Monthly Archives: June 2009

push for ice

6/10/09

As recounted various times (like here and here), I am just finishing up a self-imposed writing sabbatical in a local hotel. While the hole-yourself-up-for-24-hours writing plan isn’t recommended for everybody, I find the escapism of a closed window and a semi-sterile room to be inductive of huge swaths of work.

They say that there are two kinds of people in this world, and one of them roots for Dook. Wait, lemme start over. In the Attention Deficit Disorder world, they categorize people as leaning towards either a hunter or a farmer. Those with ADD are definitely hunters, needing every day to be utterly different with no fixed outcome. “Or no fixed income”, the farmers would say, and they have a point.

I think if you classify yourself as a hunter, then a forced sabbatical makes sense: you’ve put yourself in an entirely new situation, which takes care of your wanderlust – but you’ve locked yourself in, which takes care of the work.

Some like to tend the garden daily; others want to do nothing for a week, then spend 36 hours tracking a bison. The hunter is celebrated, but is unreliable and ethically challenged. The farmer is safer and always has seeds, but has to put up with the fuckin’ hunter. And which would you be?

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don’t see too many of these anymore

love is blind, neighbors ain’t

6/8/09

This anti- and pro-vaccine talk has got me wondering: is the problem here not so much a mistrust of Big Pharma and Big Government, but the fact that Americans stopped giving a shit about their neighbors? I don’t want to turn this into a limp-reasoned graduate thesis on the decaying fabric of American society, but there has to have been some real damage done to our psyche when we stopped knowing the names of the people sleeping fifty feet from us. Our sense of community atrophied, and with it, our collective empathy.

I’m not saying everyone is like this: certainly there are thriving communities in Chapel Hill, and god knows my brother Sean in Astoria knows half his neighborhood through collective playdates. But for most everyone else, the planned communities and large houses and packed subways have inured us to our fellow country and citymen, and when you no longer care about your community, the more likely you’d be to say “I’ve gotta protect myself and my kids – everyone else can fend for themselves.”

Every study on attitudes towards homosexuals reaches the same conclusion: people stop being homophobes when they meet a gay person. Simple exposure to other lifestyles radically eradicates most forms of bigotry. And when we stop knowing who our neighbors are, these resentments build back up.

I don’t have a general theory on this (although I’m sure I could whip something up about Republicans), but I’m interested: do any of you live in a house or an apartment, and not know the names of the people on either side of you? (full disclosure: for many years, definitely guilty as charged)

this won’t hurt a bit

6/7/09

Look, I’ve always thought Jenny McCarthy was a hoot, fairly self-deprecating for someone who has shown their vulva to North America. And Jim Carrey gets a lot of props for “Ace Ventura” and “Spotless Mind”, even as he slowly went mad for the last decade or so. But they have GOT to COOL IT on the vaccine talk, because pretty soon, some impressionable Americans are going to start believing them.

I thought with the coming of Barack Obama, we were coming back into the Age of Enlightenment, when people actually started listening to scientists again, not just rejecting them out of hand when they didn’t agree with Creationist fantasies. It’s once again au courant to take scientific studies seriously, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping the Anti-Vaccine groups, and the prideful quack doctors that enable them.

I’ll leave it to Neva or Caitlin or any of the other brilliant medical minds to tell me if I’m wrong, but here’s my take on the “vaccine/autism” research as it stands now: there is no direct connection between the two. It is possible that some children inherit an autism gene (or a combination of genes) that can get “switched on” by a vaccine, as a sort of environmental damage – or a vaccine can intensify a child’s pre-existing condition (like mitochondrial issues) but they’re just as likely to have the same thing happen from another element in the environment (sickness, air quality, bad food, etc.)

The reason autism rates appear to be going up is because diagnosis is much more inclusive, and parents/teachers are finally paying attention to their kids. Anecdotally, I could tell you about many kids in my grade school class who would have ended up on the autism spectrum if anyone had been noticing. Hell, I’d probably have dipped my toe into the spectrum, and one of my brothers as well.

The preservative in old vaccines was once labeled as a potential problem, but thimerosal has not been used for a long time. When presented with that information, the anti-vax crowd will mention aluminum, or some other element in vaccines they mistakenly call a “toxin”. In short, it starts to get very ugly and evangelical the farther you go into the anti-vaccine movement.

All of which would be fine, except they are beginning to put your kids and my kids at risk for some truly ugly diseases like polio, measles, rubella and diptheria. Those sound antiquated and cute? Well, like Megan McArdle writes on her brilliant blog at the Atlantic Monthly, “The vaccines scare us because the diseases don’t. And they don’t because of the vaccines.”

The non-vaccinated are kept safe because of herd immunity – when everyone else shoulders the responsibility of vaccination, they benefit. But only for so long. If their numbers increase, pretty soon they start giving diseases to each other, and since some vaccines have only 90% efficacy, they can give it to your kids too.

