June 25, 2009

Shameless Revisionism: Soapblox Rants #5 (2009)

Long weekend (!) equals new SR, so as promised, this week's Shameless Revisionism is the second of two that try to get a handle on my 2009 quasi-political rants in the Soapblox universe. It's an appropriately Dubious Venture, of course—compiling such recent material is by nature a stupid idea, because it hasn't had time to ferment and congeal and acquire "meaning" yet. However, I think we can safely disregard that silly piece of common sense, because A) these are blog posts we're dealing with, after all—they have no inherent meaning and have the life-span of fruit flies—and B) because it's my blog and I say so.

Anyway, I mentioned last time how these things have become less "political" for me and more "fictional," and for better or worse I'd actually been putting more thought and planning into them. I think that's because the 2008 election is ancient history in blog-years, and also because I'd been alternately avoiding completion and feverishly trying to finish the oft-mentioned "Weapon of Young Gods" novel. Even so, the overcooked-to-undercooked ratio this time around isn't too "bad"—half-assed rants are fairly equal to pre-planned essays (often in the same piece!). Click on an essay's title to read the whole thing:

Reviving the Lost Art of Self-Immolation (Apr. 23, 2008)
Here's a case where pre-planning had no effect whatsoever on the resulting half-assery. I mean, writing about ancient vengeful impulses (waah! I got a citation in 2nd grade!) is one thing, but ginning up some angry screed because bad things are happening to dumb people (ex-CUSD administrators) is quite another. By any measure, it should have worked, and yet I still manage to snatch Fail from the jaws of Win.

The soggy three-pound cage sitting on my shoulders is not prone to epic fits of vengeful retribution, but it is quite capable of holding minor grudges for surprisingly long periods of time. I re-discovered this disturbing fact over the past week—while trying to avoid the usual lesser spasms of paranoia so prevalent in this skittish new age of hope and change—but a sudden attack of hopeless boredom blunted any revelatory impact. I felt broken—to the point where I'd sunk comfortably into my nostalgia-padded rec room and resigned myself to the long, slow decline of decadent empires—but ironically, revenge put me back together again.
Because I Am, After All, a Professional (Apr. 29, 2009)
Probably the closest I've ever come to blogging about my job in a "meaningful" way, but dressed up in some superficial Arlen Specter Defection and Swine Flu clothing. You'd think that working in marketing—and web marketing in particular—would be fraught with all kinds of moral and psychological hurdles. You know, all those angst-ridden internal debates about the merits of art and commerce and the world-colliding intersection of the two in this, our media-saturated age. You'd think I'd have daily dilemmas in this field, but I don't—I do the HTML/CSS equivalent of drawing pictures all day, with some token problem solving and hair-tearing thrown in. Of course, since I have no hair left to tear, I've thwarted that problem forever. Cazart!
Good goddamn, the swine are squealing again. At times like this, a man needs some peace and quiet—some good healthy sleep, too—but when all he hears is the panicked sounds of screaming pork, that is not to be. Mother of sweet babbling Elvis, these ugly days of swine flu seem to have weird implications for me. Oh yes, I am freaking out, against my better judgment, because in my line of work, ladies and gentlemen, I have slathered lipstick on many pigs, so I have been dangerously overexposed. And now, now is the time that they have all chosen to home to wallow. And why? Because one has to admit one's mistakes. Because one must stand by what one has done, for good or ill.
Will Anything Ever Be Incredibly Awesome Again? (May 7, 2009)
I'd love to say that I had some high-minded intentions for this one, but it was mostly an excuse to post the Calvin & Hobbes graphic of a Tyrannosaur in an F-14. However, I managed to leech some relatively decent assertions out of that impulse, mostly having to do with the further dehumanization we all subject ourselves to everyday when interacting with other people over the Web. It was a theme I'd return to in successive posts, so perhaps it was a pretty fertile impulse after all. As if it wouldn't have been enough to simply say "Bill Watterson is a genius" and leave it at that.
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.
Spastic Melodrama from the Great Magnet (May 16, 2009)
Continuing with the theme of "Internets be stealing our souls, yo" was still pretty easy at this point, and not just because it's such a hackneyed and clichéd idea that deserves to die a lonely and feeble death. No, the true measure of this concept's value is its accepted cultural omnipresence—for me, it's been a major defining reality for the past decade-plus of my life—and I'll be damned if I let a slow-moving target like that one go by without two-facedly jumping on the bandwagon while appearing to annihilate it. I mean, isn't that what cake is for? Having it and eating it?
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.
Pat Some on the Back, Put Some to the Rod (May 21, 2009)
When undercooked ideas return to rear their ugly heads, they often do it via science fiction. Now, I have a love-hate relationship with sci-fi: I love it and hate the other people who love it (kind of like my relationship with U2 and many other things). Klosterman once called science fiction "morality for stupid people," which is essentially correct; if you need something like the New Caprica metaphorical plotline from "Battlestar Galactica" to realize how nasty 3rd world political oppression can be, you're pretty dumb. However, if you already know that, gawking stupidly at Katie Sackhoff, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, and all the other BSG babes remains one of life's more sublime pleasures.
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.
A Long Time Ago, We Used to be Friends (Jun. 3, 2009)
By 2009, the rising tide of Social Media had basically drowned everyone in its vapidly useful depths, with late adapters of all stripes whooping it up on Facebook and Twitter and the like. Even Iranians have now wielded the deceptive power of these tools, which give the impression of an active existence despite the inactivity required to maintain them. These and other lame ideas had been clogging my skull for months before I was able to purge them with the help of Courtney Taylor-Taylor and his silly band the Dandy Warhols, and I got to snidely bitch about my own idiocy as well as things out of my control. What's not to love?
Supposedly the universe is expanding at an incredible clip, faster and further than ever before. Well, the scientists are saying so, anyway...and since similar research has recently, and successfully, predicted other improbable things such as the Tampa Bay Rays making it to the World Series, or Barack Obama becoming President of the United States, why not trust the onward March of Science? There is untrammeled growth at every turn, unchecked expansion in every way. From my cushy corner of existence, however, the reality is quite the opposite. You see, my own mental and physical boundaries are most definitely shrinking, and have been for some time now. It isn't as if I hadn't seen it coming, either—hell, I aided and abetted the steady retrograde orbit even when I had the chance to do otherwise. Because hey, it's the American Dream, right? Give me my stuff and then leave me the hell alone, man!
Display Some Adaptability, Mister Jones (Jun. 7, 2009)
Another fun insta-rant about the deceptive power of applying truly transformative change, via a clumsy metaphor encompassing Bob Dylan (1966 model) and Barack Obama (2009 model). This superficially ludicrous comparison was nevertheless hilariously engaging to follow all the way to its dubious conclusion, because it never fails to amuse me when a public figure's most die-hard, fanatical supporters do complete 180's once they realize how completely the've been hosed by their erstwhile idols. As if singularly transformative people would ever allow co-writers on their scripts. Ho ho.
For a bona fide rock star, I'm a man of surprisingly simple tastes. I like electricity. And amplification. I like wielding both of those things with fearsome power and sublime glory, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. I love shaking up the citizens with a serious lightning bolt every once in a while, just to see them flinch. It's one of my absolute favorite things to do. I mean, it's one thing to be able to take a shock, but the ability—and willpower—to give a shock, to inflict a pure synaptic jolt of raw power upon someone else, well...that's a whole other frequency, dude. That's a level where only snow leopards play, ladies and gentlemen, and not many people truly comprehend what goes on up there.
My Long Nostalgic Nightmare is Finally Over (Jun. 18, 2009)
This one actually wasn't a joke at all—it was a serious bummer to cruise through my hometown gaping at the collective changes of fifteen years' time. I think it happened that way because I'd successfully delayed the inevitable for so long, though; the slow collapse of my 2006-2009 fiction/novel project was the nail in the coffin when it came to me and Dana Point. Now, before I start sounding too much like Don Henley, I gotta say that the whole process of writing the novel was fun and worthy and a great experience—but the reality is that it's nowhere near done as far as editing is concerned. Even so, I still feel like it's time to move on, creatively—and if that includes foregoing all these fun little sneezes of prose that came in tandem with the novel, well...así es la vida, no?
For someone who can blather on and on about the unsung virtues of transformative change, I don't seem to take it too well when the tables are turned. I mean, I've long since accepted plenty of undercooked truisms like "contradiction is balance" and "hypocrisy is relative," and I'm often able to place seemingly bizarre paradigm shifts into meaningful context instead of going completely berserk with fear and loathing, but that tendency recently deserted me at a crucial moment. In fact, my usual keen analytical instincts failed so utterly that all I could do was merely assess the psychic damage and stand still like poor Brendan Frye, maimed and bleeding from every orifice and waiting to be mowed down by yet another New Reality.
Speaking of the novel, I'm gonna be trying something different and weird with next weekend's (and this summer's final!) edition of Shameless Revisionism: condensing all 48 chapters into a single mammoth post. I have no idea how that's going to work out, but that's the plan, so tune in next weekend to see if I can pull it off or if I face-plant magnificently.

