Monthly Archives: May 2004

replay 25 cents

5/31/04

I had the most harrowing bike ride of my life today, and it wasn’t down a cliff in Chile or across the Queensboro Bridge at rush hour – it was on the Santa Monica beach bike path on Memorial Day.

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Eight miles of every way to get your ass kicked. There were pissed-off Hungarian dads who didn’t understand the concept of the “bike path” when he invited his entire family to camp on it; there were skateboard thugs wearing Vans that said FUCK YOU on one shoe and FUCK ME on the other; and there were throngs of sweaty, obese Americans giving God the finger and asking for skin cancer. There were HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE.

It reminded me of the video game “Paperboy,” in which you, the player, have to navigate your furiously-cycling paperboy through a daily route, while being sabotaged by breakdancers, dogs, bees, angry motorists and the occasional terrorist with a black bomb.

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Once I started thinking about my ride as a video game, it got a lot more fun. Never mind that my actual limbs were at stake; it was like skiing. Having done this ride, I’ve come away with a few things:

1. Americans have gotten fatter, but they kept their old bathing suits. I can’t tell you how these gargantuan men and morbidly obese women fit into their Speedos and bikinis, but somehow, they manage to keep their nads and nipples in. I saw one guy in a navy blue Speedo that was so unbelievably leviathan that even fat people stopped to watch him walk by.

2. Boobs have gotten bigger. Maybe this is part of the weight thing, but your average teen didn’t have that kind of chest when I was in high school. Is it the Bovine Growth Hormone in the cheese supply, or is America breeding a gaggle of porn stars? Or did I just go to a conservative prep school in Southern Virginia?

3. The only thing more fun than being with your 15 Mormon cousins at the beach is being with your 15 Mexican cousins at the beach. I mean, I thought we had FUN down to a science when all us cousins got together back in 1983, but these Mexican* kids are a blast. I raced two of them over the Temescal hill, and we all high-fived the winners. Then, I was paid the ultimate compliment when a girl chucked a ball at me, and I caught it, mid-ride, to her delight. Oh, to be Mexican and young again!

* see comments

great balls of CRAP

5/27/04

I would like to draw attention to something I believe is a benchmark of shittiness, a piece of entertainment so bad that it should have been exposed as culture-drubbing dreck long ago: of course, I’m talking about the movie “Top Gun.”

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“Top Gun” is where the ’80s began to get fucking awful; nothing entering 1986 survived intact, and that includes the Smiths. Chernobyl was bad in 1986, but I think the real cultural meltdown occurred on movie screens across America.

You’ve all seen it, so I don’t need to tell you the plot. However, some things need mentioning: the story of snotty-ass prick Tom Cruise becoming a man by breaking all the rules as a devil-may-care flyboy made me shudder with rage when I was 18 years old and supposed to be enjoying it. It’s sexist as hell, a script that has Kelly McGillis falling for Our Hero even though he is STUNNINGLY obtuse and rides a motorcycle.

When people talk about how hollow cheap the 1980s were, they’re really talking about “Top Gun.” People blame “Jaws” and “Star Wars” for the death of American movies, but “Top Gun” is the real reason. It celebrates cock, lauds a me-first machismo, and manages to be clumsily homoerotic without even being interesting. When they did that “I feel the need, the need for speed” line, I took the plastic spork out of my theater nachos and STUCK IT INTO MY BRAIN.

It also marked the nadir for two recording artists: say what you want about Kenny Loggins, but Loggins & Messina had some great songs in the ’70s, and “I’m Alright” from “Caddyshack” was awesome. “(Right Into) The Danger Zone,” however, is absolute bile. Also, Berlin – who previously gave us the moody, evocative “Sex (I’m A…)” and “Metro” absolutely destroyed their careers with “Take My Breath Away,” which is a fucking embarrassment.

Frankly, I was happy Goose (Anthony Edwards, with hair) gets killed, if only to relieve Tom Cruise – and, by extension, his long-suffering audience – from his turgid, onanistic self-involvement. I wanted Val Kilmer, only a year away from his brilliant “Real Genius,” to beat the shit out of him.

