Monday, April 30, 2007

The Great Comic Book Covers



Uncanny X-Men #251


So - let me get this straight. You're going to take the X-Men, Marvel's flagship title, and totally dismantle it? You're going to have the X-Men die on national television so that the whole world thinks they're dead? Move to the Australian outback? Have the team slowly disnitegrate as they are pulled apart by both external menaces and internal pressures? Even though the world already thinks they're all dead, kill them again, giving them amnesia this time so that not even they know who they are? Make Storm a ten-year old girl? Collosus a gay painter living in the East Village? Have the Mandarin turn Psylocke into a Asian ninja? Have Wolverine crucified in Christ-fashion after being brutally beaten and tortured for multiple issues? Sounds like a plan... er, wait a minute? What was that about the whole Wolverine being crucified in Christ-like fashion? Did Logan die for our sins?

Anyway, how long is this storyline going to run? Sounds like a bit of a downer, probably best not to draw it out for too long. What's that? The better part of five years, you say? Sounds like a plan, let's see how long we can put out the most turgid, depressing and disjointed comics possible before people call us on our shit. What's that, they'll never actually get sick of it? Sales will shoot through the roof? Yippee!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Friday, April 27, 2007



Previous Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

7


I’ve got these pills I’m supposed to take but I don’t. They make me sleepy and give me headaches and I just don’t want to take them because I’m not sick.

I get the bottles every month in the mail from my doctor but they just stack up in the closet. My mother always asks me whether or not I’m taking them and I lie to her, say “yes, ma,” and leave it at that. She wants me to take my pills so I’ll be vulnerable to her, vulnerable to the machinations of her and her fellow ghouls. I don’t want that to happen, I can’t allow them to dull my perceptions, so I just smile and nod when the subject of my medication comes up.

But she’s no dummy, she knows I’m not taking them. She knows because they haven’t got me yet. When I take my pills it dulls everything, like there’s cottonwool around my head and I just can’t think straight. I know they’re out there but I can’t see them or hear them and that makes me paranoid as fuck. So before it gets too bad I stop taking them and soon I can hear their footsteps behind me as I walk through the neighborhood, and I find that oddly comforting because at least that way I can hear them coming.

I don’t think my dad heard them coming, which is why he’s dead. I don’t know exactly how he died but I imagine it happened in a similar fashion. They wanted him dead and they waited and waited and waited but he was too smart and too canny for them, until he finally let his guard down enough for them to slit his throat in the night and that was the last we ever heard of Pop.

In any event, the people who got to my dad are still out there and I know they’re still after me. If I had ever had the luxury to forget that, the One Eyed Man was back in my life to remind me of this fact.

So I began to formulate a plan.

My father was dead because of what he knew and what he had. There were hundreds of millions of dollars still out there, unclaimed, that belonged to him – belonged to me – and I had to figure out where it was before they did. Because if they did, I knew there wouldn’t be a place in the world I would be able to hide from them.

I felt sorry for Connie sometimes. There were times where I wanted to run away from her and never return, but I knew that at the end of the day I was important to her, deeply important in a way I couldn’t begin to understand. We had been friends from such an early age that it would simply be impossible to imagine life without her, for better or for worse. That probably goes a little way towards explaining why I’m such a goddamned chickenshit with her. I don’t want to marry her. I don’t really even know how we got engaged. But somehow it happened . . . and I can’t really explain that.

And I certainly can’t begin to explain it to her. I don’t want to hurt her because, ultimately, she’s going to be hurt enough by life before all is said and done. That’s just the facts.

Ultimately I suppose I was afraid. I didn’t want to let go of the life I was living, blissfully unaware of all these raging undercurrents beneath my feet, ignorant of the perfidy that sublimates us on a daily basis. I didn’t want to step out of the shell of college, where I felt relatively safe and secure, because I knew that I was going to be hurt, that the same people and the same forces that had wanted to hurt my dad were going to try and hurt me. I knew that the series of events which began with my father’s death and led eventually to those two planes falling into the World Trade Center could only end unhappily for me.

But I had a responsibility – to my father, to Connie, even to my mother as much as I hated to admit it. She was compromised, hidden away and demolished by their subterfuge and their hatred, but she was still my mother.

There were maps, maps and graphs and legends of all the places I needed to go and to see and to investigate, long charts of names and numbers relating back to the late 1800s. The same colonial forces that had thrown Africa into perfect disarray had also been working behind the scenes, slowly and confidently, in order to use this chaos to their greatest advantage.

My father was a mercenary in Angola – I’ve mentioned this. But I didn’t get into the part where my father was also smarter than his paymasters gave him credit for. He was a killer, yes, but he also kept his eyes open. It was no problem for him to see what the Company was really doing, to see that their covert activities were just masks for deeper machinations, masks atop of masks atop of masks. He was smart enough to see all the pieces as they fell into the tumblers, all the small clicks inside the lock that no one but a trained thief would be able to discern.

So that’s what ultimately killed him – the fact that he knew more than he should, and the fact that he had used this knowledge in ways he shouldn’t have. He was rich – very rich – and his wealth was a threat to the Powers because the fact that he had gotten his money in the way he did meant that he knew exactly how their little Ponzi scheme was supposed to happen. It made him the most dangerous man on the planet, and it also made him the most wanted.

And so he was killed. They cut his throat in the night and took his head clean off with a garrote, leaving it sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the room from his cot. There was a picture of me and my mother in a frame next to his cot, a picture taken when I was no more than two years old. I was the last thing he saw before he died.

Graduation is a quiet affair. I spend a lot of time packing my boxes and preparing for the trip home. I’m putting my books away with extra care because they might be in storage for a long time. They’re going to sit in the attic of my mother’s house until everything is over.

I was glad that I had been able to find this apartment, off the beaten track and without the necessity of a roommate. Many of my former dormmates had been forced into unpleasant circumstances because of the housing shortage, and I was incredibly lucky to be where I was. I realized this, but I didn’t really consider myself lucky. I considered myself bored.

So here was my crummy room – a few bookcases filled with books, a computer, a bed and a miniature refrigerator. Magazines and comic books and newspapers strewn across the shelves. There’s a bag of stale pot in the toe of an old workboot, pot I bought a long time ago but never really wanted to smoke. I don’t like smoking alone and I don’t like being around people.

I expected to feel some nostalgia, some sympathy for my past and my lost youth. I
just felt tired, tired and bored, as if it had been time to leave a long time ago. I had overstayed my welcome.

There was a pile of Chinese food cartons piled in the wastebasket near the door. I dislike Chinese food but it was close enough that I didn’t care. I didn’t have a kitchen and I didn’t want to use the kitchenette that I shared with three other apartments on my floor. I’m just funny like that.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about my dad. In the last few days I had been reminded of so many important things that I had seemingly allowed myself to forget. I was still just a callow, raw youth, a child alone in a world of men.

