3/25/2005

Now I can finally throw them away

For some unknown reason, I horde greeting cards and post cards like a squirrel jealously guards his acorns. I think it's because I have a compulsion to maintain evidence of the fact that I do, or at least did at one time, have real-life friends. Without my postcards, I would be alone in a sad, soggy world. Soggy because global warming is melting the ice caps, you see.

Anyway, people often write things in these cards that are entertaining or amusing, especially when taken out of context. The following "Greatest Hits" package is for your enjoyment.


Italian packaging on everything is killing me. You'd think the pistachios I just opened were filled w/anthrax and thus, tightly sealed.

I am in a communist country and it is alright so far. As much as I can tell the only thing that is equal among everyone is that they are all poor.

I'm in Egypt right now cruising down the Nile and thinking how simple life would be if all you had was a donkey and a shack and a few shawls to sell to tourists.

I've been pretending to be Canadian because the world community hates America. (On a postcard from Germany, five years prior to Iraq invasion.)

I know you don't give a shit whether or not you get a postcard, but here it is so deal with it.

Dan says "hola."

... and while I still don't like people, I no longer hate them. What a month can do!

Since I've chickened out of the business you need to stay in and succeed so I can live vicariously through you and all your stories and experiences.

That advice of yours -- watch TV -- that was fucking brilliant!

London is very much like Tokyo ...

Aloha!

I just wanted to send a quick note to say "hi" and let you know that we are all there for you.

GQ and Maxim are funny and entertaining as well. Do all men think that way?

I started reading your blog ... reading it reminds me of when I longed to be a writer & I like that.

Dear Sinner,
You are going to Hell.
Signed,
Jesus
(On a postcard from the Vatican featuring a photo of the Pope.)

3/23/2005

Holloway is pissed

You may recall a previous post in which I discussed how annoying it is to run into other people with the same name as me. Feel free to click the link and refresh your memory. The point is that my first name is unusual, and I've never truly met anyone else by that name. For ease of understanding, we'll pretend my name is Holloway.

Anyway, what I left out of that previous post is that my name is growing in popularity among new parents. Keep in mind that I have only actually met one other person whose first name is Holloway in my entire life, and I'm 27 years old and I meet a lot of people. If you count movie characters, that number increases to about five. And according to the 1990 Census, my name placed 632nd in terms of most popular first names for men. I think you would be hard-pressed to think of even 300 male first names, so that means there are some pretty obscure first names that are yet more popular than mine.

Now. In 1998, my name was 88th out of the top 100 male baby names of the year, according to a poll on some dumb baby names Web site. Other Web sites showed similar, if not exactly the same, numbers. (For official stats, the Social Security Administration releases an annual list of the top 10 names, but doesn't track any further down than that. I rest assured that my name will never crack the top 10.) By 2001, Holloway had climbed to 67th place, and last year it was number 48. Note that this is higher than many normal names, such as Thomas, Kyle, Owen, Jake, Devin, Jason, Adam, Dominic, Aaron, Ian, Isaac, Robert, Eric, Brian, Seth, Will, Kevin, Sam, Patrick, Charlie, Charles, Timothy, and Henry.

This means in about 10 years or so I may find myself in the same situation as men named Kevin did when I was a kid. That is, people would find it odd that a grown man should have a name that is almost entirely associated with children. ("The Wonder Years" did much to perpetuate this belief when I was growing up. How convenient that a show that took place in the '70s but aired in the '80s featured a protagonist with a classic '80s name.)

The foreshocks of this future Holloway earthquake are already being felt. When I went to buy a DVD for my father for Christmas (or, as I call it, Annual Gift Day), the clerk at DVD-Palooza or whatever the place is called looked at my credit card and felt compelled to tell me that her brother's baby is named Holloway. Wow! You mean I have the same name as some drooling lump of flesh who shits himself every day? That's awesome. There are also a few actors who are giving their babies the same name as me. Fuckers. I didn't ask the clerk if her brother's baby was a boy. My actual name is so unusual that once in a while people are unsure which gender it is appropriate to, and there have been occasions when someone has thought it was a girl's name. By the way, before I forget, those people are assholes. And just in case you were wondering, my name does not appear even among the top 1,000 names for girls.

Yet the worst occurred last week. As I was driving along Fourth Street, minding my own business, I saw a contemporary station wagon in the lane next to me. (By contemporary station wagon, I mean a Subaru Outback or a RAV-4, something like that.) For some reason, my eye is drawn to the car's license plate frame. This is usually where people have inane jokes or lame puns, like "Faster than a speeding ticket," or where they brag about their personality flaws, like "I'm not spoiled, I just want everything." At least I have the good taste to keep my failings largely to myself. Anyway, what did I see on this particular license plate frame? Why, it says: "Holloway's Grandma."

Yes, you are correct to assume that I was very close to swerving toward that car and forcing Holloway's Grandma off the road. And yes, I do know the right way to do it. But aside from screaming, "You're not my grandma!" in a petulant wail, I did nothing. I'm not a violent criminal. I do, however, think I may change my name.

