Top Albums of the 1980s

While preparing my year-end review entry (coming Friday), I began ruminating about the music I grew up with. How much of it is truly great twenty years later? What were the best albums of the 1980s? (Using Garrison Keillor’s definition of “good” as discussed yesterday, which albums are “sticky”?)

Here are my favorite albums from the 1980s:

15. Culture Club – Colour By Numbers (1983)
One of only two albums I ever shoplifted (a story for another time), this was destined to become one of my favorites for years. I’d been mildly interested by the songs from Culture Club’s first album — particularly “Time (Clock of the Heart)” — but I fell in love with the obtuse “Karma Chameleon”. So much in love that I was willing to steal this from the PayLess Drugs in Woodburn. To my surprise, the entire album was impressive, breezy and light, soulful and true in a way I’d never heard before. (I was only fourteen.) To this day Boy George’s melodramatic “Victims” makes me misty.

14. Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (1988)
Though it’s her song “Crossroads” that’s become a personal anthem, Tracy Chapman’s debut album has stuck with me more than the follow-up. I don’t listen to it much anymore, but I think of it often. I used to hate “Fast Car”, but now that I’m older, its lyrics have more resonance. The entire album — a testament to growing up poor and black — might seem irrelevant to a young white man like me, but something about it got in my soul, wormed its way into my center and stayed there. This is a fine album.

13. Asia – Asia (1982)

Yes, I’m serious. This and its follow-up (1984’s Alpha) were two of our most-listened-to albums growing up. This album was the first that Jeff and I bought with our own money. It was the first album I bought from the iTunes Music Store. Why do I love it so much? The power chords! The cheesy lyrics! The bouncy synths! This is accessible 80s power rock at its finest.

12. Duran Duran – Rio (1982)
I was a sensitive boy, almost a fop. Duran Duran’s sparkling emotionalism made me feel at home. These guys wore their hearts on their sleeves. Forget “Hungry Like the Wolf”. This album’s gems were songs like “Lonely in Your Nightmare”, “Hold Back the Rain”, and “Save a Prayer”. I was just feeling the first pangs of teenaged angst when this was released, and it helped to ease the pain. This album is a pleasure to hear now, a smooth ride down Memory Lane.

11. Billy Joel – Greatest Hits vol. 1 and 2 (1985)

Billy Joel? Yes, Billy Joel. His music was always there in the background as I was growing up — and I loved his mournful tune “An Innocent Man” — but I never really heard him until he released this double-album. It’s filled with one great song after another: “Piano Man”, “Entertainer”, “Stranger”, “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”, “Movin’ Out”, “My Life”, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, “She’s Got a Way”, “Allentown”, “Goodnight Saigon”, ad infinitum. There’s something comforting in Joel’s voice, something that feels like home.

10. Paul Simon – Graceland (1986)
The critical darling of 1986 (along with Peter Gabriel’s “So”), Graceland seemed inaccessible to me at first. I bought it on a trip to the beach, a date with Lena Doak. We listened to it on the ride home, and I didn’t know what to make of it. This didn’t sound like the Simon and Garfunkel stuff I’d grown up with. It was all, well, African and stuff. In time, however, I wore my tape out. I listened to it that much (especially the beginning to “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”). In college, this was one of those albums everyone owned, and you could hear wherever you went on campus. (But especially at The Bistro.)

09. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A. (1984)
I used to hate the songs from this album, an album that I’ve never actually owned. Yet so many songs from this — seven — were radio singles that I feel I know the album well. And now that I’m older, I appreciate it more. These songs weren’t written for a fifteen-year-old; they were written for a thirty-year-old. Or forty-year-old. These are songs of growing older, of living life. These are songs about real people in real situations, a sharp contrast to the fluff I was listening to at the time.

08. Prince – Purple Rain (1984)

A brilliant album! This was like a shock to the head when I first heard it, so different from anything else I knew. Raw, emotional, direct. I remember sitting in Nicole‘s bedroom, the two of us raving about Purple Rain. There were a number of popular singles from this album, but it really works best as a single whole. I used to love when “Purple Rain” was played at a high school dance; the song wasn’t particularly sexy, but it was a slow song and what? six or seven minutes long. Awesome! Sad to say, I no longer own this album in any form. I’ll have to fix that, and soon.

07. Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
Yes, Michael Jackson has become a joke, a faint parody of himself. And even in 1982 and 1983 people mocked him. But that doesn’t change the fact that Thriller was everywhere back then. It charted top-10 singles for a year. The songs were simple but catchy. Even the cool kids on the back of the bus listened to this album (though only for “Beat It”, which they played as loud as they could on their boomboxes). Once in a while, when Kris is not home, I listen to Thriller. It’s only human nature.

06. Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual (1984)
Probably another surprise to many of you, but not if you know me well. This album is amazing, filled with track after track of great music. I consider “Time After Time” to be the #2 song of the 1980s — “Every Breath You Take” is #1, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” is #3 — but everything here is good: “When You Were Mine”, “Money Changes Everything”, “All Through the Night”, “Witness”, etc. The b-sides to the singles were also fantastic. It’s hard to remember it now, but there was a time when Cyndi Lauper was just as popular as Madonna. To my mind, she’s certainly the better musician. (Note: one reason this album was great was that Lauper’s back-up band was The Hooters, a group that produced the minor hits “And We Danced” and “All You Zombies”.)

05. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Welcome to the Pleasuredome (1984)

Now we’re getting to the really good stuff. To most people, Frankie Goes to Hollywood is all about one song: “Relax”. This is sad because “Relax” is only a minor part of this double-album masterpiece. And make no mistake, Welcome to the Pleasuredome is a masterpiece. From the opening of “The World is My Oyster” to the rampaging “Welcome to the Pleasure Dome”, the first of this album’s four sides sweeps the listener along at breakneck speed, sixteen minutes of bliss. The second side is more pop-oriented, featuring the singles “Relax”, “War”, and “Two Tribes”. The second record returns to a moody, breathtaking exploration of love and lust, highlighted by the outstanding erotic “The Ballad of 32”. This album caused me great alarm in the mid-eighties; I was certain that homosexuality was a diabolic practice, and the openly gay themes espoused on the album — one song is “Krisco Kisses” — bugged me. But I liked the music. Ah, the moral dilemmas of youth.

04. The Cure – The Head on the Door (1985)

I was an angst-filled sixteen-year-old, and this record was the soundtrack to my life. It’s filled with songs of sorrow and pain: “Baby Screams”, “Screw”, “Sinking”. Yet through it all runs a thread of hope — “Close to Me” fairly breathes with life and love. Twenty years later, this album remains one of my favorites. What’s more, I love any song that covers a tune from The Head on the Door. I can’t help it. I’ve a weak spot for them. (My favorite is Ben Folds’ cover of “In Between Days”, a roaring piano-pop interpretation.)

03. Indigo Girls – Indigo Girls (1989)
I was driving to Portland to see Amy Ratzlaf, who had just returned from a year in Germany. A folk song came on the radio, but one like I’d never heard before. I loved it. When the announcer identified it — “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls — I pulled off at the nearest exit to buy the album. And that was just the beginning of the rest of my life. Amy and Emily have been a constant presence in our lives for fifteen years. We try to see them in concert whenever they’re in town. Check out my latest audioscrobbler list. What group have Kris and Iistened to in the past three months? The same group we listen to most in any three month period: the Indigo Girls. I like to think that Kris and I are responsible for spreading the Indigo Girls around Willamette, largely due to the fact that we pushed them on our friends, and Kris played them all the time in The Bistro.