My landlord was in on it. I knew because my apartment was right above his. Late at night when it was quiet outside I could hear him talking on a secret radio with the men who killed my father. The voices on the other end of this radio are raspy and harsh, just like the sound of brambles brushing the concrete. These are the voices I can hear on a clear day when the wind is low, and I stop just in time to turn and see the hint of my pursuers.

There’s a sweet scent in the night air, like ginger and chamomile, and I know it’s them.

I’m packing my bags and going home. I have a notebook filled with maps and numbers and names and plans for my trip. I think they are very anxious to see where I’m going and what I’m going to do. They would kill for my notebooks.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Say What?



If there is any argument to be made in favor of "legacy" strips, continued many years and decades after their original creator has passed, such an argument almost surely would have to focus strongly on Blondie. Sure, it's undoubtedly nowhere near as good as it used to be, as these things go, but it's still consistently funny. I would argue that Blondie is one of the best strips on the comics page, almost solely because whomever is writing the strip these days is a very talented gag writer. It may not have anywhere near the biting social commentary or virtuoso linework of the original Blondie, but it makes me laugh. Which is more than I can say for most everything else on the comics page.

But today's Blondie . . . I don't get it. There are two possible interpretations: one, Dagwood didn't rinse the "toothpaste" from his teeth and has the hiccups; two, Dagwood swallowed his toothpaste and is farting soap bubbles. Neither answer is really adequate in the face of the mental leaps required to get from point A - brushing his teeth with shampoo - to point C - sitting in his office with soap bubble in the air around him. Most people rinse their mouths pretty thoroughly after brushing their teeth, because toothpaste is generally rather nasty, mint be damned. Also, no one in their right mind swallows their toothpaste. You're not supposed to. The best proof of this is the fact that they make children's toothpaste that is OK to swallow - it's not hard to infer that swallowing normal toothpaste is Not OK.

So which is it? Neither answer is satisfactory. Is there a third option - does Dagwood just like blowing bubbles in his cubicle as a means of alleviating the soul-crushing boredom of his cubicle drone existence, and isthe punchline merely a non sequitor intended to mock the audience's gutter-minded expectation of easy fart jokes? This is seriously bugging me here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Casualties of War


I had a week off from work, an event which usually saps my desire to blog. Add to this the fact that I got a serious case of the flu for the first time in many years, and my enthusiasm for blogging was seriously curtailed. Even just cherry-picking a pile of cockshots from the Marvel and DC solicitations was more effort than I really wanted to expend, considering the many hours spent shivering under a blanket on the couch watching the commentary tracks on the Tom Goes To Mayor DVD that constituted a large part of my "vacation".

But, yeah, fanboy homophobia is the gift that keeps on giving, isn't it? It's not your father's gay panic, that's for sure. I'd have to say that if there is any particular constituency that loses more than any other out of this weird phenomenon, it's the women whose legitimate resentment towards objectification are supposedly "mirrored" by the concerns of hetero-normative men facing the shocking sight of a superhero with a penis. It's really an interesting inversion on the usual status of sexual repression: in this case, it's the men who force themselves into metaphorical burkas, with every small bulge in a persons' clothing setting off shrieks of Puritanical horror. Anyone who watches team sports sees more in the way of bulges in the form of the standard jock strap protector that professional baseball and football players wear. Hell, even just walking down the street on a sunny day, you're likely to see men in tight shorts or jeans showing off more than just a little bit of the you-know-what. Remember the cucumber joke in Spinal Tap? People did not automatically assume that the rock star was gay for trying to advertise his package as being bigger than it actually was. Really, now.

But the women in the audience are now supposed to believe that the shock and horror of merely seeing a male superhero with an actual primary sexual characteristic (never mind that their entire body is completely covered in fabric and said sexual characteristic is mostly implied) is somehow comparable to the daily onslaught of seeing every single superheroine in the entirety of comics dressed like a tramp every single day, such that not only can you see the outline of their nipples but even, in many cases, a good glimpse of the proverbial cameltoe? Jeezum crow. Off the top of my head I can think of one female superhero who actually gets away with wearing pants on a regular basis - Vixen from the Justice League. I've got the world's smallest violin for all the guys out there cowering in fear at seeing a glimpse of Commander Steel's penis.

I've also got a heaping dose of pity for anyone out there in the wide world of comics who has characterized said penis as "erect" - if you think, based on personal experience, that's the size and shape of an erect penis, I am profoundly sorry.




Skimming through some DC pamphlets released last week, I am really quite amazed at the overall sensation of helplessness radiating throughout the company's line. Has it really been a year since the Infinite Crisis? Wow, seems like just yesterday people were bitching about how late that series was, instead of Civil War. (At the very least we know that if World War Hulk ships late, it's not the artist's fault.) But despite the fact that 52 shaped up to be a much bigger success than anyone could reasonably anticipate, the series' impending ending and fallout is still going to be something of a commercial anticlimax.

The big push coming out of Infinite Crisis was One Year Later, a line-wide jump-ahead that was supposed to build excitement in much the same way (or so it was said in interviews) that the piecemeal franchise relaunches after the first Crisis on Infinite Earths drew readers to the new Superman, Wonder Woman and Justice League books. The problem was that One Year Later tanked pretty hard. Sales across the line barely moved, and the exciting changes that were supposed to inspire fans to sample titles from across the line inspired, at best, confusion from longtime fans, and at worst outrage (evil Batgirl, anyone?). The big franchise relaunches - for the Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League lines - have all been plagued by late-shipping books, fill-ins, or both. Just that fact that DC has returned to using fill-ins, practically unheard of in 2007, as an aggressive means to staunch the flow of blood from late-shipping flagship titles is an admission that the problem has metastisized to incredible proportions. So 52, which was initially intended as a supplement for One Year Later, ended up eclipsing the event it was designed to compliment - it would perhaps be excessively polite to call One Year Later a commercial trainwreck.

Which brings us to last week's World War III, a storyline which can probably best be compared to having your mortgage payment due the day after the stock market tanks. You set your interest rate a year ago, it's not your fault that rapid inflation and cratering real estate values have demolished your escrow. So yeah, let's use all the excitement and buzz surrounding 52 to promote the new Martian Manhunter and Captain Marvel revamps, which have spent the preceding year tanking like the Exxon Valdez. Let's make sure everyone gets a fresh reminder of all the unpopular story elements that we had to spend the last year undoing, such as Evil Batgirl and Squid-Faced Aquaman. Sure, you can argue that this is exactly what they had to do, because these are the reasons 52 was supposedly created to begin with, and it's best (at least for the readers involved in the storyline and the retailers responsible for selling unpopular stories) they got it out of the way in the least painful manner possible. But the people in charge of 52 at least realized that that would be a really unsatisfying (not to mention unpopular) tack to take, so they focused on a handful of characters who were best positioned to take advantage of the unorthodox format and told their stories to the exclusion of any kind of wider tapestry. This is the only thing they could have reasonably be expected to do, because the fact is that to even an uninterested observer, the tapestry was becoming unraveled even faster than it could be created. Where was the grand, unified cohesion that would have made One Year Later, if not a surefire success, at least less of an embarrassment and more along the lines of what they were probably hoping for at the outset? Nowhere to be seen, because the lynchpin of the line was perpetually stuck fifty-two weeks in the past, surrounded by a haze of failed initiatives and bungled relaunches. I imagine that many retailers, pleasantly surprised by 52's staying power, have been more and more nervous the closer the series has gotten to the actual events of the One Year Later books - along with a fresh reminder to the costumer base of all those things they hated from a year ago.

