Monthly Archives: July 2007

please listen carefully as our menu has changed

7/17/07

Really, when you think about it, aren’t we basically lucky to get anything?

Who holds all the cards? They do. Who has all the money? They do. Who has all the power? They do. You are nothing to them; a random voice on a technical support line, a lone hand pulling a lever, another driver in another car stopped on the freeway just like anyone else.

What are you going to do about it, march in the streets? RIOT? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! *wipes tears* Oh, my, that was a good one. No, let’s be serious. You’re going to sit and take it.

If they raise the price, you will still buy it; I mean, why don’t they raise the price infinitely? How about seven dollars a gallon? Sure, it’ll be horrible, but you gotta get your kids to school. How about a war? Even the most unpopular wars can still last ten years. How about $1543.99 a month for that drug that is saving your son? Hmmm, well, while they “go fuck themselves” you’re still going to leave your credit card.

Wasn’t there once a Gentleman’s Agreement? Was there a time when “shame” actually affected policy? No, I can’t remember it either. Was that just romanticizing?

They have a product. They calculate how much to charge for it, based on whatever price will absolutely destroy you, then they add 25%.

And the best part? There is no “they”. They are simply a revolving conglomerate of bad guys who never stay quite long enough to get what would normally be coming to them. They aren’t met by a disgruntled lone gunman whose life they ruined; they die old and rich with linen-clad nurses and give all their money to the grandkids.

Between them and you are thousands of middle-management employees, all who hate it as much as you, and thus have no patience for your problems. Beneath them are help desks, based in far-off lands with odd currency, and right in front of you is a cashier, who may be the only person more miserable than you are.

Sure, go ahead and vote for someone else. Switch brands. Do that thing you always talked about, where you don’t buy anything new for a month. Go “backpacking” and “get yourself off the grid.” While you scramble for payphone change in some foreign denomination, The Man has the infinite patience of malignant ignorance; he and the other Men don’t know who you are, and just began another round of golf.

rota fortuna

7/16/07

Whilst talking to my awesome therapist today, I realized one thing I took away from 9/11. I mean, sure, I took away thousands of flickering emotions, horrible memories, incredible nanoseconds of ultimate clarity, and it completely shifted the plate tectonics in my brain… but one detail has always stuck with me: make sure you buy really good luggage.

That morning, as people covered with ash and blood were streaming up the West Side Highway, I kept seeing suitcases with one wheel broken off. These were the folks who were abandoning their apartments downtown, thousands of sudden refugees obviously throwing what they could into their luggage, and a bunch of them had already lost one of their shitty wheels by the time they got to Tribeca.

Now when I look at suitcases, I see them totally differently. You want the ones with awesome, seemingly indestructible wheels. This goes for all of your items: bikes, strollers, cars. Tessa and I took a class on tire repair last week and while my ass fell asleep in the metal chair, I do feel more empowered.

So today’s CODE WORD is this: what tiny piece of advice can you give that can really save time – or even your ass – someday? Extra points if it’s from your own area of expertise!

but itching makes it feel better

7/15/07

Tonight I find myself in a very familiar position: sleeping somewhere else other than my own home because the place is being flea-bombed. As far as I can tell, I’ve done this every place I’ve ever lived except the East Village (which was oddly sanitary). When we did it at the Purple House, Bud and I enraged Matt McM. downstairs because it sent a flurry of bugs scattering from our floor to his, turning his apartment into “Exorcist III”.

The Pink House had a flea infestation that was so pervasive and incredible that it harkened to the Old Testament. Scotty went down in the basement to investigate, and came back with his legs black with fleas, covered in bites. I’ve still never seen anything like it.

We closed all the windows, even though it was late August, set off ten bombs and the entire house went to a matinee of “Pocahontas” just to get us out of the place while the poison wafted into our nooks (do you remember that, Jif?) – unbelievably, it worked. “Pocahontas” was terrible, though.

Anyway, I’m doing it again, so wife, daughter and I moved next door to an open room in the old hotel/apartment building. After the post-fogger two hour grace period, I aired our place out for the evening, and there’s something very odd about walking back into a home you’ve just bug-bombed; it’s like drifting into an alternate reality planet. Everything looks familiar, but you’re not sure if the atmosphere is breathable, and it has the odd smell of space polymers.

