Thursday, June 28, 2007

You don't even want this bullshit

First, you're going to lose it. You're going to be drunk at a bar or in a cab, or at the airport, and it's going to slip out of your pocket or your backpack or your purse, and there go your $600 and a bunch of gadget pride. Losing your cellphone is no big deal. It happens to everybody and when you buy a plan the cost of the phone itself turns out to be a pittance. It's not a $600 investment and your prize possession.

Second, if you don't lose it, you'll waste time worrying about losing it. You'll keep reaching into your pocket to see if it's there. If you've got it in your coat pocket you'll freak for a half-second because it's not in your jeans pocket. And vice versa.

Third, you've already got a fucking cell phone, so relax.

Fourth, you've already got a fucking iPod, so relax. It cost half as much as the iPhone and it holds four times as many songs. I'd max out a stupid iPhone with my Neil Young albums alone. If you care enough about your music to have both an iPod and an iPhone, the memory won't cut it for you.

Fifth, unless you work in web design or some such bullshit, you don't need that much portable internet. You're already cluttered with too much bullshit information anyway, and that YouTube video of some spazzing dog chasing some spazzing chipmunk makes you worse as a human being. Shut that shit off once in awhile and act like a person.

Sixth, you probably have a fucking Blackberry already. If you don't, those fucking things are the worst. I keep mine out of the line of vision and use it for emergency work purposes only. If you have a fucking Blackberry you know goddamn well what I'm talking about. Why do you want to exacerbate that with your discretionary income? Utter bullshit.

Seventh, just because your one friend has it and talks about how amazing it is, that doesn't mean it's amazing. That means that he likes it as a status symbol. In New York we don't have cars and even rich people live in little apartments, so shit like this is how people our age show off. Your one friend who brags about all the features and conveniences is probably being sincere, but if you lived in Atlanta or Denver he'd be the guy rambling about his new BMW or Hummer.

Yesterday I was thinking that I'd buy one. It's all shiny and alluring and the commercial has quaint string music. Apple designs nice products. A visit to Tek-Serve is a thing of beauty, and I understand the temptation. I've bought three iPods for myself, given them to family as gifts, and have never owned a computer that isn't a Mac.

Then I realized that even considering the iPhone made me a sucker. This product is lame. It cobbles together stuff you have while suckering you into thinking you need a little more bullshit, bullshit that will eventually make you a more boring person.

And then you're just going to lose the stupid thing and walk around all pissed at yourself for a couple of days. At that point, you'll want to buy a new one because you'll think you've become dependent. If you don't buy a new one you'll feel weak. And then you'll be $1200 in the hole, and then you'll lose the new one eventually ("Fuck! What bar did I leave it at?") and then you'll get all angry all over again.

In conclusion, I'll probably own one by Labor Day.


If Statcounter is to be believed, today this site will have its 100,000th page view.

Thanks for reading, linking and commenting. It's an honor, and I say that unsarcastically. I celebrate by serving up some of Cole Slaw Blog's greatest hits.
Sophisticated Living
Sophisticated Living (Vol. II)
I'm going to eat some fucking cereal.
Hotness Factors
When dogs destroyed my parents' house
Fun with mascots
Excitable Young New Yorker is on Beverage Probation
The recent cake give-away!
Encouragement to International Marathon Runners
Retards Commandeer a Jukebox
The time I convinced classmates that Ouija Boards are real
Why it's more fun to fuck things up than to help your friends get laid
Hoot! (election edition)
An Idiot's Travels in London
A 100% true summary of topics Flop and I discussed with friends one night
Flop participates in a PR stunt and kicks some cookies
Bob Dylan fights the Rose Bowl
That time when I got super-emotional because Bo Schembechler died
10 Greatest Americans (2006 edition)
10 Greatest Americans (2005 edition)
The inauspicious first post.
Enjoy the celebratory cake.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Let me explode

By third grade I was a veteran of illegal fireworks. It was a benefit of being a little kid with limitless access to firecrackers and lakes.

My grandparents spent their winters in Florida. On the drive back they spent hundreds of dollars at fireworks marts along the freeway. We had a cabinet at the family cottage dedicated to fireworks and hard liquor. The closet housed sacks and boxes of Black Cat firecrackers, standard bottlerockets, Roman candles, and jumbo missiles that exploded above the lake in flares.

I started thinking of this because of a post on the excellent new New York Times book blog. To my shock, the Times is trying to expand its feature pieces beyond the shallow-whore demographic to incorporate pro-boom crackers like myself.

My two cousins are much older than me. The oldest was late in high school when I was in kindergarten. He used to hold a firecracker, light it, and time his throw so that it exploded when it hit the surface of the lake. (He once climbed a stepladder that he positioned on a wooden plank while being pulled by a boat at about 30 miles an hour. Now he has five sons. There probably will be feats to report over the next 10 years.)

The allure of this to a six-year old: immense. When it came to fireworks, I wasn't risk-averse. My parents told me that I couldn't light illegal fireworks before I was 10, but they quickly relented, so I probably was seven or eight when I was allowed to entertain myself at the cottage with a pack of Black Cats.

We took a coffee can lakeside. Burrow the firecracker in the mud with the wick sticking out, press the coffee can over it, and when the explosion comes, the can shoots into the air.

My cousin and uncle drilled a firecracker-sized hole in a metal pipe and cut a wood plug to fit the end. Light the firecracker, and it worked like a cannon. The wood plug shot across the lakefront.

One July 4th we found a dead fish washed up to shore. We put a firecracker in its mouth, lit, and ran. The dead fish exploded, covering us in rotten fish guts. I remember my girl-cousin screaming when she found a fish-eye stuck to her T-shirt.

Bottlerockets don't work for shit when shot from a bottle. We had a special launchpad -- two boards connected at a right angle, forming a chute and allowing for perfect aim -- so perfect that I could target boats with accuracy. This was the only time I got in trouble because of fireworks: shooting bottlerockets at boaters.

In retrospect, it's a little surprising to remember, the crucial role that fireworks played in my childhood. They were my fascination, my rite of passage from little kid to big kid. My younger sister must have been four or five when she burned her finger on a sparkler. My parents left the cottage to drive her to a nearby emergency room, which must have been at least twenty minutes away. Grandma CrimeNotes monitored me while I ran ripshit around older cousins and my aunt and uncle, drunk on Faygo and Mountain Dew, setting off bottlerockets and Roman candles and screaming.

I remember thinking how ridiculous it was that my sister managed to burn herself on a fucking sparkler and actually cry about it. Sparklers were lameness. If she'd lost fingers in a firecracker mishap, then I might have felt sympathy. My heart had no room for a sparkler casualty.

We all grow and evolve, of course. In high school I moved on to bigger homemade projects. My friend Jack and I were partial to bottle bombs. One summer afternoon we mixed a bunch of chemicals in a fishtank and unleashed all kinds of noxious fumes in my bedroom -- enough that I gagged and coughed and my eyes watered. Bottle bombs sound like shotgun blasts, and at night, were a surefire way to scare neighbors and belligerent fast food employees.

Combustibles generally were a source of great joy. There was a night in sophomore year of high school when I had 15 or 20 of the troops at my parents' house for a bonfire. We decided to see what happened when you throw a can of spraypaint into a fire. To my delight, what happens is a 10-foot mushroom cloud and an impact that knocks down everyone within 15 feet of the fire. Like having their nine-year-old shoot bottlerockets at pleasure boaters, this was too much even for my parents, and is still cited as evidence of my bad judgment.

All I can say is look ma, no burn scars!

I've been in New York more than five years now. Every morning I wake up and thank Allah for that.

Except on days like today, when it's above 80 degrees. Those days, I just want to be on a lake, drinking a bottle of Oberon with a Faygo chaser, blowing up dead fish and shooting bottlerockets at boats.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why I'm not at the movies all that much

The kind of movies I want don't overlap often enough with the kinds of movies Hollywood cranks out.