3/10/2005

While you're waiting, would you like to hear about a) sports or b) fun facts from the U.S. Census?

So when you're a journalist, you call people on the phone a lot. This also means you are frequently placed on hold, while some numbskull flack runs around their office trying to find the answer to your question, instead of simply letting you speak with the person who has the answer. Regardless, this means you get to sample a wide variety of "on hold" music and other such entertainment.

Hold music has a terrible reputation, largely because of Muzak, a Seattle-based company that has made millions of dollars selling terrible, terrible music to businesses around the world. Their stock in trade has long been taking existing music, be it good, bad, or mediocre, and destroying its very essence through the use of warbly synthesizers and inappropriate tempos. If, like me, you thought banal compositions such as Pachelbel's Canon, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, or Celine Dion's entire ouvre were as bad as they could be, you were proven incorrect by the Muzak hacks, who never met a page of music that they couldn't divest of whatever amount of soul it possessed.

This horrible company's business model has changed since the 1980s, though you should not assume that to be a good thing. While your nearest supermarket still pumps the Casio keyboard calypso version of "Candle in the Wind" and other soft-rock non-hits, Muzak's other market -- bad music written specifically for use in telephones, elevators and local cable channels -- has grown by leaps and bounds. Yes, no longer are music composition Ph.D.'s shunned from every job in the marketplace except conducting church choirs (which, if you've seen "Sister Act," you already know is not a real job in any sense of the word). The growth of the on-hold music industry has given these maladjusted wannabe Europeans a new opportunity: composing bad music.

It is fair to say that many music majors would spend their time composing unlistenable music anyway, so this state of events is not necessarily all that bad. At least this way they can bring home an extra $300 or so each year, to spend on blank staff paper that they will soon fill with furiously atonal 16th notes. Great. But the question at the root of this discussion is whether it is better for the rest of us.

With the proliferation of Muzak, it was far more common to see someone in the elevator, or on the phone, or in the supermarket aisle, who was holding very still with a thoughtful expression on their face as they tried to figure out what is that song? Then their expression would turn to pain when they realized it was "Fields of Gold" performed on a Yamaha keyboard's "crystal waves" patch. On the one hand, it's nice that we have to put up with such nonsense less frequently. Yet the trade-off is that those aural spaces are now occupied, more often than not, by the clueless wanderings of some untalented Burt Bacharach imitator -- or, (thankfully) less often, a frustrated Schoenberg disciple. Is it better to not even know what that horrible sound is?

I should point out that I have no intention of tarring all composers of incidental music with the same brush. Many are quite skilled, and I have actually enjoyed some music I heard while on hold, waiting for the assistant to the Morristown public works director to find out whether the new city information kiosk would be painted brown or gray. There's some interesting stuff out there. Funk-inspired, ethereal, understated. It's rare, but I've occasionally stumbled onto something worth listening to. Better than Jack Johnson, anyway.

I have a CD called "Electro Soul," which is a collection of what's called library music -- background cues that were recorded for TV shows to be used over and over again, in various repeated scenarios. The music is largely from '70s cop shows, and as you can guess from the title, it consists of funky synthesizer grooves designed to fit into a chase scene from a cheap "Shaft" ripoff on that decade's version of UPN. Talk about a great CD. I highly recommend it. Anyway, as I was on hold with the Department of Boring Municipalities the other day, I had a brilliant idea. Dare I mention it, since, as we have already seen, no less a publication than MAD Magazine is ripping off my blog? Whatever, you've already guessed what my idea is anyway. Someone should collect good "on hold" music and release the CD.

Obviously, you wouldn't hear any of that stuff on the radio, and such a recording would never sell more than 1,000 copies over the course of ten years. But I think the composers who actually know what they're doing would appreciate the recognition. Besides, some of them might be somebody some day. My library music compilation has a track by Walter Murphy, composer of the catchy yet morally wrong "A Fifth of Beethoven," so it's entirely possible that some future Brian Eno is currently writing smooth bebop for the Pillsbury customer service hotline.

If you're confused by the subject line on this post, let me close out with a brief series of anecdotes. Not every company that puts you on hold plays bad music. Often they bombard you with commercials about their own products, or, in the case of Southwest Airlines, they bombard you with their own brand of stupid humor. I was treated to a similar experience today when I called the U.S. Census Bureau, and the flack put me on hold, thus exposing me to Fun Facts About The United States. Did you know the telephone was invented 129 years ago, and that today there are more than 260 million phone lines in the United States? This and more information can be found at www.census.gov. My personal favorite, however, is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who, when they put you on hold, play the audio from old baseball games, with an emphasis on great Dodger moments. No matter how many times I hear Vin Scully call Kirk Gibson's 1988 World Series Game One home run, I get chills. "High fly ball into right field ... she is gone!" Maybe that should be on the CD as well.

3/03/2005

At least it knows how to spell "spell"

The spellcheck mechanism on blogger doesn't recognize the word "blog."

Maybe someone should fix that.

You know. Since they do blogs.