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Ax(e)minster and other inconsequentialities.

The post office downtown has closed. And even though it isn’t the same thing (at all) as the ugly concrete barricades blocking the former parking circle in front of the Edith GreenWendell Wyatt Federal Building, a makeshift solution to a problem we will always have with us (until we decide otherwise), they’re still signs of the same dam’ thing: that my own personal slice of civic life, the convenience? the dignity? the pride, perhaps, the civic pride of being able to walk a couple of blocks from my office and buy some dam’ postage stamps from what was once the oldest post office in continual operation west of the Mississippi (yes, convenience, too. But a convenience altogether different than being able to buy said stamps at the local supermarket), that my civic life is less important than five parking spaces for 9th Circuit judges; that the desire to be seen doing something quick and dirty and starvation cheap and ultimately utterly ineffectual against a form of terrorism (rental trucks and fertilizer bombs; plastique, if you’ve got militia connections with disgruntled servicefolks, perhaps) that, outside of Ann Coulter columns, is so 1995, that this pissant little gesture (a stroke of a pen, and a dozen concrete barricades, ugly protowalls shaped like long caltrops, like these are the things you cut slices from to make the riprap tumbled at the bottom of commercial jetties, are dumped haphazardly a set distance from the foundation of the building, no cars or trucks closer than this, please) is more important than any pride one might take in appearances, in what tries to pass these days for an agora. At least Napoleon III had the gumption to rebuild the entire frickin’ city, you know?

Slapdash. —This is what I think of, walking down the sidewalk between the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (Portland Branch) and more of those dam’ barricades.

I’m reading a collection of short stories by Gary Lutz and I like them well enough. He has a flair for sentences that loop unexpectedly, nouns verbified and adjectivals adverbed not for mere ugly convenience (à la businessprech) but for a much more immediate and nebulous effect, and when it works (“I’d awelessly faked my way through a Midwestern graduate school with a dissertation two hundred and eighty-seven clawing, suffixy pages long, all of it embezzled from leaky monographs”) it works quite well indeed, and when it doesn’t (“Every night we let sleep reinflict upon us its formulary and useless terrors. Come morning, it was usually argued that we were out of place, and a map was once again pencilly roughed out”) it doesn’t so much, and though “Street Map of the Continent,” say, leaves a chill wind blowing down your spine, overall it’s mostly grey little anti-epiphanics, straitlaced recountings of the unreasonable reasons behind obsessive peregrinations that end up going nowhere much; things done not because they are done but because the words that make up the telling of them conjure interesting, evanescent new flavors in your mouth. He’s a po-faced absurdist in the same basic school (I’d say; you might say different) as Kelly Link and Ray Vukevich, but Lutz’s insistence on naturalism (thus far) anchors him, greys him, sends him spinning away from oddball presque vu into obsessive, nattering retreat, but that’s just me tagging him for not doing what he isn’t doing, not for not doing what he’s doing well, which he does do. Still. Link’s witches and Vukevich’s spacesuits end up paradoxically making their stories more open, more universal, more—more. Real(ish) people reacting appropriately (if one could ever designate what is apropos in such circumstances) to impossible stimuli, rather than people not so real(ish) because they react inappropriately (if at all) to quotidian stimuli—phones that don’t ring, dead-end jobs, that annoying neighbor in the apartment just above you. (Schizophrenia and neurosis, isn’t it?)

But I’m being hard on Lutz, whom as I said I like. Quite. Has an evident love for words and a way with sentences, a sort of brusque chivalry, at once antique and outlandish. —Even if his much-vaunted clarity isn’t, much.

Jenn’s put up some of the first entries in her Explications, some of the world-building elements behind the scenes of Dicebox which (ahem) I’ve had a hand in. One of which I’d mostly forgotten between the writing of it and now: the review of the soap opera to which Griffen is addicted, Forever Between the Light and the Dark. —And aside from the particular point I want to make about Axeminster is the sheer delight I had in coming up with the details: if you want to know what my ur-entertainment is, it’s pretty much this: an anime-bright never-ending steampunk spicepunk glitterpunk Bollywood musical soap opera. Baby, I am so there.

