Monthly Archives: September 2007

we got the last bottle of soco

9/30/07

I’m at the farm, where my vast repository of pictures lie, and I wanted to jumpstart my scanning project for the winter. Thus I’ll have a bunch of random pictures cropping up on the blog, so be forewarned: if we know each other, I have a picture of you. Maybe several. I think I even have a picture of LFMD in 1986.

Anyway, a few jumped out at me tonight.

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Christmas Eve 1985, my parents split up, and I walked out into the snow and demanded a life change of myself. Even if it was going to be shallow and stupid, I resolved to have fun for the first time in my life. I cut my hair, got contact lenses, was accepted into a fraternity and fell in love for the first time in the next three months. The picture above was taken for the fraternity composite in March 1986, when I had barely grown into my face.

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February 29 – Leap Day, 1992 – was also the high water mark for Mardi Gras as we knew it. After three straight days of drinking brown liquor by the liter, we woke up in a dilapidated house on Freret Street not far from the Garden District in New Orleans. We had sleeping bags, but the beer from the carpet had seeped up into our clothes overnight. We were trying our best to recover, even though the band that lived in the house – with the hilariously horrible name of “Voodoo Jive” – was practicing upstairs.

No, I didn’t have a mullet. It just looked that way when I woke up.

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October 2000. I had just escaped the suicidal dreariness of LA, working in a swanky dot-com job for lots of money in downtown New York. I was a month into a romantic relationship with my beautiful friend Tessa Blake, and even though I hated the Yankees, I was not prepared for the beauty of being above the center of a World Series ticker-tape parade. All of us in the Woolworth Building – once the tallest in the world – stuck our heads out and threw confetti. It was like being in a magic snow dome of the joy that is New York.

Eleven months later, the World Trade Center buildings came down next door, and I remember all the charred bits of paper flying around the air that day, and thinking how similar joy and tragedy can look.

carry me back to old virginny

9/27/07

What age were you when you lost your virginity? And what was your feeling right after? Obviously, your comment can be anonymous if you want, but say your gender.

Me? I was 21, halfway to 22. I was freaked out, but it was still awesome. I was the last virgin I knew, and I can’t say waiting that long ultimately did me any favors (a tome worthy of another blog), but there was a certain pride in waiting that long. I was totally in love, and I’m still friends with that person today.

And you?

springfield, springfield

9/26/07

We’re coming to NY today, because our farm upstate is being rented for the fall, and if I don’t winterize it, we might as well be pouring 500 gallons of heating oil on our driveway. The mere act of winterizing always reminds me of those war movies when soldiers are getting ready for the German panzers they can already hear in the distance.

So we’ll be reporting from New York for the next week, and look forward to seeing all you krazy kats in the big city.

Anyone want anything?

how about a nice camembert

9/25/07

Last Christmas, Lucy infamously remembered one of my “South Park” references from the womb, and inserted “suck my balls!” at the end of all her songs. Tessa wasn’t that psyched about it, to say the least, even though I couldn’t have been prouder – that’s my little girl!!! Anyway, I had to use operant conditioning to get her out of the habit, and the extinction technique was to replace “suck my balls” with “I like cheese”.

The odd thing is that she doesn’t really like cheese. But she does still bust out the coda at completely random times, guaranteeing that she always catches me off guard.

the closing of the american thighs

9/23/07

Man, you have to hand it to the Baby Boomers: they always get what they want. They wanted rock’n’roll, they got it; they wanted free love; they took it; they wanted money, the government, and the same music playing for 45 years, and they got all of that too.

When they turned batshit, bizarrely conservative and started dreaming of apocalypse (as Neil Howe and Bill Strauss said they would), they got their cohort George W. Bush to be president. The Boomers have been so powerful they erased an entire generation from ever being President: assuming John McCain isn’t elected, the Silents (born 1925-1941) will be the first generation to be skipped in American history.

