Monthly Archives: October 2007

family von catt

10/31/07

Halloween is the kind of holiday that adults can really hate, because it almost possesses the same commitment and expectation level of the most-hated holiday in the lexicon, New Year’s Eve. There is always the sense that someone is trying harder than you are, that you’ll go to a party where the lesser-evolved will use the holiday as an excuse to be a nipple-baring strumpet, and nothing screams ZANTAC more than alcohol and chocolate.

Then again, if you don’t do anything at all, there’s a fair amount of cultural pressure for you to be involved – either you’ve got friends demanding you meet them somewhere, or you’ve got gaggles of kids lining up at your door for Miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I can see why it’s a drag for lots of you, and weirdly enough, “people who hate Halloween” as a Google search term has led thousands of people to this entry for years.

To which I say, of course, tough shit! You gotta keep trying in this world, because the day you stop dressing up for bizarre events is the day you start to wither. If you didn’t bother doing anything this year, I’m callin’ you out, mister: dress up next year or your joints will grow less elastic!

To wit, we decided on a feline theme this go-round, with Lucy as a black kitty-cat, me as a felt lion, and Tessa (and friend Monica) as two sexy tigers:

TessaIanLucyMonicaHall2(bl).jpg

Because Daylight Savings Time is still in effect for Halloween (for the first time in decades), it was late before we got out, and Lucy’s expiration date occurred mid-trick-and-or-treat:

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So we let her eat a Kit-Kat bar – because we’re commies, it was her first actual mass-produced corporate chocolate candy product ever – and needless to say she rallied for the ninth inning!

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Happy Halloween from us to y’all!

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yes, I’m aware I look like an wet orange dog

the old hundredth

10/30/07

Okay, so I covered Whiskyfest in New York City last night as a journalist, sampling and making tasting notes for almost 20 different single-malt scotches. Full report later for anyone who wants it, but right now I’d like to thank the following two products:

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Hangover Stopper – 2 pills when you start, then two every other drink

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Chaser Pills – two when you start, then one every other drink

I should be in an alley in Hell’s Kitchen singing pirate songs with my shirt untucked and stinking of urine, but instead I’m sober and writing a blog! YAY hangover technology!

no hats hanging in tennessee

10/28/07

We took our yearly trip to Texas last week to hang with Tessa’s mom and take care of urgent family business, so I thought I’d post a few pictures of the experience. I have to say this trip was probably the best we’ve had: her family was great, the weather was insanely wonderful, and Lucy had the time of her life (even as we had about ten meetings to attend). First off, we went to the San Antonio Botanical Garden to see Diego from the Dora books, but the view eventually captivated our daughter:

LucySATXSkyline(bl).jpg

At the hotel, two images stuck with me. First was the laminated, specially-lit portrait of an oil rig blowing off fire, placed in the foyer for all to admire:

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But there were also those “Support the Troops” magnets that always give me the grippe. HOWEVER… now they came with optional inserts that said “Bring ‘Em Home Safe”. If that kind of lefty propaganda has infiltrated the George Herbert Walker Bush Intercontinental Airport Marriot Hotel, then maybe things have changed:

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She’s always been terrified of the ponies at the Farmer’s Market in Santa Monica, but when she got to Tessa’s Aunt Brenda’s farm near Cut’n’Shoot, TX, my brave little girl met “Miss Puff” and asked to get on bareback. We also put a saddle on Puff, and she rode by herself (with help) – oh my god, I was so proud of her:

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A motel in San Antonio – I love the utterly rusted “Kitchenettes” sign hanging off the bottom:

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The Kodak Film Dispenser at an ancient amusement park for toddlers in San Antonio. Note plug sadly dangling from back:

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If you saw “Five Wives,” you saw Tessa’s friend Louis, the boy she grew up with. He has three daughters now, and our kids got along… well, like this:

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Lucy’s pumpkin at far left

Finally, at the mall in San Antonio, there was this ad for today’s new hair fashions – which looks oddly like something we might have made fun of in 1983:

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send in the nouns

10/24/07

Can someone tell me how “Patch Adams” happened? In Chapel Hill, arguably the most beautiful college town in America, we’ve had exactly ONE motion picture filmed on campus in the last thirty years (discounting a couple exterior shots in “Kiss the Girls”) and it was frickin’ “Patch Adams”.

