*Best neologism I came up with over the weekend: pontifisyphilitic. To the best I can gather, it's when the Pope has syphilis. Or maybe it's when you have syphilis, and you start to look like the Pope.

*James Doohan, aka Scotty from Star Trek, had his remains shot into space. I find this incredibly moving, and officially want my ashes shot into space. It almost gives death, if not a meaning, at least a reason to happen. Scrape the sky, young man. You died before your time, before men made life grand, before the Federation of Planets protected us from injustice. And Romulans.

*My dad gave a talk Saturday night at a prison ceremony, wherein outstanding inmates of some kind or another were honored with awards. Awesome.

*My dog is sick. Her ribs are showing. Her teeth are rotting. Her face is gray, though it looks a youthful blonde. She is still ecstatic and stupidly galloping from nowhere special to nowhere special. It is a perfect day, 90 benign degrees, the middle distance not yet swarming with hard-bodied and thoughtless insects. She, my dog, is staring at me, panting, her tongue hanging lopsided from behind a cavitied canine tooth, splayed out sideways and throbbing, and this is as closely as a dog can resemble an adolescent boy, hay-and-honey hair peeking out from under a black cap, running up to you after his ballgame and asking, “Didja see? Didja see me? I hit a double! Didja see?” A snaggletoothed kid. And you say, “Yeah, buddy, great job,” and give his shoulder a pound with your fist because you're just proud of him, is all. Her kidneys are failing. She’s eating special food, and taking a chalky white pill at night. A thirteen year old kid. But she'll never have to look up at me and ask, “am I gonna die?” Everything is just so sad.


Gravel for President 2008

gravel 2008

Gravel: No, with respect to Iran, we've sanctioned them for 26 years. We scared the bejesus out of them when the president says, "They're evil."

And you know something? Who is the greatest violator of the non- proliferation treaty? The United States of America. We signed a pledge that we would begin to disarm, and we're not doing it. We're expanding our nukes.

Who the hell are we going to nuke? Tell me, Barak. Barak, who do you want to nuke?

Obama: I'm not planning to nuke anybody right now, Mike, I promise.

A Parable

So I could have gone to see Ted Leo and the RX tonight, but instead, I didn’t. Indeed, instead I piled in the wayback of a golf-dad minivan, DVD player on the ceiling and all, and went to Cedar Rapids to see Dr. Marcus Borg, professor of theology at Oregon State University, give a talk about Jesus. In a church. In Cedar Rapids. With my dad. And his anti-fundamentalist Bible study group.

Ted Leo, I’m so sorry.

A woman in her sixties. A woman in her forties. A man in his seventies. A man in his fifties. My dad. Me. This was our cast of characters. We were to rendezvous at our destination with one of those charming, good-looking young ministers who doesn’t know what Armenianism is, but SO doesn’t believe in gay-bashing. The thirty minute drive was proof positive that people who have nothing in common really just shouldn’t even try to talk about anything at all. But it did turn out that the older man had played golf that morning with the charming, good-looking young minister, who had shot an implausible hole-in-one and then an eagle on consecutive holes. As a card-carrying materialist and hack fucking golfer, this is not the kind of thing you want to hear – that a Man of God was rewarded bounteously and for no good reason – on your way to hear another Man of God talk about Jesus. The other popular topic of conversation was, by merit of my being the unknown entity in the vehicle, me. It ran in fits and starts in which somebody would ask a question, I would briefly and promptly answer, and then they would lapse into reverie trying to conjure up a new question.

Now, it’s mildly frustrating, in an entitled “I-have-no-real-problems” sort of way, to explain to people who have never heard of Johns Hopkins that, in fact, you’re not going to “John Hopkins,” but Johns Motherfucking Hopkins, Where Frances Ferguson Is, One Of The Most Prestigious East Coast Academies Of Higher Learning, without coming off as a ginormous tool, as I just came off here on my blog. The temptation to be a ginormous tool, you understand, is simply ginormous. And when they ask you “what’s John Hopkins” and you tell them “perhaps you’ve heard of their medical center” and they say “so you’re going to a hospital,” you just have to take a deep breath and remember, there’s nothing to be gained here. I was civil. But there was still that ambition to gloat, you know? So I did, I dropped the “Prestigious East Coast Academy Of Higher Learning” card on the table like it was a river-run at a royal flush, you know?

Well, God checked that shit at the door, swatted my hubris and wagged his finger in my face like Dikembe Mutumbo. I realized halfway through the talk that I was wearing the pants with the busted fly. The zipper was down all the way, and the zipper tab was tucked way down into the bottom of the slot so that mere fingers would not be enough to yank it back up, much less subtly to not be noticed in a room of 300 hunchbacked septuagenarian men and their silvery-purple haired wives. So, in the midst of that 150 loveless, bloodless marriages, I walked the lonely mile from the back of the room to the doors, stopping periodically to wait for my dawdling father who was jawing about what a great talk it was. At least they’re old, I’m thinking. Their vanity has been bested by time. Their collective instinct to point and laugh has been dulled by all these years in this great church, this place of acceptance and charity. Through the throng we went, my zipper gaping open wide and inviting observation, my shirt too short to do anything to make it obvious that I was trying to cover my crotch with it. The only person who noticed was the only cute girl in the joint, an elfin little thing dressed all in blue. She smiled. Then she laughed. She was, for that moment, as much God's avatar as the Christ made flesh. Par for the course, I guess. It just pales in comparison to Minister Scott’s hole-in-one.


God-guided missives

Check out Bill Moyer's Buying the War, an hour-long doc about the way the media and the Bush administration sold the Iraq war in the wake of 9/11. Well worth a watch. I didn't think I could like Bill Kristoll any less. I didn't think I could like Dan Rather any more. Scary as hell, though. Just terrifying.

"My faith sustains me... because I pray daily... I pray for guidance..."
~George W. Bush


So THIS made me laugh a lot...

Hugh Grant throws tub of food at, kicks photographer. It's amazing to me that stalking someone with a camera is legal. So it goes.


"Come to me, son of Jorel! Kneel before Zod!"

Recently, scientists have independently discovered kryptonite in a cave, and a habitable planet termed a "Super-Earth." Right now, this planet is called OGLE-2005-BLG-169Lb. But I'll tell you this: if these smarty-pantsed planet-naming nerdlingers don't deign to call it Krypton, I'm going to be pissed.


