With Vonnegut and now Carlin gone, the time has come for truthful lacerations. Words that crackle the delicate hides of prissy and solipsistic dispositions and galvanize the collective funny bone. Sentences that radiate the cancer now coruscating within bright neon corporate hellfire. Paragraphs that crack the knees of those fond of calcified postures and unlived lives. I cannot think of a single American satirist under the age of 50 who is willing to go to jail for his words. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are bought by Viacom and look like third-rate Catskills comics next to Chris Morris. Sarah Silverman plays for easily predictable shocks. Howard Stern no longer cares about pissing people off and, with his current Sybian obsession, will end up like Richard Dawson at this rate. Dave Chappelle had it, but abandoned his dais. Amy Sedaris has it, and is braver and more truthful than her brother, but she chooses not to write. Mike Judge has the balls to tell the truth, but his last film, Idiocracy, was dumped by a cowardly studio. Neal Pollack, what happened? This goes on while a cowboy plays his harp at 1600 Penn. If America cannot step up, its cultural salubrity is in serious trouble.
So a bunch of “activists” get together and create a hysterical video. These people claim that in 2012, a foreboding date that conveniently matches up with the Mayan calendar, the Internet as we know it will end. No more net neutrality. ISPs moving in for the big avaricious kill. Without citing a single shred of evidence to support their claim, the video that these “activists” post results in hysteria. It has, at the time of this posting, been Digged 7,170 times, and a strong majority of Diggers have swallowed this castor oil without stopping to question the specifics. Among the group: Tania Derveauax, who promised Belgian voters 40,000 blowjobs when running for political office, who promised to take the virginity of anyone who supported net neutrality, and who pledged online that she would kill herself in 90 days. What’s more, these “activists” created another video in May in which they used the same music cue and much of the same language justifying Ms. Derveaux’s suicide blog.
This latest stunt is fine satire and it’s certainly a masterful prank. And if the point made here involves demonstrating just how gullible people are when accepting such codswallop, then this group has certainly served its purpose. Nevertheless, I find myself a bit troubled by this video. Troubled by the manner in which so many people have easily accepted this. Troubled by the unseen joy that this group has had in witnessing these reactions. Troubled by a group who wishes to abdicate their sincerity and who believes, quite rightly as it turns out, that people are willing to believe nearly everything. One can certainly make the claim that this group is recused from guilt because they were only putting out prevarications that any reasonable person would resist, but these people knew what they were doing. And this video has now been circulated so widely that I’ve even received a few emails from people who seem to believe that it’s real. And while I respect the right of this group to declare nearly everything on a freedom of speech principle, I’ve always felt that if you’re going to execute a gag along these lines, there needs to be a few subtle clues in the details that alert others to the blatant fabrications.
These hangups are mine. I choose to believe, perhaps with solid dollops of naivete, that most people are good. That, in the grand scheme of humanity, the assholes and the solipsists are outweighed by those who are kind, amicable, and wish to help others out. NEE may very well be the living embodiment of the boy crying wolf, and the organization, if we can call it that, certainly has every right to challenge its audience. But I ponder the long-term view. Is life something in which you’re expected to mock every heartfelt gesture or concern? What is the value in being an inveterate cynic? I suspect these are the questions that nearly every satirist asks. But does not effective satire involve getting others to think about a subject? Lenny Bruce’s infamous “nigger” routine is, to my mind, a tremendous achievement. Bruce managed to get his audience to re-examine a loaded issue. The satire bristled against its audience, but it did get them to see another perspective running a bit counter to their own. The perspective practiced in this video doesn’t involve this level of thoughtfulness. It suggests a false expertise and a sense of self-importance (“If you don’t believe us, call your ISP”) on the part of the satirists. George Saunders got into trouble for suggesting a similar line of thought in relation to Borat. And while I disagreed with him, I can see his point. Even if people can ferret out on their own that this video is an outright lie, I find that the best satire is that which respects the audience’s intelligence.
And yet I find myself still justifying the right to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater. And I am willing, on some level, to defend this video and website for the way in which it pushed its audience. Those currently duped will indeed understand this at some point. So perhaps on this basis, NEE is no different from a satirist who chooses a more pellucid distinction. But should there comes a time in Ms. Derveauax’s life when she is suffering some genuine physical calamity, I wonder if others might consider it a gag. I wonder why there can’t be a balance between an elaborate joke and a true sense of being. When one lives exclusively in a satirical bubble, how can that real person or the real voice flourish?
A popular proverb in LOGO says, “FD 200 BK 300 FD 100.” But sometimes you can simply type in “HOME.” That’s more or less how litblogger Edward Champion feels today, as he asks aloud why he isn’t more famous than Kate Braverman.
After all, his 2004 San Francisco Fringe Festival play, Wrestling an Alligator, was hailed as a failure, Champion says, by the evil demons who live inside his right shoulder. His less well-known 16mm film, Servant of Society, was shot while he was a film student and never completed. Meanwhile, his blog, Return of the Reluctant, “is unknown for the collection of ravings that it is.” Champion has tried to write novels and short stories for years, only to collect rejection notices for the ones he has actually bothered to finish and put in the mail. He can’t even get regular work writing in newspapers, much less low-paying websites. So why isn’t he better known?
“I’m just another blogger,” Champion says. “I don’t think people understand my sense of humor, much less the occasional personas I create. But it’s probably because I’m just not that good of a writer.”
He’s dressed in a T-shirt that one might imagine on a teenager and jeans that don’t appear to have been washed, with a ratty wool coat as a carapace. He hasn’t bothered to shave because, he tells me, “the Los Angeles Times is run by a bunch of assholes.” He’s balding and he’s a bit tubby and he knows it. And aside from the occasional lay now, he hasn’t had a girlfriend in a while. When I ask him how long, he says it might have been the last time he had to pay taxes.
“I’m 31 years old. Surely, the world must understand my genius by now!”
It’s the lack of recognition that keeps Champion going. Well, that and the free books. The man blogs prolifically with the vain hope that someone will eventually hire him.
“There is not another blogger in the United States who sits between Cory Doctorow and Jason Kottke, next to Derek Powazek and Nick Denton. I have the most literary stature, certainly, of any assclown with an Internet account,” Champion says — a view that certainly isn’t confirmed by his Technorati rating.
“I was a total Internet addict,” said Champion of his initial foray into blogging. “The problem is that I can’t say no. Others tell me I have hubris. But they’re just jealous that I’m so ambitious.”
When I asked Champion if he was interested in drugs, he showed me a framed certificate that he had obtained from a correspondence course. The certificate read: “LITERARY BLOGGER.”
“You see that!” Champion shrieks. “That’s accredited!”
But I’m already out the door. I’m going to string up the editor who gave me this assignment.
“No,” Champion screams as I run to my car. “I’m a member of the LBC!”
Champion stands in front of my 1982 Toyota Corrolla. He does not budge. I beep my horn at him and Champion begins jumping around like a loon, cackling maniacally and begging me to put on the straightjacket. I throw him an early draft of David Mitchell’s latest novel and he then begins groveling for it in the street. I leave Champion in the dust, watching him lick the paper in the rear view mirror.
I’ve been a reporter for too damn long.
this morning i had a bowl of cereal
it was a big bowl and there were many cornflakes
thank you bowl of cereal
i talked to noah cicero about the bowl and he suggested that i use it again
i set the bowl aside to be washed and engaged in more empty banter with noah
noah is my best friend
noah is my only friend
everyone else should probably have one friend
too many friends spoil the broth
if everyone else has only one friend, then they should also probably have a blog
there they can express themselves
and publicly embarass themselves with tales of trying to get a fun gig
i am a genius
you can be too
Remember Cracked Magazine? It competed with MAD through a good chunk of the 1980s. In fact, many of the artists and writers who wrote for one magazine would regularly jump ship to the other, depending upon how much money the other outlet was offering. (Don Martin may have crossed the threshold at least six times.) And then Cracked folded and MAD was purchased by Time Warner, and MAD‘s edge was gone, baby!
Well, it looks like Cracked has relaunched — both as a magazine and as a website. Let us hope that it is unapologetically irreverant, reminds MAD of the satirical edge it sustained for so many decades, and forces BOTH magazines to keep each other in check, ensuring that we have two mighty satirical cartoon magazines taking the piss out of any and all targets. Golden age, indeed. Now more than ever, we need it. (via Yankee Potroast)
The last time I went to the bookstore, I produced my business card to the sexy and bespectacled young lady behind the counter shortly after informing her that she had the most beautiful tits that I had ever seen. I was, of course, tactful about this. I did not, for example, use the word “beautiful.”