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I look at “Patch Adams” the way I look at terrifically ugly office buildings: at some point, the architect rolled the plans out on the table, and three other guys said “YES! That’s IT!” And then they built it. And then we looked at it for seventy-five years.

When Robin Williams takes the nasal aspirator bulb and puts it on his nose… you know, to be a “clown”… entire swaths of North Carolina history were rendered irrelevant. Forget Andy Griffith, forget James K. Polk, forget Michael Jordan – hell, forget Caleb Bradham, inventor of that vile drink Pepsi. In one moment, it kinda all ceased to matter.

What movie moment made you die a little?

brimstone, treacle and invisible suns

10/23/07

Anyone mind if I take care of a few things here? Good. First off…

1) Ramone, I appreciate your contributions here, because you obviously have a lot invested in your hatred of deadbeats, and it’s always good to see a guy who’s got some passion. But ever since your other comments, most notably about my “money and plastic and keys to important houses, and the turtleneck-wearing ID to [my] so-called Pubic Ivy”… you gave your mean-spiritedness away long ago.

But let’s just take you at face value. Anyone who writes that obese men at an NFL game are all voting for Hillary – I dunno, it strains the imagination that you’re trying very hard here. As for your other facts and figures, and your analysis thereof, I can’t find fault with the way you feel. It’s obvious how many people in America bother you, and while you think liberalism encourages handouts and a subsequent loss of dignity, I think you have no concept of the suffering of the lower classes in this country and you’ve lost the distinction between miserly and mean. Which one of us is right? Being the liberal, I’m open to discussion.

Your wife is much nicer than you are, so at least we have that in common.

2) The feedback I’ve gotten from a number of friends (who lurk on here) is amazement at the amount of antipathy directed at artists over the last week or so. I have to admit, I was expecting the usual eye-rolling, but nothing compared to the comments and emails that came my way. Again, the common theme is that we’re all “getting away with it” and thus have lost all permission to complain (or, apparently, to go on strike). In lieu of other emotions, I have decided to find it “interesting.”

Whatever. When capitalism takes over absolutely fucking everything, have fun buying your paintings at Target. To paraphrase Green Day, I guess we’ll have to be content being Faggot Americaâ„¢. In the meantime, if you hate your job, please don’t take it out on me. This is where I agree with Ramone: you made your own goddamn bed.

3) Our babysitter, an absolutely wonderful woman named L., accidentally poked her finger on a palm frond near her house in downtown Los Angeles last Monday. Not being able to afford health insurance for herself (she’s already partially caring for her grandson), she checked into the emergency room, as her finger went numb.

She sat in the emergency room for four days. Meanwhile, the numbness and nerve damage crept up her arm. At the end of the fourth day, she was finally seen, having not slept for about 36 hours, with the pain throbbing through her body. She woke up from her operation with a bill for $18,000.

Yes, she could have come straight to us and we would have paid cash to get her seen right away. But now she is on a payment plan to the hospital every month for the next twenty years. A single mom with two kids living at home, and partial caretaker to a small baby, barely earning above the poverty line. Who touched a palm frond.

4) Since we live near the beach, the fires raging out of control are all around us, but many miles from our neighborhood. Our thoughts go out to commenter Rebecca and the million+ people who have evacuated their homes – and hope they return to find they’d been spared.

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sucez ma jean-thomas

10/22/07

Sorry about this, but the blog has been absolutely destroyed by spam over the last four days – it actually shut our server down. It used to be only a few hundred a day, containing actual links, and then it was a few hundred a day containing randomly non-working links… and now I have spam numbering in the THOUSANDS that doesn’t even have any content.

What the FRICKIDY DOO-DAH is the point of spamming someone’s blog so hard that it simply obliterates it, without even trying to sell a goddamn product? Anyway, my brother Steve is migrating xtcian.com to a new server, and hopefully we’ll be installing the latest version of MT with a real spam-destroyer (like Akismet, etc.) so I apologize ahead of time for any bumps on the road.

In the meantime, continue with your debate on the last entry, which has been fun to watch. That is, if you like your conservatism delivered to you via bloody sandpaper to the face.

the faerie queene vs. beowulf pay-per-view

10/17/07

It’s my own damn fault, but I’ve found the blog fairly demoralizing this week, so I think I’ll wrap up this theme with one more thought. To wit: capitalism isn’t good at everything. In fact, it’s absolutely terrible at three things: health care, news media and art. Show me someone who says the “free market” is the best solution for those three ideas, and I’ll show you a misinformed rube with terrible taste who’s about to get sick.