Will Countdown be able to capitalize on what they've learned from the mistakes of One Year Later? Certainly, you have to believe that at some point things have to start working better than they have, if only because the people involved presumably know what they're doing now better than they did then, and have had a chance to see in great detail what works and what doesn't works in no uncertain terms. On the other hand, there's every reason to believe that DC is suffering from a case of extended event fatigue, with all the of major architects behind 52 sniping either at each other, DC or even their fans in public interviews and message board statements, and other creators voicing their misgivings in the pages of the books themselves. The fact is that despite 52's undisputed success, DC is still so far behind Marvel coming out of Civil War that any new initiatives are going to have to work twice as hard to overcome the dominant stench of flop-sweat. At this point I think DC could do a lot worse than just slapping the "Casualties Of War" banner atop half their line - it wouldn't be false advertising, to judge from sales figures.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Yes.

Wang Watch 2007

















I missed out on celebrating International Record Your Cat Reacting To 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY Day (mostly because I have no camera, not because I lack a cat), but to make up for it I'll share this music video with you, which happens to be one of the better 2001 homages I've ever seen. It's not really blatant but if you know the movie in question you should pick up on it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

With Neil Peart As Himself


So yeah, I ventured out into the great wide world this weekend, as you may have expected, to track down the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. That was surprisingly hard, as it was only playing on some 800 or so screens. It made something over three million dollars, but that's pretty good considering it only cost $750,000 to make. Let's see Spider-Man 3 make quadruple its costs on the opening weekend.

It was, as expected, an excellent film. It is probably gibberish to those who aren't intimately familiar with the show - but that's to be expected. Those who know the show were rewarded with exactly what they were expecting, pretty much the equivalent of six episodes strung together, with musical performances from Mastadon and Neil Peart. Just what Neil Peart was doing -- six-inches tall and floating around space in a magic watermelon -- is never explained. And there's a Hold Steady song over the ending credits for no real reason, other than I suppose it's a good Hold Steady song.

One of the big promotional hooks for the film is that the Aqua Teens' origin is supposedly revealed. Well, this happens, sort of, but not really. No less than three origins are suggested, all are mutually contradictory and none of them make any sense at all. A fourth Aqua Teen, a giant chicken nugget voiced by Bruce Campbell, is introduced briefly in a flashback, but considering that his existence is tied in with one of the origin stories that is later cast into doubt, Chicken Bittle has about as much chance of being "real" as anything else. I'm glad they decided not to play the origin straight: anything resembling a solid, consistent mythology for what is ultimately an elaborate non sequitor would be totally besides the point.

So yeah, good fun for the whole family, except for the part about it being a hard "R" film filled with language, gore and really disturbing sexual content. I think they spent a bit too much time with the Plutonians and the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future, but I guess nothing's perfect. They at least snuck an MC Pee Pants appearance in there, and if you don't blink you might even catch Willie Nelson (the homicidal onion spider, not the country singer). There was no Happy Time Harry, unfortunately, but I suppose there's only so much cool they can compress into an hour and a half.

One thing I didn't know until just the other day was that the Adult Swim people have been releasing a whole pile of fake "endings" for the movie over on the movie's web site. They're pretty funny, and there's even a Swamp Thing cameo in there (sort of).

Friday, April 13, 2007



Previous Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

6


The first few days after the bombings were days of panic and fear, days of attenuated perceptions stretched past the breaking point.

The broadcast news networks began running their coverage around the clock and the television feeds changed their design. Small running text feeds stretched across the bottom of the screens, buffeted by pictures and computer graphics moving like video games around your field of vision. As hard as it was to grasp the realities of a geopolitical universe grown suddenly much harsher, the hyper-kinetic paranoid television presentation brought these changes home to our living rooms. Here was the altered world, splayed and dissected and splattered across the TV.

There’s a point where you realize that the world you live in is no longer the world you grew up in. There’s a moment of hideous recognition, a sensation of horror that passes across the membrane of your consciousness like a bubble in oil. Everything feels wrong, jaded, corrupted.

When I turned my eyes from the television the running text strip at the bottom of the screen was burnt into my eyes. I was seeing the news as it happened with my eyes closed.

I dreamt of burning bodies and the smell of gunpowder for weeks after the towers fell. There was nothing I could do to cleanse my mind, nothing I could possibly wish for but silence, blessed silence, but as soon as I turned on the television the noise in my head was replaced by the noise on the news, voices and mouths speaking in clipped tones of urgency, saying nothing in particular in a very forceful manner.

And so I began, in the hazy days following the destruction, to gain a unique and comprehensive understanding of the strange world in which we now lived. Everything was compromised. Every layer of perception in our world had been dominated, purchased and pasteurized, coated with liquid latex and made to look new and agreeable and exciting. We saw mass murder unfold before our eyes and reacted as if we had just seen a television commercial. Where was this new product? How much did it cost?

Everything in our lives has been replaced by cheaply manufactured simulacra. I wondered when they had got to my mother. But then I realized it didn’t matter: she had been only too happy to be appropriated. She was positioning me for my replacement, working diligently to achieve this goal.

The Saturday after September 11th saw me the guest of Connie’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gooding. Connie’s school schedule was such that she left for classes at the end of August, while my school year didn’t commence until September.

I enjoyed the company of the Goodings far more than I enjoyed the company of their daughter. They were honest and scrupulous, I felt, much more so than my own duplicitous mother. They were very comfortable with their lot in life, and both worked decent and respectable jobs. I felt at least partially safe in their home, removed from the constant struggle of the running captions that moved across the bottom of the television screens and which had sprouted across everyone’s forehead during the preceding week.

The Goodings’ house was impeccably and classically furnished. The furniture was strong and resilient, and when I returned home after dining with them I felt incredible shame at my mother’s gauche taste in modern furnishings. There wasn’t a piece in my mother’s house I didn’t feel that I could break apart at the slightest provocation, and I was deeply afraid of the impermanence represented by broken furniture.

