"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Topics: Life News
Are you worried that your cat is trying to delete your operating system? Does the report you stayed up all night writing contain literary gems like “ffeswwa” and “jlkikkjikiklkuh”? Has your cat made purchases on eBay?
Then you need PawSense, software that identifies and blocks your kitty’s keyboard tap-dancing. When it senses little cat feet on the keyboard, PawSense brings up a screen that says “Cat-Like Typing Detected.” Should you accidentally engage in catlike typing yourself, the screen has a box where you can type in “human” and the computer will let you proceed. PawSense was invented by Chris Niswander after his sister’s cat crashed her computer. He was awarded the IgNobel Prize for Computer Science in 2000 for his invention.
The software works by recognizing the unusual combinations and timing patterns that occur when a cat puts its paw on the keyboard. Niswander is thinking about creating BabySense; though, depending on your baby’s typing habits, you can also use PawSense to discourage little Apple or Zeke. If Apple bangs on your keyboard with open hands or fists, she may come close enough to “catlike typing” to activate PawSense. If, however, little Zeke pecks delicately at the keyboard, PawSense will recognize him as human. I can’t vouch for this since I don’t have a baby lying around the house, just two pesky cats.
PawSense also plays sounds that discourage cats from coming near the computer. While I knew my cat Chaos didn’t like the sound of hissing, I didn’t realize until I discovered PawSense that he, like most cats, also has an aversion to the harmonica.
You can buy PawSense for $19.99 plus $3 shipping and handling. “In writing the software, part of my motivation was that it was a really funny idea,” says Niswander, “while at the same time I knew people who really needed something like this.” And while the humor of his invention may help sell it, Niswander wants to make sure people realize that it really works. And it does. Now I never have to worry about sending another cover letter that reads, “I hope you will agree that my kjiu,kkkkkkkkkk qualifications make me well-suited for this important position.”
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Forget the pill
After nearly a decade on the birth control pill, I suddenly became incapable of remembering to take it reliably. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t sleeping with anyone at the time, or maybe I just had too many other things going on in my life, but all at once remembering to take the pill every day seemed an unattainable goal.
What the hell? I thought. I’ll just quit taking it.
That was when I discovered that the hormones had been helping my complexion. An army of zits broke out all over my face, and began marching down my back. I knew that someday I wanted to have children, but no one wants to sleep with a woman who’s covered in acne.
So I needed to go back on the hormones.
I tried the patch, which was OK. You only had to fuss with it once a week. Don’t be fooled by the ads in the magazines, though. It only looks pristine and unobtrusive for about five minutes, then it shifts slightly and acquires that ring of sticky grit that also appears around the edge of old Band-Aids. This is not to mention the spots of dry skin that it created on my ass — spots that would last for weeks.
At least while I was on the patch my skin cleared up, and I didn’t have to think about birth control every day (though I did think about it every time I felt my underwear get stuck on the ring of patch grime).
Unfortunately, after a few months on the patch, a pattern began to emerge. Every time I put on my first patch of the month, I would get violently ill. I woke up in the middle of the night and retched for hours. So one morning, while clutching the toilet, I ripped the patch from my ass and threw it in the trash, declaring, “To hell with this!”
I returned to my doctor’s office resigned to going back on the pill. That’s when she suggested the NuvaRing.
I had heard of the birth control ring, but I was not sure about inserting and removing it. It seemed pretty gross. Plus, what if I did it wrong? But now, I love it.
Imagine one of those jelly-ring bracelets we used to wear in the ’80s — only a little thicker. You insert it, leave it in for three weeks and remove. A week later you insert a new one. So now, instead of having to think about my birth control every day or every week, I only have to take action twice a month! It even comes with little stickers you can put on your calendar, or a reminder program you can load on your computer. And — this is key — unlike a diaphragm, it does not have to be inserted every time you have sex, or in a particular place. As long as it’s in the vagina, it will release the hormones correctly.