The other day I was discussing the relative charms of the recently single Reese Witherspoon with some colleagues the other day. I pointed out that I thought her best performance was in Election but I'd heard she kicked ass in Walk the Line and looked hottest in "Cruel Intentions" and, yes, Sweet Home Alabama.

In my defense, I was a captive audience for that last one, seeing as I was sitting four feet from a giant screen showing it on a plane that was several miles above the ocean. It was pleasant enough for an inflight movie, although I read most of a Richard Russo novel during that flight, too.

Anyway, it was posited that I was an idiot for having seen all of Sweet Home Alabama but none of Walk the Line. I pointed out that it's rare for a Hollywood biopic (which I always want to pronounce to rhyme with "myopic") to be about someone whose life I'm sufficiently interested enough to drop a tenner on.

When asked who I would want to see as the subect of a biopic my first answer was sufficiently dorky enough to bring the conversation to a screeching halt. Shortly thereafter, everyone returned to their computers.

Who was it? I'm not saying, but he's on the list below. I would see a movie about the lives of any of these people. It is not an exhaustive list by any means.

  • Winston Churchill
  • Klemens von Metternich
  • Roald Dahl
  • Billy Corgan
  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel
  • Howard Metzenbaum
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Ned Ludd

As you can see, it's all the stuff of blockbuster summers. I'm no film exec, but can't you see Leo DiCaprio in a top hat, digging a tunnel under the Thames? Maybe Burt Reynolds opening Yellowstone. Or maybe Keira Knightley as a young Maggie ready to challenge unions and communists. I'm not sure who would play Metzenbaum, but I'm sure they could bring in Ed Harris to reprise the role of John Glenn from The Right Stuff, just as Glenn reprised his own role as astronaut long after his first orbit.

McConaughey would play an awesome Carter ("I get older; Anwar Sadat stays the saaaaame age.") Plus, the ladies would love to see him both in his navy uniform and his peanut-farming dunagarees. I should totally run Hollywood.

Why my friends and I are easily distracted

Because one snarky post on a political blog about the inadvertent self-parody that came from an article in The Washington Post about the Romney brothers' blog can turn into the following IM exchange (some editing for clarity and to make myself sound cooler than I am has taken place):

crunk raconteur: "While my Dad and our entire family are thrilled that momentum is on our side, we know that change happens fast in campaigns and you can never rest on your laurels. At this critical time, we need all the support we can get to ride the “Mitt-mentum” all the way to the White House."
crunk raconteur: um...didn't anybody tell this douche that the construction "(candiates first name)-mentum" doesn't exactly have a large track record of success?

Yeah, but remember Abe-mentum in 1864?

crunk raconteur:
right, but Adlai-mentum didn't go so smoothly in 1956

Estes-mentum was a sleeping giant that, alas never roused itself.
flop: Remember the heady times of Rutherford B.-mentum?

crunk raconteur:
and let's not dwell on the disaster of 1984's Fritz-mentum.

Fritzmentum! It sounds like the 112th element. Remember how Grover-mentum II: 24 Skiddoo was an even bigger hit than the original Grover-mentum?

Who's the big trendsetter?

That's right. I am.

To wit:
Cleavage for boys is all the rage. Since men don't really have breasts (usually), how can you tell if it's heavage? One open button: casual; two buttons: heavage.

I was years ahead of buzzfeed. This Cole Slaw Blog classic of heavage and short pants gone bad hits all the highlights.

Epilogue: This summer I successfully bought short pants (two pairs, bitches) and not a day too soon.

Postscript: When we flipped to the new version of Blogger, all prior posts identified Flop as the author. Don't be confused. This post was all mine.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Early summer reviews and previews

The Pesthouse, by Jim Crace. A kindler gentler version of The Road, this book has some fine sequences but doesn't add up to much. Lead character Margaret was convincingly drawn but she wasn't much of an achievement, and her male counterpart Franklin contributed little. There were fine sequences involving a plague that swept a village, and a stay at a cult-like compound called the Ark, but this book struggled to distinguish itself from The Road's power. What's most interesting is that Cormac McCarthy and Jim Crace both set road novels in a blighted post-apocalyptic rural America. Once I finish Don DeLillo's new book Falling Man, I'll probably do a long write-up that no one will read about post-9/11 novels and writers confronting the void.

Other books, which no one will read: Nemesis by Chalmers Johnson, the third of his American Empire trilogy, didn't add much to The Sorrows of Empire. I've been re-reading some of the essays in Joseph Mitchell's Up In the Old Hotel, which I read my first summer in New York (six fucking years ago!) and is even better now. I remain sad about not liking The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

John From Cincinnati. This show might be the fucking awesomeness and the triumph and the tits and that's the truth. I've read comparisons to Robert Altman, which seem not inaccurate but not quite there, and it's been called "surf noir," which doesn't seem quite right, and to me it's got a certain feel of serious Coen Brothers (Blood Simple; Miller's Crossing) before they got all flip. (If, like me, you've been saddened by recent Coen Brothers output, No Country for Old Men had a great response at Cannes.) The marketing unimpressive, the premise exhausting, but this is may be underpromising and overdelivering. Magic realism isn't normally my bag but I'm finding these characters more interesting than any on HBO since Six Feet Under and The Sopranos dropped out of the birth canal.

Flight of the Conchords. I hated the first episode and originally planned to write a merciless bashing. The second episode had better footing. It's nothing special -- it would do fine on NBC -- but it's engaging enough and unlike Entourage appears to be about people who actually do things and have conversations and shit. I sort of wish they'd shot for something trickier than a couple of hipsters living on the Lower East Side: What if the dudes were from Alabama, and instead of playing boring indie lameness they did some kind of weird Robbie Fulks country music, and the show didn't have such a smug tone? It's a step up from HBO's string of nightmares (Lucky Louie, The Comeback, Entourage, Tourgasm).

(Pedantic digression: they clearly live in a one-bedroom on either Forsythe or Chrystie Street, but there are a bunch of exteriors shot around Brooklyn, and why the hell was one of the musical sequences (which I don't think add much to the show) set at the Marcy Avenue stop at the JMZ? I spend half the time trying to figure out where they are in the city and what they're doing there.)

Big Love. Like the axiom about Chinese food (which I've never found true) Big Love is always filling at the time, and then an hour later you're hungry. Always engaging, somewhat affecting, its stories have never amounted to much, but with such strong actors and a premise with legs, I always enjoy it. This season has centered more heavily on Barb, the smartest and most likable of the group. I find myself rooting for Barb and wanting her to pull away; for Bill to get his comeuppance; and for his son (a bigger tool than AJ Soprano) to get smacked into reality.

The White Stripes, Icky Thump. Sheer fucking fun, a total thrill, goddamn son. "You Don't Know What Love Is ..." is the missing track from Sticky Fingers. Listened to it in bed this morning and tried to imagine the song with Mick's voice and it worked. "St. Andrew ..." is fearsome: it brought to mind the acid-trip sequence in Easy Rider. "St. Andrew ..." segues into "Little Cream Soda," which sounds like music to get murdered by. I'm not a White Stripes cultic and tend to underestimate them, then every time I put on one of their albums I have small epiphanies. This time, there's no diversion like "It's True That We Love One Another" or "Passive Manipulation." The album is exciting and relentless.

Unrelated: There's a trailer up for Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, based on an Upton Sinclair book and starring Daniel Day Lewis. It will surely be awesome-assed.

Books to read:
  • Falling Man, by Don DeLillo. The reviews were tough, but the first 25 pages are excellent, something close to his old form after disasters Cosmopolis and The Body Artist.
  • On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. Based on the New Yorker excerpt, I don't expect to like it.
  • Black Dogs, by Ian McEwan. A palette cleanser.
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. I didn't like the first two sections, but it may be a slow-burn kind of book.
  • Mrs. Dalloway. To the Lighthouse is the only Virginia Woolf I've read.
  • Moby Dick. A re-reading is overdue.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning, by Jonathan Mahler. I like sports, politics, and New York.
  • The Assault on Reason, by Al Gore. I've been reading too many of these kinds of books lately.
  • Nixon and Kissinger, by Robert Dallek. Maybe?
  • Cicero, by Anthony Everitt. Probably not going to happen. Studied some of the Greeks in college, but the Romans are a gap in my edjukayshin.
The Spree has traded in their robes.