Fat Powder.

Over the past few months, I’ve been making a lazy foray into dietary meatlessness. Firstly, this development had to do with the haunting softness of the eyes of moocows. Don’t get me wrong, they’re ornery, petulant creatures, and they walk around like they own the joint. But something about the teary mammalian eyeball fosters in me a sense of fraternity that I could easily beat down, but at this point wouldn’t care to. So I did my best to stop eating the noble lowing savages (MOOOO!), and I gave up pigs, too, because even though pigs are nasty, evil creatures, even more petulant and ornery than cows, Christians are the only of the three Abrahamic religions that eat them. So I defer to Judaism and Islam in matters of swine, by merit of majority rules. (By that same logic, I break with the notion that people who blow up other people with bombs strapped to their stomachs will be met by scores of virgins in heaven).

Anyway, my brand of “ethical” eating (puh-lease) involved gluttonous consumption of dairy products, and a whole lot of assorted chicken parts, usually fried in dairy products such as butter, and then covered in other dairy products such as cheese. I think it would take an act of willpower I can’t muster and conviction I can’t foster to actually give up dairy products, even if, as Alec Baldwin’s stentorian baritone tells me in PETA’s ridiculous “Meet Your Meat” video, that by supporting the dairy industry I support the veal industry, which involves the blinding and bludgeoning of adorable bovine infants. But, fuck ‘em if they can’t take a cudgel. I gots to have my milk.

So, now that I’ve turned a blind eye to that festering moral sore, the next step, I figure, has got to involve chicken in some way. And this led me, just moments ago, to a tragic discovery.

I’ve been trying to count calories a bit lately, because I’m skinny, and I would rather not be so skinny. Anyhow, I reckon I’m at somewhere around 1,000 calories for today, thanks to the ambrosial Pistachio, that truly great device – the masterstroke, really, of the intelligent designer of this vast and dismal earth - along with a healthy dollop of sour cream. (But not combined with Pistachios. That would be stupid).

(New Rule: I will henceforth capitalize the word Pistachio as a gesture of reverence).

Anyway, I was thinking… why don’t I do what the jobless, that unwashed mass of hungry men, have done since 1958? Ahhh, 1958. Truly a watershed year in the history of gastronomy, for it was in this year that a man first fried some noodles, dehydrated said noodles, and put those same noodles in a shrinkwrapped baggie. Then, in a truly inspired coup de grace, he added a tiny silver packet stuffed with lyrical flavors in the form of sapid seasoning powder. He called it, in His infinite wisdom, ramen. (I’m pretty sure it was already called that, but I’m going for effect here).

Of course, there are many kinds of ramen. There is just plain ramen, and then there are chili ramen and vegetable ramen, shrimp ramen and beef ramen, pork ramen and all the rest. But there is only one true ramen, only one ramen that deserves the sacrosanct Capital Letters, and that is the ramen of Chicken Ramen.

Chicken. Ramen. Chicken. Fuck.

So I looked at the ingredients on the back of the package, since it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to assume that Chicken Ramen includes absolutely no trace of anything real, much less a chicken that used to be alive.

I was waylaid and devastated, walleyed and enervated to learn that, by my own newly implemented diet, I am forbidden from eating the flavor packet. The flavor packet, which is Excalibur to the noodles’ Arthur. The flavor packet, which is Joanie to the noodles’ Chachi. The flavor packet, which is Axl Rose to the noodles’ Slash.

Why you ask?

Because of two dastardly ingredients.

Chicken powder,

and chicken fat.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where Chicken Ramen gets its name. Fat, and powder.

Fat Powder.



Lolita eats meat-a.

Ahhh, Dominique Swain, you incorrigible, svelte sylph. I am amused by your button nose, but vastly more amused by your ethics.
"Everybody thinks people who promote PETA don't eat meat, but I think animals were made to be eaten. I take my part in the food chain very seriously. I eat meat, the rarer the better. I just don't think animals should be slaughtered for their fur."

(emphasis added.)


Just doing my part...

So I wrote this earlier to post on Facebook in the interest of bringing down Earth Day a peg or two, and I thought it was hilarious. But then it made me a little bit sad and heartsick. So I took it off of Facebook. But now I'm putting it here, because this is where I put stuff. That's what we call rigorous logic.

On this most inane of holidays, check this charming BBC Documentary on atheism and just remember -- progressive politics and reverent conservatism or no, all our friendly neighborhood plants and animals, no matter how cuddly, will suffer and die unredeemed, and the Earth will wither, become dessiccated and barren, and ultimately get swallowed by a bloated, dying star. And hey, even if you do believe in heaven -- animals don't go there! Here's to you, Gaia!

tiny horse
AD 22541
ring-tailed lemur


It's the end, the end of the 70s, it's the end, the end of the century

Oh snap. Have you seen the Phil Spector makeover?
phils spector
Probably not the worst decision ever made by a man who’s going on trial for a senseless murder with a history of arbitrary gun violence in his back pocket, though I personally would have tried to make myself look less like convicted criminal Paul Reubens. Smiling was probably a huge mistake. Then again, not smiling was probably a huge mistake, too. This guy is screwed. I'm not saying he's guilty. I'm just saying, he's screwed.

"It's the end, the end of the 70s
It's the end, the end of the century
Do you remember lying in bed
With your covers pulled up over your head?"
~"Rock and Roll Radio" by the Ramones (produced by Phil Spector)


I'm like the Neal Pollack of kitchenware... or the Jackson Pollock of... kitchenware.

I'm officially too stupid to find my can opener. Life is hard.


calisthenics for seduction

So the part of me that still thinks life is pretty much awesome has always thought this was pretty much the awesomest song of all time.

Also: for the last couple years, Miller Light has been doing this brilliant thing. They manufacture six-packs of 16 oz. plastic bottles, so you get, in effect, eight beers for cheap. The wisdom comes in because, the difference between six and eight beers is the difference between getting drunk and passing out, and getting drunk, doing something stupid, passing out, and waking up with a hangover. The upshot: I watched both Mighty Ducks movies last night, and for some reason, wrote down all my favorite lines on a brochure, including: "So I'm right in the middle of my cross-examination and I say to the guy, I usually defend heels like you, you scuzzy, mole-faced rat!"