June 22, 2009

Four Years of Magazine Design and Redesign

Big fancy title for a small post noting completion of the 18th Gifted. Ed journal (12th re-designed, and 13th under my watch) for CAG. Two more to go this year. I've blogged this before, last summer—so this is kind of a repeat, but I just like to see all the covers in front of me, all together. Click on the image to see them all bigger.

It's the same thing I used to do for all the Mojo Wire and Honey White CD covers. It's kind of validating in a way, you know? In a "this is your life" way, I guess.

Anyway, one of them was a WPA/Maggie award finalist last year (the Fall '07 "Language Arts" one), and another is an AEP award finalist this year (the Fall '08 "Visual/Performing Arts" one). I should be finding out soon if we've won the AEP—stay tuned...

June 21, 2009

The Old Men Don't Know, but the Little Girls Understand

I don't know if Howlin' Wolf has ever been translated into Farsi, but if Islamic Republic government snipers are now killing beautiful women on live TV, something's sure gone up the Supreme Leader's ass sideways. Call me a sucker, call me a romantic, call me a suburban armchair activist—but I have been extremely moved by the fact that the women of Iran seem to be in the vanguard of the election-related protests. Indeed, if the basiji are shooting innocent bystanders—as they seem to be doing in a heartbreaking and grisly snuff film out of (I believe) Tehran, then the current regime's days truly are numbered. You don't win friends and influence people by murdering the hot chicks, Khameni.

Now, maybe all this is by design, and maybe I'm being manipulated by imagery from a country whose history I only somewhat know and whose culture I barely understand, but it's difficult to not get caught up in the drama of this thing. It's difficult to not draw tangential parallels to Prague or Paris in 1968 or China in 1989—which people have been doing rather clumsily, by the way—and it's also difficult to reconcile the fact of potentially major transformative change erupting via the most banal tools imaginable: Twitter and Facebook. I mean, I know you go revolt with the tools you have and not the overwhelming force you wish you had, but for a venue like Twitter—which I use, but still find impossible to take as seriously as Twitter seems to take itself—this is alternately a laughably legitimizing development as well as a laudable exploitation of a previously facile platform.

But whatever works, as they say—and what does work, and what's always worked, is the simple and supremely obvious truism that apparently even the Iranian state police were admonishing each other with: "You must never strike a woman". Men with even a drop of empathy in their veins know that, and know they're seeing their mothers/wives/sisters/friends/daughters/nieces/whomever on TV and the web out in the front of this thing. I realize that's a pretty elementary, simple, and naive thing to say, but that doesn't make it any less true—because in my (admittedly WASPy Irangeles-oriented) experience, Persians don't like to fuck around, man. Sure, they can be arrogant, fastidious, and frustratingly urbane, but that's because they have standards, and they don't appreciate when those are tossed around like so many political footballs.

Or soccer balls—but of course they wouldn't use such a term. By the way, the Iranian soccer team has some brass ones, don't they? If you can get athletes to hang in there with you—especially those who are already out and about in decadent Europe like most of the Iranian team are anyway—you're pretty solid, baby. Going on about this stuff for too long will put me into Andrew Sullivan territory, of course—and Lord knows I can't stomach even a hint of that silly man, even when he's right—but I've been glued to it since election day in Iran, and it's been absolutely fascinating to me for a multitude of reasons.

The biggest one, though, is the one from personal experience: I roomed with an Iranian immigrant as a sophomore in college, and although I couldn't stand the guy and he hated me right back, I knew exactly why he was the way he was—he grew up amid the total chaos of the 1979 revolution, and he thus sought absolute order. He was an engineering major, a neat freak with a crew cut and a severe Napoleon complex, and every once in a while he would scream like a maniac in the shower—but it was hard to not be empathetic toward him, even if he detested my American collegiate rock & roll lifestyle. He was fucking crazy, but he loathed the ayatollahs, man. I mean, really hated them, with the heat of 10,000 supernovas. He told me the story once of how he came to L.A., though Iraq and Syria and (if I recall correctly) Paris—an odyssey that took guts of steel and certainly more of everything than I've ever been able to muster in my coddled Californian existence.

But this was supposed to be about the hot Persian chicks telling their Supreme Leader to fuck off, so let's get back to that. The thing that's been most moving to me is the broad swath of Iranian womanhood involved in this: covered and uncovered, old and young, urban and (I presume) rural—but maybe not so much of the latter. Who knows, though—when the communication channels are all cut off and all we have is an erstwhile buffoon like Roger Cohen to tell us what's going on. Well, that's not entirely true—we do have Christiane Amanpour, for better or worse the Iranian female journalist of our times, and that's good enough for now, even if (I think) she's not on Twitter yet. Come on babe, get with the program. Your sisters are way ahead of you here, but you're all awesome.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, mlw

June 20, 2009

Shameless Revisionism: Soapblox Rants #4 (2008-2009)

Another weekend, another edition of Shameless Revisionism—this time the first of two posts re-capping a slew of more quasi-political rants from the Soapblox-powered mega-blogs like Daily Kos and its ilk. I've griped before about the dubious usefulness of the political blogosphere, but the increasing infantilism of these particular forums in the wake of Obama's election is becoming a major turnoff for me. Triumphalist late adapters are like, so uncool man.

Seriously, though—these periodic bursts of ripoff gonzo from yours truly did serve a nominal purpose: the oft-mentioned one of being warm-ups and cool-downs while I was writing a novel. Sometimes this even produced some interesting stuff that—intentionally or otherwise—blurred the lines between gonzo and fiction. Very soon these things began to outnumber the actual book chapters I was supposed to be writing, but I ended up finishing anyway, so no harm done. Theoretically, anyway. As always, click on a post's title to see the full shebang:

Ringing the Mighty Cowbell of Rageohol (Dec. 19, 2008)
The self-righteous whining of my fellow squishy liberals began almost immediately after the election, and had built to a melodramatic crescendo a month later. No one was safe—from Joe Lieberman to Rick Warren, there was always a new unacceptable reconciliation from Obama, and people...didn't take that very well. This piece was my witty riposte to all that silliness, despite being neither witty nor ripped nor post. Oh well.