I told her that I was Edward Champion and that I ran one of the greatest literary blogs the Internet had ever seen since September 30, 2005. She asked me what century I thought I was in. I answered, “The 21st.” She then told me that I was a hundred years behind the times, knocked the wind out of me with a hard and painful chop to the jaw, and had several impecunious teenagers (scrawny young men whom she referred to as “co-workers”) using their diminuitive muscles to throw me out of the bookstore. There were five attempts to push me through the door, but all tries proved useless until the last one, when these two gaunt co-workers threw me onto the sidewalk without losing their breath. One whapped me with the latest issue of Marie Claire the entire time to keep me appropriately stunned. His ruse worked. I was then photographed by the young lady and added to a “Megan’s Law”-style database of men who hit upon attractive bookstore clerks.
As any of my readers know, I got into the litblog business for the chicks. My love of literature, if any, was tertiary at best. Like other people, I expected this young lady to allow me to feel her up or offer a Linda Lovelace impression simply because I was entitled to it. Was this really a mistake? I was a litblogger, dammit! Where other people earned their way into bed through an osciallating combination of charisma, caring and alcohol, was not I, as a litblogger, deservedly on the fast track system by default?
Didn’t my obsession with literature entitle to me to complimentary rolls in the hay? Women I didn’t have to pay for? At the very least, she might sell her story to The Sun and find out if litbloggers were, as the rumors suggested, worse in the sack than some of our most shameless septuagenarian whoremongers, who also doubled as men of letters and were eventually published by the Library of America shortly after their penises dessicated into an unusable state and they eventually met their maker.
Say what you like about being a litblogger and a cad, it leads to a wide spectrum of silly things to write about. Now, whenever I write a blog post, however much I might be looking forward to exposing some literary news development, once I see the “Publish” button in my blog software template, all I can think about is the one time I sat at my computer and jerked myself off silly, simply because I was bored and had run out of books to read.
I had apparently spent the night alone: I had apparently stripped down to my socks and sprayed aerosol cheese over the whole of my body. I then called a friend and asked if he knew anyone could lick the cheese off, ideally wearing a Wonder Woman costume. The friend then told me that I was a sick reprobate and refused to speak with me again — even after I sent him complimentary tickets to a ball game, as well as a 312-page letter of apology.
Maybe in America, the litbloggers with sexier names than mine, Gwenda Bond, Mark Sarvas, Maud Newton, are rock’n’ roll enough to spend better evenings than this. They are probably more focused and they have probably never touched aerosol cheese in their lives.
Have I gone too far?
Today, I obtained a Xanax subscription. If the Xanax fails, then I’ll try Trazodone. If the Trazodone fails, I’ll have to resort to stuffing sizable amounts of powdered sugar down my throat.
The question now is one of functionality. If there are drugs to help alleviate this premature midlife crisis, rest assured that the doctors will prescribe them. The doctors have been commissioned to keep me in the locked room away from the laptop, reminding me not to refer to myself in third person or use the first person plural. They will indeed prescribe any and all capsules that they feel will increase dopamine levels and transform me into a happy and functional person who won’t rock the boat and who will be able to work a drab day job without complaint. They say that I will eventually find either a wife or a heterosexual lifemate and that I will work with this new person to produce the 2.2 children that the United States of America demands me (a white guy) to sprout.
Here’s where I’m at on the writing: This afternoon, I wrote three haikus. It’s not much. I’ve never been much of a poet. But I suppose this is better than nothing. The first haiku dealt with a very sexy traffic officer that gave me a nasty scowl when I waved hello to her out my barred window. It goes like this:
blue bottomed mama
will you take off your pants?
write me a ticket
The second haiku concerns a shooting pain that I had in my teeth when I was having my lunch. I had been served a hot dog and had asked for some sauerkraut. Sauerkraut was against regulations. So I settled for just ketchup and mustard. I was able to coax the man to sprinkle three microscopic bits of onions on the weenie. The hot dog man did, much to my surprise, have a beating heart like the rest of humanity. Who knew if it was in conflict with itself?
Anyway, when I bit into the dog in question, I experienced something unexpected. Fortunately, this sort of life experience translates quite easily into art and I wrote this second haiku of the afternoon:
frozen weenie. ouch.
bleeding bicuspids aren’t nice
dentist trip likely
The third haiku, I’m afraid, is a bit too personal for me to share with you. But I will say that it got me in touch with a sensitive part of me that I had long forgotten about.
More later. It’s time to cross-stitch.
Blog life changes fast.
Blog life changes more times than you can change your underwear.
You sit down to lunch and you know that there’s a blog awaiting you.
The question of pity parties.
Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. I had sent off yet another epistle to a media outlet. Mr. Tanenhaus’s assistant had personally telephoned me, telilng me that I was “chasing windmills” and that the New York Times office would no longer be accepting my brownie shipments. I can’t be sure about the dating on the Microsoft Word file (“Last-ditch olive branch letter to Sam Tanenhaus.doc,” I think it was called). I had long since deleted it and freed up that portion of my hard drive to download more porn. I sure as hell was’t Joan Didion, who clearly had more important things to say to the Gray Lady’s affluent and upper middle class demographic. I could sweat long and hard on a thoughtful essay about Gilbert Sorrentino or the interesting history of Soft Skull Press, but in the end if Didion wanted to write some 6,000 word essay on the sensation of putting two quarters into a soda machine, she’d have top priority and wouldn’t be edited at all. Never mind that I had suffered my own personal grief in 2005 and had used my sense of humor and perseverance to keep on writing.
For a long time I wrote haikus.
Blog life changes more times than you can change your underwear.
The ordinary underwear, not the expensive boxers I wear to give girlfriends smooth and easy access.
At some point, in the interest of remembering that letter, I decided not to allow myself to be crippled by morally complex decisions. Instead of laboring over a Word file, I wrote half a play, traded notes with a producer about a screenplay we were developing, banged out a lot of words on a novel-in-progress, began a literary podcast, and continued to blog profusely. All this with a full-time job. Like most writers, I didn’t have the luxury of a literary reputation to fall back on. I saw immediately that quibbling over the haikus was probably a bad idea, because, really, what good is there in laboring months over a sentence? I recognize now that there is nothing unusual in this, that most writers aren’t nearly high-profile enough to earn that particular advantage and that the Times was culpable in allowing a talented writer to take a colossal misstep, playing into the sympathies of a liberal elite that had very likely never known a day without a hot meal, much less stretched their hand across the class chasm to listen to and understand the very people they purported to support. Maybe back in 1966, when they were hungry and struggling and dealing with editors who would call them on their shit, these writers might be capable of stunning us with their amazing powers of observation; without exception, they had declined to do this for quite some time, never deigning to speak with the freaks and the bohemians and the dissidents and the crackheads and the troubled souls so regularly observed in my everyday life (but apparently not theirs) that the Sunday Times Magazine had so regularly ignored. Instead, they bankrolled top talent and suggested that they write about vacuity. They played into the whole essayist superstars mythos. And all this as the New York Times Company had laid off staff while silently pondering why the shares had dropped.
“And then — blogged.” In the midst of life we are surrounded by obsessions, and I had said this sentence one too many times. It had not been said by any philosopher of note. Later I realized that my rage at the newspapers, compounded by their deafness to my creative pitches, is what led me to become some febrile chronicler of literary motifs and happenings. Friends were kind enough to not tell me directly that I was chasing windmills, letting me find out for myself that such a regular plan was far from tenable. Never once did I exploit the intimate details of my personal life. All this without that bradykinetic yet pivotal period of thinking, of allowing dreams to unfold and wild ideas to transform into arguments and complex tales.
One thing’s for sure: there was never any hired help named Jose to pick up my mess. I cleaned my own toilet. I washed my own dishes. Every week, I picked up the detritus. And I never once asked my reading public to feel sorry for me through such a shameless publicity stunt: a desperate attempt to draw in more readers by headlining one individual’s personal misery.
August 23, 2005, a Tuesday.
I had ordered a large pizza.
I had seen the pizza advertised in a leaflet that had somehow been crammed into my mailbox and decided to give it a shot.
The pizza, with its pepperoni and mushrooms, would give me the strength to blog some more.
The pizza man arrived, I tipped him generously, I offered two slices to a friend and one to a homeless lady in my neighborhood.
All this, of course, is unimportant. But one must understand the exact contents in which the Tanenhaus letter was sent.
If the pizza could be said to have any feelings, I’m guessing it would have felt relieved yet somewhat homicidal as the pizza slicer partitioned it into eight pieces. If it could read, the pizza would probably be reading Sun Tze’s The Art of War, which is particularly sad, as the pizza itself was unarmed and had no appendages, much less a sentient mind, with which to attack its assailants.
