May 28, 2009

Coming Up on Five Years in The VC

It looked a little bit like this, or so I'm told:






When you look at it that way, it doesn't seem so staid and suburban, does it? Well, sort of.

May 21, 2009

Pat Some on the Back, Put Some to the Rod

I was one of the few volunteers. Oh yes, I was paid to screw that bear—paid very well, actually—but I started having second thoughts almost immediately. I realized I was in way over my head when the zoo gates closed behind me and the cages began rattling, the slavering detainees behind the bars smelling fear emanating from my every pore. There was no turning back, though, and the incentives were irresistible, so I trudged into the maw of necessity and received my orders like a good little cadet. The day I was inducted into the Non-Conformity Patrol may have been the first day of the rest of my life, but in many ways it was also the beginning of the end.

I know that now, of course, only after a gauntlet of truly horrible experiences that have scarred me deeply, and I only hope that others reading this avoid the same pitfalls that ensnared me. Anyway, once I enlisted, I was charged with enforcing the all-powerful Mandates of Truth, and was backed up in these endeavors by special Force Authorization Quotients. I was to adhere strictly to these vague generalities, but was sorely tempted more than once to suspend them whenever it suited me. I learned really quick to not think too much or too often—the mildest dissent would compromise my unit's morale, and I'd always had a propensity for Tourette's when I got nervous. None of it happened by accident, but I liked to tell myself that I chose to do what I did for the sake of a higher power and greater good, and for a brief instant, I even believed it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I made major within six days. I met the demands of command in such a commendable fashion that my superiors nodded in impressed approval, and my new squad sought to get in my good books whenever they didn't quiver in fear of my displeasure. Admittedly, I was often capricious with that latter, but lots of blood flows under the bridge in time of conflict, and like I said, the most important lesson was not to dwell on things outside my control. Which was a lot, when you really think about it. I know I did, and I was highly conscious of how tenuous my position really was—but by the time I'd actually got to the point where I had time to think about anything, I'd already become too invested and entrenched and beholden to The Way Things Are.

I should have realized something was wrong when I'd get annoyed at the slightest hint of irregularity. Didn't these idiots know that the quest lay perpetually on the edge of a knife? Discipline had to be maintained at all costs, and I'm not just dicking around when I say that. Court-martials weren't enough after a while—we had to pat the good boys on the back and put the others to the rod in case their poor bowel control would infect the whole regiment and expose us all to complete annihilation. Inspections became brutal affairs of anal-retentive fury: stray specks of dust prompted swift and decisive punishment, and woe fucking betide any fool who didn't shine his own boots with sufficient zeal. The standards were there for a reason, after all.

The stark nature of this existence periodically exploded into a vicious riot of repressed ids running wild. I needed some way to safely vent the squad's pent-up collective angst, and to my surprise I was given a free hand to try anything that delivered results—a professional, disciplined force able to overpower any threat, real or imagined, was essential, and no expense was spared to allow my squad's achievement of this ideal.

I do not exaggerate when I say that shore leaves were the most intense jolts of sensory overload any of us had ever experienced. We'd regularly detonate our own brains at three-week intervals, and every establishment within a five-block radius of the red light district learned to open its doors when we went on leave. English rakes' clubs had jack shit on us. Hell, Alexander's sacking of Persepolis paled in comparison to the things we did as a matter of policy, all of which were approved and encouraged at the highest levels of command.

Oh Christ, I still piss myself with fear when I remember my COs. I had to report to seven of those bastards—four men and three women—none of whom had the slightest amount of patience for failure. They were almost machine-like in their insistence on absolute loyalty, and despite the aforementioned latitude in regards to improvisational thinking to combat disciplinary dissolution, the robotic hand under that soft skin—especially on the three women, especially Valerii—was one of firm, unrelenting authority. Not to be questioned. Not to be gainsaid or second-guessed at any time or for any reason whatsoever.