Good goddamn, these new-presidency-birth-pangs sure are pretty fucking loud, aren't they? I don't know about the rest of you, but I thought I was finished for the year—it's way, way, way past my politically-psychic bedtime—and I've been looking for a nice quiet place to lie down ever since Election Day, but no, the infant Obama administration and its erstwhile supporters on the "far left" have both robbed me of my sweet repose. Everyone seems to be swilling the sour grapes of Rageohol this winter, but as the whole world collapses around us all yet again, we still can't seem to admit that Teh Rage is our precious cause of and solution to All of Life's Problems.
The Invasion is Immoral and Will Not Stand (Jan. 4, 2009)
Israel's shit-stupid invasion of Gaza brought out a rare entrapment piece from me—a simple, dumb metaphor that used non-specific innuendo to equate the Palestinian territory with (um, uh) Isla Vista. It got way more attention than it deserved, but thankfully, most people took it as the lame joke that it was. Not really my finest spew, so double oh-well.
And yes, I am indeed referring to the perennial tribulations of a densely-populated coastal enclave, whose Mediterranean climate is nevertheless blighted by overcrowding, poor sanitation, feudal landowners, ruthless violence, substance-fueled orgies, moral depravity, and other shameful hallmarks of absolute degradation. Like most abused third-world scapegoats, it has been ever thus. It's no secret that most of the awful situation's current problems have their roots in a violent conflict from about forty years ago, during which a repressed populace, driven to mindless self-indulgence by their wretched condition, rose up and physically defied a tyrannical ruler by destroying a hated local financial outpost of his military-industrial empire. His incompetent but brutal viceroy then unleashed the porcine rage of local law enforcement, causing further destruction and death. The upheaval was crushed, however, and a pattern thus emerged that would repeat itself across the ensuing decades..
The Insurgent Power Plays of Electrified Youth (Jan. 11, 2009)
My fellow Venturans David and KK ran for the California Democratic Party Assembly District Delegation back in January, and this semi-fictional piece grew out of my trip up to Santa Barbara to vote for them. Later in the year I joined their Ventura County Young Democrats organization, but predictably I've so far failed in every way to become a decent local activist. They both do it very well, however, and are real troupers for enduring my gonzofication of their efforts.
So I was flying through Seacliff at about eighty miles an hour when the universe suddenly and spectacularly decided to align in my favor. An unseasonably glorious sun shone down on the 101 freeway, and as I threaded the California coastline's spine on my way north to Santa Barbara, I felt the soft and deadly tentacles of contentment wrap themselves around my decaying cerebrum—and I was okay with that. Yeah, because the combination of dramatic scenery, agreeable weather, a fast car, and an adorably earnest song about the collapse of Antarctic icebergs erupting out of the stereo was quiet a potent one, yo. I mean, you try to be a cynical asshole when the coda of "Larsen B" dumps you in its warm bath of epic Euro-echo right when the Rincon headlands loom up ahead like inverted Cliffs of Insanity. It's virtually impossible—or at least that's what I told myself in that giddy moment—so I just let it happen, you know?
It was Foolish of You to Come Here Tonight, Tom (Jan. 31, 2009)
I've never liked Tom Daschle, but I took no pleasure in watching his political self-demolition when Obama nominated him to be HHS Secretary. Nah, that's a lie—I laughed out loud and had way too much fun blasting out this goofy rant. After the dubious quality of the previous two, it was good to know that I still had the skills to pay the bills.
The inherently stupid hubris that afflicts all powerful people is truly an awesome thing to behold—especially once it begins to make their brains dissolve into warm muck, forcing them to flap their arms in panic and whimper like eunuchs on national television. We all got another good look at that phenomenon this week, of course, when the Gods of Karma claimed a further Democratic victim in the secretary-designate of Health and Human Services: Tom Daschle, whose prediliction for expensive automobiles and erudite drivers landed him deep in the freshly-dug Obama Transitional Ditch of Shame. The secretary-designate will have to scratch and claw his way over the heads of other ridiculous degenerates already caught in varying levels of corrupt stupidity—the shifty Tim Geithner, the hopeless sot Bill Richardson, the crazed Rod Blagojevich—and for a man who wears pretty red-framed glasses, that won't be an easy task.
The Bipartisan Kleptocracy Will Never Die (Feb. 8, 2009)
For an agnostic-type guy, I sure do go all-in for that original sin stuff. Case in point: one of my pet theories about the good old U.S.A. and how it was crippled from the start by the twin crimes of slavery and genocide, topped off by some good old-fashioned grand larceny. I was not in a friendly or sympathetic mood towards the Wall Street bailouts, shall we say.
Because hey, let's face it—the kleptocratic impulse is strong in the United States of America, and indeed always has been. When you found a nation on theft, slavery, and murder, you're powering the subsequent society on some of the biggest, baddest voodoo that anyone has ever known, and it's only a matter of time before you'll miss a few payments and a phalanx of repo men come knocking. Hand-in-hand with that compulsion is, of course, the reflexive fear that has convulsed generation upon generation of Americans since day one of the Jamestown settlement—the sort of skittish glance over your shoulder to make sure no one's coming to Take Your Shit. The sort of projectionary flinch that's so familiar among thieves convinced that they're surrounded by more thieves, because how surprising is it that other people want to sneak our stash when we did the very same to them? Isn't that how the universe works?
A Perpetually Sputtering Bonfire of the Ptolemies (Feb. 14, 2009)
This piece is actually one of my favorites, but it took a while to get down the right way. Much of it was done in conjunction with "Bipartisan Kleptocracy," as well as a good re-reading of all my Peter Green books about the Hellenistic Age. The problem here was that my supposedly tossed-off gonzo essays were now requiring a little too much pre-planning, outlining, and conscious thought—and not enough spontaneity. "Ptolemies" seems to work in spite of that, though.
That was Tony Soter's last relatively normal day in Newport, because he was soon indicted by the L.A. district attorney on a galaxy of charges: insider trading, racketeering, obscenity, fraud, tax evasion, and much more. His army of lawyers was no help—half of them were tangled up in the same mess—and his many high-profile friends all over California experienced convenient fits of devastating amnesia when confronted with the reality of what would become the most embarrassing confidence scam California had seen since the passage of Proposition 13. Soter's life deteriorated rapidly at that point—his son was captured by insurgents in Anbar, his wife ran off to Bali with Anthony Kiedis, his daughter was sold into slavery in Mazatlán by her Sinaloan dealer, and his Balboa mansion was burned to the ground by those same vengeful Mexican servants. He is currently on twenty-four-hour suicide watch—but of course, it could have been much worse. At least he never had to submit to the indignity of a castrated bonus or a $500,000 salary cap like his Wall Street counterparts. That would have been entirely too shameful.
Pachydermicide, the Perennial Sport of Kings (Mar. 25, 2009)
Another one that took a little while to materialize—but I actually began it on the day I went to visit my wife's classroom. I just hung out in the back and typed this up, using the "Boy's Own" voice that Welsh lampooned in "Marabou Stork Nightmares." It was a fairly un-subtle dig at the way liberal blogs were continually obsessed with Republican idiots like Rush Limbaugh and his inept, raving followers—instead of letting the facts on the ground sink in, such as "we actually won one, people."
I have always considered myself a sportsman, old boy. Not such a striking thing to admit, I'll allow—but in the current age of crass exhibitionism and crude violence, the simple sportsmanship of big-game hunting does seem to still carry a certain cachet with the public imagination. As it should—and has, for many years, thanks to great men of the past—but of course, when I mention the word "hunting," the unfortunate modern connotation is of half-wit archer-apes with cat scratch fever running around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. However, those damn fools will have a long row to hoe before they do true damage to the hunting ideal, eh what? Quite. Anyway, it's a barry tradition, hunting—but lately it hasn't packed the same wallop for me and my fellow sportsmen. While my mates at the lodge are not exactly sure why, I think it may be the dwindling number of big-game targets out there; for men like us—pachyderm-hunters—the world is no longer a target-rich environment.
The rants got progressively less political from that point, and next week I'll get into some more esoteric pieces that were only tangentially appropriate for the Soapblox venue—but were nontheless fun to barf out onto the page. Check in next weekend for a heaping helping of vengeance, regret, melodrama, sarcasm, and other happy topics. See you then.