02. U2 – War (1983)
I’ve written before about my love affair with U2. This is where it all began. A cold, bleak album discovered during a cold, bleak winter. War is a raw and wonderful work from men who have something to say (a decided contrast to their overhyped and shitty How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, released last month — a shoe-in for worst album of the year). The songs here are haunting and beautiful, from the bleak “New Year’s Day” to the angry “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to the peaceful, hopeful “40”. It’s hard to imagine a better album…

01. U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
…but here it is. My favorite album of the 1980s. A true masterpiece. U2 steered from their standard power-rock to something more ethereal here, producing an album of kaleidoscopic sounds. True, there aren’t many catchy singles to grab hold of — “Pride (In the Name of Love)” comes closest. The Unforgettable Fire begins quietly with the gentle lyrics of “A Sort of Homecoming”:

And you know it�s time to go
Through the sleet and driving snow,
Across the fields of mourning —
Light in the distance.

And you hunger for the time,
Time to heal, desire, time —
And your earth moves beneath
Your own dream landscape.

A dream landscape is what U2 created with this album. A dream landscape that’s difficult to explain, a dream landscape that must be heard. The centerpiece is “Bad“, a tender lament about drug addiction (to be echoed later in The Joshua Tree‘s “Running to Stand Still”). The other songs are wonderful, too, and they lead perfectly into the coda, the gentle “MLK”.

Obviously this list is biased toward the first half of the decade. I sincerely believe that’s when the best music was being produced, but more than that, I didn’t buy as much music after I graduated from high school. I lost touch with pop culture. (And that’s not a bad thing.)

Also — just as obviously — this is a list of my favorite albums, the ones that have stuck with me. These aren’t the only albums I like from the 1980s, but only the ones that have stuck with me most. There are many other albums hovering just off the list that I think are very, very good. (Stuff from The Police, Dire Straits, a-ha, New Order, ABC, Stevie Nicks, etc.)

And that’s how you turn a two-minute meditation on your drive to work into a two-hour weblog entry. It’s a good thing it’s a slow time at work right now…


On 29 December 2004 (10:33 AM),
pril said:

i’ve kind of avoided blogging about my favorite 80s music. it would take me weeks upon weeks to get it all out.

I agree about U2 though. I thought Gloria, Boy, War, Live at Redrocks, and the Unforgettable Fire were the good ones. And Rio.. John Taylor was the bass player than made me perk up my ears and think, “wow, i want to play that instrument”. He was my favorite d2 guy, too. he had the best hair and the nicest smile ;P I’ve recently discovered, too, that i like Billy Joel a lot more than i thought I did. I’ve got a double-album greatest hits thing i ended up with and it is fab.

I would add Aztec Camera’s “High Land Hard Rain” and Guadalcanal Diary’s debut album, and Del Amitri’s debut album (so much better than anything they’ve released since) and the Alarm’s “The Stand”. I became a raving, slobbering New Model Army fan sometime in 1985 or so, and still adore everything of theirs. And then there’s the punk stuff – a whole other comment/post/etc. “walk among us” by the Misfits (’81 i think?), Dr. Know’s albums, The Descendents, TSOL with the first Jack (Dance with Me, etc)…

The 80s had a lot of really fantastic stuff. That’s for sure. And even though i don’t like the song, “Bad Medicine” by Bon Jovi will always remind me of hauling down the road to get to my college classes on time in my friend’s chartreuse Fiat Spyder as it rattled down the road.

On 29 December 2004 (11:00 AM),
Paul said:

That top ten list reflected your musical taste very well from my perception which is based on a lot of musical interaction with you during those days in the 80s.

My musical taste reflects a lot of your influence. You loved to look for singles and in hopes of finding great b-side releases from sythnpop groups like Frankie, The Cure, Soft Cell and so many others. Those 12″ remixes and b-sides demonstrated a much deeper electronic experimentation than the radio singles that most people listening to. Most of these remixes found there way on to your mixed tapes. Those were cherished items in my world. You had the wax, the tapes, the double tape player/recorder and the time & creativity to make those nostalgic artifacts. This has evolved to my enjoying artists like Flunk, Kosheen, Hooverphonic and Dirty Vegas.

I still have a hard time making a mix without judging myself against your production specifications. I watched many times while you re-recorded a song because you stopped it a tad too early or started a song too early which would upset the delicate time lag between songs. I also remember searching our collective memories trying to come up with a song that would fill in say the last 2:18 of a mixed tape.

Thanks for those experiences!

On 29 December 2004 (01:43 PM),
Denise said:

There is no Cheap Trick on this list.

I am appalled.

On 29 December 2004 (02:13 PM),
sennoma said:

Have you listened to the new U2 album? I think it’s terrific, and from your comments here I think you’d like it too.

On 29 December 2004 (02:55 PM),
Scott said:

Ah but I must differ Mr. Roth.

Nine Inch Nail’s Pretty Hate Machine (1989) is a groundbreaking work that from first listen to last still sounds original and fresh. No other album listed above can make that claim.

On 29 December 2004 (03:18 PM),
sennoma said:

Heh, I don’t read so good do I? You said above you didn’t like the album! D’oh.

On 29 December 2004 (04:21 PM),
Emily said:

Ah, to be a music lover of the 1980s…we are lucky enough to have an 80s radio station in my area. I agree with most of your album picks, I would have to lean a little more new-age. While listing to most of the above, I was a huge fan of Depeche Mode (5 concerts), The Smiths, INXS, New Order, Soft Cell, Love & Rockets (2 concerts, one with you), The Cure (that you mentioned, 2 concerts), Pet Shop Boys (1 concert) etc. I was drawn to the not-happy music that sang about pain from my age or older. I liked knowing that things were not always better then you get older, you still had hard break and loss. PIL was my angry music.

There was that group that did not fit in… Oingo Boingo (4 concerts all on Halloween). OB was my happy band; I could put them in and dance around. I still hold out hope that D Elfman will go bank to making music for the radio instead of movies.

On 30 December 2004 (06:09 AM),
Amanda said:

The Unforgettable Fire is by far my favorite U2 album. It seems to be overlooked in favor of the much-hyped The Joshua Tree, also brilliant, but The Unforgettable Fire is, to me, their masterpiece.

On 31 December 2004 (09:46 PM),
J.D. Roth said:

Holy cats. Kris pointed out that I left off one of my favoritest albums of all time, one that could fit in on the list anywhere from #1 to #5.

Sinead O’Connor’s debut, The Lion and the Cobra contains some of the rawest, most powerful songs I’ve ever heard. It’s a sonic wall. Sinead’s voice is a force of nature. “Troy” is one of my favorite songs of all time. How could I have forgotten this album?

Also, 10,000 Mainiac’s In My Tribe ought to have made the list. I’ve listened to that album a lot over the past fifteen years.

Thanks, Kris, for jolting my memory.

On 26 July 2005 (02:37 PM),
Jim said:

No R.E.M.? No Clash? No Husker Du? Shame!

On 26 July 2005 (02:40 PM),
Jim said:

Top Ten Albums of the 1980s?

10) “Green”-R.E.M.
9) “New Day Rising”- Husker Du

8) “Combat Rock”- The Clash
7) “Meat Is Murder”- The Smiths
6) “Cargo”- Men At Work
5) “Spike”- Elvis Costello
4) “Oranges and Lemons”- XTC
3) “Saint Julian”- Julian Cope
2) “Music For The Masses”- Depeche Mode
1) “Murmur”- R.E.M.

On 20 September 2005 (06:41 PM),
Kon said:

Two words – Sonic Youth.

Good Poems

Warning: I use a lot of blockquotes in today’s entry. Because of this, those of you still using Internet Explorer are going to have display issues. (Do yourself a favor and nab Firefox.)