Upcoming shows:
  • Wilco. Even though the new album blows.
  • The Polyphonic Spree. They're not a band to "get into," but their live shows are an awesome, crushing spectacle.
  • Besnard Lakes. They released a lovely and striking album, but this one is a roll of the dice.
  • The White Stripes. Floor seats at the Garden, motherfuckers.
  • The Hold Steady. Live at Prospect Park? Not the venue I'd pick for them, but they haven't had a show in the city for what feels like forever, and I'm feeling like a dry drunk.
I only go to theater for plays about politics. Frost/Nixon. I'd like to write a book about Nixon someday.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Come fly the Floppy skies

Some people just know how to fly. No one knows how to fly more than I do, motherfucker.

You see me at the airport, and I’m the guy who already has his watch and his phone in his carry-on before we even get to the security checkpoint. I believe in civil liberties, but that doesn’t mean I have to be a dick to the TSA people. I greet them in a polite and courteous manner. I wait to board until my row is called. I do not bring hilariously oversized bags on board. I do not stand in the aisle and block traffic while placing my sensibly sized rollaboard into the overhead bin -- wheels facing in, dickface; none of this horizontal shite.

I am a friendly and courteous seatmate, but I get one armrest. I will lean out of the way so you can look out the window at Manhattan and I will point out landmarks if you like. I will make small talk and even converse with you, should I find you sufficiently interesting, but I will not talk your ear off. Not even if you’ve got the body of Summer Fucking Sanders.

I am friendly and polite to flight attendants, because they combine about five different jobs into one career, and get paid next to nothing for doing it. I do it because I’m a good person, fuckers, but it has its rewards. One time I held the demo seat belts and life vest in my lap during the safety demonstration so the poor thing didn’t have to bend over like four times in the aisle of the 767 to deliver the federally mandated briefing. She was so impressed, I was drinking free brewskies all the way to the coast, baby.

That’s just how I do.

Missed connection? I’m on my phone talking to reservations and getting a seat on the next flight while we’re on the tarmac.

If I get to the gate and the plane’s still there, but the door’s closed, it’s easy: Excuse me kind sir, but would you mind opening the door for me, please? No, you’ve given my seat away? No biggie, I shall take these food vouchers to the Miami Subs near the C-gates, order up a Sixer with provolone and look forward to the free upgrade you gave me because you were clearly impressed by my cool, unrufflable demeanor.

Should I ever find myself cooling my heels at Newark, result of a comically improbable series of delays, do you think I’m just going to sit there and take it? Do you think that this is when I’ll finally lose it and get pissy?

You obviously don’t know me at all. Because if I were ever going to find myself in that situation, here’s how it’s going to go down:

I’m going to make friends with my cute lesbian seatmate. We’re going to talk about Cleveland and where we went to high school. Then we’re going to drink at the bar in the concourse, where we can encounter brash young Jersey girls who upgrade themselves with the credit cards of their dumped boyfriends and watch drunk 20-something Englishmen named Simon hit on pretty 40-something Seattleites. We’ll guard a tequila shot for any young Scotsman who needs to check if his flight to San Diego has left without him before he returns to down it. We’ll take over the bar and make friends with everyone.

Once we finally get on board, we’re going to conscript the lead flight attendant in our plan to take a picture of the hot trophy wife we espied in the front row of coach. In the spirit of pan-gay relations, he will congratulate my new friend on her chutzpah and send back the twenty I laid on his co-worker to buy Peppermint Patty and myself a raft of clear liquor. I will be sipping my G&T as we land. I will drunkenly have a conversation with the lady captain once we’re on the ground, thanking her for handling all the insanity so well and telling her that when she announced the fourth delay of the night, everyone laughed at the situation. That’s right -- everyone on the plane was cool about it. Why?

Word must be getting out about me. Come fly my friendly fucking skies.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Seven reasons why Tony Soprano did not die (updated and expanded)

Note: post bumped and expanded considerably, for reasons explained below.

  1. There is no actual evidence that anything bad was about to happen -- just people in a diner who we suspected were bad because we watch a lot of movies.
  2. There is no way way that anyone with a motive to kill Tony knew that he'd be at that diner.
  3. The Sopranos never relied on off-screen action and secret twists. We were privy to everything. It was filmed in the third-person omniscient. The theory of a surprise killer violates the show's narrative structure.
  4. The show didn't romanticize violence. Violence was dirty, casual and explicit. The murder of its protagonist wouldn't be softened by climactic, artful, debatable twist. If David Chase wanted to kill him, we would've seen Tony blue and gagging on his own blood.
  5. The show rarely offered closure. What makes you think it would start in the final episode?
  6. Just desserts were not a theme.
  7. The makers filmed an ending implying that he was shot, then rejected it.
Additional recommended reading:
Update: Sincere thanks to Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door for the link. It's an honor.

Update II: This little post generated some traffic. Since it was a summary attempt to knock down what I think is an errant reading of the episode, my comments were pithy and conclusory. A link to my seven observations, partnered with opposing views, was published on an HBO message board and later reproduced here at Comment No. 7. My original remarks, the opposing view, and my rebuttal follow below.

I wrote, "There is no actual evidence that anything bad was about to happen -- just people in a diner who we suspected were bad because we watch a lot of movies."
Opposing view: "The evidence is the way that Chase shot, cut, and scored the scene to indicate mounting tension; it's undeniable. I won't even go into the very long list of possible 'evidence' left over the whole season (and this episode in particular) to indicate Tony's imminent demise."
True on the first sentence. It was indeed shot, edited and scored in a tense way. We'll never hear Journey the same way again. Like "Sunshine of Your Love" and "Layla" (Goodfellas) or "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (The Big Chill), "Don't Stop Believing" has been commandeered.

On the substance: Literally all that happened was people going about their business in a diner. That was it. People in a diner, shot very artfully, very tensely, in utterly mundane activities. Obviously we're waiting for something bad to happen. On first view the tension was almost unbearable. I was a few minutes behind due to a mid-show phone call and I had to fight the urge to fast-forward the Tivo to see where it ended. We all had the expectation that something dramatic was about to happen (myself, I wasn't expecting a killing so much as a humiliating Henry Hill-style arrest) and it was filmed in a way to tease our expectations.

That doesn't change the fact that there was literally nothing occurring in that diner that indicated sinister doings. We expected something sinister -- that's the way these stories are supposed to end. Instead, dinner happened.

For the devotees of the murder theory: Why was it that Tony was staring up at his killer instead of an agent flashing a badge? Because of a line of dialog that Bobby uttered? (The exact line was, ""I bet you don't even hear it when it happens." Nothing about going black.) As someone noted elsewhere (I'd link back but don't remember where I read it) Bobby's death was anything but quick and silent. He saw everything and he suffered badly. (Poor Bobby.) If the penultimate episode illustrated anything -- Bobby, Sil, the innocent on the motorcyle -- it was that these acts of violence do not hit their victims that elegantly. They're not "cut to black" moments. They're ghastly and unromantic. Bobby was telling himself the kind of lie that some people need in order to live. This show was the anti-mythology; it vigorously deglamorized violence. You suffer. You don't get a cut to black. It's not that gentle.
I wrote: "There is no way that anyone with a motive to kill Tony knew that he'd be at that diner."

Opposing view: "Of course, there's an extremely simple way to find Tony Soprano at the diner. Follow his idiotic son (who'd never notice) to where he's going for dinner, and then simply walk in front of him as he's close to entering the door and go in first. Then sit at the counter and look for whom the son is joining, which is exactly what Members Only guy does."
This depends entirely on unsupported speculation. There was literally no evidence that this happened. I could speculate that Members Only Guy was the Russian after he underwent radical plastic surgery, or insist that evidence to the contrary it really was, in fact, Phil's nephew behind the counter. Rampant speculation isn't an argument.

