Thursday, August 31, 2006

Kicking and Screaming

I have a co-worker who has seen me in some dark moments, and a few months ago I was having a dark day. I said something to the effect that if you're of a certain age and background, one of your lifelong challenges is accepting that the happiest you'll ever be was when you were in college, and that it's all downhill from there.

"Oh, [CrimeNotes]," incredulous, "give me a break," she said, "don't tell me you're one of those lame people who says," adopting a mock boo-hoo, "'The happiest time of my life was in college and everything afterward sucks.' Only dorks say that."

What might have shocked me more? If, without warning, she'd punched/stabbed me. If she'd flashed me. If she said that she voted for Bush.

I wasn't offended, just startled. More than startled. Shocked. It never occurred to me that there was any other option. Not for lottery millionaires, recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, Superbowl MVPs, popes or generals, heirs to fortunes or the women that marry them.

I do not have many overarching beliefs that guide my life, but this is one of them, and one that I never expected to hear challenged.

Obviously, there or no absolutes, so my co-worker's remarks forced me to modify my views. I'm now convinced that for college not to be the happiest time in your life, you either were the victim of a serious crime or clinically depressed for four years.

Kicking and Screaming is a movie for people who share my conviction.

In June, our comments in a post about soccer turned a long digression about Kicking and Screaming, the 1995 movie by Noah Baumbach. It's finally available on DVD, which means it is just in time for autumn and the biologically dictated nostalgia that comes when temperatures finally drop into the 50s and 60s.

Kicking and Screaming is about a collection of recent graduates from a small liberal arts college. (Picture Middlebury or Haverford.) It is about very literate, sincere, neurotic guys and the more mature, realistic girlfriends who bedevil them.

The movie begins at a party on the night of college graduation, where there are tones of toughness and regret in their conversations. The main character, Grover, is told by his girlfriend, Jane, that she'll be moving to Prague instead of living with him in Park Slope. This startles Grover. The following exchange ensues:
Grover: Oh, I've been to Prague. Well, I haven't "been-to-Prague" been to Prague, but I know that thing, that, "Stop shaving your armpits, read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, date a sculptor, now I know how bad American coffee is thing..."
Jane: They have good beer there.
Grover: "... now I know how bad American beer is thing."
From that night, the movie jumps a few months forward. Our main characters are living in a house just off campus. One pines for a girl still there as an undergraduate; another starts a book club but fakes having read Cormac McCarthy.

They have the luxury of being too clever and privileged to worry about poverty or true failure. Instead, they're confronted by the prospect of gradual, inevitable descent.

One thing must be made clear: Kicking and Screaming is not a great movie. Though the cast is mostly excellent -- including Chris Eigeman from the Whit Stillman movies; Josh Hamilton; and Olivia D'Abo -- the acting is spotty, and at times the dialogue is too clever by half. Occasionally it crosses a line from sentimental and witty to outright annoying.

Other points worth noting: it is not like the Will Ferell movie of the same title; it also is not like Old School. It is not as funny as Baumbach's great 2005 movie The Squid and the Whale, and also lacks that movie's heart of darkness.

But for everyone who loved The Squid and the Whale (a group that probably includes everyone reading this) some of the background noise in Kicking and Screaming is reassuring. You'll recognize certain grace notes -- how Grover and Jane write fiction and want to live in Park Slope, and the moment when Grover's father (played by Elliot Gould) begins an unselfconscious discussion about his own sex life, therein startling and upsetting his son.

It was made a decade before The Squid and the Whale, but it may not be possible to watch Kicking and Screaming without imagining that Grover is Walt, and feeling good that, yes, everything turned out all right for him.

Ultimately, the pleasure of Kicking and Screaming is its dialogue, its attention to the small details, its likeable characters, and its perceptiveness in understanding a moment. Like the hedgehog, it understands one large thing, and understands it well.

A few more lines of dialogue worth memorializing:
"What I used to pass off as just another bad summer could now potentially turn into a bad life."

"I'm nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I've begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I'm reminiscing this right now. I can't go to the bar because I've already looked back on it in my memory... and I didn't have a good time."
The summer before my senior year of college, I spent a lot of time with a friend named Tyler who graduated that spring. Tyler rented an apartment a few miles off campus. He worked at a bookstore, had an English degree, and was ridiculously literate. For the next year, after his graduation, he lived like one of the characters in Kicking and Screaming. At some point he discovered this movie on VHS. I must have watched it with him four or five times.

My coworker might not have understood this, but Roger Ebert did. If you're ever tempted to dismiss Roger Ebert as a hack who is too generous in his critiques, read his review of Kicking and Screaming. It describes the movie's pleasures more gracefully than I do:
What struck me about "Kicking and Screaming" is that it captures so accurately the fact, dimly sensed by undergraduates even at the time, that the college years are the happiest in their lives.

One spends four years talking about ideas, concepts, art, theory, history, ideology and sex. Then one goes into the world and works like a dog until retirement.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Cole Slaw Blog puts the following on notice

This'll be ubiquitous by the weekend, if it isn't already.

