In January of 2003, You Learned:
I'm working on a freelance job, writing for an anti-drug advertising campaign. Because who better to police teen behavior than the advertising industry? Actually, I often really enjoy this type of work. It's hard to talk to teenaged kids without feeling the exhausted roll of their eyes on you, so when you do a good job it's especially satisfying.
As a result of this assignment, I've been reading a lot of facts about pot. Did you know excessive pot use can cause memory loss, compromised physical coordination, and even anxiety? And, worse than all of that, it can seriously impair your judgement when evaluating the awesome-ness of drum solos. And 45% of habitual pot smokers have, at one time, used a ballpoint pen to render a pot leaf in the pages of their school notebooks, or on the knee of their jeans. It makes me so sad.
X JUST GAVE IT TO ME.
Sometimes my dumb streak spreads wide, like the mighty Mississippi. How else can I explain my can't-stop-hitting-repeat love of the new DMX single, "X Gon' Give it to Ya"? As the thoughtful scribes at MTV.com put it, here the artist is "in typical X form." You know. You hear the song - the loud threats, tourettic shouts, military pacing - and you say with a wink, "that's my X. so typical!"
Mark my words: "X Gon' Give it to Ya" is poised to become the date rape anthem of 2003. Sorry, Mudvayne! Better luck next year.
WE THINK PAUL NEWMAN IS ATTACHED.
Just catching up on last week's New Yorker (i can so read. shut it.) and it was end-to-end good. I subscribe to the magazine because I find, other than the New York Times Magazine, it's the one source that always comes up when people relate interesting stories. It's never, "Did you read that story in this month's Crack'd?..." And it is a good magazine although, on average, I only read about 40% of its contents. Financial Page? Never. Written by Jeffrey Toobin. Almost never. Modern dance legends? Forget it. Even "Shouts and Murmurs," the section I used to most look forward to each week, telegraphs its tired punches so desperately that it usually gets abandoned about three unfunny jokes through. (in that sense, it's not so different from this site.)
But last week's issue was a POWERHOUSE - for me, at least. A surprisingly down-to-earth feature on Matthew Barney. A "Talk of the Town" mention (and illustration) of an acquaintance from the NYC comedy scene. (and that only made me a tiny bit jealous and wanting, but not enough to wish ill of demetri, who i still think is talented and very decent at being a human being.) And a nice, long piece of new fiction from George Saunders that gave me the same warm stirrings pre-teen girls get when the new issue of Frilly! magazine boasts a fold-out poster of Justin Timberlake or that guy from Smallville. Suffice it to say, my content ingestion average spiked at about 85%.
The best story, however, has been the history of Forrest Tucker, one of America's most notorious bankrobbers and prison escape artists. I haven't finished this piece yet, but it instantly gave me the feeling that some very ambitious and very lazy Hollywood producer just found his next story to option. With a speech like this:
"So what do you want to know? I've been in prison all my life, except for the times I've broken out. I was born in 1920, and I was in jail by the time I was fifteen. I'm eighty-one now and I'm still in jail, but I've broken out eighteen times successfully and twelve times unsuccessfully. There were plenty of other times I planned to escape, but there's no point in me telling you about them."
you've already got your opening voice-over. The article reads almost exactly like a great, epic film, spanning America's 20th century through fashion, crime, pulp, style, and geography, and seen through the lens of a perfectly smooth, handsome outlaw with a penchant for politeness. My God it's all right there.
Then, about 2500 words in, I remembered. The story sounded almost too familiar, and that's because William Goldman had a similar thought. In his book Which Lie Did I Tell? he demonstrates how possible it is to build a story out of something ripped right from the headlines and uses the final (possibly!) arrest of Mr. Tucker as his example. He goes to great trouble to set it up, hypothetically, as an example to aspiring screenwriters. Wild. He provided the premise, but the New Yorker provided the outline.
And someone - and we pray it will not be someone like Brian Grazer - will provide the holiday film. The only difference will be that Tucker's age will come down by at least 10 years, and his main accomplice will be a foul-mouthed space alien named Rolo. (after his hearty appetite for "Rolo's" candies.)
GREAT ADVICE FROM SOMEONE WHO KNOWS A LITTLE SOMETHING ABOUT CEREAL FLAKES.
I'm a bit busy lately, so today I thought I'd leave you in the hands of a marvelous thinker - the late founding father of the Ralston Purina company, Mr. William Danforth. This passage was taken from his extraordinary self-help book, written in 1931, and still every bit as relevant to the travails we face today, I DARE YOU!:
I am on one side of the table. You are on the other. I am looking across and saying "I dare you!"
I Dare You, young man, you who have come from a home of poverty - I dare you to have the qualities of a Lincoln.
I Dare You, heir of wealth and proud ancestry, with your generations of worthy stock, your traditions of leadership - I dare you to achieve something that will make the future point to you with even more pride than the present is pointing to those who have gone before you.
I Dare You, young mother, to make your life a masterpiece upon which that little family of yours can build. Strong women bring forth strong men.
I Dare You, debutante, to be a queen. Make life obey you, not you it. It is only a shallow dare to do the foolish things. I dare you to do the uplifting, courageous things.
