Tuesday, December 23, 2008

We went to the Luxembourg Museum and there was a fairly arbitrary exhibit of modern art there called "From Miro to Warhol." That's a lot of ground to cover, when you think about it. And all they'd really done, it seems, is borrowed some art and picked from it a big, early name and a big, later name and themed the whole thing as a progression between the two. PR it, postcard it up for the gift shop and - voila! You, too, can be a curator.

There was a metal sculpture there by Jean Tinguely called "The Indian Chief" and every 20 minutes or so it would shake and vibrate like the dickens and scare whoever happened to be scrutinizing it at the time half to death. It made a godawful racket and anyone who hadn't experienced it yet would start like they'd just heard a stack of dishes collapse in their kitchen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Swept Away in a River

We were buckled in and waiting when the captain came on and sighed. He said the water doesn’t work. We’d have to use a different plane. (Are they so interchangeable? Is it like when you get in a dud bumper car and the acne-scarred attendant directs you to the purple one that’s parked against the rail? Wasn’t this plane blessed and prepared for us, expertly calibrated to the rigors of our journey? Loaded with our luggage and victuals from Gate Gourmet? How is there another one which we may fly instead?) He instructed us to return to the waiting area to await further instructions. Faint grumbling broke out amid the rustle of clothes and carry-ons. Back in the terminal, I went to get a coffee. On my way back I was swept in the exodus of my fellow travelers trudging to the new gate: 48B.

A woman in her late fifties wept inconsolably as a stewardess peered at her and frowned, holding her hand up in a gesture both soothing and defensive. Do you speak Spanish? she asked. It happened that she spoke French. I found myself approaching and volunteering to interpret.

"What does she want?"

"Qu'est ce que vous voulez?"

She wanted to know when the flight was leaving.

"When's the flight leaving?"

The stewardess turned around to face the counter. "Bob, when's the flight leaving?"

"In an hour," said Bob.

"In an hour."

"Dans une heure."

"When's it boarding?" I asked.

"Bob, when's it boarding?"

"Half an hour."

"Half an hour."

"On part dans une heure et on embarque dans une demi-heure."

I was pleased with the simple, emphatic quality of these answers but the woman continued to stammer and weep. I suggested lamely to the stewardess that she might be scared.

"Does she need anything?"

"Avez-vous besoin de quelque chose?"

The woman must have sensed we were frustrated and so tried to gratify us with an answer of some kind.

"De l'eau," she said, almost like a question. Whisperingly. Water? It's what you say when someone asks you what you need but you can't tell them what you really need.

"Water," I said.

"Can you ask her what's wrong? Why is she crying?"

"Qu'est ce qui va pas? Pourquoi pleurez-vous?"

"I fly from Papeete," the woman said, in halting English.

"Long flight," I said to the stewardess.

"That is a long flight," the stewardess said.

"Maybe she's tired."

"Must be tired."

The woman broke in. "I go to New York. I must go to the funeral of... of --" The syllables expanded in her throat and she succumbed again to sobs.

"Tell her to have a seat and I will bring her water."

"Installez-vous quelque part et elle va vous ammener de l'eau."

We finally seemed to reach a sort of resolution. She turned and walked unsteadily toward the chairs. A few were empty but she did not seem to distinguish them from those that weren't. As she hovered nearby, the stewardess thanked me and we broke off. I went to look at planes awhile. When I came back I saw the woman from afar. She was sitting as the stewardess and some other airline people tended to her. Talked to her and touched her. Helped her manipulate a cell phone.

Later, on the flight, the stewardess served me drinks.

"I hope she's all right," I said.

"I think she's OK."

"Good."

"Her husband died. In that country where she --"

"Papeete?"

"Yes, Papeete. He was swept away in a river. So she's going to the funeral. And his body's on the plane."

"Wow. That's... disturbing." Right away, I regretted saying disturbing. I wished I'd said a warmer word. Sad, maybe. Even awful.

"I know. It is," she said.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Streak - 12

Abstracted, Evan walked over to the rack and selected one of his bats, thirty-four-and-a-half inches of ash in black finish. He climbed the steps of the dugout and tried to take the measure of the situation. He batted third these days, after second baseman Esteban Guerra and Kyle. Esteban was on first base and Evan couldn't remember the last time they'd started a game this way. Kyle approached the plate, squinting at center-right field, where he likes to think he'll hit it. He made little golf swings with his bat. "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath blared from the PA speakers.

Make a joke and I will sigh and you will laugh and I will cry

The umpire pointed the ball live and the music faded quickly. It was like parents just walked in and turned the knob down on an awful racket. Evan put on the bat weight and swung a little, feeling its clumsy heft. He often imagined what it would be like to swing an impossibly heavy bat, a bat of solid lead. A bat that a strong man could barely hoist an inch or two off the ground before letting it dent the dirt with a terse thud. Evan didn't know why he thought of this. When he looked out the window of a train he imagined a motorcycle racing alongside it. Always.

Kyle took the first pitch, a fastball, for a strike. It was unclear to Evan how Kyle got home the night before, or if he even did, or if he fucked the one girl or the other or maybe both. He was high as usual and drunk as hell as far as Evan could tell. Evan lost his appetite a little once the girl who'd been designated for him was unable to articulate the phrase I glow. Nice girl, though. Rough life. Stripper. Whore. Evan felt bad. What was her name? Gepetto?

"Aaaah! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! Ffff... GODAMMIT!"

Kyle was hopping like a pogo stick and clutching his left hand, pausing only to rub it spasmodically and then start hopping up and down again.

"Jesus, Jesus, FUCK!"

The catcher and umpire gave him wide berth and stood maskless, gazing dully at his mad dance. The ball was somewhere in the dirt. Finally, Kyle's body seemed to calm to a simmering state of herky-jerky agitation and he paced in a tightly circumscribed figure eight. Trainer Mike trotted out, gut pouring over his belt, and consulted somberly with Kyle before escorting him to first base. Two on, no outs. Evan was at bat.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Streak - 11

The top of the first proceeded without incident, a rare triumph. Chris Bailey, the third man in the rotation, struck out two and allowed a high, arcing ball over Evan's head and into left fielder Jeff Landerman's glove. Evan jogged back to the dugout and took a seat next to Pat O'Rourke, the Yankees' 83-year-old bench coach. O'Rourke was an immaculate monument, an artifact of a different time and mode of thinking. He'd murmur into Bosworth's ear sometimes and sometimes not. Sunflower husks might erupt from his mouth and he'd push them off his lips with his dry, old tongue. He was ground zero of baseball. His frail and papery body held a core of dark matter: fabled, immaterial, discernible only by the bending of nearby things. It was sufficient to sit next to him sometimes and feel the vibrations of wisdom through your cleats.

"Pat."

"Yup."

"Why do we throw the ball in baseball? Instead of passing it."

"Do you wanna know the answer?"

"Why not."

"That's because there is no ball."

"You'll have to clarify what you mean."

"The ball doesn't matter in baseball. It's a necessary inconvenience and we employ it reluctantly. Grudgingly. The ball is emblematic. It's needed only to trace a path among the players, to chronicle and thus legitimize the chain of events. Do you know Shakespeare?"

"To be or not to be?"

"In football or soccer, the ball is the dagger thrust into Caesar's heart; in baseball, the ball is but the ink upon the page. It ain't the story, it's the means to tell the story. This is not a ball you pass. How 'bout Homer?"

"It's been, uh... seventy-three at-bats."

"The poet, the poet. Baseball is The Odyssey. The ball is Homer's pen. Here's a question for you: If a game is played without the ball, did it happen?"

"Huh?"

"There happens to be an answer."

"Is it no?"

"The Negro Leagues guys used to play without the ball before games. Hits, outs, runs, everything. The anti-game. The negative, whatever. Only it wasn't. This is the shadow," O'Rourke said, nodding at the field with mild distaste. "What they played was the sun. Those guys, they understood the game."

"I have a lot to think about."

"Don't think about it now. You're on deck."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Streak - 10

Evan fell into the easy routine of tossing balls to Brendan at first, in alternation with Kyle Boyce at short. A cog in the machine. He wondered why they don't call it a pass in baseball. In other team sports predicated on a totemic object, it's customary for the strategic delivery of the object from one team member to another to be referred to as passing. Hockey players pass the puck. Football players pass the ball. Soccer, lacrosse and polo. Basketball. Ultimate frisbee. The baton is passed in track. But not baseball. In baseball the ball is tossed, or thrown. Clumsy words, in comparison - not worthy of this venerable and complex sport. Evan had to admit the word pass did seem wrong but he wasn't quite sure why. He knew that if he were passing the ball to Brendan rather than throwing it, he'd feel like less of a man. Evan felt the good sting of the ball in the throat of his glove. He'd better not be thinking about this shit when the game started.

"Hey Kyle!" Evan shouted. Kyle threw Brendan a grounder and jogged over.

"Why don't baseball players pass balls?"

Kyle squinted at Evan for a moment.

"Is this a joke?"

"No, it's not a joke. Why don't we say pass? We say throw."

"You sure as hell have got to be the biggest faggot I've ever met in my life."

"I know. But why, Kyle? Why?"

Evan and Kyle began slowly backing away from each other. They'd unconsciously perceived the distinctive anticommotion at the plate signaling the beginning of a game: the ceasing of the pitcher's warmups, the measured procession of the leadoff man from on deck.

"Because in baseball we throw motherfuckers out!"

"I'm not sure I understand."

"That's because you love cock."

"What?"

