Friday, February 29, 2008

Hey Blogosphere, I gotta note!

Dear Blogosphere,

Please excuse little Stronger Than Dirt Pete from finishing his rambling and questionable multi-part post about Cole Hall at Northern Illinois University today. I know it's overdue, but he has a cold and needs to focus on coughing, aching, and being a baby about it. He'll write up the conclusion when he feels better like it.


Moss's Mother

POSTSCRIPT -- HORRIBLE, STUPID, TRITE POSTSCRIPT: In the meantime you can compare and contrast my approach to the subject with that taken by a certain post-disgraced columnist with the non-initials "ob reene." Can you guess what he says before you click the link? Here's a hint: on-campus shooting sprees -- he's agin em. And, somehow, for some reason, he attempts to link them up with the presidential election campaign. My favorite line: "Please disregard the previous mayhem." Oh, I'm way ahead of you, "ob."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cole Hall, Part Two -- The Saga of Exidor

It’s now been just over a week since Unspellable Name Jerk shot up a lecture hall and its occupants at my old school -- which, smartass remarks aside, I take a little bit personally. The story gets weirder and weirder, the more we learn about this jamoke. I don’t have anything substantive to say about that. What I’d rather talk about right now is how weird the place was 20 years ago, give or take, in the middle of a long, dull stretch of nothing particularly dramatic happening. Because it was dull, yeah -- but it was weird, too. Koo koo for ko ko puffs weird.

Part two in a series of n about my personal experiences between 1985 and 1990 in that now-infamous auditorium in Cole Hall on the NIU campus is all about Exidor. If you were there at the time, you know exactly who I mean.

But first --

An Interstitial Debaffler

So -- some hypothetical reader might have wondered -- what the hell was the point of the first part of this thing? And what’s with the title(s)?

Well, it’s all a convoluted reference to something that Karlheinz Stockhausen said in 2001. The FAQ on some unofficial Stockhausen website tells it this way:

13 Did Stockhausen call September 11th a "work of art"?

At a Hamburg press conference in 2001 Stockhausen said he believed that the destructive activities of Lucifer (the Devil) were apparent in the world today, for example in New York. When asked to be more specific Stockhausen said the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre was Lucifer's greatest work of art. Johannes Schulz of NDR, just one of the reporters in attendance, filed a seemingly malicious report (omitting the word Lucifer and the context of the question) which was subsequently broadcast on German radio. Before the broadcaster had clarified its original mistake other networks world-wide picked up the story, humiliating the composer cruelly and unjustly. Many newspapers set the record straight in future articles, but inevitably these corrections achieved less prominence.

(Emphasis added.)

It’s obvious now, right? Death and destruction as lecture hall performance (by Lucifer) … the movie “Performance” starring Mick Jagger shown in the lecture hall (Jagger as Lucifer -- Satanic Majesties; Sympathy for the Devil, etc.) … Easy peasy. Probably not even necessary to provide this gloss.


And now, onto the main event --

The Exidor Saga

All right, Mork, put your hands in front of your face, and repeat after me. "Oh, no, please don't."

I don’t like math, and math doesn’t like me. For most of the time from 1986 onward, math and I have been living under a reasonably amicable mutual nonaggression pact, but the pointy-headed pencil pushers in charge of writing up the general education requirements at NIU laid down the law and made me take some of it.

So, in the second semester of my freshman year, I reluctantly took a course called “Finite Math.” I still have no idea what the class was about, but the name sounded good to me. Especially the word “Finite.” I definitely liked the idea of a limited quantity of math. If there had been a course called “Infinitesimal Math,” I would have taken that one instead.

“Finite Math” was kind of one of those “Math for Poets” type courses, only it was more like a “Math for Poli Sci Students” type thing -- and, you can be certain, poli sci students are generally not poets. (With the possible exception of yours truly, of course.)

Anyway, once a week, small groups of us met with a teaching assistant, who, as I recall, was a personable enough grad student from India. Everyone but me constantly complained that they couldn’t understand what he was saying -- which I thought was rank bullshit. He spoke better English than most of the drunken, hypertestosteronated buffoons on my dorm floor. But I digress.

Three times a week (on paper), we met in Cole Hall to hear a lecture delivered by Exidor. Everybody called him Exidor, because … are you familiar with the Exidor character from “Mork and Mindy”? He looked like this:

And so did Exidor. I mean, both Exidors looked like Exidor. I mean … you know what I mean.

I think everybody came up with the “Exidor” nickname on their own, independently, because any offhand reference to Exidor always, without fail, elicited a reaction along the lines of “Hah! Exidor! That guy!” It was almost a Jungian thing.

