Monthly Archives: February 2006

vor fünfzehn Jahren

2/28/06

Exactly Fifteen Years Ago: February 1991

I guess true poverty, like winter, is always glossed over when you’re young, but those days in Chapel Hill, when the septentrional blasts were blanketing the town with freezing rain and news of war, are particularly easy to recall. I was living in the Purple House on McCauley Street with Salem, Bud, Eric G. (all wonderful commenters below) plus a few others, and the long-suffering boarding house was one rotting floorboard away from collapsing entirely.

IanbwPurpHSink(bl).jpg

The Purple House was the last stop for every receptacle. If you had a nasty plate that you gave to Goodwill, somehow it would end up in my cabinet. Did your VCR only fast-forward? It wound up at our house. Iron belch orange water? We used it anyway. If we threw it away, you knew that object was truly done.

The most infamous story from exactly fifteen years ago was Salem’s rottweiler dog Bear, who crept into my room while I was away and peed into the back of the heater fan, sending piping hot urine spraying over the entirety of my bedroom. Posters were welded to the wall, my entire LP stuck together in a fetid mass, and I had to throw away most of my blankets. I called Salem (who was managing Spanky’s at the time) in a furious rage, but after a few seconds, we were both laughing so hard we started to cry.

My car, a 1968 Volvo that had to be started with a locker key and had windows held in place with screwdrivers shoved into the upholstery, made it as a finalist in USA Today’s “Worst Car Contest.” We routinely used it for pranks and indie movie shoots, you know, like this:

IanCrashedVolvo92(bl).jpg

In short, I was not on the grid. Not living an actual real life. The high ecstasy of being a campus celebrity translated very poorly to sticking around Chapel Hill after graduation, and I went from having a bright future to being a punchline, usually uttered by myself.

This was brought into sharp relief by my financial situation; in order to make our $180/month rent, some shenanigan must be performed. Mostly Bud and I “appropriated” cookie dough from his job at the pizza joint and used it as cash – you’d be surprised how far you can get amongst 21-year-olds with a bucket full of Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate chip cookie dough.

Finally, I began to sell myself out to medical experiments. Why not, right? The EPA had mobile sheds set up behind the hospital, and there were always five or six big drug tests going on at any given time. All you had to do was take the MMPI and prove you weren’t crazy (and didn’t have AIDS) and you could make A THOUSAND BUCKS just by giving yourself over to science.

I signed up for a doozy. Basically, I was to breathe ozone – O3 – for a half-hour while jogging, then perform some tests, followed by a bronchoscopy a week later. I had already lived in LA for the summer, so I figured it wasn’t much different, and hell, I’d always wanted a camera shoved down my lung so I could see my brachioles, so it was a win-win. Besides, this one paid $1200 for a week’s work!

I did the test – it seemed fine – then I went in for the bronchoscopy. They sprayed my throat with a novocaine solution, then slid the camera in… and despite my attempts at cavalier nonchalance, I began to shake. Then I began pounding my fists in fear. And then I nearly passed out with abject gagging, gargling terror. Quickly, they whisked the camera out and sent for a pulmonologist and a heart specialist.

A routine procedure became a conundrum for the esteemed heart department at UNC Memorial Hospital, because apparently my heartbeat “reversed polarities” or something for a split second. Grad students were poking their heads in, having heard the gossip, and I was still dressed in a butt-less paper gown.

Finally, they gave me some Valium and had me lie down on a bed by myself for an hour. And during those minutes, I had a conversion experience. I couldn’t keep living like I was living. My life needed meaning, I had to get better, I had to resurrect my confidence. I had to escape the trap of what AA calls “the halo of early promise.”

A few months earlier, the New York Times had done a story featuring me, and literary agents had called – I was now going to do something about it. On that bed, I decided to write a book proposal about “my generation,” get it sold, and write for a living. On the way out the door of the science lab, the manager handed me a $2000 check for my troubles. I was rich, full of purpose, and the snow was melting.

hace diez años

2/27/06

Exactly Ten Years Ago: February 1996

To be honest, my “generation” was running out of options. We’d already bitched and complained about the terrible job market, and a few of us had already gone on Oprah to be derided by a national audience. It was one thing to be 22 and facing another temp job or working scab labor at IBM (like my buddies were doing), quite another for me at the age of 28.