The pizza was scarfed down by dawn.
Another one was ordered less than two weeks later. It was a pretty good idea, considering the untold burden of grief.
* * *
I used to have a large white dry erase board in my small rented room, for reasons having to do with a silly effort at appearing professional. Initially, I drew task lists for what I needed to do during any given week. But because the markers were colorful, I soon began drawing obscene pictures involving stick figures in flagrante delicto. I would invite friends to come by to play drunken games of Pictionary, carefully rationing the large bottle of Jim Beam that I had purchased on sale at a Safeway earlier in the year. I was using the dry erase board as a way to keep things going in light of the grief that threatened to destroy my routine.
I sobbed as I scrawled those naughty pictures of stick figures. At the time, I wasn’t getting any and I had resorted to relentless masturbation to maintain my sangfroid. So should we all.
There was still no hired man named Jose who would help me balance my checkbook. I couldn’t afford such a man. Like most people, I had to sort this all out by myself.
But the dry erase board helped, even if it proved the wrong conduit for me to organize my life.
I had to believe that the grief could die. I had to believe that learning to laugh at the crazy world around us, without resorting to a long-winded personal essay, was the right road out.
I did lots of laughing in the months that followed. I’ve always done a lot of laughing. I’ve been kicked out of funeral homes for laughing. The fault, I suppose, is mine.
I didn’t own a car and I slept on a futon. What kind of conditions were these for a man in his early thirties? Would things eventually happen for me because I had a pretty strong work ethic and produced who knows how many thousands of words? If there were any deficiencies in the way that I was approaching this, it was perhaps the simple fact that the things that interested me were quirky and alternative and not always highbrow. I had actually enjoyed The 40 Year Old Virgin! What was wrong with me?
Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People, points out that the essential characteristic of winning people over is to dun your nose as you listen to a person of influence. Certainly, people interested me and I fancied myself a halfass listener. But why should anyone have to suffer fools gladly when one exists in either an imagined or a palpable sense of grief? Why should anyone reveal so many pedantic details to move newspapers? Shouldn’t some things be kept close to one’s chest? Shouldn’t more substantial things be written about?
The smell of sweet bullshit.
That was one way I could come to terms with this ethical conundrum.
I did not anticipate a midlife crisis at the age of 31.
The other day, while bemoaning the fact that my tongue had not touched a clitoris in seventeen years and remembering that my life had become so vapid and meaningless that I had resorted to this ongoing “tour” of cliterary blogs in an effort to get linkage (4,300 visitors last week! Thank you, Terry Teachout!), I came across this letter in one of my scholarly periodicals:
Dear Penthouse Letters:
My wife and I were trying to spice up our sex life. One evening, she suggested that I dress up in a human-size cocker spaniel costume. I asked her why she wanted me to do this. And she confessed that she had been dissatisfied with me for some time. She had resorted to illicit relations with Pumpkin, our pet cocker spaniel. She had persauded Pumpkin by putting a Milkbone up her cunt, which Pumpkin proceeded to masticate upon. And then, attracted by my wife’s smell, Pumpkin proceeded to perform cunnilingus on my wife.
I must confess that after hearing this, I was torn as to whether I could even waggle my tongue within my wife’s inner recesses and, in particular, her clit. But once I had donned the dog suit, I became comfortable with performing cunnilingus — often with Pumpkin helping out whenever he craved a Milkbone.
— A NEW KIND OF DOGGY STYLE, Fayetteville, NC
Allowing “A New Kind of Doggy Style” a little leeway, we can see that this isn’t a sad story at all. It seems to me that his wife has gusto and a creative solution to an ongoing problem. Cunnilingus has always struck me as a practice that is, quite frankly, too much effort for the typical male. Why should anyone be burdened by it? Further, why should anyone write about it when their critical skills are bankrupt? The short answer, I do believe, is that these cliterary bloggers are not critics. They are that rare species of thinker known as the enthusiast. And they should spend less time writing about the clit and more time licking it. One should grant these moonlighters scant stock, given that the real cliterary enthusiasts, however misguided, are hidden behind locked doors, evading strange and antediluvian North Carolina laws that are, rather inexplicably, still on the books.
In fact, it seems to me that some of these conditions are reflected in cliterary blogs such as John Bruce’s. I’ve already discussed Bruce’s failure to say anything positive about the clitoris. He writes like an embittered and impoverished muskrat who has not fondled a bare breast in some time or, failing that, a man who would need an instruction manual to discover the advantages and pleasures of his own cock. One can infer from Bruce’s writing that his penis is quite small and flaacid.
In fact, if you were to put an ice cream cone in Bruce’s hands, he would probably throw it instantly into the garbage can, declaring it a foolish distraction. So miserable a man is Bruce that one wonders why he expends endless pages saying nothing but negative things about the clitoris. Perhaps, if properly coaxed, Bruce might learn to lick and love the clit.
But then why should he? What are we likely to get from a man so hopeless in reasoning, so clueless in connecting, and so diffident about the clit? Why did you choose to write about the clit, John? If you don’t like clits, shouldn’t you consider the anatomy of another gender?
Further, there is the strange association of clits with some unspecified hillock known as Mt. Hollywood. While any competent scholar is well aware that much of the porn industry can be found in the Los Angeles area, why stand in the shadow of some dubious mountain? Is it possible that Bruce will never climb the mountain? Even a few steps up the incline? Even in a half-hearted way?
I’m still learning more about these cliterary bloggers, but I’m sure we can all agree that careless reading and an inflexible mindset is the ultimate justification for being an inveterate wanker.
Some scholars have suggested that it all began with a 1749 novel written by John Cleland. The novel’s title was composed of two words: The first being a slightly naughty term for one’s, uh — how shall we put it? That thing you sit on. The second being more acceptable for the Christian ear: namely, “Hill.” However, this hill must be clearly distinguished from the immoral “thrills” one might find on another “Hill” immortalized in rock and roll music. Or perhaps not. It’s clear that the parallels here are inevitable. I must warn you, dear reader, that should you spend at least five minutes contemplating this issue, you may find yourself spending most of the weekend praying to God for forgiveness.
This book, written by Cleland when he was in debtor’s prison, was the first e***** novel. It depicts a certain young woman’s initiation into things we really can’t talk about in this publication. Let’s just say that Ms. Hill, the eponymous character, wasn’t exactly spending all of her spare time cross-stitching.
One might argue whether these unspeakable actions should even be put to pen. The risk of offending so many people clearly outweighs the value of rationally discussing what some have argued to be an everyday and harmless issue.
And yet, almost cavalierly, the writers couldn’t refrain from writing. There were volumes penned by Frank Harris in which this ineffable subject was broached. D.H. Lawrence, thought to be innocent enough with his classic story “The Rocking Horse Winner,” demonstrated his true colors and ineluctable perversion with “Lady Chatterley’s L****,” causing at least four septuagenarians to have cardiac arrests before they had finished reading the first chapter. And then there was that Henry Miller guy who wrote about what shall henceforth be referred to in this essay as It, banging out descriptive passage after descriptive passage of It It It with all the gusto of a man who hadn’t discovered the advantages of tight breeches…
[Whoops! Did I just write that? Editor, please strike.]
…with all the gusto of a man who hadn’t discovered the advantages of, uh, abstienence.
Soon, e****** became a cottage industry. Together with its less steamier cousin, the H******** romance, everyday readers became drawn to cheaply produced paperbacks that not only featured vivid descriptions of It, but dared to suggest It with muscular, long-haired hunks [Editor: Is that too much?] rescuing ripe beauties clad in diaphonous clothing [Oh come on, Editor, you asked me to write about it!].
1. Let the Niggers Rot in New Orleans
2. It Might Take Years
3. Don’t Need No Aid
4. It’s Always Time for Vacation
5. Wal-Mart Comes First
6. Glad I Never Had to Hack My Way Out of an Attic
7. Nature Ain’t As Bad As a Terrorist
8. Bootstrap Boogie
9. Zero Tolerance
10. It’s Hard Work
11. Flying High at a Press Conference
12. They’ll Forget This Week Next Year
Apple Computer is preparing to make an important announcement next week. This announcement will be bigger than all other announcements. It is very important that you pay attention and that you clear your front page and social obligations that day. You must not live even obliquely, because this is Apple talking. Not some johnny come lately, but FUCKING APPLE, if you catch the drift.
It is very likely that this announcement will be the biggest announcement in the history of Apple, if not the whole of human history. This announcement is so enormous and so earth-shattering that we will see an instant continental shift and a substantial change in average global temperature within a week of the announcement being unfurled. When the first words come from Steve Jobs’ mouth, at least six hundred humans will die of cardiac arrest at the shock and import of what Apple has to say. Yes, it is that huge.