Monday, August 28, 2006


I. James Wolcott on Entourage
... It’s quite a dinky show, its lead character and meal ticket played by a zero-charisma, slim-talent pretty boy—Adrian Grenier—whose curls camouflage the emptiness within. I have to remind myself that Grenier was the male star of Toback’s Harvard Man, he made such a void onscreen, and I gather he created a similar nonimpression in his boyfriend role in The Devil Wears Prada. The notion that an actor who looks more a Greek shepherd boy could be cast as punk geek Joey Ramone strains credulity even for the toothless satire of Entourage, and his parasitic posse of likable lugs are equally retrograde material. As Drama, Kevin Dillon struts around as if he swallowed Viagra and it engorged his neck rather than his prick, and his grease-monkey line readings are just this side of the Fonz. ... And, this may sound tellibly, tellibly snobby of me, but life’s too short to care whether or not a hanger-on named Turtle scores the exclusive premium sneakers he covets.


Having read all the raves for Entourage, I was surprised and yet not surprised at the low level of its satirical sophistication. Larry Sanders did a much better job at capturing vanity and career anxiety on the fly, and the self-loathing that collects after so many years of doing lucrative crap. Well, Entourage does have Jeremy Piven working it as the agent Ari, and some episodes that’s all it has, Piven's snazzy moves and smarmy attack making Vince and his crew look like four garden gnomes dressed for a big day at the mall.
II. Michiko Kakutani on Jonathan Franzen's new memoir, The Discomfort Zone

This severely negative critique may be the funniest book review I've ever read.

Jonathan Franzen is a sad case. I liked The Corrections, but think that people who saw it as an important work by a major new writer fooled themselves. Jonathan Safran Foer has the same problem. Foer and Franzen are both talented writers who produced a good novel and drowned in a sea of hype and overexposure.

I think the problem is that a lot of people, including me, are sort of desperate to find a novelist under 40 who they can love. Britain doesn't seem to have any shortage of strong young writers -- David Mitchell and Zadie Smith, for example -- but the U.S. is struggling. Every so often a Foer or a Franzen, or a Freudenberger or a Haslett or a Kunkel or a Langer, bubbles up and becomes a source of hope. Unfortunately, instead of giving them room to grow and build, their talents are overpraised too early. A backlash follows, and the follow-up is labeled disappointing.

I soured on Franzen after I read his essay collection How to Be Alone. At 47, he's decided to publish a memoir, and Michiko Kakutani is displeased:
... In his new memoir, “The Discomfort Zone,” Mr. Franzen turns his unforgiving eye on himself and succeeds in giving us an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed. He tells us that as a child he was “a small glutton for attention, forever turning conversations to the subject of myself.” He tells us that he felt put upon by public entreaties to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. (“Why should I pony up for this particular disaster?”) And he tells us that he used to find it difficult to enjoy nature’s beauty: a hike up to a spectacular summit was never enough; instead he would imagine himself “in a movie with this vista in the background and various girls I’d known in high school and college watching the movie and being impressed with me.”
Mr. Franzen writes that he and his wife “lived on our own little planet,” spending “superhuman amounts of time by ourselves.” He fills his journals with transcripts of fights they’ve had, and writes that they both “reacted to minor fights at breakfast by lying facedown on the floor of our respective rooms for hours at a time, waiting for acknowledgment of our pain.” “I wrote poisonous jeremiads to family members who I felt had slighted my wife,” he adds, while “she presented me with handwritten fifteen-and twenty page analyses of our condition; I was putting away a bottle of Maalox every week.”

Low culture

the boys i mean are not refined: 08.27.2006, 3 a.m.

I. The William Shatner roast is a pale shadow of the Pam Anderson roast

Last year's Comedy Central roast of Pam Anderson was one of the only times I laughed hard at stand-up comics. It had the kind of effect that I think The Aristocrats wanted but couldn't quite reach. As edited, the roast had perfect momentum and its own kind of logic. The jokes were intertwined, and the comics and B-level celebrities (Adam Corolla, Andy Dick, Bea Arthur, Jimmy Kimmel, Dennis Rodman) became characters in a story. The brutality and ruthlessness of the jokes were inspirational. Courtney Love stumbled and swaggered and swore her way through the 90-minute broadcast, the unintentional highlight coming when, at the end, she nearly tripped off a dais and had to grab onto Pam for vertical support.

The next installment was bound to be shaky in comparison, but Comedy Central's roast of William Shatner is especially weak. I don't think that he's a bad choice of a target, but going from jokes about sex tapes to jokes about Star Trek is a big demotion. Instead of Kimmel, the broadcast featured the overly reverential Jason Alexander. The best jokes were at Andy Dick's expense. ("Andy Dick's sole mission in life is to give AIDS back to the monkeys.")

II. Only Midwestern nursing home patients and high-school dropouts vote for the Emmys.

I don't care much about the Emmy Awards, but a few observations are in order. I had the broadcast on while I was going about my usual Sunday night routine (napping; flipping through magazines; dreading work) and remember being surprised at the nominees and winners. A few months ago I posted a lengthy riff about how frustratingly good TV is becoming. The Emmy voters don't share my taste.
  • The Office is a nice little show, but compared to the British original it is a flea on the ass of an elephant. That's not the fault of its actors or writers. The show is not bad and I enjoy it, much the way I enjoy watered-down whiskey. But the American show could only be award-worthy if you repress and purge all memories of the British series. And not nearly in the same class as Arrested Development or Curb Your Enthusiasm.
  • I fucking love 24 but Kiefer Sutherland may well be this generation's William Shatner. He's a solid presence with his own kind of charisma, but I've never been impressed with his chops. I wonder whether a lot of people found Six Feet Under too intense to watch and follow, which is the only explanation I can find for not giving this award to Peter Krause.
  • Also, some lady I've never heard of from a Law and Order spinoff I've never heard of won an award instead of Frances Conroy from Six Feet Under. That must be one goddamn tremendous Law and Order spin-off.
  • I like his character, but Jeremy Piven is goddamn annoying.
  • With Arrested Development going off the air and Sons & Daughters not renewed by ABC, TV comedy is in bad shape.
  • An entire list of winners and nominees is available here, and it's effing weird.
III. The Secret of My Success celebrates being an ass. And also, auntfucking

Like Back to the Future, this Michael J. Fox vehicle was heavily screened in my parents' household when I was growing up. Michael J. Fox was the universal role model, I guess, and his 1980s trilogy -- Teen Wolf, Back to the Future, and The Secret of My Success -- was cheerful escapism.