The tipping point ended up being a routine patrol through the market street, when my squad was suddenly ambushed by a crack insurgent patrol of raging, screeching civilians, who began throwing anything they could get their hands on in our direction—rocks, scrap metal, and even improvised Molotovs. To them, we were traitors. Collaborators in the worst tradition of Vichy and the DLC. Many of my men and women lost limbs and lives under that day's evil overcast sky, because the promised air support never materialized. I cursed the callous commanders back at HQ for withholding the necessary cover, and then made the pivotal decision of my young life.

I ordered a retreat.

Hell yes I did. I ordered a pre-emptive fall-back, to be precise, but I could sense the iron discipline ebbing away. What was once so powerful was now disturbingly fragile, and all our lives were at risk from the projectiles of angry mobs who'd had enough of the repressive regime for which I worked. I ordered a retreat, and to their vast and unflappable credit my surviving privates did exactly what they were told. They blazed bloody trails away from the main lines of fire and broke out of the confined street toward the open highway.

I still don't know how many of them made it, but I have my doubts that everyone survived. As for me, I chose to hide out for a while. Laying low in a foreign capital for a few years might ameliorate my superiors' potential lust for punishment should I ever decide to return. Maybe it will have to be under different circumstances. Maybe it won't happen at all—which would be one hell of a bummer, especially considering the way Boomer used to look at me. She was my superior officer, sure, but we could have been something special. I just know it. Takes one to know one, you know?

Cold comfort, but what else is new? Some people get lucky and others eat shit and die. The law of the jungle is only separated from any of us by eight square meals, after all—and speaking of which, I need to find my next one. Over and out, so say we all, blah blah blah.

Cross-posted: dd, dkos, mlw, fsz

May 16, 2009

Spastic Melodrama from the Great Magnet

I've been getting the shakes lately, and it's starting to kind of freak me out. At first I thought it was just the same old inexorable onset of carpal tunnel that affects all designer-wordsmith-rockstars, but its rapid spread outward from my wrists led me to believe that it was in fact something much worse. My heart began to feel jittery, something lumpy and weird began growing in my right arm, and then I got the sweats and couldn't sleep. I noticed that I was worrying more about what other people thought about me—an impulse that we all suffer from of course‚ but one I thought I'd finally put way behind me. It seemed the daily stresses of life as a Big-Chilling Thirtysomething were starting to pile up like 405 traffic through Sepulveda, physically manifesting themselves in my pudgy suburban physique. A distant howling of melodramatic paranoia began threatening my every waking moment.

Everyone's a little put-upon these days, obviously—but most of them don't live with me everyday like I do, so I thought I should get to the bottom of this, even if it would be ugly. So I did, and ugly it was. Upon consulting several scholarly works of metaphysical genius, I was reminded that "all energy flows from the Great Magnet," and therefore reminded that periodic fits of melodrama are extremely contagious, and that I myself have always been disturbingly susceptible to the teensiest shivers of angst. Were it not for certain recently acquired mitigating influences, I'd be permanently overboard in an ocean of soap operas.

I came of age in the melodramatic 1990s, after all, and for most of my life I'd created spectacular seismic ranges of Himalayas and Andes and Rockies out of the grubbiest molehills. This often resulted in frustration and fear among my friends and family, but thankfully age has blessed me with a burgeoning ability to Not Give A Shit. The recent nervous convulsions nevertheless imply that, for some reason, I Still Do Indeed Give A Shit, perhaps excessively so, and I wondered what could possibly catalyze such symptoms. I mean, aside from the ongoing power trio of Terrorism, Pandemic, and Depression currently topping the bill at the Hope and Change amphitheater.

Because hey, we're all way too used to that crap by now. The CIA tortures people after 9/11 to get false Iraqi WMD evidence? Well, duh. Democratic Presidents reversing liberal campaign policy positions? Double duh. Captains of Capitalism cashing out before their companies implode? So 1980s (and '30s, and 1890s, and...). Lowly truckers extorting casinos—forgetting that the house always wins—and going to federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison? Check. Bloggers getting drafted to become the slavish political party hacks they've always wanted to be? Check. Self-important journalists and Utah governors chasing myths in rural China? Check.