I sat at the head of the Goodings’ cozy kitchen table, opposite of Mr. Gooding and flanked by Mrs. Gooding. They regarded me as their son-in-law in deed if not in word, making every accommodation to my eccentricities. Truth be told, they understood better than their daughter the difficult upbringing I had received, and felt almost grateful for the chance to help me.

In any event, theirs' was the first house I had entered in a week’s time that did not have the television playing. They were as impeccably presented as they had ever been, and they welcomed me with unfeigned warmth and generosity.

Mr. Gooding asked me how my week had been. I told him that I had been fortunate enough to be able to spend most of my week at home, reading and relaxing in preparation for returning to school. He inquired as to the date of my departure, I answered that I was planning on returning on the 20th.

They had been in close communication with Constance all week. Her classes had apparently been canceled on the day of the attacks and the school had remained closed for an additional day. Classes had resumed on Thursday but there was still campus-wide paranoia. It occurred to some that in the event of another proverbial shoe dropping a small liberal arts college in Oregon was hardly the most likely target, but logic and fear are rare bedfellows.

I asked Mr. Gooding what he had been doing at the time of the attacks. He had been doing paperwork in his office at the bank when he had received a call from his wife, who told him to turn on a television – any television. It was very early in the morning and few people had yet arrived at the bank, so he was alone as he marched into the small break room hidden at the rear of the bank and flipped on the small portable television that sat on the main table.

He was transfixed for a good ten minutes before he realized it was time to open the doors. By this time the morning shift were arriving and most of them had heard nothing yet. As they arrived he informed each of them that something terrible was happening in New York.

He opened the front doors anxiously and returned to the break room. By this time the first tower had fallen. He succumbed to temptation and carried the television into the lobby, installing the small receiver on a podium at the center of the room. He turned the volume loud and sat down in a chair near the loan office.

After a few early-birds, no customers came to the bank that morning. Everyone was hunched around the television together, unwilling to miss a moment of the history.

Mr. Gooding made the decision to close the bank when the first calls arrived for the parents. Schools had closed early and the children were being sent home, and most of the tellers needed to leave. It was really no decision at all – the take-out Chinese food restaurant situated across the way from the bank in the strip-mall had already closed, along with the insurance agency next door and the dry cleaners on the other side. The coffee shop across the highway was doing good business, though - there were dozens of trailer-trucks and cars packing the lot, having stopped in town after hearing the news on the radio.

Mr. Gooding saw each of the employees out the door and locked the building as he left. It was a surreal feeling, to close the bank before even the lunch hour had struck on a sunny Autumn Tuesday. He imagined millions of people across the country in similar positions, finding themselves impacted by distant events they could not easily comprehend. Aside from the out-of-town traffic at the coffee shop, the town had grown preternaturally quiet.

Mrs. Gooding was a doctor – an orthopod at a sports clinic downtown. She canceled all her appointments soon after seeing the first images on television. She called down the list and most admitted that they had had no intention of coming. Mrs. Gooding changed out of her white coat and was the last person to leave her office, the secretaries and other physicians having left earlier.

The Goodings’ voices were soft and assured, well suited to calm descriptions of tragedy. I remember feeling somehow reassured listening to them speak, assured in a way that I hadn’t felt listening to the same stories passing from my friends or my family’s lips. They were all the same, all the stories, anyway, it was simply in the act of telling that they were able to gain any semblance of significance.

Everyone’s story was essentially the same, and this was both boring and horrific. I longed to find someone with a different recollection of the day’s events, someone who hadn’t seen the towers fall, and still sees them standing today. That would be a story worth telling.

In any event I woke up the morning after the frat party with a pounding headache. I was back in my room although I didn’t remember in perfect detail how I had returned. I had never had a hangover like this before, and I was suddenly very glad I no longer had roommates to contend with.

I stayed in bed for most of the day, drinking water and coffee and trying to read but mostly just laying in bed with a pillow over my head. I remembered with a sudden viciousness why I disliked drinking.

I made myself get out of bed as the evening wore on and proceeded to find some
food. It was only then that I saw the note, scribbled hastily and left on my computer screen the night before –

Had a great time? Hope so, lover . . .
Kristy


My brow furrowed and I felt a searing pain through my head. Whatever I had drank the previous night had done a complete number on me, and the more I strained the less I remembered.

There was a Chinese take-out place down the street from my building. I pulled on my coat and left the apartment carefully, trying to walk as gently as I could. The sun was beginning to set but I wore my sunglasses anyway.

I had given up on studying the year before. Thankfully – or not, depending on your outlook - I had been gifted with the kind of memory that enabled me to make it through my courses on nothing more than willpower. I read all the assigned books but never gave the classes a second thought until I had to take the tests. Sure enough, I had been rewarded with A’s and B’s, an admirable scorecard by any definition. My time was left free for other pursuits.

Sometimes I wished that I could work harder, that I could enable myself to fail at something, anything. But it was all so damned easy, and I felt frustrated for caring.

As I walked down the street my friend’s words of the previous night came softly back into my aching head. I had felt aimless, adrift – unable to focus my life and my energies on any goal or suitable vocation. But his words had opened dark reservoirs of secret purpose at which I had only ever previously realized vague hints. Perhaps all of this was merely just a test, or a passing phase, and I would eventually perceive my current life as if it were a platform of phantoms and ghosts. Something was up there, waiting for me, watching.

If someone was watching my I had to be very careful. I cast a glance over my shoulder but the street was remarkably quiet. It was the weekend and there should have been some activity, I reasoned – but there was none. Simple preternatural silence was the only thing I heard.

The streets were composed with a mixture of ramshackle and modern architectures, a surreal jumble of old and new piled high one on top of the other. There was ivy everywhere, ivy and broad leafy trees bunched across the streets. There was something cozy and dark about the city, something that seemed to simultaneously repulse and welcome the stranger.

But now I became convinced that every corner, every cranny and nook in the crumbling civic masonry held a set of anxious eyes eager to find and dispatch me. There was nothing I could do but go about my business because I knew that to give so much as the slightest foreknowledge that I was aware of their presence would lead to my inevitable doom.

The feeling of being watched is one of the most unpleasant and helpless sensations in life. There is no earthly reason why you should be able to feel as if you’re being watched, and yet you know, with a certainty that belies proof, from the evidence of the downy hair on the back of your neck. You can almost hear the whispering voices as you turn the corner, the spies in their long duster coats and their faded porkpie hats, recording data and transmitting it back to their secret headquarters. It’s just like you’ve seen in all the movies, only worse and filled with loathing.

I sometimes wonder if the people watching me at night are even human anymore. There’s a part of me that hopes not.

I carried my Chinese food back to the apartment and locked the door behind me. My head was still pounding and my eyes felt shriveled. I still couldn’t remember a damn thing about what had happened last night after we started doing those shots behind the bar.

Connie was a good girl, better than I deserved. I hoped she wasn’t compromised by any of this.