It's been a few years. The movie is showing this month on the HBO channels. What I remembered was an unremarkable movie about an earnest small-town boy who finds success amid Wall Street phonies. This was not an accurate memory.

It is, instead, the story of an arrogant, demeaning weasel who lies to everyone around him, belittles his coworkers, flirts with sexual harrassment, fucks his aunt, and kisses up to the right people in order to exact revenge against an uncle who hired him. In its half-assed way, this movie glamorizes everything that Oliver Stone's Wall Street excoriated that same year.

It's not just lousy in the way that all bad '80s movies of this ilk are lousy, but also premised on insanely bad ideas. In scene after scene, it builds a horrible, illogical momentum, not just corny but wrong in almost every way a movie can be wrong. If you worked with Michael J. Fox's Brantley, he would be the most hated guy in your office.

He's an ass and an ass-kisser. He talks to people like they're retards. He has to be the center of attention in every meeting. He thinks that he stands against corporate conformity but he lusts after its trappings. He insists that he's going to make it on his own, but the movie's ultimate triumph is possible only through auntfucking and personal connections. It is a prozac-spiked loveletter to the rat race.

Also, a women's studies class could spend a week on Helen Slater's big-glasses-wearing, boss-humping, Michael J. Fox-humping, office-snooping, self-righteous, victimized, harrassed, poorly acted heroine.

The movie is a shocking lesson in wrongness. On some quiet Sunday, it might get a kind of live-blogging treatment.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Chips Ahoy

"Chips Ahoy," the title track off The Hold Steady's forthcoming "Boys and Girls in America," is available for mp3 download here.

The accompanying review states:
Pitchfork's been rocking our hyper-protected copy of The Hold Steady's highly anticipated forthcoming long-player Boys and Girls in America for a few weeks now, mulling over more clever ways to say "outstanding," "surefire year-end list banger", and "future classic" before it arrives on October 3.
Having played the song several times today, I have a few additional thoughts. First, when I heard the song played live a few months ago, it sounded like resurrected AC/DC. As recorded, it's no Celine Dion, but there's certainly a more melodic, chipper undertone. Craig Finn's voice approximates singing -- a contrast to the raspy, half-dead but born-again shouts that I've grown to love. Likewise, the lyrics don't aspire to synthesize pop culture with the Old Testament. I expect that the album will be less of a challenge and more of a party.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

... found and lost

I got a notice in my mailbox today. My missing wallet was waiting for me at the post office, postage due. People are decent. I headed to my local branch office to ransom my wallet _ $1.35, postage due.

I tore open the envelope to find my wallet, slightly the worse for wear, with all my various IDs and licenses and business cards neatly arranged in the billfold. The cash, of course, was nowhere to be seen. Whoever got to it before (or after) some solid citizen stuck it in a mailbox helped themself to all my dollars, all my pounds, and even took my totally unspendable, unconvertible, lucky French franc, which apparently was in need of a top-up of whatever charmative power I had ascribed to it.

I spent the rest of the day half wondering if I should ask at Commerce Bank if anyone had recently tried to change £47 into USD, reminding myself not to be in such a shitty mood because at least my license is back and desperately wanting to start a fight with every person I passed on the street, a la Fight Club.

I will now spend the rest of the night hitting golf balls off the roof of my apartment building.

Lost and found ...

This is starting to get cruel.

Yesterday, I lost my wallet. It happend within a stone's throw of my apartment, no farther away than the Mister Softee guy stops every day, letting the sound of tinkling music and humming exhaust fans drift up to my windoes.

It all started when I was going to see if any of my hockey teammates were scrimmaging downtown. I had earlier called Crimenotes to see if he was up for some cupcakes on a plane. No sooner had I left my place than my phone rang. I leaned my stick against a wall and fumbled for it in the outer pocket of my trusty backpack. He suggested a much-loved outdoor drinking venue, and all thoughts of hockey evaporated. I turned for home to drop off my stick and shower. At some point between there and my front door, my wallet must have fallen to the ground. Only I didn't know it.

Which is why it didn't make sense when someone rang my doorbell 10 minutes later.

I assumed it was either a prosyletizer or a take-out delivery person. And a cursory look down out my window revealed no one in sight. So I didn't give it another thought until I went to get my wallet before leaving to meet Crimenotes.

I was going to write a post last night about how comforting it was to show up and have everything be normal. Because it was. When all Crimenotes' friends were asking me if I was OK and how it happened, he was wondering aloud what he'd look like if he unbuttoned his shirt to show more chest hair. (And yes, this is normal. Anyone who has read this blog knows that self-absorbtion and obsession with minutiae are just how we at CSB roll). To be fair, he did loan me $80 later.