Not to mention the usual corporate-monster rock stars screwing over their fans with half-assed albums and stratospheric ticket prices, or troglodytic Oklahoma senators insisting on displaying the Ten Commandments in federal buildings nationwide, or drugriculture companies manipulating the vegan clones of Jenny McCarthy, or the perpetual hyperventilation over the browning of America (be that of Lou Dobbs over Mexicans or emotionally-stunted white IT workers over hubristic Indian programmers). Minor quibbles about tea bags and taxes and bailouts barely register on the outrage scale in the face of such histrionic tidal waves.

So no, it's not exactly an original piece of wisdom, but I've re-discovered that humanity is a fucking magnet for melodrama, and the pull gets stronger every year. It is amplified, of course, by the increasing interconnected-ness of that devilish Internet and its tools of Social Media, so what in the past would have been minor regional shit-storms are now Global Crises of Epic Craptacularity. That's a lot of shit, and let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, I have never underestimated the human propensity to Take Shit Personally. Personal experience has dictated that, sure, but there is never a vacuum when it comes to melodrama, because Nature abhors vacuums as much as she loves her soaps and craves her novelas. Is there a treatment for Outrage Fatigue? Because hell, I could sure use a few hits of that shit right now.

But enough about all that—we were talking about my extremely personal socio-physiological problems somewhere back there, and the wide world interfered as it so often does. See, I'd been gripped with that awful syndrome of Questioning Oneself At Inopportune Moments: "Is my professional creative output no longer cutting it?" "Am I ever going to catch up to the ever-morphing technical standards of my chosen fictitious industry?" "Will I look fat in this shirt?" "Will my erstwhile colleagues and clients judge me behind my back—or worse, to my face?" "Will my heart explode with failure at the age of 40?" "Will I ever write another song lyric for the band before I go deaf?" "Will I finish the book(s) I'm working on?" "Will my natural shut-in-itude be exacerbated by the vagaries of virtual friendship?" It's the slow drip-drip-drip of mortality creeping up on me again, and I'll be damned if I let that bastard fuck with me when I have Important Stuff To Do, but it's always there. Always.

And yeah, I'd resolved to pool my collective cerebral resources to stave off the inevitable—to reinforce my recent foundations of egomaniacal confidence against the continuing angsty onslaught of Spastic Melodrama from the Great Magnet, to spew forth a truly awesome thesis of clever wordplay and cheap gonzo rip-offs that would garner the requisite worshipful enthusiasm from my adoring pixellated audience—but alas, that was not to be. Because when the "Lost" season finale happened and I sat down to watch it with my lovely wife—herself a rock of mental stability—I promptly forgot all about that silly shit until earlier this morning.

No wonder the human race continues to find new and increasingly severe ways to turn on, tune in, and drop way, way out. They have to adjust for when the outmoded methods of mental distraction become corrupted by the melodramatic shrieks of all the other unstable yoyos attracted by those bright lights of oblivion.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, mlw

May 10, 2009

Son of Return of the Sequel to Shameless Revisionism

Last summer, I reconfigured the Dubious Ventures blog to essentially be a repository and portfolio of my decade-plus of journalism and random writing. I anthologized the good, bad, and ugly—since 1997, a lot of stuff—under the "Shameless Revisionism" tag, and each week highlighted a different aspect of it: college journalism, fansite essays, music reviews, crazed political rants, etc. The original post is here.

Since I am, after all, a raging egomaniac, it was a nice way to pump myself up in order to blast through a first draft of a novel, which I also blogged here. It's not done yet, but it's pretty close—and before I go back and re-write and edit and all that other responsible stuff that real novelists are supposed to do, I wanted to revive the Shameless Revisionism anthology. See, during the time where I was nominally supposed to be writing the novel, I would warm up and cool down from that with some less-serious pieces, and that added up to lots more good, bad, and ugly writing from 2008-2009. It was much more than I expected to get done, really.