Pulitzer Highlights

1. Cormac McCarthy, you write like the wind.

2. In the drama category, the Pulitzer board could not agree on a winner from the three finalists submitted by the jury.

In the end, they chose a play that was not on the shortlist - David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole, about a wealthy, suburban couple whose son is struck by a car and killed.

"It's a surprise," said the playwright, who is currently working on a stage adaptation of the children's movie Shrek.

"I had processed months ago that it wasn't on the cards," he told the Associated Press, "so I was just going about my day trying desperately to write a lyric for Shrek!"


3. As Alexander Cockburn theorized in a 1984 Wall Street Journal column, the Pulitzers are a kind of show business, a "self-validating ritual whereby journalists give each other prizes and then boast to the public about them."
~Slate (It's a good quote, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't include it because it's by a guy named Alexander Cockburn).

That is all.


Chatty Junk Square

I submit the following from a Slate article about Ludwig Wittgenstein and ask: is there any way to follow this half-sentence without embarrassing yourself?

“He resembled T.E. Lawrence both in his homosexuality and…”

As a thought experiment, let’s try a different one, this time about Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain: “He resembles Winston Churchill both in his heterosexuality and…”

Nope, it’s not working for me.

Also: I read once that Wittgenstein may have had several homosexual trysts in Wiener Prater Park, which is a funny name for a park in which a language philosopher may have had homosexual trysts. When I have mine, I’m going to try to find a place called Talkative Cock Commons. Perhaps Blithering Blabbering Balls Green. Afterwards, my lover and I will repair to the Phallic Jibber-Jabber Amphitheater to take in a show.

Dear Ludwig,
Welcome back.


What I do on Fridays, and why I'm not (that) ashamed

Days mean nothing to me. I’ve been trying to drink more, so I run out of money faster, so I have to get a job sooner. But there’s only so fast I can drink. The sole reason I actually do keep track of days is because, in lieu of an internal clock, my life is governed entirely by TV schedules, and I need to know what shows are when.

Fridays, as a rule, aren’t the best days for television, because so few people stay in on Friday nights to watch. In fact, there’s even a term for it: the Friday Night Death Slot, the time where shows go to die. But Friday is my favorite day of the week, because there is one Friday demographic that doesn’t have anything better to do, and is eager to suck off the TV tit for two blessed hours of self-abnegation.

That, dears, is the professional wrestling demographic. Every Friday, I take as much of whatever drug I have on hand as I safely can and watch Friday Night SmackDown!, the only professional wrestling event that’s aired on network television. Now, this is not, by any standard, a good show. The genius of the show is the remarkably low overhead. You can do almost everything wrong, and as long as you have two guys in tights fighting each other, one good and one bad, and a stable of chicks so gaunt and plastic and shameless that they’re hideous in spite of their flawlessness, you can get away with murder. From costumes that look like they were designed by Project Runway also-rans designing fall lines around the premises of Fellini films and seedy porn, to plot twists so thin and acting so bad that they hardly even qualify as "plot twists" or "acting." The production values are embarrassing. The lack of star power and charisma is startling. The creative direction is appalling, the storylines all but non-existent. The commentary is homophobic, amateurish, churlish, reactionary, and hateful. It's a disgusting enterprise, reprehensible on almost every level.

Did I mention that, when I’ve got myself substantially fucked up, it’s the easiest two hours to watch on television? If you can allow the quantification of something like this, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that, when I’m watching wrestling, there’s less of me there, less of me in me, than at any other time. I vanish a little from my own scrutiny. Sure, you can “deconstruct” wrestling if you want. It might be the easiest thing to deconstruct. But there’s always a part of you that will want to watch it, not up on the horse of liberalizing humanism, but reveling in your prejudices. Watching wrestling and liking it is irresponsible on every level. And irresponsibility is cool.

Compared to wrestling, other sports take on the rococo complexity of fluid mechanics. As boring as baseball looks, the theories that go into, say, situational pitch selection, or small-ball sacrificial infield play, are remarkably complex. Soccer and tennis require preternaturally deft changes of direction and velocity on a relatively vast area, in comparison to the tiny little balls, and you have to make thousands of calculations before you even have time to think. Basketball is almost algorithmic in the way it places players as functions on top of functions until, eventually, one side’s execution breaks down, and the equation equals zero, two, or three. Football? Don’t get me started. It’s as beautiful and terrible as war, one-on-one eleven different times at once.

In every other sport, what just happened dictates what’s going to happen next. Wrestling, by merit of being “fake,” is more discrete and more desultory. One guy does a move to another guy. They both stop. The other guy does a move to the first guy. They stop. The tide changes, for no reason, several times. This continues until one of them, at an arbitrary point, chooses to do a “finishing move.” Then, he pins the guy. The audience of inbreds and malcontents cheers wildly, or chants a swear word. That’s it. That’s the whole deal.

Roland Barthes wrote a wonderful essay in 1957 about professional wrestling. His basic claim is that the people who love professional wrestling don’t love it for the ostentation of competition (the fair fight factor – even fifty years ago everybody knew it was fake), or the balletic / acrobatic quality (some of the greatest and most fearless chemically enhanced athletes in the world), or the promise of brutal violence, even if it’s simulated. What people love is that professional wrestling is one of the few forums we have where justice is possible, and even inevitable. It’s the only place I can think of where the balance of power is continually tipped on the side of the good, and “the good” is defined by the ability of “the people,” the spectators, the petit-bourgeois to identify with whatever is presented. It’s interactive theater at its stupidest, most cartoonish, most wonderful.

Of course, as with every system of exchange, it operates on the principle of tension. If there was equilibrium, if good ultimately won, if evil was exterminated, if betrayal was rooted out, if the only power was power to the people, the system would crumble. We'd have no fun watching, heckling, and hate-hooting.

Five years ago, people – journalists especially – started talking about how we had adopted a “bleak” and “nihilistic” Post-9/11 vision. It was maybe the stupidest example of collective ball-dropping we’ve seen since Mira Sorvino won an Oscar. As much as ever, if not more than ever, what people demanded was simple morality tales. They needed a Larry the Cable Guy to rail against “towelheads.” They needed a president who could see us through. Or, alternately, they needed a David Cross to preach about how stupid Republicans are, and a President to play pariah for all the world’s shortcomings. And good lord, he played it to perfection.