But I really needed the beer at that point. I had $80 in cash in my wallet. Plus a couple twenties in the emergency reserve pocket. Plus my license, two credit cards, my work ID, a couple business cards I was keen to hang onto, a monthly Metrocard nearing the end of its rope, an unused monthly Metrocard, a lucky one-Franc coin I found one day and decided to keep on a whim and, oh yes, £45 that I hadn't gotten around to changing back into greenbacks yet.

All gone ... but was it? Someone had tried to return it. Possibly even a neighbor.

So I didn't cancel my credit cards. (I checked ... no one's been running up a tab at Best Buy yet.) I haven't rushed off to the DMV. I haven't flipped out and killed anyone. I'm keeping some faith here. I put up an ad on Craigslist, and posted a note on my front door in case my would-be benefactor returns.

Then, just a couple short minutes ago, it happened. I received an e-mail with the headline to my own ad as the subject. My heart skipped a beat and I clicked on the new message, gleaming white in my blue inbox:


I called, noting that it couldn't possibly be too late to call, as my e-mail said the message arrived "0 minutes ago". Mr. Softee answered. I told him I was calling about my e-mail, already mentally composing a blog post about the Mister Softee guy who stops in front of my apartment every day. Every day that guy was there, and every day I rolled my eyes and endured the interlude as my neighbors and their kids bought Spongebob bars and Bomb pops. And now that guy was about to ... laugh at me?

"No man, someone's playin' with you."


I think I'll go cancel those credit cards now, after all.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Hello, asscrack

I don't know when it happened.

I don't know who decided it.

I don't know how it was communicated.

But apparently, the ladies elected to wear jeans without underpants and show ass cleavage to all strangers.

I was sitting with friends in a much-loved outdoor-drinking venue, talking about books and beer and heat, when a trio of girls who looked too young to drink and too stupid to speak sauntered to the table next to us.

And then I got mooned.

"She didn't mean it. She must have just forgotten," I told myself, "because sometimes you're in a hurry and you forget to wear underpants."

But there it was, every time I looked up from my T.S. Eliot or away from the conversation about Stuart England. (The asscrack made freakier by our nerdfest.) The low-riding jeans an inch too loose, giving a full and unambiguous and public view of the tan asscrack, which could have been much less shapely, which bizarrely showed no tanlines, which was at once embarrassing and exciting and stupid as hell.

"I'm out of touch," I told myself, still confused, but also thrilled.

Another friend showed up, and it was time to reckon with the situation. I pointed out the asscrack. I wasn't the only one who noticed.

As if on cue, the table in front of us became occupied. It was a man and a woman, normal looking, attractive, with no signal of exhibitionism or immodestly.

The woman was in jeans.

She wasn't wearing underwear.

And the table got an eyeful of asscrack.

I could barely believe it, because at heart I'm a nineteenth century guy, and I know there are all kinds of things that confuse and surprise me, starting with electoral politics but including reading choices and Entourage and The Killers and popular music as a whole and approximately 200 other things.

Still, in the space of 30 minutes, it was two blazing, undisguised, unambigous flashes of underwear-free ass. Too much to be an isolated incident, not yet enough to be a trend.

My tabled discussed this openly. The first girl apparently overheard us. She was trying to pull her T-shirt down to cover the asscrack, but the jeans were just too low and the T-shirt too short, making modesty impossible. After a couple of half-hearted efforts she gave up and the bar returned to its harvest moon.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The war on terror in a nutshell

"We're banning bottled water, ladies' cosmetics, and toothpaste at airport security. This is nuts. These measures are giving the terrorists and extremists an unbelievable public relations success. They must be rolling around the caves of Pakistan laughing at the British government and the British people at the moment."

-Michael O'Leary, CEO of Ryanair, on BBC World

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Americans abroad

Against my instructions, our former Baghdad bureau chief has left the country for his usual gig: hanging out in whatever corner of the Middle East he considers deadliest.

Those instructions went something like this:
Me: I forbid you from going. You should take a vacation instead. If you just want to go hang out in Paris, I'll pay for your trip.

: Ha. No.
I don't mean to make light, but still, on Monday morning I was checking my voicemail in a small-town airport and heard a week-old exhortation to meet up at the Queens beer garden, only to return home a few hours later and learn that the voice from the out-of-date message is currently speaking Arabic in Southern Lebanon.

Not only is he unafraid of toothpaste and/or snakes on planes, he's relatively unfazed by chilling in a warzone, and sends back dispatches like this:

I asked some of the people, as they cleaned up their houses (the ones that weren’t completely destroyed) what they would do next… they said they didn’t really know… “We’re still in shock” was a sort of common refrain… I was mindblown that some people had actually stayed for the duration of the fighting… rather than asking me if I had a flak jacket to spare, people were much more interested in using my satfone (no cell reception in most of the south) to call family and let them know they were alive… burned through the credit on the phone in short order…

One thing people did mention, despite the fact that their town had been sort of wiped off the map, was that they’d continue to sacrifice in support of Hizbollah and “the Sayyed” (Hassan Nasrallah)... I am finding this sentiment in both the city and the countryside… and, of course, Hizbollah was still clearly in control of the town…

On a less-harrowing note, an American-born ex-New Yorker friend of mine has been living in Amsterdam for two years. His site, too, is a far cry from a chronicle of wacky misunderstandings with foreigners, though he includes accounts like the following:
Went biking today outside of Amsterdam. Outside of Amsterdam, geologically speaking, is where the sea should be, but they filled it in long ago. Filling in the sea is a lot of work; there's only so much you can do. You can't, for example, make dry, hilly wine country. But you can make an unremmittingly flat and green expanse of good farmland. And when the sun rides high and bright, and clouds like fantastical airships drift at the edge of the sky, it's beautiful.