Her parents had related their stories to me quietly, with the plain and humble authority with which they communicated everything in their lives. Here was a couple who had succeeded, who had found everything they wanted in life. Their daughter was a tribute to their conceptions of morality and decency, a good girl who reflected well on them both.

Except that she wasn’t really their daughter. Her mother was dead, her father was somewhere else. She had been abandoned by life and it was only her extreme good luck that she had found the Goodings – a childless couple who were willing to adopt an older daughter. I found out later – much later, and accidentally – that Mrs. Gooding had had a tragic miscarriage early in their marriage, and this misfortune had taken from her the ability to bear any children.

They had wanted a child, they had wanted children, the perfect keystone to the perfect suburban American life. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan. In any event, I’ve known Constance for longer than her parents have. I remember seeing her biological parents, when they were still alive and together.

That was a long time ago.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Names Have Been Changed To protect The Innocent


This has to be one of the very best rejection letters I've ever got in all my years of getting fun rejection letters:

Dear Tim

Thank you for thinking of us but I am not entirely surprised that you are having difficulty placing a novel featuring a paranoid schizophrenic's delusions, and ending very badly indeed.

We try to publish gorgeously written fiction but we have to sell what we publish.It is my instinct, based on decades of experience, that very few people would purchase the novel you describe.

I am sorry and I wish you luck with it, but it is not right for us.

Best,

XXXXXXXXX

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

You Can Feel Free To Go Read Something Else


Let's talk about golf.

This last weekend was The Masters. This is the one weekend of the entire year when you can be assured of finding me camped out in front of the TV watching a sporting event. I try to catch the other three majors - the US and British Opens and the PGA Championship - but they can be good or bad depending on a lot of factors. Most of the old Scottish Links courses on the British Open circuit, for instance, live or die on the quality of the weather: wind and fog makes for great golf, clear sunny days turn the Royal & Ancient into a shooting gallery for today's power-hitters. Similarly, a bum course can turn either of the other two American majors into a slog - they can't play Bethpage Black every year, but boy wouldn't it be great if they could.

But the Masters... well, I don't get sentimental about sports. Usually they bore me to tears. Once in a great, great while I'll watch a baseball game, but that's about it. But it's hard not to get sentimental about Augusta. I haven't played a game of golf in almost a decade and I don't really regret that - like I need another time-consuming hobby! - but I'd play again if I could play Augusta. Yeah, even if it just meant duffing around the course, making a fool out of myself and plopping the ball into every water hazard in Georgia, I'd do it, just for the chance to walk down those storied lanes...

Bastion of white male privilege? You bet. But, come on. Give me this one concession.

So I never miss the Masters. Although there are many tougher courses out there, there aren't many courses that are as consistently challenging. By which I mean: Augusta doesn't have a reputation as being a hellaciously tough course. But it is probably one of the most subtle and perpetually interesting courses ever designed. Just about every kind of challenge you can conceive can be found somewhere on that course. You can't play well at Augusta unless every single facet of your game is strong: you have to be able to hit the long fairways, you have to be able to hit with accuracy, you have to be able to place your wedge shots with the utmost delicacy, and you have to know how to putt. Sometimes, some years, it all comes together for one or two golfers and they just get it, and the course opens up like a Chinese puzzle. The fact that they play here year in and year out gives it a familiarity - not just the players but the viewers and spectators as well get to know every nook and cranny. That doesn't make it any easier, but it does give a special satisfaction when someone is able to run the table, so to speak - the golf course has personality. There's really nothing else like it.

And this weekend, a fellow like Zach Johnson won the tournament. And of course it's hard to begrudge anyone from winning the game. One of the very best things about golf is that at no point are any of the competing players every actually in direct competition - it's not like they have to actually fight for the ball. No, even when they're playing side by side their only real direct competitor is the course itself. So while other considerations do come into play (the game is an incredible psychological test), the game is almost entirely a test of individual skill, individual grace under pressure. And this year, Johnson had the skill to pull an upset victory out of an extremely treacherous weekend. Conditions were as harsh as I'd ever seen them at Augusta, a fact which only accentuated the course's difficulty. They even eased off on some of the traditional Sunday pin placements, if you can believe that - a small mercy, certainly, to judge by the numbers being posted.

I must admit that while Jonson played some particularly fine golf, especially on the back nine on Sunday, it's still something of a disappointment. One of the most unpleasant aspects of the game, for me at least, is the endless supply of incredibly boring upper-middle-class WASP scions of privilege, who only seem to multiply with every passing year. Golf is a game of subtle personalities, and these guys don't have anything: frat-boy looking, collar-popping meatheads that could have been popped from a mold. Of course, those who love golf can hardly to expect anything different: golf is not a game with traditional minority appeal, and golf is not a game readily available to the poor. The hopes that Tiger Woods would bring a new generation of diverse players to the game have proven almost entirely unwarranted. There is a lot more diversity in the game than there used to be, but it's mostly international. Golf is very popular in Asia, so we see lots of Japenese and Korean players (the Koreans are proving especially dominant on the womens' tour). Vijay Singh won the Masters in 2000, and he's a native of Fiji - but one brown person hardly counts as a revolution. (Singh is also an inveterate asshole, but for just that reason he makes a great foil for the white-bread likes of Phil Mickelson.)

So, yes, allow Johnson his moment of well-deserved triumph. But will he stick around to become a champion for the ages? Probably not. There's no story here. Nothing to distinguish him from the dozens of punks who pop up on the tour every year. It's almost an anticlimax, because there's nothing there to root for. That's a problem with such an open field - invariably most fans will walk away disappointed that "their" guy didn't win. But sports boils down to stories, and there are lots of players on the tour who carry around extremely interesting stories. Johnson just isn't one of them, and I doubt he ever will be. But there's always next year.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Puny Humans Never Learn" Dept.



You would think, after all these years, that people would remember that trying to get rid of the Hulk by shooting him into space / banishing him to nether realms / sending him to sub-atomic fantasy worlds only ends with the Hulk returning, more pissed off than he already was. You'd think someone would just think to give the Hulk, like, Australia or something. You know, one of those countries no one really ever thinks about.




Whenever I find out someone is from Australia I always feel unaccountably sorry for them. Like, I want to pat their heads and go "oh, I'm so sorry", and treat them like they've got cerebral palsy or something. I know it's not very PC, but there you go.




I've got a friend who has recently got me into Sparks - one of those bands I had heard of, vaguely, but whom I had never felt the need to seek out. I mean, I knew "Number One Song In Heaven", obviously, as an important single in the formative years of electronic pop music, but I think I recall reading a magazine article or book blurb or some point that dismissed the group as something of a novelty act, albeit one with a pedigreed history.