This announcement is critical to Apple’s future. It is critical to your future. If this announcement is somehow halted or postponed, if it is not allowed to go forth as planned next week, then several people will be disappointed. Heads will roll. Humanity’s ability to function will be compromised. If the announcement does not go down, several small and cute animals will die. All because some marketing bozo wanted to perpetuate more suspense.
So let’s be absolutely clear about this. This is an important announcement. We’re not pussy-footing around here. This is fucking huge. It is not a stunt. It is not hype. It is A MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT, perhaps on par with the Human Genome Project or the Dead Sea Scrolls.
We therefore ask you to stay nervous until such time that the announcement has been made.
Thank you for your cooperation.
We were drinking Stoli and snorting lines off an expensive hooker’s back, discussing a certain young stallion who’d the paper of record had puffed up before and who we had hoped to blow ourselves right when this Bolivian marching powder went straight to our heads. “Who cares, Jayster,” said my friend, who may or may not have been married. “Writers in their 20’s are good for one thing and one thing only: dependable fellatio.” I don’t know — I guess that’s possible, as many hipsters and not a few seedy men with glittering threads have claimed, that I’m a sad case for an author gone horribly awry after a stunning debut, but I remain, long after passing any literary relevance, strangely interested in wine and any book review opportunity where I can make a desperate stab at reclaiming any credibility I once had. I devour first novels, weeping profusely at the world that I shall never know again. I’ve tried to use second voice in some of my later fiction work, hoping for a comeback, but people have thought my efforts a pathetic gimmick. They’re right, of course. I have very little much to say any more. It doesn’t help that the weasley Michael J. Fox starred in the film adaptation of my book and that I have to explain constantly to people that I am not, in fact, married to Tracy Pollan.
But that’s where Benjamin Kunkel’s “Indecision” comes in. Ben (and I assure you that I have good reason to use his first name here) has penned a novel that I would gladly bob my head for. I would unzip Ben’s pants without a second thought. So should we all. When I read Ben’s book, I felt a certain inexplicable faith that I couldn’t put into words. The kind of ineffable sensation that one experiences when one undergoes an erection while flipping through a family album and fingering a hot cousin (not the cousin, silly, but the photo, of course!). It’s a bit taboo to think about this, but now that we’re all out here in the open, I’d like to see a show of hands. How many of you drop your pants when you get sexually excited by a novel? Furthermore, how many of you are compelled to call up the author, see if the author’s available for a hot weekend, and then perform as much fellatio (or cunnilingus; let’s consider both genders here) as this author demands over a 48 hour period?
Anyone who’s followed my work knows that I don’t hold back. I tell it like it is. And when I say to you that Benjamin Kunkel is an author who deserves as much fellatio as America can give him, well then you know that’s no bullshit coming from Uncle Jay! Ben is cute and cuddly and his book is the cat’s pajamas. And while I can’t quite figure out what it is that makes Ben’s book work, let me just say that I think he’s “deeply aware” of what a novel is all about — meaning that he has probably read at least fifty books in his lifetime and has picked up the basics.
Ben is ready to be fawned and groomed over like a hot coal in a blacksmith’s callused hands. Let him have groupies, masseuses, admirers, sycophants and, of course, we trusty fellators. You see, Ben Kunkel has exploded onto the literary scene like a ripe pinata. He’s the kind of man who I’d happily mix my metaphors for, if not Ben’s drinks.
Of course, once the ballyhoo dies down, you may just find Ben here on these review pages writing about some other hot young stallion ready to be spanked. Let us all hope that Mr. Kunkel’s grace and gratitude is as great as his talent. For so many others, like me, have been rash and wrong before.
This Used to Be My Stableground
Like a Surgeon*
Another Broken Bone in Another Hall
Who’s That Roan?
Don’t Cry for Me Amygdala
Goodbye to Medicine
I’d Be Surprisingly Ill for You
Justify My Cast (Arm Within)
Open Your Body Part
What It Feels Like for a Patient
* — No relation to the Weird Al Yankovich song. This is a new version.
Shortly before being confirmed as United Nations Ambassador, John Bolton once again embraced his musical side with his sixth album, Time, War & Tendinitis, which continues the flatline yet soothing sound that Bolton established on his previous album, Soul Destroyer. Without even bothering to shave his ridiculous moustache, Bolton has somehow created an album that has gone on to sell six million copies, mostly to aging, BMW-driving accountants who have finally come to terms with the fact that they have no real taste in music.
His chief collaborator this time around is former Republican Justice Earl Warren, whose death in 1974 did not preclude Bolton from sifting through Justice Warren’s treasure trove of bad poetry and hastily written lyrics. Warren penned half of the songs on this album and his passion for that old-time war hawk feeling can be heard on the album’s highlight track, “When a Man Loves a Weapon,” a loving paean to both the cold war and unilateralism.
But while Bolton’s album cannot be played when you’re making out in the back seat with your girlfriend, Track No. 5, “Now That I Found God” is a melodious little romp to play if you’re ever feeling alone or isolated after you’ve told everybody in the world that you and only you are right. Bolton’s bark is indeed as bad as his bite, as he croons during the second verse, “I could’ve screamed forever/And never realized/The terrorists of our lifetime/Were anyone else inside your eyes.” Never mind the fact that “realized” and “eyes” don’t actually rhyme. This song is more concerned with the advantages of corruption and abrasive authority. As another odious solo from Kenny G plays in the background, Bolton then barks at several unidentified underlings in the studio, expertly berating them while tying this into a fundamenalist jangle that reaches a crushing crescendo of hate and inflexibility. (One leaves this particular track wondering if Bolton is truly suffering from tendenitis or if the pain in question is psychosomatic.)
Alas, such a hate-filled mainstream sound cannot last for an entire album. Near the album’s end, Bolton sounds as if he’s had the wind knocked out of him. On “Save Me,” Bolton sings this chorous: “Warrior you’ve gotta save me, oh warrior don’t you drive me crazy.” Shortly after each round, we hear the distinct sound of something being unzipped and other things that cannot be mentioned in a family newspaper.
Still, this is a solid record for priapic neocons, with nary an olive branch offered for anyone outside Bolton’s obdurate and controversial political ideology.
Written just after the author stepped into rush hour traffic and before he dared to look out of his own window before returning to his computer, Ian McEwan’s novel “Saturday” creates a hero who dares to live out a privileged lifestyle and worriedly thinks about his investment portfolio. It is fear, directed towards the expected and the humdrum and the implausible, that drives Mr. McEwan’s masterpiece. Today this fiction may seem as prophetic as Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian,” which features a palpable portrait of vampires tapping into victims while on the run. But both authors agree that today’s fiction is designed to present things that will scare the bejesus out of you, with ordinarily stable minds rushing to FOX News and conspiracy-themed newsletters in search of further things to be frightened about.
“We can never have enough things to be frightened about. I myself am terrified of half-cooked foie gras,” Mr. McEwan wrote in an Op-Ed piece just after enjoying a six-course meal on the very day of the London subway and bus bombings. (His article appeared simultaneously in Gourmet and Ladies’ Home Journal.) That same day Ms. Kostova wrote on her Web site, “The bombings sadden me. But, on the bright side, sales should boost up as people look for more things to be afraid of.”
With such inevitability and the persistent strain of soccer moms fearing that the terrorists could firebomb the small-town high school fields they regularly frequent at any second, some of the most ambitious novelists are not only addressing this climate of fear but going a bit hogwild in their depictions, leaving a legacy that is not only quite silly but good for drawing half-baked generalizations that can be referenced while engaged in pretentious cocktail party banter. This is what Mr. McEwan calls “the complacent stage,” a needlessly introspective and self-absorbed novel just after a big success (in this case, the remarkable “Atonement”). It would appear that this complacence is shared by Michael Cunningham’s “Specimen Days,” which is also considered a critical disappointment. Cunningham’s most recent novel offers Walt Whitman’s poems as the cure-all elixir. Have a drinking problem? Read “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.” Feeling depressed (perhaps suicidal?) because your local Whole Foods Market decided to close early and you couldn’t get cheese made with coagulating enzymes? “O Captain! My Captain!” is right around the corner.
The important thing these days is for novels to reflect an almost pathological neurosis that only the richest 10% of our society can understand. This will then, in turn, perpetuate irrationally conceived fears in literature which detract from more pressing dilemmas.
Finally, one of our esteemed colleagues had the balls to point out the obvious. All this time, while we organized groups to discuss neglected authors, delved into the world of podcasting, and had the temerity to redesign this site so that it was easier on the eye, our purpose all along was to start reading junk like Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling. To hell with Chris Sorrentino, Lee Martin, Kirby Gann, or Elliot Perlman. Pay no attention to Soft Skull or Melville House. All along, it’s been our secret desire to lie to you about the hacks and the wastrels who continue to have their work published because it sells.