More people attended Wrestlemania this month than attended the Super Bowl in February – and they were held in the same facility (Ford Field).

Just because people were crestfallen in late ‘01 doesn’t mean they were staring at their shoes all the time. As a nation, we’ve spent the last five years, all of us to a man, looking for something to fight. And it’s good, I think, or at least inevitable. Let’s face it, for a minute there, the Bush administration looked like it had the chance to stage an incredible coup on the global scale. Neoconservativism, as far as I’m concerned, is a gambit that came within a hair’s breadth of working, at least for a little while – pretty much like National Socialism did and still does. For six months there, every liberal in the country was sucking in his gut thinking, “Holy shit, these assholes might actually pull this off. Are they going to liberate the Arab world?” Of course they didn’t, but for a minute, it really looked like they might. Liberals were almost pissed! “God damn it, if they’ve found Saddam, people are going to think they’re doing something right, but they’re not! They just can't be!”

So much for the afterglow, but we’re still a far cry from collective nihilism. We, on both sides, are drifting around in a bizarre landscape of heavily symbolized romanticism, where “This is Our Country” is used as a rallying cry to sell Chevys (!) and consolidate the blue-collar power base, while Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are lionized as patron saints of slacker ambivalence and “Ho ho ho, isn’t it easy to give a shit when you don’t have any answers.” Nihilists will always be on the outside looking in, like the homeless guy who stares at families eating Thanksgiving dinner, at once furious that they could lie to themselves about the world like that, and being eaten alive by jealousy.

SmackDown! was the first major televised sporting event to be broadcast after 9/11. They made the ring ropes red, white, and blue, and displayed an American Flag on their jumbotron. Wrestling is, as Mad! Magazine pointed out in the late 80s, the only way you can get a stadium full of people to cheer “USA! USA!” while two guys, one from Texas and one from Michigan, go at it. It’s violent, solipsistic, immature, and angry, and like Sergeant Slaughter, who was both a GI Joe character and a professional wrestler, it operates under the auspices of the principle that might makes right. The idea is, if you get an arena full of assholes who are all dressed the same way to scream at the top of their lungs, you pretty much feel like you’ll be able to yell down anybody. It’s nationalism at its most elemental, "our crowd versus your crowd, let's get it on." And while it makes me feel no sense of solidarity, neither does it allow for any sense of existential crisis. It’s the best analgesic in the world. Except, like all analgesics, it throws off the unaccustomed immune system, and by the next morning, you’re left with a wicked moral hangover. Or maybe that’s just the Jim Beam.


I go to the principal office, I throw some cake at her, I kick her out of town...

My favorite thing in a long time, for those I haven't shown.

It's hard to tell if this kid is a developing genius, or if his youth is just playing tricks on me. His awkwardness never abates, but neither does his shamelessness, and he just keeps pushing through his mental impedimenta and coming up with another effortlessly, retardedly quotable gem. "I kick cars, I don't get in trouble... yeah!"


revelling in the good works of the lord

Servants of God love an audience. Fill my heart up with joy.


Righteous: me and God. Or at least me.

I have this really antagonistic relationship with blogs. For a minute there, I had stopped thinking about them, I had stopped writing in them, and I had stopped reading them. I didn’t feel any better, per se. But at the same time, I didn’t really need them.

Then, two dumbasses whom I like to entertain had to be like, “hey, why don’t you blog more.” Then I was like, hey, why don’t I drink? Then I was like, well shit, I always drink, I might as well blog. And here I am.

I am, by definition, not a good blogger. I don’t have an investigative mindset. I’m a curious conglomerator of information, but not at all a good purveyor of information. On any given day, with an hour or two to spare, I can give you 1,000 words on how shit is fucked up and why I’m pretty miserable. But it’s 1,000 words that any sane, sensical person with any priority at all wouldn’t care to read. I have no head for truth, and no talent for registering things that other people might find interesting. I have even less talent for expressing to the “mass of men” the contempt I feel for the trends that govern our current climate of political, administrative, religious, ethical, social, and aesthetic jurisprudence. Plus, let’s face it, I still think the word “jewbag” is funny.

I’m just saying.

I’m impossible to offend, and I’m generally of the opinion that everybody in the world should be impossible to offend, and I pretty much go from there. Check that: I’m impossible to offend, unless you’re talking specifically about me. Which probably means that I’m self-righteous. I mean, seriously, I just laughed hysterically at the urban dictionary entry for jewbag, and you can make fun of white people all you want. But if somebody started needling me for any of my plethora spectacularly variegated underriding flaws (that don't have anything to do with my heritage), I’d probably get just a little bit huffy. I am, like most people that nobody gives a good goddamn about, and some that people do, a hypocrite.

I don’t have an obsessive personality. But I have a personality that desperately craves to be obsessive. I’m too lazy to be an actual, functional obsessive. I’m jealous of lunatics, because they usually have a pretty good sense of what they think is important.

The only thing that I’ve managed to figure out in the three years that I’ve been blogging is that you have to be able to temper your own instincts. You have to make your desperation tenable, so that other people feel like they can “identify” with it. But you can't go overboard and figure that, yes, what you feel is more or less akin to unredeemable despair, and people will identify with that. Because that would be creepy to the mass of men. What you want, as a blogger, is for people to read your blog and say, “yeah, that’s pretty much how I feel, too.” What you don’t want is for people to read your blog and say, “whoah, what a sad sumbitch. I’m glad I’m not THIS asshole.” It’s a very, very, very fine line. And the problem isn’t that you don’t know where the line is. The problem is, crossing that line feel SO GOOD. Or, at least, so ACCEPTABLE. Which, we’re all sad to say, is a general improvement.

It’s not that I run out of third-party things to have a vague and general interest in. Anybody who runs out of things to be entertained by in today’s cultural climate is just flat-out lazy. But whenever I think about this – the blog as cultural criticism, which is kind of what I intended for this blog to be – I start thinking about Richard Roeper. You know Richard Roeper, the guy who replaced Gene Siskel on Siskel & Ebert. Now, Roger Ebert is one of my heroes. He’s populist, incredibly smart, informed, and well-spoken without being academic – a great but transparent writer whose style you can always tell, and you always like. You’d think that, when I thought about a critic, I would think of Roger Ebert.

