Monthly Archives: September 2005

choose one: scylla, charybdis

9/29/05

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I’ve lived through my fair share of apocalypish circumstances: spent fall of 2001 in downtown Manhattan, found myself in the aftermath of Hurricane Opal in 1995 and Fran in 1996, was near the epicenter of the Whittier Quake in 1987, and was a Carolina basketball fan in 2002. However, there’s nothing quite like a Los Angeles basin wildfire, and one is burning several miles to the north of us while I speak.

The last few days in LA have been kind of awful: the Santa Ana winds, usually harbingers of clean air from the desert, brought in 100+ degree temperatures and make your lips crack open and bleed while you sleep. It’s like living in the mouth of a hair dryer. Worse yet, the winds bring these giant infestations of termites that clog up your bathtub and flitter around like locusts. I went into Lucy’s room today, and there were termites all over her crib, like a deleted scene from “The Exorcist.”

Wildfires down here are simply Dante-esque in their utter calamity. You can be driving down the freeway and fires will be raging on either side, like those Jack Chick comic tracts about the Rapture. There is this pressing feeling of no escape, and with the news about Alaska melting it feels rather hopeless and bleak. I’m just no good in hot weather, and it seems like that’s all the 21st century has to offer.

The only upside to these fires is the smoke that blows to sea, sluicing through the sun and creating these sickeningly beautiful sunsets. I made Tessa and Lucy stop the car so I could take a few pictures where Wilshire Blvd. hits the Pacific:

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important to find beauty and drama where you can

stand clear of the closing doors please

9/27/05

I’m starting to get really homesick. Even though we are in the midst of one of the biggest career cliffhangers possible in the entertainment biz, I heard reports that my pumpkins in Columbia County have grown to the size of Volkswagens, and I just want to be there hitting golf balls at cows.

Every Tuesday I drive 35 miles to play basketball in the San Gabriel Valley, even though nobody there particularly knows me (or particularly likes me) but I keep going, because I love the sport and don’t know of any other game in these parts. I long for the Tuesday and Thursday games at Mulberry Street Garden where I can give a sweet pass to Dan Kois and pack the shit out of Lindsay Bowen.

We can see the ocean if we look down the street, and obviously the waters are lovely, but part of me wants to see the brown sludge of the Gowanus Canal lapping against the warehouses of Brooklyn. I miss my local pharmacist on 7th Avenue, where there aren’t any 6-foot blondes with giant plastic tits moaning about their managers on their cell phones.

Being a writer in Los Angeles, at many times, feels like being a caged racehorse. So many labyrinthine politics, so much being “on,” so much discussion of what you will write that I almost want to rent a houseboat, sail to Guam and write a tortured novel in a fiery burst of page-shredding graphomania. I’ll write all over the hull, all down the deck, scribble on all the sails, and expunge verbosity on the poop.

Yes, we’re so lucky to be in the game. It beats working construction, operating the cashier station at Hardee’s, and taking the toll on I-90. But sighing over a distant homeland is a universal emotion, and homesickness is an equal-opportunity employer.

pop rocks: 2 parts, coke: 1 part, then mix

9/26/05

If one is as prone to falling hook, line and sinker for Generational Theory the way I am, several storylines make a lot of sense from the 1970s until now. The beef with the Silent Generation (born 1925-1942) was that they went through the sexual revolution at the same time the Boomers did, during the late sixties. The problem was, unlike the Boomers, the Silents already had kids, making the little ones suffer through their parents’ sexual awakening and key parties. Cue divorce, latchkey kid syndrome, and basically MY generation.

Thus us kids born in the sixties and seventies grew up with a presently-unacceptable amount of danger: no bike helmet laws, lots of eating food off the floor, sitting three inches from the TV, and popping Thalidomide like aspirin. Or, in the case of my family, it was long stretches of untethered drifting followed by periodic bursts of hellish micromanagement. Your mileage might have varied.

Enter the Boomers having kids in the 80s and 90s. I haven’t done the comparative research, so don’t hold me to this, but the Boomers’ kids are the most protected, coddled, mollified, drugged, organized, litigated and structured children in the history of the planet. The Simpsons, as usual, say it best with the omnipresent woman at every school event who wails “won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?!?

And now, as is evidenced by my blog entry of last Friday, it is our turn to have kids. Back when we were working on the generational books, I gave a lot of thought to how I would raise future children, even though it was to be another decade before Lucy showed up. I kept coming to the same conclusion: a monitored freedom. Take the barefoot learn-for-themselves quality of the 70s that I had, and mix it with the digital know-how and research of the present day.