Except for craighill, who is none of these things and whose taste runs Carolina blue. But I digress.

After the Civil War, we drafted the 14th Amendment for freed slaves, which was later warped by businesses to create the concept of corporate personhood. This meant an American company could have many of the same rights as a person. Lots of progressives believe it to be one of the worst things to happen to modern society (see The Corporation if your stomach can take it) and claim the “person” in the form of an American company is – by definition – a sociopath.

However, I look at it anthropomorphically: if a corporation is like the many sociopaths I’ve known, you can’t be surprised by its behavior. Nothing personal, but you have to assume that they’ll eat you alive with no regrets. Like Neva says, think of the scorpion and the frog; getting your feelings hurt is your fault, not theirs. The individuals in the corporation are fine; they love their mommas just like you do, but the beast of the company itself is altogether different. As such, you have to expect war – the beast would consider anything else to be, well, confusing.

The beast feeds itself on one thing: profit. Not just profit, but also expectation of growing profit. That’s it. Everything else is towed along by a dry rope, the easier to set adrift when times get tough. Yes, I know I’m stating the obvious, but the bigger point is this: there is a moral incumbency on all of us not to let the beast take charge of everything. Almost everything? Sure. But not, for sake of argument, things like health care, news media and art.

We’ve seen what happens when the news, once content to break a little more than even, is forced to deliver ad revenue 24 hours a day. Americans are being ripped apart by the red/blue definitions being forced down their gullet by cable news, and we’ve never been so wildly misinformed about our choices. Every channel echoes the War on Terror bullshitfest not because they’re in cahoots with the Bush Administration, but because an angry, terrified audience keeps watching through the commercials.

As for art, writers simply have to believe that the beast will try to take everything away because it thinks it can. Again, it’s nothing personal. It doesn’t know any better. But every dollar a writer doesn’t get, it gets, and it knows that is good. The beast will demand things that are beyond humiliating, because it doesn’t understand guilt or compunction. It just wants the money, and you have to be okay with that.

And in your own way, you fight it. Our free market – it’s fine for roof shingles, shoe insoles, fiber optic pipelines and beets. But there are places where capitalism is far too cruel and the stakes are too high to entrust your livelihood to a sociopath.

money both dirty and/or sexy

10/15/07

Man, you get some interesting responses anytime Art and Commerce are forced into a fistfight – with people overwhelmingly choosing Commerce as their favorite. The comments/emails from yesterday’s blog show what an uphill battle it is to get people to understand the larger picture.

In a nutshell, these are the major deceits:

1) Nobody should pay for art, it should just exist so we can enjoy it.

2) Artists are, by and large, “getting away with it.”

3) Doing art for a living isn’t a Real Job.

4) Artists should consider themselves lucky to get anything because so many other people will be happy to do it for free.

5) TV writers, movie scribes, architects, hairdressers and the people who write all the words on a website are not artists.

6) Art is demonstrably less important than money, sports, science, alcohol and most sex.

All to which, no offense, I call utter bullshit. Maybe the problem is using the term “art” when it has such pretentious implications. I wish there were a better word for it, but for now I’ll stick with this formula: Anything someone creates from their imagination for the enjoyment, edification, reaction or affirmation of their fellow man = ART.

As such, art is as important as every single fucking thing listed above, unless you want to live in a country where all the houses are square, where there are no stories, where there are no pictures or paintings, everyone’s hair is a dull brown or grey, and nobody shares any cultural experience outside of the NFL. Take the NFL off that list, and you’ve got Albania in the 1950s.

This stuff is like oxygen; you don’t realize how much you depend upon it until it’s gone. And bit by bit, that’s happening: already music is pretty much extinct from most public school systems, and when it’s budget-crunch time, who gets the money, the sculpting department who wants a kiln, or the defensive linebackers who want new crotch cups?

In essence, that’s why I say this fight between the WGA and the major studios can be construed into a much bigger picture: it’s the same damn thing being played out on a larger scale. Tregen claims that nobody in Hollywood wants a living, they only want to make it big – again, somehow, writers are “getting away with it.” Andrew compares the WGA to a bunch of florists. In doing so, you’ve both played perfectly into the hands of giant companies who want nothing more than to dismiss all of us as entitled, pathetic twits.