I’d missed my window for leaving Chapel Hill. If I’d moved to New York in ’93, riding the wave of small-but-easily-parlayed success of 13th-GEN and Next, I might have found a niche writing non-fiction books and doing freelance journalism, living in the then-drug-infested East Village and playing gigs with Block in dusky bars. But even in 1996, I was scared shitless of the big city – I mean, I was dating a hot sorority girl, drinking boxes of Franzia at the Pink House and Vince & Antawn had just shown up to practice.

I don’t know if it’s possible to recreate the feeling “the internet” gave us in early 1996. We’d already been on email for about three years, but hardly any of us had computers that would run a decent web browser, and we were all on dial-up anyway. When I heard my old fraternity brothers were starting an “online yellow pages with editorial viewpoints” called CitySearch, I failed to grasp the importance, but convinced them to create a job for me anyway.

My first day at the office, I had my virginal broadband experience. Pages loaded lightning quick, I could watch movies on the internet, and suddenly the future exploded into an effulgence too bright to contemplate. I was IN LURVE. They asked me what I wanted to do, and I told them I wanted to be their movie and theater reviewer. I also wanted to review the actual theaters themselves. Oh, and I didn’t want to come into the office until 1pm. They said fine.

Those early days at CitySearch have to be the happiest I’ve ever known in a work situation (besides “From the Hip”) because we were all young, drinking a lot, loved our boss Martha, and truly believed that we were starting a revolution. There were fierce debates over this chimera called an “advertorial” (which got squashed, temporarily), and we began our meetings with moments of meditation in Morrisville, and ended them in Carrboro at the Cradle listening to The Cardigans.

The Research Triangle Park, which had hitherto only been a triangle and never a park, began to do research. There were Web companies springing up all around, and by 1997, if you had a pulse and some discernable talent, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a job. It helped that CitySearch had a Dream Team full of editorial people who were about to be huge in their fields: David Surowiecki, Dana Terebleski Bowen, Alan Benson, even Lindsay, Chip and your fave Lars – not to mention incredible minds like Dani Moore, Ashley Farrell, Jerry Salley and everyone else.

early CS masthead pic, 1996 (by Lars Lucier)

I thought the internet was going to change everything, how we thought, how we shopped, how we made every decision, and I wanted to be on the front lines. Our site, when it debuted later in the year, was a non-functional disaster, but I didn’t care: I was happy to take the arrows as the first soldiers storming the castle. What we didn’t understand was that we were too early.

The internet – besides email and early games – simply did not make any sense at all until people had broadband in their homes, and in February 1996, that had to be about .1% of our clientele. We had people telling us they didn’t think the Web was really going to “pan out,” and the IBA’s (Internet Business Advisors, like Lee!) had to convince, say, Spanky’s that they would actually need a website.

This story ends like so many others: the exuberance shown in the beginning is in direct inverse proportion to the disgust shown to you in the end. Everyone was either sloughed off through attrition, fired, re-assigned to something they hated, or asked to move to a city they didn’t know as soon as CS went international. The company was bought, then bought again, and now it shows almost zero resemblance to the editorial juggernaut we designed it to be. I was one of the last originals, leaving in 1999.

By then, I was in Los Angeles and my life disintegrated, beginning a depression spiral that wound up in yesterday’s blog. But lo, that moment in early 1996, I saw that everything was truly going to be different. It may have taken until… well, now, really … for the Web to be what we envisioned, but I’ll never forget the instant I saw my generation’s Get Out of Jail Free card flickering on a 14-inch screen in the piedmont of North Carolina.

vijf jaar geleden

2/26/06

Last night, while frittering away my sleep hours in another bout with insomnia – an affliction I never had until very recently – I was thinking about how crazy shit has happened to me in Februaries going back 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 years ago from this week. Thus, as I fling myself bodily into a golden shower of boiling indulgence, I’m going to use this week to go back into time those specific number of years, and as always, you’re free to do the same.

