Robert Kimmerle
executive branch in a nation of one

Monday, August 25, 2003
End of month and long weekend approaching, so sloppy workweek ahead. Bill's out in St. Louis, preparing to matriculate at his suddenly highly ranked university, and having the ball we all expected. My sinister plot to visit Bill and coerce my friends to show up is probably pushed back to springtime, but I may yet tag along for parents' weekend.

I spent three days babysitting Mom while Dad was out helping Bill get organized; I was replaced by Katie, a immensely cute Yorkshire terrier about the size of a loaf of bread. My parents are, by any available measure, the worst pet owners in North America, so I have my reservations about the durability of this thing, but we'll see. Dad is also attempting to teach me how to fly fish, this being along with the obligatory academic post a sign of impending semi-retirement, but it requires reservoirs of patience that I really don't have, and in practice-casting in the backyard I managed to snark myself across the face with the line a couple of times. I am not optimistic.

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Monday, August 18, 2003
Back from a nice weekend up in the mountains. I've been vaguely depressed for a bit now, though, as I realize exactly how much I'm going to miss Bill when he takes off for college. He's leaving Wednesday, so we're doing the last-minute farewell thing tomorrow, but it's already sinking in, and not having him around will be miserable. He'll have a splendid time, of course, and the smart money figures he'll give up on architecture before his first year is out. The mid-American nostalgia circus will happen, too, sooner or whenever. Save me some fish.

Also, finally got hold of Jen, who's beginning to give off the impression of no longer wanting to have anything much to do with me; new boyfriend, maybe, but the chimeric staying-friends thing is becoming just that. Possibly I don't have any business expecting more, the whole break-up thing having been my idea, but it's disappointing all the same.

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Monday, August 11, 2003
Demoralizing fact of the day: Kazaa has more available downloads of Nickel Creek's cover of "Spit on a Stranger" than of the Pavement original.

Not sure why this should be demoralizing, necessarily, but it is, somehow. I took half of Thursday off to pick up Bill at the airport from his foreshortened European jaunt (long and sordid story, not really worth going into), and since the plane was late I ended up spending the better part of two hours camped out at the international end of Terminal B. In the waiting area, next to the inevitable magazine shop, stood a probably-equally-inevitable Starbucks, which emitted a strange and improbable assortment of music ("Lively Up Yourself", half of Some Girls, the approved quota of folksingers and "world music") along with its burnt-coffee smell. Then, suddenly, an unusual voice, earnest, sort of artless, singing a familiar song, arrangement spare, faint tinge of mandolin sound. The Starbucks PA was probably five or ten db louder than standard background-music volume, even from forty feet away, and the song's lyrics (especially the taunts of "You're a bitter stranger") are just weird and off-putting enough to discourage scrutiny among innocent bystanders, so what we got was a bizarre moment of communal embarrassment. Not anyone's first choice as an antidote to jet lag, really.

It took further research to figure out who'd done the cover, of course, since I'm still undergoing a country-detox program. Numerous reviews of Nickel Creek's new album cite the song as an example of the band's new pop-oriented songwriting, and apparently they've released it as a single, which strikes me as dishonest. Of course, Mr. Malkmus is collecting on the publishing, so I wonder what he'd think.

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Monday, August 04, 2003
I dunno quite what to make of Robert Christgau, the unyielding curmudgeon-guy who's been doing record reviews for the Village Voice since the Nixon administration. I don't read the Voice, since out here in the hills it costs cash money, and like any music reviewer his tastes diverge wildly from mine. But he has a website that I just stumbled over, and he's very, very good at what he does: his five-word dismissal of the first Black Sabbath album is a model of caustic brevity, and his posthumous appraisal of the Doors is hysterical even upon rereading. But he's best when given some room to maneuver: his blissful passage-of-time with my favorite band, or his 1984 analysis of What It All Means. It was a weird time for music and culture, and even if he underestimates the CD a couple paragraphs earlier, he gets the whole MTV thing down in a hurry: "But because visual information is so specific that people quickly get bored with it, the channel craves novelty by nature." Which these days means cryptovoyeurism and an aversion to actual music videos so deep that its biggest competitor and its clone channel, specifically created to play videos, are both bulking up on "programming."