So that's what this next round of revisionism will be about. It's a bit silly to anthologize stuff that hasn't been around for very long, but bands do that all the time now in this transitory digital age, and blog-time is even quicker than dog years. The plan right now is to compile a post each for random gonzo writing and the recent Requiem for a Music Geek series, two posts for geeky politics rants, and one final post as a preview/review of the novel's first draft. Hopefully it'll be done by then.

Summer's gonna be pretty busy here at Chez DuBois, but beginning probably sometime in June, each weekend will have a new Shameless Revisionism mini-anthology post, with linky goodness and totally biased liner notes. Because really, what good is an ego without a little stroking? You've been warned. Again.

May 07, 2009

Will Anything Ever Be Incredibly Awesome Again?

I used to be a real hotshot pilot in another life. A brilliant master of my stratospheric domain. A truly reptilian, crazed-genius fusion of Han Solo and Kara Thrace. In this life...well, I have a paralyzing fear of flight—but vague recollections in the deepest recesses of my lizard brain seem to confirm a glorious, hot-dogging chapter of my soul's ancient history. It's something I cling to desperately in the current frightful times, because everything else I remember is an ugly black hole of fear. I've always been afraid of something or other, as far back as I can remember. It's shameful and embarrassing to admit, but eventually one has to face up to one's inadequacies, because let's be honest with each other here, man—we've all been in a scary, dark tunnel for a long time now, and I have certain concerns about the light everyone seems to be seeing these days.

Which brings me back to these nebulous flyboy quasi-memories of mine. They've been increasing in frequency over the past few years, and lately have been popping into my conscious mind at weird and uncomfortable times. I degenerated into a weeping puddle on a business flight to Boston last December; I cringed when watching a recent episode of Lost in which a second plane crash rips apart the characters' lives; I felt a compelling urge to elbow aside my stepfather-in-law as he indulged in his favorite flight simulator when my wife and I were visiting on a weekend day-trip. He was, like, doing it wrong, you know? Anyway, it's not like I haven't sought help, either—psychiatrists, priests, mediums, dog-whisperers, and marketing consultants have all tried to exorcise my problems—but so far, nothing's worked, and I'm beginning to get desperate.

The reflexive love of long bombing runs remains, though. Maybe it's the video games. See, I fell off the video game wagon ages ago when my 8-bit Nintendo died sometime in the early Nineties—I'd blown the dust off too many cartridges—and with one glorious, beer-soaked exception (the N64 was a great college pastime: 007! MarioKart! Pod Racer!), I thought the days of me and the video game had long been extinct. I never got into Doom or Halo or Warcraft, or even any of the million sports games out there—but when I miraculously acquired an emulator for my Mac, well...that was that, ladies and gentlemen. I dove back into the wonderful world of first-person shooters and extra lives and hit points and old-school Japanimation and MIDI-music earworms and—and to my great and happy surprise—none of my skills had atrophied whatsoever. I mean, I'd forget the occasional flashy up-up-down-down-B-A-B-A-select-start trick or two, but I hadn't expected to beat Zelda I, Metroid, Double Dragon, Mega Man II, and Super Mario III in a single day.

And suddenly, life was worth living again. Everything else I'd tried to re-capture during my recent bouts of crippling nostalgia has been a hilarious failure: baseball and soccer, biking all over town, playing bass guitar, and binge drinking all have horrible consequences anymore—but I could still zap pixellated baddies as if I were thirteen again. Then it hit me—if none of my abilities had degraded, then somehow I'd never stopped using them. What had I been doing for the majority of the last decade that would warrant such amazing retention? The answer, my friends, was simple: I had treated life as a video game, and had been subconsciously encouraged to do so by the very thing we all know, love, and take for granted on a daily basis here in the tarnished twenty-first century: the Internet.