I Dare You, freshman, to make the varsity team.
I Dare You, young author, to win the Nobel Prize.
I Dare You, young researcher, to become a Microbe Hunter.
I Dare You, barefoot boy on the farm, to become a Master Farmer - A Hunger Fighter.
I Dare You, man of affairs, to have a "Magnificent Affair."
I Dare You, who thinks life is humdrum, to start a fight.
I Dare You, Bigfoot, to make yourself seen. Shine on and inherit that which was always yours.
I Dare You, Frankenstein's Monster, to touch fire and embrace it. Fire give life. Fire not bad!!
I Dare You, cloth merchant, to sell double your cloth this month. And triple the next!
I Dare You, obese twins, to climb aboard that pair of tiny matching motorized scooters and ride around in circles for a bit while my beautiful family laughs and cheers. You are clown princes, and the world is your court. Now pedal!!!
I Dare You, whoever you are, to share with others the fruits of your daring. Catch a passion for helping others and a richer life will come back to you! I Dare it!
Now ask yourself: are you up for the dare???
DRINKING MAKES THE WORDS FLUID, REGRETTABLE.
It's one of those rare, sought-after nights in my neighborhood. A light snowfall, and the sky does its disappearing act. The cathedrals and brownstones cut severe outlines against the negative space, illuminated by white reflecting off white. And I get to jog on the side streets, my tank somewhere between half and "F" on red wine.
I'm warm for a change, insulated by my headphones. I can't hear anyone except Plastic Bertrand shouting gibberish in French (or any language), and the voice of this cd's curator sweetly mispronouncing my last name. And as I race toward my apartment and all the carbohydrates it stores, I look up at the missing sky, and keep repeating a separate chorus, the one I made up just now: Tonight is another good night to start again. And I don't care that I'll wake up tomorrow, hung-over and regretting the majority of these words. If you don't believe me, move to New York City.
I've been seeing a lot of links (online, and in person) to Quickhoney lately. I love Peter Stemmler's illustration and pixel-design. I was really pleased to see Eboy, a collective of Brooklyn-based, German-born graphic designers of which Peter is a member, get the proper treatment with the release of their book, Hello, last year.
I became sort of enamored with Peter's vector illustration style a couple of years ago and took my crush far enough to commission an illustration. I sent him my favorite childhood photograph - an image I thought was befitting of his style - sent it to him, and he sent me back a file. I realize it's somewhat odd, maybe even vain, to have a portrait of yourself hanging above your desk in your apartment, but it's easy to put that judgement aside when the portrait looks like this:
THE RICH LANGUAGE OF CINEMA.
I had two semi-ordinary experiences in the last 24 hours which, when linked, provide an interesting insight into the way average consumers have adopted the language of well-trained arts critics. On thursday evening, a strange man cozied up next to me (and my naked penis) at the urinals beneath the Times Square Virigin Megastore, and began relating his unsolicited opinion of Road to Perdition. "I liked that movie, but it was a little slow for me. Not a movie for women. Not much for women in there. It's a story of a father trying to make his son turn out differently, you know. Not like him. Nice penis. Road to Perdition! Good night."
Then, the following night, seemingly apropos of nothing, a woman caught me through the revolving doors of an office building just to tell me how she felt about The Hours. (again, she was a total stranger to me. and again, my penis was out, and looking very nice.) "There's a movie you can miss! I felt the story just sort of fell flat, you know. Oh, but the cinematography was beautiful!"
Both of those movie reviews were borderline articulate, even though they might have sounded informed to the speakers. They didn't help me at all. Instead, they were like a polite assemblage of critical points one might read in a hack journalist's review. Story - check. Acting - check. Cinematography - check. I also think many people's diplomatically stated opinions of films can be a complex short-hand for their real opinions - and the ones I'd prefer to hear. I have always favored unrehearsed passion to bland civility, even though I'm not drunk enough to practice it most of the time.
Here's what I believe people mean when they channel the voices of newspaper film reviews:
When You Say: "The movie was slow."
You Mean (male): "There were surprisingly few scenes involving people being shot in the face or balls."
(female):"There were surprisingly few montages of women frantically trying on a series of ridiculous outfits before a big date, set to bubbly 60s pop songs."
When You Say: "The movie wasn't so great, but the acting was excellent."
You Mean:"Al Pacino was in it."
When You Say: "I don't see how this would appeal to women."
You Mean: "There were exactly enough scenes of people being shot in the face or balls, as well as one scene that takes place in a strip club."
When You Say: "I don't see how this would appeal to men."
You Mean: "Colin Firth is in this film."
When You Say: "I don't see how this film could have been made."
You Mean:"Andie MacDowell / Dana Carvey / Tim Allen / Kevin Costner / Terry Bradshaw / a breakdancing chimpanzee / any combination of two or more of the previous is in this film."
When You Say: "It was very quirky, and not as funny as I'd expected, but I think I liked it."
You Mean: "Wes Anderson directed it."
When You Say: "It was too quirky. I hated it."
You Mean: "That asshole who directed Pi directed it."
When You Say: "It was Kevin Smith's most mature film to date."