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

— John Keats, from Endymion

I used to love poetry.

In high school, I was obsessed with it. I read it often. I wrote it often. It was an integral part of my life.

I grew older, though, and somehow less poetic. Perhaps I grew too content. Perhaps I simply stopped viewing the world through the eyes of a poet, or the eyes of a writer. Whatever the case, poetry was dead to me.

That’s no longer the case. Over the past few years, I’ve rekindled my love for poetry. While I used to be fond of free verse and blank verse, I find that now I’m inclined to like the rigid, structured stuff: poems with strong rhythm and meter, poems that rhyme.

Like this one.

She Walks in Beauty
by George Gordon, Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

It seems to me that anyone can write a poem without meter, without rhyme, but it takes a special genius to construct a thing of beauty within the confines imposed by the traditional poetic structure.

Still, a good poem is a thing of beauty, no matter its structure:

Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees –
Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Or this:

Mending Wall
by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Courtney loaned me a book the other day: Good Poems, an anthology edited by Garrison Keillor collecting poems he’s read over the years on his Writer’s Almanac. In the introduction, Keillor writes: “Stickiness, memorability, is one sign of a good poem. You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan.”

I like this definition. (And not just for poetry. All good things are “sticky”.)

And I like the anthology. It truly is filled with little gems, such as:

Summer Storm
by Dana Gioia

We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.

We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
To keep our dress clothes dry
And watched the sudden summer storm
Floodlit against the sky.

The rain was like a waterfall
Of brilliant beaded light,
Cool and silent as the stars
The storm hid from the night.

To my surprise, you took my arm —
A gesture you didn’t explain —
And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
Might imitate the rain.

Then suddenly the storm receded
As swiftly as it came.
The doors behind us opened up.
The hostess called your name.

I watched you merge into the group,
Aloof and yet polite.
We didn’t speak another word
Except to say goodnight.

Why does that evening’s memory
Return with this night’s storm —
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?

There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won’t stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.

And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.

Why is it that I’m drawn to melancholy poems? Perhaps this goes hand-in-hand with my theory that only the unhappy can produce truly great poetry.

The Loft
by Richard Jones

I lay on the bed
while she opened windows
so we could see the river
and the factories beyond.
Afternoon light falling
beautifully into the room,
she burned candles,
incense, talking quietly
as I listened —
I, who conspired
to make this happen,
weaving a web of words that held
the moment at its center.
What could I say now?
That I am a man
empty of desire?
She stood beside the bed,
looking down at me,
as if she were dreaming,
as if I were a dream,
as if she too had come
to the final shore of longing.
I lay, calm as a lake
reflecting the nothingness
of late summer sky.

The real problem is that Keillor’s collection is filled with too many good poems. I want to share them all. (That’s hyperbole, by the way, as you can probably guess. Still, there are many, many good poems here.)

Romantics: Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann
by Lisel Mueller

The modern biographers worry
“how far it went,” their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone’s eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving us nothing to overhear.


Sonnet XLIII
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

I must stop. Must stop.

Oh, okay, one more:

Hay for the Horses
by Gary Snyder

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
   behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
   sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
—The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds—
“I’m sixty-eight” he said,
“I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that’s just what
I’ve gone and done.”

These are good poems. I love good poems.

I still love poetry.

Here, then, are some good links, a sort of effort to spread the poetic mood.

First, from the archives of this weblog, you can find the aforementioned Writer’s Almanac entry. I also once wrote about the great poet Langston Hughes, so recently re-vilified by the radical Right. I spent an entry adoring the poem To Posterity by Bertolt Brecht. I wrote about the Wine, Cheese, and Poetry dinner party that Kris and I hosted a couple of years ago (and plan to host again in 2005 — sennoma, want to come?). Finally, I shared a similar Poetical Interlude over a year ago, at which time I shared my favorite poems: The Sunlight on the Garden by Louis MacNeice, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne, Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Also, among my fellow webloggers, Caterina has a penchant for poetry (and for art in general), as does sennoma. Go give them a read.


On 28 December 2004 (11:42 AM),
AmJo said:

HHave you read Seamus Heaney? If not, you might find his work interesting (follow this link to hear/read his Nobel Prize speech: I like this sentiment very much: “I credit poetry, in other words, both for being itself and for being a help, for making possible a fluid and restorative relationship between the mind’s centre and its circumference.” We began reading his work in earnest while traveling in Ireland. Another poet you might like and probably already know is Mary Oliver. Wild Geese is an amazing poem:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

On 29 December 2004 (06:33 PM),
Courtney said:

“Wild Geese” is one of my favorite poems! It is also in Keillor’s “Good Poems”. Glad you’re enjoying the collection J.D.

On 03 January 2005 (11:58 PM),
sennoma said:

Can’t figure out how to trackback (may be that I’m using Moz), so: (thanks JD, we’d love to be part of your next poetry evening).

Love, Actually

Kris and I have both remarked recently how pleasant these past few weeks have been. Generally, December seems less magical than chaotic. This year, however, we’ve been pleased to spend quality time with the important people in our life.

Friend Thanksgiving was a harbinger for the entire holiday season.

Early in December, Kris and I hosted our eleventh annual Friend Thanksgiving. This event has become one of the highlights of our year. We spend months constructing the menu. We meticulously plan the guest list for maximum jovial interaction. We work for days to prepare the house and the food.

This year’s gathering, I’m pleased to say, was a smashing success.

We actually hosted a small, test dinner early in November. Andrew and Courtney were expecting Henry soon, and Dave and Karen would be out of town (plus, Dave’s allergies play havoc with any menu). We invited these two couples to test our recipes. It helped. We were able to makes some minor adjustments to improve a couple of the dishes.

What did we eat this year? We had:

  • A bread plate featuring three tapenades: black olive, green olive, and sun-dried tomato.
  • A lovely impromptu salad of spinach, smoked salmon, and hard-boiled egg.
  • Carrot soup with nutmeg créme fraiche and grated orange zest.
  • Pepper encrusted beef tenderloin with chives and buttered new potatoes.
  • A nice cheese plate with double gloucester (my favorite cheese) and havarti, served with honey, apples, and pistachios.
  • A dark chocolate truffle tart with whipped marscapone, and a maple pecan crisp.

There was hot mulled wine to drink, as well as various other libations. (There were no gin and tonics, however. Kris mistakenly bought club soda instead of tonic water. Jeremy found this out the hard way.)

Despite the obligatory fight over the table layout (can any couple set up tables for a dinner party without fighting?), we arrived at a splendid seating arrangement. We were not disappointed. Our guests were jocular and verbose, easily becoming acquainted with even those whom they had not previously met.

The evening was warm, the atmosphere genial, the food delicious.

(For more on this dinner party, see Lisa’s picture-filled entry.)

The holiday season began well when our family Thanksgiving was enjoyable instead of a chore. Since Tony has left the business, we see little of him. His presence is now a special occasion instead of a daily occurrence. The food was good, and the conversation relaxed and friendly (instead of forced). It was nice.

We’ve also participated in a number of successful dinner parties during the past month, including Craig’s birthday party, our Friend Thanksgiving, Mac and Pam’s Christmas Eve Eve gathering, and a lovely meal with the MNF group at the Rose of Sharon in Silverton. We’ve been to a couple of Christmas parties, and a smallish family reunion, all of which were low-key and fun.

And through it all, we’ve found time to visit with friends one-on-one. Kris saw Linda and Coleen, former co-workers and good friends. We had a fantastic meal at Paley’s Place with Paul and amy Jo last week. Dana was in town this weekend; Andrew and I spent the afternoon with her, discussing our lives and needling each other.