As many of you with babies know, that is a tightrope the width of a human hair. There’s so much information about what your kiddie is ingesting – in the womb, in breastmilk, and in the lungs – that sometimes you just want to hermetically seal your brood inside a giant bottle of Purell.

This is especially a big conflict when it comes to certain drugs a parent needs to emotionally survive, and the conflicting reports of what the drug may or may not do to your little tyke. In circumstances when it seems like all the research is inconclusive, and nobody really knows anything, Tessa and I developed a rule we call the In Case of A Drop in Cabin Pressure Syndrome, shortened to The Oxygen Mask Rule.

When you’re on the plane, the flight attendants always tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then tend to your children. I’ve always thought this made a lot of sense in pretty much all aspects of childrearing.

Your kid is hearty and chances are it’s going to flourish. You, on the other hand, are prone to the vicissitudes of your insane situation. Fix yourself first, keep yourself functioning, and then concentrate on the child.

I don’t mean this in the way the Silent Generation did: they “fixed themselves” in order to self-actualize and make themselves better people for themselves only, with the kids as an occasional annoyance. Our generation, in contrast, must “fix itself” in order to become better parents, to breathe deep the oxygen and immediately serve Captain Squirmypants with a clear head.

I knew Tessa first. If Lucy is screaming and Tessa is screaming*, I’m running to take care of Tessa. Tessa is the lighthouse that keeps all our boats from crashing on rocky shores, and Lucy, although I love her more than life itself, is probably just hungry.

*Tessa never screams

i’d recommend the lob wedge, sir

9-25-05

Many of you know Jiffer, my lovely friend (and Pink House alumnus) who is currently in Afghanistan, making sure the elections happen. Jiff was also on her high school golf team in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin, and taught me a few tips last year that truly helped my game when I was first starting.

How are those two related? Glad you asked. I’d heard an interview on NPR with Mohammad Afzal Abdul, the only golf pro at Afghanistan’s Kabul Golf Club, where he described the course’s peculiar greens and bizarre hazards.

Imagine our delight when we got word yesterday that Jiffer and her partner won the first Kabul Desert Open since the 1979 Soviet invasion! Her friend Tom filed this story for the Telegraph in England, and I’ll just let the story speak for itself. Pictures are courtesy Jiff herself.

***

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view from the 1st tee

Players dodge the mine hazards at Kabul’s golf open

By Tom Coghlan in Kabul

(Filed: 24/09/2005)

A wayward shot could land you in a minefield. The fairway was only recently cleared of three burnt-out Russian tanks and a multi-barrelled rocket launcher.

Afghanistan’s only golf course held the first Kabul Desert Open golf tournament since the 1979 Soviet invasion yesterday, despite some unusual “course hazards”.

Twenty teams drawn from the city’s expatriates competed on the nine-hole course. The tournament’s winners were two American UN workers: Sam Hendricks, 35, and Jiffer Bourguignon, 28.

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above: Sam swings; below: Jiffer’s pelvis

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John Dempsey, an American lawyer working for the justice ministry and the event’s organiser, told entrants they were playing “at their own risk”. However, despite a distant burst of automatic gunfire midway through the day, the sole casualty was a stray goat hit by Mr Hendricks with a drive off the fourth tee. He was allowed to retake the shot.

The club, set in the foothills outside Kabul, opened in 1967 with lush greens and numerous water hazards. Today the fairways are overgrown with thorn bushes, riddled with trenches and the water features have long since dried up.

The fairways are in such a poor condition that shots are played off portable squares of plastic turf. The only bunkers are of the military variety. Instead of greens, there are “browns”, made of a mixture of compacted sand and oil, which slope sympathetically towards the hole.

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“Attack the course! Play aggressively,” read the club instructions. The arrival of the Red Army caused an unwelcome hiatus in the club’s history. It only reopened again last year.

While they were here, the Russians were not keen golfers, apart from one ambassador who played frequently off a handicap of 24. Unpopular to this day, Russians are still blackballed from the club.

“Foreigners play here. And Afghans. But not Russians,” said the club professional, Mohammad Afzal Abdul, 48, who was imprisoned by the Russians.

He was also arrested and held for two months by the Taliban after they discovered his collection of tournament trophies and accused him of working for foreigners. “They beat me with cables,” he said. “All the Taliban are banned from this club and so are al-Qa’eda.”

A scratch player who has worked at the club on and off for 30 years, he recalled the 1970s as a golden age when a host of outstanding amateurs were to be found on the links. “One was an Englishman called Murray Poole, a very fine player,” said Mr Abdul.