It's true—the web is one big video game, and of course this dates back before the legendary bbs and alt.geek.whatever days—but I jumped on this particular ferris wheel in the heady days of the dot-com boom, when everyone and their dog was making websites and joining forums and building communities and blogging, blogging, blogging their lives away. I told myself I did it for the band—we needed a website and I was the only one who cared enough to try and design one—but in reality I'm sure I did it as a springboard to larger-community-acclimation and assimilation. It was only a matter of time before the Scoop and Soapblox platforms arrived, and with them, the ultimate video game to suck me in. The fact that it was transparently disguised as a liberal political (soon to be) mega-blog mattered not; indeed, that was the most hilarious part of the whole joke. Once a master game developer got his hands on it, the thing exploded into the goriest, nastiest shoot-em-up I'd ever seen.

And let me tell you, it was every geek for himself, man. You learned the ropes quick or you died a grisly death. It was a weird mix of unbelievably callous, snide sarcasm and hilariously melodramatic emoting, and no one was safe from anyone else. The moderator freaked—he was losing money, and the pain was terrible—so there had to be some rules imposed. That's where I came in. I was recruited (or press-ganged, or impressed) into a new elite corps of search-and-destroyers out for blood. We did horrible things, but we kept the Shire and its hobbits safe from all manner of unpatriotic trolls, so our nominal superiors looked the other way and let us do our thing. We were the best of the best, the glorious fighter pilots every woman wanted and every man wanted to be (until we started recruiting chicks too, so...that equation changed a bit), but as with all things, it was not to last.

No, one or two or nine or twelve of us—I won't say who, so as to shield the patriotic guilty—gradually lost the plot, and begin hunting for the hunt alone. Not exactly going rogue, but not really going by the book either. Some bad guys were caught and punished, but...other ugly things happened too. Some villages had to be razed to be saved. Some detainees had to be violated in unholy ways. Some innocent bystanders ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and—well, let's just say it wasn't pretty and leave it at that. It'll all come out in toto one day, and when it does, all the flyboy nostalgia in the world won't make up for the other awful things I remember. The flashbacks are debilitating, man. Some guys have felt suicidal, but thankfully I'm not one of them. No, I have too much to live for—not least of which is protecting my sacred reputation.

But even that becomes difficult under threat of special prosecution. Even simple mental self-preservation becomes an epic endeavor when you've been treating life like a video game. Jesus, will anything ever truly be incredibly awesome again? I mean, adolescent fantasies and academic what-ifs don't really have much of a half-life. I've had a few days off now to ponder the universe, and quite a few not-insignificant truths have stomped their way into my little corner of the cosmos, because although I am by nature a curious lad, upon reflection the myriad interests and obsessions of my current corporeal incarnation all seem to have a common thread.

I've forgotten most of them, though, because the most important one inadvertently negated all competition. Steve Krug said it best (though not first) when, wittingly or otherwise, he condemned everyone in my profession to the Dark Dungeon of Dumb: "Don't Make Me Think." Totally, dude. I had difficulty accepting it at first—I am, after all, a Gifted and Talented child—but since the overwhelmingly fantabulous versatility of this theory can be applied to oh so many things out there in that wide world of ours, I gave in once again to sloth and apathy, and am a better person for it.

And yet the flying-and-falling nightmares don't stop. They'll probably never, ever stop—and really, isn't that penance enough? Mock the dinosaurs all you want, you ungrateful little hippies—we kept your asses safe from the Reds and the ragheads and you'll never know what else. Phalanxes of protesting straw-men armed with deadly false equivalencies don't frighten us. Things would be so much easier if all those people just kept quiet and let us live out our remaining lives in peace. Is that so tough? So difficult? I don't think so, dude.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, mlw, fsz

May 05, 2009

Requiem for a Music Geek: Blockbuster Albums and Happenin' Tunes

The first day of middle management began as a tough one for Russel S. O'Deen. His usual can-do, eager attitude had just been dealt a nasty blow, and as he raced upstairs to report to his superiors—like a good useless drone should—a foul idea began to percolate through his young brain, and he hoped that he hadn't stumbled on a fatal error that would bring down the entire glorious enterprise of Farm G, the music industry conglomerate to which he was enthusiastically employed. He quietly prayed to Elvis in case anyone decided to fire him today.