This holiday season has, for once, been memorable.

Our family Christmas was, by tradition, on Christmas Eve day.

Kris and I spent a quiet Christmas Day together. We slept in. We did a few chores. We petted the cats. We made a beef stew. And we watched a lot of movies.

Since I happened to get Meet Me in St. Louis, one of Kris’ favorite holiday films, in my stocking (thanks, parents-in-law!), we watched it in the afternoon. We also watched Love Actually, which is — perhaps surprisingly — one of my favorite holiday films. It’s a silly movie on many levels, yet ultimately I love its theme: that love is a complicated thing, capable of manifesting itself in many, many different forms. In the evening, before bed, we watched the decidedly non-holiday It Happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.

It was a very nice Christmas.

It’s been a lovely holiday season.


On 27 December 2004 (08:37 AM),
Emily said:

I really enjoy ‘Love Actually’ also. It was the one holiday movie that I picked to watch this season when I needed a little help with my Christmas spirit.

On 27 December 2004 (10:52 AM),
Betsy said:

I found ‘Love Actually’ to be an unexpected pleasure – I’d been warned off it by several overly-cynical friends who thought it was over-the-top and overly schmaltzy, among other issues.

They were Wrong.

On 27 December 2004 (08:35 PM),
m/a/z/e said:

Whoa. I went to high school with that guy (Craig).

-a former refugee of Steller High School.

On 28 December 2004 (08:39 AM),
Craig said:

Whoa is right. There are very few Steller survivors around these parts; that I know of atleast.

Who are you m/a/z/e? I looked at your blog(s) but the only photo I found of you was of the back of your head. Send me an email, or I suppose I should send you one. (I hope I wasn’t a jerk to you in high school, I had that tendency back then.)

On 29 December 2004 (03:12 PM),
m/a/z/e said:

We’re in the same yearbook. You weren’t a jerk to me, I don’t think we ever actually talked-different crowds, I was one grade behind you. That and I didn’t have much use for school back then. I don’t have your e-mail so if you want leave some feedback via my site and I’ll get back to you.

Man vs. Skunk: A Photo-Essay

Regular foldedspace readers are aware that we’ve been harboring a skunk under the office for the past two months. The odor was fairly strong at the end of October, but faded for several weeks until erupting in a perfect storm of stench earlier this month.

Today, I’d had enough. I made it my crusade to eliminate this odor from our lives. Here’s the story of J.D. vs. the skunk.

This is the old trailer house in which our offices are housed.

[photo of trailer house in which our offices are housed]

My office is on the left-most end of the trailer. It is from here that the odor emanated. It was strong. It was nauseating. It was unbearable. We evacuated my office, moving all necessary paperwork and computers to other offices. When the smell would not go away, we called in a company called the Critter Gitters. They set a trap in order to lure the skunk from under the house.

[photo of the skunk trap that did not work]

We left the trap outside for about a week, but to no avail. No skunk. Last night, it dawned on me: a whole host of factors seemed to indicate that the skunk might not be alive to take the bait; it was likely that the skunk was dead. This seemed so probable, in fact, that I prepared to crawl under the trailer to retrieve the corpse without taking any pre-cautions in case I might encounter a live animal (or worse, more than one).

[photo of the Vicks VapoRub box]

I bought a box of Vicks VapoRub. (I was just going to buy Vaseline, but Kris noted that Vaseline doesn’t really have much of an odor.) Would this stuff work?

[photo of the opened Vicks VapoRub]

It certainly had a strong odor of its own! I applied liberal gobs of it to my moustache and to my nose (including inside my nostrils).

[photo of my applying Vicks VapoRub]

Ouch! Ouch! Vicks VapoRub burns when applied in large doses. And it smells awful.

[photo of my VapoRub covered moustache]

It smells no worse than skunk, though. Fully armed with two flashlights, the digital camera, a garbage bag, a dustpan, some eye protection, and a pair of gloves, I set off to find my skunk.

[photo of me, ready to go]

There’s no easy way to maneuver under the trailer house. The crawlspace is small, especially toward my office. I simply sucked it up and dove in…

[photo of me crawling under the trailer house]

The ground under the trailer is basically solid earth. Or, at this time of the year, a cold, hard mud made damp from weeks of rain. Much of the trailer’s underlayment has been torn away, and insulation hangs in wads. I’m almost certain this damage was caused by the three ornery boys who grew up here.

[photo of the crawlspace beneath the trailer house]

It took some time to determine the best path. Eventually, I opted to skirt the edge of the house, crawling around the wheelbase.

[photo of the path I took]

My second obstacle was the sewer pipe. I thought about crawling under it, but elected to go around again.

[photo of the sewer pipe]

Soon after, though, I found myself stuck, wedged between a metal joist and the sloping ground. I had to crawl backward to get out from under the house. I removed my jacket and my sweatshirt, leaving only a turtleneck. Minimal protection, but my body was much thinner now. This time, I made it through the tight place. Almost immediately, I found the dead villain.

[photo of the distant skunk]

It took several more minutes of maneuvering to reach the body. It was a tight fit, as I’ve said. And the whole time, the skunk’s scowling face stared at me. His little black beady eyes were knowing and evil. They gave me the heebie-jeebies. Oh, and let’s not forget the stench. Even though I was making every effort not to breathe through my nose, it took enormous discipline to keep from wretching. It would not have been fun to crawl through my own vomit. By breathing through my mouth, I avoided most of the stench, though my throat did begin to burn.

[photo of the dead skunk]

I wrestled the skunk into the garbage bag, and then dragged it outside.

[photo of me back outside]

I felt triumphant! I also felt sick. Though the Vicks VapoRub did a fine job of suppressing the smell, I could taste the musky foulness.

[photo of the dead skunk resting on the lawn]

What then to do with the skunk? “Throw it in the trash!” suggested Jeff. This seemed like an awful thing to do, simply shifting the odor to somebody else. “Burn it!” he said, but I was worried about the stench of burning flesh. Eventually, we hit upon an imperfect solution: we buried the thing on the furthest corner of the property, near the road.

[photo of me digging the grave for the skunk]

Now we’re waiting for the trailer to de-odorize. Most of the rooms already smell fine. My office, however, stinks, probably because the skunk died just below it. Perhaps, too, it stinks because Nick dowsed all of the draperies in vinegar. sigh


On 21 December 2004 (02:09 PM),
pril said:

you are one brave mofo, JD. That’s all i can say. 😉

On 21 December 2004 (02:14 PM),
Scott said:

J.D. wins best post of the year. Hands down.

On 21 December 2004 (02:17 PM),
Denise said:

Ok, that is probably the scariest and stinkest thing I can imagine. That dead skunk picture is disgusting. I can’t believe you did that. Being under the house would have scared the heebie jeebies out of me just on it’s own, let alone having to find THAT thing and bag it!

Thank goodness I am NOT a man and will never have to crawl around under a house looking for dead varmints.

On 21 December 2004 (02:27 PM),
mac said:

next task? Find the skunk’s mode of entry and bar any future spelunking by J.D. Unless he secretly liked it.

On 21 December 2004 (02:34 PM),
Kris said:

How will he smell when he gets home, I wonder? Great job, Custom Box Hero!

On 21 December 2004 (02:35 PM),
J.D. said:

Find the skunk’s mode of entry, Mac? You mean any one of the dozen places where the skirting is missing? 🙂

I keep meaning to post this anecdote. It’s funny (and skunk related), though it’s also a bit like the whisky anecdote:

One day last week I had to spend a couple of hours in the office before visiting customers. Though I couldn’t smell skunk on my clothes when I left, I knew the odor was there. “I can’t make sales calls smelling like a skunk,” I thought. “What can I do?”