But back to them being batshit: one of the most egregious things Boomers ever did was to spend the late ’60s trying every drug and sexual position imaginable, then growing up to be the most draconian, joy-prohibiting, litigious, rule-mongering administrators since Prohibition. If you want to see the embodiment of No Fun, look at your average college chancellor born in the early 1950s – they make Neidermeyer from “Animal House” look spontaneous.

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And I’m not being metaphorical, like “they got to have sex, and we grew up under the specter of AIDS” kind of thing, I mean they actually made laws to curb fun as we knew it. Personally, it was legal for me to drink alcohol in college from May 26 to September 15, 1986. Then the law changed, and there was no grandfather clause – in other words, I could order woo-woos and Toasted Almonds all summer long, but by September, I was forbidden to do so for TWO YEARS.

This was the beginning of the end of Fun™ in college, even if we didn’t know it at the time. By 2003, as I complained earlier in this blog’s history, sororities were refusing to come to fraternities that had alcohol, which is a little like going to Egypt as long as you don’t look at the Pyramids.

Now the other shoe has dropped; as predicted, kids are barely having sex in college anymore. Tests done internally by universities and confirmed by Zogby show that, in the words of an average graduate, “Either I missed out or everyone else in college isn’t having sex at all.” Take the science in all this for what it’s worth, but it’s no surprise to me that the one place left in America where anything goes – college – has fallen victim to the I-don’t-really-feel-like-it school of life experience.

These kids are by-and-large unaffected by religious dogma, and all studies show that abstinence programs don’t have any psychological effect. They are predominantly middle-class with easy access to the Pill or any other procedure, and they are almost all between the ages of 18 and 23 and at the peak of their, shall we say… total hotness. What the hell is wrong?

I’m no social anthropologist, I only play one on these pages. Perhaps kids’ lives have become so virtual through the internet, gaming, Facebook, porn, or even what Allan Bloom called the “hymns to the joys of onanism” playing on Walkmen (today replaced by iPods) that there is no longer the pressing need to actually deal with the real, physical world. In fact, perhaps now, physical reality is by definition totally disappointing.

When we look at a site like Facebook (which I’m on – come be my friend!), you’ll see college women like my niece with 457 “friends,” and think “what an amazing social network!” But what if Facebook isn’t an enabler at all – what if its illusion of intimacy and interconnectivity purposely keeps people apart? If so, Baby Boomers, normally a technophobic, computer-mistrusting bunch, have got to be pleasantly surprised.

What else could be taking sexual intercourse out of college?

– Perhaps the drinking age and the latter-day Volstead Act currently enforced in college towns finally had its desired effect, and the social lubrication necessary to get two people together is now non-existent.

– Perhaps the drinking laws have made a “speakeasy” out of certain dorm rooms, leading students to take five shots of Jägermeister at the beginning of the evening, effectively erasing the slow buzz of a casual evening out with the girls, and replacing it with a season-ending barf at 8:30pm.

– Perhaps every fetish known to man has a site on the internet, leading guys to get their ya-yas out with, to paraphrase Woody Allen, “sex with somebody they love” – i.e., themselves. With such fantasies at their disposal, maybe most guys have masturbated themselves out of the market.

– The intense sexual politics of the early ’90s clearly put date rape and institutionalized misogyny in sharp relief, but perhaps it had another effect: guys think of the whole thing as entirely too much bother, and are increasingly opting for the effortlessly casual mingling of their male buddies.

– Likewise, perhaps women are so sick of the emotional retardation of their perpetually-confused, non-committal, vaguely-adolescent suitors that they have instead opted for a long-distance relationship with that guy who goes to Dartmouth they met over, yes, Facebook.

– Perhaps rampant anti-depressant use among college kids has resulted in a backwards tipping point for their collective libido.

– Or perhaps my own priapic, Lotharian past is poisoning my rationale, and today’s college students simply don’t place the same value on sexual and romantic experimentation that I did.

