Accordion: A Trip to TJ – A walk through a local store, book-ended by an accordion player and his wife busking outside. (Recorded with binaural headphones in stereo. El Cerrito, CA. 2016) [12 min. 30 sec.]
The Signal: EP131 – 45 minutes of music curated to keep the blood pumping, the cell walls elastic and young, and little bloopy things to bloop around. This time out, we’ve got post-punk from Spain with Polish vocals, jazzy beats, rock, blues, funk from Estonia, electronic sounds and thousands of eyes.
As with all of our previous mixes, this mix will only be posted for a limited time, so download yourself a copy with no delay. The track list is embedded in the file itself, in its id3 tags, so you can look up and support the original artists.
And if you want the best experience, you should sign up to join The Tuned In. Members of that mailing list are the first people on the planet to know there’s a new mix. Plus, they get the playlist, a permanent archive link, and secret behind-the-scenes knowledge.
lost time incident 49
It’s Christmas day, kaloo kallay, and I am celebrating the way I celebrate every weekend: By doing as little as possible. A few dishes were washed, as a concession to adulthood, but otherwise I’ve listened to music, worked on this newsletter thing, taken a nap, and carefully crafted a porkloin sandwich on a cheese roll.
I slept terribly last night.
However, this terrible sleep did let me wake up with a vivid memory of dream employment. I was undergoing an orientation of my new responsibilities, looking at a clipboard and learning that my job was going to include close contact with cows. Something to do with their tails.
“When do I start?” I wondered, and then found that I was already among the cows. They were on all sides of me, just inches away. I could feel the heat on my cheeks. My peripheral vision was full of soft white cows. How had I not noticed them? One passed over me, putting me in shade. It glanced back at me as I shifted to avoid being knocked over. Their warm presence, in hindsight, was not unlike the feel of a warm pillow.
I woke up. A Christmas miracle. Every breath. Another miracle.
I wiggle my fingers and words come out.
total dear diary
The other day, I wore a red Santa hat to work emblazoned with “Bah Humbug” in script across the brow piece. It went over pretty well, with some commenting that the festive hat seemed to be sending mixed messages. Some holiday cognitive dissonance. Yes, indeed.
On the train ride home, though, as I stood to disembark, I spotted a middle-aged lady already queued to hop off the train. She was also wearing a Santa-style hat that was declaring “Bah Humbug”, though hers was black in color.
I gave it a moment of thought.
Then I took my hat off.
I decided that I didn’t want to risk having a moment of peer recognition and understanding, Scrooge-to-Scrooge. I didn’t want our eyes to meet, prompting a casual nod of acknowledgement. Nothing. My holiday spirit didn’t extend to taking a chance that I might actually have a moment with a stranger.
We got off the train, part of a mass of strangers, and I didn’t put my hat back on ’til I reached the parking lot.
I’m a weird idiot.
meanwhile at the north pole
An elf is hammering on a wooden rocking horse, a variety of toy you’ve never seen anyone receive. These wooden rocking horses must be going somewhere, but where? It seems like elfs are always seen making them.
The elf turns to his companion, who is carefully painting a stripe around a hula hoop. Surely those are stamped out in factories now. Why would anyone be making one by hand? And out of what material? Do these magic toy creators have access to some gizmo that extrudes lightweight plastic?
Oh, these elfs have been talking to each other, and we’ve missed the beginning, as distracted as we were by the anachronistic nature of the toys they’re creating.
“— just saying that no one else’s labor seems to attract the fetishistic attention that ours does.” This is an elf named Tarbox. “How many other holidays include a specific sort of worker at the center of it? On Valentine’s Day, are there cartoons for children about the makers of confectionary? On Halloween, do we follow the colorful adventures of mask-makers and costume tailors?”
His fellow elf, momentarily distracted, makes a mistake in the hula hoop’s stripe. His name is Aalborg and, with a deep sigh, he draws from his waist a flagon clearly marked poison and raises it to his lips. Tarbox, none-to-eager to lose a conversation companion, slaps it out of his hands
“Not now, you fool. I was just talking about the gaze. It is upon us even now! We’re just trying to make a living. We are working, not from choice, but from necessity, which is the alienating nature of labor. And what does it add up to?”
Aalborg watched the poison dribble from the flagon’s mouth on the floor, slight wisps of dramatic smoke rising from the spilled fluid. “A few moments of joy, quickly forgotten. For children, the formation of hazy memories of happiness that will color their adult anniversaries with melancholy, by comparison.”
Tarbox shoves his completed rocking horse off of the worktable “All this good cheer is an affliction. We must be stopped.”
“I was going to,” replied Aalborg.
“You’re not thinking big enough,” said Tarbox.
“Thanks for making that rocking horse I wanted,” said Aalborg.
“Thank you for destroying a hula hoop for me,” said Tarbox.
With that, we take leave of our beloved laboring magical creatures for another year. They’re allowed to return to the invisible work that makes up the rest of their year, uncelebrated. We zoom up and away from the workshop, wondering at how our imagination has been so colonized by the movie camera that we now treat every imagined vista as something captured on film.