It occurred to me that I should stop by home and pick up my pipe. I did so. I puffed it in the car for about ten minutes, bathing in the rich aroma of cherry tobacco.

When I got to my first appointment, I realized that I probably smelled like Tony used to: like the butt end of a cigarette. I took a ten minute walk, hoping the odor would fade.

As I carried the Christmas basket (filled with tons of goodies) into my customer’s office, I noticed a “Proud to be a Non-Smoking Workplace” on the door. Great.

I greeted the client with a hearty “Ho ho ho”. The basket was well-received. But after a minute or so, the client frowned — only slighlty — and backed a step away from me.

After this, I drove around for twenty minutes with all my windows rolled down, hoping the cold, brisk wind would all the odors from my body.

I’ve had a disproportionate number of Idiot Stories this winter, haven’t I?


On 21 December 2004 (02:47 PM),
Jeff said:

The most obvious mode of entry for mr. skunk would be the very same mode of entry used by JD to retrieve said skunk.

On 21 December 2004 (03:11 PM),
Mom (Sue) said:

Don’t worry, Kris, my shower was used to remove whatever residual odor there may have been from J.D. (although he didn’t smell like skunk when he came down here, amazingly enough). There is a bit of the mud from under the trailer house in my back entryway and bathroom, and Silver was spooked by J.D.’s muddy shoes left in the back entryway until I took them outside. I don’t know if that was because of J.D.’s scent or the skunk’s. 🙂

On 21 December 2004 (05:14 PM),
Courtney said:

How did you get the skunk to show his pearly whites? That’s what I want to know.

Thanks for bringing levity to an otherwise dark day. I needed a good story and a good laugh!

On 21 December 2004 (10:15 PM),
Joel said:

Congratulations, very bravely done! Is there a skunk-retrieval bonus at CBS? And if not, shouldn’t there be one?

On 22 December 2004 (08:38 AM),
jenefer said:

Cecily & I want to know why you didn’t use a “custom box” instead of a plastic bag to retrieve the skunk.

On 22 December 2004 (09:01 AM),
al said:

I regret that I am unable to attend the funeral. I suddenly remembered my dental appt. at the same time. I don’t know why.

On 22 December 2004 (09:12 AM),
Andy said:

Wow – this is nastier than the dead rats I ferreted out of our crawlspace.

I’m just glad there wasn’t the extra stank.

On 22 December 2004 (10:19 AM),
Amanda said:

Wow. I can totally empathize, although clearly a stinking, rotting dead cat under our house can’t possibly have been as bad as a dead skunk. Eek!

Even more gruesome, however, was the other dead mummified cat that was found under out house. But I wasn’t nearly as brave as you. We hired someone to remove the stinking carcasses.

On 22 December 2004 (09:17 PM),
Andrew Parker said:

Wow. A (rare) compelling argument for slab floors.

On 22 December 2004 (10:01 PM),
Betsy said:

I’m still stunned that one of your necessary pieces of equipment was your digital camera. I’d have wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible, which would have meant no time for pictures…

On 23 December 2004 (01:44 AM),
Schmela said:

Great post. I agree with Betsy about the camera, although I’m not sure I could ever go into a crawlspace looking for a dead skunk…camera or no camera.

You should read a chapter in Gary Paulsen’s book, Winterdance, entitled “Major Wrecks.” There is a passage about some evening training he did with his sled dogs that may just be the wildest, most hilarious skunk story I’ve ever heard. I had difficulty reading it because I was laughing so hard.

Hope you have a skunk-free Christmas.

On 23 December 2004 (10:00 AM),
Lynn said:

I love the difference in the pictures of “JD prior to entering” and “JD post skunk-gathering”. The facial expressions are great.

On 23 December 2004 (11:06 AM),
Amanda said:

By the way, you remind me of Jonathan Frakes, especially in that last photo.

On 23 December 2004 (09:50 PM),
grannyj said:

Have you given and thought or concern as to WHY you had a dead skunk under your office trailer?

Our Wild Kingdom

It is a cold, damp Sunday morning in the middle of December. Grey.

On the lawn, three plump crows strut purposefully from here to there, pausing to pluck worms or bugs or seeds from the grass. They are together, but apart. They’re like teenage boys. They are cool. They are aloof.

In the garden, among the grass cover crop, a Stellar’s Jay flits from spot-to-spot, finding food the rooks have overlooked. The crows swagger; the jay glides. She is the prom queen, conscious that all eyes admire her beauty.

Jasmine, the neighbor’s Golden Retriever, stands behind the fence, tucked into the gap in the arborvitae, panting. Her black, beady eyes follow the movement of the birds. She shifts her weight from paw-to-paw, barely containing the coiled spring inside her. Were the fence removed, she would bound at them, snatch one in her jaws. Jasmine is the wallflower: the kid without a date.

The squirrels are the class clowns. Two of them have climbed down the walnut tree to feed at the nut basket. One of them is perched upon it, gorging himself on acorns and filberts and seeds. He’s finished the corn cob we put out yesterday, and has flung it to the lawn — a demand for more. The second squirrel makes repeated — but futile — attempts to snatch a seed or a nut from the basket. The first squirrel will not allow it. He shifts position to block the interloper, chases him, sometimes rakes a claw across his haunch. He will not share his bounty. The squirrels bicker in a fierce chatter.

The fat grey neighborhood cat, Crenshaw, is curled in a ball, sleeping on the porch, warm on the blanket we’ve placed there for him. He doesn’t care about the birds, or the squirrels, or the dog. There is sleep to be had and by god! he means to have it. He wakes when I inadvertently slam the door to the coat closet, but only for a moment. He is the apathetic outsider.

And somewhere, somewhere Simon and Nemo are exercising their inalienable right to be outdoors on a Sunday morning. Are they in the bushes, stalking prey? Are they digging among the roses? Are they under the porch, hiding, asleep? Behind the workshop? Exploring dark places? Are they next door visiting Oreo and Tsu? Spending time with Pook? Fighting with Flash?

No — here they come now, up the mudroom steps, pawing the screen door so that it bump-bump-bangs, signaling their desire to be let inside.

Later, Nemo sits and watches the squirrels. His tail sweeps the floor in fevered lashes. When the squirrels chatter, Nemo chatters. He wants outside now. He regrets having come inside for breakfast. A fattened squirrel would be ever-so-much tastier.

Simon is on the kitchen counter — in willful violation of Kris’ iron law — gazing out the window at the birdfeeder. He watches the finches and the chickadees as they peck at the millet, or hang in clusters from the cage in which we’ve placed a block of suet. The little birds love the suet. (So, too, do the starlings. There are no starlings this morning, however.) Simon is stoic. He may wish he could torment the birds, but he does not show it.

Upstairs, Toto is resting like a loaf bread, purring on the futon. She is watching Kris, who is sits at the computer doing her finances, shopping online, listening to Christmas carols.

I am wandering from room to room, admiring this wild kingdom.

In the evening, we drove down to Jeremy and Jennifer’s. While Kris stayed with Harrison and Emma, the rest of us headed to Zion Mennonite for the annual sing-your-own-Messiah. It was great fun, though I felt a little out of place. Not because I was an atheist in a church, but because I didn’t know my part well enough. Next year — and I do plan to do this again next year — I will prepare in advance. I’ll buy a copy of the score, and practice singing along to one of the Messiahs I have on CD.


