A Lot Of Calamari (No Matter How You Measure It)

May 5, 2008

Possessing what I would consider a healthy level of curiosity and interest in the world beyond my immediate surroundings, a perusal of news sites is a natural companion with coffee in the morning. Yesterday, alongside the headlines of the cyclone in Myanmar and the running of the Kentucky Derby, something else jostled for attention with my java – a giant squid.

Said squid was actually snatched from the sea a year ago by a New Zealand fishing boat – a story that I somehow missed at the time – and is back in the news because, following a year in deep freeze, scientists in New Zealand are now struggling with the best way to thaw the creature for study.

As my personal experience with thawing carcasses is limited to the annual Thanksgiving turkey, the difficulties in reverse cryogenics on an animal of this size were something I had never pondered. The entire tale of this creature provoked numerous questions the first one being who will keep the waters off Amity safe from giant squid now that Roy Scheider has passed away? The second one being why the hell has Roy Scheider made so many appearances in my entries?

Most pressing among my non-Roy Scheider related questions was exactly how big was this giant squid and how might it affect the price of calamari on the open market? The first article which I stumbled across left me unclear as the size of the squid was given in metric and because, as an American, we don’t do metric.

As a youngster, we were taught the metric system and told that, before we reached high school, metric would be the common standard of measure and it is – just not here, in the United States. The standard measure in yesterday’s Kentucky Derby is furlongs – very unmetric.

And, in an odd twist, of the three countries on the planet which don’t use the metric system, one of them (along with the US and Liberia) is currently in the headlines – Myanmar.

As for that squid, it weighed nearly one-thousand pounds.

Robyn Hitchcock – Victorian Squid
Of course, the one song I’d have with squid in the title would be by a man who has sung of balloon men, his wife and his dead wife, lightbulb heads, and fish.

Flick – Freezer Burnt
Paloma abhors freezer burn, possibly even more than Americans abhor the metric system.

Midnight Oil – Mountains Of Burma
I saw Midnight Oil on their Blue Sky Mining tour and the crowd in attendance was possibly the most diverse group I’ve ever seen at a show. The performance was shortly following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and, given the outspoken political nature of lead singer Peter Garrett, my friend and I expected an earful on the subject. Instead, his only comment regarding the subject was simply, “I hope you kids are ready for war.”

Hoi Polloi – Thaw
In yet another example of everything being connected, Hoi Polloi hails from New Zealand where, even as I write, a giant squid is being thawed.

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"I’m talkin’ about earnin’ a livin’. I’m talkin’ about sharkin’"

May 3, 2008

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but, it’s damned near impossible for me to stumble across the movie Jaws while channel surfing and not get drawn into watching. Such was the case early this morning when, while enjoying my first cup of coffee, there was Chief Brody frantically clearing the beach in Amity – which, as you undoubtedly know, means friendship – to the chagrin of Mayor Vaughan.

Paloma walked into the living room, groggily rubbing sleep from her eyes, quickly recognized Richard Dreyfuss’ bearded mug, and shook her head. Much of her dismay stems from having been slightly traumatized by viewing the movie as a young girl while growing up within a frisbee toss of the beach. She will also tell you that I have logged more hours watching the movie than your average New England fisherman has spent at sea.

Again, maybe it’s a guy thing. The record store in which Paloma and I worked for several years had an adjoining video department where my friend Rob would ritualistically show the film at least once during every shift he worked.

Here in the States, I am certain that, between three or four of our cable stations, Jaws is always showing at any given time. TNT will occasionally devote an entire day to screening the four films of the series in marathon fashion (and to slog through number four has certainly got to be akin to gritting out the final miles of an actual marathon). However, if Roy Scheider isn’t involved, I abandon ship.

The film is a classic, a wonderful piece of cinema for which I have more appreciation since reading Peter Benchley’s novel – an abysmal mess of cliché and melodrama – some time ago. Every deviation Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Carl Gottlieb made from the source material was superior and the movie still holds suspense for me no matter how many times I’ve seen Ben Gardner’s waterlogged head pop out from the hull of his boat.

Although I am capable of reciting it almost at will, Quint’s tale of the USS Indianapolis’ sinking hooks me the moment he recounts how a “Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into her side” and I remain riveted until he concludes – “Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

[I fear that someday soon there will be the inevitable CGI-riddled remake with a cast including Keanu Reeves as Chief Brody, some young cookie-cutter stud as Hooper, and Will Farrell as Quint.]

Beyond my appreciation for the artistry of the film, there’s also a psychological reason I watch. It’s hot here. The heat here today was so stifling it was as though God tossed the planet into the back of Her car and left it in there with the windows rolled up while She popped into the supermarket for a few things.

As we are landlocked, the images of cooling waters off the shores of Amity provide me with mental refreshment. It’s almost like I’m there and I don’t have to fear ending up as chum like Chrissy did while skinny dipping or that little Kintner boy (despite his mother’s admonishment that he was beginning to prune).