There, I’ve said it. Now I can sleep.

peaty, with a spicy resin nose

5/26/04

Another fantastic birthday courtesy of my wonderful wife. We trekked up to the Getty Museum (where I’d never been) and salivated over the delicious Rembrandts, the Bouguereau, the stunning portraits by David. My favorite part was the Illuminated Texts room, which had illustrated books from the 8th century. I think that shit rocks.

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Tessa and me at the Getty – the packed 405 freeway stretches between us

I’m keeping this short because I am in the post-coital throes of a Macallan 25-year-old single malt scotch, bought for me by the effervescent Spencer Garrett. Why, you ask? Because Tessa threw me a surprise party at Pinot in Hollywood, where some of my favorite Left Coasters congregated for shrimp hors d’oeuvres.

Of course, this being Los Angeles, only two people were there for the actual “surprise” and the other twenty filtered in throughout the evening. But getting twenty people to do anything in Los Angeles had to be considered a huge success. In the land where “yes” means “no” and “definitely” means “maybe,” we had a great crowd and a terrific time.

Oh, and thanks to all of you for your awesome wishes yesterday. If it weren’t for the ‘comments’ section, I might have given this up long ago.

take a ch-ch-ch-chance

5/25/04

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my 5th birthday

I always write these blogs late at night, so by the time you read this, it will be my birthday. I’m turning thirty-seven years old today, an age so bizarre-sounding that you have to write it out: “thirty-seven.” This means I am no longer “in my mid-thirties” – in fact, some people would call it “pushing forty.” I remember a long time ago, my brother Kent was telling me that the band members of XTC (whom this blog is named after) were “pushing forty,” and I thought that seemed unbelievably depressing.

Of course, Kent himself provides an excellent scout to the lands ten years ahead of me – he’s like Achilles’ ship in “Troy,” seeking out the decades before I get there. By my definition, he’s “pushing fifty” and he still rock and/or rolls every night and parties every day.

Ten or eleven years ago, I was part of an online community on Usenet that was a vibrant, electric and eclectic discussion of all things Generation X, and the time came when the eldest members were about to turn 30. It was a really big issue for all of us, but I decided that I was going to embrace 30 for all it had to give.

Turned out 30 had to give existential dread and moments of suicide contemplation, but hey, you can’t win ’em all.

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my 20th birthday – note Sean’s super-mullet at far left, and my clear Swatch

Now, at 37, most people will tell you how they are in the best shape of their lives, and how they never felt so good, and how everything seems to be falling into place. I think that’s a lot of wishful hooey – I have to stretch like crazy after the first hoops game or else I will seize up like an old Datsun with no oil, and I can’t fucking drink anymore because the hangovers are SO NOT WORTH IT.

But I will cop to two things: things do seem to be falling into place, and I still look relatively young. Bad skin and stupid hair, as I always say, will keep you fresh in the eye of your beholders. People who look at me these days think “no self-respecting 37-year-old would have hair that stupid.” I still get carded.

Sixteen years ago tonight, I drove to the all-night liquor store in Arcadia (only a few miles from here) and bought my first legal liquor: two airplane bottles of Absolut. Tonight, I went to a similar store in Santa Monica and bought a Forbidden Coke and a Zantac. Perhaps that’s telling, but fuck that Coke tastes good. I have reverted to the simpler pleasures of my tenth and eleventh birthday, and it feels wonderful.

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a few minutes after midnight tonight, in the car

never heard the word “impossible”

5/24/04

You know how, when you are about to move away from a place, time seems compressed into these crystal nuggets of “Must Do This Before We Leave”? When you start a summer, or a vacation, the weeks stretch ahead like endless patches of the Sudan, but the last few days happen in miles per second squared. We are leaving California in less than a week, and I’m already beginning to miss it.