Instead, I think of Richard Roeper. The man has pretty much impeccable taste, from a kind of midtown intellectualist (which is not to be confused with intellectual) perspective. He has, in the abstract, very very very good taste. Before joining Ebert as the other half of the binary that is arguably the most respectable film-criticizing entity in the world, he was a “humorous columnist.”

The problem is that Richard Roeper isn’t funny. He’s informed without being revelatory. He’s mildly clever without being particularly engaging. He’s “humorous.” But he ain’t fucking funny as far as I can blow him. And, while I have a motherfucker of a gag reflex, I can also hold my breath for longer than you'd think.

On April 5, Richard Roeper wrote: “For once I applaud the FCC for saying "no." Heck, I may go all 1-800-Flowers on the chairman and the commissioners. Striking a blow for sanity and common sense, the Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday it will continue to back a ban on cell phone use in the skies.” And, as research goes, THAT’S THE FIRST PARAGAPH OF RICHARD ROEPER’S WRITING I BOTHERED TO READ to blast him for this blog post. Check out the “joke,” yo!

What? Didn’t you lol?

With the coup that came in the form of the death of Gene Siskel, Richard Roeper became one of the most famous writers in the country. One of his thumbs has more power than the average professional writer’s body, let alone body of work. One of his thumbs casts a shadow that eclipses a thousand citizens of the United States. One of his thumbs overshadows the student body and faculty of Harvard University. (Of course, I exclude the alumni, because some of them actually go on to do impressive things. )

And, as I said, as a critic, Richard Roeper is impeccable. He knows what’s good without being able to do it.

In fact, he has all the creative instinct and impulse of a retarded wombat.

This is one of the most visible critics in the world.

It should be, but somehow isn't, enough to strike terror into the heart of the average blogger.

As a blogger and citizen of the United States, particularly as a citizen of the educated cult of the university – educated people who have tried to learn what the can about what they love – my sentiment about the world at large can be roughly encapsulated as follows:




(except steve, josh, and my mom).”

But I’m certainly not going to get paid to say it. In fact, nobody even wants me to say it. In fact, nobody even cares IF I say it. What people want people to say is, apparently: "This Sunday, millions of people of my faith will participate in a number of Easter rituals, including actually dressing up (which these days means no gym shoes) for church, lavish brunches and ham dinners -- and if you have children, the early morning search for goodies left behind by the Easter Bunny. Or as I like to call him, the lamest holiday mascot of them all. To quote Jules from "Pulp Fiction," when it comes to animals, "personality goes a long way" -- and the Easter Bunny has no personality. Zero."
~Richard Roeper.

Holy fucking shit. He got paid?

So it’s pretty fucking funny that this is the way I would choose to use my time. Look at it this way. Two fucking pages well spent. It’s a good thing computers are paperless these days.

Now everybody go get a copy of the Sun Times tomorrow and read Richard Roeper’s column. I’ll go fucking douse myself in gin and set myself on fire.


Will Arnett is married to Amy Poehler. And he was on Arrested Development. And his favorite band is Built to Spill. What a cool guy.



Sass and pop songs

I was supposed to go to Grindhouse with my go-to “fun” friend tonight. We talked about it yesterday. We talked about it this afternoon. I called him twice this evening, and his phone jus' rang and rang. There’s nothing worse than getting ditched by somebody you’ve known for ten years. And not just getting ditched. Getting ditched without so much as an explanation, or even a “go fuck yourself.” I’m sitting here, incredibly lonely, drinking leftover beer, listening to the new Panda Bear record (the first half of which, in true Animal Collective tradition, is glorious. The second half of which is ambitious filler). My upper body is covered in bruises, welts, rug burn, and scratches from what has proved to be, in retrospect, the most ill-advised and savage tickle fight of my life. It’s incredible what thinking you have a plan and then finding out you have no plan can do to you. I’m fucking miserable. And pissed. And I’m on the cusp of one of my inevitable month-long manic downswings. Which means, fuck you.

I really don’t like people.

The weather forecast for tomorrow prophecies two inches of snow and “blustery” conditions. “Blustery” is one of those words that, in my head, I always want to associate with comedy, good old fashined Marx Brothers wheeling around on heels and blindly entering doorways and belting out songs from the diaphragm. But in reality, bluster is more apt than any other non-freakish meteorological condition to make me suffer the slings and arrows of FUCK YOU GOD WHY DON'T YOU MAKE IT WARM IT'S FUCKING APRIL. Now that Easter's over, I feel comfortable talking about how badly I want to ballgag god and beat him mercilessly with a sock stuffed full of cream cheese, you know, for being such a jerkoff all the time.

It’s strange. Animal Collective, bless their little hearts, are going to be playing in Iowa City next month. I was going to buy a ticket today, but I decided to against it, because I don’t know anybody who will go with me. I’m not sure why I’m holding off. I guess because, besides the fact that I will run into dozens of people I know without knowing well enough to have gone to the concert with them, going to shows by one’s self is one of the lonelier experiences a person can have, unless one is totally “in the zone.” I grew up in prevailingly suburban and semi-rural areas and was, consistently, at least four years behind the musical zeitgeist, so it still seems to me to be an enormous privilege to be able to see your favorite bands. My first-ever concert was Peter, Paul and Mary (whose rendition of “if I had a hammer” is still perfection, and when Mary’s voice soars up to “freedom!” after fourth verse with the syncopated backing vox, it gets me every time). But I mean, come on. It’s Peter, Paul and Mary. Yeah. I saw them do “Puff the Magic Dragon.” But still. It’s Peter, Paul and Mary. Then, I saw Marky Mark. He took off his pants, “for all the ladies.” Now he has an Academy Award Nomination, and I still enjoy “Good Vibrations.” In fact, to be perfectly honest with you, I’m not even sure which is my favorite “Good Vibrations,” and that’s no slight to the Beach Boys. I’m just saying, I have a soft spot for those ultra-produced early-90s funk-hop soul diva bangers. “I’ve got the power!

“Pump up the jam.”

“The groove is in the heart.”