If you ride along the dyke that keeps the water out, you can see all of it as it goes on and on, and you can also see the villages, each one of them a café next to a church, surrounded by low brick and wood houses along narrow streets. And if you ride far enough you will come to Pants in Waterland. That's the name of one of the villages. Actually that's a translation, but it's accurate. I have no idea why they call it Pants in Waterland.
Pants in Waterland sounds like a Murakami novel.

And if there's anything we like on this site, it's a post that references pants.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Better safe than sorry

Only two events to cross my television screen in the past year have been so momentously stupid that I've wanted to cast about for the nearest grapefruit spoon, gouge my eyes out and hurl them at the screen. The first was back in November when, out of an abundance of caution, Lloyd Carr decided to punt on 4th-and-3 rather than go for it. And the less said about that the better.

The second was today. I turned on CNN to find luggage handlers tossing bags onto a runway _ a runway _ at Logan Airport in Boston. Why? Because a woman apparently had smuggled aboard vaseline and a screwdriver, was acting strangely and possibly even possessed something written in Arabic.

Out of an abundance of caution, our nation's security decision-makers decided to shit themselves silly.

Seriously. Now, even if she had been the Al Qaeda version of Angus MacGyver, I'm thinking vaseline, a screwdriver and a Post-It aren't getting her too far. But she didn't even have those nefarious devices, the existence of which was breathlessly splashed across the bottom of the screen. She was simply an simply freaking out about being in an enclosed metal tube with nowhere to go. For this, she was tackled like a kicker on a naked bootleg.

Passengers said two plainclothes men on board and flight attendants ran up
the aisle and tackled the petite woman, slamming her into the bathroom door,
throwing her to the ground and putting her in handcuffs, passengers said.

And, as if that weren't enough of an overreaction ...

Two F-15s were sent from Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod to escort
the airliner, said Master Sgt. Anthony Hill, spokesman for the North American
Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colo. He said the fighter pilots
can intercept, shadow or escort commercial aircraft and, if ordered, shoot down
an aircraft deemed to be a threat.

So, let's see, on a day of miscommunication and misinterpretation, we've got armed fighters poised to splash a jetliner, 200 people detained and a runway at a major aiport shut all because no one has the sense to react sensibly. Care to guess how many more mistakes it would have taken for an order to fire to be contemplated, motherfuckers, or are we be better safe than sorry?

Oh, and the reason for all this insanity is the supposed major plot to bomb planes with Sierra Mist or Pepsodent or Axe Shower Gel or whatever. Well, let's hold whatever horses remain on that front.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Someday the wolf is going to be real

A friend strongly recommended the following Keith Olbermann clip, which is every bit as damning as he said.

A small anecdote about how effective these tactics are: Much of my extended family lives in small-to-medium-sized cities in the Midwest. They occasionally travel out of state, but never fly. (Fact: I myself only flew once before age 21.) To them, air travel is an inherently scary process.

I saw them between the announcement of the UK bomb plot and my flight back to LaGuardia. Their level of concern about my personal safety while flying was touching, yes, but also insane. It was a concern better left for kidney transplants and bypass surgeries. My own response to the UK plot falling somewhere between skeptical and nonchalant, I showed a small amount of maturity (which is more than I usually show) and didn't openly mock them.

"This is just a bunch of hype," I said. They probably interpreted the remark as a death wish.

After seven years living in major urban areas and flying several times a year, my perceptions of risk do not match theirs. I'm nervous driving down a country road at night, but to my parents, it's second nature. I wouldn't think twice about boarding a flight to Heathrow, but that might literally incite nightmares for my cousin's wife.

The political effectiveness of the President's use of terror hinges relies on people who don't fly and have never seen a Muslim -- a much broader population than a narrow demographic that regularly flies between New York, Chicago and LA and doesn't think twice about jetting cross-country for a concert or a football game. Like so much else in the last 5 1/2 years, the terror warnings are just another means of exploiting people based on their geography and information biases.

To whoever sent me the Samuel L. Jackson Snakes on a Plane voicemail

Why, thank you, Hoss.

I don't know who you are, but I have my guesses.

I sat in the airport listening to voicemail and checking my Blackberry. Apparently, several people either forgot or never knew that I was on vacation and outside the reach of wireless signals. Amid drunk-dials, it was nice to be instructed not to paint my toe-nails again and to drive my cheap imitation sports car to the movie theater.

O! Snakes on a plane

The most contagious viral marketing campaign yet, a preview of future marketing campaigns to come, clever just this one time, but goddamn this shit is going to wear out very quickly. A year or two from now there will be voicemails about the equivalents of that douchebag John Tucker movie, text messages about the Hanso Foundation, and cryptic e-mail subscriptions for some as-yet-unknown a Coen Brothers movie.

Meanwhile, the voicemail you sent me about snakes on a motherfucking plane was trumped somewhat by toothpaste on a motherfucking plane, the screening procedures for which appears to be overstated by most major news outlets.