"Pay attention!" Kyle said, and turned into his stance. Behind him, the Bleacher Creatures began roll call, chanting "Ri-cky Sny-der" for the right fielder. Behind them, and above the scoreboard, a vein of thick, black smoke grew into the sky.
Isn't the verb "to die" a little too active? It oughta be passive. It oughta be "to be died." The moment you die is the moment of utter passivity. Whether you're a frail, 94-year-old financier in his last throes of renal failure, swathed in fine linens and resting on plump pillows, breathing your last and then softly expiring as your wife holds one hand and your mistress the other, or whether you're a testosterone-maddened 17-year-old at the wheel of his father's Prius, half in the bag from Everclear and grape soda, trying to take a hit off a bowl and it's wobbling between your teeth and your friend Matt's trying to light it but fuck these childproof lighters, man, they won't just light, and WHAM!, you hit an oak tree and it's all over in a fraction of a second, the actual passage into the void is utterly automatic, unwilled, indeliberate. Dying is the only thing we do that we don't do.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Had lunch with Britt and Tom at the Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien, that odd space that's segregated from the lobby and the jet-lagged Eurotrash drifting through it by theatrical purple curtains. Once you disappear behind them you're in a completely different world: a college campus hangout, circa 1983. Signs in crayon: "Order here," "Dump your trash in here." They give you the burgers in plain waxpaper that's already spotting with grease. A paper bag for fries. It's got that lowlife chic that a certain type of foodie has promoted in the past decade or two, based on an obsessive determination to find the best food in the unlikeliest places. This is the type that celebrates food carts, dingey delis, Chinatown holes in the wall. Perhaps the term "foodie" itself, as opposed to "gourmet," was really coined to describe them. Their endeavor's not exactly ironic because it's not undertaken with a wink, knowingly. There's an earnest anti-elitism and openmindedness at play here, an activism. If the real food pyramid is the one with three Michelin stars at the top and fish and chips at the bottom, they want to overturn it. But there are perils in this view: It's an anti-snobbism that risks becoming a snobbism, of course. And a lot of cheap food is crap. Worse yet, some places try to capitalize on this trend by presenting contrived downscale food. A lot of Philly cheesesteak places are like this. Any place that sells sliders but isn't White Castle is like this. The Burger Joint seems to me an obvious example of this, with its too-cute perch in the corner of a fancy French hotel. Seems like it's trying too hard to make some kind of point.

On the other hand, the burgers are pretty good.

And sometimes you have a great experience of this kind. Sara took me to Fried Dumpling on Mosco Street a few weeks ago. It's utterly drab and unpromising inside and out - in other words, by the logic described above, it's utterly alluring and promising. You get five fried dumplings for one dollar. That's it. Dumplings. There was something else on the menu - hot and sour soup? - but there didn't seem to be a drop of it anywhere behind the counter, nor bowls to serve it in. The old lady fried and flipped the dumplings, the old man sat and rolled them and placed them on metal sheets by the hundreds, hundreds, hundreds, hundreds. They serve them on a paper plate with a plastic fork and you can stare at yourself in the mirror on the wall as you eat them at a metal counter across from the stove. The skin of the dumpling is crisp in places but has a beautifully elastic, doughy quality below the immediate surface. You feel like you're biting something of substance. You break through and there's a hot burst of juice from the pork and then tender, beautifully seasoned meat, just fatty enough, not the least bit gristly, with just enough spices and scallion. Then you dump your trash where it says to dump it and walk outside.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I ran on Monday and I ran on Wednesday too, and in the interim the patch of the Central Park Loop I'd taken had been transformed from pavement to coarse, tarry gravel, as though some great finger had come down from the sky to scratch it off.

I ran by the Tavern on the Green, shrouded behind its shrubs and trees. It always catches me by surprise that it's there, the Tavern on the Green. There it is. Dumb place.

I ran past a woman running and pushing a baby carriage. Is there nothing people won't do?

The dishwasher churns and whistles, stops and hisses. Starts again. There's something I can hear in there, tick-tick, tick-tick. A glass or something buffeted on a pot. Dishwashers are erotic.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Streak - 9

The National Anthem played crackily on the PA and Evan held his cap to his heart in a studiously reverent pose. Over weeks and months and years of this he had perfected what he imagined was the posture that befit the ritual, that was expected of any man in uniform when an anthem played: back straight, head held up and cocked a little, free arm akimbo or maybe not. Akimbo conveyed a certain assuredness, a frank willingness to face what lay ahead. And a trace of arrogance. Evan's left hand kept sliding off his hip. He wasn't sure akimbo was right for this.

Through the perilous fight

Brendan Terry held a similar posture to his left but he fidgeted, a catastrophic heresy. Sometimes he even kicked at the sand in front of the dugout where they stood. It made Evan uneasy to perceive this in the corner of his eye. Brendan must have read his mind. He leaned toward Evan without looking at him.

"Dirty little cocksucker."

Brendan stood back upright and cleared his throat. Evan tilted slightly in his direction, careful not to compromise the integrity of his stance.

The bombs bursting in air


"I like you. May I fuck your cunt?"

Brendan erupted in a guffaw that he managed to stifle with some agony.

"You choking on sperm?" Evan inquired.

And the home of the brave!

Brendan exhaled happily. Evan smacked his ass with his glove and jogged away towards third base. On the way he peered into the hazy distance between the bleachers and observed a jet plane arcing slowly, gracefully toward the ground. There followed the distant rumble of a formidable impact.

It was time to play ball.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Medical Equipment I Have Seen

The HLS-500 Halogen Light Source.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Septoplasty

There were morbid moments that had the air of ceremony. On the form: List your next of kin. And the small, mustachioed man at the intake desk asking, Any particular religious preference? Funny way to ask that question. Like he was asking what vodka I wanted in a bloody mary. Whatever's fine, I should've said. But I said, emphatically, None at all, and his reaction was like that was precisely what he wanted and expected me to say. And when the surgeon handed me a form and said with a forced chuckle, This makes people nervous when we ask them; it really shouldn't, but we have to ask anyway. It was consent to receive a blood transfusion, should the need arise. Initial here. It didn't make me nervous. Once, the litany of questions asked again and again by various parties—Do you smoke? Do you drink? How much? Do you take drugs? Any allergies?—took an abrupt turn when recited by a clipboard-carrying nurse: Are you a Jehovah's Witness... at all? She stumbled a bit at the absurdity of it. I think that's why she added "at all," as though I might be one just a little and that may still pose some sort of problem. I'm thinking about it... I'm almost one, frankly. But I reassure her no. OK, because they don't take blood transfusions, she said quickly, and hurried to the next question.

Do you drink? the kindly, motherly Asian nurse was asking me. Do you smoke? I had not yet been submitted to the indignities I knew were to come, the donning of the assless gown and padded sockies. In fact, there was a weird dignity to my present circumstances: I was seated in a high-backed chair against the wall, half-drawn curtains separating me from similar stations on either side. There was a thronelike quality to the chair and its position, its role in this ceremony of deference. A robotic-looking blood pressure machine stood like a sentry to my right. So this is what it's like to be king for a day. Any allergies?

Before long I had to go to the changing room and pile my clothes in the gunmetal gray locker. I was given two gowns and told to wear them each way. One forward and one backward. Go both ways. One way is life and the other is death. I took note of the pattern of rubberization on the soles of the beige ankle socks: It was a striation that could almost but not quite be termed decorative.

I padded around the waiting area in my beige socks and both-ways gowns. No one seemed to have an immediate agenda for me. There I was a few feet from the desk, a few feet from the chairs. Neither coming from nor going to. Like one of the undead. Nurses clutching clipboards gossiped and fussed with paperwork and looked through me for awhile. Sit over there, I was finally told, and so I sat in the third row of an impromptu gallery of plastic chairs facing nothing, the kind of arrangement you see in a small-town DMV. I sat there and read New York magazine for a long, long time, an article about a memoirist who might be lying, as others around me came and went and I began to wonder whether I'd been forgotten or whether the whole thing had been some kind of mistake, some complete and hilarious misunderstanding: You thought what, sir? You thought you were getting surgery!?

Then very quietly someone came over and got me.

The surgeon greeted me and escorted me to a place behind the doors. You were born exactly ten days before me, he said. I think I said that's funny. He instructed me to lie on a wheeled bed.

The anesthesiologist was tall and had a heavy accent. Eastern European, I thought. Romanian, Bulgarian. Do you smoke? No. Do you drink? Yes. You don't take any kinds, you know, illegal drugs or what.

Of course not.

To my left a young Asian doctor introduced himself, shook my hand, and plumped up the crook of my elbow for a good vein. You're going to feel a pinch. And I did feel a pinch: the pressure of my entire being escaping into the world at large. Suddenly my circulatory system was connected to the cosmic ether. I felt vaguely idiotic and serene. Whatever may go in me, may go in me. I'm in the blood and the blood's in me.

The surgeon grabbed my bed by a railing at the foot and wheeled me down a series of halls, around corners, through doors, cheerily greeting colleagues along the way. It was impossible to overlook the infantile aspect of the experience. Or a dream where your bed is a car.

At the end I was asked to get up and I felt a vague irritation at this - wasn't I in bed already? I'm stricken, for Christ's sake. I have on backwards-forwards clothes and my body's hooked up to a plastic bag. I stepped gingerly through the swinging doors and into the operating theater. There was a forbidding padded plank in its center, with masked figures all around. Remove the top gown, I was told. Lie down. Put your arms out like this - that's right, like that. It occurred to me that I'd crucified myself - my arms were outstretched on the lateral extensions of the cross and all there was to do was drive the nails.

