The separation of powers implicit in our constitutional design was created "to assure, as nearly as possible, that each brance of government would confine itself to its assigned responsibility." INS, 462 U.S. at 951, 103 S. Ct. at 2784. But when the fervor of political passions moves the Executive and the Legislative brances to act in ways inimical to basic constitutional principles, it is the duty of the judiciary to intervene. If sacrifices to the independence of the judiciary are permitted today, precedent is established for the constitutional transgressions of tomorrow. See New York, 505 U.S. at 187, 112 S. Ct. at 2434. Accordingly, we must conscientiously guard the independence of our judiciary and safeguard the Constitution, even in the face of the unfathomable human tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo and her family and the rececnt events related to her plight which have troubled the consciences of many. Realizing this duty, I conclude that Pub. L. 109-3 (Terri's Law -jb) is an unstitutional infringement on core tenets underlying our constitutional system.
This, mind you, is a conservative judge. Emphasis in original.
Where have all the real Republicans gone? Will they please stand up? I'd like them back. They, in contrast to the current crop of ethically-challenged religious fundamentalist-pandering lockstep lackeys, made me proud to be American. I'm not going to lie to you and say I liked Ronald Reagan, ever; but I will say that opposing Reagan and his policies still felt like an intramural game. The current struggle feels like War of the Worlds. I have no idea where people like Rove and Feith and Delay and Frist come from, and I'm really not sure I want to.
I love my country very much. I will do whatever I can do defend and nurture it. I will fight for the rights of those I disagree with to say what they wish. I will fight as best I can, in what manner I am able, to make these United States a place in which I am proud to live and represent to the world. I'm not entirely sure why I love my country, as I have little experience with the rest of the world; it's not a necessarily logical thing, and I recognize the weakness of my experiences here. I will say this - as a mixed-race Jew, I am strongly committed to a vision of America that I have been given by my parents and my teachers growing up. I have looked for that United States of America throughout my life, and I haven't found it; it's an ideal, not a place. However, I have come across flashes of it throughout the world, and I have seen it described in the Constitution - imperfectly, but there. I've found it in New York. I've run across it in California. I've found it in the middle of the country. I've found it in Texas. I've been surprised by it in North Carolina, had it run up ove rmy own northeastern teenage prejudices with the power of a freight train. I've had it shown to me by immigrants and refugees, by people who've suffered things I can't imagine as they came looking for it - and when they found the imperfect disheveled version that makes me angry on a daily basis, they still wept for joy. People who came here and found a twisted lie and sneered at me to point out flaws I hadn't even imagined before they left in disgust showed me places it needs to do better; people suffering daily show me places it doesn't even try. People on television trying to tell me how to live (or die) because Their God Tells Me So remind me what our forefathers were trying to escape and why I can't give up trying to make the Constitution live and breathe.
I know I'm not right, or wrong, and that the United States is just another form of ideology - another in a long line of ideologies that have killed and divided man. But I also know that more so than any other idea or faith or ideology I've run across, the United States of America is an idea that anyone can pick up and claim; one that anyone can make themselves a part of simply by saying "Yes. That's how it can be, in this one place." No, nothing magical happens because of that. It doesn't make them right. But it does mean that if that person finds me, we have a common ground - not because of how we were born, or who our parents were, but a shared vision of how Things Can Be. Not how they should be, necessarily; but how they can be - how they can work, how we can live, and argue, and exist, and survive, together. Because of something we learned, and considered, and thought about - and, ultimately, decided for ourselves was a good choice.
It's rose-colored. But it's what keeps me going.
Anyhow, enough erudite-looking linking. Steamboy isn't as viscerally exciting as Akira, which may be due to its being set in an alternate 1866 England rather than a post-WWIII Tokyo. Those reserved English, you know. This caused some of my worst discontinuity in the film - although the period-but-altered London was rendered beautifully, the Japanese dialogue was jarring enough (I saw the subtitled print) to continually tap me on a mental shoulder - and it pulled me out of immersion. Perhaps this is an anime I should see dubbed; I will, to see if it makes a difference.
Like Akira and Metropolis, the theme is one of mankind facing the power of science and discovery - and discovering whether or not its philosophy is up to the challenge. In this case, however, as the title suggest the technology involves cams, gears, pistons and boilers. The fiction we are asked to swallow is a metallurgy that far outstrips reality, apparently - and a small piece of Macguffin called the Steam Ball - a cannonball-like object that contains near-infinite pressurized steam. It's the movie's version of the FTL drive; how it does it and where it came from are not really explored, nor are those questions really bothered with. The consequences of the availability of this power are what drive the plot.