This is, however, a microcosm for the problem with the Death Theory. It's based on pure guesswork (as well informed as it might be) rather than anything that actually occurred on screen. You buy into it, and you're required to take several leaps of faith unsupported by actual events. Leaps of faith, by nature, aren't rebuttable. If you believe that an entire subplot unfolded, wherein AJ was tailed off-screen by an assassin, it's hard to have a conversation grounded in what we know. Knock it down, and another speculative answer is always in the offing.

A note on the Members Only guy: This is a connection that I never would have made but-for the post-game commentary, but I think it's wildly off the mark to infer based on a jacket and episode title that he was an assassin. The entire closing episode had moments harkening back to earlier points in the series: the cameo by Hunter Scaglione (which I loved), specific lines of dialog ("Always with the drama."), the final act of sitting down to dinner. When the two black guys walked into the diner, and we were still anticipating some final act of violence, I of course remembered the botched hit on Tony. It never occurred to me that these were the same guys (as some initially and erroneously posited) but it certainly was an intentional nod to that episode. I'm guessing that there were many other points in this final episode that drew from past seasons that we haven't pieced together yet. This was a book-end, and it was symmetry. A guy in a Members Only jacket doesn't portend death any more than Hunter's reappearance portends a choir performance.
I wrote: "The Sopranos never relied on off-screen action and secret twists. We were privy to everything. It was filmed in the third-person omniscient. The theory of a surprise killer violates the show's narrative structure."

Opposing view: "This is totally untrue. There were many occasions where the show surprised us about things (mostly about who was or wasn't a rat; but there are other examples as well)."
Yes, the show often surprised us. We were surprised when Heidi and Kennedy sent Chris careening off the highway; when Tony killed Christopher; when Junior shot Tony; when the identity of Melfi's patient was outed at a dinner party; when Janice suddenly entered the world of the show; when Finn spotted Vito; etc. The show never lacked for surprise, but the surprises were rooted in on-screen human behavior. We might have seen some of Tony's paranoia as to whether someone was an informant -- but we never had a moment where a surprise informant burst on the scene, upending the story. We were in on Adrianna's machinations, for example. The one notable exception was Big Pussy back in Season 2, but that was a long, drawn out, carefully constructed, direct story line. It wasn't a jerk-the-neck twist. Contrast the way The Sopranos told its story with how Lost tells its stories. Lost (to brilliant effect) constantly keeps us guessing about (to borrow Rumsfeld's rhetoric) the unknown unknowns. The Sopranos occasionally had some known unknowns. They were rarely the fulcrum of a story. It never employed Lost-like "unknown unknowns." This is why I think that the Death Theory anchors itself to a narrative cheat not in the show's character.
Opposing view proceeded to state: "Also, I keep hearing this argument about first (POV) versus third person shots in the final scene. Certainly the majority of the final scene is in the third person, except for two significant exceptions: when we have Tony's POV when looking at the songs on the jukebox, and an important establishing sequence of shots which occurs throughout the scene: the bell of the door rings; then a shot of Tony's face; then there is Tony's POV of who is entering the diner. This occurs 5 times in the scene; but the 5th time, where Tony's POV of the door should be, we have 10 seconds of black silence."
Respectfully, I don't think this comment understands first person and third person. We see things happening, we see Tony watching things, but this description of how the sequence played does not amount to a first-person perspective.
I wrote: "The show didn't romanticize violence. Violence was dirty, casual and explicit. The murder of its protagonist wouldn't be softened by climactic, artful, debatable twist. If David Chase wanted to kill him, we would've seen Tony blue and gagging on his own blood."

Opposing view: "Sorry, I don't buy this at all. I think Tony's visible death would be much more anticlimactic. Besides, we've already seen Tony shot and bloody on two different occasions; the power of the final scene is that it breaks with the show's own 'traditions', and we never see or hear it coming."
We're not talking about what's dramatic or climactic, but rather, how the series treated violence, depicted violence and philosophized violence. For one thing, I don't think that Chase's intention was to give us a conclusion with resolution, and Tony's prior brushes with death don't mean that his death is going to come artfully.

The reason that we never see or hear it coming is simple: It didn't happen, and there is no existing reason -- existing in actual events that happened in the series, as opposed to guesswork built on rank speculation -- to think that it happened.
I wrote: "The show rarely offered closure. What makes you think it would start in the final episode?"

Opposing view: "Whether Tony died or didn't, there was no closure and never will be. How can you argue that if one of the possible outcomes of an ambiguous ending is true that this means there was closure; thus that particular outcome is not possible? Absurd logic."
The violent death of the show's protagonist is maximum closure.

And while I don't want to get into any kind of confrontational posture (we're all friends here), since a fairly open-ended remark was labeled "absurd," I'm going to make an observation about what I see as absurd: The way the Death Theory is articulated. There's a conspiracy flavor: "Oswald's shadows in the Life Magazine cover don't line up!" There seems to be a certain impulse to find support (any support, no matter how thin) for a preordained, desired conclusion. As a result, the death theories rely heavily on wild conjectures (see above) and iron faith in thoughtful but unproveable guesswork about what may or may not have happened off-screen (in a series that never relied on Macguffins or off-screen twists) regardless of observable evidence. I concede that the ending was somewhat ambiguous (that night I briefly entertained the death theory, concluded that I was clever, and then rejected it as meritless) but given that ambiguity and an interest in puzzling through what happens, there is nevertheless only one way to begin an analysis: Base it on what was depicted and what we know. There are only two pieces of evidence that support a death theory: A Members Only jacket (my own take: Urban Meyer wore a Members Only jacket after Florida won the national championship; Junior once golfed in Florida; a guy in the diner wore a Member's Only jacket; therefore, Urban Meyer and a miraculously sentient Junior arranged for Members Only guy to shoot Tony) and a line of dialog from Bobby that proved to be 1.) expliclty inaccurate and 2.) tragically naive.
I wrote: "Just desserts were not a theme."

Opposing view: "Some would argue that Phil's death was 'just desserts'. Others would say having Tony live, stand trial, and serve prison time (due to Carlo's testimony) would be 'just desserts'. This is purely subjective."
Fair enough. It is purely subjective. To me, this was a show where key villains (including not least of all Tony) literally got away with murder, repeatedly and shamelessly, while the innocents (ranging from a waiter unhappy with his tip, to a pregnant stripper, to a dude on a motorcycle, to the Buccos, to Adrianna, to a Rutgers student on a bike, to name just a few -- let alone the wives and children wrecked by immersion in the lifestyle) were the ones who suffered most. There was a very limited code of justice among these thieves, but only when honor coincided with self-preservation.

But to me, this is essential in how people view Tony's fate. To some extent, it depends on whether the show saw a world that allows for karmic payback, or whether its world was dirty, random and often inexplicable.

(By coincidence, as I type this, I'm listening to a Fresh Air podcast where Terri Gross interviewed David Chase in 2000. Chase states: "I don't really believe that whacking is that endemic to -- what I want to show is his daily life." That's what he showed, and that's how the series ended.)
I wrote: "The makers filmed an ending implying that he was shot, then rejected it."

Opposing view: "Actually, this could imply exactly the opposite: that Chase's own true feelings are that Tony does die, but he wants it to remain ambiguous enough to allow other interpretations. The original ending (as shot) leaned too heavily towards Chase's own 'Tony dies' suggestion, so Chase just cut it differently to leave it slightly more open-ended. It proves nothing else."
This is my weakest point. I don't know that it clearly cuts one way or the other, and I shouldn't have stated this so confidently. Peter Bogdonovich has said that he filmed a scene where he comforts Melfi. Whether there is any significance to discarded footage, or whether Chase just filmed a bunch of stuff so that the actors were left in the dark about what happened, is anyone's guess. It could be that he originally intended to end with the death but found the conclusion unsatisfying or unworkable. Final sequences are recut all the time. We're left with what we have, which may be hard to swallow. What we have is people eating dinner.