The anesthesiologist rematerialized. You comfortable? Good. Now we gonna give you something to relax you little bit.

It dawned on me to ask him what it was. What is it? There was a beat or two of pause. This was not a question he was accustomed to answering.

It's valium and, um, morphine.

Good, I said, and I tried very, very hard to focus on the high, to know the high, to get inside of this high now, right here, now, this high right now, I watch the ceiling, feel it, to be high, to feel it, feel it, feel it, feel...

I woke up with a shot and no idea where the fuck I was. Why, what, light, who? OK, surgery. I just had surgery.



Illustration by Louise Asherson

Septoplasty - 4

The surgeon greeted me and escorted me to a place behind the doors. You were born exactly ten days before me, he said. I think I said that's funny. He instructed me to lie on a wheeled bed.

The anesthesiologist was tall and had a heavy accent. Eastern European, I thought. Romanian, Bulgarian. Do you smoke? No. Do you drink? Yes. You don't take any kinds, you know, illegal drugs or what.

Of course not.

To my left a young Asian doctor introduced himself, shook my hand, and plumped up the crook of my elbow for a good vein. You're going to feel a pinch. And I did feel a pinch: the pressure of my entire being escaping into the world at large. Suddenly my circulatory system was connected to the cosmic ether. I felt vaguely idiotic and serene. Whatever may go in me, may go in me. I'm in the blood and the blood's in me.

The surgeon grabbed my bed by a railing at the foot and wheeled me down a series of halls, around corners, through doors, cheerily greeting colleagues along the way. It was impossible to overlook the infantile aspect of the experience. Or a dream where your bed is a car.

At the end I was asked to get up and I felt a vague irritation at this - wasn't I in bed already? I'm stricken, for Christ's sake. I have on backwards-forwards clothes and my body's hooked up to a plastic bag. I stepped gingerly through the swinging doors and into the operating theater. There was a forbidding padded plank in its center, with masked figures all around. Remove the top gown, I was told. Lie down. Put your arms out like this - that's right, like that. It occurred to me that I'd crucified myself - my arms were outstretched on the lateral extensions of the cross and all there was to do was drive the nails.

The anesthesiologist rematerialized. You comfortable? Good. Now we gonna give you something to relax you little bit.

It dawned on me to ask him what it was. What is it? There was a beat or two of pause. This was not a question he was accustomed to answering.

It's valium and, um, morphine.

Good,
I said, and I tried very, very hard to focus on the high, to know the high, to get inside of this high now, right here, now, this high right now, I watch the ceiling, feel it, to be high, to feel it, feel it, feel it, feel...

I woke up with a shot and no idea where the fuck I was. Why, what, light, who? OK, surgery. I just had surgery.



Illustration by Louise Asherson

Monday, November 24, 2008

Septoplasty - 3

I padded around the waiting area in my beige socks and both-ways gowns. No one seemed to have an immediate agenda for me. There I was a few feet from the desk, a few feet from the chairs. Neither coming from nor going to. Like one of the undead. Nurses clutching clipboards gossiped and fussed with paperwork and looked through me for awhile. Sit over there, I was finally told, and so I sat in the third row of an impromptu gallery of plastic chairs facing nothing, the kind of arrangement you see in a small-town DMV. I sat there and read New York magazine for a long, long time, an article about a memoirist who might be lying, as others around me came and went and I began to wonder whether I'd been forgotten or whether the whole thing had been some kind of mistake, some complete and hilarious misunderstanding: You thought what, sir? You thought you were getting surgery!?

Then very quietly someone came over and got me.
I turned the TV off tonight at the very moment that a bomb blast, seen from above the clouds, was radiating from ground zero.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I was walking down Madison Avenue about near Madison Square Park yesterday and from halfway across 29th Street I spied a tall woman standing beside the New York Life Building. It seemed odd that she was standing still - there was nothing to stand next to and she wasn't lighting a cigarette. She wasn't doing anything that people do when they suddenly stand right where they are. The wall was honeyed with the late afternoon sun. I walked past the Halal cart. "Best Halal in town." As I got closer I saw that the woman was doing something with her hands. They hung normally by her side but she was fluttering her fingers, the way a typist might loosen up her fingers before she types. She was beautiful, well-dressed and well-made-up. As I walked closer someone to the right barked a command and suddenly she was walking, and at once a battery of photographers took aim and shot her from a gallery at the edge of the sidewalk, crowded with lighting equipment, production assistants and hangers-on. I swerved between her and the others and looked back to see her stop, turn and walk back to her mark.

Septoplasty - 2

Do you drink? the kindly, motherly Asian nurse was asking me. Do you smoke? I had not yet been submitted to the indignities I knew were to come, the donning of the assless gown and padded sockies. In fact, there was a weird dignity to my present circumstances: I was seated in a high-backed chair against the wall, half-drawn curtains separating me from similar stations on either side. There was a thronelike quality to the chair and its position, its role in this ceremony of deference. A robotic-looking blood pressure machine stood like a sentry to my right. So this is what it's like to be king for a day. Any allergies?

Before long I had to go to the changing room and pile my clothes in the gunmetal gray locker. I was given two gowns and told to wear them each way. One forward and one backward. Go both ways. One way is life and the other is death. I took note of the pattern of rubberization on the soles of the beige ankle socks: It was a striation that could almost but not quite be termed decorative.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Septoplasty - 1

There were morbid moments that had the air of ceremony. On the form: List your next of kin. And the small, mustachioed man at the intake desk asking, Any particular religious preference? Funny way to ask that question. Like he was asking what vodka I wanted in a bloody mary. Whatever's fine, I should've said. But I said, emphatically, None at all, and his reaction was like that was precisely what he wanted and expected me to say. And when the surgeon handed me a form and said with a forced chuckle, This makes people nervous when we ask them; it really shouldn't, but we have to ask anyway. It was consent to receive a blood transfusion, should the need arise. Initial here. It didn't make me nervous. Once, the litany of questions asked again and again by various parties - Do you smoke? Do you drink? How much? Do you take drugs? Any allergies? - took an abrupt turn when recited by a clipboard-carrying nurse: Are you a Jehovah's Witness... at all? She stumbled a bit at the absurdity of it. I think that's why she added "at all," as though I might be one just a little and that may still pose some sort of problem. I'm thinking about it... I'm almost one, frankly. But I reassure her no. OK, because they don't take blood transfusions, she said quickly, and hurried to the next question.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Nader

We were sickened when Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election in 2000. We get chills imagining what a better world we'd inhabit if Nader had been just a bit pragmatic and thrown his support to Gore. We're outraged, now, at Nader's central claim - that there's no difference between Democrat and Republican, that it's like Coke and Pepsi, a Chomskian false choice. What profound differences there are, and would have been manifested these past eight years: on the environment; on the Constitution; on diplomacy; on governing, period. But there was always a part of me that respected the purity of Nader's views. His resolute stubbornness. His refusal to abandon principle even as a means to an arguably better end. It's the same part of me that whispers, Become a vegan or Throw out your TV. It's a faint, meek voice, masked by a thousand louder sounds, but daunting in its cold moral authority nonetheless.

So now it's sad to see Nader wonder out loud whether Barack Obama would be an Uncle Sam or an Uncle Tom (a point of view which was, poignantly, echoed by Al Qaeda in a statement by Bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahri). Fox News's Shepard Smith scolded him for it in words that drip with smug, sanctimonious reproach, and Nader did a pretty good job of calling Smith out as a typical TV news bully and defending his view (Obama's got a history of siding with corporations, supports an increase in the defense budget that's desired by the military-industrial complex, has a tax plan that doesn't address the needs of the poor, etc.), but there's something very depressing about seeing this cranky old idealist becoming more marginalized by the minute and lashing out like a petulant child.

Ralph, after all this time, all this effort, all that it means and may yet mean for Barack Obama to become President of the United States, can you please just drop it for a second? For one second, man. Be generous. Lift your perpetually hunched shoulders, that gray face, and say something positive, something. The weight of your dourness, of your sobriety - it's too much to bear. We've appreciated your tireless rages on our behalf, your fuck you to the man, your secular sainthood. But something's passed you by now. You're not helping this world anymore.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Spent the day prone on our couch, developing dull aches and cramps in my ass, neck and spine, the mundane curses of the indolent.
Getting lots of spam from Manoj Pmanoj lately. All in succession so it looks like this:

manoj pmanoj
manoj pmanoj
manoj pmanoj
manoj pmanoj
manoj pmanoj

That'll be a name to remember for a villain in a novel.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It seems to me that Bob Dylan's principal achievement was to be bold and imaginative enough to take the history of American folk music by the balls and make it his prison bitch.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Transition

The assembling of the cabinet, the ghostly authority exerted from a nebulous place. The sex-segregated White House tour. The ritual revelation of Secret Service code names.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Allentown

We were told to park at the international headquarters of Mack Trucks on Mack Boulevard. This was across the street from the UAW hall where the Obama campaign had set up tables in the parking lot, which in fact was only half-filled. We later learned that this was by design: They wanted people driving by to think that volunteers might still be needed, and so be tempted to stop and lend a hand. And so we found a space behind a row of gleaming new Mack tractors, and it felt good and fitting to have this brand - powerful, workmanlike, essentially American - quietly on our side.

There was a big bulldog on the wall of the headquarters and it lit up at night.