They don’t have to try very hard, when you’re doing their work for them. It’s so easy when the American caricature of a self-proclaimed artist is a self-obsessed, needy idler who is probably a fag. People in this country are cruel to many people – different races, the gays, fat women – but they reserve their deepest hatred for those who, by their estimation, “don’t work for a living.”

And god frickin’ forbid that they ask to be paid for their contributions. This has led to most artists simply not asking for money, believing, in a self-loathing haze, they aren’t worth it. Thank god my dad, an amazing symphony conductor, taught me early on to FUCKING GET PAID for any work you do, and not meekly consider it an honor just to be invited.

In this country, you are rewarded for having a real job. Many of you, reading this right now, are being paid to sit in that chair in the morning, when fully 50% of you would rather be doing anything else. The fact that you don’t act on that “anything else” is guaranteeing you health insurance and food for your kids, and I have unfathomable respect for that.

Someone who has chosen to be a writer can’t do your job; they’d be no good at it. If they were in Neva’s shoes, they’d prescribe the wrong medicine; if they were in Kevin from NC’s bike shop, they’d destroy every derailleur they came across. Writers at our stage of the game have worked their lives to get here, and can’t do anything else, just like you can’t.

I don’t mean to pick on anyone specifically from the comments, and I’m sorry for singling anyone out. But this is a battle we’re destined to fight for the rest of our lives. There’s no more money in journalism, nothing in novels or non-fiction, and off-Broadway is a pauper’s game. There’s hardly any money left in movies. The only place anyone can make a living writing anymore is in television, and now we’re being told that we’re worthless. As Winston Churchill said, that is something up with which we will not put.

joanie thinks chachi is an unreliable narrator

10/14/07

I don’t know how many of you know this, but the Writer’s Guild is set to strike on November 1st – a little over two weeks from now – if things aren’t worked out between them and the major studios. To put it plainly, don’t get too comfortable with any of your favorite TV shows. There might be enough to last you until Christmas, but that’s about it. “Heroes”? “House”? Any of the “CSI” or “Law and Order” shows? Your new favorites like “Pushing Daisies” or “Private Practice”? A long strike means they’re all gone, maybe even ’til next fall, possibly forever.

You might be spending the next year watching bottom-of-the-barrel reality and game shows, along with months of reruns you’ve thrice digested. Sure, for some of you, who cares? More time reading, less time for your kids to be sitting in front of the tube, and besides, there’s always sports. If you don’t give a shit about TV, you’ll have nothing to miss.

For a lot of other Americans, though, it will really suck. The people it will suck the most for, of course, are writers working in Los Angeles and New York, people who depend on that paycheck just like you depend on yours. You may think of all Hollywood writers as sitting by their pool with a laptop, a martini and a fellatrix, but that’s a convenient canard.

The vision of the writer as a spoiled, pretentious hack is a vision that serves the major studios when these sorts of battles are fought in the courtroom of public opinion. Sure, there are the multi-millionaires too busy driving their Porsches to finish assignments, but the vast majority are working moms and dads trying to get gigs any way they can, hopefully scoring something every other year so they can sock money away before they’re too old to be taken seriously. The rest are twentysomethings desperate for health insurance and a shot at proving everyone in their tiny hometown they aren’t crazy.

In the larger picture, this country routinely derides and disdains creative people – there’s a reason the Suits who started the dot-com craze in the mid-90s called all writing “content”. By referring to all words, pictures and ideas as simply Product, they were able to marginalize it and de-mystify the process by which it’s created. That attitude has taken firm root in all major companies, where the only real “idea” anyone wants to hear is one the company can patent.

God forbid you try freelancing. The tax laws and health benefit woes alone make sure even the heartiest of creative types run back to their 9-to-5 desk jobs to be properly anaesthetized.

The Powers That Be would like you to believe that any creative endeavor can be done by anything south of a Taiwanese computer and north of a chimp. The fact is, creating a movie or a decent TV show (or hell, even a good website) is incredibly hard, which is why so few succeed. Besides, strip away the creative magic around a company and what have you got? Cold steel, rebar and concrete.

I think about the air-traffic controllers that Reagan fired in the early ’80s and how that must have devastated them. I know many of them filtered back to the job as the years wore on, but how did all those guys get through those early months? Sure, it’s hard to imagine your Hollywood TV writer swapping stories in a bar with an air-traffic controller from St. Louis, but they’re both just people trying to market the only skill they’ve ever had.