June 18, 2009

My Long Nostalgic Nightmare is Finally Over

For someone who can blather on and on about the unsung virtues of transformative change, I don't seem to take it too well when the tables are turned. I mean, I've long since accepted plenty of undercooked truisms like "contradiction is balance" and "hypocrisy is relative," and I'm often able to place seemingly bizarre paradigm shifts into meaningful context instead of going completely berserk with fear and loathing, but that tendency recently deserted me at a crucial moment. In fact, my usual keen analytical instincts failed so utterly that all I could do was merely assess the psychic damage and stand still like poor Brendan Frye, maimed and bleeding from every orifice and waiting to be mowed down by yet another New Reality.

My mind has always seemed to work against me. In my mind I kept remembering things that never happened, but they always seemed so real and so true-way more than the most messed-up deja vu. In my mind I always pictured some ideal, distorted image of both what my past was and what my future would be. In my mind I lived a lifetime in four minutes, cramming a kaleidoscope of hopes and fears into a nondescript neural mush, punctuated only occasionally by brief synaptic jolts of electric panic. In my mind, the universe always had a hidden agenda, and I could never ever forgive or ignore what I wasn't allowed to know. —"They Always Run"
That's right—when the end came, it was quick but painful. An otherwise normal sojourn behind the Orange Curtain of my youth—no different than countless others I'd embarked upon in the last thirteen years, and certainly similar to those of the past five—rapidly deteriorated into a relentless shit-rain of mental trauma. My gracious hosts were luckily shielded from the worst, as I'd long since departed for home by the time things really got nasty, but the demon seed was planted smack-dab in the middle of my trip, and it was all downhill from there. Specifically, it began with a hideous vision of misplaced civic effort (a brand-new footbridge over PCH in Dana Point), followed by a long-feared manifestation of developmental nose-thumbing (the cliffs above Strands Beach and the Dana Point headlands finally going under the knife of luxury home construction), and capped off by a self-inflicted Detour Into Planned Community Hell (a drive through the new fake-town of "Ladera" lurking in the hills behind San Juan Capistrano).

It was a true Boo-Frickety-Hoo Tour of Shame—like "You Can't Go Home Again" multiplied by a million—but since it was all initiated by my own inability to Deal With New Stuff, I have nothing to whine about. Which is fine, and it normally wouldn't have been a problem, but I had a novel to finish, folks—and the nostalgic life-blood that fed my erstwhile creativity was immediately depleted, never to return. It was a much-delayed reaction (I'd moved away over a decade ago), but for the first time, the town I grew up in felt empty and foreign and wrong. Or rather I felt wrong being there, because home had been Somewhere Else for a long time now. I didn't belong to one of those mobile modern families that moved every few years. No, I stayed in the same place 'til I was eighteen—the OC suburbs—and didn't get too far once I finally did leave.
My mother used to say that I had an advanced case of "Prince Henry the Navigator Syndrome," and she was more prescient than I think even she knew. When I was a kid I absorbed ridiculous amounts of historical and geographical trivia, even before the onset of nightmarish insomnia made those useful distractions a necessity. Crumpled National Geographics and outdated Britannicas taught me about anything I wanted to know, anywhere in the world, but that didn't make me want to actually visit any of the places I studied. —"Artificial Archaeology"
Once I'd happily wrapped the American Dream around my chubby white body—with a home, marriage, and mortgage—and adjusted to the facts that my second band was on hiatus and most of my friends lived relatively far away, it was way too easy to become even more insular and self-obsessed than ever before. The tendency of thirty-somethings to assess their short lives took hold with a vengeance, and so the past three years have been basically dedicated to amusing myself—when I actually have time to do that—while the world burns. It's probably just a phase, like anything else, but it's exerted a powerful pull on my coddled consciousness for some time now, so the damage will probably be permanent no matter how much ego-exorcism may or may not be undertaken.
Some lucky souls get to remember their dreams, but I've never been one of those people. Never recalled any profound truths from random subconscious netherworlds. Never thought that much mattered, though, cause I've definitely dealt with some weird hallucinatory shit-usually caused by either controlled substances or some deliriously painful physical injury. —"This Won't Hurt a Bit"
And yet all of this was entirely predictable, because I should have seen it coming months ago; as I've mentioned ad nauseam, I'm a sucker for blatant appeals to my nostalgic impulses. The initial rush of hubris that demanded I forego all other creative endeavors to Write That First Novel had kept me mired in its pit for almost three years, through forty-eight blog-sized chapters of undercooked characters, clichéd plot devices, and unwelcome digressions. But man, fiction is a soothing balm. No wonder everyone lies about everything.
For many years I'd tried to convince myself that nostalgia meant death, that indulging in happy memories was much worse than just a pleasant waste of time, but recently I'd suspected that was a war I'd lost before it had even begun. The impulse to dwell to distraction had long since permanently fused with my frontal lobe, because not only had I been unable to kick the vile temptation, I'd come to enjoy it and-in a pinch-even capitalize on it. What I didn't realize, though, was how completely uncontrollable it could be. —"Frayed Strands"
And yet (again) I could feel its grip slackening even as I blasted down the 5 through Irvine and El Toro and Mission Viejo—a big problem, considering the first draft hadn't been finished at that point. But you know what? It was a relief to feel that oppressive mental fog seem to lift for even a few hours. See, doing a blatant teen-noir nostalgia-trip like "The Weapon of Young Gods" required re-insertion into a head-space of too many years ago. In order to write the damn thing I had to remember the story as not how it was, but how I thought it was: the truth with deliberate mistakes. It gave me some really bad brain bubbles on too many occasions, let me tell you.
People never pay attention to how their body works, until suddenly it doesn't. Then they really feel conscious of how bizarre and miraculous and utterly strange that thing is. That thing that imprisons their soul, that throbs and pulses and sweats, that breathes and itches and gurgles and snots and shits. Then they know-when something's wrong. Then maybe they pay attention and, if they're not too consumed with fear, they try to do something about it. Of course, sick people are in touch with this reality every minute of every day. Illness connects them to their malfunctioning bodies' skewed rhythms in ways that health nuts and appearance fetishists will never ever know. The reality of fragile impermanence. The irrefutable truth that this blip of existence is absolutely transient. —"Leave the Rest in Ruins"
But no longer—for the bastard is finally finished...sort of. First drafts of first novels are wonderful things, because if they totally suck, it doesn't matter! They're packed with built-in excuses that shield hypersensitive authors from the ignorant masses and sneering critics—and even better, this one was blogged, baby! Fanfic writers have nothing on me. I wrote fanfic about my life, bitches. Was that good enough for UCI's Fiction MFA, long long ago? Of course not, but even though they were right to reject it, they can still go pound sand—because the best part of this is the book behind the book: all the other half-assed verbal barf I've written to warm up and cool down from doing fiction. In other words, blogging.