You Mean: "I finished one year of college."
When You Say: "It had great cinematography."
You Mean: "I know I should have liked this film, but I honestly didn't get it. Please don't hold that against me. I'm sure I can find some reason to recommend it."
When You Say: "It was just pure escapism."
You Mean: "Some day you will be stuck on a cross-continental flight and be forced to watch this shitty film, made even shittier by having the swear words edited out."
When You Say: "Definitely Oscar material."
You Mean: "Someone acts very, very retarded in several scenes."
And that's the Civilian Movie Critic bit!!!! HA-CHA!
I WONDER IF RINGO AND GEORGE FELT THAT HIT.
When Ed Lover (innovator of the ed lover dance) compared Jam Master Jay's untimely and tragic demise to the murder of John Lennon, I felt it was as earnest as an airbrushed memorial portrait of Aaliyah on the hood of a Lexus, and just about as tacky. Show the man respect within his genre; there is no need to undermine the importance of rap music through rock analogy. Plus, considering Jay's place in the canon of hip-hop (i can't believe i said that), and the genre's many living legends, Lover's eulogy didn't leave room for analogy in the event of Kris Parker's death (John F. Kennedy?) or the death of Grandmaster Flash (Mecha-John Lennon?), or Rakim (Abraham Lincoln?) or Biz Markie (Fatty Arbuckle?).
Then Public Enemy's Chuck D took time away from uploading MP3s of his newest album to correct - or at least amend - Ed Lover's statement. He claimed, "Losing Jam Master Jay to a murder was, maybe not John Lennon, but it was like as if Ringo and George both got hit at the same time." Shit. Again, I see where he's coming from, but Ringo? That's like kicking extra dirt on Jay's coffin.
And just when it seemed the honor that should have been reserved for the victim was in danger of being tipped over by clumsy elbows vying for mic time to "set the record straight", two other recent events have managed to explode our collective memories of JMJ and smear the stinking remains across our upper lips.
Exhibit A*: The Jam Master Jay Tribute Shoe. When JMJ got his driver's license, did he check the box to have his organs donated to Adidas? These shoes are screened with a tiny likeness of Jay's face on the tongue, and a gentle reminder of his life span. They're also the inverse of the color combination Run DMC was seen in most frequently, and immortalized on "My Adidas" - "they're black and white / white with black stripes / the kind I like to wear when I rock the mic." (granted, maybe Jay favored the white-on-black lowers, but his voice was seldom heard.) And they're $100, just as Jay would have wanted. Nowhere on the site did I find any information indicating that a portion of the profits would go to Jay's family, or to the purchase of spackle to fill those holes in the studio wall. If you want a fitting tribute linked to your wallet, go buy yourself a damn Snoop DeVille instead.
Exhibit B: Dr. P. Uh-oh. What happened? This hurts me more than a three car pile-up between Mike Love, Mickey Dolenz, and Tony Orlando's Dawn. (coincidentally, ed lover compared the death of lisa 'left-eye' lopez to precisely this. chuck d later added, "well, peter tork maybe. but mickey dolenz? let's be reasonable, everybody.") I love Dr. Pepper. I love it like a junkie loves smack. Almost exactly like that, in fact. So I do not need a reason to boycott this sweet, spicy elixir. But Dr. Pepper is testing my threshhold of forgiveness with their new "JMJ Tribute" commercials. LL Cool J rapping at a computer-generated image of Jam Master Jay, scratching on his 1200s? The remaining members of Run DMC in their new oversized hats, not contributing much? Wait. Back to LL. LL HAS GONE LOCO! I'm glad he got back in the gym and worked that beef into lean. He has finally earned his right to be shirtless again. He even cleaned up that anti-perspirant residue from underneath his arms. Mama would be proud. But she should still knock you out for doing that commercial. You're rapping to a ghost! Selling Dr. Pepper! What does this have to do with hip-hop, with JMJ, with alley ways or name plates or dooky chains or anything? I pray that someone will deliver LL from Eva and return him and his Flinstones head to Earth.
And while LL buries himself alive in a record time of 30 seconds, Jay's ghost is resurrected for the express purpose of desecration. Even his CGI expression is mournful, as he silently scratches out Dr. Pepper's orders. Pay attention, if you can, to the end of the commercial in which Jay's digital self scratches out Run DMC's signature message: "We're RUN DMC and Jam Master Jay!!" and note the change. According to the executives at Dr. Pepper who fear black people have turned to PepsiBlue, it would be a fitting tribute to JMJ to show him scratching out the following: "Run DMC and Jam Dr. PEPPER!!!" It's the perfect blend of eulogy and sacrilege.
Dr. Pepper must have used some Jedi mind tricks, combined with levitating blank checks, to convince the artists involved in this commercial that it would be a fitting tribute. And according to their press release, they'd like to dangle a spinning hypnotic disc in front of consumers' minds and repeat the following passage (for the subtext-impaired, i will bold-face certain key words):
"After some deep thought and discussion about how appropriate it would be to air this commercial, the surviving members of RUN DMC, as well as members of James Mizell's family, felt it would be a fitting tribute. A brief memorial to Jam Master Jay will appear at the end of the commercial for six to eight weeks after its debut during the professional footbal conference championships, as well as on the Golden Globe Awards. Because this commercial is a tribute to RUN DMC's pioneering work in the hip-hop music genre, the timing is perfect to honor Jam Master Jay. Like Dr. Pepper, RUN DMC and Jason Mizell were one-of-a-kind."