As a postscript, I should add that the fun of a great book or movie often is the ambiguity. A novelist or director finishes his project, unleashes it, and from that point forward it belongs to all of us. We intepret differently. In arguing this position, I'm not trying to deny that to anyone who loved The Sopranos (as we all seem to have) and read it differently -- it's more that I think the Death Theory is a wildcard and I'm mystified by the vehemence of its proponents.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Kids, crazy bitches and a dog: Subway praise

I fucking love the subway. I love the people on it. I love it when it runs smoothly and I love it when it snags my plans.

Among people who live in New York and happen to have a blog, this makes me the 2000 Palm Beach Jew who enthusiastically supported Pat Buchanan, the vegan hog-farmer, the dude in College Station who loves the Longhorns. At least once a week I read a post about how the subway ruined somebody's life. This is unfortunate.
Scene: A very full Lexington Avenue line going downtown. I happen to have a backpack (same one I've owned since high school, natch) which I've done my best to position unobtrusively. Angry bitch stands behind me. She hates me and my fucking backpack. Occasionally, she makes a point of shoving it. What she doesn't realize is that a half-inch away from my torso is a 5-foot-4 young woman with a yappy dog cradled in her arms. I'm a tall drink of water, so if Angry Bitch shoves hard enough, my crotch will be thrust into the small woman with the yappy dog. The yappy dog appears calm and well-behaved, but two small kids crowd around it. The yappy dog growls at the kids. Kid pets yappy dog, yappy dog snarls and tries to bite. Kid flinches. Yuppie lady doesn't notice that the dog is snarly. She tries to pet yappy dog, and yappy dog snaps at her. Yuppie lady expresses shock. Angry Bitch shoves again.
Subway late in the morning? Good, that means you get into work late, which means less time suffering. Important meeting and the subway is fucking things up? Don't worry, they'll understand. I work with card-carrying badasses. If I came down with colon cancer they'd have no problem asking me in on a Sunday. Late because the train is running slow? Immediate compassion.
Scene: I'm going into work on a Saturday morning. I get into a screaming match with the very large, very angry bitch who mans the subway booth. We end up shouting at each other, with elegant remarks like, "You are not listening to me!" countered by "No, you are not listening to me!"

Oh yeah, I realize. What she just told me is right. I drop the fight, smile and thank her. It was vigorous. I've already had a yelling match, my juices are flowing and life is good.
Improv Everywhere's pants-free ride.

Subway late after work? Stop bitching. You get to go home. Your day is over. Turn up "Jesse's Girl" on the iPod. You get to go home, and you don't live in some shitty city, especially some shitty city where you'd be stuck in a traffic jam, leaning on the horn, listening to some garbage radio station that plays Black Eyed Peas or "Bad Company" by Bad Company.
Scene: JMZ on a Friday afternoon. Mom with an infant and a toddler sit next to me. I'm no fan of kids. I move to give them as much space as I can. Toddler doesn't want to sit next to me so she climbs on Mom's lap and dumps an empty sippy cup and some dolls in the open seat. Jabs in my shoulder: toddler is poking me with a Barbie doll. I feel highly annoyed, then immediately disarmed. I pretend to ignore th jabbing kid, but I kind of love it. Across the train from me is a Puerto Rican dude with massive arms, heavily tattooed. He's oblivious.
I've known everybody who I work with since summer 2001. Most of my friends, I've known since Bill Clinton's first term -- second term at latest. Bouncy bounce in my bubble. Get on the subway and there's everybody else. There you are. It's the social contract. Inconvenience? Sometimes. The middle-aged lady reading Jane Austen and the loud fat teenage girls on their way to school probably have perfect lives too, and getting worked up about something petty isn't going to make life any easier, so chill and admire.
Scene: Flop is a graceful and sophisticated young man. Sure, it's 3 a.m., but you and your team of twelve have been wandering fucking Bushwick in the rain for what feels like hours. The team enters an L-train occupied exclusively by drunk teens. You tell Flop that you'll give him $5 if he makes it into Manhattan standing, without touching anything for support. He succeeds! Along the way he makes surf poses, comes close to wiping out a few times, and entertains both the home team and the drunk teenagers.
I'm not going to say that if you don't love the subway, you have no business being in New York. But at least 10 or 15 percent (but probably more like 20) of the pleasure of living in the city is forced proximity with strangers, people you have nothing in common with but you silently negotiate with and around each other and then carry on with your lives. This challenges come in various forms: noisy bargoers outside your window, loud spillover from the Puerto Rican Day parade, homeless junkie trying to chase you around Tompkins Square Park. You have no choice: learn to handle, then learn to love. For two bucks you get to go wherever the fuck you want and entertain the same small-scale interactions that have been ongoing since the Dutch and the English and the freedmen and the Jews and a few Indians knocked elbows around the Battery. None of us belongs any more than the other, except maybe the Indians, but they don't run any banks so even that's debatable. This is what is known as "community."

Stop worrying. We'll get there just fine.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What can brown (liquor) do for you?

There has been just one other instance when I liked another site's post so much that I took the time to analyze it and recommend it in a stand-alone post.

A sophisticated gentleman blogger named Jebus H. Christ gets the second honor with an account that begins innocently enough:
What a great girl! Eyes like a fawn, smile like a demon, face of an angel. Minute I saw her, I knew I needed more. So I went after her, which is something I don't do. Full-court press style. I made it a point to always be excellent in her presence, I didn't talk to skanks in front of her, I even called her, on the phone. I mean, I was really going all out for this girl. Well, of course, when faced with the prospect of getting this, she immediately (OK, it was like 2 months) asked me out.
This is not some boy-meets-girl story about kittens or roses or an innocent misunderstanding that leads to a falling out. A sip of liquor, and it explodes into glorious, destructive bedlam.

Telling any more would ruin the fun. Read it.

Update: It gets even better. The "I'm on Fire" series, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Oh, Albania!

It's like something out of a movie -- starring you as a misunderstood, dim-witted President whom everyone hates. Your advisers are starting to worry, because you can't seem to set foot in public without touching off protests, not even in Utah, probably. Eventually someone will notice that you haven't set foot outside the protective confines of the White House or Camp David or your dude ranch at which a hit TV show for tweens is filmed when you're not there.

Overseas, the story is no better. The rest of the world hates your country because of you. Whenever you show up overseas, those stupid protesters are there. And wouldn't you know it, the fucking G-8 is in Germany, where you're as popular as late trains and tofu. Now you're starting to worry, too. When was the last time you pressed the flesh besides at a National Chamber of Commerce weenie roast or some shit?

You tell your high-paid advisers that they're right and that they are to immediately order up a visit someplace you'll be sure to get some adoring crowds. Somewhere you can hit up on the way home from the meetings in Baden-Whatsitplatz. Your bright young interns spend the night eating Chinese takeout, crumpling sheets from legal pads and poring through books all night, until they assemble a dossier for your perusal.

You open it to find that you, Mr. President, are going to Albania. Yes, indeed. Time to study up on your new favorite foreign country with your most brightest experts.

Big Chrome calls the shots in the Albanian Congress.

And then the big day comes. They're naming a street for you in Albania City. Who cares! The street's named for you! A whole freakin' street! No one in America has even done that. And you even remembered to mention how beautiful the Adriatic (not Antarctic!) coastline was from Air Force One.

Oh, and those crowds. Everyone was so happy to see you! This was even better than the time you got to dance in the garden with those nice black people.

And look over there! There's someone who wants to shake your hand! What a nice, elderly Albanian man! And someone else! He, too was a nice, Albanian man. And -- oh look -- there's an Albanian mom who wants you to kiss her Albanian baby and when you do, she's so happy you blessed her child, she announces it will be renamed in your honor. And then she cries tears of joy, like the kind you last saw when you grabbed the megaphone and gave a speech, even though there wasn't one planned.