On 20 December 2004 (08:33 AM),
Tiffany said:

Our wildlife is not nearly as personable.
We have lots of dogs being walked, most are very thrilled, running from spot to spot smelling the dogs that came by earlier.
We have only one neighborhood cat. She is a very over-weight calico that our cats run from window to window to watch. She can climb the six-foot stucco wall in a flash.
There are lots of birds; sparrows, a few doves, black birds, and lots of humming birds. The humming birds ‘float’ by the windows to drive the cats crazy. We had a falcon that cleared out most of the doves, but he has moved on and the doves are moving back in.
Our pair of road-runners are out every morning. I am not sure where they live, but they keep our yards free of lizards. The cats can not figure out the road-runners, they look like a bird, but are about 1foot high.
Last are the bats… we have the cutest 3-inch brown bats that fly every evening. They sleep most of the day in the tile roof and in the palm trees; they only feed about 30 minutes out of every 24 hours. I love watching the bats.

On 20 December 2004 (09:26 AM),
J.D. Roth said:

Here is the state of the wildlife on a cold, damp Monday morning in December:

Jasmine is nowhere to be seen. Mortimer and Crenshaw are both on the porch, each on his respective blanket. The squirrels are asleep in their lairs. There aren’t any birds on the lawn.

There are, however, many birds at the feeder outside the kitchen window. They’re taking turns. The flicker swoops in from the oak to peck at the millet. When he leaves, a scrub jay floats in to take her turn. Myriad tiny birds swarm the suet cage.

Once again, Simon sits on the window sill, watching them. “Simon,” I tell him. “You’re not allowed on the kitchen counters.” He ignores me.

And best of all: across the yard, perched on the lowest, broadest limb of the filbert, rests an orange furball. Flash has climbed the tree, presumably for a better vantage on all the avian activity. He and Simon have stared at each other, but neither seems compelled to escalate the conflict.

I wish I could find the digital camera.

On 20 December 2004 (09:58 AM),
Kris said:

Here’s a wildlife snapshot from the crime lab:

always lots of crows looking important, as well as seagulls soaring and squawking (rats of the sky!). The starlings in this neighborhood confine themselves to the easy pick-ins at the Costco food court. Today there are Canadian geese on the lawns and last week I saw a mating pair of wood ducks land on the “stream”– we are in a sort of industrial park-slash-wetlands. One morning a grey heron took flight from the cattails as I turned into the parking lot, and people have reported seeing rabbits, too.

Inside the lab, we are dealing with an invasion of large brown spiders. The current hypothesis is that they came in with a delivery of lab coats from the cleaners. Does that give you the willies? Oh, and the morgue apparently has mice.

On 20 December 2004 (10:51 AM),
Jeff said:

Here’s a wildlife snapshot from Custom Box:

Pepe LePew and his foul stench are still living under the office. Maybe we need to paint a white stripe down Toto’s back and put her in the trap — she could surely lure that Casanova out.

On 20 December 2004 (01:18 PM),
Tiffany said:

Is the fact there are spiders in the drug lab and mice in the morgue a contamination problem?

On 20 December 2004 (01:28 PM),
Tammy said:

So do you guys make your own suet? If so how do you do it? I could go through all my kids magazines and find out but I don’t feel like it. Do you put peanut butter in it?

On 20 December 2004 (01:48 PM),
Kris said:

Tiffany– Not a problem from a drug analysis standpoint; neither rodents nor arachnids are known for their substance abuse. Also, there are very few crime scenes where a spider or mouse is going to make or break a case.

Tammy- We buy the suet blocks from a garden or farm store. They are about 50cents apiece if you buy them in bulk when they are on sale, and each one lasts us about a week. I think the main ingredient is beef lard. Which makes you think, where do birds normally find lard in nature? Are they cooperating and taking down cows?

On 20 December 2004 (03:14 PM),
Johnny said:

Although not widely known, birds do, in fact, cooperate to take down livestock. See here

On 27 December 2004 (08:31 AM),
JC said:

It’s ‘critters on parade’ in our backyard. The squirrels are the ruling class–they have gangs even. Though, once in a while, pretty birds flitter down and try to fight their way for some seed.


I had a couple of vivid dreams last night, one of which was an eerie nightmare. Anybody care to interpret these?

Dream #1
The Gang has gathered for a fancy dinner at a nice hotel. We’re there the same night as a high school prom. I’m restless, so I wander the event, taking in the damage — gloating boys, girls in tears, etc. I wander up and down vaulted stairways (the hotel is very vertical), killing time between courses. Jeremy is outside smoking.

When I return to the table for dessert, Kris has her dander up. Some local television journalist has arrived. Kris loathes this woman for a hatchet job she did on the crime lab. Kris is complaining about her, and Joel and Dave are egging her on.

The high school dance starts in the middle of the restaurant, and the instances of emotional carnage increase. Through it all, Kris continues to rage. The television newscaster has a cadre of impressionable teenagers around her, and is holding court, laughing, telling stories.

After an interminable slow song (“Crazy For You” by Madonna?), Kris rises and begins to harangue this woman. Initially, she makes a strong case, has the woman on the defensive, and the audience supports her. Soon, however, she begins to loser her way, and with it, the audience.

“You’ve got to do something,” Pam says to me.

“Help her. The crowd is turning,” says Jenn.

So, I crawl — unseen by the newscaster — so that I’m at the base of Kris’ speaking podium. (Where’d the podium come from?) “You’re losing,” I tell her. “Go on the offensive. Attack her. Be confident. Speak with strength.”

And so she does. The audience is awed. The newscaster slinks away in fear, and then Kris begins to attack George W. Bush.

Then I wake up …

My second dream was a variation on the first.

Dream #2
The Gang has gathered for a fancy dinner in a nice hotel. We’re there the same night as a high school prom. To be precise, we’re there the same night as my high school’s Senior Prom 17-1/2 years ago. I am literally in two places at simultaneously in this dream.

There are a couple hundred of us, and we’re all seated at once. I’m seated across from Laurie Saxton, a girl whom I treated cruelly in real life. Only it’s the Laurie Saxton of now. She’s grown to be a beautiful self-possessed woman, and she’s forgiven me the wrongs of my youth.

We all chat for a while. Mac, Jeremy, and Joel begin complaining about the service. Only just then do the waiters appear to take orders. (For some reason this is not a catered event with a fixed menu; the restaurant’s entire menu is available, and there are only a couple of servers to process all of these orders at once. This, in itself, is a nightmare.)

Kris notices the problem and volunteers to help. She waits tables. She’s cheerful and professional, and makes the best of a difficult situation. I decide to help, too. I’m less cheerful and professional. In fact, I’m harried and curt. Kris tries to offer advice, but this only makes me angry.

“I know what I’m doing,” I say as I stalk away to take orders from the band that’ll be performing at the dance. It’s a popular band, but one I’ve never heard of. The bandmembers are aloof, and they want special food prepared in meticulous fashion.

I go downstairs to the kitchen to verify we can meet their demands. I can’t find the kitchen. I find a storeroom with thousands of bottles of ketchup, but no kitchen. While I’m there, lost, one of the ketchup bottles begins to ring. I’m puzzled, but I pick it up and speak into it. Sure enough: it’s a phone.

“Your alarm is going off,” says a man at the other end of the phone.


“Your alarm is going off.”

I’m very confused, but hang up the ketchup bottle and continue to search for the kitchen.

I find it, but it’s the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. The cook is there, but something’s wrong. It looks as if he has been cut in half. Actually, he’s “phased” into the floor: his body has melted into the floor so that he’s only there from his shoulders up. He’s dying a painful death, the main symptom of which (aside from being stuck in the floor) is excessive vomiting.

I’m repulsed, so I leave the kitchen. I find the manager in his office. He’s suffering a similar fate. In fact, as I go from room-to-room, all I find are people stuck in the floor, dying.