At the volunteer station there were hundreds of sandwiches in boxes on a table: ham and cheese, turkey and cheese, roast beef and cheese. Shrinkwrapped twelve-packs of bottled water. The utilitarian in abundance. Victuals, like those of a well-supplied resistance movement in wartime. I took a turkey sandwich and, along with about a dozen others, almost unthinkingly gravitated toward one of the organizers, a heavyset man named John. He thanked us and told us what we were out there to do: Get people to vote. We know we have the vote here, we know the polls support us. All we have to do is make sure people vote. And what if we see McCain supporters, or McCain volunteers? We don't want any arguments, we don't want any fights. Tell them have a nice day. Remember: This is their sad day. No need to make it worse.

They armed us with flyers and doorhangers and a map with our territory marked in Hi-Liter, and we went back across Mack and up the hill to the car. Our destination was a street of decrepit, broken-down rowhouses with peeling paint and cracks in the floors of porches. We saw two older white men and asked them what we'd been asked to ask everyone: Did you vote? Their manner was dismissive and ambiguous: It was unclear whether they had voted, or whether they were going to. One of them said, "I always vote." They seemed to support Obama, but maybe not. They were union guys, working guys. Lifelong Democrats. They indicated that everyone in the neighborhood was voting Obama. "Big surprise," one said, rolling his eyes. I knew at that moment that this was not strictly a poor white neighborhood.

For two hours we knocked on doors, then went back to get more maps and knocked for three hours more. Often there was no one home when we knocked, or maybe they didn't want to answer. Can't really blame them I suppose. Once I knocked on a screen door and could see straight down a debris-strewn hallway and into the kitchen, where a figure stood facing the other way. I knocked again. The figure remained, impassive, for a few more seconds then walked out of my sight at that deliberate pace with which we all move when we're in our homes and we know that we're alone.

"There's someone in there and they're ignoring me," I said to Sara, who was at the neighboring door.

"C'est la vie," she said.

Sometimes maybe the place was abandoned or condemned. Sometimes it was hard to say. I hesitated to knock on one door because it was so starkly forbidding that I was certain no one had lived there for months or maybe years. But it opened and a black face peered at me from the darkness.

"Did you vote?"

"Oh yes! Obama!"

Again and again, people told us they had already voted for Obama, or were about to go out and vote for Obama, or were waiting for their wives or boyfriends to get back home so they could both go vote for Obama. The day took on an air of celebration. People hooted at us from their cars, from across the street:

"Obama!"

"Obama baby!"

"Obama, Obama, Obama!"

A big, gruff, white biker type: Already voted, Obama. A white kid, dressed black in a bandanna, gold chain and oversize jeans: Obama. A middle-aged Hispanic couple: Just came back from voting Obama.

We met a fat, young white guy in a death metal T-shirt, arms covered in tattoos. He wanted Obama pins so I gave him mine. He'd voted but we urged him to tell other people to vote, his friends, anyone. A small woman who barely spoke English walked up and asked for directions to the polls and he told her.

We chatted with a middle-aged black woman who had just come back from voting.

"He better win. If he don' win there's gonna be..."

"Riots?"

"There's gonna be riots, that's for sure."

"I think he's gonna win."

"I sure do hope so, I sure hope so. Thing is, somebody's gonna try to, you know, go after him."

"I know. I think, I really think he's going to be well protected."

"I sure do hope so."

As people walked by she shouted out, "You vote yet, honey?"

"Obama!"

A white woman told us she wasn't registered to vote and seemed particularly jaded about this particular cycle. I tried to make the case for Obama anyway, lamely alluding to his tax breaks for the middle class.

"He's working for middle class people, working people," I said. I was afraid to say the word "poor."

"Middle class people? What about poor people like me?"

"Poor people too!"

She mentioned that she's a nurse and all her black coworkers are voting for Obama. Her eyes rolled like the other man's. She was a bit begrudging, almost like she didn't want black people to get a president. That somehow they'd capitalize on the situation and live the Life of Riley, undeservedly. Then her daughter and her daughter's friend came down the street and suddenly she brightened:

"My little girl loves Barack! She and her friend, they made T-shirts of him and wore 'em to school!"

She was glowing with pride, evidently immune to irony. I took a picture of her daughter (who, interestingly, looks a bit Hispanic) and one of her daughter's friend in their homemade Obama T-shirts, each one covered with the signatures of dozens of other kids like them.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Maybe now the Republican Party will fragment: Its more reasonable members can become Libertarians and the rest can form some odious faction akin to France's nationalist party or Germany's NDP. Is it not time to explode the two-party system anyway? Let's have a handful of vital ones while some fade like dead stars and some burst into being like the Big Bang. Let's elect Greens and independents and parties previously unimagined.
The American people have passed their test.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

George W. Bush Is Willy Loman

An article in the Washington Post about Bush's disheartened lackeys made me realize that he's a sad fucking Willy Loman figure, bewildered that he's not liked, idiotically uncomprehending of his toxic affect upon the world, an all-American tragic figure.

The Sorry Dance

I descended into the depths of the Duane Reade on 59th and 8th, looking for where they might sell money orders. Amidst the aisles and aisles of candy, paper towels and soap. Around a corner, I nearly ran into a middle-aged black woman with short hair and glasses. I feinted to my left; she to her right. We were momentarily suspended in space and time. Finally we do-si-do'd.

"Sorry!" she said. "Dance."

It was a funny interaction and a funny thing for her to say. It got me thinking about other sorry dances.

Like Larry Eagleburger being forced to apologize for criticizing Sarah Palin. He'd originally told the truth - that she is obviously not ready to be Vice President. He didn't savage her - he's a Republican, after all, and often cited by McCain as one of five former Secretaries of State who support him (not that he can remember them all ) - but he made a very sober and lucid assessment of her obvious lack of preparation and know-how. Transparently, someone from the campaign then dressed him down overnight, read him the riot act. I don't know what they might have said to him. He doesn't have a political future - he's 78 years old. Did they torture him? In effect, they cut off his cock. They forced him to humiliate himself on Fox News, to bow down low, to sweatingly and haltingly take back everything he'd said in serene sincerity the day before. It's suggestive of dissidents of authoritarian regimes being forced to recant or die. The Nazis, the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge. The Spanish Inquisition. Convert or die. Confess or die. Those demonic - worse than demonic, really - bargains. You sell your soul but get nothing in return. Honestly, what did they tell him to scare him straight? Or is he just that weak?

So that's the sorry dance. It's the jangly dance performed by a fool when those he's desperate to please pepper the floor beneath his feet with bullets.

Fortunately, a stranger's riding into town.

Obama will win big today.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Three days to go and there seems to be an eerie lull. Not much news, polls holding steady. No messages from the Middle East. No unseemly associations, nor unsavory deeds, dredged up from the past. What's gonna happen on Monday?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Nothin' Against the Man

I spent the end of the afternoon calling voters in battleground states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia. A disconcertingly large percentage of the numbers were out of service - either connecting to that future-robot woman's "I'm sorry, the number you are calling..." message or ringing for a while then abruptly shifting to shrieking electronic noise. Where did they get these fucking numbers? Are these the numbers from 2004?

Still others went to voice mail. Two giggling roommates reciting each word of their message in alternation before saying "Bye!" in giddy unison. An elderly woman in Ohio reciting hers in a singsongy near rap: "When-you-hear-the-beep, you-know-what-to-do..."

And a few answered. I dialed the number of a 29-year-old male in Ohio and a woman picked up, and cooly asked me who was calling. I explained that I was a volunteer for the Barack Obama Campaign for Change, and that I just wanted to talk about the election for a couple minutes, blah blah blah.

"He's deceased," she said.

"Oh? I'm very, very sorry to hear that. I..."

"He already voted, though. For Obama."

"Oh?"

"Yup. But now he's deceased."

"Really? OK. I... I'm sorry for your loss."

"Thank you."

"Goodbye."

"Goodbye."

Overwhelmingly, the people I spoke to were planning on voting, or already had voted, for Obama. Every person I spoke to in Ohio, in fact, had voted early for Obama. Dayton, mostly. Some were cheerful telling me this, some were terse and annoyed. But it was Obama, Obama, Obama. Finally, in West Virginia, I heard something different. An older-sounding woman picked up and I asked her for the male name on my list. Who is this? I gave her my spiel from the script.

"He's not here, and you wouldn't want to talk to him, believe me."

"We're happy to talk to anyone."

"Ha!"

"OK. Do you know who he supports in the el..."

"Lemme tell you, it's not gonna be that one."

I fucked up a bit with a Pennsylvania McCain supporter. She let me get through most of my spiel: Pennsylvania's gonna be real important in this election, I'd just like to ask a couple of questions if I can. Finally, I asked her who she was supporting.

"John McCain."

She said this in such an emphatic way that there was really nothing else to say. And in fact, there was nothing else to say in the script either, except "thank you" and "goodbye." But there she was on the other end of the line, awaiting words.

"OK, there you go. Well... Have a really great evening and..."

"Thank you."

"And, uh... good luck."

Just before I hung up I heard her on the other end of the line, in a tone of aghast outrage:

"Good luck?!?"

My most remarkable call was with a man in West Virginia, maybe 50 or so. He spoke in a mountain drawl and was a bit animated from the start, which made me afraid things might go bad. But it actually went something like this:

"Now listen, I ain't got nothin' against that man. Obama. Ain't got nothin' against him, ya hear?"

"Yup, that's great."

"I think I'm leaning a little bit to McCain."