I know what you're wondering: did I accidentally forget to include the maniacal laughter at the end of this quote? No. Shockingly, it was absent to begin with. I can only assume a public relations representative excised it for brevity. Dr. Pepper thought carefully, and decided 6-8 weeks was a fitting tribute, especially on the heels of the Golden Globe Awards, Jam Master Jay's favorite television event. Also, in marketing-speak, the words "perfect timing" rarely, if ever, refer to matters of dignity, grieving or respect. And leave it to Dr. Pepper to carefully reverse the order of honor. Run DMC are strategically compred to the product, and not the other way around. I'm sure "some members" of Jay's family are very proud, and very rich.
What can be learned from all of this? For fans of great men and women, be careful how you honor your heroes. For advertisers...forget it. It's far too late for you. And for everyone else - write your last will and testament EARLY. And be sure to include a clause about the posthumous use of your likeness. And a second clause indicating all your actual favorite products. And one more clause requesting that RUN and DMC start wearing their little hats again.
*my friend zeina came through with research into the JMJ tribute sneaker, and i am eating my oversized hat. here's what she found: "of the 5000 pairs that were made 100% of the profits
are going to the scratch DJ academy started by JMJ last year...the academy's "goal is to unify, legitimize, validate and extend the role and importance of the DJ into new arenas. An organization that focuses on the documentation of the art form as well as the extension of its services into completely new and untapped markets." it's really nice to be proven wrong this way, actually. and double-nice because adidas didn't make a big deal about it on their own site, as far as i can tell. but guess what? you should still switch to mr. pibb.
THE EASIEST WAY TO BUY MY LOVE.
Buying me the new Crooked Fingers album* won't save the world, or your life, or even the life of that frog you accidentally sat on in third grade, on your way back from a field trip to the reservoir. It won't do any of those things. But it will make me smile. And that hasn't happened since 1983. Imagine the power you now possess. If that doesn't work, maybe you should buy it for yourself and smile for me.
*It is not this site's policy to solicit gifts from readers, by direct request, or through the inclusion of an Amazon wish list filled with stuff that interests me but can never serve to satisfy the way your continued readership does. Plus, I don't have any boobie pictures to share in exchange for your gifts. Just these words. And one blurry pickle shot. But just one. And the lighting isn't especially flattering. But you can sort of make out the edges. So there's that.
LOST AND FOUND DEPARTMENT.
Last week, my web host did something technical and fancy which purportedly improved their service. However, for individuals like me, it was sort of annoying. In the process, they lost the most current version of my site and reinstalled it with a backed-up version from a few days prior. (without ever letting me know. slick!)
I think I'm OK with losing a few rushed thoughts, posted on tremble, though I must admit I was disappointed in the loss of one entry in particular. That's what made it so nice to receive an email today from one of my readers. Apparently, he'd seen that post when it was up (ever so briefly...) and even bothered to copy-paste a passage from it into an email to his sister. Having this little scrap is kind of fun, like finding a discarded page from some moony teenager's embarrassingly frank post coital letter to her boyfriend. Well, not entirely like that. But here, without context, is what was sent to me today:
"In the middle of my onilne research for babies - I was thinking of buying one - I discovered something interesting at web sites like babycenter.com. Here's what I learned: people love babies. Most mothers also seem to agree that it's difficult for other people to understand how much one can love a baby until they own one, too. Babies are kind of like TiVo in that way."
It's not much, but it's nice to see it again. If anyone happens to find the rest, in their browser cache, or pressed with wildflowers between the pages of an Internet scrapbook, feel free to send them along.
I keep slipping into this fantasy, where I'm moving my bowels furiously in some public place. It's not a sexual fantasy - my brain doesn't wiggle for that type of release. Instead, I think it's a reflection of the surfeit of anxiety I bear, and my wild desire to unburden it. So, as I recede further and further into the mechanics of my own body, it seems like the most liberating thing I can do is shit myself, preferably somewhere near a historical landmark.
Do you remember that game you used to play, on long car rides? The one where you'd stick your finger outside the window and try to "jump" telephone poles, road posts, and highway signs with it. You'd just focus on the quick repetition of scenery, and imagine yourself hurtling over it in perfect time. My public defecation fantasy plays out in an almost identical manner. As I pass bodegas, libraries, walk-down basement apartments with good cover, I project myself squatting, shitting, relaxing, and even laughing. I wonder what it would be like riding between subway cars, crouched down just low enough to pique the curiosity of some, but not all, of the other commuters, fouling New York City's insides at thundering speeds.
Today I pictured myself creeping along the subway platform, away from everyone else, toward the mouth of the tunnel. Once there, in the shadows, I was relieving myself, becoming purely physical for a moment. Then I saw myself tearing out the pages of the Russian novel I'm currently reading. Pulling each one jagged from the cloth binding, and cleaning myself with them.
