Monthly Archives: December 2005

newton’s first law

12/12/05

I remember the winter the beast took over: it was 1979, I was twelve, and I didn’t talk to anybody for about four months. My beast is not alcoholism, nor sex or drug addiction – it is, simply, inertia. It’s a slothlike monster, mid-yawn, that swallows energy whole and leaves me with little desire even to do the things I love.

I have fed the monster everything I could throughout the years: in puberty, I fed it testosterone and unrequited love, and it just got fatter. In college, I fed it wine coolers, then bourbon and cokes, then tequila, and it grew despondent.

In the last decade I have fed it espresso after espresso, enough caffeine to power a ferris wheel, and though it shows temporary signs of excitement – a raised eyebrow, the nod of a head – it soon slips back into coma. Welbutrin couldn’t pierce it, nor can I play enough basketball games to outrun it.

It’s an open maw into which has fallen so many projects, so many bills, and the occasional friend. It has a slow digestion, so glacial that you cannot see it move, thus convincing you perhaps everything was okay while you were sleeping. It was not.

I’m caught in an arm-wrestle with the beast, from the mystical to the mundane, making it hard to think about the future, and hard to get up to change the laundry. We go at it every day, and I win 51% of the time, not hardly enough.

When I am old and no longer have the dexterity of my current body, I don’t want to feel like I was rooked. I don’t want to wake up and reflect upon a life four-fifths lived. I want all burners on, all thrusters go, all stops pulled, all canvas out. My oar drags, and the water is brown.

muddle through somehow

12/11/05

Just got done with a major deadline on our script – the next one looms on Friday, but at least we can breathe for the time being. DirecTV now offers XM Radio, so I’ve been listening to Classical Christmas™ for three days, and I have heard the Nutcracker Suite played on everything except, perhaps, someone’s nuts. I’ve heard it done with a string quartet, a mandolin duo, steel drums, a saw, three vacuum cleaners and a sextet of ferrets.

Which leads me to today’s CODE WORD entry – what is your guilty pleasure Holiday song? Mine has always been “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” because it’s actually so damn sad, and there’s always something about Christmas that has to be twinged with sadness to go along with the mystery and excitement. When Judy Garland first sings the tune in “Meet Me in St. Louis,” it’s almost a eulogy for happiness. The whole movie, despite the “zing zing zing go my heartstrings” stuff, may be the most secretly subversive American musical ever made.

While you’re thinking, how about an almost-solstice December sunset up at the farm?

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saturn shrugged

12/8/05

It’s very, very late and it’s supposed to snow like krazy tomorrow, but I thought I needed to add an addendum to the Oprah story. First off, I can’t believe I had a blog for almost four years and didn’t remember to tell the tale, for which LFMD’s Opraphilia has proven useful. I’d also like to add that Oprah herself seemed quite gracious, even though she never really met with us, there were no autographs or pictures or anything like that. Remember, this was 1994, and although her show was huge, she had not geometrically progressed to the Hera-like status she currently enjoys.

That particular show was another day at the office for her, and probably a not very satisfying one. None of us Gen X folks really stepped up to the plate, myself included, giving us months of l’esprit de l’escalier afterward. I swear to god I replayed what I WOULD have said about forty thousand times.

Some of us who were on the show remained friends for years through (the then-new technology of) email, particularly the schoolteacher Melanie, who actually did quit her job and then married a Scot and moved to Scotland, you know, where the Scots are. The European-American kayak instructor went on to instruct kayaks.

The day the show was to air, all of my friends gathered at the Purple House in Chapel Hill, and my dad had a “watching party” on the West Coast. Dotted throughout the country, several friends sat in front of the TV at the allotted time. When Oprah came on, I was horrified to learn than my show had been pre-empted for Fat Teen Week, and the only place it aired was in the Mountain Time Zone. Thank god my friend Christine in Sandy had taped it.

My dad called, my mom called, friends called, etc. until I finally had to answer my phone “I’m not on Oprah, can I help you?” The insult had been added to injury, and I’m sure a lot of folks thought I’d been lying about the whole thing.