And why? Well, like many other people, over the past decade I've discovered that the internet is a great place to indulge one's vanity. And I am chock-full of that, man. This novel and its bloggy shadow are, naturally, uber-expressions of such egomaniacal tendencies, but even a blook needs to read well and check in under 75,000 words—which it almost did. So yes, my long nostalgic nightmare is finally over, except when it's not. The next one begins immediately, and it is a terror of editing, a horror-filled, whimpering death by syntax, grammar, and dubious craftsmanship. Ta ta for now, kiddies—I'll be in my study all summer long.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd

June 14, 2009

Shameless Revisionism: Requiem for a Music Geek

This week's Shameless Revisionism edition is dedicated to my semi-ill-fated attempts to begin writing about music again in 2008-09, from a supposedly "mature" and non-geeky perspective. That went right out the window immediately with the column's name, of course, but after a while it became much more fun to get back into the same old non-sensical babbling that so often consumed my other "official" music writing for my college paper, a local alt-weekly, and a U2 fansite. From there, it was only a few short hops to bizarre indulgences in short fiction set-pieces—which I have a long and sordid history with—and since I'm still wrapping up my first novel's first draft, that's not too illogical.

Anyway, like I said last week, all of these were fun to write—increasingly so—and they served a similar function to my undercooked political rants: warming up for writing the novel, and cooling down after. Not earth-shatteringly brilliant stuff, but good brain exercises to keep the skills sharp. Click on an entry's title to read the whole post.

It Began with a Book, and Died with a Film (Sep. 20, 2008)
With this first edition of "Music Geek" I tried to shoot the geek impulse in the heart, but I think I only ended up shooting myself in the foot. I tried to explain how the book and film versions of "High Fidelity" succeeded in shaming me into a post-geeky self-awareness, but in a mature way (my friend Mia likes to say that "if you can't geek out about at least one thing, your life is being wasted"). Like most of the other stuff I write, however, it became a great excuse for my wife to point and laugh at me. Naturally, she was right to do so—but then she's a Twilight geek herself. Takes one to know one.

The horrible realization was galvanized, as it had been so often before, with a novel. A sick, terribly brutal narrative that simultaneously blew apart my confidence and showed me the way back out of oblivious ignorance. It's a vile, simplistic, and treacly little story, but Nick Hornby's High Fidelity was a singularly destructive force when I first ingested it at 22. Naturally, it came far too late in the game; I'd been an incorrigible music nerd for as long as I could remember, foredoomed by genetics, gender, socio-economic class, environment, and every other possible predisposition for hopeless geekdom. Recovery was out of the question, even after a catalyst of that magnitude.
The Decline and Fall of Juvenile Idolatry (Nov. 12, 2008)
All great mental catharses have to begin with the tearing down of idols, so I knew I'd have to point the big guns at Sting sooner or later—an activity so commonplace that it's almost as uncool to do as actually being a Sting fan—but as a mature man of wealth and taste, that was a contradiction I could live with. It was no great feat to gather evidence, either—even a one-time Sting fan like me couldn't stomach anything the man's done since about 1993—so again, originality is not yet in massive supply. What's done is done.
[Sting's] probably not the best choice for someone like me to admit fandom for (even at some point in the distant past), but I believe one has to own up to one's personal moments of "meh," as well as larger successes and failures, so I must admit that Sting is the reason that I play a Fender Jazz bass today. He's also a contributing factor to me being a lyricist and playing in a band—and why I sometimes find it difficult to just stand back by the drummer and shut the fuck up, and why I've acquired an occasionally marvelous ability to be a self-centered, pretentious asshole—but so many other people, famous or otherwise, have reinforced that sort of behavior, so Sting can't take all the blame for it. Even so, Sting is also the reason that I wear pea coats, the reason that Nick Clemente once smacked me stupid in a movie theater (more on that later), and why Bill Fedderson nearly despaired of ever seeing eye to eye with me musically. Now, that doesn't mean I still don't enjoy every Police album—and, to skate on thin ice, three of Sting's solo discs—but that has more to do with childhood nostalgia than anything else, and as you all know, I'm always a pathetic sucker for that stuff.
Slouching Towards Sonic Domesticity (Nov. 24, 2008)
Elbow and Wilco have become sort of my Twin Pillars of Suburban Adulthood Salad Day-dom, so for this one I felt the need to blather about how much I like them and how I (really, truly, honestly!) don't care how uncool that might make me. It's nothing that someone like Chuck Klosterman hasn't already written about, say, Billy Joel or KISS or whatever—but since these columns are all about confronting and accepting the Geek Within, I figured I should take on that responsibility no matter where it led me.
For nearly fifty years now, "domesticity" has always meant the opposite of "rock." The mellow sounds of '70s singer-songwriters soothed the transatlantic sonic savagery of the '60s; the album-oriented radio and slick Philly soul of the Carter-Thatcher-Reagan era blunted the triple threat of reggae/ska, punk and hip-hop; and the fiendishly wretched "Adult Album Alternative" radio format of the mid-'90s cut off the spasms of alt-rock right as it hit the mainstream. By the turn of the 21st century, rock had become the new jazz—a niche genre of music meant for listening, not dancing; a squalid vacuum of insular sniping and revisionist desperation.
Silver-Tongued, Sharp-Toothed Snow Leopards (Jan. 31, 2009)
This one grew out of an impulse to write about the lyricists that inspired me to write my own songs, and the ones with whom I identify the most. It soon degenerated into my same-old, same-old hyperbolic fanboy rantings, however, so its permanent value is a little dubious. Which is nevertheless appropriate when placed in context, but still...
There's a certain style of pop-rock songwriting and lyricism that I've always been attracted to: the deft, acerbic expression of power that rears its sneering visage into view via two or three talented people per decade. The best singer/songwriters who work that way, of course, have never confined themselves to such a one-dimensional, silly caricature like that, but you know when you listen to their stuff that it might go sideways on you at any time—because once someone gets to the point where easily using and abusing such a frequently fucked-up language like English is second nature (let alone setting their screeds to music), they're not gonna be a dull waste of time. That such people can survive professionally and creatively on down through decades of shit-stupid pop music is no mean feat, either—but since there are so many of them (really, it's true), for now I think I'll just stick to my three main fountains of inspiration (plus one literal contemporary): Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, David Lowery, and Jenny Lewis.
The Soothing Sounds of Regression Therapy (Feb. 10, 2009)
Writing a novel that's so steeped in personal nostalgia has made it tough to be a subjective music fan. I like to listen to music when I write, but for this particular fiction project I've been highly dependent on either instrumental stuff (Mermen, Tortoise, etc), contemporaneous albums (mid-90s alt-rock), or more recent albums by younger musicians that are my relative contemporaries. These latter types found themselves on the blunt business end of my goofy prose in this particular Music Geek column, and, well...that's about it.
The more I re-read historian Peter Green, the more I think I might have some freaky-deeky past life in the Hellenistic Age. According to Green, that society was basically a three-hundred-year afterbirth of Alexander the Great's transcontinental military stompilation—a mass of neurotic and egomaniacal inadequates, constantly obsessed with analyzing and anthologizing their civilization's glorious past. Now, connecting that with my own less-than-latent self-absorption might seem a stretch, unless of course you have the occasion to, say, speak with any of my ex-girlfriends—who will undoubtedly be happy to regale you with horror stories of my near-psychotic ability to "dwell on the past," "take things too personally," and "never ever get over anything." My father might also have similar insights on this, too—but the point is the same: like many humans, I am congenitally vulnerable to the icy grip of nostalgia, and it works on my psyche in weird and warped ways. Naturally, as a lily-white rock music geek I have all sorts of sonic triggers for said nostalgic impulses, and thankfully I was able to notice and harness them as their frequency increased considerably when I passed my thirtieth birthday—which isn't really that different from what happens to many other people at this age, but so what?
A Serious Case of the Teenage Retro Virus (Apr. 5, 2009)
So initially I tried to make this one a straight take on my high school retro-Sixties phase, but that didn't work out so well—it didn't capture the true zaniness of the ride I ended up on with my friends Jon, Nick, and Kevin. A second pass at it, as half-assed fictional gonzo, luckily got a little closer to the mark:
It would appear that our patient's biggest single retroviral rock binge occurred in the year spanning March 1994 to March 1995—a period ending immediately after a certain phenomenon known as "Air Guitar"—and evidently Mr. DuBois was not alone in his behavior. His enablers are three in number, and their names are listed in the file as Jon Green, Nick Clemente, and Kevin Hessel. Their controlled substances of choice were many, but five in particular showed up most often in the contemporaneous toxicology report: the Beatles' "Past Masters II," Creedence's "Chronicle," Van Morrison's "Best Of," Jimi Hendrix's "Ultimate Experience," and the Rolling Stones' "Hot Rocks." Keep in mind, students, that everyone their age was at this time supposed to enjoy flannelly grunge or gin-and-juice G-funk. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but these boys wanted something a little more fermented, shall we say.
Blockbuster Albums and Happenin' Tunes (May 5, 2009)
Despite all my best efforts in these columns, though, I couldn't really ever escape my worst vices of geekdom. Two specific music-geeky habits I steadfastly refuse to renounce are 1) choosing an "album of the year" that I played the hell out of in a given twelve-month period (i.e. July to June), and 2) compiling a "best-of" of that same year, filled with songs from the albums I liked best. That doesn't really make for compelling copy, of course, so I went the fiction route again and sort of personalized all my inner monologues. Preposterously, it worked!
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.
For whatever reason, after that last one it was difficult to keep the Music Geek columns coming, but maybe when the novel's done I'll be able to jump back into them. Well...only if they can avoid the worst excesses of unabashed fanboy-ism—which may or may not be likely from someone like me. We shall see. Anyway, next week's edition of SR will be the first of two that continue (for good or ill) to monitor my ongoing political rant output. Amazingly, some of them are actually good this time—or at least redeemable. Tune in next week to keep me honest.