Exactly Five Years Ago: February 2001

If you loved “Back to the Future” when it came out in 1985 as much as I did, you might have been looking forward to the two sequels a few years later. Those later movies were Crispin Glover-less and therefore cruddy, but another problem was that Michael J. Fox’s “present” was stuck at 1985, and the third movie was released in 1990.

So there we were watching the movie in 1990, and I had gone from being seventeen (like Marty McFly) to being twenty-two, and thus 1985 felt like an entire geological epoch ago.

I could say the same about early 2001. At that time, I was working at That Internet Job in way-downtown Manhattan, eating two or three lunches a week at the World Trade Center salad bar in the foot of the North Tower. In fact, about five years ago this week, Lindsay, Jon and I went up to the Windows of the World and got a seven-dollar Coke. The maitre-d wouldn’t let me in unless I had “good shoes,” so I went down to the mall in the basement beneath the towers and bought black leather shoes at the Banana Republic.

Whenever I look at those shoes in my closet, I feel like I rescued them. It’s very odd to own shoes that ought to have perished. But I digress.

That Internet Job was a curious beast: we were the last true speculative dot-com from the halcyon days, the last one afloat, the only spaceship in orbit that still had oxygen. We noted other companies falling around us, but we were still flush, still had an incredible pool table, still rolled around in Aeron chairs.

I started that job as I did all such endeavors (more on that tomorrow), with boundless energy, high hopes and working very hard at making the company look flawless to the outside. I was the senior editor, meaning every word on the site would be mine, and even though I had been crippled with a debilitating back injury that made “sitting” a living hell, I “generated content” like nobody’s business.

There comes a moment when you find yourself and your co-workers talking a fair amount of shit, then a lot of shit, and imperceptibly, your entire feeling towards the job changes into an us-versus-them dynamic. Feeling adrift, I began to look for things to do, and not finding them, began to slack horribly and engage in office shenanigans of the rudest, moderately shameful and most myopic variety.

By February, almost all of the big dot-coms had imploded; our site wasn’t done yet, and I got the feeling that I was going to be fired every day I walked in. Surely they were noticing that there was nothing for me to do but re-arrange deck chairs, and I’d be found out. My stomach lining began to wear away, and my entire department became populated with fatalists, sure that they would be yanked before the stock options came into play.

By the time the ax fell on us, it was almost June, and the HR people led us into a room one by one. It was bloody intense. There was a “heavy” in there to make sure nobody went postal, and another to watch each of us clean out our desks. When the main HR woman asked me “how I felt” about being let go, I was proud of my response: “Frankly, I was wondering why it took you so long.” I remember how they all smiled, and the whole room relaxed. Needless to say it did not go that well for everybody.

Side note: two days after the towers came down, I was at Union Square with Tessa, in a crowd, welling with tears at the memorials, candles, pictures and brotherhood that had overcome the city. I looked next to me, and there was the HR woman, crying next to me. She had just been fired herself, and we hugged, all pretense gone.

But back to February for a brief second. Because Brendan Haywood sank those two free throws to beat Dook at Dook, Tessa got me in a good mood and made me agree to go visit her dad in Houston for the weekend. I’m forever glad I did, because it meant I actually interacted with her inimitable father. For his part, they say I might be the last person he ever met and remembered. I played the piano for him, and he was still clapping and nodding as I left his house for the plane. I peeked back at him knowing it would be the only time I ever saw him alive.

Remember Tessa and I were only dating at the time, and our future had yet to be divined. But I remember thinking that if we did happen to end up together, it was an incredible stroke of happenstance that I met the man himself. Hell, I didn’t even see Five Wives until a month later at the Academy screening, but at least I went in knowing the major players.

with Blakey, Feb. 2001

Five years ago marked the beginning and end of a few things: for one, I’d fully released myself of what Tom Waits called “these old tom-cat feelings you don’t understand” by contemplating an actual future with Tessa, something that I wouldn’t have thought possible even three months before, believing I was so romantically damaged as to be unsalvageable.