It did air the next morning, and I was told it was repeated about ten times over the next few months. In many ways, it was a blessing nobody saw it, because when I watched the tape, I was absolutely horrified at the way I looked. Something about that year, my body had changed, and I no longer had the sharpness of my early ’20s – in fact, I thought I looked tremendously bloated, with a neck like an amphibian.

To be honest, I freaked out. I was so disgusted with my physical appearance that it was all I could think about (this was pre-Celexa, and, y’know, I was still dating). In an ironic twist of fate, my wisdom teeth erupted later that week, and I went to the oral surgeon to get them removed. Apparently, during the re-surfacing from anesthesia, I was crying inconsolably. The nurses called my mom and said, “your son is having an episode – he thinks he’s a frog.”

In the tiny molecules between the conscious and the subconscious, my image of me on television had transformed, Kafka-esque, into a frog, with a bloated neck, unable to speak, just sitting there being fat and stupid. It took me three days and about a kilo of Vicodin to get over it.

That following winter, with the help of Annie and Greg at our farm, I lost 25 pounds and began the slow turn-around of my life. Sure, there were valleys later on (’98 and ’01 were, to put it mildly, treacherous), but I had weathered my first major mid-20s/Saturn-return/nervous breakdown.

So I have Oprah to thank for that. Not many people have the opportunity to share that couch and turn limes into limeade, and for that – and my Oprah coffee mug – I’ll always be grateful.

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later that year

home of the Big O

12/7/05

It’s April 1994, and I’m 26 years old and just getting back from the usual afternoon game of hoops at the Lodge. The phone rings and it’s the lady in charge of booking at the Oprah Winfrey Show – she says they’re doing a whole hour on the movie “Reality Bites,” there’s going to be some “stars” there, and they want me – as Official Spokesman of Generation X – to be on the show.

The year previous, we’d put out the 13th-GEN book, and that particular month I was one of sixteen writers that had put together Next: Young American Writers on the New Generation. The book didn’t sell that well, but it was on President Clinton’s booklist, and we had all sorts of great parties when it came out.

So I said yes, and two weeks later they flew me to Chicago and put me up in a swanky hotel. By airtime, it became clear that this show was no longer going to be about “Reality Bites” nor was it going to have Ethan Hawke or Winona Ryder as guests: it was going to be a Baby Boomers vs. Generation X slugfest and whomever had the most snark was destined to win.

The Oprah show, at that point, had two “green rooms” – in one, they stuck a bunch of Baby Boomers in their 40s, and in our dressing room, we had a cool chick from an indie bookstore in Atlanta, a wonderful 25-year-old schoolteacher from Missouri (hello, Melanie Finnell!), a 26-year-old junior exec at American Airlines, a very shy girl that ditched college to be a kayak instructor, and me.

Nervous as hell, we all began to blather at each other, and in the hour leading up to the show, had the best “generational” discussion I’ve ever had – honest, heartbreaking, funny, and precisely the sort of thing that should have taken place in front of the cameras. Obviously, they were keeping us separate from the Boomers so that the fireworks would happen on stage, but the strategy backfired.

The show starts, and those not on stage watched the action on the monitor in the green room. First up: the American Airlines guy had to go head-to-head with some lady who had been in an email war with him for months. Next, the indie bookstore chick had to justify her existence to a “self-made millionaire” in his late 40s whose only expertise seemed to be getting Reagan-era economic facts completely wrong.

Then came the schoolteacher who said she didn’t want to be a schoolteacher anymore, with a round of opprobrium from the audience. Worse yet, the shy kayak instructor basically got booed out of the studio for not “getting a real job.” Leading the charge were two African-American women in the front row, who said their lives had been fraught with hardship, and that all whiny Generation Xers should probably kill themselves and save America the trouble.

I mean, how do you complain about your rotten job, lack of real romance, and pervading depression when there are two ladies who “clean toilets in Toledo” every time you say anything? You can’t, actually.