June 07, 2009

Display Some Adaptability, Mister Jones

For a bona fide rock star, I'm a man of surprisingly simple tastes. I like electricity. And amplification. I like wielding both of those things with fearsome power and sublime glory, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. I love shaking up the citizens with a serious lightning bolt every once in a while, just to see them flinch. It's one of my absolute favorite things to do. I mean, it's one thing to be able to take a shock, but the ability—and willpower—to give a shock, to inflict a pure synaptic jolt of raw power upon someone else, well...that's a whole other frequency, dude. That's a level where only snow leopards play, ladies and gentlemen, and not many people truly comprehend what goes on up there.

Oh, there are guesses, for sure—endless and breathless speculation, accusation, and misinterpretation—but those guesses have a predictable tendency to fester and mutate into quasi-answers that ring seductively like chimes of truth, and that's where the trouble starts. Because no one has all the answers. Because evidence and facts and reality and all those silly shibboleths that people desperately cling to are as amorphous as any other intangible uncertainty. Nothing is for sure—even that canard about death and taxes doesn't apply to immortal rock stars and the very rich, who are very different from everyone else.

So no, nobody but nobody has all the answers...except for this one guy, but we all know what happened to him, right? Yeah, he got chopped down to size all quick and brutal-like, didn't he? And why? Because silver is so, so shiny. Because someone's always a trifle too consumed by their own envy and greed, a little too enthralled by their own puffed-up, bloated wisdom. Too enamored of the literal, us-against-them, right-and-wrong false dichotomies all done up cute and pretty in straw-filled Armani style, yo. Or at least that's what the bitchy, do-goody little bastards would like you to believe—that the truth is absolute, that either/or is the only option. With us or against us. Reality-based. Credible and critically-thought out.

And if you dare step outside, work around, or question it? Ho ho, well...that's when you find out the hydra-headed nature of righteous anger, man. The way its half-life can be measured in milliseconds, its impotence in metric tons. The way that ordinarily peaceful, happy, live-and-let-live folkies devolve into monstrous museum pieces, into humorless, stodgy golems of ossifying irrelevancy who boo at something that's already way over their heads. The way that proper, polite pillars of our brave new world erupt with empty farts of impotent anger, crying "Judas!" in petulant pyrrhic fits of mixed-up confusion. Blind-sided, bruised, and bummed-out under an avalanche of rolling stones.

And what if, in the white-hot pressure of the moment, the target of their righteous wrath fearlessly looks right back into their eyes, into their very souls, and sneers:

"I don't believe you. You're a liar."
Not everyone can handle a trip like that, of course, because the accepted laws of physics don't apply at that speed. Scrambling, reactionary desperation takes over very soon after, when the ghost of electricity crackles through the oldest, hoariest clichés, reanimating them in new and terrifying ways and exhuming all the old uncomfortable questions. Because really, where would we be without Judas? Who would we hate and fear, without any of that pesky doubt or guilt getting in the way? How could we know the definitions of words like "treason," "betrayal," or "evil," or ever presume to nail down other slippery concepts of interpersonal metaphysics?

There are two sides to every double-cross, after all. Two sets of assumptions and priorities and eleven-dimensional agendas, all set to explode on contact if the insecurity gauge senses too much unexplained pressure. Someone will always project and then get burned and embarrassed. Someone will always self-immolate in a horrible inferno of shame, and protesteth a bit too much at the horrible wrongness of it all, ranting helplessly about the all-too obvious and predictable outcome. There are all these nice little boxes that life is supposed to fit into, boxes with names like "freedom" and "justice" and "truth"—fragile, meaningless ciphers ripe for shattering as soon as someone figures out how to curve those corners. How to improvise and tease and tweak and bend reality however they see fit. To warp it in their own image. To be the change they wish to see, as it were.

Everyone will act surprised—cursing the light as they had cursed the darkness—although if they had been paying attention in the first place, such seismic shifts of space-time wouldn't seem like quantum leaps. No, because every electric charge begins with one electron—when it senses a vacuum and does what any electron will do in that instance. It jumps—and then the next one does, and the next, and the next after that...and suddenly the speedballs take hold and Robbie's shredding his way through "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and the kick-drum pounds your mind to mush and the band flattens all opposition with an almighty roar like a freight train and you just know something is happening, but you have no idea what it is, do you? How does it feel? How does it fucking feel, Mister Jones?

Think about that for a second, and maybe the next time it happens you won't be so caught by surprise. And look, I realize that people can be very frightened of change. A degenerate starship captain said that, so it must be true. Yeah, change will freak 'em out for sure, especially if it doesn't look like any kinda change they recognize, but things are rarely what they seem, so please, display some fucking adaptability, man. Evolve or die.

Cross-posted: dd, dkos, fsz.