The plot is fairly standard. Two sides, which may or may not be good and evil, with a young boy and his ideals between them. There are some great cultural jokes, some obvious, some less so (but still obvious). And, of course, there's the animation. Oh, boy, is there the animation. It's huge. It's sweeping. The entire purpose of using steam tech appears to be so they can have enormous Rube Goldberg mechanisms that fill entire cathedrals with movement and detail, meticulously animated through the wonders of caffeine, obsession and lots and lots of CPU power. CGI is used incredibly well - there are very, very few times you can point at something and definitively say "Ah. CGI." Rather, it's used to expand the scope of the animation, and to fill out fast-moving scenes, so that there are many more three-dimensional pan shots, rotational camera movements, scene shifts than one would normally see in animation. The background, in this film, escapes the static animated backdrop - it's really animated, here. Things move in it. Little, tiny things, moving, everywhere. The entire scene will rotate dizzyingly a couple of times early on - until your brain realizes that 'real movies' do that all the time, and stop noticing. Then you'll say to yourself in the middle of the movie "HEY!"
Did I mention that it's pretty?
And there's steam. Everywhere. Gigantic clouds, contrails, wisps, streamers, dribbles, spouts, jets, plumes, explosions. In good form, it isn't computer generated with particle effects; nope, it's good ol' hand-drawn steam, except...this steam has continuity (as a friend pointed out) waaaaay too good for hand-drawn alone. It never behaves improperly, even when it's been onscreen for fifteen or twenty seconds, dissipating and spreading. Computers. Yep.
In the end, the film missed its mark with me a bit. The disconnect between guttural Japanese soundtrack and reserved English scenery was a bit too wide. The traditional Ôtomo apocalypse seemed a tad flat, with only steam power to back it up, when we're used to the power of entire universes being born or robot slave armies revolting. The situation was almost quaint. Finally, there simply weren't enough people in the movie! For a film set in the middle of London, the demise of which was the driving danger throughout, it was remarkably devoid of imperiled civilian masses. We saw plenty of small buildings destroyed and damaged, but somehow it felt like they'd been conveniently emptied for the weekend engagement - and this robbed the whole thing of drama.
Still, it's frakking beautiful. What it really felt like, I must say (and which the closing credit still shots lent credence to) was the elaborate 'origin story' of a colorful comic book hero (Steamboy himself). The lack of really memorable masses in the film, with the exception of a small number of people who would obviously show up later in Steamboy's career; the provision of Steamboy's trademark gear, the foundation of his ethos and his training, etc.
In a way, it's what The Rocketeer really wanted to be, but didn't have the budget or imagination for.
And yes, I'll own the DVD when it shows. It's so damn pretty.
I would have to add an intangible, there - timing. The 1960s saw an attempt to reissue the duo in a new series of cartoons which appear on the surface to follow these rules - but fall massively flat. The timing is just way off. A couple of obvious differences in the two series include music which is noticeably changed, including the use (in the latter, failed version) of 'musical dialogue' - a near-violation of some of Chuck's Rules. The later 'toons also involve much more 'mugging for the camera.'
Finally, a personal observation on the whole nature of the victim in each. Wile E., in the later editions, is a smug and annoying bastard who is deserving of every bash on the head. The Roadrunner in those is almost a Deus Ex Machina put there to provide it as the filmmakers eagerly share the relief of bashing said noggin with the viewers - losing the entire tao-like sense of balance that the originals maintain. The originals posit a situation of equilibrium, where all the violations of physics serve to maintain a comic balance that can never change, and we the audience know that. The Road Runner knows that. Wile E. doesn't - and that's what makes him sympathetic. We watch him try to deform reality in his desired direction, and reality itself - not a smug director, writer, filmmaker or even Roadrunner - slaps him back. His refusal or inability to understand his predicament is what make his reactions and his perils so funny (to me, at least).
The later ones were nothing more than cheap shots at some poor yokel who was to dumb to know better, taken by an actor (whether the Roadrunner, the director, or the audience, it's irrelevant). That's the difference. The originals were classic existential farce, worthy animated successors to Herriman's Krazy Kat.
Of course, it returned the next night.