The other was the beginning of the end of my unmanaged and thoughtless hubris (meaning, of course, my present hubris is managed and nicely scheduled). Some of the things I did during That Internet Job truly boggle my present-day mind, such petty and asinine bullshit. There are two things in particular that make me white with shame, and all I can cull from the experience is that it ended.

That month set a spiral that culminated in my job termination, the disastrous shoot of the Pink House movie, losing all the money I’d saved, enduring a clench-throated PTSD following the 9/11 attacks, and suddenly realizing that I probably wasn’t going to live forever. Man, as soon as you get a bunch of niggling stuff like that out of the way, it’s easier to breathe, huh?

the snake eats itself

2/23/06

The Meta-Blog About the Blog Talking About Itself, Chapter 18

Sometimes, like tonight, I wonder if I should go to a more random schedule with the blog (you know, like EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD DOES) since it would relieve me of the burden of being witty. However, doing so would relieve me of the burden of being witty.

When I started this thing, I wrote every single day without comments, and that included holidays like Christmas and New Year’s. I told myself I’d do it for a year, and there are so many entries back then I’m proud of, but you’ll never read them. My delightful friend Quinn occasionally reposts entries from the times when she had no page hits, but I feel like if I do that, you will all find it an unbelievably cheap transgression.

As it is, I take off all weekends and even the lesser holidays, but the main problem with keeping you all interested is this: my love life is accounted for. If you look at all the livejournal and blogspot blogs with 1.8 billion hits, it’s mostly people in their early 20s who may or may not reveal who they’ve been fucking (and all the sturm and drang therewith).

I look at my diary entries from those months of my life (the early 1990s), and fully 94% of it concerns my efforts to bed the other gender. Now, I was a well-known cad of the highest order, and thus those pages will not be unsealed until they repeal the Freedom of Information Act in the late 29th century, but at this point you are stuck with me already having proposed, gotten married, and having a child. All documented on this site.

I’m also a guy. Not a striking chick like Dooce, nor am I always one step away from showing my tits, like that podcast woman who gets drunk and usually winds up in the bathroom with her digital camera. This, as you might expect, puts a ceiling on the amount of damage I’ll ever do on the internet.

In essence, I feel like a throwback. I began this thing before blogging was cool, and now there are so many pictures of me (and Tessa and Lucy and everyone else we know) on here that I’ve had to go back and take out names, delete actual places, and try to obfuscate certain opinions that I was silly enough to entertain in the era of eternal Googling.

Already, there have been entries I’ve been ashamed of. One was about my old job at the Woolworth Building that I completely deleted because it was no longer how I felt, and unbelievably rude and inaccurate to boot. Lately, I’ve come to think my musings on Islam were not befitting someone who actually possessed a liberal arts education. And there was this one entry that was about my own grandfather – misread by some of Tessa’s family – that pretty much made me persona non grata in Houston for a couple of years.

So here’s the question: why do I do it? Is it the same desire for notoriety that fueled the best Wednesday’s Child entries in college? Do I lack community enough that my only solace are the comments section, where I rarely say anything? Do I have some sort of magical thinking, wherein my order falls apart if I don’t blog every weekday? Or is it just the same reason cavemen bothered to etch buffalo on the sides of caves?

Maybe I do this because I love to hear everyone talk. Perhaps these are all letters to my daughter, so she can know her dad like few do. Maybe it’s an ongoing love letter to my wife, so see if I can get her to laugh (which is actually quite hard). Or maybe these entries are just notes to my future self, reminding me to avoid complacency and remember there was a time when there was honor in endurance.

oh this will never do

2/22/06

Arrived in Venice, CA at 2:14am safely. On Book 10 of the Aubrey/Maturin “Master and Commander” series, “The Far Side of the World.” Book bears almost no resemblance to movie starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany. I would imagine those who saw the movie and then read the book were either utterly confused or utterly riveted.

My lumbar muscles can’t quite take five days in the car like they used to. Still want to drive to Anchorage on that highway, though.