Finally, they called me out to the stage, along with Susan Mitchell, who edited “The Boomer Report.” All I could think was, “thank God they mentioned my book.” Oprah’s head was very, very large. The lights were amazingly intense, the audience surrounds you like a Roman gladiator amphitheater, and the whole energy of the place is positively nerve-fraying. The last thing the producer tells you before you go on stage is, “You are about to be seen by 10 million people in 43 countries.” I wanted my mommy.

Have you seen the new Harry Potter? That haircut is cool again!

I was hoping that the argument would turn into something intelligent now that us “experts” were on stage – remember, this was days after Kurt Cobain’s suicide – but it only got worse. More name-calling between audience members, silly irrelevant stories about young hardship, sprinkled with a few confusing statistics to keep things misleadingly sociological. Half-baked tangents were swirling around me, the audience was getting riled up, I felt my hair start to get large, the lights pounded… when suddenly Oprah turns to me and says “Ian.” My stomach tightened. “What do you think about all of this?”

And for a split second, I’ve never had less to say in my life. In a mad rush, my brain wanted to say “I think this is the most pathetic argument I’ve ever eavesdropped on in my life,” but I managed to tell them a nice paragraph full of bullshit. Basically that the two generations can’t play tit-for-tat because it’s an argument that nobody ever wins. And that dreams are not transferable across eras – what causes me great pain may seem like a luxury to you, but I still feel pain nonetheless. And that it’s okay to be a kayak instructor.

Oprah said, “I don’t really get what you mean,” then cut to the last commercial. And that was it. There were 40 seconds left in the show, they started playing that Oprah “time’s up” music, and I couldn’t believe it. Oprah herself wondered aloud if they had accomplished anything, and I got the feeling it had been one of their worst, most pointless shows. I buried my head in my hands.

They unhooked the mike from my flannel shirt and I wandered off the stage in a daze, very angry, very confused and wondering why they would ship us across America to embarrass us like that in front of 43 other countries. And as us Gen Xers wandered out of the studio together into the cold Chicago wind, we saw the Boomers – including the women who had “cleaned toilets in Toledo” – all drive off in a limo together. The ladies had been a plant.

So we spent the rest of the day walking around downtown Chicago. We felt like we’d been used, like we’d been reduced to the same idiots who sit in those very chairs on stage in years past, the transvestite mothers who eat their children. We’d sold our private moments to Oprah for a chance to suckle at the great giant teat of the American underbelly, and we were all horrified.

Four hours later, we were still doing tequila shots at the hotel bar.

recant buy me love

12/6/05

You see, you go and talk shit about the internet, and then she throws something nice at you: Professor Andrew Wood at San Jose State, the inventor of the concept of “Omnitopia,” just left a nice message on the blog. I encourage y’all to visit the page he put up discussing the topic. Frankly, I could keep an entire blog on Omnitopia, as I find it endlessly fascinating.

Speaking of endlessly fascinating, did you know I was born mere blocks away from San Jose State U?

I was going to tell my Oprah story for LFMD today, but I just spent two hours at Neighborhoodies ordering various Christmas presents, thus I can’t get into that whole emotional mess. One preview tidbit: I don’t know any other American working in media today that gained as little from his Oprah appearance than me. In fact, in some ways it was so disturbing that I woke up one afternoon thinking I was a frog.

Really. More on that tomorrow.

barnacles on the ship

12/5/05

At some point in the last two weeks, the hits on this blog went from the usual ten thousand-ish a day to hundreds of thousands (corrected from earlier). I thought I’d been slashdotted or BoingBoinged or something, but when I looked at the referrer list, I understood the culprit.

A few years ago, this site started getting serious comment spam, to the tune of about 150 a day. MT’s blacklist kept a lot out, I’m sure, but spam sites always worm their way in. Finally, Steve found a trick that has kept 99% of it away, and now I have to delete only 2 or so each morning.