Turns out there's more than initially met my eye. But as much as I am enjoying most of their music, I'm also a little bit skeptical of them... which sounds odd, I know, but the fact is that I am very much skeptical of bands which place such a premium on humor. Wickedly smart, yes, musically talented and downright gifted in places - but bent to ultimately satirical ends. I am reminded, more than is comfortable, of They Might Be Giants - another group I used to hold in high esteem, but who I don't really listen to much at all anymore. I grew out of They Might Be Giants, and it was a frustrating situation, because they really are insanely talented musicians - two of the best pop songwriters of the modern era, bar none - it's just that the pop songs they choose to write seem less and less relevant the older I get, and the more I see that kind of aggressive smart-Aleck as being self-defeating and, frankly, grating. When they want to, They Might Be Giants can write straight-faced, but it's the fact that they choose not too that is so frustrating. I grew up (even if, admittedly, my mental age took some time to properly sync up with my physical age), they regressed. The Flaming Lips are a great example of the opposite phenomenon: they started out weird for weird's sake, became much better musicians, went semi-straight and wrote some great pop music. They backslid in recent years, true, and become a bit too obsessed with whimsy and humor, which accounts for the fact that I didn't buy their last album and haven't listened to Yoshimi or anything after it for years. But The Soft Bulletin is still a great record and I defy anyone to say different.

I don't know what point I was initially trying to make - except, that, listening to Sparks, while I enjoy them, I also am wearied by them. Bands like these seem to demand, by their very nature, a bit more devotion than I am comfortable giving to any band anymore: you're either really into them or you aren't, it's hard to stay on the middle ground. I wonder if that says more about them or me.

Friday, April 06, 2007



Previous Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4

5


Trevor invited me to a party later that week at his frat house. I usually made a habit of avoiding parties but my inexplicable affection for Trevor overcame my better judgment in this instance.

The fraternities are arrayed in a row on a long street jutting south from the main campus. On any given weekend there are dozens of parties ongoing, dozens of ancient houses filled to the brim with drunken children. You could walk down the street on party nights and feel as if the entire campus was on fire, as if all the houses were actually part of one greater party and everyone was invited.

Of course, that was an illusory effect - and in reality, most parties are illusions. There’s an aching solitude at the heart of them, a cloying adolescent loneliness that won’t be alleviated merely by mass drunkenness or group sex. Perhaps I just don’t get it. I don’t know. I do know that parties usually don’t entertain me.

When I was fourteen there was a party at someone’s house . . . someone’s birthday party, I don’t remember exactly. I dressed nicely and had my present wrapped, I don’t remember what I got, it must have been something my mother picked out.

So as bad as college parties are it goes without saying that junior high school parties are worse. There’s not really a lot to do because you’re not old enough to be outside of the immediate purview of adults and you’re not young enough to think that’s OK. You want to be older but you’re stuck being what you are for however long you’re there. If I could go back in time with a fresh keg of beer and present it to my fourteen-year-old self he wouldn’t have the faintest clue what to do with it.

And of course its impossible to cast my mind back without stumbling across memories of Lauren.

There were years in my life devoted to abnegation, entire periods of my youth blacked out between the time of my father’s death and my departure from home. My childhood was given over to phantom deliriums, and my adolescence was almost entirely consumed by a negative burning lust aimed inwards and fueled by self-hatred.

Sometimes I crept out of the house and walked across the long and luxurious fairways of the nearby golf courses. I lay on the grass and looked skyward, slowing my metabolism down until I could feel the movement of the Earth in orbit beneath my fragile pulpy body. I dreamt inky purple seas of molten grief, and my father’s face spinning high above me, unable to see me or to hear me.

Lauren was beautiful, of course, and looking back across the years I can see now that she was irresistibly innocent as well – a virtue that would have appealed to me. Of course I was unable to do anything, to act on my impulses, because in all seriousness I was just a kid, and a pretty fucked up kid at that.

But I remember snippets of the year and I remember moments from that party in particular – a magical moment towards the end of the party. We were sitting on the couch waiting for our parents to come, sitting in a darkened living room somehow, inexplicably alone. I don’t remember thinking anything so much as wondering how this could possibly have been allowed to happen, it seemed so odd in a house full of people to be alone with Lauren in the living room . . .

And it was dark and we were sitting there together looking out the window and seeing the headlights pass by on the road and feeling the faint glow of reflected light on our pale youthful faces. It was dark in the house but there was white light from a lamppost outside and it played across our faces through the vertical bars of the venetian blinds.

I don’t remember what we said, and I don’t think we said anything important. But I remember that one single shining moment for what it was worth. Not much.

Trevor was nowhere to be found when I arrived at the party. The house was already filling with people, younger coeds and older members of the fraternity, in addition to sorority sisters and athletes and perhaps even a few townies somehow thrown in the mix. There was liquor everywhere, domestic beer in cheap plastic cups and ugly liquor in small shot glasses on coffee tables.

There were a few people I vaguely recognized. A younger girl came up to me and asked if I knew where the bathroom was. I told her that I didn’t and she thanked me and walked away. She was attractive in a preening slutty way, in much the same manner that most of the younger girls were.

The house itself was beautiful, an old gothic residence with high vaulted ceilings in the living room and elaborate winding staircases throughout. It was a perfect house in which to throw lavish parties, and a perfect house to entertain guests. I began to lose awareness of my surroundings and my eyes stretched off across the ceiling and into the spaces between spaces.

I turned my head and looked over towards the corner. There was a keg of beer set on a thick wooden table with a few younger coeds milling around. Looking closer I saw an older gentleman whom I hadn’t recognized when I first entered the room, but who I soon remembered. I strolled across the room and reached my hand out to him.

“Hello, my boy,” he said, taking my hand in a firm shake. “I’m so glad you could make it. Trevor told me you were coming and I’m very happy to see you here.”

“Thanks,” I said. He was holding a small plastic cup of beer in his hand. He reached over to the keg and poured another cup for me.

“Here you go,” he said. “I am happy to be of service to you.”

I took the beer and drank deeply. It was warm, room temperature, but it slid down my throat easily enough. It was good to see my friend, and he looked well. He was wearing a nice dark suit, with the tie pulled slightly loose from his collar, just casual enough to look at home anywhere he went. His complexion was a healthy light red, his black hair slicked back behind the tiny little horns poking out just above his forehead and to either side of his widow’s peak.

“Seriously, my boy, I’ve been meaning to have a talk with you for a good long while here.” He reached out and put his hand on my shoulder, comfortingly. “I’ve heard some pretty special things about you. You’re going to have a good year, you know that?”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes, really. Once you get out of here,” he gestured around the room with his free hand, “and get home, you’ve got some big decisions to make.”

“Connie.”

“Yes . . .” he paused. “She’s certainly a big decision. But there are some even
bigger decisions on your horizon.”

“Huh.”

“Yes, yes. It’s a damned good thing I found you when I did, because I have some very important advice to offer you. Come with me . . .”