The area has been the scene of fighting at various times during the 30-year war in Afghanistan, most recently in 2001 when fighters loyal to the powerful warlord Abdul Rassul Sayyaf fought against the Hazara warriors of Abdul Ali Mazari.

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Kabul Golf Club’s caddies

To deter kidnappers, many players yesterday chose to play with an armed caddy, apparently not reassured by the police presence. The club currently has 300 Afghan members and more than 100 foreign members. There is no dress code.

Unusually, given Afghanistan’s often restrictive attitude towards women, female members are most welcome. But there is no 19th hole and, given the country’s policy on alcohol, no likelihood of one opening soon.

Post Script from Jiffer: yes, Tom got my age wrong – 31 but thank you!

– The goat Sam hit was not hurt in this incident.

– Our caddy was unarmed. love, jiff

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and jupiter aligns with mars

9/22/05

Well, here it is, the end of September, and I’d officially like to yell a giant HUZZAH to the Babies of Fiscal Year 2004-05! That’s right, we had twelve friends (actually more) give birth to their firstborn this fiscal year, so here’s the calendar you’ve all been waiting for!

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at two days

Ms. August: Lucy Kent Blake-Williams – Conceived in the sweltering days of late summer, Lucy is one baby that will never say “no” to vacation! She loves a swimming pool and likes splashing around sans clothes while screaming nonsense!

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Mr. September: Hank Drucker – Moody yet brilliant, Hank was born to Nell Casey and Jesse Drucker just after Lucy. Look for him to play 2nd base for the 2026 Mets.

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Mr. October: Jackson Bowen – Ladies’ man Jack gets going in late fall, just like his father’s theater seasons. Born in December to Lindsay and Dana, he has promised to look after Lucy’s honor until she can look after it herself.

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Ms. November: Polly Gilmore – The tousled-haired child of Laurie Williams Gilmore and Giblet frontman George, her black-Irish locks and brooding Welsh nature make her an autumnal delight!

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Mr. December: Noah Lyon-Hartley – Gorgeous blue eyes and a shock of red hair make Jason and Tim’s little boy the English bloke you want on your side during a pub fight! A Dickens hero come to life, he’ll sing bass during “God Rest Ye Merry”!

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Mr. January: Noah Jost – Back to back with another redhead named Noah, Stasia and Jim’s handsome fella is a charmer who might be our year’s comic, keeping the winters warm and brisk.

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Ms. February: Lyra Smith Kois – A Valentine’s Day heartbreaker, Lyra strums her own harp. Will any of the boys escape her spell?

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Mr. March: Cogan McMichaels – Born with bangs – BANGS I tell you – Cogan’s next move will be fronting a hair band before settling into a richly rewarding singer-songwriter oeuvre. Many songs will be written about parents Matt and Carrie, who will try to revoke his poetic license.

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Ms. April: Stella Rose Leftwich Murphy – With a name that rivals Lucy’s, Hilary Howard and Jy Murphy’s punkin arrived just a week before ours. Spring showers us with Stella’s wit, destined for the Paper of Record.

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Mr. May: Finley Dunn – Summer coming? Finn’s your man. Born in December to Pink House alum Penny Franks and Matthew Dunn, Finn will be the first to suggest a plunge in the lake off the rope swing.

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Ms. June: Bella Gwendolyn Tessman – Bella made her debut last month to Tessa’s cousins Paul and Heather Tessman, and is currently sleeping, dreaming of June flowers and fields of lavender.

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Mr. July: Benjamin Samuels – The last of the class of Fiscal Year 2004-05, Virginia Heffernan and David Samuels’ very Gentle Ben will be the editor we always wanted: firm, decisive, funny, empathetic… and very loose with his contacts at the New Yorker.

Props also to the other members of the fiscal year (go Kathy, Jenny O. and JJE!) but sleep deprivation is stalling my brain. Also to those friends who plowed the road before us – among them, Cath & Jon, Lorraine & Alex, David & Farah, the Kellerans and all the commenters whose sage advice truly saved our ass in the early trenches. Also, I’d like to thank the Deity of everyone’s choice that we were all so blessed with healthy little whippersnappers. I’m in awe of all of them.

Huzzah!

parjanya murmured

9/20/05

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Today it rained.

I know that means little to everyone else, but here in Venice, the sun has been shining unabated for the entire three months we’ve been here. It hadn’t rained the month before we got here. The blacktop was baked, cracked, there were file cabinets in back yards with papers opened, and a feeling it was never going to rain again.