You want to write poems about Albania and return all the love it has shared with you. But there isn't enough time, not if you want to get back and see all the pictures of you basking once again in the love of an entire nation, even if it was only for 90 minutes.

It was almost too soon that you were back on the steps up to Air Force One, making sure not to fall when you waved goodbye to Albania. Once you got in the door, it was time for an ice-cold Clausthaler and a transatlantic nap right after you watch the sun setting over the Adriatic. You wonder what time you'll be getting in to Andrews, so you look at your wrist and, wait, where is it? No way ...


Some Albanian douchebag stole your watch! Oh, why did you ever listen to those stupid fucking interns? See if you ever set foot in that ungrateful hellhole again.

Tony Snow's bad acting

Yesterday, the White House's paid liar took umbrage with a simple question asked of him by a reporter. The question: Does our country's policy of throwing people in prison without cause undermine our credibility as spreaders of democracy. Seeing as things like habeas corpus and due process are pretty much essential to a free society, and we're trashing them, I thought it was a fair question.

I originally planned to post the video of Tony Snow's response (which I came across at TPM) side by side with Jim Mora's similarly incredulous "playoffs" rant, under some sort of "Habeas? Are you kidding me? Habeas?" rubric. But repeated viewings of the Snow video have made me ill.

He's just oozing with smarm, pretending to be amazed by the question. Mora came by his reaction honestly. I can't stomach another viewing of the Snow video. From his reaction, he's either a dishonest shitweasel whom you shouldn't give 75 cents to get you a Caramello from the vending machine or he's just a doltish, blow-dried rube who somehow made his way up the ladder. Given that he's worked for both Fox News and the Bush administration, I'd bet the former to the table max. There's something a bit too calculated in his outrage, he's a little too quick to play dumb. He seems just like the type to seize any chance to play the aggrieved party to the hilt for his own benefit. I bet he roots for Italy in soccer tournaments.

And if you ever shot him in the junk with a foam projectile he'd totally flip shit and tell you that he could sue you for that. Because he just doesn't think you appreciate the seriousness of the War on Terror.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Elegant young lady with an eyepatch

My roommate, Emmelle, is an elegant young lady. She was told as much by an old man who asked her to pose for photos while she and friends dined at a Midtown meat festival.

Naturally, I have since chosen to make as many references to her purported elegance as possible, to the amusement of her friends and myself, if not to her. (Her natural elegance includes an interest in stories like this.)

But I wonder what that faintly creepy old guy -- who now owns several digital images of my roommate, images being put to purposes best left unconsidered -- would think if he saw her tonight when she came home tipsy and almost stabbed herself in the face while cutting her wristband off with a knife.

Eyepatches are totally elegant.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A closing thought on "The Sopranos"

I was fully and completely satisfied. I didn't think that I'd get to write that. The show's first couple of seasons felt entirely original and engaging, but for most of the rest of the run, it alternated between seeming like a Goodfellas knockoff and an American Beauty knockoff. True, it was smart and superb and worth the price of the HBO subscription, but too often it left you wondering what all the noise was about. It ended instead in a return to form, with the kind of thoughtful, sinister, mildly self-deprecating sensibilities that made it such a pleasure in the first place. Maybe the worst thing that happened to the show was all the pressure and half-assed overheated punditry it garnered. The series lost itself from time to time. Tonight it brought it all back home, where it belonged.

Update: As Amish points out in the comments, first reactions on the internet seem uniformly negative. I don't get it. I replayed the final sequence twice. It was pulled off superbly. Every stranger in the restaurant was framed as a threat. Tony spends the rest of his life on edge. He visits Junior. At a certain time in his life Junior controlled everything. Now, not only is Junior sick and old and alone, but he remembers literally nothing. He put himself through a life of bloodshed and misery and came out empty. And Tony is a man who can't go to a diner without fearing that every stranger is about to assassinate or arrest him. Meanwhile, the episode touched back on all kinds of moments from its golden first season -- specific lines of dialog ("Always with the drama." "Try to remember the times that were good.") and the sudden appearance of an animal with metaphorical significance and even the cameo by Hunter Scaglione. The show was always at its worst and most confused when it placed plot ahead of character. Life doesn't have a lot of Kaiser Soze moments, and I'm glad there wasn't one tonight.

Good night, fuckers

"I'll probably go to bed at around 4 a.m.," I told a friend mid-afternoon.

"Really?" he said.

"Maybe like 3 a.m.," I said, believing it.

Suggestion: go to YouTube. Search for "paper bag" and "balls." Or maybe "paper bag" and "testes." I'm not sure. I certainly did a kick-ass lip-synch to "Stevie Nix" at around 4:30 a.m. It was after the baby bok-choi was hurled at a sleeveless pedestrian, but well before breakfast.

Good night, fuckers. Good night.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Liquefaction is a bitch

Now I'm not saying we live in a time in which our entire country is built on the financial landfill of easy credit, just waiting to turn into the economic equivalent of the Marina district.

All I'm saying is that I received a credit card offer in the mail today that read "Pull to reveal your credit line" on the envelope, as if I were at some bingo hall on an Indian reservation. And as any reader of Elwood Reid knows, pull-tabs are the most desperate of the various state-lottery gaming devices, far worse than scratch-offs. There's no Fortunate Frog here, friends.

The top floor landed more softly than this metaphor.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Gilded Age II: Liquid-coal-powered bugaloo

I've kind of assumed for the past couple of years that we're living in one of those ages that students generations from now will struggle to wrap their heads around. I find myself at idle times wondering exactly which part the high school students of the 2060s will find the most mind-boggling.

So here are the guesses of one dumbass as to the questions of American teenagers in a future U.S. history class while reviewing for the unit on fin-de-siecle America (the one with George W. Bush, not Theodore Roosevelt):
  • So everyone just bought stock that had anything to do with the internet? Jeez.
  • He told everyone to go shopping?
  • Wait, so what did Iraq have to do with it?
  • So did he actually think we won then, or was he just trying to convince everyone? And it worked?
  • Wait, so they re-elected him?
  • So let me get this straight: The White House had thrown people in jail without cause, tortured people, suspended habeas corpus for the first time since Lincoln, was spying on its own citizens, established secret prisons around the world and tried to turn the Department of Justice into a nest of loyalist apparatchiks and it was the plots of the previous night's TV shows in the newspapers?
  • Oh yeah, her too. Who was she again? Why did people care?
  • Seriously? No wonder ...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

HBO belongs six feet under

Once The Sopranos goes off the air, I'll be satisfied if HBO's Sunday programming alternates between airings of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Animal House. They're the last remaining channel-stoppers in the network's rotation.

I blame Sex and the City.

HBO's reign has lasted through most of my young adulthood. I've watched The Sopranos from literally the first episode, when I still was in Ann Arbor in a house that thrived off free cable. I didn't find Six Feet Under's relentless intensity until halfway through the run, but I loved its depth and texture. Deadwood didn't match the other two, but it had great dialog and exciting villains -- if nothing else, it was a true original. Mike Nichols's mini-series of Angels in America ranked with any feature film in the last four or five years.

Now, HBO's calculated edginess has become a formula, as formulaic as three-camera sitcoms and dramas about criminal lawyers. The Sopranos violent melodrama begat Deadwood begat Rome, each less interesting than its predecessor. Six Feet Under, a domestic drama with a tragic arc begat Big Love, a domestic melodrama with a tragic arc. (Big Love is deeply frustrating. Its wonderful actors and strong moments added up to nothing in its first season.)

As much as any book, movie or television show that ever existed, Sex and the City lands squarely in the "not for me" category. I've learned not to bash it with the severity that it deserves -- doing so invites murder threats from every woman I know. Fine. But ladies, you also bear the blame for Entourage, which is even worse. Both shows are WB castoffs with bared boobs and eff-words.

Combined, they killed HBO's juice. Their moderate commercial success lowered the bar for the rest of us. HBO stopped taking risks and began pandering toward a broad middle. Put them on the WB or UPN, clean up the language, and no one could tell the difference.

