Thursday, June 09, 2005

Strange Days

These are strange days...

Air Conditioner Season

The Girlfriend and I were looking at each other Sunday afternoon, the hottest day of the year to date. She, annoyed that I was on the computer, I, a little harried, and both of us getting a little irritated at being inside a hot apartment when it was so nice outside. Plus her family was about to make their presence felt later on the week, our respective apartments were disasters, and we were juggling that state of controlled chaos called marriage preparation. We were just at the point when sharp retorts and reciprocal disgust were about to be exchanged when we heard some insistent bangs from outside. Looking through the window, we saw that someone was trying to install an air conditioner on the window of their second floor apartment. They didn't seem to be proceeding with authority and were struggling, trying to secure it to the wood frame. There was lots of scraping and sounds of amateur handymen at work. Turning back to the computer, I muttered absent-mindedly, "I hope there's more than one person doing this".

From the Girlfriend's vantage point, it looked as if like there were 2 people at work.

I asked, "Do they have a book underneath to support it? Or a piece of wood or something?" We couldn't figure that out but assumed as much.

Anyway we thought no better of it and tried to recapture the thread of our frayed conversation: lists of guests, costs, scheduling tasting sessions, your garden-variety planning minutiae.

Anyway, we then heard a loud crash as the air-conditioner fell from that very second floor of the house under the influence of Newton's gravity. I actually caught the sight of the falling hunk of metal from the corner of my eye.

Silence in the house next door.

The Girlfriend laughed nervously and I quickly hushed her. Who knew how they would react to laughter or ridicule?

No sound in the house, not even a S**t, Damn, M**********, like D'Angelo would have expounded.

Others rushed to their windows at the commotion to inspect the fallout. We all counted our blessings that the little girl who used to live in that house, and play alongside it, had moved out, along with her mum (that last, the story of Cambridge where The Locals were being priced out by The Developers and consequently The Yuppies were moving in like those two in that apartment, but that's fodder for later toli).


We speculated that beers were being consumed in the apartment, or the strongest of liquors.

Eventually someone walked down to inspect the damage, apparently it didn't look pretty, judging by the way The Girlfriend gasped.

But still there was not a sound as the mass of cooling metal was probed and prodded. No frustration, anger or shock.

Nada, Niet, Non, No, Nee.

That was the cue for The Girlfriend to leave my sorry apartment...
"We'll talk later."


A day later, she reported that her brother and his roommate had tried installing an air conditioner that same day and had dropped it too. In their case they were on the first floor and luckily it caught on something on the way down and hence there was not as great a scene as we had experienced and it could be patched together for whenever they attempted to re-install it. In that instance too, there was the almost immediate resort to drinking after they rescued the appliance - confirmation of our earlier surmise. I wonder what insurance company actuaries have to say about this time of year. Is there a statistically significant increase in injuries from falling objects? And what about alcohol consumption?

This must be prime beer drinking and air conditioner dropping season.

Billion Dollar Salary

"A US hedge fund manager was personally paid $1.02 billion last year, it was believed... Edward Lampert, founder of ESL investment..."
t is deemed un-American to say that anyone is too rich so there'll be no snarky comment about Gilded Age excess. Also I don't want to get on some list at the Department of Homeland Security (as for example anyone trying to pay cash for a plane ticket to the US, or trying to buy one-way plane tickets in these troubled days).
Still: $1,020,000,000!
In 1 year!

¿Se Habla Español?

We caught the last set of the amazing French Open final between Nadal and Puerta on NBC, one of the best matches I've seen, even better than the Safin/Federer match from a few months ago. What also piqued my interest was the coverage of the speeches afterwards. Both of the players spoke in Spanish, and get this, those Frenchies had the gall to translate their comments into French. I was quite shocked by the fact that NBC, knowing in advance that this was a final between a Spaniard and an Argentinian, couldn't find someone to translate what they said. Indeed it was only after the first speech that they managed to find someone to translate.

Still the Nothing Bad to report Corporation (NBC) surprised me in that
  1. They had no spanish translators for an all hispanic match
  2. The commentators were audibly shocked that these soon-to-be millionaires spoke in spanish and didn't even attempt english (although at the tail end of the ceremony there were a few phrases)
  3. what translation there was was only to French

Eventually they found someone who could translate the second speech but it was clear that it was someone who understood only French thus there was a great delay before we got a sense of what was being said: a triple translation gamut (long spanish rambling, slightly hesitant French and then the briefest of English sentences "He thanks everyone".
No inglés

Room 419

When we walked out of the History of Science department at the Science Center at Harvard after The Girlfriend's dissertation defense (abstract), we were confronted with Room 419 - our Nigerian friends would have something to say about that juxtaposition of scholarship with the mark of former oil officials, sons of General Abacha and scorn of unsuspecting Texas legal secretaries and run-of-the-mill California businessmen everywhere but let's leave that alone.