O'Deen barely paused on the fifth-floor landing before barging into the executive suite, pushing through a power-trio of secretaries (all of whom had drunkenly shot him down at the last Christmas party) to the inner sanctum of presidential offices. He tried to compose himself, knocking briskly on the door of CEO Reg Defahi. "Sir, sir—I'm sorry to interrupt, sir—this is O'Deen from Logistics, and I need to speak to you right away!" He jerked back as one assistant wrapped her tentacles around his ankles and pulled mercilessly. "Sir, please, it's urgent!" O'Deen yelped.

Defahi's thousand-watt smile was already deployed when he opened the door and calmly called off his horn-rimmed harpies. "Russ! Good to see you, son! Come on in." The Farm G head honcho was an affable figurehead of a man, and O'Deen mellowed significantly when the CEO's paternal paw landed on his shoulder. Russel soon found himself enveloped by a cushy armchair and plied with a glass of Wild Turkey from Defahi's private stash.

"Cheney's balls, boy, what's come over you?" The CEO, whose past held its own share of panicked meltdowns, regarded his flunkie with amused concern. Sure, O'Deen was an excitable dude, but he could be counted on at crunch time. "You look like your 401k just got outsourced to Hyderabad."

"I'm sorry, sir," gulped O'Deen, "but I had to see you immediately. It's—it's the year-end reports, sir, they're...well, they're driving me crazy, and the data just isn't adding up."

"What's not adding up about it?"

"The music division, Mr. Defahi. The geeks are saying they're missing some key components that, well, that we can't wrap up the year without, sir."

"Really? If I recall correctly, we had no shortage of Happenin' Tunes for the '08/'09 fiscal year. Big names, too—U2, Costello, Dylan—and the Next Big Things like Lewis and Adebimpe/Malone took up the slack. Even Lowery and Hickman checked in today. Hell, the shattered economy's had no effect on Farm G, son. What's to worry about?"

"Y-yes sir, I know that, but..." O'Deen swallowed hard. "...but there's, um...there's no Album of the Year yet, sir. Not a hint, and we only have about a month left before close-out, and, and...and the I.R.S. will totally screw us over if we don't report that, Mr. Defahi."

The CEO pursed his Armenian lips in a Jaggeresque manner while taking in O'Deen's information. His eyes wandered across the vast office and took in the floor-to-ceiling view beyond—the Capitol Records building, the Soter Financial building, the 101—and then, ignoring his flunkie for the moment, pushed a button on the intercom. It crackled to life and a harpie on the other end happily implied Defahi's wish was her command.

"Thank you Nicki," said the CEO. "Could you call Eric Provarta up from Marketing, please? I need his opinion on something." Nicki the harpy chirped an affirmative and crackled off again.

"Relax, Russ," beamed Defahi. "Eric will sort this out. He probably found, like, eighteen solutions as early as two weeks ago." O'Deen nodded, but the two men waited in an uncomfortable silence after that. Neither knew much about the other except for what the Farm G Employee FunLetter divulged in one issue dedicated to "Our Kick-Ass Personnel!" and both were loathe to quote from that ugly trash.

A flutter of giggles outside the door soon betrayed Provarta's approach, however, so when the Marketing Director sauntered through the door some minutes later covered in harpy-bites, Defahi and O'Deen were ready for him, and pointedly refrained from commenting on any indiscretions that may have happened outside.

"Eric, thanks for coming!" The CEO handed over another glass of bourbon and bade Provarta sit down next to O'Deen, who gave the company rock star an envious smile. When Defahi began speaking again, though, Provarta held up his hand to interrupt.

"Reg, this isn't about the album problem, is it? I was right in the middle of preparing my report on that for you, sir—but I can talk about it a little right now if you wish."

