Living Hell - Volume #1, Issue #18


December 5, 2001

Special Post-Thanksgiving Edition!


  o Napkins
  o Movie Review
  o Coen Brothers Filmography
  o Twelve Discs For Christmas
  o Still More Sights


Chest half-tight as I pull into the parking lot, "eyes ahead" by
conscious choice.  Don't wanna trigger anything lest I happen to
see some particular person's car.  Don't wanna *appear* anxious
about feeling anything, either.  (Age is a bitch; the more the de-
cades separate our schoolyard years, the more we're aware that the
taunters are still with us...) Pace quickens as my car circles the
entrance, an internal timer counting down each potentially wasted
second spent searching for a spot, dawdling at the car, or taking
my time walking to the front door.  ('Tis a hurry common to social
dancers, I imagine; that rapidly swelling fear that the evening's
best song | dance | partner is about to end, and at the *very* mo-
ment you walk inside.)

Stride from car to door to dance floor, barely noticing the five
dollars forked over for "cover" as I try to recall the basic "pre-
sentation points" otherwise ignored on this lazy, rainy, Sunday:
stand up straight, suck in gut, see if zipper's zipped, etc.
(Though that last step isn't remembered until I'm well *inside*,
it's completed with a deft, double-handed waistband grab, with
strategically placed pinky confirming said closure.)  It's late,
after 9 p.m., so the "floor" is pretty empty.  Still enough people
to induce instant anxiety, mind you-- maybe three-dozen men and
women-- but certainly not a "crowd," not even in a non-weekend
sense.  I stop a couple feet from said raised hardwood surface,
hands either in pockets or on hips, body straight and probably
rigid as energies are shifted to "scanning."

Take a long, methodical look around the room; head slowly turning
but never stopping, lest cessation of motion signal to someone
that I'm attempting eye contact.  Nope, no overtures yet.  I'm
scanning-- seeing who's here, e.g. which "regulars" are present
this particular night, and, of those *lady* regulars, which ones
fall into such categories as:

  o have danced with, but she can't
  o haven't danced with, but she's probably better than me
  o too chatty
  o too flirty
  o angry-looking
  o overly friendly

and so on.  (I know, grown man as Goldilocks.  It's funny to me,

Within the space of two or three minutes, I sketched an outline of
the tonight's "comfort zones."  I've picked the best places in the
room for standing (or sitting) and affixed mental labels to many
moving targets-- identifiers a la "safe," "scary," and "undecid-
ed."  Thus begins the evening's *other* dance, balanced between
extremes of comfort.  (As this process unfolds, I'm *physically*
visible, probably off to the side or propped against a column.
Whether or not I'm *approachable*, however, is another matter en-
tirely.  I'm intentionally staring off into the distance, hopeful-
ly dissuading anyone from asking me to dance during this decidedly
vulnerable state.)

Within two or three songs, I begin warming up.  My body relaxes a
bit.  I might begin pacing, casually, along the edge of the dance
floor.  I'm still not making much eye contact, tho, unless someone
"safe" is spotted outright.  In that case, I'll make a determined
(but not *too* excited-looking!) bee-line to them, buoyed by the
prospect of "encapsulation" for two or three dances; a gloriously
insulated marriage of motion during which my social attention can
relax, not worrying about who I'm dancing with, nor who I might be
dancing with *next*.  (One of the greatest challenges of partner
dancing is "staying in the moment" with whomever you're dancing
with, instead of focusing on "who's next.")

I suppose a "perfect night" is one spent rotating exclusively be-
tween a half-dozen "safe" regulars.  And, I guess, with the occa-
sional exception for an invigorating "try out."  (That is, dancing
with someone for the first time and where everything goes not just
good but *great*:  leads are followed, eye contact is comfortable,
emotive level matches own, etc.)  And, expectedly, an "off night"
entails the exclusive company of the "scary"-- partners who invoke
the ol' anxiety for any of the aforementioned reasons.  (Versus
simple mismatched skill levels, or even an entire evening spent
"sitting out.")