In between, there have been ratings and creative disasters like Lucky Louie and The Comeback. Dane Cook's Tourgasm was a disgrace unworthy of MTV -- a weekly, barely edited infomercial that celebrated the lame jokes of an untalented man.

Naturally, HBO is a money-making operation. If lust and hate is the candy, if blood and love taste so sweet, they'll give them what they want. But they've diluted the brand. Instead of automatically Tivoing every new series, I scrutinize them fiercely, much more harshly than I would a network program. It's kind of like NPR broadcasting Howard Stern. It might make the network richer, but its mission would be gone. You wouldn't turn to it in the same way.

This could be interpreted as whining: "HBO doesn't make shows I like anymore. That makes me mad."

There's an element of that, true, but my grievance goes a little deeper. The network has stopped taking risks. Its new shows each fall into a certain HBO type -- The Sopranos stepchild, the Six Feet Under stepchild and The Sex and the City stepchild. It would be as if, in the wake of the success of The Larry Sanders Show, the network annually trotted out an "edgy" behind-the-scenes account of celebrity living.

Like The Comeback, Entourage or Extras.

I'm willing to give the network a long leash. I didn't love Rome, but I credit it for being original. Failure is one thing, creative laziness another. HBO's programming team has lost the plot. The Sopranos ends on Sunday, preceding a new show called John From Cincinnati, which is rumored to be a disaster.

On broadcast TV, shows like Lost, The Office, Friday Night Lights and even Ugly Betty regularly show more ingenuity and spark than anything HBO has introduced in the past five years. They don't feature "fuck," boobs or dicks, but at least they're original.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Michael Chabon's unwieldy new book

There's a sequence in Hearts of Darkness where Francis Ford Coppola says that his biggest fear is to make a movie with sweeping ambition that misfires, because then all you have is a long, pompous, shitty movie that fails the grand ideas you care about.

Apocalypse Now worked out pretty well. The Yiddish Policemen's Union doesn't. It's an overlong, exhausting grind, with one plodding sequence after another, no memorable characters, and hard-boiled dialog that feels more like a test of will than a creative flourish.

The premise is that, in 1948, Europe's Jews converge in a protectorate in Sitka, Alaska. Zionism didn't work out as planned. The U.S. offers Sitka instead. Instead of Israel, a couple of million Jews settle into Alaska, where they receive quasi-nationhood. The deal isn't permanent, though, and in the present-day setting of the book, Sitka is about to revert to U.S. possession, and its inhabitants are about to become exiles.

The book tries to be a hard-boiled murder mystery to boot. The lead character is a detective named Meyer Landsman. He's a divorced alcoholic. He works with his ex-wife. One day a junkie is found dead in the residential hotel where Landsman lives, and what ensues is 350 pages of leaden prose. First we get a tour of chess fanatics, and then Landsman's investigation focuses on the Verbovers, an isolated millennialist sect that he thinks was involved in the murder.

All of this sounds promising enough, but Michael Chabon lived out Coppola's nightmare. He's written a book that fails on almost every level. Landsman is not a likable protagonist, but worse, he's not believable as a person. Neither is anyone else. The plot is smaller than the sum of its parts. It fails as a murder mystery. It's written with a leaden prose, presumably intended to mimic Dashiell Hammett and his generation. Instead, the language is exhausting.

Chabon establishes the Sitka polity effectively, and he gets credit for his premise. The book's most difficult trick was probably to establish a credible state-within-a-state comprised entirely of resettled Alaskan Jews, and he pulled that off. But Landsman's personal melodramas and the endless circus of his murder investigation obscure his larger points about political and cultural identity. He fell so in love with his genre that he lost track of his bigger ambitions.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay seems to be one of the best-loved books in the past 10 years. I see it on a shelf in every apartment. It was a good book that peaked halfway through and gasped out to its conclusion. Wonder Boys was one of the rare instances where the movie was better than the book, which, like Policemen's Union, was too often sidetracked by dead-end set-pieces (there was the whole bit with the dead snake) and an oddly self-satisfied tone.

Policemen's Union is a huge disappointment, and it kind of hurts. I've heard Chabon on Fresh Air and read interviews with him. He's enthusiastic and unpretentious, a real book person, someone I like and want to root for. Novelists and musicians, I try to give the benefit of the doubt. It takes a certain amount of courage to put yourself on the line this way. When I don't like a book or an album, I'm usually content to assume that the chemistry wasn't right for me and hope that other people will appreciate it differently.

But Michael Chabon is not an obscure struggling writer, and Policemen's Union isn't merely uneven. It is painfully bad.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Even Tom Tancredo looks like a genius compared to Bush

Democrats need to remember that not all Republicans are as halfwitted and unlikeable as the deplorable fuckface shit-for-brains in the White House.

Between doing dishes (including a kettle that's been festering since the St. Patrick's Day party) and watching Lost DVDs (its genius clearer than ever) I caught the second half of the Republican debate.

It was startling to hear Republicans utter statements that, if not impressive, were at least lucid and comprehensible. Giuliani, McCain and Romney were all polished and likable. They refused to take cheap shots at immigrants. On terrorism, Iraq and national security, they presented their cases in ways vastly superior to the deplorable fuckface shit-for-brains in the White House. Then Giuliani spoke of the Know-Nothing Party and the nativism of the 1850s with a kind of knowledge and passion that made me think he hasn't completely sold out his New York constituency after all.

This is a problem. Perhaps naively, I've been expecting Democrats to have an easy waltz to the presidency. These Republicans are more persuasive than that. One by one, they denounced neoconservative doctrine and repudiated the President. I occasionally found myself in agreement.

The soft bigotry of low expectations cuts in their favor. Thank the deplorable fuckface shit-for-brains in the White House.

Monday, June 04, 2007

What's in their wallets?

It's almost impossible to bring up the fact that you've noticed a song by a band you like in a TV commercial without sounding as if you're trying to stake out territory as the most punk rockest by casting accusations of sellout. My roommate did this months ago while we watched an ad set to "The Bleeding Heart Show" by the New Pornographers. Although he's a self-confessed music snob, and prone to fits of anger at TV's excesses, he remained calm and resigned. Nevertheless, he seemed disappointed, but he probably wasn't. And that was before I speculated that perhaps the cost of living in Canada City is skyrocketing, and if selling one's work to a tacky online college is what it takes to keep that nice apartment on Maple Leaf Street just off Canadia Boulevard, then so be it.

And that's the natural impulse. You see a familiar song in an unfamiliar context, one that represents an intrusion into your life and you are stopped short. It happened to me the other day, seeing a 60-second spot featuring Shaun White, his floppy, coppery coiffure, and various assorted outdoor-hipsterian hangers on. White and his fellow extreme-sports enthusiasts bopped about the world with ease, thanks to his rewards-earning credit card, which allowed them to follow the whims of nature from powedery Alps to the swelling Pacific. All of this was set to a vocals-free "10 a.m Automatic" by The Black Keys (who are, not to put too fine a point on it, the second-greatest phenomeon to come out of Akron, Ohio).

I pointed the song's origin out to my co-blogger the other night as we awaited the start of Game 6 (and Akron's first-greatest phenomenon). Naturally, he immediately thought I was accusing them of selling out. I wasn't, but even so I struggled to not sound accusatory, as if my experience of that song is somehow diminished because they cashed a check in exchange for having produced an evocative and enjoyable piece of work. Because advertising is such a resented force in our lives (Question: do you think the heads of ad agency's have DVRs?), I think we have a strong, negative gut reaction to seeing a favorite song being used to hawk goods and services.

So how do I feel about my favorite bands "selling out"? Well, it's not their fault that advertising sucks. And much like I rationalized to myself shortly after picking myself up off the floor when I saw a Nissan ad set to The Cardigans' "Lovefool": Hey, tuition at Malmö University can't be cheap. good for them. I hope they enjoy the cash in good health.