The only problem with the ring is that occasionally it slips out during sex. (My boyfriend and I jokingly refer to this as the “ring-toss game.”) If this happens, you just rinse it off and put it back in. Other than that infrequent occurrence, neither of us can feel it at all.
One caveat: Make sure it’s still in after having especially aerobic sex. I learned that the hard way when I once found my ring in my bed several days later. Thank goodness Plan B is still legal.
— Jessica White
Bound without bouncing
My dad’s a track and field coach. His dad was a track and field coach. Mom ran cross-country, my older brother and younger sister were both collegiate sprinters, and my youngest sister throws the discus, hammer and shot put. Me? I was a swimmer and hated to run. It wasn’t boring laps around the track that bothered me. I could handle throbbing knees and splinty shins. My problem with running was that my breasts were too big.
I wore a size 36 D when I was 14. By the time I was 18 they had ballooned into DDs. Run with glands that size flopping around on your chest, and you’ll realize why some people refer to breasts as “knockers.” They bobble and bounce to their own rhythm, making your shoulders ache, your nipples raw, and sometimes whacking you on the chin if you’re going downhill. I wanted to be active, but whenever I broke into a run I felt like a cow, trotting along with udders a-jiggling. Water (and tight swimsuits) gave enough support to neutralize my wayward mammaries, so I stayed in the pool. But in the off-season we were still required to cross-train, and there was always gym class.
I had to figure out how to restrain my breasts, but no one bra seemed to do the trick. First, I doubled up with two sports bras, compressing my rib cage and lungs to the point where I saw stars. When that no longer provided even minimal motion control I tried one underwire “reduction” bra with a sports bra on top, but the resultant chafing opened horrible wounds on my nipples and the undersides of my breasts, which oozed, then left jagged scars. By the end of my high school athletic career, I’d developed a system involving Vaseline, an Ace bandage, and yet another constrictive sports bra. Then I injured my shoulder, and seemed finished with sports for a while.
When I left college four years later I had gained 80 pounds. Unable to swim, I began casting about for something I could do to become physically fit again, always trying to avoid running because of the embarrassment and pain my breasts caused. Rowing? Club dues are too expensive. Cycling? I’m blind in one eye; I’d probably kill someone. Pilates and yoga lacked a competitive element. Running was really the only thing I could do. I actually began considering breast-reduction surgery.
But then, lo! A messenger of salvation came, in the form of a co-worker and her Title 9 sportswear catalog. “You will never, ever move if you wear this,” she said, pointing to a bra the copywriters had labeled the “Last Resort Bra” from Enell. “I own three of them.” Her breasts were larger than mine, so I decided to take her word that this was the best thing going in buxom athletic gear.
I ordered the bra while my class was at lunch, wincing at the $60 price tag. When it arrived the following week I grew nervous: it fastens up the front, with a hook-and-eye closure? It’s made of what, satin? And, good God: There’s no underwire!
The proof, however, was in the plodding. I went out for a slow test-jog along the lake. After two miles I was out of breath, had aching knees, and a stitch in my side, but I could have cried for joy: My breasts had stayed put, in perfect comfort, without sacrificing lung capacity. I went home and plunked down another $75 to register for the Chicago Marathon, my first. I’ve run four more since then, and dozens of shorter races.
The Enell sports bra has allowed me to become active again without shame, pain or Ace bandages. It’s not only a miracle in terms of bounce control; it’s also the most durable bra I’ve ever owned. I use mine for at least an hour a day, five or six days a week, washing it in the sink and leaving it to dry overnight. It has lasted me nearly four years.
I’ve lost 75 pounds and am able to run, jump and enjoy sports for the first time since childhood. I can enjoy a solitary run on the lakefront to relieve stress. I’ve made new friends through running clubs. One wall in my apartment is covered with bib numbers and finisher medals: signs of tangible achievement that have encouraged me to get organized in other areas of my life. When I’m visiting my family, I can go for a run with my dad.
— Rose Judson
Robin Cherry is a freelance writer in Manhattan. She's currently working on an illustrated history of mail order catalogs.More Robin Cherry.
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)