But it’s a completely different story to see a band that you really, really love. Because, on the one hand, it’s a great deal harder for somebody like me to do. They don’t play around me. And, on the other hand, it’s almost always a disappointment. Nearly every time I’ve been to see a band that is in what I consider to be the first tier of pop musicians – Guided by Voices, or Yo La Tengo, or the Mountain Goats, or pick your poison – they never live up to the dream of them that lives in you. By which I mean to be as horrifically cheesy about it as possible. It’s the rare unexpected burst of greatness – the vastly, shamefully underappreciated Burning Airlines, or the reformed Slint, or a Scandinavian metal band you go see on a whim – that turn out to be the revelatory live experiences. In one respect, it’s obviously because indie-rock, the idiom that most of today’s smart white musicians apply themselves to (because it requires very little actual effort to do it well, and only a lot of luck), does not lend itself well to a bombastic live outpouring of emotion. Do you ever notice that most of the musicians these days who have chops, and aren’t your typical conservatory jazzbo types, are dumb as hell? I submit John Mayer. Whatever. “Work smarter, not harder,” as Scrooge McDuck said before he hooked a belt up to a bicycle and shined dozens of shoes at the same time. My body is a wonderland.

I’m worried, though. I’m worried to go see Animal Collective and leave cold and unmoved, which is my default emotional position when I’m leaving a concert venue. But Animal Collective isn’t a default concert experience, or shouldn’t be. “Banshee Beat,” which has become easily my favorite track on Feels, makes me really want to believe in something like transcendence. So I just no that if I go see Animal Collective, they won’t play “Banshee Beat.” And that’s the thing about Animal Collective. It’s almost like they feel guilty giving you things that you like unabashedly, so they make it hard for you. I can’t for the life of me find a single reason to like “Bees” or “Native Belle” or any of their grand, sweeping statements that I’m pretty sure THEY would take to be the litmus test of anybody who can really appreciate their band as an artistic entity, and not just a jive-time pop commodity. I mean, come on, I just don’t give a shit about seven minutes of instrumental crackles in a semi-rhythm with Avey Tare chanting in a voice that sounds an awful lot like Adam Sandler-circa-Billy Madison. Then, their pop statements, which are almost always kept concise to the point of truncation, are probably the best anybody has managed since Guided by Voices were at their best. Oh, but they don’t want to give you those for too long. That would be too easy. But that, of course, is just me.

I’m even more worried to go see Stephen Malkmus, one of my two or three favorite living people, for the first time the day after my birthday at the P4K festival. There are too many factors in alignment there. Leader of my all-time favorite band, totally underappreciated solo artist, my birthday, a road trip to North Chicago, several of my best friends – all things I love very much. Whenever things in my life align like that, though, the eventual result is unmitigated disaster, and I don’t know if I’m prepared to go see Stephen Malkmus and just NOT CARE. That would be about as depressing as anything I can think of. In the scope of plausible, non-medical disaster related contingency, that is.

I’m listening to the vinyl copy of Mozart’s Four Quartets for flute and string that I bought from a garage sale at the local church of Christian Science, and it just goes to show that pretty much everything that happened forty years ago is susceptible to the barbs of parody, no matter when you find yourself alive. The cover is a gaudy gilt green and copper horror with four fat naked cherubs that trumpets of itself, “In perfection of style and brilliant virtuosity, Debost is as great a flutist as we know” (Le Figaro) and “Michael Debost may be the finest flutist of our time” (Chicago Tribune). I mean, come on. I don’t even have to try.

Most of the time I think bad beer is better than good beer, but sometimes I don't.

Pastor Pabst Blue Ribbon.

PS, I had so many more mean-spirited things I wanted to say tonight.

Sophisticated Sissy in Baltimore

From the unpublished papers: written at a Baltimore hotel, and at an airport bar in Cincinnati.

There's an amazing amount of men who've obviously been laid over in airports for hours without even loosening their ties. They just loiter, bluetooth earpieces tucked into their faces, denigrating their rivals to allies over the airwaves. "Sell sell sell! Buy buy buy! That guy's an asshole." It makes them look like schizophrenics, talking in circles and walking in baggy loops.

I spent the last couple days in Baltimore visiting Hopkins, being emphatically reminded of how much I've forgotten, and how much I don't know.

The first day of meetings and talks and hobnobbing and glad-handing was capped by an academic mixer, which means red wine, red wine, red wine -- plus a slightly highfalutin foreign beer bucket. I talked at length about the NCAA tournament with a group of fifth-year kids who knew a blessed preponderance about basketball, given their hectic schedules.

Life is the same in all spheres. The moment our herd, the newbies, merged with the students, the most attractive new girl and the most attractive seasoned veteran dude, scruffy grad student half-beard and all, came together like beads of mercury. It was, in some small way, reassuring.

I had fancifully thought, before this trip, that I could spend the coming summer cramming and then stroll into Baltimore with a bit of a head start on the workload. I now realize that this is a bit like thinking you'll be able to beat Super Mario 3 blindfolded, but with one less winged-shell duck creature in my path.

I exactly split in my meetings. There were four professors I was able to deflect with charm and good cheer and self-deprecating wisecracks. There were four whom I was not at all able to deflect, and they splattered all over me on impact. Nobody I talked to seemed at all familiar with me, my work, my reputation, or my credentials, but more than a few of them apologized and told me that, generally, they would have been familiar with me, and not being familiar with prospective students is completely unlike them, and that any other year they would know me far better than they did. Which leads me to wonder, naturally, how on earth I actually got into the program.

I expected Baltimore to be somehow differently cold than Iowa, but the cold feels the same, and the wind seems stronger.

Sometimes the best thing you can say about a hotel is that there's not somebody in the closet waiting to yell "ooga booga!" at you when you open the door.

I'm at the Hopkins Inn, which ironically is owned not by Johns Hopkins, but by Baltimore International College. It's old, like from the '20s, and it feels like the kind of place a modernist would have had a breakdown while trying to write an allegory about meaninglessness. I'm on the second floor. The only windows that are above ground level are three feet above my head, and have let in the same amount of light since I got here. It is now dark.