That’s because we’re apparently a “mainstream bookblogger.” We’re so mainstream that we successfully avoided the cut at Forbes — lest they announce our grand deception to embrace the capitalist system in all its totality. It’s why we flew to New York for BookExpo. We slept with at least fifteen publicists while we were there and had a tray of canapes served on a publicity manager’s back. We called her “Rover.” She barked every time we put a Ben Frankin in her mouth. Word on the street is that we’re now something of a “sugar daddy.”
We used our sizable LBC influence to ensure that a book as scabrous and mainstream as Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories won the last round. And rest assured, the book with the biggest publicity budget will win, come September. Substantial checks are being sent as we speak.
It was our maintream status, of course, that forced us to renounce the Tanenhaus Brownie Watch and that compelled us to avoiding any image-invisible content.
Selling out has, in fact, been the best possible thing we’ve ever done. And we encourage you to do the same. Because that’s the way things work in 21st Century America. The men with the fine suits always win.
So buckle up, kids. You can be sugar daddies (and sugar mommies) too!
EXT. WASHINGTON D.C. — DAY
Several ENSLAVED EX-GOVERNMENT WORKERS, all of them in their nineties, are led by ROMAN CENTURIONS into the Washington Monument. The famed landmark is surrounded by crosses, where various elderly men are in the process of being crucified.
Each Centurion has an American flag burned into their bronzed armor and a torn up copy of the Constitution in their back pockets. All wear watches.
One Centurion, CRASSUS, looks suspiciously like a younger version of Laurence Olivier.
[NOTE TO PRODUCER: Talk to the boys behind Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow about doing the rendering for this.]
Crassus leans into ONE of the elderly men, who is named W. MARK FELT.
on W. Mark Felt. His face is in anguish, but manages a smile.
Felt spits in Crassus’ face.
The crosses continue down the length of Constitution Avenue.
Crassus cracks his whip. Felt cries out in pain. The other Enslaved Ex-Government Workers continue howling, until one speaks up.
Crassus looks with embarassment upon the scene.
Crassus digs into his face and tears off his Olivier mask, revealing the FRIGHTENING VISAGE OF RICHARD NIXON.
WASHINGTON D.C. (AP): This morning, in front of reporters, Cookie Monster revealed shocking allegations that his love for cookies was being curtailed against his will by the producers of Sesame Street.
“Me so sorry!” said Cookie Monster in front of a mob of reporters. “Me still like cookies all the time. But Cookie Monster needs money to buy more cookies.”
Three journalists, trying hard to remain objective, broke down almost immediately upon learning that a pivotal character from the long-running PBS children’s program had sold out. Kleenex was offered.
The 36th season of Sesame Street will respond to the growing crisis of obesity. Characters will now sing the praises of vegetables and nutrition. But as TV critic Tom Shales recently noted, “If the Cookie Monster can’t have cookies all the time, it’s clear that Sesame Street has jumped the shark.”
Sesame Street producers were asked whether such a dramatic change in Cookie Monster’s diet would have adverse effect on Cookie Monster’s metabolism, which scientists believe involves an exclusive diet of cookies. Calls were not returned.
The slimmer Cookie Monster showed a noted loss of vigor at the press conference, the result of a sharp reduction in his cookie diet. He said that he was sadder than usual and that the sudden introduction of carrots into his meals had made him sick. Even the news that his sudden weight loss had earned him People‘s “Sexiest Monster Alive” offered no solace.
“Me can only eat cookies,” said Mr. Monster. “Why they no understand that me like cookies and cookies are for me?
1. It’s close to seven o’clock. You’ve spent most of the day doing everything in your power to put off deadlines. Now the phone won’t stop ringing as you pound away on the computer trying to finish some bland copy for a nonprofit foundation. Nevertheless, you’re curious. Who could be calling at this hour? If you pick up the phone, go to 22. If you keep writing, go to 5.
2. John Grisham’s dull prose has you pondering why you never became a multi-millionaire. Tanenhaus repeatedly calls. Due to unexpected pressure from Times brass (they can’t justify paying an excessive word rate for a freelancer hanging on by the skin of his teeth and demand answers), Tanenhaus asks you to cut your 30-word profile down to 25 words. If you accommodate Tanenhaus, go to 4. If you stick to your artistic guns and stick with the 30 words you promised, go to 8.
3. The midnight oil has burned brightly like Kipling’s tiger. Savor this moment. The hapless drones who must march off to a nine-to-five job can’t possibly compete with this wonderful luxury of walking around the flat in jammies. Just as you revel in your superiority, your spouse, who has spent the day working for a state-funded planning department for scant pay and thankless distinction, arrives through the door. The spouse, suffering from a minor depression, wants sex. If you go through with this, go to 12. If you don’t, go to 14.
4. You can’t give the copy editors an answer. The ten cent words you’ve crammed into the slightly tightened blurb, the idea being that they would make you appear genteel and smart, don’t cut the mustard. You try negotiating with Tanenhaus for an additional sentence or two. But with the NYTBR going to press, there’s no time. Tanenhaus hires an intern to perform your work at one quarter the price. Meanwhile, with the kill fee long forgotten, you’ve had to suffer through another Grisham novel. You burn your entire library and decide that a screenwriting career might be in the cards.
5. Damn the Fleet Street hacks. Damn the amateurs. You’ve spent years working yourself up to this magnificent level of professionalism and poverty. Why stop now? You compose some 600 words on how John O’Hara, Richard Yates, or another dead white male hankering for a 21st century comeback has been unfairly neglected by the cognoscenti, little realizing that Alex, that smug trust fund kid you keep running into at cocktail parties, has already pitched Lewis Lapham on the same subject. But the piece is done. And you’re not exactly one to shun a dead horse. If you write a query letter for the piece you’ve just written, go to 3. If you decide to sleep off your energy, go to 18.
6. Sara Nelson is so impressed by your full-fledged attack piece that she appoints you an associate editor, which involves correcting atrocious copy when you’re not surfing the Internet. But it does mean free ARCs, even if the novel you had hoped to write before the age of 35 falls by the wayside. You eat well when you can afford it. And now that you have an actual job title, the spouse has some tangible vocational position that she can announce to her parents without fear of shame. You contemplate purchasing Connecticut real estate.
7. You bone up on M.F.K. Fisher. But it’s not enough. Tanenhaus watches the way you salivate over your shrimp salad. When the main course arrives, a waiter offers pepper. If you accept the pepper, go to 11. If not, go to 27.
8. Tanenhaus is satisfied and never calls you again. You don’t exactly have Rachel Donadio’s legs. But he does invite you to dinner, assuming of course that you’ll cover him. If you go to dinner with Tanenhaus, go to 7. If you prefer a home-cooked meal with the spouse, go to 13.
9. Sam Tanenhaus bemoans the lack of confrontational writing within your 25-word blurb. Where’s the Wieseltier or the Clive James feel? You have no answer. You meet with Tanenhaus at an upscale restaurant on the west side and he slaps you on the wrist with his portable ruler, which was specially constructed for him as a tchotchke from the good folks at McGraw Hill, who had hoped to ingratiate him. He dons a yarmulke, shouts to you that “He hef no son” and has two men throw you out of the building. You spend years in a padded cell, clutching onto a toy manatee named Simon given to you by Jungians to free you mind. It takes 27 years for you to fully recover. But that’s okay. By the time you’re sane, the flying cars have arrived.
10. You decide that if Top Ramen and Stove Top are the fruits of hard labor, then this freelance gambit really isn’t worth it. You open a co-op in Seattle and specialize in organic vegetables. Two of your friends regularly give you hugs.
11. The pepper makes you sneeze. And you let loose a booger that makes Tanenhaus slightly uncomfortable. If you tell Tanenhaus that the booger was the result of a childhood trauma that you’re too embarassed to go into the details over, go to 21. If you offer Tanenhaus a napkin, go to 23.
12. You’re intimately familiar with your spouse’s contours and genitalia What a dependable port in a storm! Unfortunately, you should have listened to your high school gym coach. Don’t let it all loose before the game. There’s the 2,000 words you have to bang out tomorrow for Elizabeth Spiers. But sore from the previous evening’s gymnastics, you sleep in untll 2 PM and find yourself distracted by daytime soaps. Your editors don’t forgive you and you go back to grad school to get a master’s in zoology. Your freelance career is over.