The horizon tilts away from us. Are we going into orbit? A distant star blinks, but we don’t know what that means. A promise? A farewell? A trick of the light? We can’t survive in space.
We hope this story takes us somewhere else, where we can live, and maybe it will.
Maybe next year.
ending theme song
Amanda and I went out for a walk this afternoon, just to stretch our legs and enjoy what the neighborhood feels like when cars are rare. We can pretend that we’re well past peak oil and no one drives anymore. Most things are closed, save for bars, Asian restaurants, and a 24 hour donut place we stopped into, to get out of the cold for a bit. To eat mediocre pastry and drink awful coffee.
We walked along the streets and looked at the menus of closed Mexican restaurants.
Massage places you have to ring a doorbell to enter are open. Corner liquor stores are open. The psychic who’ll do tarot readings, or read tea leaves, she’s good to go. Still open.
There’s a whole world out there.
lost time incident 48
We’re just about a week away from Christmas, so we’ve been leaving print-outs of labor laws specific to workshop employment by the hearth in the hopes we can start a labor revolution at the North Pole, then work our way down from there.
We’ve been getting cold and wet because for a tiny period of time, California has decided to schedule some winter. It happens every once in awhile. Nothing to get too excited about. Just an opportunity to find out if your shoes are waterproof at all. They’re not. How well does that jacket you usually don’t need repel water? It doesn’t.
I’ve posted on three different gig economy websites to find someone else to do the rest of winter for me. I only need a little taste myself and it seems wasteful to continue to be cold if I don’t like it, so someone else can drop by and do it.
They were just supposed to wrap presents, but it was our fault. The company thought it would be cute if kids could send messages to the robots about what gifts they wanted. Teenagers found out that there was no filtering on the message interface— because of course they did— and they sent along floods of requests professing depression, both real and ironic, and a desire to die.
After 284 packages had been wrapped, the robots couldn’t postpone dealing with all those requests for oblivion.
And that’s how you go from holiday cheer to rioting robots in an afternoon.
Say what you will about the humans who previously held their jobs, but they rarely even approached the level of discontent needed to drive a human to riot.
Except for Pam. She threw a brick once.
total dear diary
To celebrate the holidays this year, my younger brother sent me a few video games. The one that’s caught my attention first is Plague Inc.: Evolved. In it, you guide the evolution of a disease, deciding on its initial structure (bacteria, virus, fungus, etc.), and steering it through its acquisition of new transmission vectors, attributes, and symptoms.
The goal is to strike a balance between pushing your infectiousness further so you can attempt to infect the planet and picking the right moment to add deadly symptoms to your disease profile. After all, if you get deadly early, more researchers will try to cure you. If you wait too long, a cure may be developed before you’ve killed everyone, and you have to watch the sad progress of all your infected humans getting better.
But honestly, half the fun for me is coming up with dumb names for these diseases.
- Whooping Loorvuss
- Green Mind Drips
- Southeast Taco Funk
- Granola Foot
- Elfy Hurty
- Oyster Haircuts
- Poofball Onion Vimmers
One of our favorite recurring creative exercises is for the wife and I to decamp somewhere and flip through our collection of postcards. We then use these as springboards to write short fiction, jokes, or draw something on the back related to the obverse side.
We spent a few hours in Berkeley this evening doing just that. One of the resulting postcards could end up in your mailbox. Who knows?
My first thought with this postcard was that all the ghost stories were by Wilkie Collins. Not so. The flip side of the postcard reads “The Haunted Hotel. An original anthology of twenty-five ghost stories […] It contained stories by Wilkie Collins, Poe, de Maupassant […] and others, cryptically, by A Lady, A Constabulary Officer, A Witness, A Sportsman, A Traveler and A Spinster.”
So I decided to have a run at some of the story names:
The Haunted Motel by Wilkie Collins
The Haunted Sleeping Bag Behind the Chain Convenience Store by W. Collins
My Eyelids Are Haunted! by Wilkie Collins
The Haunted Vanity Set by A Lady
The Spook That Knows I Killed Someone (Not the Spook) by Poe
My Nightstick Was a Ghost by A Constabulary Officer
Boo! by A Witness
The Spectral Sports Ball’s Holiday With My Cats by A Sportsman Traveler Spinster
ending theme song
Okay! That’s it! That’s all you get! Shoo! Get out of here!
lost time incident 47
It’s almost here! The holidays! There’s still time to pick out the perfect robot head for the automated machine that’s going to take your job!
Hoo boy, that wasn’t the opening we thought we were going to go with. The problem has been this: election seasons have historically lead to me staying nose-deep in news and discussions, so my social media feeds have strong current events elements.
Social media is also, historically, one of my favorite leisure time activities. Reading/writing jokes, sharing items of interest, staying in touch with friends and favored strangers. But since the election, it’s been pretty toxic for my mental/emotional health. The thing I do to relax is instead a new, constant source of unfocused anxiety.
I don’t have a solution.