The blankets smell like a dog lays on them. There's a ball of someone else's hair under one of the pillows. Dozens, literally dozens of individual hairs coating the floor of the shower, so that it really looks like somebody tried to bathe a struggling soluki with a bottle of single-use shampoo/conditioner. Virginia's Garden single-use shampoo/conditioner. Oh, you've never heard of it? How odd...

The towels smell like bleach, but I dare you to touch your crotch with them.

Civic areas are developed by city planners in collusion with cab companies. It cost me fifty dollars to get here from the airport.

Flying into Maryland, there's a vast carpet of brown trees. It's a necroarborophiliac's paradise. I got to have some of that dead tree love.

The hotel that I'm at is on a street that runs parallel to the eastern border of Johns Hopkins University, and according to the Mapquest legend, they are never farther than 100 meters away from each other. But I just went outside, into the metropolitan wind-tunnel that I've never understood how urbanites learn to cope with, and I couldn't find the eastern border of Johns Hopkins University.

Two window seats. During the first flight I shared a row with a man who immediately whipped out his laptop and played chess against himself for the duration of the flight, cocking his arm to manipulate the mouse and planting his elbow three encroaching inches into my seatback. The second was even worse -- a polite woman who fell asleep immediately before I realized I had to pee or I was going to start wimpering like a cat in space.

Kai giffew dahs famma gaskan.

I went to Chicago last week to visit my friend Josh. Here’s my friend Josh and me.

Josh was in a band I liked very much. The first time I saw them was just before my Freshman year of college officially began, at a function called “Weeks of Welcome,” which was predictably aimed at making undergraduates feel at home in Iowa City. I went specifically to see this band, but when I got to the small stage that had been set up in the middle of the pedestrian mall, I was immediately leery, because I saw Josh fiddling with his guitar tuners. Burnished, blonde, and Norse, hair spiked in a hail-shattered geodesic dome that resembled in some ways golden sugar crystals sprouting from the top of his head. This was, after all, the geekiest geek rock band in the history of geek rock, and I wasn’t expecting them to be, well, so hot. They were all hot. But Josh was hotter than the others. He was conspicuously good-looking. The kind of guy you don’t trust because he’s so good-looking, you’re sure it has corroded his insides. The kind of guy on whom god spent so much time polishing the surface, it can’t possibly be concealing any depth. The kind of guy whom you expect to disappear when he turns sideways. The closest corollary to this kind of person is an artificially whitened, habitually unbrushed tooth, rotting away on the inside like a sunbaked corpse stuffed with compost, but sun-glinting and valuable and wonderful to see.

So it really pissed me off when, later on, it turned out Josh outscores me by good margins on standardized tests. Fuck you, Josh.

Anyway, Josh invited me to Chicago to see the band Explosions in the Sky. I don’t do very well on solo road-trips, being fueled as I am by abject diffidence. I like to think of myself as one of those dogs that can find its way home from anywhere in the world, except I’m that dog if it was dead. But this trip, as trips go, was fairly seamless. I didn’t miss any exits; I made some muscular moves on I-55, passing mattress trucks and beaters with effortless dips and dives; I turned onto Lakeshore and trailed a Porsche to my exit without even taking any paint off his bumper; and, best of all, I found a parking spot a hundred feet from my terminal destination in which a blind, deaf, and thrombotic soul musician with no feet or theoretical knowledge of physics whatsoever could have parallel parked an Airbus. I was living pretty large.

After hanging out with Josh for a couple of days – really, days and nights draped in a heavy-hanging taffeta shawl of courtship and flattery – it was time for me to go home. I became anxious, because I knew I couldn’t duplicate the success of my inbound journey. But, I did. I flowed through Chicago’s arterial avenues like a toxin that the city was trying to excrete from itself. The entire state of Illinois slingshotted me through it like a friendly host eager to get rid of me so he can have sex with his girlfriend.

Then I got to Davenport. Fucking Davenport. I had fourteen dollars on me, and I needed to get gas. And I saw a blue sign that said there was gas, and then I saw another blue sign that said there was a Hardee’s, too. So I pulled off the interstate into a gas station – the same gas station I always happen to pull into when I’m coming back from Davenport – and I put my credit card into the pump, put the nozzle into my car, and lifted that thing you have to lift to get the fuel flowing. And it flowed, oh how it flowed, and the soothsayer in me could feel fourteen dollars worth of Hardee’s food sliding down my throat almost pornographically. That’s when I heard what I at first took to be an immigrant speaking in Pidgin. I couldn’t follow the first couple of sentences, and only managed to parse what sounded like “Kai giffew dahs famma gaskan.” I turned around and smiled at the guy, a bloodshot black guy in dirty clothes, smiling an incredibly ingratiating smile at me. I realized at once that not being able to understand him and asking him to repeat what he had said could easily be construed as racist, or if not racist, at least an indication of the insularity of my existence and my inability to identify with persons of minority heritage. Now, I fancy myself a progressive liberal, even in some ways a Marxist-leaning, theoretically informed politico, so this was not really an option. To save face, even if it was just the face that the mirror sees, I had to play along. So I smiled and nodded right back at him, “sure sure, how’s it going man, how are you.” He said, “Cayoo gee a rye?” “Sure sure, aces my man, hop in the car and I’ll take you where you need to go.”

It should be noted here that mine is a family of suckers. We’re marks, johns, and every other biblical name for a patsy. We get took. We’re all-day suckers, as the man said. Even if we get suspicious, we’re so afraid of confrontation that we’ll just go along, cutting our losses, until we’re obviously in danger, and then we’ll mostly just cry and beg until we see an opening to cut and run.

Incidentally, when I was a little boy, a man approached my dad at a gas station and asked him if he could have a few dollars, he’d run out of gas up the road. My dad told him he had no money. The man pressed, but my dad insisted. When he got back in the car, I asked my dad why he lied to the man, and my dad told me, “Sometimes people try to get you to give them money when they don’t need it for the reasons they say.”

This tableau popped into my head the moment the man closed the door to my car. The smell of St. Ides, weed, Newports, and motor oil wafted over to me in a wave.

“So you’re going to be able to tell me how to get back here, right?”

Being in the car, his speech became instantly more eloquent, his syntax less broken, his vowels less liquid. Or maybe my urban-diction cipher just needed a few minutes to get itself going. “Yeah, man.”