13. The spouse points to the copious collection of Top Ramen in the cupboard. The spouse points out that the check from the Iowa Herald Press, the “shitstorm piece” you spent several days celebrating over, has yet to clear. If you dine on Top Ramen, go to 10. If you decide that Allah is on your side and you take the spouse to a nice restaurant, go to 19.
14. Sure, let the spouse suffer. You’re an artist, dammit, and the last thing you want to feel is relaxed. It’s that dependable edginess that’s kept the checks coming in. But your spouse has tired of these excuses. The spouse forces you to sleep on the couch. You wake up the next day and shuffle around the refrigerator for a bite to eat. But your spouse decided to move back to the parents and take all of the food. Your credit cards are maxed. There isn’t a single sou in your wallet. And collecting unemployment would be a detriment to your pride. But since there’s none of Cheever’s bread and buttermilk, you die of starvation inside of two weeks. But at least there’s the work to stand the test of time.
15. Despite three years of Spanish in high school, they don’t want to talk. You meet Jorge, the guy who runs the place. You don’t entirely hit it off and find yourself sleeping with the fishes. So much for journalistic credibility.
16. The new Sunday book review format has made this a lot easier than you initially thought. Hell, you might even get a MacArthur Genius Grant out of this. Just when you’re about to submit your blurb to Tanenahus, however, you get a call from Sara Nelson. Nelson has observed your bouncing around. Hell, she’s an expert at it. She offers the magic carrot of writing a Grisham review for Publisher’s Weekly. 800 words. Time to tear that onerous attorney-turned-author a new one. If you accept Nelson’s offer, go to 6. If you stick with Tanenhaus, go to 9.
17. You promise Reichl that you’ll find an angle. Mad with glee, you shake on it over the phone. $500 for 2,000 words. A so-so sum, but a veritable miracle. But you don’t know anyone other than the Puerto Ricans who run the donut shop down the street. And Reichl and her fact checkers demand sources. If you talk with the donut shop owners, go to 15. If you make up your sources, go to 20.
18. You fall upon the dumpy futon. You haven’t eaten since noon. And with no spouse around to second-guess your appetite and your need for sleep, you find yourself pinned to the futon for several days. The spouse, viewing you as a responsible adult, doesn’t count on the last-minute rescue call from Sam Tanenhaus, who expects you to write a 30-word review of the latest Grisham as a dare. You accept. If you write the 30 words without reading the novel, go to 16. If you’re an ethical type who must read the novel before writing the review, go to 2.
19. You enjoy a prix fixe menu at an upscale bistro. You declare bankruptcy, but thanks to recent lax legislation, your debtors are able to incarcerate you. Your spouse divorces you and gets booked on a daytime talk show with the theme, “My Spouse Thought He Was a Freelance Writer and Didn’t Know When to Quit.” Years later, you win first prize in a public access version of American Idol, but you’re not nearly as successful as Jonah Moananu. You found a leper colony in Carmel, California, but have difficulty finding bona-fide lepers.
20. When the blogosphere reveals what a liar you are, you declare yourself Jayson Blair’s illegitimate cousin. You appear on Larry King, sobbing like Jerry Falwell. Hayden Christensen plays you in the biopic.
21. Tanenhaus replies, “If pain’s your game, write a memoir, kid.” You send a proposal to Random House and, to your surprise, they agree to publish 5,000 Boogers of the Soul, your childhood memoir. You win the National Book Critics Circle Award and get tenured at a prominent Eastern university.
22. You’re not really one for discipline, are you? Your spouse has taken on two full-time jobs to support your artistic temperament and this is the thanks she gets?
Well, never mind. You bang out about 500 words, most of it rubbish. You look to the empty bottle of whiskey, the telltale flask you put on your desk in honor of Faulkner but never bothered to replace. Nothing to drink, but the phone’s still ringing.
Bored out of your gourd, you decided to pick up.
It’s Ruth Reichl. She was amused by one of your essays that appeared in the Voice and now she’s interested in having you write something about donuts. You hate donuts. You’re a bagel person. In fact, you don’t see what’s so gastronomic about those sugary monstrosities that have long been the dinner of choice for the fuzz. And you’ve already got five things to finish by Saturday. But the liquor cabinet is empty and you could use a pick-me-up. And this is Ruth Reichl. If you accept the assignment, go to 17. If you say no, go to 25.
23. Tanenhaus accepts the napkin and replies that you have guts. He’s willing to give you the cover essay if you can get published in the New Yorker before the winter. If you accept his offer, go to 24. If not, go to 26.
24. You throw yourself on the knees of David Remnick at a philanthropic function. You offer to draw cartoons. Remnick hires you as a human model. You spend an evening in a frozen and recumbent position, observing various millionaires eating canap鳠off your naked back. Remnick, however, to his credit agrees to put an essay you’ve written in the “Talk of the Town” section. Tanenhaus gives you the cover essay. Real health insurance isn’t far behind.
25. Ruth Reichl tells you that you’re making a foolish mistake and vows to smear your name at the next cocktail function. She hangs up, shortly before declaring you a rank amateur. The Voice stops taking your work. You have difficulty and, with the spouse pissed off with you about royally screwing up an opportunity, you consider a safe career as a taxidermist. Your friends remark that there’s more life in the dead birds than there ever was in your writing. You abandon your writing career and purchase a two-bedroom home in Ohio.
26. You decide to rail against the machine, becoming the editor of a new blog, Flaubert Liked Tennis. The blog gets quoted in the New York Times. You get all sorts of free books but the lacrosse lessons aren’t successful.
27. “Son, that’s the ballsiest move I’ve ever seen a freelancer make in a four-star restaurant,” says Tanenhaus. You’ve ingratiated yourself into the machine. You take Deborah Solomon’s interviewing job and prove yourself even more vicious with your questions than she did, earning the enmity of all bloggers.
Up until Wednesday night, I didn’t believe in the afterlife. However, I was swayed from my skepticism when a Wiccan friend of mine, whom I had met through the personals section of my local alt-weekly rag, took my hasty notion of what Walter Benjamin might think about the Bush administration very much to my heart. My Wiccan friend (whom I shall refer to in these pages as “Broom Hither”) pushed me down onto her bed, tied me up with several painful strands of tight rope, carved a pentagram into my chest, and then demanded that I bark like a dog.
To her supreme credit, Broom Hither had delivered on every single promise she had pledged that evening. And since I was already bleeding profusely and had no wish to stain Broom Hither’s expensive carpet, I howled like a Baskerville hound while Broom Hither let loose a heinous farrago of salty aromas, pungent candles and various other paraphernalia designed to badger my sinus and presumably the olfactory senses of the dead.
While it’s safe to say that I won’t be dating a Wiccan again, I have consulted a plastic surgeon about what he can do about the pentagram scar on my chest. The answer is: not much. But it was all worth it. Because Broom Hither did manage to coax the spirit of Walter Benjamin to offer us two paragraphs from the Great Beyond, which I am happy to publish on these pages. Mr. Benajamin has not only been paying remarkable attention to current U.S. politics, but has, in fact, ably mastered the English language in the sixty-five years since his suicide.
What follows is Sections 4 and 5 of Mr. Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of Idiots:
The human struggle, which is rarely present to a yokel influenced by White Zinfandel in a box and monster truck rallies, is a fight for the crude and avaricious desires which are often mistaken for upward mobility and, indeed, success. It is rarely the crude ones who allow for idiocy to rise, but the master manipulators in power who maintain the facade of idiocy. As American society has gravitated towards media mirages (c.f., reality television), the crude now see slim possibilities in their own futures. Thus, and I have not studied this as long as I would have liked, it remains my conviction that idiocy is allowed to flourish.
Please see Section IV.
At this point, Mr. Benjamin disappeared in a sepia haze. It is worth noting that he had no sympathy about my bleeding chest. However, he did admonish me for associating “arcades” with Mr. Do. So perhaps his lack of empathy was justifiable.
I have since learned that Broom Hither can be found in California’s Megan’s Law database. I suppose this is what happens when one lets common sense languish so that one may get laid.
Whatever the case, Broom Hither has disappeared from her residence. She has apparently listed me as her designated contact and I am flagging off the requests of dunners, creditors, and even a landlord from three years ago.
I will confess that I am not sufficiently familiar enough with Mr. Benjamin to corroborate his identity. It is quite possible that I was still reeling from the trauma. However, I leave this record up so that greater experts than I can make sense of Mr. Benjamin’s message from beyond.
You can knock any ball out of the park. But you look at your biceps and you see that they’re lacking. You want muscles, the same way that young teenage girls want personal shoppers. You had a personal shopper once, but she didn’t like it when you ran around Saks Fifth Avenue with your shirt off.