Also, Metz 0-1 Ajaccio, bleah. It's great to see Metz back in the first division, but looking at their opening-match eleven, it's a bunch of scrawny kids up against a band of hardened Corsican maquisards, so long year ahead. Ah, well. Bill, who sent me an e-mail six hours ago from a laundromat in Florence, will, if he takes my advice, be catching the home opener in Lyon or Bordeaux (again the indeterminacy) on Saturday, always worth doing.

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Sunday, August 03, 2003
I appear to be some sort of bird-magnet.

I have no idea how this happens. I'm not much of a wildlife guy, I can identify blue jays and male robins at a distance, but that's about it. But some time ago a group of birds built a nest *under* the air conditioner outside my bedroom window. I'm not entirely sure how, since there really isn't a whole lot of space, but sure enough there's a little mound of straw wedged in there, and from sunup to sundown this little family of birds chirps and twitters pleasantly. It's sort of nice.

Yesterday, however, I hear rattling in the far window of my living room. When I go over to inspect, there's a bird in there, caught between the inner glass window and the outer screen. It's a brown bird, mottled feathers, its head twitching frantically, little talons gripping the screen. Two other birds, its traveling companions maybe, perch on the windowsill outside, keeping the trapped bird's morale up and trying to devise an escape plan. They don't have much luck; the other birds take off.

Marty and Heather call; they're at the tail end of a wedding. Heather is fully and demonstrably in the bag when she gets on the phone.

"I've got a bird stuck in my window," I tell her.

"Ha ha," she says. "You're a loser."

Sometimes it's obvious why we're no longer together.

Marty ponders my plight for a moment. There was a 19th-century baseball player known as "Death to Flying Things"; this man was plausibly Marty in a former life. As far as he's concerned the entire existence of birdkind has evolved specifically for the singular purpose of shitting on his car. His sympathy, accordingly, is minimal, and his answer typically Darwinian.

"Leave him in there until he gets out or he dies," he says.

"Ewww," I emote. "Then I'll have a dead bird trapped on my windowsill in the middle of August. No, thanks."

I look over at the bird, who's come to rest in the sill but is still considering his options. The space through which he entered the window is maybe an inch wide, tops; it was bad luck to end up in here, but there's no way it can flap its wings to generate lift and still fit through the opening. I live on the second floor, but even if I had a ladder I couldn't open the screen from without. The window is stuck and then painted shut, though a bit of prying with the claw end of a hammer remedies that. I really don't want the bird *in* my apartment, but it's becoming obvious that I'll have to run that risk. The bird chirps once, weakly.

My first thought is that I'll be able to capture the bird in a box or bag and transport it to a more accessible open window, where I'll be able to let it loose. So I grab a trash bag, unfurl it, and open the window to about bird-height, with the mouth of the bag stretched across the opening. The bird thinks I'm a moron, and casts its vote by wedging itself into the far corner of the sill, as far from me as it can possibly get. I wait a bit, but the bird's not buying it and doesn't budge.

The ultimate answer is the easiest, of course. I set up obstacles on the windowsill to block most of the opening, to minimize the chance that the bird will fly in, and slide the inner window up enough to accommodate my two hands. The bird is clearly scared shitless of me by this time, and I'm not doing much better; I'm wearing gloves, just in case. Yes, gloves. I fumble with the screen mechanism, which hasn't been used at least since I moved in, but it creaks and gives way, and the screen slides up fitfully. The very instant the bird has enough clearance to get out, it tweets triumphantly and sails off.

On the windowsill I notice a couple spots of blood; the bird must have injured itself trying to scrabble its way out. As I leave my apartment a short time later I see a flock of these brown birds, dozens of them, wheeling in a great arc above the house and the street in front of it. So that's my humanitarian act for the day, or ornitharian or whatever you'd call it.

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