If that’s the case, then Baby Boomers, your job is practically done. Your students have nothing to defend themselves but flaccid swords made of purest irony. They say the bees are all dying; all that is left are the birds.

when the moon is in the seventh house

9/20/07

I was going to write something else entirely until I saw the video CP kindly linked in yesterday’s comments. I never thought I would find myself sobbing on the couch at 1am because of an awkward speech given by a Republican.

When he looks up in the middle, either to his daughter, or to a member of his staff in question, you see the smile of someone whose sun has just come out between the clouds. Simply wonderful.

o brother

9/18/07

By now, most of you have seen the video of Florida student Andrew Meyer getting tasered at the John Kerry speech, either filtered or unfiltered depending on your preferred method of consumption. One could argue that if you look like a flailing-armed moron who might possibly bum-rush the stage and attack a sitting member of the Senate, you’re going to get what’s coming to you, but the actual act of one person tasering another is indescribably sickening.

The bigger point is this: could there be anyone with more of a tin ear than John Kerry? There’s no way he didn’t know what was going on, what with the student yelling “don’t tase me, bro!” Senator or no, that’s time to jump off stage, wade through the crowd and see what the fuck the police are doing to this kid. At the very least, you get on the motherscratchin’ mike and lay down the law, rather than continue droning on as if you’re announcing pre-boarding for Delta’s flight to Cleveland.

It’s easy to be a Johnny-Come-Monday-Morning-Quarterback, but I like to think I came by my frustration with Kerry honestly and early (well before he was the Democratic nominee – like this unhinged entry from 2003). When he became the front-runner, my heart sank, and when he got the nomination, deep down I knew we were fucked. I put on a brave face, mostly because Tessa told me to, but it was the most important election in modern American history, and GOD KNOWS WE COULD HAVE DONE BETTER.

Don’t get me wrong. I would have voted for J.J. Redick over George W. Bush every day of the week, and Kerry would have done a overwhelmingly more noble job as President than the cruel, smirking monkey we’ve got right now. But Kerry seems to have sacrificed a bizarre portion of his humanity at the altar of politics.

It’s as if he is so tempered by expectation, so bizarrely addicted to remaining vaguely inoffensive, so hobbled by years of saying oddly-meaningless words in order to stay elected, that he comes across as six-foot-four of tanned goo. Mike Dukakis looked silly in a tank because he’d never been in one before, but Kerry managed to look like a panderer while windsurfing – something he’d done for decades.

As was the case in Swift Boat, or his botched joke, he issued a somewhat-dispassionate condemnation a day late, probably after looking at some polls and focus-group results.

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only a matter of time before this shirt exists

The other players? God knows they were out of their league on this one, but the Kampus Kops of Florida sure looked psyched to test the taser gun on a writhing student pinned to the floor. I admit a bias here… any of you ever had a run-in with a campus cop? I have, about 15-20 times during my extended sojourn in Chapel Hill, and I always felt like they were some of the worst people in the South.

Every single UNC cop I ever met reminded me of Chet from “Weird Science” – too stupid to be logical, but just smart enough to be really goddamn mean. In the beginning, they were annoying-yet-harmless custodians of Carolina’s brick pathways, but when I was a junior, they were granted the same powers as normal city cops, which, in my genuflected opinion, was a promotion none of them deserved.

Maybe times have changed since the batshit days of the early ’90s, but an evening consisting of campus cops with cattle prods, a conspiracy-minded undergrad with an inhibition disorder, and John Kerry? That’s got “YouTube Smash Hit” written all over it!

pink karmann ghia

9/17/07

There’s a nice little piece in the Atlantic Monthly right now called Quirked Around – it’s right up my alley, since it deals with the faint ephemera of pop culture, and it’s about a phenomenon that may or may not be happening. This is the kind of article I was pitching from ’96 to ’03 or so. They’re always fun to write because they function as an airing-out of the theories you’ve been storing in your emotional linen closet for years.