This time, the MewsNews had it first, warning of dangerous transport terrorists, telling all good cits to stay off the Road. A few had figured it out, though, and this time, there were several standing at the chain link, fingers locked through the rusting barrier, when the enigma came. Rising in the distance, a sound that not many knew and all wondered at, overlaid with the warbling fed-back tones of anger and fury:
"WATCH LISTS! What the fuck...you SHEEP! Any of you ever left the fucking town? ANY? Any of you been on the fucking road? Call yourselves AMERICANS, they kick you off the AIRPLANES, then they kick you off the TRAINS, they kick you off the BUSES, they tell you to stay in your fucking SUBURBS, tell you it's SAFER, LOOK AT YOU, just LOOK AT YOURSELVES..."
...and it was gone again, few futile struggling minions in electric pursuit.
The third time, the last time, the entire block was there, their hands pressed to the fences and their Footballoculars(tm) ready, with SnapCams poised and coolers near their chairs. A few MetroCoppers had their Cushmans set up to block the Road, this night; SirenLarms off, they waited in eager glee while several of their colleagues tried vainly to convince the watching throngs to return to their living rooms and leave the browned-out scrub from the overpass of the Great 405.
The voice wavered into existence again, from off in the heat-hazed gullies of thermocrete and jersey barriers: "...1920s told us all, motherfuckers, told us what it was about, Henry motherfucking Ford and the fucking saints, Saint Packard and Saint Shelby, Archbishop Petty and Rabbi Brabham, boys, where've you fucking been? Where've you gone, and where'd we let you go? It's a precious resource, they say, national fucking crime to not turn it in for scientific research - well fuck that, it's a crime they're not researching how to make more, boys, because there's only one fucking thing it's good for-"
A squawk as the blackened shape shot over the hill to see the MetroCopper carts blocking the Road, but it didn't slow at all, merely upped its snarling shout. The crowd gasped, but before anything could happen before them, there was an explosion of noise-
They turned as one-
A garage door breaking into flinders, a Lawn shredding itself into the sky-
With a screeching bang, the chainlink slammed down. The silver and red demon bowled over the two MetroCarts blocking the two clear lanes of Road, just tore through them from the back side, bowled them over, before sliding to a stop. The oncoming shape spun halfway, screamed at the heavens and stopped as well, door to door, treating the onlookers to the long-forgotten smell of melted rubber. There was a moment of burbling engine noise, then-
"All fucking right."
One after the other, the two free cars shot through the barrier and vanished into the Interstate, leaving behind nothing but long strips of rubber and the wailing outrage of a gasoline dream.
From: m--- b--- <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: jbz Subject: eyes on the prize Date: Sun, 20 Mar 2005 16:14:02 -0600 (17:14 EST) I see you were able to get this auction kicked off how is it that you have a copyright to this dvd set? Ebay gives me the right to contact you as i will be keeping a copy of this email to forward to ebay(including your response) Can you prove to me that you own the rights to this dvd set? please get back with me as i feel i have a right to relist this item as i purchased it here on ebay and feel i have a legal GOD given right to resell it! regards m--- b---
Well, m---, as I've said in my private email to you, I'm so happy for you that you feel you have a 'legal GOD given right to resell it!'. However, fortunately for us in this fine country, the two aren't the same, and my actions aren't concerned with GOD but the United States Code.
I'm not going to bother explaining to you here why I can and did do this - I did that in the email. Rather, I'm going to rant a bit. Here, apparently, we have someone who was taken in by a counterfeiter and sold an illegal copy of the series (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume they're telling me the truth - I have no reason to assume they're lying and that they made the copy themselves). I'm sorry this happened. However, caveat emptor most definitely applies. M---, you're not protected from your own culpability. You bought an illegal copy of the movies. You're now trying to resell that illegal copy, and you seem taken aback that you're being prevented from doing so.
Well, terribly sorry old bean, but that's how it works. Let's imagine, just for a second, that you had in fact bought a copy of 'The Incredibles' a few months before it was ever released on DVD. Then let's say you decided you were done with it, and wanted to get rid of it. Would you have then tried to resell it on eBay 30 days before the store release of 'The Incredibles' on DVD? I doubt it, but if you did, you're dumber than I can possibly picture you as being. What, then, would you say to Pixar's lawyers when they showed up at your door? That because you'd spent money on the films, that you had a GOD GIVEN RIGHT to resell it? I'd love to see what they'd say to you, and the amounts of legal pain they'd debate about inflicting.