But. Axeminster, Adelaide. The “Axeminster” comes from MacGuyver, of all places, which neither the Spouse nor I had ever watched before. —You have to understand how we get work done, sometimes, especially in the winter: bundled up on the couch, her at the one end, me at the other, under the same afghan (and, if especially cold, a comforter, perhaps), a cat on this lap or that (the other, not so sociable, watching us dreamily from the ottoman), our respective laptops (hers snow, mine tangerine) on tray tables before us (or maybe she’s got the sketchbook, the pencils, the kneaded erasers, and is constantly asking me to hold my hand thus, to laugh so, to turn my head and smile and hold it, just for a moment, there, thanks). The television’s on more often than not, more as hearth than actual focus of attention: flashing color and flickering noise to distract the bits of the brain that would otherwise get in the way of the words you’re writing or the lines you’re drawing with a lot of hemming and hawing and second-guessing. And one of those nights the channel surfing had stopped for one reason or another on TV Land, there at the top of our expanded basic cable dial, where we found an episode of MacGuyver. Maybe it was the opening with the nuclear plant somewhere in the Middle East being MacGuyvered that hooked us, I dunno. But it turned out to be an appallingly amateurish show with those weird, washed-out ’80s TV colors and a terribly hackneyed plot. The fun came from D’Mitch Davis’s portrayal of laconic hitman Axminster, out to get Our Hero—or rather, from the way he was portrayed: a black man nattily dressed in safari-ish gear standing in the back of a jeep bossing a posse of white men in full-on camo-and-safety-orange hunting togs who’d relay the most obvious exposition to him in hastily deferential tones: “He’s just been shot, Axminster!” “Nobody’s here, Axminster!” “It’s coming from over there, Axminster!”—And all of those painfully obvious voiceovers slapped onto location shots filmed MOS and shoehorned into the narrative. The giggles got positively Pavlovian.

Since I was noodling the Forever Between review while half-watching it, the producer became Adelaide Axeminster. —All of which I’d promptly forgotten, utterly, until Jenn asked me to give the piece one more once-over last night before uploading them.

So.

For some reason, there’s a connection in the back of my brain, nebulous and inexplicable but unquestionably there: on the one hand, the difference noted above between Link and Lutz, between schizophrenia and neurosis (as it perhaps were); on the other, the fact that I react to “Full of Grace” almost entirely because of the way it was used at the very end of Buffy’s second-season finale (which was on FX not too long ago; I was cooking dinner, the Spouse taking a post-work bath, and we’ve seen this ep a dozen times, easily, but the commercial break ends at 10 till the hour and here comes the fourth act, Buffy striding down that dawnlit street with a bare sword in her hand, Xander crashing out of the woods with a rock and a lie, and the pasta water’s boiling but it doesn’t matter; the sword fight is thrilling but clumsy—Boreanaz’s stunt double has a completely different hairline, and it’s as-ever painfully obvious when it’s Gellar and when it’s Sophia Crawford—and it doesn’t matter; the dialogue hasn’t aged well in spots and the acting especially at the end with the Scooby Gang standing around hands in their pockets and bandages on their heads is, again, clumsy, and it just doesn’t matter; the Spouse is out of her bath book in hand in her red robe in the TV room dripping and it doesn’t matter, because out of all this somehow the alchemy still works its magic a dozen times over now; it’s still ten of the most shattering minutes ever on a TV show, my God; Whedon teases us with the Worst Possible Ending and then shockingly ups the ante; Buffy kisses Angel one last time and then plunges the sword into him and the look on Gellar’s face as the music crashes to the ground and out of the wreckage crawls Sarah McLachlan’s voice, the winter here is cold, and bitter…), and yet I react to Poe’s “Amazed” for almost entirely inexplicable personal reasons (which won’t stop me from giving it that old college try: it’s the maze, of course, amazing, ha, but it’s the moment when—the song has climbed up out of its nice-enough but still quotidian verse-chorus-verse into an endlessly lifting bridge that’s churning with this undeniable washing waltz of a rhythm—and then the bass and the drums drop out leaving only her voice and the melody carried by I-don’t-know-what, strings, synthesizers, it doesn’t matter, there’s a guitar in there pretending to be a sitar, I think, but so what, the words carried along willy-nill in that waltz: And here by the ocean the sky’s full of leaves, and what they can tell you depends on what you believe… and that’s it; I’m standing on a beach somewhere, the air is cold and full of water and salt and the sound of the waves, endlessly—), and yet—and yet, these two songs, two very different reasons, but the feeling itself is the same, the same: that swooping swelling presque vu that demands attention, that you stop and hold yourself motionless and let it happen to you until it’s past, it’s over, you’re done. And then.

I’m sorry. What was I saying?

  1. Glenn Peters    Apr 9, 01:42 PM    #
    I really like the use of the title attribute, but I wish I could read them all before they disappeared.

    "Full of Grace" still gives me chills, too.

    I love what the Joss and company has done with Buffy, it's still amazing. And I love how coherent it is. They had a scene in this season that referred to a specific line, where it's finally revealed to Buffy (if she's paying attention) that Xander lied to her about Angel's soul.

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