June 06, 2009

Shameless Revisionism: Genre-Bending Gonzo #2

So like I said about a month ago, I have these periodic compulsions to anthologize myself and the twisted, derivative things I write. I call it "Shameless Revisionism" because that's what all compilations are, and also because about this time last summer I re-jiggered this blog to suit these vain impulses, resulting in this series of posts. There are all kinds of categories—fiction, music, journalism, rants—but sometimes a particular post won't fit cleanly into neat little boxes like those, and instead straddle genres and generally screw up my glorious plans to leave a significant legacy of work on the web.

For the first installment of this new round of Shameless Revisionism (covering relatively recent stuff, 2008-09ish), then, I've repeated previous practice and collected the random crap deemed worthy by an expert panel of one, including appropriate Liner Notes of Wisdom where applicable. Click on an essay title link to see the whole post:

Mighty Radical Awesome Power in the Sandbox (Sep. 28, 2008)
Initially a reply to one of my friend Captain Nick's many emails from Iraq, this goofy rant seems like the perfect way to start things off. I'd interviewed him over email during his first tour in 2005 (he commanded a tank), and in '08 he'd returned for a second tour and a slightly different assignment: teaching "basic soldier shit" to the Iraqi army. For this, he was given a very special toy: the MRAP vehicle. I immediately knew how he could use these newfound skills upon his return to the States (which should be any day now):

A hybrid tank-dump truck is truly something else. You could take that bastard on a tour of every monster truck rally in the country and stomp everyone flat while making a shitload of money. I mean, would those other guys have on-board artillery? I'm thinking no. If it can take Mesopotamian combat, it can damn well take Anaheim Stadium on Sunday Sunday Sunday. Mark my words, man- once this shit is all over, there will be a surfeit of differently-skilled MRAP drivers looking for work, and who better to snap them right up than the very same contractors who trained you guys how to drive these things?
When Living in Paradise Totally Blows (Nov. 18, 2008)
This one's sort of a token, only included to round out the rest, and definitely the least compelling of the set. Even so, gonzo rants are gonzo rants, despite whatever mental or physical weaknesses they may reveal—like a sustained hatred for Santa Ana winds:
Yes, folks, I'm gonna be one of those people who whines and bitches too much about the fucking weather—the weather that we Southern Californians are somehow not supposed to understand or experience. Indeed, many of us go all to pieces after the first rains of the season trickle in, forgetting how to drive in inclement conditions and devolving into idiot teenage speed-demons on the slick freeways of the Southland. But good goddamn, when the fiendish easterlies begin booming in from Death Valley—and certain other places someone like Cain would recognize—and start sparking violent orgies of flame from the San Andreas to the sea, it doesn't just ask to be whined about; it demands a full-scale hair-tearing and Hawaiian-shirt-rending. And yet somehow, this appropriate and necessary reflex is waved off as a weakness by some of my more esteemed neighbors.
I'd Still Rather Shiver Than Fry (Dec. 7, 2008)
This entry, and the three after it, are daily diaries from a cold winter in Boston, where I was sent on a business trip to attend the Web Design World convention. All together, they make a fun but pretty bitchy extended travelogue I've since named "When Web Geeks Invaded the Commonwealth." Day 1 went like this:
After a quiet $30 cab ride through the bowels of Boston (yeah, I'll take the T on the way back, thanks), I ended up at the Park Plaza, still dazed from the plane's recycled air combined with the icy sting of the East. The fastidious hotel desk attendant, a sharp-dressed young black man, did get slightly confused by my multiple exotic French names, but it was soon sorted out—hell yes, the Gentleman has a Major Credit Card; don't you know who you're talking to?—and within minutes I was ensconced up on the ninth floor, scarfing through the trappings of room service and peering out onto the frigid streets below. It was loud and boisterous outside—Boston is a City of Youth, with approximately 236 colleges in or around town—but I was in no mood to mingle with the spoiled children of Cambridge or Back Bay, even as they cavorted like wild dingos in heat. I am, after all, a Professional—not, as my lovely wife described me, "a man about town."
Skittish Creatives Desperate for Respect (Dec. 8, 2008)
My notes on the first day of the convention for web geeks. I made friends and enemies right away, and was mightily impressed by the collective knowledge of The Industry. The result, however, was something a little less than the truth, shall we say.
The tone was set right away: a criminally chirpy emcee welcomed everyone with a jolt of enthusiasm right out of high school student government, but that was tempered soon enough by the day's keynote speaker. A grizzled veteran of the early '90s web biz, he regaled us with horror story after horror story, gradually creeping toward the obvious thesis of "Web Designers Ain't Got No Props, Yo." Which is true these days, more or less—now that giddy, venture-capitalistic investors aren't throwing money around like they were a decade ago. It was a twelve-step keynote speech of Doom and Danger, leavened by a single slide with the word "Trust," accompanied by the Elvis Costello album cover of the same name, and somewhere, Bret Easton Ellis shuddered with adolescent embarrassment.
The Snide Lashings of Aesthetic Deconstruction (Dec. 9, 2008)
The convention's second and final day was less exciting from a discussion standpoint, with one glaring exception: a "deconstruction" session where the assembled panelists roasted the design and development skills of anyone dumb enough to submit their company's site for review. Unfortunately for one of my new friends, she took the bait, and paid for it with a crippling anxiety attack.
The panel—comprised of several lecturers from the convention—was not kind. Indeed, while we'd been attempting to staunch the flow of Laura's worry, the whole session had passed in a frenzy of snickering at the various design and programming faux-pas that infested the submitted websites. The witty, agreeable presenters who'd only hours ago regaled us with their combined brilliance had suddenly turned on us, their benefactors, with a smug vengeance that only creative professionals could muster. Laura's company site was eviscerated, just as the others had been, and Rich and I watched helplessly as she collapsed before us in a frenzy of shame.
Pondering Potentially Damaging Trade-Offs (Dec. 11, 2008)
The fourth and last installment of the Boston '08 chronicle, wherein I have a truly awful experience on the flight back. A stopover in Denver nearly demolished my sanity, and by the time Emily picked me up in Burbank I was a total wreck. God, I'm a terrible traveler, but guess what—I'm going to another one of these things next month in Seattle. The clock is ticking.
The jets floated like silent wraiths through the fog outside the airport window, while I sat inside, marooned in heated comfort. Yes folks, I was at Logan for quite a few languid hours yesterday morning, pondering the potentially damaging trade-off between ugly gray rain outside and disgustingly festive holiday music piped in over cable radio. A poor choice of brunch was already oozing maniacally through my guts, but I had to ignore it for the moment and lash together a Meaningful Finale for this Frigid Trip to the East. Not only that, but I felt I needed to justify the considerable expense to the Company this whole trip would incur. Was the Web Design World convention worth it? Had I learned anything? Had I grown, personally and professionally?
I've Seen Things You People Wouldn't Believe (Apr. 17, 2009)
The sad saga of major league shortstop Khalil Greene, who played for San Diego until he was traded to St. Louis before the 2009 season, doesn't really present many instances for cheap laughs. However, my favorite Padres blog Gaslamp Ball had never shirked the sensitive territory of Khalil's taciturn brilliance—robot and Spicoli jokes abounded there during his time as a Padre—so I decided to take what I knew about him and mash it together with Blade Runner, resulting in this sodden piece of fiction. Tactless or not, it's still a favorite of mine.
What frightened me the most is how much I identified with those particular units. The ones who put up crazy numbers day in day out, but choked in high profile situations with names like All-Star Game or Division Series. My reverie was cut short however, when the unit started beeping and whirring, briefly coming to life. Everyone else watched helplessly, but I couldn't stand it anymore, and bent down to cradle Khalil's head in my hands. The replicant's faint whispers were difficult to discern amid the general uproar of the clubhouse, but I know what I heard, damn it—pure emotion. Yes, unadulterated feeling, pouring forth from the mind of an android as it lay there in my arms, a crushed and broken being at the end of its prescribed life-span, and when it spoke, we listened.
Okay, so this is the first of five new Shameless Revisionism posts for this Summer of '09—a summer which looks to be unusually busy at Chéz DuBois, but nothing that won't affect next week's post, at least. I'm gonna do a comprehensive run-through of the increasingly surreal "Requiem for a Music Geek" posts (seven in all) that were all a blast to barf onto the page. Mmmm, it's only rock & roll, but I get the jittery shakes just thinking about it. Tune in next weekend to find out why.