Well, guess what - this is exactly the same situation. Only I'm not Pixar, and I don't have Pixar's lawyers, and you've never heard of me, and there is no published release date for EoTP on DVD, yet. But it's the same thing. Just because you hadn't known it wasn't out on DVD yet when you bid doesn't mean that somehow you get a free pass and a chance to get your money back by passing it on to the next sucker.
Oh, and by the way, for those of us in the Reality-based community - invoking GOD as a reason we should let you win the argument really doesn't go over well. Especially when doing so in the same sentence as demonstrating your complete lack of clue of the situation. Ever occur to you not all of us consider this unknown GOD person to have any sway on the situation, much less be anything more than a figment of your imagination and reason to treat you with gentle respect and the pity due the deluded? I'm not saying that's the case here, necessarily, but until you know whether it is or not, just remember - GOD holds very little sway within the United States Code as of yet. Some of us intend to ensure it stays that way.
Yvette: My thanks for keeping me honest. I appreciate it. I will refine my acid response, then, to to 'condensing' done by the three media reports of said research - all of which managed to present an air of complete surprise and/or 'wholesome shock and concern' - which is what really triggered my response. I did not see the actual results of the research. I did not spend more than five minutes trying, either, in all honesty - I was too torqued off by the tone of the reportage, but that's no excuse.
This is why comment sections on blogs are critical, even though they take maintenance hours - and this is why I'm so glad people actually read them. Because I *know* I say stupid things. When people call me on them, that's when I learn.
Again, Yvette, thank you. My apologies to your friend as well. I will resume my hunt for the actual research. I still (in absence of the data) am a tad underwhelmed by the conclusions - I want very much to know what the target of this research is. Is it policy-based? Are they attempting to produce ammunition for arguing with regulators, or the manufacturers? Are they trying to show distributors of the stuff what's going on? ...but I will say this: my reaction is my fault, because I don't have the data.
See? One can learn on a Saturday.
Honorable mention for fucking Reuters and MSNBC for deciding this was worth propagating. If this was an attempt at sarcasm on their part, I have news for them: their general lack of clue is waaaaay too high for me to buy something that subtle - read: without overt signs of intelligence or humor - from them.
Just in case they yank the story, here's the first paragraph:
Study: Homeless, unemployed favor malt liquor Potent, cheap beer heavily targeted to black, Hispanic youth Reuters-Updated: 4:14 p.m. ET March 14, 2005 WASHINGTON - Malt liquor, a type of beer that is higher in alcohol than other brews, is largely a drink of the homeless and unemployed, and is likely to be abused, U.S. researchers reported Monday. And malt liquor is heavily marketed to black and Hispanic youth, the team at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in California found.
I hope that if ever I find myself in as influential a moment and position as he came to in 1946 and 1947, I rise to the occasion with even a tenth the aplomb and wits he managed.
From: james <email@example.com> To: jbz Subject: Re: Question for item #6376759263 - Eyes on the Prize DVD Black History Full Menu all 14 EP Date: Thu, 17 Mar 2005 12:37:25 -0600 (13:37 EST) A friend of mine purchased this item from YOU! He asked me to sell it for him. As to who made it or where it came from no one cares. Good day!
Now, I understand this answer. I really do. I also want 'james' to understand that it's perfectly understandable that I would like to find him and have a conversation with his testes or other sensitive body parts with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. Because just for his/her information, I care where it came from.
When the 'copyfight activists' say that 'putting it up for download doesn't hurt anyone' I ask them to please consider my blood pressure when I think about how much easier they made it for this motherless bastard to acquire bids on eBay of up to $200 for this item.
And before any of them start holier-than-thou-ing about how 'if it was freely downloadable he wouldn't get bids' remember: your side already had it digitized and made it available on p2p. We couldn't stop it or retract it, which was the point. So it is freely available. He's still managing to be a parasite.
| Bacardi 151 |
Congratulations! You're 132 proof, with specific scores in beer (80) , wine (66), and liquor (147).
|All right. No more messing around. Your knowledge of alcohol is so high that you have drinking and getting plastered down to a science. Sure, you could get wasted drinking beer, but who needs all those trips to the bathroom? You head straight for the bar and pick up that which is most efficient.|
| My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender: |
|Link: The Alcohol Knowledge Test written by hoppersplit on Ok Cupid|
White House press secretary Scott McClellan commented on the recent controversy over the current Administration's practice of distributing packaged, produced video and audio segments 'explaining' Administration policy initiatives to broadcasters:
White House press secretary Scott McClellan suggested the lack of disclosure was the fault of the broadcasters, not the government.