Thus, instead of an actual blog, I’m going to post something for my mom. She and her business partner Sue are releasing an amazing (and quite different) children’s album soon – details in the months ahead – and it has already mesmerized Lucy beyond description. Yesterday, during the post-7pm haze she enters while powering down for both bath and bed, she dreamily sat on the couch and sang along with the songs. Even though she usually sings MUCH MORE BOISTEROUSLY, I thought my mom would like this little moment:

mumsy, the little black thing is ringing

7/12/07

Before we all go off for the weekend, I’ve had a few requests to give my initial impressions of the iPhone. If you’re looking for the snap judgment, I’ll just come right out and say I totally dig it, it’s worked flawlessly, and like the Prius was in 2003, it elicits constant commentary.

Great:

– crystal clear, easy, intuitive phone operation

– videos look rich and incredible; definitely the easiest five hours on a plane you’ll have

– photos are gorgeous as well

– Bluetooth is clean, sounds great in the car

– full signal in our basement, when Sprint didn’t even work in the frickin’ attic

– Google Maps = stunning

– Safari looks fabulous

– picking and choosing your voicemails out of order, and having them play back like an iPod track? Brilliant

Not So Great:

– the keyboard is hard, at least for me. The “autofill” word selection software is laughably inept. Anyone with super-fat fingers may want to avoid this one. However, I am getting better and look forward to mastering it, like some of us did with the “graffiti” language on the Palm.

– no “cut and paste”. Jesus, if the Treo could do it, why can’t this?

– surfing the Web when you’re piggybacking on Wifi is awesome; the EDGE network, to put it kindly, is not.

– the email program purrs nicely, but sending mail (and figuring out your SMTP server) can be a pain in the ass if you don’t know the shortcuts.

Would I recommend it? If you have the money, absolutely. I’m pretty loyal to my brands, even to the point of OCD, but leaving Sprint was remarkably easy on my psyche. My further recommendation would be to get the 8GB phone if you plan on watching a lot of videos, since those muthas take up a lot of memory, especially if you want to keep a few movies around.

Every so often a device comes around that transports me back to 1977 or so, when I was an 9-year-old riding a red Huffy with a giant orange flag. When the first tiny iPod shuffle came out, I thought about taking a time machine and showing The Younger Me how two hundred songs could fit on something smaller than a pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum.

If someone had shown up in 1977 with a wire-free long-distance telephone the size of a deck of cards that also played thousand of songs and had “Star Wars” on it, I can’t say for sure, but I think I would have fainted.

ISMAshley77(bl).jpg

me, Sean and Michelle in London ’77, waiting for floating cars and Mars travel

he made his home in that fish’s abdomen

7/11/07

Three examples:

– In the late ’80s, Napa Valley in California suffered another outbreak of phylloxera, a tiny winged insect that feeds upon the roots of grapevines, ultimately suffocating them. It had already destroyed the wine business around 1900, and to get rid of it, growers had to uproot every single vine they ever grew and set the soil on fire. It was predicted that the California wine industry was essentially over. The result? Napa rattled off the ten best years in wine history and surpassed France as the best winemaking region in the world.

– Whenever after-school specials and movies about the horrors of anorexia and bulimia are broadcasted, anorexia and bulimia rates go up among the viewing audience.

– In September, 2001, a terrorist attack in downtown Manhattan killed almost 3,000 people and filled the air with toxic ash. Letters filled with anthrax were mailed to midtown. Radiological sensors were set up all around the city to protect against dirty bombs, and the place where the World Trade Center used to stand is still a giant, gaping hole. The result? Real estate prices have tripled in some downtown neighborhoods, even as the real estate bubble burst almost everywhere else in the country.

Why do I mention these things? No other point than to say “shit is complicated.” In fact, shit is so complicated that your instincts about anything not in your field of expertise is, essentially, worthless. Perhaps there was a time when blacksmiths knew that hitting harder made the metal flatter; perhaps there was a time when smoke meant fire, but that era is long gone. Now we are living in an epoch of stunning complication, where specialists are needed to demystify the intricacies of everything you use.