“Exhaustion” from this trip doesn’t give quite enough meaning to the word. Almost fell asleep thinking of a better word. Desire others in comments section to make this blog interesting tonight, as I have no sweeping generalizations to add. Except that conservatives are terrible in bed. Discuss.

do they go FLIP FLOP

2/21/06

Greetings from Santa Rosa, NM. As Homer Simpson said, “hey, there’s a NEW Mexico!”

First off, a shameful pox on those who did not believe the ducks would be walking to breakfast in the Little Rock morn. As I checked out, they had retired to the wading pool, happy as… well, ducks in water, I suppose.

LittleRockDucks1(bl).jpg

I know how much everyone clamors for my unusually ironic brand of photojournalism as I traverse this fine country looking for ways to belittle my fellow Americans, but this little piece of tautological signage on a gas pump in Oklahoma always sends my grammar-fiend mother into paroxysms of misery:

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Later in the night, I stopped for gas in rural panhandle Texas, where the local teens had descended in order to get their cases of Bud Light before the clock struck midnight. The cashier was not pleased, and when I got to the front of the line, I saw the rock upon which her indignation rested. Next to my deeply faggy Evian (“Does this answer your question?” from the movie “Heathers”) you will see a giant Holy Bible with relevant pages marked for impulse inspiration:

HolyBibleKwic-Mart(bl).jpg

One thing about driving to LA – while my wife and daughter fly – is that the car becomes the repository for all the shit they didn’t want to carry with them. This time I’ve got a massively heavy office chair, bags of shoes… and the Baby Einstein Discover and Play™ Activity Center in the back seat:

IanPackedRoadTrip3(bl).jpg

This Activity Center says “dog” or “gato” or “cow” and then moos or barks, followed (no lie) by an excerpt from Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony. Then Beethoven’s Fifth. Then “Old McDonald.” And this happens every time I go over a bump, hit a pothole, or take a swift turn off the freeway.

When it is silent, there is also a Fisher-Price bunny rabbit that Chip got Lucy, with about fifteen songs that get sung every time the car jiggles. One in particular:

Do your ears swing low

Do they tumble TO and FRO?

Can you tie them in a knot?

Can you tie them in a bow?

…I’ve heard it so many times that even I have run out of stunningly pornographic alternative lyrics, and that’s saying something. If it has been silent a while, a computer chip kicks in, and the doll screams “HUG ME!” from underneath my golf balls. My relationship to the Baby Einstein and the Fisher-Price rabbit has become a little like Tom Hanks and the volleyball in “Cast Away.”

I’m beginning to talk back. I’m beginning to tell them things. Secrets.

i need to get off the road

military two-step down the nape of my neck

2/20/06

Greetings from Little Rock, Arkansas! Spiritual home of a President I never stopped loving, and proud address of the Peabody Hotel, where apparently every morning a group of ducklings parade across the lobby and into the restaurant. I hope to get up in time to see this blessed event.

Like pimpin’, road trippin’ ain’t easy. Especially when you’ve got a little girl waiting for you three days away and your late-30s lumbar muscles aren’t what they were back in the days of endless American skyscapes. Then Tessa had to go and send me this picture:

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…after which, my heart about broke in two, and I was all, “Dude. It’s hard enough to find a decent salad in rural Georgia, why you gots to do that to me?”

Speaking of rural Georgia, I have two places to recommend in Jasper. The first is a new joint called Bridge Monkey, tucked away in a deeply inoffensive, well-landscaped strip mall just off the highway. They are, in a phrase, the encapsulization of my teenage id and grownup wants: an espresso joint with wifi, cute 11th-graders playing Magic the Gathering, and twenty hi-def gaming monitors with vibrating chairs.

Geeky, to be sure, but you get the feeling you could stay there forever and be swept into its warm technological embrace. And games like Dungeons and Dragons are not being played just by Super Spaz DorkWads any more – there is a new cadre of slightly-cool kids whose tastes verge on the Goth yet shop at Hollister. Brandenburg symphonies are piped onto the sound system, and the toffee nut syrup flows like brown ambrosia. All this in, basically, the middle of nowhere.

The second place, again, again! is my buddy Salem’s Jasper Family Steakhouse. I have had $54 steaks at some of the finest places in Manhattan, and I have had Salem’s Sharptop Sirloin for $12.99. I am here to tell you that Salem’s steak is better. WAY better.