"Many federal agencies have used this for quite some time as an informational tool to provide factual information to the American people," he said. "And my understanding is that when these informational releases are sent out that it's very clear to the TV stations where they are coming from."
Well. Isn't that interesting. Let's have a look. First of all, it's 'his understanding.' In other words, it may or may not be true, and it may or may not be policy. All we're going to risk here is the statement that Press Secretary actually 'understands' what all these other agencies are doing. In other words, for an administration that doesn't seem to have any trouble having, oh, nominees for SecState lie under oath, we're not backing this statement up with much at all.
Next: it's his 'understanding' that when these releases are sent out, it's very clear to the TV stations where they're coming from. That's nice. That's very nice, Scott. The problem here is that it's not the TV stations it needs to be made clear to. It's the viewers. It's the consumers of the information. You have just acknowledged that the pieces are being produced for the consumption of the American public, and to inform the American public - so why, then, isn't the origin of those pieces being made clear to the American public? Why is making that clear suddenly the job of the middleman TV station? Why is there no identification inside the piece as to the source? Hm. Puzzling, that. Begs the question of which stations choose to identify these segments and which don't, and why...but that's for another time.
So, Mr. McClellan - why is it that the information inside these pieces is intended for the American taxpayer and voter...but information as to who produced them is for the broadcaster? And would some reporter please do their fucking job and ask McClellan that question and not let him go until he answers it?
Okay. I have a bit of skin in this game, because I work for some highly GNOME-invested people here at the corp. Furthermore, I think I qualify (in Eugenia's books, at least) as an Evil Conspirator - I spent a great deal of time a year or so ago convincing Dave Camp that spatial navigation in a file manager was a really, really good thing (Red Hat unilaterally decided to implement spatial nautilus? It wasn't the Nautilus maintainer? Hm, well, okay) so I may up for some of this venom.
But I gotta take exception to a whole bunch of stuff said here. Let me be frank; I just think it's sort of stupid, and although I can be this blunt because this is my own blog, I just see no point in sugarcoating. The writer seems to feel that OSS developers and projects have a responsibility to the world to behave like large corporations and perform user-centric market research for feature implementation, else be punished by users (like the writer) deciding not to use their software. The problem seems to stem from the fact that these developers and projects appear to not care if these users use their software.
Big fat logical flaw, right there. But let's ignore that, for the moment. How, precisely, are these uncompensated OSS dev/projects supposed to do this? Eugenia, at the beginning of the article, notes that Novell/Sun/Redhat brushed off the problem as only applicable to their own market research and their own customers, and stated that that was fair enough because 'they had a business to run.' Well, OSS folk (sometimes) have lives - and time spent writing that software you're using has to come out of those. Coders are in fact usually the easiest to find to commit time to projects, because usually they are utilizing skills and resources they either use to support themselves anyway, or skills that they utilize for fun in their spare time and hence would be doing anyway.
Market research, though? Organized feedback and project planning? Those require a vastly different set of skills and organizational roles and resources, which are much harder to come by - and cost, either in coin or otherwise. Many fewer people (I would think) perform market surveys as a hobby. Fewer people (than code) solicit feedback on other people's work for fun. Fewer people than code on something that interests them are willing to organize groups of other people who are working for fun and try to coerce them into doing something else, without resources to offer them or means of coercion. That's called management, and precious few people can do that effectively even when given all the tools a corporate position and an orgchart make available; how many do we think have the ability to nerdherd for fun in the wild?
Some can. I've seen it. But it's not nearly as directed as some seem to imagine. It's a reality distortion game of motivation and imagination, a crowd manipulation game. It's not a project management task. That's the part that's best left to paid company employees to handle, and is one of the reasons that it's so exciting that companies like ours have actually been willing to jump into this scary arena.
In the end, what the writer of that article seems to me to be saying is that 'gee, GNOME is nice, but you people who write it aren't listening to us people who have decided to use it, and there isn't a mechanism in place whereby I can make you listen to me, and I'm going to threaten to stop using it, and hope that the threat makes you worried that you're losing 'traction' and hence pay more attention to my demands.' It's a sometimes effective tactic, I guess. But it's really whiny. Hence the title of this entry.