He grabbed my arm above the elbow and escorted me out of the living room. We found ourselves in a smaller area, perhaps a family room, with a much cozier space. There were fewer people here as well. My friend sat down in a chair to the side of a plush sofa and I sat down on the sofa nearest to him.

“There’s one thing you’ve absolutely got to remember, I mean, above all else this is vitally important. Are you listening?”

“Yeah.”

“Everything is important. From this moment on in your life, everything that happens to you has a reason. Like a puzzle. You have to be smart enough to put everything together because everything is going to mean something.”

“I don’t quite understand.”

“Of course you don’t understand. Not yet you don’t. You’re going to be in the middle of some crazy shit, my boy. You’re going to have your hands full.”

“Hmmm. So, I’m not going to marry Connie?”

“No, I never said that. But I think you’re going to want to take some time off after school, go find yourself. This is a big country and you’ve really only seen a tiny sliver of it.”

“Yeah, I was thinking of doing that. Road trip out to see New York maybe.”

“Yes, New York. Maybe you could see Ground Zero?”

“Yeah, I did think of that.”

“You’re not the only one. Anyway. In the coming days and months there’s going to be a lot happening around you and you have to be very careful to make the right decisions, to choose the right paths, or the consequences could be much more disastrous than you or even I could possibly foresee.

“You just have to remember one very important thing.” At this he leaned down from his chair and pressed his index finger into my chest. “Everything counts. Everything that happens to you from this day forward is important, it all means something, it all adds up. Pay attention and see if you can discern the shape and texture of the patterns that surround you, the patterns that dictate your existence. That’s the only way you’re going to get ahead.”

“I’m afraid,” I said meekly.

“Don’t be. I’ve seen this kind of thing before – a kid like you, fresh-faced, straight out of college. Takes some time off, finds himself. You’ve just got to figure our where you’re going, is all. Its not that intimidating, is it?”

“Not when you put it like that it isn’t.”

“See, that’s just my point. You’ve got to take it easy. You’ve got a lot of power now, a lot of potential. You can do anything in the entire world if you want and nothing can stop you. The only thing that can stop you is fear, and you can’t be afraid of anything, OK?”

“OK.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” He slapped me on the back in a jovial fashion. “Would you like another beer? A cigar perhaps?” He opened his coat to reveal his inside pocket, crammed with freshly-wrapped cigars. “Just got in from Cuba – fresh as a daisy.”

“No, no thank you, I don’t smoke.”

“Fine, fine. I can respect that. Anyway,” he said as he rose from his seat, “I really should be on my way. I’ve got a busy night ahead of me yet.”

“It was good talking to you,” I said dully, lifting my hand up to grasp his.

“Don’t let it get you down, kid, just go home and get on the road. Things will start happening, I guarantee you’ll end up on the right page in the end. I have it on a pretty high authority that you’re destined for greatness. Just be on the lookout for synchronicity – it’s the secret story of everything all around you. Figure out how that story ends and you’ll rule the world.”

“I will, I will. Thank you, thank you so much.”

“No problem. I still owe your dad . . . we go way back, you know that. He was a good man.”

“Yeah he was.”

“Cheer up, kid,” he said with a smile, “you’re on the right track.”

He grasped my hand and left, turned abruptly down the hall and disappearing into the party.

I sat in silence for a moment, ruminating on the conversation. My friend hadn’t said anything which I did not strongly suspect to already be true, but it was heartening nonetheless to hear it said by a voice besides my own.

The party grew louder and louder with every moment I sat thinking. There were more people streaming in from the outside and there were already more people than I thought possible packed into the house’s cavernous basements. The faint but insistent throbbing of music from deep in the building’s foundations was strangely, ominously comforting.

I looked up from my reverie and saw Trevor approaching from the main foyer. He had a broad grin and was carrying two more plastic cups of beer. Without a word he handed me one and took a long draught from the other.

“Dude,” he pronounced solemnly. “You made it. I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show.”

His face was flushed, I could tell he had already been drinking heavily for a while. Did he ever stop drinking, I wondered? He sat down next to me on the sofa while I spoke.

“I’ve actually been here a bit,” I answered. “I was talking to a friend before you came in.”

“Fuckin’ wild. I told you you’d see someone you knew.”

“Yeah, I’m glad I came.”

“Dude, you saved my ass the other night, you know that? I mean, seriously, dude. I was hardcore fucked up, seriously fucked up. I don’t even remember any of that. But I sure got some blood on my T-shirt to, uh, commemorate it by.”

I chuckled and took another sip from the beer.

“So, like, I’m glad you could make it, but you are just so not being where the party is going, dude . . . I am afraid I am going to have to insist you come on down with me and see what we can see. Seriously, dude.”

He rose on shaky feet and I followed. We turned the corner and found a long thin hallway leading to a dark stairwell at the end. There were kids lined up all across the hall, in various states of disrepair. Some were making out with others, some were fast asleep. I tried to be as careful as I possibly could, lifting my feet to ensure I didn’t step on anyone’s fingers or knock over any beers. The floor was already sticky with liquor.

The stairwell proved narrower than the hallway had been, curving down into the hill on which the ancient house stood. The music came up to me, thicker, meaner and bloodier in my ears. Slowly my eyes adjusted to the viscous darkness that enveloped us. We were surrounded by people all around us as we descended the stairwell, sweaty figures in the fumbling dark, leant against the crumbling masonry of the walls. There was smoke, tobacco and marijuana and more.

The stairs came to an abrupt end and we were suddenly in a large, dark enclosure at least thirty feet below the first floor of the house above. I had underestimated how deeply the foundations of the house had had to be cut into the hillside in order to build the house.

There were people everywhere, dancing sluggishly or lounging against the walls. The confidence and languor of these guests assured me that the basement was obviously the epicenter of the party. There was a small bar set jutting from the wall at the opposite end of the room, with half a dozen men whom I recognized as members of the fraternity taking turns pouring beers from a large metal keg and taking shots with the other revelers.

There was a DJ in the corner, two turntables and a mixer set atop a long piece of plywood perched on two piles of cinder blocks. He was in deep concentration as I entered the room, his headphones half ajar on his head and scrunched up against his shoulder. His fingers were slowly and methodically turning the record as it spun on the platter, speeding up or slowing down the incoming music to match the song that was already playing.

The crowd was lazy, however, and inattentive to the music. There were dozens, hundreds of bodies moving slowly across the dance floor, propelled by liquor past the point of exhaustion. Here was the dense hard core of the party, the people who had been here for hours and had no intention of going home, and the people for whom this permanent state of Bacchanal excess was home.

There was a thick iron chain hanging from the center of the ceiling, and there was a large iron-wrought cage hanging from this chain – like a birdcage, only bigger. Suspended about three feet off the floor, the cage contained a girl.

I don’t know if you could call the caged girl beautiful, because a latex mask covered her face. She was wearing some shiny fetish gear over her body. Her body language seemed dazed, slightly disinterested, perhaps bored. I think I would have been, in the same situation.