We saw flashes over the ocean last night, but didn’t take them seriously. Maybe it was a ship beacon? A transformer box erupting? And then, this morning, the wistful sound of water beads hitting the roof, and then the palm trees, and then the pelting plush of drops on grass.

Our power went out, as though the utility poles themselves were caught completely unawares. We lay in the 5am half-darkness, just listening to the rain as though it were a once-familiar song with lyrics utterly forgotten.

Later, the sidewalks were clear. Urine that had stained the pavement for months was now washed to sea. It was a clean slate; you could see through the car window once more. The Santa Monica mountains, usually blurs, rose in the distance with dark peaks set sharp against a troubled sky.

For a few hours, Los Angeles almost seemed human, almost seemed like it had moods, was vulnerable. The devastating sameness, the oppressive sunshine had lifted. Jogged into consciousness, I woke up and missed New York terribly.

xaxanprilokevlixec, 800 mg b.i.d. (orally)

9/19/05

Sometimes I accrue such anger in my heart, and have nowhere to put it, which means that you, my fellow blog readers, occasionally suffer for it. I had such a moment this evening while listening to All Things Considered, when I heard a column written by a 33-year-old woman suffering from A.L.S. (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), read aloud by her sister. I know I ask a lot, but please give it a listen here – it’s short and heartbreaking.

We’ve had a lot of personal experience with ALS – Tessa’s great uncle died from it, as well as her friend Jennifer Estess, who famously created an organization to fight it. At the ALS benefit, we were honored to sit with Christopher Reeve, who told us first-hand how the current administration was keeping stem cell research in the Stone Age.

Tessa will never toot her own horn, so I always toot it for her: she made a documentary called “Project A.L.S.” that manages to be both informative and beautifully-rendered, and it won the Audience Award at the Nantucket Film Festival, as well as the Media That Matters award at Human Rights Film Festival. All this to say: we are living in the Dark Age Before Stem Cells Change Everything.

Even select Republicans have seen the light: Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter have joined with the Democrats to push a national agenda on stem cells, and we could lead the world down the promised road, if it weren’t for… yep, you guessed it. George W. Bush. The man has stonewalled every attempt at an honest stem cell program (and no, conservative commenters, don’t even TRY to argue that one) and set us back decades. I don’t hate right-wingers for being wrong, I hate them for being cruel.

While Bush fucking cleared brush at his farm, Chris Reeve died, then Jennifer Estess, then thousands of other people with A.L.S., Parkinsons, Alzheimers – and right now my own mom may be slowly going blind from macular degeneration. All things that could be cured if we’d been on track with stem cells. Think of the amount of suffering just in this country alone: the men unable to hug their children, the intense pain, the depression, the suicide… all while that smirking fratboy President talks about “cultures of life.” Which is a code word for “as long as I keep my conservative base happy, your dad with Alzheimer’s can fuck off.”

Don’t tell me that we’re okay because states like New York and California are going ahead with their own stem cell research programs – do you know how much headway we could make if the whole country started a Manhattan Project to eradicate brain disease and paralysis? Plus, it puts more taxpayer onus on those states that are forward-thinking enough to do the research, when it would benefit all Americans (and the whole world, for that matter). It would be just one more thing that the red states would gladly take from us, even while they were “morally opposed” to how we got there. It’s enough to make you want to puke all over Oklahoma.

Our friend Josh Shenk has a cover story for the Atlantic Monthly right now (as well as a fabulously well-reviewed book) about Abraham Lincoln’s clinical depression, and how it made him better served to get our country through a time of crisis. He conjectured that Lincoln’s melancholy allowed him access to creativity, humility, empathy, and a theological relativism… that puts him squarely at odds with Bush, who is said to be HEAVILY medicated for depression.

Granted, the Bush-antidepressant rumor is still filed under “worst-kept secret in Washington,” but only a cocktail of SSRIs – like say, Prozac and Zoloft with a Welbutrin chaser – could make a man so visibly unaffected by massive human suffering, and make a President seemingly vacuous and indecisive when we need him most. And listen, if he’s NOT on antidepressants, it makes his behavior even worse.

Either way, I had a little daydream. While Darcy Wakefield was describing the hell of dying from A.L.S. above, I dreamt that all current sufferers of debilitating diseases that could be cured by stem cells gathered together. They resurrected the pale ghosts of Reeve and Estess, and they lined up with all their energy for one synaptic moment. All the useless arms and atrophied muscle came to life for a split second, as they all collectively hit Bush in the face with one glorious roundhouse slap.