In my fantasy, some of the ink slipped from the rough, stiff pages, and stained the cracks inside my fingertips and who knows where else? The whole time I was generating this fantasy, there was a parallel voice admonishing me. "This is insane. This is surely the kind of thing people on the verge of a complete breakdown think about, and the kind of thing people who have already experienced a breakdown actually do." I thanked God for that second voice.
Yes, but after shitting and scolding myself, both voices merged and created an epilogue in my mind. I considered how funny it would be to take this Russian novel - a book more satisfying than anything I've written to date - and wipe my ass with it. And how funny that smeared phrases from it would mark my body for the rest of the day. And what would be the fate of my own writing? Worse?
I caught myself turning all of these dark ideas around, using my skull as a bingo cage, and I laughed. I laughed to myself, keeping it inside, preventing it from escaping in front of dozens of strangers sitting beside me on the train. Because I know that freeing my laughter would unequivocally prove my insanity.
Have you heard of SWAPPINGTONS? Dig - it's an online service with which post CDs, Books, and Movies you own but are tired of or through with, and you trade with other people.
No money is exchanged; just a sort of "credits" system on the web site. It's a great way to move around all the plastic and paper media you've accrued and now regard with the sort of shame one reserves for gluttonous consumerism. SWAPPINGTONS is a great way to lighten your load, and get some new books to read, and new music to listen to. Then you can swap them out again, like a giant library.
Listing your stuff is super easy, and the site seems to be changing every single day now. (at first, you could only list cds, books, and dvds. now it seems you can also list vhs tapes and video games.) I hope more people continue to use this service so I will be able to choose from media that is more closely targeted to my demographic. Sorry, Hoobastank, or whoever you are.
And here's the part where I grovel a bit. When you sign up, and it asks you who referred you to the service, give them my username: TREMBLE. It grants a few extra points, which would make me grateful. And then pass it along to other friends, and have them do the same for you. See? Just like Amway. And The Forum.
THE LOST TREMBLES.
Oops. It seems my web host did something unspeakable that cost me to lose two very long entries for this site. If you stare at the web endlessly, you might have seen at least one of them up yesterday afternoon and evening. However, they're gone now and I'm not sure daddy's ever coming back.
I feel especially lousy, because I sent a puffy-chested email out to my mailing list, touting the return of "proper" writing to this site, in place of promotions about upcoming shows and meandering apologies. Now, to many, it might have seemed like a cruel grift, a sting for hits.
Maybe those entries will return. Maybe they won't. There's some cold comfort for you. And here's a story:
Last night, because I'm clearly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I rented Undercover Brother. The video store clerk, who was highly goth, with spiked choker and white pancake makeup, inspected the tape and deadpanned, "that's a bad movie." I agreed, and promised I'd only be using it to punish myself for cruelties toward others. Then she informed me that I had a late fee on another rental. I almost stopped myself from asking more, and I should have. But I didn't.
"Oh really? Which movie?"
"That's a bad movie, too."
Here. Take all my money and try to forgive me. I actually wanted her to reach back in my records, way back to a time when I rented respectable titles from sections other than NEW RELEASES. But that was a long time ago, and the trail leading to those titles was bloody and stupid. It would mean re-visiting Bride of Chucky and The First $20 Million is the Hardest and Blood Work even Jason X. It could potentially blind the poor clerk before she ever had a chance to see Charade or Beijing Bicycle, so it wasn't really worth it. I felt ashamed and crazy, stupid and speechless all at once. (hey - i think i just rented Speechless a few weeks ago.) I was completely disarmed by her observation, and the judgement that surely followed it.
When I stepped outside, I finally thought of what I could say in response. "Well, I'm so sorry I didn't rent Interview with a Vampire, Dracula-face!" Of course, it was too late to go back in there and say any of this - I was several blocks away by now - but that didn't stop me from running back in there and saying it anyway, completely out of breath. I wiped the cold-weather snot from my nose with the Undercover Brother box, twirled on my heel, and made a cool exit. And it would have been even cooler had I not knocked over a large display of cellular phones on my way out.
DEAR LANDMARK FORUM.
Lately, I've been discovering a surprising number of my acquaintances have participated in The Landmark Forum. By "surprising number" I mean, of course, two. But even two seems like a big number, considering the first I'd heard of this program was approximately four months ago.
I don't really know how to describe the program, but I suppose it's like one of those self-actualization seminars. If you watched Six Feet Under religiously, as I did - instead of "working on yourself", of course - you might remember the seminar Mrs. Fisher attended halfway through last season. That was perhaps a slightly loopier version of The Forum, but I'm sure both the real and fictional seminars leave the same fuzzy taste in the mouths of cynics. In fact, that taste might be familiar to some of you. If you roll it around on your tongue for a bit you'll find it tastes almost exactly like bullshit.