Exidor was a freak. It’s not nice to make fun of the weird-looking, I guess, but I periodically ran into the dude throughout my undergrad career, and Exidor clearly was weird to the core.

This is totally hearsay, but someone told me he lived in a crappy boarding house somewhere in the student ghetto, like in a single room -- which was believable, because he spent all day, every day hanging out in common areas on campus. For example, if you ever went to one of the reading rooms at the Student Center, at any given time, there was about a 25% chance that Exidor would be lounging in there. And if he wasn't there, he was skulking in the law library. Or camped out in the coffee shop. Or tramping between hangouts. He did a lot of reading. He also, allegedly, did a lot of creepy ogling at coeds, but I can’t vouch for that (although I don’t doubt it).

During my last year at NIU, I had a job at the newspaper library in Reavis Hall, and Exidor used to show up every day for an hour or so and sit and read five or six papers. That’s how I discovered that, from a distance of 12 or 15 feet (I never got any closer), Exidor smelled … really … weird. The best way I can describe it is, the smell was like what you would smell if you stuck your nose inside a pencil sharpener. A full one. It was a unique funk that I truly never expect to encounter again.

All that is the stuff of collegiate legend, to be sure. But Exidor had his indisuputably finest, grandest, magnificentest moment in that fricking lecture hall, in Spring 1986, in my Finite Math Class.

Every single meeting of that class was the same. I squonched myself down into one of the movie-theater-style seats and hovered in a state between sleeping and waking while Exidor squoggled some squaggles on an acetate sheet overheadedly projectified onto a big screen and droned some nonsense that might have been human speech, but might as well have been dolphin, or mackerel.

Meanwhile, there were 70 or 80 other kids in there with me, sitting in the dark, in what amounts to a big movie theater, bored out of their soft little inchoate minds, just like me, while this dorkmazoid from the planet Ugottabekiddinme drew horribly unfunny number-centric cartoons on an overhead projector and said a bunch of stuff that made no sense whatsoever, as far as we could tell.

And then … and then … and then. Picture this. Picture the huge, bright white movie screen at the head of the classroom, and picture the huge black shadow of Exidor’s Sharpie-wielding fist scribbling whatever it was scribbling, and the even huger black shadow of Exidor’s head encroaching on the frame.

Then picture the remarkably big black shadow of something round and six-legged falling out of the shadow of Exidor’s hair and plopping smack onto the middle of the acetate. And then -- before you could even finish gasping at the fact that a wriggling insect had just fallen out of your math teacher’s hair and was being projected onto the huge bright white movie screen at the head of the class -- picture the huge black shadowy finger of Exidor casually and nonchalantly descending from the sky and squishing the bug into oblivion.

Oh. Man.

I’m not sure I have ever heard the expression “Did you see that?” so many times in the hallway after a lecture in my life. I am reasonably sure I have never experienced a better reason to say “Did you see that?” in the hallway after a lecture.

I am almost completely sure of one thing. As weird as he was, Exidor never killed anybody, never shot up a room full of people, never lost his mind and took it out on a bunch of strangers. And the only thing I ever saw die in Cole Hall was that bug.

The Crack of the Bat, the Roar of the Crowd ... the Eek Eek of the Monkeys?

While approximately four of you in Internet Land are patiently awaiting the resumption of my questionable and rambling multi-part NIU saga, "Cole Hall," dig this: Carl Skanberg's got a new White Sox-related online comic strip, Palehose 8: Don Guillote. It combines two of my favorite things: baseball and monkeys.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

“Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.”

The greatest lecture hall performance (by Lucifer)

Preface and Part One


So the other day I was at the local bodega after work, waiting in line at the register to pay for some beer, when I caught the news on the TV that’s always turned on in that place. As I was leaving work about 75 minutes earlier, I had heard a little something about someone getting shot at Northern Illinois University, but I didn’t pay much attention. DeKalb isn’t a rough burg, too much, but people shoot people sometimes there, I think. Once in a while. Pretty sure it happens. So I forgot all about it during the drive home. The local college radio stations were under programming routines as per standard usual normal.

So it startled me at the bodega when I heard the Channel 7 reporter say that at least 17 people had been wounded. Then I looked up at the screen and saw a familiar building, looking exactly the same as it did the last time I was inside it, in May of 1990. And I felt a little weak in the knees.

See, I’m an old man now. I don’t even think any of my old professors are still at NIU, and I certainly don’t have any personal connections to any undergrads there. Nor any grad students anymore, I guess. But college kids in 2008 don’t really look all that different from college kids 20 years ago. They probably wouldn’t want to hear that … but they don’t. They have more gadgets. But they look about the same.