June 03, 2009

A Long Time Ago, We Used to be Friends

Supposedly the universe is expanding at an incredible clip, faster and further than ever before. Well, the scientists are saying so, anyway...and since similar research has recently, and successfully, predicted other improbable things such as the Tampa Bay Rays making it to the World Series, or Barack Obama becoming President of the United States, why not trust the onward March of Science? There is untrammeled growth at every turn, unchecked expansion in every way. From my cushy corner of existence, however, the reality is quite the opposite. You see, my own mental and physical boundaries are most definitely shrinking, and have been for some time now. It isn't as if I hadn't seen it coming, either—hell, I aided and abetted the steady retrograde orbit even when I had the chance to do otherwise.

Because hey, it's the American Dream, right? Give me my stuff and then leave me the hell alone, man! Pure, unfiltered Cookie-Monster-Id-selfishness, which supposedly happens to anyone that acquires a marriage and/or a mortgage—and when it was my turn I scored both those things within a year of each other, so I was marked for doom early on. It wasn't just me, though—I've had to watch the best minds of my generation not only get destroyed by madness, but become crippled by whiplash from oscillations between melodramatic emoting and callous sarcasm. Driven indoors by the hydra-headed fears of ultraviolet radiation, acid rain, noxious smog, and disease-ridden sex—not to mention the multitude of minor annoyances like slacker pizza delivery, bitchy homeowners' associations, and corporate airwaves choked with Auto-Tune.

Naturally, we all wished for release, for something to take us away from the pain of existence's dull roar. Some chose God and rock & roll, some chose Satan and politics, and some waffled like Bill Clinton at the Pound O'Flesh drive-through. An increasing majority, however, combined all that and more—thanks to the omnipotence of Marketing, the Internet, and the burgeoning scourge of Social Media. We sought friendship, and we got Facebook. We searched for meaning, and we got Digg. We longed for economy, and we got Twitter. We burned through stinking hulks of ugliness like MySpace as if it were cheap porn and...oh wait, it was! Sweet Jesus, that was fast! If it weren't for the credit receipt that gets PDF'd to me every month, I wouldn't remember a goddamn thing. Those precious little slices of Adobe are pure Rosetta Stones, and for a good long while, they made me Happy.

Yeah...but at some point we all learn to be careful what we wish for, just like Old Henry the Two, and for me that moment was at five a.m. last Thursday, when I awoke with rage and panic for the eighth straight day in a row. The tweets, man..the awful tweets had been jerking me into consciousness at ungodly hours every morning—and if that wasn't enough, they'd usually be accompanied by the morbid croaks of hideous crows. Sure, you'd think that would be a little odd and annoying, but the crows were the last straw. I mean, if you knew my mother-in-law's name, or what I used to call my beloved blue beast of a Volvo, you'd begin to understand why I shook with horror and screamed to the heavens, "Will no one rid me of these meddlesome tweets?!?"

I'm told by professional medical experts that this is not an uncommon reaction, extreme though it may be. Even so, I'm also told that according to recent polls 90% of Americans "hated high school," and yet have flocked in droves, decade after decade, to umpteen thousand million Reunions. The recent effects of Classmates and Facebook cannot be underestimated here. Erstwhile teenage nobodies who finally have Something To Say, or who long to finally tell That One Guy to fuck off, or who yearn to Ask That One Girl Out, have obviously discovered a boon in such relationship revivals. As for me, I'm okay with virtual contact. Many aren't, but this is how I usually behave anyway—though I'm not allergic to small talk per se. I can pick up an old relationship right where it left off, and remain happily ignorant of most traumatic chasms that may or may not have occurred. Well...sort of, anyway. Currently I have 133 Facebook friends, and I've actually met most of them. I've been drunk with many of them, I've shared a stage with a few of them, and I even slept with one or two. You all know who you are, and you all Rock.

I don't need to really see you much these days, though, because I know what you all will do with your lives. We're all Borg now. Through mutual predictability, we have attained minor levels of omniscience. It's weird—I thought all I'd been doing for the last decade and a half was becoming older, fatter, and balder, but I cant seem to avoid the inescapable revelation that I'm just another one of my generation's horde of mediocre minds, inevitably descending into further depths of casual sociopathy. We've all accepted this idea—taken it to heart, even—that superficial, non-committal relationships are normal, and that real relationships suffer under the boots of melodramatic obsessions and latent anxieties. It's how we survive the passively leprous new social Darwinism, where dogs don't eat other dogs so much as take over when their predecessor is fatally full to bursting. It's survival of the fittest with a shrug and a grunt, where failures are still mocked, sure—derided and scorned with a disturbingly callous level of sarcasm and projection, but only if we decide to care.

Aw hell, who am I kidding? I'm only in this to spy on people—people I've never met, people I used to know, people in my far-flung family whom I should probably call or visit more, and people I should see every day because we live in the same fucking town but are nevertheless constrained by those ever-shrinking radii of advancing middle age and planned obsolescence. I want to see you all, okay? I just don't want to go to the effort of actually getting off my ass and actually contacting you. I mean, my ideal long-lost meet-up would probably go something like this:

Thanks for the add, dude. You look good. Your wife is pretty hot, too. I'm sure you will have beautifully monstrous, well-endowed progeny. Don't ever think twice about the madness you gave up somewhere back there—it wasn't worth it, trust me. Good people went straight to hell, but you never lost it, not like some of us. I'm absolutely not jealous, and I'll never sacrifice you for a Whopper.
Or this:
Hey, I definitely appreciate the add, babe. How you doin'? Nah, just kidding. I'm not insane anymore. I'm actually glad—relieved, even—to see my past emotional instability didn't permanently scar your psyche. Or at least it looks that way from your happy pictures alongside that handsome man (or woman!) of yours. Guess you got off the crazy train that was me at just the right time. I'm absolutely, positively not jealous, and I can say that in 25 Things or less.
Or even this:
My god man, what the hell happened to your hair? And where are your pants? And who put that earring there? No no, not that there's anything wrong with that, but like, I wish you would have told me before. It would have explained so much, you know? Anyways, keep it real and don't let 'em give you any shit about your ponytail. I'm glad you're not jealous. I mean, I hope so—these things can eat you from the inside if you're not...ah, never mind.
"But really," I say to myself, "my once-lost but-now-found friends would love to see these acerbic sneezes of wisdom from me; they'd welcome every last digital drop of nascent reunion because secretly, they'd always been craving it. Aching for it. Surely." I'd really love to believe this, of course, but deep in my soul I know it's not true. I know that every time one of my age-old virtual friends says "let's keep in touch!" or "call me!" or even "kthxbye!" it doesn't amount to that much. No, in the majority of known human languages, gibberish like that merely translates to:
A long time ago we used to be friends, but I haven't thought of you lately at all.
It's all downhill from here, Tom. Oh well. I wonder if there's anything on YouTube...

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, mlw

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