And THAT is where I start getting EVANGELICAL RIGHT BACK. If you want to place your own child on the polio roulette wheel and not get the shots, I can’t stop you… but you better be living on an Antarctic island or inside a latex bubble, because your kid shouldn’t be near any of us, or any of our friends. You’re practicing a lazy, dangerous science, more or less in the realm of magical thinking, and if you bring the whooping cough back to America, you will have started the fire that burns down the town.

I’m all for making pharmaceutical companies sweat; they’re all corporations, and corporations could give a fuck about human life, especially if it interfered with their cashflow. But disregarding every independent study, and putting us a step closer to a pandemic? You’re making us lefty, paranoid, conspiracy theorists look bad.

think of the tender things… that we were working on

6/4/09

When I pulled into Norfolk, VA over the weekend with the guys, I realized I hadn’t set foot there in 14 years. This is a place I’d gone to high school, where I (partially) learned how to be a human being, where I’d met my first real friends – and now my first friend of them all had just died at the age of 42.

That would have seemed impossibly old to us at 14, but now, it’s way, way too young, and in the words of Dan, who lives here in LA as well, “it’s just unbelievable to think we know the end of Lynn’s story.” Truly. Most of us see ourselves as nearer the beginning of our journey than the finish, so it seems patently unnatural that Lynn’s life was already half over by the time she left college. Confusingly tragic, even.

I never go to Norfolk/Virginia Beach (known collectively as Tidewater) for several reasons. It’s not on the way to anywhere, stuck in in the corner of Virginia, with nothing but the Atlantic to the right, and the Great Dismal Swamp underneath. To leave, you must necessarily backtrack, which served me as a fitting metaphor.

I have no family members left there – in fact, my entire family left Tidewater before I was done with high school, leaving me in a beach house for the last half of senior year. You’d think that would be a good thing, at least worthy of a John Hughes subplot; however, I was hospitalized for malnutrition, which shows you what having Taco Bell bean burritos for every meal will do to your physical constitution.

For the most part, however, I don’t go back for reasons of shame. Not for anything in particular (although I remember some fuckin’ stellar moments) but because I had a very long journey en route to being a functionally decent guy – a road trip I’m still attempting, apparently – and revisiting the past puts me in a state of Constant Cringing.

junior prom, a platonic assemblage of us paired up for prom’s sake

My particular class at Norfolk Academy was a National Geographic lesson in social taxonomy, featuring about five distinct cliques with entirely different grooming, language and mating habits. There was absolutely no fluidity between social groups, no inter-breeding whatsoever, even as everyone remained perfectly friendly. I was part of a moderately large, intensely tight-knit circle of friends that had no central theme like the others did (lacrosse, cheerleading) but valued high art, high humor and the lesser works of David Bowie.

Hamp Tucker in 1984 and in 2009

For four years, we intertwined with each others’ lives so thoroughly that we took up semi-permanent residence in each others’ guest bedrooms while stress-testing the nascent technology of telephone call waiting. Even now, I’ll be on the way to a meeting in West Hollywood and find myself tapping out Marcie or Hamp’s 1982 phone number on the steering wheel (both of which still work, by the way).

Plans were hatched: Lynn was about to commandeer a bus to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg before her mom intervened and took about eight of us in her station wagon. Steve H. and I camped out inside my dad’s dressing room at the Norfolk Scope Arena in order to ambush Stewart Copeland and Sting during the “Ghost in the Machine” tour (which worked). Hampy and I went to Kenya. Everything was everybody.

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Hamp and me at the base of Mt. Kenya – nobody in this picture knew what was going on

And then we went to college. Despite a few get-togethers during freshman and sophomore years, we plummeted into a deep radio silence that lasted, well, decades. Part of it was cultural; of all the boys in our group, I turned out to be the only heterosexual. I don’t mean to speak for the other guys, but the mid-80s was a different era. Being gay in high school, whether you knew it or not, was a much bigger deal – after years of confusion and denial, I imagine you had to spend a good deal of time rethinking who you would be.

I knew who I was gonna be: a chaser of Kappas and Pi Phis, and that was an all-encompassing effort. After managing to go through high school without even kissing a girl, I was going to make up for lost time, goddamn it. I began a eye-opening and ultimately self-immolating quest that eventually fizzled into despondency by the time I was 33. Thank god I had crucified most of those demons by the time Tessa and I started hanging out together again, or else I’d have run the risk of being a clichĂ© many of you have seen: that young-seeming yet possibly lecherous guy in his forties, emitting the aura of failed promise, wearing Vans at the bar with a belly that hints at 112 Rum and Cokes too many.

Only two things could have possibly gotten our high school group back together: the internet and Lynn. You might have forgotten what it was like before Facebook gave you the ambient awareness of what your third grade art classmate had for lunch today, but let’s just say it was possible never to hear from people again. Once we had email, we could actually keep up, and Lynn always had the scoop on everybody.