Blue Oyster Cult – Shooting Shark
This Blue Oyster Cult song, with it’s mysterious lyric and haunted feel, mesmerized me when I first heard it in 1983. Several years later when Patti Smith became one of my favorites, I learned that she had dated their keyboardist and written this lyric.

Tracy Bonham – Sharks Can’t Sleep
Bonham gained fame with her song Mother, Mother (off the same The Burden Of Being Upright album as this song), but seemed to get lost in the glut of post-Lilith Fair female artists. I always felt she deserved a better fate.

The Call – A Swim In The Ocean
Peter Gabriel once apparently referred to The Call as “America’s most important band,” but they never really were able to achieve more than a cult following. Lead singer Michael Been played the role of the apostle John in the movie The Last Temptation Of Christ which had a score written by Gabriel (everything’s connected). Thanks to the efforts of Roy Scheider, it is possible to go swim in the ocean off Amity Island.

Lyle Lovett – If I Had A Boat
An amazing live performer, I was fortunate enough to see him with his Large Band at the Ryman Auditorium (the original home of The Grand Ol’ Opry) in Nashville. This song was always a favorite, although it should go with saying that Quint would never have allowed a pony (or a large band) on the Orca.

Split Enz – Six Months In A Leaky Boat
If I recall correctly, this song was inspired by the conflict in the Falkland Islands. That aside, it’s a jaunty and infectious number, but probably not enough so to have kept Roy Scheider on the Orca for six days, let alone six months.


Big Fish

April 15, 2008

How far is it from a relatively obscure, failed ‘70s feature film by an Oscar-winning director to a thirty-foot, fiberglass catfish? If you said about thirty-five miles, you know too much about how Paloma and I spent our Saturday.

As we’ve been hooked on Netflix because we enjoy movies and…well..trips to the video store require leaving the couch, I’ve been delving into grainy movie memories from my childhood (several of which I’ve mentioned of late). One which I wanted to check out was Sorcerer, a 1977 film directed by William Friedkin (of The Exorcist fame) and starring Roy Scheider, who was fresh off the boat from hunting the shark in Jaws.

I’d been fascinated by the poster for Sorcerer as a kid and the viewer comments on imdb.com touted it as an underappreciated gem. The story revolves around four dodgy characters from around the globe that end up hiding out in some South American village. Through a chain of events, they become mercenaries, driving two trucks laden with nitroglycerin through the jungle at great peril (Paloma was intrigued by this concept as a potential career opportunity).

Inspired by the viewing of Sorcerer, I decided that we should take a trek of our own, sans nitroglycerin, to a small town in the middle of nowhere where a restaurant boasted their catfish to be the finest in the state. It was the giant fiberglass catfish, perched majestically atop the roof, proclaiming to all passers-by, “Here be catfish!” that captured my imagination. Paloma, ever supportive of my random whims – and won over by my assertion that such a place would certainly have pie – agreed to the venture, so long as I knew where we were going (leading to my declaration, halfway there, that “We should be going west…or maybe south.”).

In the end, the catfish was serviceable, the Mississippi mud pie was, in the words of Paloma, “divine,” the thirty-five foot catfish sign was the most life-like thirty-five foot catfish sign I’ve ever seen, and Sorcerer was gritty, suspenseful, slightly surreal and well worth the walk to the mailbox.

Sniff ‘n’ The Tears – Driver’s Seat
According to All-Music Guide, this London-based band released a trio of albums, but this song was their lone brush with greatness, but it is stellar. This wiry, nimble cut has a slight New Wave feel and a mysterious vibe about it. It seemed to be playing every day at the public pool during the summer of ’79.

Todd Rundgren – Drive
As instrumental as my friend Chris – whom I’ve mentioned in previous entries – was to exposing me to music during my formative years, so was my friend Bosco. However, where Chris had a penchant for the moody and alternative stuff, Bosco was on a decidedly more power-pop bent, turning me on to The Tubes (pre-She’s A Beauty) and The Kinks. He also was a Todd Rundgren fanatic and each new release from Runt was an event. I was always particularly fond of his The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect and Drive was a favorite from that set.

Paul Weller – Driving Nowhere
The Jam is one of Paloma’s favorite bands and they became one of mine after listening to Sound Affects numerous times with her (I can hear her singing That’s Entertainment). She was more enamored with The Style Council than I, but we both love Weller’s solo output (although it’s been difficult to follow at times here in the States).

Steve Earle – Mercenary Song
As a clerk at a record store, I waited on Steve Earle several times. The first time being the strangest and, given his well-documented struggles with addiction, I would imagine was during one of his rougher periods. That aside, he always struck me as genial and well-spoken. I certainly wish him well as I think sometimes the public allows their politics to dismiss the work of one of the more literate songwriters of his generation.