To be fair, I can't say for certain The Forum is bullshit because I've never really investigated it, and right now I don't have a better plan for self-actualization. It's not like my rigorous program of existential crises alternating with bourbon and Snickers binges is getting me any closer to "Illuminlightenment!™" or whatever The Forum promises. I can say that it confuses me a bit, though. I've noticed several unusual things that come up in people's discussion of this program. First, no one seems to have had a bad time. It's like hypnotism - if you're suggestive enough at that moment, you'll believe in it. Fine. I would hope it would result in a good time. I have no interest in knocking down people who are actually benefitting from their particular belief system. But here's the funny thing...
Whenever you ask friends how the program helped them, the answer is never really satisfying. No one has ever told me The Forum helped them save a puppy or buy a Camaro. The victories are always smaller, weirder. Like, "I finally started a blog!" or "Just three weeks after The Forum I was honored as 'The World's Greatest Grandma' with a commemorative nightshirt."
The Forum also seems to lack the advertising punch and celebrity weight of Scientology. On two separate occasions, I learned of a friend's involvement with The Forum because they let it slip that they had begun hanging out with a really low-rung celebrity. In one instance it was the nerdy character from Saved by the Bell, but it wasn't Screech. It was the other nerdy character - the one who only appeared in cut scenes by the lockers. Another time, I had a friend tell me she'd just went to a party with The Unknown Comic, The Real Roxanne, and the guy who provides the voice for Charlie Tuna. This inevitably led to a discussion about The Forum, and made me both curious and skeptical. And let's not forget deliciously horny!! (wink!)
As long as it doesn't cross legal or ethical lines, I try to fully support my friends' decisions. But I can't help being somewhat taken aback when someone confesses to completing The Forum. I usually read a sense of bottled-up excitement (with perhaps a shade of guilt, too) coming from them when the news comes out, and I cannot help but react with both shock and embarrassment. It's like being friends with someone for ten years and suddenly discovering he or she is "swings". Or, even worse, it's like suddenly discovering a friend "swing-dances". From that moment forward, you're going to see him slightly differently and you're always going to wonder, in the back of your mind, "is this person trying to get me to join him? Do I have to buy a zoot suit now?"
A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN.
I recently joined a writer's space in Brooklyn. My previous writer's space - the Starbucks near my apartment - cost $3.84 per diem and came with a latte and hours upon hours of free laura nyro music. The space I used before that - my own apartment - became psychologically impossible many months ago because of the calming effect of cats and the disorienting effect of EVERYTHING I OWN WITHIN REACH. That included the television, stereo, fig newtons, Tekken 4, pornography, and a giant cardboard box filled with grown-up clothes, eyeglasses and meerschaum pipes for games of dress-up.
The new space seems OK. For now, my arrangement is part-time, which means I have access from 6pm - 6am on weekdays (sadly, my prime writing hours are 10pm - 4am) and full-time on weekends. It coincides nicely with my cellular phone service plan. I think I'll use the space, providing it's quiet, but I already have a few reservations.
The space has somewhat low ceilings. That's not terrible in itself, but combined with the work areas - staid, fabric-walled cubicles with artificial cherry wood and gold trim - it sort of approximates a second office. Will other writers wile away hours playing minesweeper on their computers? Will I wind up hitting on the cleaning lady? Will they let me hang my 'successories' poster up in my cube? (i just had my "SUBTLE CONDESCENSION" poster dry-mounted.)
I'm also a little concerned about some of the hidden costs. On top of the quarterly fee, there was a $50 administrative initiation fee (for xeroxes?), a $20 refundable key deposit, $5 monthly locker charge, $18 bully tax, $30 first-person bildungsroman fee, $200 protagonist - just - laid - off - from - big - dot-com - company - and - is - now - selling - all - his - cool - tech - gadgets - on - ebay - and - write - his - first - novel fee, and a $450,000 rape poetry surcharge. I guess they know their business better than I do, though.
(WHITE) AMERICA HAS A NEW HERO.
Be on the lookout for a new comedy concert film named The Blue Collar Comedy Tour, coming like an entertainment tornado to blow away the trailer park of your mind. From the looks of the trailer, this film doubles as some kind of white person's reparations for the success of The Original Kings of Comedy. (or perhaps The Queens of Comedy or The Original Latin Kings of Comedy or maybe, just maybe, The Original Laotian Kings of Comedy.) It's basically the same structure - 4 touring comics, one host, live concert mixed with panel-style "riffing", material about how different it was to grow up poor - and nearly the same name. The only difference I could see was when they cut to the audience reactions. Instead of a vast sea of highly macked-out black women and men from the American South, it's just a large Klan rally. But the Klansmen are having just as much fun. You can't actually see them laughing but you can kind of tell they are by the way their hoods shake. (bam! zip! pow!)
The concert is headlined by Jeff "you know you're a redneck" Foxworthy, and ordinarily that would be all you'd need to know. However, I feel it's important to highlight a new face in the world of unapologetically-white-guy comedy: Larry The Cable Guy. That's his name! Just ask him! And be sure to check out his self-written bio! In which he adds exclamation points to the end of nearly every line! Ensuring us all that it is some hootin' hollerin' hilariosity!!!! It's as if Larry is saying, "hoo-dog! I myself cannot even believe the crazy things coming out of my mouth! I'm all serious for a second and then - what? - here comes something straight outta left field!" Each one of his jokes has a lethal punch not unlike the last panel of a Bazooka Joe comic strip.