I’m about to run upstairs to make sure Kris is okay, but then it’s time to get up and go to work.

OMFG! All previous skunk woes pale in comparison to the odor this morning. For once, I think we’re going to call in somebody to take care of it. You cannot possibly imagine the strength and intensity of this foul stench. This laptop, which sat in the office above the skunk overnight, has acquired the scent, too. Ugh.

The Cinnamon Bear doesn’t stink, unless his fur is wet. But his latest episode will have to wait until later today.


On 14 December 2004 (11:48 AM),
Tiffany said:

No more spicy food for you.

On 15 December 2004 (08:04 AM),
Jeremy said:

JD, I especially like the part about me smoking. Some things never change, even in dreams. I would like to take a shot at interpreting these dreams: You have been reading toooooo many comics and watching toooooo much science fiction!

On 15 December 2004 (10:17 AM),
Joel said:

What a crazy dream! I’d never egg Kris on. At most I’d goad her into a frenzy.

World of Warcraft

As you may have noticed, I haven’t had much to write about lately. Why is that? World of Warcraft, a “massively multiplayer online role-playing game”, was released ten days ago, and I’ve been playing it like a man obsessed. It’s difficult to write about life experiences when I’m not actually having any! (Well, not outside of a virtual world, that is.)

Uh — what is a “massively multiplayer online role-playing game”?

A massively multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG) is the technological extension of early computer text-adventures. These text adventures evolved into MUDs (such as Northern Lights, which I played obsessively about ten years ago), which were essentially large text adventures played concurrently with scores of other online users.

A computer role-playing game is similar to the Dungeons and Dragons you might have played as a kid. (Or, if you’re a geek, you continue to play as an adult.) You create a “character”, or in-game persona, which is represented by statistics defining his (or her) strength, speed, health, etc. You control your character as he kills monsters and completes quests and gathers treasure.

These games became massively multiplayer when technology allowed hundreds — or thousands — of players to share a game world simultaneously. The orcish warrior you control is surrounded by dozens of orcish warriors and shamans and priests controlled by players in Kansas, New York, and Australia.

Ultima Online was the first major MMORPG. I thought the concept appealing, but had never played any of the Ultima games, so I passed. About five years ago, Everquest debuted, and many a geek found themselves addicted. (The game became known as Evercrack because of its addictive qualities.) MMORPGs, because of their subscription-based models, are a cash cow for games companies, yet still a value for gamers.

World of Warcraft is the latest of these MMORPGs.

Enough history! Why did you choose World of Warcraft when you’ve shunned MMORPGs until now?

The short answer is I’ve played and admired the games produced by Blizzard Entertainment — with the exception of the disappointing Warcraft 3 — for a decade. They’ve demonstrated a commitment to quality that surpasses most other companies in the industry. I especially admire two things about Blizzard’s games: the simple, intuitive interfaces; and the plain yet evocative graphics.

I wasn’t certain that I’d play World of Warcraft. In fact, up until about a month ago, the prospect was doubtful. Then, however, I participated in the open beta test. I was hooked almost from the start. I didn’t fall in love with the concept, or the interface, or the game-play. No: I fell in love with the world.

You fell in love with the world?

Nick has been playing Everquest for nearly a year. To hear him speak, World of Warcraft pales in nearly every respect when compared with the former. The quests are too easy, player’s options are too limited, gameplay is repetitive, and the graphics are too “cartoony”.

The graphics may be cartoony — I hadn’t really noticed until he pointed it out — but they’re effective. I’ve seen some of Everquest, and have been wholly unimpressed with the blatantly polygon-mapped three-dimensional figures. Everything looks like it’s computer graphics.

World of Warcraft doesn’t look like its computer graphics. It doesn’t look real (and I wouldn’t want it too), but it doesn’t look like computer graphics, either. I guess Nick’s right: it looks cartoony. But whereas Nick uses the term derisively, I use it as a compliment.

A new character starts the game in one of eight home cities. (There are eight races in the game: human, dwarf, gnome, elf, orc, troll, undead, and tauren (think minotaur).) These cities are spread out over two virtual continents, and each starting location has its own peculiar charms. The dwarves start on snow-covered mountaintops. The humans start in a peaceful forest. The orcs start in a barren desert.

But as you play the game, as you develop your character, you explore more of the world. The world is vast. The world is beautiful.

You’ve lost me. I still don’t get it.

Perhaps some examples will help.

I started as a night elf, on an island near the upper left of the world map. (Let’s forget spherical planets for the moment.) The night elves live in a dark and misty land filled with tall trees and lush vegetation. There was nothing particularly spectacular about this scenery, to be honest. Fortunately, the gameplay was addictive enough to hold me captivated until I found my way off the island.

Eventually I found a ship. Because I’m reading the Patrick O’Brian novels, I spent my short boat-ride running from bow to stern, examining the vessel, its masts and rigging. Fun, but only in a limited sense. The ship docked in a town similar to the one I’d left, surrounded by shadows and tall trees. But here, at least, there were vast stretches of coast-line. And, better yet, there were areas where I could dive underwater to explore shipwrecks (while evading the dreaded murlocks).

Then I sailed to the eastern continent. I found myself in the Wetlands, a swampy area filled with crocodiles and shambling heaps of half-man, half-plant. I ran through the swamp, then into the foothills. I ran through tunnels hewn from rock. I ran up and up and up. I paused to look behind, and it seemed the entire world stretched before me. “Wow!” I thought.

I continued to run, up the steep mountainside. I came to snow-covered regions filled with wolves and bears. “Wow!” I said: as my character ran through the snow, he left little footprints behind. I ran until I reached the dwarven capital of Ironforge. “Wow! I said upon entering the city. I marvelled at the gigantic statue at the city gates. I marvelled at the vast forge in the heart of the city, molten metal dripping from the ceiling to the floor.

This was all very impressive, but it paled in comparison to what I did next. I purchased a ride on gryphon, a giant eagle-like creature that flew me from Ironforge to the human capital. For five minutes I had no control of my character, but I didn’t care. I watched, transfixed as the gryphon soared over icy lakes, over bubbling volcanoes, past pristine waterfalls, and into the city of Stormwind.

It’s something that has to be seen to be believed.

And I’ve discovered more marvels, since: the view from the bluffs of Westfall, which overlook the sea;

the stark and barren beauty of the plains where the taurens start the game; an awesome ENORMOUS wall stretching from mountain-to-mountain, resembling the Great Wall of China;

the towering Stonewrought Dam, on the face of which are carved three dwarven heads (from whose mouths flow steady streams of water);

a vast, underground mine in which goblins are building pirate ships.

Words cannot do the game justice. This world is simply enormous, and much of it is beautifully rendered, if only in a cartoonish style. In all the hours I’ve played so far — and don’t ask me how much I’ve played — I’ve only seen maybe ten percent of all there is to see. Maybe ten percent. Probably more like three percent. Or less. The world is vast.

So you love the world. How’s the rest of the game?

I think the rest of the game is pretty damn good, too. Not perfect, but very good. (Nick disagrees. His most common comment regarding any aspect of the game seems to be, “Well, that’s not how Everquest does it. Everquest is better.”)

The interface is fairly intuitive. Things work in a logical fashion, and most options can be found where you’d expect them to be found.

(There are exceptions, however. I’m playing a hunter. Hunters may tame pets. I, like almost every other hunter I’ve encountered, have been quite flumoxed trying to figure out how to train my pet. I figured it out eventually, but it took a lot of trial-and-error.)

Combat is a major aspect of the game. It’s handled well. You can set up macros to automate commonly repeated combat actions. To prevent disputes, the first person to inflict damage upon a monster is the person who gets to loot its corpse. To take on more difficult areas, you can group with up to four other people, forming a party.