I'd been wary, but I was surprised and encouraged by the words "leaning a little bit." I decided to depart recklessly from the script.

"Why is it that you feel that way?"

"Well, listen. I been hearin' this thing of how Barack Obama's gonna spread the wealth. And that is one thing I... That is one thing I cannot stand for. That is the one thing, I do not like that. Ain't got nothin' against the man."

"You know though, John McCain believes in exactly the same system of taxation that Obama was describing. That's the same system McCain believes in."

"Yeah I know, I know, but it's them words, ya know? Them words, spread the wealth."

"You think it's a poor choice of words."

"Yeah! Exactly. It's a poor choice of words. But it don't got nothin' to do with the man in any way! I been listenin' to him and he's intelligent, I like what he says mostly. Listen. I been a lifelong Democrat. But I voted for Bush in 2000 and in 2004. I voted for Bush in 2000 'cause Gore wanted to take my guns away, and ya see, I'm a hunter..."

"You know that Barack Obama specifically does not want to take guns away from hunters..."

"Yeah, I know that. I know that. Now, I did not vote for Kerry 'cause I hated Kerry. Hated the man. But then Bush wasn't so good neither."

"Exactly."

"Listen, some of my friends, they called me racist. I ain't no racist. But some of my friends, they called me racist 'cause in the primary, they asked me who I was votin' for, I said Hillary. Now, they accuse me of racism. I tell them, if I'd a voted for him they woulda accused me of sexism."

"That's a very, very good point."

"It don't matter to me what color you are or what gender you are."

"That's great, it's really great to hear that."

"It's just that if he means to take my money that I make and spread it around, I can't take that."

"You know that with Obama as president, you'd get a tax cut if you make less than $200,000 a year, right? And John McCain would be giving his tax cut to rich people. Obama's going to help working people keep more of their money."

"Yeah, I heard about that."

"And health care - he's going to save every family $2,500 on health care by fighting the insurance companies."

"Yeah, that's good."

"If you look at the issues, you can see how much more he can help people. See, the thing about a choice of words is that it's been a long campaign, and lots of things have been said, so sometimes someone uses a poor choice of words. Happens to everybody. But you gotta look past the words sometimes to see what the actual policies are all about. See who cares about the issues that are most important to you and to your loved ones."

"I know whatcha mean. I got nothin' against the man, nothin' against the man. I ain't decided about the whole thing, that's the truth."

"Is there anything else about Obama that you have questions about?"

"This one other thing, ya know, this thing I been hearin' that if Obama is elected it'll be him an' Pelosi an' whatshisname, uh, Henry, uh..."

"Harry Reid."

"Yeah, all of them together, that it ain't good for the country because they get to spread the money around anyway they like. But I dunno..."

"Yeah, I don't think it's like that. I think John McCain kind of feels like he's up against the ropes right now, and every day he tries saying something different, and that's because he doesn't have anything good to say to people about policies and what he would actually do."

"Yeah, I suppose it's like that, yeah. I dunno. I'm thinkin' 'bout it. I dunno what I'm gonna do."

"This has been a really great conversation, and it sounds like you're still thinking about things, and that's great."

"Oh yeah! I'll be thinkin' 'bout it, that's for sure. I won't know what I'm gonna do until I'm right up there in that booth."

"You've got a few days to think about everything, and, you know, obviously, on Tuesday, I hope you make the decision for Obama."

"You know what, I think I'm leaning in that direction."

As I brought the dishes to the sink I heard the shrieking of a woman on the street. The sound was guttural and strangulated, near-human, like the barking of a dog.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

He's Black!

The gnawing fear I have in my gut right now, about the election, is this: At the penultimate moment, National Guard soldiers will be called in to block the polls. They'll be arrayed in well-practiced formations around the perimeters, legs spread slightly, M-16s at the ready across their chests. Commanders will engage tactfully with the puzzled citizenry who'd hoped to exercise their franchise. They'll wave their arms: "No, no, no. Go home everyone. Go home peacefully, please."

"Why? What's going on?"

"No voting today, folks. Go home. Go peacefully."

"What do you mean, no voting?"

"There's no voting. John McCain has won. Go home."

"What do you mean he won?"

"There can be no election, people. There is no voting today. There is no voting for Barack Obama."

"No voting for Barack Obama?"

"He's BLACK. HE'S BLACK, FOLKS. The election is over. There is no voting. There is no voting for a black man. Go home."

Government officials and the Republican high and mighty will be on all the networks, asserting minute variations of the same message: "There can be no election today; one of the candidates is black. How dare anyone think that our nation might actually have gone through with this? Anyone who thought they could vote for Barack Obama is a fool. Of course they can't. He's BLACK. You didn't expect us to actually put our nation in that sort of peril, did you? You'll be glad we intervened. It's over now. Everyone remain calm."

There will be a flurry of outrage, but by the end of the afternoon we'll all grow tired, hungry. Docile. We'll cook dinner and eat it in front of reality TV, placing salty forkfuls in our mouths, masticating unhappily. We might cry a tear or two of shame. Really, what were we thinking? How naive, how stupid. To think we might have, today, voted a black man to the presidency of the United States! Of course they stopped us. Of course. What did we expect?

OK, that's my fear. If it doesn't happen, I think Obama's got a pretty good chance.



Illustration by Louise Asherson

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We said funny, the rain in Philly on TV's not up here, but a minute later, it was, beating on the roof and windows. And now it's gone.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It was my turn so I asked M., who'd had his turn before. He told me where the meetings were being held.

"Go down the hall as far as you can go, basically. And then turn left."

I strode past islands of cubicles of people I never knew, noting the pictures of their kids and the novelty mugs and wilting flowers on their desks. The backs of their strange necks as they endured their interface with the screen. Finally I arrived at the most distant corner of the building, the ultimate point. The Lincoln Conference Room. N. was in there with K., a corpulent human resources manager with too much foundation on her face. Handshakes and hellos, enforced good cheer. N. had a pallor and an unsteady gaze. He seemed to begin many sentences, but only ended two or three. "You're job is being terminated" was one, simple enough, an easy one.
I hear the chugging of the dishwasher downstairs, the rattle of an errant saucer.

Then it stops. It thinks. It starts again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Uniquely Manhattan Situation

I rode up Broadway on the M7 with N. from work, who'd enlisted me to help carry his washer and dryer from the master bedroom to the laundry nook of his new apartment, currently under renovation in a luxurious, Art Deco building on 72nd Street, a housing situation so fraught with legal acrimony, expense and painful, thankless labor that he confessed to me he might just give the whole thing up.

"That's a uniquely Manhattan situation right there," I noted, and he nodded vigorously.

Upstairs, his place - a beautiful, spacious two-bedroom with closets everywhere and a terrace out back facing the rear of some venerable old hotel - was dark and litter-strewn, silty with Sheetrock dust, a phenomenal shambles. A folding chair before a folding table bearing a solitary screwdriver. Buckets and piles of vague supplies. A printer, a TV, some other objects of normal living forming a poignant totem pole in the bathtub. A big roll of masking paper wound into a scroll, like a blank Torah on the floor. Holes in the wall awaiting switches and outlets, with multicolored wire-nutted wires erupting from the mysterious realms within their depths. N., conveying pride and queasy disgust in equal measures, tore some paper off the window so I could see the view.

We finagled the washer, then the dryer, into place. He thanked me, shook my hand. I said it's OK. He thanked me again. No problem, I'll see you tomorrow. He thanked me again and helped me with the door. Did I need help finding my way out? No. He thanked me, then thanked me again when I was halfway down the hall.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I've been intrigued by John McCain's recent reactions to questions from his audiences about Barack Obama - in particular the episode where an elderly woman asserted to him that Obama is an Arab. It's "good," of course, that McCain corrected the woman by countering that Obama is "decent, a family man, a citizen" and so on (although he doesn't bother to challenge the premise that there's something wrong with being an Arab, which CNN's Campbell Brown, among others I'm sure, has spoken out about). On the other hand, the pressure on McCain to settle down his increasingly bloodthirsty, vehement audience has been great - he probably had to do something whether he wanted to or not. His decision to so so might have been calculated, even timed somewhat - he used it in the debate last night, to claim that he'd taken steps to elevate the discourse but that Obama's campaign hadn't (a weak and laughable tactic, but what else does he have?). And of course, this might have been among the last glimmers of his fading moral conscience. He has shown it in the past, after all. But what really strikes me is his demeanor before he contradicts the woman. Watch the video again. When she says she "can't trust" Obama, McCain nods impatiently, the way you do when you're hearing something you wish you weren't hearing but you have to indulge for some reason. And after she calls him an Arab there's a dreadful beat before he starts repeating, "No ma'am" and takes the mic from her. Watch his face - ashen, tense, rueful. I imagine that in that moment the wheels were turning furiously in his head: "Do I have to say something? Fuck, I have to say something. Goddammit." And he forces himself - a personification of the expression "bite the bullet" - to produce the words and the body language that in the end form a quite gracious gesture toward Obama, the way these kinds of gestures often come off when they are produced under great duress (again, apologies are owed to the millions upon millions of Arabs who may rightly be insulted). It's to his credit that he did it, but also to his discredit that it was evidently that difficult. It was a complex, powerfully dramatic moment - it could have been McCain saving his reputation, saving himself as a politician, saving himself as a human being. He'd probably like to think he was saving his campaign, but I don't think that's the case.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The All-American Witch Hunt