As you read his bio, it becomes increasingly libertarian and, therefore, increasingly fascinating. Larry gets his steel toe booted foot in the door with a quick barrage of alcoholic mother jokes, then slowly shifts his tone from Mr. "Laugh A Minute" to Mr. "I Got Some Opinions, Too, Y'all, and This Here Interweb Is a Right Fine Place to Air Them". Check out this excellent trick in disarming the reader before dropping a conservative bomb: "I believe all the telletubbies is queer, not just the purple one! I believe in the right to bear arms! Not only against scumbag criminals, but also against a tyrannical government!" Larry is one-part Hee-Haw, two-parts NASCAR, four-parts Militia Separatist Movement, and forty-parts PRECIOUS!
I think Larry has built himself a fine niche. He really does call himself "Larry the Cable Guy" at every possible juncture, and I'm sure that's how he presented himself to club owners and prospective talent management. The easy nail he uses to hang himself on is similar to the way many Chitlin Belt comics call themselves things like "The Wildcat" or "Doo Doo Brown" or "Stricklee Funnin", and produce headshots reflecting their "wild" or "doo doo" nature. Larry's headshot is S-M-A-R-T. It shows him wearing the requisite baseball cap, Ted Nugent t-shirt and, in case you are a casting agent who doesn't quite understand what Larry the Cable Guy is All About, he was also kind enough to wrap some cables around his neck in a style suggesting Early Hysterical. Larry ain't some stinking plumber or landscaper. He's straight-up cable guy and don't you forget it. Something tells me Larry has already made an appearance on Reba in an episode where the cable goes out just before a big Travis Tritt pay-per-view event. And something else tells me he'll be making another appearance very soon...in your heart! Now go GIT-R-DONE, whatever that means.
P.S. Larry the Cable Guy is not gay. I'm just saying.
PENSACOLA, FLORIDA'S #1 JEW WRITER.
OK. So, a journalist from the nationally respected Pensacola News Journal got in touch with me a couple of months ago because she was interested in writing something about tremble for an "add to favorites" column - some ongoing weblinky feature that runs in the paper each week. She was a charmer and we exchanged several emails. Most of hers were of the "I'm so sorry, but they still haven't printed it yet" variety and I played it so cool that I actually forgot about it altogether. I suppose at some point I decided the Florida Gulf simply wasn't ready for a certain literary hurricane named "Levin" and I'd have to wait for The Celebration, Florida Daily Mandate to scoop the Pensacola News Journal on the tremble story.
Well, today a friend who happens to be heavily invested in my mental well-being did the favor of searching for my name on Google (i hope they get lots of hits from that mention; they deserve it.) and aggregating any online mentions of me in a long email. Not sure why she did it, but it was funny because I hadn't read about half the entries prior to receiving the email. (though i experienced a burst of nostalgia over a real friendship with a real person that started with a silly, and certainly embarrassing, web page from a million years ago. sorry, mars.) It was a nice surprise, and I'm sure I would have seen all of these entries if only I were a smidge more self-absorbed. (add that to new year's resolutions, beneath "finally use that old gas mask!")
One discovery from today's email was that, lo and behold, the PNJ came through after all! (you knew i'd get back to that, right?) I will include the link but it was sort of hard for me to find it on the page, crowded as it was with late-breaking Pensacola news. I thought about quoting it here, too, but even copying the bit to my clipboard felt far too onanistic and I had to purge it. So allow me to just say it was nice. If only the other gulf states were this kind. (texas, are you listening?)
According to the Pensacola tourism board web site, "Pensacola offers the best of all worlds to visitors. From history and shopping to sports, nature and attractions, there's something for everyone." Well, Pensacola tourism board web site, maybe it's time you added another world to that list - perhaps a world called "long-winded online journal entries soaked with dirty swears, mean swipes at easy targets, and cranky insight?" Yes, Pensacola - you are truly a city where thousands live the way millions wish they lived. And you will always live in my heart. Thanks, PNJ, and thanks Elizabeth Trever Buchinger!
WILL GIVE AWARD FOR FOOD.
Are the Webbys broke now? I think web sites are great fun, although I've never felt especially indebted to the Webbys for their garish presentation of awards for web sites and their creators. In my experience, most web developers and authors are more compelling on paper, and no amount of manufactured fanfare or c-list celebrity presenters are going to change the fact that you're forcing a live audience to listen to a speech by the personality behind "recipedatabase.com".
In an act that could be read as either marketing savvy or complete disdain for their nominees, the Webbys made an interesting switch a couple of years ago - they created a strict rule limiting awards recipients to an acceptance speech no longer than five words. That means more time for drag queens!
This year I noticed the Webbys require a $85 entry fee (now $95, as the deadline gets closer) to nominate personal and non-profit sites, and $100 (now $150) for other site categories. Compare this fee, and the five words you get to say to an audience who, in this sagging economy in a country on the verge of war, now tends to look at the web as a disgusting example of recent excesses, to the award itself. A petrified slinky, its total retail value couldn't possibly exceed $15. This means nominees are funding the ceremony, and the honored web sites are basically paying for the privilege of receiving their awards. Well, Tiffany Schlain finally got her wish: the Webbys are officially exactly like the Oscars™.