So it’s come to this. Hank and his secret stash. You stop studying your credit card statements. You look at the needle and you stick it in your arm and you feel your muscles expanding. You know that you’re a better baseball player, a better man, and that you can stop anyone’s heartbeat with a single thought.
You’re unstoppable, kid. Who cares if you’re growing older?
Your friends think you’re out of control. But the nice thing about steroids is that you can get new friends. Glitzy people who will nod their head and tell you that your deltoid muscles are the Eighth Wonder of the World. And the locker room groupies arrive more frequently. You feel impotent, but you don’t care. They’re caught in the moment. And besides there’s that penis pump you borrowed from Number 34.
Steroids will cure disease. Steroids are your true compadre. Good thing you can operate as an athlete. Because the last thing you need is some bullshit allegation that you’re not a team player.
We certainly can’t compete with this, but it’s worth noting that back in late fall, Return of the Reluctant coaxed Neal Stephenson into an interview.
STEPHENSON: Five minutes, son. Can’t you see you’re cutting into my brooding time?
RotR: Okay, I’m very sorry. You’re a novelist of ideas. I’m positive you have additional wisdom to impart.
STEPHENSON: It’s all in the books and the Wiki. Do you need me to hold your hand? But if you need an example for your little article…
RotR: It’s a blog, actually.
STEPHENSON: Oh, one of those. Okay, here goes: The very design of the bench you’re sitting on right now developed out of serious scientific talks in the Netherlands. The bench is a recruiting center for libertarians, meaning that if enlightened geniuses hadn’t devised an acceptable length between the two ends, your posterior might not feel as safe and comfortable as it does right now and as it will no doubt feel tomorrow.
It is the terrorist who favors a comfy chair, while the government advocate prefers a sofa. By this I mean that only the libertarian is willing to apply sanded wood, generally coming to us from an export processing zone, to his buttocks and sit up straight, sitting down like a real man. You will not find slouched shoulders on a libertarian, nor will you find a limp penis.
These are some of the many conundrums I’ve worked out in my novel. And it is why I am so misunderstood.
RotR: But you’re asking readers to sit through 3,000 pages of scientists and philosophers talking about ideas. Surely, even you have to confess that this is a bit much for a narrative. Why didn’t you come out with a treatise? At least with Vollman, you get gripping first-person accounts in Third World nations.
STEPHENSON: I don’t need editors. Editors restrict the natural creative impulse. After the Civil War, fiction followed the logical course that science and technology did. It developed plot, characters, prose, and other stylistic devices. Out of this came the MBA program, which came into being shortly after the Manhattan Project. What I am doing is harkening back to the antebellum novels, the novels of real ideas.
RotR: Most of them are forgotten or out of print.
STEPHENSON: Have you even read System of the World?
RotR: It only came out yesterday.
STEPHENSON: Are you a member of the Libertarian Party?
RotR: No. But you remind me of a skinnier John Milius.
STEPHENSON: Well, you’re one of the many reasons I don’t do these interviews. Please dispense with your sense of humor. You might be able to accomplish something without such a frivolous personality trait.
Director Adrian Lyne announced that he would be directing a followup to his 1993 film, Indecent Proposal. Robert Redford and Demi Moore have agreed to reappear. Set ten years later, Redford will reappear as the millionaire — this time, having moved to Pennsylvania Avenue. Moore’s character has divorced Woody Harrelson, changed her name to Armstrong Williams, and become a journalist.
REDFORD: There are some rumors on the Internets that ten years ago, I offered you $1,000,000 to sleep with me.
MOORE: Well, you did.
REDFORD: Christ, Karl did all he can to cover up that missing year. I thought he brushed this one up.
MOORE: You weren’t particularly good in bed either.
REDFORD: Ssshh! Lower your voice! Do you want Laura to hear? I keep sending the twins in there with more books so’s I can meet with you.
MOORE: Frankly, I don’t care.
REDFORD: What will it take to shut you up? I mean, this kind of thing worked for Ted Kennedy.
MOORE: Well, how about this? Give me $250,000 and a syndicated column.
REDFORD: But what do I get in exchange?
MOORE: I’ll promote the No Child Left Behind Act.
MOORE: And it has to be tax dollars. I figure the way you’re throwing money around, nobody will notice.
REDFORD:MOORE: You’ll just have to learn to live without it. You’ve got lackeys for that.
REDFORD: Alright. Take this slip down to John Snow. Ask him to file it under petty cash.
That Darcy bloke won’t give me a fag. Crusty polite little bugger. Hangs out with Bingley sometimes, but the man needs a drink. Several, in fact. I’d like to see Darcy loosen up a bit, maybe light under the foil and inhale Great God’s fine smoke.
The odd thing is that Darcy’s so polite. He should be some cunt hosting a late night teevee show or cringing at the thought of using a public restroom. I’d like to see that uptight bugger fetch for his suppository.
What kills me is that one of Bingley’s sisters actually fancies him. Wouldn’t stop going on about his penmanship. The prim cunt ignored her.
– You fuckin shite, I said, – how many fuckin birds care enough to fuckin pay attention to your fuckin handwriting? For fuck sake, she gets enough fuckin hell from Elizabeth. Are you fuckin listening?
Darcy said nothing, though he took a liking to Elizabeth. The poor fuck was badly in need of a shagging and could only do so through legitimate marriage.
See, that’s the kind of sad case Darcy was. I’d hoped he’d piss off and find a proper place in the suburbs where he wouldn’t plug a finger up our miserable Scottish arseholes.
In May 1981, a few months into the Reagan administration, my father and my brother Colin and in fact every member in my family started fighting. They weren’t fighting about Reagan, per se, but they wanted to give me a solid foundation for long-term neruosis. I never blamed anyone for the fight, but years later, after making a mint off of my novel, The Peregrinations, I felt stifled by the smell of cash around me. I had been approached by several financial advisors who suggested long-term savings and IRAs. They wanted me to live and travel and roll around like a self-entitled pygmy while my fellow writers starved. Had I been rude to Oprah? Had I forgotten the little people?
In considering my sordid sobbing history, I remember that it was Colin who first suggested that a real man took control of his life and that obtaining this confidence was easier when one was well grounded. Every time I tried to be myself, I was faced with Colin’s menacing shadow. Colin made less money in his life than I had in a single year, and yet he was secure, happily married, and encouraged me to roll into a fetal position at family reunions.
I think back to those halcyon days of 1981, because, despite my upper middle-class upbringing and a stable, albeit occasionally combative family, I was frightened every time I had to make a decision. I didn’t learn to tie my shoe until the age of 26 and it took a Iris Murdoch type who knew what she wanted to deflower me in grad school. She must have anticipated my hunky looking author photo — the bane of my existence since my success. She never revealed her name.
But there was some comfort growing up — no thanks to Colin, thank you very much. On my night table was the Marmaduke Omnibus, a dogeared (if you’ll pardon the pun), decaying paperback that I had found one day in the dumpster. I opened its pages and discovered that someone had written “This shit isn’t funny” on the inside front cover. This austere warning didn’t faze me one bit. Indeed, there was a sense of comfort in seeing Marmaduke’s innocuous disruption of the household. Like me, Marmaduke didn’t know any better. My heart quivered over Marmaduke’s long ears, and I soon developed an intimate relationship with Brad Anderson’s creation that posed certain problems during adolescence. Marmaduke, as you might imagine, was the only dog that counted. It took several Siamese cats, four parakeets and a few goldfish before I could allow another dog to roam in my own home.
Thankfully, my therapist understood this. After the unfortunate sprinting incident at a cocktail party, I was given a ritalin prescription. This, I might add, at 36.
Throughout the years, Colin suggested Bloom County, The Far Side or “hell, even Doonsebury.” But my mind was made up. Even Boondocks was too much for my refined sensibilities. It was Marmaduke or nothing. Other people I met had bad heroin habits. For my own part, I had a sociopathic obsession with a comic strip that wasn’t particularly funny.
Excerpt from “Toto’s Misunderstood Musical Prosody,” thesis paper by Wally Hanthorp, M.A. Music, 1991:
“Hold the Line”, a seminal track from Toto’s innovatively titled 1978 album, Toto, represents a rare case of restrained genius overstating the obvious. Critic Leonard Parvoo once suggested in The Peoria Journal Star that this was “a tune written, produced and performed specifically for stadiums and FM radio.” But it is worth noting that Parvoo, who communicated his unique fury over this innocuous little tune (and Toto in general), founded a Peruvian leper colony three years later. Clearly, the bile he expressed towards Toto in his review was transmuted in some small way into munificence. This demonstrates the value of Toto’s simplicity and the band’s power to change the world. For even Toto’s opponents are motivated to do great things.