And besides, it's tacky to admit this, I know, but maybe I wouldn't have ever come across and liked "Rhapsody in Blue" if not for all those United commercials on during football games when I was a kid. And that's an all-time favorite of mine.

I know, I know, but I can't stand Woody Allen movies.

Crusty, bitter jackass is a dazzler

Paul Weyrich, a godfather of American conservatism, recently observed:
Is Fred Thompson the second coming of Ronald Reagan? Not exactly. Is he, like Reagan, the right man for this desperate hour? That depends on God’s Providence. If we pray hard, God will answer that last question. Right now without announcing formally, Thompson is doing well in the polls. Will his standing go up or down when he becomes a real candidate? I can only guess. I think his standing goes up. In that case we could have a very lively race in November, 2008.
I'm not disappointed in this assessment. Rather, I'm disappointed that the once-great Republican Party is casting its net too narrowly. If Thompson -- a B-level actor with a surly personality and an undistinguished public record -- offers such promise, surely there must be others who can help in the return to glory.

Lisa Ruddy.
Is Lisa Ruddy the second coming of Jean Kirkpatrick? Yes. Is she, like Kirkpatrick, a disciplined hardliner who understands the demands of the post-Cold War world? That depends on her ability to evade slime. Unlike Christine "Moose" McGlade, the sure-footed Ms. Ruddy knows too much to say "I don't know." Right now, without formally securing an ambassadorship to the United Nations, Ms. Ruddy has already found a place on Pyongyang's enemies list. Will her standing go up or down? I can only guess. I think her standing goes up. In this case, we very likely have a war with Iran ahead of us.

Christopher Hewitt.
Is Christopher Hewitt the second coming of Tom DeLay? All signs point to yes. The surefooted butler-turned-actor-turned-conservative activist brought remarkable discipline to the Owens household. Can he bring similar party discipline to the rancorous House caucus? That depends on whether he can bridge the growing divide between the party's evangelical Christian wing and its more libertarian moderates. Can he resurrect the body of Teri Schiavo? Only the Virgin Mary knows. If we pray hard, She will answer that question. I can only guess, but I think the answer is probably. In that case, we will very likely have a Republican majority restored in 2008.
Matt LeBlanc.
Is Matt LeBlanc the Second Coming of Christ Our Lord? Quite likely so. Is he, like Christ, opposed to stem cell research and abortion, and in favor of the Iraq War? I'm sure that he is. Right now, without announcing his candidacy for the Christship, LeBlanc is doing very well. Will his standing go up or down when he turns water into wine and feeds multitudes with five loaves of bread and two small fish? I can only guess, but I say his standing goes up. In that case, I am prepared to anoint Matt LeBlanc the son of God.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Friday, June 01, 2007

Hack newspaper writer shreds Cole Slaw Blog's scholarly work

In print journalism's biggest act of provocation since Hearst and Pulitzer yellowed up the Spanish-American War, Los Angeles Daily News "writer" Josh Kleinbaum has criticized this site's extensive scholarship of The Hold Steady:

After spending too much time analyzing [lead singer Craig] Finn's love of places, one blogger determined that "nothing good happens in California," at least in The Hold Steady's world. Thursday night, Finn and company proved him wrong - the Brooklyn band can put on a hell of a show, even in California.

Mr. Kleinbaum, your enthusiastic words for America's greatest band nearly redeem your anti-intellectual jeremiad against Cole Slaw Blog's groundbreaking research. For shame.

For a partial sampling of our analysis about the band, click here.

Go right ahead and let me explode

I'm still abuzz, although the emotional scintillations of last night have dimmed to just the occasional spark. I've been touring the internets, soaking in every word I can about what I saw last night. I'm finally starting to believe it actually happened.

Inside me, a voice was shrieking and hollering and jumping up and down like Bob Ufer at the end of that Indiana game. I kept my usual debonair exterior, of course.

That's never happened to me before. I'm freaking 30 and I've never had a moment like that in my 23-odd years as a fan of Cleveland sports teams. Those signature, defining games that tip world on edge for a while always, always, always come against Cleveland teams. I don't care to mention any of the moments by name or whatever now, but every single one of you has seen footage of them, even the ones of you who aren't sports fans. I guarantee it.

But I've never had a sports event short circuit me quite in that way. I've gone more bonkers over bigger wins before. But none have been delivered with such a ringing clap of thunder.

So, yes, I'm going to lose my head. Act like you've been there? Now that I have, I will next time.

Only one word seems appropriate here

Actually, words seem pretty inadequate to describe what it is I just saw. You probably had to be there. Or at least paying close attention on TV. I know that's not very helpful and my purpose here is to be your eyes and ears and other senses for you.

But what can I say. Yes, I watched. And yes, I'll always remember it. But no, I'm going to gush for a while and I hope you'll get a sense of what happened, but it will all seem inadequate compared with what I saw.

The way he threw down both those dunks at the end of regulation, as if no one was guarding him. As if he was moving at normal speed in a slo-mo world. Then there was that shot in the first overtime. He took the ball, ran around two defenders, popped up and launched an off-balance shot as he drifted sideways and away from the basket. His mind calculated all the moving parts in a flash and placed the ball on just the right arc to rattle home in the bottom of the basket. And then he kept doing it until he didn't have to do it any more and could finally rest.

Watching replays of that shot, the one that really signaled that something singular was underway, I actually had tears come to my eyes. Yes I did, just a little bit. This was long before the game was decided, but that shot was so incredibly beautiful, coming as it did at that time and for this team, the emotions just welled up and my vision blurred so fast I didn't realize what had happened.

I think it's because I was, emotionally, a complete wreck from the fourth quarter on. It was incredibly stressful, more so than any Michigan game has been or, probably, could be. With Michigan, I'm conditioned to expect good things in big games. When it's a team from Cleveland serving as my proxy warriors, the story is a bit different.

And things like that just don't happen for us. Or at least, they didn't.

See, being a Cleveland fan means waiting for yet another shoe to drop, no matter how many have clunked to the ground already, taking your heart along for the ride.

And that's part of what made the events of Thursday night, May 31, so utterly, incredibly surreal for me. A player for a Cleveland team _ yes, Cleveland _ utterly and completely refused to give in, refused to allow all the bad things to happen to us. He turned our tormentors into the tormented. I now understand why small, put-upon nations so lionize generals who somehow rout an invader, even if they ultimately lose the war. The hope they bring lasts long after the blood soaks in to the battlefield.

Yeah, about that. The big picture. The Cavaliers are still one win away from the NBA Finals _ a place they've never been before. This pooch is still highly screwable, and yes, if it's going to be done, some team from Cleveland is a nice bet to do so. But ... no.

That game. That performance. These words don't describe what it was. I'm typing them, and it's like I'm trying to produce Shakespeare in shadows on a cave wall for you. It was such a display of iron will and sheer refusal to accept for anything but a desired result. I'm sure if I thought about it and not too hard, I could remember some other performances like that I've seen. But not one of them was on my behalf. No one's ever had that kind of thunderclap, defining performance for us before. Until now.

So what of it then? I don't know. I almost wanted to wait until after the series to write this. But in my coup de foudre buzz, I couldn't hold back. In a couple days we'll know if the light show we saw tonight was really the rainbow after the flood or just the flash from a meteorite burning up.

We'll know, in other words, if we really are all witnesses.

Cake night in America

Note: I'm bumping this post. It was published in the middle of Memorial Day weekend, but it's just too proper to languish mid-page. Read and enjoy.

Tonight we celebrated the 28th birthday of our friend Vanessa.

HMQ2K5 baked a cake. It was excellent, but we still had leftovers.

What to do?

Lower pieces of cake five stories and give them to strangers!

First, we arranged a cake-delivery system.

A minion then lowered the cake by hand.

The cake descended lower ...

... and lower ...

... and lower still.

Eventually, there was a cake mobile on Park Avenue.

This nice lady and her significant other stopped by. After being reassured that the cake didn't have any strange substances, and that we were giving away cake in honor of Vanessa's birthday, she gratefully took the slice.

We celebrated with balloons.