Don’t believe me? Michelle’s boyfriend Rich, who is a brilliant car mechanic in his own right, says the back seats of most SUVs have their own air filter. The air filter is for the fan that cools the 5-7 wires that flow into the seat, controlling various functions. This is for the back seat, the one nobody is sitting in. It has an air filter.

The computer you’re reading this on? The SSRI you took this morning? The citywide traffic light timers that arranged your trip to work? Forget about it. It’s using math you cannot fathom. Your job is concentrate on the tiny piece of the world where you’re the expert, and leave everything else to everyone else.

And yet, here in the choppy whirlwind of the most complicated time in Earth’s history, we are being ruled by people with ABSOLUTELY ZERO INTEREST in anything requiring nuance. If things get too complicated, that monkey-jowled fratboy of a President nods off. His minions speak in Neanderthal sentence fragments and reduce all concepts to a binary, moronic choice between good and evil. There are many reasons why these guys are the worst people at the worst time in history, but the way they play upon America’s subconscious desire for simplicity may be the most tragic.

Me? I absolutely LOVE the fact that things are complicated and unpredictable when it comes to human, biological and technological behavior. I am turned on by the vast array of outcomes and have always harbored crushes on those people who dedicate their lives to a singular passion of figuring it out. If somebody specializes on Volvos, the strange quarks of subatomic particles, the upper gums of primates, predictive cosmology, even tax law minutiae, I’m hooked. I feel relieved that someone is taking care of that part of the world.

Our understanding of the world is frustratingly inconsistent. I’ve mentioned my and Tessa’s “eggs and butter syndrome,” whereby the same product can be alternately vilified and sanctified every five years – hell, you might have noticed it happen to echinacea just last month. The best you can do is stay abreast of current research and live long enough for vaccines; the rest is a crapshoot.

I mean, I get it. It’s satisfying when things work the way they ought to. It’s nice when you plant seeds and then radishes grow. It’s pleasant when the cause and effect make perfect sense. It’s also kind of boring, and over the long haul, nature hates it. Nature likes weird aberrations that help creatures adapt, odd left turns that make platypuses and the Alps.

It’d be nice to think that killing every Iraqi insurgent and keeping huge military bases in Saudi Arabia would make your average Muslim teenager think twice about striking at America. It’d be so much easier to think that everyone on death row committed their crime and killing them would make criminals stop behaving badly. It takes a brave, intelligent person to stand up in front of the United States and say “actually, shit is WAY MORE complicated.”

We needed a great leader, and instead we got a fucking chimp. A chimp with a two-note xylophone he hits with a bone. “GOOD” says one note. “BAD” says the other. And we’re stuck singing that two-note nursery rhyme until some goddamn adults show up.

write your own op-ed piece in under two minutes™

7/10/07

Disclaimer, allowing the writer to say whatever he wants without reprisal. Pretending to understand that he may sound stupid, which then takes away your ability to say his argument was stupid, when his argument turns out to be, in fact, stupid.

Anecdote, probably with semi-famous name dropped. Anecdote is only loosely related to the topic at hand, merely serving to put the writer in a higher perceived status. Anecdote ends with lie, because the real ending was inconclusive and ambiguous.

Snark, snark, snark, snark, snark. Unfunny joke told with profanity to make it seem funny. Snark, even more snark, and then an exhortation to end all the snarkiness. Then one last bit of snark for good measure.

Supposition, use of “everyone says”, jumping to conclusions, then data taken out of context. Another disingenuous disclaimer, along the lines of “I’m no scientist, but…”

Grand statement of purpose that the writer doesn’t even believe, told with grandiose adjectives intended to brazen out any claims of falsehood. Bizarre overemphasis of ill-held notion. Wild conjecture disguised as heartfelt manifesto, ending with a call to arms the author himself has no plans of undertaking.

Character assassination done on the sly. Damning with faint praise, then damning with outright damnation. Strawman argument, followed by misattributed paraphrasing, followed by sarcasm.