The increasing venom of crowds at McCain-Palin rallies indicates that a certain segment of the population has taken the innuendo and slanderous accusations of unscrupulous Republican campaign strategists completely literally. In other words, they believe that Obama is a Muslim terrorist. They imagine that through some strange and cruel chain of events, the evil "other" represented by 9/11 hijackers and by Osama bin Laden is now incarnate in the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. Many of these people already hold some form or other of Biblical apocalypse fantasy alive in their imaginations, so it is not hard for them to believe that God is testing, or Satan is tempting, the good people of our country in this election as some necessary step in a process that also includes the breakdown of our civilization (i.e., economy), a war with heathens in the Middle East, the End of Days (global warming?) and the Rapture. Considering this point of view, it's not terribly difficult to understand why some people consider Obama's identity as the Antichrist to be a matter of fact beyond any question whatsoever. So it's even sort of poignant when, for example, a woman tells McCain how terrified she is of Obama because he "is an Arab." She really believes Obama is an Arab and is terrified that the United States will be ruled by an Arab terrorist. It's easy for us - the "reality-based community" - to dismiss a lot of the Republican lies and smears about Obama as laughable and obviously untrue. Of course, that's what they are. But the mistake we're making is to trust that while some are laughing and others are keeping a straight face, everyone is in on the joke. That even if McCain supporters want to believe them or pretend that they're true, they must know they're lies. The chilling fact is that many people believe them wholeheartedly, sincerely. They are terrified to the core of their souls that Barack Obama, an Islamist terrorist, will be elected president. "Kill him!" "Off with his head!" they scream. This election is an all-American witch hunt. That's what we're up against.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An Open Letter to Camille Paglia

Camille Paglia, though an Obama supporter, really likes Sarah Palin and is ridiculing anyone who disagrees.

Camille: You say, "People who can’t see how smart Palin is are trapped in their own narrow parochialism — the tedious, hackneyed forms of their upper-middle-class syntax and vocabulary." Then, in an astounding and head-spinning paragraph, you compare Palin's tortured expression to that of your Italian-American relatives, the "expressiveness of highly talented students in dance, music and the visual arts," and finally, to Shakespeare, "the greatest improviser of them all at a time when there were no grammar rules."

While it may be true that Sarah Palin has discarded the rules of English and is improvising furiously, I've read William Shakespeare, and she, Sarah Palin, is no William Shakespeare.

Camille: You're transparently, painfully, chronically eager to play the contrarian, to fly in the face of "liberal orthodoxies," to knock your fellow intellectuals and academics down a peg. Do you do it to sustain yourself, to define yourself and find a reason to survive? You just do it for fun, in the end, don't you? Admit it.

Here's a quote from Sarah Palin at the vice-presidential debate:

"I'm not one to attribute every man — activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man's activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet. But there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don't want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?"

She doesn't want to argue about the causes but wants to "positively affect the impacts"?!

Camille, how dare you undermine the importance of coherent thought and diction 1) as a person of coherent thought and diction, 2) for any reason whatsoever, and 3) in a potential president of the United States!? You have made a career out of your own athletic, virtuosic command of language. It is a hypocritical, cynical and PERVERSE game that you are playing by lending your own linguistic skills in defense of someone who is plainly struggling to form more than one sentence at a time that makes any sense at all. We're trapped in the hackneyed forms of our upper-middle-class syntax, are we? You've got a worse problem altogether. You're so good with words that you can eloquently disparage eloquence. And you can't resist the temptation.

Something also needs to be said about Palin's character, apart from her mind. You praise her "frontier grit and audacity," which suggests that she has some deep-seated, indomitable spirit. I think it's more likely you were seduced, like so many others, by the notion of a lipsticked hot girl shooting a moose. She has - in collaboration with McCain campaign handlers - withdrawn almost completely from media inquiry (not that she was too engaged to begin with). For the sake of argument, let's say the media are biased to the left, that they might set traps for Palin, that Katie Couric is a "viper." This is still the "filter," to coin Palin's term, through which the people in a free society learn about their politicians, their country, the world. For a vice-presidential candidate to respond to journalists' questions so incoherently and opaquely, then to cry "foul," and ultimately to recoil from the media with a month to go before this crucial election is shallow and craven in the highest degree. Barack Obama went on O'Reilly!

Camille, for Christ's sake. This person wants to be vice president of the United States. I know it's cute and fun and cheeky to be as smart as you are and yet to elevate stupidity. (I think you tipped your hand when you wrote, "As a Yale Ph.D., I have a perfect right to my scorn." A self-hating genius! Who knew.) But here's the problem: There is a culture in our country, I'm sure you'll agree, that is wary of intellectuals the way people once were (and in some cases still are) wary of blacks, or of Jews. I'm going to try not to point my snobbish finger at any particular group right now, but I think you'd be hard pressed to deny that a very big part of the George W. Bush phenomenon, and thus a key reason we are in such dire straits today at home and abroad, is that Bush and his ilk managed to demonize book smarts, intellectualism, Ph.D.'s and so on as elite, effete, out of touch, you know, gay. (I wonder if Palin's church has a program for sinners to "journey away" from thought.) You should be careful what you're promoting as you laugh heartily at your TV set. Don't underestimate the hysterical venom that the Bush era has actually managed to inspire in Americans against people like you - like us. Don't we agree that we need a change, at last?

You celebrate Sarah Palin's vitality and underestimate her stupidity at our peril.
As I crossed the no-man's land near the side door between our side of the office and the other I came across a stupefying sight: A man in ordinary business clothes, tending to fresh pages from a copy machine, wearing a ludicrous magic-marker mustache, curled at the tips. Our eyes met for the briefest moment and his expression was solemn and weary, betraying nothing.

You Couldn't Make This Stuff Up

In the office above the fancy restaurant, through the sheer curtain: the silhouette of a printer.

A Coke bottle on the hood of a bright red car.

And down in the tracks of the uptown 1 at 50th Street, several family-size squeeze bottles of Heinz tomato ketchup.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Take (To the Item)

You may think GATT stands for General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. I learned otherwise at my Duane Reade today. I was waiting at the pharmacy counter in the back of the store, a tiny, two-aisle outpost that opened weeks ago just as the big one a couple of blocks down closed, a sign of these lean times, perhaps. The workers-only area behind the counter already had a sign up warning employees: "No cellphones, no food, no drink, no magazines." I imagined this had been mandated by the crotchety old pharmacist in charge, a living New York City type: brusque, gruff, bitter, unfulfilled; and yet charmingly chatty when the mood struck. Beside this sign was another, more fascinating one:

Always remember GATT!!

G - Greet
A - Anticipate
T - Take (to the item)
T - Thank

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sometimes when you see a George Bush press conference on TV - when they're not really showing any questions and answers, but they just want a bit of coverage to let you know this is what they're talking about - they shoot Bush in profile, and you can see his posture behind the lectern. Watch next time. He keeps one of his feet - his left? - up on the tip of his shoe, as though he were kicking the floor, or in fact as if his foot were broken and he'd been dragging it behind him. I'm tempted to say this points out some deep-seated corruption in his soul, a fundamental lack of character. But it's probably more in the category of things that have, dangerously, endeared him to people. It's winning and childlike, almost girlish - the gesture of an overanimated adolescent who doesn't yet know how to still her hungry limbs. In a sense it belies any notion of him as a tyrant, a torturer, a war criminal. But it emblemizes his particular sociopathy: the wide-eyed boy-king, oblivious; unwise to the world and to the deleterious consequences of his power.

Monday, October 06, 2008

There's a sepulchral quiet at the bar at a minute to one on Sunday afternoon. A nice guy and his dog. A man slumped back in his chair at the bar, watching some terrible baseball documentary. The so-called glory days of Sosa and McGwire. We ask for TVs turned on to our respective games and the flickering glow intensifies the silence. Finally, I ask for some volume.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The carpet had tiny little flowers. The carpet was maroon. And where there was a seam, a seam in the carpet - where there was a seam that once had opened - a seam that once had opened, had opened so that fabric might erupt. Erupt, trip up a drunken player as he circumnavigated. As he circumnavigated the table. There was safety orange tape.

The chalk made a little melody upon the cue stick tip.

A fat man in a little shirt.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

There's an interesting passage in Bob Woodward's new book, "The War Within," as described in Jill Abramson's review in The New York Times:

In "Plan of Attack," the author’s doubts grow. When Bush tells him that "freedom is God’s gift to everybody in the world. . . . I believe we have a duty to free people," Woodward, in a rare interpolation, asks whether such a conviction might seem "dangerously paternalistic." "Those who become free appreciate the zeal" is the president’s retort.

"Those who become free appreciate the zeal?" I read and reread this apparent non-sequitur with some fascination. What could Bush possibly mean? Certainly he's had a history of offering churlish, dismissive responses to reporters, especially when he feels cornered. But there's something especially odd in the specificity of his statement here, given that it does not follow from the question. I felt there was something there to puzzle out, and here's my theory: George Bush does not know what "paternalistic" means. Of course, he's not going to betray his ignorance - he's going to think on his feet and make some half-assed guess as to what it may mean, cross his fingers, and toss out a reply. I think he assumed the root of "paternalistic" was the word "pattern," and that Woodward was therefore accusing him of trying to impose some sort of pattern upon the world. Therefore, he may well be accused of, or applauded for, zeal, in the sense of the zeal of an infant intent on fitting pegs into the appropriately shaped holes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

WAKE UP AMERICA! Part 1

Predictably, McCain's people have McCain saying that Obama is using the financial crisis as a "political opportunity." McCain has seized every opportunity to accuse Obama of seizing opportunity lately - he's done it with Iraq, he's done it with race, he's done it with Obama's own success. Is McCain doing it for his health? To alert the American people that the man he's campaigning against is campaigning against him? Thanks, John. I have to say that these weakass, whiny, bitchy little complaints make McCain look awful - less than a man, frankly. It would all seem to bolster Obama's current strength and good chances, and McCain's desperation. But as we've seen in the past, don't underestimate the odious combination of utter unscrupulousness and desperation in politics, nor the susceptibility, shall we say, of voters to it.

