26 March 2006

Seasons And Synchronicities

The temperature has finally risen into double digits here (i.e., above 50 degrees for you Fahrenheiters), which means, of course, that the chilly blue skies of earlier in the week have given way to the more customary shades of grey one associates with an English spring (and summer, winter and autumn). It's been raining as well, precisely what one would expect at a time when the media and government have been banging on incessantly about our supposed "drought." In fact, by way of illustrating just how serious the "drought" has gotten, yesterday's Premiership match between Portsmouth and Arsenal had to be called off due to a waterlogged pitch.

In other words, about as perfect an early-spring Saturday as one could ask for, and so naturally I was out into the streets, hoodie pulled up against the droughtish draughts of rain and looking for all the world as though I'd just wandered off one of the dodgier council estates, which, if you saw where I lived, is not as big a stretch as you might imagine. My mission, apart from admiring the occasional bursts of colour mirrored in the gathering puddles and the lines of trees on the cusp of bursting into bud along Sussex Gardens (one benefit of the longer and harsher winter we've endured - excuse me, that the people who stayed home this winter endured - is that the trees for once didn't flower prematurely last December or January, only to be stripped bare by the next frost, and that for once we look set to see a spectacular display of colour when they all come into bloom at the appropriate time - probably the week before we're buried in an unseasonable April blizzard), was to buy a computer book recommended by my favourite computer genius, Patrick Hynes of Little Type Mail Order.

During my brief visit to California earlier this month, Patrick gave me my first lesson in html, which was a bit like Einstein lecturing on the General Theory at the local school for the retarded learning disabled. As such, and because our time was so limited, I learned only the barest basics of the language that enables one to put together web pages, but because I'm determined to develop larrylivermore.com into a full-fledged website, I'm venturing into realms from which I once would have fled in terror, i.e., anything involving cognitive reasoning and symbolic logic, if those are even the appropriate terms to describe a "language" that looks to this novice like a hopeless welter of brackets and squiggles,

I've been using computers now for nearly 20 years, and I realise now that I should have tackled some of the basic theory and programming language behind them long ago; I might by now have managed to qualify for a half-decent entry-level job, though it would be a bit embarrassing having to compete with all those teenagers. But you're looking at someone who managed to get through four years at Berkeley without taking a single course outside of the squishy liberal arts and humanities field until my very last semester, when the powers that be decreed I wouldn't be allowed to graduate without passing a basic statistics course, which proceeded to stretch my wits and patience further than the combined total of every other course I had taken.

The symbols and system used in html have virtually nothing in common with those of statistics, but to my untutored mind they're just similar enough to remind me of that horrifying moment when I opened my final final exam at Berkeley, the one that would determine whether I would graduate, to find that the statistics problems I had valiantly if vainly studied for had been replaced by indecipherable Martian runes. I sat there half panicking, half crying, for most of the allotted three hours, and will forever remain convinced that it is only through sheer charity (or absent-mindedness) on the part of my beleagured statistics professor that I have a university degree today.

But for years afterward, I would wake in a cold sweat from nightmares about that exam, one more reason I've studiously avoided anything that reminds me, however obliquely, of applied symbolic logic. "But html is merely a language of sorts," I tell myself, "and you were always good at languages." True, I dubiously concede, and head into the four-storey Borders megastore in Oxford Street.

I can never set foot in Borders without being reminded of its origins as a tiny cornershop in Ann Arbor, Michigan (and did you know, that belying its vaguely alternative image, Borders has long been a subsidiary of K-Mart? I didn't) back in 1971. I used to shop there, which has always led me to have a slightly proprietary feel about the now-massive corporation. Similarly, back in the mid-60s, my friend Darrell and I lived right round the corner from the world's first Domino's Pizza in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and would like to think that our frequent patronage had something to do with that company's worldwide success over the ensuing decades. Or would have, if we had actually paid for most of our pizzas; as it was, we were usually cadging free ones from our friend who worked there, a hippie with a lucrative sideline in Civil War memorabilia obtained through midnight graverobbing.

I located the book Patrick had recommended, found it largely as undecipherable as I had feared, but exhibiting a touching and hopefully not misplaced faith in his advice, decided to buy it anyway when I noticed that it was published in Sepastopol, California, home town of Wesley, my favourite computer genius on this side of the Atlantic. Yes, that's how my mind works, which I fear doesn't augur well for my future success in any field requiring the rigorous application of logic. But never mind; nothing ventured, etc. etc...

While standing in the queue to pay for it, I was startled to see a magazine cover featuring an impossibly arty photo of my old friends Alison and Jamie, now long since reinvented as VV and Hotel (I can never remember which is which) of The Kills. They've been media darlings for a while now, and it's been a couple years since I've run into them around town (as you might suspect, my own media darling status is, to massively understate the case, limited). But I'll always remember Jamie as the skinny, edgy singer for proto-emo band Scarfo, who I first saw upstairs at the Laurel Tree in Camden, briefly a hipsterish hangout (and, for reasons never satisfactorily explained to me, a shrine to the Pet Shop Boys) during the halcyon early days of Britpop. No, I didn't see a future for emo back then, either, which makes me wonder how I ever made any money at all in the music business.

I think it was a couple years later that I first met Alison, singing at the Red Eye in Islington with her emo-pop-punk band Discount. She was so painfully shy that she hunched over the microphone in a way that let her avoid having to look at the audience and similarly denied the audience the opportunity to see her. As anyone who has seen The Kills will know, shyness no longer appears to be much of an issue with her.

When we first met, she was a resolute non-drinker and non-smoker, and I was decidely the opposite. At some point we crossed paths. I think it was in Glasgow, at the wedding of Amanda from Bis to Alison's bandmate Ryan; while I was beginning to think that it was time to clean up my act, I was still drinking and smoking up a storm, and for the first time, Alison joined in with me. By the next time I saw her, which was the day of England's famous 5-1 World Cup qualifier victory over Germany, she was pounding down the brews and I was newly sober. Since then her trajectory has been toward ever greater fame and mine toward ever greater obscurity. Perhaps there's a lesson there, but it's not one I'm likely to draw on. I'll leave the world of glamorous pop stardom to those better qualified for it, crack open my new book, and start learning all about the wondrous world of html.

1 comment:

Wesley said...

It would be showing my true nerd colors a bit too much to tell you how excited I was to learn that O'Reilly and Associates had located their headquarters in my home town.

So I won't do that.