Another anecdote, this one entirely fabricated; moral decided first, then story created to fit moral. Supposed withdrawal of most virulent points without actually going into proceeding paragraphs to erase them, thus getting away with both. Opinion ends with parallel construction and/or slight tweaking of tired cliché. Clever last line.

hamiltonian jacksonism

7/9/07

Some time ago I decided not to write about politics anymore, because it just seemed to induce the usual responses from the contrarians among us, and indeed, a couple of my friends told me they actively disliked it when I began ranting. So I tried to remain sanguine as things became more and more outrageous, and each day I sublimated the urge to blast forth on this tiny piece of the internet I get to control.

I can’t take it anymore. I’m just too fucking angry. Please, just leave me to my vitriol if you must, run away in droves until it’s just me here, standing in a puddle hurling epithets at the weather, I won’t blame you. But I need this place to vent, even if I’m repeating the self-evident, or behaving like an utter cliché.

George W. Bush should be sitting in a prayer circle, thanking his lucky goddamn stars for the following: cable TV, cheap DVDs, video games, air conditioning, and the over-scheduled lives of most Americans. If it weren’t for these, the sentient population of the United States would have taken to the streets long ago demanding he be ridden out of town on a fucking rail.

Two things keep him in office: the creature comforts of being an American, and the amount of work hours necessary to keep those creature comforts going. Americans are simply too tired and too distracted to storm Washington, D.C., but in any other society, perhaps any other time in history, he would have suffered the same fate as Oliver Cromwell. As it is, all we can muster is historically-low approval ratings.

Even so, how do all of you deal with what this man has been doing? Giving Scooter Libby a pardon? Blocking all investigation into the Gonzales scandal? Claiming “executive privilege” whenever he damn well pleases? Continuing a pointless war where our countrymen are being slaughtered by the thousands? How do you fit that into your headspace when you hear it on the news? Am I the only one who quakes with rage?

Even his own Republican base is splitting from him, but believe me, they are no friend to any progressive American you know. They are splitting because he isn’t conservative enough – they’re mad Libby didn’t get a full pardon, and they’re furious Bush isn’t even more cruel to illegal immigrants. These are the kinds of people who stand to inherit the mantle when Bush finally begins his mandated slide into Worst Ex-President Ever, which means our battle with these assholes has only begun.

The other night, we went to a fundraising dinner for The Center for Constitutional Rights, the group of lawyers who (among many things) are representing the men held illegally, for no reason, without trial at Guantanamo. The stories of who these prisoners really are, and what the Bush Administration has done to them, read like an Orwellian nightmare. The prevailing wisdom seems to be “they’re all brown, let’s kill them all and let God sort ’em out” and, sadly, you may well think I’m kidding.

Anyway, the CCR has a motto that says “we do things before it’s safe.” They filed a motion in February 2002 on behalf of Guantanamo prisoners who were held and tortured because they were turned in by fellow townsfolk for the ransom money. The CCR was the only group that dared to do it in those dark times, showed the bravery to do what was right, what was essentially American.

As they were giving the presentation at dinner, I sat in the corner and actually started to cry a little. September 11 had fucked me up so badly; in February 2002 I was barely able to tie my own shoes. During the next attack, whenever it may be, will I be able to act differently? Will I be able to summon the bravery that had so clearly left me in the PTSD aftershocks of that horrible winter?

The Bush Administration, in its seemingly unending commitment to cruelty and knuckle-dragging, did its best to keep PTSD reverberating throughout America for five years, and for that, I will hold a lifelong hatred for those horrible men, the same way my Uncle Chuck still curls his lip, his blue eyes dilated with disgust, when he talks about Nixon and Vietnam in the late ’60s.