WAKE UP AMERICA!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Each plane at night is a story of safe passage through the darkness, its persistent blinking a reassuring beacon in the cold and empty sky. But there don't seem to've been too many of 'em flying over us these past few days. Every time I'm out on the deck at night I look up at the moon and at whatever stars I might discern. No planes.

"They change their flight paths sometimes," Steve remarked today.

I hope that's all it is.

Friday, September 19, 2008

All during dinner there was a rivalry between tables four and six.

"We're the greatest," we'd say. "We're the greatest table. Table six!" And we'd raise our glasses. Table four would wave their hands dismissively.

Later on as the dance floor emptied and the crowd thinned out, I was standing by myself. A guy from table four came by.

"You guys are from that subservient table!" he declared.

"Subservient?" I said.

"Subversive! Subversive! I meant subversive! I'm drunk! I'm drunk! Subversive!"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I just want to hole up somewhere and hold my breath, cross my fingers till election day.

The Streak - 8

Kyle was indistinctly involved with the other girl, his back to Evan. In the darkness it was hard to tell. For all Evan knew she had Kyle's cock between her tits. Or they were talking about their parents. Kyle reached out and slapped Evan on the shoulder.

"You got the goods?"

Evan didn't hear what Kyle said but he knew it meant yes. Kyle reached into the right pocket of his jacket and brought out something in his fist. Evan held out his hand and presently there appeared in the palm of his hand a glass bullet with about two grams of cocaine. Evan twisted the valve and applied the bullet to his right nostril, closed his left with his left index finger, and took a hungry snort. Immediately he smelled the Band-Aid smell of blow suffusing his nasal cavity, and felt that familiar, cold and sterile burn. Then he tasted the sickly, bitter drip go down the back of his throat and it felt like someone had opened up his heart and shined a flashlight in. He'd needed a pick-me-up.

"Lemme get a taste," said Kyle.

"Ladies first," said Juniper, and Evan dutifully passed it to her, and she did some and handed it to Kyle, who handed it to whatshername, why is it that Kyle didn't introduce her yet by name? Should I ask her what her name is?, thought Evan, but would he think I wanted to fuck her? No, I'll ask him what her name is - but then Jupiter or Mars will be upset; I'll ask her what the other girl's name is: "What's your friend's name?" Evan foresaw himself asking, or better yet: "So, what's your friend's name?" because it sounds nicer that way somehow, with the so, but why do I care about a stripper's feelings?

"Oh yeah, Mick Jagger died."

"What?"

"Mick Jagger died."

"What?"

"Mick. Jagger. Died."

"What?"

"Mick Jagger died of the Rolling Stones."

"I can't hear you," Kyle said, craning his head ever closer.

"Don't come near me with your ugly head."

"What did you say about death?"

"I said Mick Jagger is dead."

"You did not just say Mick Jagger is dead."

"I've said it many times and I'll say it again."

"There is no way Mick fucking Jagger is fucking dead!"

There was a pause and everything and everybody in the room seemed to pulse with breathless desperation.

"We live in unusual times, my friend."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A big woman on the corner of 51st and 6th, a worker in some capacity or other. Security guard, maybe. She was chatting with the FedEx man, a thin, bent figure with a cumbersome cart in tow. She pulled out a Kool and stuck it into her mouth.

"How she doin'?" the man said.

"Who she? Michelle? She doin' great. She back in school now."

"Uh-huh, uh-huh," the man nodded.

"She enjoys school very much."

I looked to my left and a Hispanic family was standing at the crosswalk, squinting into the glaring traffic. The woman was petite, sexy, and the man was just a little taller than her, with a short, thin beard and a baseball cap. He was pushing a carriage with a young girl who appeared to have some deformity, perhaps a palsy. An excited boy stood beside his mother and pointed something out up in the air. They all looked.

Behind them a vagrant fumbled ominously with his fly.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I Want Tony Kornheiser, that Racist Imbecile, Fired NOW

Granted I'm in a bad mood because the Eagles lost, but Tony Kornheiser is a total fucking jackass. Whereas John Madden might be accused of being the master of the obvious, Kornheiser is the master of the obviously fucking stupid.

The fourth stupidest thing Tony Kornheiser said tonight:


He said Donovan McNabb had to be especially fired up getting out on the field because T.O. just scored a touchdown.

Are you fucking kidding me? McNabb doesn't need to be any more fired up. And he doesn't give a fuck if T.O. scores, except that it's six points against his team. The promotion of the alleged McNabb-T.O. rivalry, a figment of T.O.'s imagination to begin with and at this point a complete non-issue, is infantile and seeks to reduce the NFL to the level of pro wrestling or, worse yet, some kind of overwrought soap opera for men. Kornheiser is the type of stupid cocksucker who buys into this shit and we have to hear about it when we're trying to watch a goddamn game on a Monday night.

The third stupidest Tony Kornheiser said tonight:

In spite of everything, you have to admit T.O. is a great receiver. Don't you, everyone? I mean, c'mon.

Jesus Christ help us. OF COURSE he's a great receiver for Christ's fucking sake. You also have to admit that the sky is blue, that war is heck and that warm apple pie à la mode is delicious. Right, Tony? Let's go down the whole list next week.

The second stupidest Tony Kornheiser said tonight:

The Cowboys are the "greatest," or "most valuable," or "biggest" or some stupid shit like that sports team in the world, more so than the Yankees.

What kind of childlike jerkoff even has this conversation in the first place? It's akin to seven-year-olds arguing about which color is the most awesome color ever or whether a truck is cooler than a motorcycle. What a moron. Where does he come up with this?

The stupidest thing Tony Kornheiser said tonight:

It was some kind of celebration of Hispanic-American Month at Texas Stadium, I guess. A weird and tense theme in the first place - there are millions of illegals in Texas and millions of Texans who hate them just as they eat food that's been prepared by them, live and work in buildings that are built by them, and rely on them for countless dirty, dreary tasks. ESPN's idea of a homage was to have Hank Williams, Jr. blurt out "Andele!" before the performance of his stupidass, redneck football song and to occasionally post the score between "Los Águilas de Philadelphia" and "Los Vaqueros de Dallas."

Cute, guys. Nice. Way to get some intern on Babelfish and throw the Hispanic population of this country a bone. Are you kidding me?

But it gets worse. After they replayed the Spanish-language broadcast of the Cowboys' kick return for a touchdown, Kornheiser's idea of a tribute was to say that he only knows high school Spanish, and he's not sure what the announcer was saying, but it was either "No one can touch him" or "Can you pick up my dry cleaning tomorrow?" I'm not sure I have the exact words right but I have not exaggerated anything. Evidently, the network sent the booth a message that Tony would have to apologize and he dutifully did so, much later in the game, without referring specifically to the initial incident.

I try to be open minded when most things like this happen - it does our free society no good to crucify everyone who breaches some dogmatic code of political correctness. But FUCK THIS GUY AND FIRE HIM. If he weren't such a fucking jackass in the first place, a comment like that might be forgiven as unintended somehow, or misguided without being meanspirited. But in the context of the night's half-assed tribute to Hispanics, and given Kornheiser's dimwitted discourse, he gets extra demerits. I WANT HIM GONE.

Monday, September 15, 2008

We watched them get married as behind them, planes landed on the water.

It was the type of wedding, almost no one smoked.

I dutifully let the men's room attendant turn the faucets for me, pump two dollops of hand soap in my hand, give me a towel and take the towel, close the water. A crumpled dollar later and formalities.

Outdoors, from time to time water would splatter off some gutter on the roof and into some runoff chute into the river. This was the Water Club, after all. The perpetually moored boat, deck done up in mini-golf green.

The East River was just about the same color as the sky.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The man behind me at Yankee Stadium was recounting the number of times he'd been to jail, and where. Texas, Utah, Connecticut. Germany.

"Germany?" said his friend. "What the hell were you doing in Germany?"

"Military?" asked his other friend.

"I was in the military."

"Right, right, military," said the friend.

"Military," he said. "I spent five nights in jail with two stab wounds. My ex-wife stabbed me and I was on the floor and I told her when I get up off this floor I'm gonna kill you, and the neighbors heard me and that was that. Didn't see no doctor for five days."

"That must have been... How'd you... You must have..." said one friend.

"It sucked," he said.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The news that W. is sending Special Ops to Pakistan without the approval of the Pakistani government can mean only one thing: This is the October surprise. Mark my words: There will be an announcement in mid- to late October that Osama bin Laden has been captured. It will be a moment of pure vindication for Bush, allowing him to strut and preen and prattle on a bit about how history will view this moment, how our sacrifice has been great but our cause just, etc., etc. There will be the implication, as there was in the capture of Sadam Hussein, that one man - our man, our president - has humiliated another man for the sake of the clan. And the corollary of course is that only tough talking, Republican men do that. Sure enough, McCain will glide into office. He'll have a stroke in early 2012, making Sarah Palin president and ushering in a dark decade of warmongering, religio-fascism and economic mayhem that future historians will marvel at the way an avid mortician scrutinizes a bludgeoned corpse, but that's beside the point for now.