Then came the “trackback spam.” By this summer, I was sometimes getting 300 of these a day, sites for penises and hair loss remedies and bestiality, tracking back on all the old entries. It took us forever to find the “off” switch, which is why there are no longer trackbacks on this site – a major cool functionality that I’ve had to completely abandon.

And now, my site is being hit 15,000 times a day by bullshit spam sites in what is now called referrer spam, which, as far as I can gather, is a way for spammers to get on my “referrer” page on the off-chance that I would ever publish one.

First question: has any of these spammers, or the asshole human beings behind them, ever made a FUCKING DIME screwing up people’s websites like this? Or is it just like trolling the Atlantic, killing all the porpoises and not catching any tuna?

This referrer spam has effectively made it impossible to see how people get here. I used to be able to spot if someone had linked to me, then occasionally established a friendship (or at least linked back), but those days are over. In essence, spam has shut me off from the community of links, and has rendered me blind, like a submarine that has lost its periscope.

I realize all giant living entities like the Net are going to be subjected to parasites at best (and cancer at worst) but I’d just like to send out a giant FUCK YOU to all spammers glomming their horseshit onto those of us who are trying to make the internet a more intelligent place. From now on, every time one of you hits my site, I’m giving you karmic ass warts. Long may they throb in agony.

a mall and the night visitors

12/4/05

Omnitopia Chapter LXVII: Enclosed Shopping Structures

My birth year cohorts (1967) were probably the first to truly come of age in a mall. In the beginning, there was “downtown,” and Cedar Rapids, IA had a damn fine one back in the early ’70s, including a Curiosity Shoppe of some sort where you could buy globes of the Moon and my brother Steve got his H.O. track supplies.

Then came the “plaza” and its dirty cousin “the strip mall,” where you could find those awful Michaels places and the occasional cafeteria restaurant (we had Bishop’s). In my quasi-hometown, ours was called Lindale Plaza, and it had the first arcade place in Iowa, featuring Pong, Tank, Lunar Lander, and a game where you used a continuous puff of air to guide objects (lit by blacklight) through various hoops (Steve, do you remember this one?).

Lindale Plaza, of course, became Lindale Mall – check out the before and after pics – and so did everything else. Some genius figured out that people shop more when their toes aren’t falling off from -20 degree wind chill, and voilĂ , my youth was born.

I bursted into puberty inside a really crappy mall called Military Circle just off the freeway in Norfolk, Virginia. Outside, they had a Flipper McCoy’s arcade place, and inside was the record store chain, a Sears, a place where you got huge cookies, and the theater where I saw “Return of the Jedi.” Despite its nastiness, we found ourselves there most weekends, and I learned every quirk of every store, much the way all of you did in your hometowns.

Tessa doesn’t get malls, nor does she understand why I love them. Perhaps I get the sense of infinite possibility with protection from the weather. Maybe it’s because the food court allows you to get two entrees from two different places and fries from another, and a dessert from somewhere else. When people talk shit about malls, I think they don’t know how good they’ve got it.

That said, let’s look at some more “ubiquitous environments,” shall we?

Dillards, Belk’s, Saks, Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, etc. – Yes, I know some of these are supposed to be “better” than others, but at the butt-end of every mall, you’ll find one of these behemoths trying to separate you from your wallet. Not trying very hard, mind you, as customer service in these places can be abysmal for things you want (pants that fit, non-itchy sweaters) but lugubriously overzealous for things you don’t (Britney’s new perfume).

The floors in these places always depress me – the chipped, scuffed linoleum, juxtaposed with a pair of pleated dress pants – and the amount of makeup worn by the ladies at the counter usually competes with Queen Elizabeth I. The only lady I ever liked was Tessa’s mom Sandy, who was the Estee Lauder salesperson in Kerrville, Texas. I’d buy anything from that woman.

Record Bar, Sam Goody, etc. – Can you smell the desperation? When entering these over-loud cheese factories from the outside, you get the feeling that you may be the last generation to pass through these shoplifting alarms. Piss-poor selection and CDs that cost $17.99? Why would any self-respecting 13-year-old bother, when he can get the Shins album for ten bucks on iTunes (or free from Limewire)?