Thus the ironic problem faced by socially anxious partner dancers:
the very *core* of the pastime, other people, is threatening!  In
a perfect world, "shy pills" would be sold at the counter.  Or, in
another decade, automatronic "stand ins" for the "interactionally
challenged."  Thank God for line dances.  Most are done in groups,
requiring no partner and only awareness of the audience (the rest
of the bar) as potential trip-up.  (Not surprising, Yours Truly is
*way* more uncomfortable one-on-one than performing for many...)
There are *partnered* line dances, however.  The more-formal ones
as still problematic, but "free for all's" like the Rebel Strut or
Cotton Eyed Joe are infinitely easier to take, as dancers can go
solo or pair-up or switch as desired between the two.

Thank God, I guess, for cocktail napkins.  A simple stack of blank
white squares is a bar-room escape unlike any other.  Forget eye-
catching "sweet thangs," a live band to die for, or "great conver-
sation," *the* most captivating dynamic in a dance hall is think-
ing out loud on paper.  Says *me*.

Movie Review

THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, the new movie from Brothers Coen, those
wacky, Twin Cities-raised filmmakers, is a world more watchable
than last year's insipid O' BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? or 1998's lame
Jeff Bridges-starrer THE BIG LEBOWSKI.  (The sibs are best known
for FARGO, you betcha, and last year's well-received re-release of
BLOOD SIMPLE, their 1984 debut and source of such memorable lines
as "the world is full of complainers," as said in M. Emmet Walsh's
wonderfully lazy, high-pitched drawl.)  For THE MAN, their latest
"genre visitation," the Coens explore (explode?) the shady, shad-
owed, black-and-white world of Forties film noir, complete with
(quasi) hard-boiled narration by a gaunt Billy Bob Thorton.  (He's
the title character and, for much of the movie, an nearly entirely
expressionless observer to a detailed, deadpan, and rather slowly
evolving Web of Intrigue involving blackmail, murder, and... dry

Thornton plays a small-town barber with a cuckold wife (Frances
McDormand, surprisingly svelte), a chatty barber business partner
(Michael Badalucco), and barely any discernable identity.  Well,
other than an eerie resemblance to Barney Fife.  Other players in
this immaculately groomed comic drama include TV mobster James
Gandolfini, Tony Shaloub, late-appearing as a fast-talking lawyer,
and the always-reliable Jon Polito, a Coen staple who can steal a
scene with a simple close-up.  Or, in this case, by talking it up
in a barber's chair, his roly-poly jowls in perfect orbit around a
see-saw mouth and black brows bouncing above alit eyes.  As for
plot, the slowly unfolding story is a Rube Goldberg-like chain of
consequences, each affecting the characters in inventive, oft-fun-
ny, and sometimes utterly unexpected ways.  (Or, as a line of dia-
logue so smugly states, "the story made his head hurt.")  All that
and gen-u-ine flying saucers *and* Beethoven's deafness-as-super-
nifty metaphor, too!)

Like I said, a world more watchable than O' BROTHER or their sec-
ond-to-last feature, THE BIG L.  Though, to be honest, Coen films
are less watched than *absorbed*.  Their movies are so jam-packed
with meta-information that simply "paying attention to what's hap-
pening" is nearly impossible.  Here, exaggerated details are the
grabbers, like the many familiar genre conventions either inten-
tionally overdone or underplayed.  Like a Big Courtroom Sequence
dismissed at the outset by a judge.  (And quite funnily commented
as such by Thornton's character's chatty business partner.)  Or
the curious number of ethnic slurs; included, perhaps, for accu-
racy, political considerations be damned.  Equally "distracting"
is Roger Deakins stunning cinematography.  I mean, some of his
shot compositions are so starkly vivid that, for a disorienting
second or two, you'd *swear* the image was 3D.  (Inside the eleva-
tor, looking up, was the wrought iron shot as... a treble clef??)
Bottom line, is THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE a great movie?  It's a
*Coen* movie.  Is it a *good* Coen movie?  Hell if I know, I've
only seen it once...