He directed me, and I found myself growing a bit uneasy at the sheer amount of turns necessarily to get this guy to where he needed to be. The houses became flatfronts. The flatfronts became apartment buildings. The apartment buildings became prefab rowhouses. We passed an unmarked Crown Victoria, a covert cop car with lights on the dashboard and a weary, shorn-headed officer giving me and my passenger a quizzical look as we rolled slowly by in our 2006 Honda Civic.

I had been listening to the Silver Jews and, of course, I turned it down when he got in the car. There’s something about trying to ingratiate yourself to a thug and listening to indie honkey-tonk that just doesn’t gel well. But I probably should have had something playing, because for the duration of the ride he kept trying to make small talk in between “left here” and “right there,” a tortuous web that, in the end, could well have evened out to a single left turn and four or five spins around the block. “Where you from?” “What you do?” “What you doing tonight?” “Man, I’m having a crazy day. My girl and shit. We all fighting.” “I gotta get to my gas can.” “Man, I wish I could get you back for this.”

Finally, he told me to pull over in front of an apartment building. Standing in the door was a rather large, rather shirtless man with cornrows. Just standing there. Just staring at me. I put the car in park and sat, expecting or praying for a thanks and a swift departure. I got the thanks. Then he said the sentence he’d said before that I hadn’t quite understood. “Kai giffew dahs famma gaskan,” which I only then managed to parse. “Can I get a few dollars for my gas can?” He’d weaved together this embarrassingly thin web of bullshit about being in a fight with his girl, and needing to get his gas can, to get back to the gas station, to get to his car, where his girl was, with whom he was fighting, so he could fill the car with gas and drive his girl home. Of course, sucker-dope that I am, I played it off like it was understood. I pulled out my wallet, plucked out the four singles, and handed them over.

“Yo, man, I really preciate this, but you got like five more? I gotta get to my gas can.”

“Hey, man, all I got is a ten, and I gotta eat.”

“Why don’t I give you back this four, and you give me the ten?”

He handed me the four. I handed him the ten. He got out and cut through some alleys. I saw him, still walking, quickly and with his head down, after I had tracked back three right turns and two lefts. I drove home fucking furious, all the while thinking, "fuck you man, four dollars will get you thirty miles. I should have said that. I really should have said that."



The best 1:51 I've spent all day. The Kiss-Cam was always one of my favorite inventions, because you don't have to have a sense of humor to be funny on Kiss-Cam. You just have to be on Kiss-Cam. (from The Big Lead)


Deacon Blues (this is the day of the expanding man)

So, loved ones, monkey puppets, onlookers, gyrating marionettes and avenging disco godfathers: I have what I don’t want to refer to as writers’ block because, for one, I can’t stand people who call themselves writers without really being writers. My go-to dictionary has two definitions for a “writer.”

1) Writes (books or stories or articles or the like) professionally (for pay)
2) A person who is able to write and has written something

First of all, I have written for pay, and I felt no sea change within myself that would have allowed for self-redefinition. Certainly not in the way a lawyer gets through law school and passes the bar and starts, through no fault of her own, referring to herself as “lawyer.” Secondly, I think those two definitions should be switched, and that the sentence, “A person who is able to write and has written something,” should fester under our skins like a tiny horde of itinerant pigmy savages, parading through our vesicles and pausing only to throw parties that involve playing drums made of skin and gnawing on our insides, rapt in primal and orgiastic bloodlust. A tiny tribe sticking us with flint spears and jagged daggers, a bacchic brood that’s partying and pissing on and scorching our veins and our ligaments and our muscles and marrow, making us cry out, “god, why can’t I write right?” It gives us something to shoot for.

Call it elitist, but I think labeling somebody “a writer” should be contingent on being able to stand back and say, “hot damn, that boy can write!” much the same way being able to say, “that boy can sang!” should be a basic criteria for actually calling somebody, without qualification, a singer. This holds true for poets and philosophers, too. If an impartial observer can’t stand back and say, “sufferin’ succotash, he sure can philosophize,” or, “merciful cayenne pepper, white wine vinegar and butter smothered on chicken wings and braised under a broiler for ten or fifteen minutes with plenty of salt and ranch dressing, that boy surely does versify up a storm,” then whoever is self-applying the terms “poet” or “philosopher” should be variously afflicted with pointy objects in the nether regions, such as the feet.

I have what we will term bloggers’ block, since that term carries with it all the things I mean to imply about myself. Righteous, histrionic over-writing, self-indulgence of all sorts, thin skin, and just generally laying it on pretty thick.

Shockingly, and contrary to everything I know about freeing yourself up to bray shrilly at the top of your lungs ad nauseum (spellcheck suggests “ad museum,” which sounds like a place I would want to go to), not even hitting the bottle – and I mean hitting the bottle hard, like going down to the corner store and buying one of those half-sized 375 ml. bottles of Jack Daniel’s Old Time No. 7 Brand Quality Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey and pulling off of it, straight from the bottle like a seedy little ersatz fuckwit Faulkner trapped in a room of his own with nothing but a typewriter and a blank piece of paper and a sheaf of frustrations to take out on those instrument – not even this has helped me put so much as a word to paper for a few weeks. It’s funny, though, that whenever you can’t write, the one thing you can write about is how you can’t write. Much in the same way that people who become happy can’t write about anything other than the fact and means in which they are happy, and they become these insufferable loads of metahappiness, detailing and adumbrating the ways in which they are happy and the reasons why they are happy about being happy in those ways, until you just want to put one shotgun barrel under each o' their their nostrils (or, as Cormac McCarthy would say, “noseholes”) and click that satisfying double-click of a double-barreled shotgun, click-bang, click-bang.

That’s all I’m going to say for now. I’ve got to go watch Six Feet Under, and pretend like it’s helping me to learn how to cope, even though it’s just a way to waste time watching attractive people wanting to have sex with each other, and ultimately having sex with each other. God bless HBO, they just love it when hot black guys make out with other guys.

But I’ll try to come back tomorrow and write about how I got conned out of ten bucks in Davenport last week, and how and why I’m trying not to let it turn me into a racist. Click-bang, click-bang. "Learn to work the saxophone and I play just what I feel. Drink scotch whiskey all night long and die behind the wheel." Steely Dan forever.