I still go into these place to look at the posters, which, if you haven’t noticed, are the same ones from 1981: Bob Marley smoking weed, Janis Joplin with a bottle of Southern Comfort, and a bunch of dancing bears courtesy of the Dead. Throw in the Doritos Girl wearing a bikini, and you sense that Sam Goody will be about as relevant in 2030 as the zoetrope.

Delia’s – I never though I’d be jealous of teenage girls, but SHIT they sell cool clothes at this place. It’s what Urban Outfitters would be if they were as cool as they think they are, and everything cost half as much. I’m dying to fit into a 12-year-old girl’s Orange Crush T-Shirt! I’ll just have to wait for Lucy to get old enough to be vaguely ironic.

Urban Outfitters – Speaking of which, I really wish I liked this place better. I know you have to be underweight and preferably a white hipster DJ living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to have a shot, but really, can’t they make stuff for us aging fratboys as well?

We would have been outraged at U.O. back in 1991, selling our irony back to ourselves at $24 a shirt, but now we just sit and take it. How can you possibly wear that “Getting Lucky in Kentucky” T-shirt when 45,000 other too-cool-for-school future art majors already have it?

Banana Republic – I admit, this store hits my sweet spot. Bold, interesting, colorful and classy, I could wear nothing but Ban Rep for the next year and not care what YOU think. It’s come a long way from those pith-helmet and bizarre loincloths of the early ’80s. And though it can get sort of “guido” every two years or so (and is expensive), I would encourage each of you to get a pinstripe blazer.

Spencer’s Gifts – How have these guys managed to stay around for so long? Their current incarnation is of the lowest-common-denominator beer-pong Beavis-humor, but back in my mallrat days, it was the place to go for all your Edible Undie, Joy Jelly and “tobacco water pipe” needs.

They always had the Halloween market cornered with fake teeth and blue hair dye, and usually sold out of Ouija Boards. Spencer’s Gifts: if it didn’t exist, we’d have to create it.

The Apple Store – Oh, my sweet sweet Apple store. Your white curves, your translucent stairs, your roomy bathroom. Let me fondle your Nanos, rub my hands along your G5 towers for warmth. You’re as cozy as a Georgia O’Keeffe flower. How can anyone use a PC when they’ve been inside your sugar walls?

Athletic Attic, The Foot Locker, Athlete’s Foot – I know they’re all about sports, but why do they seem so bereft of motion, so funereal of pace? I know some people like to “try their shoes on” and all that, but if you are pretty sure about your size, everything can be had on eBay for a ninth of the price.

God knows I had my share of retail jobs, and bringing out shoes for people with an 8% chance of them actually buying them has to be a big fucking drag, but STOP MAKING ME FEEL BAD FOR ASKING. And would you please have a size 13 or bigger in there? Lindsay and I can’t buy your shoes if you don’t have them for us manly men.

The Discovery Store, The Sharper Image – I’m fairly sure your massaging chair has been sat in by seven-hundred people today, and it is going to give me the flu. No, I don’t need a USB-powered dental flosser. Why are your executive dart magnet sets $379? I’m sure that pillow stops migraines, I’m fucking sure. I have nobody to play backgammon with, thanks. This radio picks up Lisbon? *sigh*

Old Navy – Those who can, do – those you can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym. Those who can’t teach gym, purposely walk around America with the name of the store emblazoned on their chest in six-inch letters.

players only love you when they’re playin’

12/1/05

Alas, I shall have to wait until Monday to continue Omnitopia Week here on the blog, as we just had a huge work deadline spring up like a friggin’ jack-in-the-box (which is itself one of the worst fast food places in California). However, I must say seeing all of you on a comments roll is something truly to behold. Any time I mention fast food, pop music or lefty politics, you guys, as Fleetwood Mac sang, make bloggin’ fun.

In the meantime, Lucy wanted to give everyone some holiday cheer:

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