Tessa and I had our first visit to the Disney lot today, to talk TV with some great people in Production. That part of Burbank actually seems like a ski resort in permanent summer, with the mountains hanging so close to the valley (and the water tower shaped like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice hat added to the ambience).

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“Laugh-In,” of course, was filmed in beautiful downtown Burbank

Like all things, TV seems absolutely impermeable until you actually get inside the buildings and crane your ear to hear a meeting, and then you think: these are people just like you, except they’ve learned how to do something specific, and really well. If your goal is syndication, and syndication happens around the 100th episode, think of how hard it is to tell 100 stories about the same group of people.

It’s easy to talk about how bad TV is, and I had my own falling-out-of-love with television around 1992 or so. Previous to that, I had seen, digested, memorized, and obsessed over every sitcom, drama and game show ever aired. In Iowa, we were the first test audience for cable TV, and in college, the tube was always set to AMBIENT. Something clicked in me around 1992, a feeling of betrayal, like TV no longer cared enough to call every night and send me chocolates.

I’m getting over it now, as a new spate of shows has made the genre exciting again. I haven’t seen more than five minutes of a reality show in my life, but comedies like “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Scrubs” – and dramas like “24” and “Alias” – would have KICKED MY ASS in 1981. I would have cancelled my paper route and rebuilt an ancient Zenith set for my bedroom (like I did for “Mork and Mindy”). Sure, for every cancelled gem like “Wonderfalls” there is season 47 for “According to Jim,” but it feels like we might be headed for a mini-Renaissance.

At least I hope so. And it would be nice to be there writing one.

tell me why-yi-yi-yi

5/23/04

Okay, I need to understand why Republicans and conservatives do the things they do. I think I kind of get it, but to stretch my mind that far, I have to put myself in the position of an 8-year-old on the playground, or, at the very least, a petulant teenager.

Let’s step back for a second and look at what conservatives stand for:

1. rolling back environmental protection so that businesses can operate less expensively

2. denying women the right to an abortion

3. stopping affirmative action and generally fighting laws that benefit African Americans

4. believing in a small government with as few laws as possible

5. believing in a strict fiscal budget with highly curtailed spending

6. teaching abstinence in schools and taking the offensive against literature, pictures and other art they see as “pornographic”

7. letting the Arts fund themselves

8. I forgot what eight was for, but

9. pre-emptive military strikes on sovereign nations

10. Machiavellian outlook on world politics, so as to put American needs over those of the entire Earth.

Did I get any of these wrong? Sure, you can quibble semantics, but basically, get a few gin & tonics into your average staunch conservative Republican, and they’d basically agree.

Now, the abortion question is really one of taste – either you can stomach the idea of a woman getting to choose whether their fetus lives or dies, or you can’t. There are other things at play here, such as most mens’ basic need to control women regardless of topic matter, but we’ll let that lie for now.

I can even slightly fathom the way Republicans go after affirmative action, if they truly believe the program was a failure, or that it is unfair in some basic principle. I don’t agree, but I get it. And the “fiscal responsibility” and “small government” beliefs turned out to be utter bullshit – any administration with a half-trillion deficit and a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage hasn’t got much ammo in that department.

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And as much as it pains me, I can also understand the way conservatives want to de-fund the arts. They just don’t think it’s important. I can’t MAKE them. They just don’t get it.

But the rest of the list is truly stunning, un-fathomable, self-destructive, self-loathing and TOTALLY UNSUSTAINABLE. Conservatives in America remind me of cancer in human bodies – both are on a collision course to destroy the place where they flourish.

Assuming for a second that conservatives don’t have a death wish, what possible good can come of letting our environment fuck off? I mean, really? Don’t they live there too? If they’re smart – or even logical – they’ll also understand that any business that destroys the environment is a terrible long-term bet.

And what’s with the hubris and utter disrespect for other cultures on the planet? We are FOUR PERCENT of the world’s population. What GOOD does it do us to be such FUCKWADS? How do conservatives benefit from the arrogant dismissal of, say, Iraqi sovereignty, or the Kyoto Protocol? How is it good for Republicans to have vast stretches of the world despise America? I mean, I’m asking!