45% of Americans want Bush impeached. 55% of them want Cheney impeached. That’s about the only good news one can muster, but it’s fools gold – there is no way on god’s green earth the Democrats can summon the nads necessary to rid us of these criminals. It’s almost impossible to fathom: Clinton was impeached because he lied about a blow job; Bush is responsible for thousands dead and the shredding of the Constitution, and we’re stuck living with him through the Modern Dark Ages. When Lucy asks us about this time – and she will – I will have no explanation.

hello, my name is ARSEHOLE

7/8/07

We just drove back from Northern California, and thus my back is seized, my wife is exhausted, and my daughter ate magic markers… BUT! I just heard the best urban legend in years. Apparently, if you push the “close door” button and your floor number button at the same time, the elevator goes straight to your floor without stopping! It’s a perfect rumor, because, a) apparently it works, b) it’s hard to prove it doesn’t because you need people on other floors getting screwed, and c) by doing it, you’re a total jackass. What could be better? Has anyone tried it?

holding truths to be self evident

7/2/07

Everyone have a fantastic 4th of July week, and please use the comments to mention your favorite item of kitschy Americana. Mine? My grandmother’s dangling wall trivet that said “Trust Your Mother But Cut The Cards.” Oh, and anything cross-stitched and framed, put in bathrooms. Especially cross-stitchery that doles out advice, like where not to pee, or why fishing is superior to those of the womanly gender.

We’re off to my dad’s place in upstate California, and will return to regular programming on Monday…

LucyFireworksPark1(bl).jpg

Lucy last month at the Celebrate Brooklyn fireworks – she’s still talking about them

harvest gold rotary dial wall unit

7/1/07

On Friday, the day the iPhone went on sale, I started getting lots of shit from my friends – voicemails, emails and comments along the lines of “How’s your iPhone, FAG?” My buddy Spencer wrote me a txt msg calling me a “spendthrift bitch” and someone else answered my call saying “How’s the line, fanboy?”

Which was funny, because I wasn’t entirely sold on getting one. Sure, I was covetous, and I already told Tessa she was receiving one for her birthday, but I wasn’t sure about myself. But then I got so much crap for “having an iPhone” I figured I should probably bloody well pull the trigger.

Now, let me make an aside: every time I talk about “stuff,” meaning “things” or even “material goods,” I get emails from high-n-mighty conservatives calling me a hypocrite, since I’m so goddamn preachy about the environment. I mean, whatever, point taken, but my little electronic peccadilloes are hardly on par with bigger habits such as cars and household energy. I guess what I’m saying is I’m happy to release some carbon into the air when I buy an iPod every three years (and oh yeah, eat me).

Anyway, another way I’m an asshole is that I don’t really do queues anymore. I’ve always had an “in” that allowed me to forgo lines, which probably comes from my dad, who never stood in a line in his life. Being a symphony conductor, he (and we) were always ushered in the side door. He never made a billion dollars, but we lived well thanks to the small favors of a winking maitre d.

Not so with the iPhone. There were no shortcuts, no favors to be called in, no fakery. Deciding to face it head on, I chose the worst Cingular/AT&T store I knew: the one on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice, CA situated on a smelly, baked-concrete traffic jam with absolutely no parking and a constant parade of beach SUVs without mufflers speeding by, filled with surf jerks yelling homophobic taunts.

ATTiPhoneLine(bl).jpg

I figured this was the best way to get an iPhone, but it turned out to be the worst. The people in line with me were cool (all 500 of them) but the Cingular dudes ran out of iPhones suspiciously early, leaving most of us still sitting on that urine-coated sidewalk. They said we could put our name down and get one within three weeks. I decided I didn’t trust them for shit, and would just go home and order one online.

Oddly, though, the Apple website said most of their own stores still had iPhones. I didn’t see how that was possible – the Apple Store at the 3rd Street Promenade had a line that looked like Chapel Hill’s Grateful Dead onslaught of 1993. Suspect, I brought Tessa and Lulubeans to the Promenade on Saturday morning, and not only did the sleek, air-conditioned Apple store have iPhones, but a line of ONE PERSON. I was checked out by a comely Asian woman, and that was that.

IaniPhonePedMall(bl).jpg

I believe all California stores have since sold out, but you can still get the 4GB version most everywhere else, which really points out the binary nature of modern America. You either sit for hours on the pavement, or you stroll in and get what you want; the digital nature has no gray area. There is no “earning” anything, there is simply having enough information and getting the free pass to “GO” and collecting $200. This modern age must be exasperating to those over 70. Except my mom.

So tonight I got another txt from Spencer, asking “no, seriously, did you get your iPhone? Is it totally bitchin?” Actually, I don’t know, I’ve been too tired to turn it on.