But our subject concerns “Hold the Line.” Beginning with a simple snare drum snap, we are then acquainted with Steve Porcaro’s repetitive keyboard chords (thus anticipating the grand opening moments of Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City”), which are then momentarily fluctuated in a slightly jarring beat, only to return to a traditional 4/4 beat that remains wholly uninterrupted throughout the song. This is our first clue that, while radio-friendly in nature, “Hold the Line” insinuates something more baroque. It is as if this tune represents an effort to “hold the line” on several levels, with the slight slippage hinting at a darker inconsistency. It is worth noting that singer David Paich himself is simultaneously singing while frequently pounding on his keyboard throughout the album, thus multi-tasking well before this term found usage in American vernacular. This is a truly admirable achievement — indeed, an American one. But why the unexpected introductory shift?
The answer is simple. Beyond the metaphorical elements of the song, Porcaro is holding the line musically, waiting for Paich to come in. Porcaro is determined to bang mechanically on his keyboards, despite the echoing barre chords from the guitar and the rote bass-snare backbeat. Paich’s obligation is simple: keep the listener hooked just in time for his introduction and the inevitable guitar solo. And what a rousing introduction it is!
“It’s not in the way you hold me.”
We are introduced almost instantly to the song’s sense of fervent denial. This is then followed up with a simple guitar riff that echoes each line.
“It’s not in the way you say you care.”
We hear the same denial, barely deviating from the previous line and sang in almost the same quasi-forcefulness. And the same guitar riff. When indeed will the transition occur? Prosody, as usual, has been maintained with a firm yet simple way of hooking the listener.
“It’s not in the way you’ve been treating my friends.”
More syllables in this line. These guys can cook! And indeed interject with a few more notes. In this way, Toto deviates from traditional stadium rock of the era, both by defiantly refusing to rhyme and ins ticking to the simple words “It’s not in the way.” And like the lyrics, we come to learn that “Hold the Line” is, musically, not like its corporate rock brethren. For we are eventually introduced to a chorus that quite deliberately offers perhaps the worst lyrics in Toto’s ouevre.
“Hold the line / love isn’t always on time.”
Even the most generous Toto appreciator would have a hard time reconciling “line” with “time.” There is nothing about these two words that rhymes. But then Toto is forcing us to come to terms with the remote propinquity of four-letter words. How many of us can truly rhyme on command? It’s also worth noting that the four-letter words Toto includes are not obscene. They are, in fact, quite interchangeable within the realm of everyday human vernacular.
Yet in this way, we immediately understand the initial discordant keyboard riff. For what is this but an oblique reference to Mussolini’s trains running on time? Where other bands could have employed a whistle sound effect, Toto lets the music speak for itself. The song needs no flash, save Steve Lukather’s driving guitar solo.
Will Paich offer us the full thrust of his emotions? Not here. He will save such moments for “Rosanna” and “Africa.” Here, he is concerned with how emotions are interchanged, often denuded of their primary value. His “Love isn’t always / love isn’t always” reminds the listener that this song is inherently about love, albeit love of a highly general nature.
It is the kind of love that helps one to get through a Saturday night. It is the kind of love that one can use, if one is fully inclined, to found a leper colony.
LOS ANGELES (AP): In an effort to reach out to a new demographic, the Walt Disney Company announces the introduction of Literaryland, a new section that will be added to Disneyland and Walt Disney World in 2006.
Magic Space Mountain: An exciting new ride that takes seven years to complete! Riders will be pummeled with ideas and then treated at a hospital, where they will rhapsodize with Mickey Mouse and philosophers.
It’s a Small World’s End: Passengers will be able to witness scenes from various T.C. Boyle’s novel (sexual communes, Victorian prudery), as an insufferable song (composed and sung by T.C. Boyle himself!) is played at top volume.
Greymatterhorn: A new cafe reproducing Teutonic existential splendor which will serve up such dishes as the Croissant of Pure Reason, Beyond Food and Evil and a special omelet called Beating and Fluffiness. Customers will be encouraged to eat their meals in angst.
Pirates of the Fabian: Visitors will be attacked by overly idealistic turn-of-the-century writers dressed up in pirate garb, taunted by various passages from George Bernard Shaw and E. Nesbitt. Our marketing experts report that 95% have exited the ride with their capitalistic philosophy intact.
Literaryland hopes to continue Disney’s long legacy of understanding the tastes of the American public. Several books will be offered with their morbid endings changed for happy consumption. Disney plans to tie in Literaryland with its upcoming animated musical (set for release in 2006), Walt Disney’s Crime and Punishment, which will feature a tap-dancing Raskolnikov smiling in the face of poverty, with a talking bowl of Top Ramen for company.
This is an exciting time for Disney. We hope that you can join the fun!
“In swearing, as a means of expressing anger, potentially noxious energy is converted into a form that renders it comparatively innocuous. By affording the means of working off the surplus energy of the emotion induced by frustration, the tension between the emotion and the object of it is decreased and the final dissolution of the tension is expressed in a feeling of relief, which in its place is a sign of the return to a state of equilibrium.” — Ashley Montagu The Anatomy of Swearing
The new political correctness has arrived, and it cuts across a much broader swath than Berkeley. It all started with an election, unearthing a long fragmented nation of reds and blues, followed by purples that tried to underplay the division. Some folks, understandably, didn’t buy into this. Before too long, people were fucking the south, letting their frustrations simmer over the linguistic saucepan.
It was all good fun. Because how many of us either thought or expressed these words just after the election? We were able to view the rant, recognize the angry voice, and move on. Because for many of us, the election was really tantamount to crying “Shit!” when stubbing a toe, or “Fuck you, you fucking fuck” to an inanimate object that either failed to function or caused a lasting bruise. An immediate expression of relief (considered strangely profane in some circles), followed by relative equanamity and a determination to get through the day.
Unfortunately, where the reasonable person can comprehend how frustration funnels into curses and profanity (after all, they are just words), the oversensitive idealist can’t. The oversensitive idealist (represented these days by Neal Pollack, whose latest persona is a strangely sanctimonious theologist of expression) views a world where one must say “love the south” instead of “fuck the south,” never considering that in expressing a momentary curse, one might be, as the great Ashley Montagu suggests, converting short-term negative energy into a greater goal of long-term peace and cohabitation. In this sense, the Pollack view is very much like the JesusLand caricature: a place where human expression is unrealistically hindered, where anger isn’t allowed, and where the very idea of allowing one’s fleeting negative emotions to suffuse, whether in conversational or Web form, is verboeten.
As far as I can tell, nobody is painting black Xs on doors. Vigilantes aren’t heading to a red or a blue state to string up a few dissenters. While there are certainly a lot of silly stereotypes being promulgated on both sides, the silent ban on expression is perhaps even more damaging. Because how can anyone on either side “reach out” when they can’t purge themselves of their negative feelings?
If fucking the south, or fucking the red states, or transforming California or Texas a joke (both very easy to do) leads to national healing, then I say let loose. Theodore Roosevelt famously decried politically motivated journalists as “muckrakers” in 1906, but the term developed beyond its pejorative meaning to classify and understand a specific pursuit still quite active today. Sometimes disparagement helps people come to terms with a concept and create the very unity desired.
It wouldn’t be human to do otherwise.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Return of the Reluctant has obtained an excerpt from Breaking Wind: The Quest for Architectural Hubris in an Age of Terror by noted architect Howard Roark.]
Ellsworth wanted to hurt me. But that was okay. His niece was fond of steely antiseptic sex when I wasn’t flexing my bold, industrial muscles at the drafting table. After a few cigarettes, I marveled over the proud rectilinear vision of a metropolis that others had the temerity to call dull and commercial. Even pro-business. What was wrong with that? What was wrong with money earned rightly over the blood of three thousand people? Art Spiegelman had done it. Why couldn’t I?
When I got the commission to build my distinct vision at Ground Zero, there were, of course, several people to squash, if not outright ignore. Little bugs who wouldn’t listen or appreciate my selfish virtues. Let the insects stay afraid. If they wouldn’t play ball over my grand plans, then they needed help. They were in the way. They watched that terrorist alert move from orange to yellow and they’d vote for the status quo so they wouldn’t shake so much. Which was fine, considering that most of the people who ran the country were socialists hoping to destroy free enterprise.
But I got them to look at and approve my plans because I was better than them. I had muscles, a full head of hair, and lots of sex between meetings. More importantly, I could outtalk them with long speeches about money. We’d build the best steel and use it for the new towers. And the trains that moved the steel all there would not only speed up well beyond government regulations, but even stop the whole of East Coast business itself.
And these fools always said I was delusional. Well, where are their contracts for the World Trade Center? Who is John Galt?