As others commenting on that article have noted, there are vastly more efficient and less needy ways to motivate people. Have you considered the bounty system? Money works, and if enough users want something, well, gee, put your money where your mouth is. As the article points out, 'vast numbers of users...' wanted something and it didn't get done, or hasn't gotten done, and people are willing to pony up money for it. Okay, then harness the hobby coder and put up a bounty site. Organize those rogue developers with cold hard cash. Compete with Novell/Sun/Red Hat for those coders' time and attention not with threats of firing but with the lure of lucre. Play the game. If you don't mind that those companies are in the marketplace (and you don't seem to, from your comment) then you shouldn't mind playing on their playing field, and you seem to think there are enough of you with demands to match their resources...especially if your demands aren't in conflict with theirs.
Or are your demands really all that widespread?
I knew the sellout was bad. I knew the corporate interests had their arms so far up this administration and this Congress's rectums that little brown fingers were visible behind their smiles, like small tentacles of squid-like Gods. But Good God, the sheer hypocrisy of it all..."small government", "states' rights", and "the power of the individual"...if I ever hear those phrases from a GOP flack again, I swear to God i'm going to vomit on a copy of this bill and then hand it to them.
The refuge from modern stress that is the black barbershop has received recent adulation in various media. Not least of these is the film Barbershop, a surprisingly good (in my opinion) take on the institution which concentrates mostly on setting the scene and doesn't drape too much external plot over the course of events which cover a single day.
I was in fact raised in Upper Manhattan, but not Upper (or Eastern) enough to patronize a black barbershop while growing up. Plus, my dad is nothing if not completely un-Black in phenotype. That, plus the strained race relations of the Harlem area in the 1970s meant that his taking his son in search of one might have been a bad plan despite the fact that I had hair so curly as to form mini-dreadlocks of its own accord, and a markedly darker skintone than he. As a consolation to me in my later years, I realize that he managed to take me to a worthy substitute which, while not serving as the neighborhood social center the black barbershop can, certainly contributed to my diverse ethnic exposure during my formative years.
In any case, back to the black barbershop. Many years later, my younger brother's son is turning two years old. They live in Washington, D.C. - in the area known as Dupont Circle which, before the gentrification and gay culture renaissance it experienced in the early 1990s, was nice and run-down. As my bro and I are walking over to 'get him a haircut' before the party, I get to marvel at one block of 14th street in particular. This block has (at one end) an enormous Whole Foods market, gleaming and new. Across the street, there is a new huge condo development, with associated advertising. Next to the condo, however, in the middle of the block, is a skeezy, painted-brick front bar ('pub,' my ass) with iron bars over the windows and hand-painted signage, which marks the perimeter of said upscaling. Across the street from that, next door to the Whole Foods -
...is a black barbershop.
We head in. There are five stations, three of which have barbers at them, and three or four folks seated along the wall (which, I should note, has nothing to do with whether they're waiting for a cut). My bro heads for a station in the back and negotiates a quick trim. I'm left standing in the front, marveling at the zillion-layer-brown paint on the frontage and brick; the flyblown and grilled front window, with 'BARBERSHOP' in elaborate, almost circus capitals painted on it.
"What I do you fo', young man?" The speaker is the barber with the front station - traditionally, the 'new man.' He's perhaps in his mid seventies. I stutter something about just being with my brother, and wave about helplessly for a second. He sees the opening.
"Give you a neck shave, den? Trim th' beard?"
I'm done. "Sure." I seat myself in the chair, and my barber snaps the cloth around me expertly. He is no newbie. Inside of ten seconds, he's got the chair adjusted, my head tilted slightly back, and the electric razor in his hands.
"How close you want it, boy?" (I should note I have gray hair in said beard and hair, but am beginning to realize how comforting it is to be addressed as the young guy).
"Oh, up to you, boss." This is the correct answer, I learn from his solid nod, lower lip pooched out in concentration. He turns my head back and forth once, surveying, and starts in with the razor, using short but confident strokes. No overlaps, no hesitation, a steady rhythm.
The radio tied to the shelf between my station and the next (honest, a radio; half a boom box, a handle and single speaker, antenna canted) is playing Robert Johnson, which I can certainly appreciate. At the moment, Robert is crooning about the hounds following him, and the barber next to us (who is in his sixties) says something about "Dat's good stuff, who dat?"