Here are a few possible answers:

They don’t care. Yep, they’ll be dead before anything REALLY BAD happens to the environment, and things seem fine right now, and the dividend checks keep coming, so why should they worry? Global warming? That’s for their grandkids. Trillions in debt? Hell, they won’t be around to pay that either.

If this is the way they think, then we can just go ahead and label them ASSHOLES.

They are Apocalyptic, End-of-Days Christians. We know John Ashcroft is a part of this sect. There have been speculations that Bush is one of them. As I’ve said before, I think W. is waaaay too comfy to get psyched about the Apocalypse, but they way some of these guys behave is so atrocious that, well, perhaps they really do believe that none of this shit matters because Christ is coming again.

If this is the way they think, then we can just go ahead and label them REALLY SCARY.

They are Inconsolable Control Freaks. Maybe conservatives really do think they can control the way the world works. Even after every test, every poll, every bit of research suggests otherwise, maybe they think they can actually convince teens to stop having sex, or that Muslims can be converted to Christianity, or that they can keep young men and women from growing up gay. It must be tiring to keep that up. If this is the way they think, I would call them “exhausted,” but mostly UTTERLY DELUDED.

Is there something I’m missing here? Is it all about the money? Is it about power? WHAT CONVINCES THESE PEOPLE to be SO DESTRUCTIVE if THEY WILL BE DESTROYED AS WELL?

to be, rather than “to seem”

5/20/04

Let’s have a little fun, shall we? Time to ask our periodical question, namely: How Are You Web Users Finding My Blog? The statistics page keeps a blindingly granular count of every single method the hoi polloi uses to find their way here, so let me print this month’s current top search terms:

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I could have cut and pasted it, but frankly, I don’t need anyone else coming to this blog looking for “hard f*cking.” And yes, I’m using asterisks to keep this particular entry from being Googled to death.

First off, this site seems to be the repository for the best picture of the human bra*in, based on a migraine I had, like, two years ago. Glad to be of service. Also, I’ll let on that I know how Tina F*y got her scar, but I’m not telling any of you, despite how much the fine folks at Gawker want to know.

Nice to find out my own name is beat by Tina’s mishap, but also cool to see old pal L*urie Dhue from Fox News (and loyal Tar Heel) getting nice numbers. As for “lact*ting,” I get the feeling there’s some fetishists in the house. Speaking of which… pictures of women wearing one sh*e? Are you kidding?

Some sad entries – the Rimadyl stuff, which I’ve already covered, and Sp*lding Gray’s last trip into the East River. And if people come here looking for wasabi powder, I wouldn’t mind someone telling me where they found the good stuff.

Too cute for words: the music to “Happiness” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (a song I sang with Billy Crudup onstage at Carolina, mind you) and of course, that vixen Sarah Jessica Parker in a pair of over*alls. What could be better?

Oh yeah – leave Mr. Marcarelli and Ms. Hofeld out of your fantasies, please. Both are fine TV presences, good old friends, and might be creeped out by the amount of Googling you’re doing. Go back to wearing one shoe and taking pictures.

And have a great weekend!

i swallowed the pill

5/19/04

The siren call of California has worked its magic into the dendrite fiber of my brain, and Tessa’s too – you know how your body regenerates cells so that you are an entirely different human every 7 years? The effects of this transmogrification must kick in after three months, because New York is seeming very distant, like I’m not sure I was ever there.

Everything in Santa Monica is an opiate. Take this, for example:

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I’m not sure what those flowers are, growing on the phone wire, but they give me the soporific sensation of those poppy fields in “The Wizard of Oz.” You get sleepy with the beauty here, every day sunny, cloudless and 78 degrees. You’d need a heart made of bruises and veins filled with methane NOT to grow a little complacent.

I swore that I would never return to Los Angeles unless three things happened:

1) I was invited

2) I had a job

3) I could live by the water

Lo, and the Heavens spake forth that I should lack none of those three things, and It has made all the difference. The fourth, most unspoken difference is that I’m here with my wife, thus rendering the delirious horrorshow called “Dating in Los Angeles” a moot point.