And now, when she passed away, she brought us back to Tidewater. I was prepared to be depressed, to look at the defunct strip malls of Ward’s Corner and Military Highway and contemplate the dreariness of the moribund American Dream, but instead… it was amazing. Dan, Hamp and I drove from Washington D.C. and laughed all the way to Norfolk. When I got into Marcie’s convertible after the funeral service, we picked up a conversation left off fifteen years ago without a millisecond’s stutter, and gossiped and told bizarrely funny stories with everyone all night. At one pause, Dan said “this is how Lynn would have wanted it,” and god knows that’s true.

silliness in the parking lots of Hampton Roads

When I left for the airport, I went to hug Marcie – the beautiful girl I’d known since I was fourteen, whose parents always kept Coke for me in their garage, whose beach house in Duck, NC provided my first glimpse of paradise, who would sit on the bed with me chatting all day and all night, and it came out so naturally: “I love you.”

I am not a person who says that very often to anyone but my parents, my wife and my daughter – and our high school clique was definitely not the kind of group that would ever emote like that, but fuck it… I do love Marcie for everything she has ever been to me, and I don’t care about keeping up appearances anymore anyway.

Eventually, you have to rip wide holes in your snark and sarcasm and preciously-curated sense of self, and allow yourself glimpses of the profound. It’s okay to feel strongly about people, a group of friends, that haven’t broken bread regularly in 22 years. The easy thing to do is dismiss everything in your life as the fleeting obsessions of a young dumbass, but there’s some wonderful stuff floating just behind all the shame.

And it struck me – maybe none of us kept in contact because we didn’t need to. Perhaps it’s like what my brother Kent says about Beatles albums; he never plays them because way in the back of his mind, they’re always playing anyway. It’s fitting that I will always have Lynn in the back of my mind, and she, too, will be playing a Beatles album. Thomas Wolfe was wrong – you can go home again, you just need the right soundtrack.

Marcie, me, Dan, Hampy, Steve, May 2009

incidents arose from circumstance

6/3/09

I assume by now many of you have seen this video:

…along with many of the other “literal” music videos, some of which are plodding, others quite brilliant. But doesn’t everybody remember that Asia made its own Literal Video for the song “Heat of the Moment” in 1982, without even realizing it?

I mean, for “Heat” they show a fire, and for “Moment” they show a clock. Sometimes “Heat” is an actual firebrand that says “HEAT”. At the time, I was 14, and I remember thinking that this was literally the stupidest goddamn video I’d ever seen.

you flatter me, doctor

6/2/09

We just got back from the Academy theater, where Ira Glass presented one of the most beautiful, emotional pieces ever aired on television: the “John Smith” episode of Showtime’s “This American Life”. And again, I’m reminded of why I never stay for a Q&A session: your fellow audience members ought to be locked up in a Zoo for Narcissistic Ramblers.

This one wasn’t even particularly bad: only one or two people made Tessa bury her head in my shoulder, but we’ve been to several public events where I wanted to MOTHERFUCKING STRANGLE the four or five question-askers who seize their fifteen seconds of fame and stretch it out into five minutes of pure, liquid phosphorescent hell.

These people never have a question; it’s always a statement, and it’s always about them. God bless ya for trying to impress the talent up on the stage, but here’s a news flash: NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR TRENCHANT OBSERVATION. The rest of us came to see an artist, or a film, or something transcendental, and YOU ARE PEEING ALL OVER IT. You make the normal members of the audience lousy with Stupid Feeling™, you force your “hero” to navigate your thesis statement so as not to appear asinine, and frankly, you make ME want to apologize and explain that you are not emblematic of this community.

Except that you are. Which is why I have never read the “Letters” section of a newspaper or a magazine in my life: it’s always the same shit. “I disagree with all that was written; please cancel my subscription.” “As a [fill in race, religion, gender here] I find your article offensive, urgen gurgen flurgen.” “I’m Joe America, and I have something painfully moronic to say about the gays.” Or whatever.

Here’s my pitch to audience members with an agenda: FUCKING SHUT UP. You got the mike because we thought you had a question, not because you needed validation. You’ve taken all of us hostage with your fanciful notions, and we want to KILLZ YOU. Save it for your graduate dissertation, and pass the microphone to the lady next to you, who has a short, fascinating question that will allow the artist to relax once more.

There are very few places where you can let the hoi polloi ask questions, say whatever they want… and not want to die of embarrassment for humanity. It has to be a venue that is well-curated, self-policing, and full of diverse yet respectful patrons. It often needs moderation, way more moderation than you thought would be necessary, until it morphs into something that is a comfortable place for old salts, newer voices and even shy wallflowers to participate without feeling self-conscious or asinine. It’s very rare indeed, and you guys created it with the button just below.

For which I don’t thank you enough.