The buffet at JFS is better than anything I ever had as a kid, and thus, when there, I eat like one. I know I’ve prattled on about this particular buffet before, but when so many of your friends are artists, it’s impossible not to put Salem in the same category.

I-40 in Tennessee is littered with billboards promoting as-yet-unsigned country singers and their albums. I didn’t know this was a good technique, but seven hundred billboards can’t be wrong. Because I’m a hoity-toity blue-state commie northerner, not to mention a pill-popping leftist stooge, I fucking hate country music, but I appreciate the moxie of these people. Even as I find it unbelievably depressing.

In fact, I consider myself a Southerner, and certainly I was in the South from early puberty through my 30th birthday, but every time I return I feel more and more removed from it. Perhaps I became overly aware of how much I loathe the politics of every single person I see at every single gas station, but my contempt for certain aspects of southern culture is becoming problematic.

I was inside a chain restaurant bathroom last night when a 40-year-old adult dragged his son by the arm into one of the toilet stalls and absolutely tore into him.

When I say something, what do you do? YOU DO IT, YOU HEAR ME?

I froze in front of the mirror in horror.

When your mother says something, YOU DO IT. If you MOUTH OFF ONE MORE TIME I’m going to TAKE IT OUT OF YOU!

And with that, a big SLAP!

STOP CRYING! DON’T YOU START CRYING!!

I knew the dad was winding up for another slap, so my choices were twofold: bust open the latrine and beat the ever-living shit out of the father, ram his head into the toilet, kick him in the ribs and break his kneecaps in front of his terrified son – or just get out of there.

And while I was frozen, hearing this awful commotion a few feet away, two different men peed, washed their hands and left without raising an eyebrow. Their complacence ran over to me, and I just hung my head. You will hear this story, and in your version, you will bust open the door, perhaps. If you were there, however… I don’t know. I left, got in the car, sheepishly told Salem and his family, and then thought about it all night.

I suppose it’s all too easy to lay this shame at the door of “the rural South” – kids get hit by their parents in every zip code. You just feel, however, that if it had happened in the Upper East Side, I would have been armed with enough moral indignation to at least tell an authority or two. Someone else in the next stall would have done something. Or perhaps it was just my personal weakness in the face of brutality, a momentary ambivalence that would have struck anywhere.

Sometimes, all we can do is keep our side of the street clean. I look again at the picture Tessa sent me above and think, how could I ever hit this creature? I promise you, Lucy, nothing you EVER do could be bad enough. I know you’re angelic and a baby and incapable of right and wrong at this point, but there are two things I swore never to do as long as I live:

1) call anyone “ugly”

and 2) hit a child. Ever. EVER.

I’ll think of more, but that’s a good start.

and lick the valleys up

2/16/06

I’m about to drive fourteen hours, so I’m sure you’re all disappointed to learn there will be no rants from me today. Instead, I’ll fall back upon the refuge of a fatherly blogger: a few pictures to give the impression I still take your entertainment needs seriously. Rebecca asked a great question yesterday, and I think it’ll take a few days of driving to come up with the answer.

Until then, I wanted Tessa’s mom to see this nice one of her and the Bug:

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Sweet Jackson Bowen joined us to watch the Heels’ historic comeback against Georgia Tech, but not before Lucy stole some of his dinner while he was looking at the camera:

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And you know, I love New York with all my heart, and whenever I’m gone, I long for the company of my friends and family and their unbelievable conversation and rapier wit. But this ice-encrusted ATM in the West Village serves as a visual metaphor for why it’s gonna be nice to blow this taco stand for a few months:

SnowyATM(bl).jpg

acquainted with the touch of a velvet hand

2/15/06

Oh, Bush Administration. Why are you full of such crappy people? Lord knows the blogosphere doesn’t need another leftist stooge like me to comment on the Cheney shooting, but does anyone really realize that the vice president of our country just shot another American in the face? And before the poor old victim had his heart attack, the White House was joking about wearing orange, and joking about hunting, and joking and joking and hardy har HAR HAR HAR!