I can’t recommend NOT DATING in Los Angeles enough. My advice for all men thinking about taking the Hollywood plunge is to forcibly remove your own nads, or swear off all intimacy in a monk-like devotion to your craft. Women: moving to LA means putting all hope of meaningful contact into a lockbox, which you may only open on trips outside the state. This sounds draconian, sure, but BELIEVE ME, it makes everything so… much… easier…

But if you’re married? Shit, come to LA and enjoy it. It’s awesome. The weather never changes! If you’re talented, you might get paid for doing something you like! And there’s no humidity!

i’m feeling rather dizzy

perhaps I should lie down

I am a Child of Gosh

5/18/04

While sitting between basketball games at the Mormon Temple, I wandered into the room where they teach Sunday School to the under-12 crowd. I used to be stuck in there when I was a kid, so seeing the room again was eerie. Even more bizarre is the mural that has been on the wall since the 1960s. Thank God I had my camera:

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click image for bigger

This painting used to scare the blithering nuts out of me. There was something so haunting about having your life spelled out for you in this way, as if we were on some unflinching continuum on our way back to the Heavenly Creator.

The most distressing part, for me, was the actual artwork. Rendered in that caring, inoffensively deft touch of the whitest 1950s, this was the sort of painting they used to hang in hospitals, the places where my great-grandparents would hang up their proud souls to die amongst bedpans and the smell of barf.

Underneath each image of this mural is a plaque: BIRTH – TEACHING – FAITH (the kid with the book) – ETERNAL MARRIAGE – WORK AND SERVICE (you can tell by the hard hat) – EVERLASTING FAMILY – ADVERSITY (you can tell, because the Mormon guy finally loosened his tie) – CAREGIVING – and then, of course DEATH (which isn’t really death because Man lives forever). And then it’s back up to the heavens with ya.

Life just seems depressingly short and full of terrible things to wear. The quote on the ADVERSITY plaque reads “remember, Jesus said that God always hurts the ones he loves,” and hey, who would know better than Jesus, huh?

When I was little, I used to look up at the picture and think that I was probably the age of that kid reading the Bible. Now I look at this thing and think “I’m the motherscratcher in the hard hat.”

sarin-dipity

5/17/04

Look, I know this happens all the time, and I look like a real whiner when I point it out, and it’s not going to change anybody’s opinion…

BUT…

Earlier today in Iraq, some insurgent left a roadside bomb beside some American convoy. Before the Americans could disarm it, the thing exploded, and two soldiers have been treated for slight exposure to the nerve gas sarin.

The markings on the shell were from the 1980s, and it was a very poor use of sarin, so poor that many military experts and a former weapons inspector have conjectured that the insurgents didn’t even know it had sarin in it – it looked like every other shell in the pile. One weapons inspector said that it was probably a prototype left over from an aborted test years ago.

So, my first thought was: from this tiny canister of poorly-stored sarin, the Bush Administration is going to say that they found Weapons of Mass Destruction. I waited for the story to blow up, but by this afternoon, it wasn’t even on the front page of the New York Times’ website. Nor the BBC, or Reuters. CNN? They were interested in hurricanes:

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How about the populist USA Today? Well, they semi-buried it as part of another story on Iraq:

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yes, I altered one of the pictures, but Bush’s image is not allowed on my blog

Ah, but our other friends, you ask? Simple:

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Yep, that’s right. “Sarin, Mustard Gas Found in Iraq.” Obviously, they know that Average Joe Buttplug is going to take one look at that headline and scream “Damn right! Bush saw this shit comin’ a mile away! I bet them ragheads got more, too!”

It’s the little things that get me. This particular instance may not be all that big a deal, but each editorial decision made by these people, tiny little calculations, day by day, has made our populace utterly impermeable to the truth. I just need to print it out so it exists somewhere, not just the rage-filled chambers of the back of my mind.