b Papa Dog's Blog: The Recycled Story of My Filthy Work Mug (Plus Errata and Addenda from Yesterday)

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Recycled Story of My Filthy Work Mug (Plus Errata and Addenda from Yesterday)

There was a line at the coffee machine (that’s the hot water machine where I’m concerned), so I took advantage of the lull to perform that semi-annual ritual, “The Cleaning of the Mug.” Every six months whether it needs it or not. This may well be the first time in Baby Dog’s life that my work mug has seen the soapy side of a sponge. Maybe not, but probably.

Anyway, it put me in mind of the time four years back when my mug was stolen from my desk during an office move. I sent out an email to the office pleading for its return. People still talk about that email to this day, which tells you how dull most of the office-wide emails tend to be around these parts. When I got back to my desk, I took a look, and sure enough, I still had the thing in my “sent mail” folder, which is cleaned out even less frequently than the mug. For your amusement, I reproduce it herein:

To: San Francisco - Main Street Office
From: Papa Dog Duvalier
Subject: Warning-Mug at Large

Hello all.

Sometime during the weekend’s move, my coffee mug disappeared from my work station. I view this as some sort of regrettable accident or misunderstanding and suspect nobody here of deliberate theft because, well, the thing was filthy. I don’t mean just a little dirty, either – I can’t remember the last time I washed it. The interior is coated with generations of encrusted remnants of tea breaks gone by. Tea, because although it is a coffee mug, I don’t actually drink coffee and have used it exclusively for the consumption of tea, and not that herbal stuff either, but usually the really grotty Lipton’s generic black tea.

But I digress.

The cup has enormous sentimental value for me, being a reminder of a particularly happy workplace where I, unlike the person who surely walked off with it by accident this weekend, stole it. Mind you, I wasn’t stealing it from a fellow employee. More accurately, I would say I claimed it from the clutches of a large drug company – it was a hospital where I was working – that was trying to unduly influence doctors in their prescriptive decisions by leaving behind knickknacks bearing the corporate brand. Really, I was doing a public service by removing the cup from the hospital, because who knows what poor judgement the doctors might have fallen prey to under the osmotic influence of that drug company logo.

But I digress again.

Like most of the coffee mugs around the office, this one is dark blue. Unlike most of the coffee mugs around the office, this bears a logo reading not “Acme Dirt Consultants” but “Caremark.” If you have somehow ended up with this cup, DO NOT DRINK FROM IT! You are in imminent danger! It has long since been colonized by multiple thriving bacteria communities! I’ve built up a hardy resistance over the years myself, but anybody else would risk peritonitis or worse, and I guarantee that no Caremark products would hold a cure because entirely new forms of bacterial life have evolved in this cup in the time it’s been in my custody.

Please, for your own safety, return the cup to my work station. No questions will be asked.


* * *

I confess I changed a couple of things here. My name, obviously, and the name of my company; but also in the original email I typed “peristalsis” where I meant “peritonitis.” Only one engineer in the entire office was medically hep enough to ask my why I was warning people that they were in danger of swallowing. It’s maybe funnier with the wrong word there, but I decided to preserve my originally intended meaning for posterity. As for that medically hep engineer, I have his chair now, which I take to be some sort of evidence for the theory that what goes around comes around. Or is it what comes around goes around? Well, there’s been a lot of coming and going since then.

* * *

In addenda and errata – Charles made me realise I’d left a mistaken impression in yesterday’s post regarding The Magnetic Fields, namely that I’d only discovered them (him?) this week or something. I did come across them late, but not quite this late. Of all things, it was The Shield that turned me onto The Magnetic Fields. In a first-season episode (2002?), “All My Little Words” played over a montage or something. I liked it immediately – I remember being struck by the quirky use of banjo – but was really sold when I caught the word “unboyfriendable.” I had to know more about a songwriter who could invent such a perfectly necessary word, so I Googled “unboyfriendable” and tracked down the album the song was on. For those unfamiliar with it, that album is 69 Love Songs, which is exactly what it says it is. Sort of. The 69 songs are divided into three discs of 23 apiece. I didn’t realise that when I went looking for it at Amoeba, and naturally I bought the wrong two volumes first before finding the one with “All My Little Words” on it.

When I finally got to listen to it in full, I knew I’d found something I’d really like. Stephen Merritt’s wordplay is outrageous and irresistible. For instance – also from “All My Little Words” – “Not for all the tea in China/Not if I could sing just like a bird/Not for all North Carolina/Not for all my little words.” I love that. He sets you up with the banality of “tea in China” and “sing like a bird,” then pulls a whimsical, unexpected, and utterly perfect rhyme (China/North Carolina) out of nowhere. Or all the great little turns of phrase in “Reno Dakota”: “Reno Dakota, I’m no Nino Rota/I don’t know the score,” “It’s making me blue/Pantone 292.” A thing that fascinated me about the album was a sense of timelessness that comes from the tension between the classical throwback pop constructions of the songs and their of-the-moment (ca. 1999) production and execution. Like, “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” (“‘Cause I’ve got wheels/And you wanna go for a ride”) seems like something that could have been recorded by a doo-wop band in the early 60s except for the fact that it’s on an album filled with sounds made by machines that hadn’t been invented then. Similarly, “Promises of Eternity” on Vol. 2 sounds like a lost Neil Diamond song, right down to the use of bells. Throughout, a remarkably fine line is trod between earnest and cynical expressions of love and lust. “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits” is followed by “The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be.” There’s the communication-challenged guy in “I Think I Need a New Heart”: “I always say I love you/When I mean turn out the light/And I say let’s run away/When I just mean stay the night.” This fine line is probably illustrated best in “The Book of Love,” which opens: “The book of love is long and boring/No one can lift the damn thing/It’s full of charts and facts and figures/And instructions for dancing.”

Anyway, what I meant to communicate in my post yesterday is that while I’ve had the album for a while, I hadn’t really made a proper study of it yet, the above paragraph notwithstanding. Mama Dog and I had a conversation a while back about how we used to do the same thing with a new record when we were youngsters. We’d put it on the turntable then sit down with the jacket and the innersleeve, follow along with the lyrics, figure out which band member’s face went with which name in the credits, see who played what instrument on what track, and so on. We’d study it. Unsurprisingly, I don’t really do that anymore and haven’t in ages, and consequently I don’t ever feel like I know a new album in the way I used to.

Furthermore – as will be evident to anybody familiar with 69 Love Songs – I’ve listened mostly to Vol. 1, and am largely unfamiliar with Vols. 2 and 3. I have them along with me at work today, though, and am getting to know them.

Lastly: In case anybody thought I was just making excuses yesterday for why I was late to work—it made the papers! Turns out it didn’t even have anything to do with the wet weather, either.


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