NERDS BE WARNED.
I realize things are going really well for nerds lately. Several years ago, various mainstream media channels heralded the "Rise of the Geek", and graced their covers with various computer nerds-a-leaping, costumed with all the naturalism and subtlety of an extra from Saved by the Bell. Nerds were everywhere you looked, except at cool parties or underneath attractive women because, let's face it: unless those headlines read "Rise of the Multi-Billionaire Geek," the only velvet ropes you had any hopes of getting past with those steel-frame glasses, tennis shoes and trench coat were at Club Bizarro Universe. It was false advertising, but no hard feelings.
Well, even if you couldn't sincerely thank Bill Gates and that Asian guy from Yahoo!, the same cannot be said for Peter Jackson. You see, his outstandingly deft handling of JRR Tolkien's Nerd-tastic trilogy has legitimized all of your bookish fantasies and vindicated decades of unsubstantiated physical abuse at the hands and feet of Jocks worldwide. The tables have turned, and Lord of the Rings upset them.
Everyone loves the fantasy that Jackson - and, by extension, Tolkien (the original he-man woman-hater) - has wrought. Suddenly, your insight into elvin lore is a much-desired commodity. Jocks are bringing their own nerd sherpas to the movies, and hanging on their every thin-lipped utterance. "Give us safe passage through Middle Earth," their eyes beg, and you comply more than willingly. You're pointing out mistakes in the subtitles for scenes spoken in Elven, an act which would ordinarily elicit a swift and severe beating, but now caresses "oohs" and "ahhhs" and sweet eyelash fluttering from your tormentors. Maybe they even throw a beefy arm around your shoulder and chuckle along when you make a joke about the generous size of Gandalf's staff, and take no notice when your skepticism and newfound cavalier spirit cause you to mutter, "Auta miqula orqu*" underneath your breath. Yes, the world seems to be tilting according to your whims but believe me now: BE CAREFUL.
Don't push it too hard. Remember that Tolkien's rich, female-free universe of dragons and dwarves and homocidal trees has been your province for many, many years, but is virgin territory to the rest of us. Take it slowly. Learn to hold your tongue. Leave your cape and cardboard scabbard at home a little while longer - at least until the reviews are in for the next chapter in the trilogy. Perhaps you can show people your armband tattoo of the Ring's unforgettable inscription, but don't share your Hobbit fan fiction just yet. Choose your battles, or you will upset this wonderful but delicate victory. Don't start wearing ear points. Don't refer to your cubicle as "the shire", except in private emails to your closest and most trusted friends. I know it doesn't seem fair, but please trust me. I'm just trying to protect you.
You've got a year left, maybe even more. Just hold your breath and pray the critics don't smite The Return of the King next year, or you'll have to retreat back to Middle Earth (i.e. your mom's basement apartment) for another three thousand gleems, or whatever you nerds call years.
(*if you were able to recognize this phrase and/or translate it, it's already too late for you. sacrifice yourself with silence for the sake of the rest of the nerd race, please.)
SINGLE BEST YEAR.
Making and ordering a list makes things nice. This year being so great for music that a "best of 2002" list was so easy it actually became difficult. No single album by an artist knocked me out completely, but many artists made knockout singles. (see what i just did with language??? why hasn't entertainment weekly scooped me up into its loving arms yet?) Here's a list, of my favorite ones from last year, in order of my memory's ability to recall them:
- "The Boy Looked at Johnny," The Libertines
- "Stay Don't Go," Spoon
- "Ivanka," Imperial Teen
- "Work It," Missy Elliott
- "Dig a Hole," The Rogers Sisters
- "Rock You," The Roots
- "Roland," Interpol (notable mention: "PDA", "Obstacle 1")
- "The Leanover," Life Without Buildings
- "Lose Yourself," Eminem
- "Oh Goddamnit," Hot Hot Heat
- "Oh!," Sleater-Kinney
- "Hate to Say I Told You," The Hives
- "One Sailor Was Waving," Ballboy
- "Hot in Herre," Nelly (notable mention: "Air Force Ones")
- "Die Another Day," Madonna (shut up!)
- "One with the Freaks," The Notwist
- "Lost Cause," Beck
- "Huffer," The Breeders
- "Promising Light," Iron & Wine
- "Hey Ma," Cam'ron
- "You Know You're Right," Nirvana (can't help myself)
Phew! Now, after reading everyone else's TOP 10 lists from the year, I wonder if I'm required to buy Solomon Burke's comeback album
. It's a funny thing when an album becomes the aesthetic intersection between Mojo Magazine
and the "Music We Love" rack at Starbucks Coffee.
RESOLUTION WITH MY RESOLUTIONS.
This year, I'm going to simplify my resolutions by shifting focus away from the pedantic - less white sugar, more karate, meet the creator of Garfield - and paying more attention to what matters. The larger problems, when solved, resolve the smaller ones. So here, in complete honesty, are the only two resolutions I'm making this year:
1. Get to the point.
2. Stay there.