Room 419

Voodoo outside Bedroom

Imagine waking up one morning and seeing this Blair Witch when you look out of your bedroom window.

voodoo doll outside window

This "thing" is still staring at me a month later as I put on my clothes in the morning and before I go to sleep (it glows a little in the dark). It seems to change position every now and then, I suspect the passing squirrels and skunks run into it as they try to scavenge the nearby garbage bins. (Sidenote: I recently was confronted by a skunk as I was taking the garbage out. It was doing a mighty acrobatic maneuver trying to dig some food out of a slightly open garbage bin that perhaps validated Darwin's theory of evolution and notion of ingenuity born of necessity). I have decided that my voodoo doll it is meant to be a guardian angel. At least I hope so, that's the lesson of Eve's Bayou. I suspect some catholic affiliation in my neighbours thus the voodoo characterization is probably a little unfair. In any case, the "thing" is reminiscent of this scarecrow fetish piece I saw at an artist's retreat at Kokrobite beach a few years ago.


Apropos the stories of impending layoffs (the 10,000 to 13,000 close to my Lotus/IBM home, not the 25,000 at GM), overheard at the office yesterday
"It's going to be a bloodbath."
Obviously no work is getting done as people ponder which favoured daughter will be given "opportunities" in other companies (however the undoubted forthcoming "action" is expressed). For my part, I'm basking in family and attending a Harvard graduation today, it's good to be among people who love you in uncertain times such as these.

Aburi Masks, Toy Story & Frosted Flakes

Ponder this collage if you will...

Aburi Masks Toy Story and Frosted Flakes

Aburi maskStrange Aburi maskAburi mask

Well I did say this was a piece about odd things... And Toy Story figures collected from Frosted Flakes cereal boxes (I never got much past Corn Flakes and Weetabix), lying alongside some of my Aburi masks (from that long tradition of wood carving in my native Ghana), laid out on top of a "Babablanket', those Adrinkra-decorated patch quilts of lush cotton, make for literal Strange Bedfellows (I have filled up almost every usable inch of my walls with paintings and masks - contributing to the exasperation of The Girlfriend - so these 3 haven't found a home yet). Said Girlfriend was wondering about my sanity when she happened upon these photos. The middle mask is one of my favourites, it should scare everyone. It certainly gave the customs officer who inspected my luggage a little pause (the curse of the hyphen again). It also seemed to blend felicitously into the colours of the reverse side of the blanket.

For more see the Aburi Masks Album

Strange Fruit

Lastly could someone with green thumbs let me know what the name of this fruit is? My aunt grows it in her garden in Ghana and I remember having some of its milky content as a child. It tasted strange but was the kind of thing you need to have to rejuvenate your palate every now and then.

proud gardener presents

milky fruitmilky fruitmilky fruitmilky fruit

[Update] Various kind souls name it soursup and give playlist suggestions to boot. Bernard Devlin goes one better by providing the obligatory link to a nice page on the soursup and its close cousin, the custard apple. Thanks all. It's been a while since I've tasted that strange confection and now I know the name, I'll be on the lookout for some.

Strange Books

Alienated reading for this piece

Strange Days

The obligatory cinematic reference:
  • Strange Days

    James Camerons' 1995 exercise in Pre-Millennium Tension and hustle par-excellence (before Titanic hubris set in). Ralph Fiennes and Angela "Tough" Bassett are riveting in this twisted tale of forlorn dreams and dreamers as the Millennium turns. Juliet Lewis purrs suitably and Tom Sizemore is appropriately sleazy. This is what the last two Matrix movies aspired to (and failed to hit).

    Strange Days

    The soundtrack had the ominous Overcome from Tricky's Maxinquaye (I should do a trip hop appreciation piece at some point) but the intent was better expressed in the later Pre-Millennium Tension album

Tricky - Pre-Millenium TensionStrange Days Soundtrack

A Strange Playlist

A soundtrack for this note.