I will take my motherfucking toothpaste on the motherfucking plane and I will promote good oral hygiene and then I will spray motherfucking silly string all over the motherfucking plane and by the time of the emergency landing and my anti-plaque rendition to Guantanamo I will have cured motherfucking gingevitis and strung the passengers silly.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Anecdotes (with photos)

I. The Comeback

Twice in the last 12 months, Cole Slaw Nation has been rocked by my sports injuries. The first came this time last year when I had a waterskiing fall that injured my ribs. Then in May came my highly controversial ankle injury: eyewitnesses describe it as an ambitious party stunt, while smear merchants on this site label it a product of same-sex jazzercise.

My return to waterskis was highly anticipated. There was concern that my ankle had not fully recovered and that the pressure of the skis would have catastrophic results.

I'm pleased to report that my waterskiing skills are back and better than ever. No ankle pains, no nasty falls. Only skimming outside the wake and the occasional stumble backward. Rest easy, world.

II. Bob Dylan is better in a minor league ballpark than at the Beacon Theatre

An illustration in being spoiled: in New York, even hard-core Dylan fans become blase, complain about set lists, and behave like seeing the contemporary Whitman is a more exciting alternative than a night of watching Lost.

In a smaller city, the crowd treats the show like the high point of the year. This makes the experience significantly more fun. Another key asset: watching him in an infield the size of Webster Hall, looking up during "It's All Right Ma, I'm Only Bleeding," and seeing the Big Dipper overhead.

III. My younger cousins are not only more fun than I am, they're also more photogenic

Six-year-old cousin: You took your shirt off to go swimming.
Me: Yeah.
Six-year-old cousin: You look funny.
Me: Thanks.

IV. This was not Photoshopped or retouched in any way

I look forward to reporting back on toothpaste-related airport hysteria following Monday's flight.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Islamic fascists

Excerpts from a superb article by Agence France Press:

Weighed down by the unpopular war in Iraq, Bush and his aides have tried to shift the national political debate from that conflict to the broader and more popular global war on terrorism ahead of November 7 congressional elections.

The London conspiracy is "a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation," the president said on a day trip to Wisconsin.


His remarks came a day after the White House orchestrated an exceptionally aggressive campaign to tar opposition Democrats as weak on terrorism, knowing what Democrats didn't: News of the plot could soon break.


But Bush aides on Thursday fought the notion that they had exploited their knowledge of the coming British raid to hit Democrats, saying the trigger had been the defeat of Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut by an anti-war political novice.

"The comments were purely and simply a reaction" to Democratic voters who "removed a pro-defense Senator and sent the message that the party would not tolerate candidates with such views," said Snow.

The public relations offensive "was not done in anticipation. It was not said with the knowledge that this was coming," the spokesman said.

Snow said Bush first learned in detail about the plot on Friday, and received two detailed briefings on it on Saturday and Sunday, as well as had two conversations about it with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.


But Bush's Republicans hoped the raid would yield political gains.

"I'd rather be talking about this than all of the other things that Congress hasn't done well," one Republican congressional aide told AFP on condition of anonymity because of possible reprisals.

"Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big," said another White House official, who also spoke on condition of not being named, adding that some Democratic candidates won't "look as appealing" under the circumstances.

Because what do enormous inconvenience and public cowardice matter? Motherfuckers need to be reelected.

This country has been humiliated before the world, its citizens terrorized by their own government, and its muslims publicly slurred by the president (has he ever described Eric Rudolph [or Randall Terry] as a "Christian fascist"?). Why? Because the oligarchs need to ax the estate tax and slaughter more liberated Iraqis.

I haven't been this furious with the government since Katrina.

Updated Scorecard

"The U.S. Homeland Security Department barred passengers from carrying liquids, including drinks, hair gels and lotions, on planes after officials said the foiled plot involved a liquid chemical device." --Abha Bhattarai, New US flight security targets soda, hair gel (Reuters, Aug. 10, 2006)


United States 9, Confederate States of America 6


United States 14, Germany 3


United States 35, Germany 13
United States 63, Japan 7


United States 14, North Korea 13


United States 21, Iraq 0


Michigan 20, Ohio State 14

August 10, 2006

United States 0, Listerine 6
United States 0, Crest 9
United States 2, Bausch & Lomb 3
United States 3, Pantene 10
United States 0, Public Humiliation 17

But hey, on the other hand, at least Americans can't be frightened


If this is a legitimate incident and not more ginned-up wolf-crying (and I'll suspect the former since it came from the UK), thanks go to the Brits for saving our pussy selves.

This is a country of pussies, and really, it's time for our precious pussy asses to revise the last lines of the national anthem to "the land of the pussies and the home of the pussies." For a country that views itself as exceptionalist, we certainly are exceptional at shitting ourselves every time a dozen dudes with a chemistry set step out of their flat.

Watching 10 minutes of cable news this morning, I learned that the Dow was down 30 points based on terror fears; that the price of oil is down because the markets expect bombed airlines to prompt lower fuel demands; that I'm going to be chugging saline solution to make it through security; and that Tom Cruise's offspring is called Tomkitten.

In other words: America's economy can be undermined by a group of Arab Brits smaller than my sixth-grade science class, and celebrity gossip stays retarded even when we're all about to die.

Lastly, for a bunch of dudes who fancy themselves as Churchillian, the President and his cronies sure do like to put on frilly pink dresses and hide giggling under their desks every time someone says the contemporary equivalent of Luftwaffe. Stiffen your upper lips, you fucking assholes.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


I spent part of last night typing a lengthy, digressive metapost about Joe Lieberman's loss, the kind of several-thousand-word stemwinder (read: sleep-inducer) that I liked to write in this site's first few months, but which have been rare in 2006.