There is - horror - a shock of disbelief. My capillotomist misses a stroke. Doesn't make a mistake, mind, but interrupts the rhythm. Covers by switching blades and looks over his big-ass square glasses at the offender next door. "'Who dat?' God Damn, boy, what the hell you talkin' bout? You got hit on de head as a chile?"
"Aw, shut up, Curtis, don't you be goin' on about knowin' all dat. You only nine years older'n'me, nigger, don't be puttin' nothing on, takin' nothin' off-"
"WHO DAT? Dis man jus' said who dat," he announces to three waiting patrons, all of whom shake their heads in unison and on cue. "Who dat. God damn, Leroy, I swear." He continues to cut my hair, and I risk it.
"That's Robert Johnson, pops. Father of the blues. First recorded Delta Bluesman."
I can't see him, but Curtis (working on my neck) beams. "See? MMMM-hm. Dis boy knows, Leroy! Robert Johnson. Dis boy know his music."
Leroy isn't upset, but continues the argument, which I have come to realize is merely the same as 'conversation.' "Nigger, yo' sister done warn me you was an uppity mo' fo', MMMM-hm, yep, she did. I shoulda lissened, boy."
I realize, at this point (strangeness for a Northeasterner) that I am in the American South. It's funny to realize, sometimes, how far south D.C. actually can be. The hot air from outside ladles itself over my head as another customer enters, the air conditioner laboring wheezily atop the door. Greetings are exchanged; the newcomer takes up a ragged and ancient Playboy magazine from one of the green vinyl chair seats along the wall and settles in after mumbling to one of his neighbors. Curtis moves over to my cheek.
"Leroy, I cain't understand how you c'n not know yo' blues, boy. You be beltin' out dat shit ev'ry day, heah, singin' when we tell you t'shut it, MMMM-hm?"
MMMM-hm. The very phrase has settled into my head. I have to admit that I derive special sensory enjoyment from having a haircut or a beard trim, especially from a skilled barber. The touch of cold steel or swift electric will send a shiver up my spine, starting near my coccyx and dispersing rapidly upwards out my arms to my fingertips, and up my nape to the back of my skull. Unlike most shivers, though, it leaves me cool and dry, rather than nervous or sweaty, and each stroke will send the signal again. I have learned to remain perfectly still in a barber chair, the hum of the electric chattering its soft song into my ears as the teeth slide ever so lightly across my earlobes, or along my jawline. I don't sleep, but I'm not awake; the caress of the steel has my nervous system singing me to sleep in the chair. My consciousness hovers slightly above my body, well-tuned sensorium, and listens:
"...cuz we tol' his old lady that when she come in, remember?"
"...an' he didn't go anyway, stupid foo'. Hah. Heh heh heh. 'Member she come back in heah, after dat, lookin' fo' him wit' his shit in a suitcase? Wanted to throw him outta her house without gettin' her house broken throwin' stuff at him, dat foo.' "
"MMMM-hm, yup, hah."
The generic acknowledgement, it seems, a grunted but still liquid sound intended to convey the fact that the speaker is, in fact, listening despite being (to all appearances) buried intently in the latest Playboy, or the game of checkers that has sprung up on an unoccupied green vinyl seat along the wall. MMMM-hm. I can feel a laugh, one of those body-wiggling laughs of pure happiness, threatening to well up, but I sit on it firmly - it would only be misinterpreted.
"Hey, boy." Curtis appears to be addressing me, while swiping at my throat with an electric trimmer. I can't resist.
"You evah heah Robert Cray live?"
I'm in. My MMMM-hm passes muster. I feel myself settle slightly deeper into the chair, relaxed, spoiled, home.
The neck shave, beard trim and a ceremonial pass across my 'fro with the scissors (just enough to elicit the shivers) and a spritz of Elixir across my head, and we're done. I pronounce it perfect, taking joy in Curtis' visible satisfaction, and ask how much. He realizes I don't know, and I watch his lower lip get sucked in and gnawed as he debates whether to sting me out of sheer reflex. I won't be offended.
I nod soberly, hand him six, and escape into the world outside of bright lights, modern cars, Whole Foods, and find my bro (finished already) smoking one of the cigarettes his wife won't let him smoke in the house. He tosses it, stands, and we regard each other. He raises an eyebrow.
The laugh is enormous, and shared, and we amble off down the block, two men about our business.