossed it here and there. A couple of benches had been blown down the amphitheater steps near where my group meets. Our hike today was relatively short, and accompanied by a duck who caught up to us while we were playing a name game, and later tumbled onto the trail in our midst. It slapped along the trail amongst us for awhile, and snooped around while we played another game before finally growing bored and wandering off.


The new washer and dryer were installed today too. We are quite happy with this development! They use a fraction of the water and energy that the old ones used, and they actually get the clothes dry.

I can't seem to get pictures to upload here at the moment. Look at Flickr for duck pictures.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Today was the last full day of being home before the looming spectres of work (for me) and school (for the boys) drag us into the new year. I'm buzzing with things that I want to get done, so it will be good to plunge in and get started. I hope this desire lasts. I'm really good at getting all enthusiastic about getting things done and then losing that enthusiasm when it's time to get started. What will be will be.

The boys are barely asleep and it's almost eleven. I predict that they'll be grouchy tomorrow.

The van died on Jen today. It might be the alternator. It might be the battery. She managed to get it jump-started, but we see more money being whisked away from us in the near future. Isn't that the way it always is?

I've been noticing a lot of music Myspace pages lately. Jen already linked to M's, but I'm going to link to it as well. Just because. Check out Pantaleimon too. More to follow.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

In the last post, I forgot to wish everybody reading this a happy new year. Happy new year! Remember, happiness is a state of mind that is often independant of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Live well.

On Friday, G, M, and I braved the pouring rain and wind to attend a wake for Per at Dawn and Nils' house. We helped hang his artwork on all available spaces, and it was my first chance to see a lot of the originals of drawings that have ended up gracing album covers and flyers over the years. There were also originals of the graphic novel styled Emmett Till and Ed Gein stories he did, as well as a lot of other miscellaneous stuff. An old friend of his arrived with a huge (3' by 4') replica of an H.R. Giger piece that Per had done as a teenager. It was beautiful, even though the corner had been mangled by a pit bull at some point. Giger usually uses an airbrushing technique. Per's version was done with #2 pencil. It must have taken months to complete! The house was soon packed with people from all periods of Per's life, and plates and plates of food. The bedroom, which is a semi-converted old stable, was noisey with conversation and the sound of driving rain slamming against corrugated metal. There was even a small flood as water found its way in. We listened to about 20 minutes worth of hilarious phone messages from Per that Nils had saved, and watched a couple of short films that he'd appeared in. Dawn and Nils sung Still Here, which Nils had written about Per some time ago, and the song now has new meaning, making it a wrenching experience to listen to. There was a lot of laughter to go along with the tears as people recounted various escapades involving Per. There is a real warmth to be found amongst this crowd, and I'm glad I got to take part in this collective celebration of Per's life. He's still inspiring us even though he's moved on to elsewhere.

It was my first wake. I'm sure it won't be my last. The world is ever an uncertain place.

On the way home, hydroplaning and peering through the dark and the wet, I received a not-so-subtle reminder about the fickleness of the future. There was a large conifer down across all southbound lanes of the freeway. I knew it had happened sometime in the previous half an hour because I had just traveled that stretch of road on my way to drop of M at his place. Even on the northbound side I wasn't safe. My attention was abruptly brought back to the road in front of me by a loud bang as I smacked into the tip of the tree, which was hanging over the divider and into the northbound lanes. Fortunately the only damage was to my windshield. The two foot crack that was already there is now a three foot, branching crack that goes from the top center of the windshield all the way to the right side. When I got home I discovered that the little plastic man who has been wedged into one of my windshield wipers for about three years had been swept away into the flooded darkness. All that is left of him is one of his feet.

I could have been crushed or impaled, but I'm still here.

If you read Jen's blog, you know that her grandfather, who would be 93 now if he'd lived, has died. I met him only once, when we all went down to Texas for Thanksgiving in 2003. I didn't get to know him well because I was meeting a great many of Jen's relatives for the first time, but he seemed to me to be a kind and happy man. He was well loved and will be missed.

Last night we spent more time with Dawn and Nils, this time at Blake's in Berkeley, where they were performing (as Faun Fables) as part of the New Year's bash being held there. Many of the same people who had attended Per's wake, including Dawn's sister Sheila and Nils' parents Mickey and Jim, were there, so it was more like being at a party than a "show." Faun Fables caught the Old Year Man and ushered in the new in fine form with new songs and celebration. Afterwards, G, M, and I cast about for a place to perform our own New Year's tradition, which involves hauling a bundle of instruments and non-instruments to some remote location and recording some improvised music. We initially thought we could sneak into the Greek Theatre, but found it locked up tight, so we wandered onto the UC Berkeley campus and found an alcove that was sheltered from the wind and contained some shelves laden with cool looking gears and other metal impedimentia. Not exactly remote, but I had no gas and no money, so it had to do. We made good use of the walls and metal, fully expecting to be interrupted by some exasperated janitor at any moment. Nobody appeared though. I guess the UC leaves random lights on to help drain the city's power supply. Don't they know anything about conservation?

M spent the night. Today we did very little, except some drawing and taking a walk when the gale-force winds knocked the power out for a couple of hours. The girls splashed in so many puddles that we had to wring them out when we got home.