Then I had a brief e-mail exchange with a friend that summed up my feelings without blathering about New Deal liberals and the good intentions of traditional neoconservatives.


What I wrote, slightly revised:

You're probably not surprised to hear that I'm pleased with what happened in Connecticut last night. As soon as Lieberman conceded, I donated $250 to Ned Lamont.

I consider Lieberman to be one of the "extremists" that you find troubling. Whether it has been his callous and reckless views on Iraq, his support of federal intervention in continuing Terri Schiavo's life support, or his insensitive comments concerning rape victims and contraceptive access, I do not view him as a moderate.

Add his tacit support of bankruptcy reform and Justice Alito -- not to mention his self-anointed role as national scold and arbiter of American cultural values -- and it's clear that he is not a voice of moderation, but one of big government at its worst (regulating individual conduct) and economic libertarianism at its most destructive (when it benefits major corporations).

That this could be framed as "moderation" shows how far to the right that this country has lurched.

And yet, on a human level, I find his downfall poignant. The narrative is kind of heartbreaking. Like others before him -- Nixon and McNamara, Henry Wallace and Woodrow Wilson -- his self-perpetuated collapse is the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy. Here was a man who had greatness in his reach but was unable to concede any flaws or see beyond his hubris. A simple, "I may have been wrong, and if I went too far, I'm sorry and will try to be more open," would have placated many of his opponents, including me. Yet rather than soften his rhetoric, or do more than give cursory acknowledgement to the concerns that fueled his opposition, he has retreated into paranoia and distortion. This campaign slowly turned into an agonizing, daily drama of a man out of step with the world around him. How did he fall so far, so quickly? Was it a sincere belief in his positions? The insulation experienced by a longstanding insider? The adulation of national press? A deeply embedded sense of self-righteousness? I don't have any answer but what's become of him should be a cautionary tale to all elected officials.

As the U.S. continues to work out a way of negotiating the world after 9/11 and Bush's Iraq fiasco, Lieberman may be the first of at least a handful of politicians, both left and right, unable to reconcile certain longstanding assumptions with a changing political environment. It speaks less to a decline in bipartisanship than to the disorientation caused by Iraq, Bush's overreaching and a motivated electorate. The right analogies aren't to 1994 but to post-Vietnam/Watergate.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


As I type this, I'm sitting on a lakeshore with my iBook, Air America commentary on the Connecticut primary channeling through while evening boat traffic and the occasional flock of Canada geese pass by. Life is not bad.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Saturday morning

For the first time in 2006, I didn't wake up in Manhattan.

At 5 a.m., Canada geese flew over the lake outside, and the honking woke me through the open window. I got up at 8:30, put on my bathing suit, and swam for a half hour. Poached eggs and black coffee for breakfast, followed by a row around the circumference of the lake. By noon, my hair was blonder and my freckles were coming out. I opened the first Bell's Oberon of the day and sat on the deck, reading this week's New Yorker and listening to Sleater-Kinney. A man and his two kids fished from a boat slowly motoring down the lake.

An entire day was in front of me, and in a brief moment of self reflection, I wondered if I had somehow gone crazy in the preceding months.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

CSB Hot List!

Because it's almost 100 degrees at LaGuardia as I type this, and this heat saps the energy from what few brain cells I use for critical thinking and the like, I hereby present a Cole Slaw Blog list of shit that's relatively hot. Below you can find a list of items and their relative hotness expressed in factors of today. For example, something approximately twice as hot as today would get a factor of 2.0. You get the picture. Anyway, on to the list of stuff and its hotness in factors of sweltering August days in New York :

Sophisticated living

It all starts with the blowjob behind the dumpster, because when you're an attractive young lady and you arrive to the birthday party of a minor acquaintance -- a minor acquaintance who vomits shortly thereafter, vomits all night, vomits to the point where it's like The Amityville Horror and blood comes from the walls -- and you make eye contact across the crowded bar with a handsome young man, your jowls yearn. And to the dumpster you must go.*

But you're a young lady in your 20s, and you make the worst choice of your life and find yourself with another gentleman, a gentleman who horrifies your roommates when, after being sexed up, walks to the bathroom in boxer-briefs. This faux pas is second to that of the lover of your most hated roommate, whose boyfriend's porn-star boner stuns the household in a moment of indiscretion. A roommate's Cuban mother catches a glimpse, and impropriety ensues.

Yet conversation shifts when the main courses arrive. "Are you going to eat that wasabi?" a gentleman asks a well-known pussy. "I'll give you $20 if you eat that entire block of wasabi, right now."

The pussy demurs. He won't eat that wasabi unless offered $100 or more.

Conversation changes again, about the differences between eating whales and dolphins and toxic fish. Still, that pussy refuses to eat the wasabi.

Dinner ends. The group narrows from seven to three, and moves to a sake bar, and to another bar after that.

"You don't have to scuba dive to realize that finding a U-boat is some bad-ass shit," a well-known pussy observes. "My point in all this is, are submarines ever not cool?"

With no disagreement, the conversation turns cosmopolitan, to experiences in Prague and Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and the duties of royalty.

"What I think would be awesome," observes the pussy, "would be to fucking go out with people when they discover something under the ocean."

Exhausted -- either by the sophisticated conversation or by a bout weeknight drinking that began at 5 p.m. and is approaching its seventh hour -- one of the remaining three departs. She is bereft that she has tickled no one.