These hideous, corrupt, power-mad and murderous cocksuckers have waited seven years to the day to play this card. They could have picked up bin Laden any damn time. But why waste a trump? It's akin to the 3/11 Madrid bombing. Hit them when it hurts. Hit us when it hurts.

If you're inclined to, pray that this doesn't occur, as it surely can't be God's plan.



Thursday, September 11, 2008

Saved

The thing that really chills me about the speech Sarah Palin gave at that speaking in tongues church, the Wasilla Assembly of God, is the peculiarly glib attitude she has about religion and spirituality. I don't know of any evidence that her faith is insincere or shallow, but what do you make of someone who hits the stage and says, "It was so cool growin' up in this church and gettin' saved here"?

Gettin' saved? That was cool? I'm irreligious, but I've always dutifully given big, mainstream religious experiences plenty of respect - the benefit of the doubt, perhaps, but ultimately more than that: Religion being such a contentious and fraught topic in our country, indeed in our world, I think it's fair to enter any debate about it with the assumption that the faithful actually have profound experiences that they ascribe to God. Others may disagree as to the source of that experience - rationalists would trace it no further than the firing of synapses in the brain - but it seems churlish to deny that the pious are subjectively feeling something powerful, mysterious, ineffable; something sublime. But gettin' saved? What the fuck is that?

Aw shucks. 'Member when we were growin' up, goin' to school, skinny dippin' in the pond, gettin' saved? 'Member that? It was so cool when we'd pile in the pickup truck and head to Taco Bell, eat chalupas in the parking lot. Have unprotected sex. Get saved.

Was it cool gettin' saved, Sarah? Was it really? Why? What does it mean to be saved? You think your barren land's a refuge for the holy as they await the rapture. Finally, the parsing of good and damned. That's cool too, right?

Things to do today:

Snow machine to garage
Buy Thinsulate gloves
Willow to OB-GYN
Get kids saved


Where did this banal, cherry Jell-O spirituality come from? Why is this nauseating tendency, this maddening mix of hypocrisy, arrogance (our will is God's will), smug self-regard and intolerance, all framed in supreme, bourgeois shallowness, particularly American?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Saved

My dad had an old college friend, Tomas Bitter. A Swiss man, swarthy, manic. He and his wife Françoise lived up on a twisty flower-lined road, in a chalet overlooking Lake Geneva. They had a platoon of ruddy children, with a cantankerous, Germanic grandmother who lived in the little house across the street.

They were God-promised Calvinists, and this fact - probably told to me by my mother, so mundane and so derisive, one day, over her shoulder in a car - inhabited their home like some spectral presence. Everything seemed peculiarly clean and quiet, with inanimate objects - chairs and bookcases - manifesting unworldly gravity.

One day I was looking through their album collection - a sad, bourgeois and perfunctory row filling half a shelf as I recall, careful not to crowd the tchochkes. One of the kids had a copy of Bob Dylan's "Saved" in there and I pulled it out, mesmerized by the garish, bleeding hand. I must have been nine or ten - I don't think I knew that this was Christ's hand, reaching down from the heavens to the outstretched hands of his children below. I might have thought it was meant to be Bob Dylan's hand. However, I also knew that this album had something to do with the religion of the people who lived in this house and, more properly, with the solemn, pious spirit they shared it with. But the blood, the flesh; the trembling, outstretched fingers: it was so carnal. The idea that these two things might somehow be connected, I'll never forget.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

We should be ashamed of how we reacted to 9/11, all of us, with the exception of those who did the dirty digging in the immediate aftermath of course, suffocating on air the government deemed safe. But as for those of us who merely wheeled shopping carts of PowerBars and Gatorade to 14th Street; who stood in line in the sun to give blood when no blood was needed; who invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq; who detained dark-skinned innocents for no reason, then deported them for torture, all the while satisfying our incipient craving for chipotle and wandering the winter City as the cold, still-acrid air stiffened our coke-white iPod cords: shame.

This Morning

"Perfect! Perfect! Perfect! Perfect! Perfect!" hollered the lunatic of Verdi Square. I wondered whether it might be a command.

Monday, September 08, 2008

It was a day spent facing the television, a posture more draining than it appears. It was the first big day of football, and the Eagles won big, looked great; meanwhile, the Yankees tiptoed away quietly, miserably, almost invisibly in a 5-2 loss to the lowly Mariners.

It's all coming back now: leaves sprung loose from trees, darkness in the afternoon, the innate cold of things and plays whistled dead.
I'm haunted by half-read New Yorkers, open to some article or other with some insufferable, punning title. I'm bracing myself for them to penetrate my dreams.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

One reason to worry if you're an Obama supporter is that in spite of the substance of Republican philosophy, very much in evidence in McCain's history and platform - the predilection for war, the reluctance to govern for the common good, the reflexive fear-mongering and "values" pandering - Republicans are now trying to co-opt the Democrats' message. You hear a lot about "change" and "cleaning up Washington" from the McCain campaign. You've got to sort of admire the nerve. They're skimming the cream from the top of Obama's cup and dumping it into the cold bottom of theirs, with apparent impunity. Every grand and beautiful thing that Obama says - no problem, they'll just say it, too. I like to imagine that one of Karl Rove's lackeys, now working for McCain, had this revelation after weeks of "Curse you, Barack Obama! You're so good!" fist shaking. Eureka. Never mind that bringing change to Washington means changing eight years of grotesque mismanagement by George W. Bush and the (until very recently) Republican Congress. Like so many Machiavellian tactics, this one has an infantile simplicity at the heart of it; it's like children pathetically parroting each other's insults. "Say anything and the people will believe it" cynicism has evolved, or devolved, to "if the people believe what the others are saying, say that." Again, a saving grace is that it reeks of desperation upon the slightest examination. All we really need from undecideds this November is for them to think twice.
A few thoughts as I watch McCain's speech at the RNC:

The bio video preceding his speech was scored with what seemed like an obvious knockoff of the "Dallas" theme. Are they just trying to drill the "more drilling" theme into our heads?

Are they crazy, using the dreaded green screen behind him?

Wow, Cindy McCain looks like a faded porn star. I might also add that the cunt plasters on the makeup like a trollop.

Holy shit, a protester - and the cameras stayed on her awhile. Someone tore a pink flag out of her hands, balled it up and threw it on the ground. Gay and lesbian rights? She ran down an aisle with her hands up in V signs - "peace," I suppose, but it seemed like mad, defiant victory.

The background's blue now - someone fixed it and someone else is getting their ass yelled at.

My friends, I propose to bring to our great nation a new drinking game: Drink every time McCain says "my friends."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

We went to the Yankees-Red Sox last week, with Mike G. and CK and a guy from Denver. The new stadium's crane loomed above the third base wall and a blimp hovered above it all, for the if in life. It was a miserable and ominous 11-3 loss. Whenever Jeter or A-Rod came to bat the stands would erupt with useless, twinkling flashes. Futility before futility.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I was a bit surprised that Paul Krugman defended Obama for going after McCain's inability to remember how many houses he owns. It seems to me that if you don't want the Republicans to castigate you as an intellectual elitist (which Obama is), don't castigate your opponent for being a wealth elitist (which McCain most certainly is). A better point to make - and I'm not sure how to make it in this twisted political landscape - is that it's far better to be an intellectual elitist than a wealth elitist. If you went to Harvard Law, you're an elitist; if you can't remember how many houses you own, you are one too. But which kind is more likely to have the know-how, poise and breadth of diplomatic and other skills necessary to lead the country?

This notion that intellectuals are to be distrusted, this creepy idea that Nixon internalized and that Karl Rove and George W. Bush externalized and perfected, seems to haunt us still - even after its disgraceful consequences in our recent past. It's far more damaging than your run-of-the-mill campaign canard; in fact, it's fascist. It's Bolshevik. And Islamist, too. Totalitarian regimes, and the philosophies that gird them, have long repressed, demonized, ridiculed and even slaughtered the intellectual class. Why? Because intellectuals are the types of people who have the brains and insight to stop evil people, such as Republicans and terrorists, from doing whatever the fuck they want. It's always been easy for regimes to repress the intellectual class, because "regular" people - be they blue-collar Americans, the Russian proletariat or the Iraqi poor - are exceedingly susceptible to class resentment. This is a very easy button for propagandists to push, and once that's taken care of, it's not hard to make the problem "go away" - intellectuals tend not to be militaristic; they don't put up much of a fight. In Spain during the Inquisition, or Russia under Stalin, this meant you could round them up and kill them. In the United States today, you have to dispatch them more subtly - by insinuating that they're "soft on national security." No matter the method, it's the same crime.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

It seems like death is inconceivable in our digital age, that our myriad virtual selves form a phalanx against the vulgar forces of decay. In fact, there's really no place for death online - macabre MySpace memorial pages notwithstanding. Aliases, avatars, profiles and home pages: These are the things about us that never die. They are our souls, and eventually, our ghosts.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

We went to the Halal Guys for lunch today. When I got to the front of the line a fat woman appeared from the west side of the cart and paused a few feet away.

"I don't come no more 'cause it's too crowded!" she shouted, then stepped backwards in defiant retreat, like some insolent youth who'd just hurled a rock at the police.

The main Halal Guy was jamming lettuce into my chicken pita, a shred or two falling to the sidewalk. There was an awkward, volatile moment as he tried to think of a response.

"That's because it's so good," he said



Illustration by Louise Asherson