  • Cameo - She's Strange
    "And I like It"
  • Ronnie Laws - Friends and Strangers
    Rare Groove heaven, sampled by everyone worth his salt
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Little Miss Strange
    Straight from the basement of Electric Ladyland
  • Dave Brubeck Quartet - Strange Meadow Lark
    Paul Desmond's saxophone sounds sublime and oddly comforting
  • Kruder & Dorfmeister - Strange Cargo, Million Town
    Mellow trippy madness
  • Portishead - Strangers
    Ethereal theremones, zithers and industrial Bristol hip-hop break beats. The live version is wild.
    "Can anybody see the light?"
  • Fried - Love is a Stranger
    Lush New Orleans soul meets Fine Young Cannibals aesthetic. Her voice stimulates so many neurons.
  • Michael Jackson - Stranger in Moscow
    To my mind, his best song of the 1990s (even better than Remember the Time), that is until he got the Butterflies from Floetry
  • Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit
    A few years ago there was a push to move the center of gravity of Lotus away from Cambridge, and many of us Cambridge-types were being encouraged to move, first to the anonymous strip mall that is Westford and then, when that failed, to Raleigh and the great vistas of North Carolina. Young and unattached, I strongly considered it, but as you know I like to take the bus and the Research Triangle is strictly a car affair. Thus it was interesting that I read this past weekend about burning crosses on the lawns of Durham and Klan leaflets being distributed. There is ironic comfort in Lewis Allen's lyrics and Lady Day's haunting voice
    Strange Fruit Hanging From The Poplar Trees
    Pastoral Scene Of The Gallant South
    Now of course The Dirty South has no monopoly on misguided youth or deeply rooted chauvinism, and of course the temperature and people are more congenial for me (I love visiting the South). But I know my place in America (at the intersection of Tenuous St and Hired Immigrant Worker Alley) and accordingly keep a low profile, other than my blogospheric posturing, because the undertones of race are very close to the fabric of this young country. My antecedents wouldn't take kindly to my trans-Atlantic journey ending ala Emmmet Till
  • Nina Simone - Strange Fruit
    The notion that someone could add even more pathos and emotion to Lady Day's tune is quite amazing to me, but the High Priestess of Soul does it and with customary verve. It's like hearing the righteous indignation of Mississippi Goddamn. Goddamn.
  • Cassandra Wilson - Strange Fruit - the current queen of jazz adds some scratchy acoustic guitar and a melancholy take on this standard and comes off with a great reinvention of the song that maintains all the familiar landmarks but reconceived anew and refreshed. I love what she does.
  • Chaka Khan - Don't Talk to Strangers
    Speaking of Divas, Chaka is the best interpreter of Prince's songs in much the same way that Samuel L Jackson delivers the best rendering of Quentin Tarantino's words. There's an affinity and strange empathy between these two artists.
And finally a Prince medley, he is a strange one isn't he?
  • Beautiful Strange - download the bootleg. Why oh why didn't he release this joint? It really sounds beautifully strange and is better than most of his recent commercial outings.
  • Prince - Strange But True - This is the best track on Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic which was a welcome return to the strange soundscapes of Linn Drum and one-man-band heroics that characterized the Dirty Mind and 1999 album. Much like "All the Critics Love U in New York".
  • Of course we should end with Sign O' The Times's Strange Relationship. At first listen, it seemed like a throwaway demo but after 4 listens you couldn't get it out of your head.
    Baby I Just Can't Stand To See You Happy
    More Than That, I Hate To See You Sad

    Honey If You Let My I Just Might Do Something Rash
    What's This Strange Relationship We Hold On To?

[Update] Some more obscure suggestions in the comments. Toli readers are indeed a strange breed. I love it.

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Anonymous said...

the strange fruit u have here is known as soursup. said to bring down blood pressure. makes an excellent smoothie. :)

Anonymous said...

"Beef jerky, Slim Jims I eat sometimes/I like lemons and limes/And if not that I get a roti and some soursop/Sit back, relax, listen to some hip-hop" - Phife

Cream - Strange Brew
ELO - Strange Magic
Billy Bragg - Strange Things Happen

And, a musician that only a few hundred New Yorkers really know about, but--in my opinion--the best songwriter of our generation:

Ed Pastorini - Strange Lures

Anonymous said...

That harmlessly prickly fruit is a soursop. We love that shit in jamaica. It must be true then; most black jamaicans came from Ghana or thereabouts. Crazy violent self-important motherfuckers. NO DISRESPECT!

Koranteng said...

So let's add Ronnie Foster's Mystic Brew to the mix now that Mr Feinberg brings up a Strange Brew - that joint is another Low End Theory confection.

And to Michael, a head nod on that Ghana/Jamaica affinity of craziness and other things...

How about Guy - You Can call Me Crazy ?

Anonymous said...

the air conditioner story was too funny! What a shame about NBC, as they seem to own Telemundo too, so its really even funnier...