It doesn’t matter that Cheney took 18 hours to report it to his superiors, or that he might have been drinking (there’s no way he wasn’t drinking, if you know these kind of hunting trips), or that he didn’t have a license, or that he was “hunting” quail that had been pen-fed, clipped and thrown into the wild like fat bastards at Fashion Week. What does matter is that Cheney just seems like a really twisted dude.

Bill Clinton may have lied about having sex with an intern, but he never filled his best friend’s aorta with buckshot, whether it was a mistake or not. And don’t fall for the “he only got peppered” line – if you’ve been hunting, you know that kind of shot can fucking kill you in an instant. What kind of compensation issues do you have if you’re killing canned birds released for your pleasure, and just shoot at anything that moves?

Maybe this whole incident will play up Cheney’s “tough guy” image, although when you see his arteriosclerotic, wobbly mass of a body, it taxes the imagination. Maybe it’s the kind of thing that red-meat Republicans love. I don’t know. I absolutely loathe guns, and hunting makes me sick to my stomach, but there’s something more about this event that strikes me as pathetic, sad and nauseating.

Of course, our “press corps” went into overdrive, with headlines like “Cheney Prays For Victim,” “‘The Worst Day of My Life’,” and “Silence Broken, Cheney Points Only to Himself,” as though it were an unusual sacrifice (and like there would be someone else to blame).

This Administration went from “doing no wrong and thus having no dissent” to “doing everything wrong and thus benefiting from scandal fatigue” without the middle part, where Americans were supposed to be “outraged.” How they pulled off that act of transubstantiation I’ll never understand, and like everything else we’ve seen over the last three years, Cheney will shoot a 78-year-old man with a shotgun and somehow come away with more gravitas. The irony of shooting first and letting God sort them out will be lost on almost everybody.

2 good 2 be 4 gotten

2/14/06

Tessa’s grandmother Nonnie always used to tell the story of the “Tomato Tom-Tom.” Around 1925 or so, poor Nonnie’s parents both died, leaving her and her brother orphaned (or “orphant,” as she says). The foster families split them up, her brother going to a family with more money, and Nonnie going to a poorer house in the same town.

The Tomato Tom-Tom was a country dance, the social event of the year, and Nonnie hadn’t seen her brother in a while. When he finally got to the dance, he pretended he didn’t know her. This is a level of sadness, of abject pathos, we can’t begin to contemplate: sweet Nonnie, having lost both parents and then being considered too lower-class by her own brother.

However, the Nonster told this story to her kids and grandkids so many times – and she outlived her brother by so many decades – that its effectiveness began to wane by the mid-1960s. By the 1990s, Tessa’s mom Sandy had finally heard enough and declared, “Okay, Mother! I’m sorry about what happened at the Tomato Tom-Tom, but it’s time to let it go!

So in honor of Valentine’s Day, let me tell you another little gem. When I was in grade school, there was a Valentine rule that if you gave a card to someone in class, you had to give one to everybody. It was all or nothing. And so we all made these little decorated Valentine paper bags and taped them to the chalkboard shelf that lined the front of the room. Classmates would slip the valentines in each bag.

But here’s what always happened: there were 26 people in each class, and valentines seemed to come in batches of 25. So everyone in class would get a nice store-bought Valentine written in cursive (and perhaps a treat), but in my bag they slipped a ripped, folded piece of paper with my name scribbled on it.

I was so embarrassed by the whole charade that I begged the teacher to rescind the “all or nothing” rule, letting everyone else off the hook, but she was unbendable. And so, each year, it was the same: the popular kids all getting nice Hallmark Valentines with candies that said “YOU’RE GREAT” on them, and I’d get a piece of crumpled notebook paper. They and I were locked in a dumb-show that neither could stand. It was sheer misery.

I told this story to my wife today, and she said, “Okay, Honey! I’m sorry about what happened at the Tomato Tom-Tom, but it’s time to let it go!” Then Tessa Ellen Valentine Blake – her actual name – hugged me, and somewhere, back in the furthest recesses of my mind, one humiliating fire was extinguished with a kiss.

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