Well, there is one big difference, in terms of language. They seem to be much more fluent in the idioms of crisis, insecurity, chaos, mayhem, and terror than many, if any, of us were in the late 1980s. They’ve grown up in a world that has kept shattering over and over again. This is an era when candlelight vigils and campus-wide lockdowns seem to be almost as common as illicit keggers in dorm rooms (assuming they still have illicit keggers in dorm rooms – someone please tell me they do). When I was a student at NIU, I think the worst thing that happened to shock the consciousnesses of the student body was that, one time, a few miscreants plastered the campus with posters for a rock show that had some dirty cartoons on them. (Which those of us who were damaged by it attempted to express ourselves … uh. Never mind. That’s another whole set of posts.)

Pre-9/11, pre-Virginia Tech, pre-everything like that, people used to get away with all kinds of shit that would probably earn you a tasing now, or worse. Climbing onto the roof of Altgeld Hall for a puff. Sneaking up to the 16th floor balcony of the student center for a few tokes with a panoramic view of Corn Country. Breaking into the steam tunnels and roaming around … while stoned. Slipping into the power plant and shutting off the lights in the library at 8 p.m. one night for a weed-fueled laugh. Getting high in the arboretum. Getting high behind some bushes in the Mall. Getting high in the bathroom at Cole Hall.

Yeah. The days of that last one are most likely over, permanently.

Which makes me kind of sad, even though it isn’t like I was going to re-matriculate and do everything all over again – despite the fact that I have frequently recurring dreams about doing just that.

OK. This is getting raggedy. I should try to focus. All right, campers, what I think I’m going to focus on is Cole Hall itself. Since I don’t know any current students at NIU, or teachers, or anyone (except Bobbo at Record Rev – woot!), I’m finding myself fixated on the location itself. I spent a lot of time in that building, and in that specific room, and it’s very easy to place myself there in my mind. I can pretty much picture exactly what the whole horrorshow looked like.

So. I’m going to do three posts about specific memories from my ancient times at NIU – (shortish) anecdotes – set in the exact room where Mr. Dweeb-ass Jerk With the Unspellable Name did you know what last Thursday. These pieces will be titled “Performance,” “Exidor,” and “Graduation.” And after the anecdotes … we’ll see. I have some other things to say, I think.

Part One – Performance

This first one maybe isn’t that much of an anecdote, but it has audiovisual aids. And I never said this exercise wouldn’t involve some rocking.

Anyway, the Cine Club used to screen movies in Cole Hall – foreign pictures, art house flicks, etc. – and I used to catch one once in a while. One Friday, Zippy Squeak-Gun and I caught a talkie from 1970 called “Performance,” starring Mick Jagger. Here's the synopsis:

Chas, a violent and psychotic East London gangster needs a place to lie low after a hit that should never have been carried out. He finds the perfect cover in the form of guest house run by the mysterious Mr. Turner, a one-time rock superstar, who is looking for the right spark to rekindle his faded talent.

And here's the trailer:

This movie freaked me out (in a good way) -- one reason being that the song "E=MC²" by Big Audio Dynamite used a bunch of samples from it, and I had played that song about a million times, so when the lines were spoken in the movie, it was like something falling into place backwards through time ... or something.

Also, I was getting pretty heavily into William Burroughs at the time, and the movie features a line (spoken by Jagger's character) that Burroughs, in Cities of the Red Night, attributed to Hassan i Sabbah (leader of the Assassins):

Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.

Which, at the time, was a fascinating concept to me. Although I never could defend it against anyone who pointed out that it's complete bullshit.

Also in the movie, this kickass song, with slide guitar by Ry Cooder:

Memo From Turner

Not much of an anecdote, I guess. Zipka and I saw a movie, which tied in with a bunch of the farkakta "counter-cultural" mishegoss I was deeply interested in at the time. And it was a movie with all sorts of violent acts and themes exploring violence, etc., that I watched in a room that, 20 years later, was the scene of a mass murder. Ooy ... it might be kind of a crummy anecdote, but I can't quite shake the weird feeling that it's all connected.

So long, Chief

This is a little belated, but here's a flashback post from April 2006 as a way to say goodbye to Roy Scheider, who died last week:

"Hello. This is Chief Brody of the Amity Police Department with a public service announcement about childhood obesity.

"Folks, if kids in this country get any fatter ... we're gonna need a bigger boat.

"Ha ha! See what I did there? That was my line from Jaws 1. 'We're gonna need a bigger boat.'

"Seriously, kids, try to slim down a little."