Coen Brothers Filmography

In order of author's preference...

  o Fargo (1996)

  o Hudsucker Proxy, The (1994)

  o Raising Arizona (1987) / Blood Simple (1984) (tie)

  o Man Who Wasn't There, The (2001)

  o Barton Fink (1991)

  o Miller's Crossing (1990)

  o Big Lebowski, The (1998)

  o O' Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) *

* for Wizard of Oz slash KKK musical number only

Twelve Discs of Christmas

Need background music for the holidays?  Here are twelve of *my*


  1. Louis Armstrong and Friends, "What a Wonderful Christ-
     mas" (Hip-O)

     Dinah Washington sings "Silent Night."  Eartha Kitt
     purrs "Santa Baby."  Pops asks "'Zat You, Santa
     Claus?"  And everybody swings somethin' terrible

  2. Chet Atkins, "Christmas with Chet Atkins" (Razor & Tie)

     Electric *and* acoustic instrumentals from the late,
     great, country guitar-slinger, plus cheery, Ray Con-
     iff-style choruses.  Originally released in 1961.

  3. Burl Ives, "The Very Best of Burl Ives Christmas" (MCA)

     Fifteen tracks of Sam the Snowman singing both somber
     hymns and holly jolly jingles.  Kiss her once for me,

  4. Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, "Christ-
     mas with the Pops" (Telarc)

     Choirs, bells, soloists, the works.  Recorded 1990.

  5. Mitch Miller and the Gang, "Holiday Sing Along with
     Mitch" (Columbia)

     Echo-chambered cheer circa 1958-61 and a better recipe
     for fun than *any* fruitcake.  Just add bouncing ball...

  6. Elvis Presley, "If Every Day Was Like Christmas?" (RCA)

     Bearing twenty-four tracks, plus personal greeting from
     "E", a compilation fit for *three* kings, thankyouvery-

  7. Robert Shaw and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus,
     "The Many Moods of Christmas" (Telarc)

     Eighties re-recording.

  8. Bob Rivers, "Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire" (Atlan-

     Politically incorrect song parodies, skewering (ha!)
     tunes both olde and new.  Brutal, brutally funny stuff.
     Or substitute with one of Rivers' other three albums.
     ("More Twisted Christmas" also sleighs.)

  9. Soundtrack, "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" (Mercury)

     From the Boris Karloff-narrated, animated version, of
     course, not the tuneless, joyless, Jim Carrey/Ron How-
     ard turd.  Stink, stank, stunk.

 10. Various, "Billboard Rock 'n' Roll Christmas" (Rhino)

     Seasonal singles from Queen, Billy Squier, George
     Thorogood, "Weird" Al Yankovic, Foghat, The Kinks,
     The Beach Boys, Dave Edmunds, Canned Heat, and...
     Cheech & Chong.  Stingy, but it rocks.

 11. Various, "The Christmas Album" (Columbia)

     Twenty-track compilation of popular pop artists like
     Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Doris Day, etc.  Orig-
     inally released in 1984, but beware later pressings
     with fewer tracks.

 12. The Ventures, "The Ventures Christmas Album" (Razor &

     Even Ebenezer makes an appearance on this "two-channel
     stereo," all-instrumental classic.  Just *try* finding
     an album more fun...

Still More Sights

Guess who's been sorting through pictures these weeks?

Newly added to http://www.legeros.com/south...

  o Anonymous But Visible (Morehead City, NC)

  o Barney Says "Watch Your Step" (Mount Airy, NC)

  o Bench (Raleigh, NC)

  o Blue Beach House (Southern Shores, NC)

  o Boogers (Raleigh, NC)

  o Hatteras Highway (Outer Banks, NC)

  o High Winds (Corolla, NC)

  o North Carolina Train (Raleigh, NC)

  o Nuclear Security (New Hill, NC)

  o Please Don't Feed Birds (New Orleans, LA)

  o Pool Go Bye-Bye (Nags Head, NC)

  o Really Big Shoe (Dillon, SC)

  o Shell Station (Outer Banks, NC)

  o Sheraton Parking Lot (Raleigh, NC)

  o Streets of Sand (Nags Head, NC)

  o Trust Me (New Bern, NC)

  o Wall (Raleigh, NC)

  o We Believe (Somewhere in Central NC)

Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros



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