The author glances up to see young girls in the window outside. They are 20, 21 -- 23 at most. In the 90-degree night, they are dropping ice cubes in each others' shirts. They lift their shirts to reveal thin stomachs, ice channeling down through their breasts, dropping down to their bellies, sliding down and falling to the sidewalk below. For a moment, their navels are ice machines.

*This paragraph is 90% fictional. The rest of this post is accurate.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Blogkeeping post: reading rainbow edition

There is a new blog linked. I was a huge fan of Billmon's Whiskey Bar when I first started reading blogs regularly, just before we invaded Iraq.

The proprietor of said digital drinking establishment was trenchant and illuminating then, and now that he's back from hiatus, he remains so. Few skewer pretense and obfuscation better with just two or three well-chosen quotes. But his longer analyses are what keep me coming back. He just sees and writes through bullshit better than most of us. If he's not a daily read he should be.

I meant to post about two great rediscoveries I've had upon my return. I've recently been recording episodes of News Radio, a show I fell in love with when I first moved here, and watched in syndication sweltering in my sublet apartment on 36th Street five years ago. But I'm sure everyone is familiar with the brilliance of the show, and the corresponding tastiness of Maura Tierney.

I also recently re-read one of my favorite books, Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson. If you're an idiot like me, you've often foudn yourself at the beach staring at the horizon and wondered what was over it. After reading this again, I'll probably start considering what's beneath it as well.

Shadow Divers is not as high-minded as the fare my co-blogger has been pimping (think of us as the Maslin and Kakutani of the vegetable-based blog world), but it's incredible nevertheless. It's the best piece of non-fiction I've ever read, and not only because of the fascinating story. It's not too much to describe the plot at "two scuba divers become obsessed with finding the identity of a mysterious sunken German U-Boat."

The depths Kurson is able to plumb in the story's main characters, as well as the breadth of research he does on even the most minor actors in the story is inspiring. Driven by a shared passion for discovery that's stronger than they expected, John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, spend years diving the wreck of a sub that refuses to give up its identity. Did I mention that this wreck is 230 feet below the surface, and therefore a very dangerous place to dive? People die on dives like this.

Now, the location of a sunked WWII submarine isn't the sort of thing that causes textbooks to be torn up and republished but it sure as hell matters the people who were there, and to those whose sons, brothers and fathers were. I don't usually want to cry after reading about submarines, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider it on the E train the other day. Not bad for a beach read, right?

Kurson also manages to keep up the suspense throughout the book, a nice touch that plenty of non-fiction writers skip. I was planning for this to be a short review, with a longer, more comprehensive one to follow, but but in this heat, who fucking knows. A dip in the North Atlantic sounds like a great idea right about now.

Dick Cheney is a freedom shower

I just read the Vanity Fair article about the government's confused, disjointed response to the hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001. The portrait it paints is one of complacence. There was next to no preparation for the improbable, for the truly ridiculous, and as a result good people were forced to do the best they could with the resources and planning they had. I'm sure it's all fixed now, though. I mean, we did invade Iraq.

Reading the article, one can't help but sympathize with the men and women who found themselves at the center of the shitstorm, trying to catch up to the situation with what little tools they had. Most acquitted themselves well, including the two officers in charge of NORAD's northeastern sector.

Naturally, when their higher-ups went before the 9/11 Commission, they lied anyway.

One other fact that caught my attention: Our Vice President is a deeply troubled man. Yes, Dick Cheney was misleading when he implied he gave the order to shoot down any further hijacked airliners.

Cheney echoed, "The significance of saying to a pilot that you are authorized to shoot down a plane full of Americans is, a, you know, it's an order that had never been given before." And it wasn't on 9/11, either.

President Bush would finally grant commanders the authority to give that order at 10:18, which—though no one knew it at the time—was 15 minutes after the attack was over.

It's like something out of a Tom Wolfe novel. Cheney slyly trying to make himself sound like an important world leader giving Momentuous Orders with a heavy heart. There's no reason to lie there, but he went ahead and did so anyway, in a way that conveniently makes him seem like some statesman down in the bunker, when what he was really probably doing was hoping the estate tax wouldn't eat up too much of his Halliburton stock. What a douche.

In other stupid news, members of the House of Representatives will once again be able to eat french fries. The deep-fried potatoes had previously been called freedom fries, in order to punish the French for failing to join us in the totally not-insane-at-all invasion of Iraq.

France lost approximately $37 in trade and tourism dollars, as well as royalties on the fries.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Same river, different post

Courtesy of EDSBS, it's my second straight city-by-the-Danube-themed post!

We have a kind of unwritten rule here at CSB. We don't like posting short little entries when another blog posts, and adding our agreement. (Or possibly even a "heh-indeedy.") We'll leave that to willfully ignorant obfuscators.

I'm making an exception today. Why? Two reasons. One, it's 98 fuckin' degrees, and the amount of focus and sweat it's requiring to write this post makes me feel like I'm landing a 707 in Chicago. But also this involves important shit: Budapest, a city I just visited, might soon be the home of the Chuck Norris bridge.

The government decided to open the naming of the bridge to internet voting (Oh, Hungary ...) and the Chuck Norris Bridge now leads the polling, although the site appears to be down, which is OK by me now. I admit to a bit of trepidation about naming someone else's bridge for yuks. What if Hungary retaliates, and some poor American city winds up with the Zsa-Zsa Gabor Bridge? Or the Bela Bartok Tunnel? Even the Joszef Attila Turnpike? OK, I'm done padding this post for photo purposes now.
Welcome to Buda! The state charges ... 268 forints.