(References to and/or fake quotes by any person or persons real or imaginary are completely noncommercial, satiric, and parodic in nature, and are not meant to convey or imply any connection, endorsement, affiliation, or relationship between this blog and said person or persons, because there isn't any. This blog is in full compliance with Title 15 of the United States Code, Title 17 of the United States Code, Title 18 of the United States Code, Title 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention, the Berne Identity, the Berne Supremacy, the Madrid Protocol, the Sigma Protocol, the WIPO Treaty, the Nice Agreement, the Nasty Agreement, the Nasty Disagreement, and the laws and regulations of the 50 United States, a variable number of member countries of the European Union, and a handful of provinces of Canada. Folks, if intellectual property law gets any more complicated, we're gonna need a bigger boat. Love, the legal department.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cole Hall

I'm going to write some stuff about what happened today at my alma mater, Northern Illinois University. I've already started writing it. But for the rest of tonight, I just want to take a breath and sit still for a while. In that connection, here's a reminder that joy and beauty also exist.

Charles Mingus - Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Saturday, February 09, 2008

"The true harbinger of spring is not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of the bat on the ball." -- Bill Veeck

We now interrupt our wildcat strike against Mother Nature to mark a very important date: Bill Veeck's birthday. "Sport Shirt Bill" would have been 94.

Here at CBRAT Headquarters, Bill Veeck's birthday is a major holiday. Although we prefer to observe another of Bill's wise sayings: "Every day a Holiday; Every fan -- Supreme!"

This is perhaps the earliest image of Veeck that I can personally remember -- Opening Day at Comiskey Park, 1976, with Bicentennial Fever heavy on the hypothalamuses of all red-blooded American boys, a young Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss being no exception.

Also seen, and also noteworthy, in this photo is Veeck's right-hand man, Rudie Schaffer, playing the drum. Rudie died last November 27 at the age of 96.

So. Happy Bill Veeck's Birthday to you and yours. The groundhog might have let us down again this year, but Bill's birthday is an irrefutable sign that spring is on the way. Because, as Bill said, "There are only two seasons -- Winter and Baseball." And -- finally -- here comes Baseball.

Just six days to go till White Sox pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. The Cubs start two days earlier, because ... they need all the time they can get.


In other birthday news of today's birthdays, it's Joe Ely's birthday today! It's a double holiday!

Well All Right

She Never Spoke Spanish to Me

Carnival Bum

Thursday, February 07, 2008

STDPM to Planet Earth: Fuck You

I am officially on strike from everything -- including blogging -- until this goddamned winter stops trying to kill me to death.

Also. All computers in my life: Fuck you, too, and fuck your goddamned hourglasses that I spend half my waking hours staring at.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Guest Commentary: The Return of Bob Greene

We knew this day would come. We knew that, eventually, disgraced ex-newspaper-columnist and serial Nightline appearer Bob "Bob" Greene would live down the ignominy of his being forced from the words-for-pay business due to his long history of obnoxious horndoggin' catching up with him. We knew that, someday, Bob Greene would be back.

That day has, in fact, as we knew it would, finally, at last, at this time, as of now, come. In response thereto, we have a guest review of the first installment of Bob Greene's "Bob Greene Across America" (featuring Bob Greene, as told to Bob Greene, to be filed in the index of posterity under "Greene, Bob"), courtesy of CBRAT's official mascot, Des "Dez" Desmodeus, in the form of a short series of excerpts from an email conversation between Dez and yours "STDPM" truly.

STDPM writes:

I just learned that Bob Greene is back in print ... or web ... or something:

Dez replies:

...and still rehashing the same column he's been recycling for 60 years. The old chestnut "Oh, it's that evil FM radio, uh I mean boomboxes, uh I mean cassette playing Walkmans, uh I mean I-pods, uh I mean (insert new technology) that's keeping each of us in a cocoon." And are you trying to share that cocoon with an unsuspecting college intern, Mr. Bob Greene? I particularly enjoyed his line, "And she departed without saying a word of farewell. And why should she? We didn't exist." Maybe it's just you that's dead to her, Bob, not everyone in the universe. How do you get paid to project being ignored on an elevator into an indictment on 21st century America? Maybe she was able to read you as transparently as one of your worthless columns and could actually see you burning the comment "I told Curtis to bring some alcohol" into your memory cells and already scheming to somehow work your way into whatever shenanigans she had planned.

But he wasn't done yet ...

Dez replies some more:

Okay, I re-read the article again and can't believe I missed Bob's signature, "and, me, your humble reporter from the Midwest." Bob, you're 96 fucking years old! How can you still walk around with your "Well, I'm just a simple Midwestern boy who doesn't understand this high-falutin' 'technology' or people from 'the city', 'cause I come from an overgrown cow town where people used to be simple and would bowl together before things slightly changed in society 212 years ago." Ugh.

Welcome back, Bob. Good luck.