Trevor tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for me to join him at the bar. The bar itself was surrounded by what seemed to be thousands of swarming lowerclassmen screaming for beer. The bartenders gave a cup of beer from their keg to every third supplicant, in between downing cups of beer themselves.

The music was good but no one cared. I pressed into the crowd with Trevor, gaining ground on the bar as we slowly came through to the gate. Trevor swung the gate open and we emerged on the other side in the small area behind the bar. There were two chairs off the side, next to a television that was bolted to the wall. There were neon beer signs – flickering orange “COORS” and “BUDWEISER” talismans that gave you a headache to look at them.

Above the bar, on the ceiling behind where the cabinets were situated, there was a large poster of a naked lady, perhaps a Playboy model? I didn’t recognize her. It was an old poster.

Trevor leaned over and spoke in my ear, loudly through the noise: “Having a good time?”

I nodded my head dully. One of the seats was empty so I sat down, careful not to spill my beer.

As I situated myself, Trevor leaned under the bar and found a half-empty bottle of whiskey. He found a pair of shot glasses and slammed them onto the arm of my chair with an audible thunk. He filled both shot glasses, motioning me to take one.

We clanked our shots in mock toast and threw the liquor down our throats. It had been a while since I had drank whiskey and I was reminded, briefly, of just how foul it actually tasted. It ran down my throat as quickly as I could manage, and it landed in my stomach like a drop of molten lead. I was growing quite drunk despite myself.

Trevor turned away and shared a shot with his fraternity friends. My mind slowly tuned out the crowd beyond the barricades of the bar, focusing on the music and the light, soft and hard on my senses. The girl in the cage was still bored and looked drunk or stoned, and from the other side of the room I commiserated with her. I wondered, obliquely, how much she was being paid.

Then it occurred to me that I had seen the One-Eyed Man just a few days ago, after having missed him for almost a decade. It was an upsetting thought, and for a moment I fought feelings of paranoia rising out of my stomach and into my brain. It was a reptilian feeling, a pure conception of the primal ego that left my skin feeling vaguely like coiled scales. I felt the harsh fabrics of my shirt against my naked flesh and I was repulsed by my physicality.

But what was left? I was drunk and I had nothing to fear, at least for the time being. I found myself enjoying the party despite myself. As was to be expected, I had nothing to do and nothing to say to Trevor’s companions – anymore than I had anything to say to Trevor himself – but I enjoyed the party from my vantage point at the far rear of the basement, observing from a position of serene detachment. Life was good, at least for the time being.

After a few indeterminate minutes, Trevor turned back to me and we downed shots again. I was smiling, I could feel the grin across my face, and I could hear the blood pumping through my brain. It’s an odd sensation, drunkenness, and I am rarely prepared for the disassociation, of perceiving my surroundings in crystal clarity but being unable to speak or act in a rational manner.

For a moment, at least, I relaxed into the dull soft-focus of the party, enjoying the brief high and putting all unpleasant thoughts outside of myself. I would pick them up later, when the voices resumed and I was free to act on my friend’s advice. I had the rest of my life ahead of me, and the rest of my life started tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Free Idea


For any movie producer or screenwriter reading this blog:

William Shatner and Adam West meet up after they are cast as the title characters in an off-off-Broadway production of Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Over the course of rehearsals they share reminiscences about their lives and career, in particular the fact that their respective successes in genre television have kept them from achieving any respect as performers. The film climaxes at a Manhattan comic book / sci-fi convention a week before the play's opening, at which point Shatner and West, surrounded by zombie-like fanboys, become convinced that they are actually trapped in some sort of Stoppard-esque netherworld between the living and the dead, forced to relive the worst parts of the late 60s for the rest of eternity.

Just give me an "Special Thanks" credit, guys.




Over the past few days I've heard the phrase "cannot win and cannot quit" - referring to the conflict in Iraq - repeated a number of times in differing contexts. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to me, because it's essentially true. The war places us in a perfectly conceived "lady and the tiger" trap - it is literally impossible to win the conflict as it stands now, and as bad as that is leaving will only make it worse. This is a self-evident truth that should not obscure the absolute imperative of leaving Iraq. Of course, this isn't something that even the staunchest anti-war pols are likely to mention, but it's the truth. The moment we inevitably leave Iraq is when things become inestimably harder for us, as we're going to be forced to work alongside all the regional powers we've systematically sidelined, the ones who are going to be facing the full brunt of the military and humanitarian crisis caused by the collapse of the vestiges of the Iraqi state. Meaning our ticket out of Iraq is going to come at the heavy cost of subsidizing the Gulf States' containment efforts.

And of course once Iraq officially disintegrates the Kurds in the north will make their bid for an independent Kurdistan, which will bring Turkey and Iran into direct conflict with them. The trade-off for an independent Kurdish state from the international community will be Kurdish recognition of Israel. Israel will welcome a Kurdish state, and either covertly or overtly support the effort, which will probably bring Iran into overt conflict with Israel. Syria has been playing both sides against the middle in terms of allowing Iran to funnel aid to Hezbollah, but the lack of decisive victory in the recent Lebanon war probably did much to shake Damascus' faith in the wisdom of this continued policy, which explains recent overtures to the West. If Iran and Israel start slugging it out for any reason, Syria stands to lose a lot - they've profited from the state of perpetual cold war between the two regional powers for a long time, but if the cold war becomes hot they are going to be left in the cold.

Yeah, we're screwed. But at this point, I'm afraid that "cannot win and cannot quit" is not quite as fatalistic a formulation as the situation demands, and seems more along the lines of a Johnson-esque stalling for time, as in, if we keep throwing men and bombs at the Vietcong maybe the eventual defeat won't be so overwhelmingly bad. I just hope for all our sakes that we get the "good" Iraqis who've helped us these past years out of the country before we go, because the moment we leave the country every "collaborator" will be dead within forty-eight hours, maximum. As it is, even if we can magically sweep up every "collaborator" in country, the bloodshed the day after we leave is still going to be unbelievable, probably of a kind with Rwanda and Cambodia. It's an inevitability at this point. Sucks, don't it? T

The next few decades in the Middle East are going to be pretty brutal: people forget that the reason Europe is so peaceful now is that they had hundreds of years to kill each other, a process which succeeded in creating the roughly homogeneous ethnic and religious zones that define current national borders. The Middle East was protected from the worst of this kinds of spasmodic violence by the stern unifying oppression of the Ottoman Empire and, later, the colonial hierarchy. That's all gone now, and there's a lot more blood to be shed before the region can rest.




Tuesday, April 03, 2007

International Photoshop Cat Heads Onto Scenes from EYES WIDE SHUT Day

Better than Boxing Day, don't you know.

Can I has cheezeburger? No you cannot have cheezeburger.
Yes.