Quests are another important part of the game. From the very beginning, one encounters computer controlled characters who give quests that provide substantial rewards. If a character has a quest available, a yellow exclamation point appears above his head. When one completes the quest, a yellow question mark appears above the character’s head.

There are several different types of quests: kill X monsters, collect X objects, deliver this item, etc. All of the quest types become repetitive after a while; it would have been nice had Blizzard been able to develop others. Maybe in a future expansion…

I quite enjoy the tradeskill aspect of the game. In addition to his major profession (warrior, rogue, mage, priest, hunter, warlock, druid, paladin, maybe one or two others), a player may choose two minor professions (herbalism, alchemy, mining, ironworking, engineering, skinning, leatherworking, enchanting). There are also three “free” professions that anyone can dabble in: fishing, cooking, and first aid.

Developing these secondary professions is a sort of mini-game in the bigger game. To develop herbalism, for example, one must be every-vigilant for special plants that can be harvested for profit. The more the skill is used, the more proficient your character becomes at it. If he picks dozens of basic plants, he’ll become skilled enough to harvest more complex plants.

My hunter is able to skin large animals, and then to convert these skins into leather armor. Simple, perhaps, but fun.

Do you have any complaints about World of Warcraft?

A few, but they’re mostly minor. Indeed, many of them are quibbles. There are still some odd bugs in the game. These will probably fixed with time. Two things I’d dearly love to see are more incidental non-player characters — computer-controlled people walking to-and-fro on the roads, for example — and weather effects. (It pains me that the game has no weather; I long to see snow and wind and rain.)

There’s a lot of running in the game, especially when you’re exploring. This isn’t so much a complaint as an observation (and a warning). It took me 45 minutes the first time I travelled from my elven homeland to the human capital. Most of this was spent running.

I can’t think of many other complaints right now.

This isn’t really a review, is it? (It’s more like an ad.)

No, I suppose not. It’s not very comprehensive. How can it be? I’ve barely touched the surface of this game in the two weeks I’ve been playing it.

But I can tell you this: I love World of Warcraft. It’s the most fun I’ve had playing a computer game in, well, maybe ever. Only time will tell if the game has what it takes to join Starcraft and Civilization II on my short-list of favorite games. From what I’ve seen, though, it’ll not only make the list with ease, it’ll rise to the very top.

And this is why you’ve been rather quiet for the past two weeks?


I’m playing on the Proudmoore server (Pacific time zone) under the name Maturin. I’m a 21st level night elf hunter, though I spend most of my time in the human lands. If any of you are playing, and have a character on Proudmoore, I’d love to group with you.


On 03 December 2004 (01:41 AM),
schmela said:

Ironic that you posted this today, as I just posted a screenshot to my weblog that my husband took while he was playing WoW this evening.

My husband is really liking the game as well. I occasionally watch over his shoulder, and it is pretty cool to see him run and fly all over. The graphics are really quite stunning. Your screenshot of the gryphon flying over the icy landscape is quite beautiful. I’ll send him over here to read your review. I think he has created a few characters…not sure which server he plays on.

On 03 December 2004 (06:43 AM),
Joel said:

I had heard that as you gain levels the quests become more complex and start to take on more of a “plot”. Is this all guff? I won’t stand for guff, you know.

On 03 December 2004 (07:13 AM),
J.D. said:

Oh, no — that’s certainly not guff, Joel. Even at low levels plots are weaved into a semblanced of a plot, which is nice. It’s these plots that redeem the repetitive nature of the quests, actually.

The game world is divided into seventy-five some large countries, or zones. Each zone represents many hours of gameplay, and each is filled with quests, many of which are interrelated.

For example, I found the area called Westfall when my hunter was level 13. Westfall is a farming region southwest of the human capital. It’s perpetually fall in Westfall (just as the game doesn’t have weather, it doesn’t have seasons). The harvest is over, but the country has been overrun by huge mechanical monstrosities that are rampaging through the fields. There are a couple of quests in which you’re required to eliminate these mechanical monstrosities.

But the large plot in the area involves a group of thieves who have been raiding the farms. What starts as a simple quest to oust the thieves from one particular farm becomes prolonged into an epic struggle to actually excise their presence from all of Westfall. There is a series of maybe a dozen quests tying this plot together, the climax of which is a raid into The Deadmines to kill the leader of these rascals.

One of the screenshots above — the one with four characters standing around on the deck of a ship — shows the conclusion of this quest, the point at which Westfall has been freed from corruption. I came close to seeing this very thing last night (close to finishing this quest), but ran out of time.

There are certain large, climactic quests, such as The Deadmines, found throughout the game. I believe these are all found at the end of a plot-line. During most of the game, you’re in the world with every other player. However, for these final quests, you and your party enter what is called an “instanced dungeon”. An instanced dungeon is an isolated copy of an area created especially for you and your group; there might be half a dozen other groups doing the exact same quest in separate instances. This model is necessary because these final quests are long, and they’re hard. My group spent ninety minutes hacking through The Deadmines yesterday, but still did not finish before I had to leave. We probably had half an hour left. (The whole thing might have gone quicker but I ran out of arrows and had to fight hand-to-hand. Then, as we neared the end, the entire party was massacred when we accidentally drew the wrath of a half-dozen pirates at the same time.)

So, I guess what I’m saying is that there are limited number of individual quest types, and that’s disappointing. However, Blizzard’s done a great job of milking these few quest types for all possible variety.

On 03 December 2004 (08:23 AM),
Amanda said:

Geek alert! Woo woo woo!!!

On 03 December 2004 (08:23 AM),
jenefer said:

Interesting that you should pick this topic today. There was an article in our local paper today covering the current GenCon in Anaheim. I am interested because Bob, my husband, was an early player and then dungeon master 30 years ago when the game started. Dungeons & Dragons is celebrating 30 years this year at the convention. As an early dabbler in D & D, I have watched as the game became less and less social over the years and the article spoke to this fact. On-line there is no verbal interchange among players and no “real” contact, as opposed to virtual contact. Every night it is a fight over the computer and the ‘games’, unless Adam is at work. Some entire weekends are spent on the computer in the clutches of the current game. I was going to say “What a waste of time”, but that is only my opinion. Bob and Adam get great enjoyment out of playing and discussing the game both with each other and friends. It is a great topic of conversation if you are involved. I would rather live in the real world or read.

On 03 December 2004 (10:28 AM),
Jon said:

I’m jealous. My home PC is not beefy enough for WoW, so there is little chance to play it soon. Sounds fun though!

I’ve been playing Warcraft III single player again after a long haitus. I really like it. I agree it is different, but I think the differences have merit.

On 03 December 2004 (11:02 AM),
dowingba said:

That’s funny. I also haven’t been writing much lately due to my recently purchased Xbox (Crystal Edition). Yes, remember our debates about computers vs console gaming? It seems we’ve inadvertantly switched sides, J.D….

On 03 December 2004 (02:03 PM),
NO Scott said:

JD or anyone – do you guys have any reviews or know people who play City of Heroes? I am thinking about getting it for Christmas.

On 03 December 2004 (09:06 PM),
Lisa said:

Good grief, J.D.! Have pity on my modem!

On 04 December 2004 (03:43 PM),
tammy said:

Nick and JD, you both need kids.

On 07 December 2004 (03:38 PM),
Nick said:

Tammy, I’ll take a couple kids if they are mute and can cook and clean. Oh, and they have good jobs so they can support me.

On 06 June 2005 (08:26 PM),
Dahr said:

Plz do somehtign about ninja looting a mage just looted brain hacker from me and a warlock nin book for Quel Serra