I’m not violent by nature, and sure, it was a dream, but man, it made me feel better.

nietzsche is dead

9/18/05

Verse XIII of the Swingin’ Hit “I’m a Crusty Old Fart Complaining About Kids Today”

Having given more than four years of my life to the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina – and crediting most of my future success to said paper – I feel pretty damned qualified in bitching and moaning about what has become of the Daily Tar Heel.

Last week, one of their columnists, a venomous right-wing guttersnipe named Jillian Bandes, wrote a piece saying that she wished every Arab coming near an airport would get a cavity search, being “sexed up” as they did so. Go ahead and read the article, I dare you. [Oops, it’s not there. This has replaced it. Anyone in the comments section find it somewhere? Yes! Thanks, Mr. The Budster!]

After an unusual uproar, the editor of the DTH fired her ass, not for being a racist asshole, but because she’d taken quotes out of context and misled her subjects as to her true intentions. It being a slow post-Katrina news cycle, Yahoo! picked up the story, and then the columnist fired off one last salvo in which she gives a shout-out to her Wiccan God of Venal Cruelty, Ann Coulter herself.

Now, we can get into racial profiling all you want: as an American with a heart, I feel as though none of my fellow countrymen should bear an unfair burden in our democracy, but as an American with a brain, I understand the end-game of racial profiling is a bunch of old Norwegian women with bombs. This girl’s article is reptilian hatred being sold as common sense, and it’s not even particularly original.

No, I would like to step back a little bit and say what I hate about this shit: it’s bad writing.

The editors of the paper should have smelled this car-fart for what it was: a naked attempt at stirring up controversy, and one girl’s pathetic lunge at the scraps of right-wing chaff being discarded by the likes of Coulter and Michelle Malkin. One may hate Coulter and Malkin, but at least they’re effective conduits of essentially evil misinformation; most of what I read on that DTH page scans like decongestant instructions.

I know how college moves at seven times the speed of the real world, thus everyone in Chapel Hill is sick of thinking about the Brandes brouhaha, and no doubt Jillian herself will use the publicity to land herself a coffee-fetching job at the conservative thinktank of her choice.

But the mediocrity of what used to be the brightest beacon of college journalism continues unabated. You may laugh and make deeply unoriginal “old jokes” about my perceived curmudgeonliness, but the Daily Tar Heel spawned Pulitzer Prize winner Ed Yoder, 3-time Peabody and 10-time Emmy winner Charles Kuralt and, of course, Jeff MacNelly started his comics career there (and then won three Pulitzers).

In my day, the late 80s to early 90s, we were helmed by Jean Lutes – Doctor Jean Lutes to you – who would have NEVER allowed such claptrap to get near her paper. David Surowiecki was taking pictures (and would go on to capture the most horrific moments of 9/11), and current Nation reporter Matt Bivens was editing my column. Future professor at Utah State Brian McCuskey was writing on Tuesdays, now-Hollywood-writer Jim Rash had Thursdays, and they let me have Wednesdays. God, the Dream Team we had: Bill Yelverton, Laura Pearlman, David Rowell, Jennifer Wing, Mondy Lamb… these were people who recruited for and ran a paper that won basketfuls of awards every year.

Yes, the current DTH is run by 19-year-old kids. You know what? We were fucking 19 years old too, and didn’t let it get in our way. I’ve held off criticism for many years, first because I have WAY too much love for the DTH in my heart to wish any ill will, and secondly, because in college, the advice – or opprobrium – of older alumni is about as welcome as herpes simplex 3.

The only reason I bother is because that little student newspaper, tucked away in the virtually-windowless anus of the student union, gave life to every creative dream I’ve ever had. For a few short years, it gave me – a dorky, friendless, virginal violin player – as much social power in a major university as someone on our basketball team. It let me indulge in exorcising my past and gave me the confidence to dare string words together for a living.

The pinch-hitting DTH editor writes that this column “sparked an outrage that could be quantified as the largest in our history.” Oh how wrong you’d be. Forget the Vietnam War – the biggest scandal in DTH history occurred twenty years ago this week, when the editors put a quote by Nietzsche at the bottom of the paper: God is Dead.

What followed were thousands of letters to the editor, entire classes being overtaken by Nietzschian philosophy, liberals throwing water balloons at the crazy groups of galloping Baptists in the Pit, parents threatening to take their kids out of school, and calls for the student newspaper to be defunded. As a silent, brooding, scared freshman, I was stunned that so much dialogue had opened up a floodgate of opposing philosophy. I was IN COLLEGE and it was AWESOME. I ran to the DTH and signed up to report on anything they wanted. My first piece: the return of Halley’s Comet.

Get better, Daily Tar Heel. Some other silent, brooding, scared freshman NEEDS you.