Defahi gave O'Deen a gallant wink and motioned for his marketing director to continue, so Provarta reached for a remote on the CEO's desk and pointed it at the wall—the surface of which swished open to reveal a massive LCD screen. Seventeen album covers instantly materialized on-screen, with fiscal year dates below each, dating back to the 1991/92 campaign. "I love seeing this," giggled the CEO. "Every goddamn time. Gives me goose bumps, you know?"

"Sir, as you know, our records do precede 1991, but it's a bit fuzzy before then—influence from the parent multinationals becomes heavier the further back you go." Provarta hid his sneer quickly enough for Defahi to miss it, but O'Deen caught a glance as the marketing director continued his speel. "Seventeen years of good solid progress, then, gentlemen. These albums of the year built the foundation of wealth and taste that we stand on today, and each of them has become a bastion of comfort-food security." Provarta flipped the remote to "laser pointer" mode and highlighted a few choice platters. "'Achtung Baby,' 'Yes,' 'OK Computer,' 'Sea Change,' 'Cookie Mountain,' 'Our Love to Admire'—all instant hits with every segment of our consumer constituency."

He pointed to a few more and continued. "Of course, not all of them came easy. 'Grace' was something of a retrofit, 'You In Reverse' had stiff competition from 'Z,' and at least two other albums—most notably 'Summerteeth'—hail from dates outside their respective fiscal years. Something a bit like that is where we are right now." Provarta pushed another button and fourteen albums from the '08/'09 year popped up. "'Science,' 'Acid Tongue,' 'Horizon,' 'Rust.' All good, all influential," he said, "but none had that grab-you-by-the-balls urgency, did they?" His colleagues squirmed in their seats, but agreed.

"Now remember," Provarta continued, "there are all kinds of unwritten selection rules at play here. They may seem frivolous, but I can assure you that the male music nerd's mind places paramount importance on each of them." He rattled off some familiar directives: "No repetition of artists. No rule against previously ignored or written-off artists, however. Date of release must be within twelve calendar months of the applicable fiscal year, and so on and so forth."

He pushed another button and the screen went blank for a second before displaying a familiar grayscale, stylized photo—an album cover that both Defahi and O'Deen knew well. "Gentlemen," said Provarta, "may I present the blockbuster of the year, the 'Consolers of the Lonely' album from those scruffy yet huggable Raconteurs."

O'Deen's brow furrowed. "But, but...'Consolers' was an April 2008 release, Eric—we put the title track on the '07/'08 Happenin' Tunes comp behind Interpol, Elbow, and British Sea Power, remember?"

Provarta waved off his colleague's concerns. "Correct, but in this case, irrelevant. Are we not in desperate times, my friends? Don't forget the surge in popularity of the disc in question on those endless road trips to the OC and points south, gentlemen. The numbers for this thing went through the roof in the third quarter." He looked to the CEO. "Surely something to consider, sir?"

"I agree," said Defahi definitively. "We'll have no chickenshit hanging-chad situation here, boys. Eric, call Mr. White immediately and inform him of my decision. His check will be in the mail."

O'Deen should have felt better, but he sat quietly, uneasily taking in his boss's speedy choice. He knew Defahi would never second-guess himself—not after the debacle that was My Morning Jacket after their late-round defeat by Built to Spill back in spring '06—so Russel began the arduous task of acclimating himself to yet another corporate compromise.

Indeed, O'Deen had told himself that this would be his life from here on out—the career of a middle manager is by nature humiliating—so while Provarta struck his staged poses over the phone with the White Stripes frontman, and Defahi pumped his fists between snorts of Wild Turkey, O'Deen pasted on his least-brittle, go-along-to-get-along smile and tactfully backed out of the office.

Nicki the harpy was obviously waiting for Provarta to emerge first. Her smile dissolved upon seeing Russel, but he threw back his biggest shit-eater in her direction anyway. Hell, Eric would make mincemeat of her frozen heart soon enough, Russ thought to himself. And he was not a man to pass up seconds, sloppy or otherwise. Russel O'Deen was, after all, a middle manager—and the earth was his to inherit.

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