Michael Hirschorn’s premise is that our culture is drowning in “quirk” – movies, docs, TV shows and plays featuring characters with “unexplainable but nonetheless charming character traits.” He goes on to explain good quirk vs. bad quirk (“Rushmore” vs. “The Royal Tennenbaums”) and mentions several other offenders, such as “Napoleon Dynamite”, “Donnie Darko”, Zach Braff, and a special takedown of This American Life‘s Ira Glass.

I have certainly been guilty myself of Quirk – the Pink House screenplay was full of it, especially the character Windy, who mixed up all the words in her sentences and kept re-painting an oil painting that had been hanging in the living room for years. Never mind that her character was a cross between Chip and an old housemate of mine named Amy; there were plenty of odd character choices in that script that were initially written because they were true, but retained because they were… I dunno, cool. At least I thought they were.

Hirschorn’s dissection of Quirk is a close cousin to my favorite culture body-slam of all time: Caleb Southern uttering the word “PREMISE.” Caleb, as some of you know, produced and engineered most of the Ben Folds Five and Archers of Loaf oeuvre, and remains a legend in the Triangle. I lived with him for years in the Purple House on McCauley Street, and I can tell you, there was no better human being with which to experience the early ’90s.

We would be listening to a band that we wanted to like, but couldn’t quite get there. Or we’d be walking home from a movie that should have been better. Caleb would say nothing for hours, then suck on a piece of his hair and say “PREMISE.”

Jon Gray, Bud or Lindsay might have their own take on Caleb’s bi-syllabic koans, but I always took “PREMISE” to mean “idea at the expense of truth.” By adhering to an idea of what the art should be, by clinging to a kind of dogma or being self-satisfied by the overarching theme, the artist loses connection to the art actually being any good.

Words that float around this idea – while never actually hitting it – are “clever”, “precious”, and “twee”. I wish I could remember examples of specific bands or movies that got the “PREMISE” smackdown, as it would make describing it so much easier, but it’s something I definitely keep in the back of my mind as we develop scripts.

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me, Caleb, Jon, Lindsay, December 2004

Anyway, Hirschorn spends so much of his Atlantic Monthly piece hating on Ira Glass that he (in my opinion) misses what makes Quirk such a big problem. Members of my generation, having rejected the literary canon and mostly ADD’d themselves out of being true dorks dedicated to some singular pursuit, have inserted Quirk and Quirky Characters as a shorthand for any kind of real insight.

In other words, Quirk is a hallmark of “good enough.” Instead of truly getting to the bottom of structure, or plot, or universal pathos, or whatever, most writers are content to give their lead character (or sidekick or girlfriend) a set of random, incongruous personality traits and let that be enough. My buddy Brian has an overwhelming fear of loose change and dirty coins – numismaphobia – and I thought, man, I really have to keep myself from using that in a screenplay (unless, of course, the character is a toll-booth collector, which we in the business would call “IRONY.”)

I’m having trouble understanding why it’s so hard for writers in my general age group to embrace “plot”. When we were 19-25 years old, all the stories and screenplays I read around me were stricken with emotional paralysis, full of characters that were not moving, and were never going to move. It was the logical endgame of nihilism – boredom and opting out.

A few years ago this was supplanted by Quirk, featuring a lot of stories about cool kids, ex-nerds, dorks who had been suddenly liberated by the internet and the dot-com boom. Both writers and characters were all wearing that fucking $45 “Gettin’ Lucky in Kentucky” T-shirt from Urban Outfitters, and even the phrase “jumped the shark” jumped the shark, but at least Fonzie was doing something.

I know, we’re in Hollywood now, and we’ll probably fight the opposite problem: lots of shit happening with no emphasis on character. All we can do is try our best to create things with some kind of emotional resonance and hope lots of other people get it. In a way, it’s refreshing. The diet of nihilism and Quirk was vaguely entertaining for a decade or so, but after a while you get sick from cakes made entirely of frosting.

all my loving

9/13/07

Just managed to get the new computer up and at ’em, which as most of you know, is an all-day affair. I had to choose a new background picture, however, and I went with this one taken by the wonderful Katie Kosma during the talent show at the Memorial Day Jartacular:

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*sigh*