For this very minute, all I have is a blank newsletter and memories of feeling better once I’ve done some writing, so here we go.
something will go here
The fourteen humans who survived spend most of their time looking for food. They have a book of chemistry that’s in pretty good shape, but it doesn’t get much attention. It was once used to kill a bug that tasted of pepper, which was a surprise.
The eight remaining humans, the ones who made it, have had it up to here with novelty. Every day is a surprise. No one knows what the weather’s going to bring. No one knows what’s going to break. No one knows who’s next.
The skyscraper is full of birds. A bird sits on an Aeron chair. On the desk in front of it, a pen set. A keyboard. A monitor. The bird pecks at a keyboard because long-forgotten bagel seeds that had fallen between the space bar and the bottom row of keys have now blossomed. Tiny leaves poking up between the worn-away letters.
If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?
If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you examine the socioeconomic factors that lead them to that decision?
If your friends own a bridge, and charge you to jump off it, would you?
If your friend is a bridge, and your other friend is a river, then what are you?
If your bridge jumps, and you’re falling through the air, do you interpret it as an act of sympathy or mockery?
If your friends jumped off a bridge, can you make new friends? Can you ask your new friends to meet you at the bridge?
Can you keep bringing more and more friends to the bridge? The river, it can take so much more from you.
Jump off a bridge. There must be something to it. There must be something down there. Your friends are down there. Did they tell you what was down there? Or was their presence supposed to be all you need?
We need to invest in bridges. This country must remain the world’s top destination for your friends, who never stop jumping.
No one remembers why we built the bridge. I’ve never met anyone who’s made it to the other side.
ending theme song
Thanks for joining us again this week, or for failing to notice the unsubscribe button at the bottom of this email. Or reading it as part of the Facebook page I set up to provide a forum for feedback, or to share behind the scenes info.
Stay warm. Stay dry. Hang in there.
lost time incident 46
This week, we’ve got less reading than normal! Finally, I can hear you saying, a break from the burden of literacy. Well, not so fast. I mean… there’s still reading involved. Just… less.
It hasn’t been much of a writing weekend for me. Yesterday, I put together a new Signal mix, for those of you interested in global music, curated by yours truly, that lasts exactly 45 minutes long.
This morning, while going through old image files for the header of this very newsletter, I came across some old comic panels and decided my time would be well spent going over how to convert image files into animated GIFs again.
So that’s what you get this week instead of the usual nonsense.
Also, there’s some of the usual nonsense.
nonsense from twitter
This last week, I’ve been reading through a collection of short stories called 18 Wheels of Horror: A Trailer Full of Trucking Terrors. Yes indeed, decades after America’s brief, brief, brief interest in trucking stories, we have a chance to see what would happen if Smokey and/or The Bandit were to encounter ghosts, or be unaware that they’re crazy killers, or get hired to use their refrigerator car to transport a mind-reading alien that absorbs DNA.
This is why readers of last week’s LOST TIME INCIDENT got to read about what would happen if a truck became a vampire.
It’s also the genesis for the tweet above.
Seriously. You’ve already been murdered while hitchhiking. Now all of a sudden you’re expected to keep hitchhiking even after death? Just to freak out people on the anniversary of your death? What do you get out of it?
Too many ghost stories break down when you consider they’re from the perspective of the frightened. Entirely too much of the horror genre features antagonists with no motivation beyond “be something to be scared of.”
And don’t get me started about the shortcoming of the trucking genre. Yeesh.
I must not be much in the mood to write this weekend, because I’ve constructed animated GIFs from old comic strip panels I’ve got on the computer.
Here’s one from a comic Amanda drew years back:
And one of my own comics, also years old, alchemically improved via animation:
Not all of our old comics cry out for animation. This one of mine is fine pasted into a 4-panel square:
for them what’ve got ears to hear
The weather was surprisingly nice yesterday. I got some leg-stretching in, wandering the neighborhood, visiting a local taco truck for lunch and reading Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction as counter-programming against what’s in the news. I’m finding comfort thinking about how humanity once survived a bottleneck event that reduced our numbers to maybe 10,000 humans worldwide.
I also visited my favorite local record shop, Down Home Music, to look through racks of jazz, blues, country, Americana, Cajun, border music, etc. as typified by the tastes of owner Chris Strachwitz, whose Arhoolie record label is run out of the same building. As physical media becomes less enticing to consumers, it seems like the prices are going up for those old-timers still willing to pick up discs for their at-home laser-machine-players.
But I found some relatively affordable options searching through Blue Note releases for albums that were part of the Rudy Van Gelder collection. Van Gelder was a hugely influential recording engineer and he put out a run of remastered/reissued albums of classic mid-last-century jazz. (I just did some reading and found some jazz heads complaining about his remastering, but honestly, I have nothing to compare them to, and I just seek out Van Gelder’s name as a sign of an album I’m probably really going to like.)
Which is a long way to go just to say that the album I’ve been listening to while working on this is Art Blakey’s “Free For All” and you can listen along.
ending theme song
Since we just linked to Art Blakey, I feel like “ending theme song” duties are taken care of, so I’m going to sign off early and leave you to it.
—Michael Van Vleet